Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Messy families

There is a new movement in faith communities around the world called ‘Messy Church”.  The heartbeat of this ministry is to create a space where families of all ages can grow, learn and be together. The environment created is often messy with craft, games, food, noise, and many interactive activities for all age to engage in. It is acceptable and fun to make a MESS together.  This is often a more comfortable environment to bring people into to meet than more traditional church experiences.  Anyone who knows me knows that I am a BIG fan of these types of gatherings and in fact I am usually the one making most of the mess or instigating the ideas that create the MESS. 
It is funny how MESS in this context is not only accepted, but expected, but when it comes to family MESS we are very good at covering it up.  Let’s face it, if we are honest FAMILY LIFE can be some of the messiest places and I am not just talking about the physical mess of a home. Yet, one of the greatest challenges in living in an intergenerational faith community has been the people that come and leave because.....  honestly they find it too confronting to actually be a part of a community where others might see that parts of their lives are a MESS. In a smaller faith community this is not as easy to hide as it is in a larger community.   We try so hard to HIDE our struggles, our dysfunction, our imperfections. Sunday mornings has become the place where Christians can be guilty of putting their best clothes on, their best happy face and their best behaviour ensuring everyone only sees the good bits. I have watched hurting families who feel that when things get really MESSY the first place they must pull away from is their “Faith Community”.  They fear what people will think or how they will be treated.  What saddens me most is that we are so conditioned by this that our goals for our worship experiences can become more about creating an environment where the truth can be hidden and masked, rather than creating an environment where the MESS can be shared, restored,  supported and  listened to.  I want to ask is this TRUE community?
When I look at the families in the Bible, I love that they don’t try to mask or hide anything.  All the dysfunction, the lies, the deceit, the pain and the forgiveness and healing is all out there for all to see. Have you ever thought while you are reading, “OMG, how did YOU ever get into the BIBLE?!”  But then quickly say, “But I am so glad you are there, to remind me that I am not the only one who makes a MESS!”
Let’s start at Genesis. Fathers switching brides on the wedding night (Genesis 29:23), Fathers sleeping with multiple woman (Genesis 29-30), children cheating, lying and stealing from each other (Genesis 27:35), mothers favouring one child over another and scheming for them to take  something that is not theirs (Genesis  27: 13), wife’s deceiving husbands (Genesis 27:42-46), brothers plotting to kill their brother (Genesis 37:18), husbands pretending they are not married so they protect themselves from being killed (Genesis 12:11-20), Generations repeating the same hurtful behaviour over and over again and this is just the chosen ones, God’s people destined to fulfil God’s purposes here on earth.  This is not the latest Hollywood sitcom, this is the BIBLE. This is real and this is MESSY! You don’t have to scrape very deep to know that the same pain and hurt is riddled within families today but we have just become very good at hiding it.
So you may be wondering is there a happy ending to this?  Where are you going with this Tammy?  Well, for me there is so much comfort in knowing that from the beginning of time people have always made MESSY mistakes and from the beginning of time families have been MESSY. Yes, I do find comfort in the fact that there is no PERFECT family.  But I find even greater comfort in the fact that from the beginning of time God has always had a plan.  That He uses MESSY families in mighty ways and that it is often IN the MESS that HE is glorified and HIS purposes are fulfilled. 
So my big question is why do we continue to hide and mask the MESS?  Why do we run from God and Christian community when the MESS hits? Why do only parents who are doing OK go to parenting seminars and not the ones that could really do with some support? Why, when we feel like a MESS do we feel we have to put on a happy face and pretend that everything is OK?  When I feel like a MESS as parent, why do I retreat and think that I can’t be in ministry if I can’t get my own family matters correct? If this was the TRUTH then ABRAHAM, ISAAC, JACOB, JOSEPH, DAVID and the list goes on......don’t deserve to be used by God either!
Maybe we need to get MESSIER, more REAL, and more HONEST.  Maybe then the world would see my God who gives me daily strength to serve and follow Him and to be the kind of parent, wife, daughter, aunty and friend He desires me to be.  They will see that He is one that can walk with them too, EVEN IN THE MESS.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Parenting is like “Tetris Building”

The Stair case finally goes in
Our house renovations continue, 5 months later.  Some days it feels like it will take forever and that very little happens in the course of a day and then other days it seems like so much is accomplished.    For months we had no stairs and then in one day a set of stairs appeared and we now have access to the top room. They look great.  The day the stairs went in was the day that I felt we were really getting somewhere. I was beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The “gyprockers” were putting the walls up and the “renders” were outside working hard, there were people everywhere.   We have had two exceptional builders working on our house but only one of them was here this day.   He comes on to do the finishing off work because of his skills as a carpenter.  

I observed his work throughout the day and couldn’t believe how much time he was spending on ONE pole!  It took him all day to complete, what to my untrained eye was just a pole that will hold the railing up for the stairs.   After all the progress we were beginning to make, ONE pole is all he had to show for a day’s work.  He would position it, step back and look at it, take it out again and work on it some more, and then bring it back again and replace it.  He repeated this process all day. Finally at the end of the day he went to put it into place for the final time but paused and muttered under his breath, “Wait, I will just take a picture of this before I do”.  He looked at me and smiled and said; “This is my Tetris block.”
This is the pole he spent all day on.

I smiled graciously but inside I was thinking, “Well I am happy for you playing games at my expense!  Every day this renovation costs us more and more!”   Watching his pride as he took the picture I just had to ask, “Why are you taking a picture of a piece of wood?”  He replied, “Well, I am just so proud of it. When it goes into place you don’t see the handiwork that has gone in to making it fit perfectly.  It just looks like a pole but only I know the time and effort that goes into something like this.”  (paraphrased,  he was not so eloquent).
So here we have a brawny, tough, classic Australian tradesman talking like a gooey proud dad would about his newborn baby.  It was sweet and I asked if he wouldn’t mind sending me the photo.
He placed his one piece of wood perfectly into position and left a satisfied man having completed a good day’s work.  Anyone else would look at his accomplishment and not even noticed the one pole in relation to the stairs, let alone the whole renovation project.  I certainly would not have had I NOT witnessed this process first hand.
It made me think about parenting.  We look at our children that we spend day in and day out with, at all the little unseen things that we do for them each and every day for the rest of our lives. The tasks that take so much of our time as a parent and yet no one else sees them let alone appreciates them.  Others look at the sum of our parenting from the outside and we HOPE what they see looks good. But they don’t see all the hard work, the tears, the sleepless nights, the loads of washing, the taxi driving, the continual open purse, the cleaning up after them, the worrying when they are not talking to you and you don’t know where they are.  If you are anything like me there are days when you ask, “What did I do all day?”  You know you were busy, and didn’t get a second to sit and stop but you can’t think what took all day to do.
The strategic juggle to make sure all the bits slotted into place in perfect timing and everything got completed just like the game of TETRIS.  Like the builder making sure his one piece of wood fitted perfectly with all the others. The time it took for him to carve each section out perfectly even though no one will see it.  Only He will know how well it was done. Only a SKILLED tradesman will look and know the work that has been done so expertly.
I am thankful my Heavenly Father sees everything  and smiles upon us and  reminds us that  we are His workmanship, created in Christ for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).    We are His created handiwork, each part carved out for a purpose and with a place to belong in this world.  As parents He entrusts us with the job of moulding our children to be all they were created for, helping them fit perfectly into the right spaces.  Thank God He sees it all, even the hidden parts.    They are HIS children and he values all the time, care and love we give to them.  Others may criticize or judge us, like I did with the builder but God sees all the effort and love and uses it for “the good work that He has prepared beforehand”.
Thank you God that today a wonderful Australian carpenter reminded me of the intricate work it takes to shape a human being and that while it is a long slow process, parenting is a privilege.  Help me to remember that when it feels like nothing is changing or progressing as fast as I would like it to, that nothing is ever wasted no matter whether it is seen or unseen.    Where others see it as wasted time YOU never do.   Like the pole fitted perfectly in its place to fulfil its intended role in the renovation, I pray that my children will walk in the ways they were created for.   With your hands guiding me help me to chisel and shape these precious children into your MASTERPIECES.   (Ephesians 2:10 NLT)
You want to see this pole, don’t you?!  ……… Here it is.
This is the inside of the pole that no one will see, the bits all chiselled out so it fits it into all the other things around it,  on the outside it looks like one simple piece of wood. 

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Be together. Share together, Work together.....

For the past 40 days our faith community has been set the challenge to post photos of "being together, sharing together and working together". We called it the 40/40 challenge. We wanted to try to represent what it looks like every day, not just Sundays to be together, share together and work together.  At the end of the 40 days we celebrated the best 40 photos. On the final day I  placed all the photos all over a table. There were pictures of families, groups of friends, eating, working, serving, laughing, learning, travelling, worshiping together, right across the ages. Then the next step was to surround the photos with written stories to match the photos, we all got into an added our small story.  Finally we wrote “words” that come to us as we looked at the photos. Words that came up were:



We chatted, laughed, created and remembered the events that photos sparked for us all. The room was full of joy, togetherness, celebration and family. There were people of all ages from 2 years to 75 years. Single, married, families, widows, teens and kids all enjoying their time together and listening to the shared, stories. We had just finished having breakfast together and some worship and amidst all the photos and words I placed the cross and the bread and the wine.
We we're reminded that Jesus was not someone distant stature or God far away. He does not want us to perform some ritual that could look like “coming together once a week” to pay homage to, ask for forgiveness and make requests of. But rather amongst all these photos and words that represented our faith community, He is in the midst, in fact He wants to be in the centre of it all, everyday. 
And I imagine in a similar gathering like we were in, while he was hanging out with his community eating, talking and probably singing, he shared with them how much he wants us to remember Him whenever we eat and meet.  As we took the bread and the wine together and remembered, our community prayed. 
One elderly, sick man, who had just got out of hospital, prayed “Thank you for allowing me to be here with my family". This is a man who has not often been welcomed in many churches because he does not fit the mould. To him, we are his family. One newly widowed lady, prayed  a prayer of thankfulness to the amazing love God has shown us all. A young Asian teenager, who has recently become a Christian, prays earnestly in the corner as he seeks God in ways that those of us who have been Christians for a long time are thankful for the reminder. A little autistic 8 year old girl comes to me after asking for the microphone because she simply wants to say Thank you God" for all to hear.
After the prayer time we continued to talk to each other and enjoy the photos, as I watched another teenager walks up to the elderly man and they have a wonderful Conversation. I watched all ages interact and enjoy being together. A 5 year little girl walks up, to me to ask if we could do the pharaoh story (which was a Godly play enactment of the crossing of the red sea, which I have done leading up to communion before). A wonderful wise sage in our midst walked up to a 14 year old and said “You are one of my most favourite people in this world, gee I love you”. I just can’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday morning together in a Faith community.
What does it look to “be together, share together and work together”.....I can’t wait for one of our talented ladies to collage all that was done that day, cause I know it is a visual way to answer this question. I wonder if you took up the challenge what you might SEE and LEARN together as you take 40 photos in 40 days and celebrate what God is doing in your community.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Is this all there is?

My 27 years of ministry have certainly not been what I thought they would be in the beginning.  When I started at 20 years old I wanted to change the whole world. One of my favourite verses has always been Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  But when I was 20 I read it as, “I CAN DO ALL THINGS through Christ who strengthens me”.

As I hit my 40th birthday I wondered “Is this all there is?” I found myself feeling very sad.  I was not anywhere I thought I would be!  According to the visions I felt God had given me, I had clearly missed the boat. I looked back over key times in my life at choices I made that made no earthly sense.  I had walked away from promotions, key positions in churches, promising job offers all with the thought that I was listening to God and trying to be faithful to His calling.  Philippians 4:13 is still a key verse for me but now I read it like this, “Ï can do all things THROUGH CHRIST WHO STRENGTHENS ME”.  I know that is a better way to read it and I would love to say a more mature way to read it but for me at 40 I knew it was more about defeat, disappointment and resignation.

“ We are more struggling to survive than to thrive, more just “getting through” or trying to get to the top than finding out what is really at the top was already at the bottom” (Richard Rohr, “Falling Upward”, pg 17, 2011)
At my 40th birthday I sang this song and wanted so much to believe that I was ok with these words and the journey they were taking me on.
This is one of those moments when all that really matters is crystal clear
We are woven together by whatever threads of life that have brought us here
We are stripped of all our layers we are getting to the core
Tell me something real and nothing more

'cause I don't know why
I don't know how
I don't know where
maybe all I know is love

So I'm here between the bookends of everything that was and what will be
There's a wealth of every nation not so many answers it seems to me
So I face the unfamiliar and nothing's clear
only blinding faith can carry me from here

And I don't know why
I don't know how
I don't know where
maybe all I know is love

Hold my hand and hold this moment time sure feels precious don't it
Life is always changing this I know

By Amy Grant

Now at 47 years old, I finally not only believe these words but feel peaceful about the journey.  Even more importantly I am undisturbed with the question, “Is this all there is?  It has been more of a journey of letting go rather than trying to make MY visions come true.  It has been about learning the art of contentment and viewing all that life brings as a privilege rather than something to be achieved.
So today, I find myself in a small, LOVING, messy, intergenerational faith community. I am happily married, 31 years on, to an amazing man of God.   We have been through the furnace and heat of the REFINERS fire and emerge stronger and more in love because of it.   Our two beautiful teenagers are precious to us.  They love being around us even on our TFT nights (Technology Free Tuesday).  They call me a technophobe, but I love being with them!  Daily I am involved in the lives of others; encouraging them, walking with them, seeing enough transformation and breakthrough to hang in there. I have the opportunity to travel, write, speak and sing every now and then too.    Despite all of this I am more UNCERTAIN of what my calling as a leader should look like than I ever was at 20 years of age and yet I feel more at peace as I learn the art of being a SERENE disciple.   As I ask myself am I okay if “this is all there is?”  I can now honestly say, “YES, YES, YES.....!”

If you are a leader who wants to see more and has visions that you feel are from God that have not yet eventuated, I  encourage you to continue to focus on what you do SEE and NOT on what you DON’T SEE.  He will TRANSFORM you in the process.  I am convinced that this is all that TRULY matters to HIM.
In order for me to continue to answer “YES” to the question, “Is this all there is?” I have adopted this as my daily prayer:

“Lord help me to know the things I cannot NOT do because of what you have become in me, to know the things I do not need to do because they are not mine to do and to know the things I must absolutely do because they are my destiny and deepest desire.” (My adaption from mediation by R.Rohr, “Falling Upward”, pg 166, 2011)