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.)

Christmas Shopping 2020 – with Giveaway!

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

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

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

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

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

This blog post contains zero affiliate links.

Games

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

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

BooksGiveaway!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ideas for tight budgets

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giveaway!

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

One Line a Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Repeat the Sounding Joy

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Scroll down for some reality

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.

Swing it, shake it, move it, make it

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I love CBeebies – which is a British TV channel for young children. I’m always impressed by how talented the presenters and cast members are when they perform their annual ‘CBeebies presents…’ show. This year’s was Thumbelina. Nina-of-neurons fame is obviously terrific and did a lovely job.

I did feel sorry for Thumbelina though, because she spent most of the show telling people she didn’t know who she was. How terrifying for her.

I missed a bit – went off to cook the tea – and then saw the finale, which was a song:

“Thumbs up, you can be what you want to be…
I want to be free, I want to be me,
That’s what I’m gonna be.”

This is the doctrine of the young generation:

I can be whoever I want!
You can’t tell me who I am!
I’ll choose who I am!

And by the way… who am I?

After my children watched Thumbelina, we sat down to read the account of the angel Gabriel visiting Mary in Luke Chapter 1.

Imagine if Mary was a young girl now, and listened to the messages of the iGeneration:

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“I am nobody’s servant,” Mary answered. “I won’t let anybody push me around.”

And the famous Magnificat, the song of Mary, would have been more like this:

“My soul magnifies me.
And my spirit rejoices in me: I’m awesome.
From now on all generations will hear me roar!”

I know this is very silly, but just imagine it for a moment, because is is the attitude our children are being encouraged to have. If Mary had said this, she’d have missed out so badly! And she’d have been so wrong! She’d have lived and died in obscurity. Nobody would have heard her roar.

Our children shouldn’t expect an angel to visit them and tell them what their life will be all about. Instead we have God’s word, which gives us clear answers to questions about who we are and why we’re here. Praise God for that! None of us has to wander through life, wondering who we are.

The advent devotion we’re using said this:

The serpent’s lie says, “You won’t be happy unless you are in charge of your life.” (Here I added, “Thumbs up you can be what you want to be!”) The truth is, God is in charge and God is good.  Mary did not demand her own way.  She gladly gave herself to God.  True happiness is ours when we give our lives to our good God.

And the following day read:

The truth is that God made us to love him and live for him… You were made for God… Our dreams are too small compared to God’s purpose for our life.

I’m not going to ban CBeebies, but by God’s grace I’ll try not to sell my children short by telling them they can be what they want to be. Praise God! He has given them, and us, an identity and a purpose. “No human mind has conceived – the things God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2v9.

Happy Christmas, friends. X

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*In case you’re not British, or you’re a young whippersnapper, the title of this post refers to a song by the Spice Girls… ‘Who do you think you are?’

Bah Humble Brag

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I’m sitting amongst some serious Weetabix crumbs here, but I feel the urge to get in touch. The crummage I will always have with me… it can wait half an hour.

I’m reading an advent devotion, Love Came Down at Christmas. I know it’s November, but I started early because a) I wanted to be able to recommend it in time for Advent, and b) it might take me two months to read because I’m a genuine failure.  But it’s OK, because Jesus succeeds where I fail.

Yesterday I read a chapter about the truth that “love does not boast.” And it got me thinking about how Christmas can be a prime opportunity for boasting.  All of the opportunities we have to love people can instead be used to inflate ourselves and say, ‘look how marvellous I am.’ Better still if we can do it in a self-deprecating way – so en vogue. You know how it can go on Social Media/the local toddler group:

“I’m a bit disappointed with my bouche de Noel this year – it’s a little on the dry side.”

“I’m one of those total losers who is ready for Christmas by Black Friday.  Maybe I should use Black Friday for next year’s Christmas shopping…”

“My children are so grateful and happy – they’re content with an orange and a new pair of socks each year.”

“Look how well I directed my family Nativity play – the home made costumes worked much better than I expected this year.”

“I just want to bless you all with the amazing Christmas dinner I’ve cooked from scratch, with no help from Marks and Spencer.”

“Sorry your Christmas gifts are a bit rustic; my two year old and I made them together in a bit of a rush.”

Am I making sense, here? I love Christmas – as you well know.  If I didn’t despise Santa and all he stands for, you’d be making me don a red cape and calling me Mrs Claus.  However, I can easily see how all of these wonderful ways to bless my family and the community can be completely ruined by my own selfish attitude.  In fact, selfishness is my default setting.  So with each of these things, I need to pray and ask God to help me love people well.

Wouldn’t it be terrible, such a travesty, if I were to abuse Christmas by making it a means of boasting?  We’re celebrating (arguably) the most humble act in history.  Christ, the glorious King of the universe, the eternal Son of God, by whom all things were made, came down.  And he was born in a place you or I wouldn’t sit down in. He was laid in a trough you or I wouldn’t let our children touch.  He was welcomed by dirty outcasts on the night of his birth.  It’s truly astonishing.

If I really want to celebrate Christmas by showing people Jesus, then humility must be my soundtrack and my heartbeat this Christmas.

“… love… does not draw attention to itself.  It deliberately seeks to follow the way of humility – and not in order to show how humble it is!” (Love Came Down at Christmas, p. 50)

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8v9.

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?

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.