What would they like?

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I do at least a double portion of Christmas shopping.  I need to think of gifts for my family and friends, as well as think of what I would like from the kind people who ask me.  (It’s also my Birthday a week before Christmas, but I’ve only myself to blame for that, I suppose.)

But I also need to answer the dreaded question, “what would the children like for Christmas?” If, like me, you find this all quite  a lot to deal with, and your relatives have already started to ask, here is a list that I hope will help.

These are all things I highly recommend.  I’ve been very selective.  If these don’t go down well, you can certainly blame me! And if you do find any of these recommendations helpful, please do comment below.  This will benefit other readers and also encourage me!

If I’ve left any gaps, do ask below as I probably have more ideas.

Pre-schoolers (and above – my older children still like them):

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Toys
For tiny ones, the Galt wooden pop up toy.  Wooden pegs; springs.  A timeless classic.

Magformers – or knock-off equivalent.  I’ve heard Magnatiles are better, but we have Magformers and Magmagic (which are cheaper) and love them.  Amazing toy.  If I had my time again, I would buy fewer toys and be willing to spend more on good quality toys like this.

Melissa and Doug wooden Birthday cake or pizza.  Last year these were cheaper in the Black Friday Amazon sale.  Also the Melissa and Doug ice cream set is popular in our house.

Books
Julia Donaldson audio collection (10 CDs) – available at thebookpeople. This is the best thing that ever happened to our car journeys.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll fall in love with the actors.  Please buy it.  (It’s the one with The Gruffalo, What the Ladybird Heard etc.)

The One O’Clock Miracle – this can be a good one for non Christian families too, although you’d need to use your judgement.

The Tiger Who Came to Tea, Judith Kerr

Music
Anything by Colin Buchanan

Anything by Randall Goodgame, particularly Sing the Bible 1 & 2.  Also, “Under Where?” might work for a non Christian family as it’s a mixture of Christian and silly songs.  We love it, as we are quite silly, and quite Christian.

Primary Schoolers

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Toys/Games
Dobble kids – every family should have this.  It’s particularly handy when you have guests for lunch and your children are looking after them while you’re doing the final preparations.

Ticket to Ride, First Journey

K’Nex – good value and my son adores it.

Lego Spinjitzu spinners – I was surprised at how good these were.  I’m embarrassed to say that I spelt Spinjitzu correctly on the first attempt.

Stomp Rocket – this would work for pre-schoolers as well.  It’s an outdoor toy but as long as it’s not raining you could use it in the winter.  It’s just truly fabulous.  Simple, yet so effective.  We always gather a crowd of curious children when we use it on the beach.

For girls, anything from the shop Smiggle tends to go down well.  As far as I can tell, they always have things in the sale.  Don’t buy anything full price – what a rip-off.

Books
Everything a Child Should Know About God by Kenneth Taylor – extremely simple doctrine book with beautiful illustrations.

The Diary of a Disciple – a Tom Gates style re-telling of Luke’s gospel, and there’s one for Acts as well.  My son loves these.

The Action Bible.  I highly recommend this for around ages 8+, and there is a junior version for younger children (my 5 year old has it), but you’d have to decide whether it’s suitable.

The Ology, Marty Machowski.  A beautiful doctrine book for 6-11 year olds.

Magazines – my son really likes the Aquila magazine.  They frequently sell back copies for £2.50 each, which is excellent value.  I’ve got a stash in the cupboard and every month or so I give him a ‘new’ one.

Music
We’ve recently discovered Jamie Grace, whose album “Ready to Fly” is excellent, particularly for pre-teen girls.  Although my boys love it too.

Also, any of the above music CDs go down well with our older children.

 

Over to you:
What would you highly recommend, please?

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Thanks for Coming

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Christmas is so messy.

I’ll let you into a (non)secret: I’m not so good at housework.  Right now I’m supposed to be cleaning, but as you can see, I’m not.  And at Christmas, there’s more stuff around, plus there’s more stuff to do which in this home takes priority over housework.  So our already-not-exactly-neat home is now even more messy.  It’s littered with Christmas crafts, envelopes, scraps of wrapping paper and ribbon, and pine needles.  Yesterday I had several ribbons sellotape to the sole of my slipper for longer than is reasonable before I addressed the issue.

It’s messy in other ways too.  Around about mid October I begin to dread the Christmas fair.  This year it lived up to my dire expectations, once again.  It’s not that I disagree with it in principle, but rather it is too overwhelming for me and my kin.  We cannot cope with it at all.  This year, only half of my children cried throughout.  I left in such a hurry that when I realised we had one toddler welly missing, I refused to go back in.  “I’ll buy new wellies if I have to!” said I.

Here is a text I sent a friend the week before the Christmas fair:

“This week we had to bring in a cup of sweets each on Monday, email the school some photos of us doing some ‘extreme reading’ (but safely), bring in some bread from our culture tomorrow and a gift for the school fair, wearing our own clothes, on Friday… I’m always aware it would be less mad if I only had 1 or 2 children at school, so it’s not really the school’s fault.  Plus it’s fun.  Although the other parents seem confused too.  ‘This time do we wrap it? Do they wear spots? Have I missed the shoe box deadline?’ (yes)…”

I will inevitably drop several balls in December.  Last week I was supposed to watch my daughter’s gymnastics assessment, but I forgot.  She was very gracious about it, but it didn’t feel good.  I wonder what I’ll forget to do this week.  Hopefully nothing life-threatening or childhood-scarring.  And my poor husband is bombarded with crazy text messages as I try to get him to help me to remember everything.

However, the biggest mess I see at Christmas, as I experience this pressure-cooker of festivity and reflect on the year gone by, is in my own heart.  I’m still selfish, I’m still trying to be self-sufficient, I’m still self-centred.  God is changing me, by his grace.  But folks, progress is slow.

And yet, God himself came down to meet me in this mess.

The tragedy of carol services is how overfamiliar we become with the awesome words of Scripture.  I mean, just look at this:

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,[f] because he will save his people from their sins.’

22 All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’[g](which means ‘God with us’). (Matthew 1)

He came down to save us from our sins.  To deal with our mess.  He came to be with us.  I don’t deserve that, but oh how I need it.

Thank you, thank you, thank you Jesus.  Thank you for coming.

Dear Santa

I’m just kidding, I don’t write to Santa.  That’s because he’s a big fat lie who drinks sherry.

At this time of year everyone asks what you want for Christmas, and for some that’s lovely and for others it’s really stressful.  If you’re in the latter group, here are some ideas from me:

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In no particular order:

  1. None Like Him  – this is a book about God, with short chapters and big truths, explained brilliantly by Jen Wilkin.  She is really good at writing, and I don’t say that about many people.  She has a gift and she’s using it to teach us how we are not like God, and that’s a good thing!  I highly recommend this – get your best friend a copy too and read it together.
  2. Prayer – Timothy Keller.  The book absolutely blew my mind.  The only trouble with it was that I wanted to read it about five times, but it took me a year to read (on and off) so there wasn’t much chance of that.  You know I love Tim Keller – he’s fantastic.  What a blessing he is to so many people.  This book will inspire you to pray and then give you practical advice for daily prayer.  Here’s some inspiration from the book about how the Lord Jesus sets us an example:
    Jesus Christ taught his disciples to pray, healed people with prayers, denounced the corruption of the temple worship (which, he said, should be a “house of prayer”), and insisted that some demons could be cast out only through prayer.  He prayed often and regularly with fervant cries and tears (Heb 5:7), and sometimes all night.  The Holy Spirit came upon him and anointed him as he was praying (Luke 3:21-22), and he was transfigured with the divine glory as he prayed (Luke 9:29).  When he faced his greatest crisis, he did so with prayer.  We hear him praying for his disciples and the church on the night before he died (John 17:1-26) and then petitioning God in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Finally, he died praying. 
  3. The Plausibility Problem – Ed Shaw.  This book isn’t hot off the press (none of these books are), but I think this should be compulsory reading for any Christian who’s serious about obeying Jesus’ command to love one another.  However, it’s not my job to set compulsory reading for Christians, so I’ll jus say it comes very highly recommended.  It’s not just a book about loving people who are same-sex attracted*, it’s about how to love people and live as church family, as we’re called to do.  It’s fascinating, it’s challenging, it’s very moving.  Thank you, Ed.
  4. Gilead – Marilynne Robinson.  Oh my goodness, I read this a couple of months ago and it’s a book I didn’t want to finish.  It won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005, which yes means I am very, very behind on life.  It’s the memoire of a mid-twentieth Century pastor in rural Iowa, and if you like good writing and a good character piece, and especially (but not necessarily) if you’re a Christian, you’ll love this.  She’s written other books too, which I should probably read…
  5. Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyan.  Right, so I’ll come clean.  I haven’t actually read Pilgrim’s Progress.  If you think that’s bad, then wait till I tell you that I think it was required reading for my English degree.  It’s not on my Christmas list because I know exactly where it is on my bookshelf.  You know when you’re in a Bible study and someone says, “This reminds me of Pilgrim’s Progress when..” and then gives a really poignant and relevant example?  And you have to smile and nod because you’ve never read it?  Well I plan, by the end of 2018, to be able to smile and nod sincerely, because I will have read it.  Hey, I might even be the one with the insightful Bunyan anecdote.  Maybe we could read it together – so to speak – next year?

If you’d like other ideas, click on the “Books” category and you should see my previous posts about books I recommend.

 

*This is how Ed Shaw describes himself.  It’s all explained in the book!

One True Christmas Gift

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Christmas is round the corner and we all know what that means.  There is a stereotype of a busy mum at Christmas, and I don’t know about you but I find that I am that stereotype.  I love Christmas – did I mention that? – but let’s face it, it’s a crazy time.  It’s a time when I make crazy decisions and I overreach to new and surprising heights.

Advent is a time when we feel pulled in several directions all at once.  There are children’s parties and grown-up parties (which non-parents just call parties), church outreach events, church social events, Christmas shopping, over-excited children, gift wrapping, travel, relatives, Christmas cards, sometimes Birthdays (e.g. mine), Secret Santas, school performances, more baking than usual and (we hope not but maybe) the occasional bout of flu.

So at this busy time, when we can become so much like Martha of Bethany, rushing around in a sweat and scowling because nobody is helping, it’s all-the-more important that we try to be like Mary, who sat at the feet of Jesus and listened to him – I assume it’s not just me.

There are many resources around to help us meditate on the Lord Jesus during the Christmas period, and I wanted to recommend this one to you – One True Gift – as it’s new and it’s a little bit different.  Sometimes a different angle can help us to refocus.

It’s by Tim Chester, who I think is brilliant.  If you haven’t read Total Church, which is now really old, then please do.  You don’t have time now, but maybe in January.  I really enjoyed reading his Advent devotion in John’s gospel, One True Light a couple of years ago.  He’s a good man and he communicates the gospel in a down-to-earth way, which is very helpful when you’re knee-deep in overambitious Christmas crafts.

The thing that makes this book a bit surprising is that it’s a 24-day meditation on Philippians 2, which isn’t usually seen as a festive passage of Scripture.  But since it’s about the Son of God coming to earth as a human baby, who would grow up to serve and even to die, and is therefore now raised up to the highest place from which he’ll return one day to judge the world, there are plenty of good reasons to meditate on this passage in the run up to the celebration of the astonishing and marvellous incarnation.

So while I’m doing my worst Martha impression in the run up to Christmas, here are three ways in which, by God’s grace, I expect this book will help me:

I’ll be rebuked by Jesus the servant:
“‘I’m willing to serve,’ we might say, ‘but not that person – not after the way they’ve treated me.’ Yet Jesus washes the feet of Judas knowing that Judas already has 30 pieces of silver jangling in his wallet.” (p. 47)
Jesus is my example to learn from and to follow.

I’ll be encouraged by the love of Jesus.
“Jesus died for your sins.  When he hears you grumbling and arguing, he didn’t turn away in disgust.  In his love he turned towards the cross, arms opened wide to take the nails.  And now in his love he turns towards you, arms opened wide to embrace you.” p. 77.
Jesus is my Saviour to love and to trust.

I’ll be awestruck by the incarnation:
“we are left with this conclusion: the baby in the manger is none other than the LORD, the covenant God of Israel, the Creator, the one, true God.” (p. 41)
Jesus is my Lord to praise and to worship. 

If you don’t buy this book, I do hope you’ll find another way to make sure you’re feeding on God’s word each day this advent, so that your acts of service and good works are done for Him, our Saviour and Lord and the true star of every show.  This book is very accessible, so I’d recommend giving it as an early Christmas gift to a friend or your mum, or anyone you think might be willing to take a closer look at Jesus this Christmas.  You can buy it here from the Good Book Company.

If only they’d checked!

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I really enjoyed this Christmas bite from the splendiferous Martin (he ain’t heavy) Ayers.  Perhaps you can spare 7 mins to have a listen too.  (I think it must have followed a little drama sketch, but you should be able to follow it without much trouble!)

Whether you’re an “Amos” or a “shepherd”, I hope you make the most of your Christmas xx

Hand-in-Hand to Bethlehem

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I love Christmas, me. I love Chris Rea, Wizzard, Paul and Yoko and the Pogues. I love carols. I love mince pies, mulled wine, and sausage stuffing.   I love buying presents for my family and friends. I love having something to be excited about. I am like Scrooge, the way he turned out in the end. (I love A Christmas Carol.)

Christmas certainly means different things to different people. This week I was reading about the trend of buying just four presents for your child: one thing they want; one thing they need; one thing to wear; one thing to read. I also read a lot of opinions about this idea, which I found quite enlightening. I turns out that the idea of only buying four gifts for your child is pretty scandalous. I suppose that shouldn’t surprise me, as Christmas for many people is focused on their children. When I had my first child, someone said to me that I’d enjoy Christmas much more now because it’s more magical with children around. I kind of know what he meant, but to be honest I don’t think my brother and I ever lost the magic of Christmas. We behave like children as soon as we cross the threshold of our parents’ home anyway.

It’s true, is it not, that much of Christmas involves watching your children. Watching them in the school play; watching them opening their presents; watching them sit on Santa’s knee; watching them ride their new bike. And I’m not judging that, but I think there must be more to Christmas than that. I feel that if our Christmas joy is wrapped up in our children, disappointments may abound. What if they are playing the innkeeper’s silent dog again? What if they have a trantrum abut their presents? What if they cry on Satna’s knee? What if they fall of their bike and end up in A&E? And, perhaps worst of all, what if they know that our Christmas joy depends on their contentment? That’s a lot of pressure.

I think we can have a more joyful perspective. My pastor says that in marriage, rather than spending our lives staring into each other’s eyes, we should be walking hand-in-hand towards the throne of God. Or as Tim Keller puts it, we say “I want to partner with you and God in the journey you are taking to his throne. And when we get there, I will look at your magnificence and say, ‘I always knew you could be like this. I got glimpses of it on earth, but now look at you!” (from The Meaning of Marriage.)

I know that parenting is not marriage. They are different. However, if we are walking hand in hand towards the throne and taking our children with us, how much more exciting that will be than if we are just gathered around our children, focusing on them. And how liberating it will be for us and them if we know that Jesus is the one who makes Christmas wonderful.

If the Nativity play serves as a reminder that God’s Son came to live amongst us, then nobody will mind which part they play. (My children’s school play isn’t anything to do with Jesus this year, but thankfully they’ll be in a couple of other nativities.) If the gifts are there to remind us of God’s amazing gift of his perfect Son, then we’ll be more than happy with one or two (or three or even four!). If we’re celebrating the birth of Jesus and all that means for us as God’s people, we won’t have time to queue up for Santa’s grotto anyway.   And as for the trip to A&E, that will be something of a disappointment. But that’s OK, because we’re looking ahead to a perfect world, made open to us by the coming of our Saviour.

It’s so easy at Christmas to get our heads down and forget the bigger picture. To get stressed about the shopping or the cooking or the costume-sourcing. But I’m going to try to lift my eyes to Jesus, to his scandalous incarnation, to God’s glory, to good news of great joy, and I’m hoping that my children will follow my gaze and look up at him with me.

The Christmas Alphabet

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I know it’s very much still Autumnal November, but I’m just planning ahead.

I’ve got an idea for a Christmas card craft, and in order to do it I needed a Christmas Alphabet.  I could have just Googled this, but I wanted to make it up myself (no-one knows why).  Speaking of Alphabets, I highly recommend you listen to the Bible Alphabet song from Emu’s J is for Jesus CD.  (“H is for heaven, where I-I am going,” need I-I say more?)

I don’t know if this could be helpful to you in any way?  Perhaps you could do one a day during advent?  I know that the alphabet is 26 letters long, not 24, but some of them could be squashed together.  For example, you’ll notice that Q is a bit, well, not quite tenuous but perhaps uninspiring.   Sometimes I was spoilt for choice, so I put a few ideas down and have underlined the one I’ve used here.

You might also notice that there is a lot of repetition, which (aside from maybe being inevitable) was deliberate.  Children like repetition, and it helps them learn.  I was actually amazed by how much you can get out of Luke Chapter 2 alone.  I mostly used Isaiah 9; Matthew 1-2; Luke 2; John 1.

So without further ado, here you go – an early Christmas present from me (no expense spared):

Angels:  But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Luke 2:10

Bethlehem: But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.’ Micah 5:2

Christ: Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ, the Lord. Luke 2.11

David’s Town: Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2:11 (See also: Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?’ Luke 7:42; “He will reign on David’s throne’ Isaiah 9:7)

Everlasting Father: “For to us a child is born… And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

Favour: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’ Luke 2:14

Glory/Grace/Gold/Gift/Good news/Grace: We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

Holy/Heavenly Host/Hope: Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’ Luke 2:13-14

Immanuel:  All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’). Matthew 1:22-23

Joy/Jesus: But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Luke 2:10

King: ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ Matthew 2:2

Love/Life/Light:
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2

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Messiah/Manger This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: his mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Matthew 1:18

Noel/Nativity/News: But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Luke 2:10

One & Only Son: We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

Prince of Peace:  For to us a child is born… And he will be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

Quiet/Quirinius: This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  And everyone went to their own town to register. Luke 2:2-3 (You could talk about the sovereignty of God, and the fact that these events happened in real history.) If you’re not keen on this, you could do “Quiet” and talk about how quietly God’s rescuing King came.

Rejoice/Revelation/Righteousness/Reigns The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. Luke 2:20 (also “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed” Matthew 2:10)
(or Revelation: No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and[b] is in the closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. John 1:18)

Saviour:  Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2.11

Truth: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

Unto Us a child is born “Unto to us a child is born,
to us a son is given…” Isaiah 9:6

Virgin: All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’). Matthew 1:22-23

Wonderful/Worship: When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:10-11)

X: Gloria in Excelsis Deo:
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’ Luke 2:14

Yahweh: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1

Zeal: Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end…
The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. Isaiah 9:7

As ever, your comments are really welcome.  Plus, if you think this is helpful please do share it with others. Happy Autumn everybody!