sexuality, faith and the art of conversation (review – and a GIVEAWAY!!)


It’s been on my mind for a while now that, whilst there is a place for debate and argument when it comes to the ‘grey’ areas of Christianity, we would do better to find ways of living alongside those who take a different stance to us, rather than relentlessly trying to persuade others to adopt our own viewpoint.

After all, Jesus said, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

Call me a crazy fundamentalist, but I think Jesus had a point. We gain nothing by arguing people into submission. We gain much, however, from conversing with our brothers and sisters, listening to their views and sharing ours. The deep love which can be experienced through relationships where there are differences can be highly attractive to those who observe it.

So I was delighted when I discovered, last year, that Stephen Elmes had written a book which was encouraging just this sort of open conversation on a subject close to my heart – sexuality.

Quite simply, this book is wonderful. The friend who lent it to me offered the proviso, “It won’t give you any answers – just more questions”, but I’m grateful for this.

For eight months of 2014, Baptist pastor Stephen Elmes led a working party in his church to discuss the issue of sexuality, with the aim of ‘considering how a local Baptist church might respond to those who live with same-sex desires and seek to follow Christ’. The results formed the main research vehicle for a dissertation Elmes submitted for a Masters degree in 2015.

This book alternates four strands, woven together to make a whole: summaries of the working party’s discussion, pieces of theological writing by Elmes, true life stories (names changed), and fictional conversations with a non-Christian protagonist ‘Alex’, whose role is to question Elmes’ research methods, and make sure no stone has been left unturned.

I loved a lot of things about this book. The gracious, gentle tone of its author. The compassion and love which flood every chapter. The engaging, ‘storyteller’ style at which Elmes is adept; the book prompts and challenges its readers, but feels easy to read. However, most of all, I liked hearing the reasoning behind those views which are different to my own on this issue. It gave me more understanding, and I hope it will give me more humility and openness when discussing this issue with others in the future. It’s a book all Christians should read.

A slight niggle of mine was that we never got to see the response which Elmes’ working party fed back to their church. Perhaps this was because such a response outside of its proper context could have been easily misinterpreted – and, with such a sensitive subject, this could have far-reaching consequences.

Whatever the reason, it would have been helpful to include some ideas of what a church’s response to those with same-sex attraction could look like. The book ends with ‘to be continued…’ – so perhaps this gives hope that we’ll be reading more from Stephen Elmes in the future! (In fact, I only just noticed that the book’s title bears the heading ‘Part One’, so I would think that a sequel was happily inevitable!)

Yes, perhaps this book won’t give you ‘answers’. But perhaps answers aren’t what we need. Perhaps a deeper awareness of the questions can help to formulate a response which is compassionate, God-centred and Christ-exalting. This book leads you to believe that such a response is possible. I thoroughly recommend it.

If you’d like to get your hands on a copy, simply comment here on the blog (Facebook/Twitter comments won’t be entered) by 11pm this Thursday, 8th February. I’ll use a random generator to pick a name, and put a copy in the post a.s.a.p. Good luck!


Disclaimer: All views are my own. I did not receive a free copy of the book in return for this review, and haven’t been bribed in any other way. But if enough people buy this book upon my recommendation, maybe Stephen Elmes will buy me a glass of wine if we ever meet 😉



tim keller, feminism, disney and a whole lotta chocolate… (what i’m into – jan 2018)


Totally by chance, I’ve fallen into a little pattern with some of my reading this year.


Daily…I am reading The Way of Wisdom (Tim and Kathy Keller). It was a no-brainer, really, having enjoyed their My Rock, My Refuge devotional last year. Honestly, I can’t recommend these two books enough – a great-value devotional (£10 will last you all year!) which packs a punch and yet is short enough to fit in to even the busiest parent’s routine.

Weekly…I am reading The Hole in our Holiness (Kevin de Young) with my housegroup. The premise is that we evangelicals love to prioritise grace – but what about holiness? Why is it important? Surely we’re saved by faith, not by works? And yet isn’t holiness all about obedience which is about…works? There are study questions for each chapter which are helping our weekly discussion. I won’t say we’ve agreed with all his emphases or his style in places, but it’s certainly stimulated a really helpful and lively discussion.

Monthly…I am reading Hands-free Mama – a book recommended in my Year of Books (from 2015 – oh yes, I’m still working through that wonderful list!). There are twelve chapters, and the author recommends taking it slow, one per month over a year, in order to reflect and change habits. Chapter one was all about spotting the moments in our kids’ lives that we might be missing because we’re on our phones or devices, or ‘just’ doing this last bit of laundry or clearing up – the chapter has been in my head since I read it – it’s so practical!

AND our Book Club started this month! I’m so excited! Our first venture was a piece of classic chick-lit – The Chocolate Lovers Club (Carole Matthews) – shallow characters, underdeveloped plots, lots of sex – you get the idea. It wasn’t a totally unenjoyable way to spend a week, but several of our members couldn’t finish it. I guess I’m more shallow than they are.


Last but not least (from the ridiculous to the sublime), I read Sexuality, Faith and the Art of Conversation (Stephen Elmes). This book is just a little bit wonderful. So wonderful, in fact, that I’ll let you look it up for yourselves, and write a full review of it sometime soon.


Mainly eating up Christmas chocolates. And I remembered why these are my hands-down favourite biscuits in the whole entire world (by eating most of a whole box myself). Not a dud in the whole pack. Genius.



Nothing. Too busy reading and eating chocolate.


Ditto. Maybe I should just start deleting some of these headings?

On the blog

Actually, a bit of action here. So it turns out that I’ve been spending January reading, eating chocolate AND writing. I kicked off with my round-up of 2017, then pondered the traps we can fall into when making New Year’s resolutions.

I shared with you my exciting news for 2018, wrote about how being a SAHM isn’t mutually exclusive to being a feminist, and suggested five fun things to do with your family during Lent.

Go on…make yourself a brew, put your feet up, whack cbeebies on and have a read! You know my blog stats want you to!

Stage and Screen

I didn’t get my backside in gear to book any stage shows for January, BUT I made up for it with ridiculous amounts of telly. January is the month I catch up on all the stuff I didn’t get time to watch over Christmas. Praise God for catch-up TV.


Films-wise, I enjoyed The Hundred-Foot Journey (although it got a little less believable towards the end), The Red Shoes (pretty dark, late 40s psychological/emotional thriller), The Hangover (better than it sounds, but nothing to write home about) and Big Hero 6. This last one was my son’s choice on a sick day, and I’d never watched it all the way through before (parents rarely get this privilege), so I didn’t realise just what an incredible movie it is. Kudos to Disney for doing something very unlike their usual offering. (Which, of course, is also incredible – just in different ways.)

I indoctrinated my lovely friend with the ways of Pitch Perfect by going on a mate-date to watch the third installment at the cinema. It worked – she’s now seen the earlier two films and has converted to fan status! I still reckon the first film is the best – but the humour certainly doesn’t fail in the later two films.

TV-wise, the hubby and I really enjoyed Feud: Bette and Joan – about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford’s ongoing dislike of each other. In addition to the gripping storyline (which I realise will have fictional elements), and fabulous cast, I’m interested in what it says about Hollywood’s attitudes to women in film (both on and behind camera) in the early 1960s. It’s still available, but only for a few days, and has eight episodes, so hurry if this kind of stuff interests you!

Lastly (phew!) anyone interested in adoption, fostering and the effect of trauma on kids in the classroom, should watch a fantastic clip on The One Show, shown Wednesday 17 January. It’s just a few minutes long (starts around 11 or 12 minutes in), but offers a real insight into the struggles adopted and fostered kids have in school. I’ll say no more except these kids are far more likely to get excluded than kids who aren’t in care. Have a watch.

In other news…

I’m a writer! Kind of. Still struggling to believe it a bit. But there has certainly been work (and will even be a paycheque at some point in the next couple of months), and I’m enjoying pushing doors and seeing opportunities I never knew were there. Already I’ve learnt loads.


…I went on a fabulous Women’s Day organised by a local church – it’s an annual event, and this was my fourth year. Great teaching from Nadine Parkinson, food, worship – and, of course, several hours away from my darling kiddoes. Not to be sniffed at.

What have you been up to in January?

Disclosure: Affiliate links not included in this post because I hate Amazon.  If you click throughany purchase you make doesn’t result in a penny for me. But you’re welcome to buy me chocolate next time you see me as an act of left-wing solidarity OR as a thank you for recommending some totally awesome resources which have, obviously, changed your life.

Linking up, as always, with the lovely Leigh Kramer’s What I’m into series.

five fabulous things you can do with your family this lent

Image credit: Pixabay

After the long Autumn term – which feels like it’ll never end – this term, by comparison, goes in a flash. Linger in January for a moment too long, and suddenly it’s Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday and BANG! We’re into Lent.

I love using the seasons and festivals to make some family traditions and – more importantly, for me – draw my family closer to Jesus. But our family life right now is so manic that I live day-to-day, with little forward planning. I’ll get to Shrove Tuesday evening with nothing prepared to get my littlies through Lent, and think “Dammit! I wanted to make MEMORIES!” In protest, I will give up Pinterest and every other vehicle designed to make parents feel rubbish, and bury my head in the sand, pulling out the odd tradition whenever it fits or I remember.

So – this year will be different. Yes it will! Lent starts in three weeks, and I’m determined to make the most of it. If you fancy finding something family-oriented to teach your kiddoes about Lent, Easter and the Christian tradition, I’ve pulled together a few tried-and-tested ideas for you here:

Use ‘Follow Me’ for stories and creative activities. Check out my review for more detail, but allow me to give the bare facts here: it’s fun, it’s flexible and Amy’s done the hard work for you, so all you need is this book and (occasionally) a few basic props or materials – nothing you can’t find around the house. You can pick and choose what works best for your kids – everything’s designed to make you consider a Bible story from different perspectives and angles, and you simply choose what appeals. Whether you want something to use every day, or just once a week, this resource works well. I reckon it’s best for primary-aged kids, and probably slightly younger too – we used this two years ago for our then 4- and 6-year olds, and are planning to use it this year for our 3-3-6-8 combo.

Make a Lent prayer tree. You can do this any way you want! Click here if you’re interested in how we did it for a few years. Basically you pray for a different friend or family member each day – it can be as simple as mentioning them by name, or you can print out some photos to keep things visual and stimulating for your little ones. We used this when our kids were very young – babies and toddlers, but obviously as your kids grow, this idea becomes more about them verbalising their own prayers.

Sign up for 40acts. This is a wonderful and practical way of developing kindness, generosity and selflessness through Lent, and is a great fit for creative/industrious children who prefer to be doing rather than listening. You don’t have to follow a particular faith to enjoy and get lots out of 40acts! Last year Missy did it, and she raised £80 for charity through selling cakes and cookies she’d baked herself. With our help, she researched which charities to donate to. The best part is that the actual poster containing the 40acts is FREE – you just download and print it. (If you want to buy ‘Exploring Generosity’, a pack with more resources and stickers to go along with 40acts, you can do so here.)

Start a gift-giving tradition. Yes, I know our privileged Western kids have way too much as it is, but hear me out on this one. If Lent is supposed to be a time of focussing on, and drawing closer to, Jesus, then perhaps one of the most wonderful, yet simplest, traditions we can start for our children is to give ‘Lent presents’: something to help them in their faith journey. Last year, on Ash Wednesday morning, my children woke up to an unexpected gift at the breakfast table. Mister, then 7, received his first unabridged Bible (we went for this one, which is a very clear translation for early readers), and Missy received the Exploring Generosity kit mentioned above. We, affluent Christian parents, spend so much on our kids each year in clothes, toys, hobbies and interests – how much more, then, should we be prioritising generous investment in good-quality resources to help them develop their faith?

Use this Lent Family Creative Journal from Engage Worship. This is a simpler (and cheaper!) resource to take you through Lent than Follow Me. There’s not as much material to work with, but that takes the pressure off having to do something every day. It’s just as creative, with lots of different activity suggestions, but you may need to put in more effort to actually do them – think of it as the scaffolding for what could be a really explorative, creative Lent if you’re prepared to add the bricks.

Of course the random picking of odd traditions here or there as you remember is a fun way to go as well! None of the above ideas are necessary in order to cultivate a prayerful, God-centred family life – but I hope they’re helpful to those of you who have the time and desire to try something different this year.

Over to you…which great Lent resources or traditions can you recommend? Have you used any of the above? I’d love to know what you end up trying out!

what i was into – 2017 special

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

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

Top three books

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

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

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

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




Top three meals out

Bistro Guy (November)

Zill’s (October)

Bistro Rosa (August)

Top three new recipes

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

Millionnaire’s Shortbread (Twist, Martha Collison)

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

Top three TV programmes

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

Image result for the apprentice

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

Top three films

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

Top three live theatre shows

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

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

Top three blog posts

Statistically, they were:

* Five Ways my Toddlers are Different from Yours

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

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

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

Three things I never thought I’d do in 2017

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

Three things I’m very proud of doing in 2017

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


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


24: cheerleaders

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

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

It reminds me of that wonderful passage in Hebrews 12:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Here’s to seeing His Kingdom Come in 2018.

See you then – meanwhile, happy Christmas!

Lucy xx


23: the feast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

22: the vicar’s kid at christmas


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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