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.

 

 

Free printables: Scrap-booking with God

A while ago T & I got started on a scrap book all about the Bible. We love the cutting, sticking and doodling process of scrap-booking. It’s something we do on some holidays (something I did on holidays as a child – in fact I also used to doodle and put together diaries or activity books for my younger sisters too when we went away which probably annoyed them intensely!), and if we are busy finding out about a particular topic. So for us it is perhaps the most natural thing in the world to do scrap-booking with God.

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I don’t chat with T about scrap-booking about God, but with him. What we doodle, cut & stick is all part of our conversation with him. Sometimes our pages become conversation starters between God & us; sometimes they are a response to what we experienced in being with God that day; sometimes in writing a verse out or colouring or drawing about a bible verse we are better able to listen. Just the same as a spiritual journal but with much more glue, stickers and felt tips!

Anyway, I have been busy drawing some more printables that can be coloured, cut out and used in your scrap-booking with God. Because T is still enjoying exploring the facts about the Bible the most recent page is full of fascinating facts about the Bible alongside the picture-language the Bible uses to describe God’s word in our lives. These will need a bit of explanation for my literal thinker – though I look forward to learning from her take on them too –

  • light for my path – picture language that gets us remembering how difficult and scary it can be walking on a path in pitch darkness. We find it easier and safer when there is a good streetlight, or a powerful torch showing us the path and where we can walk. God’s word is like a light that makes it safe to walk forward in life, helping us see where to go next and the dangers to avoid.

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  • honey on my lips – a comparison between God’s words when we hear them and honey when we eat some. Honey not only tastes amazing it also has superpowers and can help heal because it has antibacterial properties, and is soothing, and eating local honey can genuinely help hay fever. Honey is also very precious, looking back to when this comparison was used granulated sugar did not exist, nor did artificial sweetners. Honey was beautifully sweet in cooking, so over time in many cultures people began to keep bees and collect the honey despite the risks.
  • my guide/map – if we are going somewhere we need to know the way. If we don’t we feel lost, and become lost very easily without a map or a guide to show us the directions. In life there are so many choices every day – little ones and big ones, and without directions and help it can feel very difficult – we may even feel lost (sometimes people even describe someone who has made bad choices as having ‘lost their way’). God’s word can be our guide (just like having someone with us to show us the way) and our map that we can work out the best choices from.

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  • every day bread – Jesus said we can’t live just on bread, we need the word of God too. Thinking about God’s word being like every day bread reminds us how much we need it. We would get hungry, then weak and ill if we gave up on eating what we need to each day. It is as important for our health and well-being that we hear God’s word every day and let it’s goodness give us what we need to live.
  • sword of the Spirit – from the picture Paul describes about the Christian dressed in protective armour so they can be strong in their living out of the faith. The ‘sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’ is the only weapon Paul talks about when he describes living as a Christian in this way. God’s word can battle with our worries and doubts, they can tell us what is true when lies come at us. The Holy Spirit reminds us of God’s word at all the important moments in our living for God, always reminding us of who God is and how loved we are.

click here to download free printables 

I really hope you enjoy using these pages in your scrap-booking with God. If you want to take a picture I would love to see. Tag me on instagram, @clearlynurturing.

 

“let the little ones come to me”

Some weeks the big issues talked about in our home are chosen for us. B & A are now using social media and see the trending issues as they come and go. So of course we have been responding to the highlighting of the way the immigration policies have been implemented in the USA recently, particularly the separating of children and parents as they cross borders, economic migrants and asylum seekers alike. It has made no sense whatsoever to them seeing pictures of small children so terrified, taken away from parents in a strange new place. They have wondered why, wanted to understand, and wanted to do something to stop it.

I share their concerns. And I found yesterday’s social media feeds difficult. I read wanting to know truth, wanting to respond and act to the true situation. Wanting wisdom, and a stronger heart with bigger, braver love. Jesus rebuked the disciples saying ‘let the children come to me’ (Matthew 19:14), he also of course told us to ‘love your neighbour as yourselves’ (Luke 10) – quite a few times, and to clarify also followed it up with the story of the good Samaritan in case we were wondering about the fine print. I want a heart like his, not one that scrolls quickly past the pictures of children hurting and hungry, suffering in a world full of injustice, so many pictures from so many places both in the headlines and not, but in my social media feed because of the charities I follow I guess. Displaced people is one of the big issues of the day, and so our immigration policies and how they get implemented are of huge concern. There are concerns in my heart about UK policies and implementation of policies too. I don’t for a second feel complacent that we are acting justly, respectfully, humanely as people come to our borders either.

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There is possibility and opportunity for our policies and response as countries and communities to be a blessing to so many people in need right now when you stop and think about it – thinking outside the baggage – and the flip side is of course that there is possibility and opportunity for our policies and response to cause more trauma and lasting damage, more hurt and division long term.

Before we moved to Nottinghamshire we had more opportunities in the everyday of life to practically respond to displaced families looking for asylum. In our church family we got to know families and individuals from all sorts of different places around the world, B & A got to know them, we heard their stories and felt their pain as they shared what they had left and shared their hopes as they navigated their way through the very complicated and clumsy asylum system here. But what for T where we live now? It is not in the everyday encounters that she will hear and feel the experience of displaced people. It is something that if I want her to learn I will have to be intentional about.

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Our church supports a project in Nottingham itself which supports refugees and asylum seekers so that is one very obvious way. In fact we have a fundraising quiz night coming up very soon, and someone from the Rainbow project will be coming to tell us a bit about what they do! Good timing. Of course there are also the families we are still in touch with from where we used to live, including our beautiful godchildren. And continuing to cultivate a culture at home of discussing, exploring and asking questions, bringing faith into all of that and trying to live out the things we discover matter, trying to make a difference.

IMG_20180620_203437811_LLSo, needless to say really yesterday my instinct was to end the day with T by steering the bedtime book choice towards a lovely thoughtful book called ‘The colour of home’, by Mary Hoffman & Karin Littlewood. It tells the story of the first day at school in England of Hassan, a boy from Somalia. Through his painting his teacher is able to speak with him through the language barriers and begin to understand and know him. It is gentle, age appropriate without glossing over the reality of fleeing from home because of violence and conflict. The pictures are wonderful, full of life and colour.

I also ordered a new book (which of course I will tell you about as soon as we have it) which came up on my facebook timeline during the day yesterday – the only thing I shared into the discussion! – written by a child, Fraiser Cox, called ‘There’s a boy just like me’ and Bedtime Story Winner 2017. The more books like this on my shelves the better!

is selfcare selfish?

So, it’s been a pretty full on week in the Porter household. GCSE exams began in earnest – a full timetable this week, and study leave starting on Monday; Paediatrician appointment for T (and all the next steps admin to do afterwards!); dentist for B,A & T; Thy Kingdom Come prayer room to set up at church… etc, etc. Plus of course the little extras  like a grit-filled grazed knee (never easy with sensory processing difficulties).

Needless to say I woke up this morning feeling pretty rotten really. Tired, weary, and my body feeling stressed through and through.

I am learning as I get older (prob not wiser!) that mornings like that are a sign I need some time out and some head-space. Thankfully it’s been a flexible enough day for that to happen really easily and I’ve been pottering in the garden – while the kids are at school. But it is difficult not to feel guilty!

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Andrew doesn’t get the same chance, so here I am pottering in the sunshine while he is busy finishing prep for Sunday, and taking a few forgotten items down to church for the prayer room. And later, when we’re all back in he’ll be the one cooking dinner – and highly likely clearing up afterwards too! The house around me is in a serious mess as always (I hold on tight to the saying ‘a tidy house is a sign of a wasted life’!!), and the loos need cleaning, clothes need washing, bed covers need changing – and I’ve already pulled back from some of the busy things of the week to try and prevent this feeling – and all I can think right now is just how desperately I need some space, some less intense, down-time before school finishes and it all gets going again. Health professionals, friends, the TV all tell me self-care is important… but what does it mean as a Christian? I was brought up on verses like these, and the example of wonderfully busy, always-helping-people parents:

 ..don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t cover up bad work. (MSG Colossians 3:23)

Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Cor 15:58 NIV)

Isn’t self-care giving up, failing to meet these high standards?? Not being strong enough, good enough, enough?? Is self-care selfish?? It’s true, I sit here wishing I were stronger, more capable, that my body was more resilient and didn’t get so overwhelmed by anxiety symptoms so very often! But actually that is the body and mind I get to work with, that is my gift from God and it’s vulnerable, fragile, and real at the same time as being thoughtful, creative, tenacious. I simply cannot do more, and on days like these stopping for a bit is necessary if I am to stay well enough to be of any use to my family let alone anyone else, but is that an okay thing to think as a Christian?

As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
    he remembers that we are dust.
15 The life of mortals is like grass,
    they flourish like a flower of the field… (Psalm 103:13-15 NIV)

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I don’t know the answer – if there is one! But I do know I am a child of a Father full of compassion who knows better than I do just how my body works and keeps going, who knows how my mind, my emotions and body all hold together and who loves me. The same Father who gave us a rest day as a pattern for good living. The same who took Elijah to the stream and let him sleep when he felt he couldn’t go on, then fed him, and let him sleep some more. Maybe instead of self-care I could do with rephrasing what’s essentially needed on days like this – not self-care, rather Daddy daughter time… time to rest, sleep, eat under his watchful eye, and allow him to care for me before sending me back to it (13 mins till I set off for pick up!) keeping close enough to sit me down again when I next need a breather. It’s possible I could live with that!