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.