I want to share with you some of what God has been doing in and through me over the past couple of years for his glory and to honour his faithfulness and provision…
Picture the scene:
I am a stay at home mum with 2 children. Ben is about 2 months old, Anna is 2 and a bit. I am sleep deprived and it’s beginning to take its toll. I remember getting quite lonely when Anna was about 4 months old and am determined not to let that be the case this time round. I’m trying a new toddler group.
It’s an effort to get us all out of the house, let alone out of the house for a particular time so I start the process early. It’s within walking distance and everything goes so well that we arrive early and walk up and down the road nearby for a while until it’s time to start. The entrance is really unclear and I don’t see anyone else around. I start to feel a bit stressed and apprehensive but I’m early so maybe that’s why. I find my way inside and notice lots of push chairs parked up. Huh, maybe I’m not so early after all. I unload the children and my bag and we make our way into the room. It’s busy and noisy and we pick our way through the toys to some chairs which already have coats on them but no one sitting there; Ben is about to need a feed so I need a chair.
No one talks to me. Anna won’t leave my side because it’s an unfamiliar environment, the room is hot and I need to feed Ben which means I can’t go and play with Anna. Eventually the grandmother sitting next to me asks me how old Ben and Anna are. I tell her and the conversation ends. I don’t know who is in charge, I don’t know if/where I am meant to sign in or whether or not I need to pay. I don’t know the format of the group and I clearly read the times wrong on mumsnet (or they were out of date) because no one arrives after me. And still no one else talks to me.
I persevere to the end of the group which actually isn’t that long because we got there so late. I want to cry. I get us all home as quickly as possible and feel frustrated and deflated and like I just put in a whole lot of effort for a worse morning than if we hadn’t gone. We don’t go back.
Now, you can argue that I could have made an effort to ask questions, I could have been the one to initiate conversations, I could have found out what was going on. And you’re right. But at the time I had pretty limited resources. I was feeling vulnerable and most of my energy was being used up in sustaining the life of the 3 people I have to care for each day and holding it together enough to do that. Oh, and I was developing postnatal depression. Toddler groups are loud, full of people and toys and can be some of the loneliest places to be (that I’ve experienced).
Totscene (Jubilee’s toddler group) started up again not long after that and we enjoyed going to a much more familiar group which was so helpful and became a ‘safe’ place for me; somewhere I could go and be guaranteed to feel supported. But then that came to an end and in my quest to find another group, Stepping Stones was born.
A friend prayed for me and felt that God would show me a new group to go to. Prompted by this, I contacted Mums in Mind (part of the MIND mental health charity) to see if they had anything running. The response was no but they offered me some alternatives (including a wellbeing course), none of which worked for me at that time. I felt further prompted by the Holy Spirit to reply with essentially a vision for a support group for mums who had finished the wellbeing course but didn’t yet feel able to brave the scary world of well established toddler groups.
To cut a long story short, this was exactly what Mums in Mind were wanting to do, they just didn’t have anyone willing to set it up. So I did it. I got to pick the day, time and venue for the group to suit me and I thoroughly enjoyed exercising the spiritual gift of administration (1 Corinthians 12:28) that God has given me in setting it up. My husband, Steven, was able to cut down his office hours to look after Ben and Anna while I run the group which made it much more manageable for me. God not only opened doors to make this group happen, he flung them wide.
The mums on the wellbeing course were asked what they’d like to call the group from a list of suggestions I gave them. I was glad they chose Stepping Stones. It represents what the group is trying to achieve in being a ‘stepping stone’ between going on a very structured course to taking the initiative to go to a toddler group. It’s also personal to me and is one of the stepping stones I have taken in recovering from postnatal depression (this recovery is ongoing). We advertise Stepping Stones as a mums’ support group for those who are experiencing feeling low, anxious or isolated.
I run the group with 3 other ladies who were recruited through the Mums in Mind volunteer network. They are all brilliant. They have caught the vision for the group and are supportive in running it and suggesting improvements. This also means that we have a rota system so that we’re not all on every week thus making the group sustainable for all of us and able to continue to run during school holidays which is important for mums without school aged children.
We started the group in January 2018 and the first 3 weeks went really well, we had an average of 3 mums visiting each week with some returning. Numbers dropped after that and then we had 3 or 4 consecutive weeks where no one came. We had an emergency team meeting to discuss whether we needed to consider a different location. I pushed for staying consistently in our venue until Easter and then I got people to pray. The next week was the busiest the group had been up to that point and since then we haven’t had a single week with no one turning up. Someone asked me recently how I had faith to get through that low point. Honestly, it was easy. The conception of this group and the practicalities of setting it up and running it have been from God and through him. So my prayer was, ‘I’m trying to be faithful in what you are asking me to do but I need you to send me the people’. And he did.
Stepping Stones is now well established. We have a core group of mums who come most weeks and several mums who come often but not every week. We also have a steady trickle of new mums coming. The feedback we’ve had about the group is that it’s really welcoming and feels safe. Importantly it’s small which means everyone has a place and doesn’t go unnoticed. There is no pressure to talk about mental health issues but the opportunities are there if people want them. One of my hopes for the group was that the mums would form friendships with each other outside of the group and I know that for 2 of the mums, this has happened. One mum has just gone back to work and has chosen hours that mean she can still come to the group because she enjoys it so much.
I’m so excited that God has asked me to partner with him in running Stepping Stones. I feel like I am Kingdom building in a way that I feel very confident in. I’m meeting a need that I know exists and I am blessing a group of women and sharing some of the love of Christ with them. Maybe this isn’t overt but I hope I am leaky bucket in it (http://www.jubileechurchcoventry.org/preach/delighting-holy-spirit/). I am thankful that out of a negative experience, God has brought so much good.