Which way, Toto?

 

I recently applied for some jobs for the first time in twelve years.  Cue (in between much prayer) panic, self doubt and the distinct feeling that I’m really, really not in control.

When making big life decisions, here is a proverb that we might find helpful:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

(As an aside: it seems to me that British Christians are not too hot on the book of Proverbs.  Not sure why that is?  I’ve made a sweeping genrealisation there and I’m not going to delete it! I’ll get back to you if I make any headway on Proverbs.  I bought that Tim Keller book but I think it might be stuck under my bed somewhere.)

In the midst of the job hunting,  I attended a seminar about being a Christian millennial (I don’t consider myself a millennial but was hoping to gain sympathy for them), and one of the things that came up was the struggle with making decisions.  Rachel Jones (she’s written a book – here it is), had a simple list that people could use which would help them to make decisions. I believe that this sort of practical wisdom is needed, especially if the decision you’re making seems like it could change the course of your life.

I believe that, but not everybody does. It seems to me that there are two common ways to look at a big crossroads-type moment in your life.  And I think I can flit between both of these methods:

One is to read the above Proverb and then wait on the Lord for him to show you the straight path.  The Lord knows which job he wants me in.  Therefore I’ll pray a prayer of submission to God’s will (v6) and wait for a strong feeling about one of them.  Or I’ll wait for a clear sign that I should take one and not the other.  I’m not leaning on my own understanding (v5), so that means I need to allow God to show me the right path.

Method number two might be seen as a more practical approach.  This is where we know that God cares about our hearts, and in his grace he’s given us practical wisdom.  So I’m going to focus on loving God with all my heart, submitting to him, and therefore it doesn’t matter which job I choose.  I don’t need to panic, because the job I do day-to-day doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.  I can stack shelves or sell stocks and shares – what God looks at is my heart.  As long as I’m working for him and his glory, I’m free to choose any job I like.

There is truth in both of these, but my recent job hunt reminded/taught me that there is an important middle ground.  I’m a conservative evangelical Christian, and my church culture would favour method number two.  We don’t sit around waiting for signs from God.  We pray, then we do something.  I think we even read books with titles like that.  But what I was recently reminded of is that God does actually really care what job I do.  And he can intervene.  And he does intervene!  He intervenes more than we conservative, pro/con list-writers like to admit.

It’s easy to think that it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it’s for the glory of God.  But that’s not quite right!  God’s word says “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31.) It’s not that God doesn’t care what you do, but he does care much more about how you do it.*

Hunting for my job, I prayed and agonised over decisions, but in the end I just had to do what to me seemed best.  I applied for the only job that seemed to be an option.  And God intervened in a ridiculous way.  (It all coincided with a big multi-church weekend away I was on, so those who didn’t see me coming and hide got to hear all about it in real time.) And looking back on it, I’m really encouraged that God does care massively what job I do, and he has good things in store for me, and he does direct the course of events for his own glory.

So as I’m praying for my children – what school they should go to, what activities they should do, what jobs they might do in the future – it’s such a joy to remember that a) God cares much more about their hearts than any of that other stuff, and b) he does care what they do, and he will have them on the path he’s prepared in advance for them to be on.

 

*This reminded me of a very specific bit in The West Wing.  See here if you’re interested!

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Mum(?)

I’m writing this one from glorious Cornwall. That’s me and my son, crabbing.

I recently watched the award-winning British comedy series Mum on BBC iPlayer. Some bits made me cringe and some scenes I didn’t even watch. But it had moments of genius. There’s a magnificent conversation about tolerance in the final episode (“I can’t stand intolerant people”), and the observational humour is at times just really, really clever. I mean, really.

I’m not here to write a review of Mum, but it did get me thinking about our society’s confusion about motherhood. In each half-hour episode, the central character, Mary (Mum) is the steady, gravitational force around which all other characters orbit. She feeds them; she listens to them; she provides them with safe shelter. There are a lot of things going on in the programme, but this is certainly one running theme.

In real life, we all want someone to be that person for us. We all need food, safety and shelter. We all need someone to listen to us. In the church community, we hopefully have several “mums” (and “dads”) who serve us in this way. This is one major way by which The Lord provides for us.

We all want this, but it’s much easier to be on the receiving end of it than to be the one giving it. Jesus said, “It’s more blessed to give than to receive.” He said that “whoever wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” We believe these words, but boy do we need to be reminded of them. How many of us were looking forward to a nice rest this summer? To putting our feet up? How many of us were disgruntled to discover that our summer holiday actually involves more work, more service, more providing-for-others?

Spoiler alert!

It saddened me that in the final episode of Mum, the take-home message seemed to be that Mary needed to put herself first for once. All this time she’d been serving everyone else, and biting her tongue, and putting other people’s feelings before her own. But finally she became enlightened to the truth that she was entering a new season of life – one in which she could walk away from those who needed her and just enjoy herself.

This is where I think our society is confused. We want to celebrate mothers (and other servant-hearted people, or “local heroes”) and the strong communities they gather. We well up at the memories of all the home-cooked meals and steady, reliable sanctuaries we’ve benefitted from. But we also tell each other to look after number one, follow our hearts and make happiness our goal.

Of course, the irony is that Jesus is so right, and as our creator he does actually want to bless us! When we put the needs of others first, we find blessing. When we serve one another, we find real, joyful community. When we look to the needs of others, we find that we’re all provided for.

So I’m not having a go at Mum, as it really is very well done and it is an astonishingly accurate reflection of the culture it’s reflecting. I envy the writer! And I wouldn’t even say not to watch the final episode, because you’d miss the bit about tolerance. But this summer if you’re feeling a bit ragged and sorry for yourself, as we’re all prone to do, let’s repent together and thank Jesus for giving us people to serve and love. What a mind-blowing privilege it is that one day, Lord willing, they might look back and thank Him for the ways we served them.

Book Review: Plugged In

 

Friends, if you’re looking for a good book to read this summer, then I heartily recommend Daniel Strange’s book, Plugged In.  If you’re a parent of young children, you might not think that a book about culture is really relevant to you – especially one that’s written by a clever Dr person who’s the director of a Bible college.  And whilst I don’t want to have an argument with you, I think you’re wrong.

Firstly, let me just reassure that this book is really clear and is definitely pitched at ordinary folk like you and me – even those of us who are distracted and sleep-deprived.  Dan Strange also realises that we might need persuading that culture is an important thing to think about.  As human beings, we create and consume culture.  We can’t avoid it, even if we try.  And guess what?  It’s likely that your children are also human beings.  Which means that they, too, are cultural creatures.  They have a culture, and so does the world around them.

Do we want our children to live for Jesus in this world that’s full of culture?  Do we want to worship Jesus in our families and to engage with our culture in a Jesus-honouring way?  Then this book can help us.  Some of us just need to learn that we can’t escape culture and we don’t need to be afraid of it.  Some of us are thinking through how to guide our children as they come across culture.  Some of us want to know how to speak into our culture and point people to Jesus.  Plugged In addresses these things.

As parents, we do actually need to be plugged in.  Our children are being told stories every day – and so are we!  They’re not all bad, but which bits are true and how can we tell?  I want to help our children to see the world through a gospel lens.  As Dan writes:

“We need to learn to identify where [cultural stories] are suppressing the truth, and to spot where that truth keeps ‘popping up’ like a beach ball.  This is what it means to “engage with culture” – not to swallow its stories hook, line and sinker, but to let it point our own eyes over and over again to the gospel story.” p. 74.

And at the end, there’s a bit about Japanese toilets.

You can buy the book here if you wish.

My Path

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I’ve written the following post to support Compassion UK’s Different Path Appeal.  They are raising money for pregnant mothers in Togo.

In the UK, 1 baby in every 250 born will sadly not live to see their 1st birthday.
In Togo, it’s 1 in every 20.
In the UK, the chances of a woman dying in childbirth is less than 1 in 12,000.
In Togo, it’s 1 in every 58.

Why is this so?  It’s easy to assume that the reason my children and I are alive and well is that we haven’t had many complications or medical issues.  But in my case, that’s just not true.

I always think of my children’s medical history as being very uneventful, but with four children there are always going to be stories to tell.  Like the time when I was in A&E with two of my children at the same time, for completely separate reasons.  That was a weird day.

But the truth is, it’s so easy to take for granted our good health which is only down to the medical treatment we’ve received in the UK.  We thank God for the NHS, and for providing clean water and good food for us every day.  Here are some examples of how we’ve been saved by modern (or you might say Western) medicine:

(This is not for the faint hearted.  Please do not read if you’re squeamish.  I’m writing this to help highlight how wealthy we are, but normally I wouldn’t overshare like this.)

The birth of my first child was pretty long and a little complicated.  After labouring for about 23 hours, she was born by emergency C section – necessary due to the position of the baby.  Had I been far away from a hospital and without assistance, I would probably have kept pushing for days until eventually the baby died.  I’m not sure what would have happened to me.  I’m no expert, but I assume the risk of prolapse and infection would have been high if not certain.  This may have prevented me from having further children, even if I had survived.  I find these facts overwhelming.

I stayed in hospital for five days with my eldest – we were finally discharged after her jaundice had cleared up with the help of a UV lamp.

In all subsequent pregnancies I was treated as high risk due to my previous C Section.  This meant I received extra care and attention and the threshold for doing a C Section was much lower.  This was all done to protect me and my babies.

I lost my second child in the first trimester.  We are thankful for the gentleness and compassion of the Early Pregnancy Unit at our local hospital.

Then came my second full-term baby, who was born via normal delivery – hooray!  After his birth, the midwife noticed that I had a partially retained placenta.  I’m so thankful for her eagle eyes, because if I’d been sent home this could easily have led to an infection.  The bit of placenta still in my womb was removed manually by an obstetrician.  Sorry, I did tell you not to read this if you’re squeamish.

The next one was pretty straightforward.  He needed a hip scan because he was a big boy, but that was just a precaution.  In fact, in physical/medical terms he has been our straightforward child!

Then came the lovely Martha.  Born via normal delivery.  She developed mastitis at 3 weeks old and needed antibiotics.

All of my children were born in a hospital which is at the bottom of the street – it’s about a 10 minute walk.  Call that 20 mins if you’re pregnant.  The women in Togo often don’t go to their antenatal appointments, and less than half give birth with a skilled birth attendant present.  This is often because access to a medical centre is so difficult.  It’s too far away, it’s too hot and – of course – they’re heavily pregnant.

I’m not going to recount every medical treatment my children have received, but I will say something about antibiotics.

My elder son who’s now 7 has had a few trips to hospital.  He broke his leg just in time for his 1st birthday, and he got impetigo the following Christmas.  This meant he had a horrid-looking boil-blister thingie on his face, which looked like it would never go away.   Enter antibiotics.  Within days it had faded to a pink patch, which quickly went away completely.  I asked my GP, “What if we didn’t have antibiotics?”  He said that the bacterial infection would spread, and get into his bloodstream, and would present in different patches all over his body.  He also said that this is why King Henry VIII ended up with a hole in his nose.  So you could say, and I will, that my son is in some ways richer than King Henry VIII.

Why am I telling you this?  Well, I expect you could tell similar stories of how the course of your life and your children’s lives have been affected for the better by medicine.  I haven’t even mentioned the plastic surgery my daughter received, aged 2, so she wouldn’t be scarred for life.  Nor the precautionary ECGs that two of my children have already received during their short, uneventful lives. I think it’s important that we remember to thank God for providing these people and these medications and treatments – what an amazing blessing!

And let’s remember those who don’t have access to care like this.  It can be overwhelming to think about, but it doesn’t mean that we should turn a blind eye.  The Lord cares about the poor and the forgotten.  He hates injustice.  It’s easy to feel helpless, but we can pray for those women and ask God if he wants us to do something for them.  Maybe we could go without something this month and donate the money to the Different Path Appeal.  Please click on the link and read about what Compassion UK are doing to help women and children in Togo.  I don’t mean to be controversial, but I think we know that suffering children are more important than, say, scorched cathedrals.

23 Away with the noise of your songs!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5)

None the Richer

Happy Mother’s Day, UK friends!

This morning at church a lovely friend (who’s a single mum) gave me a Mother’s Day card. She was really happy because her twin 8 year old boys had bought her a card and small gift. She beamed as she told me how they’d come to her and asked for money so that they could go and buy her something. She was delighted that they’d been so thoughtful.

Mother’s Day is a funny one sometimes because since your young children rely on you for everything, you often need to contribute to your Mother’s Day treats! If you’re hoping for breakfast in bed, you’ll probably have to stock the fridge yourself with the food you fancy. Sometimes we can use this as yet another reason to complain. But I wonder if we could choose instead to be thankful, and to consider what it might teach us about how our Heavenly Father treats us. My friend’s joy over her sons’ gift reminded me of this CS Lewis quote:

“Every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving your limbs from moment to moment, is given you by God. If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already. So that when we talk of a man doing anything for God or giving anything to God, I will tell you what that is really like.

It is like a small child going to its father and saying, ‘Daddy, give me sixpence to buy you a birthday present.’ Of course, the father does, and he is pleased with the child’s present. It is all very nice and proper, but only an idiot would think that the father is sixpence to the good on the transaction.” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.)

When I serve God, by looking after my children or cleaning my flat or leading a bible study or giving someone a lift somewhere or cooking someone a meal or encouraging my sister or any of the other good things God has planned in advance for me to do, I’m using the gifts he’s given me to honour his holy name. I mustn’t ever think that I’ve somehow earned something from God or that he needs me to do these things. He lacks nothing. And without him I am nothing, so I’d be utterly unable to serve him if he hadn’t graciously enabled me to do so. That is in some ways obvious, but nevertheless mind-blowing. It kill pride, and reminds me that it truly is my privilege to be able to serve him. I would do well to remember that the next time I’m sweeping up crumbs or holding a writhing toddler during a quiet moment at church.

When we cheerfully give to our Heavenly Father, knowing that it was with his own gifts that we were able to do so, he is pleased. How amazing! If I delight in my own children, how much more will He, the perfect parent, delight in me?

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:8-10

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12.1.

Dear Ministry Wife

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Last week someone said to me, “Oh!  You’re the blogger.”  And it occurred to me that if I’m going to claim to be a blogger, I should probably sometimes write on my blog.  So I’m back!

This post is addressed to my Minister’s Wife, my Ministry Wife friends, and any other Ministry Wives that may stumble upon this.  And if you’re not a ministry wife, please read this as it may help you to thank God for any that you know.  You could even share it with them! 🙂

Dear Ministry Wife,

Thank you for giving your husband to your church – or the organisation he works for.  Thank you for all the evenings when he’s spending time with other people, and not you (or your children).  Thank you for not resenting this.  The Lord sees you, and he’s got your reward ready and waiting.

Thank you for giving up the hopes and dreams you may have once had, to own a home, to decorate your home a certain way, to travel to certain parts of the world, or maybe to eat in certain restaurants.  Maybe your husband left a lucrative job to do the job he has now.  Maybe you just know that he could be earning much more doing something else.  Thank you for storing up your treasure in heaven.  Thank you that we benefit from that because he’s invested so much in our lives, and we, in turn, are learning to store up our treasure in heaven, too.

Thank you for all of the times we’ve used your home as our home.  Thank you for the Bible studies, the women’s breakfasts, the men’s breakfasts, the Christmas socials and all the other events that have happened in your living room.  Maybe you’d rather have been curled up with a book on your sofa.  Thank you for your hospitality.

Thank you for giving yourself to the ministry, too.  Thank you for all the prayers, the hugs, the listening, the counselling and the love.  You didn’t have to do that.  Thank you for following in your Master’s footsteps by becoming our servant.  Thank you for all the times you’ve done this without anyone noticing or saying thank you.

There’ll never be an International Ministry Wives Day.  (Actually, anything can happen but I’d be very surprised if that ever did!)  However, I hope you know that you’re loved and appreciated.  And I hope and pray that, above all else, you’ll delight in the Lord.  The Father first gave his One and Only Son for you.  The Son gave up the riches of heaven for you, and was willing to wander, homeless, in this dark and dangerous world for you.  He gave himself up for you, and for me.

We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19

On your marks, get set, Bake!

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How to Throw a Junior Bake-Off Birthday Party

I recently organised a Junior Bake-Off party for my daughter’s ninth birthday, and I thought I’d tell you about it in case you might want to do something similar.  If not, then at least in six year’s time I can read this blog post and do it again for my younger daughter.

I’ll say right off the bat that this was quite a tiring thing to do, and there were lots of little bits to remember.  However, I actually enjoyed it and much more importantly, the children loved it.  It actually felt like the real thing! Plus, a great big, huge, enormous thank you to the unsuspecting mums who came along and ended up helping with a lot of clearing up – not to mention rescuing burning bakes from the oven.

There’s a list below of everything you’ll need to prepare and buy in advance, but first I’ll tell you what actually happened.  It looks more complicated than it actually was because I’ve tried to write absolutely everything down.  Please don’t be put off!

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What we did:
We set it up like the real Bake-Off, with a Signature Challenge, a Technical and a Show-Stopper:
Signature: Pizzas
Technical: Fork Biscuits
Show-Stopper: Cupcake Decorating

For the Signature, I emailed the parents in advance to ask what toppings the children would like.  I bought pizza topping sauce (although I could have made some), grated cheese (lazy, I know) and whatever toppings they’d chosen.  I made the dough the day before (but you could buy bases).

For the Technical, I used Mary Berry’s Fork Biscuits recipe, which is available online.  I halved the recipe, so each child made eight cookies.  They could choose whether to make chocolate or plain.  I then needed to prepare a tray each with margarine, sugar, flour and the recipe.  (The optional cocoa was a the front of the room.)  This is a recipe that all the children (aged 7-9) could manage.  They found it challenging, but they enjoyed it and they came out well.

For the Show-Stopper, I made cupcakes in advance (I used Nigella’s Christmas Cupcake recipe but you could use any), and bought icing and sprinkles. I provided disposable piping bags and cutters for ready-to-roll icing.  You should really have trays ready with all of the stuff they need for this.  I didn’t, so it became a bit chaotic at this point.  (Cue helpful mums.)

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At the end, we put the cupcakes onto a cupcake stand, stuck candles in it and sang happy birthday.  They ate their pizzas and a cupcake each, and I gave out prizes.  I’d come up with four prize categories as we went along, so that everyone got an award for something, (such as ‘most imaginative Show-Stopper’).  For the prizes, I bought personalised wooden spoons from Not on the Highstreet – see pic below.  If you wanted to do something cheaper, you could try getting plain aprons from Baker Ross (£5 for two), and ironing on a star or something.  But since the party on the whole wasn’t expensive, I didn’t mind paying £20 for the prizes (£5 each).

To prepare in advance: 
Email the parents to ask for the pizza toppings and give them an equipment list to bring. This will depend on what you have at home, e.g. I had enough rolling pins, but you might not.  Also, ask them if they can stay to help their child if possible.
Find a judge or two.  They need to be fun, or at least pretend to be.
Try to find some people to help with the washing up!
Make pizza dough
Make cupcakes – we gave them four each
Print out recipes for Techincal
Print out timings for yourself, otherwise you’ll get confused.
Save margarine tubs and other containers because each child will need their own margarine, sugar and flour

To buy:
Pizza toppings
Enough flour, butter/margarine, sugar and cocoa for everyone in the Technical.  The quantities are not huge.
Greaseproof paper (we used this for pizzas and biscuits)
Butter icing, ready to roll icing, various sprinkles, disposable piping bags.  (My daughter went through three piping bags and I’m sorry but they’re a pain to clean.)
Salad and fruit for the meal, if you wish
Candles if you don’t have any
Prizes.  If you’re keeping costs down, I’m sure some biscuits or pretty cupcake cases or something would be just as lovely.

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To set up:
I used four long tables and put all the equipment and the pizza toppings on top, ready to use
If you have enough trays, get the trays for the Technical and the Show-Stopper ready before the party starts
Have a table at the front of the room for the judging of the Technical. I got them to write their names on little cards which went in front of their bakes, so that they knew whose were being judged, but the judge couldn’t see.  (On the show they have photos for this.)
I put a big bowl of soapy water and some flannels at the back, for hand washing

Equipment List:
Aprons
Rolling pins
Kitchen scales
Sieves (for cocoa)
Piping nozzles (if you’re using disposable bags, you probably can manage with just one set of nozzles as you won’t need the collar)
Mixing bowls
Wooden spoons
Cutlery
Small scissors – one pair each
Ask each child to bring a box to carry their goods home in
Cupcake stand (or just use a plate)

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Running Order:
Write name cards
Introduce Signature – give them 10 minutes.  Remember to say, “On your marks, get set, bake!”
Pizzas in the oven
Technical – they need about 20 minutes for this. You can give them longer if they need it!
Biscuits in – meanwhile, judge the Signature.  Put the pizzas on the benches and the judge goes round and tries each one and gives feedback.  Remember to say, “tell me about your pizza.”
(There may be a pause here while the children try their own pizzas/wash their hands/wipe down their benches)
Now judge the technical by putting the biscuits on the front table and getting the children to sit in a row while the judge makes comments about each one.  They could choose a winner for this, although my judge didn’t.
Showstopper – decorate four cupcakes. I thought this would be quick but they spent ages on it.  Allow as much or as little time as you wish!  Tell them they will be marked purely on presentation, and that they can do them all the same or four different styles.
Judging – get them to bring up their four cupcakes on a plate and comment on them.
Now put the cupcakes into the stand and light candles, sing happy birthday etc.

Eat!

Prize giving.

Now do a lot of washing up.

If you try this, please let me know!  I do hope it helps somebody else to have a happy birthday.

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