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Standing on a Road I Didn’t Plan.

I can look at my life right now and quite confidently say had you asked me 5 or 10 years ago what my life would be like on February 8th 2013 I wouldn’t have described anything like the reality. I used to be a real dreamer before life got its teeth in. I would probably have told you that I saw myself married with a baby, probably a boy called Martin, and quite possibly still on maternity leave from a full time job that had provided handsomely for us to save  little nest egg toward the overall cost of raising Martin and any siblings who may come along. I would have probably told you I couldn’t see myself living anywhere that wasn’t a quiet village within the catchment area of a good Christian school.

Life has an uncanny ability to take your dreams and plans and twist them or tear them up and destroy them. Sometimes along the way it has felt like even the dreaming was foolish and I was deluding myself. There have been times when I thought I would end up on my own for the rest of my life, although I didn’t ever believe that was God’s plan. Many times I got impatient and prayed angry, impatient prayers demanding to know why I was stuck in a rut. I remember one particular evening where it really felt like God was holding out on me.

My previous church had traveled from York to the Lake District for the first of two away weekends, the B-on-Fire Weekend (the second was at a similar time the following year). We all arrived across Friday evening, having dinner when we arrived and sorting out who was in which dorm. We enjoyed a time of fellowship that evening and it was great to be together as a church family. We shared time on the Saturday too and some of us went out and walked up some of the big hills and mountains. I went up one of the big hills, Cat Bells, with my sister and two best friends (who I really miss right now). We had a great sense of achievement and another member of our church group took a photo of us at the top. After the exertions of the day and all the time spent together I decided to find a quiet place and have a few minutes to myself. I remember I sat in a stairwell and thought back over the day and reflected on what I was going home to the following day. Home was okay but it felt lonely at times and the monotony of stacking shelves five days a week had worn me down. I wanted a better job, a partner who would love me and a hope at least of having a family. I sat on the stairs telling God that if I was going back to life exactly as I had left it I would rather not go back, but that wasn’t an option. When JLW found me I must have been there 15-30 minutes and I had tears running down my face. She tried to get me to talk but I was so upset I couldn’t at first. It took at least 5 more minutes and LCT joining us before I managed to sob out that I didn’t want to go back to my life the way it was. They prayed and LCT said that all the pieces would fall into place.

The following year when we were there again I had changed my job and moved to lodge with IndysGrandma but I still slipped quietly to that stairwell again because my job wasn’t secure, lodging didn’t feel like a home and I was still single. I went and prayed and cried all on my own that time because JLW and LCT had some fairly big issues of their own that, unbeknownst to me, were kicking off while I was in the stairwell. The pieces weren’t in place for me or for my friends right then.

Over the years I’ve watched my friends as the pieces have fallen into place for them but not for me. I have tried so hard not to covet their partners, children or lives as I see them. I’m sure that JLW’s life isn’t always as great as it seems to be and that everyone has their struggles at times. I just look at where my life has gone in the 5 and a half years since the tears in the stairwell that first year and see a mess. I’d love to be married right now to an amazing man and be expecting my second child, a sibling for my 2 year old, in about 5 weeks.

I’m unemployed, not working even part-time and that makes me very frustrated and often quite down. Life at home has been difficult because both of my parents have been out of work for health reasons so we’ve had financial struggles. Church can be difficult, walking into what feels at times to be a very middle class environment where I don’t always feel at home.

There is however one gem, one shining light even when I’m down and church feels like walking into a room full of strangers; my fiance. We’re often at church together and sometimes having him there makes the difference between whether I stay or walk straight out. He makes me laugh at the most ridiculous things even when I’m down and his arms are there if it’s really bad.

In eight weeks I will marry my own amazing man. We can look forward together to spending some time building our relationship stronger because although after 2 years it seems quite strong we recognise we still have some building to do together. In about a year we’ll start to think about adding a little one or two, although we’re not planning on calling a son Martin. We’re starting to make my dream a reality. Still there’s a piece missing, I’m still trying to find the right path to the right door that leads to the job God has in his plan for me. I try to believe it’s there somewhere and it will happen one day when I’m not expecting it, but for now it’s hard sometimes to keep the faith and knock at the doors.

Where will I be in 5 years? I don’t know. I think I’ll be happily married, hopefully with at least one child. I hope I’ll have a job, even just a part-time one. I might be playing with my creative skills and selling things I knit or decorating cakes or something. I might even find someone who’ll pay me for my writing. Only God knows and He isn’t sharing that information with me. I’ll try to live each day as it comes and not worry about tomorrow.

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It’s that time of year again.

It wasn’t terribly surprising to find that there was not a Disney quote to go with the subject of this post, well at least not on the face of it. Perhaps a little deeper digging might have found one, but the idea is not that I spend all night looking for a quote to go with a blog post I haven’t written so I decided to prioritise the post over the title.

Summer is sweeping in and soon the children will have broken up from school and will be everywhere. I look forward to the summer still. It’s a different anticipation now than it was when I was still a kid and summer meant six weeks off school away, mostly, from the bullies and able to just be me. For the last six years, and again this year, summer has meant eight nights under canvas spending seven days as part of a children’s team at New Wine North and East summer conference.

The dreams that creep up on me somewhere around March are usually the first indication that somewhere in my subconscious I am already beginning the countdown. I have a tendency to dream that something’s not quite right, either I can’t find which cowshed I’m supposed to be in or I’m really late for team time and miss the important stuff although I know the normal layout of the Newark Show-ground like the back of my hand by now and haven’t ever been late enough to team time to actually miss anything. Even with the dreams it takes a while for my conscious thoughts to catch up with my subconscious.

July, the month of preparing and more often than not some element of panic. For the first few years I knew I had my gorgeous Eurohike Paint Your Own tent that had been lovingly decorated for me by my best friends in my house group, a snuggly warm sleeping bag and a big backpack that matched to carry everything in. I even went so far as buying a camping chair in the same fabric as  the sleeping bag and backpack. The main panic was the paperwork, where had we put the essential letters that had the tear off part that was our ticket and conference badge? Even after no ticket year and the wait in the information office which ended in relief we would still panic when the paperwork was mislaid. Two years ago a very sad time came; after years of being used for one week in the summer and being put away perhaps a little carelessly my beautiful distinctive tent that had a double skin so never leaked had succumbed to damp and mould and really was on its last legs. I borrowed a friend’s tent last year and got leaked on so the slight panic is in the hope that Fiancé’s tent won’t leak when I borrow it this year.

Looking back I have so many memories of great things that have happened at New Wine. Besides my love story starting there (which I will tell another time) there have been so many great stories of what God can do in the lives of these children. I’ll never forget the evening the kids left the venue late because they were all chanting ‘Jesus’ over and over, or the girl, Siobhan, who arrived at my group in Boulder Gang deaf but went home at the end of the week hearing after the kids prayed for her.

Every year I make sure that as we pack down on the Friday night I have made a list of every child that was on the register for my group. These lists go into the back of my journal and I try to remember to pray for the children from one New Wine to the next.I have the lists from 07 – 10 in front of me as I write this and I can remember children even from as far back as 2007. Some of them you don’t forget quickly and some will stay in your memory forever. From 2007 there are three boys I can still picture as if I last saw them yesterday.

Kids and what God does for them and through them are I guess at the centre of my focus every year at New Wine and as I go as a children’s worker that is only right but what then of the amazing people who are there for the team? Every year so far I have gone to New Wine leaving something not quite right at home. One year a very close friend and her husband were separating, other years I have been out of work and had to scrape together the train fare. I cannot pretend that there has been a year yet where I have been happy to get onto the train/into the car at the end of the week. Perhaps, as this year I’m leaving Fiancé at home I will be happy to come back. There are some pretty awesome people, well they have to be awesome for me to have felt so comfortable with them, who are there for the team members. They are our team pastors. For the past 3 years I have been able to talk to my team pastors without the usual clamming up and not being able to say what I wanted. God has worked in life at New Wine and these people have helped massively. Claire, Panda and Becki have all listened and prayed with me as I told them virtually the same story and felt like I was a stuck record waiting for the needle to skip. I guess Claire opened the door a bit, Panda was great at helping me step through and Becki went above and beyond. Becki’s pastoring last year led to me going to see the lay pastor at my church and working through the issues with him. Thanks to Becki and the lay pastor I don’t think the same issues are going to be as pertinent this year. Maybe they’ll be there in the background but there will be much more important things for me to want to pray about.

Whatever awaits me in the week after I watch my housemate get married I know that I have awesome team leaders and hopefully an awesome team pastor who I will be able to talk to. This year I am going to working with a younger group of children with the challenges that will bring but with God’s help and the support of my team, the team leaders and the team pastor I know that whether the challenges come from the children or from somewhere within me I will be able to handle them, although I’m not expecting that this year’s team pastor will be as willing as Becki was to bring a cookie to my sick tent.

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What do they have against people who are different, anyway?

“Spiral Speirsy.” “Specky four-eyes.” “Tell us that pirate joke again.”

I think I was six when it started. The name calling, the teasing, okay, let’s call it what it was, the bullying. We had a fancy dress day for Children in Need and I coloured the patch I wore for my lazy eye black and went as a pirate. The joke flopped and the teacher, Mrs Taylor, defended me against the jeers of my class mates. That was the day they noticed – the glasses for the lazy eye, the lack of confidence and the reliance on the teacher for approval and acceptance. I played almost exclusively with two other girls that school year and didn’t really push to try to make other friends. Bryony and Amy were enough for little me, although one other girl, NameFriend, who shared my middle name did try to build a friendship.  Come Easter though Bryony had moved away, her dad was in the R.A.F and if I remember correctly it wasn’t long before Amy said she too was leaving. I never was much of one to push myself forward so when I looked around and the others were in friendship groups already I didn’t know where I would fit when we went back to school after summer and I didn’t have Bryony or Amy any more.

Then when the new school year started our class was spilt and my half, the older half, were in a class with the younger half of the year above. The older kids noticed me then and they seemed to decide I was the one they would pick on. For a while it was just the occasional ‘Spiral Speirsy’ and a selection of other choice phrases including the really original ‘Eurgh something smells around here, oh it must be you’. Things that I soon learnt to shrug off.

For a while I didn’t realise that this even was bullying, innocent little kid thinking it was what we would probably term ‘banter’. I realised later in life that no, that wasn’t what it was at all. At the time it was attention from my peers and somehow I thought that must be a good thing.

Then my life changed, got flipped right round, when my baby brother died.

“Your brother died because you didn’t look after him properly.” Words another child said to me on the day my parents, family and family friends went to the church to bury my brother. I had, apparently, chosen to go back to school.

The words people had said before were nothing compared to that one sentence. I knew absolutely that what this older girl had said was not true; I had sat and listened as the men from the coroner’s office explained to me and my parents that David Martin had died because he had a hole in his heart. I knew it was nothing to do with how well he had been looked after, but we had looked after him brilliantly, thank you very much. I got so upset and Mrs Dixon, the dinner lady had to look after me and take me back in to my class teacher as it had happened as we lined up at the end of lunch break. Of all the things that have been said to me those words are the ones that have stuck in my memory.

As time went on I guess I gave up really trying to make friends, even with the people who didn’t bully me. Brother was there in the playground most days and I could always chase NameFriend around the playground when she was in a grump. With my next teacher, Mr Eldridge, when I was 8 almost 9, I really wanted to impress him and do my best. He was a fun teacher and although that first year in his class was mostly my year of daydreaming the second year he was my teacher I did everything I could to impress him and, I guess, to make up for the first year. The other children noticed and they started to call me ‘Teacher’s Pet’ and to pick on me because I would always get good marks in tests and ‘Harry hedgehogs’ on pieces of work. The other thing they had started to notice was that I was ‘chunky’ and although the cheers on sports day when I was last in the race, again, were endearing the comments about my weight the rest of the year were not. Throughout my time with Mr Eldridge some of the older children had been bullying me too, some were older siblings of my class mates or lads from across our estate but some just picked on me because I was the fat kid that couldn’t run.

My last couple of years at primary school were marked with bullying. I was constantly teased and called names. Some of the lads started trying to trip me if they were ever in line behind me and in those years the physical stuff started too. We had eggs thrown at us one ‘Mischief Night’ and pebbles thrown. A certain family moved into our village and had started to spell trouble not only for me, Brother and our family but for others too.

Secondary school seemed worse. I walked into the classroom the day I started, two days later than the others and by lunchtime it was fairly obvious that some of the kids who knew me had been telling the others about me. It didn’t even take until Christmas for these new classmates in this much bigger school to start with the names and comments. Before too long it felt like my year was split into three groups, the ones who bullied me, the ones who didn’t seem to know I existed and the much smaller group, the ones who tried to be friendly. The split happened in the first year and the groups were pretty much defined from that point on.

Hearing every day that you’re fat, smelly, stupid, being called some of the most derogatory names I had heard, it doesn’t really boost your confidence much. I joined the junior choir, the bullies told me I couldn’t sing. I became a librarian and the bullies laughed and called me names because it was ‘sad’ and ‘nerdy’ being a librarian. My sporting prowess never appeared, my artistic skills were never given the space to bloom and being good at English, Maths and Science meant you didn’t fit in. I liked my teachers and always tried my best. I could often be found at Mr Tibbits office waiting to talk to him in my first two years at secondary school. Sometimes when other kids would see me outside Mr Tibbits office they would tease me for that and they definitely still teased me for being ‘Teacher’s Pet’. After Grandma died when I was 13 I would spend a lot of time talking to Mr Tibbits, Mrs Wood or Mr Kershaw about how I was doing, about my school work and also about the bullying. They never managed to do anything effective about the bullying. I had some older friends who I knew because Mum worked for the parents of one of them and they were my ‘best’ option for company at lunch time. A younger girl who caught the bus with me and who was probably as much of a target for bullies as me once asked me why I was bullied so much. I told her I didn’t know, maybe it was because I was different.

The bullies never really got all that physical with me but there was an incident once where my brother was beaten up by bullies and the police were involved. There were also incidents where Brother got physical with bullies. One time boys in the lunch queue behind him were giggling and because he had been bullied all through school he assumed it was him they were giggling about and pushed a pizza in one boy’s face. The other time I remember was on the bus when we were in foster care. One of the lads on the bus was being unkind about the way I was holding my in-ear earphones in and Brother saw red, quite literally after the scrap left him with a broken nose.

Bullying made my entire school life seem like Hell. On Sunday Fiancé and I were in the small market town where my secondary school was and he asked if I would go back to my school days if I could. There are so many reasons I would go back, the lack of responsibility, the learning new things (not that that has stopped), the opportunity to actually prove myself academically instead of letting a teacher I trusted convince me that I should let go of my best chance at GCSEs and A levels because my attendance the year after Grandma died was erratic at best. The main thing that would have stopped me was… wait for it… no, not the school dinners, the bullying.

Unfortunately for me when I sought out a nursery nursing course at college to try to bump my future back onto my choice of track I couldn’t escape the bullying. This time only two people with any prior knowledge of me were in my ‘tutor group’ and they had not been bullies. I walked in there hoping I could start with a clean slate. The problem was my confidence was shot, I was shy, quiet and from the country so not streetwise enough to fit in with a group of rough and ready girls, oh and when I did speak what I said was often peppered with talk of church. The advice the child psychologist had given me just over a year earlier failed to work. I didn’t  make friends easily although there were 2 or 3 girls I would have given that label to in the first year. Again I was bullied because I actually listened to everything the tutors said and tried my hardest, I was bullied because of my faith and, when my first placement failed me after about four weeks because I ‘never spoke’, I was bullied because of that too. It was awful when we had music appreciation and I didn’t have an angelic voice or a sense of rhythm because they all wanted to know how I could say I was a Christian when I couldn’t sing. These days I would tell them I ‘make a joyful noise unto the Lord’ but I didn’t have that one in my arsenal then.  Many times I would be in tears because of things that had been said and I would tell the tutors, then feel let down because they had made idle threats to chuck any bullies off the course. I stuck it out for as long as my patience let me, and my patience can stretch for miles. My patience stretched almost to the end of the two-year course. I had missed an assignment from the first year that I could have caught up and I had quite a few observational studies to complete, as well as placement hours to make up, but I thought it was still possible for me to complete the course. The bullying had continued and, had the tutors been true to their word when they said bullies would be thrown off the course they would have only had one student, me. I remember one lesson maybe three weeks before the course was due to end when Meg, one of the nicest tutors, had us all in the art and craft room and she gave the others a lecture on how hard college had been for me because of them and their bullying, I never did find out how it ended because I left the room in tears. A week later I was in floods of tears again. Because we had been told that if we didn’t all finish together everyone would have to wait for the last student before the work went for moderation and we could qualify the bullying got really bad and they were all really nasty about the fact I was behind the rest of them and because I wouldn’t finish on time I would hold them all back. The last controlled test was on the anniversary of David’s death and that added another factor to my decision to leave. I stood in that classroom and told my favourite tutor that I couldn’t take any more, I knew I was close to the end and even she said I would be able to finish, but my mind was made up, I was going to walk away from the college that afternoon as an unemployed person, not a student.

Decisions I have made in my life have been influenced by other people more than once and I have let the bullies have things their way. My life could be very different now if I hadn’t bent and broken under the peer pressure of the bullies. Maybe then I should be grateful for what the bullies did in some ways, my church, Fiancé, wedding plans, dreams for the future might be positive outcomes of the bullying, but I don’t really think they are (although they are fantastic things). You see God has a way of taking us to where His plan was leading, even when we divert our own paths. I would have been in the right places at the right times still, but perhaps with a job, a car, smart clothes, maybe even my own flat. As it is I’m unemployed, I usually wear clothes that are at least 5 years old if not older, don’t drive and as soon as I finish my internship at church I’ll move back in with my parents. I sometimes wish that the me who Fiancé proposed to had been the ‘better’ version, one that had totally learned to be confident, to stand on her own two feet and not rely on things so much for security. One day I will be that person because I know she’s inside, hiding still, but for now I’m glad Fiancé loves me for who I am today.

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Faith, trust and pixie dust?

So, for about two weeks now I have been feeling challenged to think about my faith and how much I really trust God.  It kind of started really when I was helping to plan our mid-week children’s small group material. We’re using the ‘What’s in the Bible?’ DVDs by Phil Vischer, the creator of VeggieTales, for the second half of every term. We have just finished writing the material up to the end of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, and the DVD looks at how the Israelites were in the wilderness for 40 years because they did not trust that God would give them the land he had promised.

Through the ‘object lessons’ we are using with the children in the small groups we are teaching the children that our relationships with God can be like that, sometimes we don’t trust God even though we believe that He wants the best for us. We try to work things out in our own way rather than trusting God to be in charge and doing things his way.

The things we are teaching the children are things that I have struggled with myself. I have been working as a Children’s Ministry Parish Assistant (like an intern) with my church since September and this has made me look at my faith in new and challenging ways. The things I have learnt myself and been teaching the children over the past nine months have made me stop and consider what I believe, why I believe it and what my relationship with God is really like.

One night in November I had a revelation about my relationship with God. I was at a Kids’ Leaders Training event and I was there with my new colleagues, people I had seen at church and wanted to get to know better, but didn’t really know at that point. I was feeling beyond myself and wished that my best friends were there with me to talk to. I figured maybe God was trying to teach me to depend on him and that was really difficult for me. All I could see was the brokenness and the bad things that had happened in my life, the things I thought I had dealt with but had only locked away. It felt like the grief and anger of my losses were locked behind a door inside me but were emitting a gas that seeped under the door and through my life.

It was after midnight when the penny finally dropped. I couldn’t put my dependence on God because I didn’t trust him implicitly. I felt betrayed by the God I believe in. My God was a god who could wrap great joy in the same package as devastating heartache and make that package a tiny baby boy I would call David. The same God gave me a loving, supportive grandmother and then took her away when I needed her more than ever. How could my head and heart trust that the blessings God gave would not be taken, that every good thing would not have a sting in its tail?

Luke 11:11-13 says: ‘You fathers – if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! If you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?’

It had felt like I was asking God for eggs but getting scorpions, which would kinds of suck, so there was no wonder I was a little cautious about what God had given me since I asked Jesus into my heart. I can see now though that the main ‘scorpions’ in my life were before I had a real faith and the poison from their stings was still in my psyche. I had to adjust the way I look at things to stop the poison affecting the good gifts God gives me now.

God doesn’t give gifts with a sting in the tail, all his gifts are good. I’m trying to trust God with the little things in my life more, because I can see the time coming, just around the corner, where I have to trust Him with the big things.

Having realised this and tried to learn the lesson for myself I feel more comfortable that  I am one of the right people to be teaching this group of amazing kids about trusting God. I still have more to learn, but I think most people do. I just know that I’m trusting God more and trying not to lean on my own understanding as much these days.

I’m having to trust that God knows what my fiance and I want for our wedding and will help us to achieve those things. It’s an exciting time and although a little scary knowing that I have God to trust makes it seem less daunting.

This evening I’m going to be one of two leaders in  our group. I have spent almost three hours drying out a quantity of play sand that I bought at a pound shop so that we can all make sand timers to remind the children of the Israelites in the desert and how they were there because they didn’t trust God. I’ll be holding onto mine after so that I have a reminder too.

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A photograph can take you back in time to faces and embraces that you thought you’d left behind.

When I saw the quote that is the title of this post I knew that I had a post to write to go with it, and I could find a photograph. JLW, AMW, Sister and me are all on the photo, with AmericanGirl, YoungMum, Wibby and LCT. I remember the weekend it was taken. It was over 4 and a half years ago, the weekend I had quit my job stacking shelves at one of the big 4 supermarkets in the UK and was at the start of what turned out to be a tumultuous time in my life. Wibby and LCT were both about to embark on new chapters of their lives, starting at university and our youth group would break apart four months later. It was a month before JK became a bigger part of my life. AmericanGirl was someone JLW had met and was only really part of our group for that weekend with her brother and their parents.

The weekend was fun. We met together on the Friday evening and had some worship time with another youth group from a church a friend of ours had contacts with. It was good to spend the time with another youth group and we were sad to see them leave at the end of the evening

JLW was staying at her parents’ house and all the girls slept over there while the boys went back to AMW’s house just down the road and stayed there. The following morning the girls had breakfast and went for a walk. After the walk we all got together for lunch that JLW’s sister helped to prepare. AFter lunch we had a talk on ‘Creation and Evolution’ that was given from a scientific viewoint so although it did not argue completely for one thing or the other it focussed in on ‘intelligent design’ and how someone had to have designed so much of the universe. We played some games out in the long lawned garden after the talk.

Mid-afternoon we all went to AMW’s house and we had another worship session, this time with CellMum and CellDad, who had stepped down from leading the youth cell about 3 months before. It was always good to get together with them and we always had fun with them. We had dinner together there and slowly but surely people started going home.

That weekend was amazing and I have been on other amazing weekends since but the friends I shared that weekend with were different to all the others and although looking through the photos on LCT’s facebook I can see the friends who have drifted away because life and work and studies have called them in different directions I know I will always treasure them and the memories we made in our time as ‘True Vine’. I often think of those friends and we are in touch through social networking sites, although one or two went last time I sorted my facebook friend list. I know that some are still studying, some are married or have been, two have babies and one is about to become a father. I wish them well in their futures and although some will be left behind I am sure some will be part of my future as well as my past.

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Life’s only worth living if you’re being loved by a kid.

The quote from Toy Story 2 I chose as the title for this blog perhaps over-eggs the cake a bit, but when you remember that in the film it is spoken by a cowboy doll (Woody) to a cowgirl doll (Jessie) it makes sense. For them life is all about being loved by children, for me it’s mainly about loving children.

I have always loved being around babies and children. For the most part they don’t judge you or make you feel bad for being you, unlike some adults. The innocence of a new baby is something to be marvelled at  and treasured. As adults we have an obligation to protect that in them, to teach them about the world without pushing them out into its dark places before they are ready. As a children’s worker in church part of my role is to teach them that Jesus loves them and they are never alone in the world. We teach children that they can talk to God about anything and everything and that he is always there and ready to listen. Sometimes I think the best way we can teach them that is by building relationships with them where they know they can talk to us about anything and we are always there and ready to listen. In some circumstances with some children that is easy, but it’s not always so.

My previous church was a small church, all the adults knew each other and trusted each other. Parents there knew that the church would look after their children and keep an eye out for them. I had the privilege of being a Sunday School teacher there. My sister and I taught the under 8s about God and Jesus. For the most part because of the size of the church that meant we would be in a room with no more than 7 children between us. We would often do something together at the start like singing a song or reading the Bible story and then split into under 5s and 5-8s for the part where we talk together and maybe do a worksheet or craft activity. When the planned activities finished there was time for the children to play while we might tidy up or join their games. Play time was always good for building relationships between the children and us and for building on friendships the children had with each other. The children we were teaching were usually children we had know since they were tiny babies and had been building relationships with for that whole time. The children would talk to us and tell us their stories. Sometimes we would be there to listen when a pet died or when there was something else upsetting them, like bullying at school, and that came out of the relationship we had built. With certain children we had such good relationships that they would come straight to us at the beginning of church, before Sunday School went out and want to be with us all the way through until they went home. We were always open and let them spend time in the service with us. Their parents knew and trusted us and it really did feel like we were all part of one big family.

When we changed churches we did so partly because the children were all leaving our old church. There weren’t any ‘regular attendees’ left who had children for us to provide Sunday School for and we knew that our strengths and skills were in children’s work. When we joined our new church we quickly got involved with the children’s work, starting over again with new children. This time though we hadn’t watch as these children made their mothers’ tummies expand or seen the shiny new smiles on their tiny baby faces. They were little people already, aged 3-5, and they already had some experience of the world. We couldn’t be what we had been to the children in our old church, we weren’t faces they had seen almost every week since they were tiny. They had not learnt our names when they were learning to speak and had not been held and cherished by us when they were still in nappies. Being with these children was daunting at first, we knew nothing about them and they knew nothing about us. Because there was a rota we wouldn’t be in that room with them every Sunday morning building the relationships as we had in old church either. The road looked long and winding, but we stepped onto it. We started learning names and ages, noticed the different character traits of certain children and discovered where they were in their understanding of God and Jesus.

It’s been three years and we’re still working on things, still building relationships. Sometimes the way things are structured gets in the way. We lost a few of the children from our Sunday mornings when the church started a tea-time service and our church is a big one where people come and go. Some of the little ones that were in our Sunday morning group when we started have moved up to mid-week groups for the older children. Maybe we don’t have the relationships with the children now that we had in our old church but we still invest the time and the love and sometimes we get a return on that. There’s a little boy who is quiet with most adults, but he speaks to us. I help with one of the mid-week groups and two of the children from the host family are coming out of themselves more with me and will talk to me even when we’re not at their house.

Sometimes working with children is all about being loved by them, but it’s more important for it to be about loving them. There will be the children that readily run to hug you and the ones that run in the other direction, to cling to mum. Investing time and energy in teaching children about Jesus is always worth it and when that brings good relationships with the children that’s a bonus.

I’ll close with a quote from Bob Gass on Word for Today;

‘In this world if you are serious about becoming more like Jesus you must learn to love children.’

Are you there yet?

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The path starts here.

I have told you a little of the shadows that have been cast in my life, of the bereavements that have dragged me down. In this post I would like to start and try to share something of my experience of the light that has almost chased those shadows away.

It all seems so long ago from where I am now and it is half a lifetime ago, well, half of my lifetime. In some ways finding the light began with another shadow, that I won’t describe in detail here now. Briefly, a month before my 15th birthday my brother, sister and I were taken into foster care. For the purposes of this post the reasons do not matter, although they may be discussed in a later post. We were in care for 6 months.

For the first part of that time we were separated and I was sent to a foster home almost 18 miles from my parents and everything familiar. At first the only familiar things were school and the group therapy with the child psychologists. I felt let down by my social worker because she was often late to collect me for ‘contact’ and I never felt she listened to me. I really disliked (almost put hated but that’s not a word I like to use too often) the woman in my first foster home, some may describe her as my foster-mother but I wouldn’t. She never seemed very maternal toward me and upset me in several ways. She used a powder freshener on my soft toys, taking away the scent of a much-loved gift that Grandma had bought me and she used to lock me out of the house in the winter months I was there and leave me roaming the streets alone. I was so relieved when she decided to give up on me, that she couldn’t do anything to change me and that social services would have to place me elsewhere. Added to that relief was the knowledge that my brother’s first foster-carers had come to the same decision at the same time.

Social services then approached the couple that had been fostering my sister the whole time and asked them to consider taking my brother and me too. Our foster-mother there said that had they realised we were all in care they would have taken us all from the beginning. The new foster home was around four miles from my parents and literally down the road and round the corner from where Granddad still lived, in the village I will always be happy to say I count as a childhood home from home. I was so happy to be there, in that village, with my siblings, in this family that embraced us and made us feel their home really was our home too. This couple were AMW’s parents and in this home I found a real foster-mother who was gentle and patient with me and made me feel safe, a foster-father who was able to guide and to discipline out of love and this ‘foster sister’ who became as close as, if not closer than, my actual sister. I was free to be myself there, to sit in my room and read or write, to go out and see Granddad or to go and sit on Grandma’s grave and talk to her and it really felt like a home.

It didn’t take very long to realise that this couple were not acting purely out of their own resources of love or patience as I watched their struggles with their adopted son. They persisted where I imagined many others would have given up. I thought I knew where they got the extra supplies from though. They were Christians who took my sister to church on a Sunday and read Bible stories to her.  By this time we were going back home to our parents on a weekend so they would collect my sister from my parents and bring her back. It took time but, eventually, my curiosity got the better of me and one week I went to church with them too.

Their church was not the Methodist chapel of my earliest memories of church, nor was it a grey stone building where the people said they were CofE. It didn’t really resemble the Elim church where I had naively  said a prayer four years before asking Jesus into my heart for all the wrong reasons. In fact it looked like my school assembly hall with a group of normal people meeting together to sing, pray and listen to teaching, maybe because that’s what it was. I knew that the focus of the songs and the teaching, the one they were praying to was the God I said I hated because of my Grandma’s death. But even that knowledge could not mask the welcome and the peace I had when I was among those people.

I didn’t go to the church very often to start with but after they put on a production called ‘The Witness’ that I believe told the story of a person who had seen everything written in the Gospels something changed. Not because of the production or the fact that my sister was in it. It was more because while we were there to watch my sister my Dad was taken ill and an ambulance had to be called. FosterMum  and FosterDad stepped in straight away to look after us again and the other members of the church were there for us too.

When our time in care was coming to an end our world was shaken again. Granddad had set off to go to Skegness to visit an old friend but never made it. He slipped away in his sleep somewhere around the time the coach was crossing the Humber Bridge. I tend to romanticise this by thinking that he may have been dreaming of Grandma and simply stepped into Heaven to be with her. Officially he had a heart attack. The way our foster-parents handled this news was exactly right for me. They sat us down and told us carefully and sensitively what had happened. That still did not stop me from grabbing AMW’s bike and pedalling harder than I ever have to the next village, about a mile and a half, to OldestFriend’s house.

It was in the week that followed this news that I was told that AuntyV, an old family friend who was a deaconess in the Methodist church had been in touch with Foster Mum. She had heard about Granddad and she wanted to give me the opportunity to spend some time with her and her daughter who I will call SistersGodsister. This girl and I had spent several school holidays together having fun as only little girls with the countryside around them can. Even though this time would be spent on a Christian youth camp the opportunity to see AuntyV and SistersGodsister was too tempting, even when it meant going straight from Granddad’s funeral.

After reading a poem at Granddad’s funeral with the minister’s hand on my shoulder I went back to the bungalow, said good bye to family I would not see again for a long, long time and got into a taxi. 24 miles later I arrived at Hollybush Farm. There is a church that meets at the venue called Hollybush Christian Fellowship and every year they host a youth camp. AuntyV was waiting for me when I arrived. I was so pleased to see her and to feel those familiar arms around me.

In the days that followed I saw some things at that camp that I thought were ‘weird’, ‘freaky’ and possibly dangerous. It was 1997 and the ‘Toronto blessing’ was still a big thing in some churches over here. Many of the youth group that were there with AuntyV and SistersGodsister, including SistersGodsister, were ‘slain by the Spirit’ several times, getting up and going straight back for more. That they would get up and go back to be back on the floor again almost as soon as the ministry person touched them unnerved me, in fact it made me feel sick. Watching them drop to the ground as if fainting and sometimes shaking while there made me worried and actually a little fearful for them. When AuntyV was ‘slain in the Spirit’ too I was upset but there were no other adults I could trust and after I didn’t feel that I could talk to AuntyV about the way I felt when she had participated too. Even today, almost fifteen years later, I still don’t believe that there was much to be gained from the repeated ‘slaying’. I thought at the time that some of them were addicted to it and that this addiction was not good, a view I still stand by.

In spite of my feelings about the ‘Toronto blessing’ and the youth group members being ‘slain in the Spirit’ I realise now that God was working in my life at that camp. I refused to go for prayer for fear that I too would wake up on the floor when I didn’t want to, but God still found a way to touch my life. Maybe through the love of the people in the church our foster-parents had been part of and the love of AuntyV God had found the door to my heart opening, ever so slightly. My bitter, stinging anger at God seemed to melt while I was at camp. I was still upset that my brother, Grandma and Granddad were all in Heaven and not with me but I didn’t hate God for it any more. I was more open to the idea of a God who loved me and after the camp started going to the church our foster-parents had taken me to on a regular basis. In some ways that camp was the beginning of my path out of the shadows.

I realise that ‘Toronto blessing’ and ‘slain in the Spirit’ may be phrases you have not heard before, but you have an advantage over the fifteen year old girl that was scared for these younger girls she watched falling down repeatedly. You can Google them and find out what is meant by them. I had no resources, no way of finding out what was happening. Maybe if you don’t understand you are a bit closer to where I was on that farm.

Even now, after so much time has passed and I have a level of understanding of these things, I still feel my stomach churn if someone in the same room as me is ‘slain in the Spirit’ and I find it really hard to stay in the room if it is my brother, sister or a friend who is on the floor. I have never been, nor do I desire to be, ‘slain in the Spirit’. I can still live a Spirit-filled life as a Christian without falling on the floor to do that, or condemning anyone who has been ‘slain in the Spirit’. God touches different people in different ways and I’m quite glad he has never knocked me down.

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