Christmas Shopping 2020 – with Giveaway!

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

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

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

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

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

This blog post contains zero affiliate links.

Games

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

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

BooksGiveaway!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ideas for tight budgets

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giveaway!

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

One Line a Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going Rogue for Halloween

This isn’t so much a blog post as just a brief update of what we’ve been doing this week.

We’ve never really had to do anything about Halloween here. We don’t get trick-or-treaters and the children have never been invited to a Halloween party or to trick-or-treat with anyone. I know some of you probably join in with Halloween in various ways and I’m not saying you shouldn’t, but we don’t feel comfortable with it so I’m glad we’ve never had any pressure to do so.

A few years ago we went to a Halloween drop-in at a local church because I thought it’d be fun. It was not. There’s nothing fun about sugar-high, wide-eyed greedy monsters everywhere. And on the way home in the dark there were some frightening sights and I wondered what on earth I’d been thinking. I announced that next year we’d be having takeaway pizza (probably for the first time ever) and staying indoors.

Luther cake mit Worms

The other thing that has stopped us having any Halloween issues is that we’re busy celebrating Reformation Day. (See here or click on the Reformation tag to the right for some posts about that.)

This year, however, has been different. Our children’s school (which we love) decided to have a Halloween dress-up day. Since we couldn’t very well play truant and I didn’t want my children to dress up as anything dark – I don’t find stabbings, demons or witchcraft funny – we decided to be rebels instead. And by rebels I of course mean Jedi Rebels – the Light Side of the Force.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6.12

We didn’t want the children to feel like outsiders – but the truth is, they are. And they do need to get used to it. In the end, it didn’t matter because there were a variety of costumes. Our daughter even won a little prize (a slinky) for her Princess Leia costume. But rather than just saying “NO!” to Halloween, we talked to them about why they weren’t going in dressed as something death-related. (I mean, really? In 2020?)

We talked to them about how there is a Dark Side and a Light Side in real life. We’re on the Light team. We’re the rebels (which reminds me of this post). We used to be in the Empire, but now we’re against it. So it wouldn’t be right to dress up in things to do with the darkness, because that’s not our team anymore. It’s not our thing.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light  (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth)  and find out what pleases the Lord.  Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. Ephesians 5.8-11

There was a boy at school dressed as a Coronavirus. It was a very creative piece of art and he seemed to get quite a lot of praise for it. But in a world so confused that it celebrates and jokes about the thing that’s brought suffering to millions of people, I’m so grateful that our children don’t need to be confused. The enemy has been defeated and we don’t need to have anything to do with the darkness anymore.

Plus come on, Obi Wan is cool.

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

Book Review – Deeper Still

I’m reading an excellent book and I think you should read it, too. I haven’t finished it yet (which I agree is a bit strange) but the author, Linda Allcock, asked me really politely in the introduction not to skim it, so I won’t. Rather than waiting until I’ve finished, I decided to recommend it to you now.

We hear so much these days about mindfulness and (new age) meditation – my children’s school classes have regular ‘brain breaks’ throughout the day. But how often do we practise biblical meditation? And do we even know the difference?*

Linda Allcock has a thorough understanding of secular meditation, which she succinctly and clearly explains to the reader in Section 1 of this book. She then brilliantly shows us how biblical meditation differs and how valuable it is to the Christian soul. This got me really excited about learning to practise Christian mediation.

In Section 2, which I’m currently reading, Linda teaches us how to come to God’s Word with the intention of searching for treasure and storing it up for when we need it most. She uses helpful illustrations and practical advice which make it all seem very clear and simple to achieve.

The best seminar I ever went to on a Christian conference/festival/ weekend away was one about memorising Scripture. I arrived at the seminar (sleep-deprived and flustered) knowing little-to-nothing about Psalm 16, and left after an hour having memorised the whole thing. This psalm, a month later, was to get me through sleepless nights as I meditated on it and prayed through it for my brother who had a brain tumour and his infant daughter who had respiratory problems. Eight years on, that psalm still helps me when I don’t know what to pray.

This book makes me think of that seminar for two reasons:

  • It’s practical. This is a book that I can instantly put into practice because Linda is not just giving me theory, but is showing me how to ‘do’ meditation.
  • Biblical mediation will help me to survive as a Christian. If Psalm 16 can get me through the hardest year of our lives, how much more fruitful would it be if I meditated on the whole counsel of God?

As someone who’s been reading the Bible for years, I’m finding this book really helpful. In the chapter I’ve just finished reading, Linda condensed into a few pages an entire book I once read on ‘how to get the most out of reading the Bible.’ She doesn’t mess about, which is great because when you’re busy it’s best not to spend hours and hours reading a book when you could be meditating on Scripture.

I do think this book is really accessible and not at all intimidating, so I’d also recommend it to younger Christians, even if they’ve never read the Bible on their own. In a way it would be perfect for them because it would start them off reading the Bible in a healthy way, rather than just thinking of it as a chore or something to tick off a list.

My pastor says that the thing that makes the biggest difference to the value of a sermon is the heart attitude of the listener. If you come to church expectant and determined to get precious truth out of the sermon, asking God and trusting him to feed you, then he will. But if you’re distracted and rushed or bored and ungrateful, you likely won’t get much out of it. Surely Bible reading is the same? I found these words from Linda very convicting:

As we open God’s word, do we believe there is treasure there? If we did, we might treat our Bible times differently. We would look forward to reading the Bible with anticipation and excitement. We would, as Proverbs 2 v 4 says, “Look for insight and understanding as for sliver and search for it as for hidden treasure”. We would dig into the passage with commitment and perseverance. And when we found the promised treasure, we would respond in joyful prayer and thankfulness.

This book helps us to come to the Word with expectant hearts, knowing there is treasure to be found. It really would be a wonderful gift to give to a friend. You can buy it here.

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

*In case you choose to go against my express wishes and you don’t read this book, secular or new age meditation is emptying your mind – eek, dangerous! – whereas biblical meditation is filling your mind with scripture and therefore the Lord Jesus.

Interview! Sarah Parker

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It’s time for an interview! Sarah Parker is a mum-of-four who has just written a book called Seek and Find: Old Testament Bible Stories. She lives in London with her husband and children, aged 14, 12, 10 and 8. This book is beautifully creative and my 4-year-old daughter loves it. Truth be told, she loves it slightly too much. We’ve done all the pages many times and she’s showing no signs of boredom. Seriously though, it’s fantastic to have a seek-and-find book that’s based on the Bible. Let’s find out more about Sarah:

Hi Sarah! So, four children… how has Lockdown been going for you and your family?
Lockdown for the Parker household has been full of ups and downs. I have dyslexia, so initially the prospect of homeschooling our four children was daunting to say the least.
That said, we started off full of enthusiasm and even excitement at the challenge. We were doing really well in the two weeks leading up to Easter, but having a two-week break derailed our momentum and routine, and in the last couple of weeks we have really struggled to get back into it. The excitement has definitely worn off and it feels much more like a chore for us all. And of course, these feelings are compounded by not being allowed to leave the house.
Perhaps one of the nicest things about Lockdown is that my husband André has been working from home. It’s been a fantastic opportunity to all come together at lunchtime and eat together. We’ve built lunch Bible time into our routine, where we read a section of the Bible and pray as a family. It’s been really important to show our kids that while this world feels very different to the one we’re used to, we still have the same awesome God—a God who knows us so well and knows that we are prone to feeling anxious and so talks about that in his word. It’s been great to lead our kids to these passages.
 
Same here! More time with Dad is such a blessing.
I love your new book, Seek & Find. How did it come about? 
The idea for the book stemmed from a childhood love of treasure-hunt books. As someone with dyslexia these kinds of books engaged me in a way that other books just didn’t. I then rediscovered my passion for treasure-hunt books after having my own children. I loved the intimacy and the interaction they afforded as you settled down together to spend time in the pages.
This made me wonder if it would be possible to combine a treasure-hunt book with the awesomeness of the Bible. Cogs started to turn and the ideas started to flow. I wanted to captivate young learners with beautiful and engaging artwork while also getting them excited about the Bible and God’s great attributes.
Any top tips for Lockdown with children? (We’re desperate!)
Lockdown hasn’t been all bad. It’s forced us to think outside of the box and get creative. We’ve done things that we wouldn’t have done otherwise.
One night we had a Lockdown party, turning our loft room into a dance floor! The Christmas lights were pulled out and put on flash mode. The kids danced to tunes on the smart speaker at full volume (sorry neighbours) or lounged by the “bar” with a bottle of J2O!
On another evening our girls waited on me and my husband as we had a “date night”. They got dressed up to set the table, serve our meal and pour our drinks.
As a family we love camping. The weather has been great and in different circumstances we’d have definitely gone away for the night. So instead, the kids decided to sleep out in the garden in a tent on a couple of occasions! It was so sweet watching them pack their bags and make preparations.
We’ve had four birthdays over Lockdown so finding ways to make them memorable has been a fun challenge. Our eldest daughter turned 14 – she absolutely loves sushi so we turned our kitchen into a sushi bar for her! Maggie, our youngest daughter turned 10. She’s a keen baker, her life’s ambition being to own a restaurant called the Magpie Café – her Dad’s nickname for her is Magpie! We painted big posters of her logo and again transformed our kitchen, spending the whole day baking with her!
Our youngest son Jacob has a bossy streak and kind of rules the roost. On his birthday we made it official and made him King Jacob for the day – complete with crown and throne! We acted as his humble servants and his every wish was our command. (Within reason, although he was happy to test the limits!) We had a lot of fun and if anything it made the ‘Lockdown birthdays’ more special and definitely memorable!
Wow. That sounds amazingly creative (and slightly intimidating)! We’ve got three birthdays coming up in the next month so you’ve inspired me to try something special. Thank you so much for your book! I hope there’ll be a New Testament one coming soon. Readers, you can pick up a copy for your children and godchildren here. Enjoy!

Sing!

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Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;

    it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
Praise the Lord with the harp;
    make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to him a new song;
    play skilfully, and shout for joy.

For the word of the Lord is right and true;
    he is faithful in all he does.
The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
    the earth is full of his unfailing love. Psalm 33:1-5

When did you last belt out a song to the Lord?

In God’s word the people of God are commanded over and over again to sing praises to our God.  Why? Does he need it? Of course not. We need it.

But since your church stopped gathering, have you still been singing?

It’s easy for me to say. I grew up with a Dad who was forever singing. Singing was just the usual background noise. I only really realised this when I got to university and met Andy, who was to become a brother to me in those years. Someone said to me once, “Have you noticed that Andy’s always singing?” I said, “No, like when?” She said, “Well he’s singing right now.” No, I hadn’t noticed, because I was used to it.

Then I married Mike, who comes from a household of singers (i.e. people who sing) and who was to become a worship leader. So we are a family who will put on worship music and sing along any day of the week. On a Sunday morning in Lockdown we will stand in our living room together and sing our hearts out. The Oompa Loompas who live next door watch us through the window as though we’re mad.

Sing to God, sing in praise of his name,
    extol him who rides on the clouds[b];
    rejoice before him – his name is the Lord. Psalm 68:4

But even with all this habitual singing, I’ve also been commanding myself to sing.  Because even though we’ll sing for no good reason, actually as Christians we always have good reasons to sing. Every day we have a God who is worthy of praise. Every day our hearts are tempted to grow cold to this God. Every day the world, the flesh and Satan are trying to get us to worship something else.

So when you’re fed up, I mean really fed up of the same parks, the same bike rides, the same four walls, the same arguments about school work and the same uncertainty about when you will ever see your relatives again, sing. I will say it again, sing!

Sing the gospel. Sing of your God. Sing of all his mighty works. Sing of all he’s done for you. Sing to yourself. Sing to your children. Sing to your God. Sing with the angels in heaven. If Paul and Silas could sing in prison, then I can sing in Lockdown.

And it’s never been easier to get hold of worship music to sing along to. Remember when we had to buy CD’s? We can thank God for providing Youtube, Spotify and all those other ones young people use.

If you’re lacking strength for today, sing. If you’re lacking hope for tomorrow, sing. It’s so good for you. Even the world is now realising how good it is to sing. Schools who no longer sing hymns are having singing assemblies where they sing rousing secular hymns from Hollywood blockbusters. (I mentioned this here, too.) But praise the Lord! He’s put a better song in our mouths.

Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people;
    praise his holy name.
For his anger lasts only a moment,
    but his favour lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
    but rejoicing comes in the morning. Psalm 30:3-5

 

Stay-at-Home Toddlers

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When my eldest was 2, I remember going to the Health Visitor for her “two-year check.” My daughter was at home with me all of the time at that age, apart from a toddler group we went to once a week.  She was reading out the numbers on the height measure, and the Health Visitor said, “Oh, if she’s learnt her numbers already you should definitely get her started at Nursery.”

I found this a really strange thing to suggest. Where’s the logic? Since my daughter has learnt her numbers at home with me, what she really needs is to go to Nursery? Surely her number-knowledge was evidence that, lo and behold! Children can learn things at home, too.

When I had teenie-tinies at home I couldn’t afford to go to any of the groups that were going on all over my pocket of London. Gymboree, Baby Yoga, sensory classes – they’re all just words to me. I only slightly know what they mean. Never been. I also didn’t really want to leave the house. Looking back, I think I should have gone to more free groups because I would have made some friends. But I didn’t.

We know a family with seven wonderful children. If anyone can be called parenting experts, they can. I remember the dad laughing to me once about an advert he’d seen in a local cafe for a Baby Rhyme Time they were hosting. He said something like this, “There’s a middle-class angst that you must go to a class in order for your children to learn anything. Instead they could just sit at home and whack a saucepan with a wooden spoon.”

I’m not knocking groups. I think they can be life-savers for parents. But now that the groups are all cancelled, please don’t panic. Many of us (myself included) love a schedule. We love something we can measure, or tick off a ‘to do’ list. Tasks we can complete. Twelve hours a day with a toddler, some jigsaws and the housework is no such experience. However, please be assured that while the struggle is yours, it’s probably not theirs.

If they’re with parents who love them and talk to them and sing with them and laugh with them, they’ll be learning all sorts every day. Get them counting stuff in the house, drawing stuff, colouring stuff, baking stuff and pretending stuff. 

I know the lack of structure is overwhelming. Activities you hoped would take the morning take 10 minutes (plus 30 mins clean-up).  I know it’s hard. But don’t add to that the pressure that your children are missing out because you’re not going to Story-time at the Library. If you can read, they don’t need Story-time at the Library.

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Having said all of that, if you’re missing your toddler group I recommend Junior Jivers to you. I’ve never been (see above), but I have confidence that it’ll be a treat. You have to watch it live, but hopefully you can fit that into your schedule! It’s on the Faith in Kids Youtube channel, 10.30am (BST) on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

 

 

Freedom

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. Galatians 5:13-15.

We’ve been using the Lent Prayer Tree prayer guide from Hope and Ginger. The other day it suggested we prayed for “people you find challenging.” Of course we all prayed for each other! Who sees the worst side of me? Who gets the least patient version of me? My poor, dear family. And now we’ve been sentenced to at least 12 weeks of family confinement. I mentioned I’m reading A Gentleman in Moscow – that’s about a man who’s living under house arrest. Little did I know when I began reading it how apt it would be. But he’s in a massive hotel and he has more than 5 people to talk to! Who knew I’d end up envying him, just a little bit? (I’m kidding… of course…)

I’m not complaining about my family. But I give them plenty of reasons to complain about me. The truth is, though, that it is challenging spending so much time with other sinners. This morning I read the children the passage above from Galatians. We talked about how we can spend the day (metaphorically?) biting chunks off each other, but if in the end we’ll all be “consumed.” There’ll be nothing left of us! Or we can choose to obey God and love each other as we love ourselves. So we prayed that the Lord would change our hearts and help us to do that instead.

I think when we read commands about loving and serving other people and showing generosity and grace, it’s easy to think about people “out there.” Especially now, when many people out there are genuinely in need of help. And helping people is the right thing to do, of course, but I think I often neglect to see that there are people right under my nose who need love, generosity and grace. And if they’re the only people I’m going to see today (other than on a screen), then this seems the perfect opportunity to start praying for supernatural love for them.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

I just wanted to add as a bit of a disclaimer: when I tell you about how things are going here I do spare you many messy details. The reason for this is that it wouldn’t be fair on my children to broadcast their struggles. I’m usually happy to share my own failings, but that’s my choice. It’s also not very encouraging to hear about someone else’s ugliness. But I just want you to know that when I share with you a craft or an activity that’s worked well, it may not have been all happiness and harmony along the way. We, like you, are works very much in progress. Some days go beautifully; some evenings require a brisk and fervent prayer walk. Most days are a bit of both.

Here are some things we’ve tried:

We’ve now got a “Shake Up 2” playlist which is: “Who’s the King of the Jungle?” Colin Buchanan, “Tell it to Jesus” (very apt) by Randall Goodgame and “Dr Jesus” by Awesome Cutlery. All available on YouTube with lyrics.

 

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I’ve started reading Kensuke’s Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo with the older three and we’re going to do crafts and things along the way. If you’ve got a good children’s book that you enjoy, this is a great way to inspire activities because you can use the text as a springboard for all sorts of crafts/drama/writing. So far this has included making paper boats and painting some Japanese numbers – we did that thing with wax crayons and watercolours, which turned out nicely! I feel like I did that a lot in primary school. And you probably know this but twinkl.co.uk is a great place for resources and ideas.

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I just want to give a little shout-out to Post-It notes. Give a child a Post-It note to write something on, and he’s pretty chuffed. Plus it’s a way of sticking things to the wall which (I hope) doesn’t do any damage. I’ve started using them to plan out the day – so we all have some idea of what’s going on – and today I used some to remind me to help my daughter learn these sounds:

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Still poorly. Still an heir.

A brief update because I’m still poorly.

Here are some things that have helped:

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I emptied some toy trays (which was disturbingly easy to do) and we’re using them as work trays – one for each child. It was my 6 year old’s idea. They were excited about it and it keeps things tidier. I think children really do like to know what’s what. Having their own tray seems to be very reassuring.

Being flexible. It’s good to have a plan. I did this initially for my own sake but actually the children don’t like it if there’s no plan. However, it’s also good to remember that we do actually have all day and no proper deadlines. So if something takes longer – great! Or if you got the wrong day and the Facebook Live History lesson isn’t till tomorrow – that’s also fine!

The morning shake up is definitely a keeper. Choose a few of your favourite family worship songs and kick off the day with a prayer and some praise. There may be a video of this coming soon…

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To us this is a vast expanse!

We moved the furniture around so there’s now more space in the living room. You might not need to do this but the children found it exciting and it means they’re less likely to bump into each other when dancing to “Super Saviour” or doing P.E. indoors.

It’s good to remember that most toys and games for 3-5 year olds are educational. This means that my 3-year-old will learn things every day – as long as she does more than watch Peppa Pig.  And by the way, let’s remember that we don’t need super duper equipment. Today I was wondering what my daughter could use as a desk and she said “I’ll just sit on my bed.” And it was fine! See below.

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And finally – here’s a wonderful reminder from Galatians 4. (There is a beautiful memory verse song for this on Sing the Bible Family Christmas by Randall Goodgame. It’s on YouTube but not a high quality version. You’ll have to buy the CD!)

Remember your Heavenly Father is with you today:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,  to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

Free Refreshments, Anyone?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m not convinced we ever do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And you might even save someone’s life:

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