10 Advent ideas

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Picnics with peacocks, presents and parties! Half term break was a good one. We went away to one of our familiar holiday lets, and enjoyed a slower pace for a week of pottering and walking, eating and playing. Sleep was awful, still all the usual family dynamics and stresses plus the transition into and out of the week but as these things go it was a good one! And we’re nearly the other side of the autumn family birthdays… one belated horse themed party tomorrow still to enjoy and then we start thinking advent!

Do you make plans to mark advent as a family?

For us, times like this can be very hit & miss and we don’t always achieve the picture perfect social media effect. Isn’t it hard to look at ideas thinking ‘I’d love to, but…’ – comparisons are not a good thing. Lets face it every family is unique, with unique skills and interests and dynamics. We all shape our days, weeks and seasons around those – and the wonder of the truth of Advent and Christmas is that God came into the heart of that – into each unique home that will welcome him whatever it’s unique culture looks and feels like. I am encouraged by the thought that our advent, our preparation for Christmas, can have that truth woven through the muddle and mess – the chaos that so often comes from trying to intentionally remember the stories together in tangible ways.

I have posted a number of times about this challenge – this opportunity, should I say this privilege! So you may find these posts interesting.

 

advent ideas  

planning for advent

don’t panic…

This year I wondered if, like me, you’d be pleased to find a list of easy, adaptable advent ideas for families all in one place. There are so many out there, put together and thought up, and illustrated by so many wonderful creative people and these are ones I love:

  • follow the star – hide the star somewhere in the house each day of advent, find it & read the verse for that day. On the last day find it at the nativity scene.
  • the giving manger – I love the concept of adding straw to the manger every time you’ve served or loved someone during advent, so as to fill the manger with love to welcome Jesus.
  • names of Jesus – printable bauble ornaments each decorated with a name of Jesus. Can be coloured and hung during advent, either on a DIY tree, or strung up like bunting.
  • advent prayer – a lovely prayer with actions for littlies that could be used with an advent wreath or advent crown.
  • reverse advent calendar – instead of getting something every day this is a simple way of giving instead.
  • a verse a day – beautifully illustrated, quick to read verses from the Bible free to print out and tuck into an existing advent calendar or to take out of a treasure box on the tea table when you can throughout advent.
  • kindness elves – or acts of random Christmas kindness are another way to focus on giving rather than getting, and to talking together about serving and loving like Jesus.
  • Devotions using ‘The Jesus storybook Bible’ – we absolutely love this book, and these free advent printables help make this easy. Good for snuggling on the sofa or just before bed with little ones throughout advent.
  • Jesse tree ornaments with readings from ‘The Action Bible’
  • Jesse tree with lego challenges although I suspect we would turn the suggested order on its head and begin with the lego and slip the readings and Jesse tree bits in while hands are busy.

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changing seasons, yet God stays the same

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There is a season (a time appointed) for everything and a time for every delight and event or purpose under heaven… (Eccl 3:1 AMP)

And so the seasons have most definitely changed, no longer summer afternoon teas but now collecting colourful falling leaves, wrapping up in soft scarves and hats, jam making and open fires! Each season has its own delights, yet some things stay the same – I remembered this particular robin sharing our cream tea as A pointed out our garden robin had come to join in the hedge trimming just the other day. Totally different season, yet that robin reminded me of the constants we have in life in the midst of the relentless transitions.

Autumn brings birthdays to our family, and this year we have our first 18th – quite a milestone. A huge load of transitions heading our way over the next season in B’s life. There is a lot of pressure to make decisions about the next season in life – what university, what course, for what career?? Or should it be apprenticeship, and if so what and where?? Our very nearly 16 yr old also faces big choices, A-levels? If so which? If not, then what?? The pressure to somehow anticipate what’s going to be best in the next season of life is really tough I think. For most of us, looking back reveals just how nuanced and twisty-turny each season actually turns out to be in reality. Yet the decisions are presented as if everything hangs on them, as if this is the only time to have these opportunities. The fact that it seems as though everyone else is managing, and following the ‘system’ doesn’t relieve the pressure either. It feels impossible to step out for a bit, to pause and simply breathe. But for many I suspect, some in our family included, that’s exactly what’s needed to be able to face the next transition, the next season with intention and confidence. Not everyone’s going to fit into the standard timeline.

Andrew & I don’t want to be yet another source of pressure either through unspoken expectations, real or perceived, or by our unintended bias towards one path through life. But that’s not easy is it. We all come with an idea of what that path might (or even should) look like – whether we assume university or expect our kids to go out & get a ‘decent job’. It’s got to be a deliberate decision to pause alongside and see other possibilities, other ways of doing things and to value what each can bring, and to stay alongside as those incredibly difficult decisions are tentatively reached at the right time – not necessarily the time everyone else tells us.

I also hope that as parents we can point to the constants as so many things begin to change. We can offer our very best, praying and promising to be there no matter what. To always be home for our kids. But we have something, someone, even better to offer who we know will be able to fulfill his promise to be there and to always be home for our kids. Our Father God, through the presence of the Holy Spirit because of Jesus will be constant no matter what, no matter which path, no matter how many transitions, no matter which season of life. I pray that we can live in this reality ourselves in such a way that our kids are without doubt where we find our grounding and security in all the changes of life, and that they too in their own relationship with God will be being grounded deep and strong into that secure presence in their lives.

I’m never out of your sight. You know everything I’m going to say before I start the first sentence. I look behind me and you’re there, then up ahead and you’re there, too— your reassuring presence, coming and going. This is too much, too wonderful— I can’t take it all in! (Psalm 139:5 MSG)

 

 

Volunteering together

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Firstly, apologies for the unexpected gap in posts. It was a packed summer, and the new term feels similar! A few good friends are at my side reminding me I’m ‘doing too much’ for which I’m grateful – and am listening, but it’s not a quick fix – life is a bit of a juggling act of lots of demands on my time and energy and in the midst of it all I’m trying to be wise and listen to God’s prompting about what I should be filling each day with. One thing’s for sure – I’m missing writing!

One of the new things that has come into my week over the last 2 years is Girlguiding volunteering. In a way it has crept in, but I welcome it. It’s something the girls and I are all part of now. In fact just this last week we had a first planning meeting for a new Brownies unit and T, B & me all walked down and joined in together which was rather special (with hindsight, it was a bit full on at the time!).

I got involved when T was offered a place at Rainbows, she didn’t want to stay on her own so I stayed too and just helped out a bit where I could. When she moved up to Brownies we wondered if she would stay on her own if she joined the unit where B was volunteering as a young leader but she couldn’t do it very easily – and it was going to impact on B’s freedom to complete her young leader training so I stayed again. This time I began my volunteer leader training to be able to offer a bit more help.

To cut a long story short I find myself this term now heading up the Rainbows and also involved in leading a new Brownies unit – both at Holy Trinity Church.

It’s a bit of a roller coaster finding my feet with more to juggle, and at the same time collecting evidence for the leadership qualification but it’s great to be in it together. Girlguiding’s vision is to be a safe and nurturing space for girls. It has structure, purpose, is adventurous and has the potential to give girls of all backgrounds – and all abilities opportunities to gain life skills, practice teamwork and friendship and to experience things they might not without the group. The structure also has a clear pathway for girls to develop leadership skills, and begin volunteering and leading as they move through from Guides to Rangers and beyond which is what B has been doing.

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Of course B & I are really enjoying the creative side of planning, there may be some projects on the dining room table – again!! – a centerpiece floor mat for our circle time in Rainbows is well underway and should be ready for our first promise ceremony after half term.

There is something really lovely about joining in with something the girls want to be part of. It’s not been without its challenges by any means but I am getting to know some lovely people I perhaps wouldn’t have outside of Girlguiding, and am making the most of the way my girls (at the moment) want to be in it together with me. There may come a day when they don’t want that so I’ll enjoy it while I can.

 

free printable: faith doodling

Why is it that holidays feel so crazy busy?? Well, church holiday club, new wine & camping near Exmoor  now done. We’re getting the tents out one more time before the new school term begins.

So, there has been some space, some chocolate & some tea-shop visits; lots of family games, giggles and all the niggles of family life – but under canvas! And time was found for some faith doodling.

I also began another, thinking about ‘patience’ – ironically not finished, yet!

Download these here:

Brave

Hope

Strong

 I enjoyed doodling them, I pray you enjoy colouring them and reflecting with God while you do.

movie night: discussing difficult questions together

 

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summer fun – many years ago

In the middle of the busy-ness of holiday club at church, which we were all part of (proud mummy week!) we made time to sit and watch a film together that A had seen and wanted to share with us. Now this was not, obviously, one to share with T so late one evening the rest of us sat down to watch Hacksaw Ridge (rated 15). If you are looking for a feel good, easy on the eye movie this is NOT it. It is hard to watch, gritty and violent. It is based on a true story of a conscientious objector who was awarded the US medal of honour in America during WWII, showing his decisions and people’s reactions to him. It is a film of inner struggle, the way we are shaped by our circumstances, of principles being lived in the extreme context of war. I’m not sure it would have been one I’d have picked out for a family film night – even though we do almost always discuss what we watch together in the light of our faith and our values.

The most obvious discussion point was of course is there a ‘right’ Christian view on war? Of course this isn’t one neat question and our discussions ranged from ‘What is pacifism?’; ‘What is Just War theory?’; ‘Tell me about conscientious objectors’; ‘Is there a right answer?’; ‘What should we listen to, the God of the Old Testament who sends his people to war or Jesus in the New Testament who doesn’t?’ right through to talking about the Quakers, religious freedom and unsurprisingly Bonhoeffer. None of these are easy questions, with straight forward answers. And in a way as a parent sharing faith I could not escape the background question – ‘how am I supposed to get from what the Bible says to an opinion or a principle that I can live by now in this world?’. So much for a light family movie night, or a bit of time out from the busy schedule! But we do discussion in this family, tired or not we love to grapple with the tough questions together. But don’t be under the impression we discussed until we were content with the answer and then went to bed at peace with it – this is ongoing, and I’m sure we’ll talk together about the same questions from many different angles and in the light of different contexts over the years to come.

 

 

These are not clear cut, neat and tidy discussions with a definite outcome or answer. These questions yet again challenge us to cope with that and live with that – not at all easy especially when life in general is shaped by definites and routines, clear cut thinking. In a way growing up in a vicarage is a tough call for my amazing autists, from an early age we have had to cope with and live with a certain amount of uncertainty, flexible routines and have had to regularly adapt family life around Andrew’s (and mine) fluid working patterns. But when we come to discussions like this I am so very thankful for it, because from an early age we have established (unwittingly) categories, or ‘boxes’ in our thinking to put the maybes, not-yets, perhapses, and yes-and-no’s of life. If we hadn’t we might not have coped with the stresses of the necessary flexibility of our routines! I guess in a way we did the same thing we did for metaphors and similes, we named them and that gave them a box to be put in which made them manageable. The ‘grey area’ discussions need a box in our thinking too, a ‘we-can’t-see-the-big-picture-but-God-can’ box or an ‘its-a-paradox’ box.

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We also discuss in the context of faith, not in the abstract (if there ever can be), in the context of both what we know about God and what we have experienced of God, within the balance of truth and experience. What we know of God from the Bible – all of it, the big story – and the community experience, including our own personal experience, of the people of God in the past and now, all in the light of the work of the Holy Spirit in us.

In order to grow a healthy relationship [with God], we need a good balance of truth and relational experience. It is important that we learn to wrap one around the other, viewing one in the context of the other, so that they are inextricably linked, instead of compartmentalizing them as separate elements. (Parenting children for a life of faith, Rachel Turner)

And importantly we discuss together – there is very little point in me pretending that I have it all sorted out, or that I know all the answers even though there is a feeling of pressure as a parent to give an answer. Discussing together is authentic, grappling with tough questions acknowledging there is no easy answer is real. Modelling real faith to our children is not always easy and neat let’s face it!

 

So, to the questions!

What is pacifism? I have written a little about this before when reflecting on Remembrance Day . The Mennonite ‘Truth and Justice Network’ have some interesting articles about active pacifism, and the Quakers also have some useful resources.

Just War? A detailed essay about Just War theory here gives historical context and ethical basis for the theory. An easier to dip in and out of explanation is here.

Bonhoeffer It is easy to find out about his life, and the painful decisions he had to make during WWII. His wrestling and his response to the unfolding circumstances around him, and his internal, faith values are a powerful testimony of faith and of real relationship with God that shows us the depth of difficulty we have living faithful, faith-filled lives for God and also the peace we can find when our lives our deeply rooted into God. 

What does the Bible really teach us about war? What about the differences we seem to see between the Old and New Testaments? There is a really interesting article about historical context and anthropology by L.Stone which gives a context for us to read the Old Testament passages within. It challenges us to think what is different about the people of God to the people groups around them. There is also a useful discussion on Biblica  which tackles the question head on, and explores how we can understand God’s holiness and judgement revealed to us in Jesus.

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