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!

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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!

Partying like it’s still 2013: A post-Advent reflection (…would that be an epiphany??)

“So are you doing the E-L-F on the S-H-E-L-F?” a fellow mom whispered to me, one morning in early December.  I had just discovered the (awesome) story time at our local library, and our kids were playing happily together- though clearly within enough earshot.  Clueless, I replied, “Isn’t that a book?”

“Oh no,” she reverently explained.  It turns out that for the low, low price of $29.95, He Who Must Not Be Named would show up on your doorstep complete with a list of ways to create mischief and keep parents up till the wee small hours nightly, creating such a frenzy of pre-Christmas excitement that the mere mention of our little friend could send children sky high.  “It’s just a fun way to make the holiday a little more special,” she beamed sleepily.

I smiled back and, I hope, said something polite.  But inwardly I was thinking, “Are you CRAZY?!  Not a chance!”  We were already behind on all three of our family advent calendars.  It sounded like a fun idea and my mind had begun reeling with the possibilities- but I knew we’d never be able to keep up.  And what’s more, I didn’t want to.

The following Sunday one of our pastors spoke about an encounter she’d had at a local charity which the church was supporting.  They were preparing holiday baskets for families in need, and she’d been given the daunting task of meeting with the families to assess whether or not they would qualify for one.  One of the interviews, our pastor recalled, was particularly uncomfortable.  The mother she met with was terse, silent, and not willing to meet her eye.  When they got to the question of what her children would like for Christmas, mom finally looked up.  “I don’t know what my kids like,” she said sadly.  “I work two jobs, and I only get to see them for 20 minutes a day.” That story still haunts me. We may have had some setbacks this year, but I’m pretty sure I have no idea what hard really is.

This year we had no photos with Santa, there was no elf wreaking havoc on our shelves, and Christmas came in January.  Thanks to the unusually early snow fall (and my three-week initiation to being a stay-at-home mom) we missed ALL of the holiday events and happenings in our new town.  But it didn’t take me long to figure out that, once again, by creating space in our lives God was giving us a gift.  We spent more time together than we possibly ever have.  We built snowmen and played with snow- indoors and out.  We made gingerbread men, gingerbread houses, gingerbread pudding, and gingerbread-scented play dough.  We discovered just how many hours a box of recycling, glitter glue, and a bit of imagination can keep you entertained.  We sang and danced and laughed.  Hands down, best holiday ever.

If there’s anything the past year has taught me, it’s to embrace the important things- to celebrate and savor traditions that give meaning to our life- and let go of those that don’t.  Being in a new place, being apart at times, constantly adjusting and re-adjusting our plans and goals- I could have let all these things get me down.  But a year of setting free both objects and expectations has ended up lifting an emotional weight in our lives.  Things will come, and things will go.  Sometimes relationships will too.  Holding on to frustration when things don’t turn out exactly the way we pictured them will just distract us from experiencing the unexpected blessings around us.  I’ve discovered that as people we are happiest when we simply focus on doing what we can, and celebrating what we’ve got.

Last week a lady stopped me and my daughter in the restroom at Target.  She had heard my ongoing monologue in the stall: “Do-you-need-a-wee-wee-are-you-sure-you-don’t-please-get-off-the-floor-no-don’t-touch-the-toilet-it’s-yucky-ok-all-finished-oh-NOW-you-need-a-wee-wee?!”  In a moment of peace as we were washing our hands, she smiled knowingly at us and said, “Enjoy every minute of it, because it doesn’t last long.”

Too right.

This year I hope we remember the lessons that 2013 taught us.  And to all of you who are reading (and, I hope, laughing) about our adventures-  I wish you a do-able new year.

Snowstorm Survival Guide, part 3: Create your own photo shoot

Last year my husband gave me one of the best gifts ever- a gift certificate for a family portrait shoot.  Because one of us is always behind the camera- and lately, the other is holding a baby and picking up socks, bottles, raisins, etc off the floor- we have very few photos of all of us.

It was really fun getting our portrait done by a professional.  But it was also really expensive.  And I can’t show you the end result, because the photographer retains the rights to the images so we’re not allowed to upload them.  Not cool, man.

So lately I’ve been once again lamenting our lack of photos and it hit me.  Why don’t we get dressed up and have a photo shoot day at home?  In the excitement of waking up to piles of snow, we had visions of happy family photos full of wooly hats and snowmen.  Here’s what we got:

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Clearly that wasn’t going to work.  And our daughter was turning blue.  We quickly decided that the more traditional family-in-front-of-the-tree pose was the way to go.  Much better… most of the time.  Since our 3-year-old is in perpetual motion, we learned that the best way to capture a good shot was to just keep snapping away.  Here’s a real gem:

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Yes, I’m telling her off.  Priceless.

The big lesson we learned was to let go of our expectations.  Trying to create a perfect family photo wasn’t going to work and when remembered that this was supposed to be fun family time, we had a lot of fun.

Here’s a few other things that helped:

Props.  If I had been really organized, I would have done the photo booth thing with hats, boas, fake moustaches, etc.  However our photo shoot was done relatively on the fly, so I quickly grabbed a few things we had nearby- candy canes, reindeer antlers (which originally belonged to the dog), a colorful balloon, and a decorative pillow.  They added color to the photos, and a lot of fun to the moment.

12-13 Christmas 01

Filters.  What did we do before Iphone filters? Our pics were taken on a digital SLR because we are fortunate enough to have been given one, and I use a free editing software called Photoscape to cover up blemishes (thanks to my favorite feature, ‘clone stamp’) and add some nice effects.  But you can get great shots with a smart phone too.  My favorite app is Tadaa which has a lot of fun filters and frames to choose from.  But beware- like Instagram this app is designed to automatically upload your photos to their website.  If you’re taking pictures of kids you may not want that, so you’ll have to learn how to switch that feature off.

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(this sofa had laundry on the back of it.  I kid you not.)

Going with the flow.  This was one of the most special spontaneous activities we’ve done this Christmas.  I love that technology is encouraging people to take more pictures of the things they love or are inspired by.  And you don’t have to have kids in it to take a creative holiday photo.  Go grab your smartphone and your family, or friends, or colleagues (if yours are that way inclined) and start snapping.  I highly recommend it.

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