Being thankful

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Autumn is here! A time for gathering in and taking stock. Plums, apples & whatever soft fruit and veg I have successfully grown. It’s a time of change and a time for re-grouping somehow I always feel. And of course a time of thankfulness. For us crunchy leaves also mean birthday season – so much to give thanks for. But it’s been a tough month to be honest… with so much newness everything seems to have taken a lot more energy than usual. So I’m looking for practical, calming activities to remind myself to give thanks and count all those blessings!

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Doodle thanks I can’t help but doodle my way through life, so this one wasn’t hard to find. Simple… paper and a pen, add a few things when you have a moment to sit down each day. Wouldn’t it be great to display a whole family’s set of doodle thanks. Or maybe start a big communal poster that everyone can add to throughout autumn!

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Jars of thanks: again, not a new idea. We have collected thanks in jars at other times too. It’s lovely to fill a jar together over a few weeks and then have a celebration get together and read them all out. A prayerful activity that grows gratitude in us. These jars were washed out plastic hot chocolate jars (quite astounding how many of these I accumulate!) decorated with foam stickers. We made them at our church’s monthly accessible service.

 

Contemplative colouring: a new design for our celebration of Harvest at church. Please follow the link to print out a copy and enjoy. The idea came to me as I was thinking about surviving those downpour moments in life, when you feel under a cloud and nothing is easy or going smoothly. As I chatted to God about how tough things felt we imagined this together, going one step further than ‘learning to dance in the rain’ we turned the umbrella over and began collecting the rain. I was reminded of the imagery of God’s blessing being poured out, being like rain on thirsty ground. So much rain that it is more than enough blessing for me and for me to share with others. Abundant blessing in the midst of the storms of life. It helps me to stop with an activity like this and deliberately become more aware of the blessings God pours into my life, it makes thankfulness bubble up again.

Books: There are so many good books out there that help us explore thankfulness, and get us talking about gratitude. ‘The world came to my place today’ by J Readman & L Roberts is great for thinking about how many other people and places have had a part in bringing what we need and want to our homes. The classic ‘Wonderful Earth!’ by N Butterworth & M Inkpen is one I go back to over and over again which helps us think about taking care of the gift of creation. Someone recently reminded me of Pollyanna by E H Porter, and the glad game. It’s not one we have so it’s now ordered and on its way! My own book ‘My Easter egg hunt’ explores all that Jesus has done for us and ends with an emphasis on our thankful response.

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Bible story: Looking at the story of the ten lepers who were healed by Jesus would be interesting. Mina has a lovely way of retelling the story over on Flame Creative Kids  It would be fun to go on and each make a chain of 10 paper people, and challenge ourselves to have said thank you 10 times by the end of the day. Or perhaps make some gingerbread men to help us remember.

Bunting: We have often made decorated paper bunting – I have hooks at the ready on one of the kitchen walls. Paper cut into triangles or flag shapes, newspaper, colourful plastic bags, pressed flowers – you get the idea…almost anything can look great as bunting. For thankfulness, at Harvest or Thanksgiving time how about leaves. Decorate with metallic sharpies or marker pens, writing or drawing some of the things we are thankful for. Then laminate them (may need to go through the laminator more than once) and they will keep their colour and hang really well. A hole punch at the top of each and as simple as that you have autumn thankful bunting.

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Knowing God’s voice

‘God answers our prayers’

‘God is always with you’

‘He will help you’

‘God will guide us’

2012-05-13 12.29.31These are all phrases we often use when trying to put words to our faith and hope in God as Christians. At the moment they are often met by T with questions and doubts: ‘how?’, ‘I can’t see him!’, ‘he doesn’t talk to me’. The thing is our words and phrases express our experience of mystery. Our faith is in a concrete, true, eternal God but our experience of Him is not tangible in the same way as a hug with a friend or parent. We don’t hear answers to prayer audibly (very often!) in the same way as a teacher answering our question. The way God’s presence faithfully stays with us as we trust Him is not visible to our eyes in the same way as we see and hold onto our comfort teddy throughout the day. We experience glimpses, senses of these intangible realities through faith and God’s grace (his free gift).

 For now [in this time of imperfection] we see in a mirror dimly [a blurred reflection, a riddle, an enigma], but then [when the time of perfection comes we will see reality] face to face. Now I know in part [just in fragments], but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known [by God]. (1 Cor 13:12 AMP)

We learn to see with eyes of faith rather than physical eyes, and to hear with our listening, quietened soul – our inner self reaching out for God. We learn to feel his real presence with us. We learn to recognize the physical markers as our bodies and spirit respond to spiritual realities we cannot see or touch physically. A quickened heart beat; the unexpected calm flooding our body and feelings quite independent of our circumstances; a beyond-our-own-courage; an inexplicable warmth; a moment when our own inner monologue is at rest and a new word drops in; goosebumps; when our body and spirit feels the same relief as it does when it can slump into the lap of home – our favourite sofa, in our favourite safe space where we belong and know we are unconditionally loved. We learn the sounds, and touch, the tastes and smells of the mystery that is our living God coming near and walking alongside us unseen and intangible. This is a lifelong adventure of love, of being known and getting to know.

Jesus said, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him!” (Jn 14:7 MSG)

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These are things I hope I can model and articulate as Mum to B, A & T. Finding ways to explain the mystery takes me out of the box. We have talked about how we get to know a voice to the extent that we recognize and respond to it even when we don’t see the person. The game where you have to close your eyes and listen with your whole body to be ready to spot someone coming to steal the keys or bells, or a game where we are blindfolded and have to identify the person by voice or smell can remind us of how our body feels when someone is familiar, how our bodies can recognize and respond to someone’s presence. They also remind us how difficult it can all be! That’s quite useful to throw into this discussion. We have spent time talking about the vast number of things we trust are real that we cannot see with our physical eyes, or hear with our physical ears – when you stop and think about it there’s so much we take for granted as real that we cannot see and hear. Germs; wind; atoms; electricity; energy; love. Believing that these things are real is something we do already. Talking about, and living out, spiritual things as real and living rather than just ideas on paper or in a book invites discussion and exploration.

Practicing being in God’s presence together – in prayer, in worship, in questioning, in praise and thanks, in quiet, reading the Bible  – needs to be intentional for us, it’s the thing that so easily takes second place to everything else life throws at us. It’s difficult. Mealtimes, bedtimes and mornings are already a battle ground full of demands. I don’t want activities that invite us to draw close to God to feel like another demand, or another chore on the long list that has to be done at certain times of day. As I have said before, I try to simply be ready! There are bibles on every shelf and I love to read from them when they are picked for bedtime stories. We pray together when we can, in ways that we can – and try not to get worked up when we can’t or when things really don’t go well. We listen to worship songs in the car, and sing them out in the garden and as we walk. We say our arrow prayers and arrow bursts of thankfulness out loud. We name it when we feel God’s presence or guidance, or when God gives us peace or courage. I don’t ever worry about doubts – they open discussion, and invite exploration together. I don’t need all the answers for I speak about mystery and point to our living God who is already drawing close to our children.

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When it’s just too much to write

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So I’ve been busy – busy feeling guilty about not writing! Having tried to write really regularly missing 3 weeks has actually been hard. But there has been such a lot going on, and when I’ve had time I haven’t had enough energy, and when I’ve had the energy not the time!

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Well this week we are camping, and today is a wet day. So I thought why not share my view with you. Here I am surrounded by Lego and discarded crisp packets having already been to the gorgeous little stream and dabbled, paddled & doodled. The cousins and mine are plotting and planning Minecraft realms which they share, so here I am with a space to breathe.

To fill you in we have helped lead the holiday club at church. It was a good week, lots of laughter, games, crafts and chatting faith. T had some friends from school with her in her group which she enjoyed. For the first time A was a young leader, he was good at it… and even became the model for his groups technicolour Joseph coat.

Then we rushed our packing and set off to New wine, the Christian conference we go to each summer. This year we experienced our very own miracle – for the first time T went to every session of her age group meeting with the support of our place (new wine’s inclusion stream) which in turn meant I could go to every single morning session and seminar. That was such a blessing. Great grounded teaching from Jo Saxton about us being ordinary people in the hands and purposes of our extraordinary God. Refreshing worship and real encounters with God. Encouragement and challenge and opportunity for prayer ministry.

New wine is always about community. A practical reminder that I cannot, and am not meant to be able to do it all alone. I am made to live in interdependence with others in my community and the family of God. It is so easy to find myself, in the middle of the kinds of chaos we have in our family life wanting to withdraw and somehow protect myself and children from perceived judgement or misunderstanding from others. I really need regular reminders of how much I need others, of how I am not made to do this in isolation – however difficult that sometimes feels.

And this week we continue with community, camping with my sister & her kids. It’s great to share parenting, meeting the kids needs and enjoying time with them and each other. As a result of my planning ahead I signed us up to the RSPB wild challenge and that has steered us through some lovely nature based activities (that I brought a few bits to help us be prepared for) that we have had fun with. We have stargazer Found wierd and wonderful many legged sea creatures in rockpools and made art from leaves. There has also been a soggy beach visit! A surprise meet up with friends at a castle! Unexpected cuddles with cornsnakes and meercats. And a very very steep uphill walk or two. (Plus lots of biscuits & chocolate into the mix!)

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Easter contemplative colouring

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I have been busy drawing some brand new Easter colouring designs which I am excited to share here as free printables.

Click here for ‘I have loved you’ full image

Click here for ‘new creation’ full image

We use the designs here at home, enjoying time colouring in and talking together responding to the words. I know some have been used in schools, youth groups and church small groups. Thank you for your feedback, it’s an encouragement to know the designs are being useful – and enjoyed!

This week we have also spontaneously made an ‘Easter joy’ garland for the kitchen from some artificial flowers that we unexpectedly acquired. I had some wooden heart cut outs waiting in the wings for the right moment too so they have come our to join in. We thought about hope-full words that help us describe the wonder of the gift of Jesus’ death and coming alive again. Words like: rescued, forgiven, love, peace, joy, saviour…

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Easter Joy garland

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The garlands came together quite quickly, lots of the flower stems were wired and could bend and twist around the previous one. Some needed extra wire around them to keep them in place, but not many. Then I simply attached some string on either end (I made it in two halves) so I could hang it up on our existing hooks that I use for all kinds of bunting throughout the year. The wooden hearts were easily coloured with sharpies, and I hope to tie them into the garland with some Easter coloured ribbons when we’ve finished – in time to help us celebrate on Easter Day.

 

We usually plan an Easter egg hunt in the garden too, and this year I have come across this lovely idea on ‘Bless this mess please’ for an Easter Day walk and scavenger hunt looking for things that are visual and tactile reminders of the story.

 

 

looking for joy

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Looking for joy can sometimes feel like looking for signs of spring in winter, or signs of new life in the desert. Anxiety, depression, stress, sleep deprivation, lack of self care, niggly illnesses all add up to a kind of numb weariness that continually ebbs and flows. A physiological vicious cycle.

Lent is good – it’s not just me taking time to visit the desert and acknowledge that desert times are a part of faith-filled living. 

Some weeks I ask myself what does joy look like – I often think it must look different to me than for others. I struggle with it to be honest. It seems over-demanding, too energetic, in my face; too bright. How can a word, a concept evoke that kind of avoidance within me? How can such a tiny word make me feel so inadequate, so full of failure. As a Christian I know I’m supposed to have an endless supply of joy, yet I am not good at taking hold of it or holding onto it, or perhaps sometimes even spotting it in the first place, and other times fear gets in the way of even going near it – whatever it is!

 ….the Lord made the heavens.

 Splendor and majesty are before him;

strength and joy are in his dwelling place.

Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. (1 Chronicles 16:26-28 NIV)

The one definition of joy that I have felt I can grab hold of I came across on social media of all places: ‘Joy is peace dancing’.

Peace that passes understanding, that does not depend on my circumstances or ability to achieve it. Peace that is a gift from God, the gift of being accepted and belonging with God who can carry the weight of the universe – and me – in the palm of his hand. Whose love is stronger than death itself, who can handle all that life can throw at me. That peace – dancing. That may not look like the joy that the world talks about but to me that resonates deeply. That joy is moments of quiet rest in the safety of the hollow of his hand, looking into his face and smiling back, and letting my heart dance, free in his presence. Here joy is not a demand, or something to find the energy to achieve, it’s simply present and tangible and without expectations. And maybe from here I can get more practiced at spotting this joy as it spills out of God’s hand into our lives – he is a God of miracles after all!

 

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drawing by T this week which showed me joy

“May we shout for joy over your victory and lift up our banners in the name of our God.” (Psalm 20:5)

Looking for joy in the barren places does have it’s advantages – when I spot it, grab it and hold on for dear life before it slips away – it holds a beauty and God-giveness precisely because it is so very unexpected. Like the wonder of crocuses and snowdrops standing tall and confident of spring despite the snow and howling wind.