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How exciting!  Lucy has given me a blogging award (along with some of my other favourite bloggers too, I feel very privileged).  Here’s what I need to do in exchange:

  1. Post the award on your blog, and link to the person who gave you the award (done that, and please check out Lucy’s lovely blog)
  2. List seven things you love
  3. List seven blogs you love (just seven?)
  4. E-mail or comment on those blogs to let the people know you’ve given them the award

Seven things I love?

  1. My little family – husband and daughter, and the collection of special toys who play such an important part in our four year old’s life that they Had Better Never Get Lost
  2. Following Jesus (although, to be absolutely honest, there are also times when I grind my teeth with frustration at how this works out in my life)
  3. Our church and in particular our small group, not forgetting the friends, near and far, who are extended family and form our daughter’s God Squad (because we couldn’t choose between them when it came to thinking about godparents, they’re all so amazing and special to us)
  4. Painting, drawing, making. I do this in spurts of energy and then long periods elapse where it just gets sidelined…
  5. …but the compensation is I get to work somewhere I can enable children, adults, colleagues to be creative and that is often enough
  6. The sea.  It scares me but I love it.  Beautiful sandy beaches are great but I’ve almost always lived in proximity to the North Sea, and so it’s the wind-swept dunes and grey thundering waves that make my heart beat a little faster
  7. Books.  I love reading, and always have way too many on the go at once, so it takes me ages to get any one book finished unless I’m using it as a ‘comfort read’ when I’m feeling low or as a break from more challenging reads.  I confess I also love books as objects (our oversized living room bookcase is testament to that), and am trying hard not to be envious of one of my colleagues who is also a book-lover and collects first editions.  THAT would not be good for me.  Maybe one day I’ll go and visit her books. I mean her.

Seven blogs I love (Nb. Lucy’s already namechecked a couple of my favourites, so I’ll let them enjoy their awards from her and award seven completely different ones)

  1. I have to mention my husband’s blog (The State That I Am In). It’s a fantastic blog with a strong musical undercurrent. I would love it even if he wasn’t my husband, I promise!
  2. Fourth Space is the blog of one of our small group friends.  It’s so thought-provoking, lots of creative and analytical thinking and processing (for both blog author and blog reader).
  3. Have you checked out Coffee Shop Journal? It’s a really great read, reflections on life, faith and more, book reviews and thoughtful applications of lessons learned, and always written with grace and humility. 
  4. The Ongoing Adventures of ASBO Jesus is in many ways (for me) the perfect blog.  All pictures!!!  I don’t know how he comes up with these fresh, funny and often cutting images so frequently.  Man or machine?! No machine could be this creative and offer such a human and humane perspective on the world.
  5. Without Wax (I even love the name of this blog) is another thought-provoking look at the world through the eyes of Pete, a pastor at Cross Point Church in Tennessee.  He uses video clips and other resources really well, and has got a massive readership judging by the average number of comments each post seems to get.  It is also one of the blogs I read that reminds me that there is a cultural difference between our two countries, which I really enjoy being exposed to.
  6. New Life From Old is the blog of another small group friend.  He doesn’t post too often, but always has something worth checking out.  He’s a scientist and is rigorous in his examination of faith through this lens.  He’s really creative in how he works this out in his life and the world (although I don’t think he’d use that word about himself), and deserves massive respect for his engagement with difficult and controversial issues.
  7. Last but not least I’ve just got to mention Wish Jar,which is the blog of author, illustrator and guerilla artist Keri Smith.  I LOVE her work, and every time I read her blog I get exposed to something I’ve never come across before.

I hope you enjoy checking these guys out if you’ve not had a look before.  (By the way sorry about the weird mix of fonts and sizes, can’t seem to fix it today for some reason.  Hope it’s still readable)

I’ve been flicking through “Random Acts of Kindness” by Danny Wallace (and his Karma Army) on and off through most of this evening.  A bit rude actually,as it’s a small group night.  In my defence, since we were discussing The Art of Joy, I was contemplating how to do some guerilla joy-bringing, and remembered I had this little gem of a book which has some great ideas in it.

I like this one:

RAOK [that’s Random Act of Kindness, by the way] No. 264

Buy a chocolate and then give it back to the man who sold it to you

I like it because of the simplicity of the idea.  I imagine it would work equally well no matter what the gender of the sales assistant/shop-keeper! 

Might try this tomorrow.  Let me know if you do too, and how it went.

There definitely is an art to joy, since it is not always a natural state for us. (BTW I’m over myself and my doom and gloom last week,  apologies for the self-pitying – pretty certain it was illness related)

So it’s exciting and challenging to be part of The Art of Joy this spring.  A group of us, friends and fellow small-groupers from MBC, dreamed what felt like a big dream and we now find ourselves galloping towards lots of great activities which suddenly need organising and thinking through.  I am newly appreciative of the diversity of our small group, the skills and talents that there are which are all required to make such an undertaking happen.  There don’t seem to be quite enough minutes to deal with everything, but collectively it feels like we’re making progress. 

There’s going to be a lot happening, an art exhibition going up this weekend with an official opening before the end of March, a therapeutic art workshop, knitter natter for anyone who likes or wants to try out knitting or crochet, a fantastic closing event featuring two great bands and a stand up comedian… and that’s only what we’ve got planned so far!  We’re aiming to bring a bit of joy and light using the arts and the fantastic creative gifts of people in Edinburgh and beyond.  Most of all I’m looking forward to meeting new people, getting alongside people in a creative way and exploring how the arts have the power to make connections which are often unexpected, and almost always intriguing.

Check out The Art of Joy’s website to get an overview of what’s happening and find out how you can get involved. 

I’m wondering if we could do some guerilla joy-bringing too.  How would the people of Edinburgh receive it?  How do I receive it?  Do we welcome unexpected joy with open arms?  With suspicion? With pessimism?  Do we welcome joy with gratitude and expectation of further unanticipated wonder to come?  A masterclass in joy-giving and joy-receiving might be no bad thing in our world.

Our small group shrank down to just four the other night.  Sometimes TSTIAI and I get a bit discouraged when that happens, when not many people manage to make it along, but that night was so nice that, despite missing our temporarily absent members, we felt at peace that the night had panned out as it was intended to. 

We were joined by Mr and Mrs Fourth Space for the evening, and we all happily set about eating all the food in front of us whilst chatting and setting the world to rights.  A funny thing happened for me that evening though, which I’m sharing here because, although it relates to the events and conversation of the evening, it has taught me a really big lesson. 

As we chatted away and munched away we heard our daughter crying a bit from her bedroom, so I went through to check on her and get her settled again.  As I sat stroking her head, shushing  her back to sleep I prayed silently, and to be honest, almost absentmindedly.  As I did this I found myself half-remembering some verses, but couldn’t quite recall them properly.  I knew they were words Jesus had quoted from Isaiah, but I am hopeless at remembering bible verses. 

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to… something about captives…preaching good news…?

I couldn’t get this half-memory out of my head so once my daughter had settled back to sleep I crept through to our bedroom to see if I could find the passage in my bible.  I scanned Isaiah but couldn’t see the passage I was thinking of so put it out of my mind for the time being, scolding myself inwardly for being such a bad Christian – shouldn’t I be able to quote whole chunks of the bible after being a ‘Jesus follower’ for over 20 years? (No need to answer that)

Back with our miniature small group we ended up talking through some ideas about our church’s forthcoming project Love Out Loud, and pondering what our wee group might get involved in doing.  There were some good initial thoughts, but it was one of the last things that was said by Fourth Space that stayed with me.  He said something along the lines that people are feeling so down with all the bad news around just now, that perhaps whatever we do should just aim to be a blessing, freely given.  In essence we should be bringing joy. Well, that was how I heard it, so I’m not quoting verbatim.

Goodbyes were said, and TSTIAI and I set about tidying up and getting ready for bed.   A short time later, tucked under the duvet with a hot water bottle toasting my legs and a comfy pillow propping me up I opened up my bible and the devotional notes I’ve been using on and off for a good while (God 360).

It asked me to read Luke 4:14 – 21…It was the exact passage I had been (randomly?) thinking of and half remembering earlier in the evening, where Jesus stands in the temple and reads a passage from Isaiah then declares that he is the fulfillment of that message.  I decided to go to Isaiah 61 where the original passage is found, and read it in The Message.  Check this out (this is where Fourth Space was essentially quoting from Isaiah too – I wonder if he knew?):

The Spirit of God, the Master, is on me because God anointed me.

He sent me to preach good news to the poor, heal the heartbroken, announce freedom to all captives, pardon all prisoners.

God sent me to announce the year of his grace – a celebration of God’s destruction of our enemies – and to comfort all who mourn, to care for the needs of all who mourn in Zion, give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes, messages of joy instead of news of doom, a praising heart instead of a languid spirit.

(Isaiah 61: 1 – 3, italics my own)

It confirms for me that no matter what we do for Love Out Loud, if we fulfill that part of Jesus’ manifesto from Isaiah we’ll be doing exactly what will delight God’s heart. 

And the lesson I learnt, that God has been working overtime to teach me this week, is that he is full of stuff to tell me, stuff to talk to me about, stuff to guide me.  I just need to listen.

(And maybe I should set about memorising a few more bible verses.)

The week I wanted?

  • An optimistic and motivated return to work after the Christmas break
  • A return to the security of routine, with a reluctant farewell to the freedom of holidays
  • A well- paced week, with each day a pleasant balance of rewarding work, refreshing sleep, delightful family time and blessed time with others
  • A week where I can enjoy my change from 5 day a week full-timer status at work, to 4 day a week part-timer status, by just enjoying spending time with my daughter on our shared day off mid-week
  • A week where I look around my home and feel the small pleasures of successful domesticity as I observe the well-ordered home we have achieved as we make the most of our refreshing break by spending a little time each evening tidying and putting away.

The week I got?

  • A week of slightly random work events, bubble-wrapped in the back to work torpor that I had forgotten always surrounds this returning week after Christmas
  • A week of frantically juggling a sick daughter with trying (and mostly failing) to get to work on time
  • A week of wakeful nights as our daughter became sicker as the week progressed, and the eventual pleasure today of seeing her well enough to go to nursery and now to have her finally sleeping well
  • A week of enormous delight in the company of others, from work colleagues, to my family, to our extended ‘small group family’ despite encroaching exhaustion and apparently terminal frustration
  • A week of observing our home fall into further chaos as we lack the time and energy to tidy up – until tonight

Overall, and all things considered, it was a pretty good week!  However, it should be noted that I am saying this tonight, as bedtime draws near, my daughter is (currently, and surprisingly, given the last 5 days) sleeping peacefully and a weekend of leisure and time with great friends beckons.

Have a great weekend too.  Sleep well!

Happy New Year!

As 2008 ended and we eased into 2009 my family were enjoying the company of some old and very good friends in a wee Aberdeenshire village.  We see far too little of them, but feel blessed in the knowledge that whenever we all do get together we seem to somehow manage to pick up where we left off.  Our friends were never ones for superficial chat when something of real significance could be said, and our time with them over Hogmanay and New Year’s Day was no different.  So many great conversations squeezed into so little time!  However, there was one particular strand of conversation that really struck home with me, as it echoed and expanded upon something I’ve been thinking about and somehow hadn’t manage to articulate. 

We were chatting about being settled versus the draw to new experiences.  I have to say I’m a sucker for a new experience (so long as it doesn’t involve bungee jumping), and novelty, fresh and short lived, is very attractive.  But I’ve been reflecting upon what this then costs, on how this renders things temporary and unstable. 

Our friend Mike had obviously done some thinking on this too, and managed to articulate his thinking much better than I could.  He contrasted the difference between ‘depth’ and ‘breadth’ in human experience.  A person of ‘deep’ experience will invest themselves fully and at length into what ever they feel called to do – or perhaps what they simply find themselves doing.  This long investment results, naturally, in a richness of knowledge and understanding beyond what might in the normal order of things be achieved.  This means, crudely, that they have a great deal of experience in a very narrow realm.  A person of ‘broad’ experience will instead have explored many areas, for example they may have had several careers or lived in many widely differing locations, but this will of course limit the amount of deep experience they might have – so they have a more ‘surface’ experience but across a much greater scope.

I’ve just read that back and I promise you Mike said it much better at the time!

This led me back to a train of thought I’d been on for a while.  What does it mean for my relationships with others?  We’ve got a small circle of really good friends, most of whom we’ve known now for many years, and we know that these are friends who we will grow old with as we walk through life and faith together.  Despite the fact that geography separates us from most of them, there seems to be a tacit understanding that these friendships are for keeps.  There is accountability, encouragement, shared joy and shared pain.  These have, with the passage of time, and the commitment that such relationships need, become friendships of depth.

Closer to home I look at the people who I walk alongside as fellow followers of Christ.  I am challenged to commit to relationships of depth there too.  To see those around me as people whom I should serve not just here and now, but (with the caveat of God calling me to something different) with commitment and an intention to serve and love for a lifetime. 

But the draw to new experience, and this year, to find a new challenge is still very strong, and finding the balance between the two is hard.  Can I have depth and breadth, I wonder?

I’ve been doing some more thinking about living and loving in a small group.  Our church has long had house groups or bible study groups, but the last couple of years has upped the ante in this area and our large and growing church really encourages everyone to ‘do life’ with others in a small group setting.  I suppose I see it as a kind of micro-church, one that can fit around a table and let everyone share in the same conversation. 

We’ve had a small group in our home for the last couple of years, which we host and lead – but my husband does the real leading (I think I’m more of a backseat driver). We’ve been doing some reflecting on what it means, or what it might mean, to be a small group leader, and thinking about how well we do this and how we might do better.  Then I found this list and thought it was helpful as a yardstick.  Would be interested to hear what others think too though.  What should a small group leader do?

10 GREAT WAYS TO CARE FOR YOUR GROUP MEMBERS

10. Pray for your group members each morning.
9. Meet a group member for coffee.
8. Invite the group over for dinner.
7. Send a note of encouragement.
6. Ask questions.
5. Celebrate with them, literally…birthdays, anniversaries, etc.
4. Notice when they’re absent.
3. Make ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ the most important part of your interactions.
2. Call them out…challenge them in areas where they need to change.
1. Get them serving others.

It’s perhaps notable that it doesn’t say anything about bible study, theological understanding or being a gifted speaker.  It does, however, offer a strong model of leading by serving, amongst other things.  It’s not rocket science, to coin a phrase, but it is practical.

Okay, it’s unlikely that any group of people is actually going to be perfect in a literal way.  But I genuinely believe that, warts and all (not that any of them are particularly warty), the small group of fellow believers and followers of Jesus who gather in our home are a pretty perfect little collective.

I find myself thinking about what it means to live in meaningful community more and more.  I came across this post about that very thing, and about how we do this in troubled times, and it says it so simply and so well I would like to commend it to you.

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