can i be a feminist and a stay-at-home mum?

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I’ll be honest: feminism didn’t really play a major part in my life until recently.

I’ve been pretty fortunate not to have known any gender-related obstacles at work or at home. I haven’t suffered abuse or harassment at the hands of men, nor have I been prevented from doing anything I wanted to do because of being a woman. I’m one of the lucky few for whom the battles and struggles of previous generations of women have paid off. It’s not that I was oblivious to the ongoing need to fight for gender equality the world over but, as for my own battles, they’d already been fought, and won.

So perhaps it’s interesting, or perhaps it’s unsurprising, that I’ve been forced to think about feminism a whole lot more since I chose, in 2009, to take on a role which for centuries women were obliged to take, with no alternative option available to them: that of the stay-at-home-mum.

Over the last 8 years, I’ve seen a lot of friends become mothers, and many of them have felt torn between family and work – it’s such a strong compulsion to want to be excellent at both that the tension is nearly tangible.

So, if you’re reading this in the middle of the night whilst feeding your baby, or in a stolen moment between building Duplo towers and playing yet another Orchard Toys game, and you’re wondering where your feminist values have gone and what’s happened to your brain – this is for you.

Essentially I think we emphasise the wrong aspects of feminism.

Firstly, feminism is often associated with the need for women to be climbing the career ladder, excelling in whichever field they’ve chosen – so it’s no wonder that when we stop and have kids, take time out, or take a lower-paid job so that we can be around for their needs, we feel like we’ve failed as women. We have been culturally-conditioned into thinking this is largely what feminism is about, because one aspect of feminist campaigning in the West is, quite rightly, the campaign for equal pay and opportunities in the workplace. But this is just ONE aspect. And, really, it is about women who WANT to become top in their business being able to do so. It is not about forcing miserable women into a job they don’t want.

But of course what if you WANT to become top in your area of expertise, but have sacrificed this in order to devote yourself and your talents to your family? How do you deal with this tension? Well it would take many more blog posts to deal with this issue, but – for the moment – let me suggest that in a 40-year working life, there may well be time to do both. And, regardless of whether there is or not, perhaps we need to remember the importance of those early years in a child’s life, and the incredibly challenging job of nurturing a small child, meeting her needs and helping to regulate her emotions until she can do it for herself. (Why Love Matters, by Sue Gerhardt, goes into much more depth about the potential impact that a rocky start to life can have later on. I highly recommend it!)

Leading on from this, feminism is often misrepresented as shunning the role of the mother. Again, there’s a misunderstanding here. Should fathers be encouraged to see themselves as equal parents, every bit as important in their children’s lives as mothers? Absolutely they should. Should we be working to change attitudes – ours and other people’s – regarding stay-at-home-Dads, making them welcome at groups and social meet-ups? Absolutely we should. Should workplaces seek to become as family-friendly as possible, allowing Mums AND Dads the flexibility of sharing childcare? Absolutely they should!

I’m aware that there are some feminists who genuinely do not value the work of a parent. I’m a genuinely easy going person, but I’ll tell you for free: I don’t have a lot of time for these people. And that’s to put it nicely. But, on the whole, feminism supports the important job of raising the next generation – it just doesn’t believe that this job should fall exclusively to Mum. Neither do I. It just so happens, in our family, that everything works out nicely for my husband to be the full-time earner, and me to stay at home with the kids. He’s happy and I’m happy.

Stay-at-home-mums (and their partners) can practise feminism in the way they co-parent. I make lots of parenting decisions each day without consulting my husband, because if I had to call him every time I was facing the dilemma of what to serve for lunch, or whether my son should wear red or blue trousers today, neither of us would get anything done. But the longer-term decisions, the ones we have the luxury of pondering for a few days or weeks – those are ones we make together.

In addition, for the hours he’s around, my husband is a proactive, fully-involved parent and family member. He does stuff with the kids, he does housework, he researches stuff we need to buy – all the things I do solo while he’s at work. Financially, we don’t have such things as ‘his money’ and ‘my money’ – his salary, plus child benefit and working tax credits, all go into our shared account, and we’ve never even spoken about whether I’m allowed to spend this money or not, because it’s taken as read that we are a team. He earns the money, I care for the kids. To put it in crass, financial terms: if I didn’t have him, I’d be struggling to afford to raise my kids. If he didn’t have me, then he’d be paying one heck of a bill for childcare. So we are equal contributors to this family.

I am no less a feminist because I am a woman and I am the one who is at home. I am a feminist because I belong to a family in which my husband and I play equal roles. Your family maybe doesn’t look like what I’ve described above – in fact, it probably won’t, because there are as many different ways of doing family as there are families. But I hope you feel there’s a sense of equality in your family life. This is feminism – not some bizarre notion that mothers shouldn’t ever stay at home with their children.

Thirdly, feminism is about educating the next generation. And how better to do that than to take some time out to do the job yourself? Perhaps there are some nurseries out there who actively seek to raise young feminists, but it’s not something I’d expect to see on most childcare websites. As a stay-at-home parent – mum or dad – you can be responsible for imparting good moral sense to your children, which includes teaching equality.

And this isn’t just for your daughters, by the way. I’m very grateful that having a daughter has prompted me to think about these issues more – but I sure as heck don’t want my three sons growing up as misogynistic dinosaurs either. Because sexism is often about men’s attitudes, rather than women’s, it is so important that we take seriously the job of raising our little dudes to respect and honour those around them, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, or any other differentiating characteristic.

Personally, for me, I’ve found stay-at-home parenting to be a wonderful way of being able to take time over teaching these sorts of values to my children. Of course many people do this amazingly whilst working part-time and full-time, but my point isn’t to elevate one way of doing things over the other. This is written for those of you who are at home, but feeling frustrated. I want you to know that you have a unique opportunity to raise the next generation of feminists, equalists, whatever you want to call them. You may not receive pay, promotion or recognition of your work – but please know that it is vitally important to society that you do so.

Finally, feminism is for men too. Traditionally, it was a bunch of women challenging the status quo – and thank God they did. But, at its heart, feminism is a movement which preaches equality of the genders. This is something we need to pass on to both our daughters and our sons, and discussing with our other halves too, making sure that, however we divvy up the roles of bread-winning, childcare and household duties, we run households founded on equality.

As a Christian, I see this equality running throughout the Bible and, although every day is by no means a joy or an intellectual challenge, I am satisfied – for now – to pursue my role as a feminist stay-at-home with grace and determination.

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teaching, stay-at-home parenting, and the attempt at a return to work

Before I had kids, my life-plan seemed very simple. I would spend my 20s getting as far in my career as possible and my 30s at home raising kids. Once they were all in school, I would return to full-time work, and resume the ladder-climbing.

The early career plan worked – I was Head of Department at 25, and by 26 was teaching at post-grad level – and the stay-at-home-mum thing has suited me well too.

But it wasn’t very long into parenting when I realised that full-time work would probably not be my bag for quite some time. What would be the good in making myself available to my kids during their preschool years, then subsequently preoccupying myself with a stressful job during their primary years? Who would be there when they finished school? The shoulder to cry on if their day hadn’t gone as planned?

Of course it is possible to do both – I know people who hold down full-time work and have great relationships with their kids. But I guess it is not without sacrifice, fatigue and stress – and it is rarely out of choice. And, importantly, much as others are great at making it work, I know that I couldn’t do it.

So, for a while now, part-time teaching has been what I’ve been aiming for. Although my youngest boys don’t start school till next year, I’ve spent the last year gaining work experience, making contacts, exploring my options. When you’ve had nearly a decade’s maternity leave, you can’t really take anything for granted.

And this is what I’ve found: I can’t pick up where I left off. Career-wise, your late 20s/early 30s seem to be the point where you specialise in something, become a bit of an expert, take on some management. I spent my late 20s/early 30s taking my kids along to toddler groups, weaning them, potty-training, playing with them, socialising them. So, unless I want a career in childcare – which, by the way, I don’t, despite having what feels like a childcare institution here at home – I don’t quite know where I fit in anymore. What once read as an excellent CV for a 28-year-old, now seems unremarkable for a 36-year-old.

I’m a strong believer that we don’t need to plan too far ahead in our lives as long as we know we’re where God wants us right now. In fact, in my experience, the road ahead often seems a bit foggy and unclear – and I think God uses this to build our trust in Him. I’ve felt His pleasure as I’ve devoted these last few years to being at home for our children, and actually I couldn’t care less about the financial sacrifices, reduced pension, or career suicide I may have committed. I would never, ever make a different decision. Professionally, I may not have any specialised knowledge of an area of teaching which would make me more employable – but I’ve widened my knowledge and skills through a large amount of volunteering over the last few years which I’d never have been able to do had I been working in a paid job.

Leaving this in God’s hands, I received an unexpected bit of paid writing work at the end of last year, for an organisation I have a lot of time for. I hadn’t given up hopes of ever returning to teaching, but there were precious few jobs going, so this offer made me wonder: If these guys are willing to pay me for writing, maybe other organisations would be willing to pay me, too?

With the twins doing a few more hours at preschool this term, now seems like a good time to push open a few doors and see where God wants to take my writing. I’ve registered myself as self-employed, gained a few useful contacts, seen some potential writing opportunities and even started to collect some deadlines (YES! Like a real writer!).

I’m not really sure what else to say, except I really owe this to you, my lovely and far-too-kind readers. I’ve never considered myself a writer. I enjoy it, but then I enjoy a lot of things. I don’t identify, for example, as a ‘TV-watcher’, or a ‘strategy-game-player’, or a ‘chocolate-lover’. (Actually, I do identify as the latter. Frequently. But not the others.) So now I’m having to force myself to believe that I can do this. I’m having to push myself forward (which is never fun – who enjoys self-promotion?). But you, with your wonderful encouragement and kind comments, have given me the boost I’ve needed to make this first step.

It may all fall flat on its face. And that is FINE. It actually is. I haven’t had to make a financial investment to start this ‘business’ – it’s just me and a computer. So if it goes pear-shaped, that’s fine, I’ll just pick myself up and try something new. But it feels daft not to try. Like I said, the road ahead is often foggy and unclear – but God knows the future, and as long as we’re following His footsteps in the present, I believe He will uncover the future when we need to know it.

And probably not a moment before.

three things to consider when making new year’s resolutions

For every single ounce of me that loves Christmas, I sometimes wonder whether I love New Year a little more.

I’ve been writing this blog for over five years, during which my output has gone up and down like a yo-yo – so it’s telling that, regardless of how much or little I’m writing generally, I’ve always felt compelled to write something in January to do with the new year stretched out before us.

Last year, I wrote with optimism that 2017 would be a year for more writing (it was – certainly more than 2016 – but 2018 will be even more prolific…). In 2016, I spoke of the guilt and failure that can surround New Year’s resolutions. In 2015, I vowed to spend more time reading and more time cooking. In 2014, I wrote about shedding the guilt, and, in 2013, about living a more celebratory life.

I think what does it for me about New Year is the fresh sense of perspective and optimism. I feel the same in September, at the start of the new school year. I wonder if it’s no coincidence that September and January fall right after August and December, which is when I get my proper breaks – an August summer holiday, and a December longer-than-usual stay with my hospitable in-laws. Both these times perk me up, give me a chance to reflect and think (as much as is possible with tiny people around), and get me excited to return to normal life with a bit more vigour.

It’s not hard to derive from this that I love making New Year’s resolutions. I love finding ways to become more organised, efficient, spiritual, healthy or whatever. But, this year, it struck me how easy it is to let our good intentions block our relationship with our Father God. Here are a few easy pitfalls I know I can fall into:

1. Resolutions can make us feel like we’re in control. Of course we love to feel like we have a handle on things, don’t we? It’s entirely natural to want to feel like we’re prepared for whatever life throws at us. But, sadly, life throws all sorts of things at us that no amount of January weight loss, healthy eating, housework regimes or devotional times can handle. I could name you four things that four of my friends suffered in the last couple of months of 2017 which could not have been predicted, or prevented through better planning or organisation. We don’t know what’s round the corner, and neither do our resolutions or the improved lives we might have as a result of them. Only God knows, and He is the one we need to allow to steer our lives.

It’s not wrong to make resolutions, as long as we hand over control to God. For example, a common resolution might be to lose weight, exercise more or eat more healthily. This is godly, insofar as there is a Biblical imperative to look after the bodies God has given us. But new diets and regimes can easily start to control us, competing for the throne that should belong to God. So perhaps we can alter our resolution:

Old resolution: “I will lose weight by joining [insert name of preferred slimming group!]

New resolution: “I will honour God with my body. This year I will pray for Him to help me love and accept my body, and to help me get it into good condition. I will join [slimming group/gym/whatever] but, however well or badly this goes, my priority will be to commit my body to God.”

2. Resolutions can make us feel superior.

One of my resolutions this year is to exercise more patience with my kids, particularly in the area of helping them to regulate their emotions by staying the calm, sensible one (trust me, this is not something which comes easily to this impatient, oft-tempestuous Desertmum). However ‘well’ I do at this, I will still never be a perfect parent, but I might go a couple of weeks, or – let’s push the boat out here – months, with increased patience, and that might in turn make me feel superior to a parent I witness yelling at their kid in the supermarket. A BIG FAT ‘NO’ TO THIS! We are called to humble ourselves and serve others. Does this sound like the definition of ‘superiority’ to you?

It’s not wrong to make resolutions, as long as we prioritise humility.

Patience is one of the fruits of the Spirit, and of course we see bags of it in Jesus himself. It is clearly a good and godly thing for me to desire this gift, particularly in the area of parenting. But patience without love is useless! So I could adjust my resolution as follows:

Old resolution: “I will be more patient with my kids.”

New resolution: “I will ask God for His patience as I interact with my kids. I want to grow in His love – for my kids and for other people. I will remember how hard it is to be a parent, and will pray that God uses me to be a blessing, not a curse, to other parents. And when I fail at patience, I will take comfort in God’s forgiveness.”

3. Resolutions can make us feel more holy.

Many Christians like to start the New Year with a resolution linked to their Christian journey. Last year I resolved to read My Rock My Refuge, committing to daily Bible reading. Others might resolve to join a lively church, get involved with the church they’ve recently joined, start attending a house group, develop a structure of personal prayer, or read a discipleship book. The problem is that, if we focus too much on these ‘external’ habits of faith, we can forget the God who is our motivating factor.

It’s not wrong to make resolutions, as long as we acknowledge God’s love and acceptance of us, just as we are. 

These are all good and godly resolutions – God wants to draw even closer to us, and always has so much more to teach us, show us, and astound us with! So hats-off to you if you’ve made a resolution like this for 2018, and may God bless you as you draw closer to Him and seek to hear His voice more clearly in your life. But let’s keep, at the very forefront of our minds, the truth that God loves us just as we are. There is nothing we can do to make Him love us any more (or less). If we spend 2018 not going to church, reading the Bible or praying, He won’t love us any less, come New Year 2019.

Old resolution: “I will pray daily for the members of my house group by name.” (This is one of mine for 2018 – think I’ve managed it once so far!)

New resolution: “I will praise God for His love for me and for every one of my house group friends. I know that He has their backs, and sustains them from day to day. In the light of this, I will bring their names to Him daily, knowing how much He wants to do in all of our lives.”

God bless you as you consider the year ahead, and what He might be calling you to.

(I have one very exciting ‘resolution’, a sense of what God might be calling me to, which I’m looking forward to sharing with you soon!)

 

 

what i was into – 2017 special

I’m not doing a ‘what i’m into’ for December, for the simple reason that you can probably guess what I was into, seeing as I’m a total Christmas-freak, and if you still really can’t bring yourself to imagine December Chez Desert then you can read each of the 24 ADVENT BLOG POSTS I WROTE!! Still can’t believe I made it to the end.

Anyway, instead, here’s a round-up of 2017, with my top three of everything! If you’re looking for inspiration for what to read, cook or watch in 2018, look no further!

Top three books

miller_aprayinglife.jpgIt’s tremendously hard to pick three, as I read some stonking stuff this year, but purely because of the lasting impact they’ve had on me, my top three (in no particular order) are:

A Praying Life – if you’re a Christian and haven’t read it, I beg you to plonk it on your list for 2018.

My Rock, My Refuge – had to make the list because it’s the only devotional I’ve stuck to for an entire year. Some days weren’t all that noteworthy, and others were hugely relevant and challenging – but I know that the cumulative effect of me absorbing each and every Psalm across the year is a positive one.

Image result for wonder bookWonder – one of the simplest, yet most powerful novels I’ve read. Wonder-ful.

 

 

 

Top three meals out

Bistro Guy (November)

Zill’s (October)

Bistro Rosa (August)

Top three new recipes

Brownie Ice Cream sandwiches (Twist, Martha Collison – get it now while it’s cheap!)

Millionnaire’s Shortbread (Twist, Martha Collison)

Veggie fajitas (I make it up! But based on various recipes easily sourced from t’Internet)

Top three TV programmes

I actually only watched about three things this year. They were good though.

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The Apprentice (obviously this would always make my list), Twin Peaks, and that amazing Rio Ferdinand documentary on bereavement, which made me cry quite a lot.

Top three films

Philomena, Lion and The Lady in the Van – all powerful, but in very different ways. Amazing performances by all the lead characters, and gripping plots too.

Top three live theatre shows

Very, very hard to choose, but I’m going to go with: Nina Conti, Everything is Possible (locally produced play about the Suffragette movement) and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

(I’d also like to add Jane Eyre in brackets, because I’m not supposed to be allowing myself a fourth, but it was so good that I’m hoping no one will mind.)

Top three blog posts

Statistically, they were:

* Five Ways my Toddlers are Different from Yours

* The Silent Anniversary: Celebrating Marriage in a Culture of Relationship Breakdown

* Am I OK with my daughter aspiring to ‘mummy’?

But because I’m always interested by the variation between what I think is an interesting blog post and what you do, here’s a post which I rather liked but didn’t do as well as I thought it might: What we want for our Kids: Status (why not have a read and boost its stats!).

Three things I never thought I’d do in 2017

  • Go for a job interview (May)
  • Go to a football match (October)
  • Spot a house intruder (November) – ah! I never told you about this one, did I?!

Three things I’m very proud of doing in 2017

  • Setting up the school PTA (February ish)
  • Giving a talk to a reasonably-sized audience (April)
  • Fixing a lawnmower (June)

 

Thank you all for being a marvellous audience in 2017. There are some exciting things afoot for 2018 which I can’t wait to share with you – watch this space, I’ll be blogging again very soon!

 

24: cheerleaders

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Hands-up who also has a sad remnant of an Advent candle sat on their dining table?
Well, the 24th is here, and I can hardly believe I’m still writing. I set out on this #randomadvent project rather spontaneously, more for my own spiritual reflection throughout Advent than anything else – but I’ve been absolutely flabbergasted and humbled that so many of you lovely Desert-wanderers have decided to join me! A huge and heartfelt thank you from the bottom of my heart – I totally wouldn’t be here without you all.

If you’ve been one of the lovely people who have encouraged me with comments, texts, messages or emails this month, then a special thank you to you guys. I know you’ll all have been busy during December, so the fact that you’ve taken a few minutes to write and let me know you’re reading does mean a huge amount to me – and, in fact, has spurred me on to completion. (And sorry to those of you I haven’t replied to yet – it will happen, just maybe not in 2017!)

It reminds me of that wonderful passage in Hebrews 12:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Advent is a small representation of a longer journey that we’re all on. The journey to draw closer to that babe in the manger. Throughout the year, day in, day out, we plod on, seeking Jesus at every step. Sometimes it’s as easy as pie, sometimes it’s a joy, sometimes it takes courage, sometimes it feels as hard as climbing a wall with no support, sometimes it’s the last thing we want to do, and sometimes it’s the only thing we can do. But we can’t do it without one another.

There are two other things I’d like to draw out from this passage in Hebrews. Firstly: when our Christian journey feels tough, we are to remember him who endured the cross and ‘opposition from sinners’. There is nothing we will go through that will be tougher than that. Jesus went through this for the joy of being with God forever – and, one day, after this tough race has finished, we will know that joy too.

Secondly, we are to throw off ‘the sin that so easily entangles’. It would be ludicrous for a marathon-runner to carry a backpack or wear a heavy overcoat – and yet, so often, we are loath to look at our own lives and deal with the sin we find, in order that we can move forward in our relationship with Jesus. When we are struggling, it is not always as a direct result of our sin, of course, but I know that in my own life, it so often is. I want the blessings of a close relationship with God, a sense of His calling in my life, the joy and the peace that come from knowing Him – and yet I stubbornly refuse to deal with a sinful attitude, a grudge against a friend, the ungodly way I interact with my children. Like the heavy overcoat worn by the marathon runner, this is going to significantly hinder my chances of reaching the end point.

* However easy or difficult your Christian journey feels right now, allow God to speak into one area where He wants to offer encouragement, comfort, or challenge.

Lord God, thank you for your precious gift of Jesus. Thank you that, through his suffering, I can not only have eternal life with you, but also a friend who empathises with my own suffering. Thank you for the ‘cheerleaders’ you have put in my life who spur me on to complete the race – and please equip me to encourage others around me, so that we may all enjoy the crown of eternal life when the race ends. Amen.

***

This Advent, I’ve mentioned everything from The Apprentice to wrapping paper to Christmas lights to supermarkets. My posts haven’t been super-holy, and at points they haven’t even been very Christmassy – but they’ve been real, daily acknowledgements of the Jesus I want to know better, through the craziness of this season (and normal life). I hope you feel, as I do, spurred on to grab 2018 by the horns and seek more of God’s presence in your life. I suspect most of us could do with emptying our lives a little to spend more time listening and waiting on God – and, if we did, I reckon we’d see a little more of the Kingdom we await.

Here’s to seeing His Kingdom Come in 2018.

See you then – meanwhile, happy Christmas!

Lucy xx

 

23: the feast

Does anyone else, at this point in December, feel like they’re taking up residency in a number of different supermarkets?

We had a supermarket delivery on Monday. I popped back there on Wednesday, and again on Friday. In danger of sounding like a Craig David song (but far less fun), yes, I’m popping back again today. And I’m not even hosting Christmas. But somehow four lots of Christmas parties, a heck of a lot of homemade sweets and treats, a bit of entertaining, and my usual forgetfulness means that the supermarket does become my second home in the last few days before Christmas.

It’s a little tiresome to have to make so many trips, but I enjoy the result: homemade puddings stashed away in the freezer (looks like we will have time after all – hooray!), personal gifts for special people in our lives, shelves well-stocked with drinks, posh crisps, chocolates and the wherewithal to create (I hope) decent meals for when my family comes.

When I’ve had the choice of products, or quantities, I have to say I’ve over-catered. (Which flavour? We’ll get both. Three tubs or four? Best go for five.) I really don’t want to run out of anything and be doing these supermarket-runs when people are staying, even though we all know I’ve ordered too much.

Whilst there’s a very real issue of food waste at Christmas, and I know I’ll need to be creative to ensure that leftovers are eaten up before going bad, I do think that, as long as it’s not putting you in debt, this is how Christian festivals should be celebrated.

All the abundance, decadence and extravagance that we can muster at this time of year does not come close to the great riches we will one day inherit from our heavenly Father. It’s merely a very, very faint substitute. But it’s a wonderful way to celebrate our Saviour’s birth, because it reminds us of the feast that is awaiting us in heaven, thanks to his great sacrifice.

For anyone who thinks I may be going a bit prosperity here, let me make clear that I don’t hold with that stuff at all. I’m not suggesting that we should eat like this throughout the year – but that we should mark the Kingdom-coming-ness of Christmas with a nod towards that Kingdom.

My parents-in-law have taught me most about this – not through words or philosophy, but simply by how they go about their hospitality. My mother-in-law loves to spend time, energy, money and love on others. When you eat at Casa Grand-Desert, you feel like royalty – beautiful food and drink, wonderful conversation, thoughtful little ‘extras’ like nibbles before the meal, or champagne on your birthday, regardless of how well they know you. My father-in-law won’t let you lift a finger either – he does the behind-the-scenes work of setting up and clearing away with no fuss or complaint.

It’s appropriate, because it gives us a glimpse – albeit pale – of the kingdom of God, which is so often described in Scripture as a feast or banquet:

…“Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 14:15)

I mentioned yesterday that everyone is invited to participate in God’s heavenly banquet. Likewise, our extravagant hospitality at Christmas should be inclusive, and seek to involve those on the fringes. This might not necessarily mean someone who it’s hard to have in your home – it could be a good friend who you wouldn’t dream of not asking but who, without your invitation, would be on their own. (Or it could be someone living on the streets. Be inclusive.)

If much of our food lasts into January, it won’t go to waste. In fact, this is all the better, as it will simply extend the celebration, the feast, the thankfulness for all the good things God provides, day by day.

* You may have noticed I’m a bit obsessed by food. If you’re not, pick an area of Christmas you absolutely love obsessing over: how can you re-claim it for Jesus this Christmas?

Jesus Christ, you came into the world to point to the Kingdom of God, and to give us a way to get there. I praise you for your sacrifice. In my celebrations over the next few days, please help me orientate the extravagance towards you, using it both as an opportunity to thank you for your provision throughout the year, and a chance to bless others by showing them a little of how much they mean to you. Thank you that, one day, we will experience a feast which is wilder than anything we could dream up here on earth. Amen.

22: the vicar’s kid at christmas

vicarage

Vicarages are crazy places at Christmas. Every time you try and tidy up for the next social gathering or family get-together, the house becomes flooded with boxes of Christmas flyers to go round the parish, or bags of food for a community Christmas lunch. Like the rest of the year, your home is also your Other Half’s office and warehouse.

But vicarages are also fun places at Christmas. I grew up in one, and used to spend hours looking through all the goodies that started to appear under the tree from grateful parishioners. I don’t know if it was my frugal parents, or the fact it was the 1980s (probably a bit of both), but we didn’t tend to see a box of chocolates all year, so the appearance of several tins of Roses and Quality Street at Christmas, in addition to posh cheese boards, smoked salmon and All The Alcohol got me excited just a little.

This year, I’m getting flashbacks. Already, we’ve been the recipients of some very generous gifts from those in our church family. I’m particularly in awe of those who’ve made time to buy and wrap a gift for each of our children. I mean – we have a few, so that’s a tall order. It’s not at all expected – a tub of Heroes would be more than appreciated by the six of us. But there are some at our church who are particularly good at looking out for our children, and we appreciate it so much.

Being a vicar’s kid can be wonderful but also pretty tough. Your ordained parent – mum or dad – has to work funny hours. Yes, you usually see them for breakfast, but they’re often out on an evening, or at awkward times across the weekend. You have to share your home – and your life – with any odds and sods your parent brings home (and some of them are very odd). Sometimes plans have to be changed at the last minute, or something you thought you’d be doing with both parents, you now have to do with just one. You’re fending for yourself at church after every Sunday service, because both of your parents are otherwise-engaged (very rarely does a vicar’s wife or husband ever get off scot-free on a Sunday!), sorting everything from children’s work to worship band, finance to toddler group. Sometimes, if it’s a tight week, Mum and Dad will both be involved in the service, and on these weeks you’re ignored for an hour before the service too. Fun times.

The gifts that our kids will be opening next week are a token of appreciation from members of our church family. These gifts say, “Thank you for lending us your Dad. We see you, and are so grateful for what you give up in order for us to be blessed by his leadership.”

Now if you’re reading this and you belong to our church family, please don’t rush out and buy our kids anything! We don’t need our whole church family to acknowledge our children – just a few of them – and they already do. Our kids get plenty at Christmas, and don’t need anything else.

But I think there’s a message here about seeing the ‘unseen’. Some of our church family are great at seeing our kids – not just buying them lovely Christmas presents, but chatting to them throughout the year, getting to know them, and treating them as full and valued members of our church. They know it can be tough to grow up in a vicar’s family, constantly in the spotlight. Others in our church are great at seeing the single mums, or the older folk, or those recently bereaved or divorced. We all have different gifts, and we all ‘see’ different people at different times.

I don’t need to remind you that Jesus ‘saw’ the unseen – encounters with prostitutes and tax collectors are strewn through the gospels like over-zealous confetti. But sometimes we forget that there were a heck of a lot of people that Jesus didn’t minister to, either. It wasn’t that they’d been left out of the Kingdom of heaven – but that it was going to be down to someone else to share the good news with them. Jesus came primarily for the Jewish people – it was Peter, and later Paul, who would have a ministry among the Gentiles (the ‘non-Jews’).

The story of Jesus healing the daughter of a Canaanite woman is really striking. It does seem as if Jesus isn’t going to act, purely because the woman isn’t a Jew – in the end he does, because her strong faith is so evident.

Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” 

Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” 

“Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” 

Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment. (Matthew 15:21-28)

Although Jesus does heal the girl, he makes it quite clear that he has come for the Israelites – not the Canaanites. And of course the gospel accounts only tell who he did minister to – we’re left to fill in the gaps of all those he wouldn’t have been able to engage with, through lack of time or opportunity, or needing to move on to the next town.

We’re very grateful for those who see our kids, and are so generous to them each Christmas. We’re also delighted by others in our church family, who pour their gifts and time into different people who need encouragement. Where would we be if everyone spoilt our kids at Christmas, but never invited the single parents for Christmas lunch? Or if all the single parents were well cared-for, but the elderly or housebound were never visited? The body of Christ works best when we look out for each other.

* Who are the ‘unseen’ people in your life? Those who need an encouraging card written to them, or a small gift, or day-by-day messages of support? This person, or group of people, might overlap with who you thought of for Day 19, or it might be someone totally different. Don’t try and ‘see’ everyone, but allow God to bring to mind a person or two He wants you to encourage over the next few months.

Dear Father God, you see EVERYONE. No one is left out of your invitation to the Kingdom of heaven. Thank you for your hospitality. And thank you that you use us as your ‘eyes’, to notice and walk beside those who need encouragement. Please tell me who you would like me to draw alongside this year. Amen.