what i’m into – march 2017

Books

Don’t faint or anything, but this month I managed TWO books.

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When my brother, one of the most quietly radical Christians I know, said that A Praying Life had revolutionized his prayer life, I determined to read it. I started it two years ago, got seven chapters in and lost interest. It seemed a bit predictable and repetitive. But I always vowed to take it up again – and, very quickly, it became brilliant. Paul E. Miller is so insightful, with lots of original things to say about everything from anxiety to cynicism to suffering – all whilst encouraging us to develop (or rediscover) a childlike dependence on God. Seriously, every Christian should read this book.

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Then, a little late to the party, I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, something I’d been meaning to read since Gordon Brown was at no.10. (Remember him?) It was just as wonderful as I’d expected, and took no time at all to finish.

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(PS I’m still going with Tim and Kathy Keller’s My Rock My Refuge and am only a day behind – woohoo! I thoroughly recommend this if you’re anything like me with daily Bible reading, i.e. need a (dated) kick up the backside to establish a habit!)

Food

After my February ‘What I’m into’ post (which now seems to have vanished – I blame the kiddoes…), where I bemoaned my limited vegetarian vocabulary, my veggie friend Hannah pointed me to her very helpful blog, which contains recipes, meal plans and tips on cooking for vegetarians and vegans. I’ve found it helpful not only for taking recipes as written, but for reminding me what can be done without meat – for example, veggie fajitas, which are so yummy and child-friendly. I took this recipe and adapted it, adding in a few bits we needed to finish up, and baking the rolled fajitas in tomato sauce with a liberal helping of grated cheese on top. Everyone wolfed it down – this happens very rarely in a household where half of the residents change their food likes and dislikes on an hourly basis.

Marinated tofu in black bean sauce was OK, but tofu is a lot more expensive when marinated, and I didn’t think it added much to the dish (protein, obvs, but little flavour). Pretty colours though:

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This vegan jambalaya went down well, especially the Quorn sausage. Does anyone else feel like they’re cheating when they use Quorn though?

The veggie star of the month was Mushrooms Cacciatore, which I served with rigatoni. The lingering cooking time, the veg and the wine, all combined to make a really rich, flavoursome sauce for the pasta – and, most importantly for meat-eaters, we didn’t miss the meat!

I was intrigued by a GP friend going on a High Fat, Low Carbs diet experiment – you can read his blog here. I’ve been aware for a while that processed carbs are not the best, and our dependence on them could lead to some serious health issues in later life – but I was intrigued by the High Fat part. This website explains more.

The recipes looked fun, and we got round to trying the Chicken and Coconut Curry, which we served with Cauliflower Rice instead of the usual white rice, and the Hamburger Patties in a Creamy Tomato Sauce, which was served with a huge pile of buttery fried cabbage instead of a bun. I felt properly full after each of these meals – although I understand from my friend that following this diet to the letter will result in some carb-cravings. I also bought a spiralizer this month, so am looking forward to trying courgetti, squashini and all sorts of other veg-based fillers…more in the April edition of ‘What I’m into’!

Articles

Not exactly an ‘article’, but Jen Wilkin’s incredible talk on raising a child to stand out rather than fit in just blew my mind this month. So much practical guidance in here, without any sense of judgement or weariness. I strongly recommend this for any Christian parent – it’s around an hour long.

I also enjoyed this article from the Guardian on a couple who adopted out of choice rather than necessity.

And, in a month where World Book Day had many parents (me included) reaching for the wine whilst simultaneously trying to hide under a rock, you can’t beat Hurrah for Gin’s hilarious commentary.

Music

This is just WONDERFUL!

…and I’ve discovered that the chord that makes Carole King’s ‘Up on the roof’ so wonderful (a 2nd inversion major 7th, if you were asking) can also be inserted into ‘The Splendour of the King’ for a rather nice, slow-but-powerful end to a worship set! Oh my goodness, is there anything better than Carole King and James Taylor combining their wonderful musical talents? I love how Taylor looks like he’s wandered in after a spot of gardening.

Oh look, I even picked up a guitar myself this month. Pic taken by one of the minions, mid-singing, hence dodgy expression.

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Screentime

We had a rare Whole Evening Without Other Agendas at some point during March, so decided to watch Fargo – it was engaging enough, but I didn’t feel it lived up to its synopsis, with characters under-developed and plot-line not intricate enough to grip us.

In other news…

Don’t get too excited, but this month we made the switch from margarine to butter. There you go, you can exhale now. (Truth be told, I only really made the switch so I could buy a pretty butter dish.)IMG_20170404_212539

Once again, we failed to buy a sofa. (This is a saga which has lasted two years now, and counting.) We moved the old one out, moved a ‘new’ (second-hand) one in, moved the ‘new’ (second-hand) one out, and then moved the old one back in. The Hokey Cokey has nothing on us.

We had a fun weekend with the grandparents, including a visit to a safari park and a fantastic imaginative play centre. And we also had a visit from some old friends we hadn’t seen in years.

My two wonderful Japanese friends came round and prepared the most incredible sushi feast for us and our kids. Shhhh, don’t tell them….it’s the only reason I make friends with Japanese ladies!

I helped a friend move house. And spent a ridiculous amount of time preparing a talk and didn’t do any laundry or tidying for a week. Well, not much. My mind boggles as to how anyone does talks week in, week out. Guess God’s teaching me a bit of empathy for my other half then 😉

Oh, and I used my PTA perk of a Booker card to stockpile Creme Eggs, my absolute favourite chocolate!

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How has your March been?

Linking up with Leigh Kramer’s blog – go check it out!

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follow me – a review and a giveaway!

Amy Robinson is a writer and storyteller. It’s a sad irony that the years when Amy and I lived in the same city never overlapped with the years of me being a parent, as I think our family would have loved her storytelling performances.

Follow Me

The next best thing to being able to watch Amy is surely to immerse ourselves in her book Follow Me! which is a creative family devotional for Lent. (I say ‘immerse’, but let’s get this out of the way from the start: our family has recently exploded from four to six, and the only things in which we’re immersing ourselves just right now are toys, shoes, poo and melodrama. Anything else – this wonderful resource included – merely gets a toe-dip.

HOWEVER.

That doesn’t stop me from raving about Follow Me! Family Bible times are such a tough one to navigate, with different ages, interests and timetables to contend with. But here is a resource which accommodates all that. For example, some of the activities were too old for my under 6s – but that simply means I can continue to use the resource for the next few years. And some of the activities needed a bit of preparation or forethought – but then again this offered flexibility, giving us license to extend, or cut short, as suited us. I love how the book is so structured, and yet offers so many open possibilities.

This is how Follow Me! works. It starts Ash Wednesday (that’s tomorrow – eek! This blog was meant to be published a week ago!), and follows a different Bible story each week throughout Lent. Each day there is an activity based on that Bible story – perhaps a creative retelling of the story, some history and context, a poem, questions for ‘wondering’, a craft or a prayer. Every Sunday (which falls on day 5 as the weeks begin on Wednesdays), there’s a ‘community day’ which encourages your kids to do something simple with others. This is designed to be done within a church community, so is perfect if you attend church on a Sunday!

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I just love the spontaneity this book initiates. This is the fishermen’s boat on Lake Galilee. My kids chose their own props to add to Amy’s beautiful words.

You can mix and match the activities as much as you like, perhaps just picking up the resource once a week, or every day if you’re keen, or just whenever you all manage to come together. Please don’t think it’s too late to order a copy! (Or attempt to win one, see below.) This resource is SO flexible you can use it at any time during Lent – and, of course, unlike Creme Eggs, it will keep for next year, and the year after, and the year after!

I find Lent a long time in which to engage my children’s interests in the run-up to Easter. Usually we do Shrove Tuesday, and then forget about anything Easter-related until Palm Sunday. I like the fact that this resource manages to sustain the interest with structured Bible readings leading up to Easter. Not that we’re there yet, but I can imagine my kids sticking with this resource for the next few weeks because it’s something different and active, and there’s plenty of variety.

Follow Me! is simply a family-friendly version of what us adults appreciate through Lent: the opportunity to pause, consider Jesus’ life and ministry, and ponder what it means for own lives. You can get your hands on a copy here but as I haven’t done a giveaway for a while, I’ll be sending a free copy to a commenter chosen at random this Saturday. So: get commenting below for your chance to win!

play through the bible – a review and a GIVEAWAY!!!

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Over a decade ago, as my friends and I were approaching the end of university and the start of Real Life, I remember asking one particular friend what she wanted to do in the future. “I’m not sure exactly,” she started – and then her eyes lit up: “but I’m just so excited about the Bible, and I’d love to be able to share that with people.”

Perhaps, I thought, my friend would do a PhD and teach academically, or take on a teaching position within a church or Christian organisation. However, her calling was to be greater than that: Alice Buckley has written a book which unlocks the Bible not for lofty academics, but for preschoolers – and I genuinely believe that it has a thousand times more potential for changing lives than any of the weak-by-comparison suggestions my mind played through. Why start teaching the Bible at 18 when you can teach it from birth?

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Play through the Bible works like this: There are 20 stories from Luke’s gospel. Alice suggests that you take one story per week, the daily repetition helping kids to remember it. She has expertly rewritten each story with language simple enough for a very small child to understand, as well as plenty of opportunities for them to join in – and, of course, there are numerous suggestions for actions, signs and voices you may like to use, as well as props (all of which can be found around the home). The suggestion is that families find a few minutes each day in which to tell this story – perhaps over a meal (we do ours over breakfast). However, anyone who’s even been within five miles of a preschool family knows that there will be a plethora of reasons why this might not always happen – but Alice is so grace-filled in her approach “Let’s agree not to guilt-trip when we miss a day (or week, or month!)…Deal?” she offers, reassuringly.

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Missy trying to ‘fix’ a ripped sheet of paper. Jesus can fix us when we’re poorly!
And then, the genius: every story comes with multiple play ideas related to the theme. Again, Alice is realistic, suggesting families concentrate on just one or two things. As a mum of three young children, she knows what fits easily into our lives, and recognises that each child learns differently. There are ideas for craft and cooking, things to spot or do when in the park or walking down the street, active games to play in the home and outdoors, and ideas for bringing Jesus naturally into the conversation.

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Missy making her scrapbook.
In week one, when we heard about Jesus being God’s son, we used Alice’s idea of making a scrapbook to illustrate the point. Missy had been given one for her birthday, and loved filling it with pictures of her favourite Disney characters and other random colouring pages! Once made, it became an integral prequel to our telling of the Bible story: we would go through the book asking: “Is this my daughter?” with the kids responding “NO!” until we reached a photo of Missy at the very end – “YES!”. In the same way: “Is John the Baptist God’s son?”, “Is Jesus God’s son?” – you get the idea!

Week 2 was about Jesus being tempted in the desert, and how he listened to God, not the devil. My children’s favourite activity from the selection was playing ‘Simon Says’, which we played at the breakfast table each morning with no props or preparation – and yet it clearly brought home the point about listening!

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Jesus’ healing miracles – poorly toys!
Last week, we looked at Jesus’ healing miracles. As luck would have it, I took my kids for their flu vaccinations last week: it was a great opportunity to reinforce the story through talking about how Jesus heals – that he heals through medicine, but also that he can heal just by touching people, without any need for medicine. It wasn’t a long, deep conversation – it wasn’t onerous, and it wasn’t hard to remember to do – it was very natural, because we’d been thinking about healing all week. This week, we’re onto Jesus and the fishermen – and Mister is already looking forward to a fish-and-chips dinner later on this week!

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This week’s story…complete with sieve/’net’ and cardboard fish!
The suggested age range for this book is 2-7, but we’ve been using Alice’s ideas (from her excellent blog) since Mister was 2 and Missy was a baby. Who knows what Missy was taking in, but it certainly wasn’t harming her to start hearing God’s word played out in a fun way! The very first time I saw Missy respond to God’s word was when she was around 16 months. She had very few words, and a handful of signs – but when, sometime shortly after Christmas, I mentioned the name ‘Jesus’, she signed ‘baby’. A small gesture, but a miraculous one: Missy was demonstrating that she’d taken in something from the Christmas story – Jesus being born as a baby! There really isn’t a start age for teaching God’s word. The problem is that most ‘preschool’ resources up until now have focused primarily on the 3-5 age group, i.e. children with some amount of verbal communication. Play through the Bible is unique in reaching children with God’s word before they can verbally communicate.

I knew this book would be incredible, because Alice’s ideas have been tried and tested in our family over the last three years. What I didn’t know was how beautiful the book would end up looking. It’s fab! Bright and colourful, with lovely illustrations and photos. Whilst the words are aimed at grown-ups, the book is enticing enough to have open on the breakfast table. My kids love looking at the pictures and trying to guess all the ideas we may (or may not!) get round to doing in the week!

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Mister trying to fix a broken toy: Jesus can fix broken people 🙂
This book has the power not just to change children’s lives, but the attitude of us parents, as we step up to the responsibility God has given us for teaching our children His ways. It’s not only a great resource in itself, it opens up a dialogue about how we can teach our children about the God who loves them. Think what priceless treasures we’re passing on to our kids if we’re able to teach them God’s word right from the start of their lives!

If you don’t believe me, why not check out SparklePetal’s review here? And, while you’re at it, you can view Alice’s promo video for the book here!

Now – who would like a free copy? Type a comment below and I’ll put all the names into a suitable receptacle on Sunday evening (Nov 9th) – the winner will receive a copy in the post at some point next week. Even if you don’t have young children – why not enter anyway? I’m sure any family you know would be totally blessed by this surprise gift! I’ll announce the winner on Facebook (as well as letting them know personally).

Disclaimer: No payment has been received for this review, even though it’s ridiculously positive, and reads like there’s been some secret commission exchanging hands. I did not receive a free copy to review – Christian book companies do not have money to burn – although perhaps if enough of you order the book, Alice may buy me a drink if we ever meet again.

david and goliath – a song for preschoolers

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll be well aware of my slightly disturbing obsession with writing simple Bible songs for my kids. Many kids’ worship songs are too long and wordy for small children (of preschool age) to sing and/or understand. And I often find that when my kids are learning about a particular Bible story, it’s handy to have a song to go with it!

Now, it may be the blood or gore or whatever, but my 4 year old boy has been really into the story of David and Goliath recently. So I came up with this little ditty, sung to the tune of ‘Miss Polly has a dolly’. If you don’t know this tune (I didn’t, prior to having kids), give me a shout – and if enough of you shout, I may just post a little video of me singing it with my kids. Don’t get your hopes up.

 

Goliath was a soldier who was big, big, big

He could break several soldiers like a twig, twig, twig

He said, “Come and fight me if you dare, dare, dare”

But all of God’s soldiers were too scared, scared, scared.

 

David was a shepherd who was small, small, small,

But he knew that God could do it all, all, all.

He took five stones from the river bed, bed, bed –

And the first one made Goliath fall down dead, dead, dead!

 

Actions encouraged…I will leave them to your imagination!

kingdom principles for handling money

This blog’s been something of a ‘desert blog’ recently, and for this I apologise. There are three reasons. Firstly, I feel you’re probably still recovering from the deluge of posts that was Sabbath week. Secondly, I’ve been flapping about trying to prepare a couple of talks I’ve been asked to give. (Two in two days! Even my husband rarely does that, and he’s a paid-up preacher man.) Thirdly – I won’t lie – The Apprentice is back on.

Back to the talks. On Monday night I was privileged to go and speak to the wonderful students at my church on the tricky subject of money. God challenged me hugely as I was preparing it so, generous soul that I am, I thought I’d share the challenge here so you can all feel as uncomfortable about your riches as I’m feeling about mine right now. What follows is a slightly-adapted summary of what I spoke about last night.

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The passage was Matthew 6:19-34. I strongly encourage you to take a look before reading the following!

Jesus spoke these words as part of his famous ‘Sermon on the Mount’. Essentially, this sermon is his teaching about the Kingdom of heaven, giving us principles for Kingdom living here on earth – so it’s no surprise that money and possessions make an appearance, being something central to our lives. Sadly, whilst this is an incredibly famous passage, it’s one which we Christians don’t often take literally in our own lives.

1. Live Simply – “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth” (v.19)

What are your treasures, the things close to your heart? Fashion? Travel? Gadgets? Your home? It’s not wrong to enjoy the blessings God gives us, but this passage suggests that a proactive attitude towards the accumulation of possessions – storing them up for ourselves – is dangerous because it’s not secure. These things don’t last even on earth – they certainly don’t amount to anything in heaven, and this is where our treasure needs to be. A godly life is one of a lack of concern over possessions; it is to understand they they don’t satisfy us – only God does.

It might be easy to live simply now if you’re a student, or on a low income – you have no choice. But what about if/when your income is raised? What about when everyone around you is living a particular lifestyle? When it’s commonplace to have a designer wardrobe, or regularly eat out at expensive restaurants? How do we survive then? By trusting God to satisfy our souls. Get into habits of simple living now so that the temptation is easier to avoid later on. Plan what you need to live on, and stick to it. Don’t assume God wants you to spend all your income on yourself – if your life is God’s, then your money is too.

For this reason, avoid unnecessary debt (store cards, buying on credit, etc – not student loans/mortgages, which usually aren’t avoidable!) – debt assumes a future which, as a Christian, you can’t predict. You don’t know what God has planned for your next step – but debt can limit what He wants to do with you.*

A year ago, Al and I reviewed our finances. From a human perspective, there was no need – we were happy with the amount we were giving, and there was plenty left for us. But God prompted us to raise our giving, so we did. However we didn’t alter our lifestyle – with the result that our bank balance tipped into the red a few times over the year. A ‘logical’, human perspective would say: “You’re giving too much. Lower your giving.” But God says: “You’re spending too much. Live more simply.” So now we live on a much-reduced budget than one year ago. I don’t tell you this story to show off, as if we were a brilliant model of simple living, because I know that millions around the world would weep if they saw our lifestyle. I’m utterly convinced that God will continue to call us to live more simply in the future. But I tell you this story to demonstrate how careful we need to be that we don’t use our money to ‘store up treasures on earth’ just because we can afford to.

The preacher and church leader Charles Simeon, who ministered around 200 years ago, had a great attitude to spending: he aimed to “practise frugality with himself, generosity to friends and family, and liberality to the poor”. What an excellent model!

2) Give Generously – “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (v. 20)

What are treasures in heaven? They are the things which matter to God. Exodus 36 tells a fantastic story of generous giving. God has commanded the Israelites, under Moses’ leadership, to build a temple for him. So they contribute everything needed: the precious metals, rich fabrics, etc. Then this happens:

[The skilled workers] received from Moses all the offerings the Israelites had brought to carry out the work of constructing the sanctuary. And the people continued to bring freewill offerings morning after morning. So all the skilled workers who were doing all the work on the sanctuary left what they were doing and said to Moses, ‘The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the Lord commanded to be done.’ Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: ‘No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.’ And so the people were restrained from bringing more, because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work.

(Exodus 36:3-7)

Can you imagine your church leader pleading with people not to give any more for this financial year because they had more money than they knew what to do with?! It would be quite different from the begging/pleading that often takes place. But if we were really storing up treasures in heaven, allowing God to release our finances into Kingdom purposes, then perhaps we’d never need to ask or beg.

The trouble is that we hold on to our money, we store it up here on earth – and what for? What good could be done if Christians were generous? Churches would be restored and fit for the purpose of serving their communities. Those working for churches and Christian organisations would receive a proper salary. There would always be food in the foodbanks, furniture at Besom and debt advisors at CAP centres – and the poor in our communities would never be without. People would be falling over themselves to come to know the God who lovingly and generously provides for them. Around the world, everyone would have access to clean water. Every child would be in school, not work. The Bible could be translated into every known language. There could be a Christian presence in every city, town, suburb and village across the world. Small co-operatives of workers being paid fairly would flourish, blossoming under the weight of demand from rich Westerners, keen to shop ethically. These aren’t accurate financial statements – they’re just me dreaming! But you get the idea.

Or, of course, we could just go on filling our homes with things we don’t need, things which even secular studies show only make us miserable and stressed out.

Now I realise that financial giving is tricky when you’re a student. You’re living off a loan which will eventually be paid back, so you may not feel it’s appropriate to give out of that. But you can look for other ways to give and be generous. Be aware of how God has blessed you. But when you start earning an income…PLAN your giving. Do it immediately, in the first month, otherwise it’ll be harder to start.

Begin with 10% – a good Biblical principle – but don’t expect this to stay fixed.
Rick Warren, an American church leader, found himself enormously wealthy after his book “The Purpose-Driven Life” became the most translated book in history and the best-selling book in English besides the Bible. But many years previously, he and his wife Kay had made a commitment to increase their financial giving, percentage-wise, every year.

“On years that we got a raise and things were good, we’d raise it 3 or 4 per cent, but on years when we were flat broke and the cupboards were bare, we’d raise it a quarter [of a percent]. We didn’t do it to show off. I didn’t tell anybody about it for thirty years but we kept raising it… Now Kay and I give away 91% of our income and live off 9%.

“People ask ‘why’ God chose me to write the book. I say ‘Because God knew what I’d do with the money’. They say that if God gave them tens of millions, they’d give it away too. I say “No you wouldn’t, because you’re not doing it now”. I had a 25-year track record in being generous in poverty.” (For the full article, find the Stewardship magazine here, then you’re looking for magazine no.22.)

You may not have very much now, but start a habit of giving. When you next receive an income, start off tithing 10% and see how God provides for you through the remaining 90%. It’s not always easy, particularly if we’ve never planned our giving before. We may start to worry that we won’t have enough to meet our needs, that we’ll not be able to eat or pay for basic necessities. Jesus knew this, which is why he went on to say “Do not worry”.

3) Don’t Worry – “Do not worry about your life” (v.25) 

How, Jesus? If you’re calling us to live simply and give generously, how can we not worry? The answer lies in verse 32 and it’s not rocket science: “your heavenly Father knows that you need [these things]” This is easy to say but harder to live out. Like so many aspects of our discipleship, we have to take the first step. Giving reflects our faith in a God who knows what we need and who provides – and, as we give, we see that faith increase.

The summer before I started university, I worked in a spice factory. I built up funds for my first term – but spent them before I thought to tithe. Over the Christmas holidays I didn’t find much paid work, and my bank balance was looking ropey – but I felt God prompting me to tithe my summer earnings, which would have wiped me out completely. I’d love to say I had the faith to give – but I didn’t. I gave half. Within a few days, however, I was unexpectedly offered a well-paid job to fit around my studies. God provides! A month or two later I felt Him prompting me to give the rest of that tithe, and this was followed by a gift of money from a relative.
4) Kingdom First – “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (v.33)

Kingdom economy is not about storing up treasures for ourselves. That’s the world’s way. The world says “look out for your own priorities”. Kingdom economy says “look out for God’s priorities”. It’s about giving, giving, giving – allowing God to bless others through what He’s given us – and allowing Him to bless us through others. “Seek first God’s kingdom…then all these things will be added to you.” Jesus is saying if we put God first, He will be sure to provide for all our needs. But the onus is on us – there’s a definite order to that statement: we seek God’s Kingdom, then He provides.

A few years ago, when we were moving from two salaries to one, we felt God call us to tithe our savings. It seemed a huge amount to us at the time but, none the less, we did it. Shortly afterwards, our car insurance company reimbursed us – we were moving to a ‘safer’ postcode and therefore had overpaid our insurance for that year. We then received two surprise cheques from a relative and a godparent. Then we sold something on eBay that turned out to be a bit rare and worth more than we’d thought. Adding this all up, it came to exactly the amount we’d given away at the start of the summer! We didn’t give in order to receive back – but it was God’s way of assuring us that He knew our situation and our concerns, and He wasn’t going to stop providing for us.

God knows our needs – we don’t have to grab for them, or store up our treasures. He knows and He will provide.

Rick Warren ends by saying: “For 37 years, God and I have playing this game. He says “OK Rick, you give to me, and I’ll give to you, and we’ll see who wins”. I have lost that game for 37 years. You cannot out-give God. I dare you…”

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* This talk was aimed at students who, I assumed, didn’t yet have ‘unnecessary’ debt. If you’re reading this and are in debt, please don’t take it as a judgement, but an encouragement that God wants to help you pay off those debts! And if you’re in serious debt, please get in touch with CAP.

sabbath week

The fridge at the start of Sabbath week. Not overflowing, but considering it's usually at this stage that I do our weekly shop, our over-consumption is pretty horrendous.
The fridge at the start of Sabbath week. Not overflowing, but considering it’s usually at this stage that I do our weekly shop, our over-consumption is pretty horrendous. There’s plenty in there which will feed us.

Very soon I will stop talking about Jen Hatmaker’s Seven. I will – I promise.

But indulge me a couple more posts – after all, it’s not every day I read a book which changes my life. In fact, it’s not every day I read a book.

After reading about Sabbath rest in the final chapter of Seven, I read Leviticus and was reminded of the ‘Sabbath year‘. The Israelites were to work the fields for six years, then during the seventh year they were to kick back and live off what God had given them, through their hard work for the previous six years. It was an exercise in trust, mainly – could they rely upon Jehovah Jireh (the God who provides) to fulfil their needs? But it also gave them a break, which God knew was important for them – after all, He’s made human beings and knows how we best function. The one-in-seven rule seems to work: it keeps us physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually healthy.

Our savoury cupboard - tins galore. Enough to make a starving family weep.
Our savoury cupboard – tins galore. Enough to make a starving family weep.

I wondered if our family could adopt – or at least experiment with – a Sabbath week. For six weeks we shop for food as normal, but in the seventh week we buy no food at all. We live on what we already have. We find inventive ways of using leftover food – or eat plain rice and remember those who get no variety in their diet. We save the ‘best’ meals for when friends come round. We prioritise the kids, even if it means that Al and I have to go without – and, as we fast, we pray for those who regularly sacrifice food so that their kids can eat.

Baking cupboard. I have a feeling we'll be getting a little creative this week.
Baking cupboard. I have a feeling we’ll be getting a little creative this week.

This idea was born during the week commencing March 18th, so that means we’ve had six weeks of normal food shopping, and our very first Sabbath week begins tomorrow, April 29th. It will be an exercise in trust, and will give us a rest from the (often time-consuming) jobs of planning meals, writing lists and buying food. It will also give our bank balance a rest – an important chance for our finances to ‘breathe’ and perhaps be released for other uses. It will reduce unnecessary food waste in our household.

Not gonna miss out on carbs during Sabbath week, methinks.
Not gonna miss out on carbs during Sabbath week, methinks.

Here are a few guidelines. They’re not ‘rules’ as such but bear in mind I’m Queen of the Get-Out Clause. If we had no boundaries, within a day I’d be buying Double Deckers by the multipack, and claiming they didn’t count as ‘food’. I’m also an avid list-maker, so bullet points kind of make my day.

* apart from milk and a joint for Sunday, both of which we bought last week and froze, we haven’t deliberately stocked up on food, either by buying more or batch-cooking (the joint might seem a little extravagant…but in my year of celebration, Sunday roasts are becoming very important – look out for a future blog post on them!)

* if there’s not enough for us all, Al and I will go without – but we’ll never let our kids go hungry. If we actually have no food for them, we’ll buy some.

* Al’s job includes lots of coffee drinking with students. We’ve agreed he can still buy drinks if for work purposes, but no food.

* we can eat food bought for us (and will try our hardest not to go round begging at our friends’ doors like paupers)

I spy some marshmallows and popcorn! Hoorah!
I spy some marshmallows and popcorn! Hurrah!

I’ll be blogging our experiences!

* Are your kitchen cupboards groaning like ours are?!

* What are your views on over-consumption? Is it a problem, or should we just relax and enjoy ourselves?

And if it all goes horribly wrong, at least we have a good supply of booze. Liquid week, anyone?
If it all goes horribly wrong, at least we have a good supply of booze. Sabbath week = liquid week.

parenthood and generosity 1 (God, Clare, Julia Donaldson and that Hatmaker woman)

2013-03-21 00.11.07I blame Jen Hatmaker.

Well, actually – if truth be told – it’s more the fault of my friend Clare. She made the mistake of buying me ‘7: an experimental mutiny against excess‘. Here is the text I sent her upon receiving the book and scanning the back cover:

Book just arrived – looks excellent! Can’t wait to read it. Never seen it before but it looks just the sort of thing I need to be reading right now.

Ha. This text stinks of innocence – the sort of naivety of someone who doesn’t realise she’s about to get whacked round the face several times with her own excessive lifestyle. Here’s what I texted Clare once I’d read a few chapters:

Just wanted to let you know that Seven is messing me up big time. That is all.

This is not a book review, let’s be clear. But do read ‘7’ – it’ll change your life. There. Now that’s out of the way I can get on with the point of this post.

Which is generosity. Hatmaker and Clare are partly to blame. So is a sermon Desert Dad preached last week on Money and Generosity (10/03/13 – Slowing down in Lent 4: Mastering Money). There’s nothing that challenges you more than preparing a sermon (so I’m told) – and, as Desert Dad and I are kind of in the habit of sharing our money, that was to have an impact on me too. Here’s how last week went for me:

Sunday – Desert Dad preaches. (I miss sermon due to creche blah-di-blah, but he has filled me in.) Desert Dad feels God prompting him in a particular way. He tells me. I’m not convinced.

Monday – I pray. I become convinced of God’s prompting to DD. I also feel God giving me an additional prompting. DD isn’t convinced.

Tuesday – DD prays. He becomes convinced of God’s prompting to me. We wonder whether God is also prompting us about other ways of using our money.

Wednesday – I see the following headline and immediately buy the paper which bears it: “Half of UK children to live below breadline by 2015”. I am not into the news. I’d love to be – but I’m just not. I get my news mainly through Facebook – and as I’m fasting Facebook for Lent, I’m pretty news-less at the moment. So buying a paper is a big thing. God is tugging at my heart strings regarding ‘the poor’.

Thursday – I read this incredibly challenging commentary on Ruth 2. Read it, folks. Oh, and I also read Leviticus – as you do – and am challenged by the idea of a Sabbath year. For six years the Israelites would work the land, sowing and reaping what they needed. In the seventh ‘Sabbath’ year, they weren’t to sow anything, but simply to live off their hard work of the previous six years, trusting that God would provide their needs. This gives me an idea for ‘Sabbath week’, which I’ll write about soon.

Friday – God realises we need a break. Nothing challenging happens on this day.

Saturday – hooray: God believes in weekends. Have a lovely day with friends we haven’t seen for an age. We eat, drink, play, dig and generally have another unchallenging day.

Sunday – OK back to challenging. God pulls at DD’s heart strings again…and so it goes on.

All of this is underpinned by the massively unsettling tones of ‘7’. (Did I mention you should get your hands on a copy of this book as soon as?)

Also – strangely enough – Mister’s bedtime book choice for the week was The Smartest Giant in TownAgain, another great read – but for different reasons. For those of you unfamiliar with this Julia Donaldson/Axel Scheffler classic, the story is of a scruffy giant who, upon discovering a smart new clothes shop, invests in a smart new outfit. But as he wanders along, he meets various people (OK, animals – I won’t lie) who need his clothes more than he does. He gives his tie to become a scarf for a giraffe with a cold neck. (“It didn’t match my socks anyway.”) His shirt becomes the sail on a boat steered by a goat, while the giant comments, “It kept coming untucked anyway”. He gives his shoe to a family of mice who’ve lost their home, and says “It was giving me blisters anyway”.

As I read and re-read this story to the kids, I was aware of the uncomfortable parallels in my own life. Am I willing to give not just the things I don’t need anymore, but the newest, the best, the smartest – the things I’ve just bought – to those who need them more desperately? I’m starting to feel that much of what I own is ‘giving me blisters’ – possessions cause stress, clutter, dust, worry. I long to live a simple life where the focus is God and my time is spent building relationships which are rich in Kingdom treasure.

There is more – so much more – to write on this, but for now excuse me while I try to put my mind back together again.

Anyone else feeling challenged on issues of money, generosity or simple living right now?

Last week's reading.
Last week’s reading.