2 Cor 12v9

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Lost Harmony

I remember discovering the joy of learning to sing harmony
Realising that I was no longer constrained to the notes that were written
But instead could dance around them
Finding new heights and new depths and new sounds in the music

The pitch of the song no longer mattered
How high the tune reached or how low
All I had to do was find the complementing note
And no song was out of my reach

Without it my voice had wavered uncertainly in solo
Questioning its strength and its ability to hit the right place
And making me want to step away from the spotlight and hide my attempts
For it was quieter than the inner voice that told me I couldn’t

But to sing with another
Who carried the melody strong and undoubting
Meant that I was free to try

Endless possibilities opened
The freedom to try and fail and succeed and succeed and succeed
Reaching for a note and quickly adapting
Split second opportunities to choose differently and to find the right one
As another voice carried the weight of the song
Nobody saw where I faltered
They only heard when I rose and seized the moment to blend
To lift
To complement
To enhance

I could grasp my place in a song in seconds
I didn’t know where it was going but it didn’t matter
I knew in each moment what to do
Where to slide into the space that needed my note
No limits, no fears, only new possibilities

And it made the melody sound all the better
It increased its impact
It sounded firmer and it drew people to its magic
Making a rich strong song
A confident song
That brought joy and comfort and direction to people who heard it

It was my place of truest happiness

And now you have gone
And I have lost my melody

Left with wavering notes that no longer fit or trust themselves to keep singing

Monday, 5 February 2018

Leaving Home (Part Two)

Why do I find it so hard to write on this blog? Because I have a real issue with Pride and Reputation. I want to always be able to say the right thing, the right way. I don’t just want to put words on a page, I want to be able to capture as perfectly as possible the thoughts I’m thinking and the way I’m feeling, and, most importantly, to capture the purpose and principles behind whatever is going on at the time. So if I can’t make head nor tail of what’s going on, or find words to describe the process of what’s happening in my life, I can’t write about it. Because if I just waffled on a page then it wouldn’t be saying the right thing in the right way and it would come back to my central issue – people won’t like what I’ve just written and this will affect my Pride and my Reputation.

In this last couple of years I have written dozens of posts that never got finished because I’ve been in such a crazy state of flux, not being sure of so many things, and constantly doubting myself and my feelings. When life is in emergency mode, there is an unshakable confidence in what needs to happen, when and how, and there is little room for self-doubt. But in this long season, that seems to me like it will never end, there just seems to be more change, grief that keeps morphing into new forms but never actually going away, opportunities that present themselves then slip out of my fingers before I had chance to grasp them, and a huge monumental lack of confidence in, well, everything.

Tiredness is a really big thing. It has become my body’s self-defence mode for everything. Too much to think about it? Sleep. Difficult decision to make? Sleep. Worried about how to reply in the right way to the message I’ve just received? Sleep. It is really unnerving to be tired all the time. It makes it difficult to plan things because I can’t measure things in time availability anymore, it’s all to do with energy instead. I cannot predict in advance how much energy I will have on a certain day, so I have to make decisions with caution, always considering what my back-up plan will be. How far will I be able to drive in one stint? If I know I’m out all evening, will I be able to nap in the afternoon beforehand? How early will I have to set my alarm in the morning to be able to do all the things I’m too tired to complete tonight? And the biggest one: if you’re always planning everything expecting to be tired, is that why you’re tired and is it all in your head you big wuss?

Making huge decisions about the future in the middle of this tiredness has been very difficult. As a family, our previous decisions were always made with optimism: expecting that life was going to get easier, that we just needed to push past whatever stage we were in, and things would soon get their own momentum and gloriously take off into something wonderful. Everything was worth the hard slog of the present because the future held such incredible potential. Oh, I loved making decisions that way! It generated its own natural energy and helped me to do things way beyond my natural capacity. But now I have to make decisions that are always limited by my current status. If I put us in a place beyond my capability, there is no one but me who can find the hidden strength and resource to make things work. So I have to think small and slow instead of large and unrealistic. I have to think like a normal person after years of being married to limitless possibilities.

So these two versions of me – the present and the past – have been at war while trying to work out where to go next. Do I go to a church where the leadership is already covered by a large team of people and just rest and be part of the body or do I go back into church leadership and use my experience to be involved in planning and building new things? Do I go somewhere really familiar where people have known me a long time or do I go somewhere new where the area is unknown and meet a whole bunch of new people? Do I play it safe and risk letting the pioneering part of my personality die, or do I hope that this current season of exhaustion will disappear once I get back on the saddle again?

For over a year, those two sides of the coin were represented by two different churches and I didn’t know which one I should be a part of. Let’s call the first one – the familiar one – Church A, and the one that felt like a wildcard option Church B. I had to make the decision before I moved as it would completely determine where I bought the new house. For me, church is my community and now I have teenagers I need it to be as easy as possible for them to access everything going on without depending on my availability to get them where they need to be.

As I said in my last post, I would have loved some kind of heavenly visitation that showed me what to do. Just as I thought I was beginning to come out of the fog of indecision, the closure of Home Church made my exhaustion and optimism for the future even worse. But I knew that if I didn’t take a risk and go for the option that the old me would’ve taken, I would always have berated myself for playing it safe. So I chose Church B, and hoped that once the weight of indecision was gone, I would begin to feel peace about it.

Unfortunately the opposite happened. My anxiety increased and my health got worse. I went to friends I’d known for a long time and asked them to pray for this fear that was trying to hold me back, and found that even though I was struggling to hear from God, He seemed to use them to ask me questions and bring me insights at just the right time. But it wasn’t confirming the decision I’d made, just the opposite.

Then within a week, two things happened. Firstly, I got an offer on my house in Morecambe, and on the same day, every house that I’d been watching on Right Move near Church B came off the market. I couldn’t get an appointment in that area or the next one over to see a four-bedroomed house that fit my criteria and my budget. And that week, some incredible houses appeared on the market near Church A that were perfect. Secondly, circumstances changed massively at Church B. Situations that I’d been waiting to see resolved all year took an unexpected turn, and it was absolutely clear that it was no longer the right place for me.

Here’s the thing though – I was so mad about it. If that had happened a few months earlier, I would have been so glad that I’d had such a definitive answer to the prayers I’d been praying. But I felt like I was receiving the answer too late. I had told the kids that’s where we were going, I had allowed myself to get emotionally attached to it, and – oh my pride! – I now had to make a u-turn on a decision I’d just made public. I had to go back on my word, I had to let people down, and all of this would have an effect on (of course the most important thing in the whole world): my Pride and my Reputation.

Now the great weight of leaving one church in crisis earlier this year was doubled. How had I somehow managed to do it again? How, when my intention was to build up and help, did I feel like everything I touched at the moment was doomed to crumble?

And so the unravelling of the mind has gone on and on. Once emotions begin to spiral like this, there is no stopping them. I have been on a mental journey into everything I’ve ever done in the past that hasn’t worked out the way I thought it would. My memories have skipped over the positive and alighted on every project I started and didn’t finish, on every person I have disappointed in some way, on all the opportunities I didn’t take, on every mistake and selfish moment, on good intentions that were riddled with excuses and weren’t brought to completion.

And this of course is crippling. There is no excitement to start something new, only anxiety about all the things that are likely to go wrong. Every opportunity to start something new seems like standing at the bottom of a mountain before climbing it, staring up into a large cloud wondering at what point the exhaustion will stop me and if I’ll be irretrievably stuck when it does. From sewing projects to phone calls to blog posts to decorating – all these small things – it’s just easier not to start them at all than to find the strength to push through the self-doubt that will come shortly after beginning them.

And all this is happening surrounded by a backdrop that is absolutely incredible. I have the house. I found the most perfect home for us, a house that felt like it was mine from the moment I walked into it. It has the right amount of space for us – enough that we can spread out in it, without it feeling overwhelming to maintain. We have our own garden, for the first time that the kids can remember, and we are within walking distance of shops, school and the train station, and we are so close to church. And it is full of light. Even though it has been winter in the few weeks that we’ve lived in it so far, every time the sun comes from behind the clouds, the house is flooded with light, and that is so good for my soul.

I am still in awe that I managed to do it, to pack up and disassemble the whole house after ten years of living in one place, and to get it all here and to put it all together again. I had to fight through the worst anxiety and until moving day itself, I couldn’t actually accept it was really happening. I kept expecting something else to come and snatch it away from me unexpectedly. I felt in shock (but the good kind thankfully) for the first few days, staring at each room as if I was in a dream. And I am part of a church that is passionate and vibrant, full of energy and optimism, with people who have known me a long time and love me well. I know I am positioned well for what I need next – an inner rebuilding and a fresh perspective. I just have to wait now for what is surrounding me on the outside to begin seeping into the broken wasteland that is on inside and bringing life and growth back again. I don’t know how long that will take and I don’t know how long I can keep putting off living at base camp, but I do feel like writing this imperfect post and wounding my Pride and Reputation just a little bit more may have got me a teensy bit further on. 

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Leaving Home (Part One)

I have waited far too long to write about what’s been happening in my life for the last year, and now it’s time for a mammoth write up. I’ve been living for a year in a really odd state of limbo and wasn’t sure what information to communicate to everyone around me. Internally and externally there has been lots of upheaval and lots of things that have been waiting for a resolution. As soon as I thought I knew what was happening next, something else would change and I’d hit the pause button again.

For a full year I’ve known that I was about to embark on a new chapter of my life but didn’t know where or what it was supposed to look like. I’ve done a lot of guessing, a lot of praying and I feel like I’ve had lots of false starts down different paths.

I’ll back up a few years: since Richard died, I had no doubt that living in Morecambe and helping to lead Home Church was the right thing for me to be doing. The move here and the vision for the church had been the dream for both of us, not just him, and things were going so well before he got ill that I wanted to continue the excitement of where church was going. I just love building church and even if I’ve had to do that in a diminished capacity while things were difficult, and to lean on people around me harder when dealing with grief, it’s what I’ve wanted to do. I have had amazing people around me who have recognised that and given me as much space and/or responsibility as I’ve needed at Home Church. My fantastic brother-in-law stepped up to be the pastor and he is an incredibly gifted leader. I was able to support him in that role and stay involved in the leadership, coordinating teams in church, speaking in various other places too, and training for Free Methodist leadership. There have been big obstacles to overcome, as in any church, and especially one recovering from such a large loss. For each one though, I felt resourced beyond my capacity and have counted it all as an incredible opportunity to get to be part of helping people through this.

This time last year though, changes had begun to happen in me. I can’t go into all the details as some of it is very personal, some of it involves other people, and to be honest, it would be dull to read all the emotional ups and downs and questions I’d been wrestling with for months. The short version is: I felt like it was time to move on.

I have never been in a situation like this before. The biggest decisions in my life have previously been made quickly and seemed so obvious that there was very little wrestling involved. Getting married? Let’s do it. Giving up full time work to live as volunteers? Let’s do it. Moving to bible college? Let’s do it. Planting a church in Morecambe? Let’s do it. Although there was a cost involved in those decisions, what was ahead seemed so much more important than what we were leaving behind, so we just focused on that and made it work, no matter how tough all those things were.

This time has been different though. It has been an unsettling and a stirring to move from somewhere, without knowing why or what I’m moving to. I fought it for a long time, tweaking everything in my life I could think of in order to keep going where I was. The thought of leaving Home Church behind was too difficult so I kept going, trying to fix the gaps and get over what I was feeling. I was determined to stay unless God sent me an angelic visitation or something equally dramatic to say otherwise.

I’m drifting – I said I wouldn’t go into all the details – the result is that from September to December last year I had lots of tearful conversations with different people, trying to work out what was going on, and came to the conclusion it was time to move forward. In January I stepped down from some of my leadership responsibilities at Home Church, and by Easter I had let go of everything. People have been great – really encouraging and supportive – and I got on with getting the house ready to sell and put on the market. It’s been up for sale for a few months now and as a family we are all geared up for moving on once the sale goes through.

I won’t yet go into what’s happening next for me though, because there’s more about what I’m leaving behind.

At the beginning of the summer things took another turn. My incredible brother-in-law hit burnout and Home Church was put on hold for the next few weeks. It’s not my story to tell, and there isn’t an easy way to explain it anyway. There has been no big disaster or fall out or wrongdoing. It might seem odd that a church stopped running because the pastor stepped out, but there have been a combination of reasons that meant that lots of people needed a break, and time to make decisions about where things were going. Over the summer people have had some breathing space to stop and assess and pray about what to do next. It’s been really weird for me because for the first time, I am no longer on the leadership of the church as it goes through a crisis. For the first time, I’ve just had to sit and wait to see what would be decided.

By the end of the summer, the decision was made for Home Church to close.

This has had a massive effect on me. Although I had already made the decision to move on, I had envisioned a much gentler transition away from it, and a home to keep revisiting at times. My pride, my identity and my story has been wrapped up for a long time with this family of people, and a certain amount of optimism for the future depends on the perceived successes of the past. I feel like I have fallen into a chasm of grief all over again.

It’s been hard for me not to question and analyse and relive all the different reasons for how things got to this place, but here are some of the thoughts I have had:

Home Church has never been a big church. We have had a lot of people involved in it in the ten years it has been going, but never at the same time. People have come and gone so much that the numbers have remained fairly consistent but the people have changed many times. In every season since we have started, there have been challenges. There have been times when we spread ourselves too thin in our attempts to provide services in the community, and the team was too small to meet the many needs we encountered along the way. There were many people affected by illness who needed to step back from the responsibilities they wished they’d been able to fulfil. There were babies – many, many babies! – and, rightly so, family priorities had to take president over ministry ideals. We had people moving into the local area and people moving out of it. We had people falling in love and moving overseas to start a new life. We had massive projects started that got interrupted by unforeseeable tragedies. We supported people struggling with mental health issues who we tried to create safe and unrushed places for. We formed leadership teams and reformed them each time new people arrived and other people left. We disappointed people and let them down and sometimes people moved on because they disagreed with decisions we made. Sometimes we went too quickly and sometimes we went too slowly. Sometimes one issue hijacked everything for several weeks or even months and it was difficult to keep things on course.

Ultimately, it feels like we never quite got to a place of stability, to build enough momentum to be a strong church. It always felt like we were on the verge of something great, but even ten years on, it was like we were just getting started. This was incredible because it always felt like a pioneering church but also exhausting because we still needed the same amount of peppy optimism and dogged determination in the tenth year as we did in the first year.

The idea of Home Church was never to be one of those churches where the same people turn up on a Sunday, week in and week out, and go home unchanged. It was supposed to be a body of people who made an impact on their community and resourced one another to go deeper and higher in their faith. The question since we started has always been “How do we best build God’s Kingdom in Morecambe?” If that’s by gathering and equipping one another at Home Church then that’s what needed to happen. But if the answer is for people to be part of other churches who are also doing that, then it’s better to free people to go and join in on that instead of persisting in keeping a dream going. The point of church is to build up and enable people, not to drain them in order to keep a construct going.

I can’t honestly answer the question of why we never managed to gain enough momentum to become the kind of church we hoped for, but maybe things will become clearer in the future.

As I have grieved over all of this, and raged at God over my third loss in just a few years, there has been a concept that keeps coming back to my mind. In Acts 27, Paul is on a ship on the way to Jerusalem and the crew are shipwrecked due to a massive storm. As panic breaks out, Paul calls people to order and says “I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed.” (v22)

I had always seen Home Church as a home for people, hence the name. My focus was for it to be a place of security and family, where people could find stability and grow into who they were supposed to be. People came to it for that reason, and experienced things they hadn’t found elsewhere. My decision to move on has been agonising for that reason – I didn’t want to leave people in a place of disappointment and instability by no longer being there for them. I had finally come to terms with being allowed to leave, so when this happened shortly after, I felt devastated.

So this picture of a ship has become really important to me. What I have seen as a home, which has made it painful to me each time someone has left, maybe God always ordained as a ship. Perhaps our whole purpose has always been to meet people where they are, carry them to where they needed to be next, and them let them go on to a new thing. In this way, it doesn’t matter ultimately what happens to the ship – the important thing is that not one person will be lost.

I still have work to do on my wounded pride – the dream I wanted to see built hasn’t happened, and I have to let go of that, which is not an easy process. But the most important thing is the future of the people who have been part of Home Church, that not one of them is lost, but have been able to move on to where they were supposed to be next.

So I’d really appreciate your prayers for all of us, for the disappointment we are carrying and all the emotional processing that will be needed to handle it well. Also for the future of all those involved in Home Church, that it will be obvious which church each individual and family needs to plug into, for the next part of their journey.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Why I Show(ed) Up Every Sunday

I wanted to write a post to encourage parents with small children about church (as in, the Sunday meeting part of it). Getting your family there every week can be fairly nightmarish at this stage, and I know lots of people that really felt like it wasn't worth it while their kids were tiny, so they stopped going, with the hope things would be easier in the future. As someone who has grown up in church and is now bringing up kids in church, I thought I'd share my perspective on it, in the hope it might be helpful to someone.

My memories of church with more than one small person are not so great. Sunday mornings began with the struggle of getting multiple people all out of the house as near to ‘on-time’ as was possible, in clean half-smart clothes, leaving a trail of devastation in our wake, followed by doing anything – ANYTHING – to keep small writhing bodies from creating the least distraction possible while in the first part of the service. I would miss almost all of what was going on because 90% of my attention was on keeping them distracted from each other, whispering in their ears (turn by turn) about what they should be doing now and what can wait till later, and the burning sensations in my muscles as I vowed to keep standing up during the songs with one or more children in my arms so they could see what engagement in worship looked like. Then I would spend the majority of services in the crèche because during that season we were only in churches that didn’t have enough spare people to volunteer on the parents behalf, and as my family seemed to take up more than their fair share of the numbers, it only seemed right that I carried the responsibility myself. At the end of the service, depending on the physical layout of the building, I rarely got to finish a conversation or a hot drink as I tried to keep track of what all the children were doing. It became easier just to stay tuned into them rather than risk offending people by my distracted, eye-wandering conversations that I couldn’t keep track of.

As the kids got older, it didn’t get much easier. Whichever church we were a part of, I felt like we were THAT family – the ones who probably made it harder for everyone else. I had one child who struggled with language and needed to be kinaestheticly engaged at all times, and whatever I managed to find for him to fiddle with that would keep him fixed in one place and able to listen was inevitably coveted by all the other children around him, leading to more problems. I had one that was prone to emotional meltdowns and so if something had thrown him off that morning, no amount of distractions or warnings would prevent him from letting the world know how he felt. And I had another one who lived in his own created world, and needed a lot less coercion but would often let that alternative existence spill over in the form of random arm movements or noises at inappropriate times. As fast as I could deal with one issue, another one would be brewing. When I tried my best to lead Kids Church, my kids (probably because they were so used to the sound of my voice) were the ones I had to spend most time pulling back into whatever activity we were supposed to be doing. I remember one time as I was telling a story to the whole group, one of my kids would not stop contorting himself all over the floor. I eventually left the rest of the kids in the hands of the other helpers and marched him out of the room asking him what the heck he thought he was doing, and he answered wide-eyed, as if my continual requests for him to sit up on the mats like everyone else were totally ludicrous and said “I was doing my exercises! Exercise is really good for you!”

I remember crying in the corridor, exhausted with reason, begging him just to do. what. he. was. asked. to. do. I just couldn’t work out how come the other kids seemed to just get it when mine didn’t. I knew I was doing all the right things – giving clear instructions, following through on consequences, explaining the motivations behind certain behaviours – it was just all really really tough.

In order for me and my children to be at church every week, I have had to stretch myself really far, pour energy and creativity into finding many ways to keep them engaged, ignore the voices in my head that tell me people are judging my parenting skills and finding me lacking, and sacrifice plenty of time, dignity and sleep to make it work.

And this is why I have done it.

Church is God’s Plan A for our lives. He created us to be in community. He gave us gifts and personalities that are meant to be shared with one another in order to have healthy and meaningful lives. It is our purpose and our mission – to be part of His body. We cannot be the person we were created to be on our own, but when we plant ourselves into this family of God, we learn what our part is and how to do it well, and we lean on others who have skills and provisions that we need.

Church is the hope of the world. It is THE vehicle God has set in motion for other people to discover who He is. People don’t learn about the love of God in isolation – they understand it fully by seeing it in practice, and that has to be between people. When people find God, they become part of His family, and that is who we are. We can only be part of it if we show up and join in and interact with one another. Without being part of church, we can’t live out about half of what is talked about in the New Testament, as most of it is given as instructions on how to BE church.

There were some Sundays as a young parent that I felt like church was going to be the death of me, but the long game is this: it gives me life. I received encouragement when I felt like giving up. I was able to lean on other people’s gifts – worship, hospitality, humour – to make me feel alive again between the drudge of every day life. I was able to be with other parents and learn from them and realise I also had wisdom and encouragement to give. It gave me a focus when my responsibilities made me want to pull a duvet over my head and stay there. I stuck relentlessly to what I’d committed to – turning up on a Sunday morning, getting to connect group on a week day night, leaving the kids in my husband’s hands one evening a week so I could go and do youth group and feel human again. It gave my chaotic weeks structure, and gave me opportunities to be not just in one role (that of mum) but also that of friend, organiser, leader, listener, learner, and many more. It stopped me from losing myself.

For the children, I can see it bringing more each year as it goes. It begins with a sense of community, that there is a wider family that they belong to. They have learnt to trust other adults, and how to adapt to people who act and sound different to the ones in their family. So far, it’s been a pretty safe place to learn boundaries – how to respect people’s differences, and how to verbalise if they feel uncomfortable in different situations. They have developed friendships of many different age ranges. They have got to see behind the scenes of the blessings and the disciplines that come from serving. They have learnt the rhythm of when to listen and receive, and when to bring their own ideas and contributions to the bigger picture. In our most difficult months they have had homes opened to them for fun and distraction in the middle of tragedy, observed meals and presents that have been brought to our door from people who they’ve never met but are part of the wider family they belong to, and they have sensed wave after wave of prayer and support reminding them they are not alone.

And I can now see (although it may have taken me many years to get to this point), how much our whole family blesses the rest of church by us all being there. People who currently have no family often love being in the hubbub of busy activity. My kids can light up their world for a month with one hug, or picture, or a breathless story of something that happened in their week. When we arrive early and stay late, sometimes my kids decide to put down their books and help me instead, by moving chairs or hoovering or even cleaning toilets, and they get the joy of knowing they are part of making all this happen. Some of my kids are old enough to help on the media team, in the worship band and with hospitality.

A short while ago we had a week where somebody needed some major help at the end of the service. A group of us spent a long time in one room dealing with the situation and the usual post-service tasks were all abandoned. After a long intense time I came out to check how all my children were doing. One of them was waiting patiently on the other side of the door with a cup of tea and a cake for me because he noticed I’d missed the refreshments at the end of the meeting. Another one had started stacking the chairs away because he saw one of the adults doing it who was less familiar with that job, and he was directing where they should go. Another had been on media that morning and was busy packing away wires and the sound desk without being asked. And when we brought extra kids home that afternoon so their parents could find solutions to what was happening, my youngest looked after them and distracted them so well that they barely noticed anything had gone wrong that day.

When I think of weeks like that, I am so overjoyed that my capacity to bless other people was multiplied that week by my family. For too long, I felt like me coming to church distracted, tired and unable to serve on a team because my hands were full with children, was somehow subtracting from the life of church (I now know that wasn’t even true at the time, and just my lack of sleep and Fear Of What People Thought whispering to my guilt organ). It made me realise that the big picture, long term game plan really does come to pass.

And even more than blessing other people – my kids are learning all the time what it means to take their place in the world. For years my children have been able to experience the power of unconditional love, seeing that whether they turn up and do something or nothing (or even bring great disruption!), they are loved and welcomed and accepted. So now if they choose to help out in any way, they know it’s not because they have to, but because they are able to. When you can see your service and presence in the life of other people making a difference, you get a sense of purpose and significance. You realise that you have the power to change the atmosphere wherever you are, and that who you are matters. Church for me in my teens was a place to discover so much about myself – what I was good at, how to help people, how to overcome my fears – who I am and what I was placed on this earth to do.

Right now, in a one-parent family, I am more aware of my inadequacy than ever before. I am so limited in how much of the world I can show to my kids, and how many areas of life I am inexperienced in. But that’s totally fine. I am surrounded by a family who are able to contribute the bits that I can’t. My job is not to do it all, but to lay a solid foundation that can be built on. When my children are sick of hearing my voice, they can go and listen to other people (who are often telling them exactly the same thing) who use different phrases and personal stories that click with the kids on another level. If my kids want to branch out and try new things they have other people that can help with that. If they don’t feel listened to, there’s more than one adult they trust that they can open up to. When I can’t figure out at all what makes a teenage boy tick, I can talk to people who used to be teenage boys and get insight that make me realise things I hadn’t considered before.

When I think of all this, and I look back on those difficult, seemingly pointless Sunday morning struggles that I could’ve avoided by just staying at home, I feel like God is telling me that He remembers them all too. I wonder if He watched every one of them while they were unfolding and kept whispering “Go on girl. Dig deeper, keep going. I promise you, it will be worth it.” I feel now that every one of those weeks was setting a foundation for my family that I had no idea would be so valuable right now. If I had to go back and do it all again, I would do exactly the same thing, bruised shins, tears of frustration and all.


One last thing that might be helpful to somebody.

I didn’t want my children’s experience of church to be based on outward behaviour to impress other people. I did my best to avoid using “what will people think?” as a motive for how they should behave, and I also tried to avoid physical punishment. I wonder if it might have been easier in the short term if I did, but I wanted their view of church to be positive in the long run. I was also aware, however, that my kids behaviour shouldn’t dominate whatever was happening in the service. I know some people find it really difficult to engage if there’s loads of noise and movement going on and I wanted to keep all that to a minimum.

So the little mantra I eventually came up with for our family was this (and we repeat it every week in the car as we arrive):

What are we going to church to do?

To celebrate God.

And what will we not do?

Distract anyone else from celebrating God.

And that’s it. We have conversations around that, to explain why and how we celebrate God, and that we can celebrate God any time anywhere but it’s particularly special on a Sunday because we’re all taking time out to come and do it together. And they know that “celebrating God” is a choice – they can choose whether they do that or not, and I don’t force them to look like they’re doing it if they’re not. But things like talking, messing around, changing seats, chucking things around, etc, mean people will end up concentrating on them and not what they came for – celebrating God. So if that stuff carries on, there will be a consequence.

After many years of wondering whether I should be harsher/softer/less paranoid/more in control, that’s the conclusion I’ve come to, and I’m waiting to see what their eventual decision about church and God will be. For now, church as a family is what we all do and I’m enjoying doing it all together. I’m praying that they will continue to choose it in the future when the decision is no longer mine, and hopefully they will come to love and appreciate it as much as I do.