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.

 

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lent is nearly here

It hardly seems a minute since I managed to get Christmas decorations down and packed back away, and here we are, Lent begins next week!

So I’m taking the opportunity of blogging about such things as faith habits at home as my excuse to spend some time enjoying pinterest – should I say, researching – looking for the many great ideas out there that other families have tried.

(By the way I collect together the ideas I find about faith at home on my pinterest board)

Ideas that have caught my eye this year are:

How beautiful!!  It's a visual walk through the days of lent to Easter.

 

This visual walk through lent posted by ‘rhythm of the home’

I wondered if it could also be made together as a family throughout lent, taking turns to add a thumb print (or even a painty foot print) each day.

‘Catholic Icing’ have a printable lenten calendar that could be coloured in each day. A simple visual countdown is really helpful for breaking lent down into something that can be imagined, and the end can be ‘in sight’.

‘Flame Creative Kids’  has a whole list of wonderful, creative, prayer and thinking activities including this lovely stained glass window design.

 ‘GodVenture’ ‘s new book takes you through lent looking at the story of Lazarus with stickers, story, prayers.

‘Dunlap Love’ directs me to a way of doing a lenten tree – like a Jesse tree – and has some free printable ornaments to laminate and hang up each day as a Bible verse is read.

And also ‘Wee Little Miracles’ tells me how to go about making and using this beautiful spiral to the cross with cardboard, burlap and modelling clay. She is planning to take turns to place a stone into a ‘cup’ each day to mark the journey through lent.

 

 

I will also be posting weekly ideas, practical and crafty and with free printables inspired by my book ‘My Easter Egg Hunt’ which explores the meaning of Good Friday. They’ll be posted on my clearly nurturing publishing website.

There are so many lovely ideas for creating sacred space, and a pattern of prayer and Bible reading together through lent. Now the hard bit is deciding which we will try. I am imagining we will combine a reflective habit like one of these with some intentional blessing of others.

Maybe joining in with the 40 acts challenge or by collecting food for the local foodbank, or similar project adding some items every day as we pray (we have a project our church supports that works alongside asylum seekers and refugees, and there are others too who would welcome donations or things or of time).

Lent is a time to focus together with God, to reflect on our own faith and trust in him, and his beyond words grace poured over us. A time to look at the world around us again but with eyes heightened and alert, and with hearts stirred by prayer and renewed sense of purpose. (And my prayer is that in the middle of our unpredictable and rather complicated family life there will be a thread of all those hopes running through our lives together in the run up to celebrating Easter, because God is in our midst)

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ready, steady…answer

I have just spent a very lovely morning with our pre-school service at church, ‘Pips Praise’. Lots of laughter, wiggling, dancing and listening. For me the morning finished with a conversation about the story we had listened to with a little one crawling under the row of chairs.

“I used all the stars [stickers making a starry sky picture] – there are so many”, “Can you count them?”, “No [giggles] there are lots”. “Abraham couldn’t count them either could he, that’s why God asked him to look. God wanted to promise he would have a family so big he couldn’t count them”, “God thought the stars were beautiful” [questioning my logic], “oh yes, but also to show Abraham his family would be so many he couldn’t count them. Did God keep his promise?”, “They had a baby.”, “yes and the baby was the start of a very big family, God kept his promise” [back to the picture and the stars and whether Daddy was going to like the picture like God thought the starry sky was beautiful…]

It reminded me, as I was chatting sprawled on the floor with a little one under the chairs that you have to be ready, steady to go when it comes to chatting Bible stories and what God is like. You never know when or where you’ll be when the conversation opens up. Children are so full of curiosity and questions, they are hungry to know and understand, and it seems to me that as soon as a question gets formed it can’t be held in for long so we need to be ready there and then especially with little ones – and my not so little autists!

Your heart should be holy and set apart for the Lord God. Always be ready to tell everyone who asks you why you believe as you do. Be gentle as you speak and show respect. (1 Peter 3:15 NLV)

Some of my coming alongside children and young people to share faith happen when I set aside a time – when I help run a club, or lead a small group time, or organize a mentor time… but most happens in those unexpected moments. This is especially true in family faith sharing, more often than not if we plan a particular time, or story, or prayer activity we have a small chance of it being meaningful and fruitful. It’s the unexpected opportunities that really open things up to talk about the things of faith. And it’s often a challenge because the unexpected moments are often moments we feel least ready, least in tune with God.

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For example I remember vividly a particularly challenging day on holiday when B & A were very small. They had spent the day annoying and getting at each other. No game had gone smoothly. No conversation had ended well. Nothing had been ‘right’ for B, so meltdowns and inflexibility had shaped the day for all of us. And we as parents probably felt it more keenly on holiday with all the hopes of good family time together, fun and closeness. We were worn out, and by bedtime just wanted (needed) a brief moment of rest as we got them to sleep (even knowing it would not be long before one of them needed us through the night as usual). This bedtime became one of those unexpected moments, when I was worn thin and felt I had nothing left.

Andrew was bathing A, and I was wrestling an octopus – or was I getting B into pyjamas – when out of the blue, suddenly B turns and stops fighting me and says:

“Why do I always end up doing cross things, when I love A, and want to play. I want to do the right thing but it’s impossible.”

I can remember taking a small deep breath as I hung on her words and with my other hand reached for the children’s Bible on the floor by the bed. This was one of those moments. I turned to the pictures of the Easter story and we began to talk as we looked at them.

“It’s impossible for me too, and A, and Daddy. None of us can do the right thing all the time. Sometimes I shout when I am tired and cross, sometimes we don’t remember about something we have promised you will happen, sometimes I have unkind thoughts about people when I feel grumpy too. But I think my friend Jesus knows that, that’s why he came.”

B looked long and hard at the pictures and we remembered the story together.

“He did all this because he loves us, and he knows it’s impossible for us to get everything right. He knows we try, and try again, but he knows we can’t do it. And that has stopped us being able to be friends with him, and with Father God. So he came to help. I believe he came, and he died because of all the times we don’t get it right or do the right thing.”

Turning the page we looked at Jesus, alive again.

“God’s love is so strong Jesus came alive again. And that means he can forgive us completely – that means we can start all over again. And that means he is with us to help us when it is impossible to do the right thing on our own.”

We skipped some pages and looked at pictures of the Holy Spirit coming to the disciples at Pentecost.

“Did Jesus do all that for me? Can he help me?”

“Yes he did! He loves you!”

 

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And there and then we talked to Jesus together, saying sorry, saying we wanted to be friends with him, saying how we needed his help. And there and then, in the midst of our tired wrestling bedtime at the end of an exhausting and disappointing day B made her choice to become friends with Jesus who loves her. We carried on putting reluctant limbs into pyjamas, and climbed into the bed together to read stories. She snuggled in, and drifted to sleep. And I lay there next to her reeling with the surprise of the moment, and full of thanks to God for how he had helped me to turn from grumpy, tired Mummy mode and to find the gentleness, and patience and words to help her to understand just how loved she is.

…be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. (2 Tim 4:2 NIV)

Being ready is the challenge! More about living in trust with God than about knowing loads. More about heart readiness. Being ready for the unexpected moments is as important as the regular faith habits (or irregular depending on how well its going!)  we try to keep as a family. Moments are around every corner, and conversations open up when we least expect them. It can be bathtime, mealtimes, meltdowns, school drop off or pick up, in the park, in church, in the car, in season and out of season. My challenge is – be ready!

Have you had unexpected moments to share faith with your children? 

 

Review: ‘Indescribable 100 devotions about God and science’

‘Indescribable 100 devotions about God and science’ by Louie Giglio is a new book of devotions all with a scientific focus. When I saw it advertised I pre-ordered I was so excited at the thought of devotions that would overlap with a special interest, and I hoped that being focused on science it might also be full of facts and details which would also appeal.

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We began reading, B & I, on New Years’ Day, and I have not been disappointed! Each day has been packed with interest grabbing facts and insights about our world – the main topics focused in on are space, earth, animals, and people (they are spread about through the devotions if you follow day by day but at the front is a contents which also groups them into these categories so you could read by topic if preferred). There is so much detail in each thought that we have even come across facts B didn’t already know (no point in me adding that there are lots & lots I don’t know, take that as read! – but I have been able to follow).

Each devotion must take about 2 or 3 minutes to read and include the Bible verse, and there are drawn pictures and photographs (next to bonus facts to think more about) on each page, and a prayer you can use together. I think it would be accessible for confident readers to use alone, but we are enjoying them together and mostly finishing with our own prayers – because we have a set way that has evolved over time.

Although I have started reading with B I think it will also appeal to T (now 7) so when the moment is right I may tentatively see if I can build it into my bedtime routine with her & see what she thinks. But I love it!

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Other devotions we have loved:

‘Thoughts to make your heart sing’ by Sally Lloyd Jones

‘God and me’ by Penny Boshoff was great when B & A were little, and still dipped into by T as she loves the pictures (all photos of real children doing interesting things!)

‘Children can you hear me’ by Brad Jersak (I talk about this book here)

‘Comfort in the darkness’ by Rachel Turner (read our review here)

And not forgetting ‘Our family GodVenture’ by Victoria Beech which we are still enjoying on Fridays when we have a ‘sabbath’ meal together.

And ‘Topz’ books (produced by CWR) have also been enjoyed over the years – we’re not there with T yet, they were great when A wanted something to get stuck into on his own.

Would love to know your recommendations, are you enjoying any particular Bible devotions/thoughts for the day at the moment? .. leave suggestions in the comments..

 

 

welcome the new year

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Apparently it’s 2018!

Happy New Year!!

Today has been filled with precious last conversations and laughter with family who have been staying, before we all get back to our work & school routines. Followed by hoovering and getting our three back and settled in their own rooms again after a full house and camping beds in every possible place you could imagine.

We all went to church together yesterday in the morning, crammed into 2 rows (there were 15 of us at that point). T was particularly restless, so excited to have all her cousins with her. So one by one all the fidget toys came out of my bag, and the usual pen & paper. I was a little discouraged – the service was of course being led brilliantly by two of our team. It was interactive, accessible, fun – there was nothing T couldn’t join in with, on paper – I find it hard some weeks when she appears to be so distracted. She did enjoy the singing though & it’s always a delight to worship alongside her in song.

A new year seems incredibly daunting don’t you think. All the unknowns and some known challenges on the horizon; GCSE exams at school for B, music grades for A, post 16 choices for B, move up to juniors for T…  Somehow sitting being reminded of trusting God and listening for his voice in every challenge ahead – with a restless, squirming T on & off (& on & off!) on my knee I was deeply aware of just how uphill a year can feel.

But I just wanted to share with you what wriggly T drew in the notebook during the service, because it encouraged me to trust:

She was taking it all in. She was listening for God’s voice in the midst of the busy wriggling, the excitement, the joy, and the frustrations of that service.

We learnt a very apt memory verse during the service, and T jotted down the prompts on the next page of the notebook:

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