New Year: same old

For the last few years we have been finishing our carol service in the words of Rend Collective’s ‘For all that you have done’ , a beginning point of turning our hearts to face the new year hand in hand with our God. It has been increasingly meaningful to me to begin that heart process there in the midst of the warm, tangible hopeful joy of the Christmas story.  Standing in the strength of the community declaring ‘Emmanuel God is with us’ is the place to be standing as I look forward into another year.

‘As family we’ll go

Shoulder to shoulder,

hand in hand, into the great unknown.’

And now, a blink of an eye – and many sleepless nights, heaps of washing, precious time with family and plenty of washing up – later – here we are, in 2020! Holding on to ‘Emmanuel God is with us’ and walking one step at a time into all that is ahead for us. There are always so many unknowns, many small and large decisions to make along the way that will shape family life and challenge us. Looking through previous January photos reminds me of challenges already faced. And I’m certain as it’s always been, we will each react differently to the challenges and new ways of being as a family that we will encounter in 2020. We’ll each struggle with different things, be terrified at different times and enjoy other moments. It will be another year of amazing, bewildering, chaotic, fruitful, challenging; pretty full on family life no matter what! New year maybe, same old – absolutely!

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God”. (Ruth 1:16)

When I think of the many heroes of the faith who stood similarly at the brink of the new, the unknown and yet took that first step with God – taking their family with them, whatever that felt and looked like! – I’m reminded that however uncertain and unknown a new year may feel there is a solid bedrock under my feet, and a faithful companion with me and ahead of me. And when I fall, or fail, or falter I will be picked up, dusted down, cried with, laughed with and hugged and will be able to step forward again.

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snowy January 2013 – couldn’t resist!

Many seem to choose a word for their year these days. In some ways that seems a heap more manageable than a list of resolutions so I’m wondering whether to hold onto ‘Emmanuel’ – metaphorically and literally this year. As a word that can be declared above the challenges and the busyness; celebrated together – the great mind-blowing truth that shapes us more than the world ever can; and hidden in when rest is needed!

As for resolutions maybe it’s to laugh more – Andrew has been suggesting it for years!

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Fun and laughter in the snow January 2013! Here’s to warmer fun & laughter during 2020!

 

 

 

Book Review: Faith Lists

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I love being sent books to review!

Thank you SPCK for this very beautiful one.

I know you’re not meant to judge a book by its cover – but when this one came out of the envelope I just wanted to dive straight in. To me it seemed full of possibility as a devotional as a very busy Mum of 3, in a complicated-never-dull family trying to make the most of every opportunity to serve. It looked like the kind of devotional that would be ok to be dipped into when needed or dived in wholesale with a bar of choc and coloured pens when the opportunity arose.

Each page spread is a warm and colourful illustration, a journal prompt and a lined page for jotting.

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So this morning in between getting our youngest dressed by the TV downstairs, working out how to create a star-on-a-stick for a puppet, and prompting our eldest in & out of the shower I grabbed a pen and picked a page that seemed fairly straight forward. ‘List opportunities or possessions you are thankful for in your life’. Today this became a very neat linear list as I was reminded of all that God has placed in and around my life. It moved me to thankfulness without thinking, and there was no sense of guilt when the moment ceased and I was needed for the next thing.

For me, in this season of life (which has been quite long already and who knows how much longer it will last!) most devotionals leave me riddled with guilt. No fault of their own, its that feeling that I can’t keep up with their demand, haven’t time to really do it justice, having to leave it unfinished – or not even started, the dated page glaring at me – I’m left feeling I am a very poor example of a good devoted Christian! So to find I could leave a page having thought, prayed, and feeling no guilt was rather special.

The prompts range across prayer, scripture, worship, church fellowship; challenges, opportunities and hopes and dreams. And I think most of them could be both taken very much at face value or sat with for a while with God depending on the day, and what else is kicking off around you. Which is useful.

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The illustrations by Olivia Holden are lovely. Undemanding and inviting. Many contain Bible verses drawn out, dancing alongside you as you write and think. My instinct of course is to want to draw and doodle, and I wonder whether the lined pages might feel restricting on those days but so far that’s not been the case.

The prompts would be good to chat about with others over coffee, or good to spend some time (when you get it) with a Bible or a podcast, or a book you would like to glean from. Its a book to leave out and have to hand, to dip into when there’s an unexpected moment. And I suspect it will be one I will look back into in years to come and will be reminded of God’s faithfulness in the busy years.

You can find ‘Faith Lists, your spiritual life in lists’. Illustrated by Olivia Holden at SPCK.

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ready for voting

One of the things I am very grateful for in the way my parents brought me up is the way in which they were a safe space, wide open for discussing philosophy, ethical dilemmas, morality and our faith. We talked about news in relation to our faith, we pulled apart and put back together difficult decisions and concepts, we found out about big issues together. I’m grateful for the way that has given me permission and skills to be a thinker with faith as a seamless part of my worldview. And I hope and pray that in our parenting we are able to be that safe space for our children too. Teaching the skills and opportunities to use them, especially aware that learning will not necessarily simply happen by osmosis, by exposure, but will need intentional and supported experiences.

I’m very aware of it right now as we face a General Election and our wonderful B will be voting for the very first time. When my first opportunity to vote came along I went with my Dad who proudly announced to the whole polling station that I had arrived – and was ready to vote! Somehow I’m guessing the announcing would not go down well, but there will definitely be a huge amount of pride when we walk into the polling station together ready to cast our vote. I am certain B is aware of the privilege it is, and the importance of using it.

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So now the parenting job is to make sure we support and encourage the thinking and researching behind the using of the vote. To give her opportunities to find out and think for herself about the policies parties are standing for, through the eyes of faith. Not an easy task as a parent – perhaps even more especially as a parent with strong views! – but it is a task that doesn’t happen without context and I pray that the last 18 years of conversations and modelling; of asking the tough questions; listening to others; keeping our eyes as open as we can to the needs of others and wrestling with the difficult things together and with God – I pray that all of that will be a strong foundation out of which this next step will be taken.

Finding impartial information feels harder than ever these days, so we read more, and read and listen more widely actively working against finding ourselves in an echo chamber. And we read and listen with caution, questioningly. As parents we do this somewhat outloud, modelling the questioning and the wrestling. We also need to make space for questions, and to listen as our children begin to formulate their own opinions. The Bible urges us to invest in our community, and pray for it’s peace (it’s just-ness, and well being for all, and for its unity) to put roots down and live out our faith in ways that make a real difference to the community where we find ourselves and beyond. I am less concerned about how B decides to vote than I am that she steps up and joins in, seeing both the privilege of our democracy and the responsibility.  The vote itself is just one small moment in the ongoing active investing in community and beyond. Her voice and opinion matter, her faith-lived-out makes a difference not just here but far wider too as she steps up and joins in.

Ps 18v29

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)