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

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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 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 bum 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

Lions and Tigers and Bears – Oh My!

Confession time. Its only week 2 and  I’ve already broken most of my New Years resolutions. Sneakily snaffled some chocolate. Casually crunched the crisps. Even caught myself counting Fitbit steps while munching Haribo. How predictably predictable. Fresh starts are easy. It’s the keeping on keeping on which is anything but.

We discovered recently that the Stansfield family motto is ‘Know Thyself’. Ben and I often turn to each other now and mockingly say ‘Know Thyself Stansfield’ (in the voice of Brian Blessed) if we feel the other needs a reality check.  I feel that I now, after 43 years on this earth, know myself well enough to admit that I definitely need companions on a road to creating new habits or rhythms. This is why I selfishly invited you to join me on this journey, and hope to share the ride with my weekly life group too. I long to go beyond lone ranger resolutions towards collective linked arms reimagining.

‘If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far, go together.’

The book which I’ll be basing this blog-a-thon on – ‘Belonging and Becoming’ by Mark and Lisa Scrandrette –  takes a cheeky – access all areas –  reality check on our family life and dares us to ask awkward questions. Not ‘what’ do we want to ‘do’ this year? But ‘who’ do we want to ‘become’?  Who have we actually become? And is there a gap between the two?

There is SO much to unpack in this book that we will be meandering through it, feeling free to stop and smell the roses along the way, for fear of missing some of the beauty along the path. The book begins by exploring how a thriving family lives from a vision. This makes me picture one of my heroes, Dorothy, in The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy’s every move is defined by her all consuming desire to reach the Wizard of Oz so he can work his magic and get her back home.

dorothy

She envisions what he will be like and what he will do for her, and this propels her every step of the way. She enthusiastically and infectiously shares that vision with her motley crew of needy travel companions, which transforms their despondency into delight, and sighing into singing. Dorothy’s passion infects them with a shared sense of purpose to ‘follow the yellow brick road’ in order to reach the Emerald City, even if it takes them through evil forests, under flying monkeys and facing ‘I’ll get you my pretty’ threats from the Wicked Witch of the West.

They are totally terrified (and when I watched it as a young girl so was I –  having to hide behind a cushion) when going through the deep dark woods, about being attacked by ‘Lions, and Tigers and Bears. OH MY!’ As a grown up I now find it chilling that their most potent threat comes not in the deep dark shadows, but in the bright, warm sunshine of the enchanted poppy field, where the sweet fragrance lulls them into a lethal state of listlessness. Why do I find this so disturbing? I think it’s because it really resonates with some seasons of my life where I know I’ve been in a state of slumber, having lost my focus, and lost my sense of purpose – kind of forgetting what path I was meant to be following, and happy to settle for what was right in front of me. Which was actually intoxicatingly toxic and ever so softly suffocating my soul.

It’s Dorothy’s vision of the Emerald City which is the life saving wake up call they urgently need to drag themselves out of the comfort of the poppies, and back onto the road. Even in the face of the disappointment of the Wizard not living up to their expectations, these travelling companions are a wonderful picture of what family can be, where each one finds belonging, shares a deep sense of purpose, and helps each other to become courageous, loving and wise, discovering their purpose and a true sense of ‘home’. (with the odd squabble and arguments about shortcuts along the way)

poppy field

What are the threats that you were most afraid of when you first started out on your journey together as a family? Have those turned out to be less or more potent than you feared?

Have you ever been, or feel you are still, in an intoxicating field of poppies season of life, where you lost your focus, became comfortable with the way things were, and were in such a state of slumber that you almost forgot what the intended destination was?

Have you experienced God giving you a much needed wake up call to ensure that the good didn’t become the enemy of the best along your journey? Did you welcome that wake up call at the time? How did it make you feel?

When Ben and I first met we had a very strong sense of shared purpose, as we met doing the same job for the same charity and so had a lot of similar passions and desires for the future. Before our boys were born it was all quite easy to make decisions, but becoming parents made life so much more complicated. Having a sick child gave me anxiety about travelling far from a hospital. Having ageing parents made us more aware of time spent away from family. Decisions became harder, and at times the competing priorities, demands, expectations and desires of ‘The Good Life’ versus the Kingdom Life left us in a tailspin.

We’ve found it so transformative to stop and reflect on where we are at, and to carve out time and space to invite God again to re-envision us with who we are to become and what our purpose is. One of the best things which our friends recommended we do was to go on a guided day retreat together where the whole focus was looking back over your journey, and praying into your future with others who were at a similar crossroads in life. He has often had to jolt us awake out of our comfort zones to get our attention, (which we didn’t welcome at the time), but it’s given us fresh eyes to see how our choices were steering us way off course from who He longed for us to be.

Mark and Lisa Scandrette describe the vision they had for their shared life together, when they first met. ‘We imagined a household of laughter, fun and deep connections. We wanted an awareness of divine purpose and presence to permeate our lives and shape our decisions. We envisioned doing meaningful work together, using our gifts to serve. We hoped to open our lives to others, especially to those who struggle and suffer. And we desired to live gratefully, creatively and sustainably.’

They go on to say ‘the revelation of Jesus opened up new horizons for what it meant to be human and consequently new possibilities for families. Jesus described this as the reality of the kingdom of God, or a life of shalom, wholeness or harmony under God’s care. It’s the kind of life we were created for, in which we find our truest identity as God’s beloved children, learn to work as agents of healing, act from a sense of abundance and trust, relate to one another from a greater source of love, and experience peace and power in the midst of the stresses and struggles of life.’

What words would you use to describe the thriving you desire for your family?

Have you ever had a vivid vision which excited you and propelled you in a certain direction?

Do you feel you are living out that vision now or has your life taken you on a diversion?

Have you felt conflicting desires or demands have created a gap between where you envisioned you would be as a family in this stage of life and the reality of how things are? What are those conflicting or competing expectations or demands?

Can we carve out some time this week to pray that God, who is ‘the lifter of my head’ would give us a fresh vision for who He wants us to become this year?

 

 

 

Reality check

So how was Christmas for you? And what are your plans for the New year?

I am a great believer in making New Years resolutions. The problem is I struggle to remember and therefore..ermm…action the changes I’ve resolved to make. I get so frustrated at the mahoosive discrepancy between my aspirations, intentions and my actions. Why can’t I do what I so want and intend to do – as a Jesus follower, a wife, a mum, a daughter, a sister, a godparent, a friend, a community member, a global neighbour?

Anyone relate or is it just me?

What are your expectations, hopes or dreams for 2018?

Get fitter? Or just attempt to get off the sofa?

To read more and scroll less?

Become a domestic superfood cooking goddess? Or just eat less cake?

Read the bible in a year? Or excavate your bible from under the floordrobe?

Never ever yell at your kids? Or not in view of the neighbours anyway?

Have a marriage full of romance, passion and adventure? Or at least have a date night once a week?

Ever wonder if your New Years resolutions will become ‘rollovers’ like the ones you didn’t quite achieve last year?  How many of your great expectations, like mine, have morphed into grating reality?

I always had a childhood dream of swimming with dolphins. In 1996 I spent 9 months teaching in a school in Uganda. We had a month off for the holidays and travelled by train through Kenya, Tanzania and down to the Victoria Falls on the  Zambia/ Zimbabwe border. One highlight of the trip was the chance to get to swim with dolphins off the Zanzibar coast. The day came, the boatman arrived, the dolphin pod was in sight, and we set sail with bright sun overhead, a calm glasslike sea and uncontainable excitement in our bellies.

And then everything changed. The sun disappeared behind dark grey clouds. The cool breeze became a howling wind and the calm waves whipped up into angry white horses lashing against our boat. Torrential rain pelted us, and thunder and lightning turned our dream into a bit of a nightmare. The boatman looked terrified as his boat began to take on water and had to be continually emptied with a leaky bucket.

Two of my braver friends were determined not to be deterred by the changed circumstances. They courageously leapt into the wild waves, dived under the surface to find the dolphins, and fulfilled their dream! (even though they couldn’t see them as clearly as they would have liked to).

The rest of us clung to the side of the boat trying to stop ourselves from throwing up, crying or both. Expectation and reality couldn’t have been further apart.

As we head into a new year, and leave 2017 behind what are our aspirations, intentions or expectations?

What are we passionate about pursuing despite curveballs, disappointments or changing circumstances that come our way?

We don’t know what the sudden changes in economic, political, medical or familial climate will bring.

2017 has taught me to expect the unexpected. In the good and the bad. The joy as well as the pain. The miracles as well as the mundane. God’s faithfulness through all the twists and turns of 2017 has also taught me that its more important than ever to make every moment count. To not wait for the perfect day. To not wait for clouds to pass, but to courageously leap into the wild waves, (as my brave friends did on the leaky boat in Zanzibar), and not be deterred from pursuing the passions and purpose which we’ve been created to pursue.

So what are those passions and purposes going to look like for you and your family, and me and my family this year? Which waves might we have to plunge into?

As parents or godparents, aunties and uncles, friends, community members and global neighbours, how can we help our children, or those we influence, to navigate the storms and disappointments of life, as well as celebrate life’s miracles and surprises?

What could it look like to create a thriving family culture this year?

Family may mean parents and children but may mean a community of friends or wider church family group. What could it mean to help each other stay focused on our goals, and live from our values? To help each other to be undeterred by life’s challenges and able to sustain turbulence, sudden storms and unmet expectations?

I have just finished an incredible book looking at this very area – called ‘Belonging and Becoming ‘ by Mark and Lisa Scandrette. It is written from a Christian perspective and this radical couple hold out a compelling vision for all that family can be. They offer wisdom and insight from the joys and struggles of their own life and practical ideas for creating a healthy and deeply rooted soulful family culture. The areas they explore are: living from vision, carrying out purpose, finding a rhythm, discovering a common story, fostering connection, nurturing growth, and celebrating abundance.

I want to explore these areas here through this blog and would love your input so we can journey and learn together.  If you are keen to explore how to create a thriving family culture in 2018 then I look forward to chin wagging with you along the journey- sharing our trials and errors, our epic fails as well as our edited highlights.

My prayer for 2018 is that despite the changing weather, the curveballs or disappointments which will inevitably come our way, we will experience God’s ‘immeasurably more than all we ask for or even imagine.’ Ephesians 3:20 He is the one who calms our souls despite the storms of life, and says ‘Peace, Be Still.’ as we step out with Him to face whatever adventure lies ahead.

Thanks for sharing the Advent-ure

Welcome to day 22-the final day of the Living Advent Calendar. We started off our journey with an interactive beach hut advent calendar experience – with real doors being opened each day – so that people could go beyond a fleeting bite sized chocolate version – and step in to savor the real McCoy. In the same vein, each day we have opened a door to uncover an inspirational life – an ordinary person opening real doors of hope, love, peace and justice to others in extraordinary ways.

What has been quite a surprise to me on this advent-ure is that instead of running out of people for each of the doors (a very real worry as I realised what I’d committed myself to about a week after starting!) – I have run out of doors! I could carry on opening doors to share stories for many more days – as there are so many inspirational lives to discover! Ordinary people who are defiantly hopeful in the face of despair, joyful in the face of pain and serving others selflessly despite their own great needs.

They come from all over the world, are old and young, male and female, and from all walks of life, serving in a myriad of different ways. But one thing brings them all together. They are living advent calendars – who daily open real doors of hope, love, justice and peace to others because they do life with the one who Christmas is all about. They step into the suffering of others, just like Emmanuel, God with us, who stepped into our world and daily opens his arms to embrace us and call us beloved. They serve because they know the servant king who chose to serve not to be served. Bringing light into darkness, warmth into coldness and hope into despair.

Christmas will be different for lots of us this year. There will be heavy hearts as we light the candles. There will be empty chairs at many tables. There will be tears among the laughter and chatter.  I hope that this living advent journey has been a reminder that in the midst of loss and pain and sadness, there is still hope and joy and gladness for all the good, all the love, all the light, and the ‘life in all its fulness’ that Jesus brings.

This advent journey was inspired by my very special mum who we lost to cancer this year. Mum was a living advent calendar person – opening her heart and her home so that strangers soon became friends and friends soon felt like family.  The memories of her practical love in action, flowing from her servant heart, continue to impact and challenge me every single day.

Even in her last few weeks in the hospice, she was looking out for the needs of others despite her own situation. She organised a food bank delivery for someone who was struggling. She chose to write cheery poems and uplifting messages on her little board when her voice no longer functioned. She chose to roll her sleeves up to weed and plant bulbs in the hospice garden so that others could enjoy the beautiful blooms in the spring.

She, like the other people we have opened doors to discover each day,  walked with the one who we celebrate tomorrow.  The one who works miracles in the mundane. Who sees beauty in the broken. Who forgives those who persecute him. Who can bring joy despite pain. Who brings courage that overcomes fear. Who lights up the darkness. Who daily opens up his arms in a loving embrace to offer us love, hope, peace and joy – no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in.

William Parks said ‘Christmas is not just a day, an event to be observed and speedily forgotten. It is a spirit which should permeate every part of our lives.’

John 8 v 12 ‘ I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’

Merry Christmas!

Being Good News

Welcome to day 21 of the Living Advent Calendar. Every day we open a door to an inspirational life. Today I’d love you to meet my friend Graham Gordon, UK Director of Paz y Esperanza UK, (a Christian charity raising awareness and support for the inspiring work of human rights organisation Paz y Esperanza in Latin America). Graham shares about an incredible team opening doors of hope for deaf children and their families in Moyobamba, Peru. As a former trustee of this fantastic charity and having met some of the amazing team working in Moyobamba over ten years ago, I never cease to be inspired by their work. Over to Graham to share the story.

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the Earth. He never grows weak or weary.” (Isaiah 40 v28)

Can you remember the time when you first heard about Christmas? Possibly not, as you will have been very young, but no doubt it was one of your parents, friends or relatives who told you the story of the Christ child who came to earth to bring peace and new life for all.

So, think for a moment what life would be like if you had never heard the Good News. Or, in fact, if you couldn’t hear at all or communicate with others around you. Or if there was no way of being told by others that you are loved by God and that he sent his Son to Earth to bring new life.

This is the situation of many deaf children in Peru. Children like, Talita, a young girl who has been deaf from birth and whose family could not afford a cochlear implant that would enable her to hear. This operation is only available through private healthcare that is too expensive for most Peruvian families. With no-one to teach her sign language she was isolated and had limited ways of interacting with those around her, until Paz y Esperanza started teaching her when she was five.

Orgullosos de ser Sordos

I heard about Talita just a few weeks after our elder daughter started at a school that specialises in teaching children who are deaf, and was struck by the contrast. The school has two children with hearing problems in each class, with specialised teaching support.

One of my daughter’s new friends lost her hearing when she was two years old due to an ear infection. Unlike Talita, she was able to have a cochlear implant (on the NHS) and can now hear almost as well as the other children and can interact fully with them – running, shouting, learning, singing, pushing the boundaries as you would want all children to do! The school also teaches the children that they are made in God’s image and that He loves each one of them.

“How beautiful on the mountain are the feet of those who bring Good News.” (Isaiah 52 v7)

In a concrete way Paz y Esperanza is bringing the Good News of Jesus this Christmas to the deaf children they are working with. With no other attention from the local governments, their very presence shows that these children are not forgotten but are loved like the other children.

Teaching sign language to them and their families means that they can interact with others and start to lead more normal lives. Lobbying the local authorities to provide better educational support and health services also means that more children can benefit and that together society can tackle stigma and isolation.

peru signing

It also means that teachers and family members can help these children to understand the true meaning of Christmas, maybe for the first time.

This is life-changing work and Paz y Esperanza wants to extend it to more children. Will you join with us? Our Christmas appeal this year is raising money for this work.

Please visit https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/peru-good-news

To find out more about the impact of this amazing project, please watch these three videos: