It’s February, so… Happy New Year.

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The best Christmas gift I received this past season was a sentence. On hearing that we’d bought a house in the neighborhood, a church member and friend exclaimed, “We’re so excited for us, because it means you’ll be staying a while.” It was in that moment that I knew we were home.

In 2013-14, I…
Had a second child.
Lived on two continents.
Drove halfway across the continental U.S. Twice. With two children in the backseat.
Got two jobs.
Lived in two different houses.
Bought my first home.

Any one of those things would have been life-altering. Doing them all within just over a year was, well, exciting… and busy. And exhausting. It’s not surprising that stress has taken a little toll on us all, and I needed to give myself permission to let go of a few things for a while. Like cleaning. And knowing what day of the week it is. And social networking.

Lately I feel like I’m just waking up, emerging from hibernation with a few cobwebs in the corner and an itch to spring clean. It’s time, once again, to start the next big adventure, but this one will be completely new to us: staying put. We now own a house.  Half an acre. Three trees. A whole lot of wood paneling and vintage linoleum. Believe it or not, this whole new world was terrifying to me- until I made a revealing observation: From here on out, everything we do is a step towards normal.

Each box I unpack will stay unpacked. In fact, I now have a basement full of boxes which I probably don’t need to keep. I can paint the walls whatever color I want and they will stay that way, without the permission of a committee or landlord. For years as we’ve travelled I’ve left a trail of tulips behind me, planting the bulbs in one season and not being around to see them bloom. This year I will celebrate my own darn tulips!! Our kids can make friends and grow with them- and so can we.

I’m beginning to understand the observations of Solomon in a whole new light. A time to uproot and a time to plant. A time to throw away and a time to keep. To everything there is indeed a season. (Ecclesiastes 3… sort-of) So often we dwell on the dramatic and life-changing, but there is beauty in the normal, the routine, the every-day blessings.

This year we are literally staying put because we have no more vacation time. I have a strong sense that my work is right where I’m meant to be. What do you do when you have no place to go? I guess we paint a few walls. Get our house in order. Dust off a few dreams.

Here’s to an uneventful 2015.

Thanks for patient with me lately. More tales of our un-adventures coming soon!

Psalms and Preschool Problems

I’m calling it the Pre-K paradox.  On the day my daughter turned four, she discovered a new-found independence.  Suddenly she can dress herself, brush her teeth without supervision, and set her own place at the table.  (I’m gleefully harnessing this enthusiasm by teaching her to use the dustbuster and empty the dishwasher.)  Conversely, on that same birthday a new phrase entered her vocabulary: ‘I can’t.’  In the strange way the universe works, on any given morning she can get up, make her sister a hat, build a functional car out of blocks, and then make her own breakfast- but she simply can’t put on her shoes.

I had one of these moments of perplexed desperation this week while in our local superstore.  She had danced around with our shopping list for nearly an hour, filling the cart with necessary items and accurately re-shelving the unnecessary ones she’d brought along too.  But when it was time to leave, she couldn’t possibly walk to the register.  “I just can’t, mummy,” she declared.

There, in the middle of the arts and crafts aisle as she was about to flop herself on the floor in feigned exhaustion, inspiration struck.  I grabbed a nearby foam hat and a bag of sparkly stars, and brought about the dawn of a new era.  I explained to her that the hat was no ordinary one, it was a problem-solving hat.  She could only wear it if she was willing to try and solve a problem- and if she succeeded, she could decorate the hat with a star.

It worked.  Somewhere within her she found the energy to walk to the register, and then wore her hat proudly to the car.  We’ve used the hat to help her discover her own inner resources, from problems as simple as cleaning up a spill to the complexity of resolving conflict with her sister.  She’s discovering what I saw in her all along: she always had the creativity to tackle a challenge, she just didn’t know it.

Preschool Problems

We’re going to need a bigger hat.

 

I wonder if that’s what the Psalmist was feeling as he penned Psalm 77 .  He starts out pretty low, literally crying out to God for help.  In the middle of the Psalm he rallies, reminding himself, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.”  What comes next is a beautifully descriptive narrative of God’s power and faithfulness.

Why is it that some of our most profound creativity appears when we are facing a challenge?  I once knew a youth pastor who would literally plan a problem into every retreat she organized.  The bus would break down, or they’d get lost.  It became a running joke for her youth group- “Remember the time when…”  What her group didn’t realize is that they were doing exactly what she had hoped they would:  they were remembering a time when they stepped out of their norm, faced a problem, and grew closer together as a group.

Sadly as adults we don’t get problem solving hats.  Maybe we don’t spend enough time recognizing our own efforts to tackle the challenges we face- or maybe we just don’t even try.  I remember my first few months in England, desperately waiting for the rain to stop so I could go outside.  It didn’t take me long to realize that with that kind of thinking I’d never leave the house- and in the end, a little rain didn’t do any harm.  By staying in I wasn’t able to get out and do the things I wanted to- was passionate about- was created to do.

Lately it’s occurring to me: can solving a challenge, using my God-given gifts, doing what I was created to do- can that be a form of worship in itself?  There’s a song we sing in worship which sums it up poignantly, “And though my heart is torn, I will praise You in the storm.”  Perhaps one of the most simple, direct ways to acknowledge our Creator is to pick ourselves up and use the unique gifts which He knew we had all along.

After a busy few days of problem solving, our family is having some much-needed down time together this weekend. Outside it’s gray and wet- a welcome break from the August heat.  I think we’ll go play in the rain.

 Play in the rain

Here is a worship activity to try:  Tackle a challenge that’s facing you this week.  In a quiet moment make a list of the things you learned, or the gifts you’ve been given that helped you, and give thanks.  For a group or family activity, do a puzzle or challenge together and then take time to recognize what each person in the group contributed.  Share your reflections with each other, and give thanks.  Or you could go outside with and umbrella and talk about times when God helped you face something hard.  Remember to tell us how it went in the comments below!

Go take a walk.

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Are you ready for this?  Are you excited?  Then get your wellies on, or your tennis shoes, and go for a worship walk.  Take your family with you, or your headphones- or, if you’re in that place in life (and if you are, I’m totally right there with you), take your family with you and slap on your headphones.

Go for a walk

Not that kind of walk.

 As you walk, look around.  What do you see?  What disturbs or concerns you?  What gives you peace?  Where do you see God in the world around you?  As you walk and think, here’s a passage to reflect on:

            Psalm 125 (NLT)

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

Those who trust in the Lord are as secure as Mount Zion;
    they will not be defeated but will endure forever.
Just as the mountains surround Jerusalem,
    so the Lord surrounds his people, both now and forever.
The wicked will not rule the land of the godly,
    for then the godly might be tempted to do wrong.
O Lord, do good to those who are good,
    whose hearts are in tune with you.
But banish those who turn to crooked ways, O Lord.
    Take them away with those who do evil.

May Israel have peace!

 

The fifteen “Psalms of Ascents”, were once sung as people made an annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  They are never more poignant or, in my experience, right to the heart than when they are read while on a journey.  When you’re finished with your walk- or at a good stopping point along the way- write, draw, or share what you’re thinking.  This is a really important step.  It’s so important that the Church has a word for it: testimony.  For many years I thought a testimony had to be wordy, well written, and include a dramatic story.  Turns out it doesn’t.

To kick off the summer, I led our Sunday school group on a worship walk around our church’s beautiful grounds.  We asked the children to look around them as they walked, and observe things which reminded them of God’s love.  When we stopped they completed a sentence:  “God’s love is…”  The answers were simple, direct, and intensely worshipful.  The kids took their task seriously- as if they innately knew that just because they weren’t singing didn’t mean that God wasn’t listening.  God’s love is.. green, growing, big, awesome, friends.  One girl wrote her own name-  “God’s love is… Suzy.”  Never a truer word spoken- and the perfect thought to lead us into our summer teaching theme of friendship.

Your testimony could be a personal word, thought, reflection or piece of artwork which points someone else to God.  And your perspective might just be the one someone else needs to hear.  So, share it.  I would love to hear yours the comments below- or post a photo of your worship walk  so we can all be inspired (be sure to use #5sensefaith if posting on social media).

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May you be blessed in your journey.

The questions above, by the way, make great dinner table discussions too.  Having a dinner party?  Why not ask people where they see God in the world around them?  They may never come back, but I guarantee you some fascinating discussion!

Bringing bunting (and other great stuff) to the world

The ministry of bunting
The ministry of bunting.
Could that be a real thing please?  
Cause I would rock that.

I’m still getting used to speaking my native language again. When I accidentally drop phrases like ‘cheeky’ and ‘bits and bobs’ with my American twang a certain episode of Friends comes to mind, and it’s not pretty. So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I said in a Sunday school planning meeting I wanted to make bunting with the kids- and I got a roomful of blank stares.

It was sort of like the blank stare I gave a young man in a youth group once when he asked- in a traditional, centuries-old church in Northern England- why we always have to sing in our services. I didn’t get it. Singing is, like, what we do in church. Repeatedly. We’ve been doing it for hundreds of years. What’s the question?

Personally, I love to sing. Break out the hymnal, the four-part harmony and just about any kind of accompaniment and I’m good to go. But as it turns out, this boy hated to sing- and even more, he was embarrassed to be heard while singing. We were putting him in an uncomfortable situation week after week, and it was becoming a challenge for him to come to church. With his simple question, my world changed.

I’m not exaggerating. It struck me that in church we create a foreign environment, and I knew exactly how it feels to be the foreigner. When I began to look at worship from the perspective of someone who feels left out and embarrassed when the organ starts to play, I wondered if maybe there are a lot of people who feel the same way and simply don’t come. This lad’s faith was real, his worship was genuine- but we were holding him back from both.

From that day I’ve made it my business to approach worship, prayer, and even communication from different angles, and to think about how to make each one more inclusive of different learning styles and levels of understanding. As I plan, I ask myself- how might someone who’s never done this before feel about it? And it works. Over the years I’ve had many encouraging conversations with kids, teens and adults who’ve said ‘I never felt like I could pray before.’ or ‘I’m tone deaf. And I finally felt like I was a part of worship.’ Music to my ears.

I’ve been challenged and encouraged lately to share some of the things I’ve learned and developed in ministry. So I’m going to do just that- but on one condition. Are you ready? Here it is:

Give it a try.

I promise not to go crazy with the fingerpaint and glitter on you. I aim to explore approaches worship and prayer which break away from the typical auditory learning method and can empower anyone, at any age and at any point on the journey. It’s not about being different for different’s sake- it’s about helping each one of us connect with God in a new and authentic way. And maybe you’re completely comfortable with singing and church and praying with your head bowed and eyes closed. If you are, I’m really glad- but can’t we all learn something from a different perspective?

So, without further introduction (because this one is long enough already). I give you a new feature here at RGB…

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Let’s explore spiritual disciplines using all five of our senses, and see what happens. I promise to share things to inspire and help you on your journey, if you promise to give them a try. Deal?

Tune in tomorrow for our first adventure!

On grace, and peace, and pie

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Yesterday was the twentieth anniversary of, easily, the worst day of my life. In a full circle of events- or, as I believe, God’s poetic timing- I was privileged to spend my day yesterday helping out the very person who showed up on my doorstep at a time when I needed help the most.  We comisserated over pie.  In the midst of all of our wanderings and adventures I found myself right back at home where it all began.  It was a moment of completion,  of healing.   It was just right. 

Look for the helpers, indeed.  And be a help. In the midst of whatever circumstances you find yourself in, lift your head up.  Look around, and you will find grace.