Story sharing: the bridge across the church generation gap?

It was the ‘share your story’ slot at holiday club. The storyteller was invited up to the stage. Expecting a cool energetic team member to bound up, there was an interminably long and excruciatingly awkward pause as an old, stooped, frail lady slowly got out of her seat. She painstakingly shuffled all the way up to the stage, which she almost failed to reach, having to go via a flight of steep steps. We all held our breath as she caught hers – and shifted uncomfortably in our seats nervously willing her to begin. Kids were impatiently shuffling, fidgeting and starting to chat.

And finally she began.

For veteran Britain’s Got Talent fans it was a ‘Subo’ moment. For non BGT fans Susan Boyle was an unlikely looking pop star who appeared on stage to the scornful smirks of the Britain’s Got Talent judges and then left them gobsmacked by her incredible gift.

My jaw literally dropped as a hush fell and this diminutive lady’s immense gift of storytelling transported us out of that hall and into the jungles of Africa. Painting vivid pictures with her words, her spiritual energy and Godly vitality were infectious and inspiring in equal measure. Wow. It was a golden moment where the boundaries of age were busted and we all breathed something beautiful in together.

It made me feel ashamed of my initial reaction to this living legend. Our program driven culture can segregate us according to age, only briefly bumping into each other accidentally at the end of services during the jostling for position in the queue for the juice and biccies or coffee and cake.

 We talk a lot in church nationally about the generation gap. What are we doing to build a generation bridge? Story sharing is a simple place to start. If story sharing was part of our rhythm of church family life we could regularly download priceless hard fought wisdom and life lessons from the older generation and upload gratitude and encouragement from the next.

Ever since human beings sat around campfires in caves, we’ve told stories. In Ireland, at the height of the famine when poverty was rife storytelling thrived. At the end of a long hard hungry day people would gather around the fire in ‘rambling houses’ to share their stories. Through the sharing of story they shared their struggles and fears, laughter and joy, and a deep sense of community was forged.

 The Israelites understood it was their responsibility to pass true stories of God’s good news from one generation to another.“Remember the days of old, Consider the years of many generations.  Ask your father, and he will show you; Your elders, and they will tell you:” (Deuteronomy 32:7).

We still live in a story hungry culture. Millennials, according to Ann Voskampf, say ‘Tell me your story, not your sermon.’ In ‘Speak, How Your Story Can Change the World’ Nish Weiseth says ‘Sharing your story allows others to glimpse how you’ve been shaped, what matters to you, and why it matters. …The walls of isolation we build around ourselves, believing we are the only ones who feel a certain way, come tumbling down when we’re vulnerable and honest with each other about both our struggles and our victories. When I am brave enough to share my story, I’m actually reaching out to you, allowing you to cross over whatever divide is between us. By vulnerably offering you my hand, I’m building a bridge between us through my story. ‘

Just as the older generation loved to gather together to share stories, so do this generation. Alastair Roberts describes the rise of ‘The New Storytellers’ – young bloggers, and writers who use intimate, informal, chatty spiritual memoir to engage with a generation who are disillusioned with rhetoric. Millennials, like the older generation of story tellers, relate to personal narrative, emotional resonance, and empathy of shared struggle.

We the church need to be more intentional about creating opportunities where the generations can step into each other’s space to share stories. A place to capture the life lessons from the faith journeys of the older generation for the emerging one. This is happening nationally through a variety of innovative ideas such as ‘The Listening Project’  – a partnership between BBC Radio 4 and the British Library. Since 2012 over 1000 intimate conversations have been recorded between friends or relatives, to build a unique picture of our lives today. Nursery schools are popping up in nursing homes, and transformative relationships are being forged.

Could regularly stepping into each other’s spaces to share our faith journey story help bridge the gap between the generations in our church?

Here are some simple ways we can create intergenerational spaces for story sharing:

  1. Campfire story sharing under the stars
  2. Big Night In – board games and banter night
  3. Out N About for a Neighbourhood Social Action Project
  4. Family Twinning – Families with young children are ‘twinned’ with an older couple for regular story sharing and support.
  5. Faith Journey Listening Project – record intergenerational conversations for future church family generations to learn from.

‘Tell your children about it in the years to come, and let your children tell their children. Pass the story down from generation to generation.’ Joel 1 v 3

I would love to hear the ways in which you or others are bridging the generation gap through sharing stories where you are. So answers on a postcard please…

 

 

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What a clogged grate taught me about family life.

Welcome to the 7th post in the series exploring how to create a thriving family culture,  based on ‘Belonging and Becoming’ by Mark and Lisa Scandrette.

Today we are thinking about how a clogged grate opened my eyes to something priceless. Random I know. Let me explain.

We live in a village near the Jurassic Coast in South West England. The fields around us are full of springs, and when it rains heavily, streams burst their banks. The previous owner of our home cleverly put in a little grate at the top of the driveway, to prevent a water deluge from flowing to (and possibly through) our front door. But tree branches dangle over the grill. And leaves fall off the trees on blustery days. And one by one the leaves get stuck.  Every so often I walk past the grill and think ‘Hmm, really must remove some of those leaves.’ But then I hear a bird tweet and the moment is lost.

Last month a heavy storm struck. Wind howled, trees shook, leaves fell, and the neglected grill was clogged with leaves. It could no longer perform its noble duty of diverting the water torrent away from our front door.And so the torrent came to pay us a visit.

In the morning, we opened the door and gasped at our barely recognisable driveway. It had been transformed into what looked like an army assault course – with large logs, piles of mud, mounds of stone, and river debris strewn all over it. All the protective gravel had been washed away in the torrent – undiverted by the now defunct clogged grate.

Our daily, seemingly harmless neglect had come back to bite us.

flooded roads

As you can imagine, the clean up operation took a lot more time and energy than it would have taken to pluck the leaves out on a regular basis. Sigh.

In a family or marriage, there are leaves of frustration, disappointment, anger, and hurt, which over time, if not dealt with, can clog up communication channels and create conflict. They may lie benign for a long time when the season is mild, but once a storm hits – sickness, stress, job loss, grief, the consequences of their neglect is devastating. Leaving the family relationship landscape strewn with unresolved debris and barely recognisable.

Some of us may respond explosively in the moment to conflict, expressing our anger or frustration easily. Others may withdraw to avoid conflict, finding it difficult to bring up hurts or unmet needs. Leaves of resentment or hurt or anger can be blocking communication flow between parents, or between siblings, or parents with children.

What rhythms do you create in your family to ensure this doesn’t happen?

Meeting regularly as a family, (or if you are parenting solo, with a trusted friend or family member) to reflect on how things are going, and de-clogging the grate – is a great place to start.

Lisa and Mark Scandrette offer 6 helpful tips. Not rocket science. All of it is obvious, but maybe there are some steps we skip over and need to revisit?

  1. Stop and Talk – Being intentional about table time, with regular attempts to go beyond the shallow, to dig deeper into how people are feeling. For example: Is anyone around the table carrying any hurts this week? Is there anyone here who has caused this hurt? What can we do to make it right?
  2. Listen to Each Other
  3. Own your part
  4. Give and Receive Forgiveness
  5. Affirm love (Some families do this by getting both parties to say some positive things they appreciate about the other).
  6. Explore solutions. What could we do to prevent this happening again in future?

So – what rhythms do your family have in place to help you keep the communication grate unclogged? Answers on a postcard please…

 

 

Stories that shape us

Welcome to the 6th post in our series exploring how to create a more soulful, thriving family culture,  based on the book ‘Belonging and Becoming’ by Mark and Lisa Scandrette.

What does your family culture say about the larger story you are shaped by? Let’s go through the keyhole to find out.

I once visited the Museum of American History in Washington DC, and was totally captivated by an exhibition called ‘Within These Walls’ – One House, Five families, 200 years of history. It was like a historical ‘Through the Keyhole’ experience, which reminded me of my favourite show from yesteryear (when David Frost and Lloyd Grosman hosted it – not the new version). Celebrities opened up their homes to let the panel take a virtual tour through every room in order to guess ‘who lives in a house like this?’

The contents of each room provided clues revealing the lifestyle, passions and ultimately the identity of whoever lived there.

In this exhibition, we were invited to step into the stories of ordinary families who made history in their kitchens and their parlours, through extraordinary everyday choices and personal acts of courage and sacrifice.

This is the 200 year old partially reconstructed house which stood on 16 Elm Street, Massachusetts, near Boston.within these walls pic

Josiah and Lucy Caldwell bought the house in 1822.  The Caldwells were passionate Jesus followers. Their understanding of God’s heart for justice inspired them to be local reformers in the international struggle to end slavery. This is their parlour.caldwells parlour

What struck me was how every inch of their home highlighted the higher story that they were connected to. Their kitchen and parlour not only hosted anti-slavery meetings but the whole home was filled with items reflecting their passion for Jesus, for justice and love of their neighbours. Their kitchen table became a production line hub for anti slavery goods such as this pot holder which could be sold to raise funds.

anti slavery pot holder

The children’s nursery and cradle had quilts, handkerchiefs and blankets which were carefully stitched, stencilled and sketched with anti-Slavery messages, bible verses and an abolitionist alphabet – so that the children were surrounded by values of compassion, love for neighbour, and justice in the very fabric of their homes.

antislavery alphabet book                  A abolitionist alphabet

It made me think. How do I want to use my home and family culture to reflect to my children that we are part of a larger story? That it’s not all about us? That there is a big world out there, with big needs, and a big God who invites us to join Him in an adventure to change it for the better.

As a family we have the amazing but daunting opportunity to explore the most important questions of human existence together. Mark and Lisa Scandrette say this:

Why is this such an important task for families? Because we live up to the stories we live under. Your understanding of the true story of the world significantly shapes how you belong to one another and who you are becoming together as a family. To say it another way, this is the why behind your purpose agreement.’

As a family the story we want to connect in to is the story of Jesus – and the amazing adventure he calls us in to. We want to explore what it means to live ‘ life in all its fulness’ (John 10:10) through spending time with Jesus, and asking Him to teach us how best to look out for and meet the needs of others, pursue justice, love our neighbours and try to make ethical choices which won’t harm our world or vulnerable people within it.

We can’t think of any better example of what it looks like to love and be fully alive than Jesus, and many of the historical heroes and people we admire today who are changing the world for the better pattern their life story after His.

Although we fail miserably most days of the week – reminding ourselves of this bigger story we connect to, allows us to not beat ourselves up for being less than perfect models to our children, but that it’s a life long process.

We find it so helpful to spend time in some story telling, soul-shaping type activities – usually not at a regular time or in a consistent way – but usually randomly squeezed into the chaos of our days. This week we are looking through a bible devotional book describing real life scenarios where the kids get to choose their own endings, and then we check at the back of the book what actually happened in this scenario. We end up debating what would be the good choice to make when it comes to bullying/lying/standing up for those left out/treated unfairly and what Jesus did about those things.

It has helped our boys to open up about real scenarios at school which they never thought to mention or to pray about before. We share about the times when we have made mistakes or made really bad choices and the consequences! (Some of them are embargoed until they are older mind you)

Whether it’s toilet twinning, sponsoring a child, using a holiday or half term for family fundraising activities, having a creative prayer wall with a map of the world, photos of friends, info about projects or causes you want to pray for and take action on – there are a myriad of ways in which our homes can be reflecting more of the larger story we are connecting to. Letting our kids graffiti our favourite family verse on a wall is something I’m considering – but not sure I’m quite there yet. May give them a practice wall first…on the inside of a cupboard.

We don’t always have good answers to our kids questions about life, about faith, about suffering, about why the world is at it is – but we simply want to communicate to them that that’s ok because we are all on this story-exploring journey together. We share our story and God’s story with them, and we all dwell with their questions while sharing what we believe to be true. We want to help them to learn how to live well in the real story of the world.

So What’s your story?

If we were to do a ‘Now who would live in a house like this?’ through the keyhole exercise – what story would our house tell?

If our life was a story – which characters would be want to be? Why?

What is the plot of the story we find ourselves in?

What should our quest be?

What obstacles keep us from the good and fulfilling lives we were created for?

How can we recover the good lives we were created for?

How can our home reflect our values and God’s larger story of love, compassion and justice we may want to connect in with.

I would love to hear about the soul shaping stories you want your families to connect with and how you go about using your home and family life to reflect those.

Get down to the rhythm

Welcome to the 5th post in our series exploring how we can create a more soulful, thriving family culture this year. So how’s it all going so far?

Last time we chatted about how to create a family purpose agreement – bit of a boring name for simply exploring what matters most to us as a family, and putting our purpose into action.

Today we’re getting down on the domestic dance floor and thinking about creating life giving family rhythms. What does that mean?

Creating a family rhythm helps us put our purpose and values into practice. Rhythms help us to keep in step with each other, so we dance dazzlingly together. Just like in Strictly, (much loved/loathed celebrity dance competition for those not in the UK)  the first thing the professional dancers do is tell the celebrity beginners what the new rhythm of the dance is each week – Waltz, Quickstep, Samba, Salsa, Jive or Charleston etc.

The rhythm determines their steps.

StrictlyAllCast

If you have ever had the misfortune of attempting to dance with someone who lacked a sense of rhythm then you will grasp the importance of it.

I went to an all girls school which used to partner with the local all boys school for joint ballroom dancing lessons in preparation for the school formal. (The anticipation of dancing with real life boys caused many ripples of excitement around our school corridors for months.) Tragically, my excitement rapidly turned to trepidation when my dance partner left my toes feeling like they had each gone nine rounds with Mike Tyson.

Enough said. Still wince at the memory.

Mark and Lisa Scandrette say this in their book ‘Belonging and Becoming’ on which this blog series is based:

‘Family rhythms are shared agreements about how a family spends its time. It’s bigger than any one member’s desires; it’s a standard tempo all surrender to and abide by. That rhythm provides the pace and dance steps to help you move through life together without crashing to the floor or stepping on each other’s toes…Rhythms are good habits we create to allow our deepest values to shape the cadence of our lives…The calendar doesn’t lie. You can say you have a certain purpose, but your schedule reveals what you really believe is important.’

Ouch. Take a moment now if you can and have a wee sneak peak with me at our calendars for the coming two months.

Does it reflect what matters most?
Is time and space created for the people who matter most?
Are there any glaring gaps?
Anything you expected or intended to be in there which hasn’t yet been designated a time slot?
Any clashes where priorities might need to be chatted through, and tradeoffs made?

Obviously not everything that matters to us features in our calendar. Daily rhythms don’t usually get written down formally. But we all know they are important to create space for.

Here are some tried and tested daily, weekly, monthly and yearly rhythms that have helped families to dance well together. Would love to hear what your family does to get into the same groove on a regular basis and the impact that is having?

Daily Rhythms

Family meals – eating together is the natural place to connect, share, tell stories, discuss problems, pray, share inspiring verses. Some have a special weekly meal such as Saturday morning pancakes on the beach, or Sunday lunch.

Twilight Time – Just before bedtime is a time when children may open up about concerns, and when you can reflect on the highs and lows of the day. Reading a devotional book together as a family can lead to special times of sharing and praying about life, and the wider world.

Get Outside – ‘Park in the Dark’, or special cycle rides, or walks/jogs/beach time together creates screen free chances to share quality time and make memories.

Household Jobs – Involving the kids in jobs might seem like a challenge (certainly is for me!) but it can actually be fun and provides time together when you also get essential stuff done. Blasting music and dancing around the kitchen while drying the dishes certainly helps make it less dull I find.

Weekly and Monthly Rhythms

Family Fun Time – Whether it’s pizza, popcorn and movie night, or hiking up a mountain together some families find it helpful to pick a time of the week to ensure this happens regularly and create expectation around it.

Faith community – Some families have a screen free or device free afternoon/evening or even whole day to rest, reflect and reconnect with their faith community and/or with each other.

Parent date time – Nurturing our romantic relationship so often gets neglected – but we know it creates intimacy which provides security for our kids. Some families swap childcare to ensure they have regular time together – are there people you could explore this option with if not doing so already?

Parent – Kid dates – Scheduling one on one time with each of your kids helps create special memories, and creates space to share things that may not come up when the whole family is together.

Parent Solo Time -All of us need time to recharge and refuel. Some of us like to go to a special place to retreat for a day or weekend, while others do it with close friends. We have found it so refreshing to give each other some ‘time off’ to go and refuel, and it usually benefits everyone in the long run!

Seasonal Rhythms

Holidays or Stay-cations – Whether its home or away, creating time to do something different together as family, is so great to bond together and to create memories.

Birthdays – Deciding how you want to celebrate – with special experiences rather than expensive gifts for example – can become a hallmark of a family which engenders a strong sense of identity and reflects what matters most to you.

Connecting With Extended Family – If family is scattered geographically, then scheduling in time to spend with them avoids long periods of time passing without managing to fit in time together. Sometimes this has to happen virtually via Skype if the distance is too great – but this connection still makes a big difference.

Community Service – Some families find creative ways to serve their local community, or raise money for a local charity through fundraising events or joint activities. Some plan a family trip overseas to serve together on a project, and in this way, model together their values of service, compassion, generosity and being a good global neighbour.

What rhythms already help us put our purpose and values into practice?
When and how during the week will we connect as parents, as a family, and as parent and child?
What are one or two rhythms we would like to try in the coming months?
What do we need to add to our schedule or take away from it to make these a reality?
What will help us remember and maintain our shared rhythms?

Would love to hear from you.
Which rhythms are rising in your household?

bad-dancing-580_69703a

The beginners guide to creating a family purpose agreement. (For distracted grown ups who never manage to complete anyth…

So if you are anything like me, when you first hear an inspiring idea you leap up and down and think Yay! Lets create a family purpose agreement! Why haven’t I done this before?? We want to live more fully into our dreams and values – so let’s DO this!

Then after pro-caffeinating (I have an inability to do anything until I’ve had a cup of coffee) I will flop down on the sofa in a deflated fashion and wonder ‘Where on earth do I even start one of those?’ Then after a few moments of pondering this I wonder ‘What shall we have for dinner?’ And the moment is lost.

Grand intentions rapidly dissolve into distant memory unless I intentionally work out how to turn them from idea into action. A bit like setting my mind on devouring a massive bar of Green and Blacks Sea Salt milk chocolate – I can’t turn that dream into reality without first going to the shops, choosing the chocolate bar, paying for it, taking it home, reverently unwrapping it, and savouring it one delicious chunk by one delicious chunk at a time….hmmm…

Sorry just lost my train of thought there. See what I’m up against?

So I guess I’m writing these steps down to help make a family purpose agreement more likely to actually happen. Mark and Lisa Scandrette describe the process they use in their book ‘Belonging and Becoming’ which this blog series is based on. I’m basically condensing their chapter on the subject into a bullet list which beginners like us can follow.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.

The WHY of the purpose agreement.

Lets remember what the point of creating a family purpose agreement is.

It can help us develop common priorities and a greater sense of unity and solidarity in our activities.

It helps us remember why we are choosing our daily activities and priorities. In the midst of a million mundane jobs it is easy to lose perspective. Life can feel like an endless cycle of to do lists. Seeing the connection between mundane tasks and deeper goals gives them new meaning and helps keeps us motivated.

It helps us make conscious choices about how we spend our time. When lots of opportunities and invitations arise we will have a clear sense of our values and priorities to help us say yes or no.

It helps navigate big decisions and empowers us to take tangible new steps.

So basically it’s a really good idea. Let’s stop pondering in case we start thinking about dinner.

Here are the all important…

HOW TOs of the family purpose agreement

  1. Pray, reflect and discuss what matters most to you as a couple or group. 
  2. Think about the various dimensions you would want to include. Practise good brainstorming – stay positive, focused on the future and don’t edit each others ideas. Here are some possible dimensions you may want to include with questions to spark your brainstorming:
  • The larger story. What do our faith, beliefs or experiences tell us about what is of ultimate importance? Why are we here? What makes life meaningful? What is the purpose of human existence? Is there a bible verse that speaks to us about these questions such as loving God and loving our neighbour as ourselves?
  • Relationships. How do we want to care for and nurture one another? Who else are we committed to travelling with through the seasons of life? (Extended family, friends,neighbours, community, church family, global family?)
  • Vocation. How do we want to be of use in the world? What is our unique work, calling or contribution as a family?
  • Passions. Out of all that we could care about, what are we especially passionate about? How are we uniquely wired to seek the greater good?
  • Values. What are the principles and ideals that we want to guide us?

3. Try to distill your family’s purpose into five to seven key words or phrases. They should be broad enough to span several stages of family life and specific enough to be evocative.

4. If you have kids or young people its important to engage them in the process. Invite them to contribute ideas and language to the shape the final product. If they can help shape the family purpose they are more likely to be excited by it and engage with it.

5. Share a summary of your brainstorming. Give them an opportunity to name, in their own words, what they think is most important to your family. Here are some ideas for doing this with kids of different ages:

Let’s Play Family. Use your family’s stuffed toys, dolls or action figures to play, pretend and talk about family purpose. Have each person pick a toy that they will role play with and narrate as you play. Offer some prompts such as:

  • The family love each other. How do they show it?
  • The family go on adventures to serve people. Where are they going? What are they doing? Who are they helping?

Go on an Adventure. Choose a fun destination and let your kids work out the route they want to get there. Explain that being in a family is an epic adventure. Invite the family to brainstorm about that adventure. ‘Lets think about where we want to go as a family and how we want to get there.’ On a sheet write fill in the blank questions and on other sheet a list of words to brainstorm about in response.

The fill in the blank statements could be:

  • Two things that are important to our family are _________ and ____________.
  • Our family is made to ____________________ together.
  • We live out what is important to us by ___________________________________.
  • When people think of our family, a word we hope they use to describe us is ________________________________.
  • The unique job God has for our family is _________________________________.
  • We want our family to feel _______________________________________________.
  • With others, we want to be _______________________________________________.

Have each person draw a picture of what they imagine your family will be like and feel like in ten, fifteen or twenty years. Take turns explaining your pictures.

Present and Future. With teens you could have a conversation about what your family journey has been like so far and where you hope to go together in the future. You could use a whiteboard and markers to document your chat with words and pictures.

Discuss the present together. Use the questions as conversation starters:

  • What do you think our family is known for?
  • What do we value, and how do you think we live out what we say is important?
  • How can we care for and support one another right now?
  • What is our work to do, and how do we do it?

Imagine the future together. Invite each person to imagine how you may be a family in ten, twenty or thirty years time, and then share some of your hopes and dreams. After sharing what you imagine and hope for, ask each other this question:What do we need to do now in order to make those good hopes and visions for the future real?

6. Finalise a family purpose agreement. 

7. Find ways to regularly remind each other of it. Make a poster or display on a bulletin board. Or make an art piece that communicates your agreement, using words or symbols to illustrate key points. Display what you create near your dinner table or somewhere you would see it often.

8. Some families regularly memorise and say inspiring verses from the bible that embody aspects of their shared purpose.

9. Some families craft their own family prayers. Lisa and Mark Scandrette crafted a prayer to say together based on the meanings of their childs middle names.

Love in me.

Love between.

Love to our house.

Love to our neighbours.

May your love be upon us today.

We will speak love.

We will walk in love.

10. Be kind to ourselves when we don’t manage to do all or even half of this – any step towards creating a shared family purpose is a step in the right direction so lets celebrate the little steps along this journey.

I’d love to hear how you get on in trying out some of these ideas. Epic fails not just the good bits! So do get in touch and let’s share our twists and turns of this adventure. As someone very famous and wise once said ‘If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.’ Shame I can’t remember who it was. That’s why I need all the help I can get. Bye for now.

Oh, but before I go, here’s a pic of one of my favourite families in all the world.

Good night Mary Ellen, Good Night John Boy.

the waltons car

Dazed and confused?

Now that I’m in my, ahem, (find it painful to write this) early forties, I find I have some ‘senior’ moments when I momentarily forget stuff. (Hoping it’s not just me, and at least one of you is nodding in solidarity out there in screenshire).

The other day I drove into our local town, parked the car, walked onto the high street, ambled aimlessly down the road, and suddenly stopped as the realisation dawned that I had absolutely no idea why I had gone there. What was the one thing I had specifically gone to town to do? Drew a total blank. (Thankfully I bumped into a friend who invited me for coffee and I had a lovely time and left non the wiser. I finally got home three hours later and discovered four unreturned overdue library books lurking in the bottom of my bag swamp).

Hmmm. Purpose is important. Without it we randomly react to whatever presents itself to us, and over time this can steer us way off course.

For us to thrive as a family, having a shared sense of purpose is so crucial to help us make decisions about what we want to do with our time, our money, our energy, our resources, our holidays, our gifts. This is an area we  want to be more intentional about this year. With the competing demands on our time we can be so busy, tired and distracted that we are reactive to life, not proactive.

The time when I have felt totally focussed on one specific purpose was four years ago when we embarked on a family fundraising challenge, to cycle together across Scotland, along the Great Glen Way, from Fort William to Inverness.

It was all Ben’s (aka Him Outdoors) idea, and I was more than a little dubious when he suggested it. I became more than a little nervous when the idea became a reality and our boys, (then aged 4 and 6) jumped at the idea. I, (being the prophet of doom quite often in these scenarios), was concerned about the weather/the midgies/the accidents/the hills (mostly about my ability to get up the hills), and nervous about the high chance of failing to complete the challenge. Again mostly due to my serious stamina deficiencies.

But my perspective changed and my fears diminished once Ben helped me to fully grasp the purpose of the expedition.

This wasn’t about endurance cycling, or views of Scottish loughs, or getting a sore behind while attempting to get fit, or having a bonding family adventure.

This was about something more.

The purpose of the ride was to raise awareness, prayer and funds to provide refreshment and refuelling for families sacrificially serving their communities in some of the most challenging places in the world. Families who don’t do this for payment, or for their own benefit but because they have a clear sense of purpose that it’s what Jesus would do.  Families like Jeony and Jessie and their kids in Honduras, who have set up a school for children and families working in a rubbish dump in Tegucigalpa. Families like Chom No and his wife and children in Cambodia who raise awareness and provide alternatives for communities vulnerable to child and sex trafficking.

Just as these families sacrifice their own comfort to journey alongside others affected by poverty and injustice, in truly awful circumstances, Ben felt it would be a great way for all of us to empathise with them, pray for them and support them if we put our own comfort on the line and challenged ourselves to a journey through difficult terrain.

The penny dropped. I got it. Once I caught the vision, I felt the passion. Once our purpose was clear, we were energised and motivated to get active and get going.  We sat for hours together to plan the route, to work out how we would divide up the distances each day, where we would camp, and what we would need to bring and what we would leave behind.

The cycle ride turned out to be a lot more fun than I had anticipated, but also predictably tough in parts. Each time we hit a muddy patch where our wheels got stuck, or a massive killer hill, or pelting rain, if one of us ( usually me) was flagging, or whining, or wanting to stop – the others would remind us why we were doing this – and that made all the difference.

the boys crossing river

Regular stops to enjoy the view, pray, eat handfuls of haribo and drink a warming cup of coffee were a great boost too. These well placed signs for wild forest cafes were an absolute God send – promising crucial rest, refreshment and refuelling!real tea cafe

Being able to stop, reflect, rest and refuel for the next stage – was crucial to keep us going. It confirmed our sense of purpose that this is what we want to do for other families who are journeying through much more challenging life terrain than we ever will.

kettles on

 

Many of you were our cheerleaders and reminded us of the purpose too all along the route with encouraging and timely texts, Facebook messages, prayers and by sponsoring us so generously! We felt a strong sense that we should keep on journeying with these families once our expedition ended, and out of that SOAR has finally been registered as a charity and a group of fantastic trustees have committed to help keep us on track.

The name is inspired by Isaiah 40 v 31 ‘For those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.’ We hope that we can be cheerleaders for these families. We want to provide opportunities for refreshment, rest and refuelling so they can keep on keeping on in their incredible service to their communities. With your generous support SOAR was able to provide a much needed family retreat and medical check ups for Chom No and his family, which gave them the chance to refuel for the next season of serving. There are many more families like Chom No who could be blessed with time out for refreshment and refuelling.

Last year’s life challenges meant that we weren’t able to focus very much on SOAR, but this year we have got a renewed sense of purpose and are excited to get active on it again. We realise that we can so easily lose focus, have our attention diverted, or let fear of failure or a sense of being overwhelmed by the needs to put us off course. The pressing demands of everyday family life have meant I already haven’t spent as much time working on SOAR as I intended to at the start of the new year. We would love your prayers (if you are the praying type) that we can get focused, hold on to our sense of purpose, and get active to fundraise for these inspiring families who are putting themselves on the line so that other families can thrive.

Left to our own devices we can easily fritter precious time, energy or gifts away on things that don’t matter. The book ‘Belonging and Becoming’ has challenged us to revisit some of the big questions and create a family purpose agreement to help us have a reliable compass for navigating the terrain of life together. Carving out time to dive into God’s word each day (even if its for a short time as our boys attention span doesn’t last very long) and praying together is so key to this.

Mark and Lisa Scandrette write inspiringly about how they have attempted this with their own children. They felt they were living in a way that didn’t truly reflect their values or connect with their purpose in life. So what did they do?

They spent time praying as a couple, and then brainstormed a two page list of values and potential goals. These were based on questions such as ‘ What matters most to us?’ and ‘What do we want to be about together in life?’  Then they distilled their brainstorm into a few essential statements

‘As a family, with God’s help, we strive to

  • know and love God
  • nurture healthy family relationships
  • offer hospitality and care, especially to those who struggle and suffer
  • use our gifts to serve
  • live gratefully, creatively and sustainably’

They then made a poster of their agreement and stuck it up on the bathroom mirror, in the kitchen and on the front door. They read it aloud every night over the next few weeks at dinner time. They started to have a weekly family meeting, and used it as a navigational tool to guide their family chats and prayers. This led to a major decision about their future purpose and direction as a family.

Mark and Lisa write,’ When the kids were one two and three we launched into what would prove to be the greatest adventure of our lives.We relocated to San Francisco, bought a run down old house in a struggling neighbourhood…and started a non profit, launching programs to create community, make beauty, serve needs and live out our deepest values. Our kids have been our partners in this adventure…in a typical week 20 or 30 people might walk through our door. You might find a guest sleeping on our couch, a group of high school students learning chemistry together at our kitchen table or a group of university students doing a community art project in our backyard. We do all of this in 1100 square feet that is a school, an office, a community meeting space and home to our family of five.

Clarifying and articulating our shared purpose agreement was an important step that launched us into this adventure. It hasn’t always been easy, and we’ve often gone off course, but our family purpose agreement has been like a compass pointing us to true north.’

Have you and your family got a shared sense purpose that you can articulate and that helps guide your daily decisions? How did you come to create it and how helpful do you find it?

Do you have a weekly family meeting where you can stop, reflect on the week and chat about some bigger questions? How have you set that up and is it working well?

I tried to get the boys chatting this week – asking them what they like about our family and what they think we could do better. It was a disaster. One was trying to inch his hand towards the iPad while the other kept asking me if he could get back to playing with his Star Wars lego. Where and when do you find it best to gather as a family?

Would love to hear from you – so we can share the journey of exploring this together. Answers on a postcard please…and thanks for sticking with this ridiculously long post!

 

 

 

Seven hallmarks of a thriving family culture

Welcome to the second post exploring how to create a thriving family culture this year and beyond. The book “Belonging and Becoming’ by Mark and Lisa Scandrette is the basis for this series. The couple use a brilliant metaphor for thriving families which I find really helpful – that of the majestic Coastal Redwood tree (aka the Sequoia Sempervirens for the tree geeks). ‘Family’ can obviously mean parents with children but also to close networks of friends or wider church groups, and this metaphor applies right across the board.

Apparently, Redwood trees can live for up to 2,200 years, and grow in circles, called faerie rings, as the shoots of new trees sprout up rapidly around a dying parent plant. The way in which Redwoods grow provides a helpful image for what a family needs to thrive. I have paraphrased Mark and Lisa’s words – but for the fully loaded description go get the book -it will not disappoint! Many of the questions posed below are explored throughout the book, so don’t feel discouraged and ready to pack this journey in if they seem a bit daunting!

biggest tree
Receptive. Redwood trees need access to energy beyond themselves – stretching out their branches to receive the nourishment of coastal fog, sunlight and rain.

Similarly families need to be receptive to the light, energy, and love of God, so we can awaken to His vision for our lives, and discover how we’re connected to His big story – asking big questions and encouraging our children to do the same.

What kind of world is this? Why are we here? Who are we?

tree rings

Rooted. If you cut a Redwood open you discover tree rings, a record of time and seasons of growth.

Thriving families are rooted in life giving rhythms for living well together and growing through changing and challenging seasons. What kinds of life giving rhythms can we establish this year which will nurture growth?

tree roots

Connected. Redwood trees grow together in circles connected by interlocking roots that protect them from high winds. The roots are shallow, so the strength comes from strong links with one another.

Similarly thriving families are interdependent, supporting each other through life’s storms and changing landscapes. How can we ensure we interlock with each other and with other families, to connect, communicate, navigate conflicts and strengthen bonds?

Responsive. Redwoods are resilient to threats and responsive to opportunities to grow. For the giant Sequoia, close relative of the Redwood, fire is essential to their reproduction, releasing the seeds from which new life can grow.

Thriving families are committed to helping one another embrace the challenges and stages of life as opportunities to change and grow. What might this practically look like in our everyday life? Can you think of a season of intense pain, challenge or change, which actually resulted in your family life flourishing?

redwoods

Resourceful. Redwoods are a resourceful and fruitful part of a larger living system. They take only what they need to be sustained and then give back to the forest. Their branches collect moisture from passing fog  and roots absorb nutrients from the surrounding soil, while their canopy provides shelter for birds, insects, and animals, and their fallen leaves nourish the forest creatures.

Thriving families see themselves as part of a larger economy of abundance and interdependence. How can we live sustainably? Which resources can we use more wisely? How can we practice gratitude, trust, generosity and contentment?

Productive. Redwoods constantly invest in the future. New seedlings sprout from roots at the base of a parent plant or fallen tree. One tree can produce 6 million seeds in a single year.

A thriving family celebrates each persons uniqueness and develops the capacities to serve others and pursue the greater good. How can we learn to engage the needs and opportunities of the world this year?

Purposeful. Redwood trees know what their purpose is; it’s encoded in their DNA. The major difference for thriving families is that we have to make intentional choices to embrace a shared purpose.

A thriving family knows what its about. How can we live from a deep sense of purpose and a positive vision of the future that we can articulate and use as as guide for decision making?

Tragically 95% of the first-growth redwood forests of the California coast have been cut down and the rest only thrive because they are protected. For us to create a thriving family culture requires vigilance, and daily tending.

Let’s keep journeying together to explore and share what practical steps we can take to adapt, cultivate, and protect family thriving in our changing landscape this year.

As a first step can we commit to slowing down over the weekend, and taking a closer look at our patterns of action, our thought patterns and the motives that shape how we show up in our family. Scary huh? It takes courage for us to ask hard questions of ourselves such as ‘ Why do I get so angry when the toilet seats are perpetually left up?’

For those of us who have bought the ‘Belonging and Becoming’ Book – our ‘home learning’ could be do sit down and fill out the family thriving self-assessment quiz to identify which areas are already thriving and which maybe require some ‘tending’?

For those who haven’t got the book, simply setting aside time to look at each of the areas above and reflecting on which are thriving and which are wilting will always be time well spent.

It’s crucial to keep in mind that this is about a process of sharing and learning together, not a guilt trip about failing to attain perfection.

Jesus says.’ Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ Matthew 11:28-30