Monday, 29 August 2016

When your "phone" becomes your "dummy"!

Sam when he was 1yrs old
When our kids were young I would say they LOVED their dummy. For a number of years they thought they needed it to keep them calm, safe, or maybe that is just what we wanted them to believe.   They had cute names for it and we just wouldn't go anywhere without it. When they were very young I would tie it to their shirts, so when it fell out it wouldn't get lost, or dirty and was protected, ready to be inserted when necessary. Now this may say more about my parenting than the kids’ dependence on a dummy to help them feel safe and calm. 

Of course we knew it wasn't something that they needed or that was good for them in the long run, and it didn't take long before we devised a strategy to help them to be weaned off it. We knew it would eventually stop them from talking, developing their social skills and being able to communicate well with others, as well as being seen as a grown up rather than being a baby. For Georgia in particular, this was never going to stop her from talking, but she did love to be pacified at times when emotions were out of control. Georgia was very quick to substitute her thumb, which cannot be taken away, so we persevered with the dummy longer, so she didn't get dependent on her thumb, which is always accessible.   

We got over that stage of life and now that my kids are 16 and 19, I think they have not been too scarred by having a dummy when they were young. At least, I thought so, until I saw the visual of my 19 year old, coming out of his room this morning, still half asleep, in his “pj’s,” walking towards the toilet with his phone in his hand. It reminded me of when he was little and walking around with his “nummies” in his mouth. 

Funny how the phone has become the modern dummy. And this is not just for children. This is any age.  I see people of all ages walking everywhere with their phones in their hands, not being able to put them down or feel they can function without them.

They have become our modern pacifier. I know my children say I am a “techniphobe", but I don't believe that is true as I see great value in the phone.  But it is important for us to be able to make a call (see the pun) when our phone has become our pacifier, so much so that we begin to disengage in life around us.  Technology is a wonderful tool when we are in control of it, when we use it for good. But like anything, there is the potential for a dependence and distraction that is unhealthy. 

I knew when my kids were young, that a dummy served its purpose for a time and within reason, but we needed to eventually get control of the use of it, not the other way round. For a child, when a dummy hinders development, communication and the social ability to be able to relate to others then I think we would all acknowledge that this is not healthy. Children very rarely go to school with a dummy. By the age of 5 it is not something they use in public. They may still need help calming at night, but this is a process they are learning to get personal control over.  

I took this in a cafe just recently
In 2016, the phone has become that for many people, and not just in private. It seems socially acceptable to have a phone in just about every aspect of life, always on, always accessible. I believe it is getting to the point where this is hindering communication, social relationships and for some their own personal development. This is ironic, as the phone was originally designed to be a tool of communication. But, it is very sad to see the disengagement I feel l am continually fighting face to face with people, as I compete with the phone for people’s attention. I am talking about when our phones become our pacifier, our escape, our place to retreat to, our main connection points, our space fillers. And this is not even addressing what we are actually looking at when we go there. That is a whole other blog.  At least with a dummy for a child, it actually takes them to a “zen” state, a “dummed” down space, where they simply calm down, as opposed to what we today are doing on our phones in these spaces of escape.  

But to stay on track, like in most things, we simply need to have self-control and be willing to ask ourselves: “when has our phone become our dummy?”

Here are some times that I check myself as to whether my phone has got too much power over me: 

  • When we are with friends around a table and we would rather be engaged on our phone than the person across the table from us.

  • When we feel we can’t go to sleep unless our phone is beside us, ON.

  • When the first thing we do when we get up in the morning is check our “notifications”. 

  • When we are in a meeting and feel we just have to have our phone beside us (on silent) so we don't miss that ting, ping or message.

  • When we panic because we have not sent out our snapchat story for the day.

  • When we feel an experience is not complete unless it has been shared on Social Media.

  • When we feel naked or incomplete if we have lost our phone, or left it at home.

  • When we go to a place that gets no reception and we start to shake with anxiety because we are not connected. 

  • When we are spending time with God and we just have to answer the phone. 

  • Do I control my phone use or does it control me?

You might have some other good checks that I have missed. I’d love to hear them, but most important, are you willing to ask the question?

Monday, 15 August 2016

An Extra in His Story

Moses is certainly a well-known Bible Hero. Amidst pain, loss, trials, tragedy, the book of Exodus begins with the Genocide, where every boy must be thrown into the Nile. The cruelty of one nation’s leader exerting power over another nation simply because he could and because he didn’t agree with their beliefs and many suffer for it.  Because of their love for God, the Hebrews were subjected to broken hearts. When parents heard, "it's a boy," it would not have been such good news as they would have known the child would be killed. 
But one mother hides her baby boy for three months until she cannot hide any longer, then she puts the baby into a basket and puts it in the water. Can you imagine doing that? The Hebrew word for “basket” translated in English is “ark.” Like Noah’s Ark, Moses’ basket is coated with pitch and tar. This is not the first time that an ark has been placed in dangerous waters and all of the salvation of a nation happens to be going through one person.  
The Nile is full of crocodiles, unsafe water. The risk was huge. However frightening for Moses, or more so the family, I believe that Moses was never safer than when he was in the basket. Is this because Moses was destined to be a hero? Was it because he was someone special and God needed him to do a special job? Was this because he was such a good person? The Bible says “he was fine”(Ex 2:2) so did he need to be saved over the thousands of children who had already been killed? No, I don’t believe so. He was safe because it was all about His story, God’s story. 
So, the drama continues as Miriam (the daughter) watches as the wife of the man who wants this baby killed, picks him up out of the water, knowing full well this is a Hebrew baby. Miriam thinks quickly and is able to offer advice and says she has someone who can look after the baby. When you fear Pharaoh is in control, God shows that He is always in control of His BIG story.
The ‘so called’ Hero of the story, as we know, grows up in the palace and eventually saves God’s people and is used mightily for God. And we teach that just like Moses, God saves us, God uses us to do mighty things, God takes all our circumstances no matter how difficult and uses them for Good.  This is what we teach our children. It is what I was taught. 
For me there is a big BUT, when I think of the 1000’s of babies killed, the 1000’s of families broken, the slavery, the hardship for many other faithful Hebrews in this story. 
To those with broken dreams, to those abused in the process, to those who faithfully serve and find they live mostly with disappointment, I still do believe that God saves us and that He is control. I just believe that not everyone gets to be a “Moses”. 
Not everyone is going to have an amazing destiny, a dream, a vision. But no one likes to talk about this. That is not the message people want to hear. We read this story and want to be Moses. What if we are called to be the mother (Ex 2:3) who simply allows this to happen by being brave enough to put Moses into the basket? What if we are faithful and serve God all our life and we watch in slavery all our life as God uses Pharaoh’s daughter (a woman with no faith) (Ex 2:9) for His purposes of bringing up Moses in the palace. What if we are called to be the Hebrew who gets beaten up by the Egyptians, who helps Moses see the injustice and need for someone to step in and do something (Ex 2:11-12). Or worse, what if we are asked to be one of the ones sacrificed and killed, so that the seriousness of genocide (Ex 1:22) makes a mother get the strength to save her baby, in order for God to use him to save everyone? I could go on, but I think you get the point. I am trying not to be cynical or bitter about it, but it is a reality check, when we understand that to surrender to being a part of God’s story means maybe being asked to play a minor part, or simple being an expendable extra for His greater story. 
We simply have to learn to be content and faithful with the small things and know we get to be part of the bigger story. It is a hard message to sell I know. I admit personally, it has been a harder message to accept and surrender to. 
We don’t often highlight or celebrate the mother of Moses, the sister of Moses, the families that carried on when there was so much pain and loss, the slaves of the day who had the courage to stand strong when the work load got heavier and harder while Moses was challenging Pharaoh. But we should, for they are the necessary and vital extras in the story that make it so great when the Hebrew nation leave Egypt and decimate the power and workforce of the Great Pharaoh. And we should, because it is the majority of us.
I am slowly learning what it means to be joyful and to encourage the few leaders God calls to step out and do the brave thing. I am learning to be happy about it even when I don't want to, when I am bitter, when I am disappointed, when I wish it was me. Lord, when I am not brave enough to be an extra in your story, forgive me and help me be gracious. 
I often fear, in the western world in particular, that we are setting our kids up for a bigger fall than I have had to work through over the years. I often wonder if it is one of the key reasons we are losing so many of our young people from the faith journey. It is because we are not telling the right story?  We are busy teaching them that :
“God has a BIG plan for their life and that they are special”
It may sound like semantics I know, but I am NOT sure if it is exactly true. In Corinthians Paul’s talks about the body of Christ and the part we are called to play. 

“You are Christ’s body—that’s who you are! You must never forget this. Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything.” (1 Cor 12:27, The Message)
“But I also want you to think about how this keeps your significance from getting blown up into self-importance. For no matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are a part of. (1 Cor 12:19, The Message)

I believe that this message is actually more correct:  
“God has a BIG plan, but it is HIS plan, and we are blessed to be a part of it, which makes us special. If we surrender our life to be an extra in His story, that’s when we get to be a part of something BIG.”

Maybe I am a slow learner, but I wish I understood this when I was young. It is such a different way to view the faith journey. I want to be faithful to this message to all I teach and walk with, that it might help many NOT so easily turn away due to disappointment, failed dreams, misunderstanding, feeling like a failure or being not good enough or simply feeling anger at God because HE has not come through for them. Oh, that we entitled, expectant westerners might see the beauty, privilege and honour to be an EXTRA in HIS BIG STORY.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Creating Peak Experinces

Just recently, on a camp I was running with kids, we were teaching about how Jesus is our shepherd and that He knows us by name. John 10 speaks about how the sheep know the shepherd’s voice and follow Him.  Well, I thought what better way to teach them this than with real sheep. Little did I know how powerful this experience was going to be for so many. How unprepared was I for what God was going to teach us all about His love and protection just through 4 little sheep. So, we made a pen, got some sheep for the week and began to dream about how we could bring this teaching alive for the children throughout the week.

The passage speaks about the Shepherd caring for the sheep, knowing their names, protecting them when trouble hits and the difference between the hired hand and the real shepherd. We unpacked this each day at camp by setting up situations and challenges for each of these aspects of the teaching.  

To begin with, the kids were very excited when they got there to see the sheep and we began by setting up a competition to name the sheep. The top 4 names would win and this began our growing affection for the sheep.  The kids were able to feed the sheep from the outside to begin with, which was difficult at first, because when they came to us, the sheep didn't trust us and they were very scared in their new surroundings. There was certainly no trust at this time and no one could get close to them.

We talked of watching over the sheep and protecting them from those who wanted to steal or hurt them. Being surrounded by nature and bush, we knew that there were foxes around our area, and so we talked of needing to have “shepherds of the night” so the sheep were being watched all the time and therefore would be kept safe.  This meant that cabins of kids could apply to be the “shepherds of the night”, which entailed camping out in tents, keeping the fire going (stocked with marshmallows of course for cooking over the fire)  and keeping watch over the sheep throughout the night.  I was surprised how many cabins wanted to do this, more than the nights we had at camp, so it became quite a special experience if your cabin was nominated.  They had to get the campfire started, then got to sit around and sing, tell stories, bond, eat roasted marshmallows and occasionally check the sheep.  They took shifts throughout the night and when I came out each morning about 6.00am to see them there was always someone sitting out near the stoked fire, enjoying the heat and keeping watch. The stories, the bonding, the chance to talk about the commitment of the Shepherd to watch over the sheep, the sacrifice, the loss of creature comforts of a warm comfortable bed, as many nights at this camp were cold and raining, were all great things that they ACTUALLY experienced. 

There were times when the kids wanted to go back to their cabins. They had had their marshmallows, a bit of fun, and it was time to go back. The fun had worn off…but no…they learned the hard way, that it was not just all fun and games. There were mornings where they crawled out of dripping tents with wet mattresses ... all great opportunities for great experiential learning.  All said they were glad they did it, but were not keen to do again. This showed the love of the shepherd, to do whatever it takes to know his sheep were safe, not just one night but all the time.  For some of these kids it was the first time ever to camp out, make a fire, stay up late and sing around the camp fire.  For most it was the highlight of camp. 

In the middle of camp, while the kids were at an activity, the sheep were stolen (all set up of course). The kids came back to find their leaders in the pen with a ransom note saying “Unless you do exactly what we say, you will never see your sheep again”. The kids’ reactions were priceless. They were straight into action, freeing their leaders and then setting off through a series of challenges to finally find the rustlers with the sheep on the other side of the campsite.  When they found them, the rustlers begged for forgiveness, realising they had done the wrong thing and the kids (with encouragement) invited them back to our campfire dinner that night to celebrate that our lost sheep were found. Again, the stories around the campfire that night were priceless. We got the kids to share what happened, and the some leaders shared around picnic rugs with a small group of children, what it meant for them to be lost and found by Jesus in their life. Needless to say those on “shepherd of the night” duty that night were particularly determined to make sure the sheep were safe. 

Throughout the week as I was unpacking the biblical story, I used pictures of the kids I was taking to tell the story, so they were in it, a part of it, experiencing it and for all of us this story came to life in a very new way.  

Each day the kids who were “Shepherds of the night,” got to go into the pen, corral the sheep into a corner and handle them and pat them. Each day this got easier and easier. I got to experience this more than any of them as the group was different each day. The kids on the last day didn't even need to get in the pen. We rustled the bag, called them and they came to us and fed from our hands. This was very different from the beginning of the week, where the sheep were unsure and scared of us and didn't trust us at all.  What a transformation, which we talked about on the last day of camp.  How much more does our Shepherd know us and love us.  We like sheep, still weave and duck and run away. We are helpless and can get easily lost, but our shepherd will always come looking for us, will always care for us and knows each of us by name.

I believe this is an experience that many of our kids and team (and me) will never forget. I will never read that story the same way again. Like many camping experiences, it will go down as a PEAK EXPERIENCE for me and for many of the children at camp, one where they gained a DEEPER understanding of God’s love, grace, patience, and sacrifice. What types of PEAK EXPERIENCES are you creating for you and your kids, young people, your families, that can become anchor points which God can use to secure HIS TRUTH into us all, that we then take with us for the rest of our lives?