the votes are in

love joy peace

I vividly remember my first ever vote. Walking in to the Polling Station with my Dad, who took me to the desk and proudly announced to everyone and anyone that it was my first time to vote. We registered, went to the booth to cast our vote, posted it into the black box and went home! I don’t know who felt more proud, Dad or me – I certainly remember the feeling of the sheer privilege of it, and the weightiness of the process of reading up, carefully considering, praying & voting.

The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can [all] be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Savior God wants us to live. (1 Tim 2: 1-4 MSG)

We grew up discussing together. Questioning, discovering and finding out for ourselves. Matters of faith, ethics, the big questions of life were mulled over. Sermons were discussed at Sunday lunch. Politics was also a significant part of family conversation. We knew (or at least I’m fairly sure we knew) how Mum & Dad probably voted, but they modeled a way of weighing up policies from different parties, holding them up against the Bible and our experience and knowledge of our faith, questioning them and ourselves. They modeled a sense of responsibility to take each opportunity to vote seriously, showed us in their attitudes and actions the ways that policies were not simply academic but affected people. We were not told which party we should vote for, we were shown how to vote. I’m so grateful for their lives of faith and the example they gave us. I’m thankful too that over the years they have made room for our questions, our doubts, our naivety, our simplistic thinking. That they did not belittle but encouraged.

So today I have thought a lot about that first experience of voting, and how my parents made space for us to grow and discover for ourselves – and how that spurs me on to keep intentionally making that same safe space for mine as they grow. I have, as usual, missed my Dad’s voice and encouragement in the run up to today. We have definitely not stopped the big discussions, not stopped asking the difficult questions whenever we get the chance to all be together – and the older ones in the next generation are getting into the swing of it very ably too now – but it is one of those parts of life where it still feels very stark that his voice and his wisdom is not in the mix anymore since he died!

What would he be reminding us of now that the votes are in, and the counting begins? Whatever tomorrow brings I think Dad would be reminding me of my calling to Christ-likeness, in my loving and living, in my choices and my thinking. So I am reminding myself of Jesus’ ‘manifesto’ – and praying for more grace! (so much more needed as always!)

When he stood up to read, he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written,

God’s Spirit is on me;
    he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,
Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and
    recovery of sight to the blind,
To set the burdened and battered free,
    to announce, “This is God’s year to act!”

 

He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the place was on him, intent.  (Lk 4:17-19 MSG)

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A whole hour? Really??

Our church has been taking part in ‘Thy Kingdom Come 2017’ this week beginning with a prayer 24/7 style prayer marathon that will finish in time for our early morning service on Sunday, and our celebration of Pentecost.

Everyone in church had an opportunity to sign up for one of the hours in the prayer space – a whole hour?? I went with T for an hour yesterday, not the best timing 12-1pm – right when she’s usually eating lunch! Anyway, we packed biscuits and a flask of hot chocolate to keep us going if hunger got in the way, and we set off with Annie (favourite doll) quite ‘nervous-ited’ as T calls that funny mix of excitement and feeling daunted at something unknown.

It was less of an unknown to me, I had planned the room so knew exactly what would be there… and of course had made sure there were plenty of hands on things people of any age or ability could join in with.

We began the hour predictably, straight to the playdough mats. While she began we remembered the story of the Holy Spirit coming to the disciples as they prayed. And talked about how the Holy Spirit helped them share Jesus’ good news. We read the story of the wise and foolish house builders from a children’s Bible as T finished (and helped Annie finish) the playdough picture. And we began to wonder together what it means to pray ‘Thy Kingdom Come’…

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T knew the phrase from learning the prayer at school, so we said the whole prayer out loud together and she and Annie set off to another part of the room. To my surprise she didn’t stop at the library of story books & cosy tent with beanbags, she went straight to the table with the papers and odds and ends people might find helpful – blue tack, post-its, luggage tags, Bibles, felt pens, colouring sheets (yes, any excuse to design a new one!) & colour in booklets about the Lord’s prayer. I showed her the booklet she could make and how it might help her to pray, but she picked up the colouring sheet, sat Annie on a little chair, drew up another, chose a colour and then said ‘tell me about this wall Mummy’…

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Right next to us was a wall for drawing and writing onto, ‘The Kingdom of God is…’, with questions; what does the Kingdom look, sound, feel, taste, smell like? ‘Taste like???? how can it taste Mummy??’. I found the passage after the beatitudes with the passages that compare the Kingdom to different things. And read about salt! ‘Do you think we are supposed to be salty if we are part of God’s Kingdom T?’, ‘Ughhh! I don’t like salt!’. ‘Hang on though T, what would ready salted crisps (a favourite) be like without salt?’, ‘Yuk!’ said T. ‘It’s salt that makes them taste good, salt makes all sorts of tastes extra alive. Salt makes some things last better. And it can make things get better quicker sometimes.’ ‘Really? Wow, Mummy you should draw salt shaking all over the whole world then it will be better.’ I drew as I was instructed and we prayed for God salt, and God’s salty Kingdom people to make the world better.

Publication2We sat for quite a while, T colouring, me praying.

‘What are you doing Mummy? Are you still worrying about salt?’, ‘Not really T, just listening to what God might say to me as I talk with him’. ‘How will you know? Have you heard his voice?’, ‘Have you T?’. ‘It’s low low low, and serious… and beautiful’. ‘I think it’s also sometimes like this too’, and I laid my hand on her arm, ‘like that, safe warm..’, ‘With you feeling!’ T smiles, ‘Yes Mummy, sometimes’. ‘I think that when I’m talking with God and thinking with him he helps me with new ideas and thoughts, helps me see new things I hadn’t noticed or understood before’, I said. ‘So what do you need to draw there now Mummy?’…

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I asked T to come and pray for our town, we had wooden houses, trees, people & animals to put onto the map. We thought about places and people, and took turns to ask God to be with them, and help them. Then we saw the table with A’s globe on it, and we had to stop and look. A display of prayers from around the world. ‘Is there China?’, said T. She was fascinated by China when she learnt about Chinese New Year at school. We read the prayer from China together looking at it on the globe. And then the doorbell went – the hour was gone! It was a very precious hour, heartfelt conversation T, God & me.

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B’s colouring later in the day.

I don’t understand

So, what have Jack the Ripper, weight, mass, velocity, aboriginal art, tadpoles, trellis, soft furnishings, origins of the word ‘Blazer’, peonies and politics got in common??? Not sure, except that I’ve had to have discussions and try to answer questions about all of them so far this week, and more. We have children who ‘need to know’ all sorts of things, they want to understand, sometimes it feels as though they have never grown through the ‘why?’ phase.

Some of the questions spark from homework – I’m extremely thankful for the balance brought by Jack the Ripper alongside aboriginal art this week! But most simply come from things seen, heard, encountered. Nurturing an environment at home where faith is part of everyday life means of course that the questions and discussions are also about that too, which in a way is really encouraging – it means they are seeing, hearing and encountering it. My week began with a real humdinger of a question – ‘how can I make sense of God when I read the stories about wiping out whole people groups in God’s name in the Old Testament Mum?’. To make a change it came in the midst of the rush to get ready for school rather than last thing at night before bed, but even so – a real tough one – thanks A!

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Image from ‘The Graphic Bible’ J Anderson & M Maddox

In that moment I think I remember expressing what a tough and real question it was, and how many other questions it gives us. I think I remember suggesting it’s not the only picture of God that we have even in the Old Testament – Jericho and the peaceful walking around the walls (though admittedly still a story of conquest which becomes less peaceful quite rapidly), Gideon and how God asked him to keep reducing his army, the story of the broken jars and the lights causing panic (Judges 8), Jonah being so disgruntled when God forgave rather than punished. And I definitely finished that short moment of discussion by introducing the idea that Jesus is the lens to understanding God – how Jesus himself said ‘If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father’ (Jn 14:9), that we can’t separate the two. We both agreed that Jesus’ life showed us things in a different light.

We’ve not found a moment to pick it up again yet, but it will come. And in the meantime I’ve been pondering and wrestling (probably much like A has) what do I think? How can I explore that with A? What’s the best approach?

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Despite the years of theological study it’s a tough one, there isn’t one clear answer that a majority of scholars agree with and the approaches that they take are varied. Some explore and discuss from a social history perspective, how what we know of ancient cultures contemporary to early Israel lived, helps us interpret the biblical accounts. For some this gets done in the light of archaeological evidence from sites of the cities in 20170519_134922Canaan for example. Others take a literary perspective wanting to explore which bits of which biblical book probably have a similar source, how the accounts may have been passed down and then written and how that process might shape our understanding of the events behind the accounts. Different literary approaches might focus on the ‘why’ of the writing, and in the comparison between Israel’s way of recording it’s history and other cultures or people groups’ recorded history to see what defines it and shapes it, what makes it different? Some focus really closely in on the linguistic analysis of particular key words or phrases, asking how they have been translated, was there a cultural nuance in the original language that’s missed in translation, and how could we know that? Some in contrast focus on the ‘Big Picture’, asking what do these accounts mean if we see them in the context of the whole sweeping story of salvation – the story of God and his people? and of course there are different perceptions of what that story itself is, and different aspects of it that can be focused in on… and each of these approaches and questions can lead to different conclusions of course.

Was the history written down as it happened, very humanly, but with people justifying their actions by couching it with ‘God says…’? Did God say these events had to be this way to show us something about ourselves or him without which we would not be ready for Jesus? Are they there to teach us about purity, justice, holiness, God’s jealous love for us because there was no other way for us to learn those things?? Do these accounts of war and killing show us human imperfection in the midst of a story which has a focus on love and self-sacrifice?

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When I pick up the conversation with A again, I probably won’t keep the complexity from him. He’s a deep thinker, and we try as parents not to gloss over or ignore the big questions however hard they are, and however daunted we feel going into those conversations. Equally I probably won’t go through each different school of thought in huge amounts of detail unless he shows an interest and a million other questions follow on! I’m imagining I will ask him as many questions as he asks me… what does he know about God that these stories seem difficult to match up with? what is it that’s a puzzle? where else could we look in the bible that might help us understand, or see it differently? what have we experienced of God, what do we know him to be like because of that? Do we always understand everything about him? If not I wonder why not?

Whenever these tough questions come up I remind myself that my kids are not content with superficial, smoothed over answers, and neither am I probably – though I’m tempted sometimes. Which leaves us in that uncomfortable place of unknowing and the difficult task of learning to live in that without clear cut, definitive answers for everything. But I hope that in creating a safe space for these questions to be asked & heard, and to be wrestled with that we draw ourselves and our kids to the heart of that safe space that we pray into our family life, we draw them into God’s presence, into the presence of the one who does understand all things and still loves us. I hope that by giving space for the wrestling rather than telling A my opinion as if it’s the only one will also model a pattern of growing in faith through the tough questions without being afraid of them.

THE goodnight prayer!

We have always tried to pray with our 3 before bed, right from the beginning, and have gradually encouraged them to join in and pray out loud too. Quite early on we discovered the need for a definite ending prayer that would unequivocally signal the end of prayer and the need to settle down to sleep. And so it came about that THE goodnight prayer came into being, a rather jumbled paraphrase of the blessing in Numbers… the first time we used it was from memory and from then on it has had to be the same!

“‘“The Lord bless you
    and keep you;
 the Lord make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you;
 the Lord turn his face toward you
    and give you peace.”’

(Numbers 6:24-26 NIV)

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“The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you, lift up the light of his countenance upon you, and give you His peace” – our rather imperfect version!

We found that when she was young B developed an elaborate set way of praying which did not change in structure, though over the years new names have been added in. It ended in her own unique way ‘… look after the whole world, the whole universe and you God. Amen. Now the goodnight prayer Mummy/Daddy…’

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Similarly with A prayer took on a structured pattern early on. The pattern has changed, and has been shaped by trying new ways of praying, and new questions to ask as we pray together. Most recently it has been influenced by the Ignation Examen idea of reflecting on the blessings of the day and recognizing God’s presence throughout the day.

With T we have she hasn’t easily adopted the goodnight prayer we use with the other 2. In fact on the whole she is rather resistant to praying before sleep! There are plenty of other times in the day when this isn’t the case so it’s not felt like a panic, but there is something significant, important about praying over them just before sleep, handing them over to God’s care while they rest. Also bedtime is the time for anxieties and stresses to get in the way of rest – prayer is vital, and I would love it if we found a way to help her to join in.

‘I can lie down and sleep soundly because you, Lord, will keep me safe.’

(Psalm 4:8 CEV)

We had a difficult time getting T to sleep again last night. There were real and paralyzing worries about dying and never seeing Panda & Pandy again, or me dying or of me left behind if she dies. We needed to pray out loud together and find the peace and reassurance God can give. And it suddenly came to me (I’m sure because we had spent the weekend with my Mum, and it had stirred in my subconscious) that she would relate to the goodnight prayer of my childhood, that my Mum or Dad would sing to me, or with me before sleep. She loves songs – it’s how she naturally talks to God such a lot of the time. So I asked if I could sing the goodnight prayer I always had at bedtime when I was little, when I was upset or scared. She agreed! So then I had to sing – it came flooding back as clear as if I was a child again, as I held her and prayed over her for God’s peace and protection. She liked it so much I think I sang it through about ten times! We may have found her goodnight prayer!

Lord keep me safe this night,

secure from all my fears.

May angels guard me as I sleep

till morning light appears.

How do you pray at bedtime? Is there a special goodnight prayer you use?

Review: Comfort in the Darkness

Rachel Turner’s book ‘Comfort in the Darkness’ is a series of devotional bible stories of people connecting with God, encountering him, in the night. Each is written as a narrative perfect for reading aloud, short enough for tiny attention spans and tired minds, and long enough to intrigue and invite.

I have read with T (6 yrs) & with B (15yrs), and both have enjoyed them and have engaged with the stories in different ways. They have prompted questions sometimes, discussion and sharing our own experiences of sensing God’s closeness.

“If your child asks a tough question that you can’t answer, feel free to say, ‘I don’t know. let’s find out together.’ … Enjoy your child’s curiosity about the things of God. It is one of the great and wonderful privileges we have – wading into the tough questions with our children, with no fear.” (p49)

B has been open to using the prayer after the stories. With T, I have been able to let our chat lead into moments of asking God to draw close, and a couple of times led to windows of quiet waiting together in God’s presence.

After each story are suggestions for discussion starters, and also prompts to help you enable your child to draw close to God. There are ‘parenting for faith’ sections at the end of each chapter too, with helpful reflections on the issues arising in the story, or practical ideas.

I am sure we will read through these many times in the years to come, and I think the reflections, suggestions and resources built into the book for me as a parent coming alongside my child as they grow in faith will mean that each time we come back we will listen and engage in a new way. I can imagine that each time we read we will build on knowledge and skills, and experiences of God from the previous time.

“We can model our trust in God’s ability to be present in dreams. We can help our children to understand that there are no limits to where God can go … Invite God to be part of their dreams…” (p96)

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I was particularly struck by this paragraph in the first story when I was reading aloud:

“The word of God can make all things happen, and with a few words he began his great creation. ‘Let there be light,’ God said. …

But God made a choice. He kept darkness, too. He saved it and protected it. He could have got rid of it altogether, but there was something about darkness that was important and special … He called the light ‘day’ and the dark he called ‘night’. He had great plans for both.” (p12)

I have become so used to night being associated with worry and stress, sleeplessness and the pressure to sleep that it has become quite a negative word I suppose. But here was an invitation to recollect that God treasures the night as much as he treasures the day. To see that God had plans for the night – and as we continued to read bedtime after bedtime it was clear that so many of the times God provided, rescued, guided, challenged and encouraged happened in the night.

Night as a set aside, retreat time with God is not the way I have been thinking of bedtimes, and has certainly not been the message I have been modelling to my children. So I have been challenged – in a good way, and feel I have been given some tools and pointers to change my thinking and my expectations about night! That has to be a good thing!

Isn’t it a wonderful thing that God wants to chat with us, and draw near to us … even (or perhaps especially) in the rather challenging nights (that don’t exactly feel retreat like) when it seems none of us can get much rest or peace. With ASD, anxiety, night terrors, bad backs, eczema and long term sleep deprivation nights are anything but sleep-filled in our house – but maybe they have been God-filled all along, I just needed a nudge to begin to see that more clearly.

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