on facebook (and possessions)

Two weeks in, how’s the Facebook fast going?

Actually, I feel like a fraud. Actually, it’s pretty easy. Actually, I think my friends are the ones missing out – they know nothing of the silly things I’ve done with my kids, the hilarious sign I saw at a motorway service station, the unfortunate typo in an email received from a Freecycler, the amount of wine I’ve drunk, chocolates I’ve consumed, men I’ve kissed (a bit, a lot, one – in that order – if you’re interested). Yes, now I think of it, I can’t imagine how my friends have coped without my adventure-filled life over the last fortnight.

Have I missed Facebook? Al tells me I missed a fair few birthday messages, and I’m ignoring the increasing numbers of emails-with-angry-titles from Facebook telling me how many messages or notifications I have ‘pending’. They might be pending, but they are not missed. And for those of you concerned that I have missed the Harlem Shake meme – don’t worry, Al filled me in. For your information, my favourite by a long way is this one, from Al’s alma mater (Al’sma mater?):

In wondering why I haven’t missed Facebook, the answer comes quickly:

I don’t know what I’m missing. 

Perhaps all sorts of interesting things are happening on the Book of Faces – but because I haven’t seen them, I don’t miss them.

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In the same way, I often imagine that life would be much easier if I were living on a desert island. Limited possessions – but no exposure to advertising or peer pressure that would make me want more.

I wouldn’t know what I was missingso I’d be totally content with what I had. But, as it is, I live on a consumerist island, where there is pressure on every side.

This weekend we’re having a sale. We’ve had a bit of a clear-out of our things, and are inviting friends to an Open House, with an opportunity to buy anything they like the look of. Anything people donate (nothing’s priced) will be going to one of our favourite charities, Christians Against Poverty.

2013-02-27 21.22.53Now some of the things I’m getting rid of are things I don’t like. It’s ridiculous, for example, that a non-fan of Mozart should own four Mozart CDs. But most of the things which are going are things I do like. Some I like very much indeed – but it comes down to this:

Am I prepared to keep cash tied up in possessions I may or may not use in the future (and haven’t used for the last four years), when – in my own city – families are breaking up, children are going hungry, and many are contemplating suicide because of the financial pressures they face?

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I don’t write from a position of virtuous piety. Believe me, I write these words ashamed, knowing that there are many more things which go unused or unnoticed in our home which I’m still holding back. I hope God continues to challenge me on this one. I can relate to these words in Mark’s gospel, said by the father of a boy with a demon, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief”.

Facebook and possessions. Two areas for de-cluttering.

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parenthood and hospitality 3 (without grumbling)

(Disclaimer: This post mentions some harder aspects of hospitality. I have just had the most delicious weekend of fun with my schoolfriends, their other halves and kids, who came to stay with us. This post was written last week, before my friends came to stay, and does not relate to the wonderful weekend we’ve just had!)

This is my third (and final) post on hospitality. If you haven’t read the previous ones, click here, then here. Having read them, you may feel that hospitality is always easy for us – that our guests always play happily with our kids, that people always chip in and help, that I never feel insecure about the state of our home. You may have imagined some bubbly, happy household which constantly has people coming in and out, and where no one is ever in the slightest bit grumpy. But that isn’t the reality.

Sometimes, hospitality is really difficult. Sometimes people don’t help. Sometimes the kids’ routine gets sacrificed. Sometimes meals go wrong or aren’t appreciated. Sometimes my priorities go askew, and I start to feel down about things which really don’t matter.

But I think this is OK. Not OK in a good sort of way, but OK in that we should be expecting this to be the case sometimes. Why else would Peter write “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9) if it wasn’t supposed to be difficult some of the time? It can be difficult regardless of whether or not we have children, of course, but I’m writing specifically to encourage those of us with families not to abandon hospitality just because we now have fuller homes and fuller schedules.

2013-01-20 15.23.19The main thing God’s teaching me about hospitality is that although it may be harder now that our lives are more stretched, it’s just as important as it ever was. It’s important for my kids to grow up with a Biblical attitude towards sharing our home – and it’s important that others who need a family can feel part of ours. Do I then give up when it’s difficult? OK, I know the answer here is supposed to be a resounding ‘NO!’ but what if I feel like saying “Yes! I give up!”? How do I get over that, and return to a place where hospitality is part of discipleship?

The answer lies in the context of the verse quoted above:

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:8-10)

The answer is love. Love covers over a multitude of sins – including thoughtlessness, laziness, obliviousness, greed, selfishness, and anything else you may wish to grumble about when it comes to those to whom you’ve offered hospitality!

I wish I could learn this lesson quicker – but there are no shortcuts. I need to develop a ‘hospitality habit’ of praying for this love every time someone comes through my door. I also need to remember that I’m called to be a ‘faithful steward of God’s grace”. How will we share God’s grace if we can’t accept it for ourselves? Someone who understands and knows the value of grace will be able to extend it to themselves, rather than becoming inward-looking and negative when something goes wrong.

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* What do you find difficult about hospitality?

* How could you offer hospitality ‘to those in need’ whilst also meeting the demands of your children?

* What hospitality habits do you need to develop?

parenthood and hospitality 2 (being family)

2013-02-19 16.34.24Yesterday’s post looked at the way God has been changing my approach to hospitality since becoming a mum: it used to be all about us. Now it is much more about others.

You may not feel like you’re able to open your home to anyone. You may not feel very proud of your home anymore. You may not have the time to cook an incredible meal. And you may feel like you just don’t have time or energy to deal with more people in your house. But actually giving hospitality can create time and energy for yourself.

The more I’ve let people into our home, the more I’ve seen how great it is for our family. Joel and Lois just love playing with people who have time for them, leaving me time to get the meal together or whatever. Much as I love spending time with my children, usually when I’m with them there are a million other things to get distracted by, whereas when we invite others into our home, the different tasks can be shared out. And if one of the tasks is playing with my kids, then actually I need to remember that for a lot of people that counts as fun because the other distractions don’t exist for them. On a Monday morning, for example, I can play with my children for a little bit, but then we need to go to the supermarket, or I need to make a doctor’s appointment, or get lunch ready, or hang up the laundry. But when someone else comes round, they can give Joel and Lois some wonderfully special attention!

Also, being involved in the life of a family can be incredibly fun and enriching for those without children, just in case you were starting to wonder whether my main motive for hospitality was, in fact, free childcare. Lots of people enjoy having children in their lives; is it right to deprive them of this joy just because we’re too ashamed of our stained carpet, or the supermarket pud we’re dishing up for dessert? (And when have you ever noticed, and been properly bothered by, these things when you were at someone else’s house? Weren’t you just really, really grateful that they were giving you a meal you hadn’t had to buy or cook?)

But, more importantly, closing our door to others has some major implications for our discipleship. We are so affected by our individualistic culture that often we forget that we have a responsibility for our brothers and sisters in Christ (Hebrews 10:24-25, for example). Many of the problems we face would not seem nearly so obstructive if we knew we had the close support of others. For example, should a single Christian worry about growing old alone, or not having anyone to care for them when they need it? Of course not – and yet I need to recognise that if I’m not part of that solution then I’m effectively part of the problem. We all need the kind of close support which is outlined so many times in the New Testament. I need help raising my kids, and others need a family. I don’t believe that we can give that support merely on ‘neutral’ territory. I think it has to be given on territory which is costly to us: our own.

parenthood and hospitality 1 (it’s not about us!)

(This is part of a series. To read the previous posts, go to the ‘Parenthood and…’ menu along the top header.)

When I contemplate how my discipleship looks different now compared with how it looked before I had children, it’s easy to feel a little frustrated that some things are not as easy, or as rewarding, or as substantial. But on the other hand, I’m starting to see that in some areas God is teaching me more about His way of doing things now that I have kids. Hospitality is one of those areas.

We have always loved opening our home to others. It comes easily to us – we love people and we love food, so (most of the time) hospitality is not a trial. I know that for many Christians it takes a lot of effort to respond to what the Bible says about hospitality, so I don’t write this post lightly. But whether we’re coming from a position of love or detest when it comes to opening our homes, I think having kids gives us an amazing opportunity to get back to Biblical hospitality. So this is a kind of disclaimer: I’m not going to be addressing the issue of whether or not we should be sharing our homes with others, assuming that you probably know that already, regardless of how easy or difficult you find it. This post is more about how we do that as parents, when our homes already seem quite full enough.

There is so much to say on this issue that I’m ashamed to say I’ve already drafted a second and third part to this topic! I’ll aim to post them later this week for those who are interested (if you’re not, you may just like to ignore me this week). But for this post, I want to focus on the main difference between our own hospitality pre-kids and post-kids – which is that before we had kids, our hospitality revolved around us.

Now I’m not saying it was bad hospitality – I think people enjoyed coming round for meals, or coming to stay for a weekend – but it was about me and my cooking and trying new recipes and making sure the house was in a fit state to show off. I’d never dream of having anyone over for dinner without preparing a three-course meal – and usually there were nibbles beforehand and chocolates afterwards. When friends came to stay, the guest room was always hoovered, dusted and properly tidied. I’d make sure every meal was planned, down to remembering to get croissants or bacon for breakfast. We had the time to properly wait on our guests. We didn’t expect them to chip in with meal preparation or clearing up.

I’m sure you realise that things are a little different now. No one gets a starter (count yourself lucky if you’ve had one in the Rycroft household since 2009). Puddings may be shop-bought. You get chocolates after a meal if you bring them yourself. Before friends stay, I usually pick the fluff off the carpet by hand (hoovering approximately twice a year), and run my forearm along surfaces to get rid of the worst of the dust. There are always Cheerios for breakfast. And if you don’t help clear up after one meal, you may just find you don’t have a plate for the next. It’s not that we’re not bothered about our guests – we simply don’t have the time or the energy to wait on them hand-and-foot. We have two new tiny, wonderful people in our family who kind of take most of our time and energy, leaving little for others.

Nowadays, our hospitality is rather dishevelled – but I think it revolves more around others than us. It’s about opening up our untidy home and offering what we have. It’s about offering the leftovers from our midweek, thrown-together supper – not because I’m proud of serving up soggy pasta, but because someone shows up who needs a meal. It’s about offering our spare room – not because I’m proud of the mess I just shoved under the bed, but because someone needs somewhere to stay. In other words, it’s hospitality which provides for others’ needs, rather than that which fuels our own pride. It’s about our ‘guests’ mucking in, enjoying a piece of our family life, with all its noise and mess. It’s about building relationships, blessing others, and all of us Rycrofts – kids included – growing in understanding of true Biblical hospitality.

why fast facebook?

2013-02-11 20.33.58From this Wednesday, right up till Easter Sunday, I won’t be using Facebook. No status updates, no messages, no blog promotion. I’ll be deleting the app from my phone and using email, text or face-to-face contact when I want to contact people. Why?

I’m not big on giving things up for Lent, and have only done it twice. Once, I gave up chocolate, but that was mainly a personal goal, just to see if I could do it. (I could – then – but never again.) Another year, I gave up something which had more of a spiritual impact, although you’re going to laugh when you read what it was. I gave up…watching Neighbours. Oh yes. I’m blushing as I write. I used to be a big fan, so sacrificing the 5.35-6.00pm timeslot each weeknight was actually a BIG deal. But I used the time to read Isaiah and pray, and am immensely grateful for those times of closeness with God.

Please don’t think I’m passing judgement on those who use Facebook. I would be the world’s greatest hypocrite if I did, as I still use it. But I do have a love-hate relationship with it – and, as I’ve spoken to a few friends about it, it seems I’m not the only one.

What I LOVE…being able to keep in touch with friends and family all over the world. Sharing photos of the kids with relatives who don’t see them too often. Seeing what my former students are up to – sharing in their joys as they graduate, get jobs, get married. (Yes, I’m old enough to have taught people who are now getting married. Scary, huh?) Easily and effectively communicating with a large number of people, inviting them to an event or cause. Finding out major news stories. (OK, I know I should stop being lazy and read a news website instead, but FB is just so much easier…) Getting instant, specific advice on pretty much any issue. Whether you need a reliable plumber, a good toddler scooter brand, or techie help…you know there’ll be at least one person who’ll know something of use.

What I HATE…how much time I waste idly scrolling through my newsfeed. Feeling inadequate, poor, ugly, dull, or stupid because of something enviable I read in someone else’s life. Seeing an increasing number of irrelevant comments posted on friends’ status updates, presumably because people are reading everything so quickly that they’ve misread or misunderstood what’s been typed. The lack of facial expression and tone of voice. Being forced to have a different definition of the word ‘friend’.

Because of this love-hate thing, I would find it hard to leave Facebook altogether just right now. So Lent will be a kind of testing period – seeing how my life is different without the Book of Faces, and taking some time out to rethink my use of it. But overall, I hope it will give me more time to draw closer to God, leading up to a meaningful Easter celebration.

I will continue to blog through Lent, but won’t be publicising new posts through Facebook…obviously! If you want to keep up with desertmum, make sure you ‘follow’ (if you’re a WordPress user), or sign up for email updates. Or add the blog to your favourites and just keep checking back!

the york bucket list

Last week I posted about wanting to make the most of York before we move. I now have a list of places to visit while we’re still here – and a friend has referred to it as my ‘bucket list’. This week I managed four items from the list.

Strictly speaking, Il Paradiso was not on my bucket list, but that was mainly because I was unaware of its existence. I added it after we went. (Surely that’s allowed?) The restaurant features Juventus memorabilia, cheap tables crammed in and a huge portrait of the eccentric restaurant owner. From our table, Al could see his reflection in the toilet mirror – but, more reassuringly, we also had a great view of the kitchen. An open kitchen has nothing to hide.

For starters, I ate baked pecorino with asparagus and honey. Main course was king prawns (with a kick) accompanied by a really great risotto. By the time it came to dessert (Sicilian cannoli), I remembered to take a picture.

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What was great? The simplicity: just a few fresh ingredients combined exquisitely. The bill: we paid little over £50 for three courses and alcohol. The atmosphere: the owner was bustling around, chatting to us about each course and generally enjoying himself with his guests. Also it was crammed full. On a Tuesday night. Seriously – Al had to book a table, and even then we couldn’t get a reservation until 8.45pm.

Yesterday I visited the Hairy Fig – widely reputed to be the best deli in York. (Actually, there are many good delis in York, but this one is the other side of town, so I hadn’t tried it, and felt I should.) I bought pork pies – made fresh each day, they’re claimed to be the best in York. They were certainly very delicious. I also bought some incredibly good stuffed dates, and some less good but still palatable stuffed figs. Yum.

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Today we killed two museums with one stone. Firstly, the legendary Richard III museum. It’s housed in one of the ancient city gates – up a narrow stone staircase – hence why I hadn’t been previously (I’m usually attached to a buggy). But today, taking advantage of an extra parent in tow, I made it.

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Imagine that a Year 8 History class is told to produce a group display about the evidence for and against Richard III killing his nephews. Then imagine one group has access to a laminator. The result is pretty much what you get when you enter the first room of the museum. A couple of tiny prison cells lead off this room, and the upstairs room is a slightly more professional-looking affair. Visitors are asked to decide Richard’s verdict for themselves – while the museum itself takes a very strong pro-Richard stance. But the handmadeness of it all was just so appealingly fresh that I really didn’t care what propaganda was being flung at me. The whole experience was informative and entertaining.

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Joel posing on the good floor.

The final item for this week was the Bar Convent Museum. The museum itself gave an interesting history of both Catholicism and Protestantism in England, along with the fascinating background to the Bar Convent itself. But the cafe was worth visiting in its own right. Good floor, for starters. (All eateries should have good floors.) Scrummy hot chocolate and the best array of cakes I’ve seen in a long while.

I promise you that the bucket list is not all about food.

parenthood and bible reading

(This is part of a series. For the previous posts, see here.)

You know the phrase “If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well”?

I have a new version, designed for parents: “If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing at the first opportunity you get…you sure as hell won’t get another chance”.

Example: my kid goes down for a nap. “Great,” I think. “I’ll just empty the dishwasher, tidy away lunch, put a load of washing on, then read my Bible…” MISTAKE. I just know that I won’t get round to the last thing on the list. My kid will wake too soon, or I’ll get distracted by other needy tasks.

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There is, of course, no Biblical directive to spend time each day reading the Bible. And thank goodness for grace, which means salvation through Jesus, not through our own endeavours. But if I believe that the Bible is God’s word, then spending time reading it, hearing from God, needs to be my number one priority for those rare opportunities in my day when no one else is making any demands on my time. Unlike my kids, God never makes demands on my time. (He doesn’t repeatedly say my name over and over until I take notice, like my 3 year old, or bend His head round into my line of vision so that I can’t ignore Him, like my 1 year old.) But if I take seriously our relationship, I will choose to make time for Him.

I need to be careful that I don’t blame my kids for my own lack of discipline. Were my daily devotionals perfect when I was childless? Were they even daily? No they were not. As mentioned previously, I am hopeless at discipline. But – let’s be honest – protecting a bit of time each day for God is always harder with small people around. Our time is no longer our own, but theirs. For the hours of the day when our children are being looked after by someone else, or asleep, chances are we are at work, doing housework, calling the doctor, or just falling asleep, shattered by the day’s demands.

I would like to say that I’ve cracked this one, and here are five simple tips to help you find the disciplined life you’ve always wanted. But – again – no. This blog continues to be a log of my failures. (Failure log = flog??) But Jesus came for failed people, so that’s OK; I’m learning to see things through His eyes and not the world’s.

There is one thing, however, that I have learned: Bible reading requires some sort of routine. When you have kids, they also have some kind of routine. But it changes. Sometimes after a year, sometimes after a few months, sometimes daily. So, as parent-disciples, we need to be flexible to adapt our routine to theirs. When my kids’ routine changes, so does mine. God has given me 24 hours in my day as he has everyone else – so I know there must be time to spend with Him. It may look very different to pre-2009, it may look very different each day, and it may not be many minutes at all, but I believe in a God who is powerful enough to use each word of His word to grow us more into His likeness.

And this makes me very happy. 🙂

~

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

2 Timothy 3:16-17