31 May 2010

My Part in the Story

It's time for me to tell my story. I'm ready. It's been over ten years and it's time for me to share.

Many people have heard the story told by others. Some have heard it from me, in part.

But this is the whole thing, pretty much. Hold onto your hats, it's a long story but I hope you'll read it through... this is how a miracle came from nothing but a dream and a scared shy girl who dared to try...

The Miracle of CLS

Scene One: A darkened movie theatre, 1994. The movie is Once were Warriors, a New Zealand story about alcohol, brutality, abuse and tragic loss.

I watch it with tears streaming down my face. After it has finished I stand in the foyer, tears still streaming, oblivious to the crowds. Back at home, the tears keep coming. I am broken by this movie. It is real. I know it's real. Right now, tonight in my town, there are kids suffering this story. What can I do???

I get down on my knees and pray next to my couch, as the tears fall. "God I don't know how you could use me to help kids like that. I'm just a pakeha girl from a nice christian family; I have no training, no experience. Nothing that would make me the obvious choice - but if you can use me to reach kids like those, then please do it!"

With this fateful prayer the wheels for a miracle are set in motion...

Scene Two: The Mercury Theatre, 1995.
I am now the youth pastor at our church. Sitting on the carpeted steps after a youth event, a young girl is pouring her heart out to me. Her story is one of brokenness and abuse. She is 12 years old. Then comes those words: "You know that movie, Once Were Warriors? That movie is my life."

Something inside me clicks. I know that my prayer has been heard, and this girl is part of the answer to it. I still don't know how I can help, but it seems God is bringing broken kids across my path, just like I prayed.

Scene Three: The Youth Van, late 1996.
Our youth group is now filled with kids from broken backgrounds. So many times I have heard the identifying phrase "My life is Once Were Warriors"...

I still don't really know how to help them. I go to conferences, read books, ask other youth pastors... but mostly I just try to be there. Occasionally I have kids turn up on my doorstep, needing a safe place to stay. Often I cry at night and pray for answers: how can I help them??

It seems that midweek home groups, Saturday activities, Sunday church and the occasional camp is just not enough. They keep coming anyway. Nothing seems to change in their lives but they are always there, hanging out the front smoking and sometimes I wonder why??? Why do they come???

"Because its a safe place," one girl tells me.

In the van dropping some kids off home after youth group, I ask her, "How was school this week?"

"Dunno," she says, "I didn't go." Alarm bells go off. This kid has had the same answer for weeks... does she ever go to school???

"Why should I?" is her reply. "I already know I'm dumb. My mum tells me, my grandma tells me, my uncles tell me... why bother going to school just to prove what I already know?"

How do you reply to that??? She is 14 years old and never goes to school. What's more, she's not the only one.

She and her friends stay up late every night til the wee small hours. Tagging, clothes-lining (an alternative to shopping), drinking, sniffing paint. Where are their parents, you may well ask?

This girl's dad has never been around. Her mum had her young and has passed her on to various aunties and finally her invalid grandmother. Nobody cares what time she gets in. She has been to so many schools that the system has lost track of her. She never had a chance to learn to read and write properly so she truly believes she is dumb. She has been sexually abused by the boyfriends of various relatives during drunken parties. How do you help a kid like that????

Scene Four: The Church Offices, the following week.
I am in reception pouring my heart out to my good friend Val, who is  this girl's homegroup leader.

We have phoned up every place we can think of to try and find an alternative for this girl to get back into education. She's too young for all the options we found. She will not return to regular high school because she just can't cope there - she's reading at a six-year-old level.

What do we do??? we wonder.

Then those fateful words...

"Wouldn't it be great if we could start something? Something for kids who can't cope in school, who need extra help in a place where they know they are loved? We could have really great tutors, who they can relate to; they could learn in small groups so they wouldn't get lost in the crowd... we could pick them up and drop them off each day to make sure they get there... we could give them breakfast and lunch to make sure they aren't hungry and can learn... it could be creative! We could help them discover what they are good at, to build their confidence because they aren't dumb at all, they just got left behind...!"

We are excited now, our words and ideas tumbling out... and it could have stayed just that. Words and ideas. A pleasant dream for the future... one day...

Except that we take our idea right then to one of our pastors. We knock on his door and spill out our dream. And he says: "Go for it!"

He says, "Write down your ideas and come back to me tomorrow!"

He says, "What will you call it???"

And I blurt out the first name that pops into my head: "Creative Learning Scheme... CLS!" It just seemed to fit.

Scene Five: My flat, late at night.
The ideas just keep coming. I am writing down everything I can think of that we already have: People who could tutor subjects, drive vans, cook lunches... Resources we already have... a youth group van, an amazing theatre, a whole church family.

I figure we can cope with two days a week to begin with. We will get the kids writing a play. They will use maths skills to build sets and work out budgets. They will do lifeskills units about alcohol and drugs and sex (all the usual teenage stuff); some will get to act, some will learn lighting and sound... they will gain confidence, and at the end we will perform our play at church and it will all be wonderful...

No budget. No professionals. No full-time staff. Just use what we have...

Scene Six: Church Offices, late 1997.
Our first CLS course is over. Was it a success? I felt, no. We'd had lots of interest, plenty of kids turning up. We'd had some good moments. And the kids had mostly stuck it out and attended regularly. The outdoor education camp was great, getting these urban kids outdoors... But several "expert" youth workers I have co-opted in to help  have told me CLS "is set up to fail." Oooh that stings. One of them even told me these kids are beyond help...!!

Did we perform the play? No. The kids balked at the final hurdle, lacking confidence to actually succeed at something, even though all it needed was a final push. Did the kids enjoy CLS? Oh yes, and they want to come back next year. And bring their cousins and their neighbours and their friends who are also hanging around the streets doing nothing, going nowhere, getting up to mischief.

But not me. I don't want another year of this. I'm done. I feel like it failed. It didn't go like I'd planned. I want out. I even told our senior pastor that morning, "I don't think I'll run CLS next year. I don't think it's for me..."

I go back to my desk... and the phone starts to ring. Off the hook. Totally random people I had approached about CLS but hadn't heard from in months...

"Hi, I was just wondering how that CLS is going? I wanted to encourage you what a great project it is! We really need things like that in our community!" After about the fourth phone call I knew this was no coincidence. Somebody wanted CLS to carry on.

So I made Him a deal. "OK, God, I'll keep it going. But I want you to know that I feel like this is way beyond my expertise. I don't think I'm the right person for the job. But I'll set it up and keep it going until the right person comes along...OK?"

Later that week I am sitting in a youth meeting. The guy preaching turns to me and says, "I feel like God is wanting me to tell you, Who told you you weren't the right person? Who said you're not good enough? Not Him. Keep going!"

Eek. OK, God, You win.

Scene Seven: The Pavement Outside the Mercury, at the end of The Day from Hell, Mid 1998.
I am wrestling with one of my students - the girl who inspired me to start it all. She has a bag of paint for sniffing that I am trying to get off her... "Don't Simone, leave me! I don't want to hurt you!" she cries.
"Don't do this, Missy, give me the bag!" I sob. Silver paint splatters all over me. I am beyond caring.
The day started with a fight between students after we discovered drugs on one of them.

We've had to get tough on drugs. We'd tried the "we love you and won't give up on you no matter what" approach, so the kids have been taking advantage of our softy-softy ways and are basically abusing our kindness. So we've drawn a line in the sand: bring drugs and you're out.

Another student filled with righteous indignation attacks the drug-bringer. We take the drug-bringer home. But then a tutor discovers the kid who had been so righteously indignant at the drug-bringer sniffing paint with his mate in the girls toilets (they thought we wouldn't look there). They happened to be Missy's boyfriend and cousin. And they thought that paint didn't count as drugs.

It hurts me to tell them, sorry you're out, but we have laid down the rule! It won't mean anything if we don't stick to it.

After they leave things seem to settle down, so I take another student off to her anger-management counselling... but in the middle of her session I receive a phone call. "You'd better come back! Missy has locked herself in the toilet with a knife and she's threatening to kill herself!"

By the time I arrive she is outside sniffing. "If you kick them out, you'll have to kick me out to!" is her logic.

Then follows the wrestling... I get the paint off her and we retreat to our corners, each of us crying. This was not what I had in mind when I started this project! Our driver takes the other students home early, while I regroup with a couple of our volunteers.

I answer a knock on my office door and come face-to-face with a policeman. Oh yes. Just to top it all off one of the naughty little sniffers has decided that since he's missed the van ride home he'll break into the neighbour's car and find his own transport. She calls the cops, they arrive within minutes and collar him... I end my hideous day down at the Station standing in for his caregiver while the cops take his statement...

This is so far from what I had dreamed...

Scene Eight: Mid-1999. At CLS.
We survived the day from hell. We regrouped, prayed hard-out, got some better ideas, changed things up and continued on.

We are getting a name with Govenment agencies as a good place to bring hard-cases. I have secured funding from the Ministry of Education - enough to run one full centre with 12 students. But we stretch the money and have expanded to two centres, with a total of 24 students between them, one in South Auckland, one in the City.

I now have full-time staff - amazing dedicated people, who it is a joy to work with. We have two vans. We have experience behind us. We are seeing some success. Kids are leaving us going on to jobs or training courses.

Even kids we had to "kick out" have turned up later to apologise and tell us how we'd helped them. In the mornings heads bend over books, each student working at their own level on Correspondence English and Maths books. After a home-cooked lunch, there is sports, music, dance, art, drama... different options each term. The kids like coming and attend regularly (a miracle in itself). We are seeing changes in their attitudes and confidence.

At the end of each term the kids who've worked hard are rewarded with a Trip away - whitewater rafting, a trip to the snow, ice-skating, a Ball. There's even a Marae trip for the whole group to Rotorua: hot pools, go karts, a concert...

Quiet kids, who wouldn't look you in the eye when they arrived have started to shine. Their parents come to see them get their certificates at end-of-term prizegiving and can't believe that their "naughty kid" is "being good". It opens up their eyes; helps the way they see their kids.

Of course there are still struggles and disappointments. But this is much more like what I'd dreamed.

Final Scene: January 2000, Somewhere in South Auckland.
I run crying from the building. It's my last day. A young boy comes out and pats me on the back, "Don't cry Miss, we're gonna be OK..."

I know it's time for me to leave. I'm not sad. There's other things going on. The strain of the last three years has taken its toll, but I don't know it yet.

But as I leave CLS is in good heart. We have four centres, with eight amazing full time staff and funding in place for all of them. We have a good reputation; our students are making progress, CLS is making a difference. I've done what I can do. It's up to others now. Others with different skills can take it on to where I never could.

Ten Years On...

CLS keeps going from strength to strength. It's now the largest alternative education programme in the country, with around 50 full-time staff. Now our church also runs Youth Training courses for older teenagers, so when students graduate CLS, these courses follow on and help place them in employment.

CLS has the government contract for providing the Education programmes in Auckland's youth prison.

The CLS director (a great guy) meets often with MPs and Ministers; he rubs shoulders with the movers and shakers in government because people are amazed at what CLS is achieving.

The outstanding thing about CLS is that it has remained right at the heart of our church. Most of the amazingly dedicated staff are part of the church. The church welcomes the kids in and embraces them. They feel right at home.

Hundreds of teenagers' lives have been turned around. Many of them have found Jesus; he's the one who has healed their hurts and brokenness. A mere programme can't do that, no matter how clever it is. Many of these kids are now living lives and succeeding in ways that they would never have dreamed. (Click here for the CLS website)

So watch out. If you say, "Use me, God!" He will take you at your word... Be careful what you pray for...!

KidsClick "YUCK" Extended


OK, I know you're all busy. Me too!
And organising kids to take photos of yucky things can be very time consuming...
I get that!

So I am extending KidsClick for another week. To give you time.
To get the kids taking yucky photos and posting them and linking up...
Cos I know you want to!

I know you've said you're gonna do it!
So you have another week.
And from now on KidsClick will have a two-week window. Does that make it easier?

I hope so. So carry on being busy. Keep your camera close. And hand it to your kids if you spot something disgusting.

Last weeks' winners, Aiden and Jay, will pick a favourite each (so two winners will be chosen, plus two for honourable mention).

  1. Photos can be cropped but not edited in other ways.
  2. Kids must be aged younger than 15 years old.
  3. Please indicate your child's age along with their photo, e.g. "Taken by Bobby, age 6" etc
  4. If more than one of your kids wants to join in, that's great. Just make sure you label your photos so we know whose is who!
  5. Link up to your KidsClick post, not just your blog (so we can find it easily)
  6. Leave me a comment letting me know you've linked up!


I love the idea of getting kids out taking photos and learning to be better photo-takers. Not that I'm any expert, but still.

The problem with kidsclick at the moment is that only kids whose mummies BLOG can join. And even my own kids can't join in because I'd be linking up to my blog!

SO... I've started KidsClick's own site: http://kidsclickfun.com/

Now your kids can join in even if you don't blog. Just email me their entries and I will post them on the KidsClick site and link them up for you! greatfun4kids@live.com

Also I plan to ask some really talented mummy photographers I know to become contributors, and share their tips with you and your kids on how to take better pictures. Gee I hope this takes off!
Now ANYONE can join in so spread the word.

Competition extended! You have until TUESDAY AFTERNOON 8th JUNE to link up.

Get clicking kids! Find us something really yucky!

Then link up here....

30 May 2010

Sunday Musings


The kids are in bed, the washing machine is rumbling, it's the end of another weekend.

I can't help thinking: Another week already? Where did last week go?! And June is nearly upon us??!! Didn't we just have January?

But mostly as I sit here I am thinking about my day at church. A day where I have come full-circle.

Our church has moved into Auckland's Town Hall for our Sunday services. I had my reservations. I thought I would miss the old Mercury Theatre... but today I loved church at our new venue. Really really loved it. Like was sitting there feeling thrilled to be part of this wonderful thing.

The Town Hall is where I used to go to church as a little girl. I was seven when mum and dad started going to what was (at the time) the largest church in the Southern hemisphere. A huge change from the Catholic Masses we'd been used to. Unfamiliar music, unfamiliar ways, unfamiliar jargon.

My parents still laugh over the first time I heard someone up the front say "let's take up the tithes and offerings; just put them in the bucket and pass it along..."

I heard TIES and offerings... and loudly stage-whispered to my father: "Dad, don't you DARE put your tie in that bucket! Mum paid good money for that!"

This evening I sat in the balcony. Right where I used to sit with my daddy, when I was allowed to go with him in the evenings, just him and me. I can almost picture little me sitting there, over-awed with the bigness of it.

And now my kids are sitting there with their friends, jiggling to the music, then crowding out for fun and games and stories after the songs. Dash is the same age I was then.

Seven. That's how old I was when I first walked all the way down the front with my daddy, to pray a prayer and "give my heart to Jesus".

I'd forgotten all this. Until I sat in church today, incredibly moved by the stories coming back from Revolution Tour (80 young people from our church travelling around NZ for the last two weeks doing programmes in over 100 high schools and holding unbelievable concerts for a total of over 13,000 teenagers). Amazing stories.

And then there's the Jesus Changed My Life campaign our church has launched - moving real life stories of how Jesus has changed people's lives. Gritty and honest. Two of them (Val and Margot) are close friends of mine. There's a website, billboards, mailers... not telling people that our church is cool, and we have groovy music or a famous preacher, not that we are nice and hip and fun... no - it's all about Jesus, and what he has done in our lives.

From my balcony vantage point I look around and see people I've known for years. I know their stories. Miracles on legs, trophies of grace, every one.

And to think I ever doubted that I belong here? To think I was reluctant to move to the Town Hall?? I love it!! I'm part of this story. I'm part of something amazing and worthwhile, with people who are genuine and worth knowing.

So tonight I'm feeling thankful, in awe and just a little bit warm and fuzzy. I'm off to phone my mum and dad, tell them about my day, tell them about the new thing in the old place that's brought me full circle - right where I belong.


Photos from Google Images, Equippers Church Facebook Page and http://revolutiontour.co.nz/
29 May 2010

Young Artist Redesigns Blog!

Have you noticed my new blog design?? Wondering who the artist is??

Here she is... our very own Miss Fabulous!

I "commissioned" some artwork for a new header... and I think she's done brilliantly.

I cut and pasted it all together in Photoshop and made new icons for my sidebar. I figured out how to get transparent backgrounds - a mystery that has eluded me for many frustrating years. Wahoo!

I've also simplified everything and changed back to two columns, so I can make my photos nice and big.

The template is from the new Blogger in Draft Template Designer... very easy to use and customise. I know I will continue to play around with it until I get it just right, but I am very pleased with my little artist and my bright, fun, fresh new blog design.

Thankyou Miss Fab. You truly are FAB. And very clever.
27 May 2010

Not Like Her Mama

My daughter is her very own person with a mind of her own. She may take after her mama in some ways (she loves art, she loves words, she has blue eyes) but in other ways? Not like me at all.

She is loud, strong, confident, outgoing, bold and energetic.

Already the height of a seven-year-old, she is tall, athletic and powerfully built with long strong legs. Her upper body strength leaves her brother in the dust - she spends hours swinging on the monkey bars and climbing trees. Oh she loves pink-and-pretty, you couldn't call her a tomboy, but she is sporty (something you could never acuse me of).

Yesterday, the evidence: Junior School Cross Country.

It's been raining, and Miss Fab is desperate for it to not be cancelled (her mama would have been desperate for the opposite).

Mama it's my first cross country! You have to come and watch me... you have to!! she pleads.

Deja vu. This happened two weeks ago - we went, it rained, it was called off. No matter. Of course I'll go... how could I not?

At school there's good news - it may be showery but the Cross Country is on. Miss Fab hugs me and jumps up and down in delight.

The mothers all huddle under the verandah overlooking the sports field. I set Scrag up with a box of snacks and chat to friends and neighbours, all of us braving the weather to cheer on our little ones.

Miss Fab is in the five-and-a-half year old girls race. She lines up and I go down to the field to get a better view. And they're off. Where is she? I can't spot her in the crowd...

Ah there... they're around the first corner and she's at the back of the front pack. The girl out front is leading by a mile.

They disappear from view and when they reappear... my girl is in fourth! I snap pictures while screaming out her name.... Go!!!!!!

Then they're out of sight again while we wait nervously...

At last they re-appear... and there!!! There is my girl! In second place! Another girl is hard on her heels... Go Abby! Go Abby! I scream. Oh, I can hardly breathe!

My little star puts on a burst of speed. Over the line first is the girl who has led all the way. Three seconds behind her is my daughter. She turns to see me as she crosses the finish line... second place!

Oh I am a proud non-sporty mama with a strapping gorgeous sporty daughter.

All of a sudden I am thinking: SUMMER ATHLETICS CLUB. It was torture for me as a child, and I vowed never to inflict it on my kids - but I have a feeling my girl would love it.
26 May 2010

KidsClick Results

Next Week's Theme: "YUCK!" (link up here)

Our first KidsClick linky photo competition for kids was a success. By that I mean that I actually had some entries. I was worried for a little bit - kept seeing that little Linky Message at the bottom of the post: "0 ENTRIES" for a couple of days.

But then one by one the kids got clicking and started joining in, and we ended up with twelve links on the theme of "I LOVE..."  Not a bad start!

Apparently the kids had lots of fun  doing it - which is the whole point after all!
We actually have two winners - I let my kids pick one each. There was no way I'd get them to agree on one best photo. Especially when it was hard enough picking just one! It was close I tell ya.

Now lets dim the lights and get to the results....

Winner #1
Miss Fab was first up. She looked carefully at all the entries. "Oooh! The mouse! Oooh! The baby! Ooo those girly things, those are cool...The dog! The dog!"

Pick one, I told her. So after much deliberation she came up with:

Mouse in the Window, by Master Jay, aged 10 ( from PaisleyJade)

A worthy choice and one of my favourites too - such a great photo, as well as cute!
Congratulations, Master Jay. You get to pick next week's winner!

For Honourable Mention, Miss Fab's next favourite was
My Baby Sister, by Charlotte aged 6 (from Chez Lee).
A beautiful photo of your sister, Charlotte. Well done!

Winner #2
Dash managed to drag himself away from watching football to check out the entries. He was impressed, but unlike Miss Fab, he knew his choice almost immediately.

Basketball, by Aiden, aged 7  (from Our Perspective)

A great choice! I loved this image.
Aiden cleverly got his dad to shoot hoops while he took photos.
So Aiden... you also get to pick a winner next week!

Won't it be funny if Jay and Aiden both pick the same one?? It could happen! (Email me your favourite on Tuesday Night, guys OK? greatfun4kids@live.com)

For Honourable Mention, Dash picked his next favourite:
My Bedroom by Elijah, aged 3 (from Reclaiming Me).
Dash said he thought it was a really cool bedroom with cool stuff.
He liked it a lot and couldn't believe that Elijah is only three years old.
Keep on clicking Elijah! Well done :)

Next Week's Theme is: "YUCK!"

  • Photos can be cropped but not edited in other ways.
  • Kids must be aged younger than 15 years old.
  • Please indicate your child's age along with their photo, e.g. "Taken by Bobby, age 6" etc
  • If more than one of your kids wants to join in, that's great. Just make sure you label your photos so we know whose is who!
  • Link up to your KidsClick post, not just your blog (so we can find it easily)
  • Leave me a comment letting me know you've linked up!
Anyone can join in so spread the word.

Competition extended! You have until TUESDAY AFTERNOON 8th JUNE to link up HERE.

Get clicking kids! Find us something really yucky!
25 May 2010

Today Tomorrow

Today I walked my children to school in the rain. It was Walking Bus Day. I was happy when the sun came out for the walk home.

Tomorrow I might take the car.

Today I made packed lunches for all my loved ones. The school kids first, a healthy lunch to help them learn. Then my husband... he got a special ham and cheese croissant in his because he works so hard for all of us. I even made one for the baby. He loves having his own box - makes him feel big (He had fun making a mess with it all over the floor). My family love their lunch boxes.

Tomorrow I will make them packed lunches again. It's one way I can show them I love them.

Today I put on dinner at 9.20am. I am using my new slow cooker. It's a big one and makes a lot. I love my new slow cooker. Yesterday I cooked chicken. Today I'm cooking beef. I think I'll make it into Shepherds Pie...

Tomorrow we might have leftovers, there's so much food.

Today my bed is unmade. I'm here on my computer instead. I have lots of things to do. After posting this, I need to upload photos to facebook, design a new header for winter (and one for Sophie), work on some more pages for my book...

Tomorrow I might still be working on that list. My bed might still be unmade.

Today I dyed my hair to cover the grey that keeps spreading. I used a different colour, one I haven't tried before. I think I hate it. It's too red; I like it darker... and browner.

Tomorrow I might dye it back.

That's me. What about you??

P.S. Today KidsClick closes. Tomorrow results will be posted :)