pray more than a shopping list

Either intentionally or unintentionally, we may communicate to out children a definite set of ‘rules’ about prayer: what their bodies should do, what their words should say, and what content is acceptable. This set up implies to our children that we can succeed or fail at how we perform the act of praying. That’s a big pressure when the God of the universe is the audience!

(Parenting children for a life of faith, Rachel Turner, p63)

Don’t know about yours, but at the moment my 3 are in a bit of a routine when it comes to praying – one we have kind of ‘coached them’ into. Pretty much set length ‘shopping-list’ prayers bringing to God a good balance of their own needs and those of family & occasionally further afield. But it can feel rattled off, well rehearsed at times and at the moment T is opting out. So when I was reading these words of Rachel Turners stuck me. She’s right of course, in trying to ‘be good christian parents’ we have taught them a ‘correct’ template for prayer I suppose.  And there’s some good in that – it is a framework that they can always fall back on in times when praying is hard. But having a ‘correct’ way means our children are coming to talk to God from a very particular unconscious perspective – that God is a slot machine you have to have the correct change for?, that if you don’t see the answer you’re imagining from God that you didn’t pray it right?, that God is fearsome and only listens to perfect prayers?, or that he’s not interested in small talk with us just wanting to get the business done?

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None of those perspectives fit the way God reveals himself to us. He says ‘call me Father’, Jesus says when you talk to God say ‘Daddy…’! That’s intimate, and caring. That’s personal. The father child relationship is an everyday one – what I mean is that at it’s best (deliberately in bold!) it’s a relationship that gets involved in all aspects of our lives, it’s the type of relationship where life becomes an intertwined shared experience. Daddy and child. The child looks up to the Dad and hangs on his every word – the Daddy dotes on his child, treasuring every shared moment, every conversation no matter what its about.

“And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?” (Matt 6:5 MSG)

Wanting children to have a safe place to encounter God is a right desire. My initial response to that desire, though, was to put myself between God and children. I was the safety gate. Since I saw this tendency in myself, I’ve changed the boundaries. I don’t want to be the safety gate between God and children. I want to be the steward – the one who guides a child into the presence of God and stands guard to protect their time and space as they interact. I want to be the one who walks with the child away from that encounter and helps him to process the way it changes his situation and life.

(Parenting children for a life of faith. Rachel Turner, p 66)

I don’t need to protect my children from God – he’s their loving Father, he knows and loves them better than I do! I don’t need to help my children to formulate ‘perfect’ prayers. I need to guide them into their Daddy’s presence, and model for them how all of life – the wiggles, giggles, moans, frustrations, worries and wonderings – is on the table when we chat with God.

I guess for us part of that process is practicing and modelling those kinds of relationships within the family home. Talking together about stuff; being a family that shares joys and struggles together, and talks about questions, dreams, ideas. Part of that will mean Andrew & I intentionally choosing very open ended questions and conversation starters – or we’ll just get a one word answer.

Communication with our family and friends is filled with half spoken thoughts, ponderings, funny stories and really deep sharing. We often speak from the heart about what is going on with us… In relationship we share the little things in life because, eventually, big things come along, and we need to know that the other person in that relationship cares about and can handle both.

(Parenting children for a life of faith, Rachel Turner, p69)

To help this begin to be a bit more intentional I have had some fun and made some conversation starter stones (a bit like my happy chatting lollipop sticks but very much open ended). I am hoping they will encourage us to do more talking about feelings and abstract things as a family, but I also hope they can be useful in prayer too. Choose a stone, read and let it be the beginning of a chat with God, or a picture or letter for God. They are made by cutting small shapes out of thin patterned paper, writing on a simple open question or the start of a sentence and then sticking them onto the stone with PVA glue. Then seal the paper with more PVA glue just over the top. I have deliberately kept mine very small, with teeny tiny writing – T especially loves finding tiny writing & working it out – and loves magnifying glasses!

 “What’s the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! … You’re worth more than a million canaries.” (Matt 10:29-31 MSG)

Also for us I think it means continuing intentional work about naming and recognising emotions in ourselves (we’re then planning to continue building on that self awareness towards recognising and acknowledging emotions in others).  Recognising (and so naming) emotions is something we usually learn by inference, but neither of my girls do their learning from inference, which means unravelling and naming physical sensations/tone of voice/body language/facial expressions intentionally together and then putting together a picture of each emotion as they experience it, and then how we might look for those clues in others – or slightly different clues – lets face it we don’t all present emotions in exactly the same way… goodness this could (probably will!) take years!!

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Pet 5:7 (NIV)

 

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peacemaking

I’ve been searching out some ideas and books to use to start conversations about peace as Remembrance Day approaches.

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Peace is a tricky word, a big concept to pin down. I guess our first thought this week is to think of peace as time without conflict or war. But there can be a huge range of different experiences and quality of life even in times and places without war in this world. Can peace be fully expressed when there is still poverty, a huge gulf between the rich and the poor, injustice, inequality of respect and of opportunities, oppressive relationships and so on, and when our way of living brings harm to the environment and so also harm to others – and in all of this hurt and damage to our relationship with our Creator. Is there a fuller, deeper peace to long for, a wholeness for the world to talk about and dream of with my children?

Do you know what I want?
    I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
    That’s what I want. That’s all I want. (Amos 5:23-25 MSG)

 

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever. (Isaiah 9:5-7 NIV)

  • Meaningful Mama has put together a good starting place list of books about peace for children, from all sorts of cultural and religious backgrounds. Some of these will definitely promote discussion in our house.
  • Finding out about poppies, and about Remembrance Day: The British Legion has information about red poppies here, and the Quakers about white poppies here.
  • Yummy Mummy Club have some easy red poppy craft ideas.
  • Inner Child Fun have some lovely ideas for peace dove crafts, I especially wonder if the hand-print dove would start interesting discussions about how our hands, our actions can be peacemaking.
  • dove of peaceOne of the designs in my contemplative colouring book  ‘Angels Singing’  reflects on the verse from Isaiah about Jesus being the Prince of Peace, the bringer and establisher of peace. We used it in our school outreach today to create space for dreaming about peace, what it would look like, and round the edges we wrote our prayers and longings for the things we want to see healed and changed. One student rather poignantly added a poppy into the dove’s beak – wish I had taken a photo to show you!
  • We might try writing a prayer for peace together as a family using the letters of PEACE, or maybe writing a sentence for each of the senses ‘Peace looks like…’, ‘peace feels like…’ etc. and using them in prayer perhaps with a phrase like ‘Jesus help us be peacemakers’ to repeat together in between reading out the sentences.

 

 

 

 

waiting

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Last Sunday we helped lead our church’s very first ‘sense of space’ service – accessible worship space for families like ours, shaped by diff(dis)ability. We were so excited in the run up, happily busy with preparations and testing out of sensory bottles, coloured rice, sensory bin tables and writing lists and lists of ideas! We just wanted to do everything we could to begin well – to create a space that was safe, fun, interesting, sensory rich and God-filled, a place where families felt welcome and quickly at home.

Aptly we looked at the story of Simeon and Anna. Two who had been waiting at the temple for weeks, months, years, to see God’s promises come to pass.

How amazing it must have been to see an ordinary couple with a baby in their arms and for your heart to quicken as the Spirit let you recognize the one God was sending to fulfill all the promises his people have been waiting for! I can’t imagine the emotion of that very well… it’s huge, it’s intense, it’s electric. We tried to imagine him holding the baby and looking into Jesus’ face as he lets words of praise tumble out.

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“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss[a] your servant in peace.
 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
     which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel.” (Lk 2:29-32)

Waiting is something we’re not very good at really in this family. We’re not always that good at sensing timings and quite often waiting is basically a long string of ‘what’s the time?’; ‘How many more minutes?’; ‘Is it the time now?’; followed up by a whole load of ‘NOW!!!’. At the moment T’s ‘NOW!’ is all about an up and coming birthday, and party so we’ll be having this conversation for another couple of weeks or so!

Waiting can be emotionally exhausting (for everyone!). It’s an unknowing, a limbo time. Sometimes it’s emotionally exciting, intense and exhausting all rolled together. Other times, like a test at school, or a medical appointment it’s a wait filled with growing anxiety and stress at what’s to come that no amount of fidgets, relaxation techniques or sensory rooms can remove until the dreaded event comes and goes.

welcome with fidgets

(thanks Charlotte for the photo)

So what is it like ‘waiting’ for God?? In one sense we don’t have to wait in the same way as Simeon and Anna, Jesus has come, the Spirit is with us 24/7, to speak, comfort, lead, weep & laugh with us! In another sense though we do still talk about ‘waiting on God’, about stilling ourselves enough to become aware again of his presence with us in the everyday; about quietening ourselves enough to hear his voice whisper to us Spirit to spirit – no I don’t mean being outwardly, physically silent and still (though I do believe in miracles!!), I guess I mean being open and ready to recognize his presence and his words. That’s actually quite hard to explain and to model in a visual way to my littlies, but it’s something I want to – and to be honest sometimes it’s something they model to me as we remind each other he’s with us!

There’s also another kind of waiting for God of course, when we ask for something – either to be provided or to be fixed, changed or healed – when we say Amen and then wait for the answer… this kind of waiting for God is also a challenge sometimes. We have very fixed ideas about what answer we’re expecting, we have even maybe visualized that answer as we have been praying so we know exactly what we’re waiting for, hoping for and looking for. It’s difficult to accept that sometimes God’s answer is very different, it can be better than we’d hoped for but look different and be difficult to spot, hard to recognize. Sometimes it can be better than we’d been imagining but can seem to be the worst answer in the world – the ‘no’ or the ‘not now’ is very hard to accept, so hard that sometimes I don’t think we even realize that’s the answer we’re hearing loud and clear if only we were able to recognize it. (In fact because I know how difficult this is, there is a book coming!! watch this space)

At ‘sense of space’ we prayed together at the end by waiting – by giving ourselves a little breathing space to quieten our hearts and minds, and open them up to become aware that God was really with us. I filled a cup with the sand we’d been exploring in earlier and we watched and waited for God as the sand was poured slowly out. No words (you see miracles do happen!) until the final drop fell, and in the stillness the smallest in the room let out a slow ‘wow!’.

The Lord is here – his Spirit is with us!

Lift up your hearts – we lift them to the Lord!

making gifts together

We are just beginning to make our plans and preparations for filling shoeboxes with gifts for children which we collect as a church and send around the world with Operation Christmas child.

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homemade flower crayons

This year I am keen to get B, A & T involved more and have been wondering if there are any gift ideas that would be easy enough for us to make together to put in. There’s something prayerful about spending time making something to bless someone else, and those times we do manage it I find it inevitably changes, and blesses us too.

So here’s a list of ideas I’ve found:

  • T-shirt headbands (‘lovestitched’ have an easy to follow tutorial here)
  • T-shirt neckwarmers (needs sewing) (‘lilblueboo’ have a good tutorial here)
  • no sewing tutu skirt (Simply Real Mums have instructions here), the same method can quickly also make a flowy headband, or wrist band.
  • braided bead bracelets (see beadaholic’s video tutorial here)
  • no sewing fleecy pom pom hat (great instructions here from Creative Jewish Mum)
  • homemade shaped crayons (valentine ones on Mumdot here) These can be any shape you have a silicone mold for of course.
  • dolly peg fairies/dolls – sharpies, lace, tulle, felt, wool and imagination! A quick google for ideas revealed lots and lots to be inspired by.
  • wooden car tracks (BuggyandBuddy share their instructions here for wooden track) I was wondering if the same concept could be done with felt pieces, which would mean corner pieces could be made too.
  • lollipop stick puzzles (Mum Endeavors makes some here)
  • a world in a tin/suitcase – you can buy tiny tin suitcases, or use a little tin or large matchbox. Buy a little soft toy or little play figure that will fit in the tin or box, and then use felt, pretty papers and tape to decorate in the tin. Maybe the box will turn into a bed for the little doll, or maybe you have room in the tin for a whole house, or scene for the play figure.
  • baby tag blanket  – will need sewing (‘wholefully’ has a good tutorial here)
  • stacking game made of cotton reels (Handmade Charlotte has instructions and a printable design for beautiful animal mix n match, look here.)

Well, we’ve made a start at having a go at some of these. It’s a great way to stop and chat together, particularly about what the children who get the shoeboxes will be like, and what they will enjoy playing with or using, and where they might live.

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a rainbow tutu headband

 

when I grow up I’ll …

 

We are entering the era of big life choices for our older two; which subjects for GCSE?Then completing them and asking what’s next? What direction to move forward into? School career advice and the education system are asking what direction my children want to choose, and the pace of the asking feels fast and the pressure to decide feels enormous. And I find myself thinking back, and wondering if I really knew what I wanted to do when I grew up at their age. The power of hindsight of course means I know that no matter what our choices are at 14, 16 or 18 there are many more choices to come, and each of those will affect how we keep on moving through life.

I was chatting yesterday with A about whether or not these decisions were actually choices at all! He came to me wondering how they could be once we are disciples of the all knowing, all powerful God who has a plan for our lives.

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It’s a good question! So good of course that theologians have wrestled it for a long time – predestination and free will, they feel they ought to be contradictory yet there are verses in the Bible that suggest both, equally strongly! So what do we do, how do we ponder it? How do we work out a truth to live by as disciples, a truth that will direct our decisions?

As A & I chatted we thought about how things that seem contradictions to us might not be to all knowing God, they may be two perspectives on the same thing. I think we have that same thing when we think about love and justice for example. For us they are seen as opposites but for God they are always held together. The paradox of free will and God having a plan for our lives is impossible for us to understand, but they are held seamlessly together by God. So we talked about the truth that God is not restrained by time, he is all knowing, he sees our whole lives from before our beginning until their end yet somehow there is space within his knowledge of us and his holding of our lives; space to really live, breathe and choose – and choose him!

That thought, our freedom to choose God, led us on to chat about whether our career choice is top priority for God in the plans he has for us – is that what ‘good works’ ‘prepared in advance’ for us means? Is there one right answer about our career and everything else lets God down? and what if the career God has chosen for us isn’t one we’d enjoy, or choose for ourselves? What then? The Message writes the same verse this way:

“He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.”

We wondered together if actually this work God has for us, this plan of his has more to do with who we are, whether we are close to him and whether we are joining in with him in his Kingdom work than to do with which career. What if, we wondered, whatever we choose we could live out that life, do that work in a God-pleasing way? What if wherever we end up working we have the chance to do it in a way that shows those around us what God is like and how he loves?

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At the beginning of the verse we are described as God’s handiwork – and when God looks at what he’s made he sees it is good. We are made with incredible talents, amazing potential, each of us have gifts to use in our family life, community, and world. And God can shine as we do that. He shines when we are close to him being truly who he made us to be. So I’m not sure that it’s true that God’s plan for us inevitably involves work that we wouldn’t choose, or wouldn’t enjoy. Yes we will find challenge, and be drawn beyond the safety of our comfort zones but it’s true that those who delight in the Lord find he gives them the desires of their heart -of course it’s also equally true that when we are close to him, the desires of his heart are really catching, and quickly become our own!

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4 NIV)