Lessons from the Jungle

I mentioned in my last post, Why Bother with Biographies?, that I’ve recently read Evidence Not Seen by Darlene Deibler Rose. I once heard Rachel Jankovic say that this is a book that “every human should read,” and I tend to agree, so please don’t read this post in lieu of reading the book. Instead, I hope (for your own sake) that this wee post inspires you to read the book – which, incidentally, is not too long either.

I don’t want to give away the best bits so I’ll try to be brief. I’ve got four encouragements from Darlene’s memoir:

Angels are Busy Doing Stuff

I feel like there are a lot of Christians (myself included) who are a bit shy about angels. We’ve got a children’s book which says, “Angels are everywhere. There might be some here with us right now.” A friend of mine read it once, glanced at me nervously and said, “Do we believe that?”

Perhaps we’re put off by all the dodgy Christmas cards depicting angels as babies with wings. Perhaps we’re put off by the false teachers we’re warned about in Colossians 2 who “delight in false humility and the worship of angels.” Maybe we’re just embarrassed. Whatever the reason, I for one have acted as though angels don’t exist anymore. And yet, they continue to do the Lord’s bidding:

For he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. (Psalm 91:11-12)

Praise the Lord, you his angels,
    you mighty ones who do his bidding,
    who obey his word.
21 Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts,
    you his servants who do his will. (Psalm 103:20-21)

When we pray for God’s help and protection, it might be that he’s sending angels to care for us. I find this an encouraging thought. The spiritual realm is real, and our team has already won.

Children’s Songs Matter

Things got bad for Darlene; then they got worse. When she was most afraid, the songs she’d learned as a child came back to her – songs she thought she’d long forgotten:

My face and hands were wet with cold perspiration; never had I known such terror. Suddenly I found I was singing a song that I had learned as a little girl… So tenderly my Lord wrapped his strong arms of quietness and calm about me. I knew they could lock me in, but they couldn’t lock my wonderful Lord out. Jesus was there in the cell with me.

p. 114

This should encourage us if we are parents of young children (or have any dealings with young children at church). The songs they’re learning now will stick with them. A friend who’s now a missionary once told me that it’s important that we sing sound doctrine with our children because the songs he learnt as a child are the songs he knows best.

Wishy-washy fun schmaltz isn’t going to help a person much if they’re in the firing line. On the other hand, the truths they sing now, even those songs that you’re a bit sick of hearing, might be a lifeline for them one day. (I wrote about this previously.)

Scripture is Worth Memorising

Similarly to the songs, Darlene was sustained by the Word of God that she’d memorised. When her Bible was taken away, she still had the Word written on her heart:

The Lord fed me with the Living Bread that had been stored against the day when fresh supply was cut off by the loss of my Bible. He brought daily comfort and encouragement – yes, and joy – to my heart through the knowledge of the Word.

p. 129

Like the tins of fruit I was grateful for when we couldn’t get to the supermarket last year, there may be times in our lives, or our children’s lives, when stored-up Scripture is the only Scripture available. I don’t want empty cupboards if and when that day comes.

And even now, if I’m struggling to sleep or I’m anxious about something, it’s the Scripture I’ve memorised that helps me the most. So it doesn’t need to be at times of extreme suffering that you need the Word hidden in your heart. (For more on this, I recommend “Deeper Still,” which I wrote about here.)

He’s With me When I Don’t Feel it

Many times in Darlene’s account she cries out to God and hears Him answer her through his Word. This is a huge encouragement and a reminder that in times of desperation, the Lord does not abandon us.

But it might lead us to wonder about the times when we’ve prayed and not really heard or felt the Lord answer us clearly. It might make me wonder if I would know the Lord’s presence in the same way if I were in a terrifying situation like that.

In answer to this niggling question, there is a truly glorious moment in the book. There is a time when Darlene does not feel the Lord’s presence with her. Her emotions are telling her that He isn’t there. And then she remembers that our faith isn’t being certain of what we can see or feel:

I was assured that my faith rested not on feelings, not on moments of ecstasy but on the Person of my matchless, changeless Saviour, in Whom is no shadow caused by turning… More than ever before, I knew that I could ever and always put my trust, my faith, in my glorious Lord.

p.141

At her lowest point, it wasn’t the feeling of the Lord’s presence that helped her but her trust in His promises. There are times when we are ecstatic with joy in the Lord, and this is a wonderful blessing. But if our relationship with God is based on those times, we will not endure. His unchanging Word will sustain us when our feelings ebb and flow. We trust in what He will do for us, because of who He is and what He has already done in the past:

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Hebrews 11, verse 1

Quotations are from Evidence Not Seen by Darlene Deibler Rose, Authentic Media reprint 2020. We got ours at 10ofthose.com

Why Bother with Biographies?

In the Summer of 2014, the so-called Islamic State raged through Syria and Iraq, terrorising and murdering thousands, especially those who refused to convert to Islam. I think I was on holiday in an idyllic Welsh holiday village when I first heard about it. In the months that followed, as the situation in the Middle East grew worse, I found it difficult to hear the stories and still trust my good, sovereign God. I wrote about this at the time if you’d like to read about it.

Around this time I asked a lady I know to have a coffee with me. I asked her how we could still trust God, when our brothers and sisters were suffering so badly. I asked her because she’s wise, and because she too has suffered at the hands of wicked men. While living as missionaries in Nigeria, she and her husband were brutally attacked in their home by an armed gang. If she could still trust that our God is good and faithful, then I wanted her to show me how. I remember her telling me (amongst many other things) that what happened to them was what she had feared would happen and had prayed would not happen. Sometimes God’s answer to our prayers is not, “I won’t let that happen” but is to say, “Even then, I will be with you.”

It was this friend who recommended I read The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. (She actually suggested another book, Killing Fields, Living Fields, but I said there was no way my nerves could take it.) She described The Hiding Place as “lovely.” If you want to read about how God is faithful even when the unthinkable happens, then The Hiding Place is a gentle introduction. It’s Entry Level. I have written about it here.

If you haven’t read Christian biographies before, I’d love to recommend it to you. I’m fairly late to the party and have mainly been introduced to missionaries and faithful men and women of the past through children’s books. Here are some reasons why I think it’s worth ‘bothering with missionaries’ (not just missionaries – Corrie Ten Boom for example was just a hider of Jewish people):

  1. We see that the Lord gives strength to his people, even when the worst things happen. This helps us not to fear, and helps us to have a bigger view of our very, very big God.
  2. If we live relatively comfortable lives, our children can see that Christianity is not a safe, sensible, squeaky-clean option. Following Jesus can be dangerous and we need to prepare our children for that. As Jesus said, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” For some children this will actually make them more interested in Jesus. For some it might just prepare them for what’s ahead.
  3. The stories are absolutely gripping and exciting. Kids (and adults) love adventure stories. What could be better than an adventure in which our God is the hero?
  4. They challenge us to live courageously for Christ. If Darlene (see below) can share the gospel with a brutal, violent POW camp commander, then shouldn’t I be brave and ask my kind, sweet colleague what they think of Jesus?
  5. Old books are often better than new books. No offence to present-day authors, but older books that people are still reading have stood the test of time. So if a Christian book is old and still in print, it’s probably worth reading. Just as the old songs that are still played on the radio are better than most of the current songs. It’s why Wizard and Slade are better than Kelly Clarkson. Time burns off the dross and leaves the pure gold for us to enjoy. I think I’ve mixed some metaphors there, sorry.

If you don’t know where to start with introducing missionaries to your homes, then here are some ideas:

Preschoolers: The Good Book Company have just released a series of missionary biographies for very young children. We’ve read the one about Corrie Ten Boom and one about Betsey Stockton. These are a fantastic way to introduce these stories in an age-appropriate way. I was curious as to how Corrie’s story could be told in a way that wouldn’t give a child nightmares, but they managed it. The Betsey Stockton one is also refreshing because she had been an enslaved person. I wouldn’t want my children thinking that only white people can be missionaries! It also shows how God’s grace can enable someone who’s been treated horribly to be full of grace for others. You can get these books, and others, here.

Ages 5-11ish: My son likes reading books with loads of examples of historical figures, such as Everyone a Child Should Know by Clare Heath-Whyte and the Church History ABCs by Stephen J Nichols and Ned Bustard. I personally don’t find these as appealing because I think I’d just forget them all, but children do have incredible memories and they enjoy the little snapshots of men and women of the faith who’ve persevered and often done great things for those who’ve come after them (e.g. us). I’ve written a bit about this before in a post called Naughty. (Every year as a family we look at Church History in the Autumn. I’ve written about this here.)

The Light Keepers series of books each tells ten stories about Christians of the past, aimed at children aged 7-11. We like the Ten Girls/Boys Who Changed the World books. (Warning: the Ten Girls/Boys Who Didn’t Give In were all martyrs. This was too traumatic for our daughter when we tried to read them to her a few years ago!) We find these books are great to read on holiday. There’s something about being away from home and trying something different that helps you to remember. I still remember sitting at the table in Cornwall, silently weeping as my husband read to the children about Corrie and Betsie Ten Boom and their fleas.

Teens/Adults: I don’t have any teenagers so I haven’t delved into any aimed at teens yet I’m afraid. I’m also a complete rookie at reading missionary biographies, despite going on about how good it is to read them. I have, however, just finished reading Evidence Not Seen by Darlene Deibler Rose. It’s absolutely gripping. I’ll follow up shortly with a blog post about this book. If you’re going to start it (the book, not my post!), beware that you will struggle with any interruptions. When you’re on the edge of your seat wondering when the Japanese soldiers are coming back, what’s happened to Russell or whether Darlene will get a banana, you will struggle to be patient with the unassuming child who comes in and asks for a plaster.

One thing I’ve really been hugely encouraged by in the days I’ve spent with Darlene and Corrie, is that our God really and truly does answer prayer. He is a God of miracles. He absolutely can do the impossible. I know this, because he even saved me. But I’m a forgetful creature. And sometimes I’ve prayed about something a lot, and it doesn’t seem like God is answering. If you can relate to this, I’d love to recommend to you that, if you haven’t already, you get a clearer view of our big, big God by reading about God’s faithfulness in extreme circumstances. The God who heard the prayers of Miss Ten Boom and Mrs Deibler is the same God who I pray to now.

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
    of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked advance against me
    to devour me,
it is my enemies and my foes
    who will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me,
    my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
    even then I will be confident. Psalm 27:1-3

What should I read next? I’d love to hear your recommendations!

(I do not get paid by anyone for recommending these books. I just wanted to tell you about them.)

A Life Less Ordinary

“Hospitality seeks to turn strangers into friends.” (p.59.)

The latest Covid jargon in the UK is the ‘roadmap to recovery.’ This means that after a year (on-and-off) of not being allowed to see our friends or family, especially not indoors, we are relearning how to talk to people and make them cups of tea. I had a friend over last week to sit in the garden and neither of us could remember how to string a sentence together. So let’s just say we might be rusty, but it’s also an optimistic time as we begin to make tentative plans.

Wherever you are in the world, as things begin to open up again I wonder if you feel excited, nervous or a bit reluctant. There’s a whole spectrum of people in this world and I don’t assume that everyone is purely delighted by the prospect of filling up the calendar again with social engagements, big or small.

But this past year God has given us a chance to reflect on what we miss and what we don’t miss; what we want to reintroduce and what we’re happy to ditch. Perhaps we’ve realised that our lives were full of after-school clubs or that we watched too much TV. Maybe we’ve realised we were filling up our time with too much socialising and not allowing enough time to pray, reflect and daydream.

I feel like this could be a turning point. It’s an unprecedented opportunity to reassess our priorities. One thing we really should do as we fill up our (real or mental) diaries again (it’s going to happen, friends) is to think about God’s priorities for us. And for that, we need to look at what his word tells us. One thing we are commanded to be, as God’s children, is hospitable.

If you’re thinking that hospitality is for some people and not others, I’m here to break it to you that we’re commanded to show hospitality repeatedly in the New Testament and God doesn’t give any exceptions (see below for a few examples*). But this is a good thing! Just think how hospitable God has been to us. And now we get to follow Christ’s example and find out what real life is in store for us when we do.

You might be wondering how Christ has shown hospitality. Didn’t he usually go to other people’s houses for dinner? He didn’t even have his own house! That’s where we need to learn what hospitality really is. I’ve just read a book all about it and I’d love to recommend it to you. It’s called “Extraordinary Hospitality (for ordinary people)” by Carolyn Lacey. In the book she outlines seven characteristics of hospitality: generosity, compassion, humility, persistence, awareness (of people’s needs), inclusivity and sacrifice. When you look at these, it’s clear to see that our Lord Jesus has shown us hospitality in spades.

There are all kinds of pressures on our time, so that if we want to prioritise the right things, we will have to make a conscious effort. If we just ‘go with the flow,’ we’ll find our days full before we’ve had chance to do any sort of discernment. The people who have blessed me most in my life with their hospitality are people who make conscious choices to do less structured things and allow more time for humble cups of tea and spontaneous dinner guests. It didn’t happen by default: they made it happen.

This is not a book (just) for people who can cook or who have their own home or a big table or who have the gift of hospitality. Although it would be a blessing to those people too. It’s not intimidating, judgemental or burdensome. It’s short, gentle and practical. And she includes some great stories.**

We’ve all (I hope) been on the receiving end of hospitality. The welcome as you walk into a gathering, the meal dropped off when you’ve just had a baby, the invite for a coffee and a chat. I remember visiting the homes of hospitable women decades later, long after they’ve forgotten I was ever there. Hospitality is powerful. I’d love to learn how to be more like Jesus in this way.

A wise friend of mine gave a talk for the women at at our church about hospitality and she described hospitality as ‘moving towards people.’ As social distancing eases, do you think you can move towards people, for Jesus’ sake? I hope so.

“As we sacrifice our time, energy, resources and comfort in order to welcome other, we can be confident that Jesus will reward us abundantly.” p. 121.

(P.S. At no point in this book does Carolyn Lacey tell you to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning. Just saying. But if that’s your thing, please carry on and God bless you!)

*Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (Romans 12:13); Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2);
Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. (1 Peter 4:9)

**I’m not paid for this (or any other blog post I ever write) but I was sent a review copy of this book. I only recommend books I really like.

Two Sisters

“…and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

This is a story about two sisters. One of them is me; the other is Ta.*

We were born twelve days apart in 1982 on opposite sides of the globe: she in Laos; I in Stockton-on-Tees. We each had an older brother, born in ’79.

Other than our genders, birthdays and our family head-counts, we had pretty much nothing in common. We would probably never meet.

My parents were English working-class, which for them meant they were hard-working and didn’t waste anything. Ta’s parents were also working-class, which meant they would buy and sell anything they could get their hands on. 

In 1988, aged 5, I moved from an industrial town to a village, 13 miles away. In 1989, Ta’s family fled the civil war in Laos and arrived at a refugee camp in Thailand. I don’t know what that was like. How could I? My greatest concern in 1989 was what colour my new bike would be. 

Later that year, when I was going into Top Infants, Ta and her brother and mum moved to England. While Ta was getting used to the cold weather and the sea of white faces with big noses, I was rollerskating round my village without a care in the world. 

This is hard to write, but tragedy struck Ta’s family when her dear brother lost his life to Leukaemia. This is a weight of grief and loss that I am yet to experience. 

But God was with Ta. 

This is where our roles, in some ways, flip. Ta was able to attend a highly prestigious public school** in Oxfordshire. Here she worked extremely hard, became an excellent violinist and got a place at a top university to study medicine. 

Meanwhile, I was at my local comp, an average violinist, but also working hard and getting a place at a coveted university – to study English. 

Aged 18, I heard about Jesus from my brother.  I’d heard of Jesus before, naturally, but I didn’t know the gospel. During ‘upper sixth’ (Year 13), the Lord, against all odds, saved me. Full of mercy, he opened my eyes to the truth that I desperately needed a saviour, the Lord Jesus. 

The following year, Ta started university and made friends with some Christians. She also became a very strong rower. Over the course of that year, she too was saved by God’s amazing grace. 

Now, although we’d never met, we had become members of one body. We had become sisters in Christ. 

It was at our different universities, where I felt very northern and Ta felt very foreign, that we met the Civil Engineers, born in the same hospital in Kent, who were soon to become our husbands.  Both men were brought up in sheltered Christian homes, both musically talented, both the kind of men who throw children up in the air just-that-little-bit-too-high but who always catch them. These men had never met each other, but they could easily become friends. 

In 2008 when Ta and I met, she was engaged to be married and I’d been married for two years. One of us was a white, northern teacher who was educated in politics by Randy Newman and history by Billy Joel. The other was a middle-class girl who sounds English but looks East Asian and who’s never heard of Genesis (the band, not the book). She was sporty, musical and was about to gain a PhD. We met at a new church plant on a council estate, where neither of us was in our comfort zones but both of us just wanted to help out. 

This is where Jesus began to grow us together as dear, dear friends. Slowly but surely, we came to form a friendship which goes beyond birthplace, background or education. Together we grew up, becoming more like Jesus amidst the mess of this fallen world and our own repentance and faith. We’ve shared disappointments, successes and major life events.

In 2012, on the day my brother telephoned to tell me that his brain scan had shown a benign brain tumour, it was Ta that I went to visit. She listened to me, shocked and anxious and incoherent as I was. Ta has shown me, through this and other crises, that sometimes it’s OK not to know what to say. Sometimes it’s not appropriate to try to cheer a person up. She’s taught me how to share in sorrows, as well as joys. 

We’ve seen friends come and go, as is the nature of city life.
We’ve seen friends walk away from the faith and others be saved. 
We’ve prayed for friends together when neither of us new what to say or do. 

Together we’ve been raising seven children to love and follow the Lord Jesus. We’ve struggled through sleepless nights, toddler bibles and discipline. We’ve sat together at baptisms, Colin Buchanan concerts and parenting seminars. We’ve been on holiday together, we’ve been to my parents’ together and lately we’ve just about survived Zoom church together. 

Ta has taught me how to listen. She’s tried to teach me how to make sourdough. She’s taught me how to welcome people. She’s taught me how to persevere. She’s been gracious. She’s made me laugh.

And today, as I write this, Ta and her family are moving house. They’re moving to look after her parents, since her culture and her faith have taught her to respect and care for them. Next week her family will say goodbye to our church family. 

For over 12 years, we’ve been family. This is longer than I spent in compulsory education. And I could argue that I’ve grown up more in the past 12 years than I did with my beloved school friends. 

As we say goodbye, I hope that we’ll always be friends, just as we’ll always be sisters. But I’ll miss seeing her week-in, week-out and being able to pop round for kids’ tea. And our husbands, who did indeed become close friends, will miss each other, too.

Because of Christ and his powerful Spirit, it’s very hard for me to say goodbye to this girl from Laos. It would have seemed impossible to 5 year-old-me, or even 15-year-old me, that a Public School girl from Oxfordshire could mean so much to me. But Jesus does the impossible. 

And I will try to trust that Christ, the best of friends, who has brought me safe thus far, still has good things in store for me. 

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
1 Peter 2:9-10.

*Ta is pronounced “Da” and rhymes with car. I’ve seen Ta have to explain this over and over again at parties, poor woman.

**In England, a public school is an old, very prestigious fee-paying school. A ‘comp’ is a comprehensive state school. ‘Comprehensive’ means non-selective – i.e. anyone is welcome!

Can You Dig It?

Spoiler alert! This post contains many spoilers about the film, The Dig.

I read the book, The Dig, several years ago when my husband’s librarian-aunt lent it to me. She said it was a ‘gentle’ story and I remember thinking, ‘you’re not kidding’ as I found it, well, quite dull. I say this as a woman who loves a book where nothing happens. If you lend me a book you think I’ll like, you should probably make sure that not a lot happens.

So as we sat down to watch the new Netflix film, The Dig, I was intrigued as to why it’s been so popular. A fantastic cast, yes, but I distinctly remember the lack of things happening. Unless of course you count the astonishing and groundbreaking archaeological discovery. But does your average Netflix viewer really care about that? I wondered. 

I warned my husband that nothing really happens other than them discovering a big ancient ship under the ground. He said I’d ruined it for him. I said that in the first line they’d already mentioned ‘Sutton Hoo’ and that this was a famous archaeological site. He said I only knew that because I’d read the book and could I name any other famous archaeological sites? He’d got me there.

This is a story about a gentle woman, Edith Pretty, and a (mostly) gentle team of excavators and archaeologists who discover Anglo Saxon treasure. This treasure could have made the owner of the site, Mrs Pretty, very rich. But she gave the treasure, as a gift, to the British Museum, so that people from all over Britain, and the world, could see it. She gave her treasure for the common good. (She was offered a CBE for this by Winston Churchill but declined.)

And this is all set in 1939, when people are getting ready to give their lives for the common good. Men are volunteering to fight for King and Country. This was an era in which people did their duty, and they saw the beauty in that. The wives were waving their husbands off and would in the coming years do their duty for their country in many ways. Some would leave the dutiful work in their homes to go into the fields and work the land so that the nation wouldn’t starve. For some this involved catching rats. I don’t know about you but I’d rather be at home, cleaning and listening to the wireless. But they did it for the common good. (Some of the women would also go to France and blow up bridges but I don’t think we’re supposed to talk about that, really.)

This film, with its fabulous cast and eerily stunning landscapes, was not made in the 1930s. Or 1940s. It was made in this era, and as such it reflects the values that our 21st Century society holds dear. It crowbars them in. It spoon-feeds the viewer that truly, what we should all be doing, is following our hearts. Forget duty, forget marriage vows, forget the common good. You only live once.

Carey Mulligan is fabulous. I saw her in a soft play once (boy, was that an exciting day) and she seemed like a really lovely person. (I don’t mean a play that was ‘soft’ but rather a soft play area, for children.) Her character, the one who gave her priceless treasure away, is the one who utters the line to Peggy Piggott: ‘Life is very fleeting. It has moments you should seize.” I suppose this seems innocuous, but in the context it isn’t. 

Lily James is very talented. I loved her in ‘Their Darkest Hour.’ In the book, her character, Peggy Piggott, and her husband Stuart join the dig and Peggy is the first to discover gold in the ship. In real life, the couple divorced in 1956. In the film, presumably to spice things up for the modern audience, Stuart is clearly very attracted to a male member of the team and Peggy fancies a handsome RAF pilot. When she confronts her husband about his homosexuality, she refers to it as ‘beautiful.’ Even today, I’m not sure that a woman who finds her husband committing adultery would consider this beautiful. I’m no historian but I’m almost certain that she wouldn’t have said this in the 1930s.

In the 1930s, most people didn’t tell each other to be true to themselves and to follow their hearts. They made sacrifices, they kept calm and carried on and they did their duty. They gave away their treasure for the common good. Perhaps the makers of the film thought that we just wouldn’t get that. Maybe they thought we wouldn’t cope with all of that self-sacrifice. Or perhaps they thought we’d just find it a bit boring.

So why should I care about all this? Does it matter that they ruined a perfectly good, albeit gentle, historical novel? At least we got to see Ralph Fiennes and Ken Stott on our screens again.

In some ways it’s not something to get upset about. But it was a reminder to me that stories are powerful. Through stories, we’re taught what to think, feel and believe. And in the same way, our children are indoctrinated. So we need to be aware of this. 

The Lord says, ‘value others above yourselves.’ (Philippians 2) We live to bless and serve others. Jesus calls us to lay down our lives (Mark 8) and in doing so we receive life. And he definitely, absolutely wants us keep our marriage vows (Mark 10). We know from God’s word that the heart is deceitful above all things. Following our hearts is a road to destruction. 

And another thing. The world’s doctrine is inconsistent. (I know, I’m really on a rant now. I probably won’t even publish this post.) This culture which has told us to listen to our hearts and be true to ourselves has, for the past year, told us to sacrifice our own desires for the common good. We’ve been told to delay gratification and to set aside our own pleasure for the sake of others – especially for the sake of the vulnerable. “Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives.”  At the very least, the world is confused.

Every time I hear a song on the radio that reminds me of my family, I want to go and see them. It could be ‘Can you dig it?’ by The Mock Turtles. Yesterday it was Peter Gabriel, ‘Sledgehammer.’ But I don’t. Not just because I would probably be fined, but because I’m doing my duty. Duty is scorned by our culture, but perhaps in the past year some people, by God’s grace, have seen the beauty of it.

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. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12.1-2

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.