Christmas Shopping 2020 – with Giveaway!

The UK is in lockdown again so let’s start thinking about Christmas. It’ll cheer us up.

I’ve written before with ideas for Christmas presents. While all of those remain good ideas, I thought I’d let you know about some of the things I’ve discovered in 2020 (or should’ve told you about before) and highly recommend. This will hopefully be useful if your family members don’t like to let you know what they’d like until 23rd December and you don’t want to wait that long.

Incidentally, if none of these ideas will do please comment below with any present-purchasing predicaments you find yourself in and I’ll try my best to help. (E.g. “What about my single uncle who’s a vegan and doesn’t read?”)

Not to get political about it but you’ll notice that none of my links are to Amazon. I’m not judging you at all if you buy your gifts from Amazon. I use Amazon a lot, but I really do feel that they should pay corporation tax -and this year more than ever I’d like to support smaller businesses where possible.

If you’re looking for budget options, I’ve mentioned some ideas throughout and there’s some at the bottom if you’d like to scroll down. This is a long blog post. It’s clearly a topic which interests me.

This blog post contains zero affiliate links.

Games

If you’ve got a long list of nieces/nephews/godchildren, games can be a great joint present to keep costs down. They also bring great joy! We highly recommend Gamewright card games, particularly Sleeping Queens, Rat-a-tat-Cat and, for a bit more of a challenge (involving dice), Dragonwood. We recently played two of their cooperative board games, Outfoxed and Forbidden Island, where all participants play as a team, which reduces the risk of fighting quite considerably.

We also recently discovered Trivial Pursuit bitesize, which is not only less expensive to buy than the full board game but is also less of a commitment to play. Win, win. (We have the 90’s music edition, which I did indeed win, win.)

BooksGiveaway!

Linda Allcock’s book, Deeper Still, is truly excellent. It would be a blessing to a loved one. I’m more likely to buy it for a woman but I’m sure it would be helpful for men, too. Read my review here. I’ve since finished the book and it was brilliant. I actually wrote, “Hallelujah!” on the last page and not because I was glad the book was finished. At the bottom of this post you’ll find out how to enter my prize drawer to win one of two copies of this treasure.

Black and British, a short, essential history (David Olusoga). is easy to read, fascinating and wonderfully informative. I’d recommend it for children aged 12 and up.

For other book recommendations, click on the Books category on the right.

Music: If you’re buying for Christian families or your own children, I highly recommend the Awesome Cutlery albums. They are just fantastic. My sons also love the wonderful Michael J Tinker, who has just released a new album.

For grown-ups and families there’s a lovely website called Hope and Ginger which sells all kinds of beautiful, encouraging gifts. Last year we bought the Family Prayer Journal for a couple of families we know. They also sell lovely prints which you could frame. I recently bought myself a Christmas tea towel and am tempted to buy myself another! You might think a Christmas tea towel isn’t an exciting present, but that definitely depends on the recipient. I love a nice tea towel, me. (Secretly hoping she doesn’t now receive 12 tea towels for Christmas.) Hope and Ginger is a very small British company and offers free UK delivery on all orders. If you’re sending a gift directly, Cath will even write your card out for you if you ask her. Fabulous.

Thinking outside the box: This probably doesn’t feel like much of a present as it’s nothing to open, but this year we invested in the ‘Simply Piano’ app for our children and it’s worked fantastically well for them. They love practising the piano with it. This would be something which, if they use it, will truly be a gift to them. (You can get similar subscriptions for other instruments, too.) And you could always give them some Maltesers or something to open on the big day!

An unusual option for adults which is quite expensive but worth every penny is toilet twinning. Twin their toilet and you’ll give them a little lift every time they… use it and you’ll be blessing some people who really do need it.

Subscriptions (this may only be helpful for UK readers, sorry!) Subscriptions are a way to give a gift that will last all year and not fill your home with even more plastic tat. If you’re worried about them not having anything to open, you could buy them something small that’s connected. The Beano annuals are not expensive, for example.
We currently receive two comics a week and it always causes exceeding joy when they arrive. It’s not a cheap gift but if you feel it’s worth the investment you can often spread the cost over the year. My children and I recommend: 
Whizz Pop Bang (£39.99/yr) is a monthly magazine made by a small British company and is a great way to inspire your children to love science. Their experiments only require ingredients you’ve probably got at home and they send you an email in advance of each issue to warn you. This is a lifesaver if you don’t want to be asked, “do we have fizzy vitamin tablets?” while you’re trying to cook the dinner. (I’m not kidding, while I’m writing this an ad for fizzy vitamin tablets has popped up on my screen. Coincidence? I told my daughter and she simply said, “digital footprint.” Argh!)
The Beano – of course it’s a classic (the longest running weekly comic); it’s still brilliant and I do feel we should support them so it doesn’t disappear completely! We pay for this in installments so it’s not too painful. (I try not to think about it!)
The Phoenix – My 9 year old son really enjoys this one, too. If you can’t afford to go for a full subscription I think you can get 4 issues for £1, which would still be a lovely gift. (£54.99/6 months; £99/yr)
National Geographic for Kids – If your children like animals they’ll love this. (£37/yr)
If these subscriptions are all too expensive for your budget and you have Tesco Clubcard points you haven’t been able to use this year, Bayard Magazines have subscriptions for different age groups and you can pay for them with your Clubcard points. We’ve had Storybox, Adventure Box and Discovery Box and they’ve all gone down well with the children. They’re expensive and only come out once a month but they are lovely – and when Clubcard are footing the bill it doesn’t hurt too much.

“And what about you? What would you like?”

One of the best things I’ve ever received for Christmas: A 5 year, one-line-a-day diary. It’s so good in fact that I’ve written a separate blog post about it here. If you do think you know someone who’d like one, I’d check first in case they don’t want it or they already have one.

On my list this year: Last year I decided I really wanted to delve deeper into the book of Acts so for Christmas I asked for a scripture journal of Acts (this one from 10ofthose.com) and then I used a commentary to read through the book slowly, making notes and trying – with the Holy Spirit’s help – to get my head around it. This year I’ve decided to do the same thing again but with the letter to the Hebrews. So I shall be asking my loved ones for the Hebrews scripture journal and the book, Better, by Jen WIlkin, which will hopefully help me to read and understand Hebrews better (no pun intended). Obviously I’d also like some chocolate and a bottle of Bailey’s.

Ideas for tight budgets

If you’re short on cash this year, firstly I’m sure everyone you love understands and wouldn’t want you to be worrying about their gifts! Also I find that when your budget is tight you are required to put more thought into it, which is really a blessing to the person receiving the gift. If you don’t fancy doing a “secret Santa” idea, or if you’re doing that and you still need lower priced options, here are a few:

Make your gifts. A bag of homemade cookies or fudge in a nice little gift bag is a thoughtful present that nobody ever wants to ‘regift.’ We once made hot chocolate gifts by filling piping bags with hot chocolate powder and marshmallows (sorry to my plastic-free readers) and stuck on googly eyes so that they looked like reindeer. I stole the idea from the World Wide Web and it made people smile.

A nice framed photograph is also very thoughtful and simple frames can be purchased very cheaply in Asda etc. Or you could frame a postcard – Hope and Ginger, 10ofthose and The Good Book Company all sell encouraging Bible-verse postcards.

Word art posters are also really thoughtful gifts and you can print them out yourself to keep costs down. If you search on etsy for word art there are different shapes and colours available. You write down a list of words you associate with your loved one and they email you a pdf to print. Simple!

Most magazines do a £1 for 4 or 6 weeks offer. This would be a lovely gift for a child. (Grown-up magazines do this too, if you need ideas!)

This might not help you for Christmas 2020, but you should always look in the post-Christmas sales for next year’s presents! It comes round every year, you know. (This year, if your family Christmas is postponed you could actually buy your gifts late! Cheeky.)

Giveaway!

Excitingly I have two copies of the brilliant ‘Deeper Still’ to give away. If you’d like to be entered into the prize draw, please see my Facebook page or Instagram account to find out what to do. I’ll be announcing the winners on Facebook and Instagram on Saturday 21st November.

One Line a Day

I don’t know about you, but this year (during lockdown and then amid all the other bitty restrictions) I’ve found the lack of structure one of the hardest things to cope with. It’s like I’ve got nothing to peg anything onto. I look back over a month and have no idea what I’ve done or how long it’s been since I… anything.

In December the magazines, newspapers and bloggers will be looking back over 2020 and, well, there’ll be quite a lot to say. And in some ways, not much at all. Everything was cancelled but, then again, Historical Things took place. No Events and yet extremely eventful. It’s been a year of emptiness and a year of chaos.

So how can I reflect on all of this and try to process it?

July last year I was recovering from an operation – hence sleeping through church!

This is my diary. Each day I write a few lines about what’s happened that day. The following year I do the same again, which means I can easily see what we were doing this time last year. These diaries are not expensive, but worth their weight in gold.

Here are 3 things I’ve learnt from keeping this diary this year.

  1. The mundane, done for God, is glorious. God’s word is full of people living mundane lives. Shepherds, farmers, builders, mothers. Sometimes something exciting happened to them, but most of the time they were doing ordinary things. I’m prone to forget that God doesn’t need me to do exciting or even interesting things. He wants me to be faithful to him. Writing this diary helps me to process the day and go to sleep. However, much of the time I feel like I have nothing to write. I feel I haven’t really done anything. However, when months later I look back on these days, even I can see that I have been doing stuff! And while not exciting, this stuff is important for keeping certain people alive. I shall try to illustrate:
    April 26, 2019: Popped to Catherine’s with travel cot. Bible study on Luke 1. Lunch. Cleaning. Beth and William for tea. Nice to chat to their mum. Deutschland ’86 in the evening.
    At the time I probably felt like all I’d done was shoddy housework (which is important!) and crowd control. But looking back I see that I’d helped a friend, been encouraged by my sisters at church, shown hospitality and spent time with my husband. Objectively I know that these things are pleasing to God, when done with a cheerful heart. And anyway, why am I so proud that I think my life should be action-packed? So if it feels like you haven’t really made any progress with anything this year, try not to be discouraged. If you’re serving him, repenting of your sin and still trusting Him this year, that is glorious. In fact, it’s quite miraculous!
  2. For everything there is a season. Once you’re in the second year of writing this, you can look back to what you were doing this time last year. What I often find is that there’s a connection between last year and this year. There’s something reassuring about this! It reminds me that life has a rhythm, which is the way God created this world to function. It also shows me that I shouldn’t be surprised by things as much as I am. I recently felt very run-down and unwell during my half-term break and wondered what on earth was wrong with me. Then I read last year’s half-term entry and, sure enough, I had written ‘felt ill, bed at 7pm.’ So maybe next October I’ll prepare myself by not making any plans and by (less likely) trying to get more rest beforehand! This all reminds me that I’m a human being, dependent on God, and not a machine or a Kryptonian.
  3. God is sovereign. As I look at the lines I’ve written in and the blank sections below, I’m reminded that to God this book is already filled in. He’s completed it. He knows what will happen on every single day of my life and he knows what I will write down about these days. My future may feel uncertain and unclear to me but it is secure in him. He not only knows it but has planned it all for my ultimate good.
    All the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
    Psalm 139:16
    So as 2020 has not been the year we expected and we don’t know what Christmas will look like, I’m encouraged when I consider that God knew all of this would happen and he can work it all for the good of those who love him.
  4. Yep, I said three but as I was writing this I realised I’d missed perhaps the most important one. There is so much to thank God for. I’m likely to forget all of the wonderful ways the Lord has provided for me and blessed me in abundance. But when I read over this diary I’m reminded to give him thanks, for sustaining me through difficult times and blessing me in a myriad of ways which I really, really don’t deserve.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.

I’ll be posting some Christmas present ideas next week – watch this space!

Psst! If you like my blog (which I know at least some of you do), please could you let just one friend know about it today? That way more people can be encouraged, as I don’t advertise this blog in any other way. Thank you so much!

Going Rogue for Halloween

This isn’t so much a blog post as just a brief update of what we’ve been doing this week.

We’ve never really had to do anything about Halloween here. We don’t get trick-or-treaters and the children have never been invited to a Halloween party or to trick-or-treat with anyone. I know some of you probably join in with Halloween in various ways and I’m not saying you shouldn’t, but we don’t feel comfortable with it so I’m glad we’ve never had any pressure to do so.

A few years ago we went to a Halloween drop-in at a local church because I thought it’d be fun. It was not. There’s nothing fun about sugar-high, wide-eyed greedy monsters everywhere. And on the way home in the dark there were some frightening sights and I wondered what on earth I’d been thinking. I announced that next year we’d be having takeaway pizza (probably for the first time ever) and staying indoors.

Luther cake mit Worms

The other thing that has stopped us having any Halloween issues is that we’re busy celebrating Reformation Day. (See here or click on the Reformation tag to the right for some posts about that.)

This year, however, has been different. Our children’s school (which we love) decided to have a Halloween dress-up day. Since we couldn’t very well play truant and I didn’t want my children to dress up as anything dark – I don’t find stabbings, demons or witchcraft funny – we decided to be rebels instead. And by rebels I of course mean Jedi Rebels – the Light Side of the Force.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6.12

We didn’t want the children to feel like outsiders – but the truth is, they are. And they do need to get used to it. In the end, it didn’t matter because there were a variety of costumes. Our daughter even won a little prize (a slinky) for her Princess Leia costume. But rather than just saying “NO!” to Halloween, we talked to them about why they weren’t going in dressed as something death-related. (I mean, really? In 2020?)

We talked to them about how there is a Dark Side and a Light Side in real life. We’re on the Light team. We’re the rebels (which reminds me of this post). We used to be in the Empire, but now we’re against it. So it wouldn’t be right to dress up in things to do with the darkness, because that’s not our team anymore. It’s not our thing.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light  (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth)  and find out what pleases the Lord.  Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. Ephesians 5.8-11

There was a boy at school dressed as a Coronavirus. It was a very creative piece of art and he seemed to get quite a lot of praise for it. But in a world so confused that it celebrates and jokes about the thing that’s brought suffering to millions of people, I’m so grateful that our children don’t need to be confused. The enemy has been defeated and we don’t need to have anything to do with the darkness anymore.

Plus come on, Obi Wan is cool.

Psst! If you like my blog (which I know at least some of you do), please could you let just one friend know about it today? That way more people can be encouraged, as I don’t advertise this blog in any other way. Thank you so much!

No, Really

The day McDonalds reopened

One of the most memorable Bible talks I’ve ever heard was actually from the London Men’s Convention. Don’t worry, I didn’t sneak in (she shudders at the thought) – no, much better. My brother had the talks on cassette (ah, the good old days!) and I listened in the comfort of my university digs. The talk was about 2 Peter 3:

Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”

To be a Christian is to be waiting for Jesus to come back in his glory and take us home. Naturally the people around us find this ridiculous and perhaps even dangerously deluded. Everything is carrying on as normal, day in and day out, so how could we possibly believe that Jesus will come, in the twinkling of an eye, and put a stop to it all? To be honest, I’ve had those thoughts myself. It’s been hard to imagine everything suddenly coming to a grinding halt.

But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

I wonder if Noah and his family would’ve found it hard to imagine Jesus coming back – if they’d known about it. I’m guessing not! They’d lived through the flood, a time when “people were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage” right up until the day they clambered into the ark and the rain began to fall. As Jesus said, “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man.” (Please see Luke 17, 26&27)

The things I’ve seen happen this year have helped me to believe that Jesus really will come like a thief in the night and change everything in a flash. 2019 me would have found it hard to imagine the Olympics being cancelled. 2019 me would have raised a quizzical eyebrow at the suggestion that no aeroplanes would fly over her flat for three months. McDonald’s closed? You must be joking. To quote a character from a WW2 film we watched, and with much gratitude that I’ve learnt this lesson from Covid and not a war, “I’ve seen things I thought could never happen, happen.”

Now that I’ve seen cancellations and closures on an unimaginable scale, I can more easily believe that Jesus really will come back and wrap up this old world.

I share this with you because perhaps it can be an encouragement when you consider all of the things you’ve had to cancel or may still have to cancel. These things do remind us that we can make all the plans we want and we can think we humans really are very clever but it can all be stopped very quickly if the Lord wills it. If a virus can stop us, I’m certain the risen Lord Jesus, seated in glory can stop us too.

And if you’ve had the sort of year that makes you wonder why Jesus doesn’t just come back right now, may these words be a comfort to you:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Why hasn’t he come back yet? He’s patiently waiting for more people to be saved. Hallelujah, come Lord Jesus. Amen.

For more thoughts about waiting for Jesus’ return, read this retro post.

Psst! If you like my blog (which I know at least some of you do), please could you let just one friend know about it today? That way more people can be encouraged, as I don’t advertise this blog in any other way. Thank you so much!

Book Review – Deeper Still

I’m reading an excellent book and I think you should read it, too. I haven’t finished it yet (which I agree is a bit strange) but the author, Linda Allcock, asked me really politely in the introduction not to skim it, so I won’t. Rather than waiting until I’ve finished, I decided to recommend it to you now.

We hear so much these days about mindfulness and (new age) meditation – my children’s school classes have regular ‘brain breaks’ throughout the day. But how often do we practise biblical meditation? And do we even know the difference?*

Linda Allcock has a thorough understanding of secular meditation, which she succinctly and clearly explains to the reader in Section 1 of this book. She then brilliantly shows us how biblical meditation differs and how valuable it is to the Christian soul. This got me really excited about learning to practise Christian mediation.

In Section 2, which I’m currently reading, Linda teaches us how to come to God’s Word with the intention of searching for treasure and storing it up for when we need it most. She uses helpful illustrations and practical advice which make it all seem very clear and simple to achieve.

The best seminar I ever went to on a Christian conference/festival/ weekend away was one about memorising Scripture. I arrived at the seminar (sleep-deprived and flustered) knowing little-to-nothing about Psalm 16, and left after an hour having memorised the whole thing. This psalm, a month later, was to get me through sleepless nights as I meditated on it and prayed through it for my brother who had a brain tumour and his infant daughter who had respiratory problems. Eight years on, that psalm still helps me when I don’t know what to pray.

This book makes me think of that seminar for two reasons:

  • It’s practical. This is a book that I can instantly put into practice because Linda is not just giving me theory, but is showing me how to ‘do’ meditation.
  • Biblical mediation will help me to survive as a Christian. If Psalm 16 can get me through the hardest year of our lives, how much more fruitful would it be if I meditated on the whole counsel of God?

As someone who’s been reading the Bible for years, I’m finding this book really helpful. In the chapter I’ve just finished reading, Linda condensed into a few pages an entire book I once read on ‘how to get the most out of reading the Bible.’ She doesn’t mess about, which is great because when you’re busy it’s best not to spend hours and hours reading a book when you could be meditating on Scripture.

I do think this book is really accessible and not at all intimidating, so I’d also recommend it to younger Christians, even if they’ve never read the Bible on their own. In a way it would be perfect for them because it would start them off reading the Bible in a healthy way, rather than just thinking of it as a chore or something to tick off a list.

My pastor says that the thing that makes the biggest difference to the value of a sermon is the heart attitude of the listener. If you come to church expectant and determined to get precious truth out of the sermon, asking God and trusting him to feed you, then he will. But if you’re distracted and rushed or bored and ungrateful, you likely won’t get much out of it. Surely Bible reading is the same? I found these words from Linda very convicting:

As we open God’s word, do we believe there is treasure there? If we did, we might treat our Bible times differently. We would look forward to reading the Bible with anticipation and excitement. We would, as Proverbs 2 v 4 says, “Look for insight and understanding as for sliver and search for it as for hidden treasure”. We would dig into the passage with commitment and perseverance. And when we found the promised treasure, we would respond in joyful prayer and thankfulness.

This book helps us to come to the Word with expectant hearts, knowing there is treasure to be found. It really would be a wonderful gift to give to a friend. You can buy it here.

Psst! If you like my blog (which I know at least some of you do), please could you let just one friend know about it today? That way more people can be encouraged, as I don’t advertise this blog in any other way. Thank you so much!

*In case you choose to go against my express wishes and you don’t read this book, secular or new age meditation is emptying your mind – eek, dangerous! – whereas biblical meditation is filling your mind with scripture and therefore the Lord Jesus.

Weak as I am

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Accidental photo on a train. Covid essentials!

 

How’s it going?

Some of us are starting to think, “What just happened?” (i.e. where did the last 6 months go and why didn’t I learn any new languages? And incidentally why have I suddenly gone grey?)

Some of us are thinking that the worst is yet to come.

Some of us are still wondering how to cope with Today.

I’m sure there’s a whole mix of feelings about “the current situation” even amongst the readers of this here blog.

If we’re thinking of it as a marathon, I think I set off a bit too fast. Not exactly sprinting (I did have (suspected) Covid-19, after all) but also at a pace I couldn’t sustain. Then, at about Mile 20 I was informed that the marathon wouldn’t stop at Mile 26. I still don’t know where the Finish line is. I’m walking now, by the way, and gradually getting my breath back.

I don’t know if you’re feeling disappointed in the way you’ve handled certain things. Or maybe even disappointed in how things are in your country or the world over. I think most of us are feeling pretty weak now.

The other day I was listening to my pastor talk about the fact that humans are weak. They’re made from the dust:

As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
    he remembers that we are dust.
15 The life of mortals is like grass,
    they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
    and its place remembers it no more.
17 But from everlasting to everlasting
    the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
    and his righteousness with their children’s children—
18 with those who keep his covenant
    and remember to obey his precepts.

Is God surprised at how badly I handled such-and-such a situation?
Nope. He knows I am dust.

Is God frowning down at me in the way a personal trainer or an army General would if I tried to do 10 push-ups?
No, he has compassion on me.

Let’s remember that God is sovereign and he is in control even now. And he’s good.

But why would he bring us to a place of such weakness?

In Scripture we see time and again the Lord bringing people to a place of weakness and dependency on him.

Take Babel, for example. There we see humanity trying to be strong; trying to be independent. What does the sovereign Lord do? He confuses their language so that they’ll fail.

In the desert, when the people of Israel are hungry, does God give them the tools to make their own food and be independent? No, he gives them daily manna so they’ll have to keep trusting him.

When Jonah thinks he can run away from God and be his own man, what does God do? He sends a storm to bring him, eventually, to repentance and dependence: “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord.” (He was a bit slow, wasn’t he?)

Jesus’ disciples were accomplished sailors and fishermen. But what did Jesus do? He sent them into storms so that they would need to cry out to him for help (See Matthew 8 and Matthew 14.) Peter was pretty confident in himself, but Jesus taught him to have confidence in Jesus instead:
But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

The Lord allowed a woman to suffer bleeding for 12 years so that she would reach out to Jesus for healing, cleansing and reconciliation.

The Lord brings his people time and again to places of weakness in order to teach us to depend on Him. This is his kindness to us.

And yet so often, when I’m feeling weak, I feel that the Lord is far from me. I feel he disapproves. ‘He’s as disappointed in me as I am.’ But that’s a lie. Unlike me, He knows I’m weak. Not only that, but Christ sympathises with me:

‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who is every respect has been tempted as we are – yet was without sin.’ Hebrews 4:15

Dane Ortlund puts it this way:

‘Our tendency is to feel intuitively that the more difficult life gets, the more alone we are. As we sink further into pain, we sink further into felt isolation. The Bible corrects us. Our pain never outstrips what [Christ] himself shares in. We are never alone. That sorrow that feels so isolating, so unique, was endured by him in the past and is now shouldered by him in the present.’ (Gentle & Lowly, p.48)

So what should we do? Hebrews 4:16 answers that for us. Jesus is moving towards you even as you’re having to distance yourself from others. You can approach him confidently and know that he’ll help you:

‘Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.’ 

Interview! Sarah Parker

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It’s time for an interview! Sarah Parker is a mum-of-four who has just written a book called Seek and Find: Old Testament Bible Stories. She lives in London with her husband and children, aged 14, 12, 10 and 8. This book is beautifully creative and my 4-year-old daughter loves it. Truth be told, she loves it slightly too much. We’ve done all the pages many times and she’s showing no signs of boredom. Seriously though, it’s fantastic to have a seek-and-find book that’s based on the Bible. Let’s find out more about Sarah:

Hi Sarah! So, four children… how has Lockdown been going for you and your family?
Lockdown for the Parker household has been full of ups and downs. I have dyslexia, so initially the prospect of homeschooling our four children was daunting to say the least.
That said, we started off full of enthusiasm and even excitement at the challenge. We were doing really well in the two weeks leading up to Easter, but having a two-week break derailed our momentum and routine, and in the last couple of weeks we have really struggled to get back into it. The excitement has definitely worn off and it feels much more like a chore for us all. And of course, these feelings are compounded by not being allowed to leave the house.
Perhaps one of the nicest things about Lockdown is that my husband André has been working from home. It’s been a fantastic opportunity to all come together at lunchtime and eat together. We’ve built lunch Bible time into our routine, where we read a section of the Bible and pray as a family. It’s been really important to show our kids that while this world feels very different to the one we’re used to, we still have the same awesome God—a God who knows us so well and knows that we are prone to feeling anxious and so talks about that in his word. It’s been great to lead our kids to these passages.
 
Same here! More time with Dad is such a blessing.
I love your new book, Seek & Find. How did it come about? 
The idea for the book stemmed from a childhood love of treasure-hunt books. As someone with dyslexia these kinds of books engaged me in a way that other books just didn’t. I then rediscovered my passion for treasure-hunt books after having my own children. I loved the intimacy and the interaction they afforded as you settled down together to spend time in the pages.
This made me wonder if it would be possible to combine a treasure-hunt book with the awesomeness of the Bible. Cogs started to turn and the ideas started to flow. I wanted to captivate young learners with beautiful and engaging artwork while also getting them excited about the Bible and God’s great attributes.
Any top tips for Lockdown with children? (We’re desperate!)
Lockdown hasn’t been all bad. It’s forced us to think outside of the box and get creative. We’ve done things that we wouldn’t have done otherwise.
One night we had a Lockdown party, turning our loft room into a dance floor! The Christmas lights were pulled out and put on flash mode. The kids danced to tunes on the smart speaker at full volume (sorry neighbours) or lounged by the “bar” with a bottle of J2O!
On another evening our girls waited on me and my husband as we had a “date night”. They got dressed up to set the table, serve our meal and pour our drinks.
As a family we love camping. The weather has been great and in different circumstances we’d have definitely gone away for the night. So instead, the kids decided to sleep out in the garden in a tent on a couple of occasions! It was so sweet watching them pack their bags and make preparations.
We’ve had four birthdays over Lockdown so finding ways to make them memorable has been a fun challenge. Our eldest daughter turned 14 – she absolutely loves sushi so we turned our kitchen into a sushi bar for her! Maggie, our youngest daughter turned 10. She’s a keen baker, her life’s ambition being to own a restaurant called the Magpie Café – her Dad’s nickname for her is Magpie! We painted big posters of her logo and again transformed our kitchen, spending the whole day baking with her!
Our youngest son Jacob has a bossy streak and kind of rules the roost. On his birthday we made it official and made him King Jacob for the day – complete with crown and throne! We acted as his humble servants and his every wish was our command. (Within reason, although he was happy to test the limits!) We had a lot of fun and if anything it made the ‘Lockdown birthdays’ more special and definitely memorable!
Wow. That sounds amazingly creative (and slightly intimidating)! We’ve got three birthdays coming up in the next month so you’ve inspired me to try something special. Thank you so much for your book! I hope there’ll be a New Testament one coming soon. Readers, you can pick up a copy for your children and godchildren here. Enjoy!

Sing!

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Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;

    it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
Praise the Lord with the harp;
    make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to him a new song;
    play skilfully, and shout for joy.

For the word of the Lord is right and true;
    he is faithful in all he does.
The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
    the earth is full of his unfailing love. Psalm 33:1-5

When did you last belt out a song to the Lord?

In God’s word the people of God are commanded over and over again to sing praises to our God.  Why? Does he need it? Of course not. We need it.

But since your church stopped gathering, have you still been singing?

It’s easy for me to say. I grew up with a Dad who was forever singing. Singing was just the usual background noise. I only really realised this when I got to university and met Andy, who was to become a brother to me in those years. Someone said to me once, “Have you noticed that Andy’s always singing?” I said, “No, like when?” She said, “Well he’s singing right now.” No, I hadn’t noticed, because I was used to it.

Then I married Mike, who comes from a household of singers (i.e. people who sing) and who was to become a worship leader. So we are a family who will put on worship music and sing along any day of the week. On a Sunday morning in Lockdown we will stand in our living room together and sing our hearts out. The Oompa Loompas who live next door watch us through the window as though we’re mad.

Sing to God, sing in praise of his name,
    extol him who rides on the clouds[b];
    rejoice before him – his name is the Lord. Psalm 68:4

But even with all this habitual singing, I’ve also been commanding myself to sing.  Because even though we’ll sing for no good reason, actually as Christians we always have good reasons to sing. Every day we have a God who is worthy of praise. Every day our hearts are tempted to grow cold to this God. Every day the world, the flesh and Satan are trying to get us to worship something else.

So when you’re fed up, I mean really fed up of the same parks, the same bike rides, the same four walls, the same arguments about school work and the same uncertainty about when you will ever see your relatives again, sing. I will say it again, sing!

Sing the gospel. Sing of your God. Sing of all his mighty works. Sing of all he’s done for you. Sing to yourself. Sing to your children. Sing to your God. Sing with the angels in heaven. If Paul and Silas could sing in prison, then I can sing in Lockdown.

And it’s never been easier to get hold of worship music to sing along to. Remember when we had to buy CD’s? We can thank God for providing Youtube, Spotify and all those other ones young people use.

If you’re lacking strength for today, sing. If you’re lacking hope for tomorrow, sing. It’s so good for you. Even the world is now realising how good it is to sing. Schools who no longer sing hymns are having singing assemblies where they sing rousing secular hymns from Hollywood blockbusters. (I mentioned this here, too.) But praise the Lord! He’s put a better song in our mouths.

Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people;
    praise his holy name.
For his anger lasts only a moment,
    but his favour lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
    but rejoicing comes in the morning. Psalm 30:3-5

 

Stay-at-Home Toddlers

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When my eldest was 2, I remember going to the Health Visitor for her “two-year check.” My daughter was at home with me all of the time at that age, apart from a toddler group we went to once a week.  She was reading out the numbers on the height measure, and the Health Visitor said, “Oh, if she’s learnt her numbers already you should definitely get her started at Nursery.”

I found this a really strange thing to suggest. Where’s the logic? Since my daughter has learnt her numbers at home with me, what she really needs is to go to Nursery? Surely her number-knowledge was evidence that, lo and behold! Children can learn things at home, too.

When I had teenie-tinies at home I couldn’t afford to go to any of the groups that were going on all over my pocket of London. Gymboree, Baby Yoga, sensory classes – they’re all just words to me. I only slightly know what they mean. Never been. I also didn’t really want to leave the house. Looking back, I think I should have gone to more free groups because I would have made some friends. But I didn’t.

We know a family with seven wonderful children. If anyone can be called parenting experts, they can. I remember the dad laughing to me once about an advert he’d seen in a local cafe for a Baby Rhyme Time they were hosting. He said something like this, “There’s a middle-class angst that you must go to a class in order for your children to learn anything. Instead they could just sit at home and whack a saucepan with a wooden spoon.”

I’m not knocking groups. I think they can be life-savers for parents. But now that the groups are all cancelled, please don’t panic. Many of us (myself included) love a schedule. We love something we can measure, or tick off a ‘to do’ list. Tasks we can complete. Twelve hours a day with a toddler, some jigsaws and the housework is no such experience. However, please be assured that while the struggle is yours, it’s probably not theirs.

If they’re with parents who love them and talk to them and sing with them and laugh with them, they’ll be learning all sorts every day. Get them counting stuff in the house, drawing stuff, colouring stuff, baking stuff and pretending stuff. 

I know the lack of structure is overwhelming. Activities you hoped would take the morning take 10 minutes (plus 30 mins clean-up).  I know it’s hard. But don’t add to that the pressure that your children are missing out because you’re not going to Story-time at the Library. If you can read, they don’t need Story-time at the Library.

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Having said all of that, if you’re missing your toddler group I recommend Junior Jivers to you. I’ve never been (see above), but I have confidence that it’ll be a treat. You have to watch it live, but hopefully you can fit that into your schedule! It’s on the Faith in Kids Youtube channel, 10.30am (BST) on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

 

 

I’ll Huff and I’ll Puff

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Last term my son learnt the following story in RE at school, and had to perform it in an assembly:

24 “So then, everyone who hears my words and puts them into practice is like a wise man. He builds his house on the rock. 25 The rain comes down. The water rises. The winds blow and beat against that house. But it does not fall. It is built on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man. He builds his house on sand. 27 The rain comes down. The water rises. The winds blow and beat against that house. And it falls with a loud crash.”

My son’s line was something like, “So everyone who makes wise choices and does the right thing is a wise builder.” I love my children’s school – I almost couldn’t love it more. But do you see what they did there? They took Jesus’ very clear statement, “everyone who hears my words and puts them into practice” and changed it to the ambiguous and vague, “everyone who makes wise choices and does the right thing.” This is less offensive to a mixed audience.

When a storm comes – or a virus that empties the streets and fills up all the hospitals – we find out if we’ve been a wise of a foolish builder. I’m a bit like one of the three little pigs, and the wolf is here – but which pig am I? Did I use straw, sticks or bricks? Will my house fall down?

Going back to Jesus’ parable, I wonder if you feel that your foundations have been shaken. What are you building your life upon? Whose words are you putting into practice? Where does your security lie?

There all kinds of things we can put out trust in. Things we think will keep us safe and secure and happy:

I can trust in the security and freedom that money can offer.

I can trust in my relationships with family or friends to keep me safe and happy.

I can trust in my children’s education to give them everything they could hope for.

I can trust in scientific advances and modern medicine to give me a long and happy life.

I can trust in my good planning – my next holiday, my next house-move, my new kitchen, to give me hope and a future. These things can give me satisfaction as I daydream about them and count down the days.

But every once in a while, a storm comes. This might be the death of a loved one, or the loss of a job. It might be a rejection letter or an ash cloud or an image, a growing blemish on a scan. And these things can make us wonder whether we’ve been building our house on sand. When the unexpected storm comes, does my house come crashing down?

These storms, though terrifying, can be an incredible mercy from God if they show us that all this time we’ve been building on sand. Because there’s still time to rebuild.

We’re living in the kind of storm that comes along less than once in a generation. It’s affecting everyone. The rain is coming down and the water is rising. The wind is blowing and beating against our houses.

Our investments have crashed and we might lose our jobs or take pay cuts. I can’t see my friends and family in ‘real life’ for weeks, probably months. The schools have closed and the exams are cancelled. And even the best medicine can’t save everyone from this virus. These things we were depending upon have turned out to be not so certain after all.

I don’t know if you believe in God, and if so whether you feel angry with him about all of this. But while I know this is devastating for many of us, can I suggest to you that God might be trying to show you something? Perhaps it’s time to build your house on something – or someone – that can withstand any storm.

Jesus can take us through the worst storm imaginable, because he went through worse for you and for me, and came out safely on the other side. He can take us through death and bring us out of it with a new body, in paradise.

When we all come out of hiding, will we be changed? This Easter is surely a good time to hear Jesus out. Let’s find out what his words are and see if we think it’s time to put them into practice.

If you don’t have a church or your church isn’t streaming services, can I recommend my brother’s Easter Sunday service to you? He knows this is hard, he’s been through storms himself, and he’d love to tell you about the hope that Jesus offers this Easter. You can find it here at 11am on Sunday, or catch up afterwards if you’ve got plans then(!) If you click on the link now there’s a friendly little message from him waiting for you.

The rain is coming down and the water is rising. The wind is blowing and beating against our houses. But there is hope this Easter.