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.

parenthood and meeting together

The third in my (very slow) series of being a disciple as a parent (see the first and second posts) deals with ‘meeting together’. In the 1970s, this was called ‘fellowship’ – but I’m told by Al not to use that word if I want this blog to remain credible. And if it’s him telling me that – him who listens to Elkie Brooks and knows more sports statistics from the 1980s than now – then I’d better listen.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25

So…what is ‘meeting together’? Church once a week? Well, yes, partly. It’s good for us and our kids to grow up within a church family, getting into that pattern of meeting together regularly as a bunch of believers. And actually the kids’ groups in most churches model a really good form of meeting together. Even Joel, at just 3, is in a small group where there is opportunity to chat stuff through. But that doesn’t usually happen at ‘grown-up’ church!

So, much as church is important, of immense value is the small accountability group model: somewhere safe, with good relationships, where you can be honest with others. This could mean simply finding another Christian to pray with on a regular basis, and some of my friends do this. What a great way to grow your faith as a young parent!

One of the downsides to online ‘meeting together’, e.g. Facebook or Twitter, is that you tend to see only people’s highlights. Before long, you start to believe that everyone else frequents luxury spas on a weekly basis, has genius children who look great in every photo, and an incredibly romantic husband who brings home thoughtful gifts each night of the week. When you are in real relationship with others, you see everything: the highlights, the lowlights, the in-between-lights. I believe this is one of the reasons why we need to take seriously those verses in Hebrews.

2012-12-10 16.49.28
We’re not usually this serious…I asked them to put their heads down just in case they didn’t like this blog post and wanted anonymity!

I am incredibly fortunate here to belong to a daytime cell group for mums.* Every Monday afternoon, a group of mums gather together in our study for an hour to worship, read the Bible, chat about it, and pray together. For someone who rarely goes to the toilet without interruption from a Small Person, this is a Big Thing. Our children, meanwhile, are being superbly entertained in the lounge by some wonderful creche volunteers…

Honestly, these guys are unsung heroes. I try to tell them how much their work is appreciated, but I don’t think they believe me. While they’re building towers, bopping to nursery rhymes, sorting out snacks, reasoning with toddlers, rocking babies and being jumped on (often simultaneously), lives are being changed in the next room.

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The state of the lounge after the kids have had a go…

Does that sound overdramatic? Maybe. Sure, it’s a gradual thing, but when I look back over the last 12 months and see where God has taken me, I know I owe a huge amount to this group. My faith could easily have become stagnant during this phase of early motherhood. Instead, the input of others, their challenge, their making me think – God is using these things to draw me, and many others, closer to Him. And it’s something as simple as playing Duplo with my kids for an hour that enables this life-change – this growing of my mustard-seed faith – to happen. It’s not just knowing God is there somewhere in the background, it’s seeing Him do amazing things during these otherwise desert years. Exciting!

If you’re a young parent, how do you continue ‘meeting together’ with other Christians? If you can’t think of anything – have you ever thought about starting something? Meeting up with a Christian friend regularly? Or even getting together the mums in your church to start something?

*We actually call them ‘Belfrey groups’, just so you know, but for the purposes of this blog I’ll refer to them as cells, as that’s a more familiar term.

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!

why can’t we do halloween like our american friends?

Halloween is a couple of days away, and I’m trying to reconcile several different things in my head.

As a Christian, I’m not comfortable with celebrating things that represent evil. I’m not massively keen on being disturbed at home by strangers asking for sweets. I’d rather not try and pretend I’m out so that they won’t knock. Halloween invokes just a little bit of fear in me.

But this doesn’t seem to be how Halloween gets done in the States. Yesterday I read this blog post and it made me so excited for Melissa’s family, their costumes, and the sense of fun mounting in their household right now. I would love to be a member of her family over the next few days!

Like a game of Chinese Whispers, where a message gets distorted from source to destination, something about American Halloween got lost when it was transmitted over here a couple of decades ago. Here, Halloween is (mainly) about witches, wizards, ghouls, goblins, monsters and dark, scary things. In the States, it appears to be essentially a fancy dress festival – I won’t pretend that the dark stuff isn’t present at all, but it seems to be a minority of the overall celebrations. My American friends tell me that little girls dress up as princesses or fairies – not witches. I wonder whether part of it is also celebrating the changing of the seasons – pumpkin carving is not necessarily about creating the scariest face imaginable, but a way to celebrate the coming of Autumn/Fall.

I think this sort of Halloween is one I could subscribe to with authenticity. Don’t get me wrong – I applaud all efforts made by UK churches to offer Light Parties, or similar, on October 31st – and I’m grateful that by the time my kids are old enough to be aware of trick-or-treating, there will be a positive alternative. But it’d be good to have an actual celebration, rather than what feels like an anti-celebration.

Harvest Festival, once celebrated passionately across our country, seems to be diminishing as we become more detached from the source of our food. Perhaps instead, the church should ‘reclaim’ the scary, British Halloween, by taking some ideas from our American friends, and turn it into a kind of Autumn Festival – a chance to dress up, have fun, and thank God for the short days, long nights, cold weather, good food (pumpkins!), and the fact that, by God’s grace, the earth continues to revolve around the Sun. In an age where most Brits barely know their neighbours, perhaps the church should lead the way in being generous on Halloween night where, for once, social etiquette is smashed and strangers show up on our doorsteps.

Just some thoughts. How do you celebrate Halloween? What do you emphasise?

three is the loveliest age

Each year, as my children get older, I shall probably change my mind about this – but, for now, I think three is the loveliest age to be. Today Joel turned three. He had just the right level of awareness – enough to enjoy his presents, his party, his friends and family; enough to keep him bubbly all day – but not so much that it turned into the giddy hysteria I imagine he’ll suffer from in a couple of years’ time. (You know the type: it’ll start around 5am when he’ll bound into our room, demand to open presents now, and perform a trampoline display on our bed…)

Today was perfect.

He enjoyed all his presents. He actually did. Ours was a joint present for him and Lois, a labour of love which I’d intended to finish a week or two back. It finally made it into the lounge on Saturday morning:

Something about my kids inspires me to get creative. I’m not very good at making things – kind of like a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ but without the ‘all trades’ bit – more like a ‘jack of two or three trades’. But it’s fun to have a go, and it’s fun to see the look on my kids’ faces as they see, for the first time, a handmade toy, card or cake. Here’s the card I made for ball-mad Joel:

And the cake:

Notice the dip in the middle – classic sunken sponge. Classy. See previous paragraph.

Joel had a ball party – what else? The second toy he ever played with was a colourful, noisy soft ball, which he still has. As a small baby in the bouncer, he loved to kick this ball around with his knees. Once he could walk, he developed a penchant for football – no idea why, as his parents can’t stand the sport. More recently, he has discovered a plethora of other ball sports: tennis, cricket, basketball, croquet, skittles, table tennis, badminton, golf. I set up a few of these round the house for the dozen little people who came to celebrate with us today.

We ate ball-shaped food – mozzarella balls, cherry tomatoes, blueberries, dough balls, sausage balls, chicken pops, Maltesers. We played ‘Pass the Ball’ – a variation on Pass the Parcel – and Musical Balls. Predictable but fun!

I made some not-so-disastrous cake pops for the party bags. They were intended to look like tennis balls and basketball balls (basketballs? I never know). The tennis balls worked – ish. The basketballballballballs fell off the sticks as soon as I tried to pipe the lines round them, so I gave up. Here are the tennis balls:

Notice the real ball in the background. Not a bad colour match, eh?

The day ended with church – our congregation meets at 5pm. Originally, this was a tricky time of day to get used to, but now I like the fact that Sundays end with celebration, particularly today. I take nothing for granted – many children don’t reach their third birthday. Tonight I praise God for giving us Joel, and for sustaining him thus far. Happy Birthday, little man!

A post-party golf swing. With obligatory post-party carpet stain.