10 ways to help a family living with Autism in your congregation

Footie PJs
This is my son.  He has Autism.  He is also a sweet, funny, delightful child who never ceases to amaze me. In honour of World Autism Awareness Day I thought I would put together a list of some things that might help a family with Autism feel more comfortable in the Church. Because of my nomadic existence in ministry we have as a family travelled to many congregations and there are some things I’ve noticed about Churches that might make things challenging for families who have children with Autism or special needs in general. These may not apply to every family and it’s written from our personal point of view but I think it might be a good starting point for discussion and inclusion in our families and communities at large.

Number One: Please don’t tell me you feel sorry for me.

Also included in this would be a request to not tell me it’s a waste of a life or that he could’ve been so much more.  Sure sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes I wish life was easier for him. Sometimes I wonder why it all happened. In all of that wishing and wondering though there is never a point at which I think his life is wasted or that I feel hard done by.  Life happens.  Sometimes things happen unexpectedly.  My son is a joy and a blessing.  While I might wish to make things easier for him I would never wish for him to be someone different.  I do not feel sorry for myself and I don’t want you to.

Number two: Think about moving a few pews up so families with children who have special needs can sit in the back.

This one is especially for you Presbyterians out there. I know everyone loves the back as I’m often up front alone. I know you want a quick exit so they can be the first to hit the brunch line at the Holiday Inn. For our sake however I would ask that you consider surrendering the back pew for us and families like us. Our son has some sensory issues which make loud music at times hard for him to handle. Somedays he’s just fine and on others it’s tough. We don’t want to disrupt the service so leaving us with the quick exit would be very kind. I assure you should we run into each other at the Holiday Inn I will be glad to let you go first in the buffet line!

Number three: Please don’t tell me he ‘should’ be downstairs.

There are some people who think all children should be in Sunday School. I know that’s how it used to be. I also know that you’re running a wonderful program and many children would love it. Unfortunately for our son who struggles with communication and social interaction it can be overwhelming for him. We are working together as a family to make these things easier for him. There are weeks where we can power through and others where he needs space upstairs. It’s not that we don’t appreciate your program or value what you offer we just need to listen to his needs and do what’s best for him.

Number four: Include many different types of learning styles and engagement in your Sunday School Program.

If we manage to convince X that Sunday School is a good idea we’ve found many learning styles keeps things moving nicely.  This one really benefits all children when you think about it! Incorporating physical, listening and visual learning styles into the Sunday School Program helps more children engage. Each child has different strengths and weaknesses. By including a variety of activities and means of engagement you’re more likely to catch the attention of each child and find ways to include them all. This keeps things moving and fresh which allows for less downtime and reduces the potential for meltdowns. Also please don’t feel bad if a parent happens to stay downstairs with a child who has autism.  It’s not that they think you can’t ‘handle’ it. It’s that they are there to support their child as they navigate a potentially tricky situation for them.

Number five: If you want to chat with him following the service be sure to pause a little while you wait for his answer.

Each person with Autism is different so this may not apply to them all but one thing I have noticed is that children with autism may need a little more space in the conversation to process the words and craft a response.  If my son takes some time answering after you’ve spoken to him he’s not ignoring you, he’s thinking. If he doesn’t seem to grasp what you are saying after a few moments try a different way of phrasing the question. This would help a lot with interactions. Often times I see people come up to X. and start to talk then leave quickly and miss his response. He wants to engage, just give him the time necessary to do so.

Number six: Don’t stare.

If a meltdown does occur please don’t stare. While we try to avoid them sometimes meltdowns happen unexpectedly. We are lucky that our son loves church but he’s five. Any child who is five has moments of great drama. Add to that a communication deficit and sometimes you have to work hard to figure out where the drama is coming from and why. A ‘shh’ or ‘be quiet’ doesn’t always work and these meltdowns happen unexpectedly. When you stare we feel more awkward than we already did. We are aware it’s not ideal but want to worship with you. Please understand we are doing our best and sometimes things happen without rhyme or reason.

Number seven: Recognize he’s an individual.

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase ‘When you’ve met one child with Autism you’ve met one child with Autism’.  This is very true! He’s an individual. He is not an autistic child. He is a child with Autism. Aside from the Autism he has a personality of his own. There are definite likes and dislikes that he has the same as anyone. Ask him about his cars. Talk to him about his favourite movies. Take time to really discover who he is. He’s a sweet, funny boy. Don’t be afraid of the differences. Embrace him for who he is, Autism and all.

Number eight: Don’t side-step or avoid us. 

We want to feel like we’re part of the community of faith. Don’t avoid us because you don’t know what to say. Just treat us the same as any other family. Ask us how therapy is going. Ask us what we did on the weekend. We would love to hear how you’re doing as well.

Number nine: If you are curious, ask! 

If you don’t know what Autism is and would like to know more, ask! If you’re curious as to why X. isn’t in school, we would love to engage you and help you understand how we are trying to help him. Things might be different for our family and we know that to some it seems odd. We are happy to point you to resources and explain our situation so you might better understand.

This leads me to the bigger point. If you are curious or wondering how you might make the church a more inclusive or welcoming place, ask. Families with Children who have special needs would love to help you understand what might make the church a more welcoming, helpful place. It’s hard to know what’s needed unless you ask.

Number ten: Love him and share God’s love with him regularly. 

He is a child of God. He loves church. He wants to be part of things and feel like he’s part of the community. The best thing you can do for him is to shower him with love. Show him he is welcome here. Show him he matters to you and to God.

And that about sums it up for me.  Is there anything I’ve left out?  If so, leave a message in the comments and keep the conversation rolling!  

Sometimes it’s hard…

Sometimes it’s hard to go to church.

I know.  It’s a horrible thing to say.  Nevertheless it’s true.

There are some Sundays where it’s really difficult to get myself out of bed and drag myself into the shower.  As a pregnant woman I don’t find the pews particularly comfortable. My son does not enjoy the company of other children in Sunday School and thus stays up with us. This would be fine if I was was preaching but for some reason when we go to my Dad’s church he does not like entering the sanctuary. He feels we should be able to hang out in Grandpa’s office until it’s all done and that means it’s a struggle for my husband and I. I sometimes miss contemplative music. Also if I’m honest I miss music that I know. As I’ve been busy working up to this point I don’t really know the music at my Dad’s church. I find this hard. I really respond to hymns and music in worship and when I don’t know them, it’s difficult for me.

Sometimes it’s hard but we persist. We continue.

The issue of church attendance and comfort has popped up on my Facebook feed a lot lately. Donald Miller recently wrote a blog about how he doesn’t attend church very often and people are going crazy. Apparently quite a few people I know have very strong feelings about this. It would seem many feel church is a necessity. Some have said that you meet God in the liturgy. Others have shared another follow up post by Geoff Suratt on why he will never leave the church which would often receive comments and statements which affirm people’s comfort and positive worship experiences.

None of what anyone is saying is wrong. It’s all a matter of perspective. I’m thrilled that so many people get so much out of corporate worship and feel a sense of connection with God there. The truth is, for me I don’t always feel that way. With the distractions and lately the discomfort of the pew as I sit there in this awkward pregnant body I don’t get the ‘high’ or the sense of peace and tranquility that so many do. I go for other reasons. I go to be part of a community of believers. I go to lift others up. I go to worship and participate as I am able. I go for my son. I go for a whole host of reasons but truthfully, I really don’t go for myself.

My greatest spiritual awakenings and understandings have most often come in a moment of solitude. My morning prayer with God, the study and readings I do alone often fill me with greater peace and understanding than church does. There are moments and times in worship when I do experience a great sense of wonder and awe but it’s not a constant, consistent thrill for me. I live for quiet moments of faith. I long for God’s whisper in moments scattered throughout my day.

Often when people talk about how important church is and how we all need to carry on the traditions as they have always been I find my mind wandering to the ministry of Jesus. I think of the teaching he did around tables, on hill sides and at the well. I wonder if we should remind ourselves that he made a pretty big stink in the temple and he prayed in gardens alone. There are many ways to meet God. Many worship styles, experiences and learning methods at play. There is no one right way in which to do it and while it might work for you, it won’t work for everyone.  I go to church because I want to go. For my son, my family and the community. I go because it’s right for me where I am in life right now. I want to facilitate change. To help create more open, accepting environments. I want to make God accessible to more people, in more ways. I go for many reasons, important reasons but that doesn’t always mean it’s easy.   

I think perhaps it would be wise for us as people who worship together to remember how much easier it is to not go. As we seek to be an inclusive church, to create inviting environments perhaps we should look at what we are up against. How the warmth of a cup of coffee, a good book and your pyjamas might be more enticing than heading out the door on a winter morning. How difficult it is for people who do not know the rules and hidden structure of worship to jump in and participate. How hard it might be to focus on a sermon when the last time you sat through a lecture was 10 years ago in school. It doesn’t come easily to everyone and when it does, they are the lucky ones. Maybe if we look at the reasons people don’t go or don’t want to go we will see ways in which we need to change. We may discover areas of improvement and perhaps become the accessible places we want to be. Sometimes it is easier not to go. I guess it’s our job to create a worship experience that is so inviting that people want to go anyways.

The struggle.

When Mayim Bialik stated on her blog today that her youngest son just started talking about 9 months ago I breathed a huge sigh of relief. It’s nice to hear from another mother that their child was a little slow when it comes to speech. No one we know is experiencing this and sometimes it feels like we’re alone. For most people communication comes easily. For my son it’s a different story. He seems to have a little difficulty processing words and it’s coming for him but it takes time. He goes to speech therapy and we do drills and fun games at home to encourage him to put his words together and find ways of communicating that work for him. I read to him every day. We practice writing words, talking on walks and I am always looking for new ways to encourage him to grow. It’s work, but good work. When he succeeds and has a breakthrough we all do a little dance.

It has been wonderful to watch him grow and change but it can be tough to see him struggle. This is part of the gift of being a parent. The good comes with the not so good. Not everything is easy or perfect but it’s life and it’s ours. In watching him break down the english language I’ve been able to see how he thinks, discover things that are of great importance to him (I’m looking at you Curious George) and connect with him as we work together to make all of his wonderful thoughts come out in a new way.

My Mom and I recently had a conversation about parenting and she said sometimes it would be so hard for her when we would come home from school feeling wronged, demanding to know if we acted/responded/behaved in a way we were certain was untrue. She said sometimes she’d be thinking ‘Yes you do that all the time’ but would have to find an appropriate loving way to correct and encourage us as we grew. Struggling, changing and growing is part of the human condition. I’m 33 and I still struggle. I suspect I will struggle until I die and I don’t think this is a bad thing. Some of the greatest struggles of my life have helped to define me as a person. Some of those moments that seem the darkest are where I met God.

The struggle is what makes us. It can break us of course if we let it. If we allow the tough stuff to derail us, if we focus so much on the negative that we forget what we are fighting for we will not survive. In my life I’ve seen how often struggle and working through it has helped me to see things in a new way, forced creative thinking and shown me who really is important to me in my life. Struggle, pain, change and growth are vital in moving us along life’s path. These are essential and my son as young as he is is learning that work, no matter how hard it is pays off. When he succeeds and has a breakthrough the joy on his face and excitement he feels is contagious. It really helps me to realize how important it is to never give up, to always keep fighting.

This desire to push through seems to get lost somewhere between the age of 3 and 33 it seems. As we get older, struggles seem that much harder to push through. Maybe it’s that they often get tougher to deal with. We see death and loss. We experience injustice and intolerance. We know how difficult the world can be for some and we wonder how we can make a difference. This is especially true in the church right now. We’re watching churches close. Others struggle financially and spiritually. There is a sense that the end is coming and hope seems to be present but is fading. We are struggling and the struggle at times seems insurmountable. Sometimes in church I feel like I’m alone in a room of those who are living deep in the struggle and cannot see the light. The negativity can be suffocating and I feel the need to break free, escape for a bit and breathe in some fresh air.

Even the good churches experience moments of suffocating darkness. It can be maddening to say to a person, ‘Isn’t it great how many people came out today?’ and hear the response ‘No one comes to church anymore.  It isn’t like it used to be.’. The negativity and focus on that which has been lost does not help propel us into the future. We need to stop dwelling on that which is gone and start focussing on our successes, no matter how small they may seem. Our struggle is understood by the one who came to save. The Spirit is with us, guiding us so we will make it through. Change has come, our lives are different but God is constant and supporting. We need to look for the light and stop living in darkness.

I had Sunday off this week as I attended a cousin’s wedding out of town this weekend and I have the next few Sundays off for similar reasons. There is a celebration to attend in honor of my Dad’s 20th anniversary of his ordination and I am awaiting the arrival of my very first niece. Good things are on the horizon and I’m looking forward to celebrating. I can’t help but admit that I’m a little glad to have a break from the church (not worship mind you). It’s nice to not be the one fielding questions and dealing with anxiety. Ministry is a tough place to be at times and it’s necessary to step out, take a breath and look for the light when darkness surrounds you.

I know we are struggling as a denomination and I’m not about to abandon ship. I told a friend yesterday I’ll go down fighting if necessary but I want to do so with a committed group of individuals who see the struggle as something to work through, not something to surrender to. My son has shown me that. In watching him refuse to give up, in seeing his determination to conquer something that is challenging for him I’ve seen what it means to be passionately committed to a cause. I want to fight like he fights. I want to be that determined. I hope there are others who feel this way. We have a good thing, the greatest of things. We have the Gospel, the Good News. It’s something worth sharing. It’s something worth fighting for and we cannot surrender to this time of struggle. We may need to find new ways of existing, of communicating with the world. Creative thinking is needed and perhaps we will change more than we might like but we cannot quit. The message is too important for that.

It takes a village.

Every night before bed my son and I read together.  He dives under the covers and we read stories that take us to far away places like Little Critter Land and the Island of Sodor.  We also read the classics from my youth like Robert Munsch and The Berenstain Bears. When we were at Costco a few weeks ago we found the Berenstain Bears Storybook Bible and have already read through it completely and are now turning to our favorite stories each night.  My son loves the story of Jesus and finds David to be quite compelling.  It’s been a really fun read together and the pictures are quite delightful.  Each story also comes with commentary from Mom of course and I think he finds it funny.

I love to talk to my son about life and faith and all kinds of things as it happens around us but it’s not something that I do in an age specific way.  It’s something we live in this house and as a result I don’t really think about programming it into our day at a specific time, it’s just what we do.  I think this may be unusual in the Christian circuit, or at least it feels that way to me today.  My son went to a Jump into JK program at our local Christian School to try it out and see if it was a good fit for him.  As he is a shy fellow he wouldn’t let me leave so I got to see what they were doing and I was amazed.  As all the kids sat around the mat they knew word for word ‘Jesus Loves Me’ and X sat there giving me the side eye as I had obviously failed him in not teaching it to him.  It’s not that we don’t listen to Christian music ever.  I have it playing on my iPhone in my mix and he knows some of the songs pretty well.  As we were driving out of the school parking lot he was belting out the chorus from Josh Turner’s Long Black Train.  Hearing a three year old sing “But there’s victory in the Lord I say” is pretty funny especially after he couldn’t sing Jesus Loves Me.

I think part of this stems from the fact that I tend to bounce around.  We’ve been lucky lately in that I’ve only been supplying in one congregation but we move from church to church as a family and as X. is fairly shy he doesn’t jump in and out of Sunday School programs easily.  I teach him at home.  We pray and read and talk about Jesus but he doesn’t get those kid songs that I remember from my youth. I wonder if this is a good thing or a bad thing.  I wonder how it will impact him as he grows.  He is very comfortable in church and is generally well behaved for my husband.  He enjoys listening to hymns and singing along where he can.  Also he shouts out ‘Amen’ at inappropriate times and I find this hilarious. He’s a kid who’s not church-schooled but is very churched.  I wonder how this will work in the future and I suspect he has an advantage, his mom is someone who has resources and tools to teach him at home.  Maybe it’s not conventional but it works for us and he’ll learn it’s okay to probe and question in faith from us.  I’m glad I can do this for him but I wonder about the other kids.  What happens to the families in the church when programming ceases to exist for them.  Where do they turn or do they turn anywhere?

The first thing on the chopping block for any church seems to be Sunday School or child related programming.  This is especially true when the numbers are small.  This is so backward to me.  We should be investing in our children.  Sharing with them and showing them that they are important, that they in fact are the future.  We should let them know that they matter and we should be learning from them, after all Jesus did say unless we become like children there is no getting into the kingdom of heaven. This is a real problem for us.  How can we learn from the children when we don’t see them or place any value on them besides the ten minutes they entertain us during the children’s time in worship?

Do we value our children? Are we giving them what they need?  Do we look to them as our future?

These are questions we really need to be asking.  Like it or not our children are the future.  It’s not about us, it’s about them.  It’s about helping them grow in faith and helping them discover the world around them.  It’s about finding ways to engage and encourage them as they  make their way.  It’s about sharing the gospel in an exciting way because it’s an exciting message. While my son may not know Jesus Loves Me, he will hopefully grow up knowing that God loves him and it’s okay to make mistakes as long as you get back on that horse to try again.  He’ll learn about grace and forgiveness, redemption and living life to the fullest.  I want him to fully engage, to question and ponder.   We will teach these things to him and when we settle once more in a charge I am hopeful that a congregation will assist in this. It takes a village to raise a child.  We need to be that village for our children. To love them and lift them up in faith. To pray for them and give them everything they need to make their way into the world.  Are we doing that?  Are we giving them everything we have?  If not, maybe we should think about what we are doing and ask ourselves if it’s enough.

We need community.

Yesterday I went to church. Hardly surprising I know but while I was there I saw various gifts being used, people doing ministry and it filled my heart. The church I’m going to be with through Easter is a good group of people and I love seeing them interact because they are so loving and kind. They have big hearts and they are a community. This morning as I pulled out my Lent Project the importance of community and gifts really struck me. We see two people in this passage. Simeon is a man who is waiting on God’s specific promise of a redeemer to come and Anna is a prophet for the Lord who trusts in God’s promises and is in constant worship and prayer. Two different people experiencing a moment with Jesus who see things differently, who give us a view of what is to come.

Simeon is given the gift of knowledge, of foresight. He shares with Jesus’ parents the pain that is to come, a hint of what may happen. He reminds them, and us that Jesus is about more than just freedom from political injustice, he’s here to redeem our hearts. Anna rejoices with thanksgiving and praise for the coming of the child and tells everyone who has been waiting for redemption that it is here!  Simeon’s knowledge is important as is Anna’s praise and thanksgiving. Knowing what is to come, that it may be hard and difficult shouldn’t stop us from giving thanks today. These two people balance one another and assist us in seeing the big picture. They help us to see the whole story and that is what we need to be looking at as a church.

We all have different gifts of the same spirit. Some of us are teachers, some prophets while others are servants or healers. All of us have a gift from God and none of us can tell or experience the whole story alone. We need one another. We need each other’s strengths and gifts to do God’s work in the world.

Today we are asked the question “Are you willing to wait for God’s promises to come true?” and I think that’s something I will really reflect on. I am someone who has a tendency to want things to move at a pace that I am comfortable with and I know I need to sink into God’s time and plan. But all that aside, this morning I really see the necessity of being in community, of holding one another up in faith. Anna and Simeon didn’t wait for a redeemer at home. They gathered with others to find strength. We need one other. We need each other for support and encouragement as we wait for God to work with us.

While I will spend the rest of the day reflecting on God’s promises and my trust in God I give thanks now for the community that is offered. I am grateful for the strength that comes when we are all together, using our gifts for the work and will of God.



The yeast…

I’ve been experimenting with bread making this week.  It’s not as exciting as you think.  My husband went into our back room and dug out my bread machine so I only have to layer everything in a precise way and press a button.  It’s pretty easy, or so you would think.  Here is my first attempt.

failed bread
It looks awful, right?  It was even worse inside.  Uncooked and mushy, we couldn’t even make croutons out of this loaf.  What went wrong?  Lots of things I believe.  The first of which was the temperature of the liquid when it connected with the yeast.  You don’t want boiling hot and you definitely don’t want cold.  I think my liquid was too cold.  I also think the recipe I used didn’t call for enough liquid so the bread didn’t mix in the machine correctly.  Nevertheless I persevered and look what happened.

Bread again

This loaf worked.  I made sure that the water was exactly the right temperature.  I watched it like a hawk to ensure that the moisture level was correct and then I ate it smothered in jam.  It was definitely worth the effort and I realized something very important. Yeast is a little picky but when added at the right time, to the right mix amazing things can happen.

Because of my failures and final success with yeast, I started to think about Jesus and what he says about yeast.  Having a better understanding of how yeast works and the multitude of ways it can fail, I realized something important. Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like yeast that is worked into flour. When yeast is worked in and the right setting is there, amazing things can happen.  If however the setting is wrong, there’s nothing the yeast can do and ultimately the bread will fail.  It would seem to me that as God’s people we should be trying to keep ourselves open and ready for the spirit to move within us, to be the yeast in our lives and help us expand and grow.

I think ultimately we would say we want this but it’s scary to contemplate. When you look at bread, when you look at what yeast can do, how it changes and shapes the dough, that kind of change is frightening. Do we really want to double in love, in service, in devotion and commitment?  Do we want our churches to double in love, in service, in devotion, and commitment?  I think if they did amazing things could happen but our lives and church and worship would look very different from how they do today.

Are we ready to open ourselves up and prepare ourselves to do God’s work in the world or are we frightened of what that means?  Do you think you’re ready for yeast to be added to the mix?

 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”  Matthew 13:33 NIV 

Even Lions fans have hope.

Life in 2013 has been quiet thus far.  I made two batches of potatoes for dinner tonight {one with chives, the other with cheese} and have settled in for some much needed coffee after a late night watching the ball drop and trying to encourage my son to stay in bed.  I adore coffee and it’s magical energy producing powers which enable me to function. I’m grateful to those who grow the beans which keep me going.

This last week was wonderful. We spent time together as a family, I’m finally feeling better after a nasty bout with a chest infection and I didn’t go to church. Where did I go instead you might ask? I went to the Lions game. My Mom and Dad got all of us tickets and I made the trek down to Ford Field.

photo (6) 2
It was awesome. I love football and the game was so much more fun to watch in person. We settled in early and I enjoyed some delicious food while watching the practice on the field. As I sat there with my Sloppy Jane in one hand, and a giant drink in the other I turned to my brother and said ‘this is some good church, isn’t it?’. He laughed and shook his head but seriously there were some things I noticed at the stadium that really struck me as a church goer and a minister.

First, the football crowd has a much better community spirit than most of the churches I have been to. The people who were season ticket holders knew each other well. They were hugging and calling out New Years greetings to one another as they found their seats. They also extended that friendliness to us. People were turning around during the game and chatting with one another. The man sitting right in front of us was asking my husband questions and needling my brother {who’s a Bears fan} and there was no hesitation. The warmth and friendliness of the people was rather shocking and quite pleasant. As I sat there I wondered why those of us in the church aren’t more like this. Why we don’t turn around and chat with one another more? Why we don’t extend honest, open affection to those who are visitors? It’s something we should really be working on.

Second, there was excitement in that room. I know we were there to watch a game so that’s expected but I found myself wondering where the excitement went for worship. I often {though not always} find that as I lead worship I am much more excited about it than those who are attending the service. It seems at times as if we’ve sunk into a routine and have lost the thrill for what is is we do. We forget that worship is a celebration and a time to really connect with God. There should be moments of quiet and reflection but also there should be joy and dancing.  I think we should look for ways to make church interesting and enjoyable for people.

Last but definitely not least was the fact that people gathered together for a common purpose and really connected because of it. This was a community of people who even while watching their team go down in defeat after one of the worst seasons imaginable didn’t let that get them down. They were looking towards the future and as we left I said and heard others say, there’s always next year. Hope is something we all need and it seems to me that those of us in the church who in fact have reason to hope have lost our faith. We are struggling and have forgotten about the one who saves and redeems. We’ve lost sight that there is a future possible if we just work towards it. Too many of us are wallowing in our own worries to look into the future and plan for a different season, a different way of doing things. There was hope in that stadium even while the season ended. As a church we need to find hope once more.

It is my hope this year that we move in a positive direction. That we start to live out our faith in community and hope. That we develop an excitement and enthusiasm for the gospel once more. That we begin to believe that a future is possible. If Lions fans believe that a future is possible surely we as believers in the hope and truth Jesus offers can start to see that as a possibility too. It’s time for us to move on out of this negative season in the church and begin preparing for the next stage, the next step. We need to move forwards into tomorrow.

While I was chopping…

I just spent the afternoon chopping vegetables. I went to the market this morning and picked up some lovely produce. As my husband and son entertained themselves I chopped and prepped for the coming week. It makes weeknights easier and dinner time more enjoyable. As I stood there chopping and preparing for the future I started thinking, after all when you’re chopping carrots what else are you going to do?

When you think about it, much of life is really about preparing for the future. We do laundry so we don’t have to walk naked around town. We wash the dishes so we can eat again later. We clean so that in the future we’re not surrounded by a terrible mess. You can see where I am going. What we do now has impacts on the future. What we decide to put our energy into today will definitely affect tomorrow.

So where am I going with this you ask? It’s rather simple. If what we decide to put our energy into today affects tomorrow then we really need to consider what we are doing today. This is so true in many areas of life. The energy we put into our kids, our work, our friendships all have lasting consequences but for today I’m thinking particularly of faith and our churches.

Where are we putting our energy?

Sadly it would seem to me that much of our energy is going into keeping us happy. Instead of making decisions that would benefit the church of the future we are making decisions to stay put and stay content. It’s troubling because these decisions to freeze in place and not make any significant changes will impact those who come behind us, if there is anything of us left to come to. We need to be bold. We need to have vision. We need to see that it’s not about us.

It’s hard to do that, to look beyond what makes us happy and see that there are others in the world who need this news too. We need to change our perspective and see churches as not places where we come but instead as who we are. We need to find ways to engage those who are seeking and not exist strictly for ourselves.

Until we realize that what we do today ultimately impacts our future I don’t think we’ll be able to make significant progress. It’s not enough to just keep hanging in. We need to live well and thrive. Our decisions impact our ability to do this.

And to think this rant formed while just hanging out and chopping some carrots. Can you imagine what I might say if given a few hours to myself to reflect and dream. Perhaps it’s best if I stick to the kitchen…

Rooted in love.

Yesterday my son, his best ‘friend’ Monkey Monkey and I made the journey to place where my siblings live. We had lunch, went to Costco and generally had fun.  Monkey Monkey went with us everywhere as my son is his caretaker.  He feeds him, kisses him and puts him to bed each day.  Sometimes if something particularly bad has happened I need to give Monkey Monkey a kiss to make it better.  My son really loves his friend.  Most kids have something they love like this.  It’s hoped I guess that the love they show for their favorite toy/blanket/insert thing here is a reflection of the love they are getting.  When a child is rooted in love, is established in love they learn to love others in that model.

I guess you could say that who we are is a reflection of where we’ve been and who we’ve grown with.  I find it curious that some of my real life blogging friends are writing about the ‘toxic sludge’ that has invaded our local churches.  They’ve spoken of the anxiety and toxic mess we find ourselves in and they want to dig us out of the mess.  As I read about their dreams and desires I find myself wondering how we got into this mess in the first place. It’s curious that an organization which claims to be keepers of the truth would have deteriorated this far.  I think it’s safe to say we are in trouble and we need help.

This morning my devotions took me to the 3rd chapter of Ephesians and I ran across this verse:

“…And I pray that you being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17-19 NIV

The problem could be that we aren’t rooted in love, we’re rooted in sludge.  Some people would say this isn’t so.  They’d say that we’re rooted in love but the world is in sludge. They’d say that people ‘out there’ just don’t like church anymore and it’s not our fault that we’re {anxious/depressed/frustrated/angry}, it’s theirs.  It’s their fault that we’re in financial hardship.  It’s their fault that we’re struggling to attract people.  It’s their fault…

I think it’s easier to blame others than it is to see that you’re in fact part of the problem.  Look at the Pharisees.  They were good, devout people and they had a lot of rules to follow.  They weren’t technically wrong you know.  There were loads of rules and they knew them by heart.  They spoke the truth of the law a lot of the time but they never got to the heart of the message.  To know something and live something are two different things.  The Pharisees spoke truth but failed to act in love.  They were rooted in tradition and rules instead of God and God’s gift of the law.  They knew the truth but they didn’t live it.

One thing that set Jesus apart from the religious people of his day was his desire to love people and share that love with others.  He spoke God’s truth in this world.  He spoke love to all people and lived a life that was accessible to everyone.  We need to live like this, rooted in the love of God and established in his word and accessible to all people.

When I watch my son love his Monkey Monkey I feel so incredibly blessed.  This little boy knows how to love in a big way.  He’s lived in love, been surrounded by love from a large extended family and collection of friends and that has shown him what love is.  He’s taken what he’s seen and made it his own. As a family we’re not perfect by any measure but that’s okay.  We try and we love and we continuing living in that love. This is what the church should be. We should be first and foremost a collection of people who try and love and live in that love.

Who we are is what our legacy will be.  If we don’t address this toxicity and fear we will pass this to the next generation as a model for what the church should be.  We are called to be living in truth, living in love.

Paul addresses this futher on in the book of Ephesians when he says:

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us…” Ephesians 4:31-5:1 NIV

If we live in God and are rooted in God’s love we will follow God’s example.  Who we are is reflective of where we are rooted.

I guess the question remains, are we rooted in love?
I suspect that if we root ourselves in love we’ll find ways to get out of the mess that we are in.

What do you think?


Water your own grass.

I was doing a little reading this week and came across this thought: “If the grass is greener in someone else’s yard, maybe it’s time you watered your own.  How long has it been since you’ve taken stock of what God’s given you and said, “Father, thank you”.”  {Craig Groeschel, Soul Detox} This is brilliant, absolutely brilliant. How long has it been since you watered your own grass?

Sometimes in life we forget the blessings that we do have. We start longing for things, material and immaterial. We begin believing what the world tells us and start thinking that we don’t have enough, we aren’t good enough, we should have more and be more. When we start envying what our neighbors have we forget what blessings we do have. When is enough, enough?

I know this is something I struggle with at times. There’s a fine line between dreaming and coveting it seems. I want to push myself to be better, to strive for more and discover who I was created to be but that sometimes can deteriorate into why not now, why not ever, why not.  It can quickly become I want, I want, I want.

This is something we struggle with as a church as well. We look at other congregations and see how well they are doing on the outside. We want what they have. We covet their numbers, success and secrets. We begin envy them and we start wondering why it can’t happen for us. In the end we fail to see the struggles they have and we forget the blessings we do have. When we fall into envy, when we covet and desire we often forget our blessings and fail to be thankful.

This week let’s water our own grass. Let’s wake up each morning and give thanks for one blessing we have received from God. If you’re up to it, write them down and by the end of the week you will have a list of seven things that you are grateful for, that are blessings in your life. Let’s count our blessings together and thank God for what we have been given.

Will you join me?