A Smile For Everyone

A Smile For Everyone

I was tidying up this evening and putting away Miriam’s end of year school report. This entailed bringing out the folder in which I have stored all of the children’s school reports since they started school.

I knew it would be painful, but I couldn’t stop myself. I started reading through Leah’s school reports in reverse chronological order.

Leah’s Limavady High School reports spoke of an A grade student, quiet, hardworking and enthusiastic. I felt very sad, thinking of what might have been.

However, it wasn’t until I started reading her Primary School reports, that my emotional dam broke completely.

Leah’s P7 report, spoke of an avid reader, a fluent writer and a delightful child who was caring and mature. When I had read her P6 report, I had to stop reading, I could no longer see the pages. Leah’s P6 teacher talked about Leah’s happiness coming through in her singing and of how Leah had a smile for everyone she met.

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It left me wishing that it was still 2008 and that Leah was back in the Ballykelly School Choir, singing her wee heart out.

The t-shirt that Leah wore when performing with the Ballykelly School choir in the Odyssey Arena in Belfast. I don't remember noticing at the time that this was connected with the Clic Sargent Children's Cancer charity.
The t-shirt that Leah wore when performing with the Ballykelly School choir in the Odyssey Arena in Belfast. I don’t remember noticing at the time that this was connected with the Clic Sargent Children’s Cancer charity.

Unfortunately we don’t have a roll back option on our lives. No matter how hard or how much we wish for it. We can only go forward.

Many, painful, difficult things happen in life and we have to find a way to go on.

It isn’t easy.

The love of family and friends certainly helps.

Sometimes though, even friends and family can be busy or have other stuff going on.

The Bible tells us that ‘we have a friend who sticks closer than a brother’ Proverbs 18:24 

I believe that friend is the Lord Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for us, so that our sins could be forgiven. He rose again and He lives forever to intercede with the Father for us. Hebrews 7:25

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The End Of An Era

The End Of An Era

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Last night was the P7 “Leavers’ Disco” at Ballykelly Primary School. The theme was “Celebrities” and the girls and boys were the celebrities. Every one of them, as they walked up the red carpet, looked so amazing.

Here’s my ‘celebrity’, looking way more than her eleven years.

imageToday, parents were invited to a farewell event in the school Assembly Hall, followed by a complimentary lunch.

As we gathered, a slide show of the children was displayed on the screen. Pictures of them from Nursery and P1 were displayed on a Notice Board.

Then all of the P7 pupils entertained us by playing three lively pieces on African drums. It was very professional, and all inclusive as every pupil participated.

After this, we went upstairs for a slide show presentation of the P7 trip to Edinburgh, where several of the boys and girls were interviewed about the activities that stood out for them. The pupils who didn’t go to Edinburgh interviewed the ones who did, so again it was all inclusive.

Then we returned to the Assembly Hall for the part that I enjoyed the most. Each child was called forward one by one. We were told their name, what school they are transferring to, what they will miss about Ballykelly Primary School, what they are looking forward to about their new school and what their ambition in life is.

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Several want to become famous You Tubers. A few hope to become professional footballers. One boy wants to become a policeman and help in the fight against crime. One girl wants to become famous and take over the world!

Each child was then given a booklet containing a photo of each P7 boy and girl and their answers to these questions, as a keepsake. What a lovely thing to look back on in years to come.

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After this, staff, parents and pupils were treated to a delicious lunch. During this time, the P7 pupils were busy engaging in the traditional signing of the polo shirts.

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Hunter’s Bakery supplied an amazing cake, which was cut and distributed. It was absolutely delicious.

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Then, that was it, we had to say goodbye and walk away.

For me, it was walking away from seventeen years of having children in Primary School. In Ebrington Primary School initially when we lived in the town and then in Ballykelly Primary School since 2002.

All four of our children have enjoyed their primary school years. We have such fond memories of Ballykelly Primary School.

There is of course a little piece of Leah wrapped up in it’s walls too. Saying goodbye to that is hard as well.

Memories of coming to Christmas Concerts and seeing Leah singing her heart out in the school choir.

Memories of seeing written work displayed on the wall along the corridor, when they were asked what they would like to be when they grew up and Leah had written that she wanted to become a missionary.

Memories of Leah’s P7 teacher’s collection of gems for arts and crafts and how excited Leah was when her teacher got a new order of these pretty gems from Baker Ross.

Memories of Leah’s P7 Edinburgh trip and the card she wrote to me saying that she had cried on the Thursday night because she missed me. Some day I will find that card again and there will be more tears.

How blessed our children have been, to have been so cared for and nurtured whilst being educated.

I never wanted what happened this past two years to be my life story, but so many things happen in life that we don’t get to choose. Thankfully God has placed many people in our lives who have supported us and loved us and made this journey more bearable.

The kindness and love shown to Miriam during Leah’s difficult illness and since her death, by the Ballykelly School community, has been enormously helpful. I have never taken it for granted and I will always appreciate it.

The Memory Box bought for Miriam by her classmates after Leah died, will always be a treasured possession and a reminder of the support that she received from them at such a difficult time.

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In September Miriam will start at Limavady High School, another school that has completely blown me away by the pastoral care that our older three children have received and with the love that has been shown to our family this past two years by the entire school community.

Thankfully, I know that my daughter’s education is in safe hands.

The Transfer Test

The Transfer Test

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Very thankful today to receive a letter from the Education Authority (Údarás Oideachais) confirming Miriam’s place in Limavady High School for September, as I know that they are bordering on being over-subscribed for this intake.

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Rachel and Leah both got an A in their 11+ and chose to go to Limavady High School, a decision that neither they, nor us, have ever regretted.

Simon and Miriam chose not to sit the Transfer Test.

I remember Rachel, shortly after she received the results of her Transfer Test, cycling around outside the house, with a hen on the handlebars of her bicycle – she just loves the great outdoors. She was very pleased that she had passed.

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Her tune soon changed on the Monday, when she went into school and everyone kept saying “Oh, you’ll be going to grammar school.” She came home crying, because she didn’t want to go to grammar school.

Rachel asked me if she could swop her A grade with some other boy or girl who was distressed because they hadn’t got the grade that they wanted.

Nowadays, anytime that Rachel is home from her degree course at Queen’s University, she pops into Limavady High School, to say hello to the staff. This speaks volumes in my book.

When Leah got her A in the 11+, she was acutely aware that many of her friends had also got an A and would be transferring to grammar school.

Leah got a piece of paper and divided it down the middle. On one side she wrote the advantages of going to Limavady Grammar School, and on the other side she wrote the advantages of going to Limavady High School. Then she told me that she was going to her bedroom to pray.

A while later Leah reappeared and said “Mummy, I think that God wants me to go to the High School.”

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Leah waiting for the bus outside our house on her first day at Limavady High School

In my view, a happy child is a learning child.

We have always felt that Limavady High School values our children for who they are as people, not just for what they can achieve academically.

When problems arose, as they inevitably do, during the turbulent teenage years, these were handled with care and compassion.

Leah’s education was so important to her. The staff at Limavady High School understood this and supported her in her endeavours to continue with her studies even when she couldn’t attend school because of her low immunity.

The staff maintained contact with us and supplied school work, at Leah’s request, during our prolonged stay in Bristol.

On returning from Bristol, Leah was devastated to discover that the Western Education and Library Board would only provide 4.5hrs of Home Tuition to support her in studying for her GCSEs. As an A grade student this was a bitter blow to her.

On hearing about this, the school came up with an arrangement, whereby I brought Leah into school one afternoon a week and she met privately with some of her teachers for extra support. Leah’s Hospital Consultant agreed to this, providing Leah wasn’t in the corridor when the pupils were changing classes, as her immune system was very weak.

The pastoral care that our children have received both in Ballykelly Primary School and in Limavady High School, throughout Leah’s illness and since her death, has been exceptional.

We have been so blessed as a family by the sensitivity shown to us, by the staff and pupils, from both schools.

This time last year we were approached by Leah’s Form Tutor and Head of Year, to say that staff and pupils had agreed that they would like to have a permanent memorial to Leah by creating the “Lighthouse Award” to be awarded on Prize Day. We were really pleased about this.

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It is called ‘The Lighthouse Award‘ after a song by Leah’s favourite band Rend Collective. 

My Lighthouse

In my wrestling and in my doubts
In my failures You won’t walk out
Your great love will lead me through
You are the peace in my troubled sea
You are the peace in my troubled sea

In the silence, You won’t let go
In my questions, Your truth will hold
Your great love will lead me through
You are the peace in my troubled sea
You are the peace in my troubled sea

My Lighthouse, my lighthouse
Shining in the darkness, I will follow You
My Lighthouse, my Lighthouse
I will trust the promise,
You will carry me safe to shore (Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh)
Safe to shore (Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh)
Safe to shore (Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh)
Safe to shore

I won’t fear what tomorrow brings
With each morning I’ll rise and sing
My God’s love will lead me through
You are the peace in my troubled sea
You are the peace in my troubled sea

Fire before us, You’re the brightest
You will lead us through the storms

The 16th Birthday

The 16th Birthday

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Today I’m out with Simon and his friends, celebrating the fact that he will be 16 tomorrow.

Sixteen – the birthday that Leah never got to celebrate because she was so ill.

She had no candles, no cake, we didn’t even sing happy birthday, she was just too sick.

We told her that we’d wait and have a big celebration when she got home.

I think that the angels in heaven must have had a party with her instead, because when we finally brought Leah home, it was to “wake” her body.

All of Leah’s unopened birthday presents were hastily stashed in a cupboard, along with her recently unwrapped Christmas presents.

Ever since Simon was in the final stages of Primary School, how he chooses to celebrate his birthday hasn’t changed.

I load up our big blue Citroen Synergie with him and his friends. We head first to the cinema, then to McDonalds.

I enjoy having a car full of young people – it reminds me of how life used to be.

Actually, when Simon was even younger, I used this same 7 seater car to collect his friends and take them to a soft play area for his birthday.

What I find really hard to believe, is that when I first started doing this, the British Army was still in Northern Ireland.

That feels like another life now, but I clearly remember going to the army living quarters in Ballykelly, to collect two of Simon’s young friends.

One was part of a Hong Kong regiment and the other was part of a regiment from Fiji. They were such beautifully mannered young boys.

I would never want to go back to the days of regular bomb scares, tight security and having our streets patrolled by soldiers, but I liked the ethnic diversity that these families brought to the school.

Isn’t it amazing all of the changes that we experience in our lifetime?

Some changes we embrace and welcome, other changes are ones that we find painful and sad, but life never remains static.

I’m glad that we have a God who is always there for us and who never changes:

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Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day

The Cemetery was busy this Mother’s Day morning – maybe I should stick to coming at night?

I stood there staring and staring at her grave, trying to take it in.

Trying to understand how we got from THERE to HERE?

The sun was shining and the coloured stones that fill the little flowerbed at the base of her headstone caught my eye.

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Leah loved arts and crafts, she loved making things, especially card making and baking.

When she was in P7 at Ballykelly Primary School her teacher had a Treasure Chest of materials for crafting.

Being allowed to use items from this Treasure Chest was a BIG treat for Leah. She especially loved being allowed to pick from the teacher’s collection of gems.

I looked at the coloured stones glinting in the sunlight and I smiled through my tears – Leah would approve of those!

 

It’s Somebody’s Birthday

It’s Somebody’s Birthday

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Our church has a service on Christmas morning at 10am, but unlike their mother, my children are not early risers. Therefore, by the time they have unwrapped their Santa presents, eaten breakfast and got dressed, Christmas morning has always been a bit of a rush.

Add to that the fact that we live 10 miles from our church, in an isolated rural location where the roads aren’t salted, then it becomes even more challenging to get four excited children/young people to church for 10am on Christmas morning.

For that reason, there have been some years where we have opted to have a family service together here in the house. On those occasions the planning and organising of the service generally fell on Leah’s shoulders, with some input from Miriam.

Here is Leah’s 2009 “Order of Service”

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Leah’s choice of hymns varied from year to year but there was one song that she always insisted that we sang every year – “It’s Somebody’s Birthday” by Ian White.

Leah sang this song when she was a member of the Ballykelly Primary School Choir. Leah loved singing and she sang with a smile on her face. Leah also enjoyed singing in the Children’s Choir in our church during her Primary School years.

Every year when it was coming near Christmas, Leah could be heard singing:

“It’s somebody’s birthday I won’t forget,
As I open the things that I get.
I’ll remember the inn and the stable so bare,
And Jesus who once lay there.”