nothing left but jesus

Forgive the blog silence. It’s been a funny, unusual sort of Advent for Desertmum – at times difficult, sad, vulnerable, lonely and ill. Maybe I’ll blog more about it in the New Year when I’ve had a chance to process the different things which have happened – or, at least, to an extent where I can communicate them in a way which makes sense to you.

Lots of things have been abandoned this Advent.  I haven’t made it to a carol service. I’ve hardly made it to church. Prayer has been a half-hearted, distracted sort of affair. The Advent Reflections I was so looking forward to went out of the window a fortnight ago.

Some good things have happened too. One is that Joel has been getting really excited about the real Christmas story. We have a small nativity scene, and various props, and he loves to do the story on a regular basis. (His favourite role is to hold the torch, and switch it on when we talk about the angels appearing!) Lois longs to be like her brother, so loves to join in too. But Nativity scenes don’t exactly mix well with a 3 year old and a 15 month old, and it made me smile this evening when I noticed that on top of the telly, where I put our Nativity scene a couple of weeks ago, there now remains only the baby Jesus. No idea where Mary is, the wise men or the stable. Even the manger’s gone. They might be under the sofa, in a bin, or in the toilet. Who knows.

I’m not yet able to articulate quite what this Advent has felt like, but that image – nothing left but Jesus – comes pretty close. When spiritual reflection, Bible reading and my prayer life fall apart – I’m left with Jesus.

This Advent, I was hoping for some decent preparation time, aided by appropriate Bible readings and reflections. Actually, I’ve failed. But I’ve gained more: a reminder of the grace of Jesus, who – thank God – is able to save us on his own, without our works and efforts. It’s not been an easy month, but remembering Immanuel – that divine truth that God is with us – has given me incredible peace.

Have a very grace-filled Christmas. And see you in 2013, when I’ll (hopefully) have a cheerier outlook and an explanation of the above!

i can’t forgive

DSC02870I find it amazing how some people are able to open up to complete strangers. The supermarket delivery guy must have been in my house for less than three minutes on Monday morning but, none the less, told me of a family feud between him and his niece and sister. “They’re holding our Christmas tree ransom in their loft until I say sorry to my niece, but I’ve told my partner we’ll have to buy a new tree ’cause it’s not going to happen.” (All this said with a grin on his face.)

“Oh”, I sympathised. “That’s sad – Christmas is about forgiveness.”

“I know.” Same grin. “There’s no telling some people!”

Then he left – and approximately 0.35 seconds after the door had closed, I kicked myself that I hadn’t offered to pray for him. Why?

Because forgiveness is hard. Sometimes we have to forgive people who aren’t even sorry, or who have no idea they’ve hurt us, or refuse to apologise. Sometimes the people we need to forgive aren’t around anymore. Sometimes we have to forgive actions which have had numerous difficult implications for us.

Actually, I take that back. Forgiveness isn’t hard – forgiveness is impossible. I can’t forgive. I just can’t. But I’m privileged to trust in the God who can. The God who is so able to forgive that He willingly, not begrudgingly, sent His Son to live amongst us, understanding what it feels like to be hated, scorned, betrayed, abused. And this Son is so able to forgive that He was prepared to die so that we could be forgiven…and so that we could forgive.

Sometimes the grudges we bear are so old and so engrained that they become part of our identity, and we hardly notice them anymore. It is then that I love this prayer, found in Psalm 139:23-24:

“Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.”

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I can’t forgive. You can’t forgive. Let’s not kid ourselves. But are we willing to trust that God can forgive, and that He can enable us to forgive others? Are we willing, this Christmastime, to look at the helpless baby in the manger and acknowledge that we need His help?

christmas is coming…

…the geese are getting fat and this desertmum is getting excited! I thought I’d share a few things I’m planning for Advent.

Christmas toy box

Have your kids ever received Christmas stuff for Christmas? It’s all very nice, but the motivation to play with it soon wanes in our household! Last year I stashed away all of the kids’ Christmas books, DVDs and jigsaws. This Saturday they’ll re-appear in a special Christmas toy box. (Well, a cardboard box and some cheap wrapping paper, but hey ho.) I reckon my kids will enjoy the novelty of ‘new’ activities to do through December.

Advent calendar

When Joel and Lois are a bit older, I look forward to doing an ‘active’ Advent calendar with them  – one where there’s a Christmassy task to do each day. For now, however, I’m sticking to a simple Nativity scene with 24 pieces. You can buy these, but I’ve made my own simple version using felt and cardboard. You could also draw or print out Nativity figures onto cardboard, and use blu-tack to stick them to a backdrop – or draw/print onto magnetic paper, and attach to an old metal tray. Here’s a sneak preview of what ours should look like by December 24th!

Food

I don’t like Christmas pudding…so this year I’m making my own, to see if I like it any better than shop-bought.

Mmmmm…if the gorgeous colours are anything to go by, I may just have found a new food-like!

I’ll also be hoping to make these scrummy mince pies with Joel at some point over the next few weeks. Besides being some of the most delicious I’ve ever tasted, the ‘pastry’ is actually a sort of shortbread, so it doesn’t require rolling, just pressing down. This is great news for Joel and others who don’t yet have the arm strength for heavy-duty pastry rolling!

Decorations

It’s not that I’m anti-Santa, it’s more that I don’t want people coming to our home over Advent and getting confused about what we’re celebrating. So, yes, there’ll be a few Santas, snowmen and other secular symbols of the season – but I hope that how they’re arranged will point towards the focus of our celebrations: the most amazing gift ever, Jesus. By focussing our decorations on aspects of His story, I hope it’ll prompt us to keep reminding each other of the mind-blowing sacrifice God made in sending His son to be born into the world!

Some of our decorations are bought, like this cute Nativity carousel:

Others are made:

Joel and I made these…they’re somewhat unconventional – but totally fitting prompts for the Christmas story! If he’s keen again, we might make mangers and donkeys. The angel looks a bit scary, doesn’t he?! Well, I suppose that’s pretty accurate, as I seem to remember Mary and the shepherds getting a little freaked out… The angel’s wings are cut-outs of Joel’s hands – the idea comes from Alice’s brilliant Christmas resources on her blog. Do check them out if you’re at a loose end for stories, play, craft, baking or Advent calendar ideas – there’s SO much on there to browse through!

Advent time

Our cell group has just started an excellent Advent series. On Monday, we were looking at the shepherds’ experience, and I was challenged by how they seemingly dropped everything and went off to look for Jesus – not dissimilar to the first disciples, I guess. In a similar vein, throughout Advent I’m aiming to ‘drop everything’ once the kids are in bed – much-needed chores, housework, email catch-up, time with Al – and spend just 10 minutes reading a section of the gospels relating to the birth of Christ: my Advent time. I might use this free e-book from the Desiring God website. It’s not much, but I hope that this regular routine will help me not to crowd out Jesus this Christmas. I’ve started this week – I’m so appalling at any sort of spiritual routine that I need a headstart!

How do you plan to celebrate the run-up to Christmas?

Through Advent, I’m linking up with Tanya’s blog. I’ve just found it – it’s so encouraging, and I highly recommend you take a look! If you write a blog and are interested in linking up, go to Tanya’s site for instructions.