the votes are in

love joy peace

I vividly remember my first ever vote. Walking in to the Polling Station with my Dad, who took me to the desk and proudly announced to everyone and anyone that it was my first time to vote. We registered, went to the booth to cast our vote, posted it into the black box and went home! I don’t know who felt more proud, Dad or me – I certainly remember the feeling of the sheer privilege of it, and the weightiness of the process of reading up, carefully considering, praying & voting.

The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can [all] be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Savior God wants us to live. (1 Tim 2: 1-4 MSG)

We grew up discussing together. Questioning, discovering and finding out for ourselves. Matters of faith, ethics, the big questions of life were mulled over. Sermons were discussed at Sunday lunch. Politics was also a significant part of family conversation. We knew (or at least I’m fairly sure we knew) how Mum & Dad probably voted, but they modeled a way of weighing up policies from different parties, holding them up against the Bible and our experience and knowledge of our faith, questioning them and ourselves. They modeled a sense of responsibility to take each opportunity to vote seriously, showed us in their attitudes and actions the ways that policies were not simply academic but affected people. We were not told which party we should vote for, we were shown how to vote. I’m so grateful for their lives of faith and the example they gave us. I’m thankful too that over the years they have made room for our questions, our doubts, our naivety, our simplistic thinking. That they did not belittle but encouraged.

So today I have thought a lot about that first experience of voting, and how my parents made space for us to grow and discover for ourselves – and how that spurs me on to keep intentionally making that same safe space for mine as they grow. I have, as usual, missed my Dad’s voice and encouragement in the run up to today. We have definitely not stopped the big discussions, not stopped asking the difficult questions whenever we get the chance to all be together – and the older ones in the next generation are getting into the swing of it very ably too now – but it is one of those parts of life where it still feels very stark that his voice and his wisdom is not in the mix anymore since he died!

What would he be reminding us of now that the votes are in, and the counting begins? Whatever tomorrow brings I think Dad would be reminding me of my calling to Christ-likeness, in my loving and living, in my choices and my thinking. So I am reminding myself of Jesus’ ‘manifesto’ – and praying for more grace! (so much more needed as always!)

When he stood up to read, he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written,

God’s Spirit is on me;
    he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,
Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and
    recovery of sight to the blind,
To set the burdened and battered free,
    to announce, “This is God’s year to act!”

 

He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the place was on him, intent.  (Lk 4:17-19 MSG)

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A whole hour? Really??

Our church has been taking part in ‘Thy Kingdom Come 2017’ this week beginning with a prayer 24/7 style prayer marathon that will finish in time for our early morning service on Sunday, and our celebration of Pentecost.

Everyone in church had an opportunity to sign up for one of the hours in the prayer space – a whole hour?? I went with T for an hour yesterday, not the best timing 12-1pm – right when she’s usually eating lunch! Anyway, we packed biscuits and a flask of hot chocolate to keep us going if hunger got in the way, and we set off with Annie (favourite doll) quite ‘nervous-ited’ as T calls that funny mix of excitement and feeling daunted at something unknown.

It was less of an unknown to me, I had planned the room so knew exactly what would be there… and of course had made sure there were plenty of hands on things people of any age or ability could join in with.

We began the hour predictably, straight to the playdough mats. While she began we remembered the story of the Holy Spirit coming to the disciples as they prayed. And talked about how the Holy Spirit helped them share Jesus’ good news. We read the story of the wise and foolish house builders from a children’s Bible as T finished (and helped Annie finish) the playdough picture. And we began to wonder together what it means to pray ‘Thy Kingdom Come’…

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T knew the phrase from learning the prayer at school, so we said the whole prayer out loud together and she and Annie set off to another part of the room. To my surprise she didn’t stop at the library of story books & cosy tent with beanbags, she went straight to the table with the papers and odds and ends people might find helpful – blue tack, post-its, luggage tags, Bibles, felt pens, colouring sheets (yes, any excuse to design a new one!) & colour in booklets about the Lord’s prayer. I showed her the booklet she could make and how it might help her to pray, but she picked up the colouring sheet, sat Annie on a little chair, drew up another, chose a colour and then said ‘tell me about this wall Mummy’…

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Right next to us was a wall for drawing and writing onto, ‘The Kingdom of God is…’, with questions; what does the Kingdom look, sound, feel, taste, smell like? ‘Taste like???? how can it taste Mummy??’. I found the passage after the beatitudes with the passages that compare the Kingdom to different things. And read about salt! ‘Do you think we are supposed to be salty if we are part of God’s Kingdom T?’, ‘Ughhh! I don’t like salt!’. ‘Hang on though T, what would ready salted crisps (a favourite) be like without salt?’, ‘Yuk!’ said T. ‘It’s salt that makes them taste good, salt makes all sorts of tastes extra alive. Salt makes some things last better. And it can make things get better quicker sometimes.’ ‘Really? Wow, Mummy you should draw salt shaking all over the whole world then it will be better.’ I drew as I was instructed and we prayed for God salt, and God’s salty Kingdom people to make the world better.

Publication2We sat for quite a while, T colouring, me praying.

‘What are you doing Mummy? Are you still worrying about salt?’, ‘Not really T, just listening to what God might say to me as I talk with him’. ‘How will you know? Have you heard his voice?’, ‘Have you T?’. ‘It’s low low low, and serious… and beautiful’. ‘I think it’s also sometimes like this too’, and I laid my hand on her arm, ‘like that, safe warm..’, ‘With you feeling!’ T smiles, ‘Yes Mummy, sometimes’. ‘I think that when I’m talking with God and thinking with him he helps me with new ideas and thoughts, helps me see new things I hadn’t noticed or understood before’, I said. ‘So what do you need to draw there now Mummy?’…

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I asked T to come and pray for our town, we had wooden houses, trees, people & animals to put onto the map. We thought about places and people, and took turns to ask God to be with them, and help them. Then we saw the table with A’s globe on it, and we had to stop and look. A display of prayers from around the world. ‘Is there China?’, said T. She was fascinated by China when she learnt about Chinese New Year at school. We read the prayer from China together looking at it on the globe. And then the doorbell went – the hour was gone! It was a very precious hour, heartfelt conversation T, God & me.

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B’s colouring later in the day.

Review: Comfort in the Darkness

Rachel Turner’s book ‘Comfort in the Darkness’ is a series of devotional bible stories of people connecting with God, encountering him, in the night. Each is written as a narrative perfect for reading aloud, short enough for tiny attention spans and tired minds, and long enough to intrigue and invite.

I have read with T (6 yrs) & with B (15yrs), and both have enjoyed them and have engaged with the stories in different ways. They have prompted questions sometimes, discussion and sharing our own experiences of sensing God’s closeness.

“If your child asks a tough question that you can’t answer, feel free to say, ‘I don’t know. let’s find out together.’ … Enjoy your child’s curiosity about the things of God. It is one of the great and wonderful privileges we have – wading into the tough questions with our children, with no fear.” (p49)

B has been open to using the prayer after the stories. With T, I have been able to let our chat lead into moments of asking God to draw close, and a couple of times led to windows of quiet waiting together in God’s presence.

After each story are suggestions for discussion starters, and also prompts to help you enable your child to draw close to God. There are ‘parenting for faith’ sections at the end of each chapter too, with helpful reflections on the issues arising in the story, or practical ideas.

I am sure we will read through these many times in the years to come, and I think the reflections, suggestions and resources built into the book for me as a parent coming alongside my child as they grow in faith will mean that each time we come back we will listen and engage in a new way. I can imagine that each time we read we will build on knowledge and skills, and experiences of God from the previous time.

“We can model our trust in God’s ability to be present in dreams. We can help our children to understand that there are no limits to where God can go … Invite God to be part of their dreams…” (p96)

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I was particularly struck by this paragraph in the first story when I was reading aloud:

“The word of God can make all things happen, and with a few words he began his great creation. ‘Let there be light,’ God said. …

But God made a choice. He kept darkness, too. He saved it and protected it. He could have got rid of it altogether, but there was something about darkness that was important and special … He called the light ‘day’ and the dark he called ‘night’. He had great plans for both.” (p12)

I have become so used to night being associated with worry and stress, sleeplessness and the pressure to sleep that it has become quite a negative word I suppose. But here was an invitation to recollect that God treasures the night as much as he treasures the day. To see that God had plans for the night – and as we continued to read bedtime after bedtime it was clear that so many of the times God provided, rescued, guided, challenged and encouraged happened in the night.

Night as a set aside, retreat time with God is not the way I have been thinking of bedtimes, and has certainly not been the message I have been modelling to my children. So I have been challenged – in a good way, and feel I have been given some tools and pointers to change my thinking and my expectations about night! That has to be a good thing!

Isn’t it a wonderful thing that God wants to chat with us, and draw near to us … even (or perhaps especially) in the rather challenging nights (that don’t exactly feel retreat like) when it seems none of us can get much rest or peace. With ASD, anxiety, night terrors, bad backs, eczema and long term sleep deprivation nights are anything but sleep-filled in our house – but maybe they have been God-filled all along, I just needed a nudge to begin to see that more clearly.

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faithful

I have been preparing an assembly for next week about faith, our faith and God’s faithfulness. And today we celebrate B’s 15th birthday! A great day to reflect on faith & faithfulness…

Some people say that to have faith is fanciful, but of course we all have faith in lots of things every single day. Without faith our lives would be pretty fearful, fretful – quite frightful really. (its going to be quite a tongue twister assembly!) And for us we have our faith firmly in God who, as I look back at 15 years of parenting B, has not let us down. He has been with us through all the ups and downs, the joys and challenges; sustaining & providing, guiding & encouraging.

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 Right at the start we dedicated B to God – recognizing she was already safe in his hands. We asked for him to fill our parenting and living together as family with the presence and help of his Holy Spirit. And we promised to do our best to shape our family life as disciples of Jesus and to be open about that life of discipleship with our kids. It’s still not easy! So much more to learn, & to share together with him in this adventure of faith.

B, you’re 15! Where has all that time gone? Thank you for challenging us, for making a couple into a family. Thank you for your giggles, your joy in exploring, your kindness, your sense of justice & courage to speak out. Thank you for being so expressive and creative, for noticing life in great detail, for your super-memory. Thank you for letting us share our faith with you, and for letting us be with you in the questions and exploring. Thank you for your energy and ideas, your loyalty and sensitivity to the world about you. 15 seems a significant birthday, significant years ahead at school, and a lot of things just in sight on the horizon for the future… so many decisions ahead of us. But I know that in all that’s ahead God will be faithful – to provide what we need, to guide where we should go, to be alongside to encourage and strengthen, and share our joys and struggles.

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All new…

It’s May! Not quite sure how it’s happened but all of a sudden here we are! Our bank holiday weekend was bustling with games, family and food. A really precious time together a chance to think, take stock, laugh, share, and – on this occasion – dodge the rain showers.

2016-05-04 09.32.38After a long weekend going back to school, and groups yesterday felt like another mini fresh start with all that brings… the excitement mingled with dread and anxiety over the transition from one thing to the next, and the tiredness that brings with it. No-one wanted to get up this morning!

But as I have got back from school drop off, the sky is blue, and the sun is shining, washing has been hung on the line and the dishwasher is on again… and so I am immersed in things that speak to me of newness and fresh starts, of being cleaned ready for another new beginning.

As I hung out the washing I was thinking about how many new starts there are in a life of faith; our following Jesus is an adventure marked by stepping out and stepping up; punctuated with steps forward and 10 steps back – and then the picking up, dusting down and taking another step forward as if for the first time with Jesus. The work of the Holy Spirit is a work of ‘being made new’, ‘from glory to glory’, a ‘now & still more to come’kind of work within and through us.

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love this verse so no apologies for having used it before in another post!

Truth is though, transitions aren’t the easiest things in the world to navigate with ASD! Which is tough, because there are so many, and the pace of them is relentless… and it seems there are going to be just as many in a life of faith, as we grow into the likeness of Jesus. There is the difficulty of things left behind in order to embrace what we have grown into (even clothes that don’t fit at all are a struggle to part with in exchange for the new, and new clothes take a lot (months sometimes) of adjusting to before they become part of life). I see a similar difficulty in our growth in faith, letting go of old ways of thinking that don’t fit us and exchanging them for God’s perspective – the perfect fit; or like habits, from character defining ones, to the mundane like moving onto the next age group of Bible notes! These moments of letting go and embracing, natural to growing in faith, are tricky.

There’s also the fear that comes with transitions, with a difficulty visualizing and anticipating what ‘could’ be, anything new is very starkly an unknown even when it builds on a pattern or an experience that has come before. In day to day life we try to support this fear, perhaps through the use of social stories to map out with our girls what this new thing or new way of doing things will look and feel like, how they will be able to interact within this new setting or situation, what they might say, what they might feel. Sometimes simply with visual prompts that break down the transition into smaller more manageable steps, this can work is there are small changes to something familiar. The best way is when we do it together, so we are there to provide the continuity needed to face the fears; so that we are able to whisper encouragements and explanations, able to remind and prompt; so that we are on hand to notice when it’s becoming overwhelming and there needs to be a rest & some space. Of course we’d love it if this could be the support we could offer for every transition… but of course it’s not always possible (and also of course we want our kids to gain more independent skills to cope with transitions for the times we can’t hand hold so sometimes we do step back and hover).

But it occurs to me that in our growing in faith, in all the transitions that this will mean, we have a promise of this kind of support – without limitations!

 Cry for help and you’ll find it’s grace and more grace. The moment he hears, he’ll answer. Just as the Master kept you alive during the hard times, he’ll keep your teacher alive and present among you. Your teacher will be right there, local and on the job, urging you on whenever you wander left or right: “This is the right road. Walk down this road.” (Isaiah 30:21 MSG)

Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.” (Mt 28, 19-20 MSG)

But the Helper (Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor—Counselor, Strengthener, Standby), the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name [in My place, to represent Me and act on My behalf], He will teach you all things. And He will help you remember everything that I have told you. (Jn 14:26 AMP)

We were dipping into ‘The servant Queen and the King she serves’ and talking about how we might share this story of the Queen’s faith with our friends and neighbours over the weekend. My sister read out this wonderful quote which she had slipped to her Dad, King George VI as he went to speak to the nation:

Minnie Haskins’ poem “The Gate of the Year” (1908) :

I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year,
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’
And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be better than light, and safer than a known way.’

It is this that I need to show and model to my children, the truth and certainty of the Good Shepherd knowing the best pastures and the places of rest; the Light of the World for whom night and day are just the same; the Way the Truth and the Life the one who by the way he lived and loved, died and rose again is himself the ultimate social story; the ever present comforter who continues to lovingly pick us up and dust us down and set our feet on the right path and whisper the words we need – and the courageous trust we can put in God for every transition, for all our growth, for every challenge.

 

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