It takes a village…

I was watching my birds the other day and I observed that, whilst it was clear that there was one pair of birds raising the newly hatched chicks, a number of other birds were getting involved. At one point several birds were gathered around the breeding box and at other times different birds were contributing nesting materials. They even took turns in feeding the young chicks who have such voracious appetites. The whole ‘flock’ seemed to be involved and it reminded me of the old adage which states “It take a village to raise a child”.

Raising children is a challenge and an opportunity like no other…you have the opportunity to guide, shape and launch an individual into what is hopefully a successful and meaningful life. But it is not a job just for the parents – we live in a culture that is not as ‘connected’ as it used to be. Many people are dislocated from family, busy at working multiple jobs, and challenged by the demands of our consumer and technological society.

We can easily find ourselves alone, even though we are surrounded by people.

The fact is that we need to take the opportunities that are afforded us – we need to be involved (appropriately) in the lives of our grandchildren, nephews, nieces, cousins, friends and neighbours – I am not talking about ‘butting in’ and imposing your values or attitudes upon them, I am talking about being available, being supportive, listening and understanding when that help is needed.

I learnt so much from my parents but if that was the only input I received I would not be the man I now am. I am thankful for others who had the courage and the determination to speak into my life and help me navigate through the various choices and twists I have taken.

When was the last time you made a choice and a determined effort to be a positive impact upon someone else – especially a child? It might be that this is a common pattern in your life or it might be something you used to do, or perhaps you have never thought about it…

My birds are all busy making sure the new chicks have every good thing they need.

Maybe it is time for us to share the load and help someone else become what they are destined to be. The Word of God challenges and calls us to… “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”     Galatians 6:2

Grief…how long?

“She seems very quiet and withdrawn, she hasn’t been sleeping well and she has had some bad dreams…is this normal?”

The little girl in question was about 7 years old and she was coming to terms with the fact that her father had died about a month ago after a fairly long battle with illness. The uncle and grandparents I was talking too were naturally concerned and they were asking the question that I find so many people need to ask.

A significant part of my job entails working with people who are facing grief and loss – it is not a part of the job to ‘enjoy’ but it is an important and special place where I am given the privilege to walk alongside people at some of their darkest moments.   The thing about grief is that we don’t really want to know too much about it, we don’t want to experience it and, if we could, we would chose to avoid it for the whole of our lives. However, the reality is that we all will face grief and loss at some time and it is good to be able to recognise it and help those who are facing it.

There is no simple or concise answer to the questions “How do you grieve?” or “How long does grief take?” Everyone is on their own journey and these questions will be influenced by your experience, your culture, the depth of relationship and any ‘complicating’ factors that may be present. One person will grieve one way and another totally differently.

For the inexperienced, grief looks strange, confronting and even a bit scary…people respond in unexpected ways and it can be unsettling. But the truth is that there is a range of responses that fall within the boundaries of what could be called “Normal Grief”. It is not a series of ‘stages’ to move through but a convoluted and twisted pathway which includes complex emotions and re-organisation of our lives. The deeper we love the deeper we grieve.

Quiet support, gentle understanding and appropriate time are the best things you can offer to assist those who are facing grief and loss. It is also helpful to point them towards someone who knows a bit about the process of grief they are traversing. The last resource I would recommend is the support and care of the Lord Jesus Himself who of course was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” Isaiah 53:3

If you are grieving today, I pray that peace and comfort will surround you…

Time to grow up!

I had a moment last weekend where the chaos subsided and I realised just what was happening. I stood next to my son as his eyes lit up and then started to glisten as his new bride walked down the aisle to meet him. It was a beautiful day, in a fantastic location, surrounded by friends and family, who all seemed to be having a wonderful time…and I also had the privilege of conducting the service.

This is the first of our children to be married and so it starts a new era for our family and so many things change – we have not lost a son but gained a bedroom! No really…we have gained another daughter. A new family unit has started and they will (I’m sure) do things differently, reach for different goals, experience different things and that is what makes it fantastic!

Life is all about growth and with growth comes some pain – it is bitter sweet to watch your children launch out on their own, especially when you have been so focussed on their safety, comfort and development – but to not allow them to grow would be terrible, to not see them become all they could be would be such a waste.

I did find myself looking at my son throughout the day and recalling the child he was, his growth, his challenges, the times he was sick and the times that he really needed me and I confess that it made me ‘misty’ more than once – but those feelings were balanced out but the fact that I know he is now a fine young man with a great future and a great partner to share the road with.

I have no doubt that they will do well and I look forward with expectation to what is ahead.

‘Ahead’ is a good place to look, looking ‘behind’ is fun and nostalgic but you can’t achieve anything if you dwell there.

Remember, ‘growth’ is the right option to choose no matter how old we become.

In the great ‘love’ passage in 1 Corinthians, that was read at the wedding, it says at the end

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became adult, I put away childish things… Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” 1 Cor13:11–12

Maybe it is time we all ‘grew up’ and get to know Him who already knows us so well.

A Prized Possession…

I was asked this week to give away one of my most prized possessions. I have had it for 26 years and I knew (and had hoped for some time) that this day was coming. I am talking about the fact that a fine young man took the opportunity to ask for my permission to marry my eldest daughter.

My daughter is of course an individual who is free to make up her own mind but I was really glad to be asked. It was a nice ‘old fashioned’ touch that meant a lot to me. It also gave me the opportunity to ask a couple of questions of my own…

I did for a moment think of sending him out on a quest to prove his bold, undying love and commitment. I also thought about the possibility of requesting a herd of goats as a dowry…but instead I settled on a couple of questions which related to how he felt about her and how he intended to strengthen her and stand with her as they make their life together.

I am very excited for them but I could not have been supportive if I wasn’t sure that they were good for each other and that they shared love and commitment for the future. I know that there are lots of great days ahead of them, some full of joy and some full of challenge, but together they will be able to face it.

As I thought about my role as a father it gave me reason to pause and contemplate our Father in heaven. The central message of the complete Bible can be summed up in a single verse from John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…”

The importance of the gift cannot be under estimated neither can its inherent value.

God gave each one of us the right to accept or reject, to learn from or ignore the gift of His Son. As a Father, He relinquishes the authority to you, one in whom He has the greatest hope.

As parents, my wife and I get to sit back and to watch our children make their way in the world, we offer advice, we offer help but the choice is up to each one. Your Father in heaven has set plans ahead of you but it is up to you how you will respond. I hope that you are ‘old fashioned’ enough to care and respond to all He hope for you!

Fantasy or reality?

It started over 30 years ago when I first read ‘The Hobbit’ and it continued when I read ‘The Lord of the Rings’ to my wife during the first year we were married. I loved these books and I would find myself visiting them at least every couple of years. I had copies of the BBC radio adaptations and various versions of the audio books but when the movies finally came out I was overwhelmingly impressed with the world that Sir Peter Jackson had released from the printed page and brought forward into a visual reality.

This week we had the opportunity to visit the movie set of ‘Hobbiton’ which last year was the most visited tourist attraction in New Zealand (and is probably going to be so again this year). To say that it was ‘well done’ would be a massive understatement as I found that it lived up to and exceeded my expectations at every turn. I am not going to spoil it for anyone by giving away details because I hope (if you are interested) you will one day be able to find them out for yourself but I just want to say that I was not disappointed by what I experienced.

So many things seem to fail to live up to the hype they are surrounded in. We are bombarded by reality and lifestyle shows that promise dramatic and ‘shocking’ outcomes, only to find that someone merely made a mistake when cooking dinner – which happens in most houses from time to time. We have all made a purchase which has promised to change our life, but when we get home we soon find it is merely another item on a long lists of ‘almosts’. We have all looked forward to a special event and had it fail to impress or travelled to visit somewhere special only to find that it is actually not that special after all.

So when something lives up to its advertising we are surprised, refreshed and satisfied all at the same time. This is precisely how I felt after visiting Hobbiton and it was a welcomed rarity. When you come across something that lives up to its expectations you want to share it with others. That is why every week I share with you. Even more than the fantasy of Hobbiton I have found a reality that you can rely upon – the hope found in the person and promises of Jesus Christ.

“Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given.”   Romans 5:5

Should it stay?

“Should it stay or should it go?”

This is the question we have been asking for the last couple of weeks as we have made our final preparations to move to our new house.

We haven’t moved for well over a decade and so (just like everyone else) we have acquired more stuff than we really need and now is a perfect opportunity to ‘keep or cull’.

Some things are really simple and obvious – a crepe maker that is virtually unused and still in its original box; a coffee machine that is still working well but has been superseded by a better, more effective system; spare parts for bikes which we no longer have…stuff like that.

But other things are more difficult…as I was digging through the ‘treasures’ in my garage I came upon a box of “Fathers’ Day Stuff” and in it I found a number of items which proclaimed me as “The best dad in the world”, cards, paper ties, pottery figures and letters from various years and at various ages of my kids’ childhoods.

It made me think about little tokens or signs I had received and treasured which remind me of people in my world and how they feel about me – I also thought about some of the expressions of love that I had made and wondered for a moment if anyone else had a box with some token of mine from many years ago.

Fathers’ Day brings up different feelings for different people – it can be quite polarising – depending on the connection or lack of connection they had with their Dad.

Some have told me of an incredible list of negatives which make celebrating or even remembering fathers’ day painful – some feel nothing at all and the day passes without comment – for me and others it is one of the days I really enjoy and not just because the kids gifts have improved over time!

Looking through my box I knew almost immediately that it had made the ‘keep’ pile – call me sentimental if you like – but one of the things I treasure most is relationships.

When you do an inventory on what (and who) is important to you, what comes to mind? Which faces, memories or treasures are in your ‘keep’ pile? Does the Father in heaven have a place in your memory or does he seem distant and aloof?

I have found Him to be my greatest treasure of all – one that I desire to ‘keep’ forevermore…

I hope that this Fathers’ day holds something fresh and new for you…

Just to find out…

You could chalk it up to an enquiring mind; perhaps I was too confident in my own ability; it could be youthful exuberance or possibly I was completely foolish – but – I did learn a valuable lesson.

I was about 8 years old and I was home alone after school and I was about to make a milkshake – this was something that I had done hundreds of times before but today I wanted to try something different – I don’t really know why but I remember reaching into the bowl of the blender, taking hold of the blades at the base and, with the other hand, pressing the ‘pulse’ button.

What I thought would happen was that my incredible strength would stop the blades from turning… what actually happened was that my fingers were bounced around by 4 very sharp blades moving at over 600rpm!

After only a 2 second pulse three fingers and a thumb were bleeding and I was one very important lesson smarter!

Over many years I have learned many lessons… drinking a glass of orange juice immediately after a glass of milk is not a great idea; you can’t park a 4 tonne truck in a normal car park between two other cars; buying encyclopedias at the Easter Show is a mistake; and using brown sugar instead of coco makes terrible chocolate crackles!

We all have learned many things through the stages of our lives as we have travelled from childhood through adolescence into adulthood. Hopefully we are better equipped now than when we started! The lessons we have learnt have become a part of who we are and so they have been valuable and that is one of the best opportunities of our lives…

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.”          1 Cor 13:11

So one question remains for each of us – have we learned the most important lesson of all or has it passed us by?

Have we got to know ourselves in the way that the Lord knows us? Or is there more yet to learn?   Just don’t put your hand in a blender!