30 Days of Thankful

Saturday and Sunday were days sixteen and seventeen of ’30 Days of Thankful.’

Saturday was a day off. Mostly. I spent two hours in the morning at the Dickens Heath Village Hall setting programmes for the heating system and taking care of a couple of odd jobs. I have been involved with the Village Hall in one fashion or another for 15 years, DHVH Logodating back to the days when I was meeting regularly with the consortium of developers and Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council representatives about the village and the plot of land on which the Village Hall, GP Surgery, and Library stands. Originally, the land was set aside for the church which we eventually planted in the village: £1 if we could put a building on it in the time scale and style acceptable to the consortium and SMBC. But which comes first: a building or a people who are the ‘church’? There’s a another story there, but let it suffice to say I’m thankful that Dickens Heath Village has a Village Hall as a resource to the community of which it can be proud, and thankful that I’m a part of its management as a resource for the community.

DHVHSunday morning had me travelling over to Leicester to speak at the Lighthouse Church. Lighthouse is one of the churches of the Fellowship of Churches of Christ of which we are a part in the UK. It’s not a long drive over from Solihull, maybe 50 minutes or so and 45 miles away. Like Dickens Heath Village Church, the church gathers in a local school for Sunday morning worship. Also similar to DHVC, Lighthouse has been without a lead minister for a number of months. The leadership of the church and the church family are working together to discern next steps. I’m thankful that I could come along and bring them encouragement: from me, from the Scriptures, and from God. I’m thankful that they are followers of Jesus, listening together to him, serving and making a difference in their community.

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Thankful for My Best Friend

Friday was an exceptionally busy day at my desk, all day! I started my day at 5.00am while Tam went to the gym on her own at 6.30am. After some writing (my blog), I spent the day on a cornucopia of tasks and e-mails. Since the car had to be out for the day having the brakes repaired, I was confined to my desk for the bulk of the day.photo

I organized some actions to be taken with the Dickens Heath Village Hall, a charity with Directors and management team of a half-dozen volunteers which I chair, and filed accounts and the annual report with the Charity Commission. Communication with our Dickens Heath Village Church leadership team and work on an embryonic group to explore how to meet some of the hidden and behind the scenes need in the village took a couple of hours. Before meeting with thethirdplace in the evening at Phil and Elaine’s, I completed a draft budget and worked on some scheduling for a team of 11 University students coming to England at the end of December and beginning of January on a visit to England. Finally, I finished the day with 75 minutes of ice time playing hockey (after 20 minutes of kip in the rink car park!)

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All in all, I didn’t spend much time during the day with Tam. I was otherwise focused on tasks that had some deadlines, virtually ignoring her most of the day even though we both worked from home. But there she was when I got home at 12.15am, sitting on the settee waiting for me to return. Tired, yes. Eager to go to bed, yes. But willing to stay up another hour while I had a bowl of ice cream and wound down from the day.

Today I am thankful for my my best friend, Tammy. For almost 30 years she has been patient, long-suffering, chuckled at my stupid jokes and puns, and enduringly loved me. I wrote in the dedication of my DMin dissertation, “To Tam, who believes in me even at my weakest moments, my greatest encourager and best friend.” Thank you, God, for pairing me with this woman.

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Thankful for ‘Team’

For those of us in the Western / Developed world, Team-iStock_000005230233XSmall‘independence’ has almost become hardwired into our ethos, culture, and value systems. Yet when natural events such as Hurricane Sandy or extremist-inspired attacks such as the Boston Marathon bombings take place, this illusion is quickly shattered. Even in places such as the Philippines, where Typhoon Haiyan recently wrecked havoc, the breakdown of independence has been quickly made known by international media.

The reality is that most worthwhile endeavours require teams: people working together with a common interest or purpose toward a common goal. Even entrepreneurs and visionaries need teams to make their ideas a reality.

IMG_7714 reduced 2Today I am grateful for the team(s) of which I am a part and without which my contributions have little lasting impact. There are far too many to mention here, and there are the obvious and visible but also the less obvious and behind the scenes teams. Specifically, I’m thankful today for the team of colleagues to whom I have accountability and from whom I find inspiration, encouragement, and examples of sacrifice, commitment, and loyalty. While this team has waxed and waned in size over the years, these four families have journey together for almost twenty years. Aaron and Diane, David and Teresa, Larry and Debbie, and Tammy my partner of thirty years – for you and your friendship and love – I am deeply grateful!

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Young and Younger – Days 12 & 13

Days twelve and thirteen of ’30 Days of Thankful’ photofocuses on the young and younger. I can say that of more people than I used to, now that I have crossed the threshold of the 50s! I am thankful for the hope, optimism, questions, searching, and adventure of those young and younger than me as measured by years of life walking this planet. Let me tell you about a young couple and three younger friends.

The other day we welcomed to our home Randy and Laura. this young couple, with three children under five, are exploring a move to the UK. They’ve been meeting with members of our team and an ethnic church, venturing between Worcester, Rugby, Nottingham, Leeds and Solihull. They have a lot to think and pray through, and as to what they will decide, it’s still too early to tell. What I admire is this seeking after a nexus of God’s best for them and others and their giftedness and passions. This encourages and inspires me, as our family nears twenty years of life and ministry in England. Indeed, I am grateful for their example.

IMG_0651And the younger, whom I’ll leave unnamed. Every fortnight we have the youth from DHVC over for pizza and conversation about any topic they want to talk about. We explore that question with further questions, and look at how Scripture can inform the issue and bring wisdom and direction. Our discussion together is a highlight of my week. I’m thankful for these younger friends who are thinking, challenging, wondering and praying about life and our purpose for being. I’m thankful for the trust they place in us.

Family Support Centre – Shirley

sfc_logoEach fortnight, on Mondays, Tammy makes her way into Shirley for three hours of volunteer work at the Family Support Centre (FSC). She has been part of the volunteer staff there since the centre launched in 1999. In its early years the FSC’s focus was on crisis pregnancy and post-abortion counselling. As time has gone by, the services offered have expanded to include relationship counselling, a listening service, DivorceCare (started by Tammy and another colleague in the mid ’90s then passed over to the FSC in 2000), stress/anxiety support, and other crisis need counselling. All free of charge by volunteers who have all received training appropriate to the support they provide. The service the FSC provides is the result of a partnership of local churches in Shirley, but the services available are provided to anyone in need no matter the ethnicity, cultural background, or religious or non-religious persuasion.

Over the last two weeks the FSC hasIMG_0627 been moving into new premises. Shirley Baptist Church has has a major new build to coincide with the redevelopment of the high street in Shirley. Very graciously, SBC has made space available for the ongoing availability of this service to the community.

Today I am grateful for the staff, trustees, and local churches who generously and voluntarily provide these services for the local community. You can find out more by clicking Family Support Centre, Shirley.

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Remembrance Sunday

Two months ago I learned that the Dickens Heath Parish Council was hosting a Service of Remembrance with one of the local Anglican ministers leading the service. I immediately offered my help, the participation of Dickens Heath Village Church, and the Sea Cadets (I am chaplain for the local unit; see my post from 5 November). We were able to make a positive contribution with all three, and there were about 100 in attendance at this outdoor service. IMG_0603 0604 Stitched cropped

For my part, I read Matthew 5.1-12, and the verse that really stuck with me in the context of this service was verse nine, which reads ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.’ One of the issues we all experience, personally, locally, regionally, and globally is conflict. And don’t we know the pain on each of these levels when conflict escalates and isn’t resolved? Some argue that warfare is a failure to properly deal with unresolved conflict. Others will argue for ‘just war’ when evil people perpetrate injustice and exercise corrupted power on the weak and defenseless.

Today, I am thankful for those people who are able to bring peaceful resolution to conflict at whatever level it may exist. I am likewise thankful for those who are commissioned to protect the weak and defenseless and suffer loss a result. As the Ode to Remembrance says, ‘At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.

And so we did today.

Thankful for Destiny

IMG_0165OK, this is a fluffy posting, about a cat. My cat. It’s all about cute. If you’re not thankful for cats, have failed miserably at herding cats, and think cats are stalking you mistakenly as prey, then you can stop reading here and wait until tomorrow’s posting which will not be about dogs or creepy crawlies or obscure marine life.

Fact is, I meant to take photos of a team being gathered to begin a Youth Club in Dickens Heath village come January. We’ve been working on this for a couple of months now, and it is coming together nicely. But the youth worker being employed to lead the club had a migraine and couldn’t attend, and I enjoyed my cup of coffee and the conversation too much.

So, on to the fluff.

A little over 15 years ago I started saving up my monthly pocket money. I longed to have a cat, specifically, a Siamese cat, in the house again. Growing up, my family had several Siamese cats; Tam’s family did too. We researched breeders, visited a couple of them, and selected ‘Rainvale Destiny’s Child’ whom we renamed Destiny. Born on 29 September 1999, we picked Destiny up a couple days after Christmas. It was a surprise to the kids, though Andrew thought we were acting IMG_0571 croppedsurreptitiously and engaged in some kind of espionage.

It took Destiny about three days to get used to us and accept us as family. Her first couple of days she cowered in the downstairs bathroom. Probably didn’t help her integration into the family that having got used to sitting on top of the toilet on that first day, someone left the toilet seat up and she leaped into the watery pool with great displeasure! A couple of days later we heard the first purrs and she became part of the family.

I made a point of playing with her often and roughly in those early months with us. I would chase her upstairs; she would chase me back down. While working, I would put her on my shoulders, and she would lay there and sleep and purr for 30 minutes or an hour. Now she usually lays on my lap when I am at my desk tapping at my computer keyboard.

So, for the cuteness of Destiny, I am thankful. For her pliable personality, I am thankful. For the calmness she brings when stroking her and she is purdling away, I am thankful. And that’s Day Nine of ’30 Days of Thankful.’

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A Simple Joy – Ice Hockey

For Day Eight of ’30 Days of Thankful’ I am grateful for the simple joy of playing ice hockey. In case you didn’t realize it, ‘hockey’ in England is something else entirely, hence the specific designation ‘ice hockey’ is given to differentiate the two. Might seem redundant to a North American audience, but this is the country where news presenters start their daily broadcast with ‘Hello, good morning’ or ‘Hello, good evening’ at the end of day news and weather. Still makes me chuckle and say to myself “Why do they say that?”

When we moved to England in 1994, I hadn’t played ice hockey since I was 17 in Minnesota, and could count twice in 17 years that I had even skated. So Vipers - Tim & Stickshortly after I turned 34, in terrible need of some form of exercise, I began playing with a local recreational team here in Solihull. Five minutes into the first training session I was off the ice emptying the contents of my stomach; yes, I was that unfit. Now that I’m 52, I’ve been back playing for nineteen years. Reminds me of the first training sessions where the lad next to me said, ‘I can’t wait until I turn 21 and don’t have to wear a faceguard anymore.’ ‘How old are you?’ I asked. ‘Nineteen,’ he replied. I felt old at thirty-four!

And yet, there’s not many forms of regular exercise that bring me as much joy as a skate and a shot in the back of the net and giving and getting a body check. Running? Boring. Swimming? Boring. Lifting weights? OK, I’ll do that because I can listen to music, podcasts, and sermon messages that feed my mind. Ice hockey? A blast!! Always (OK, except for that time when Baz checked me from behind and cracked two of my ribs).

I’m now on my fourth rec team, having played with the Vikings (still going), Wolves (folded), Vipers (folded), and now the newest team, the Senators (jury still out if this team will make it). I’ve met some of the greatest guys playing over these years, the vast majority who speak two languages (fluent in cursing and some who can even speak English; OK, there are some other Eastern European players but who knows what they are saying when they are not speaking English!) I’ve got a lot of time for a some of these guys, because their hearts are big and they still care and love and garner respect from others even if their edges are rough. I’ve got a few stories to tell from all these years, most needing cleaning up before being re-told; good memories are many.

So, to my heavenly Father who has given me the simple joy of playing ice hockey and the friends and memories that have come from it, especially in this land dominated by cricket and football (not American football), I am thankful to you and full of joy for this grace.


Gratitude even when…? The 7th Day

photoA friend of ours recently produced an image, based on Angry Birds, that made our family chuckle with its creativity and accuracy in expressing a truth I am a bit loathe to admit. I won’t go into the story of why our friend was moved to craft this graphic, but it certainly reflects how I feel sometimes! And while the words of ‘Angry Aho’ are supposed to be just thoughts, how many times have I said to myself, ‘Did I just think that out loud for everyone to hear?” Of course, the fact is my thoughts are often betrayed by my body language!

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One of the sayings I often repeat to myself when I do not feel gratitude in my heart because of difficult situations, or because I find myself having a sense of entitlement to something I really don’t have a right to have, comes from the New Testament: Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. There are times I find this very difficult, and I sympathize with those individuals, families, or peoples who have experienced loss or persecution or evil perpetrated on them (which I cannot understand because I have not experienced) for which giving thanks seems not just wrong but perverse.

And yet, while I cannot fathom the personal or corporate atrocities others have experienced, there is something to be said about making a decision to be grateful in advance of any and all circumstances that makes a difference in my life and relationships. It helps me stay humble (though others will have to judge if my character is such or not), disciplines me to root out any belief that I am ‘entitled’ to any good thing that comes my way, and gives voice and demonGive Thanksstration to my networks of relationships and to God that I know my connectedness and reliance on them. It helps keep me from becoming bitter, self-absorbed, angry, and judgmental. Yes, I am those some of the time and more of the time than I would like; but I am less of them more of the time than I would be if I didn’t follow that spiritual practice in lovingly obeying Jesus to be thankful in all circumstances.


DHVC Leadership Team

Our leadership team for Dickens Heath Village Church (DHVC) meets on the first Wednesday of each month. Our very first leadership team, established before we publicly launched in 2002, was made up of four couples. Tam and I stepped down from the leadership team in 2006 after we made our contribution to leading the start of the church family with our friends and colleagues Aaron and Diane. After six years, we came back on the leadership team at the beginning of 2013 to help navigate challenges and opportunities for the future.

What do we do for two to three hours? We pray. We plan. We discuss together the pastoral needs of the church family. We consider the future of the church IMG_0320_cropped_26630d6and how we live out our love and gratitude for God in the community. We think together about our relationship to community groups, the school in which we meet, our neighbours and networks internal and external to the village. We lead the church family in serving the community and living out the values of the Kingdom of God which Jesus demonstrated and empowers us to do by the Holy Spirit.

Who makes up the current leadership team? Well, there’s Adrian who wasn’t present last night because he was attending his first meeting as a governor for Dickens Heath Community Primary School. Adrian is a lecturer, teaching teachers how to teach science and maths; he’s also a musician and leads worship in our church gatherings. We also have Olwen, who retired a year or two ago from a career with children’s nurseries. Chris is an actuary, one of the more exciting career choices known to humanity. He chairs our leadership team meetings. Chris was one of our first leaders in the church, and has been on the leadership team over the years more than he hasn’t. Most of his break came during a three year battle with cancer and treatment-related heart attack. He chronicles his story in Hitting the Rock and reviewed here. Priscilla is a stay-at-home mum with a degree in social work, from South Africa.

Each of these friends has their own unique and outstanding qualities for which there is no space here to elaborate. We share together a passion to follow Jesus. We share a responsibility to lead our church family to similarly follow Jesus. And we set the pace to encourage others in our community to consider Jesus: his sacrificial love, his ability to speak the truth to us in a way we are glad to hear, and his forgiving spirit. I am grateful for my friends with whom we lead the family known as Dickens Heath Village Church.