Monday, 22 October 2007

add to the beauty

So it's blog number two and I'm afraid I think it might be a bit intense (surprise!).

It's been three weeks since Andrea and I got back from our wedding/honeymoon/sister's wedding/gran's funeral break! Married life has been great so far. My bachelor pad feels like a real home now. Although the downside is that I've had to give in and let Andy put up a couple of those bloomin' Willow Tree ornaments. One per room is the limit! Does anyone else get freaked out that they have no faces?!

As I was saying, life is good, aside these small sacrifices!! Long before we got married Andrea brought a lot of peace into my life and now she's brought it into our home. What a gal! And boy is it good to have peace in my home, especially where I live.

Since we've been back living in Gibbonsdown (a council estate in Barry, South Wales), I've been really hit by the pain and despair and all that isn't 'peace' around us here.

In just three weeks of being back I've witnessed:

- Two women trying to knock someone's front door in.
- A man using our back fence as a toilet then throwing his beer bottle on our path smashing it into hundreds of pieces of dangerous broken glass.
- Our local school continuing the struggle of managing hundreds of kids with learning difficulties and limited resources.
- A woman kicking her dog in the stomach repeatedly in our park.
- A teenager we love to bits confessing that she has started cutting again.
- A fifteen year old girl walk into our youth club completely bladdered.
- A young lad we've known since we came here, excluded from school, roam the streets morning, day and night with no purpose.
- An elderly woman enter her second year of being completely house bound with no family to help her.

Don't get me wrong. It's not all bad. There are so many great families, inspirational elderly people, lots of laughs, a growing community spirit, hard-working people and brilliant neighbours who are just trying to live a good and decent life for them and their family. However, there is just so much bleakness here.

Our estate hit the front page of the town's weekly a few months ago with the title 'It's hell here!' or something like that as a resident described the problems with drugs on the estate.

After all the great times with family and friends that Andrea and I have had, it was quite a shock to come back to this kind of world again.

And yet I have hope.

Last night some of our friends from church who all live in the estate gathered at ours for some mexican food (using the new denby!) and a competitive round of the Friends 'scene it' game (good times!). Over dinner we started sharing about what we thought God was up to in the estate and whether our little Christian community was having any real impact. I mean, in four years, we rarely get people coming to our sunday service and if that's all we went by, we wouldn't really be doing that well.

However, our discussion kept coming back to the small things that were making a difference not for an hour on a sunday but in the everyday. The mustard seeds, the small act of kindness, almost unseen but beginning to cause a gentle stir beneath the surface.

We realised that God was using us to bring His beauty back to the grey places. But what does that look like?

It's about:-

-how two team members looked after a 13 year old girl after youth club until the early hours of the morning because her mum and her partner got into a fight while at the pub and ended up at the police station.

-our youth worker faithfully heading out one afternoon a week, whatever the weather and kicking a ball about with the lads that have very few male role models in their life.

-visiting the elderly lady up the road who until one of our church members befriended her, had noone to talk to. Praying with her each time that she would know God's presence and never feel alone.

-comforting the mum who lost her 13 year old daughter to pneumonia.

-sitting on a local community board and making one positive contribution to what can often be a long and monotonous meeting where red tape takes over.

-praying for transformation when noone's looking.

-going into the local school to help at lunchtimes and during games club to give the teachers a break.

-the family from our church who don't always have a lot and yet open up their home for all the kids on their street to come to, hang out and be safe after school.

-a bunch of kids painting a dark and dreary tunnel bright colours so it's not so scary for mums and their kids to walk through.

-a middle-aged woman from our church babysitting for her neighbour so she can come to our cell group.

-delivering an annonymous card with argos vouchers in it to a single parent not knowing how she is going to buy presents for her kids a few weeks before Christmas.

I could go on and on....

It's about the small things of beauty that start to paint the picture of another, better world.

Marcus Felix wrote,
'Beauty of life causes strangers to join our ranks....we do not talk about great things, we live them'.

We realised last night, that living in such a way that reflects God's beauty, and helping others to see God's goodness around them begins to cause a revolution in a community like ours.

We really felt like we have been planting these small seeds over the last few years and that although they aren't that noticeable they are making a difference. Of course it begins with seeking God and His heart for our community and we need to do that more.

This isn't some humanist operation to make everyone feel a bit better about themselves. This isn't Oprah. It's about seeking the Kingdom of God and crying 'Thy Kingdom COME! Thy will be done ON EARTH as it is in heaven.'

The great thing is that we can all, wherever we are, add to the Beauty.

That's why I have hope.

We come with beautiful secrets.
We come with purposes written on our hearts,
written on our souls.
We come to every new morning.
With possibilities only we can hold,
that only we can hold.

Redemption comes in strange places, small spaces.
Calling out the best of who we are.

And I want to add to the beauty,
To tell a better story.
I want to shine with the light
That's burning up inside.

It comes in small inspirations,
It brings redemption to life and work.
To our lives and our work.
It comes in loving community,
It comes in helping a soul find it's worth.

Redemption comes in strange places, small spaces.
Calling out the best of who we are.

This is grace, an invitation to be beautiful.
This is grace, an invitation.

And I want to add to the beauty,
To tell a better story.
I want to shine with the light,
That's burning up inside.

Sara Groves

P.S. I PROMISE that my next blog will not be intense!

Thursday, 11 October 2007

whatever is...

With fear and trepidation I begin my first blog!

I've been considering setting one up for a while. I've enjoyed reading so many other blogs and thought it was finally time to take the plunge. I hope that the discipline of posting my thoughts will help me to process the many things that swirl around my head concerning life, faith, the world we live in and whether the TV show 'Heroes' really is worth all the hype it's getting (deep!). If you're like me, life can be one mad rush to the finishing line and I just don't do enough reflecting. A friend of mine once said that people go on about life experiences and how they're what shape and educate you. He went on to say that experiences don't transform you half as much as stopping and reflecting on these experiences in a positive way. I hope the blog helps me to do just that.

The title of my blog is 'WHATEVER IS...'. I thought of that great verse in the Bible from Phillipians (4:8) that says 'Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.' There is so much negative thinking today. Our media is full of negativity, always looking for the next person to bring down. I think this affects us all more than we realise. It's very easy to think negatively about ourselves, others and what's happening around us. I want to be someone that recognizes the reality of things good or bad, but is all the while hopeful. I want to excercise my mind by using this blog to consider and meditate on the things in this world that are true, noble, just, admirable, and the causes worth living and dying for. To discover God's beauty in our broken planet and figure out how I can add to it.

Anyway, welcome to my head! I promise to try and not be too intense but I am a Reynolds after all!

I'll leave you with another version of this passage from The Message paraphrase of the Bible(one of Bono's favourite books apparently!)

Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

Phillipians 4:8