Dear Gail Porter

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Since watching the recent BBC documentary, Being Gail Porter, I’ve felt compelled to write a response.  Following the tragic death of Caroline Flack last weekend, I can’t help but see the similarities between these two women. Both were children’s TV presenters who went on to host hugely successful mainstream TV shows. Both suffered at the hands of the media and were left with severe mental health issues. Both were idolised and derided.  Thankfully, Gail is still with us, but it could so easily have not been so.

Here are some simple thoughts, in the form of an open letter.

Dear Gail,

I watched your fascinating and moving documentary. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. I was a teen of the nineties, so your Top of the Pops years were my Top of the Pops years, too. Watching the clips of your time on the show was like flicking through a photo album of my formative years.

I’m not a psychologist or a medic or a counsellor of any kind. I don’t claim to have a useful diagnosis for you and I won’t be recommending any self-help books that I think will give you the answers you need. But if you were my friend (and I do have friends who share various things in common with you), this is what I would love to say.

I firstly wanted to say how sorry I am. I’m sorry for all the ways you’ve been hurt and let down. The clip from Never Mind the Buzzcocks was hard to watch, and I’m sure it was just a taste of all you’ve experienced. I’m sorry that our society is such a dangerous place.

You seemed like you were searching for answers – what had happened to you? Where had it all gone wrong and why? I don’t know you – we’ve never met – but I can tell you what I believe to be true.

The Bible says that we’re made in God’s image – each and every one of us. That means we’re hugely valuable and very precious. We’re made for relationships, first and foremost with Him, our creator. We’re made for freedom, for joy, for good works and for love. We have a purpose; that purpose is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. God’s word says that there are good works which he planned in advance for us to do. So when we’re lonely or we feel unloved or lost, it’s often because something’s gone very wrong with the relationship between God and the people he’s made. Living my own way, I might feel free at first; I might have a right-rollicking good time. But like a fish out of water, I’m soon left floundering and gasping for oxygen.

The trouble is, God seeks our good – but people are not like that. People take advantage of us and treat us harshly.  In the hands of others, rather than God, we can be elevated and then crushed. We can be flattered and then mocked. We can be bolstered and then betrayed. We can be admired and then shamed. People hurt us. There’s no doubt that you have been catastrophically failed by those around you and by our culture at large. If we truly are made to be loved and to love, then it’s no wonder that you’ve suffered such mental health problems as a result of all that’s happened to you. If we’re just mammals; if sex is just fun; if my body is just flesh and bones, then why does it hurt so much?

“I just wish I was a better person.” You said this in the film when you were feeling very low after attending an event in Westminster.  I don’t know exactly that you meant at the time, or if you often feel like that, but I think it’s a feeling most people have. We’ve all done things we wish we hadn’t and said things we feel guilty about. I think most of us have felt truly ashamed at times. I know I have, and still do. I definitely wish I were a better person!

But I’ve found hope. Jesus humbles me and then lifts me up. He does the opposite of the tabloids (who are, of course, acting on behalf of the people who read them). He’s the antithesis of social media. Jesus tells me that I’m much worse than I think I am. Then he offers me real hope because I’m also more loved than I’ve ever deserved or even imagined. In Jesus I have a friend who’ll never betray me, who’ll never break his promises and who’ll always protect me. One of the ways that he loves me best is by reminding me that he is the King at the centre of the universe. This is so liberating.

Jesus covers my shame. In the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3), Adam and Eve brought shame upon themselves by disobeying God’s perfect rule. They immediately felt ashamed because they were naked, so they tried to hide. Ever since then, every human being has brought shame upon themselves by following in Adam and Eve’s footsteps. If we don’t feel shame, we really are in trouble because the truth is we do stand naked before God and he sees it all. But in the Garden, even as God was judging Adam and Eve, he clothed them.

He covered their nakedness. This was a sign that one day he would remove their shame by clothing them with perfection. Jesus came to live the beautiful life that none of us has been able to live. He came to be the “better person” that none of us can be. And if we trust in him, he clothes us with his “righteousness,” which is Bible-speak for a life perfectly lived. It’s a clean, pure, no-regrets and full-of-joy life. It’s our own Wikipedia page deleted and replaced with a perfect track record – the life we should have lived. This is what Jesus offers us.

I believe that God would take your pain and heal you; he would take your shame and clothe you, he would take your loneliness and love you; he would take your emptiness and fill you. All you have to do is turn to him, say sorry, and ask. 

One more thing. At the end of the documentary we saw you singing in a choir. I hope that’s been beneficial to your mental health, as you hoped it would be. I’m sure you know this, but it’s worth being reminded that every single week there is a free place you can go to where you can sing your heart out alongside a community of broken-but-healing friends. They sing from a Book which reminds them to sing because it’s so good for the soul – and because it pleases their Father in Heaven.

But let all who take refuge in you be glad;
    let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
    that those who love your name may rejoice in you.

 Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous;
    you surround them with your favour as with a shield.
Psalm 5:11-12

Instead of your shame
    you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
    you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
    and everlasting joy will be yours.
Isaiah 61.7

Naughty

Are you a stay-inside-the-lines person or a rebel? Do you like rules and order or would you prefer anarchy?

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My daughter and I recently went to see Matilda the Musical in London’t West End. It’s the sort of evening out that makes you wonder at what human beings are capable of with enough practise and a generous dose of creativity.

The Brooks family is now very much obsessed with the Matilda soundtrack. If you’re in West London any time soon, you’re likely to hear my children marching the streets singing “The School Song.” As soon as you finish reading this, you should definitely check out some of the Matilda tunes.

At the show’s climax, the children sing a song called “Revolting Children.” It’s not about disgusting children, but about children who are starting a revolt against the tyrannical authority figure, Miss Trunchbull. (“Revolting” is a verb, not an adjective, for fellow grammar geeks.)

Never again will we forget the day
we fought for the right to be a little bit naughty.

One of the tensions in the show is between the evil disciplinarian who sings about staying inside the lines and the anarchic children who want to be free. Of course, the children win in the end.

As Christian parents we spend a lot of time teaching our children obedience. They must respect authority – ultimately God’s authority.  We teach them grace and we also teach them to obey Jesus’ commandments, “Love the Lord your God… and love your neighbour as yourself.”

But as I drive through the streets of London singing “Revolting Children” at the top of my voice, I’m also reminded that as a people group, God’s people are often rebellious. They have to be. I want my children to grow up to serve Christ with such obedience and devotion that they are willing to “be a little bit naughty,” or even a lot naughty, for the gospel and for Christ’s glory.

Jesus didn’t lead a revolt (he even said, “Am I leading a revolt?”) but by bringing God’s Kingdom he brought division, subversion and controversy.

I want our children to see that following Christ is exciting, and will sometimes get them in all kinds of trouble. The trouble itself might not be exciting, but Jesus is worth it. Jesus should never be seen as the well-behaved, insipid option.

With this in mind, I present to you my Top Ten Revolting Role Models for my children. Excitingly, it was hard to pick just ten (ish). And apart from the no. 1 spot, they could be in any order, I’m sure.

10. Rahab of Jericho
She harboured spies; she deceived the king’s men; she’s honoured in the family line of Jesus. She’s a sign to us that God’s salvation has always been first for the Jew and then for the Gentile. (See Joshua 2 and Matthew 1.)

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from the Beginner’s Bible


9. Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, the Oxford Martyrs

English reformers. Burned at the stake during the reign of Queen Mary I:
“Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”
Where would we be without these brave men, and many like them, who went before us?

8. Brother Andrew
God’s smuggler. Driving round the Eastern Bloc with a modified VW Beetle full of contraband Bibles. Adventure stories don’t get much better than this!

7. Mary Slessor
My 10-year-old daughter suggested that this courageous Scottish woman be included in our list. When she arrived in Calabar, Nigeria in 1876 (aged 28) she discovered that the people there had certain practices which she felt compelled to rebel against:
“[The baby] has an evil spirit… That’s why its mother died and that’s why nobody else wants it.” Mary began rescuing babies who’d been left out under bushes to die of exposure and starvation. She also discovered another horrifying tradition:
“When twin babies are born one of them is the child of an evil spirit. But as we don’t know which one, they’re both killed.”
… There was no arguing with Mary Slessor.
“I’ll look after the twins,” she said… “The Lord God made them both.”
(Excerpt from Ten Girls who Changed the World by Irene Howat, p. 74-76.)

6. Simon Peter the Fisherman
There’s hope for all of us as Peter, the loud-mouthed, trigger-happy coward became the fearless founder of the early church!
18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, ‘Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’ Acts 4:18-20. If you haven’t got it already, I do recommend the Diary of a Disciple, Peter and Paul’s Story. Let your children see their forefathers getting into all kinds of scrapes for Jesus.

5. Saul of Tarsus
It seems from reading Acts that most places he went, Saul/Paul was accused of leading a revolt. Take Ephesus for example, where he inadvertently caused a riot because the blokes who made and sold little wooden and silver gods weren’t happy about Saul’s message about One True God. He didn’t ask for trouble, but it did seem to follow him wherever he went:
22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. (Acts 20)

4. Corrie Ten Boom
Corrie and her family were punished most severely for rebelling against the Nazis by hiding Jews in their home. The courage and faithfulness of Corrie and Betsie throughout their time in the hellish Nazi concentration camps is truly miraculous – a work of God’s unfathomable grace and power. Here is a more lighthearted anecdote:
Many Jews were saved because of the ten Boom family but there were some hairy moments. One day the whole family and several ‘guests’ were sitting round the kitchen table when a window cleaner climbed up his ladder and started to clean the outside of the window! One of the Jews thought quickly. ‘Start singing Happy Birthday,’ he whispered, ‘then they’ll think we’re having a party.’ And that’s what they did. They all sang Happy Birthday to Papa ten Boom and they never did find out if the window cleaner had just come to the wrong house or if he was a German spy! (Ten Girls who Changed the World, p. 141.)
Have you ever tried reading aloud to your children about Corrie Ten Boom? Man it’s hard to get through without tears. When my husband read a child-friendly account to my kids, we were both in bits.  If you haven’t read The Hiding Place, I command you to go and do so immediately. Do not pass Go or collect £200.

3. William Tyndale
The heroic Bible translator! Humanly speaking, if it weren’t for him, we English-speakers wouldn’t know Jesus. We give the Lord great thanks that, by the grace of God, Tyndale cared more about peasants (like me) hearing the Word than he did about obeying the rules of the Church or the State. Here are his famous words, spoken to a Catholic scholar:

“I defy the Pope and all his laws. . . . If God spare my life ere many years,
I will cause a boy that driveth the plow,
shall know more of the Scripture than thou dost.”

2. Daniel the Hebrew
Oh Lord, grant that our children might grow up to be people of whom it can be said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this [man/woman] unless it has something to do with the law of [his/her] God.” (Daniel 6.5). May they say to the world, like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did, “… we will not serve your gods.” (Daniel 3.18) Amen!

1. Jesus of Nazareth
Our perfect, peaceful, revolting rebel! He turned the world upside-down, teaching that the first would be last and the last would be first; he touched the leper; he spoke to the Samaritan woman and ate with tax collectors and sinners. His Kingdom is not of this world and if we’re part of His Kingdom then we’re not of this world anymore either.

“Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.”
Luke 12.51

 

Free Refreshments, Anyone?

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“…encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace.”

How do you feel about words? Do you remember things people have said to you?

I used to be able to remember the exact words people had said, and find it odd that others couldn’t. They’d be telling a story and I’d think, ‘that’s not how they said it! Why the paraphrasing?’ Now I feel increasingly frustrated that my memory isn’t what it used to be. I don’t know if it’s just natural as you get older, but I think there might be four other contributing factors living in my house, who have given me ten years of broken sleep.

But I do still remember things people have said to me, if not verbatim. I put both my husband and my brother on edge when I start a sentence with, “I remember you said once…” because it’s usually something they neither remember saying nor still agree with. On the plus side, at least they know I listen!

The other day I found a Thank You card someone had sent me in 2014 after a camp we were on together. As I read it I realised that I had remembered, 5 years on, an exact phrase from the card which had encouraged me, and treasured it in my heart. It wasn’t anything spectacular – in fact, if you’re interested, it was that she appreciated our “down-to-earthness” – but I’d hung on to it nevertheless.

This got me thinking that we underestimate how much adults need and appreciate encouragement. We know that children need to be affirmed. Teachers in school know to praise good behaviour much more than they rebuke the bad. If you’ve read any parenting books or online articles you’ll have been told to do the same with your own children. I wrote a blog post years ago about this which I still recommend!

It’s true that children love to be praised, especially for specific things. So not just “oh aren’t you clever!” which can sound a bit false, but “I’ve noticed that your handwriting is really improving, you’ve clearly been working hard on it. Well done!” And if we can affirm character traits in our children, then all the better. “You’ve been so kind at sharing your Christmas chocolate with people,” and even, “that reminds me of how God shares all the good things in our lives with us.” Children love this and it’s really effective, but when do we think we grow out of our thirst for encouragement?

I’m not convinced we ever do.

I mean, honestly, which of us would not be thrilled if tomorrow a friend gave us a sincere, specific word of affirmation and then shared how it reminded them in some way of what God is like? Or it showed them how God has been working in us?

I think this is a wonderful way to be a blessing to our church family and wider community. And it doesn’t cost a thing! Plus, the more you do it the more it will become a good habit. Here are some examples of ways you could bless people with your words:

  • If you have people in your church who have been serving in the same way for years, now is the time to thank them. They’re the least likely people to be thanked or encouraged for what they do. The longer someone serves, the more they’re taken for granted.
  • If you take one encouragement from the Sunday sermon, go up to your pastor and tell him it. Don’t assume he knows!
  • If you have a visiting preacher at your church, email him the following day to thank him for coming and give him a couple of things you found encouraging from his talk.
  • If there’s something you really like about your children’s teacher, why not tell them?
  • Try not to let people squirm out of your encouragements. Imagine you’re passing them a gift and they’re trying to give it back or drop it. Just keep handing it back to them. Look them in the eye and say, “I’m trying to encourage you, please don’t shrug it off.” Or something like that! “Shut up and listen to me” might also work.
  • You could send encouragements via text or – better still – a postcard popped in the post. This is a different way of doing it and may be a good place to start if you feel nervous about doing it face to face.

You might read this and think, “I’m not that kind of person.” The truth is that I’m not either. You don’t have to pretend to be someone else in order to encourage others. You need to do it in your own way, but the sad truth is that hardly anyone is “that kind of person.” As a result, people around us are starving for words of affirmation.

Also, I would argue that we do all know how to praise and encourage. We love to tell people how good a particular film or book is, or even the reasons why we love a certain person. But why don’t we say those things to the person directly? I know it’s not British. But godliness isn’t British, folks.

As with other gifts – hospitality, evangelism, giving – some people will be better at this than others. But that doesn’t leave the rest of us off. We should all be trying to encourage others. And you never know, you might find you’re better at it than you thought.

And you might even save someone’s life:

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today’, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14 We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. Hebrews 3:12-14.

Listen While You Work

 

I’m a bit of a technophobe. I never used to be. Once upon a time we were getting along just fine. But then (in about the late nineties) tech overtook me and as I watched it drive beyond the horizon I developed a certain distrust of all things digital. I know that’s a bit weird for a blogger to admit. But it’s true – sorry to disappoint!

It may be this scepticism which prevented me from listening to podcasts earlier. Up until a couple of years ago I didn’t really know I could listen to anything on my phone*. I’d heard other people talk about it, but I figured my phone probably didn’t do that, plus I love CD’s too much.

Now however, I’d hate to be without podcasts. I do love the radio, but I find that listening to my favourite podcasts is really good for my soul. I don’t say that flippantly – I really mean it. So if you’ve never listened to podcasts, or you’ve not tried these ones, I just want to start 2020 by really, really, really recommending my top 3 podcasts to you.**  Here’s why:

(In order of geographical distance from me…)

Faith in Kids
On this feed there are two podcast streams: Faith in Parents and Faith in Kids. The Faith in Parents ones are aimed at parents or anyone involved in or interested in teaching children and young people about Jesus. The hosts, Ed Drew and James Cary, are so down-to-earth, very encouraging, and also pretty silly (more on silliness later). Ed Drew is humble but don’t be fooled – he’s a guru. I can’t tell you how many people I know across the UK who ask him for help with the children’s stuff at their church.  And he’s so keen to help, and very funny, and refreshingly ridiculous. These guys really try to encourage you without – get this – making you feel like a rubbish failure. Amazing! And they do brilliant interviews which have helped me enormously. I’ll keep going back to some of them again and again. Seriously folks, please tune in if you haven’t tried it yet. Otherwise you will quite simply miss out.
Favourite episodes: #8 Talking about the Tough Stuff; #10 Talking through the Tears; #13a&b Lovewise; #15&15b with Sandy Galea.

The Faith in Kids episodes are family devotionals to listen to with your kids. My children love them. There are fun facts, a Bible passage, some questions for different age groups, and a very funny sketch written by James Cary who is actually a sitcom writer. Seriously, our kids don’t know they’re born! These are excellent – we really enjoy listening to them in the car – and there’s a book to go alongside the Easter episodes. (It turns out you can even listen to podcasts in the car. I know, I’m wringing my hands too.)

Cooper & Cary Have Words
One of the ways I got into podcasts was that my brother recommended this one to me. Thanks, bro! And it’s purely coincidence that the Cary on this podcast is the same James Cary as on the Faith in Kids one, although I think it might be because there aren’t really that many Christians and even fewer who know how to make a podcast.
The reason I love this one is that it’s two dry British men (one in Florida and one in Somerset, England) talking honestly and graciously about culture and faith. I’m very behind on culture (as you can tell from my digi-disdain), but I feel that (at least as a parent) I should try to keep up. These guys help with that because they talk with a Christian perspective about current popular stuff, like books, film, TV etc. I’m really grateful to them. And they don’t take themselves too seriously. Barry Cooper says he sounds like Eeyore, which is only a little bit true and is something Eeyore wouldn’t say about himself.+ They make me laugh, which is really an underrated quality.
They’ve introduced me to loads of books and films that I’ve really enjoyed – please do try it out!
Favourite recent episodes: #70 It’s only waffer thin; #67 Do you want to change?; #63 Unlikely converts; #59 I have cancelled the Dalai Lama.

The Brant and Sherri Oddcast
When Brant Hansen appeared as a guest on Cooper & Cary Have Words, I’d never heard of him and I spent the whole time thinking, “What’s his name? Brad? Brent?” Somehow I figured out that it’s Brant, found the “Oddcast,” and within minutes of listening to the first episode I had tears of laughter rolling down my cheeks. I’ve never looked back. They are my new friends (although they don’t know me at all), and I cannot recommend them highly enough.
The Oddcast is (incredibly) an almost-daily digest of a radio programme which Brant and his producer Sherri pre-record for broadcast across the United States. (If you’re reading this from USA, do find out if you can tune in to the radio show.) Brant does two simple things: he talks about Jesus and he makes silly jokes. This combination of Christian encouragement and harmless humour is what has been so, so good for me over the last year or two.  What better way could there be to occupy your mind while folding laundry than to lift your eyes to King Jesus while also have a good chuckle? As adults we really don’t laugh enough, and it’s such a good way to lift the spirits.
There are too many episodes to choose from, but you can find some very funny clips from the show on the Brant Hansen Facebook page.

I know parenting can be lonely, and sometimes you only get to speak to people about nappies and baby food or tantrums and homework. Resources like these are gifts to us because they can get us thinking about wider issues and reminding us of half-forgotten truths. They’ve also helped me to talk to my husband about something other than the school run or who threw what at dinner time. Thanks be to God!

 

*You can listen to these podcasts through your web browser.
**Please note, I’m getting nothing in return for these recommendations, and in fact I’m a little embarrassed that these people might read them.
+I’m almost certain I’ve heard him say that. If he hasn’t, and he reads this, I’m going to be pretty embarrassed.

Working Mum – Yikes!

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Happy New Year, beloved readers. As you think about the year ahead I don’t know if you feel that change is afoot, but for me 2019 was a year of change. Back in September I started a part-time job. Aside from some admin jobs I’ve done that worked around my children at home, this is the first time I’ve been in paid employment in nine years.

I’m working in a secondary school (high school), which of course is full of people. There are people aged 11 right up to nearly-retirement age. Hundred and hundreds of people. This is quite a contrast from my daily routine prior to working there. Looking after a three-year old, doing a lot of laundry, perhaps meeting up with a friend for a cuppa… this is in many ways quite a lonely season. I found it as such, anyway. I love spending time with my children, but the lack of structure and the lack of adult company was a challenge for me.

In contrast, a school must be one of the most structured places in society. Every minute of the day is accounted for. And if the timetable is accompanied by many rules which are strictly adhered to, then this adds to the feeling of – to me, anyway – a certain security. At work, I know where I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m not free to choose. I’ve been told where to be and when. This, after 9 years of wondering what the best use of my day would be, is a welcome relief.

You might think I’m mad. Some people hate structure. However, I notice that the routines and the rules do make most of the students feel safe. So I don’t think I’m too weird!  So anyway, here are some observations based on my transition from Stay-at-Home-Mum-of-Four to Working-Mum-of-Four:

  • The hardest thing about starting a new job has been that nobody knows me. It’s such a drag. Not that I don’t know them (although that’s something I’d like to remedy), but that they don’t know me. It’s a very lonely feeling. This got me thinking – how many people live in our neighbourhoods who don’t feel that anyone knows them? It’s a horrible feeling. And to be a Christian is to be truly known by the one who made you. (Psalm 139:1) What a wonderful truth. I’ve never really appreciated it properly before, and I’m so thankful to God that he knows me. I wonder who I could get to know better in the coming months – maybe in my church or on my street.
  • The years at home are short. If you’re working part-time or having given up paid work completely to be at home with your children, I know it can feel like a very long time. Looking at leaves, counting aeroplanes and playing the shopping list game again can really slow down time. But having come through that season (sort of), I can assure you that it is not long at all.  It means everything to our children – it’s all they’ve known so far – and they’ll benefit for the rest of their lives.  But to you, it’s one line on your CV that can be explained to a colleague in one short sentence. (Don’t expect them to ask you any details, either.) And just thinking pragmatically – there are, Lord willing, many years left to be ‘at work.’ This week a boy at work asked me how long I thought I’d work at his school. I said it could be for another thirty years – and by then he will be in his forties, perhaps sending his own children to secondary school. So what’s five or ten years in the grand scheme of things?
  • Anything new is very tiring. You’ve got new people to process, new systems to get your head around, and you might need to adjust many other things in your life to compensate. (E.g. you might have to spend your evenings, rather than your afternoons, making Ziggy Stardust costumes – or is that just me?) So cut yourself some slack. Try not to fill the diary. And get to bed early!

Repeat the Sounding Joy

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Happy Advent, friends! Are you feeling the pressure? Your social media feed is filling up with pictures of brightly decorated Christmas trees and children sitting on the lap of a stranger in a (fake) beard.  Maybe you’re behind. Maybe you’re hoping to avoid getting a tree. Maybe you’ve got the flu.

I’m reading through Luke’s gospel this Advent. I started early because I’m inadequate so I need extra days. We’re also reading through Luke in our women’s Bible study group, so I’ve got another chance at listening to what God is saying in case I wasn’t paying attention when I read it in the early hours of the morning! What a gracious God.

So I bring you two encouragements from Luke on this grey Sunday morning – one from my Advent devotional and one from my Bible study:

  1. Jesus is coming

Christopher Ash is helping me to look forward to the coming of Jesus. That is, the return of Jesus in his glory. This perfect Jesus, this humble King, this turn-things-upside-down revolutionary is coming back for us. That is good news! As my friend Jason Roach once said in a sermon I loved, “Jesus reigns – and that’s a good thing!” Now that sounds obvious, but as with many simple statements about Jesus, I need to be whacked over the head with it every single day of my life.

I don’t tend to keep up with the news (sorry), but as there is a UK general election coming up in December, even I am trying to keep track of what’s going on. It’s a stressful time and a time when the nation is divided. The thing that causes me the most stress is that I don’t know who I can trust. Politicians say words, but how do we know whose words to believe?

With this backdrop, what glorious news it is that we have a King who reigns eternal. He’s reigning now: he not only knows the outcome of the election but he’s also ruling over it. And one day he will come back and bring us into an eternal, perfect kingdom with the ultimately good leader who will never die. A happy nation! Now that is something to be joyful about:

As we reflect on the Jesus who came as a baby all those centuries ago, let us never forget that we are waiting, longing, yearning, praying for that great day when he will return… The more deeply we understand him in his first Advent, the more passionately we shall long for his return, when we shall see him face to face; and the more joyfully we will celebrate his arrival at the first Christmas. Christopher Ash, Repeat the Sounding Joy, p. 9.

2. Jesus came for losers like me

If Christmas makes you feel inadequate, I’m sure you’re not alone. There’s so much going on and expectations can be all too high. I think we can get it into our heads that Jesus really expects us to be on top of things, and that our children should really not be screaming outside the bedroom door while we write blog posts. They really shouldn’t have tantrums at the Christmas fair. And you definitely shouldn’t be panic-buying on Amazon on 23rd December. He is folding his arms and tutting at us. And even if he isn’t, someone else will be.

Last week some of the women in our church read together the astonishing passage in Luke 4 in which Jesus reads this bit of Isaiah and then says it’s about HIM!

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Now we’re not the sharpest bunch of women in London (ha!), but even we noticed that Jesus says quite clearly here that he came for the poor, the prisoners, the blind and the oppressed. So not the rich, the free, the I’m-fine-thank-you-very-much or the look-at-my-pristine-children/tree/tablecloth? No. He came for the needy.

I don’t mean we shouldn’t try to make Christmas a lovely time for our families. I also don’t mean we should resent someone else’s lovely tablecloth (!). But how liberating it is to know that Jesus came for the inadequate. This frees me up to be happy when someone else has done a much better job than I have this Advent. Because I don’t have to prove myself.

The challenge of course here is that I don’t usually think of myself as a poor prisoner or as blind or oppressed. But spiritually, that’s where I’d be without the Lord Jesus coming to save me. That’s why Christmas is worth being excited about.  All the other stuff is just the tinsel or the extra sheep in the nativity play (no offence). Jesus – and his good news to the poor – he’s the main event.

 

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Postscript: By the way, I do regularly feel burdened with a desire to try harder to get more people reading my blog. I’d love to do this because the people who do read it seem to find it encouraging, and I know that many mothers (and others) are in need of encouragement. However, I feel that I’m never going to be able to devote the time needed to “generate more traffic.” I also don’t want to become a commercial blog with dozens of affiliated links. I’m not knocking that at all, but that’s not what this is. It’s not what this will ever be. I just wanted to put that out there, so we’re all clear! Thank you SO much for reading. x

 

Redeeming Advent – Review and Giveaway!

This is exciting – I have a book to recommend and a free copy to give away to one lovely reader.  Brace yourselves, I know it’s still November but this is another festive book – this time by the lovely Lucy Rycroft who blogs at The Hope Filled Family.

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Over the years I’ve recommended several advent resources to you, since I love Christmas and I know it’s an ideal opportunity to get yourself (and your children) excited about Jesus. I mean, in Him all things were made!  And yet He became flesh and lived among us! A mere 2000 years ago!

But let’s be real – Christmas is a hectic time. It’s a time of chaos. It’s a time when you’re short on time. It’s a time when each of your children is in several shows that you can’t miss. It’s a time of wrapping paper and black treacle.

Friends, it’s a time of glitter.

With this in mind, Redeeming Advent is a book that I recommend particularly if you find December pretty overwhelming and you need some help to bring Christ into focus amidst the haze of gingerbread and cinnamon fumes.

Each chapter is a little bit like a blog post – imagine having a lovely new festive blog post to read every day of advent? What a treat. Lucy takes everyday examples from down-to-earth motherhood and helps us to lift our eyes to Christ, who is with us in each ordinary moment of the day.

Lucy’s style is very warm and welcoming. For example,  I’d say that Lucy and I are on about the same page regarding Santa, but she’s much more polite about it than I am. I think it’s because, although she lives in York, she’s not actually northern. And whilst I live in the South, I definitely am (please see evidence here). I have been known to call Santa (on this very blog) a big fat lie who drinks sherry.  Eek.

This would therefore be a book that I’d also happily give to a friend who wouldn’t call herself a Christian, as I think she’d enjoy it and be challenged to think a bit more carefully about this baby in the manger. In fact, if you’re reading this and you’re not sure about Jesus – please do try the book! You might even win a copy – see below.

At the end of each short chapter there’s a suggested prayer – which can be very helpful indeed when your brain isn’t in gear or you’re distracted. Let’s face it, sometimes you can’t remember your own name during advent, so a little help on the prayer front is very much appreciated.

This is a thoughtful, sincere and joy-filled companion to the Christmas season, and if you’d like to win a signed copy, please Like my Facebook page (if you haven’t already) and comment on this post on there.  If you don’t use Facebook you can comment below instead.  I have in the past asked people to comment with the title of their favourite Christmas song but people didn’t seem to want to do that… maybe this year will be different?  I wait in hope. The deadline for the giveaway is midnight on Wednesday 20th November.  If you don’t win (or even if you do), you can buy the book here.

The Gift

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Bear with me, I know it’s early November but we’ve got to get organised, peeps!

Christmas is the only time of year when it’s normal to send your friends and family cards with words about Jesus on them.  We might feel that these words – these miraculous, life-giving words – are falling on blind eyes, buried underneath Amazon parcels and Santa cards. However, I believe that God can use his words to draw people to himself, even amidst the din of Wizzard and (give me strength) Michael Buble.

If you’re looking for a little book to give to loved ones this Christmas to help them think more deeply about life, then I’d love to recommend to you Glen Scrivener’s The Gift. Glen is a fantastic communicator and this is a truly refreshing read. He writes in an accessible, down-to-earth way about Christmas and all the joys and reality-checks it brings, and he presents the good news about Jesus in an attractive way.

This is a book that is Christmassy but not cheesy. I love Christmas, and this helped me get excited about it. (We’re going to bonnie Scotland this year! Can’t wait.) You don’t want a Christmas book that briefly mentions Christmas and then swiftly goes into a six-point bible overview. You also don’t want schmaltz. Well I don’t, anyway. In this book, Glen uses the theme of gifts to describe what God has done for us in sending us the most precious gift imaginable.

I almost forgot to mention that at one point he even (wonder of wonders) quotes Billy Joel! One of my absolute favourites. That man raised me (along with, you know, my actual parents).

There’s a film too! At the end of the book you’re invited to go online and watch a short film called Let Me Go There. I haven’t seen it yet but I’m excited!

Just so you know I’m not just saying all this (not sure why I would!), I’ve now bought 6 copies to send to some lovely friends this Christmas. I’ll be praying that this year they’d choose to enjoy the ultimate Christmas gift.

Which way, Toto?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Mum(?)

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

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

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

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

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

Spoiler alert!

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

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

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

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