Monday, 2 December 2019

I wonder what 2 chocolate coins would mean to you

Image result for gold chocolate coins

As part of The Ark we talk about seeing faith differently.  So today my own faith was strengthened and indeed encouraged as I saw God at work.  I was in Bristol City centre unlocking my bike in order to  make my way home when I was interrupted by what I was observing happening close by.  I stopped and I watched, listened and cried.  (Happy tears!)  There was a homeless person standing nearby.  A child came by pulling their accompanying adult with them towards the homeless person.  In the child's small hand there were 2 chocolate coins and the child proceeded to give one chocolate coin to the homeless person.  Their face lit up and they smiled and cried, they were clearly touched by this act of kindness.  That was not the end though!  Then the little person handed over their second and last gold chocolate coin.  The homeless person then said "you have one and I will have one" but the child refused and said goodbye.  That homeless person went off down the street literally hopping and leaping,smiling from ear to ear and kept on looking at the coins in their hand.  Then they started to stop people and tell them what had happened.  I just stood for a little while in order to take this moment in and store it in my heart.  And I cried again!
Those gold chocolate coins appeared to mean more to that homeless person than real gold coins.  It was the genuine love and kindness the child showed that touched that person and meant more than anything to them. This was an encouragement to me on my faith journey to continue to naturally and genuinely love others, to do this in the moment with whatever we are and have.  To act when we get that nudge we can't explain.  I don't know about you but I often end up talking myself out of things because I don't want to upset someone or offend them, sometimes this is good but there are genuinely other times when certainly for me I just need to accept the nudge and act just as this child did.  There were no second thoughts.  I wonder how this real story makes you feel.

Friday, 11 October 2019

Walking uphill

I love to walk. I have a dog, so I seem to spend quite a bit of time doing it. It is good for my soul and allows space to ponder and to just take in the surroundings. Walking allows me to see things differently, allows me to see bits of the country or our towns that I would not see or maybe notice if I was in the car. It is good for my soul. However, I have been on many a walk though when I have been faced with the invisible peak, are you familiar with these? Having climbed up what usually seems like quite a step slope or mountainside towards what, I believed, was the top only to find that the challenge was not quite so over as I had thought. The new ‘top’ had been hidden from view or obstructed by a cloud or the first hill. I have at times wondered to myself that if I had only known how steep this walk had been, or how long, or how difficult would I have ever started it? There is an option to turn around and walk back, but somehow, that never seems like an option and after a chocolate bar on wards I travel.
I mention this because that is how I feel frequently with life and I have found in my relationship with God. I am 48 now and I look back at my life and I frequently say that if anyone had told me at 16 what it all was going to be like, I may have opted out of some of the parts. My life, as with us all, has been made up of immeasurable joys and depths of despair and heartache. There have been so many times that I thought that I had reached the destination, my destination, only to find that ‘something’ was asking me to seek for more or when I was in despair I felt that I was being pushed to move onwards. The ‘something’ that has been a constant in my life is my relationship with God. He has been a voice in my head and in my heart since I was 13 when I met him at a youth camp. I had been part of a Church community ever since I was born, but it took me to be in a field – camping, to meet and embrace God that knew me. That is the thing, we can meet him all over the place. Since then, my faith has been the constant. Of course, there has been many times, like with all relationships, when I have experienced a myriad of feelings from doubt to fury, from denial to joy, but somehow here I sit typing this wanting people to know the God that I know, the loving one.
Of course, as I human I would quite like to have some assurances that everything will be okay and turn out alright before I do anything, I can and I have questioned every decision that I needed to make and then run the risk of never moving and allowing fear to take hold. I have had to learn to lean into God.  I have had to make peace and accept that he obviously has plans for me that I am not aware of. I have a pebble with the words: “for I know the plans I have for you” (Jeremiah 9), written on it, I carry it with me to remind me to have faith when I feel a bit wobbly. It helps!
Martin Luther King said “you don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step”, I just need to be brave and take the first step, with faith that God will show me the rest when I need to see it. I continue to be challenged by God, each time I think that I have reached the top of my virtual hill after resting for a while, I find that often there is another top just a bit further on. Of course, I could stop but just like with my walking, I know that although the route can be tough the views can be spectacular.

Friday, 27 September 2019

What no water!

This was written by Alex, our new Ark worker. I am posting it as I have not figured out how to add more administrators to this account, I am indeed a technophobe! I am sure that there is another blog in just that thought. Anyway, here are Alex's thoughts!

On Friday, my home had no water. A main had burst after being damaged by construction and we went 7 hours with no water, until the pipe was repaired. Water is fundamental to the way we live in our society; it makes the toilets flush, it is our drinking supply, allows us to wash and cleanse.
Although inconvenient, the main issue was not that the water was off, it was that I didn’t know when it would return. I have anxiety and part of my issues are around cleanliness, so not knowing when I would be able to wash my hands or have a shower was panic inducing. My mental health is mostly regulated by medications and talking therapy, and I am pretty high functioning a vast majority of the time. This not knowing was affecting me physically, making my heart race and my body shake, unable to calm myself down. Because of this response, I couldn’t go to work the next day; needing to take a day to feel better.
This is the reality of my mental health and stress, it can stop me from going to work, university and social events. I become unable to express fully why I need the time off and am incredibly lucky to have understanding management in both of my jobs and my university lectures. Although most of the time I am great at acting okay, there are times I need a day or two off to recover. I am not ashamed of this, as not only is mental health just as important as physical health but my mental
health affects my physical health. My illness is likely to continue through my entire life and taking days off when I need is going to sustain me further in the long run.
My relationship God is not dissimilar to the water in this situation, sometimes it feels like the main has been damaged and without knowing when it will be repaired, I can start to panic. There are times when I need a day off from institutionalised religion, taking time to look after myself and in doing so, helping to strengthen my relationship with God. I think all of us can at times act as if our
relationship to God, the church and one another is completely okay, but the reality is that we all struggle at different times for different reasons and talking about that will help all of us. We can all put on a façade of perfection, but if we never admit the faults in ourselves, our relationships and our faith, it may not be sustainable in the long term.
So, this is my confession to you that my relationship to God is not perfect. My relationship to others is not perfect, and neither is my relationship to myself. But I am working on all of them, and although I can’t take a medication to help that, by talking to others, listening to as many people as I can and my own worship will all continue to make the small steps forward to making my relationships better. Take my hand on this journey, and maybe we can find strength in one another.

Saturday, 27 July 2019

Taking a moment.....

I have spent a lovely week with some wonderful people at Creat8, an art project for children in the St Werburgh's area. We have made all sorts of things and got to know some fabulous children and their parents or carers. It is such a blessing to do this kind of thing and although my feet hurt at the end of each day (and I am a little tired) it has been an incredible week. I think that it is important to take some time to look back, to ponder, to think and reflect. All too often we clatter between one thing and the next, our lives are just so full that it is so easy to forget to take a moment to breathe and just think – well that was fun/joyous/great or whatever. Whatever the feeling, I wonder if we should live in it for a bit so we can come to understand and grow from the experience. I wonder if we keep on moving so fast that we forget to fully experience all the feelings that are on offer. To stand still and just think, as I have this week, wow that was fun! It is a good feeling. To acknowledge other people and to take a moment. I am thankful and I want to sit with that feeling for a while.

I have to work quite hard sometimes at taking a moment. As I near the end of this week with all the joys that have been experienced, it would be all so easy to start looking towards next weekend. That weekend happens to be the South Glos Show!! As we get nearer to it my pulse quickens as I go through lists to ensure that everything is in hand. My brain is full of things to do, I fill it. I even fill other people's heads (and note pads 😊 )

It would be all so easy to lose the joy of the week I have just had. It would be all too easy not to explore the things which we have learnt as a team, it would be easy to forget to be thankful.
But in all that busyness there are moments when I have learnt to acknowledge that I do my wondering with God, I reflect, and I feel the feelings of the day. Those moments are often odd shaped and rarely in the form of sitting with my eyes closed. They come in the form of my walk with my dog, in the car, when I run, when I am cooking or sometimes in the bathroom! I know that God is with me in the hectic day and times when my head may feel like it will explode, but in those quieter times I find that I can just wonder with him and be still in my heart.  It means that my head decompresses a bit and I can reflect on the journey I am on rather than always looking towards the destination. In youth work we are told that the journey is always more important, it is where we learn the most. Yet in the world we live in, I think we are led to believe that it is all about the destinations, what we get when we get wherever, so we forget to enjoy the getting there. God wants us to be abundantly alive, for me that is about feeling all the things along the way. To squeeze everything possible out of every situation. Part of that is taking a moment.

Of course, I need to remind myself not to get busy, I really have not cracked it, but I know that it is important for me and for my relationship with God. So, as I look forward to the last day of Creat8, I will remind myself to live in those moments today and not to immediately start to fret about next weekend. I will be thankful for the feelings today. 

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Beginnings are scary!

I have been procrastinating about writing this for so very long. You would be amazed at the excuses I have spun myself. The major ones are, 'oh it is just too busy', 'I will do it month' or the nervous voice of 'should I write that' and 'what on earth should I write', and of course the last loudest voice of doubt saying "who are you to write that"!
Then today finally, talking with a member of the team I realised that today was the day. In talking with her, I realised or maybe accepted (briefly) that God did not use people that had it all sorted, or were the bravest or the most obvious. The stories in the Bible are full of people who disagreed, doubted, ran away and questioned the voice of God. Those people who asked 'why me' or maybe 'is it me?'

About me - I grew up in a Church, I loved the people in that community as they were kind, compassionate and I saw their faith. I came to faith within that Church community. However, as I moved away from home and went to other Churches I began to recognise a 'not fitting in sort of feeling' For many years I thought it was just me, the God that these places spoke of was not one that I recognised. I do not think that it was anything about the people in those places, it was just that I had not found a place that I could relate with. Over the years I have come to realise that there are other people who feel like this.

So, why this? Why now? For some considerable time the Ark team and other people who feel the 'not quite fitting in feeling' have been talking about writing this type of blog. During our work we have been privileged to meet a whole variety of people and shared conversations with them. What is apparent is that for many Church is not a place where they would go, there are all sorts of reasons for this, but I suppose the issue remains that a gap exists between our established Churches and parts of our communities.
Our aim is that together, we can explore ways to make faith relevant in today's culture as we feel that there are many ways of experiencing God. My recent analogy is that it is like walking into a clothes store and only having one pair of jeans to try on and that one pair is meant to fit and suit everyone. Highly unlikely! Yet often with our Church, we have one size and we are all expected to fit - like the jeans! Of course, not everyone does!

For me, God is all around, each day in everything I do. I want people to know that God and understand that there are many ways that we can meet with him. Some do it through community gardens, through book clubs, walking, drawing, singing etc etc.  How we feel God's presence in our lives is personal and we all have our stories. Church can take different shapes. A part of what we seek to do is to create spaces where these forms of 'other' can flourish and people can share that with each other. We are actively seeking people who may want to explore different ways of doing faith.

So here we are writing about our stories of faith and our journey with God. We hope that you will find some of it interesting and that you may recognise or relate to something that we talk about and that may cause you to look at faith and maybe God differently.

If at any point you would like to get in touch, please do.