14: you don’t always get what you want

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Last night, Missy told me that Mister had ‘given’ her his camera. As his prized possession, a present we’d given him for Christmas two years ago, I pursued the line of inquiry. She informed me that she was allowed to use it, but had to give it back when Mister needed it.

“Ah,” I said. “So it’s more like a loan.”

“Yes,” she replied, “because he knows I’m asking for one for Christmas.”

This was news to me.

“Er…you know you can’t just keep asking for things this close to Christmas? I’ve already bought your presents.”

You don’t always get what you want. Sometimes you ask at the wrong time.

Mister made his Christmas list at least a month ago. Among the predictable wishes of an 8-year-old boy – new football boots, fidget cube, Power Rangers costume – were three highly ambitious asks: “phone, computer, games console”.

I thought it best to tell him outright that he wouldn’t be getting any of those items. Phones were for secondary school, computers were for homework (i.e. secondary school), and a second games console (we already have one) would be for the whole family when his younger siblings were a little older and could join in.

You don’t always get what you want. Sometimes it’s not appropriate.

Sometimes we pray and pray and pray, and it feels like God isn’t there. We’re not getting the response we want. We’re not receiving answers to our prayers. This person didn’t get healed. That person got made redundant. This difficult situation seems to have got worse, not better.

You don’t always get what you want.

Sometimes, like Missy, the timing is wrong. God’s timing is perfect, and ours is not. Perhaps we’re asking for the right thing, but for some reason which we can’t yet see, it will be a while before it’s given to us.

Sometimes, like Mister, we’re asking for entirely inappropriate things. We know that the Bible calls us again and again to seek the will of God, but we stray so far from our relationship with Him, that the things we’re asking for are not at all in keeping with His plan for us, our friends or our family.

You don’t always get what you want.

We know that our Father God does give good things to those who ask:

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11)

And yet we can all think of times when we asked for good things and didn’t receive them. I can’t rationalise this in any way except for this: Desert Dad and I have wisdom, or at least experience, that our children don’t have. We don’t give them everything they ask for, because we understand things that they don’t. Therefore, I can only reason that God, in His infinite wisdom and perfection, gives only the right things at the right times. We can’t understand why some things appear to be withheld – but then again, we don’t have God’s perspective of the whole of Humanity across the whole of Time. One day, we will understand, but not now.

You don’t always get what you want.

There’s another aspect to this. Mister knows he’s not allowed any of those things just yet – but he still asked. He has the relationship with us which makes him entirely comfortable to approach us boldly.

God wants us to approach Him boldly too. He wants us to ask. Maybe we won’t get what we want, but He wants us to verbalise what we want first.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)

Like my children, asking for what they want, but being able to trust the decision-making of their parents – we too need to hold in balance the boldness of asking God, with the trusting of His perfect will.

You don’t always get what you want – but Your heavenly Father knows what is good, and gives it in abundance.

* Which of your prayers feels like it’s going unanswered right now? Ask God for some encouragement to keep going, or some indication of why it may be the wrong thing at this time.

Dear Lord, I confess that sometimes I ask for the wrong things. But, worse than that, sometimes I don’t ask at all. Give me a growing sense of confidence in You, so that, like a trusting child with a loving Father, I may freely approach you with everything that’s causing me worry. And grow my love for You as God, rather than You as Giver, so that when some of my prayers go unanswered, my faith in You is not shaken, but strengthened, as I trust that Your will is best for me. Amen.

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13: from rags to riches

Tonight is the night you’ve all been waiting for. The most festive of festive Advent traditions – something that unites the nation in common love, adoration and hope.

It’s Interviews night on The Apprentice.

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I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a huge Apprentice fan. For the uninitiated, the show started back in October with 18 hopeful business entrepeneurs competing for a £250,000 investment from Lord Sugar. Now the candidates have been whittled down to five, and tonight – instead of taking part in a business task, as usual – they will be grilled by a handful of tough business-types.

A few days ago, I enjoyed watching The Apprentice: The Final Five, which is always aired before the interviews. It takes a closer look at each of the five candidates left in the process, giving their back-story and business successes outside of the TV show.

One thing which always intrigues me (and I’ve been watching this show for years) is how often the candidates have had a tough background, or suffered some personal tragedy. Of the five who will be interviewed tonight, four experienced childhood poverty, four were raised by single parents, two emigrated to the UK at a young age, one suffered an abusive father, another dealt with fertility issues in her 20s, and at least two of them remember their parents’ break-up.

Yes, the ‘rags-to-riches’ story makes for good television. But primarily this show isn’t about the back-story – it only makes an appearance towards the end of the series (the finale will be this Sunday) – so I can’t think that the BBC producers chose the candidates on the basis of their backgrounds alone.

Instead, my very obvious analysis is that having difficulties in life, particularly in childhood, can often make you stronger, more resilient and more determined. I’ve lost track of the number of Apprentice candidates over the years who’ve said, “I just want to provide a better life for my children”. They are motivated by the very real memories of how tough life was for their own parents when they were growing up.

It’s interesting that, although this is a fairly well-accepted line of thought regarding social/material success (i.e. that a tough background can often give you the drive to make something of yourself), it is a less-accepted line of thought regarding spiritual ‘success’.

In the excellent A Praying Life (Paul E. Miller) which I read earlier this year – and which, by the way, every Christian should read (it will change your life) – there is a fair bit of discussion about suffering, and the role it plays in shaping us to be more like Christ. We regularly try to avoid suffering for us or for our kids, as that’s how this world has programmed us – but what if some of that suffering was essential to developing Christ-like qualities, in a similar way to the Apprentice candidates’ hard upbringings being essential to developing the ambition that they need to succeed in business?

I could tell you many cases of ‘safe’, middle-class Christian kids who have lost their faith in, or before, adulthood. And likewise, I could tell you many cases of Christian kids, where you might think their parents had made rather questionable decisions on their behalf – who grew into adults with a strong, distinctive faith of their own.

Again – and I’m sounding like a stuck record here, but it’s the 13th for goodness sake, and I’m pretty darn amazed I’m still here – nothing about Jesus’ birth, childhood or adulthood was ‘safe’, in human terms. He didn’t have all the advantages of financially-secure parents. No further academic study for Jesus. No home to call his own. Not even a ‘respectable’ temple-based career. Time and time again, we are called to imitate Him, including in this passage from Philippians – one of my all-time favourites:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

Jesus is the ultimate rags-to-riches story. He made Himself nothing (v.7), but is now ‘exalted to the highest place’ (v.9). Perhaps, in the same way, our ‘rags’ – our suffering, our hardships, our difficulties in life – will become, one day, a rich inheritance, when we are raised to life, to live with God forever in a perfect eternity.

I have been meditating a lot on these ideas during 2017. Perhaps I will delve into them further on this blog during 2018. But for now, a challenge:

* In what ways do you seek worldly ‘safety’ and ‘security’ in your life? And in the lives of your children, if you have them?

* How is God calling you to become more Christlike this season? (If you don’t know, ask Him – and spend some time listening to the response!)

Lord Jesus, your life on earth was rich with meaning, saturated by wisdom, and ultimately fulfilling. I confess that I’ve spent so long absorbing what the world tells me is important, that I’ve lost sight of what it means to be Christ-like in an un-Christ-like world. Jesus, remove my blinkers. By your Holy Spirit, change me; fix my eyes unswervingly on you. [And, in how I parent, let me always be guided by what will develop Christ-like qualities in my kids.] In your precious name, Amen.

If you have a couple more minutes, take a listen to this. You can’t beat a bit of vintage-Kendrick 🙂

12: are you prepared?

Don’t laugh, but last year I got a serious case of Christmas-gift-wrap-envy.

I thought my presents looked fine – until I saw everyone else’s. Their paper was smarter, more contemporary, more original. There were ribbons and bows and gift bags and heartfelt messages on gift tags. Each of them seemed a million times more enticing than anything I’d wrapped.

So, when the post-Christmas sales hit the shops, I found myself in the ‘good’ shops, snapping up half-price rolls of pretty paper, in order to save myself the embarrassment of cheap supermarket-wrapped gifts this year. (Actually, when Tesco was reducing their rolls to 20p, I snapped some of those up too. FAIL.)

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Mid-January, I did a quick add-up to check I’d bought enough paper for Christmas 2017.

FORTY-THREE METRES.

I do have a lot of people to buy for, but…..FORTY-THREE METRES??? I could pretty much wrap up our house for that.

I think you could say I was prepared for present-wrapping this year.

***

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Yesterday, I had my hair cut and coloured, see above. I walked out of the salon absolutely loving it – which inevitably means I will never ever be able to style it this way again. But at least it’s looking a little less birds-nest-like for any Christmas photos. Going back to yesterday’s post, having my hair done in December has become a bit of a tradition for me – not only does it feel the right time of year to be looking presentable, but I appreciate the time out, in a busy month, of being able to sit in a chair for a couple of hours and do pretty much nothing, other than discuss the night life of Wakefield with the hairdresser, or read Why Love Matters as I’m waiting for the colours to develop.

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Me wondering how the heck I’m ever going to make it look like this again.
***

Yes, I am pathetically materialistic. Guilty. But I offer up these insane examples of Christmas ‘preparation’ (or, maybe, over-preparation) to ask you – and me – the question: are you prepared?

I don’t mean for Christmas. If you’re one of those people who has everything bought and wrapped by mid-October, perhaps I hate you a little. I will never be one of those people.

But really it doesn’t matter in the slightest whether you’re early or late with your preparations for December 25th. The big question is: are you ready to meet with Jesus this Christmas, and beyond? Are you ready to have your life transformed by Him? And – if it already has been – are you ready to listen to what He has to say to you next? Joy to the World (one of my favourite carols!) has the wonderful lines:

“Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare Him room.”

Advent is about preparing, and waiting. Preparing to celebrate Christ’s birth – but also preparing for the time when He will come again to bring home those who’ve responded to His offer of a relationship with the living God.

Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him….God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear…Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah…Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call. (Acts 2:22-39)

* Are we ready to receive our King? Do we trust Jesus’ Lordship in our lives? Or are there areas we’d rather hold on to, for ‘security’?

* Are we preparing room in our lives for Jesus? Or are we getting overly busy with family, career, hobbies, voluntary groups and so on? Where can we find more time and space for Christ – now and in 2018?

Jesus, I acknowledge with my lips that you are my King and my Saviour – but my life seldom reflects my testimony. From today – and into the next year and beyond – please take your place on the central throne of my heart. And, from there, please transform my life so that ‘making room’ for you is not only something I desire to do, but something I cannot survive the rest of life without. Amen.

 

11: surprise!

I once read – on a blog which I otherwise love – that families should try to introduce one new Christmas tradition each year for their children.

Er…WHAT??

Besides this being an incredibly stressful time of year anyway, and you’re asking exhausted parents to come up with one new Christmas tradition each year in addition to the very many traditions that they already follow, surely the point of a tradition is that it’s something that’s been happening for years? I mean, I know a tradition has to start somewhere, but surely it should spring up a little more organically than just obeying some blog that tells you to start a new one.

I bet you have some good traditions in your household. There are the ones which are so engrained now that we probably don’t even verbalise them as traditions: leaving out stockings for Santa, going to a Christingle or carol service, eating turkey on Christmas Day and staying up to see the New Year in, to name a few.

Then there are those fun, quirky traditions which are specific to a family. In my family, we have the ‘Baynes Family Chorus’, a totally bizarre and ultimately meaningless rhythmic ‘chant’ performed with claps, arm slaps, elbows and hand-banging the table (after the big meal, of course – the aim is to get the cutlery and glassware clattering to the extent that the host feels on the edge of a nervous breakdown). No one knows where it originated, or who started it, but we’ve done it every Christmas that I can remember, and now my kids (not Bayneses sadly, but with Baynes blood) are learning it.

There are a couple of ‘new’ things we’re trying this year – they may become traditions, or they may not. As I said, I think these things have to happen organically. We’ll see how they go down this year, and whether I remember next year. Who knows – in five years’ time, we may find we have a new couple of family traditions – or we may have completely forgotten we ever tried them. We certainly haven’t started them because of a new trend on Pinterest.

They are both linked to the idea of ‘surprise’. The first is this wonderful Advent jigsaw that my sister-in-law found for us last year. It’s made up of 24 numbered boxes.

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“I thought you’d think of a creative way to use it,” she said helpfully. Now I don’t have time to think of anything very creative these days – but I’m simply putting a little note in each box, often with a small item, which will give a clue as to a Christmassy activity happening that day. The kids take it in turns to open a box. Sometimes there’s something going on that day which makes life easier:

“Today’s the Christmas fair – here’s some cash to spend.” (Loose change enclosed.)

“Time to decorate the tree today.” (With a small bauble.)

When there’s nothing fun happening (today, for example, which is full of appointments and mundane, ‘normal life’ happenings), I cheat a bit:

“Today you’re going to preschool. Let’s practise your Christmas songs!”

I literally think of something the night before…or even, like yesterday, over breakfast (oops). My kids are very forgiving.

So far, the kids are enjoying the element of surprise – we’ll see if it catches on for next year.

The second tradition is one I read about last year and which takes no time at all: you don’t label your children’s presents when you put them under the tree. This obviously increases the element of surprise, because they’re not constantly picking up, squeezing and shaking the items with their name on. Instead, when they get to the bottom of their stockings on Christmas Day morning, there will be a scrap of gift wrap, which will correspond to the wrap that has been used on their presents. Bingo! Now they can identify which gifts belong to them.

In addition, for the first year, we’re sticking to the ‘Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read’ mantra. So this is what’s been going on the gift tags.

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We don’t all like surprises. Kids often do. Perhaps it’s because, without such a lengthy frame of reference for things which happen in life, they are more often surprised than us adults, who have – to some extent – ‘seen it all before’. So they’re more used to it, and tend to see it as something fun, something to be anticipated.

Surprise seems to be an important element of our Advent and Christmas celebrations. After all, surely one of the biggest surprises in history was how God chose to send His son – born not in a palace, but a stable. Mary, Joseph and the shepherds were all surprised to be visited by angels. (Well, you would be, wouldn’t you?) And I bet Mary and Joseph were pretty surprised by the impressive presents the wise men brought for their firstborn.

Jesus didn’t stop surprising people through his life. When the Pharisees believed they had it right – praying in public so that everyone could see them, ignoring the non-Jews, stoning a prostitute – Jesus surprised them by telling them they had it wrong. When people tried to tactfully move a bunch of children away from Jesus, He surprised them by welcoming them, blessing them, and even telling the adults that, actually, they were the ones who needed to learn from these children. When a promiscuous woman was gathering her water for the day, Jesus surprised her not only by striking up a conversation (a cultural no-no) but by telling her everything she’d ever done – and forgiving her.

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms,placed his hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)

* Have you been surprised by Jesus? If not, take some time this month to read one of the most culturally shocking stories about Jesus: either meditate on the above passage, or look up John 4, Matthew 19:16-30 or Luke 5:27-32. And this is just a small sample. Read a whole gospel and you’ll count dozens of ways Jesus surprised his contemporaries.

Lord Jesus, from your birth to your death and glorious resurrection, you were constantly surprising those around you. Today, I confess that I don’t always allow myself to feel just how counter-cultural you were and still are. Please surprise me, this Advent, with an aspect of your character or teaching – and may it change my life in radical ways. Amen.

10: a cosmic-sized responsibility

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This morning, as I was telling the Christmas story to my kids, Monkey started to chat and ask questions. I explained that Mary had a very special baby – God’s baby – in her tummy, and wasn’t that an important thing God had given her to do?

At that point, it dawned on me what a huge responsibility it would have been for Mary and Joseph to raise the Son of God. Not much is written in the Bible about Jesus’ childhood, but think of all the decisions parents make for their children on a daily basis. What should I feed them? Are they ready to be potty-trained? Which bad habits need to be broken? Which good habits need to be formed? Which battles should I fight?

Now scale that up, so that every single decision you’re making for your child, you’re making for the Son of God. 

Yep, exactly.

I don’t know how phased Mary and Joseph actually were – did they really take it all in their stride, as the Bible suggests they took the news of his impending birth? Or did they have moments of anxiety, panic and stress as Jesus was growing up? Realistically, I have to believe that they did – which parent doesn’t?

We may not be parenting THE Son of God, God Himself in human form – but we are parenting God’s children, none the less. People who were thought about, dreamt up and intricately designed by God – millennia before we ourselves were born. We can influence our children, but we can never say we created their personality, appearance or character. They are God’s, first and foremost.

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139: 13-16)

It does seem an awesome responsibility with which God has entrusted us. But, fortunately, He doesn’t leave us to it. We can cry out to Him with literally any parenting conundrum we face. We don’t have to do it on our own – in fact, we’re not meant to.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)

Linking back to yesterday’s post (about what we’re actually celebrating, and whether our children know), I’d like to suggest that if we are Christians, one of our biggest responsibilities is to teach our children the Bible. As a wise person once said:

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The idea of teaching our children from the Bible is daunting – especially if we’re fairly new Christians and still getting used to it ourselves. But I’d like to suggest a very simple way of doing it.

There are many books and Bibles out there (this is my favourite children’s Bible), but whatever you use, a great tool for young children is repetition. The best advice I ever got was to focus on one Bible story for an entire week. It’s less preparation, the book is already open at the right page, you quickly form a habit, and your kids learn the story thoroughly.

So, throughout Advent, we have five very short (i.e. less than 60 words) stories, which we do for the four weeks of Advent and the one week after Christmas (although, realistically, we never manage this fifth week!). The kids learn the stories so well that by the end of the week they’re pretty much telling them themselves. By Christmas, they’ll have a complete re-telling of the Christmas story locked inside their brain.

We don’t do anything complicated with these stories either – who has time during Advent to prepare exciting story bags or puppets? We simply use our wooden Nativity characters, and lots of facial expressions/different voices/simple actions which the kids can join in with if they wish.

Also, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Days missed, characters going missing, numerous interruptions…that’s OK. God’s word will make an impact however it’s shared. (He knows all about disasters, remember?)

I realise I haven’t said much about our Advent traditions so far on these blogs, so there’ll be more of that coming over the next few days. But today you’ve heard about our most important tradition, that of starting each day remembering part of the story we’ll celebrate in full on Christmas Day.

* In which ways, whether or not you’re a parent, are you telling the Christmas story to those around you this Advent?

* How can you do this creatively? Using words, actions, social media, videos, books…?

Father God, thank you for the awesome responsibility You’ve entrusted me with, raising children that You’ve designed and made. Please help me to take this responsibility seriously enough to rely on you totally for all the strength and patience I need. Amen.

 

9: can anyone tell what you’re celebrating?

IMG_20171209_003342[1]We put the tree up today.

There’s always a small family argument as to when it should go up. Desert Dad would put it up on Christmas Eve and not a day earlier – whilst Mister rearranged the lounge (i.e. moved a two-seater sofa by himself) TWO WEEKS AGO in order to fit in the tree, so convinced was he that we were going to start decorating in November. Unsurprisingly, he was fairly disappointed when we broke the news to him that we were, in fact, going to wait a bit longer – so you can imagine the excitement today, when we opened the boxes of decorations and let them loose on it.

I love Christmas tree decorations – many of them tell a story, reminding us of the person who gave it to us, or a particular event or place. A few years ago I found myself with fewer and fewer Santa/elf/snowman decorations and moving more and more towards stars, angels, hearts, and other symbols of the Nativity story. Naturally, especially with the kiddoes making more and more Christmas tat decorations, the ‘non-religious’ symbols have crept back in, but our house still points more to the Nativity than St Nick.

IMG_20171209_011048[1]I’ve never had a problem with Santa, or elves, or any ‘secular’ decoration of Christmas. Likewise, I don’t have a problem with taking the kids to see Santa or the Christmas lights, shopping at Christmas markets, participating in Christmas jumper day, or any of the other ‘secular’ celebrations of Christmas – in fact, I think many of them can be used to increase our sense of joy and excitement at celebrating the birth of Christ.

But if our Advent is more consumed with these celebrations than with Jesus, then our kids will grow up with a confused sense of what Christmas is about.

Young children tend to see things in black and white. I always knew there would be multiple influences coming at them from their friends and school, so I wanted to make sure that, from an early age, they weren’t confused about what we were celebrating.

And this is why I gently steered towards having physical objects in our home which would remind us what we’re celebrating this season. So that, through the haze of Advent calendars, letters to Santa and Christmas dinners, they wouldn’t grow up wondering if Santa was born in a manger, or whether Jesus had twelve reindeer.

IMG_20171209_011033[1]I’ve had to be creative. Sometimes I’ve bought decorations which point to the Nativity – and other times I’ve had to make them, as what I’m looking for doesn’t exist in the shops. But I love it when I find something which can help our home point towards Jesus at Christmas – it’s become a fun challenge each Advent! In fact, one of the few Bible passages directly relating to parenting suggests that our faith very much should be physically visible in our homes:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door-frames of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:5-9)

* What are you actually celebrating this Christmas? And can anyone tell?

* If you have children, what are you doing to increase their knowledge and wonder of the Christmas story this Advent?

Lord God, thank you again for your great gift of Jesus, sent to be our Rescuer. Please equip me to pass this good news on to the next generation. May my life reflect your truth, may my work and my actions reflect your goodness, and may my home be a place which points to you. Amen.

8: a perfectly imperfect advent

Yesterday, the Desert household was sponsored by Calpol.

We missed our morning groups – Suzuki, followed by gymnastics – due to the twins and I feeling under the weather, Monkey most badly affected by a hacking cough. We stayed in and watched a lot of telly, and my aim of miraculously tidying every room in the house in between moments of focused playing with the boys strangely didn’t happen.

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We did, however, make this foam nativity (thank you to whoever bought it for us last year), so that was a highlight, and I love the ‘perfect imperfection’ of the characters. I intervened a little, e.g. when the eyes were about to go on the donkey’s tail or something, but largely I tried to step back and let the little people do it themselves, with me playing the role of Person-Who-Peels-Off-The-Stickers.

And, actually, for all its imperfections, the whole day was lovely overall. We had two separate visits from two separate friends – one I see regularly, and one who lives overseas, who we hadn’t seen in 17 months. Both of them are the type of friends who enrich my life and fill my emotional tank whenever I spend time with them. They listen, they ask the right questions, their conversation is interesting and wise and seasoned with grace. And I can totally be myself around them – no worrying about how messy the house is, or if I’m still padding around in PJs, or if I’m serving up Aldi freezer food for tea.

The day was perfectly imperfect. As was the Nativity scene. This morning I was reminded of this fab article: 10 Things our kids don’t need this Christmas, and highly recommend it if you have a couple of spare minutes, as it relates so well to what I’m saying here. These kinds of days, far from the Pinterest world of minimalist homes, stylishly dressed kids, crafts you could sell on Etsy, and home-cooked suppers, cause me to relate to the Christmas story so much more. 

The first Christmas was perfectly imperfect too. No one chooses to give birth in a stable. And – sorry, men – most women prefer to give birth in the presence of someone who has a small clue what they’re doing. Also no one really wants strangers turning up unannounced in the early days, when every feed hurts like crazy and basically involves a very un-sexy strip show in order to get the right latch.

But it was perfect. It was, in every way, what God had planned. A humble birth, a humble boy, a humble family. Special visitors, sent by God – from the poorest (shepherds) to the richest (wise men). Because the Son of God had come for everyone, regardless of background. And this had been prophesied hundreds of years before:

‘But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans  of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.’ (Micah 5:2)

Bethlehem was a non-place. The dregs of the earth. What good could come from there? But God had it all planned. The perfectly-imperfect plan.

As we wait for Christmas this Advent, remembering the perfectly-imperfect birth of Jesus, our Rescuer, we also wait for the time when He will come back to earth – and, once and for all, rid the world of imperfections.

That really will be perfect.

* In what area/s of your life do you strive for perfection? If the striving is wearing you down, bring this to God now in prayer.

Lord Jesus, your birth – planned by God – was perfect. Perfectly timed, perfectly recorded. This Christmas, please help me to cling to your perfection, and lay more and more of my imperfections at Your feet. Amen.