Bringing Beauty Back

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Captured by my son

The Mahaney family are experts at writing short, readable and practical books that pack a punch.  I recommend True Beauty to you, which despite fulfilling all the Mahaney criteria took me four months to read (well, just over two years if you count from when I blogged that I was going to read it.)  But hey, I had a baby.

I don’t really need to take what I learnt and package into a parenting article because there is actually an appendix in the book in which they apply the lessons to parenting.  So please do read the book.  However, here are some thoughts from me.  I’m afraid they’re a bit jumbled up, for which I partly blame the school holidays.

I don’t know about you but the issue of beauty seems to me like a bit of a minefield.  I don’t want my daughter to be vain, but I want her to know that she is beautiful.  And is it alright to tell my son he is handsome?  And how can I encourage the boys to value true beauty and not just long lashes and Disney manes?

We’re so bombarded with the world’s idea of beauty, however ugly that may be in God’s sight, that it’s tempting to avoid the topic of “beauty” altogether.  But if I do that, then my children will only have the world teaching them what is beautiful. And if I try to shield them completely from that, they will either think that all beauty is wicked or they’ll crave worldly beauty like a child craves refined sugar.  I don’t want my daughter to spend all of her (potential) pocket money on lip gloss and teen fashion magazines because I never even let her have a mirror in her room.  So, how do I navigate all of this without anything blowing up in my face?

What I know in my head if not always in my heart is that true beauty comes from the Lord, because he is the Beautiful One, the source of all beauty and creator of everything beautiful.  He defines beauty, and he is right.  (You should have been there when I tried to explain this – although not in those words –  to my hairdresser… awkward!)

As with all of the good things in this world, beauty has become warped and corrupted so that our own view of beauty is spoilt.  But beauty is a good thing, from God, so rather than avoiding beauty we need to celebrate it.  We will spend eternity gazing upon the beauty of the Lord, so it must be worth thinking about now!

I really think my children are likely to pick up on and inherit my own attitude on this issue.  If I say “Beauty is on the inside” but don’t walk the talk, they won’t buy it.  If my husband tells me I look lovely and I say “No I don’t,” and if the only compliments I ever give people are about how they look, and if I spend huge amounts of time and money on my own appearance, then that’s a pretty powerful message to my children.

I think it would really help if I did promote true beauty in the way that I spoke to the children and acted in day-to-day life, rather than just focusing on the false versions of beauty we see every day.  I can point out when someone does something beautiful; I can admire true beauty in others.  I can talk to my children when we come across examples of worldly beauty which I don’t think the Lord would value, such as saucer-eyed ice princesses having tantrums to music (“the cold never bothered me anyway”).  But I can explain those things in a measured way, rather than just banning all things Frozen or Barbie – unless I really want to.

Comic aside:
Ezra: “What’s Barbie?”
Miriam: “It’s a doll, like Hannah got for Christmas.”
Ezra: “Ha ha, Sweeney Todd’s a barber.”
You can’t argue with that.

The Lord’s version of beauty is so much more wonderful and liberating than the world’s. In the world, beauty fades with age.  But in God’s kingdom, the beautiful person is wise, generous, hospitable, gentle, hardworking, and joyful.  We can grow in these things, so in the church we can look to the older men and women and admire their beauty, and aspire to be truly beautiful. And when we seek to be truly beautiful, we are seeking God’s glory, instead of seeking attention for ourselves, which is vanity.  How wonderful it would be if I could bring up my children to enjoy the beauty of the Lord, and so reflect his beauty to those around them.

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Smudged but still beautiful

On a practical note, one way that my 6 year old daughter and I recently went on a “true beauty hunt” (I think that’s a quote from the book!) was to make postcards with Bible verses about beauty on them*, and then send them to some of the beautiful women we know.  This was a lovely thing to do because we enjoyed making the postcards look pretty(!), talking about the Bible verses and thinking about the women we were sending them to.  It encouraged the women who received them, but at the same time taught my daughter how to identify true beauty.  I’m praying for more ideas; please let me know if you have any!

*Such as Proverbs 31 v10 or v30; Romans 10v15.

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Beautiful Sons

I first posted this over 2 years ago, and have finally gotten round to reading “True Beauty” which I mentioned at the bottom. Such, such slowness! But anyway, let’s not dwell on that (please!) – here’s a reminder of it before I let you know how I got on with the Mahaneys…

Mum in Zone One

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In our small group recently we were talking about idols of our culture – the things people around us live for. We split into groups of three and chose an idol per group to discuss. One group chose beauty, and they then shared their thoughts with the group. They talked about how the idol of beauty promises respect and acceptance, and how it requires your absolute devotion, and of course that it never delivers on its promises. It might be a surprise to you that it was three men who chose to discuss the idol of beauty. Not once did they refer to, or seemingly think about, the ways in which women seek after beauty. They were looking at the issue from a man’s perspective, and thinking about the men they knew who were slaves to the false god of skin-deep, body-building perfection.

Maybe I’m just slow, but when I read…

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P.S. (Unbreak your ball)

The day after I wrote “True” I found this masterpiece, written by my 5 year old son.

God rock

It’s the latest in a string of wonderfully misspelled creations by the comedy genius that is Ezra – his “ants go marching two by two” had me in stitches, I tell ya.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Colin Buchanan song God Rock, but it’s about standing firm on the Lord, our rock.  The words to the chorus are, “God Rock, get on board the God rock; unbreakable, unshakeable, God Rock.”  So while I’ve been hearing Ezra singing along to this and thinking how nice it is that he’s learning all about how God is our rock and all other ground is sinking sand, etc., well he actually hasn’t.

When I wrote before that some children are more spongey than others, I was thinking of Ezra.  He has an incredible ability to learn song lyrics.  The other day he taught me the order of the minor prophets without blinking.  I have Randall Goodgame to thank for that. But clearly even Ezra mishears the words sometimes.  And, like everyone else in the world, when he wasn’t sure he just guessed.  (Many of us then Google it but he’s thankfully not old enough to Google things yet.)  So this is just a reminder to all of us that it’s good to check every now and again that our children actually understand what they’re singing.  Especially when so often things are metaphorical.  I can feel myself going into another long post about this so will stop myself.

I just need to say, though, that we can’t do this every time.  A friend of mine with 3 under 4’s said to me one day that she’d love to teach her children the Bible more, but some days all she has the energy to do is to stick on a CD of Christian music.  She clearly felt that this was a failure on her part.  I looked at her and thought, ‘what a fantastic woman you are.’  If in your less wonderful moments all you can do is put on a Christian CD, then praise God.  I’m not saying that we all need to have a comprehension test after each song.  But just to have it on our radars that the children will sing along regardless of whether they have a clue what they’re singing.  Even if they get the words right, they might not know what “rejoice” “dwell” or “redeemer” actually mean… (signing off now, despite desperate desire to keep going!).

It would amuse me greatly if you could comment and let me know any funny mistakes your children (or you) have made with Christian song lyrics.

Lessons from Gramps

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Amazingly, until December last year my husband had all four of his Grandparents still living. But his Nana went to be with Jesus in December, and in April her husband followed her. Gramps was almost 98 when he died, so while it was sad to say goodbye to him, we were able to celebrate his long and very interesting life together at a thanksgiving service in May. Aren’t people’s lives amazing? We found out that Gramps survived a direct hit on his flat during the Second World War, in which all of his neighbours were killed, and on a much lighter (but still amazing) note, he once had a cactus exhibition in the Chelsea Flower Show. He was an extraordinarily talented man. I wanted to share with you three lessons I learnt that day:

  1. We pass on more than our hair colour

One thing I find fascinating is that while I sat there listening to the story of Gramps’ life, I could tell that my husband takes after him. Mike’s incredible focus and single-mindedness, his love for science and his creativity – all of these have trickled down, in part at least, from Gramps.

It’s worth bearing this in mind. I suppose I don’t have any control over some of the things I pass onto my children, but I can control some of it. Will I pass down a fiery temper, or patience? Will my grandchildren display my gratitude or my grumbling? Yikes. Something to pray about.

Gramps
Gramps was also a very talented artist, and loved painting landscapes.
  1. God’s creation speaks of his glory

Gramps spent almost his entire life resisting the Lordship of Jesus, but he was so impressed by the beauty of God’s creation that he couldn’t deny the existence of the creator God. He was, rightly, unceasingly amazed by the wonder of this beautiful universe.

I’m not really into plants, or animals for that matter. My children are more likely than I am to point out to me blossom on a tree or the bright moon on the afternoon school run. But I need to train myself to see the beauty in the created world. Since it all points us to the glorious Creator, it’s my duty as a parent to help my children enjoy the world and praise the God who made it all.

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Psalm 19:1

  1. It’s not too late to turn to Jesus

Gramps lived a life burdened with guilt over things he’d done. Being human, he’d done things to feel guilty about. And he found no relief from this burden until right near the end of his life here on earth. Without Jesus, we all have so much to feel guilty about, don’t we? It’s hard enough as a Christian, knowing I’m forgiven, not to dwell on awful or just downright foolish things I’ve said or done. And if we don’t feel guilty about things, we certainly will on the day we meet Jesus as our judge. That’s unless we’ve found forgiveness from the Father through Jesus the saviour. Gramps found that forgiveness through Jesus, and acceptance from God, right at the end of his life. The truth is, we don’t know when our life will end. So don’t put it off – bow the knee to Jesus today. In this life it’s never too late.

Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6.

‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’ Matthew 11:28-29.

Trust Issues

Happy Easter! I’m still betting my life on this.

Mum in Zone One

Image Easter is full of surprises

‘Don’t trust anyone.’  You often hear that in films, and you can be sure that the main character will later be betrayed by someone that they do make the mistake of trusting.  The implication of this is that you can’t actually live without trusting people.  You might think you’re not a trusting person, but you still trust some people.  If your children are at school, you trust their teachers to teach them and not to harm them.  You trust the barista in Starbucks not to poison your coffee.  And the higher the stakes, the more trustworthy a person needs to be.  If you’re jumping out of a plane, you want your pilot and whoever packed your parachute to be trained and qualified!

I’ve put my ultimate trust in one man – not just for my life, but for the lives of my children.  That man is the…

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Happy Mother’s Day

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It’s Mother’s Day here in the UK, which seems to be my cue to write something since I have a blog for mums and about mothering. I’ve been trying to write several posts lately, but being very pregnant (and thus exhausted) has been very much getting in the way. So this will be brief.

I’ve just started reading a book, Radiant – Fifty Remarkable Women in Church History by Richard M Hannula (Canon Press). As the title suggests, it contains stories of some very inspiring women, many of whom are mothers. I read this yesterday:

After the first few centuries of Christianity’s spread across the Roman world, the greatest growth in the church came from the nurture of children in her midst. As always, the day-to-day task of bringing children their first impressions of faith in Christ has fallen primarily to Christian mothers.

You might not feel like you’re doing anything very important, teaching your children about Jesus alongside teaching them to use their cutlery and not to spit at each other. Your friends might think you’re mad because you seem happy being ‘just a mum’ when you used to have a well-paid job. Or maybe you do know that bringing up your children to serve the Lord is a truly valuable calling – it’s still nice for someone to say it to you once in a while though isn’t it?

I have the heart of an evangelist, so I do sometimes get frustrated when I’m doing the third load of washing and doing the same jigsaw for the fifth time, rather than being “out there” sharing the gospel with friends and strangers. But when I read the quote above about Christian women living in the fourth century, I felt privileged that I could follow in their footsteps. Bringing up my children in the training and discipline of the Lord is part of church growth and will hopefully bless the church and many unbelievers in the future, when my children go out into the world.

I doubt I’ll ever feature in a book, and I suppose my children probably won’t either. There’s no reason to think that they will. But by God’s grace I hope that they might live fruitful lives serving their Lord and Saviour, and one day be welcomed into heaven. I will have the Lord and his abounding grace to thank for that, but I can also rejoice that he is using me for his purposes in their lives.

As a friend said to me on my last Birthday, I now say to you: I hope your family make you feel appreciated today – and if they don’t, your reward is waiting for you in heaven.

Enjoy yourself (Just not in the same way you used to before)!

Is it church weekend away season? We’re signing up for ours now. I am looking forward to it – in the same way I’m looking forward to having a newborn (because I’ve forgotten all the pain and sleep deprivation and only remember the long term blessings). Incidentally, we’re hoping our newborn doesn’t actually GET born ON the weekend away.
So this post from last summer is now topical again – I hope it helps you to enjoy yourself (really!)…

Mum in Zone One

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I used to look forward to, and enjoy, weekends away with church. Now I brace myself for them, and often feel I’m the worst version of ‘me’ when I’m there. Sad, I know. But I believe that through prayer and practical wisdom this, the “time away with church family, with a family,” can be conquered!

I’m going away today, so I thought I’d offer some tips on how to get through, I mean enjoy, your time away (it’s more fun than packing). I’m in no way the expert, but I thought I’d share what I’ve come up with thus far – you’ll see I’m learning from my mistakes.

Things NOT to expect:

Sleep – Time and again I make the mistake of arriving on a conference/camp/ weekend away already tired, and hoping for some rest. Go on, point and laugh, I deserve it. You won’t get much sleep. Things will…

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Book Review Alert

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Click on Good Reads if you’d like to learn about a brilliant new children’s book about why Jesus died and rose again.  The perfect Easter present, if you ask me.  (Although I do like chocolate, folks, and I already have this book!)

The Gospel According to Picture Books

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Yep, it’s January.

When you’re a parent, you read a lot of picture books.  You become picture book experts – not really a transferable skill, sadly.  And these books can be enjoyed in their own right, and we can thank God for Julia Donaldson and those like her who can create such well-loved stories to share over and over (and over and over) again.

But I’ve also been thinking that if these stories (although fictional) contain any truth at all, then we can link that truth back to the one who is himself the Truth (John 14:6).  (This is where I would insert a profound quote from the excellent book Lit! by Tony Reinke, if I hadn’t lent it to somebody.  Sorry.)

To you this might seem a) completely mad and unnecessarily intense or b) blindingly obvious and patronising.  If so, sorry.  It is how my brain works and can, of course, be done in a not-intense way.  If it is obvious, then I don’t mean to patronise you, and I apologise, but I’m not sure everyone’s brain does work this way so it might help some parents.  If it’s helpful, I could do some more so let me know, esp. if your child’s favourite book is one you’re a bit stuck on, regarding gospel links!  Hopefully it will give you a fresh take on the books you might be growing somewhat weary of, and give you a little teaching opportunity while you sit in the doctor’s waiting room etc.

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Sorry these are almost all Julia Donaldson books.  That’s mainly because we have the audio books in the car and have been driving a LOT lately (visiting family up and down the country).  Which reminds me, Happy New Year!

Monkey Puzzle – Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (JD & AS)

This is a good opportunity to talk about the variety of God’s creation. He could have made just a few types of animal, but he made millions, to show how amazing he is.

You could also talk about how the butterfly is a bit silly (metamorphosis complication notwithstanding) for not realising that the monkey’s mum would look like him, because we do look like our parents. Then you could talk about how, since God is our Father, we are (and should be) growing more and more like him (e.g. 1 John 3:1-3, printed below).

You could also point out that this is a good lesson in not wandering off in the supermarket, because you never know what kind of numpty will end up “helping” you find your mum!

A Squash and a Squeeze  – JD & AS 

The little old lady has a completely different attitude at the end of the book compared to the beginning, but nothing in her circumstances has changed – only her perspective on her circumstances. Often we grumble and grouse over things, whereas if we allow God to give us a new perspective we may find we become full of frolicks and fiddle-de-dees.

The most obvious application I can think of is that if we begin to give thanks for what we have (instead of focusing on what we don’t have), we will start to be truly thankful and rejoice. Often we might be praying for a bigger house/a better job/a nicer bike/more friends, when we could actually be thankful instead and in doing so become content and joyful over what we do have.  I certainly want to live in a joyful, fiddle-de-dee house rather than a grumbling one, don’t you?

Room on the Broom – JD & AS 

The lovely thing about this story is that the characters who’ve been rejected a bit by the world are welcomed onto the broom, and although they’re all different there is room for all of them. This is a nice little picture of God’s kingdom/the church. There’s always room for more people, for anyone who wants to enter, and it’s often those who’ve been rejected or let down by the world who want to be a part of it. The (important) difference between the church and the broom (!) is that we all enter through Christ, so we have a special connection unlike any other, which makes us family despite our differences. 

Guess How much I love you – Sam McBratney & Anita Jeram

Although it’s very sweet that Big Nutbrown Hare tells his son that he loves him ‘right up to the moon and back,’ that doesn’t really mean a lot in reality. It’s not concrete, it’s just a nice thing to say. But our Heavenly Father proved his love for us once and for all by sacrificing his one and only Son for us when we didn’t deserve anything from him except judgement. We can be thankful that our Father does tell us he loves us in beautiful ways (E.g. ‘Keep me as the apple of your eye‘ Ps17:8), but he also proved it in a unique and most amazing way: This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us (1 John 3:16).  And like Little Nutbrown Hare, any love we give in return is small in comparison, although still welcome. We can never outlove God.  (Thanks to my husband Mike for pointing this out.)

The Smartest Giant in Town – JD & AS

The world usually thinks that the best people are the ‘smartest’ people. The best dressed, the best looking people. That’s what adverts want us to think. But it’s not what God thinks.

The animals in the story don’t care what George looks like: they care that he’s made an impact on their lives. He’s helped them, because he’s kind. It’s his character that matters most. (As my son said, ‘I like the bit where they say ‘the kindest giant in town.’)

And that’s what God thinks too: “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7.

Stick Man – JD & AS

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On a Stick Man trail

Stick Man knows who he is, but nobody else (except his family) does. They think he’s a stick/a bat/a twig for a nest/an arm for a snowman etc., but he knows his true identity. He’s Stick Man, he’s Stick Man, he’s Stick Man, that’s him.

If we’re Christians, we’ve been given a new identity. We’re in Christ. We’re born again. We’re adopted. We’re holy. We’re new creations. We’re heirs. We’re treasured. But most people don’t see that, and they will call us other things. Again, 1 John 3 is helpful:

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.  All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. (v1-3)

So no matter how people label us, we can keep on remembering our true identity, just like Stick Man does. And we can keep living for the day when Jesus (not Santa, who is a big fat lie), will take us home, to the place where everyone knows who we really are. And we’ll stick right there, in the Family Tree, forever.

What the Ladybird heard – JD & Lydia Monks

This is the hardest one so far. I’m hoping you have stopped reading by now! But I couldn’t leave it out because it’s my 2-year-old’s favourite. i.e. I know it off by heart. It’s a tricky one. So much deception!

You could talk about God’s variety in creation again – how God has made all kinds of animals, with different noises to boot. How clever of him.

You could talk about how God has given Julia Donaldson an amazing gift for writing stories!

You could maybe talk about how sometimes it’s right to lie or deceive, if it’s protecting someone or something important (like Rahab, or when David pretends to be mad), but that would certainly be too much for my 2-year-old! Maybe my 6-year-old daughter would enjoy that discussion (which reminds me, I need to find out if Antarctica has been evangelised yet, because that was last night’s question from her).

But I suppose a big theme of this book is loyalty. Loyalty is a good one to talk to our children about. We should look after each other, especially those who are in danger. The Lord is always loyal/faithful to us, looking after us and defending us, and he is the protector of the weak:
Defend the weak and the fatherless;
uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked. Ps 82:3-4

As I wrote above, do let me know if you’d like more of these.

Christmas Greetings

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Happy Christmas Everybody!

Thank you for reading Mum in Zone One this year.  It really does encourage me.  I hope I’ve encouraged you.  God willing, you shall be hearing from me in the New Year.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6