Christmas Ideas 2022

Pumpkin and chocolate chip bundt cake, recipe from sallysbakingaddiction

Here I am again with some ideas for Christmas presents! These seem to be quite popular posts so if you’d like to read last year’s, it’s here. Or you can click on the category ‘Tips’ and should find them there. As usual, there are no affiliated links here.

Last year I got my children:

  • Something to wear (Harry Potter PJs)
  • Something to read (a book…)
  • Something to play (a pack of cards from Theory11. They make really intricate and fun playing cards with different themes. I got Star Wars ones for various family members last year. I’ve just realised they’ve since made a Harry Potter set… so tempted!)
  • Something they need (eg. ballet shoes/ dressing gown etc.)

I know it’s usually ‘Something they want’ but I changed it for ‘Something to play,’ partly because I discourage them ‘wanting’ things in favour of contentment, and partly because I’d bought the Theory11 cards!

Books:

For an adult I recommend the Tim Chester book ‘Into His Presence: Praying with the Puritans.’ It’s a really pretty hardback book containing Puritan prayers, edited for a modern audience and put into helpful categories. It would be perfect for anyone wanting a bit of help with their prayer time (who doesn’t?).

Great joy

For children, I’ve told you before about Seek & Find in my interview with the author, Sarah Parker, and this year they’ve made a Christmas version (Seek and Find, The First Christmas). It’s fabulous! Beautiful pictures – fantastic use of colour and imagination. Anyone who portrays Gabriel as a black man in gold armour gets a big thumbs up from us! I recommend it for under 7s. You can read my review and find out more about it here.

This year I read my favourite Christian book of the past few years at least: Nick Tucker’s 12 Things God Can’t Do. You can read my review of it here. I’ve already bought it for my sister-in-law’s birthday and would gladly buy it again for a teen or adult whom I love.

Something different: If you’re looking for a good story for someone aged 10+, I highly recommend Judith Kerr’s autobiographical books, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and Bombs on Aunt Dainty which I read this year. Granted, they’re about 50 years old so not exactly hot off the press. They’re both told in a gentle style* and would be a sensitive way to teach young people about the Holocaust. In Bombs on Aunt Dainty, Anna is living through the Blitz and it’s the most detailed account I’ve ever read of that. It felt very topical to read this year since she writes from a refugee’s perspective, and we were welcoming Ukranian refugees into the UK. I’m looking forward to reading the third in the trilogy, A Small Person Far Away, but can’t recommend that as I’m yet to start it. (*Although there is one short but very sad description of a professor being treated appallingly in a concentration camp.)

Other Gifts

If you’re looking for a gift to help with hospitality, I recommend Dobble. I’ve probably recommended it before but it’s surely worth reiterating. Dobble takes about 20 seconds to explain to a guest, and they can get playing straight away. I love hearing shouts of, ‘Elephant!’ ‘Crocodile… argh!’ while I make last minute dinner preparations and my children entertain the visitors.. Kids love it and there are several versions. We’ve got three. Dobble Kids is the one I’d start with.

So Bomb bath bomb making kits – These are surprisingly good! Somebody kindly bought my 6 year old daughter a set and they’ve provided much fun and excitement. The best thing about them for me is that they soon disappear once they have a bath with them! I don’t need more stuff in my flat.

Discover the World Game. This is a fantastic board game. It’s simple enough that it’s easy to understand what to do, and it teaches children where places are in the world. Thank you to my mother-in-law who gave it to my children last Christmas. My 6 year old loves it the most but it’s probably great for 5-13 year olds I’d say.

Thrifty Ideas

If money is tight this year, remember you can give homemade gifts that people will love. Sometimes the smallest and most thoughtful gifts can be the most precious. Also, remember you don’t have to buy brand new things for people. Second hand is called vintage or preloved nowadays and is totally acceptable!

Last year we made baking jars for some families we know. Once we’d worked out what to put in them it was quick and easy to make them and they looked lovely. They also provide a welcome activity for little ones in the days after Christmas when it’s raining and they’ve already watched too much TV. Then they get eaten, so again you’re not cluttering up somebody’s house! It’s win-win if you ask me. You can find examples of these on Pinterest. Amazingly I don’t seem to have taken any pictures of ours last year. What was I thinking?

Too early for this photo?

Mrs Beaver, Mrs Weasley & Mrs H.

her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds. 1 Timothy 5:10

“Be warned, they’ve changed it a bit.” That’s what a friend said to me before I took my family to see the National Theatre’s production of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe in the West End back in August. This made me a little nervous. Had they removed Aslan? Did he not bother dying for Edmund? Would The White Witch Jadis turn out to be just misunderstood?

I was pleasantly surprised. It was really good! There was a strange line at the end about Lucy which muddied the otherwise-quite-clear message, but that’s not what I’m here to write to you about today. True to form, I’ve got thoughts about Mrs Beaver.

To me, there are very few more cosy and festive things to do than to read aloud together The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. And one of my favourite parts is when the children, cold, tired, hungry and afraid, arrive at the Beavers’ dam. (I love beavers anyway, they’re amazing! But that’s not the point.) They’re so welcoming and hospitable, feeding them a good hot meal, serving them tea and telling them about Aslan. It’s warming in all the ways.

Just as the frying pan was nicely hissing Peter and Mr. Beaver came in with the fish which Mr. Beaver had already opened with his knife and cleaned out in the open air. You can think how good the new-caught fish smelled while they were frying and how the hungry children longed for them to be done and how very much hungrier still they had become before Mrs. Beaver said, “Now we’re nearly ready.”

CS Lewis, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Chapter VII, A Day with the Beavers

This simple, satisfying meal offered by disciples of Aslan is the antithesis of the Witch’s Turkish Delight which left Edmund feeling sick and wanting more. The meal with the Beavers is a picture of living in the Kingdom of God. It’s not nothing! (Even Spark Notes agrees with me, if you think I’ve gone mad.)

In the book, Mr Beaver and Peter go out and hunt the fish while Mrs Beaver and the girls prepare the meal and lay the table. In the National Theatre production, Mrs Beaver is out in the woods as a secret agent, utterly capable, while Mr Beaver is back in the dam, cooking the meal: a vegan hotpot. He’s also repeatedly foolish and incompetent and the butt of several jokes.

Why do this? Is it just a joke? I feel like the vegan hotpot touch probably is. But is our culture now afraid of presenting a female character as hospitable? Is it an insult to women to have them ‘just’ cooking a meal and ‘relegated’ to the role of hospitality? And what does it say about men? The strong, brave Mr Beaver was emasculated. These things seem subtle, harmless and even amusing. But they’re a rejection of what God has made. Husbands are usually physically stronger and thus able to go out and provide for their family. Wives are usually able to be mothers: to nurture, to make a house a home and to provide a safe place for weary wanderers. A culture which rejects God rejects this. CS Lewis did not, and neither should we.

Of course, women can work outside of the home and men can cook. Plus, being a vegan is not wrong! But in a culture that’s deconstructed both femininity and masculinity and doesn’t know how to rebuild them, I think we really need to embrace what God has said about the roles of men and women and not to be ashamed.

These were surprisingly easy to make!

We all want to be welcomed into the dam. We all love it when Harry Potter gets to stay with the Weasleys, with Mrs Weasley laying out their clean robes on their beds and whizzing up lashings of mashed potato for dinner. So I ask you, do any of us want to be the Mrs Weasleys of the world?

I don’t know if you’ve seen the latest adaptation of James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small. (For non UK readers, these are semi-autobiographical stories of life as a rural vet in Yorkshire.) The house they all live in is off-the-charts beautiful. There’s always a hot meal, a newly mopped floor and a warming fire. Who doesn’t love it when Mrs Hall, the housekeeper, provides yet another warming fry-up for the vets after a long night out on the hills? We all want the good roast dinner, the nice cup of tea and the clean clothes, neatly folded. Don’t we see the value of it?

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

But are we willing to be the Mrs Beaver, the Molly, the Mrs H? I hope so. Don’t despise it. There’s such power in it. The world calls it needless drudgery, good for nothing. But it’s a lie. Hospitality is mighty, and Satan knows it. Why else would he attack it? So I say to you, Go Forth and Welcome. Who knows how God will use it for his glory?

And when they had finished the fish Mrs. Beaver brought unexpectedly out of the oven a great and gloriously sticky marmalade roll, steaming hot, and at the same time moved the kettle on to the fire, so that when they had finished the marmalade roll the tea was made and ready to be poured out. And when each person had got his (or her) cup of tea, each person shoved back his (or her) stool so as to be able to lean against the wall and gave a long sigh of contentment.

ibid.

7 Things I love about John

“I am the good shepherd” – Chapter 10

I love John’s gospel. I’m not sure we’re allowed favourites but if we are, then this is mine. Here are 7 reasons why:

1. The beginning. I mean. Is there any point in even writing about it? Just read it!

2. The ending. This little book is simply a masterpiece from start to finish. What other gospel ends so beautifully? After blowing your mind with Christ’s power and love and mission and grace, he tells you that he’s only just scratched the surface. 

3. The 7 signs. I love the fact that each of the seven miracles points to something really important about Jesus’ identity and why He came to earth. My favourite is probably the “one o’clock miracle” in Chapter 4 because of this book. It chokes me up every time! The father who travelled so far just to find Jesus and ask for his help, and the Saviour who can heal in a moment, simply by speaking. Although what am I talking about? Surely my actual favourite is Lazarus. Which brings me onto…

4. The 7 “I ams”. My favourite “I am” is the resurrection and the life, which I’ve written about here

5. The irony. The way John writes is often full of irony. Call me an English graduate, but I just love it. The soldiers falling to the ground when trying to arrest Jesus; Caiphas (the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people); Pilate’s sign (King of the Jews). Also, is it just me? Or is the Jews objection to Pilate, “We have no right to execute anyone” ironic, too? (Chapter 18v31) Jolly well right, you bunch of murderous phylactery-flaunters. And all the while they were avoiding ceremonial uncleanness so they could enjoy the Passover! The PASSOVER! They really do take the biscuit. (Although who am I to judge? I’m a Gentile.)

6. The Life. The word ‘life’ appears 41 times in John’s gospel. I think I’m right in saying that nearly every time John uses the Greek word ‘Zoe’ that means ‘eternal life with God.’ This is the life I want!
“In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” (1v4)
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (10v10) Hallelujah!

7. The asides. I’ve left my favourite one till the end. Throughout his book, John gives us little narrative comments to help us to understand what’s happening. It’s so helpful! For example, in chapter 7 when Jesus promises living water, John writes, “By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.” John can’t seem to help but turn to the reader and check that they get it, like when Jesus declares that he will raise the temple in three days: “But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.” Even the way he ends the book is kind of an aside. And in Chapter 20 he tells us why he wrote the book! John does not want us to miss it.

So thank you and bravo, John. But as this is the inspired Word of God, really I mean, Praise God!

What’s that, you ask? My favourite verse from John? Well, that’s tricky. Chapter 1 is world-changing. Chapter 11 gives us hope in the face of death. But for now at least, it’s probably John 16:33. 

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Footnote: While I was writing this, I realised that some of the things I thought I loved about John are actually in other Gospels! Which is such a reminder of how slow I am to learn, and how all of God’s Word is precious treasure.

Resources for Starting Secondary School…

(… or homeschooling tweens!)

He looks ready…

Last week I posted a tip for helping your child settle into secondary school. After all, I think we need all the help we can get. Here I’d like to recommend some resources which I think are a great help, too. These will also be helpful if your child is educated at home.

First a little Health and Safety Warning: Once your children start secondary school their routine at home will change. You might need to find a different time to read the Bible with them. They need God’s living and active word more than anything.

Books

Chris Morphew books: These are written in a very readable, quite light-hearted way by an Australian author who writes books for youth and children. We’d previously really enjoyed his book on Mark’s gospel, The Best News Ever, and we’re enjoying this new series.

The books tackle questions that young people might be asking, especially as they navigate secondary school and adolescence. My daughter and I are reading through ‘Who am I and why do I matter?’ This is surely a question that is more pertinent now for adolescents than ever before. If our kids know the fundamental truths about who they are and how valuable they are, then they just might save themselves a lot of trouble.

The ‘Is Christianity really true?’ is a question my children have grappled with already as they attend/attended a richly diverse community school, surrounded by people of other faiths. My son gobbled this book down in about half an hour and really enjoyed it. Rest assured it would take most people longer than that, especially if you’re reading it out loud! But it is nice and easy to read, which is a real win for tweens (and busy parents).

I think with books like these, it’s good to get ahead of the curve with your kids if you can. By this I mean that it’s good to read a book about identity issues before they even realise they might be faced with that problem. So when you’re reading the books, don’t be discouraged if they don’t say, “This is answering all of my current questions, praise the Lord!” Prevention is better than a cure.

Podcast

I’ve mentioned the Faith in Kids podcast before, but it’s worth mentioning again as there are some excellent episodes about adolescence. Episode 88, Hope-Filled Teens, very much encouraged me the other day. Going back further, there’s Episode 67: Parenting 11-14s, and Episode 14 (or 13b), Lovewise Part 2 which is specifically about guiding children through puberty. Really helpful! Also, I urge you to listen to Episode 80, Navigating Gender and Sexuality with Ed Shaw. This is very reassuring and also a bit of a wake-up call. As you may know, I do think Ed Shaw’s book should be on life’s compulsory reading list, anyway! So do have a listen to these podcasts. They’ll make you laugh and maybe cry but they’re so down-to-earth and practical. They surprise me every time with how helpful and joyous they are.

If you haven’t talked to your child yet about puberty, I recommend the books ‘Growing up God’s way for Boys/Girls.’ We’ve used them to have frank conversations about how our bodies change and why it’s a good thing (really!).

How about you? Any suggestions? I’m a novice!

Video

If you’ve got Netflix, I highly recommend watching The Social Dilemma with your child. It’s a sobering and honest documentary about how social media is designed and why it works so well. They interview many, many people who’ve been instrumental in designing social media (for example, the man who co-invented the Facebook ‘Like’ button) and who’ve now left for ethical reasons. You don’t feel lectured and they’re not scare-mongering. But it’s certainly good to know how we’re being manipulated! I’d even suggest getting Netflix for a month just to watch it – we might do that with our son.

Finally, and perhaps controversially, I wanted to share a video with you about the adolescent brain. This is by Dr Dan Siegel who’s a clinical professor of psychiatry. There are some really helpful things to learn from educational psychologists and from psychiatrists about the adolescent brain. But we need to look at them through gospel lenses. We believe in sin and grace and a good Creator who is working in us by his Spirit. However, it is really cool to learn how the brain changes in adolescence. I think it gives us hope that adolescence is an exciting time for our children!

Please comment below with any other tips! I’m sure people would really appreciate it. (And by people I mean me, first and foremost.)

Christmas Gifts 2021

Happy November, friends. May your hot chocolate abound. May your conker trees give generously. May you locate your children’s gloves in matching (or nearly matching) pairs.

Last year my Christmas gift ideas seemed to be quite helpful to readers, so I’ve compiled a short list of things we’ve enjoyed in 2021. In truth, it’s quite book-heavy. We do enjoy other things, such as rollerblades, cricket sets, balls of various kinds, jigsaws and felt tip pens – but I assume you already know about those.

As you know I don’t get paid for mentioning these things, I’m just recommending them to you, as a friend. If you’ve got any good ideas of your own, please share in the comments below.

Toys and Games

Balloon Ball from Grizzli Bear

My son received a balloon ball from Grizzli Bear earlier in the year and we love it. It’s a simple idea – a fabric cover which turns a balloon into a bouncy ball. They’re handmade by the lovely Jenny and they come in a variety of pretty patterns. A great option if you’re looking for something that’s a little bit different and not from a big manufacturer. She has lots of other lovely handmade gifts on her website so do take a look.

Dragonwood – I’ve recommended Gamewright games to you before (see last year’s post). This is the next level up from a simple card game, bringing in dice and dragons. It’s easy to pick up and my children (approx 7-11yrs) really enjoy it. I mentioned last year their cooperative games so do check that post if you’re intrigued.

Dutch Blitz in February 2020. Little did we know…

Dutch Blitz – If you can get hold of this in the UK, you’re onto a winner. We paid about £20 I think, which seems a lot for a card game but it’s been great value. It’s a simple idea that children and adults alike will find addictive. I’d say if you’re playing properly then it’s suitable from 8+, but you could probably play a slower, kinder version with younger children.

Games for older children and adults that we recommend include Carcassonne and Codenames. (We recently gave Codenames Duet to some 11 yr old twins and that went down very well.)

I don’t buy many toys now but if you look here and here you’ll see recommendations from previous years.

Books

Fiction:

The Wingfeather Saga, Andrew Peterson

My husband has been reading this series of books to our boys. My 10 year old says, ‘It’s funny, exciting and has a good story. It’s about three children who discover they are special and go on a journey to find a lost city, but find they are surrounded by fangs, stranders and the fork factory.’ So… yeah.

Marylinne Robinson (for adults or perhaps older teens)

Some people don’t like Marylinne Robinson books, for reasons which completely elude me. If your loved one wants a page-turning plot-twisting thriller, then don’t go for this. But if they like thoughtful, insightful prose and heartbreakingly beautiful character development, then the Gilead series is the answer.

Gilead is the story of an ageing pastor, writing his memoirs to his son. I was thrilled to read Jack and Lila this year, and am yet to read Home – that’s on my wish list this Christmas. I’m reading them in the wrong order but I don’t think it matters. Just a warning: Lila is sad, especially if you know any traumatised children. I was in tears on about page 2. But I enjoyed it and I am sensitive (and I’d like to stay that way). Jack is an agonising love story between a white man and a black woman. As a writer, I am full of admiration for Robinson. She writes the books I wish I could write.

(If you’re wondering, yes I do read fiction that’s not Christian! I got really cross with Philip Pullman not two weeks ago, as it happens.)

Non-Fiction:

Mere Evangelism, Randy Newman
I read this over the summer holidays and loved it. It’s a beautiful book, full of wisdom from CS Lewis and also Newman, an experienced evangelist. Absolutely inspiring. Read my review and others here.

Little Me, Big God

Zacchaeus is very close to my heart (we even named our son after him), so I’m hard to please but I love these little books by Steph Williams. They’re grace-filled and faithful to the gospel. The illustrations help the children understand the context and meaning. What a brilliant gift for a toddler or young child in your church or family.

Seek & Find, Sarah & André Parker

Previously I interviewed the author of the wonderful Seek & Find – Old Testament book. As I said then, my daughter loves that book a little bit too much. As soon as I knew the book well enough to say it in my sleep (which was a long time ago) I began counting down the days until the New Testament version came out. Hooray! It’s here at last. This would be a great gift for a child, I’d say roughly aged 2 to 6yrs.

Truth for Life, Alistair Begg
Just before I had my fourth child I was told about Alistair Begg’s podcast, Truth for Life. It was such a help to me, especially during the long nights with a colicky baby. I vividly remember listening to his talks on Ruth as I walked to A&E with my 3-week-old baby. I also loved hearing Alistair’s talks on the Psalms at a conference back in 2017. So all in all, I feel a bit like he’s my godly grandad and I can’t wait to read through this book over the next year. It’s also beautiful so would make a lovely gift. There’s a wee video about it here if you’d like more info.

For more book recommendations, please click on the ‘Books’ category on the right.

Something a bit different

This year I discovered a beautiful magazine for children called ‘Storytime.’ My daughter has been receiving it each month and really enjoys it. I’d say it’s suitable from 4 years as you can read the stories to your children. Some of the stories are a bit strange – I think they’re based on traditional tales so I suppose that’s what you get! But we like it and the illustrations are beautiful. A subscription would make a lovely gift.

Once again, if you’re short on money but long on Tesco Clubcard points, the Storybox/Discoverybox/Adventurebox magazine subscriptions are still available with points. (You can see my little one with her Story Box in the banner image above.)

Toilet Twinning

In case you’ve not heard of toilet twinning, it is the perfect gift for someone who has everything and cares about those who don’t have access to a proper toilet. You can now twin taps as well, if everyone you love has already twinned their toilet.

I feel I shouldn’t end this festive post on the word, ‘toilet,’ so I shall add that I hope you fare well with your Christmas shopping, and remind you to comment below with any bright ideas you’ve come across this year.

(P.S. I do receive review copies of books from The Good Book Company. However, I only recommend ones that I recommend.)

A little more conversation

Yesterday my morning ricocheted between grappling with Romans 6 (Slaves to sin/slaves to Christ), hunting unfruitfully for brand new PE tops (WHERE did they go?), discussing the lyrics of Andrew Peterson’s ‘Lay me down to die’ with an emotional pre-adolescent and dealing with Monday morning tears. Is this normal?

Last week as the children rummaged for shoes and fumbled with velcro, I was asked which tribe of Israel we’re in and ended up discussing the fact that we’re children of Abraham by faith in the Lord Jesus, grafted in by faith. Hallelujah! “So we’re children of Abraham AND children of God, mummy?”
“Er… yes.”

I suppose that’s what is meant by, “Talk about [these commandments] when you sit at home and when you walk along the road.”(Deut. 6) It just feels chaotic. It feels like I’m in a Christian episode of ‘Outnumbered.’ It’s less funny being a character in this little sitcom than it would be to watch it.

 And as I go about my day the questions linger on: 

“Was the Miss Hannigan/Mr Warbucks illustration of slavery to sin and Christ heretical?”

“Did I dismiss my son’s questions about death?”

“Does my 5 yr old understand the different between God and Abraham?” 

“Did my outburst about PE tops undermine what I’d been saying about living for Jesus?”

All this talk is hard! But life needs to have space in it for these kinds of conversations. 

Of course, some people are quieter than others. My family has zero quiet people in it, but I’ve met plenty of other people who don’t feel the need to fill every second with talk! But even the quiet ones need to communicate. 

As Christian families, we should be talking to one another. We have such good news to share. If our lives are too scheduled or too full of tech to allow space and time for meandering conversations, then we’ve got something wrong. 

Do you watch films together? Perhaps you could talk about what you liked/didn’t like, favourite characters, unexpected plot twists. This is a great habit to get into. For more on this, I’ve enjoyed the Popcorn Parenting podcast with James Cary and Nate Morgan-Locke.

Do you read stories or listen to audiobooks? It’s a great way to fuel the imagination and get them thinking about big, God-centred themes.

My husband is currently reading through the Wingfeather Saga books by Andrew Peterson. We also enjoy the BBC dramatised Narnia Chronicles available on Audible.

Talking with your kids doesn’t sound like an impressive thing to do. It doesn’t give them a measurable skill that will win them a medal.  But this is how we share the gospel with each other, encouraging each other and being open and honest about how we think or feel about things.

I have struggled for almost 12 years to have peaceful mealtimes at home, which are conducive to meaningful conversations. I’ve contemplated tattooing the words ‘sit on your seat and use your cutlery’ onto my forehead (or at least carving them into the table). I still struggle with it – massively. But I am gradually starting to see that my children are learning to talk to people.

Recently a visitor came for dinner, during which my younger son almost laughed himself off his seat whilst telling him a story. Later on the visitor casually mentioned something like, “They’re good a talking to people. That must be because you’ve practised with them.” Well, I didn’t know whether to cry, burst into song or throw my arms around him. Obviously I just smiled and nodded.

Don’t grow weary, friends. It’s often in the chaotic, not-exactly-ideal moments that you’re able to share glorious truths with your kids. And by God’s grace you will reap a harvest if you do not give up.

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.

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