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.

Searching for the Cross at the Second Hand Market

Today we went to the market and there was a stall with second hand bits of jewellery, beads, necklaces, rings.  Think plastic, not gold!  The boys wanted to look through things, I felt so blessed, they were looking for a little gift for me.

No, they wanted something themselves. 

Timmy quickly came across a metal cross necklace
Timmy : Look at this mummy
Me : Oh that’s nice Timmy, really that is nice, if you want it though, you have to ask how much it is.
He asked and is told it is 100 leke (about 70p)
Eden is disappointed at this as apparently what Timmy has found is exactly what he wanted.  A cross necklace, but that’s just what he wanted.  So we all start to look to try to find Eden a cross necklace.  Suprisingly we come across quite a few but they are all crucifixes, with Jesus on them.

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Eden : I don’t want one with Jesus on it, he isn’t on the cross.

The man and lady at the shop ask what we are looking for and we explain we would like a cross necklace, they pull out several, all with Jesus on the cross.  We explain that we would like is one without Jesus on it.
Wait, wait they tell us, we have lots of crosses, wait there.  The man disappears, a few other customers come along, interested by what we are looking at.  They start to look for a cross necklace for Eden too.  No, we repeat time after time, not with Jesus on it.  We are Christians we believe Jesus didn’t stay on the cross, he rose from the dead.  Now there are at least six, seven people around this little table/store, the man has returned with a carrier bag with several crosses and crucifixes in it and again Eden begins to look for what he wants.
He find a cross, a wooden cross, he also finds a silver cross.  Both plain, without Jesus on them.
We pay for our items, 250 leke or about £1.50 and leave the shopkeepers, the customers, the crucifixes and the other crosses behind, with the words clearly spoken.  Jesus is not on the cross, He has Risen.

Thanks for that great sermon boys.  Words, actions, heart and searching for the cross… that’s Easter.

Day Three … Determind to Succeed, Obstinate?

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Day Three happened, just the write up didn’t!  So here it is!

Our two friends come chasing after us, Obstinate and Pliable…. my goodness this could be written about my children!

As we start off on our journey towards the great, others watch us, shocked at what we are doing, what we are trying to achieve.  They think with their best intententions that they need to rescue us, from what? From ourselves of course.  We can’t get to where we are aiming, we can’t reach the goal, the city, the promise, the dream.  We will end up hurting ourselves, we musn’t do it.  We shouldn’t do it.  Not you, you aren’t big enough, clever enough, smart enough, rich enough, brave enough…. fill in your own word.

Here they come, obstinate and pliable.  Obstinate has always been right, probably never listened long enough to hear the people saying that those words aren’t true.  And there, by his side (or hers!!) is pliable, maybe, in fact they are Mr and Mrs.  Pliable, always willing to go along, to say yes or no or maybe or whatever you want to hear or someone else tells them to say.  Obstinate doesn’t have to listen, they know you can’t make it because they are always right.  Pliable doesn’t bother to think whether you can, they just agree with obstinate.  So along they come chasing after you and your dream.  Sure enough Obstinate is bigger than you and your dreams.  Looming over, catching up and taking you over before you can even truly set out on the journey.  You can’t do it, the words echo round and meet up with those doubts of your own.  You look to Pliable, nodding in agreement, but your dreams shout out, YOU CAN!

Your choice right now to turn back, go back and wonder.  Or to wander.

J.R.R. Tolkein with his mind full of imagination said “Not all who wander are lost…” Not all who wonder are either.  Someone sent me a card with that quote on when we first started our life overseas.  Its true, so many times I have not seen clearly the road, or known the way ahead. But I have not been afraid to wander, through the fault filled language, through the panic over health, through the cultural faux pas… its actually fun to wander, normally more fun when you are reflecting than at the moment!

For the boys, what can they learn?  Well a wry smile on the eldest face let me know he recognised his over confident qualities.  He might never have described himself as obstinate before but he knew the cap fitted, well!  He could see the pig headed-ness of obstinate, the unfriendly forcefulness of insisting on being right, being first, being boss.  He saw the negative qualities probably because he had felt them.  But when is obstinate good?  That was more of a challenge to think of. 

Little Pilgrim was also obstinate, determined to press on, despite the arguments, the nagging doubts, the ‘wondering’.  Obstinate allows us to be focussed, to be single minded on what we believe even if no one else understands.  Obstinate allows the impossible to become possible, often in words we cannot explain…. it just is right to us because it is. 

Pliable decided to continue the journey, for once daring to stand up to Obstinate, daring for once to walk towards the things he had wondered about.  How brave, how freeing that must have felt.  To come out of the shadow and to walk, to wander.

The boys wrote down how the qualitites of Obstinate and Pliable were both positive and negative.  Great to reflect on how our qualities are not always negative but can be used for good as well if we choose to use them rightly.  So, the wandering continues, as does the wondering….

Day Four In a Puzzling Place

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the slough of despondency

Day four found us in the Slough of Despondency… the what????  I had loved this book so far because as I read it I only changed very few words as we went along.  The title for this one had me from the start… the what of how to explain that.  Okay, that’s the title boys lets read on and see if we can make it make sense!

Pliable is accompanying us, but as we begin to head towards the gate we discover ourselves in the slough… we begin to sink and can’t find our way out (great time for acting this bit out, with some squelching and some slurping and some sploooshing) Pliable discovers he isn’t that pliable because he is stuck, just like us, stuck in the mud.  The further we walk, the deeper we go, our toes, our ankles, our feet and through to our knees.  Are we ever going to get out?

Well Pliable does but decides this is not a good idea, if its this tough already he’s out of there.  So he gets out and leaves, back to the kingdom.  Little Pilgrim is despondent (see, I can use that word in context too and it does describe that emotion so well).  No way forward, no way back, just feeling like we are sinking deeper and deeper.

Living in a swamp area with ‘roads’ made of mud we could understand the physcial aspect of this part of the journey easily.  I will not quickly forget the day my foot got stuck in the mud road, as I pulled it out my flipflop broke and there I was, in the middle of the road, in many ways free but still affected by my moment in the mud.  My freedom had come at a cost and now I was faced with a new problem, a flipflopless foot (okay that word probably didn’t exist!) and the next step was still in the mire.  So I took it, the filthy mud road squelching between my bright pink nailed toes, the cold goo sticking to my foot, and on I walked.  One foot flipflopped one foot free.  The dripping traitor of the other flip flop in my hand!  The rest of the road was walked hobbling over the sharp stones, embarrassed, amused, aggravated but moving towards my house, the goal in sight.

Its easy to give up as we get that sinking feeling, for my boys to think of the times they’ve chosen to give up as soon as they have to put some effort in.  To stop where we are because the only way forward means more mess before we find another kind of freedom.  Financial, dreams, hopes, health, job, school…. whatever, we’ve all been there and probably will be again. 

Do you know the best thing though, I made it home, how great that fresh clean water felt as I watched that filthy mire filled mud wash away.  I don’t know I learnt my lesson, its part of life here, there will be more mud and more flimsy flip flops…. but I won’t give up this pilgrimage.  I hope the boys remember it might be easier to run backwards, but it feels way better to be closer to the gate and heading towards your dreams and destination.

Made it To Day Two

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If you aren’t impressed you should be, day two, that means I’ve stuck at something for two days.  Beyond a great idea, beyond wow I’ve done it, to well done me!

We got to the second day of the Little Pilgrim Read Aloud, part of the My Fathers World: Rome to Reformation curriculum.  So, what happens next?

Well Little Christian (not so hard for the kids to work that allegory out surely?) is on his own, none of the other kids want to play with him because he is different.  He doesn’t believe what they believe.  He talks about his “book”.  They don’t want to play with him, he’s boring. 

This was a great allegory to draw out for my boys, living in a different culture, looking, sounding, being different was a great way for them to engage with Little Christian.  They had felt this way before, they knew this loneliness of being an outsider but what I loved is that they haven’t stopped there.  They didn’t wander off on their own, they got on with the other kids and played with them, despite being mocked for mispronunciation.  Despite having your red hair touched a hundred times by the other kids at school because it is so different. Despite being asked why your skin is so white, even in the summer.  They got on an played, made friends, found the things that make them the same (mainly love of football!)

Little Christian realises he has done things wrong, reading his book shows him a different way of life.  Big challenge here for my little boy who has taken to not finishing or even starting his homework!  Sin is not just the big things but the little things that are us doing wrong.  Baggage, we all have it, how well we can hide it or try to convince ourselves its not there.  A good point to stop and ask the kids what baggage they might think they are carrying…. instead of me telling them!

So Evangelist tells him the way, the gate to go through.  But he also gives him a message from the King. 

“I love them that love me, and those that seek me shall find me.”

I wrote out the verse onto a little card and the boys made a pocket for the front of their books to keep treasures from the journey.  They are liking this idea! Then we talked about the message, what does it mean to them as a person?

The big challenge was to personalise it, what does the King say to them? No, it isn’t He’s always there for you.  He will help you.  Those are true but not the message.

I love those that love me, you need to have an action, you have to love first.  I know the theology behind this is not sound but I like for my kids to actually work out they have to love God, not down to what they know or their relationship with someone else.

Then those that seek me shall find me.  Having just had a metal detector it was easy to get this illustration.  If we keep the metal detector in the box, what will we find?  If we take it to the beach but just quickly skim a bit of beach, what did we find?  A rusty nail.  But if we seek, search, dig, slowly, carefully, what might we find? 

The same is true of God, but the challenge to me today was how often I just am happy to skim over the beach, to skim my time with God between all the other things but how much my heart wants more of that treasure, the hope of finding the stash of roman coins!

 

Starting a New Journey…. Little Pilgrim’s Progress

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Our homeschool time is limited and that is the excuse I like to use for my absolute failure at Read Alouds.  We’ve had printed books, we’ve downloaded books, we’ve timetabled them in, we’ve started them, oh yes we’ve started them…. but then…. well I FAIL. 

I love reading and encourage my kids to read, they both enjoy reading and Matilda loves to listen to a story but well, homeschool books somehow just don’t happen.  No books, don’t cry, its not your fault, it’s mine.

Anyway we have started again, a new book, a new ‘read aloud’.  Downloaded from Amazon (can I get paid for that link?)  And we are going to keep going…. in fact not only am I going to keep reading it but I’m also going to share our journey with you! Ha, yeah, I’m not sure how long it will last either!

I remember a kids club based on Pilgrims Progress and from that I read for myself Hinds Feet on High Places and just loved the allegorical writing.  So when the My Father’s World curriculum suggested Canterbury Tales and Pilgrims Progress I got quite excited.  But then Old English is definetly not my thing, Shakespeare has much to do about it, King James is better with a Message and I find teaching modern English tough enough.  So the Little Pilgrim’s Progress at only $6 seemed like a good buy.  I want my kids to live the adventure not to have to try to work out what is being said through a dictionary.  My choice.

So yesterday we met Christian.  A boy from the Prince’s kingdom, the other kids didn’t like him because he was different and kept going on about these things he had heard about the King and the Celestial City.  He found a book and began to read it, but he was alone. 

I love it already, the chapters are short enough to make this feel like its doable, the kids have an activity at the end of each chapter to review, think and make sure they are connecting the allegory.  The boys have a brand new writing book to record their thoughts and their journey through this book.

TASK ONE: In your new book introduce Christian to us from Chapter 1.

So… the reading continues.