madhouse march (it’s another GIVEAWAY!!)

I’m the first to admit that this blog is not a very useful one. I don’t teach you how to braid Afro hair, give you numerous recipes for gluten-free vegans, explain some complicated piece of computing, or provide numerous rainy-day activities for hyperactive preschoolers.

If you’re new to the blog and haven’t yet sussed the vibe, it is this: I witter on about something or other for around 800 words and people read it and sometimes comment and then get on with their lives regardless. This blog does not change lives.

But, dear friends, now I want to repay you for your loyalty and commitment to my various rants. This blog is about to change your life. Get ready for it: I am about to share with you my one biggest secret to organising your family’s meals forever. Some of you may remember that way back in the distant past of January 2015, I made a resolution to cook from a different cookbook each month. Hands-down, the best and most practical family cookbook I have ever come across is the one I was lucky enough to cook from throughout March.

Madhouse Cookbook

Madhouse Cookbook, by Jo Pratt, is a pretty apt book for me – the fact that I’m writing up what I did in March when it’s nearly May should be evidence enough that we qualify under the ‘madhouse’ moniker. I have two kids to feed, as well as a husband with an odd working schedule and a lodger with an aversion to lamb, fish and meat-on-the-bone – not to mention sundry others who pop in, sometimes planned and invited, sometimes unplanned, sometimes uninvited, but always welcome. There has to be food on the table by 6pm (or else our kids will flip) and there has to be enough to feed whoever God may bring to our door that day. Jo Pratt’s recipes are flexible, child-friendly, quick, easy and yummy. I’m telling you: buy this book. It will change your life. (Get to know Jesus first though – He will change your life more. But, after that, buy this book.)

What makes this book stand out? First, nearly every recipe is pure gold in terms of flavour. Quite outstanding. From Chinese to Mexican to Italian to Indonesian, Jo Pratt has produced a stellar selection of meals which will give your kids a hugely varied diet without them even realising, whilst the grown-ups enjoy food that is in no way ‘dumbed down’. Second, there are virtually none of those recipes that you might just throw together yourself with no need for guidance. (I always get so disheartened flicking through a recipe book and seeing titles such as ‘tomato and courgette pasta’ or ‘roast chicken with garlic’ – why pay good money for recipes you don’t need?) Those few recipes which do fit this category are briefly summarised in categories, e.g. ‘Very, Very, Very Quick Pasta Dishes’ or ‘Stir Crazy’, a collection of stir-fry sauces.

Third, the book is just so comprehensive. Section one is ‘Monday to Friday survival: the need for speed’ – and it does what it says on the tin. Quick recipes, yummy flavours, great for kids and adults alike. We loved the Very Special Fried Rice, the Chicken, Cheese and Corn Quesa-d-easies and the Mediterranean Baked Chicken and Rice – all great, none of them time-consuming. We regularly use Jo’s Risotto Primavera recipe – sometimes following to the letter, sometimes varying with whatever veg we have to hand, always scrummy. Section two is ‘The Busy Weekend’ – great (but still quick) recipes to improve your weekend, from lazy brunch ideas, to baking-with-kids projects, to relaxed family meals. The Sticky Sausages with Sweet Potatoes and Peppers is a work of genius – 15min prep, then bang in the oven for an hour. Rich Vegetable Lasagne was a winner too. (And did I mention that we found plenty of new vegetarian recipes to suit our half-vegetarian diet?) Section three is ‘Cling on to your social life’ – a selection of slightly smarter recipes for when friends come round. But of course nothing takes ages to make because Jo realises you have Kids Who Are Not Tired to put to bed and All The Chaos to clear away and Unidentifiable Hardened Food to scratch off the dining table – in addition to cooking for your guests. The Beef Rendang and South Indian Chicken Curry were amazing, and the Chocolate and Ginger Brownies were so good I made them three times in one week. (Beach-ready body? Er…)

Add to all this the accurate preparation and cooking times, guidance on how many adults/kids the meal will feed, ingredients lists which don’t require a trip to a specialist deli, and plenty of tips for leftovers or how to vary the meals for fussy eaters – and you’re left with an incredible resource, not only for family life but for anyone who likes to cook. Honestly, if you want decent recipes which don’t take long to prepare, buy this book, whether or not you have kids, a spouse, a lodger, or a dog – and prepare to weep over its sheer ease and yum factor.

But don’t buy the book just yet. Because I think it’s such an invaluable aid to anyone’s cooking repertoire, I’m going to give away a copy to a commenter picked at random this Saturday at 7pm (OK, you know that this means sometime during Sunday or Monday…). This time I’d like you to comment on the most mad thing you’ve ever cooked. I once made a Marmite, sweetcorn and squid sandwich. Fire away.

THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED. CONGRATULATIONS TO CHARLOTTE WHO WAS THE LUCKY WINNER!!

feb express

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Continuing with my one-cookbook-per-month challenge, for February I chose Nigella Express. This is a book I use regularly, but there were still plenty of recipes I wanted to try. So we stocked up on sugar, butter, cream and wine, and were ready to begin.

Oh my word, was this a wondrous month. Flavoursome Coq au Riesling, Macaroni Cheese (with a clever trick to avoid making a white sauce from scratch), Buttermilk Roast Chicken and New Orleans Coleslaw (made for a shared lunch at church) and Festive Fusilli served with Halloumi Bites (the best accompaniment to an evening catching up with a vegetarian friend).

There was not a single pudding which let us down in any way, shape or form: Caramel Croissant Pudding, Flourless Chocolate Brownies (served with ice cream), Orange French Toast, Instant Chocolate Mousse, Chocolate Chip Cookies (made for a friend’s baby shower: said baby is still in there, guzzling away), Glitzy Chocolate Puddings and Ice Cream Cake (made for my birthday). I would happily eat any or all of these puddings at any time of the day or night. I swear: not one of these puddings will be absent from the Kingdom of Heaven.

It was a magical morning when we discovered the ease and deliciousness of Oeufs en Cocotte. The baked egg definitely improves upon the boiled egg for (predominantly) lack of shell, but also for the possibilities of adding chopped ham, diced mushrooms, or pretty much anything small and complementary. This and poached eggs have become my new Favourite Ways with Eggs for 2015. (Hashtag, anyone?)

The ‘Get up and Go’ chapter – a range of more interesting breakfast ideas than cereal and toast – proved popular in the Desert household. We had a Valentine’s Brunch with Smoothies, Chopped Fruit Salad, Breakfast Bruschetta, Green Eggs and Ham (pesto pancakes) and Breakfast Bars. The Pear and Ginger Muffins were sadly not as more-ish as the other options.

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Mediocre was the Red Prawn and Mango Curry – I mean, any curry is a good curry (right?) but this one wasn’t up there with my favourite curry recipes of all time (and I do have a few, so I’ve every right to be picky). The Potato and Mushroom Gratin was OK as an accompaniment, but not so good that I’d remember to get the book out again for it. Sweetcorn Chowder was a good option for a veggie dinner, served with toasted nachos and cheese, but I’m not sure I like sweetcorn enough to have a whole bowlful of it in one sitting.

The Naan Pizzas were a let down. OK so it’s a clever idea and, yes, I’ll accept that naans make better pizza bases than shop-bought pizza bases, but the suggested toppings (chiefly mushrooms) were rather lacklustre. I left these for Desert Dad and the kiddoes one evening when I hopped off to a meeting, and they were Not Impressed.

The Brandied Bacony Chicken was just not Brandied or Bacony enough to warrant the addition of these ingredients to a simple roast chicken (which, let’s face it, is one of the most Express things you can make, and tastes flippin’ fantastic with it). The Croque Monsieur Bake – basically a baked ham and cheese sarnie – was a disappointing dinner. And I just couldn’t get the Cheese Fondue to work. I mean, I did leave it unattended for an hour while I went out (accidental) but even before this, the gloopy cheese and simmering wine just didn’t want to be friends.

I think the Maple Chicken ‘n’ Ribs would have been nice, but I managed to overcook these just a little:

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Sorry Nigella.

However, on the basis that the good recipes were really, seriously good, this book is a definite keeper. And you know the best bit?

There are still loads of recipes left to try!

ordinary mum, extraordinary mission – a review and a giveaway!

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The first official book of my 2015 reading list – i.e. the first one that I both began and finished in 2015 – Ordinary Mum, Extraordinary Mission (2013, Anna France-Williams and Joy French) has been sitting on my bedside table since a friend gave it to me last June. Before then it had been recommended to me by another friend. Why did it take so long to get into? Partly, I guess, because other books took over – book reviews, things I’d already started and so on.

But partly – and I’m ashamed to say it – I did wonder whether this book might just say things I already knew. Ever since I was pregnant with Mister, six years ago, I’ve viewed my days missionally – that is to say, I’ve known of the great blessings God has put in my path in terms of friendships, opportunities and ministries. I’ve wanted to follow His leading and allow myself to be used for whatever purposes He has in mind. I’ve seen friends come to faith for the first time, draw closer to God, step out in leadership and gain awareness of new giftings. I’ve led Alpha courses, Mums’ Bible study groups, outreach events and kids’ holiday clubs. I’ve shared my faith through conversations, meals, childcare and home-baked cakes. What could this book teach me?

Well, for a start, some modesty. Damn that sneaky old Devil, edging his way in to whatever good work the Lord is doing by making us believe that it’s down to us and our skills. It is not. To God be the glory. All the time.

And, for a second, this book could teach me a heck of a lot I’ve never considered before about how I’m raising my family to be missional, how I’m investing in my marriage so that it can be the basis of missional living, and how even my brokenness – both my sin, over which I have some amount of control, and the broken things in my life, over which I have no control – can be used by God for His missional purposes.

A bit more about the book…

This is an incredibly empowering, releasing book. It won’t guilt-trip you into thinking you should be running an orphanage in Bolivia or rescuing trafficked girls in the Phillippines. Of course there are plenty of exciting, front-line stories to be inspired by. But, for the most part, it’s about average, everyday mums, offering themselves and their families to God for His service. It is not threatening – but it is utterly challenging and thought-provoking. The two authors have a shared experience – both are mums, and both work with their families on deprived urban estates – but their differences make for a far richer read. One works in London, one in Sheffield. One has young kids, the other has older kids/teenagers. The variety of experiences of the authors and their friends contributes to an extremely well-rounded and helpful book.

What I most appreciated was… 

…the chapter on Marriage. And the one on Brokenness. And the one on killing off Supermum. And the one on encouraging your fellow mum friends. Actually, every chapter had something thought-provoking to say. In my opinion, the perfect cocktail for a Christian book is provocative Biblical insight mixed with down-to-earth practical tips – and this book had just that.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that Ordinary Mum, Extraordinary Mission should be the handbook of all Christian mums everywhere. I hope it becomes a Christian classic over the coming years, because it’s that good.

You’ll enjoy this book if…

…you are expecting your first child, right through to if you’re a mum of teenagers. Once your kids have left home, I’d say it probably wouldn’t be quite as relevant – although there’s enough in here to make anyone stop and think, regardless of gender or child-bearing status.

And the giveaway…

You’ll remember I don’t give away something for nothing on this blog, so here’s the question (give me an answer in the Comments section to be in with a chance of winning the book): What quality do you most appreciate in one of your fellow mum (or dad) friends? Please don’t name them – that’ll just get awkward (but feel free to tell them the Nice Thing to their face). I’ll pick a name out of a concave object on Saturday 28th February, 7pm (read: Monday 2nd March, 10pm) and announce the winner on Facebook and places like that.

To kick off: one of my mummy-friends is so deliberate and thoughtful about her faith. She doesn’t just take things as read, or as applied by someone else, but grapples with what the issue means for her and her family. I love this about her!

This competition is now closed. Well done to Lucy!

january with james

Before you go thinking that I’ve gone and got myself another man for 2015, let me bring you back onto the track of my actual 2015 resolutions, one of which was to cook from a different cook book each month. January was the month of James Martin. So, yes, I did enjoy another man for a month, but not in the way you thought.

Slightly awkward introduction over, what did I learn this month? I’ve set myself this challenge in order to widen my cooking repertoire and decide which cookbooks are worth keeping. Did this book break my cooking rut? Is it a keeper or a bleeper?

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I think this book was a Christmas present a few years ago. The burnt cover might suggest it has been well-used – but, in actual fact, I think we’ve only tried one or two recipes. The rest of the time, the book appears to have been used as a rather unsuccessful trivet. So, with ‘comfort food’ written all over it, what better month to try this book than cold, unforgiving January?

The food, the bad and the ugly

Caramelized braised beef, with a strong flavour of balsamic, was a hit with all of us, as an alternative to a traditional roast. We cooked the Paillard of Chicken – cooked chicken breasts topped with mozzarella, Italian ham, sage, and chutney – when friends came for dinner, and it had that great appeal of being both easy to cook and special to eat. The Roast Cod with Smoked Garlic and Vanilla Mash was a revelation – not the cod, which I often find rather flavourless, but the idea of adding vanilla to mash, which I’ll certainly do again.

Believe it or not, I was keen to try the Calves’ Liver with Port-flavoured Pan Juices. Not everyone’s cup of tea, I know, but we used to eat liver fairly regularly prior to having the kids, and felt now was the time to educate them. Perhaps it was that the butcher only had pigs’ livers available – but this recipe ended up a little more mediocre than one might have expected. Not awful, just mediocre. I would give the same rating to the Chicken with Plum- and Sun-dried Tomatoes.

I wasn’t surprised that a Yorkshire-born batchelor chef hadn’t included a Vegetarian section – but, as we try to eat veggie food three or four nights a week, I had to look a bit more closely to find any ideas on this. The search was rewarded with a few dishes which could easily make it into our regular repertoire: one, beer-battered red pepper fritters – incredibly quick and easy, but very scrummy. I think they were meant as a starter or snack, but padded out with some chips and lots of veg (because, try as I might, I couldn’t really justify deep-fried veg as being one of our 5-a-day), they proved a more-than-adequate evening meal. The next day I used leftover batter to fry some courgettes, and they worked well too.

Another unlikely veggie main course was a Rustic Tomato, Bread and Basil Soup – thickened the Italian way with chunks of ciabatta, and cooked in white wine, it made a very hearty and tasty main course. Then there were a couple of veggie pizzas – red onion and creme fraiche (a combination I’d never have dreamt up in a million years, but surprisingly good), and anchovy and rosemary. OK, so this one isn’t strictly veggie. But you could change the toppings easily – the main difference here was that the pizza was made on a ciabatta, sliced horizontally. A quick and easy solution to home-made pizza when there’s no time to make a base.

Besides the main dishes, I tried a lovely Olive Focaccia with Rosemary Oil – which worked brilliantly in the bread machine – and several puddings. The Banana Tarte Tatin was good, but I always find these a bit of an unnecessary faff, so not sure I’d try it again. The Lemon and Goat’s Cheese Tart divided those who tried it, and the Hot Walnut Tart was only average, like the Lemon, Pine Nut and Brown Breadcrumb Cheesecake. However, everyone who tried the Chocolate Ginger Cheesecake and the White Chocolate, Whisky and Croissant Butter Pudding (served alongside each other at a Sunday lunch gathering) agreed that they were keepers. The latter sounds sickly, but no, it really worked!

Is it a keeper?

For a restaurant chef, James Martin’s recipes – many of them, at least – have been pared down to dishes that are easy to cook. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by how little time some of them took to put together – useful for a weeknight, which is when most of my cooking happens.

But there are also quite a few recipes in this book which feature ingredients that would take a lot of effort to source – duck and game, random fish and specific brands of goat’s cheese, for example. Not to say you shouldn’t bother with these ingredients every so often, but the amount of these sorts of recipes in the book didn’t really tally with the ratio of how often you’re likely to cook them. Which was a shame, as it means that the book isn’t quite as crammed full of helpful recipes as I’d like it to be. However, there’s enough food in here that I’m likely to crave miserably if I give the book away – so, on that note, it’s a keeper!

the ministry of a messy house – a review and giveaway

One of my goals for 2015 is to read a book a month. I promised to review them all here, so here’s number one. And before you go patting me on the back for being ahead of schedule, this was actually a book I started in the tail-end of 2014. I have another book on the go for January – and, don’t worry, I’ll definitely be behind schedule in finishing it. Reassured that it’s still me? That I haven’t been taken over by a super-efficient ghost-blogger? Great.

The book I read was…

…”The ministry of a messy house” by Amanda Robbie. My wonderful cousin Naomi, general fountain of knowledge when it comes to books, especially Christian ones, sent me a copy after reading my hospitality blogs last year. Well, blow my socks off if it didn’t just put me out of a job. Mrs R has all the hospitality know-all I’d love to have, and has helpfully published it in one easy-to-read paperback.

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The ministry of a messy house (in a messy house)

A bit more about the book

On closer inspection, however, I discovered it wasn’t just a book about hospitality, although that’s a recurrent theme from start to finish, and there are plenty of tips and suggestions and perceptive theological links. This is a book about ‘mess’ in all its forms: relationships, church, kids, food, homes. So, even if you have a spotless home, this book will teach, challenge and inspire. Its starting point is that we’re all ‘messy’, and what we have to offer is flawed and not always high-quality. But when we offer it to God through offering it to others, He does something special with it.

Now that is a very simplistic summary – but if I went into more detail, there’d be no point in buying it, right?

What I most appreciated was…

…the humour and reality of it all. Also the fact that the author is married to a vicar, like me. Her homelife bears so many similarities to ours, that I found this fascinating reading – especially given that they’re a few years ahead of us. It was encouraging to see how things had worked themselves out in their lives, and to be reminded of why we do what we do.

Here’s a proper pic of the book so you know what you’re looking for when you rush over to your favourite online bookseller directly after reading this review:

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You’ll enjoy this book if…

…you want something comfortably easy-to-read, radically practical and Biblically truthful. There are pearls of wisdom scattered throughout, and whilst I wouldn’t say that the whole tome was full of outstandingly original thought, I was certainly kept interested from start to finish.

And the giveaway…

I enjoyed this book enough to want to keep it 🙂 But, since I didn’t have to pay for it in the first place, I’m willing to buy another copy for a giveaway! It’s that good. If you’d like to be in with a chance, please leave a comment here, telling me one of your messy secrets! (Oo-er! I’m talking, like, hiding dirty laundry under the bed or something. If you have something bigger to share, please do it in person with a close friend or psychiatrist. Ta.)

The deadline is Saturday 31st January, 7pm – at which point I’ll put all entrants’ names into a suitable receptacle, and pull out one lucky winner.

And, to kick off, my messy secret is that our bedroom is always messy. The other rooms get prioritised, and somehow the bedroom never makes it onto the cleaning rota before the lounge needs doing again…

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.

why everyone should read ‘see you soon’

When my phone alerts me to a new text message I instinctively reach for it, unlock it and read the message. It’s now such an intuitive reaction that I do it whilst doing something else – with the consequence that I’m only half engaging with the content of the message.

Most of the time, this doesn’t matter too much. Most of my texts are pretty low-level communication – along the lines of “Are you free next Saturday?”. Occasionally, there’s exciting news: a new baby, or a friend’s engagement. Only once have I received sad news. When I reached for my phone that Wednesday evening five years ago, I was tidying the Music office after the kids had gone home…I couldn’t have been doing a more mundane task if I’d tried.

And I suppose that’s how tragedies work – they creep into our lives when we were least expecting them, when we were expecting our spouse to ask us when we’d be home, or a friend to make weekend plans. In one of these innocuous moments, our friends Philippa and Graeme Skinner had lost their 21-year-old son to a heroin overdose, whilst he was working for Jackie Pullinger’s organisation in Hong Kong. An innocuous moment – but one which could not be undone.

‘See you soon’ is Philippa’s story of Jim’s life and death, the effect it’s had on her, and what she’s learned through it. I make no apologies for the natural bias of this review – the Skinners are our friends and were our church and small group leaders back in Sale, so I know them to be ‘normal’ folk, but with much faith and integrity. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Philippa writes with beautiful, honest eloquence. You will warm to her family even if you’ve never met them. Jim had been working in Hong Kong for three years with St Stephen’s Society, which helps drug addicts and prostitutes break free from their addictions and come to faith in Jesus Christ.

God was so clearly moving in Jim’s life, and blessing others through his ministry, that the unanswered question of why God didn’t choose to heal him from his own addiction could have left Philippa and Graeme faith-less themselves. Then there was the shame and stigma of being the family of a drug-addict – not to mention the guilt – was it their fault? Could they have done things differently?

But, despite all the battles they had to face, they chose a different path. From my naive perspective, inexperienced reader of bereavement literature that I am, Philippa’s telling of their journey is brilliant. It doesn’t offer glib answers – an “everything’s OK now” sort of approach – but neither is it full of morbid fear and bleak hopelessness that a book of this nature might be.

Philippa draws on useful sources – Scripture passages, books, philosophers, poems, songs, charities – as well as articulating her own thoughts about suffering and bereavement. It is clear that God has used the last five difficult years to bear fruit in the lives of the Skinners.

It’s a book everyone should read because:

* it will give immense hope to anyone suffering a bereavement (especially a drugs-related one) or supporting someone who is

* any parent will relate to Philippa’s story of desperate love for Jim, and will feel a portion of her loss

* it will make you think about suffering and, in particular, the ongoing spiritual battle in new ways

* it will challenge your ideas of faith, grace, sin and salvation

* it bears incredible witness, through the awful tragedy contained in the pages, that our God is sovereign and asks us to trust Him, despite unanswered questions

If you’d like to win a copy of this amazing book, please leave a comment below. Next Monday, I’ll put all the names in a hat and pick one for the free book. Giveaway now closed. Order your copy here.

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