Christmas Gifts 2021

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

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

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

Toys and Games

Balloon Ball from Grizzli Bear

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

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

Dutch Blitz in February 2020. Little did we know…

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

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

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

Books

Fiction:

The Wingfeather Saga, Andrew Peterson

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

Marylinne Robinson (for adults or perhaps older teens)

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

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

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

Non-Fiction:

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

Little Me, Big God

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

Seek & Find, Sarah & André Parker

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

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

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

Something a bit different

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

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

Toilet Twinning

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

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

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

A little more conversation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons from the Jungle

I mentioned in my last post, Why Bother with Biographies?, that I’ve recently read Evidence Not Seen by Darlene Deibler Rose. I once heard Rachel Jankovic say that this is a book that “every human should read,” and I tend to agree, so please don’t read this post in lieu of reading the book. Instead, I hope (for your own sake) that this wee post inspires you to read the book – which, incidentally, is not too long either.

I don’t want to give away the best bits so I’ll try to be brief. I’ve got four encouragements from Darlene’s memoir:

Angels are Busy Doing Stuff

I feel like there are a lot of Christians (myself included) who are a bit shy about angels. We’ve got a children’s book which says, “Angels are everywhere. There might be some here with us right now.” A friend of mine read it once, glanced at me nervously and said, “Do we believe that?”

Perhaps we’re put off by all the dodgy Christmas cards depicting angels as babies with wings. Perhaps we’re put off by the false teachers we’re warned about in Colossians 2 who “delight in false humility and the worship of angels.” Maybe we’re just embarrassed. Whatever the reason, I for one have acted as though angels don’t exist anymore. And yet, they continue to do the Lord’s bidding:

For he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. (Psalm 91:11-12)

Praise the Lord, you his angels,
    you mighty ones who do his bidding,
    who obey his word.
21 Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts,
    you his servants who do his will. (Psalm 103:20-21)

When we pray for God’s help and protection, it might be that he’s sending angels to care for us. I find this an encouraging thought. The spiritual realm is real, and our team has already won.

Children’s Songs Matter

Things got bad for Darlene; then they got worse. When she was most afraid, the songs she’d learned as a child came back to her – songs she thought she’d long forgotten:

My face and hands were wet with cold perspiration; never had I known such terror. Suddenly I found I was singing a song that I had learned as a little girl… So tenderly my Lord wrapped his strong arms of quietness and calm about me. I knew they could lock me in, but they couldn’t lock my wonderful Lord out. Jesus was there in the cell with me.

p. 114

This should encourage us if we are parents of young children (or have any dealings with young children at church). The songs they’re learning now will stick with them. A friend who’s now a missionary once told me that it’s important that we sing sound doctrine with our children because the songs he learnt as a child are the songs he knows best.

Wishy-washy fun schmaltz isn’t going to help a person much if they’re in the firing line. On the other hand, the truths they sing now, even those songs that you’re a bit sick of hearing, might be a lifeline for them one day. (I wrote about this previously.)

Scripture is Worth Memorising

Similarly to the songs, Darlene was sustained by the Word of God that she’d memorised. When her Bible was taken away, she still had the Word written on her heart:

The Lord fed me with the Living Bread that had been stored against the day when fresh supply was cut off by the loss of my Bible. He brought daily comfort and encouragement – yes, and joy – to my heart through the knowledge of the Word.

p. 129

Like the tins of fruit I was grateful for when we couldn’t get to the supermarket last year, there may be times in our lives, or our children’s lives, when stored-up Scripture is the only Scripture available. I don’t want empty cupboards if and when that day comes.

And even now, if I’m struggling to sleep or I’m anxious about something, it’s the Scripture I’ve memorised that helps me the most. So it doesn’t need to be at times of extreme suffering that you need the Word hidden in your heart. (For more on this, I recommend “Deeper Still,” which I wrote about here.)

He’s With me When I Don’t Feel it

Many times in Darlene’s account she cries out to God and hears Him answer her through his Word. This is a huge encouragement and a reminder that in times of desperation, the Lord does not abandon us.

But it might lead us to wonder about the times when we’ve prayed and not really heard or felt the Lord answer us clearly. It might make me wonder if I would know the Lord’s presence in the same way if I were in a terrifying situation like that.

In answer to this niggling question, there is a truly glorious moment in the book. There is a time when Darlene does not feel the Lord’s presence with her. Her emotions are telling her that He isn’t there. And then she remembers that our faith isn’t being certain of what we can see or feel:

I was assured that my faith rested not on feelings, not on moments of ecstasy but on the Person of my matchless, changeless Saviour, in Whom is no shadow caused by turning… More than ever before, I knew that I could ever and always put my trust, my faith, in my glorious Lord.

p.141

At her lowest point, it wasn’t the feeling of the Lord’s presence that helped her but her trust in His promises. There are times when we are ecstatic with joy in the Lord, and this is a wonderful blessing. But if our relationship with God is based on those times, we will not endure. His unchanging Word will sustain us when our feelings ebb and flow. We trust in what He will do for us, because of who He is and what He has already done in the past:

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Hebrews 11, verse 1

Quotations are from Evidence Not Seen by Darlene Deibler Rose, Authentic Media reprint 2020. We got ours at 10ofthose.com

Why Bother with Biographies?

In the Summer of 2014, the so-called Islamic State raged through Syria and Iraq, terrorising and murdering thousands, especially those who refused to convert to Islam. I think I was on holiday in an idyllic Welsh holiday village when I first heard about it. In the months that followed, as the situation in the Middle East grew worse, I found it difficult to hear the stories and still trust my good, sovereign God. I wrote about this at the time if you’d like to read about it.

Around this time I asked a lady I know to have a coffee with me. I asked her how we could still trust God, when our brothers and sisters were suffering so badly. I asked her because she’s wise, and because she too has suffered at the hands of wicked men. While living as missionaries in Nigeria, she and her husband were brutally attacked in their home by an armed gang. If she could still trust that our God is good and faithful, then I wanted her to show me how. I remember her telling me (amongst many other things) that what happened to them was what she had feared would happen and had prayed would not happen. Sometimes God’s answer to our prayers is not, “I won’t let that happen” but is to say, “Even then, I will be with you.”

It was this friend who recommended I read The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. (She actually suggested another book, Killing Fields, Living Fields, but I said there was no way my nerves could take it.) She described The Hiding Place as “lovely.” If you want to read about how God is faithful even when the unthinkable happens, then The Hiding Place is a gentle introduction. It’s Entry Level. I have written about it here.

If you haven’t read Christian biographies before, I’d love to recommend it to you. I’m fairly late to the party and have mainly been introduced to missionaries and faithful men and women of the past through children’s books. Here are some reasons why I think it’s worth ‘bothering with missionaries’ (not just missionaries – Corrie Ten Boom for example was just a hider of Jewish people):

  1. We see that the Lord gives strength to his people, even when the worst things happen. This helps us not to fear, and helps us to have a bigger view of our very, very big God.
  2. If we live relatively comfortable lives, our children can see that Christianity is not a safe, sensible, squeaky-clean option. Following Jesus can be dangerous and we need to prepare our children for that. As Jesus said, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” For some children this will actually make them more interested in Jesus. For some it might just prepare them for what’s ahead.
  3. The stories are absolutely gripping and exciting. Kids (and adults) love adventure stories. What could be better than an adventure in which our God is the hero?
  4. They challenge us to live courageously for Christ. If Darlene (see below) can share the gospel with a brutal, violent POW camp commander, then shouldn’t I be brave and ask my kind, sweet colleague what they think of Jesus?
  5. Old books are often better than new books. No offence to present-day authors, but older books that people are still reading have stood the test of time. So if a Christian book is old and still in print, it’s probably worth reading. Just as the old songs that are still played on the radio are better than most of the current songs. It’s why Wizard and Slade are better than Kelly Clarkson. Time burns off the dross and leaves the pure gold for us to enjoy. I think I’ve mixed some metaphors there, sorry.

If you don’t know where to start with introducing missionaries to your homes, then here are some ideas:

Preschoolers: The Good Book Company have just released a series of missionary biographies for very young children. We’ve read the one about Corrie Ten Boom and one about Betsey Stockton. These are a fantastic way to introduce these stories in an age-appropriate way. I was curious as to how Corrie’s story could be told in a way that wouldn’t give a child nightmares, but they managed it. The Betsey Stockton one is also refreshing because she had been an enslaved person. I wouldn’t want my children thinking that only white people can be missionaries! It also shows how God’s grace can enable someone who’s been treated horribly to be full of grace for others. You can get these books, and others, here.

Ages 5-11ish: My son likes reading books with loads of examples of historical figures, such as Everyone a Child Should Know by Clare Heath-Whyte and the Church History ABCs by Stephen J Nichols and Ned Bustard. I personally don’t find these as appealing because I think I’d just forget them all, but children do have incredible memories and they enjoy the little snapshots of men and women of the faith who’ve persevered and often done great things for those who’ve come after them (e.g. us). I’ve written a bit about this before in a post called Naughty. (Every year as a family we look at Church History in the Autumn. I’ve written about this here.)

The Light Keepers series of books each tells ten stories about Christians of the past, aimed at children aged 7-11. We like the Ten Girls/Boys Who Changed the World books. (Warning: the Ten Girls/Boys Who Didn’t Give In were all martyrs. This was too traumatic for our daughter when we tried to read them to her a few years ago!) We find these books are great to read on holiday. There’s something about being away from home and trying something different that helps you to remember. I still remember sitting at the table in Cornwall, silently weeping as my husband read to the children about Corrie and Betsie Ten Boom and their fleas.

Teens/Adults: I don’t have any teenagers so I haven’t delved into any aimed at teens yet I’m afraid. I’m also a complete rookie at reading missionary biographies, despite going on about how good it is to read them. I have, however, just finished reading Evidence Not Seen by Darlene Deibler Rose. It’s absolutely gripping. I’ll follow up shortly with a blog post about this book. If you’re going to start it (the book, not my post!), beware that you will struggle with any interruptions. When you’re on the edge of your seat wondering when the Japanese soldiers are coming back, what’s happened to Russell or whether Darlene will get a banana, you will struggle to be patient with the unassuming child who comes in and asks for a plaster.

One thing I’ve really been hugely encouraged by in the days I’ve spent with Darlene and Corrie, is that our God really and truly does answer prayer. He is a God of miracles. He absolutely can do the impossible. I know this, because he even saved me. But I’m a forgetful creature. And sometimes I’ve prayed about something a lot, and it doesn’t seem like God is answering. If you can relate to this, I’d love to recommend to you that, if you haven’t already, you get a clearer view of our big, big God by reading about God’s faithfulness in extreme circumstances. The God who heard the prayers of Miss Ten Boom and Mrs Deibler is the same God who I pray to now.

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
    of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked advance against me
    to devour me,
it is my enemies and my foes
    who will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me,
    my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
    even then I will be confident. Psalm 27:1-3

What should I read next? I’d love to hear your recommendations!

(I do not get paid by anyone for recommending these books. I just wanted to tell you about them.)

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