the unexpected conversation – prayer

 

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When you actually stop and think about it prayer is unbelievable – in the awestruck sense! One simple, everyday word that means approaching the Creator, Eternal God, and being invited not just to an audience with majesty but also being invited to climb onto our Father’s knee.

Last week I was involved in ‘prayer week’ at the local secondary school (one of the things I do is being an active member of the school’s chaplaincy team). It’s a week when one of the year groups gets brought to a prayer discovery/experience lesson led by us as part of the RE curriculum. We then also go and visit RE lessons and answer questions and chat together about their thoughts on Christians and prayer.

Of course not all students are Christians and the activities we plan hope to open up discussion and a chance to chat with us as chaplains about our experience of prayer and what it means to us. We even decided to make 1 min ‘what prayer means to me’ videos this year that could be used in classes! Scary!

 

Lots of the discussions I had were so interesting, hearing why students thought we might pray, and why they didn’t. It was good to have that space to chat honestly about faith together. I love doing things like this – despite it terrifying me! – the conversations are so real, no facades.

One comment in particular stuck me, that prayer sounds scary. Yes, I think it does when you stop and think about it. I mean we really, genuinely believe prayer is communicating with God the Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit…don’t we? Not just words of comfort said in hope that someone might be listening. Not wishing. Not putting coins into the vending machine to get what’s on our list. Christians dare to believe that prayer is communication with God. That student’s comment made me wonder about how mundane and chore like we can often make prayer sound like – to others and perhaps to ourselves too.

Prayer is such an unexpected invitation. A privilege. A crazy, unbelievable conversation. We can be ourselves, we can speak and the Bible suggests that Father God enjoys listening, and wants us to come to him as Dad! How unexpected is that.

The day to day modelling and teaching about prayer continues in our family life – with its ups and downs, questions and wonderings. Prayer out loud together with each other can seem rare and surprising. But God’s greater than all that, listening and present and constantly drawing us into conversation. The other night T didn’t actually say ‘No’ when I asked if there was anything she wanted to talk with God about, and there was a little pause of quiet followed by a ‘yep, done it!’. I smiled, and felt fairly certain Father God did too.

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Easter holidays

 

When the school break happens leading up to Easter it’s a little tricky in our house!

A lot of patience was required from B, A & T as Andrew & I worked and prepared different services and events. A lot of patience was required by Andrew & I as the kids needed help relaxing, finding things to occupy themselves with and completing work.

In the end we began the holiday fortnight digging out a new pond in the back garden, with A designing and directing, me digging when I could and finishing other things when I could, and T with a trowel & paint brush checking for archaeological finds! Andrew mostly in the study or out for work, and B also working.

We found some fairly recent broken house tiles and the remains of a garden brick wall we think – and perhaps some pieces of a not-so-old plant pot! We also finished a pond.

As you can imagine it was a lesson in ‘I am simply not good enough, I can’t do all this without help!’ My patience has limits, each day has limited usable time, and lets face it washing clothes (and people!), cleaning, tidying, food (though Andrew handles that thankfully) and time together all still have to happen – sleep is apparently still fairly optional in our house but that’s another blog! Where does my help come from??!

I look to the hills!
Where will I find help?
It will come from the Lord,
who created the heavens
and the earth.

The Lord is your protector,
and he won’t go to sleep
or let you stumble.
The protector of Israel
doesn’t doze
or ever get drowsy.

The Lord is your protector,
there at your right side.

Psalm 121 (CEV)

There’s a limit to how far you can dig deep into your own resources, or at least that seems true in my experience. I’m finite. I’m not brilliant at everything. I’m tired – genuinely, mentally, physically and emotionally tired. I’m not enough many days. My faith in a faithful God is where I go for resources that go beyond my own; like walking uphill on a hot day and finding a well overflowing with cold pure water.

There’s no limit to how far you can dig deep into God’s heart finding love bigger, greater, stronger than you can ever imagine; patience that can outlast eternity; peace – real peace; forever new beginning forgiveness; mercy; being known, heard, understood; home…

 

It was I suppose a good context for Easter celebrations in the end. I went into Good Friday knowing I desperately needed help and forgiveness, knowing I couldn’t make it on my own. And found as if for the first time, as always, surprising mercy and love flowing from the heart of our full of life God.

 

 

seeing in colour: how do we experience life in all its fullness?

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Jesus told this simple story, but they had no idea what he was talking about. So he tried again. “I’ll be explicit, then. I am the Gate for the sheep. All those others are up to no good—sheep stealers, every one of them. But the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the Gate. Anyone who goes through me will be cared for—will freely go in and out, and find pasture. A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. (John 10:10 MSG)

“It’s so sad Mummy”, “what is T?” – “they don’t see all the colours.”

We were chatting about our two lovely, cuddly kittens. We’ve been busy in T’s bedroom, new curtains, some bigger shelves and a good sort out. We’ve also been making a house together for her dolls, and have so enjoyed the colours and fabrics and papers we have been playing with. And Jaffa loves it as you can see – on this visit to the house he found the bedroom and decided to settle in for a nap tucked in by T, too cute!

Cats apparently only see in black and white, or only a very limited range anyway. Of course we talked about how they had only ever seen things this way which meant that the shades and densities of black and white and all in-between were what they were used to, they could still have favourites and enjoy the differences (Jaffa seems to love pink for example, but we don’t know that pink looks the same to him as it does to us).

Recently someone reminded me of John 10:10 – life in all its fullness, life in abundance is what Jesus gives us as he comes into our lives. And I thought back to this little conversation. Spiritually we have got so used to seeing only in black and white, and we are very comfortable with that. But God sees in technicolour! And in Jesus it is as if he opens our eyes to catch glimpses – not too much or we’d be overwhelmed – of the dazzling colours of real, full, life. I expect we each get to see and experience different glimpses too. The abundant life of God splashes into our lives in different places and in different ways. One of my go-to phrases about my life as a disciple is that ‘my joy looks different from yours’ (or swap in peace, or hope etc). I don’t mean that God’s truth is relative – not at all – I guess I’m meaning that the expression of it, my experience of it as it splashes into and through my life here on earth may be very different from yours. We are unique, and God’s revelation of himself is personal at the same time as being the same truth for all, across all time and cultures.

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We each see and experience in a different way. Some much more differently than most. My girls see and experience the world around them differently from most and sometimes I wonder if that means they see very different shades, depths and brightness in the colourful splashes of God’s abundant life that break into ours.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to understand more of what they see, what their faith experience feels like? Wish I could be a fly on the wall. But it’s their personal friendship with God, their story with him. I only walk alongside, hoping to encourage and enable. But I’m also walking alongside ready to listen and learn, and rejoice when they share with me. I am learning (still!) to listen when T starts to sing in the garden or as we walk – it’s in these songs that she often describes her friendship with God, or her wonder at him and all he’s made. When I chat with B about a faith experience of my own, I’m learning to be braver and gently ask how she sees it, or if she’s experienced anything similar – and am learning to wait for her answer (which may come days later!). When I am planning something for a church group I’m enjoying asking B, A & T what they think, what they would choose to do to explain, or what craft or activity it makes them think about. Drawing and doodling together continues to be a great way of talking and sharing faith experiences together too.

What are the times your kids are able to share an insight about their faith?

In what ways does God’s abundant life splash it’s colour into your family life?

 

missing Curly Grandad: doing grief together

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Some days it can feel like it has been a lifetime since my Dad died suddenly, other days it could have been yesterday. Grief is a funny thing.

My children have experienced close relatives dying – perhaps more than I thought they might when they were young. B & A were little when Dad died, and almost straight afterwards my Grandad – Dad’s Dad – also died. Before that we had also experienced the loss of other loved members of our extended family.

There is no instruction manual for grief. It is a complex bundle of emotions; sadness, emptiness, anger, confusion, numbness, fear, love, acceptance, hope, thankfulness… and of course family don’t experience these emotions in sync with each other, there is no ‘order’ to feel them in. It can hit in waves, it can leave you feeling guilty on days which feel ‘normal’. It is difficult to navigate for yourself, and difficult to walk alongside others. As a Mum all I could do was walk gently with determination, loving my husband and children as we each waded through different reactions and emotions. Praying for wisdom and strength to face it together, and to share our hope in Jesus with B & A.

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I am certain it was important that we were open with our children about their Curly Grandad (he was the Grandad with curly hair of course), ready to talk about what we all missed without him there. I think it is also important to be open to sharing how we have felt at different times or at different occasions – not always the easiest for super-introvert-me. But I am convinced that talking together openly has been important in walking through this together.

..’children can empathise with and show compassion for peers that have been bereaved. Children aged between five and ten often copy the coping mechanisms that they observe in bereaved adults and they may try to disguise their emotions in an attempt to protect the bereaved adult. The bereaved child can sometimes feel that they need permission to show their emotions and talk about their feelings.

The important thing is to let them do this. Avoid remarks such as, “Come on be a big brave girl for mummy” or “Big boys don’t cry”, such comments however well meant can make children feel they need to hide their feelings or that what they are feeling is wrong. This can cause complications as the bereaved child develops.’ (Cruse)

There were also a multitude of questions that my children had – and perhaps still do. Being as young as he was, A found it difficult to understand the finality of death and for a number of days was looking for Curly Grandad and asking where he was. Strangely T, even though she was born a number of years after Dad died, has gone through very similar stages with us and has also brought her questions about death and how it works. It’s not at all easy to answer questions that need factual detail when you yourself are struggling to come to terms with your loved one’s death. How I wish I could have found a reference book that had all the answers printed out for me at that time. How I wish we could have thought to talk about these topics at a time when we weren’t reeling!

 ..’it is important that the cause of death, the funeral and burial process and what happens to the deceased person’s body are explained in a factual and age appropriate manner to the bereaved child. Children will ask many questions and may want to know intricate details pertaining to the death and decomposition of the body. Again, it is vital that children have such details explained to them clearly so that they understand.’ (Cruse)

It was out of the experience of the first few weeks after Dad died that I began to write. As a Mum of my two very curious, needing detail children, I was looking for the right words, the right way to explain and open up the Bible with them. It was important to find ways to share our faith, our hope because of Jesus about life and death with them. So ‘My Curly Grandad’ was written, partly for them, partly an expression of my own grief and partly for Mums like me needing help finding words and a way in. In writing down their experiences and questions, and weaving Jesus’ good news throughout the story I pray that it spoke to them where they were. I pray now, as it is finally published, that it will speak into other family’s lives and hearts as they walk together in faith, love and grief.

Snowdrop moments: unexpected breakthroughs

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Love, love, love snowdrops don’t you. Little nuggets of resilience and pioneering spirit. Humble simple beauty when it’s least expected and looked for, when everything is cold & hard, and just when it’s needed to lift the spirits and urge us forward. I carefully divided and replanted some clumps of bulbs last autumn, and am enjoying watching them fight their way into flower in their new homes around the garden. For me they are a reminder of the fact that God is in the business of making everything new – and that begins now, in the unexpected; against the odds; tenacious; fragile and simple yet miraculously powerful breakthroughs that God allows to spring up ready to be found and rejoiced in. They remind me to rejoice with God in the small significant ‘newnesses’ that happen in our family life.

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A sewing birthday party attended despite huge anxiety and thoroughly enjoyed. Huge sense of achievement. The photo shows fluffy the bear, designed and sewed by T alongside a great group of girls from her class.

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T had homework this week to cook a healthy tea for her family!

Andrew helped, I provided emotional support! And T cooked chicken pasta. Exhausting.

Hidden in this amazing event was an equally amazing moment as T sat with B & A and a friend at the kitchen table and all ate some – a new recipe tried by everyone – don’t try & tell me God doesn’t break into our everyday, that’s definitely miraculous.

 

This morning A allowed T to sit in his room, and they peacefully ate breakfast alongside each other. (I know!!!)

College work, a very new way of presenting and handing in, is being completed.

We have had a visit from a good friend, who helps us in ways she probably doesn’t realize. And, in the same few days another friend came round so that Andrew & I could go out for a meal. I know, sounds so ordinary yet never ever taken for granted.

img_20190122_102331_045I am pressing on with the editing of another book – the one that sparked all the others – about time I focused on it again and got it ready to share with you, think you’re going to love it.

Last week I also travelled (not far, but even so, out of my little comfort zone) to help deliver a disability (or diffability as I like to think of it) awareness training session for the diocese and had the chance to share a bit about ‘sense of space’, our accessible worship at church and our experience. And we juggled school pick ups successfully between us.

All of these small, significant, moments – snowdrop moments if you like – can be moments to recognize God is at work in our midst. He is drawing us forward, revealing his faithfulness, his humour, his joy in who he has created each of us to be; leading us into his life – his overflowing, never ending aliveness that he pours into our lives. Tough circumstances, worries, lack of sleep, diffability; none of it stops God in his busyness of recreating. His aliveness is powerful enough to break through the hardest, coldest places of our lives in ways unexpected; against the odds; tenacious; fragile yet powerful.