I thought you were joking!

I’m a bit slow. It had been about two years, maybe three or four times a year; phrases like, “Shall we become foster carers?” “We could do fostering.” Only this time the thought stuck and the penny dropped: “You’re serious, aren’t you? I thought you were joking!”

And so began the exploration. I needed time. I walked. My usual walk along the beach, trying to make sense of the idea, trying to think through the implications, and trying to find where God was in all of this.

I have conversations with God. He is kind, invariably giving me a sense of his heart and purposes for me, but this was different. I remember clearly the day that I spoke with him and plunged myself into something so much deeper than the fostering. “But it’s not important enough for me!” As soon the words and the exclamation mark came out of my mouth I knew I was in trouble. “Really? Let me show you.”

And so I started a journey of discovering why fostering was God’s agenda for us as a couple and a family. From May through to August, He pursued me – newspaper articles, documentaries, films, music, books, conversations, all designed to open my eyes to why fostering was so important to God and, therefore to me. We went on holiday in August, and every day God woke me at 05.00 and showed me over and over why it made perfect sense for us to become foster carers. There were many tears as I grappled with the challenge. Now, don’t get too excited – I’m not a great sleeper and a regular “cryer” so neither were unusual, but this was different. God was on my case.

For many years previously, my passion had been the Father Heart of God. My own journey had led me into a revelation and an understanding of the power of knowing God as my Papa. And so I got to the point of asking myself the question… or was Holy Spirit whispering? “What greater way can you find to share the Father Heart of God than being a foster carer?” And the reality is I couldn’t. However hard I tried.

And so in December 2013 we were approved to be short-term foster-carers for our local authority. And in January 2014, the first two little ones arrived and we were crashing into a world of pain and darkness that I had never touched before. It is now August 2019. As I write at silly ‘o’ clock, our final placement, seven weeks old, is asleep in her pram. She is placement number 11, baby number 9. Three have returned home to birth parents, and we still see one occasionally; the first two are in long-term care; five have been adopted, with that being the plan for number 11. We still see the five who have been adopted. We are treated as family, and the unfolding of their stories continues to amaze us and fill us with awe at the grace and kindness of our God.

Being a foster carer is, without doubt, the hardest job I have ever done. But then it is so much more than a job. And it is, without doubt, the most rewarding thing I have ever done. To see little lives plucked from the darkness and the pain of their challenging starts, and see God heal them up as we try to love them with all that we have, has been such a privilege and a joy. To see adoptive parents take these little ones from our care and make themselves a family leaves me speechless and in tears most of the time.

And then I have to agree: being a foster-carer has been one of the most important things I have ever done. And it has changed me for ever.

Speechless

I have always been speechless… well, most of the time. As long as I can remember I have had a stutter; or is it a stammer? Or maybe both?

I quickly learned that participation in lessons at school were an invitation to be mocked and bullied, so as far as I could I stayed quiet…

My childhood at home didn’t really help either. There were occasions, just a few, when I would be teased and laughed at by my own parents. Added to which, we were brought up in a religious environment, where the ultimate position was something along the lines of, “This is what we believe; we expect you to believe the same.” Not dissimilar to, “Because I said so!”

As a young adult I made my own faith decisions. The church youth group was big, healthy and a lot of fun. I discovered that I could make people laugh and that people were prepared to be patient with me and listen to me. For the first time ever, my opinion mattered and counted for something.

As time passed, I learnt how to speak in public. It started with very short epilogues and then leading the youth group discussion, and then finally preaching on Sunday mornings. Friends were very kind, encouraging me into church leadership, which I loved… and needed. And then trouble. The thrill of being heard, of being influential, of being in the know went to my head. I became difficult even to the point of arrogance. I fell out with several church leaders over the years until I was shoved onto The Dark Path.

Bullied, threatened, abandoned and ignored.

Only this time I was content to not have a voice. It was my voice that got me into so much trouble, so I learnt to accept not having one. I hid, in the shadows, at home, in the safety of my family and those very close friends who stood by me and supported me.

While on my Dark Path, I had some counselling. My counsellor was a top bloke and very wise. I remember it clearly, the day he asked me to listen to a Josh Groban song. Not my favourite sound, but a song that talked about not being heard, not being listened to, except by The One, My Papa, The God of my story and journey.

My time on The Dark Path became a catalyst for walking, the same route along the beach, day after day, and while walking I learned that I never have to be speechless again, because there is The One. I would pour my heart out to him, day after day, week after week, and now year after year. To start with he listened and he still does. But gradually, over time, things changed, and I became more interested in what he had to say; and then content to just enjoy being aware of him.

More recently, I have been reading and thinking about the mystery that God is, and has to be. If there is a God, then by definition, he has an “otherness” about him. The understanding of him, and the challenges of life that throw up apparent contradictions and opposites and incompatibles, has brought me to a point in my journey and story where I am coming to live with the tension of being known by, and knowing, somebody who is outside time and space, and yet lives within the limitations of time and space. The result? Speechless!

Because there are not enough words to explain the God that I call Papa; because my vocabulary is too limited to describe the outrageous and endless love that he has drowned me in; because I never thought I could love him as much as I do while accepting that I will never love him as much as he deserves.

Only now I am content and satisfied to be quiet and silent and still. Speechless before the mystery and intimacy of My Papa.

The River

“Come to the River, all who are thirsty.” We Are The River! We are your refreshment, your restoration, your rest, your cleansing! Not… Nothing or Nobody Else! Just Us!

I stand on the river bed, a bed of pebbles and stones and dried wood. The plants of the river are long dead. I am not alone. As I look there are others, standing. What for?

I am waiting for The River to return. A river that once trickled, sometimes, flowed and very occasionally raged like white water. The River I had in mind dried up long ago. It refreshed, renewed, restored then, but has now dried up. It is as if a drought has come and stayed.

As I look in the cloudless sky with no sign of the rain I long for, I begin to see. Like a laser beam piercing my mind and my heart, I start to understand. The River was the wrong river. It was never going to stay, for it was made of man made things, things that pretended to be The River while not being the river – religious rules, regulations, expectations, demands; valid spiritual practices that become routine, duty, habit devoid of life, of water.

And then out of nowhere, large, cold drops of rain appear. Slowly and deliberately the rain increases into a deluge. And between my toes and around my feet, The River forms and flows. My tired feet and legs are suddenly shocked into refreshment and vigour.

And I realise that this is The River! The River! What is The River? Who is The River? It is YHWH! My God! Papa, Mama and Yeshua The Christ! The Mysterious three-in-one! They are The River! My River! My Source of all that is good and fresh and real!

Of Straight Lines and Boxes

At the grand old age of sixty, I have been launched into a landscape that I have never seen before, and rather than it being frightening, it is exhilarating. The opportunity for exploration and discovery and adventure has invigorated me in my journey of faith.

I have seen it in my own life, and more recently in the lives of others that straight lines and boxes end up becoming tightropes and cages that squeeze the life and hope out of far too many. As a child, I was brought up to believe certain things without question. My faith (if that is what it was) evolved into something rigid and inflexible, which then expressed itself in ways of relating with others that was just as rigid and inflexible. My faith then became a cage or a prison in which I was trapped. Which is okay, until something goes wrong, until the inevitable pain and darkness of life hits you so hard it floors you.

For the fearful, for those who find themselves without the courage to face their pain and darkness, straight lines and boxes become a comfort and a safe place. The danger is that you then accept the tightrope and the cage as life, as the best it can be; hope soon dissolves before your eyes. And you are left with a God who is also trapped in a cage – the cage of your rigid and inflexible beliefs and doctrines.

And it is only from the straight lines and boxes that the fearful then declare their beliefs as the only right ones. Which makes everybody else wrong. Which is where we get denominations, tribes, within “the church” and if you are not in a certain tribe, then you are wrong. And why so many Christ-followers have abandoned the tribes and find themselves homeless.

Today I find myself walking a path, less travelled than any I have been on before. The scenery is new to me, but I am discovering the presence of my God, in all sorts of places, places I had decided they couldn’t possible be. My tightropes and cages have gone… most of the time. And I am free to explore and live with the mystery that God has to be; free to think the unthinkable, to dare to ask questions, to explore and play. It is a great place to be.

For the record, many of my beliefs look the same. I have not abandoned the historical Christian faith. In fact, I would suggest that I am discovering the depth and riches of this faith in ways that were out of bounds to me before. But look beneath the lid, and peep in my conversations with my PAPA, and with the next one, and you might wonder. Go ahead wonder… Wonder and mystery are incredible things, tools to lead us to love, which is the only thing that remains…

Rubble at my feet

How I got here is a very long story. It includes reading, music, movies, walking, talking with those who came to be so helpful and significant. It includes tears, many tears, and pain in the heart that took so long to fade. It has been a journey not travelled very often in broad daylight, but often in shadows and mist and sometimes in darkness so thick you could touch it. And (don’t panic!) it includes Brexit… just a little.

At my feet is a pile of rubble – bricks, stones, concrete, pieces of wood – that made up what I was led to believe was a rock solid, immovable, non-negotiable, inflexible set of beliefs. Doctrine, rules, regulations, responsibilities and expectations, built on the conviction that the interpretation of the Bible was the only logical one and, therefore, the right one, defended at all costs. As though the God of the Christian faith needs defending and sticking up for!

And there was no room for interpretation, for views, or more importantly, the uniqueness of each one’s story and journey. It is all about straight lines and boxes, cages and prisons. The God of religious inflexibility apparently can’t cope with uniqueness and diversity. Which is where Brexit comes in. I have seen, very sharply, that a refusal to move from some ideological position, in any sphere of life, is both naive and, potentially dangerous. The result, eventually, is chaos.

On reflection I was dying, drifting into a spiritual and emotional coma. Until The Dark Path, that moved into Plants Repotted and now into The Great Adventure. It has taken me into places of thought that I never expected to even consider; ideas and beliefs that once seemed outrageous but now have broken shackles and knocked down walls.

The God I now love so much more than I thought I could is the same God. What has changed is my view of the God I now call, sometimes, Papa and sometimes Mama. They are the God who is Love, who is only interested in relationship and interaction and co-operation and dialogue. They (Father, Son and Spirit) are The Ultimate Family, and all they are and do is for the purpose of growing family. To Love this God, to love myself, and then to love the next one is where this is taking me. I’m not much good at it, but I am learning and I am being changed by the greatest force in all of the universes – the ferocious, outrageous, endless substance of the love of my Papa.

Today I am more free than I was yesterday, and infinitely more free than I was twelve years when I was thrust into this journey into The Great Adventure. I am free to be known and loved, to know and to love; free to be myself without fear or anxiety; free to participate in The Divine Dance and play my part in The Ultimate Family.

Welcome to the Journey

I am a son, a husband, a father, a friend. I am, a recently retired, local authority foster carer, a member of a crazy, creative, frustration and joyous “church” family. I am a pilgrim, a traveller, an explorer, an avid reader and novice writer.

And I am wounded and scarred, broken and damaged. And yet healed and loved beyond recognition. On a good day, I am Papa’s Little Boy and Papa to “the next one.”

On a bad day… I am self-righteous, self-absorbed, religious, judgmental, critical, negative, determined to be right and let you know that I am right, at all costs. On these days, my scars have been prodded and poked enough for them to hurt all over again. And when I hurt… here comes another bad day.

Why am I writing?

I have always dreamed of writing. So, when somebody prays that past dreams be fulfilled, including writing, and then somebody comments on my writing skills, it felt like a nudge, a heavenly elbow in the ribs.

I am certainly not trying to persuade, convince, convict or put right. I have had more than enough of that in my life, both as a giver and a receiver. Neither am I claiming some superior revelation and experience; it is my journey and my story, not yours.

I do want to explore and discover, provoke and stimulate, encourage and support… fellow travellers and storytellers. I am not looking to force our paths together, but if we should bump into each other? Well, let’s walk and explore together for a while and see where it takes us.

My Own Secret Place