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Finding Your Place in the Church as a Progressive Christian (1)

Finding Your Place in the Church as a Progressive Christian

I hadn’t planned a post for today, but having just returned from a truly thought-provoking church service, I felt the need to sit down and share what is in my heart right now. You see, the visiting Minister who took the service today talked a lot about how difficult we often find it to share our faith with others. And for me this remains one of the biggest challenges I face in my own journey of faith.

For many, many years I didn’t even think I could fit into a church community. Ever since I first discovered the basic tenets held by most Christian churches, I realised that I simply could not accept some of them. I certainly couldn’t affirm a belief in the general understanding of the Trinity or the explanation for Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. In fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking that rejecting these basic principles meant that I couldn’t define myself as a Christian in any way. I believed that for a long time too.

But no matter how much I rallied against these ideas, I still felt drawn towards Christianity in ways I can only describe as God drawing me back to it time and again. I explored other faith traditions, and doing so helped to form the idea in my mind that there really is more than connects us than divides us in life. Yet no matter how many other paths I explored, I always came back to this desire to be part of the church community.

Finding Your Place in the Church as a Progressive Christian

When I first discovered the writings of Progressive Christian scholars such as Marcus Borg, I was thrilled to realise that questioning the general principles affirmed within the church didn’t automatically exclude me from being a Christian. I began to realise that even though I might not interpret the Bible in the same way as others, I could still turn to it for inspiration and guidance. And whilst I may not always agree with certain ideas, Christianity is far bigger than any one single person, church, or denomination.

Which is how I found myself regularly attending our local Methodist Church, because I finally felt like I could fit in. That’s not to say it is always easy. Despite the fact that I go to church most Sundays, I still feel more like a visitor than an active part of the church family. This has nothing to do with the congregation, who are wonderfully welcoming, it’s just that when you’re still trying to figure out how you fit in to the church, it can be very difficult to know how to do so.

For instance, Little Man has watched several children be baptised in the church and has expressed an interest in being baptised himself. Now, part of me knows he just wants to have a special day, and hasn’t thought that much about what it signifies (he is only 5, after all). But the reason I hesitate is not because of his lack of understanding, but rather my uncertainty over whether it is right for us to do so.

I have never been baptised and so if I choose to baptise him, I’d like to be baptised myself at the same time. But should we really do this when I know that I still haven’t figured out quite how I feel about and understand that part of Christianity. I wrote about how and why I was teaching Little Man about the Easter Story from a Progressive Christian point of view last year, and for the most part I am comfortable in the way we are exploring the Christian faith together. But there seems, to me at least, a big difference between our personal exploration of Christianity and a more public affirmation of our faith, such as baptism.

You may be wondering why this is such a big deal to me. We go to church, and our church is very welcoming and allows us to take part in communion whenever it is held, even though neither of us has been baptised. So in essence, it doesn’t stop us from being part of the church family. And yet, there is a part of me that feels like we still sit on the edges, looking in rather than being an active part of the church. And that bothers me.

there is a part of me that feels like we still sit on the edges, looking in rather than being an active part of the church

I know that most of this is my own hesitancy rather than anything the church is or isn’t doing to help me feel more welcome. But it does make me wonder why this is so hard, and just how many more people feel the same way that I do. The Minister today asked a similar question – how many people come so close and yet do not take that first step to enter into our community, because it feels unapproachable to them? Are we doing enough to share our faith with others and show them how welcome they would be to join us?

One of the things I love most about the church I attend is that I can see signs of this happening. There is a notice on the inside of the church which says something along the lines of, “it’s not our role to bring people to church, it’s our role to bring people to Jesus”. This speaks to me so strongly, because it reflects the ideas within Progressive Christianity that focus on building communities where there are many ways to experience and understand the Divine, and that it’s important that we, “accept all who wish to share companionship without insisting on conformity”.

And yet even with these signs in my own church, I still feel so hesitant to speak up, share my heart with others, and become a truly active member of the church. I still fear what will happen if I do. But I promised myself that 2017 would be a year of courage, and so it’s time for me to dig deep and find the strength to do so. Our Minister this morning called us to do just that – she phrased it as “God has thrown down the gauntlet”, and I love the image that evokes.

She reminded us that God challenges us sometimes, and though we may try to resist, it’s what we have been called to do. For me the message is loud and strong – I’ve been gifted with the ability to communicate and connect with others in such a way that my entire life has focused on these key skills. And yet in this one area I resist it so strongly, for fear of what it might entail. “Who am I to do or say these things when I don’t even know quite where I fit in yet?” I ask myself. Well, actually, who am I not to?

The truth is, I probably have far more in common with those who are hesitant about attending church than many other church-goers. I know what it’s like to come in as an outsider, someone new to the faith, with questions and doubts that I think may exclude me from the community. I also know what it’s like to walk a path between multiple faiths, drawing inspiration from other religious traditions as well as Christianity. And if that wasn’t enough, I also have such a passion for exploring faith and making it more accessible for others.

Which is why I felt I had to write a post today, after the message at church was so strong this morning. I needed to express what it’s like to attend church when you feel like you don’t quite belong, because it’s often a confusing place to be. And I wanted to challenge myself to step out of my comfort zone this year and truly try to find my place within the church as a Progressive Christian. Because finally I feel able to say that – I am a Christian, even though I reject some of the more common understandings of what this means.


I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – do you define the “type” of Christian you are, or just that you are Christian? How do you define what it means to be a Christian? Is it even possible to define it, or is it too complicated for words?

Don’t forget I am always happy to provide a space on this blog for you to share your own thoughts and experiences. I feel a major part of my blogging journey is to help express the diverse unity that exists within our faith communities, as well as society as a whole. So please, feel free to share your thoughts with me on this (even if you disagree with everything I say!!) 


I’m linking this post up with Share The Joy hosted by Lizzie Somerset, as it is a really special post to me and it gives me joy to know that I am finding the courage to put this kind of post “out there” in the hope of developing conversation with others who are passionate about talking about faith too, whatever that may look like for them.
Share the Joy linky at LizzieSomerset.com

Gifts from the Goddess FB (1)

Gifts from the Goddess

I wasn’t sure what to call this post, because it’s quite a tough one to sum up in just a few words. For the past couple of years I’ve been regularly receiving gifts through the post with absolutely no idea who is sending them, nor whether they are all coming from the same person. So my husband and I have decided to call these Gifts from the Goddess.

 Gifts from the Goddess

Why from the Goddess? Well, because the vast majority of the gifts I have received have centred around earth-based spirituality, connecting with the Goddess, and honouring the feminine power within. The latter, in particular, is something I have needed for such a long time. Being a woman has not been easy for me – I’ve struggled so much with my hormones and health, that I have struggled to accept the wisdom, wonder, and power that is unique to the Sacred Feminine. So being reminded to open my heart to this has been quite incredible.

But even more than that, receiving these gifts has taught me a major lesson in allowing myself to receive freely and graciously, without the need to reciprocate immediately. Like many people, I find it far easier to give than to receive, and when I do receive I feel that I must express my gratitude clearly through both words (thank you) and action (paying it forward). Not being able to thank my anonymous gifter has been quite a challenge for me, as I have worried I might appear to be ungrateful.

But gradually a shift in consciousness is happening, one that is teaching me that gratitude comes in all kinds of ways. Whoever is sending these gifts wants me to accept them freely, without the need to attribute them to an individual sender. There is true magic in not knowing where a gift has come from, and being able to thank the Goddess herself (or God, or the Universe, or the Angels, or whoever or whatever you choose to attribute such gifts to). The greatest gratitude I could show is by embracing these gifts, accepting the blessing, and letting go of the negative or ego-based mindset that whispers, “you’re not worthy of this”.

So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to embrace these gifts from the Goddess fully and completely, and use them on my journey of courage throughout 2017 and beyond. I am going to accept her gifts and reach deep within to find and celebrate the Sacred Feminine. And I’m going to share what I find along the way with you all, starting today with this very post. Let me share with you all the gifts I have received…

gift from the Goddess January 2015

In January 2015 I received the first of many packages that would fill my heart with so much joy. It included a fascinating novel called The Serpent’s Tale, a Goddess colouring book by Tiana, and the Earth Pathways Diary for that year. This first package completely threw me, and for a few moments I truly wondered whether I had mistakenly received a gift meant for someone else. But a quick read of the message in the card showed me that it was definitely sent for me…

You see, I had previously written a post about my goals for 2015, which included things like praying more, being more mindful, worrying less, and reading more! I had also written about how awful 2014 had been, how I felt broken, and how I had chosen to simply Surrender in 2015. Whoever had sent this parcel knew me and knew what was going on in both my life and my heart.

What they couldn’t have known, though, was that this package would arrive on the very same day I received news that I was facing redundancy. On a day that essentially decided the path I would take in 2015 I also received a beautiful gift of support for the days ahead. If I’d ever doubted the beauty and synchronicity in life, this package showed me it in very real ways. My heart was flying with love and joy and gratitude that day, and I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. I mean, how often do you receive an anonymous gift like this?

She Who Knows Magazine

Then in 2016 I started receiving copies of this absolutely gorgeous magazine, and I couldn’t believe that I was being blessed once again in this way. For a moment I really did wonder whether I had subscribed and forgotten about it, because I had seen the magazine during our trip to Glastonbury in October 2015 and it had really caught my eye – had I signed up and not realised?

Of course, a quick check of our bank account confirmed I hadn’t, and so here was yet another gift from my anonymous friend. Who could it be? They knew me so well, and they knew that we had relocated and lived at a new address. And once again these gifts began arriving at a truly perfect time for me. I had been becoming increasingly unwell and had been trying to nurture myself through one-to-one sessions and a focus on self-care. What better way to remind me to look within to the Power of the Sacred Feminine and remember that all was well, even if it felt like things were beginning to fall apart?

 

Earth Pathways Diary 2017

And then came this gift – a second copy of the Earth Pathways Diary, this time for 2017. I received this one in September 2016, 3 months into my sick leave from work as I faced more and more referrals to different specialists in the hope of figuring out what was wrong with me. It was a beautiful and timely reminder that even when we feel unable to plan for the future because it is so unknown to us, we can still have dreams and look forward to what is to come. This package arrived a couple of weeks following this post, focusing on allowing yourself to not be okay for a while, and felt like yet another nod from the Goddess, saying, “yes, that’s it!”

Receiving so many gifts in quick succession was such an amazing comfort for me in a time when I was feeling so utterly useless in so many ways. I had become so ill I could no longer do even the simplest of things, and I had begun to question everything. These gifts helped me to dig deep within my faith, to find the lessons within, and they supported me in a deep spiritual transformation in which I found my way back to God/Goddess, and realised that this journey I am on is so incredibly sacred, even within the most mundane of moments.

Which brings me to today. and yet another timely gift from the Goddess…

Goddess Temple Gifts

This beautifully wrapped package from Goddess Temple Gifts in Glastonbury arrived yesterday, at the end of a deeply challenging week. I had entered 2017 with so much hope and passion for delving deep within, to nurture myself on every level (spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical). I had been making time every day for meditation, kundalini yoga, affirmations, reading… you name it, I’d been making space for it. I even shared how passionate I was in a rather impromptu and amusing Facebook Live on Thursday. And I really felt like I was getting somewhere at last…

But then Friday morning I woke up feeling incredibly sick, and wanted to just lay in bed all day and refuse to move. Unfortunately that wasn’t an option, as I had a hospital appointment with the Endocrinologist. Thanks to confusion over the clinic number I was supposed to attend, and then being sent for a multitude of blood tests which meant waiting in a busy clinic for 2 hours, I ended up the day feeling completely wiped out. What followed was a whole week of feeling absolutely beaten to my core, along with another trip to the hospital for more specific testing due to low cortisol levels.

I felt all my intentions falling away, all my hopes slipping out of my grasp, as I struggled simply to drag myself out of bed and look after myself and my son during a nasty virus that knocked me to my core. I have honestly never been so scared as I was on Tuesday, when I struggled to even sit in bed beside Little Man. I just could not get out of that place of fear and it broke my heart. So to receive this gift on Friday, as I awaited the results of these extra tests, reminded me that there is always hope, always a way forward, and always someone watching over you.

The Goddess is with us in every single moment. She is there in the dark as well as in the light. She is there when we fall to the lowest lows, and soars with us to the highest of highs. She embraces us when we feel lost and alone, she is the eternal mother nurturing our souls, and the wise woman who has been here so many times, in so many ways. And she is the maiden, excited at all that lays before us. She is someone I wish to know more, and so I am truly grateful for this latest set of gifts that focus so clearly on who she is and what she has to give. For she has been walking alongside me all these years, just waiting for me to hear her call.

Here’s to the Goddess and the gifts that she brings. And here’s to those special souls who walk this path with us, sending us gifts in so many ways, whether they are physical items, whispered prayers, or gentle hugs when we meet. We are so blessed.


Disclaimer: please note, there is an Amazon affiliate link included in this post. This means that if you click on that link and buy the item from Amazon, we will be credited a % of that sale. We include links like this from time to time, to help us cover the costs of running this blog. 

Courage, Dear Heart Word of the Year 2017

Courage – My Word of the Year for 2017

Today I want to share with you what I have chosen to be my focus keyword for the year ahead. Choosing a word for the year can be a lovely alternative (or accompaniment) to the more traditional New Year’s Resolution, and it’s something I have personally done for several years now. And as I look back I can see how the word I have chosen each year has helped me to focus on what is most important to me at each stage of my life.

But more than this, it has also provided me with a lens through which to understand and reflect upon the things that have happened in my life. It helps me put things into a new context, rather than simply thinking, “why me?” or “will this never end?” when things get tough. And it also helps me to set goals and focus on developing new skills and habits which help me reach those goals too. I no longer aimlessly wander through life, because my focus keyword gives me a purpose.

Which is why I am so thrilled that this year’s Word of the Year is a big one, that will challenge me to step out of my comfort zone (which isn’t always that comfortable, I might add!) and make real, lasting change in my life. Are you ready for it? Here it comes…

Courage, Dear Heart Word of the Year 2017

That’s right, COURAGE is my word for 2017. As has been the pattern over the past couple of years, this word actually just popped into my head (and my heart) rather than being something I consciously thought about whilst trying to choose a word. Which is why I love the above quote so much, because just as Lucy felt sure the voice whispering to her was Aslan’s, I also feel sure that these words are being whispered to me from the Divine.

It all started at the end of 2014, when I was in a truly awful place and I felt like I had been broken beyond measure. In a moment of prayer I heard the word “Surrender” and that became my word for 2015. It was a very apt word indeed, as I faced redundancy, relocation, and the beginning of a deterioration in my health. The latter led me to choosing the word “Healing” for 2016 and, as I wrote in my previous post, I have done so much healing in ways I could never have imagined this year, despite being very sick for most of it.

Which leads me to where I am right now, looking towards the future with hope that the uncertainty and challenges I have faced over the previous few years will finally begin to settle somewhat. Had I tried to choose a word for myself, I’d have most likely opted for something like “peace”, “stability”, or “security”. But those are only a part of the equation, I cannot even begin to get there without the courage to walk forward, one step at a time. Which is why I know this word is a message for me, guiding me into the unknown with hope and certainty that if I do so with courage, things will start to happen.

But what does this actually mean? What does walking forward with courage look like? I cannot help but hear the Cowardly Lion’s speech in the Wizard of Oz, when he lists all the different ways he sees courage in the world:

Lion:      What makes a King out of a slave? Courage.
              What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage.
              What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist or the dusky dusk?
              What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage.
              What makes the Sphinx the 7th Wonder? Courage.
              What makes the dawn come up like THUNDER?! Courage.
              What makes the Hottentot so hot?
              What puts the “ape” in apricot?
              Whatta they got that I ain’t got?
Others: Courage

When I remember his speech I am always reminded that courage isn’t as simple as “being brave”. Courage is what makes us who we are, and it’s what drives us to do what feels right to us, no matter how hard that may be. It’s what keeps us going when things get tough, and it’s what allows us to admit defeat when we need to. There isn’t a one sized fits all approach to courage, and often the most courageous things we’ll ever do are those which make us feel the most scared and small.

But though we may feel afraid, it is the act of following our heart and doing what feels right that brings us the courage to change our entire life. And for me this is the aspect of courage I want to focus on this year. In 2015 I began to learn how to surrender to God and his plan for me. In 2016 I began to learn what it means to heal at the deepest, darkest level of my soul. And in 2017 I hope to learn how to step forward with courage, to embrace the unknown, trusting that I will find the path I am meant to tread, and doing things which I have fought out of fear for so very long.

17 Ways to be Courageous in 2017

For me this means following all of the above. It means saying “yes” to new opportunities that terrify me, because to do so I have to believe in myself and my abilities. It also means saying “no” to things, even things I would love to do, because I cannot do it all. And that, my friends, takes a lot of courage for someone who has long defined herself by what she can do and achieve!

It’s about making myself a priority, so that I not only carve out time for myself every single day but I actually make it a sacred promise to myself to do so, no matter how crazily busy my day may seem. And it means allowing myself to have big dreams, even when they feel a million miles away. Because by finding my tribe, asking for help, and forgiving myself, I will pave the way towards those dreams in ways I could never do alone with only my fearful inner voice pulling me down.

Yes, courage feels like the perfect word for me this year, and I know I have already placed the foundation stones on which to build my future. I’ve been blessed by some truly wonderful friendships this past year, which have helped me delve into my heart to find the courage hidden so deep inside. My tribe has helped me dream big, plan for the future, and surround myself with resources to make this my best year yet. And I wish for nothing more than the same support and encouragement to find you too.

So, here’s my invitation to you – follow me on instagram or Facebook as these both offer me the opportunity to connect with others on a much more regular basis than I can here on the blog. Let’s build a community to support each other through the coming year, one in which there is more emphasis on being kind to ourselves and following our own paths than trying to keep up with the rest of the crowd.

And, if you want some help choosing a word for your year, do check out my friend and mentor, Michelle Reeves, who has created a special coaching package specifically for making 2017 your best year yet!


I’m linking up with Share The Joy, hosted by Lizzie Somerset (on behalf of Michelle Reeves) because this post has filled me with such joy and enthusiasm for 2017!
Share the Joy linky at LizzieSomerset.com

Nothing ever lasts forever... Brighter days are always ahead

Life is like a Spiral Dance: Reflections on the Solstice

Today is the Midwinter Solstice, the shortest day of the year and the turning point at which we start the slow journey back towards the long days of summer. And as has become my custom over the past few years, I am taking some time out today to reflect on all that has happened over the past 12 months and what I hope to achieve in the coming year.

I find the Midwinter Solstice really symbolic in helping me remember that nothing ever lasts forever, and brighter days are always ahead. The past few years have felt like a never-ending battle, with ever more challenging situations developing despite my determination to keep going, and keep growing. Over time I have found my strength and resilience waning, both physically and emotionally, to the point where it feels like things will never change. And yet I only have to look at nature to realise that this isn’t so. Right now the trees are bare and the skies are grey, and yet I trust that Spring will come again, it always does.

When I apply this same reasoning to my own life I begin to see that even the most traumatic times in my life have come to an end at some point – my dark nights of the soul never last forever, even when I fear they might. So, when I look back on my Solstice Reflections from the past two years, I could easily conclude that yet another year has gone by and I’m still sick, still poor, still suffering. But the reality is not quite that simple.

My 2014 Solstice Reflections came during a truly traumatic time for me, when I really couldn’t see any way out of the situation I had found myself in. And yet I did, and the next year started off really well. Unfortunately by the time I reached December my Solstice Musings for 2015 seemed to find me back at square one, with another Christmas spent struggling physically.

However I was in a better place emotionally and spiritually than I had been just 12 months before, and so I was able to see that instead of going in a circle I was actually following a spiral dance, coming around to a similar spot but always just a little bit further on. The same can be said for this year too, and I am so very grateful to this blog for giving me a very tangible record of where I’ve been so that I can reflect just on how far I have come.

You see, my focus word for 2016 was “Healing”. I was determined to make sure I did everything I could to help my body heal after several unbelievably stressful years that had taken a real toll on my physical health. I started with healthier eating, regular yoga sessions, and a desire to look after my emotional health by limiting the pressures I put upon myself (which included over 3 months away from Facebook and 5 months away from this blog!) But despite all my best efforts, I ended up more physically sick than I have ever been in my life, which felt like the furthest thing away from healing as possible!

And yet, despite being so physically ill that I couldn’t even get out of bed or think straight at times, I began to realise that I have still been doing a huge amount of healing work. No longer could I ignore my body’s cries for help, I had no choice but to stop and listen. Even more importantly, I could no longer try to pretend that all was well and I could fix things by doing the same old stuff I’d always done. I had to learn to trust in something greater than myself, and accept that there was no quick fix to all of this.

Healing takes time, especially when you’ve put everyone and everything before yourself at the expense of your own well-being for far too long. You have to learn to live in an entirely different way, to accept a slower pace of life, and trust that your world will not fall apart just because you say no to things (even things you’d love to do).

When I look back on all the progress I’ve made this year in terms of self-care and self-love, I realise that I have done far more healing than I ever expected. I learnt that it’s okay to not be okay sometimes, that affirmations set us up with the perfect mindset from which to heal, and that self-love is something I struggle with a lot.

I’ve started to change the way I care for myself, by connecting with other chronically-ill people who understand the realities of spoonie life. And I’ve been learning to honour my limits (even when that meant missing out on something I truly love), and investing instead in things that will truly help me where I am right now. This year I’ve been blessed to have one-to-one sessions with both Pippa from Story of Mum and Michelle Reeves, who have each taught me so much about myself and my ability to heal and grow.

Which brings me to where I am today, on the longest night of the year. Once again I am struck by the deeply symbolic nature of the Midwinter Solstice and its celebration of the return of the light through the darkness. This year has been a dark one in many ways for me, and I am ending 2016 without a firm diagnosis for why I have been so ill, despite countless appointments with numerous specialists throughout the year. But within that darkness there has been so much light for me to find, and I truly do feel as if I am firmly on a healing path, making progress step by step on this glorious spiral dance we call life.

I’ll be back again before the end of the year to share with you the word I have chosen for 2017, I’m so excited about this one! But for now I want to simply wish you all a very Merry Solstice and a Happy Christmas too.


Linking up with #ShareYourYear hosted by Belle du Brighton, as this post sums up the past year for me very nicely. Pop over to the linky to find out what other bloggers have been up to this year – it’s a great way to get a snapshot of bloggers’ highlights (and find new blogs to follow!)

Share your 2016 - Belle du Brighton

The Family Patch Midwinter Solstice Activities

Celebrating the Midwinter Solstice with Kids

21st December marks the Midwinter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. This is the shortest day of the year, and falls right in the crazy run up to other major holidays such as Christmas and Hannukah. As such, it is understandable that it gets overlooked and forgotten about!

But if we can take a moment to mark this point in the Wheel of the Year, we will be reminded that life continues in cycles as the seasons pass and that nothing lasts forever. During the cold and dreary months of Winter, it can be truly uplifting to realise that the hardest point (the longest night) has now passed and we are on our way to brighter, warmer days once more.

So whilst I know you’re probably super busy right now (I know I am!) I do hope that you’ll find some time to stop and reflect on the Midwinter Solstice this year.

5 Easy ways to celebrate the Midwinter Solstice with Kids

The absolutely wonderful thing about the Midwinter Solstice is that a lot of the things we traditionally do at this time of year to celebrate Christmas work just as well for Solstice Celebrations too. So you really don’t have to go out of your way to mark this occasion, nor do you need to worry about it interfering in any way with the “reason for the season”, whatever that may be for you.

Each one of the suggestions below would easily fit in with your festive plans, so I do hope you try at least one of them!

1. decorate the house

Okay, so you’ve probably already done this anyway, right? But how many of your decorations were bought in a shop and how many have you foraged for or made yourself? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with store bought decorations, they add so much colour and joy to our homes during this otherwise very dark month. But there is something very special about bringing a little bit of the outdoors inside, or using fruit and grains to make orange slices and gingerbread cookies that fill your house with such festive fragrances.

If you go for a walk, see if you can spot some holly or other greenery to bring indoors (remembering to ask permission if you need to cut it). Bringing nature indoors is such a time-honoured tradition, that connects us to nature at a time when we are usually so busy huddled up inside our houses that we rarely stop to just focus on the world around us.

And if you fancy baking cookies, why not see if you can source some locally ground flour or use a traditional recipe from your local area (ask your neighbours, church groups, schools, bakeries, and local library if they have any recipes to share). Using local ingredients or recipes passed down through the generations will help ground what you do, connecting you to the memories of all of those who have gone before you, as well as the promise of those who will come after you. You really do become a link in the chain that connects us to one another in all directions.

2. light a candle

This is an obvious one, I’m sure, but I often find the obvious things are the ones we tend to overlook, so it’s worth mentioning this activity here.

Lighting a candle is perhaps the single most symbolic way you can celebrate the light in the darkness, which is so important to us all. It is why we light candles in the Advent wreath, and it is why we string fairy lights on our tree and around our homes at this time of year.

We all like to be reminded of just how much of a difference that comforting glow makes to an otherwise dreary and miserable month, when the skies are grey and the nights so long. But why not make it extra special but choosing a specific candle (think about the colour and fragrance especially) to represent the hope and joy you wish to connect with on the Solstice. You could even say a wish or prayer, and imagine the candle flame burning brightly with the intent to make your wish come true!

3. make a manifestation collage

This is an excellent way of celebrating the hope and joy that the Winter Solstice brings with it. We have come through the increasingly darker days of Autumn and are now heading into the bitter Winter months feeling frazzled and worn. But we know we can make it, because from this point onwards the days will grow longer as the sun shines both warmer and\ brighter upon us. And that’s the perfect time to let go of the past and embrace the future.

I love making manifestation collages at this time of year, and enjoy cutting up images and words from various magazines to then stick on a large piece of card. I’ll then place it somewhere prominent so I can reflect on it throughout the coming year. It reminds me of all my hopes and dreams, and keeps me going when the going gets tough (as it inevitably does from time to time).

This is a great exercise for you to do yourself, but it’s also super easy and fun for your kids to do too (who doesn’t like cutting and sticking pictures of what they want in life?!) It also offers you a great chance to get to know what is on your children’s hearts right now, what they are hoping for in the coming year, and how you could help support them in that.

4. give food/shelter to others

We all love to celebrate with a bit of abundance at this time of year, right? But there’s no denying that it’s often a real struggle to make ends meet for so many of us, and for others it is impossible to even provide the essentials needed to survive these cold, Winter months.

As much as we’d like to think that we are no longer at the whim of the elements as our ancestors were, when a good harvest could make the difference between life and death for many, we still struggle with poverty and homelessness. The use of Food Banks is constantly on the rise, and the number of families living below the poverty line is shocking. Add to that the increasing number of people recently described as “JAMS” (just about managing), who are just one paycheck away from losing their home or having no food on the table, and we begin to see just how stark the reality is.

So, at a time when we are all splashing out on good food and drink and celebrations of friendship and family, it only takes a little bit extra to make a real difference to someone else. Donate to a Food Bank or shelter, send toys to the local children’s ward, of buy that homeless guy you pass every day a hot drink and some lunch, to help him get through another day. It’s so easy for our kids to be completely oblivious to the struggle that so many face, and yet my experience is that kids can be the most generous and loving of us all. So let them make a difference too – it is the season for giving, after all.

5. go for a moonlit walk

What better way to focus on the darkest night of the year than to go for a moonlit walk. Even if it’s cloudy and you can’t see the moon or stars, take your kids for a walk in the dark anyway. There’s something really magical about doing that as a child, as it’s something you rarely get to do when you’re young. It feels much later in the day than it is, they get to see the Christmas lights along the streets, and then you get to come home for a nice hot drink before bed. Ahhh, bliss!

want to know more about the winter solstice?

I haven’t written a huge deal about the history and traditions surrounding the Midwinter Solstice, or the modern Pagan celebration of Yule. This is because I know December is such a busy month for many of us and I wanted to keep this post super simple. However if you’d like to find out more, you may find the following sites helpful:

The White Goddess has a wonderful page explaining the origins of Yule. It also includes a recipe for Yule Wassail, and a ritual for celebrating this Sabbat.

The Goddess and the Green Man also have a great page dedicated to Yule. There is so much information on this page that it is hard to provide an overview – just check it out!

Exploring the Nativity Story with your Kids

Most of us know the Nativity Story, right? Even if you’ve not been raised in a Christian family, chances are you know the basic storyline, thanks to Nativity plays at school, Christmas carols on the radio, and cultural references to it in both literature and on tv. The same will be true for our children; even if we don’t actively seek to introduce them to the Nativity Story at home, they will come across it in other ways.

Which is why I think it’s a really lovely idea to actually sit down once in a while and explore it all in more detail. Doing so often helps us to gain new insight and a whole new perspective on things, and can be really beneficial in helping us figure out what it is we actually believe and how that impacts on our lives. Obviously how we do this will depend on our individual age and background, but I hope the following will help you begin your own journey of exploration of the Nativity Story.

Explore The Nativity Story with Kids The Family Patch

Understanding the nativity story

What would you say if someone asked you to tell them the Nativity Story? I’m guessing it would be something similar to this…

Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem and, because there was no room in the inn, Jesus was born in a stable. Angels appeared on the hill-tops and proclaimed the birth to the Shepherds. And three Wise Men travelled from afar, following a bright new shining star. 

It’s no surprise that our retelling of the Nativity follows this same pattern of events, as that is what we hear about every single Christmas. But did you know that no single Gospel account of the birth of Christ includes all of the above aspects?

The vast majority of it comes from Luke, whose account of Jesus’ birth is by far the longest and most detailed. His account includes the census, the stable, and the shepherds and the angels. However it has no mention of Wise Men, who only appear in Matthew’s Gospel. However Matthew’s version of events is much shorter and less detailed, appearing to race through the birth in comparison. There is also a marked difference in who the Angel appears to during the pregnancy – in Luke’s version the Angel appears to Mary, but in Matthew’s the Angel appears to Joseph, encouraging him to support Mary.

Then, of course, there are the two other Gospel accounts of Mark and John. Neither of these even mention the Nativity! Mark’s Gospel begins with John the Baptist proclaiming the coming of Christ, and John’s is entirely different, with far more spiritual leanings as he writes about “The Word made flesh”.

So what does this all mean in terms of how we understand the Nativity Story and the truth we find within it? Does it mean that the typical story we hear year after year, bringing the two accounts of Luke and Matthew together as if they are one single narrative, is false? No, I don’t think it means that at all!

We must remember that each of the Gospel writers were telling their version of events in a very specific time and culture, which means they were also writing it for a very specific audience. Just because they adapted it to express a deep truth in a way that those who read it would understand, doesn’t make it wrong. Just think about how often we ourselves adapt what we say depending on who we are talking to – you wouldn’t expect a young child to understand with the same level of experience as that of an adult, would you?

I am reminded here of the Bible Study I went to this week in which we discussed this very thing, and I wish to share two quotations from it with you…

“This is always the task of Christians and the Christian church: to find ways to speak into our particular situations. We are not called to proclaim the gospel again, but to proclaim it afresh – wherever we find ourselves.”

— Living in the Light (York Courses)

“As has been said:

’Many will never read the gospel according to Matthews, Mark, Luke, or John, but they will read the gospel according to you!’”

— found in Living in the Light (York Courses)

I found these quotations so refreshing, as they reminded me that it’s not only okay to reinterpret the Bible in a way that means something to you, you are actually encouraged to do so. And how you do that will depend entirely on your individual and family culture.

activity ideas

Obviously, such deep theological ideas are not the easiest of topics for young children to grasp (hey, I struggle with them myself!!) Which is why it is probably far more useful for you and your family to explore the Nativity Story in some other way. Here are some ideas that you could adapt to suit you and your family:

Re-enact scenes from the Nativity

Role playing is a great way to step into someone else’s shoes. Why not ask your kids how they think the various people felt, or why they think some events happened as they did. Questions could include:

  • Do you think Mary felt happy or scared?
  • What do you think Joseph thought about it all?
  • Would you like to meet an Angel?
  • Why do you think the inn-keeper offered room in the stable?
  • What gifts would you have brought if you were one of the Wise Men?

Make your own Nativity Scene

Get creative and find ways to make your very own Nativity Scene, so that it reflects your own ideas about it. How you do this will depend on whether you have a particular interest in a certain craft, and the age of your kids. Younger kids may enjoy simply drawing it on some paper, or colouring in cut-out figures. Older kids may enjoy learning a new skill such as knitting or embroidery. Make it your own and then treasure it for years to come.

Write your own Nativity Story

Older kids may enjoy looking at the various different versions there are available and then thinking about how they would retell the story to someone who didn’t know it. Would they write it like a fairytale, starting with “Once Upon a Time”, or would they want to embed it in history like those Gospel accounts that start with the ancestral lineage of Jesus? And what style would they use – prose, poetry, music? Have fun with this one and have a go yourself, it may be fun to compare stories with each other!

Resources

There are so many resources available to help you explore the Nativity Story, in whichever way you wish. A quick Google will get you started, although it may also be a bit overwhelming too! With this in mind I have collected a few of my favourite resources together over on Pinterest. You can find it at bit.ly/SKNNativity

I hope you have enjoyed this blog post. Please do let us know by leaving a comment, we’d love to hear from you!

The Spiritual Side of Santa

Finding the Spiritual Side of Santa

I thought long and hard about what I should call this post, because ultimately there are so many different views on Santa and whether we should teach our kids about him or not. I’ve read various blog posts from parents who believe it is wrong to “deceive” their kids, or that Santa personifies attributes that belong to God alone, and take away from the Spiritual Nature of Christmas itself. Equally, I’ve read blog posts from parents who believe it is a bit of harmless fun, and who enjoy the magic that believing in Santa brings to the family, regardless of what he stands for.

And there’s one thing that all these posts have taught me, despite their many differences – it’s important to know what he means to you personally, as that has a huge impact on how you discuss the idea with your kids. So I wanted to share with you my personal take on Santa and how we’re approaching the idea with WB. I do this not because I think you should agree with what I say, but that by reading the thoughts of others you can sometimes develop your own ideas further.

Santa and Reindeer

What Santa Means To Me

Santa was a major part of my childhood and made Christmas a truly magical time of year. I fondly remember writing letters and making small thank you gifts for Santa and his crew, and desperately wishing I could meet Santa and help him with his special and incredibly important work every Christmas Eve.

I looked forward to Christmas for months, because that magic was so very real for me. In fact in my later childhood I’d listen to Christmas music all year round (driving my family crazy, no doubt!) and refused to stop believing in Santa until I was 10, even though deep down I knew the game was up. There was a part of me that just knew I didn’t want to lose that belief, and to be honest Christmas has never been quite the same since.

That’s not to say that giving up the belief of Santa has ruined Christmas for me, far from it. It’s just that there is something truly special about bringing magic to life in the way we do for kids when it comes to Santa. Take, for instance, the many books and films about him, or the fact that parents encourage their kids to leave out a treat for Santa on Christmas Eve. When those around you act like Santa is real, it’s hard not to believe in him. And whilst I know that it is what we do as adults that keeps that belief alive for children, I cannot help but reflect on the fact that we do this because there is an intrinsic nature within us to want to do so.

But why? Why do so many of us want to encourage our children to believe in something that ultimately they will one day discover is not real (at least in the sense of Santa being an actual person)? And why are some of us so terrified that doing so will ruin our children’s relationship with God in some way?

I can’t actually answer those questions for you. But for me the answer is that there is an inherent need within us to seek out that which we cannot touch with our bare hands. We spend so much of our lives seeking an understanding of and relationship with the Divine, and I believe that our childhood willingness to believe in Santa and our adult desire to enable that belief in our children comes back to this inherent need. We trust that there is more to life than what we can see, and Santa is a part of this.

And so I am hugely excited to see WB’s belief in Santa blossom and grow year on year.  I know there is only so much time in his life when he will have this ability to simply accept something without question. As we grow older we begin to complicate things with logic and reason, losing the magic in our efforts to “prove” something as true. And I think Santa also has a lot to teach us, as adults, about the nature of belief. That’s what I call the “Spiritual Side of Santa”.

The Family Patch The Spiritual Side of Santa

The spiritual side of santa

1. Santa teaches us what it is like to believe

A belief in Santa is a fantastic way of introducing kids to what it means to believe in something that you cannot prove exists, but which you know in your heart to be true. The same can be said about a belief in The Divine, whatever form that may take for you. Nobody has concrete proof for the existence of a God, and yet billions of people around the world believe in one, because in their hearts they know it to be true for them.

I am reminded here of the ending of the film, The Polar Express. Have you seen it? The main character spends the entire movie questioning the existence of Santa, because he has started to analyse facts and data which suggest it is impossible for Santa to exist and travel around the world in one night. Even as the boy travels on this magical train, meets a ghost, and sees Santa at the North Pole itself, he still finds he doesn’t quite believe.

We do this so much in our own lives, don’t we? When something happens that makes us question our faith, we look for quantifiable facts to cling to. But when, inevitably, things happen that we cannot explain with our science and logic (such as answers to prayers, gut feelings we cannot ignore, and synchronicities that seem impossible to have predicted) we continue to cling to facts and data, because choosing to believe feels like such a huge risk. We don’t want to be fooled, and we certainly don’t want to put our faith in something that might let us down. So we ignore even the clearest of signs of the Divine in our lives. Sometimes seeing isn’t really believing…

But just like the Hero Boy in The Polar Express, there comes a time where we have to make a decision as to whether we want to continue in life ignoring those signs or whether a leap of faith is worth the reward it offers.  At the end of the film, Hero Boy makes a decision to believe in Santa, and in the very moment that he makes that choice it all becomes real for him. He finally hears the ringing of the sleigh bells, and the film ends with the following words:

“At one time most of my friends could hear the bell, but as the years passed it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe.”

— Hero Boy – The Polar Express

This is a great example of how our belief shapes what we experience, and draws on the use of myth, metaphor, and symbolism to express deep truths that are otherwise inaccessible to us. Our analytical minds get in the way so often, that we find ourselves needing to explain and justify everything. I always find it interesting when I come across an argument that states, “this can’t be real because there is no proof for it,” – we’re so happy to accept a lack of proof as proof enough, that sometimes we forget the sheer beauty in believing because something feels right to us.

“Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.”

— The Conductor – The Polar Express

2. Santa is all about the giving.

What is the one thing that all children know about Santa? It’s that he brings us presents. And whilst you may feel that this puts too much emphasis on the material side of giving, why not think about the fact that it is not so much the gift itself but the fact that a gift has been given?

Christmas falls right at the beginning of Winter, when the weather is becoming bitterly cold (at least in the Northern Hemisphere), and life can be quite tough. But at a time when bills are higher and life is harder, we still find the ability to gift each other with love.

The presents we give don’t have to be huge – in fact, one of my favourite memories of Christmas as a child was spending my pocket money on small gifts at the local church bazaar, so I could wrap them up and give them to my family. My dad still carries around a lime green comb which cost me maybe 10p over 20 years ago!!

This is a tradition we’re passing on to WB, who spent his own pocket money at the church’s Christmas Fair this year buying gifts for family members. He was so proud to use the money he had saved up, counting it carefully before we went and choosing to take half of what he had saved for presents. Being able to buy little gifts with his own money gave him such a sense of joy, and the stall holders were so lovely, knocking prices down here and there to help his pennies go that little bit further so he could buy as many gifts as possible.

Talk to your kids about how special is it to give as well as to receive. Help them choose little gifts for family. Or let them help with wrapping presents, before putting them somewhere safe for Santa to find and deliver to family who live far away (then post them and leave a bit of glitter where the gifts once lay, spread that magic while it lasts!)

Or get your kids to donate outgrown clothes and toys, or buy food for your local food bank or night shelter, and tell them how what they’re doing is just like Santa does on Christmas Eve -spreading love and joy through giving to others. How excited they will feel to be just like Santa!

After all, isn’t the whole message of Christmas about receiving a gift of light and hope in the darkness? The Nativity Stories themselves talk about a gift from God; the Wise Men travel from afar to gift the baby Jesus; and the Shepherd Boy brings a lamb.  The message is not about what we give (or receive), but that it is blessed to both give and receive. Two of our classic Christmas songs even relate to this very thing:

“What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; Yet what I can I give him: give my heart. ”

— In The Bleak Midwinter

“Baby Jesus, pa rum pum pum pum; I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum; I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum; That’s fit to give the King, pa rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum; Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum, On my drum? ”

— Little Drummer Boy

Whilst you may argue that this focus on giving can be expressed without a belief in Santa (and you are right!), my reply here is that Santa embodies the very nature of giving itself. The mythology we have built around this figure (which originates from the 4th century Greek bishop, St. Nicholas) brings together the very best things we wish to remember about the joy of giving.

Santa gives because he loves children, and their joy is enough thanks for him. He comes quietly in the night, because he needs no recognition for his work. And he brings each child a gift that is truly something they want or need, because it is more important for the receiver to be blessed than it is for Santa to give the easiest gift he could find. How often can we say that our own gift giving is as thoughtful and selfless as that? But it’s what we all aim for, isn’t it? And so we have built those ideals into the very nature of Santa himself.

3. Believing in Santa is an act of trust (and an experience of Unconditional Love)

Coming back to my first point slightly, not only does Santa teach us about belief, he also teaches us about trust! We trust that Santa will make it around the world in one single night to deliver all the presents to children everywhere. But more than that, we trust that he will know each and every one of us by name, and know what our hearts most desire. Isn’t that exactly what we hope for in a loving God too?

“Now wait just a minute!” I hear some of you say, “you’re attributing God’s qualities to Santa!” Well yes, yes I am. But there is a reason for this, and I do not think it is blasphemous in any way. We do not worship Santa, we haven’t made a “false God” out of him. What we have done is recognised that within the mythology of Santa there is a portrayal of the qualities we hope to find in the Divine. That is not the same as making Santa like God, rather we are looking at the ways in which Santa may reflect or embody a quality of God.

I know some of you will not agree with me on this one at all, and that’s okay. I’m not asking you to accept all that I say as true, only that you consider what is true for you. For me this side of Santa is really important, because it teaches me what it is like to trust that I am known, I am loved, and that all will be okay. That lesson can come in many ways, from my interactions with the people around me, from learning about the Divine, and from believing in Santa.

In fact, Santa was probably my first real understanding of this concept, even if I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time when I still believed in him. Just as my faith and trust in my parents to keep me safe was seemingly unbreakable as a child, so too was my trust that Santa would come and that he did so because he loved me, not because I had done anything special to deserve it. Now tell me, what does that remind you of?

I must add here (thanks to a friend’s input when I was explaining the idea for this post) that the part in bold only works if you let go of the “naughty or nice” aspect of Santa and focus purely on the inevitability of his bringing gifts no matter what. And I thoroughly accept that for many people this isn’t the case – our traditional idea of Santa is that he has a naughty and nice list!

But where does that come from, I wonder? A part of me cannot help but make the connection between the traditional idea we have about God and the nature of Heaven and Hell, and that only when you do the “right things” and live in the “right way” can you truly know God and experience Heaven. I don’t believe that truly reflects an unconditionally loving God, just as I don’t believe the naughty and nice list reflects this aspect of Santa. But I do know that it is a very hard pattern to release, as it has been within our combined cultural psyche and traditions for such a very long time. Which is why I think this aspect of Santa can truly help us in our own relationship with God.

I’m not saying we can’t learn this lesson without a belief in Santa, of course we can! But I do think Santa offers a very tangible opportunity for children to begin to grasp the concept of unconditional love, which is something we struggle with so much throughout our lives. It is almost impossible to imagine someone loving us without conditions, because even our closest and most treasured relationships hinge on some kind of conditions.

So trying to get our heads around the idea of unconditional love can be pretty hard, because it is such an alien concept to us. No matter how much we may believe that this is what God offers, how much do we really understand what that means? And if we can’t quite understand it as adults, how can we explain it to our children in ways that they can understand? Santa, for me, is one way to do this, and a fun way at that!

So there you have it – the Spiritual Side of Santa. I’m sure I have missed so much, and I have no doubt at all that every single one of you has your own experiences and ideas about Santa and how he fits into your individual and family lives. So I’d love to hear from you – please do leave me a comment below and share your story.

Share Your Personal Faith Story Book

Diverse Unity – Finding You Belong In Faith

For a very long time now, I have felt like I didn’t really belong to any faith group, and that bothered me. It seemed like there were things I believed (or didn’t believe, as the case may be) that kept me from fitting in fully with Christianity (both the more mainstream communities and more liberal ones, such as Unitarians and Quakers) as well as other religions such as Paganism and Buddhism. It felt like I was floating somewhere between many different paths and as much as I believe there is truth within each individual path, and that there is more than connects us all than separates us, I still wanted to feel like I belonged somewhere.

I wanted to be able to explore my faith openly and with others, without fearing becoming an outcast by putting my foot in it somewhere along the line! I had found myself turned away from Christianity in my first year at University by the Christian Union (which gave me the impression that to be a Christian you had to fit into a very small definition), and later found myself kicked out of an online forum for saying the wrong thing and expressing a doubt! Looking back, these were two very small experiences that were totally balanced out by the welcoming and supportive communities I experienced in the local church at Uni and my time volunteering with Die Heilsarmee in Germany. But my fear of not “fitting in” was so great that I never allowed myself to fully open up in those groups and felt like I was always hiding something.

But faith is a funny thing, isn’t it? It grabs hold of you and refuses to let you go, even when you’re so angry and closed-minded about it. Over the past decade I have come back to this idea over and over again, and each time my heart has softened a little bit. I now go to church most Sundays and Little Man and I are enjoying exploring the Bible together through the Bible App for Kids every evening before bed. But even now there is still a part of me that hesitates to define myself as a Christian, and whilst I have considered baptism for myself and Little Man I have yet to arrange it because I feel like it would be making a declaration of faith that isn’t completely honest. Because there are still things that I believe (and don’t believe) which I feel are not necessarily the generally accepted ideas within Christianity.

Which is why it has been a complete surprise to me these past few weeks to discover that there are people who have absolutely no issue with calling themselves a Christian whilst having similar beliefs to me. I have discovered over recent months that there was a growing “liberal” or “progressive” movement within Christianity, having read books by Marcus Borg and John Churcher. And then even more recently a friend of mine, who I have always considered quite a “New Age Hippy” (like me), shared with me that her church (Episcopal) would never have dreamed of expecting her to give up her belief in Angels, Reiki, and the other “woo woo” stuff that I had been so scared of sharing with others.

My conversation with this friend included her suggestion that what I had long considered the “mainstream Christian” view might actually be more the exception than the norm – what an interesting thought! Yet I know there are others, like me, who have felt they have had to keep certain aspects of their lives hidden from their church family, because they fear its reception. And that still bothers me, because I have this issue with honesty… I feel like I am being dishonest not to disclose where my beliefs may differ, yet it’s such a tough discussion to have that I hide it anyway.

But time and time again I feel the nudge to take that leap of faith and open my heart to the endless possibilities that will come with doing so. I hear the message that I am a writer, a communicator, a facilitator, and I am meant to use these gifts to help both myself and others. Which is why I have recently started two new projects – one is a Facebook group (The Faith Space), where members can come together and discuss all things faith related in an open and non-dogmatic way; and the other is a new book, bringing together the personal faith stories of a wide variety of people.

I’m loving the conversations that are starting within the Facebook group, and am extremely excited about the book. It is my hope that this book will become an informative resource for new believers and those who, like me, are unsure of whether they “fit in” or not. By providing a space for a variety of people to share their own individual story of faith, I hope to show that there is so much diversity even within a single faith tradition, and that this diversity actually opens up Christianity as a warm and welcoming faith to those of us who may have felt we couldn’t belong for one reason or another.

More than anything, I want to show that there is not one “right way” to be a Christian, rather that we are all welcomed to follow in the footsteps of a man who was so radical in his own faith that he risked everything to show us the way to know God and love one another. Because, after all, didn’t Jesus himself ignore the religious teachings of his time when doing so allowed him to show love and compassion?

So here’s my invitation (or rather request) to you – if you would like to contribute your own personal faith story for the book, please do get in touch at admin@shortmanmedia.com and let me know! I’ll then send you out more details about the book and answer any questions you may have about it. I’d love to hear from you.

Share Your Personal Faith Story Book

 

The Family Patch autumn Equinox Activities for Kids

Celebrating The Autumn Equinox With Kids

22nd September marks the Autumn Equinox here in the Northern Hemisphere, a moment in time when day and night are of equal length, and it is a great moment to reflect on all that has been achieved throughout the long summer months. Soon the shorter days and longer nights of Winter will draw in upon us, and it will seem as if the Earth herself has fallen asleep, but before then she will shower us with beautiful gifts as the world around us shines in golden hues and we reap the rewards of the fruit harvest.

It is a time of joy and, thanks to our modern school calendar, a time of new beginnings for many of us as our children return to school and focus on a new year of learning. This ties in quite beautifully with the forthcoming Samhain, known as the Pagan New Year, at the end of October and reminds us of the cycle of life that brings new beginnings even when we think everything is ending. But it’s often hard to keep that in mind as the days grow shorter, the trees more bare, and the temperature cools. Which is why celebrating each turn of The Wheel of The Year can be so glorious, as it keeps our minds and hearts focused on the continuing cycle.

celebrating the autumn equinox with kids

What is The Autumn Equinox?

The Autumn Equinox is one of the 8 Sabbats celebrated in the modern Pagan calendar, known at The Wheel of the Year. Within this calendar, the year is split into 8 equal parts, to help mark the passage of time through the seasons. Traditionally it begins at Samhain (or Halloween), which marks the third and final harvest at a point when we begin to draw within in order to survive the darkness of Winter. This means that the Autumn Equinox is the 7th Sabbat in the Wheel, close to the end point in the year.

However the world is far from bleak right now. We are reaping huge rewards from the seeds we planted so many months ago, in the form of fruits and vegetables. It is no coincidence that Harvest Festivals are celebrated at this time of year in the Christian calendar too – we really are filled with abundance right now. And it is a time to be thankful to the Earth for that bounty.

However, there must always be caution, a balancing of the splendour with that of preparing for the coming months, for if we do not save enough now we may not survive the Winter. This balancing act is so beautifully expressed within the Autumn Equinox itself, as it marks the moment when the day and night are of equal length – perfect balance! If we can live out that same balance in our lives, everything will be so much easier.

So in giving thanks to the Earth for her bounty, we can also remember that it is by working together that we have received these gifts. It takes a whole community to put food on our table – from the farmers who plant the seeds and nurture the crops, through the drivers who take the food from farm to shop, and even the work we do in society in order to earn the money to pay for the food we eat. And it is important to remember that if any single part of that community falls, we will all suffer.

5 Easy Ways to Celebrate The Autumn Equinox With Your Kids

1. Buy seasonal produce from a farmer’s market or local farm shop (and make something special).

Right now there is an abundance of fruit and veg that is in season – not only will it be more cost effective to buy seasonal produce grown locally, it will also be much tastier. Why not make the most of all the fruit and make a delicious apple pie, plum cake, or if you prefer savoury to sweet, get out the slow cooker and make a delicious root vegetable stew!

2. Go for a walk in the woods and collect conkers and fallen leaves.

Once you’re home, you can display them on your altar or nature table, or use them to make an Autumn collage, leaf mobile, or even suncatchers.

3. Make a gratitude collage (or share what you’re thankful for with each other)

If you fancy getting crafty, why not get a great big piece of card and write, draw, or glue pictures of all the things you feel thankful for right now. If you’re not feeling quite so crafty, you could take time out to sit together with your kids and take it in turns to share what you’re grateful for.

4. Donate to a Food Bank (or the collection at your local church or school).

With Harvest Festival coming up, many schools and churches will be collecting food items to pass on to their local Food Bank or Community Larder. Share your blessings and abundance with others who are less fortunate, by finding out what they need and then donating what you can. This teaches our kids to be thankful for what they have and that giving can be just as wonderful (if not more wonderful) than receiving.

5. Create your own Autumn Equinox Ceremony

There is nothing more special at each of the 8 Sabbats than creating a ceremony that reflects who you are and what you believe. Ceremony draws the family closer together, brings out the best in us in terms of creativity and giving thanks, and gives us all a reason to celebrate.

Ceremony doesn’t have to be grand and ornate, it doesn’t have to follow any specific creed or structure, and it certainly doesn’t have to be created by someone “in the know”. These are all things I used to think about ceremony, and I was so wrong! Ceremony can be as simple as sitting down together with the intention to honour the earth. You could light a candle, write some words, say a prayer, or sing a song. It doesn’t matter… all that matters is that it means something to you.

That being said, if you’re struggling for ideas why not consider some of the following to get you started:

  • Buy a large pillar candle that you can light every day throughout the long nights ahead (you could specify you’ll do this until the Spring Equinox when the sun begins to dominate the sky once again) and say a little prayer or blessing over it to set the intention that it will remind you that even in the darkest night a light can be found.
  • Put together a gift box for someone in need (warm clothes, food supplies, etc) and together, as a family, imagine all your love flowing through your hands and into the box so that the recipient may feel that love and share in your abundance
  • Change your bedding, putting away the summer duvet and getting out the winter blankets, preparing your home for the cold months ahead. As you do so, you could light some incense or play some music, to help recognise the shift in energy.

There really is no limit to what you can turn into a ceremony, so please have fun with this.

Want to know more about The Autumn Equinox?

There are some fantastic guides available online for those interested in learning more about the Pagan Wheel of the Year, and here are some of our favourites:

The Goddess and the Green Man have written a fantastic page all about The Autumn Equinox (and it’s more modern name of Mabon)

The Paganism/Wicca Expert on About.com has created a page explaining the 8 Sabbats in the Wheel of the Year, including The Autumn Equinox.

Dream Big Bold Dreams

Breaking Through Fear to Embrace Your Purpose In Life

Something amazing has happened over the past few days that has been truly transformational and I am so excited to share it with you. I finally broke through the fear that has been holding me back for so very long and embraced my purpose in life. And boy, does it feel good!

It all started with a simple message, a few words that just popped into my head one night when I was wondering what to post on my instagram feed as an update. If you’ve been following me for a while now, you’ll know that I have been suffering from some really challenging physical symptoms that have left me unable to get out of bed some days, let alone go out to work or enjoy the summer holidays with Little Man. As someone who thrives on being busy and putting everyone else first, this has been far from easy. It has left me feeling lost and confused about my purpose in life, with no idea how I’m ever supposed to make any major changes in my life to get there (wherever there is), when I’m feeling so utterly beaten. So imagine my surprise when this was the message I received…

You May Not Be Exactly Where You Want To Be, But You Are Exactly Where You're Meant To Be

Amazing, right? I mean, it just blew me away. Here I was, worrying about getting better so that I could hurry up and get on with figuring out this purpose of life business, when really what I needed to be doing was accepting that where I am right now is exactly where I am meant to be. The message isn’t anything new, I’ve been talking about blessings within our challenges, and finding strength within weakness for years now, but it hadn’t quite made it through the fear and into my heart and soul in a way that enabled me to break free of that fear and truly embrace what is happening in my life right now.

Because it’s huge, life-changing stuff, and my fear of that was keeping me trapped in a limbo state of knowing I needed to make change but not knowing what that change needed to be. Over the past few months I have been blessed to have support from both Pippa at Story of Mum as well as Michelle from The Joy Chaser, and through our one-to-one sessions I have begun to dig deep within my heart to find the things that drive my passion and break through the fear that’s holding me back. But as much progress as I made, something continued to stand in my way – and that, my friends, was fear.

You name it, I felt it: fear of failure; fear of success; fear of being ill; fear of being healed; fear of change; fear of no change; and on and on the fears went, contradictions within themselves, because fear rarely makes sense! After years and years of one challenge after another, I found myself living in a state of permanent anxiety, my defenses up ready for the next thing to fall apart within my life, and I was exhausted. I didn’t know which way to turn, I didn’t know up from down, right from wrong, all I knew was fear and confusion. And that is no way to live.

But that’s where I was. And you know what? As hard as it is to accept, that was exactly where I was meant to be, because if I hadn’t fallen so very low I may never have set my sights so very high. Within that moment, when the message arrived and I truly understood just how much I had been resisting the idea (“why is this happening to me?” “why won’t life give me a break?” “what is the point of it all?”) acceptance suddenly became so easy. I can’t explain it in any other way than I just let go. And as soon as I did, life began to send me even more messages that I had done the right thing.

Over the following days I saw, read, heard, and watched things that reaffirmed exactly what I knew in my heart. I listened to Marianne Williamson’s weekly talk in which she mentioned we’re always waiting to be rich/healthy/wise so we can help others, but really what we need to do is wake up and say, “Dear God, this is who I am, this is what I’ve got, these are my strengths and these my weaknesses, I give them all to you, now use me, show me my part to play in all of this.” And I knew, in that moment, that I had been waiting to somehow be ready for my life’s purpose, rather than accepting and embracing it even though I may not feel ready. Because if it’s my life’s purpose, then it will happen and I will be given the support I need to do it, if only I ask. Suddenly I understood the depth of meaning behind Matthew 7.7-8…

Matthew 7:7-8 Ask and You Will Receive

This same message was repeated to me as I watched Tony Robbins in I’m Not Your Guru on Netflix this weekend. Vicky from Single Mother Ahoy had mentioned it to me, and I finally got around to watching it last night. I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first, but by the end I had cried my heart out at the depth of suffering and then the power of love to truly transform people’s lives. As I listened to Tony talk about what drives him and how much his work means to him, I recognised the same kind of desire within my own heart. We all have our demons, and we all struggle with a lack of love and too much fear in our lives. But love can change everything, if only we let it.

Sometimes we need a little nudge to help us on our way and I want to be that nudge. Because what is life if not a lesson in learning how to see the love all around us and shine that into the world for others to see? My greatest gift in this life, after my ability to love and be loved, is my ability to write and communicate in a way that reaches a person’s heart and soul. When I allow it to, the message I need to share flows through me in such a powerful way. Words pour out of my mouth or onto the page, and teach me all I need to know as it happens. I have known this for years, but I have resisted it so much. I have been on a journey of denying my gifts and even turning from the faith and spirituality that grounds the work that I do. But no more. I can feel the words filling my heart once again and I can do nothing more than let it out.

Which is why I have started writing a new book, one that is based on the principles of some “power cards” I made myself last week. It is a book about a journey, from fear and resistance to love and acceptance. It is about healing and life. And it is a pure joy to be writing. I haven’t felt this excited about writing in years, and I just know that this book as a great gift to me, because it is helping me embrace my life’s purpose, without fear. And I truly hope it will be a great gift to you too.

It is a big dream, and part of a larger picture of what I feel called to do in my life as I move forward from this space. I have a strong and loving voice, and I want to use it both here and at Spirit Kid Network, to help encourage and inspire you to find your own big dreams. Because within our biggest dreams lie our life’s purpose, which is ours to take at any time. So what are you waiting for? Break through your fear, find your life’s purpose, and allow yourself to dream!

Dream Big Bold Dreams