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

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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

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?