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)

20170608_212809

 

Advertisements

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’…

20170601_125520

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’…

20170601_125531

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?’…

20170601_154936

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.

20170602_225441

B’s colouring later in the day.

it’s a big world out there

2016-11-15-14-35-33

How do you encourage thinking outside the box?

How do you give kids a chance to find out what it’s like to walk in another’s shoes?

I feel very strongly about the injustices I see in our world, how some have so much while others have so little. I feel very strongly about the way distrust of difference, hate, and racism seem to be becoming ‘normal’ according to the media and our politics when what I see in Jesus’ life and words is always a loving reaching out to the marginalized, always a challenge to injustice. Jesus himself summed up God’s instructions for the best way to live like this:

One of their religion scholars spoke for them, posing a question they hoped would show him up: “Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?”

 Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”

(Mt 22:34-36 MSG)

gal-5-v-13

For Andrew & I it really matters that we help our children to see that there is a big world out there, a world full of people that are made in God’s image, precious to him, loved by him. We want to nurture trust, open-heartedness, an inquisitiveness about difference, respect and a longing for justice in our children.

It’s not always straight forward helping our children to see things or understand things from someone else’s perspective.

Simon Baron-Cohen first described ‘Theory of mind’, or ‘mind blindness’ talking about human instinct to discern that we think individually and that others may think differently, and therefore act differently. He wrote extensively about his hypothesis that this is a major area of brain development and function that happens differently in people with autism. Uta Frith has suggested another hypothesis, called ‘Weak Central Cohesion’ which highlights the difference between a brain wired to instinctively to see the forest first and only then the trees, and those that would see the tree first and only then the trees, and then the forest! A theory that explores how different ways of thinking learn to see the big picture, and make connections across different contexts. (Or at least that’s what it seems to be talking about as I read about it!! find out more here.)

Both of these theories seem helpful when thinking about the daunting task of encouraging out of the box thinking, seeing things from another’s perspective, learning to find out what it might be like to walk in someone else’s shoes (now that’s a great metaphor I’ll look forward to unpacking with B & T!).

 

They remind me that for my girls it is very likely that they will learn these things in a different way to many, that they may need support and may need me to be very intentional about creating opportunities to explore because all this may not be their comfort zone thinking.

The theories also remind me not to expect inference learning to be happening, they remind me too that learning one new thought does not make the next new thought any easier to pick up. Sometimes help is needed connecting up the dots.

We have been lucky to have lived in a multicultural city, and to be a part of a church also vibrantly multicultural as B & A  grew up, and where T was born. It was easier there for all our senses to be exposed to the wonders of difference – different food, different colours, different accents – all were around our family life pretty much all the time. We became God parents again while we were there, and together found out about, and had a go at cooking Sri Lankan feast food for the meal after D’s baptism (we didn’t do as well as D’s mum did cooking us a roast dinner though!!). It has  been amazing (& will continue to be) to share birthday, Easter and Christmas traditions with each other as families, and to hear stories about family life in Sri Lanka before they moved here.

2016-08-27-19-20-15

God Mum & God daughter: one very happy me, and one totally gorgeous D (appearing here at clearly nurturing with permission!)

Now we have moved somewhere less multicultural those natural everyday, living-alongside-each-other-opportunities are not as frequent and I find myself trying even more to be intentional about creating opportunities for those hands on, face to face connections that give us a chance to keep on finding out more about the big world on our doorstep.

2016-11-15-14-48-51

Journey Home – a game (The Big Issue)

Games and books are great, and they do start great discussions. We love ‘travel the world’ (ELC) and have recently had good discussions with our older two playing ‘Journey Home’ (The Big Issue) (We would recommend looking through the scenarios that come up in the game before playing with your teens, some are hard hitting, some may be ones you want to take out at first and put back into the game when you feel they might be better equipped to talk about them). We try to add thoughtfully to our book collection, looking for books that are from a different perspective or context. We have been enjoying Susie Poole’s, ‘Sister Lucy’s Great Big Family’; Amnesty International’s, ‘We are all born free’ with it’s beautiful illustrations; Beatrice Hollyer’s, ‘Wake up world’ that looks at a day in the life of children around the world; Mary Hoffman & Karin Littlewood’s, ‘The Colour of Home’ with T recently. And A has just been given  ‘Here I stand’, by Amnesty International which looks as though it’s going to be very thought provoking.

 

But there is nothing like those encounters which involve the senses, and let us meet people even through photos and stories told first hand.

Last weekend we hosted an evening about EAPPI  because my sister has been travelling and working with them. It was a great opportunity to find out about such a seemingly distant and difficult to understand area of the world. I made Baklava, and A & B helped put out other mainly middle eastern snacks with Aunty Em before guests arrived (while I put T into bed who was having a full blown implosion after having a brilliant play date at a friend’s house after school).

Then we enjoyed them with a few friends and listened, asked lots of questions and discussed as Aunty Em showed us photos she had taken in Hebron, and told us about Zidan and his daughter who she had met there. Telling us about their home, school and about the street where they live. It was such a good ‘doorway’ to ‘step into’ what life is like for many in Hebron, and a way of finding out about both Israelis and Palestinians working for peace together in the area.

zidan

Zidan picking fruit hebron/West bank/photo/Emily

check-point

school girl at a checkpoint hebron/West bank/photo/Emily

full to overflowing

20160816_114836-0

We have reached our limit for plums!!

There is a wonderful plum tree in the garden here, and this year it has been heavy with plums. The freezer is full; we have had to reinforce the cupboard shelf to hold the number of jars of jam, syrups, jellies & chutneys (including some beautiful bottled plums still there from last year!); the ice-cream has been made; curd is stored in the fridge; and cakes have been made, eaten and frozen! It’s been a good harvest!

I have loved the days when Andrew & I have gone out and worked together to pick and sort the plums, with a ladder and bowls (and A sent hurriedly for saucepans & bags when bowls were exhausted), and intrigued hens pottering round our feet.

2016-06-04 18.44.38

I love the way our glut of plums gave T & I an excuse to go and chat with the neighbours here, and to spend time finding out how they are. Andrew has also taken plums a bit further, to friends in church.

The (seemingly endless) task of cutting and cleaning plums for jamming has given me times standing chatting with B; rather orange fingers if I’ve done too many all in one go; and quite a few giggles with my girls whenever we found a wriggling pink grub inside one!

It has been fun to search out new recipes – and to taste test some – the plum syrup is pretty good in a fruit salad, and yes it is good on pancakes. B & I have also enjoyed naming some adapted recipes – my favourite this harvest ‘plumentine marmajam’ (perfect name for a chunky, just sweet enough clementine & plum jam).

I am loving the fact that we have now reached our limit of picking and storing too! Now over to the birds, the insects, bats & hedgehogs to forage and harvest. And we will gather in the last few ripening blackberries, elderberries, and hazlenuts – and hopefully a butternut squash when it is ready & a few late corgettes.

2015-08-17-17-07-56

Can’t help but feel very keenly just how full to overflowing our store cupboard is, especially in the light of watching the news with B, A & T this morning finding out a bit more about how the convoy of aid trucks was bombed on its way through the fragile ceasefire to those besieged & desperate in the cities of Syria. And reading about the growing food crisis in Sudan, and the affects on families of the troubles in Yemen. The material I am preparing this half term for our pre-school sunday group is ‘God made enough’ – so I can… share, be careful with all he gives me, trust him, have all I need…

B & I read tonight:

Do you know how God likes to be introduced?

His name is the Lord … Father to the fatherless, defender of widows (Psalm 68:4,5 NLT)

Our Almighty God who sifted stars through his fingers, stands not with kings and princes, but with the weak, the powerless, the poor…

He hears their cries. He fights for them and defends them.

(from ‘God’s title’, out of Thoughts to make your heart sing, Sally Lloyd & Jago)

And I find myself singing this prayer quietly as I wait for her to get to sleep:

Oh God, help me to keep our eyes and hearts open, to see the ways you fill our lives to overflowing so that it can flow out to others. Spirit help me to keep us feeling the compassion and love of the Father’s heart who hears the cries of the hungry, lost & forgotten. Help me Lord, to live generously and open heartedly; to model the opposites of ‘grabbiness’ and ‘looking after myself first’ for my children as we all grow in faith, learning life driven by faith and hope, not fear or despair.

For you are the God of the broken, the friend of the weak. You wash the feet of the weary, embrace the ones in need. I want to be like you Jesus, to have this heart in me. You are the God of the humble, you are the humble king.

 

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.

2016-07-22 21.17.14

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!