The Diary of a (trying to be holy) Mum – review and GIVEAWAY!!!

When you write a blog, it’s inevitable that people start telling you to write a book. All very well, you say, but it’s a bit harder to come up with an idea that might actually sell. After all, a book has to be more than a group of disparate thoughts all fused together. (Unless you’re a celebrity, in which case people will buy this kind of book in the thousands.)

This has been my dilemma over the last year or two, and particularly in the last few months since taking the plunge to devote more time to writing. If this blog could ever be translated to a book that people might want to read, then it would probably be a sort-of diary, perhaps halfway between Bridget Jones and Adrian Plass, recounting the pressures of parenting whilst telling the funny stories and also trying to pursue discipleship through the haze of early…

…BINGO! Fiona Lloyd has written this book, and it says EXACTLY what I would want mine to say, and she has done it A BAZILLION times better than I would have done. One thing can now be crossed off the to-do list. (Which seems to grow rather than shrink. Anyone else have this experience?)

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I’ve had a wonderful March, indulging in The Diary of a (trying to be holy) Mum. It’s honestly been my guilty pleasure, and has had me laughing out loud at times, and moved to tears at others.

The diary follows the ups and downs of Becky Hudson, mum of three and wife of one, who struggles to keep afloat in the sea of tweenager tantrums, toddler mischief, and one little boy who’s very obsessed with Formula One – not to mention a husband who’s facing Ofsted, an overly judgemental mother-in-law, and a church leader who seems to think she has a gift for leading whole-church prayers.

It didn’t take me long to warm to Becky, and her group of friends, as they support each other through their various parenting struggles and joys. I saw so much of myself in her, and various other characters. If the author has resorted to a couple of stereotypes (a holier-than-thou church mum, and the aforementioned MIL), she’s quickly forgiven because of such brilliantly funny, sassy writing, and a plot which develops cleverly throughout the diary entries.

I don’t usually read Christian fiction, and I found the whole experience completely wonderful. Christian non-fiction can inspire in a radical, ‘things you hadn’t thought about before’ way – but Christian fiction, like this book, can inspire you in a much more down-to-earth, ‘getting alongside you’ way.

If you’re a Mum, you’ll love this. If you’re a Dad who likes reading Mum books, you’ll love it too. (If you don’t, then buy it for a Mum you know.) I would also go a step further to say that even if your kids are all grown-up, you have grandkids or great-grandkids – you will still love this book! I’ll bet it’ll take you back to your days as a younger mum, and have you nodding away as you chuckle into your cuppa.

If you’re keen to get to know Fiona Lloyd before investing in this book, you can read this brilliant piece she wrote for the Baptist Union on why (and how) churches should welcome parents, or listen to this wise and articulate podcast she recorded for Premier Radio. If you subscribe to Woman Alive, you may also be interested to read her article in the April issue.

But before you head off to order the book…enter this giveaway! The kind folk at Instant Apostle have offered TWO FREE BOOKS to two lucky readers! All you have to do (you’ll be getting to know the drill by now) is leave a comment below by 11pm on Wednesday 4th April. I’ll use a random number generator to pick two winners, and let you know the happy news pronto.

THE GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED. CONGRATS TO HEATHER AND REBECCA!

Disclaimery bit: I reviewed my own copy of the book. All views are my own. Instant Apostle are kindly supplying the giveaway copies. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t review books I think are no good. I don’t receive payment, and if I receive a free book myself I’ll always let you know.

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Ballet shoes and empty chairs: can we really trust prophetic words?

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I came of age in the wake of the Toronto Blessing.

It was quite common, at youth meetings I attended, for people to exercise all manner of ‘supernatural’ spiritual gifts, including prophecy. My ears pricked up when someone came to the front to share a prophetic revelation, but the person with a broken left ankle or having trouble sleeping was never me.

Fast-forward a few years, and it seemed like the church had become more cautious in its practice of the gift of prophecy. “I’ve had a picture of a desert,” someone would begin. “I think this is someone’s life. And there’s an oasis. I think that’s God wanting to refresh this person.”

Knock me out. God as an oasis? A kind of living water? I’ve never heard that one. Except in, hmmm, let me think – Psalm 42 (“as the deer pants for streams of water…”) or John 4 (the woman at the well) perhaps?

Don’t get me wrong, it was all encouraging stuff – but for this stuff to have been ‘prophetically revealed’ to someone? I was sceptical. Surely if we wanted to hear God, we just needed to read our Bibles more?

And then came January 2018. My life had just changed direction, with my youngest children doing more hours at preschool, and the hint of a calling on my life which I was attempting to pursue in my hours away from the kids.

But I was busy. So busy. Up past midnight most nights, keeping up with the tidying, planning and administrative tasks of a large family, as well as being deeply involved in the kiddoes’ school as well as our church.

I attended a women’s teaching day, and – like a child in a sweet shop just before closing – managed to grab the final ‘prophetic appointment’ slot – more by virtue of it being the last one, and therefore infinitely more desirable, than because I actually wanted it. Although something told me it could be useful.

When my slot came, I sat down in front of two women. They didn’t ask what I wanted or why I was there, they simply spent a few minutes praying for me, and listening, in silence.

And then came the prophetic pictures. One was of ballet shoes, the long ribbons being untied and the shoes coming off. The shoes were not indicating harmful things, I was told, but just things that had to be stripped away, in order for the dance to be more creative and beautiful, although perhaps not as technically brilliant.

I think that if prophetic words are to be trusted, they will first have an air of familiarity about them. I was able to easily recognise myself and my commitments in the ballerina and her shoes. And, not long after the appointment, it became so blindingly obvious that the ‘shoe’ I needed to remove was my role as a school governor. God was asking me to hand in my notice. Much as I loved this role, the revelation actually came as a relief!

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The second picture was of a garden party. I was the hostess – and yet all the chairs were empty. God was telling me that, although I was usually the host, for this season I needed to sit and eat. ‘The feast is for you’, my prophetic woman insisted.

Again, this picture was very familiar to me. We have a decent-sized vicarage and garden, and it’s rare that a day goes past without someone popping in for a cuppa, a meal or an overnight stay. But prophetic pictures and words also need to be weighed. If I had ascertained from this picture that God meant me not to host or cook for anyone else for the next few months, I think I would have missed the point.

I didn’t rule out that this might be the case, but as I’ve continued to ponder, pray and read the Bible, my interpretation has been that I need to spend this season seeking God, allowing Him to shape my character and inviting Him to ‘fill me up’, so that I might have something to give to others. It was no coincidence that my small group had already made the decision to study Kevin De Young’s ‘The Hole in our Holiness’ this term, a book which concentrates on personal character and righteousness.

Another aspect of prophetic words is that they will be specific and personal. Whilst the garden party picture was not a literal prophetic word, I was able to instantly relate to what God was saying because I love parties and I love to cook and host! If God created us and knows us inside and out, we should expect that anything he wants to reveal to us through others will be specifically geared towards our personality, character and situation. This word spoke deeply to me, as I know well the role of the host and the hosted.

Prophetic words don’t provide an alternative to God’s revelation in the Bible. On the contrary, if we are to make the most of any prophetic words given to us, we need to be actively committed to the Word of God – reading, thinking, applying, praying. And it goes without saying that genuine prophetic words will not contradict Biblical teaching.

So why bother with prophecy at all, if the Bible remains the authoritative voice of God? Because God longs to have a deeply personal, intimate relationship with each one of us. He already knows us deeply; if we long to know Him better, then it is right that we learn to hear His voice, primarily in the Bible, but also through the words and pictures which can speak the specifics into our lives.

We will never be able to discern, weigh, or appropriately act upon prophetic words if we don’t first know what God has revealed to us in the Bible – but without prophetic words, we may miss some of the personal applications of the Bible’s teaching.

Prophecy is not something to be feared, but a helpful tool in drawing closer to God and seeking more of His will for our lives. My year will be different now as a result of what God spoke through two ladies. Is God impacting your future too?

Should we avoid Mothers’ Day just because it’s hard?

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Luke 13:34 “…how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…” Photo credit: Pixabay

Every year Mother’s Day rolls around. And every year I see a barrage of comments on social media or blogs about how hard Mother’s Day is for many people. And every year there’s someone who’s calling for the whole thing to be abolished.

I do wonder whether Mother’s Day – like many festivals, special days and life events – has become harder since the advent of social media. Prior to the late 2000s, one could easily avoid card shops in February/March, distract themselves with other pursuits, and then burrow themselves away on the day itself. Nowadays, we’re faced with post after post about people’s brilliant Mums, brilliant kids, heartfelt messages or extravagant gifts.

It’s hard for many people. Not just those whose desire to have children hasn’t been fulfilled, but those whose own mother was absent, neglectful or abusive, those who have lost their mum, those whose mum no longer recognises them, those who have lost a child, Dads who have lost their partner and Mum of their children, and countless other situations.

For others, it’s not necessarily a hard day, but it’s complicated. I can (and will) praise God for giving me each of my four children, but knowing that two of them have a biological mum who they will never meet adds a different dimension to the day.

And this begs the question: should we stop doing something because it’s hard?

This is the world’s way, certainly, and this is the individualistic mindset. It’s a hard place for me to go, so I just won’t make the journey.

But, as Christians, we’re no longer just individuals. We are part of a wide and diverse community. We are called to share in each other’s joys (2 Corinthians 1:7), which means celebrating when one of our sisters is blessed with the gift of children, or another sister is celebrating her close relationship with her own mum, even if we’re not in that situation ourselves.

And here lies another question: does celebration have to be about forced smiles and pretend joy?

Again, this is the world’s way. The world, for all its glitzy appeal, has only very limited possibilities for celebration. It’s really all about looking like you’re having a good time. But, again, as Christians we know a different way.

The Bible speaks of joy and suffering alongside each other (Romans 8:17). Celebrating with a friend who has a big, noisy family, when we’ve suffered a series of failed IVF attempts, is not about being happy all the time. Yes, we share in their joy, but we also share in their suffering: their tiredness, their guilt at not being the Mum they want to be, their sense of helplessness at not knowing how to respond to a child’s behaviour. And they share in our suffering and joy too. We are permitted to cry and be honest with them.

I love the Jewish culture of celebration: it is loud, vibrant and authentic. And I love what they say to those who are suffering: apparently, when someone has suffered a bereavement, they are excused from dancing at celebrations for one year following the event. Note that there is still an expectation to show up at parties. It is acknowledged that a grieving person may not feel like dancing, but that it is still good for them to be in that place of celebration, to be reminded of (and uplifted by) the joys of others.

Mother’s Day is not about boasting of all the cards and presents we’ve received. It’s not about gloating over social media. But neither is it about avoidance. Celebration in its truest sense will involve having conversations with those who are different to us. We need to hear their stories, and they need to hear ours.

Furthermore, Mother’s Day should be a day for celebrating ‘mothering’ in the broadest sense of what it means in a Christian community. And we can all do that. Who has spiritually mothered you? They might be a ‘mother’ figure, or they might be physically younger than you, but Mother’s Day can and should be an opportunity to thank them for the impact they’ve had on your life.

I have two godmothers, neither of whom have children. It saddens me that I have never thought to honour them on Mother’s Day, because both of them have had a positive spiritual impact on my life, and still keep in touch with me well into my 30s. Maybe this is a tradition I can start next year.

One of my friends hasn’t had her own children, but has had a large involvement in the lives of her nieces, and each Mother’s Day they give her special ‘Aunt’ cards and presents, to acknowledge her mothering influence in their lives.

Rather than succumb to the secular urge of Mother’s Day, which is to highlight our nuclear families over any other way of living, we should use this day to do what we Christians need to do daily: thank God for what He has given us (1 Thessalonians 5:18), honestly share our feelings with Him (as modelled all over the Bible, a good example being Job 3), acknowledge our sin in failing to trust him with our parenting, or looking to children to bring fulfilment (John 4:13-14), and being assured of His forgiveness and grace (Psalm 32:1-2), knowing that He longs to draw us closer and change us more towards Christ’s likeness.

So, this Mother’s Day, celebrate. Celebrate with laughter and smiles, with tears and grumpy moments, with elation and confusion, happy thoughts and sadder ones. Embrace the fullness of our God, who has created us capable of experiencing the full gamut of emotions – and take them all to Him.

I’ve always loved this sensitive liturgy suggestion for Mother’s Day – take a read!

in search of a flatter stomach? the mixed motivations behind fasting

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It is becoming customary, at the start of January, for our church to take some time out, corporately and individually, to pray and fast for the coming year.

Coincidentally, January is also the time I’m keen to lose a few pounds. With Christmas out of the way, I can start planning our summer holiday – and, despite the fact we can’t yet bring ourselves to fly somewhere exotic and warm with our 8-6-3-3 combination of kiddoes, I feel like I need to have a bikini-ready body.

The fact that we will probably end up in Anglesey is beside the point.

If, at some unknown point in the future, I might wish to expose my midriff on a crowded beach, fasting is going to be helpful.

And therein lies the problem. Perhaps the reason that many of us don’t fast is that we’re a little bit scared of doing it for the wrong reasons.

Perhaps we have a complicated relationship with food, and fear that withholding it from our bodies will be more about controlling ourselves rather than allowing God to have control.

Perhaps we are desperate for God to respond to our prayers in a particular way, and fear that fasting will feel like bribing our ‘cosmic Santa’ God to give us what we most desire.

Or perhaps fasting simply feels like ‘work’ within a faith-based salvation. Surely our grace-filled God can’t demand that we carry out such an ancient religious ritual?

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I misunderstood fasting for years. I did it – occasionally – because I thought it was a helpful practice, but I didn’t really know why. Nowadays, however, it’s becoming an important spiritual discipline in my life.

On the eve of Ash Wednesday, when many of us might be planning to fast something for Lent, perhaps it’s helpful for me to share what God has taught me as I’ve plodded along:

  1. Fasting is expected (see Matthew 6:16-17). Like prayer, it is not an empty trapping of our religion, but something Jesus upheld which brings us closer to God. Unlike prayer, it doesn’t need to be part of our daily routine (Jesus didn’t fast every day as far as it is possible to tell), but should be a regular part of our lives.
  2. Fasting doesn’t have to be food! Anything which we love, crave, spend a lot of time on, or claim to be addicted to, can be withdrawn as the spiritual discipline of fasting. Social media, alcohol, screentime, a particular TV show…this is particularly helpful when a food fast is not recommended (e.g. in pregnancy, while breastfeeding or where particular health issues are present).
  3. Fasting doesn’t have to be as extreme as 40 days in the desert. It could mean certain times of day (e.g. not snacking between meals, or not eating until the evening), for a few consecutive days (e.g. no social media during a particular week), one day a week (e.g. no TV on Sundays), or for a specified period (e.g. giving up chocolate for Lent).
  4.  Fasting reminds us how much we have. And we have a lot, especially here in the UK. If we never fast, we run the risk of taking what we have for granted, assuming it to be an unchallengeable fact of the modern Western Christian’s life that we are ‘entitled’ to these possessions or that luxury. But God may have other ideas.
  5. Fasting helps us to relinquish our idols. It says to God that we are more serious about him than about food, alcohol, sex, social media, TV, or anything else we may feel is becoming an idol. But I think it says more to ourselves. Fasting reminds me that God is worth more than these things – and that, much as I believe I ‘need’ chocolate to get through each day, what I really need is God’s word. (Matthew 4:4)
  6. Fasting creates long-term habits of holiness. If we are serious about allowing God to develop a more Christ-like character in us, then I think fasting will be involved somewhere along the line. Several years ago, I gave up my favourite soap opera for Lent, using the time to read Isaiah instead. I’d been addicted for nearly 20 years, and was gripping on tightly. But the six weeks without it made me realise I didn’t even want to return to it. The grip was gone, the addiction was gone, and I was free to pursue God a little more than I had before.
  7. Fasting realigns our priorities. It keeps us focussed on God in this distraction-riddled life. I pray more when I’m fasting – because every time I feel a pang of hunger, or desperation for whatever it is that I’ve given up, it’s a reminder to pray. So if there are big needs in my life, or the lives of those close to me, fasting is a great way to prioritise spending time with God, offering Him these prayer requests, over any of the other ‘loves’ of my life.

I often picture the Christian journey as a pair of closed fists, holding tightly onto life and independence. As we mature, these fists gradually release, as God gently works in us to loosen our grip on the things which hold us back from loving Him completely.

Fasting, for me, has become a way of submitting my fists to God, asking that He will open whichever fingers necessary in order to let go of what is holding me back, and make more space for that which He would want to develop in me.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Phillipians 3:12-14)

I would like to encourage you that, even if your motivation to fast is mixed or complex, please allow God to work in you through this important discipline. God doesn’t need our  fasting – but we probably do.

And, despite what images come to mind when you hear the word ‘fasting’, the Bible assures us that a life lived for God is more joyous, more full and more exciting than any alternative. Go for it!

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

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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!

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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 😉

 

24: cheerleaders

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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.