the beginning of Spring, and the beginning of autumn
The view outside my bedroom, kitchen and lounge windows isn't generally the view most house-hunters desire, as it’s a red brick, multi-storey carpark. If I look closely through the gaps, I can occasionally see trains going past in the distance. Through another gap, I can see a small corner of the city’s golden coloured, hive-like library. Every so often, I make awkward eye contact with maintenance, security and cleaning staff through the windows, and from time-to-time, I get concerned that I can see someone on the roof, and then I remember that it's just the top level of parking spaces.
I sometimes think how beautiful it would be if I could see a clearer picture of what stands behind the ugly car park, if it was knocked down; the train carriages whizzing past, the library in all its shining glory, the river. But in April I realised the beauty of what stands in front of the brick building, as green leaves began to grow on the trees in front. I loved watching the leaves turn greener and greener as spring turned into summer. In such an uncertain time as was lockdown, it reminded me of the certainty of the seasons.
And here we are now in October. We still find ourselves in an uncertain time; not knowing what the next few months will hold. No doubt you too will have plans changed and cancelled, whilst other events do go ahead but more last-minute than usual, because we’re just not sure how to plan for something weeks in advance anymore.
But the leaves still turn brown and fall, turning crunchy or damp beneath our feet.
The conkers still drop in their spiky shells, and get collected by children (…. And adults too!)
Different animals and creatures come out, whilst others go into hibernation.
Creation is a constant through this uncertain time; the seasons changing is something we can be sure of, because God is still at work.
Take a look outside now. What do you see? Trees, leaves? The sky, clouds? Birds? Do you see a river, a lake, or the sea? Hills, or mountains? All singing the praises of their maker (Psalm 148 ) Whatever you see, may it remind you that God is at work, that God is near, and that God is a constant.
Over the summer, I’ve been reminded of the wonder of play, something I may not have if it weren’t for the lockdown.
I’ve pieced together train tracks for my two-year-old cousin. We’ve sat on the floor, pushing the little wooden trains around the loop, under the tunnel, over the bridge, making “ch ch ch ch” noises as we go.
I’ve swung on rope swings over a little stream with my three older cousins. We’ve laughed as we twisted and spun, and we discussed tactics to get the best run-up, and therefore speed over the stream.
At a socially distanced youth picnic, I played silly games with the young people, such as one that involved us acting like eggs, chickens and dinosaurs in a rock-paper-scissors type tournament. I watched as they played hide and seek, they climbed trees, crawled into bushes, swung on rope swings. We wandered about the big playing field in the chilly wind searching for leaves, flowers, seeds and sticks… or massive branches in some cases!
This picnic was the first time I had seen the young people face-to-face since March. However, I had seen most of them most weeks over Zoom. We played Jackbox Games - a program I really recommend looking into - which are a pack of online games. I run the program using Steam on my laptop and then I screen-share over Zoom. The young people, using a different device to the one they’re running Zoom on, log into Jackbox using a unique and private room code. Then we play! A favourite was 'Quiplash', which is where Jackbox gives two players a statement that needs completing, such as “the difference between grade A and grade B beef. Then the individual players type in a funny answer. Once both the answers are in, they are put up on the screen for all to see, but nobody knows who wrote each ‘quip’. All players then vote for the best one. These times playing together was always full of laughter; it was such a joy.
Last Sunday, my family gathered around the lounge table to play board games together. Competing to score points, make our way around the board, hushed discussions as we worked in teams. At one point during Tiki Topple, my younger brother used a card that removed one of the pieces I needed to win, and in a mix of frustration and excitement, I slammed my hand on the table, shouting, “no-o-o-o!”
Finally, earlier this week I caved in and bought a Nintendo Switch Lite. I wanted one since the beginning of lockdown in March, but I couldn’t justify spending that much money. However, whilst scrolling the Facebook Marketplace, I found a barely used yellow console and Animal Crossing game for a much lower price. I haven’t had a console since I was about ten years old, and I’ve really enjoyed catching bugs, shaking trees for pears, making friends on the island, and searching for materials to make flimsy tools. I’ve loved that there’s no winning or loosing, there’s no time-limit on achieving tasks, there are no set rules.
As the summer turns to autumn, I’m looking forward to building blanket forts in my lounge; snug with an abundance of blankets and duvets as I watch favourites like Notting Hill and Love Actually.
I think that creativity and play is illustrated through the story of creation. I like the idea of God playing around with colours and textures as He creates waves in the sea, and places clouds in the sky. “Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola give us the image of God playing in the dirt, making mud pies”.
In the book of Matthew, children are brought to Jesus so that He could pray for them, but the disciples “shooed them off”, as the Message Version puts it. Jesus replied, “let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:13-14, NIV)
Jesus invites us to be more like the little children, the simplicity, the innocents, the love and openness they give Jesus when others are trying to twist his words and question him. Jesus invites us to be more childlike.
I invite you, over the next few weeks, to have jump about, to find a rope swing, to laugh, to explore, to wonder, and to play.
Familiarity can be comforting.
I had a short break in my hometown earlier this week, pictured above, and the familiarity gave me the peace and rest that I needed. Although I haven’t lived there for fifteen years, I know it well from visiting frequently. The rolling hills that in some high places you can see the sea from, the 'Embracing the Sea' statue and The Beach Parlour on the seafront, the pastel coloured houses, the high street, the church that I was dedicated in. It’s familiar and I’m drawn to it.
Friends is my favourite TV show, and I’ve been watching it since I was twelve. I know exactly what is going to happen, to the point where I know most of the scripts. I enjoy doing BuzzFeed quiz’, because the show is so familiar to me, I can get most, if not all, the answers right. To be honest, I don’t think the acting is spectacular, and some of the storylines and punchlines are now problematic in 2020. However, I will still continue to watch it on repeat because the familiarity is comforting. In the early hours of the morning when I can’t sleep, sometimes I switch on Friends. It’s easy to watch, its familiarity is comforting.
I wonder what is a comforting familiarity for you. Perhaps it’s a place or a TV show, maybe it’s a person, or even a piece of clothing.
When we are struggling, we’re anxious, overwhelmed, exhausted, or even just plodding on, I think that The Bible can bring a comforting familiarity. I’m often encouraging my young people to find Bible verses to use like mottos, to repeat over and over until they become familiar and become comforting in a storm. Perhaps that is The Lord’s Prayer; repeating these familiar words when we have no other words to pray, when we rise in the morning and sleep again in the evening. Or perhaps it’s Psalm 23, repeating it until it becomes familiar, and the themes of rescue, companionship and protection become comforting.
I encourage you to find a verse or a passage that you can repeat over the next week until it becomes so familiar to you, and brings you comfort.
I’ve struggled with blogging this year, as you may have guessed by the decreased number of posts recently. I wrote in my previous post that creativity has looked different during lockdown. I’ve been painting, making friend’s birthday presents, sewing, writing essays and youth work resources. However, when it comes to blogging, either my mind goes blank, or self-doubt creeps in. Either I can’t think of any reflections to write, or there aren’t any experiences that are ready or appropriate to be publicly shared. The equally miserable alternative is that I compare my blog and ability to those who have won awards, get lots of views have more qualifications and experience than I do. The fact that the blog hasn’t grown in the way that I hoped has taken its toll. I think that people aren’t as interested in what I have to say, or that other bloggers say it so much better. Around March/April time, I was reflecting on how vulnerable using Zoom is, and in the following days, before I had properly processed my thoughts and organised them into a blog post, I read four blogs and articles, articulately sharing exactly what I had thought…. But better.
A couple of people in the last week have mentioned that I haven’t blogged in a while, which has begun to rewrite this ‘what’s the point’ narrative in my head. So, now seven months into the year, I think it’s time to have another go at this. I have a few ideas for some more regular posts, one of which is about the previously issue of how vulnerable using Zoom is, as well as some resources, devotions and thoughts.
I haven’t blogged very much in the last few months, and the posts I've shared haven’t had the same style. Before lockdown was even on the cards, 2020 had been a difficult time personally. I was experiencing things that weren’t appropriate to share on a public platform. In fact, so much was happening that I couldn’t form it into anything tangible, consumable, real; not a blog post, not a painting, not even a page in my journal. Writing is a hobby, but I also feel it’s something God has given me. Writing is part of my identity, how I see myself, and I think people who know me see that too. So when I stopped writing, it felt like I was losing a bit of me, like my identity was shifting. Only on reflection I see that I was still creating things — essays and youth resources — but that was all my brain could put together at that time. There’s a time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8), and this season wasn’t a time for creating my usual style of writing.
And then lockdown happened.
I’m sure that in the last six weeks, you’ve seen many posts affirming how okay it is that productivity looks different at the moment. If you needed more of that, I’m about to affirm it even further.
The thing that is often overlooked is that we are all still carrying the struggles of pre-lockdown; they didn’t magically disappear when the announcement arrived. Personal difficulties are still bubbling under the surface of this new struggle that the whole world is dealing with. Whether it’s a small niggle that can be pushed to one side, or whether it’s a mountain of ferocious niggles, we all have things that we were dealing with before the pandemic. Before homeschooling, before self-isolation, before a life-threatening virus. It’s no wonder productivity, creativity, work, priorities, the way we do life, looks a little different at the moment.
I’ve hesitated posting this. I’ve thought ‘what’s the point? Who cares? Most of this stuff has been said before’. But maybe that’s what creating art, in any form, is. Maybe it’s about expression of experiences, observations, even make-beliefs. There’s no first-dibs system of creating. If an expression has already been formed into something, you’re allowed to form it into something of your own. Even if an expression has been formed into something before, and you’re just saying it louder for the people at the back, you’re just adding an ‘amen’ to add weight to the conversation, it’s no less art, it’s no less valid.
Whilst the anxious worrier cries and panics
The small whisper of optimism speaks up
Take it one day at a time
Treat yourself like a friend
Set a new rhythm of life,
for this is temporary.
Weave your days with intentionality
Becoming aware of what is worth your energy
And what will drain you
Dust off the book you said you’d read when you have more time
Create a zen space
immerse yourself in the story
walk with the characters
Feel their joy, feel their pain
shut out the world.
Bend and stretch
Skip and jump
Run and walk
Breathe in the air
Thank the body that is your house, your home
Meditate and pray
Create community in new ways
‘Knocking on the doors’ of those you love
Listen and be there
Effort is a reflection of interest
For when we are released
When surrealism is no longer our reality
perhaps we will all be more peaceful
Filled with gratitude for the things we lost
How blessed and beautiful will your first hug be
Returning to the arms of the Comforters
Gatherings will be full of joy and laughter
Even the tedious meetings will be light-giving
Together we will be again
But until then…
No doubt you've spent the last few days working out how to do remote, digital youth work in an engaging and accessible way, whilst still keeping to policy for everyone's safety. It's so important that we don't just leave our young people to it, and think that since we can't come together for our usual groups, we can't still connect with them, support them and grow them. I think that if we don't support our young people through this time, we'll certainly see the effects when we eventually reopen.
We're planning to live-stream our Sunday morning services, pre-record our Youth House Group and make it available on YouTube, and we'll be connecting with the young people on Google Hangouts once a week for chats and games.
I've also created an Isolation Survival Pack for our Children and Youth. This is a printable resource that can be adapted for your context. It's a workbook containing ideas for activities, games, crafts, writing prompts, ways to stay active, and a few Biblical devotions, that children and young people can get on with at home, either with siblings, on their own, or even via FaceTime with their friends!
I think that the workbook is suitable for your primary school children, right up to your secondary school youth group. We'll be printing the workbook and sending it to our Ignite groups (all children and young people). However, the youngest may need assistance on many of the activities, and the oldest may find some too suitable. I hope it is useful for you, and enjoyable for your children and young people. Please feel free to download it, adapt it, send it about.
Here's a link to the Isolation Survival Pack: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Vuq0oglVcV8xCpzZK1WTNNvSYjcoQ2Cm/view?usp=sharing
If I asked you to think of Christian missionaries, pioneers, founders of charities, game-changers, evangelists, and do-gooders, who would you name?
Maybe you’d tell me about George Muller, evangelist and worker of orphanages in Bristol.
Maybe you’d think of William Booth; Methodist Preacher and founder of the Salvation Army. Or maybe, you’d think of a different William; William Carey - the missionary in India who translated Bibles and founded the Baptist Missionary Society.
Perhaps your mind would jump to the well-known story of the God-Smuggler and founder of Open Doors, Brother Andrew.
Would you think of the great David Livingstone; congregationalist, physician, pioneer, missionary, explorer and anti-slavery crusader?
Who else springs to mind? William Tyndale, David Brainerd, John Wycliffe, Hudson Taylor, George Hoffman, Billy Graham?
I love aesthetically pleasing, hardback books; ones about hygge, limited edition children’s books, travel books. My weakness is that I don’t tend to read them, only leave them out on coffee tables on an aesthetically pleasing page. Two books I irregularly flick through, usually when I can’t sleep, are Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls and Bad Girls Throughout History. Although they aren’t faith-based books, I hoped to find some Christian missionaries inside the beautifully illustrated page, but nobody popped out. I would assume that in looking deeper, and perhaps further research, a handful would be. But ‘faith’ ‘religion’ or ‘God’ (notice the ‘big G’) are absent words.
I am aware of Irene Howats, ’10 girls who…’ series, which includes book such as ’10 girls who used their talents’, ’10 girls who changed the world’ and ’10 girls who made history’. I think I may have read a couple of them when I was younger. I am pleased that these books are available for children (and of course adult too).
I’m also aware that, perhaps as part of Generation Z, I ‘shop with my eyes’. These books by Howats aren’t the most aesthetically pleasing, engaging or exciting. Perhaps I’m picking holes. It’s great to see these books on the shelves of Christian bookshops! And, to be fair, after further research I did find a book on Amazon that is more similar to the popular ‘Rebel Girls’ tales than a small, paperback, picture less book published over ten years ago. But what would be greater is if these books (or ones with slightly more colour and excitement) were available in the highstreet well known, chain shops , and if children, young people and adults were taught about Christian game-changing women, as well as game-changing men.
I wrote a thread of tweets and had many great responses from people suggesting great female missionaries. I had heard of approximately half of those mentioned, the other half were new to me and I enjoyed researching them. Even so, with all these new names, I still think I could name double, if not triple the amount of male missionaries. One of the replies was from my youth minister I had growing up who suggested that I “change the narrative”.
Here are just a couple of inspiring stories, but I really recommend you look further…
Gladys Aylward was born in 1902 in England. She worked through her teens as a housemaid, before being called to China. Although she completed a three-month course for aspiring missionaries, she was not offered further training by the China Inland Mission, as her Chinese language was not quite up to scratch.
In 1932, she spent her life-savings on a trip to Yangcheng, Shanxi Province, China. When she arrived, Aylward worked with an older missionary, Jeannie Lawson, to found The Inn of the Eight Happinesses, based on the eight virtues: Love, Virtue, Gentleness, Tolerance, Loyalty, Truth, Beauty and Devotion. There, she provided hospitality for travellers, as well as sharing stories of Jesus. For a time she served as an assistant to the Government of the Republic of China as a "foot inspector" by touring the countryside to enforce the new law against footbinding young Chinese girls. Later on, she took in orphans and adopted many. She intervened in a volatile prison riot and advocated for prison reform, risking her life many times to help those in need. In 1938, the region was invaded by Japanese forces and she led more than 100 orphans to safety over the mountains, despite being wounded, personally caring for them.
Lottie Moon was born in 1840 in Virginia to affluent parents. She was well educated and in 1861 she received one of the first Master of Arts degrees awarded to a woman by a southern institution.
In 1873, Lottie moved as a missionary to China. One year prior to this, her younger sister Edmonia became the first single woman to go to North China as a Baptist missionary.
She became frustrated that, although she had found her passion - evangelism and church-planting - she was not allowed to do this, being a woman. She wrote,
Can we wonder at the mortal weariness and disgust, the sense of wasted powers and the conviction that her life is a failure, that comes over a woman when, instead of the ever broadening activities that she had planned, she finds herself tied down to the petty work of teaching a few girls?
Lottie waged a slow but relentless campaign to give women missionaries the freedom to minister and have an equal voice in mission proceeding
She and her sister taught in a boys school, until Edmonia had to return due to bad health, and Lottie gave up to become a full-time evangelist.
Aware of burn-out and stress, she took time off in America in 1892 and again in 1902. The mindset at this time was “go to the mission field, die on the mission field”. Moon argued that regular rest every ten years would extend the lives and effectiveness of seasoned missionaries.
Throughout her time as a missionary, she experienced plague, famine, revolution and warm. She helped many out of her own pocket, as resources and finances weren’t available from the mission board.
Lottie Moon died as she returned home for another rest from mission in 1912, due to lack of finances (after helping so many others in need) which affected her physical and mental health.
Another great female, Christian game-changer is Amy Carmicheal, who served in India for over fifty years. She worked with girls and women, many of whom were saved from being sex-trafficked. During this time, many children in Hindu temples were dedicated to the gods and forced into prostitution. Amy Carmichael helped these girls escape and then provided them with shelter. Many called her “Amma” which means “mother” in the Tamil language.
Others that were suggested to me include Jackie Pulling, Corrie Ten Boom, Catherine Boothe, Katherine Bushnell, Dorothy Sayers, Josephine Butler and Elisabeth Eliot.
This started with me doing a session plan about missionaries, and only being able to think of male missionaries. After research (if you can call a twitter-thread 'research') I've learnt about many incredible, fierce, inspirational, empowering women of faith.
The question still sits with me though, why could I only think of male missionaries? How many other people could name many more male missionaries (or expanding that phrase more generally to 'do-gooders/game-changers) than female? Is this a narrative that runs through our kids groups and youth groups, our sermons and seminars, our schools and homes? The narrative needs changing.
Who can you think of, past and present, that are Christian female missionaries, game-changers, pioneers, activists and founders?
It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. I seem to have lost my creative juices, not even picking up my journal in many weeks. I finished a painting that I had been working on for six months. I wrote two essays! But that is as far as my creativity has stretched.
Now that Christmas is over, I’m ready for routine to return. I’m ready to go back to things, continue things, grow things, make new things. If you haven’t yet noticed, I like to reflect. I reflect on things without noticing I’m doing it! The end of a year, the end of a decade, creates a perfect opportunity for reflection.
At the begging of this decade I was ten. During these ten years, I left primary school, started a new school, did my GCSEs and left, I got a part-time job as a newspaper deliverer, and then as a toy shop assistant, I did A-Level from home, I’ve had two placements, I started university, and got my current job, as a youth worker. I’ve visited eight countries, dyed my hair 6 colours, got two tattoos and three piercings.
It excites me to imagine what the next decade will hold; my twenties. What will I do, what will I be, what will I create, where will I go, who will come with me?
This year has been a year of staying, and what a joy that has been. It has not been with change or pain, but it has been somewhat peaceful to stay and settle in one place.
I didn’t go to college or sixth form, instead I did A-Level from home, and in the first year I volunteered for what was my home church, and in the second year I was with Youth For Christ as I volunteered in a different Church. I moved out of the family home, and have seen two different flat-mates come and go. That’s a lot of change!
I’ve enjoyed having the same job, the same church, the same course, the same home, through this year. I’ve loved getting to know the people I work with and for, the people who have become my cheerleaders, people who are in my circles, and growing in that, without having in the back of my mind that in a few months I’m going to have to leave again.
Into Next Year
I have created a small playlist of songs that I feel reflect 2019, and that are how I hope 2020 looks:
I Give You My Heart by Hillsong Worship
Highlands by Hillsong United
Waymaker by Leeland
Reckless Love by Cory Ashbury
What does you playlist look like?
It was the end of a day of lectures and I was about to make the 65 mile journey home, which usually takes around two hours, when Google Maps refused to work. No matter how many times I restarted the app, checked that my mobile data and location was on, it didn't know where I was, let alone how to take me home. Thankfully, after a year of going back and forth every fortnight, I was confident enough without Google Maps to direct me. There are one or two junctions that I'm never quite sure about, but it's usually the way I think it is, before I start second guessing myself. So, on I drove, for the first time since starting this degree course 13 months ago, without Google Maps. I could do it, and did do it, but the maps displayed on my phone provide somewhat of a security blanket.
I have two teddy bears, both called Looby. My parents tell me that I was given one when I was born, and because the once-pink teddy and I were so inseparable, my parents bought a look-alike. My parents used to wash one whilst I slept with the other. It was only when I was around 7 years old that I realised there were two Looby's! I'm now almost twenty, I don't need a teddy, let alone two, to sleep. However, like Google Maps on a motorway, a teddy acts as a security blanket; a sense of home, of comfort. My Loobys are well-travelled, and at least one has been to New Zealand, France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, as well as many cities, towns and homes in England. Who knows how long they will continue to sit on my bed, or be packed away in suitcases on my travels. Not for long, I would think, since as you can see by the pictures, the Loobys are falling apart. I don't need them anymore, but they provide security.
I think that the disciples had something that brought them security too....
Matthew 4:18-2218 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”[a] 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
When Jesus called the disciples, they were fishing. Jesus told them to put their nets down and follow him. Put down your teddy, turn off your Google maps.
When Jesus had died and returned again, he found the disciples fishing (John 21:3-14). Once Jesus had gone from their everyday, thing they returned to was fishing, this sense of security, the thing they knew.
I'm not suggesting you never use a Sat-Nav again, and you throw away anything that makes you think of home, anything that brings you comfort and security. But it made me wonder what thing in life, in struggles, in chaos brings me comfort and security. Perhaps a habit, a possession, a thought pattern. If Jesus told me to put it down and follow him, what would my response be?