God is NOT faithful

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Eight years ago we left our lovely three storey Edwardian house with a car load of things and headed off with our three children to live and serve in Albania.  We arrived and settled into life in a nice house, once we got rid of the fleas.

People asked us why we would give up everything and go, it didn’t make any sense.  But it did to us.  Our belief in God and our desire to live our lives for Him meant we had said we would go wherever He thought best, do whatever He asked and trust.  WE were faithful.

 

After two years we knew we were to set up a centre for children and young people in this deprived settlement where hopelessness had made her home.  So we asked our church and they helped us with the finance and there were some rocky moments, some tough challenges, threats to us but we saw these children and young people grow in God, learn in their own lives, become more than they thought and realise that they mattered.  We saw in their smiles, in their chatter as they crowded round the gate waiting to get in that this was what God had wanted.  Our CHURCH was faithful, WE were faithful.

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When we felt we should move from our nicer house on the tarmac road to the mud lane swamp area we found a four room house.  It was ground floor, had an entry space that we could put a kitchen and a sofa in, we could use two other rooms for bedrooms and a bathroom.  Sure it also had mould covering the walls and it was TINY, but we knew this was to be our home and so we packed our stuff into a van and moved.  WE were faithful.

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bridge over troubled water

Two years ago we set off on a plane, accompanied by our suitcases and a van full of boxes (by the road) and returned to the UK.  We were due to have our fourth child, we knew that this time in Albania to live was at an end but we didn’t know what lay ahead.  WE were faithful.

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In the months ahead we discovered we had to prove our nationality that we had gained at birth but lost living overseas, we lost our entitlements to benefits and help.  We had some friends who continued to support us and the dwindling monthly income stretched miraculously.  Neil went for interview after interview to be told he was a close second, over qualified, too experienced.  But we kept going, we had our baby and placed her in a charity shop basket, in second hand clothes, we told the children they couldn’t go on school trips and we all learnt the walk of a land where your passport fits but your heart does not.  It was dark, it was tough, it seemed never ending.  But WE were faithful.

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Two years on and I have my dream job, it is incredible and beyond what I could have ever felt I would be offered – tutoring at the Centre for Youth Ministry on the degree course.  Neil is a university student – he never felt he could do academic work but continues to strive for his best and passes well each semester.  We both also have the incredible privilege of working in our home church who had supported us for so long and seeing another generation grow in passion and life for God.  We have our four amazing children, three at school who have faced challenges of bullying, fitting in, learning a new language and continue to fly high and smile and take each challenge.  Lilijana, chatters and sings and worships like I have never seen a child before, her heart just overflows.  Then after temporary accommodation for the past two years we bought and have moved into our new home.  A stunning three story, five bedroom, four bathroom, kitchen, diner, double garage, lovely garden, moments away from a nature park in one direction and the play park in the other.  Our two cars sit on the driveway when they aren’t going to our many activities.  Our life is full.  But God was NOT faithful.

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I don’t mean He hasn’t blessed us continually, incredibly, wonderfully and miraculously.  Oh my goodness He HAS!  But this was not because He was faithful in the sense it seems it is often used.  It is not a REWARD for what we have done, given, been.  He doesn’t need to pay us, He didn’t owe us for our time of ‘sacrifice’, He wasn’t in debt to us for asking us to do things.  That was our choice as our commitment and belief, that was more valuable to us than other people could ever understand and that was us, being us.  God is a God of incredible love, a ‘good, good father’ as we like to sing – He gives because He loves to, He loves us and He can.  He isn’t faithful in paying back something that was never a cost, beyond a Call.

 

When we think this is God’s faithfulness what do we do when the job interviews all failed, we had no income, we are living in that mouldy little house? Was God not being faithful then?  Oh, the stories of that precious home, the memories of that neighbourhood and the place it has in our hearts are more than the flash new build.  God’s faithfulness is not linked to payment or payback but linked to His never ending, never failing, never giving up love.  People say ‘God is Faithful’ in terms of a payback, a settling but how cheap that makes His love and His Call.  Faithful is His persistent love, faithful is His walking through the storms, faithful is His Call to adventure and life, Faithful.

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Nativity Hark – Baby Shark Christmas story CLICK HERE!!!

I was challenged at work to lead devotions to Baby Shark…. not sure I will use this in that exact setting but going to use it with the children’s work and home!

We made a really simple nativity story to Baby Shark, that annoying song that the little ones love.  It obviously isn’t complete and my theological colleagues may question some of the story – but hey!  It’s memorable, simple and keeps Jesus in Christmas!

So in case you need the words –

Hello Mary (wave hand)

Hello Joe (wave other hand)

Donkey ride (donkey ears and then ride the donkey)

There’s no room (wag finger) – we added no,no,no,no,no for this instead of the do’s

Baby’s born (rocking baby)

Shepherd’s here (thumbs to self)

Wise men’s star (twinkle star hands)

Christmas time (jump and pull those shapes!)

Not the end… (clap)

My 10 year old said “But it is the end.” Which gave me a great chance to share that Jesus being born was not the end, we are all part of God’s great big story.

Hope it’s useful or doesn’t drive you too mad!Nativity Hark – Christmas Baby Shark

Baby Shark Nativity Style!

Confessions of the worst mum in the world…. me.

My eldest is almost 16 but I remember at toddler group a mum saying how tired she was but that she felt she always needed to play with her children – make belief, at the park, cars, kitchens, lego, whatever they wanted. All day… apart from nap times. I didn’t do that and maybe that was where the guilt began.

I went to the park with the youngest two the other day and little one asked me to push her on the roundabout – I did. But then as she moved on to the next activity I just stood and watched her, shivering. I got my phone out to take a couple of photos of the girls having fun. Pictures of my guilt.

We have Youtube videos of someone opening tubs of playdough on in our house – no I don’t get it but she seems to like it and so she watches it.

We sometimes skip mealtime for snacks in front of a movie with blankets and pyjamas on – I don’t think they got their two a day never mind about five.

This morning I took little one in her slippers to drop my daughter off at school – truthfully I would have worn mine if I could drive in them. I had no make up on and my hair was just put up in casually (translate I couldn’t be bothered).

I saw the looks from other parents walking their children into school whilst I let mine run off herself into the playground whilst I didn’t get out the car. Lazy mum, uncaring, irresponsible.

Oh my, I don’t need you to look at me like that I already know I am a terrible mum. The problem with all these things that you may look and see as terrible is that I believe that it’s okay so doesn’t that make me even more terrible?

I actually think my kids are doing okay – they have developed imagination to learn to play and create for themselves, they dare to try to do things on their own and feel proud when they manage it and have resilience when they can’t. When my little one couldn’t manage the bigger wooden equipment she looked at me and said “I’m too small for this” and ran off to something else. I followed her, she had learnt her own space in that world, her own capability for now and expectation for the future. I had just stood and allowed her.

Healthy eating is important but my kids love movie nights and have memories from them.

I ask my daughter every time if she wants me to take her into the playground and she doesn’t, she loves that she is old enough to go by herself, there are no roads to cross and I know she is going there, she is safe.

Will my children have issues? Yes. Have I done my best? I hope so.

The main reason I confess to being a terrible mum is because I am bothered by what other people are thinking as they see me stood around, phone in hand, doing nothing. I confess to letting others expectations make me feel like I’m not doing the best. I confess to believing in free play, exploration, independence, adventure and at the end of the day walking hand in hand with my child, side by side where they feel secure as they tell me what they have done. By the way that little hand is normally at least a little bit grubby – terrible isn’t it?

The Giant's Story

On a visit to Northern Ireland my friend took me to the Giant’s Causeway, she knew it was somewhere I had always wanted to go, so she took me.

It was amazing, the most beautiful autumn day with a cool enough breeze to let your cheeks feel cold but bright blue skies, sunshine and waves crashing reminding you of their power.

The trip was amazing because it was with a friend – adventuring and journeying is always better with someone else.

The Causeway was not as big as I imagined but the shapes and forms led to an amazement at how things can each be unique and yet fit perfectly to become powerful against the storms, they weren’t unchanged, each reacted differently but they still stood together.

But the magic of the place for me was in the tale – there was in this natural place a sense of story, Finn the giant, battles across the sea that you could stand and imagine and brought the breathtaking beauty into a deeper realm. I don’t know if Giants ever existed or remain in the realms of myth and legend but I do know that stories bring depth, connection, wonder and smiles.

Climbing on the slippery rocks my friend and I caught up with stories of the years gone by and we shared new memories and old. Muddy Church is a place of sharing stories as we wander and wonder together, it may not be in scenery as stunning as the Causeway but each is a part of history shared, marked, carried together and in that sets its own amazing backdrop.

Stories unite us, connect us and help us to stand in new storms – I wonder what your story of today is?

Who is feeding the sheep?

Apart from the very cool look on the sheep’s face I love this photo from Muddy Church at St Andrew’s, Rugby (https://www.facebook.com/StAndrewsChurchRugby/). In the bible there is an account of Jesus talking to his disciple Simon Peter (read about it in John 21) and asking him if he loves him. After Peter’s response Jesus tells him to feed him lambs, or his sheep. The theological depth within this is beautiful, but the simple message we can see is that Jesus was basing involvement on relationship not any other criteria. He didn’t give Peter a pop-quiz on his knowledge at this point, a character assessment, a skills audit He wanted to know “Do you love me?”

This picture shows these sheep aren’t worried if it’s the adult, the farmer, the trained shepherd or the small child, they see the food and trust the feeder. The little hand can fit through the fence and give the food direct to the sheep rather than just tipping it over and into the trough. We all have our skills and abilities, not that others can’t do something but that sometimes we can do it that bit better, engage deeper, be more appropriate because of who we are, our story, our journey.

This photo shows an adult helping a child by passing them the tools (the food) and a child able to get their own food for the sheep and passing it on but most of all sheep- happy to be right there and getting to eat.

Jesus wasn’t talking about his actual sheep that He’d left but about people and sometimes we can put off doing things because of what we aren’t or haven’t got – a qualification, academic knowledge, status or age. I believe God’s Kingdom is a place where all are able to make a difference, there are things we can do differently at different ages and stages but let’s take the opportunities this week to see others and release them in their skills whilst also looking for where God is using our story.

Muddy Church is a place that encourages each community to engage with it’s local area and people. For some that might be a park, a plant-bed or a mud slide. Each community is different and has spaces where people can connect with creation and explore God within our world. Get in touch for more information about what Muddy Church might look like for you.

Where is Freedom?

This video shows some of the depth of need that our children have, in fact that all of us have. A need to be free, to explore, to have spaces no matter what our limitations that offer us places to be and to become. Our moments of outside often are limited between building and vehicle, office or school to bus or car, shop or church. But the greatest cathedral ever built with the most breath-taking architecture is that one all around us, the great outdoors. It is unbelievable that we see the need for prisoners to have space outside but don’t insist the same for ourselves and children. How can we change this, how can we encourage the connection with all the outside freedom and learning if we don’t go there?

Muddy Church isn’t about a set program, do this or that. It’s a place for groups, individuals, churches, communities to stop and look around them, to explore around them and to look where God might be. It doesn’t take huge planning or any expense it it about each of us realising we need to feel the fulness of life that certainly extends walls and doors. Why not try it for yourself today, step outside for five minutes – feel the wind, get wet in the rain, listen and ask yourself – where is God right now?

This is in no way a promotion of Unilever but fascinating and deeply saddening.

Wandering and Wondering

A conversation with someone led to the start of Muddy Church, developing the idea of making church accessible and also celebrating the different ways we connect spiritually with God.

Muddy Church is a space to wander and wonder… to walk alongside people (and animals), enjoying the outside, community, friendship and the wonderful world around us.

Living on the edge of a nature area we are fortunate and yet overlook this luxury often and Muddy Church hopes to re-discover this lovely area and the fun that can be found in the steep mud banks, scrunching through leaves or bouncing in puddles. The beauty of the seasons captured and enjoyed, the creative God recognised and delighted in and the lovely companionship of easy talk and sharing life.

Muddy Church gives a place that people can meet together with others of shared faith or none. A place families can gather together and adventure – getting the kids off screens! A welcoming place for the extended family of furry friends (treats provided for the dogs) and supporting the local community businesses and facilities.

Perhaps Muddy Church is a breath of fresh air for spiritual wanderers and the church?

Being a Youthworker and Mum

I had my first child in the middle of my degree course, I guess you could say he was born into youthwork.  My second son was almost ready to hatch at my graduation so he’d heard the lectures and been present as my heart rushed and raced towards deadlines and dissertation.  They sat in the youthclub, had no need for toys as they had non-stop entertainers during youth meetings and bible studies and heard the latest tunes rather than lullabies.  It seemed forever away to consider that one day these little ones would be under my care as a youthworker.

I heard the jokes about how, with my youthworker husband, we were set up to sail through the teenage years, I knew too much about development to believe that.  As they grew up they changed to be the advisors on a great Youtube clip or allowing me to play Fortnite for my undefeated title with a Victory Royale!  Joined by two younger sisters, a tweenager and a toddler I don’t need to read too many books on growing pains as I live with it at some stage or another.

I love being a mum, most times I love being a youthworker but the balance, the challenges, the trials of knowing too much, ethical dilemmas and theories into practice make for some interesting thinking.  As a lecturer, I get to share my experiences, often those based at home, with other youthworkers.  So often I have seen that youthwork posts are expected to be filled by a certain young, cool, extrovert stereotype and people have said you can’t be a youthworker all your life.  Yet I have seen some amazing third age youthworkers, I see some brilliant young youthworkers, I see experience adding and creating different relationships and inexperience creating innovation and daring within professional boundaries.

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As with all things, we are unique, we bring who we are to walk alongside young people.  No matter what stage we are at in life I think Donovan’s quote holds they key.  So I accept the challenge of being a youthworker mum….. most of the time.