intentional

This week, back to school week for us, has been intense… but here we are, it’s Saturday and we have done it – transition from holiday to term time done! (and it could have been worse!!)

An activity book that I had ordered arrived during the week too, and I couldn’t wait to start it together, so I had it near by at tea time yesterday wondering if there would be a moment that might work. We don’t routinely plan to talk faith, or read the Bible together in an intentional way at a meal – meals are stressful enough by themselves (we are together for a start, then add to that the expectation that we might all eat similar food next to each other!) but in the last 3 years we have from time to time managed to try which has been both amazing and terrifyingly precarious to introduce & lead – but having an occasional short stretch of something very intentional is beginning to be more expected by everyone now which means it’s getting a little easier.

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lent bunting, our thoughts on the verse for the day.

We have marked lent in this kind of way twice now, and advent 3 times (with really varied experiences, sometimes it’s impossible & we abandon; sometimes the routine is followed with a zeal that overshadows the content and meaning of what we are doing completely; sometimes is starts a great conversation or sharing between us; sometimes the doing of it together just falls apart & it just causes conflict and stress).

Right now of course it isn’t lent or advent, so we will have to see how it goes… I won’t be expecting to get the book out at every meal, just when it feels like there’s a space & we might just enjoy a bit together – no pressure. I love the fact that in the introduction Victoria Beech says:

Find your own routine

Do it at a time of day and as often as works best for you. Regular is nice, irregular is also nice. Don’t feel you have to imitate a certain pattern or format.

So, how did it go??

The book is called ‘Our Family God Venture’, by Victoria Beech (ordered from http://godventure.co.uk/product/our-family-godventure/ )

The style and format of the book was a definite win, especially with the girls. T kept saying ‘400 stickers!’, and finding the pages they were on. B got excited about the invitingly blank spaces for doodling and writing. A intrigued but as soon as the girls got excited and started drawing it got difficult to find space for him to join them so it got difficult. After trying a number of ways to include and encourage he was still getting more stressed and upset (especially as B was drawing a picture of him into the family portrait frame & not giving him the choice) so he left us to it then. But in the midst of the stresses of turn taking, and social skills we did manage some talking together about how well we know each other, and about how well God knows us. We found ourselves asking what God would draw or write that he liked about each of us?

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar. (Ps 139:1,2) (NIV)

After A left we found the Bible passage printed out in a few different versions near the back of the book. Before then we had simply tried to remember it and between us we remembered most … I knew that if I had left the table to fetch a Bible & look it up the moment would have passed before I got back – it’s only ever a short window of opportunity for us before the stresses of trying to do it together get too tricky. Really great to have the passage needed for the whole activity book (Psalm 139) actually in the book itself – much easier to have to hand.

At the foot of the page there is a suggested question to take it further for older children & for you as parents which is great, I shall perhaps pick up that thought with B & A over the next few days – but probably one to one!

Great to have non-glossy pages, felt tips left really colourful marks, didn’t smudge or run. I loved the balance on the page between blank space and invitation to make our mark, spot on for us. Drew us in straight away, and when hands were busy thinking, talking and sharing began to happen.

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Just as trying to do anything like this does, it highlighted the things our family finds difficult about working together on something. Turn taking, and waiting is always a flash point; shared imagination about how the page should be used was tricky, as usual there were unspoken and unshared assumptions that were difficult to navigate; personal space – crowding around the book (not helped by difficulties around turn taking) and the ensuing stresses of ‘he touched me’, ‘she shoved me’ etc; and my tiredness making it quite hard to find the energy and quick thinking needed to keep it going smoothly & fun! I was wondering about what might be easier for us as a family, and wondered what a printed, colour-me-in table cloth would be like – maybe for a special moment, like harvest or pentecost or the beginning of lent or advent… a table cloth would be bigger, spreading out the hands on involvement which might make it easier for us! Or what about disposable doodle placemats?

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Really pleased we were able to give it a try, hopeful there will be some lovely and God-filled times together as we use this lovely book over the coming months. (And then of course exploring some of the other God Venture resources!)

holiday club and home

Week one of the summer holidays means holiday club here, and of course for us this year it has begun here at home as our kitchen and dining room filled up with all the stage props and things needed to decorate the church space turning it into Ancora’s hall of memories. We took everything we’d got ready down to church on Sat last weekend, and then on the Sunday afternoon a group of us had a picnic lunch after the service and got to work decorating the space. I loved the way we found jobs for everyone there to work on, including quietly sorting out each group’s boxes with their resources in; the lifting and carrying jobs, fiddly things (threading firebugs onto cotton to hang up); and arranging all the props onto shelves (T & a friend did this together onto some shelves on the stage & did a great job); sorting out the technical side of things and problem solving how to get a parachute up high to make a rainbow promise sky for the hall… it looked great by the time we’d all got stuck in together

For the first time we were all going to be involved in the week, T now old enough to be part of a group, A joining the older extension group, B volunteering as a young leader, and Andrew & I both being group leaders. It has meant quite a tiring week, trying to get all of us there on time for the leader’s meeting every morning has been a challenge in itself, especially when the stress (good and bad) of the week has made for very difficult bedtimes and late nights! It has been great to share in it altogether though, great to have shared experiences to reflect on, laugh about and plan for together.

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Ancora’s tower of light in B’s 3-D map

Some of the highlights for me of all doing this week together have been – watching B from the other side of the craft room, enjoying helping the kids in her group, and chatting with the group leader; being amazed this morning when B was the leader from her group to take part in a game on the stage – eating donuts without using hands! (who would have thought we would ever have a moment like that!); T sneaking away from her group to find me in the singing, singing and doing actions together while the kids in my group watched; hearing A’s laughter as he joined in with his group, especially when his group was competing with another for the highest tower; Andrew & I struggling and giggling through each day’s warm up exercises next to each other. I’ve loved the sense of teamwork I’ve glimpsed in us too, with A helping T spend her tokens every day while we were getting sorted at the end; shared ideas for leading our groups as we’ve chatted about the next day; willingness to lend some games for my group to use at the start of each day.

There has been a difficult side to the week of course too. The way my girls handle stressful situations (even good stress that comes hand in hand with doing something new and exciting, or that comes from being with so many people in one place) is to blend in as much as they can at the time (which means using up lots and lots of physical and emotional energy in order to achieve that), copying those around them to make sure they are keeping up, doing the right thing all the time, and being where they should be, and able to join in the conversations. Using this much energy exhausts them, and also the tension of that level of alertness to what is happening around them and worry about what they should be doing and saying builds up stress that has to be let out as soon as they are in a familiar safe place or group of people. Very like a bottle of fizzy that is shaken up all morning, and simply explodes when it gets the chance. So we have had a lot of irritable shouting; urgency about how things need to be; over the top resistance to demands; huge reliance on those focused topics and activities that bring focus and order and escape; a lot of anxiety about food and struggles with sleeping. We have done what we can to minimize the impact with visual timetables, fidget toys, immediate lunch on getting home, unlimited sims & my little pony, picking very few battles! But it’s been tiring for all of us.

visual timetable for holiday clubHoliday club and home have at times felt like two different families in two different worlds. But I really want to bring the treasure we have been exploring at holiday club back home with us as we end the week. In some ways that’s easy – just continue with what we already try to do, intentionally nurturing and talking faith together as a family – but it’s also an opportunity to keep hold of the excitement of the learning done in a group of peers; all that has been modelled by others in the family of faith – an opportunity too good to pass by, it’s been a week rich in discussion and adventure in faith. Like many holiday clubs each child had a booklet which was filled in during the week so T has hers at home now, still with some activities to do and finish, and with the stories printed in too. We learnt songs and actions, a great way to keep holiday club adventures going back at home. The Ancora App that our week has been based around is also great, and means that T (who needs a fair amount of help to make progress in the game) will probably draw us all in from time to time to chase the light and hunt for more Bible stories. (http://guardiansofancora.com/)

But most pressing for now, is packing for next week – and catching up on a bit of sleep before New Wine (https://www.new-wine.org/events/national-gatherings-2016-week-2) and all the adventures that will bring us!

 

 

I wonder what that means?

I am still reading verses and thoughts with B from the book we started during lent. A couple of nights ago we had a little thought based on Psalm 18: 32-33, about how God promises to be with us helping us to cope with the steep climbs and high places of life. ‘He makes me as surefooted as a deer, enabling me to stand on the heights.’

In the pause after we had read it out, I asked ‘I wonder what that means?’ – ‘It must be a kind of metaphor’ – ‘yes think you’re right, God doesn’t give us hooves!’ – giggles, ‘so what might the heights be in our lives?’ – ‘not sure?’ At bedtime I’m never sure how much explanation to get into, there’s such a lot to do, and we’re tired. Metaphors are hard work, but I was feeling pleased that we’d spotted it even if we hadn’t quite unraveled it. Just hoped, as she fell asleep, that B wasn’t dreaming that her feet were hooves and that God was asking her to climb every hill and mountain she ever came across from here on however dangerous, because God promised in the Bible to keep us safe whenever we mountain climb!

We revisited the conversation the next day when I had found myself reading the same Psalm in my hour of prayer in the prayer room at church. ‘I wonder what God is trying to show me?’ – ‘it is interesting that you read it again today.’

And today, as we get to bed it’s what we’re talking about again… it’s processing, slowly & gently. B – ‘It must be a metaphor, maybe its about being able to remember God is with us wherever we go… maybe Jesus is our special feet that make us get through tough times?’

Her response is drawing into the picture, for me, ‘feet fitted with the readiness of the Gospel of peace’; taking Jesus with us where we tread. Our climb is purposeful. Later on in the same Psalm is the wonderfully challenging verse ‘with my God I can scale a wall!’… exuberant trust: B – ‘with God we can do absolutely anything!’.

Tomorrow, Pentecost, we are going out of the church building; an invitation to prayer walk in our community in family or small groups. I’m praying that this metaphor (or is it actually a simile or two??) will encourage us… it’s a new experience here for the kids, first time altogether for T, and of course there’s a small (but significant) part of me that isn’t quite sure yet how to achieve a prayer walk with B & A & T!! If it’s ok with you I’ll post again after we’ve done it – and we will…we can scale a wall together; He’s in the midst.

He fills me with strength and protects me wherever I go. He gives me the surefootedness of a mountain goat upon the crags. He leads me safely along the top of the cliffs. (Psalm 18: 32-33 TLB)

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You give me strength
    and guide me right.
You make my feet run as fast
    as those of a deer,
    and you help me stand
    on the mountains. (Psalm 18: 32-33 CEV)

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The God who encircles me with strength
And makes my way blameless?
He makes my feet like hinds’ feet (the hoofs of a doe) [able to stand firmly and tread safely on paths of testing and trouble];
He sets me [securely] upon my high places. (Psalm 18: 32-33 AMP)

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God arms me with strength,
    and he makes my way perfect.
He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
    enabling me to stand on mountain heights. (Psalm 18: 32-33 NLT)

Hail? In April?

Hail today, rain yesterday on a day we had planned a picnic with friends (of course we went still), school again on Monday (and homework to finish), piles of washing, endless tidying; add those together and you get a grumpy, stressed, cold, moany couple of days! 

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B & I were just thinking before sleep (11:45pm and she’s almost there now!) About how God’s people were so grumpy in the desert after God rescued then from Egypt. It made us smile to realise how silly they were, how quickly they forgot everything God has shown them he could do to look after them; parting the sea, clouds & pillars of fire to guard & guide, water out of rocks & food falling like rain just for them! 

Then we got chatting about how like them we are sometimes. The challenges, the disappointments, the way things don’t work out how we expect of plan, that difficult event looming that we are dreading – all of these things can fill our attention & our energy so much that we forget to even look for the gifts from God in it all – to recognise the ways He makes sure we have what we really need (& much much more), to see His protection and guidance, to see how far He is taking us, step by step, away from everything that tries to keep us ensnared & feeling far from God’s love. A friend once challenged me to get better at this – to grow in thankfulness, and saying thank you. I often feel I have taken great strides in it, then I read passages like this & realise I have such a long way still to go… so much more to learn…

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Sitting here now I can immediately see there’s another view of the last few days. It was bright, hot even for a couple of days at the start of the week & with no school, & no groups for me we got out in our garden & I (with help of course!) built a greenhouse that someone gave us out of the blue last autumn. We have met up with friends, tackle a few of the tidying/cleaning jobs that never get to the top of the list usually, played, pottered, eaten well, even had proper lie ins on a few of the mornings! And our picnic in the rain was with lovely friends & undercover – yes cold, but dry & fun. It was a really great day out, with lots of opportunity to really talk to each other as the kids played (actually really well!). The week has been generously scattered with really lovely gifts from God like rain refreshing a desert.

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I asked B, ‘what can I do to get better at this?’, ‘don’t know?’ she said.

We wondered together about ‘collecting things’ in each day that we can thank God for. How perhaps if we did it together as a family, it would push us to really try, and that by trying every day we would slowly begin to do it out of habit. I remember reading something (perhaps when looking for Lent activities, can’t remember) about families collecting thanks in a jar, then making it a special family time of thankful remembering on the day the jar was emptied. I’m sure in my memory it was something done over a whole year, and opened as part of marking New Year together. B & I both agreed a year might be too much for us. ‘We might be able to do a week?’, she said. We liked the idea. ‘We could open it at Sunday tea,’ I said, ‘and each bring something to put in the jar each tea time this week.’

Think we will ask what people think tomorrow & then go hopefully go for it! First week back at school after a break seems a good week to be reminded… we all find it tough.

 

 

A hands-on Easter

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Have you ever made an Easter Garden?

I’ve been surprised this year by just how many people I have met who haven’t.

Easter Gardens, made in a box or bowl, tray or plant pot, are a big part of my memories of Easter from childhood.

I remember collecting all sorts of bits; moss, feathers, daisies, buttercups, even pebbles if you looked hard enough, saved lolly sticks, twigs and a bit of begged for soil from the flower beds. I remember concentrating hard trying to recreate the details of the story; the empty cross on a ‘hill’, the empty tomb (usually a saved pot of some sort) with its large stone near by, the path the women walk on to reach the tomb. Sometimes we drew angels to stand in the entrance of the tomb, sometimes we found a scrap of fabric to lay out carefully on a stone in there. Once made, and made filled with bright daisies & buttercups (& of course often pictures of butterflies carefully drawn, cut out and stuck to twigs) they would be watered (though I remember them not lasting long!), and often put on the dining room table for everyone to see.

I remember the process being poignant on Easter Saturday; a nothing kind of day, a waiting day, a quiet, not sure what (I’m allowed) to do kind of day – reverent and kind of dutiful, with a hint of guilt if I found myself having forgotten the heavy sadness of Good Friday. Making the garden felt appropriate somehow, guilt free busyness of course, but more than that, it seemed to enable my hands and my heart to tend to Jesus, or attend to the story even though it seemed to have paused for longer than I could hold my breath; or perhaps both without me being able to fully grasp that all that was going on within me as I busily concentrated on each little detail. In our family getting hands busy really makes a difference to how we talk about things together, how we concentrate on the same thing at the same time, how we are able to find ways of relating to concepts and retold events that happened in a different time and place.

To make an Easter Garden:

  • sticks or twigs or lolly sticks
  • string
  • a bit of soil
  • small stones, or gravel
  • moss
  • cress seed or seeds of other flowers if you have patience to wait & water.
  • a larger stone
  • a pot (small plant pot or saved yoghurt pot)
  • paper, pens, tape or glue
  • daisies, buttercups, small clippings from a bush or tree with buds on (if allowed!) or even perhaps some small seedling plants.
  • anything else you see that could decorate it, like feathers or ribbons, or shiny things
  • memory, careful fingers, imagination
  • an openness to become a part of the story (Yes T, it was real & yes T this garden we are making is just pretend…), and let it somehow become a part of you.

We had a hands-on reflective time together as a church on Good Friday. To let us listen to the different people who were there on the first Good Friday, each part of the building invited us into an activity to explore the words and reactions of those who were there, so we could ask the questions of ourselves too – would I have reacted this way too? How am I responding to Jesus today?

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There was soaking music with a rough cross in the centre and sand to draw and write in – ‘Jesus remember me, when you come into your Kingdom’ ; a hidden den – ‘The disciples fled and hid’; a mobile of tears to make – John and Mary stood at the foot of the cross, are our tears of sadness, guilt, love, shame, regret, fear?; dressing up – Simon of Cyrene didn’t know he would get caught up in that day, how will we get drawn into what is going on today?; writing/drawing/discussion area – what tempted Peter & Judas to deny and betray, what tempts us? – ‘will you betray me with a kiss?’; and a place to gather at the cross, to read the story again, or simply to look on the crown of thorns, the clothes being gambled for – ‘if he was the messiah, he would save himself’, ‘surely this man was the Son of God’; Easter Gardens to make and take home – Joseph tends to Jesus’ body, a secret believer taking a leap of faith perhaps regretting how late his courage came, wondering at the events of the day, and unable to see a different end to the story.

One of the things I love about reflection times like that is watching how the children step in to help older ones in some activities, and in other moments older ones help the young ones. Everyone brings something to share, and each is valid. And in sharing activities alongside each other we see things we never could see on our own, and often those new insights are ones that shape us & nurture us.

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Easter Sunday began in a rather stressful way to tell the truth, we were going to travel to my sister’s to meet up with my family for our celebration dinner straight after the services. Last minute packing (because that’s always a trigger for stress for B so it wasn’t done the night before) and the stress and pressure of a change from the usual routine meant that for half an hour or so it really did look as though we might not even make it to church! We arrived with seconds to spare, found seats and had to turn things around with B & T (both grumpy & on edge) quickly knowing we were helping with part of the service later on.

Andrew had asked us to help during communion as a whole family (I have to admit that’s a daunting prospect knowing things can be a bit unpredictable with us!). I was offering the cup, and there were chocolate buttons for everyone too so B, A, & T followed behind the cups offering them. It was actually great, despite it being quite hard work manoeuvring everything & everyone in the space. I could see that the kids felt it was a real honour to be able to help and thankfully they rose to the occasion – as they almost always do! I hope the different perspective it will have given them of the celebration will help them as they grow in faith… it certainly helps me to have done it together with them; I saw things through their eyes, their excitement and wonder…for them nothing about it was mundane or ‘everyday’, they sensed it’s specialness and enjoyed being part of the feast!

Time celebrating with family who also share faith, and the joy of Easter was lovely. Lots of fun, games, indoor Easter egg hunt (terribly cold, wet weather), lots of good food, conversations and laughter. (& a little sleep!)

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