Dickens on Kids: They never raise a blush

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Before you ask, this is from last winter. No snow in London yet!

I’ve been re-reading A Christmas Carol, because it’s just so darn festive, and it makes you glad you live here and now, and it makes you thankful that you can go to the hospital when you’re ill, and did I mention that it’s festive? 

I wanted to show you this passage from ‘Stave Two – the First of Three Spirits,’ because it’s a lovely picture of childhood happiness.  Here the narrator (not Scrooge!) is describing a scene in which a large family of children play around with their adult sister.  I wish it had been their mother, but I think it probably is the sister and you just can’t rewrite Dickens!   But let’s just say it could just have easily been their mum!  You’ll see the narrator is really gushing over this young lady, and he can’t believe the audacity of her little brothers who are clambering all over her without any hint of inhibition.  I don’t know if you read much Dickens (!), but I think you should probably read this passage a couple of times through.  It’s worth it.  

They were in another scene and place, a room, not very large or handsome, but full of comfort… The noise in this room was perfectly tumultuous, for there were more children there than Scrooge in his agitated state of mind could count… The consequences were uproarious beyond belief; but no one seemed to care; on the contrary, the mother and [eldest] daughter laughed heartily, and enjoyed it very much; and the latter, soon beginning to mingle in the sports, got pillaged by the young brigands most ruthlessly.  What would I not have given to be one of them!  Though I never could have been so rude, no, no!  I wouldn’t for the wealth of all the world have crushed that braided hair, and torn it down; and for the precious little shoe, I wouldn’t have plucked it off, God bless my soul! to save my life… And yet I should have dearly liked, I own, to have touched her lips; to have questioned her, that she might have opened them; to have looked upon the lashes of her downcast eyes, and never raised a blush; to have let loose waves of hair, an inch of which would be a keepsake beyond price; in short, I should have liked, I do confess, to have had the lightest license of a child, and yet to have been man enough to know its value.

I think Dickens has really captured something true and beautiful about childhood here.  The last part describes, I think, a universal truth about kids.  By the time children are old enough to appreciate the blessing of relationships they have, those relationships have changed and they can’t go back to being children.  By the time your children appreciate all of the times you’ve changed their nappies, often while they thrash around and scream, they’ll probably be changing their own children’s nappies.  I’m not saying they don’t appreciate anything, but from their childish perspectives they can’t see the value of their parents (or other people in their lives) in the way that they will once their grown-ups.  They enjoy the relationships massively, but they’re not ‘man enough to know their value’.  And actually, like the children in the Dickens scene, they enjoy you more because of it.

This isn’t a bad thing.  So much of what you do for your children, and what you give them – and the fact that often it’s yourself you’re giving them – is taken for granted by your children.  My husband has said to me more than once, ‘The kids take you for granted, and that’s how it should be.’  I know that sounds a bit strange, because we think of ‘taking for granted’ as being necessarily negative.  But he means that they expect me to be there, always, and to keep being Mum.  It’s a given.  You might – I hope – have people around you who appreciate what you’re doing with your life.  They know that you’ve made sacrifices for your children, and that, frankly, your kids are very privileged to spend so much time with you.  But your kids don’t know any of that.  Even if you say to them (which I hope you don’t), ‘I gave up a rewarding and lucrative job for you!’  or something similar, they still won’t get it.  You’re their Mum (or Dad) – and they can’t take a step back and see you in any other light.

But most of the time, even if you’ve got lovely family and friends who appreciate you, nobody sees what you do.  There is no omniscient narrator, no fly-on-the-wall cherishing the happy moments in your home, or sympathising with you when everything happens at once and you’re really being tested.  You can tell your spouse or a friend at the end of the day, but it’s not really the same.  But, (and I suppose you know where I’m going with this) there is someone who sees everything you do.  And He thinks you’re precious, He values you, and He forgives your wrongs as well.  Please be encouraged, especially in the run up to Christmas, with all of the shopping and the list-making and the running between Nativity plays, that God values you most highly.  One day, you’ll meet God face to face and he’ll say, if you’re trusting in Christ, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’ and it will all have been worth it.  In the new creation, nobody will underestimate or overlook you.  Alleluia! 

But there’s something else that we mustn’t forget.  When we serve our children, especially when it’s hard for us, we’re following the example of our Lord and Saviour.  There’s One whose entire life was a sacrifice.  He gave himself, and not for people who loved him and liked to play games and kiss him, but for his enemies.  There’s One who knew that only God his Father valued him.  The King who didn’t even have a bed to be born in; the King who was a child refugee; the King who as an adult ‘had nowhere to rest his head.’  There’s One who was underappreciated beyond our understanding – who was priceless, and yet was killed like a worthless criminal.  And in the end, when we see face to face King Jesus, who is our role-model and our righteousness, we won’t be saying, ‘Oh, finally someone who appreciates me!’  We’ll be casting our crowns before Him – the One who is worthy of all the glory and honour and praise. 

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God bless us, everyone!

I know I’m already quoting Dickens, but this isn’t the proper Christmas Carol post – that’s still to come.  

Have you ever tried to do something festive and beautiful with your family? Christmas music on; candles lit; cattle lowing.  Here’s a reminder that the execution of such plans is often not quite as soft-focus and magical as we’d hoped.

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Here, Swiss Family Brooks attempted to decorate a gingerbread house.  We even bought it flat-packed from Ikea to reduce the risk of meltdown.  However, in the end not even Mike’s Structural Engineering expertise could reverse the sabotage of Miriam’s elbows.  

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But of course, the children loved it – and the gingerbread house tasted the same.  I do have a video of Ezra laughing his head off every time he added a smartie to the roof, but it’s far too blissful to show you here.

If a similar plan of yours has gone awry, please be encouraged that it’s not the end result that matters, but the fun you have in the process.  Now please excuse me while I go and apologise to my children for losing sight of this!

 

This Christmas look down to the God in the manger

 

Please pause the internet Christmas shopping and take a couple of minutes to hear this excellent spoken word about Santa, and how we often view God.  It’s no bah-humbug!  (Christmas Carol post to follow – don’t think I’m joking.)

This was the trigger for an in-hindsight-amusing conversation with Miriam about Santa in Peppa Pig: ‘So you see, Miriam, Peppa had never met Santa but you can speak to God every day’ (Cue blank/confused/’can we watch another episode now?’ expression from eldest child.)

“Santa rewards those with good behaviour;  Jesus draws near to the broken as Saviour.”

Let’s Raise the Bar (Comparisons Part 1)

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Comparing washing piles – Ezra wins.
Guess who’s a 2-yr-old boy?

I’ve learnt a lot recently about comparisons.  Part of our nature is that we compare ourselves to other people.  One big problem with this is that we become complacent about our sin – if we believe we’re sinners at all.  If we’re Christians, we know we are sinful, but on a day-to-day basis we often slip into the habit of looking around and thinking with a nod, ‘Yeah, I’m doing alright!’

It strikes me that nowhere is this more prevalent than in the world of parenting.  Even before your baby is born, you start to compare yourself/the baby/the pregnancy with others.  Some of this is just to check that everything’s normal – but not all of it.

Let me give you a few examples, in case you’re not so sure.  Let’s take the topic of your child’s eating habits.  In the part of the city where I live, there are a growing number of children who have very weak bones because their (extremely wealthy) parents have fed them nothing but fruit and veg.  In fact, when my daughter was a baby her growth slowed, and the Health Visitor assumed I was starving her of carbs.  (In actual fact, she is about two-thirds rice cake.)

And of course, I also live near many parents who feed their children crisps and sweets for breakfast, and fried chicken and chip-shop chips for tea most nights.  They too are malnourished, but in a different way.

So here I am, with my Annabel Karmel Meal Planner, feeling rather smug.  Aren’t I marvelous – my children eat a selection of food from each food group (no veg, but I don’t dwell on that).  They snack on fruit; they feast on meat – my daughter confessed at a party recently that she’d never before eaten jelly and ice cream!  Well can’t I just pat myself on the back and thank God that my kids are so lucky to have me?  (I may as well be saying, ‘Thank you God that I am not like this tax collector…’)

Let’s see – are there any other examples?  What about how much TV my children watch, how often I read the Bible to them, how many extra-curricular activities I pay for them to do, how I dress my children, whether I breast or bottle feed, whether we eat meals together, whether they watch Disney, how much time I spend reading to my children, what kind of school I send them to, whether I make them wear a helmet or not, etc. etc. etc.

Of course, many of these things do matter a great deal.  But instead of comparing myself and looking down on others, why don’t I stop looking around me for a minute and look at where God has actually set the bar?

I’ve been reading Ezekiel, and learning about how the prophet sees a vision of the likeness of God’s glory, which is absolutely mind-blowing: ‘When I saw it, I fell face down…’ (Ezekiel 1:28)  And not only that, but we have seen God’s glory in a bigger way, since Jesus showed us his glory, particularly at the cross.  There, the holiness of God; his love; his justice; his mercy and grace are blasted out to the world for all to see: ‘We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.’  (John 1:14)

So what standard does this glorious God set?  Jesus says, ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’  Hmmm.  When I think about that, I don’t feel so proud of myself.  How does God feel about my sin?  Look at the cross – he poured out his wrath on his Son because of it.

Can you imagine Ezekiel strolling up to the image of God’s glory and saying ‘OK, but do you know I fed my children cereal for breakfast every day!  And no sugary drinks!’  Ridiculous I know, but in my heart I whisper that to God when I’m feeling proud.

The right response to God’s glory is to bow down and worship him, and to cry out for mercy – which he freely gives.  That should be our response, no matter who we are or what we’ve done.  I need to keep reminding myself of this, especially when I’m comparing myself to parents who in my sinful opinion are not as competent as I am. (Gosh, don’t I sound like a delight?)  God’s not judging me by comparison.  He is holy.

As a church community, I think we can help each other out with this a lot too.  We’re always having examples of ‘bad’ parenting thrust in our faces – in the press, at the school gate, or maybe just people we know.  So when a wonderful parent in our church says things like, ‘Oh I really lost my patience today with my kids,’ or ‘I just wish I could be more joyful about motherhood,’ we think, ‘But you’re fantastic!  You’re the best mother I know!’  And often we console them by saying things like, ‘Oh that’s understandable/everyone feels like that sometimes/you’re much more patient than I am’ etc.

Now I’m not saying we should be judging each other at all – and we definitely should encourage the good we see God doing in people. But if someone is feeling convicted of sin, they need to hear the gospel.  And by ‘gospel’, I don’t mean ‘Oh don’t worry, there are loads of people who are much worse than you!’  That’s not good news at all!

Instead of making each other feel better by implying our sin doesn’t really matter, let’s acknowledge that it does matter and remind each other that God has dealt with it all at the cross.  You don’t need to feel guilty – not because you’re perfect, but because God has removed your guilt from you:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1: 8-9

I’d much rather be reminded that I am purified from all unrighteousness than be cheered up by the knowledge that someone else is worse than I am!  Not only is it more wonderful, but it’s also the truth that I need to hear.

So if you’ve recently entered the world of comparison-parenting, or you’ve been a resident for a long time, may I encourage you that you’re actually worse than you think you are!  And if you’re in Christ, God sees you as righteous, holy and perfect:

‘Blessed are those
whose transgressions are forgiven
Whose sins are covered;
Blessed is the one
Whose sin the Lord will never count against them.’
(Romans 4:7-8, quoting Psalm 32)

P.S.  You might be thinking – ‘But when I compare myself to people around me, I feel worse, not better!  I feel like the worst mum in the world!’  I’m hoping to write about this in my next blog post!  (Or at least one in the near future…)

Bible Overview Advent Calendar

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Well isn’t this the most festive sight you ever did see?  No?

I know it’s doesn’t look great but please don’t be put off by the beige/white combo and the peeling paint which I’m trying unsuccessfully to hide!  It’s actually completely marvellous!

This is an advent calendar for young children, which my wonderful friends created and have kindly given to me.  Each day you turn over the relevant day to reveal a picture (see the second photo), look at a Bible story together, maybe do a song and colour in the picture.  Eventually your children will have built up their own colourful Bible overview!  Brilliant!

If you would like to do this with your children, I can email you the teaching guide and the sheets for each day.  You will need:  A functioning printer or access to one; some string (unless you choose to do it some other way – a scrapbook? placed around the room?); a children’s Bible.  There are really useful notes for each day so don’t feel you have to be an expert to give this a go!

I don’t seem to be able to post the documents on here for you to download, so if you’d like them please could you post a comment below and I’ll email them to you.  Why not let me know your favourite Christmas song (Christian or secular, sorry if that offends!) to get us all in the mood!  You comment by clicking on the speech bubble, top right.

If I manage to make mine look more festive (could it get any worse?), I will post a picture just to cheer us all up!  Happy Advent everybody!

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