peace, not necessarily peacefulness

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Goodness it’s been quite a half term in the Porter house! A new school for T, college for the first time for B, and the beginning of the exam years for A. Plus new chaplaincy work for Andrew alongside church, and all the usual responsibilities. Of course, for me this has brought yet more steep learning curves and the challenges of stepping up to the new ways support from me is needed for everyone. Trying to understand and navigate the Further Ed support systems, beginning to build partnership and communication with new tutors and teachers. Reading and re-reading policies and guidelines, law and recommendations to try and work out what adjustments and support it is reasonable to ask for, what I need to find independently and what simply isn’t out there that I’m going to need to creatively put in place myself. One of my friends reminds me that I once said to her that chaos is chaos – no matter how much more you put into the mix, but my goodness it feels as if we have chaos full to bursting at the moment!

Yesterday the secondary school where I’m on the chaplaincy team had a service all about peace. At the end there was a time of reflection with beautiful music being played. In between the boys behind me asking me what different questions on the reflection sheet meant (which I loved chatting about) I sat and read, and re-read ‘my peace I give to you… do not be troubled, do not be upset’. And I sat there and heard Jesus say these words into all of the above and more, and I became aware of my aching painful permanently stressed out shoulders and neck, and I pondered this gift of peace. Given into the midst of the storms of life.

“I’m telling you these things while I’m still living with you. The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught.” (John 14:27, MSG)

We rarely have ‘peaceful’ times in our family life together. And when we do it’s short lived. We work hard to find ‘peacefulness’ and rest for each of us – we each find it in different ways and places. A good book, quiet, dancing to loud music, gardening, walking, animals, being alone, being with others, baking, drawing and painting, playing, minecraft, SIMS… But it’s elusive and fleeting, the ‘peace’ we can find for ourselves in those ways. It’s needed respite but it doesn’t come close to the deep seated, welling up, strong, protecting all around me kind of peace that I sense Jesus is talking about.

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I think I began learning what this Jesus peace might be like when I was only a child. Words from a song we played on a record over and over, and sang along to have stayed with me through the years and pop into my mind to remind me of the truth I grabbed hold of as a child listening to ‘the music machine’: ‘peace is holding Jesus’ hand’. It is active, holding onto him, trusting in who he is. It is a gift, he stands next to me with his hand stretching out to be held onto, giving himself. He is our peace. We are accepted, loved, understood. We are safe and held through every storm of life. We are not defined and restricted by the systems we have to navigate but defined by and in this belonging with Jesus. Our well being and purposefulness rests in our belonging with him.

My belonging in him can give me the courage I need. I can lean into his love for me when worries yet again try to overwhelm me. When everything feels as if I am wading through treacle I can be sure I am with the one who can speak to howling wind and dangerous waves – and put them in their place! The troubles, worries, concerns, mountains we face do not disappear but we are not bereft or alone. We are ‘holding Jesus’ hand’.

 ‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’ (John 16:33 NIV)

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Knowing God’s voice

‘God answers our prayers’

‘God is always with you’

‘He will help you’

‘God will guide us’

2012-05-13 12.29.31These are all phrases we often use when trying to put words to our faith and hope in God as Christians. At the moment they are often met by T with questions and doubts: ‘how?’, ‘I can’t see him!’, ‘he doesn’t talk to me’. The thing is our words and phrases express our experience of mystery. Our faith is in a concrete, true, eternal God but our experience of Him is not tangible in the same way as a hug with a friend or parent. We don’t hear answers to prayer audibly (very often!) in the same way as a teacher answering our question. The way God’s presence faithfully stays with us as we trust Him is not visible to our eyes in the same way as we see and hold onto our comfort teddy throughout the day. We experience glimpses, senses of these intangible realities through faith and God’s grace (his free gift).

 For now [in this time of imperfection] we see in a mirror dimly [a blurred reflection, a riddle, an enigma], but then [when the time of perfection comes we will see reality] face to face. Now I know in part [just in fragments], but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known [by God]. (1 Cor 13:12 AMP)

We learn to see with eyes of faith rather than physical eyes, and to hear with our listening, quietened soul – our inner self reaching out for God. We learn to feel his real presence with us. We learn to recognize the physical markers as our bodies and spirit respond to spiritual realities we cannot see or touch physically. A quickened heart beat; the unexpected calm flooding our body and feelings quite independent of our circumstances; a beyond-our-own-courage; an inexplicable warmth; a moment when our own inner monologue is at rest and a new word drops in; goosebumps; when our body and spirit feels the same relief as it does when it can slump into the lap of home – our favourite sofa, in our favourite safe space where we belong and know we are unconditionally loved. We learn the sounds, and touch, the tastes and smells of the mystery that is our living God coming near and walking alongside us unseen and intangible. This is a lifelong adventure of love, of being known and getting to know.

Jesus said, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him!” (Jn 14:7 MSG)

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These are things I hope I can model and articulate as Mum to B, A & T. Finding ways to explain the mystery takes me out of the box. We have talked about how we get to know a voice to the extent that we recognize and respond to it even when we don’t see the person. The game where you have to close your eyes and listen with your whole body to be ready to spot someone coming to steal the keys or bells, or a game where we are blindfolded and have to identify the person by voice or smell can remind us of how our body feels when someone is familiar, how our bodies can recognize and respond to someone’s presence. They also remind us how difficult it can all be! That’s quite useful to throw into this discussion. We have spent time talking about the vast number of things we trust are real that we cannot see with our physical eyes, or hear with our physical ears – when you stop and think about it there’s so much we take for granted as real that we cannot see and hear. Germs; wind; atoms; electricity; energy; love. Believing that these things are real is something we do already. Talking about, and living out, spiritual things as real and living rather than just ideas on paper or in a book invites discussion and exploration.

Practicing being in God’s presence together – in prayer, in worship, in questioning, in praise and thanks, in quiet, reading the Bible  – needs to be intentional for us, it’s the thing that so easily takes second place to everything else life throws at us. It’s difficult. Mealtimes, bedtimes and mornings are already a battle ground full of demands. I don’t want activities that invite us to draw close to God to feel like another demand, or another chore on the long list that has to be done at certain times of day. As I have said before, I try to simply be ready! There are bibles on every shelf and I love to read from them when they are picked for bedtime stories. We pray together when we can, in ways that we can – and try not to get worked up when we can’t or when things really don’t go well. We listen to worship songs in the car, and sing them out in the garden and as we walk. We say our arrow prayers and arrow bursts of thankfulness out loud. We name it when we feel God’s presence or guidance, or when God gives us peace or courage. I don’t ever worry about doubts – they open discussion, and invite exploration together. I don’t need all the answers for I speak about mystery and point to our living God who is already drawing close to our children.

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Role models

Growing up in a Christian home, a manse with many people coming and going, a faith filled extended family, and being at the heart of church family life meant I had many followers of Jesus as role models. I can sit here and think of a number of really significant people whose life of faith has encouraged, strengthened and challenged mine as I grew (and continue growing!). From Sunday school teachers and youth house-group hosts to honorary church grannies who listened and shared life with us, from Bible college tutors and fellow ordinands to Mums like me living out their faith I have been shaped and inspired by other Christians.

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It was Paul who said rather challengingly:

Follow my example, just as I follow the example of Christ. (1 Cor 11:1)

It wasn’t just people alongside me either. As a child I loved reading biographies (still do given half a chance!) of Christians doing extraordinary things with God. Books like ‘Through gates of Splendour’, the story of the Elizabeth Elliot; the writings of Corrie Ten Boom; or the story of Mary Jones walking to find a Bible shaped me and inspired me – they still do.

One of the youth sessions at the New Wine summer conference that A came away talking about was an evening when a woman from North Korea came to give some of her testimony. She had become a Christian, had escaped, found a Bible and written it out in its entirety committing much of it to memory. Later whilst in Prison for her faith and escape, she had shared her faith despite the dangers and had started a church that met in the prison toilets which was so very dirty that guards never went near, and they prayed and recited scripture in whispers. She spoke of the reality of living as a secret Christian, of people burying Bibles to keep them hidden and going at night to dig them up read them, of the danger of being known as a Christian and yet how faith is being shared. For A it was I think one of those encounters that will shape him. We have certainly all come back less complacent about how easy it is for us to reach for a Bible and to read God’s words to us.

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Hearing testimonies like this from Christians whose experience is so different from ours is so challenging, and so needed in our growth in faith and belonging in the church. These are the testimonies that have made me courageous (terrified yet stepping out with God) in my life of faith.

“As parents we are the main spiritual influence in our children’s lives. And as we discover more abut what it means to ‘abide in him’, we have an amazing opportunity on the roller-coaster ride of family life to model to them what seeking to live in a real relationship with God actually looks like.” (p47, ‘Raising Faith’ Katharine Hill & Andy Frost)

It is a daunting thought that I am a role model of a life of faith in my children’s life. I certainly don’t want my life to be the only one they look at to see what a life of faith looks like. I want to enable them to encounter many others too who will inspire them and show them in different ways, and through different experiences what following after God can be like. Being regularly part of church family is great, and opening the doors of our home to others as often as we can is good too. RE projects (Gladys Aylward is now very well known to B & I), talks, films, you tube, family and books (10 girls who changed the world, by Irene Howat is good – there’s a boys one too) – the opportunities for introducing our children and young people to other Christian role models are many and so very interesting and inspiring. Helping my three to hear other’s stories of faith feeds me too.

 

 

DIY sensory scripture glitter frame

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I have been seeing a lot of pictures around that have an inspirational quote in the background and room for a heap of free flowing sequins and glitter in front. They’re great, quite mesmerizing. The sequins make a great soft sound as they move around, are quite responsive to your moving of the frame. And there’s the fun of covering the words and revealing them.

I began wondering about the idea of putting together one of my own (or maybe a few) where the words are from the Bible. It could be reflective, perhaps even meditative. So I chose a cheap box frame making sure it was the kind with a gap between the picture and the glass/perspex. I went for a soft green and then headed home pondering what words.

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Andrew suggested ‘my cup overflows’ from Psalm 23, imagining the glitter ‘overflowing’ from a cup as it moved around the frame, great idea so i grabbed my pens and paper and started to play with the words. Eventually ending up on warm primrose yellow paper, and put together in a design with words from Lamentations as well which began running through my mind as I drew.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. (Lam 3:22 NIV)

In many translations this verse emphasizes the way that God’s mercy and love last forever, as the next verse goes on to spell out ‘they are new every morning, great is his faithfulness!’. But it is this particular translation that I must have learnt as a child, and I love the way it speaks of the power and strength of God’s love and mercies – they are gutsy, rescuing.

Once I was happy with my design I then had a happy half hour with B sifting through our collections of little pots of sparkly, stick-on things in the craft box picking out gold, bronze and some little sea glass green beads. The frame needed some hot glue to seal the ‘box’ part against the perspex so the sequins can’t slip out, and again to seal the back once I was happy everything was in place. All that’s left to do is enjoy, and be reminded of the love and mercy that flow from God making my life full-to-overflowing, blessed. And that those very verses come from a book of lament, and a psalm about walking through the valley of the shadow of death needing God’s protection!

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Ideas for using the sensory scripture frame:

  • simply as a quiet reflection focal point, calm space to listen to what God is reminding you about.
  • as a memory verse, cover and uncover sections of the design (or whatever verse you have used) trying to say the whole of the verse each time.
  • with a design like mine that doesn’t have the full verse written out, use it as a starting place for going on a treasure hunt for the full verses together. find the words you do have and look them up. Read the verses before and after.
  • one of the verses I have used is picture language; think about the meaning of the metaphor. Get a cup and fill it to overflowing with water, rice or cereal. What happens when it overflows? Do we usually pour stuff into something until it overflows? When would we? Does that same kind of ‘overflowing’ process ever happen in our life? How could God ‘pour’ something into our life as if it were a cup that could overflow? And what would he pour in?

looking for joy

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Looking for joy can sometimes feel like looking for signs of spring in winter, or signs of new life in the desert. Anxiety, depression, stress, sleep deprivation, lack of self care, niggly illnesses all add up to a kind of numb weariness that continually ebbs and flows. A physiological vicious cycle.

Lent is good – it’s not just me taking time to visit the desert and acknowledge that desert times are a part of faith-filled living. 

Some weeks I ask myself what does joy look like – I often think it must look different to me than for others. I struggle with it to be honest. It seems over-demanding, too energetic, in my face; too bright. How can a word, a concept evoke that kind of avoidance within me? How can such a tiny word make me feel so inadequate, so full of failure. As a Christian I know I’m supposed to have an endless supply of joy, yet I am not good at taking hold of it or holding onto it, or perhaps sometimes even spotting it in the first place, and other times fear gets in the way of even going near it – whatever it is!

 ….the Lord made the heavens.

 Splendor and majesty are before him;

strength and joy are in his dwelling place.

Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. (1 Chronicles 16:26-28 NIV)

The one definition of joy that I have felt I can grab hold of I came across on social media of all places: ‘Joy is peace dancing’.

Peace that passes understanding, that does not depend on my circumstances or ability to achieve it. Peace that is a gift from God, the gift of being accepted and belonging with God who can carry the weight of the universe – and me – in the palm of his hand. Whose love is stronger than death itself, who can handle all that life can throw at me. That peace – dancing. That may not look like the joy that the world talks about but to me that resonates deeply. That joy is moments of quiet rest in the safety of the hollow of his hand, looking into his face and smiling back, and letting my heart dance, free in his presence. Here joy is not a demand, or something to find the energy to achieve, it’s simply present and tangible and without expectations. And maybe from here I can get more practiced at spotting this joy as it spills out of God’s hand into our lives – he is a God of miracles after all!

 

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drawing by T this week which showed me joy

“May we shout for joy over your victory and lift up our banners in the name of our God.” (Psalm 20:5)

Looking for joy in the barren places does have it’s advantages – when I spot it, grab it and hold on for dear life before it slips away – it holds a beauty and God-giveness precisely because it is so very unexpected. Like the wonder of crocuses and snowdrops standing tall and confident of spring despite the snow and howling wind.