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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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!

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)

Summer Festival

 

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a little patch of blue sky was spotted during the week!

For the last few years we have been going to the Christian summer festival, New Wine. Last Year I was reflecting on how important it has become for us as a family because it is a week of intensive community with our church family (both locally and families who camp with us from other churches). The week following New Wine we meet up with parts of our extended family for another week of camping in lovely Somerset. Inevitably we get chatting about the Christian festivals we each go to, some to Spring Harvest, Word Alive, some to Keswick. This year we chatted a fair amount about the logistics of taking our families – all in some way shaped by additional needs – to such large, noisy, intensive festivals. On paper it sounds mildly ridiculous to attempt such a thing, so what does it work out like in practice?

These are some of the ways we as a family handle the logistics of camping, being in community, going to the meetings and events, sleeping, eating, staying clean enough… and growing in our faith:

Eating

When we first began the adventure of camping the eating side of things was actually really difficult. B has not ever found eating easy, her diet at that time was really very restricted and her usual routine involved managing to eat just enough sitting on her own with the TV on simply to dampen the stress and panic enough to face the food. So eating while camping was tough for her. Most of her ‘safe foods’ were possible to store and prep in a tent so that was something, but of course no TV, no space, family and wider church community right there all the time.

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Plus whenever a bug, fly or wasp came even remotely near her she was panicked. So at first food was eaten (or looked at) rather stressfully outside with the rest of us, but by the end of each mealtime B was usually quite distressed and sitting in the bedroom, zipped in on her own. Over the years this level of stress about camping mealtimes has eased a little and most of the time B manages to join us and eat something. I think in part this is a reflection of a wider change about how B is coping with meals together all the time. Needless to say wasps are still a problem! This year with 5 adults around our table we still had a bit of a job dealing efficiently with them and keeping the meal on track!

As a church group we eat together in ‘family clusters’ – so everyone is included, and supported. This year we had the joy of 3 extra adults eating with us. All known really well by our kids, and all extremely accepting and patient of how our family life happens. Their help was invaluable at mealtimes, getting the food started when Andrew or I were still walking back after fetching T from a group, helping involve the kids in washing up and generally keeping us cheery throughout even the most dysfunctional moments, and bringing the first evening meal so we didn’t need to cook after putting up the tent and sorting the kids out on the day we arrived.

We have a menu that we only have to tweak each year as dietary needs change, and alongside the menu we have 3 shopping lists! One is a list of what needs to be prepared or bought and packed to take with us (we prep 2 main meals in advance and take them frozen.). The second is a shopping list for Andrew to fetch while I register the kids with their groups after the tent has gone up on arrival day. The third is to be bought on the day off, including things to take to the BBQ with our whole church group that evening.

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a bit wet for BBQ but great food & company! (Thank you A.Wall for the photo)

Sleeping

What can I say??? We’re not naturally great at sleeping anyway! This year though we all slept in the same bedroom section and I think, miraculously, we possibly got more sleep than usual!

Washing

There are shower blocks dotted about the showground where New Wine is held. There are also sinks in all the loo blocks which lots of people use for washing faces and doing teeth though we do that in the tent where it’s less crowded and distracting. The showers are quite small and there is almost always a queue, it’s also fair to say that they are a little hit and miss – usually a mixture of hot moments with unpredictable cold ones thrown in. This year we also faced the challenge of some of the showers losing water pressure – not easy with shampoo already applied but only a dribble of water running down the wall to rinse with!

When B, A & T were small enough we took a large-ish flexi bucket for baths in the tent. It was a bit of a slow process heating a few kettles to add to cold water to get the temp right, but it was clean, enough room for me to help, and no queuing, as they grew a small paddling pool also came in handy in a similar way. Now they are all too big, but we have managed finding times to use the showers and have coped. And with T this year I simply haven’t pushed it – baby wipes took care of it! There is a disability accessible shower on site, with enough room for a parent to help a larger child. We may well look into using that next time.

I take travel hand wash detergent with us and try to wash tea towels and any other essentials on the afternoon of the day off. This year was so wet I didn’t get the chance – nothing would have dried. But of course the wet, and the festival mud created a lot of washing, and ‘Our Place’ (New Wine’s inclusion teams) came to the rescue washing the things we really needed – especially T’s ‘apple blanky’ when it was dropped in a puddle.

Meetings

There are kids groups right through from baby to late teens, and registration forms are taken between certain times on arrival day, and the kids are given wrist bands. Most of the groups have a couple of sessions each day, babies fewer and older teens more choices but a similar amount of time.

There is a thorough system of dropping off and collecting, with more than one check of your ID, the handover card you gave in that day, and the child’s wristband. It takes a bit of time but works well. T didn’t like the wristband at all this year, and kept taking it off and ‘putting it somewhere safe’ – so on a couple of the days that she went to her group we had to get her an alternative, approved ID badge from the admin team at the back of the venue.

The groups are very busy and so they are quite noisy even without the music & use of microphones. There are stage lights and live worship bands, and in the younger groups often team in costume for the upfront parts of the session. Kids are in smaller groups with team looking after them and always get dropped off and picked up in that same place with those team members. For the younger groups the sessions are very tightly structured and include upfront storytelling, silly games and worship and prayer and also active games. craft and chat in the smaller groups.

This year T struggled again and we were so very thankful for the Our Place team. Our Place have team in every venue supporting children to help them join in with their group. They also have a break out space near the side or back for times when kids need to escape or some calming down space. They have fidgets, a visual timetable and ear defenders at the ready! We needed support at drop off, and T needed support during the sessions she attended. Our Place also have a separate kids, youth and adult venue that is open a bit later than the others as a safe haven for those who can’t settle or who can’t manage a whole session. T loved the kids venue and most evenings we went there rather than her group having used all her energy up during the rest of the day.

Some mornings were also just too much and we took T with us to the main arena. Getting out my emergency distractions and other little games that I always have to hand.

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B, A & T all have boxes or tins in their rooms where we put all the little oddmenty toys – from those fast food freebies, to the one off homemade and all things small and unique. I pack up a small bag of these when we go for days out or away for longer like these weeks. I also like to have bubbles (the small tubes sold as party favours are great), fidgets, little notebooks and pens (the ones with multiple colours in just one pen are my favourite – space is of the essence, I have to carry it everywhere!). This year A & I turned a little mint tin into a habitat for a tiny dinosaur complete with rocks trees and volcano – a whole world in a tiny portable tin – perfect!

It sometimes feels frustrating that it’s not straight forward getting to sessions I want to get to – this year I didn’t make it to many things in the evenings at all – but over the years I have found these times when I take a little one to an alternative venue (either Our Place, or Stepping Stones when T was little – a large play space, with tea coffee and the main arena being shown live on a screen) to be full of valuable conversation, chances to connect with other parents often feeling the same frustration and the team in these venues just as ready to pray with you and to talk discipleship!

Our Place run seminars for parents in the mornings which have been a place of gentle challenge (ok sometimes challenge never feels gentle!) encouragement and prayerful support. I have grown such a lot in my faith as I have been a part of the Our Place family network. The encouragement and safety of the space they provide has helped me to go on wrestling, to dare to step out and step up, to trust and hope in deeper ways as we share experience together, know that whoever we sit with or pray with there is understanding and acceptance. This year we looked together at the story of Ruth and reflected together on feeling uprooted, the frustration and pot-boundness circumstances can sometimes make us feel; how God provides, often through the support and help of others – like Ruth’s Boaz; and how God turns the situation right around breaking the chains around those women and leading them to fruitfulness. Plenty for me to treasure and to keep on reflecting on in the midst of piles of muddy washing, a garden that has grown quite a bit while we were away, a tent in need of drying, camping gear to put away, a house that is in disarray and trying to help the kids adjust to down time at home, while Andrew goes back to work!