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.

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(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!

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shifting sand

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The seasons change as surely as the tide comes in.

A new term begins.

New adventures, new challenges. Back to a different pace and different demands on our time. Groups begin again, homework will loom, clubs after school all fitted around vicarage life and ministry again as that too changes gear for term time. Just like being at the water’s edge as it comes in some of us rush in wanting the excitement of the sudden cold wave crashing over our feet and some rush in and then jump back as each wave hits; others hang back wishing we could face the inevitable a little more gradually, feeling a little more in control! I guess most of us fluctuate between the options…

Standing in the edge of the waves as they come in lets you feel their unsettling tug, shifting the pebbles and sand under your toes as it pushes and pulls. With each back and forth they are lifted and adjusted, re settled into new arrangements and places. Change is unsettling, unpredictable. It’s the beginning of movement towards the unknown.

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Change also reveals what is constant, what is trustworthy. In the anxiety and stress of change we reach out for something steady and safe to hold onto, and some things we try to rely on wobble and others prove safe and strong. I love the paradox of the verse in lamentations. God’s love is both forever new and forever constant, faithful. It is in the ebb and flow of the change as we follow after his call, and yet is the solid, steady safe fixed point we can cling to.

B & I have begun using the ‘she reads truth’ app at bedtimes. We have been reading about God’s permanence in a changing, shifting existence. Tonight we were prompted to remember together that no matter what out circumstances or feelings, God’s word, God-truth is fixed… through every page of the Bible we hear God’s mercy-full ‘I Love you, I am coming to you’. It remains. It’s trustworthy. We can cling to it as things shift beneath our feet.

This is the way God put it: “They found grace out in the desert, these people who survived the killing. Israel, out looking for a place to rest, met God out looking for them!” God told them, “I’ve never quit loving you and never will. Expect love, love, and more love! (Jer 31:3 MSG)

I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. (Jer 31:3 NRSV)

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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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lost in the garden

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‘Flowers are restful to look at. They have no emotions or conflict,’ said Freud

Spring is definitely here! I am back out in the garden, finally. Any chance I get!

I love the escape of the garden, the straight forwardness of it’s demands and needs – at the moment, the weeds! I love the creativity of arranging (and rearranging) and the satisfaction of watching things grow and flower.

I got into gardening as a self found therapy. The year we got married I was recovering fairly slowly from glandular fever which had knocked me for six, and left me with clinical depression (there isn’t another kind, but many use the word to mean feeling low, and it wasn’t that). The house we moved into after the wedding was a new house to the landlord, a pretty Victorian terrace house opening straight onto the street, and the long thin garden at the back was ‘full of potential’ with a beautiful large tree and hidden under weeds and brambles there were (I was later to discover) some flower beds.

While Andrew was at college, I got out there whenever I could as soon as I was physically up to it… short visits at first, then gradually I found myself getting lost out there working methodically, very slowly but surely clearing and planting, clearing and planting.

‘Perhaps the most unexpected potential benefit of getting your hands dirty, however, comes from researchers at the University of Bristol, who reported that bacteria commonly found living in soil may have a positive effect on our mood’. James Wong.

I have found many articles and essays on the benefits of gardening for mental health, for stress relief, and for physical recovery. One I read recently suggested 10 benefits:

  • sense of responsibility
  • reminds us we are nurturers
  • connects us to living things
  • helps us relax
  • releases happy chemicals
  • reminds us to be present in the moment
  • immerses us in the cycle of life, helping us to work through anxieties about death
  • plenty of room for venting anger and stress
  • gardening is easy

(from an article for Psychology Today, by Sarah Rayner)

I have not read much in these articles about drawing close to God, or being reminded of the beauty of creation or of the care he takes over the smallest of parts of his creation. But I find it fairly impossible to ignore! And the very action of gardening; tending, nurturing, freeing the swamped or vulnerable, feeding, watering, hoping, both rejoicing and bearing disappointments – all of these aspects of gardening are parts of God’s heart and actions towards his creation. Gardening doesn’t just cultivate the plants it probably cultivates the gardener too, as we learn and practice these attitudes and as we participate in the care of God’s world.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Mt 6:26 NIV)

One part of the garden here that I have been working on is a hidden away patch that I discovered whilst clearing brambles last year. I have cleared a path to this little clearing between the shrubs and trees and arranged the stumps and logs we unearthed there under the ivy. It is becoming our ‘fairy garden’ – a hidden play space just big enough for a couple of littlies. I am still clearing the hard to get rid of weeds; the docks, brambles & ivy – and a few of the shrubs and wild roses that seem to be of the belief that it’s their space!

But this year we have already done a bit more planting, and some fairy houses have moved in – and (when there aren’t too many bees buzzing near by) it is becoming that play space I hope it can be as the houses and bits & bobs that I am making get rearranged and fairies are imagined there. Shells and nuts, twigs and feathers are being collected and transformed into plates, chairs, canopies…