Monday, 8 September 2014

New Country, New Home, New Layout.

Ok, so it's been a few months since I last posted and all the change I anticipated has happened. I'm now living and working in the US, serving a church much, much bigger than any I served in the UK. It has been a challenge adjusting to the new way of life and work etc, but so far, so good. Some things though, remain constant.

God is still God, and Lego is still a huge part of who I am! I had a lesson in trust moving over, it was the first time I ever allowed someone else to transport my collection en masse. Sure enough though, it all arrived and work has begun on the new layout. There have been a few minor changes since I first sketched the plans out, but that's life, that's Lego.

It's big, over 4.5 metres (15 feet in old money), and will certainly keep me busy over the next few months! I've also had time to build a purpose made table for it all, so no more juggling of space!

Since getting here I've had plenty of time to ponder and reflect, and am very grateful indeed for the support of friends and colleagues here as I've made the transition.

I spent a bit of time last night with my feet up after everyone had gone home from the house-warming and could only sit amazed at the journey God has brought me on these last few years. Yes, it has been rough, things have happened I would never have expected, but I am where I am, and God has regularly whispered "trust me" through it all. That has been easier to do at some times than at others, but I can only say I'm glad I found the faith to do that from somewhere. What's next, other than, build, build, build, I'm not sure, but after the last few years, I'm much more ready to trust the still small voice of calm saying, "trust me, I know what I'm doing".

I'm eternally grateful that He has opened doors and brought me to a place so different to where I was a few years ago, a place where in all sorts of senses, I live life in all it's fullness. Whatever may come, I trust you Lord.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Looking Forward... change

 It's always a sad day to dismantle a layout, particularly one that was the first one you displayed publicly, and the layout that inspired this blog was packed up and put into storage several months ago once I had been interviewed for the job at Williamsburg UMC in Virginia. That though, was only the beginning of my next layout...

What it will look like when built I'm not at all sure, in the same way as I take this step of faith to move to the US, I'm not sure how it will evolve, but God has a plan, just as I do for the next layout.

It's similar to the last one, but with an extra two sections added on the left as you look at the plans here to extend the track on the lower deck to give space for a countryside section with possible a river/lake/something flowing through it. From the top the images show the lower track level, the upper track level and the two combined. As always I'll be running 12v and 9v systems.

One of the joys of building for me is the evolution of the idea into the plan into the actual layout with numerous changes along the way, it will change is something I have in mind all the way through a build. I have ideas and thoughts for my move to the US and for the youth group I'll be working with, but ultimately I want to seek God's plan first and fit my ideas around his not the other way round, and when you do that, you can be sure there will be change. Whatever it may bring, I'm looking forward to it!

Life-landmark Sets

As well as my train layouts, I have a fondness for the larger Lego Technic sets, and spent 9 hours yesterday building my latest addition, the crane on the left. (Image courtesy It's another of my "lifemark" sets - a set bought to mark an occasion in my life (in this case leaving the Toton Churches, thank you for the gift which enabled the purchase!) or that just have particular memories attached to them.

Among others I still have a train my grandparents bought me for my 13th birthday, the large Technic car that prompted my Mum (when I was 14) to suggest I had enough Lego, maybe I should stop buying it? and a 4x4 friends gave me for my 30th birthday. They didn't listen to my Mum!

All of those sets are kept intact, only dismantled when travelling/moving house and haven't been mixed into the rest of my collection of parts. It's not just that they are impressive models, but they do remind me each time I see them of a particular time/place/season in my life and I look forward to remembering my time in Toton with much fondness. God has been active throughout my time here, using a broken and fragile me to grow his Kingdom. I'm truly thankful for all my experiences here, even the challenging and difficult times for I've seen how God moves in all of them and how he has grown me through those experiences.

To everyone in Toton, particularly the children and teenagers whose lives I've been privileged to share in, thank you. Thank you for the times we have laughed and cried together, for the memories you've created for me,the cards, the gifts of tea pots, t-shirts, chocolates and now Lego that will travel with me to America, but thank you most of all to "the God who spoke my heart into existence" who was with me through it all, leading and guiding and whom I trust entirely as I make my move to the US. I know as I follow where he leads I will soar on eagles wings.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Lost in Wonder?

I made a mistake. I packed this lot up too early, about 3 months too early it turns out.

Once I got back from the US and my interview for Williamsburg UMC there was a lot of uncertainty about when I'd be moving and when I'd be finishing in Toton. Add in the excitement of a new chapter ready to be read and I started taking the layout to bits as it's the easiest way to get it across the pond. The actual trains have been packed carefully in one piece but almost everything else is in bits to be rebuilt later this year in an extended layout, all in the boxes on the left.

I only realised the full impact of that decision tonight though when at a church meeting we were asked to identify three or four things that were really important to us. I listed, in no particular order, Lego, my Bible, photography and worship. (Don't panic family and friends, you are all still very important too!)

As I reflected on it, I realised how much I'd missed building and tinkering over the last few months and how I'd not been "lost" in the act of creating a new layout, model or whatever, and that alongside it the moment of being lost in wonder, lost in praise as this song puts it.

We can all identify occasions I'm sure as people of faith when we've been so absorbed in worship that we don't notice anything else around us, we're so overwhelmed by God's amazing grace and love that the world could stop turning and we wouldn't notice. I've had them at big worship events, in church, on a mountainside or beach, and also when totally immersed in either taking pictures or building Lego. Those two activities are personal acts of worship for me, activities that help me honour God with my spare time and creativity, and hopefully in different ways, share them with others.

And so, having packed it all up months ago, I've not been building, and with the weather as rough as it has been, not taking photos either, and so have slipped into laziness and wasteful use of my time, time that hasn't been honouring of God. Sometimes when I build, and it can be for 8 or 10 hours on a day off, I have music playing, sometimes I consciously leave the room silent apart from the plastic noise of the bricks. Either way, God speaks and refreshes and I experience the joy of creating something.

There is a wonder in building, of watching the image that's in my head grow and evolve as brick after brick is put in place. There is a wonder in people's face when they see a new layout for the first time. There is a wonder and a mystery about God that we sometimes try and restrict to our human understanding and so hold back from being lost in wonder and the state of not understanding. However you do it, let me encourage you to spend time being lost in wonder in the presence of our amazing God who took on human form and died to show us how much he loves us. I certainly intend to do more of it, though for a few months more I'll have to be patient and wait to get the bricks out again.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

A time to tear down...

One of the things about my Lego layouts is that they never stay the same for very long, typically 18 months to 2 years. It's the building up I get most out of rather than the playing with. Inevitably that means taking apart as well to rebuild.

And having spent 8 weeks building my current layout earlier this year, it's about to be taken to pieces ready to move on, and move on in more ways than one. Earlier this year I was told that the funding for my current post was likely to run out, and then in September I was told formally I would be made redundant at the end of the year. The job search was on. Sparing you the details, after a couple of virtual interviews, I spent a weekend at Williamsburg United Methodist Church in the USA being interviewed in person and by the end of the trip had signed a contract to become their Director of Youth Ministries. Assuming the visa comes through I start in March or April next.

All of this means change. For me, for my family in Ireland, friends, for the young people I've had the joy of knowing and serving here, for the Lego. (I do have a new layout plan emerging already though!).

I've always liked to think I could follow Jesus' challenge to leave everything behind and follow him. To go wherever he wants me to serve him. And yes, I've chosen to accept this post, and others over the years rather than being told "You're going there". But with those choices go consequences. The Lego is coming with me, but will have to be entrusted to a shipping company for up to 3 months. Every time I prayed about this job God answered simply "trust me". I did, but with difficulty at times, because I can be impatient. I want to make this move, to follow Jesus wherever he leads me. I guess I'll have to trust the shipping company too..

And so the packing starts. More tubs have been bought and the layout is gradually being taken to pieces and the individual bricks being sorted. Over the coming months there will be more packing, numerous farewells and lots of change. A time to tear down and pack up yes, but that also means a time to build and create new friendships and a new layout are just around the corner.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Tested and Testing

I posted a few pics of the layout on Facebook yesterday, and among the comments was this gem from a long-time friend of mine: "as long as I've know Andy, it's (Lego) not a toy, it's a way of life........!" 

Yesterday I managed to bring all 4 sections of the layout together for the first time and in the space of a couple of hours it definitely reflected my life! Relief at seeing it all come together and click together, frustration at some power supply issues, reduced time available due to a miscommunication over holiday dates, a big grin when it all worked out after some minor tweaks. I'm not going to give examples, but I'm sure all of us can think of occasions of joy, frustration, etc and I experienced a range of them yesterday!

But it works. After 8 weeks of building, separated occasionally by periods of waiting for pieces to be delivered, and doubting whether it would all work as one layout when I could only see the smaller sections at any given time, I can say it works. Not brilliantly
yet, but it works.

There are improvements I can make, and will do, over coming weeks. We rarely get things right the first time. I have years of building experience to help me out with Lego problems. Life has tested me out in all sorts of ways this past year, and I'm thankful that as a Christian I can say that in all those testing times I can look back and see how God has been there in all of them, changing me, rebuilding me, re-focussing me. And in my own way, celebrating the creativity He has given me, building this has been an act of worship. After all, they are not my bricks but His Bricks.

Saturday, 20 July 2013


I'm getting there. After much waiting for new bricks to arrive in the post, the station is complete, and the last section is pretty much there. As always, there are little tweaks I could make, particularly if I decide to buy the pieces.

However, I now have 4 sections to click together, and am in that waiting phase. I've booked a venue for Tuesday week to bring all 4 together for the first time to test the whole thing out. I think it will work, but there could well be a couple of short circuits to deal with where the various loops connect. Only one
way to find out....

As well as the short circuits, actually running trains is the only way to find out if you really have got the clearances right inside the tunnels and whether crashes and derailments will be occasional or frequent....

Once it's all tested I'll post some pics of it all together and the whole layout is booked for it's first public appearance on Saturday September 21st as part of the "Down The Decades" event at the Toton Churches. I'll keep you posted....