Where Joy Resides // Guest Post by Ali Campbell

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This is the next instalment in a year of guest posts on Joy as part of my year of focussing on joy (my word for the year). This month we have Ali Campbell from ‘The Resource’.

 

 

Find out where joy resides, and give it a voice far beyond singing. For to miss joy is to miss all.”    Robert Louis Stevenson

 

My eldest daughter, Hannah, was 4. It was a hot day in June and she begged me for a ride on the bike. At this time, although going great guns on a tricycle, “a ride on the bike” meant sitting behind me on a seat attachment while I pedalled.

We set off. Heading out of our road and off in to Lindfield, it was pretty much downhill all the way. There were squeals from behind me as we freewheeled our way to the park. We chained the bike and messed about in the park, climbing, swinging, running, hiding and jumping… all the usual stuff. Then came the time to head home. I’d been run ragged and was not looking forward to trudging back up the hill we had freewheeled down!

If I was tired, this was nothing compared to 4 year old legs on a hungry and worn out Hannah. I plonked her in the bike seat and began pushing the bike. Now, in my head this conversation started… I’m ashamed to remember it, but it went something like this, “Man, we need to get back… I’m shattered.” “I wish I was 4 and someone was pushing me up a hill… AND, we haven’t even GOT to the hill yet!” “Flip, I’m unfit!”…

When I say “conversation” as I said, it was in my head. One of those internal dialogues with myself I do. Maybe you do that? Anyway… there I am “monologuing” away to myself, now beginning to feel the burn in my calfs as I pushed up the incline.

I turned round for a moment. There. On my daughters face. A great big beam! She was grinning. She was chuckling away to herself. She was WAVING to the cars and pedestrians from her throne as I sweated and strained with the bike.

My internal dialogue would have shifted to a shout if It had been out loud. “WHAT does she think she is doing?” “THIS isn’t fun, if she could swap places with me for 5 seconds she wouldn’t be grinning and waving!” I think at this point my internal grumbling might have become an audible muttering under my breath as I continued to push and heave us up the hill.

Then.

From behind me my daughter suddenly exclaimed,

“I’m so happy!”

Boom. My internal voice of dissatisfaction, frustration, selfish and silly nonsense was stunned in to silence.

I felt tears prick my eyes.

Here we were, sharing a precious afternoon on this beautiful day – the same experience, the same time, seeing the same things, doing the same things (well, apart from the pushing from me and all the sitting from Hannah!)…

My daughter was full of joy and delight. That exclamation was unbidden, I hadn’t asked her how she was, if she had enjoyed the afternoon… it was just a natural response to what was happening, our time together, the fun of watching the world go by as her Dad pushed her up a hill!

I began to feel it. I began to feel a bit of the overspill of joy from my daughter. A different internal conversation began, “This is amazing!”, “What was wrong with me? I nearly missed this!” “How wonderful… !” Physically, I was not feeling wonderful (good grief my calves are burning!) but, suddenly I looked at our time together and the day completely differently.

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I started above with a quote, “to miss joy is to miss all”. Did you know that kids laugh and smile about 400 times a day? Adults might hit 20 times on a good day.

Joy for me is found, increasingly, in delighting in what is right in front of me. As a dad I just don’t want to miss magic moments with my kids, and what that story showed with Hannah was, even though I was THERE – actually spending time with my amazing daughter, I nearly missed how special and precious that time was. It took my 4 year old to express her feelings in three simple words – I’m so glad I heard them and responded.

There is joy in the mundane, the ordinary, the regular, the usual moments of life. For a child there is a joy and wonder that overflows and creates those 400 laughs and smiles a day. I don’t want to become childish, but I do want to become more childlike. I want to regress and rediscover laughter, fun and joy at the heart of the everyday – EVERY day.

 

Ali CAli Campbell

Ali runs “The Resource” which is aimed at equipping, supporting and encouraging those who work with children, young people and families in the church and community. Ali is passionate about seeing this generation reached with the Good News and equipped to live life to the full – John 10:10! 

 

 

Inclination

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I’ve been away in Canterbury at Vicar School all week and have so much to process and reflect on, plenty of blog fodder coming up soon but for now just this. This photo was taken on the first evening of the week and I love how the rainbow seems to end at the pot of gold, the cathedral.

And this was just one scripture that really stood out to me one day at Morning Prayer. Such an amazing thought, isn’t it –  that God would incline his ear towards anyone, let alone me. You know those times when you can’t quite hear someone, you lean in closer, wanting to hear what they are saying. It’s like that – God leaning in, cupping his ear maybe, not wanting to miss a word. Even when I am not saying anything at all, he’s there, inclining towards me…

Chronic pain or lingering blessing?

This was me post-op, listening to an 8 hour long worship playlist which got me through!

This was me post-op, listening to an 8 hour long worship playlist which got me through!


So most of you know I had surgery on my back last summer. I had a prolapsed disk which was pretty big and really flippin’ painful. It meant 3 months off work, ongoing physio, giving up my beloved running (hopefully temporarily) and a lot of bed rest.

However, you might also know that this time was a total blessing, I’ve written about it before and how I wouldn’t change the experience as it was just a wonderful time with God.

Anyway now here I am, 8 months on and still living with some pain. I’m not going to go into the boring medical details but basically it is just taking a long time to heal, plus I have another dodgy disk. It’s not terrible pain, I’ve still got my pharmacy of painkillers ready and waiting if needed but largely the hard stuff isn’t needed. I saw a physio last week for some ongoing advice and she described what I was suffering from as ‘chronic pain’. I did not like this phrase at all. It suggests to me something that isn’t going away and whilst she did talk about trying to be pain free (and I’m trying some new stuff) there was an element of ‘managing’ the pain. I don’t know why this phrase offends me so much, after all it is chronic, it’s on-going and has been for a while, I guess it’s the naming of it that I find hard. I don’t want to be someone who has ‘chronic pain’ it sounds so terrible, so final, so debilitating… so… weak. I can’t handle being weak…

So in recent weeks I’ve been anxious about the pain and worrying about whether it might get worse, or if the same thing happen again. I’ve  been cross and grumpy, cried a fair amount and yes I’ve prayed a bit too, or if I’m honest, more like moaned at God like some whiny teenager…

Then this morning I was chatting to someone about it all and as we were then praying I really felt a bit of a correction from God. Well quite a big one actually. I had just been saying how I wouldn’t change the whole experience for anything, how it was a complete blessing and had changed my faith as a result of it all, and God was like, ‘oh, really? But I thought you said you wanted this pain to go ?’. All of a sudden I realised actually I had disassociated the pain I am feeling now with that ‘experience’ from last summer. I was just being grumpy about it and not recognising that actually without it, I wouldn’t have had that time with him, it’s all part of the same thing. Does that make sense? I’ve basically been a total hypocrite saying yes it was amazing, I wouldn’t change it and then on the other hand whinging about the pain and wishing it gone!

 Have I actually been asking God to change it, after all? Do I really wish that time away?

Under his wings

This scripture was one that really kept me going…

No! Of course not, and in fact the experience is continuing as I have to take time to walk each day which means more prayer time, I have to lie down and rest which means time to read or reflect and I am just so much more focussed on God. So what is it that I am moaning about? Actually in the suffering (which is really not that bad in the scheme of things) He is with me so much more than ever.

So now I’m repenting and turning about, 180 degrees, a Volte Face moment. I’m praying that whenever I feel the pain I would see it as a blessing, or at the very least as a reminder of God. Instead of being anxious or frustrated I want to embrace the experience that God has given me, to reflect on his presence in my suffering, to be filled with joy at what he has done. So when I feel pain, I will turn to Him, when I feel a twinge, I will not be fearful but turn to joy, when I feel down and disheartened that I can’t yet run, I will remember all the wonderful prayer walks I have had with Him. I will see this as a lingering blessing rather than chronic pain.

Being different and being relevant…

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I’ve been thinking recently about how hard it is to balance trying to be relevant as Christians in society, with being Godly. By which I mean for example, I find it helpful to use every day life examples when I’m preaching or talking about God. I might refer to a current song or TV show, a piece in the news maybe, or something I’ve seen on Facebook or Twitter.

But at the same time that requires us to be up to date and know what is going on in the world, the things that people are into, the music that is popular and the TV shows people are watching. Which isn’t in itself a problem, until we come up against something that is hugely popular but might go against our Christian principles. Now listen I’m not going all fundamental here, I’m not saying we shouldn’t listen to Radio 1 or watch Harry Potter (and I’m not talking about hard core stuff which most people would be offended by anyway) but I’m just thinking about where the balance is. 

Here’s the challenge – ask yourself, how much TV do you watch, say 10 hours a week? and then ask yourself how much of that is spent watching anything Christian? Or how much time do you spend reading books and then compare that with how much time is spent in God’s word? How much do you listen to the radio, versus listening to preaching podcasts or Worship music? How many posts do you put on Facebook each week and how many of those reference your faith or something God has done in your life?

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As Christians we often quote the line that we should ‘be in the world but not of the world’ and say it’s from scripture. Actually it isn’t, the theme is biblical but the line itself is not. Probably it’s one of those things that someone has paraphrased from scripture and then it has been repeated so many times that people believe it is in the bible.

The nearest we can get to it is the following:

If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you.       John 15:19


And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.       
Romans 12:2

 

Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.     1 John 2:15

 

I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.        John 17:19

 

All of which point to the fact that we are called to be different, but not that we need to be completely removed from contemporary culture.

I think the most helpful line here is from Romans 12 – ‘be transformed by the renewing of your mind’. And that is the challenge – how are we allowing our minds to be renewed? If actually the majority of the time we are simply filling our minds with the X Factor, Kanye West or Fifty Shades of Grey that sounds like our minds are more likely to be transformed and renewed into the culture of this world, not of the Kingdom of God.

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So back to my original question, how can we balance being relevant with being Godly? Well, I don’t have a magic formula I’m afraid. But the key has to be in seeking God and being led by him. My husband and I watch a lot of what we call ‘murder based entertainment’ – i.e. crime drama. I like the challenge of it, the suspense, the trying to suss out who did what. But just recently I realised that is pretty much all we watch on TV! So, we have been choosing to fill our minds with stories of GBH, murder and deception and the scenes that go with it. And let’s face it, TV dramas these days don’t hold back on the gore and realism do they? And I have to be honest I’ve felt challenged on that. Do I want to fill my mind continually with this kind of stuff? I’m asking myself how is this renewing my mind? So instead I’m trying to balance what I put in to my head with a range of things, We’ve switched to watching something less murder themed, I am trying to listen to more sermon podcasts and choosing to watch less TV in general actually.

I think it’s good to challenge ourselves on these things regularly, that is not to say ‘that programme/book/song is not Christian’ but more to balance it out. We do need to know what is going on in our world, we need to be able to relate to people who are not Christians and we can’t do that by hiding ourselves away, but let’s really think about how we are feeding ourselves and how our minds are being renewed and transformed.

I would love to know peoples thoughts on this. Do you think we can we find the right balance? What about your own popular culture intake – do you think you have the right balance? What might God be saying to you in this?

 

Perfect Love

So I wrote yesterday about the low level anxiety I am feeling approaching a time of change.

This morning I spent some time with a lovely and wise friend of mine who reminded me that I am in a season where I am focussing on God’s love and bringing that message to my church, she also reminded me that fear (the root of anxiety) does not go with love. I know it’s obvious but sometimes we need to be reminded of the obvious.

So today, I am focussing on the love because God’s word tells us that love drives out fear, fear cannot remain in the presence of God…

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Transitioning

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I’m feeling really kind of strange of late. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I just feel unsettled, or have an ongoing low-level of anxiety, or maybe I just need more sleep, who knows. It’s just that it’s a funny time approaching curacy. It’s normal to have been assigned your curacy well in advance, in my case almost a year ahead, so I’ve known where I’ll be going for a long time. Which is great in one sense as the stress of not knowing and all the paperwork and complicated stuff is done so that you can concentrate on finishing training. But in another way it’s frustrating because you know where you are going but can’t really do anything about it!

So for a long time my husband and I agreed that we would not even think about the new place until after Christmas (I start in July), which was fine until January when it was ‘after Christmas’ and we really did need to start thinking and planning ahead. So to be honest we’ve been busy and I have probably stuck my head in the sand too, and it’s now March and I find myself feeling ‘kind of strange’. 

 

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In modern churches we refer to the bit between the ‘worship block’ and the preach as a ‘transition’, and I guess that’s where I am, in transition. When you lead a service like this, it’s quite an important time as you are going from one key element to another. I find it really tough because you can’t plan exactly what to say or do (and I am a Monica-style-planner), but on the other hand it’s so great because you just have to be led by the Holy Spirit.

So here am I, going from one thing to another and trying to hear God and be led by him. And to some extent I am, I mean I feel so close to God right now, and in my own spiritual walk I feel like I’m growing in some areas, so that’s fab, but I still feel odd. 

So here’s the thing, I finish my current job in 2 months time (EEKKKK!!) so I am winding down there and handing stuff over, which means for the first time ever my ‘to-do list’ is actually shrinking rather than having things added on the end. In College terms I have three essays left, one study weekend and a week away, I can actually count them in one sentence now! There’s nothing new to plan, no new schemes to be putting into practice (and as a pioneering type I love new stuff!), no big projects on the horizon. It just feels strange and not all that comfortable really. 

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So I’ve been trying to think about how I handle transition at church in a service, and the truth is I just stop, do nothing, and listen to God. And perhaps that is the best preparation for the new season anyway? I don’t want to go into it rushed off my feet and with a head full of stuff, I want, need in fact, to go into it refreshed and revived and knowing God by my side. And the one thing that won’t change in all of this: Jesus. Yep, the answer’s always Jesus, right? We all know that. And I know it’s kind of obvious but right now I think that’s what I just need to keep reminding myself of, that no matter what I’m going through, he is a constant. Unchanging and unfailing.

 

Creativity within…

The theme of last weekend’s Premier digital conference was Create. If you’ve read my blog before you’ll know creativity is a key theme in my life and it was so great to hear people talking about how we can all be creators, how we can all express ourselves and release some creativity.

So. I can draw, I loved art at school, I was good at it and I went on to become an artist selling my work and run2015-11-14 21.58.58ning my own gallery. However, english? not so much. I remember a teacher once saying to me that my writing was (something like) boring, predictable and unoriginal. Ouch. Now this isn’t a rant at teachers at all, but really teachers, you have a responsibility! I grew up thinking I was unacademic and no good at main stream subjects like english and maths. But you know what, school isn’t everything. I now have a degree in history of art, have run my own business, am currently studying theology and, just won runner up blogger of the year for my writing (it may of course still be boring, predictable and unoriginal but now I have a prize for it, so to my english teacher, ‘in your face’!).

So where am I going with all this other than sounding a bit boasty? Well, here’s the thing, we are all creators. Yes all of us. As an acreation1_SMALL2rtist I used to be really frustrated when people said to me, ‘oh I wish I could draw’. Because at school, where you learn to be creative, that’s what you get taughthere’s a still life, draw that, or do a portrait of yourself, so if you can’t do that, then you are ‘rubbish at art’ (& art teachers, I do know things are now a bit more encompassing than that!). But art is more than that, it is an expression of ourselves, a release of emotion, a portrayal of something within us. Everyone has the possibility of releasing what is inside of them, in fact I think people should find a way to do just that, it’s so valuable. It doesn’t matter what it looks like, sounds like, reads like, it’s just for us, for you.
Now, I can draw something like looks like what it is but my favourite thing when I
was working most was to produce big abstract canvases. Into them I poured out my feelings, emotions, vision, pain, and yes a bit of my soul. At PremDAC15 I went to a seminar by Rev Ric Stott, a Methodist minister and artist. He was very inspiring and one thing he said was that ‘painting is an excavation of the soul’. Wow what a line. Like it’s personal but not entirely within our control, it’s like a process that has to be done, to find the gems, to find truth or hidden treasure. But deep, intrusive and even with an air of violence.

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My husband is a musician, so for him music is his creative outlet. On creativity he says that everyone has their own creative outlet, a ‘go to’ place. So when you write or play or create you are inspired to do so in the way that feels right for you. When downs4he writes a song he says he writes from the feeling he is experiencing. Embodying it, feeling it, releasing it. Whether that is from feeling love for someone or something, to a sense of frustration or anger, or a place of the realisation of God’s grace. So those feelings are part of the expression, which I think means it is more real and authentic. Some of those songs never see the light of day, just like some of my pictures, drawings and prayer doodles stay in my sketch book or behind closed doors, they are too personal but they were, are, valuable to us.

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We all have the ability within us to create, in different ways and not to be held back by words that have been spoken over us or by those ‘I can’t’ or ‘I’m no good at’ thoughts.  Ok so you are not Grade 5 at the piano, you can’t draw a person, you can’t spell (neither can I, that’s what spellchecker is for) you might be ‘unoriginal or predictable’, it might be stick men, it might be ‘chopsticks’, but who cares?! Let your feelings your inspiration, your emotion pour out of you. Have courage and be creative…