Identity and the Church – Can a church be inclusive without compromise?

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Image credit: Pixabay

It’s no secret that one of the big debates in the Church today is how to pastorally respond to those of varying sexual orientations.

Churches the world over range from a permissive, arms-open approach to a more closed, even angry, approach. And any talk of trying to ‘strike a balance’ is futile, as there are as many opinions on this subject as there are Christians, with everyone holding a different idea of what that ‘balance’ would entail.

So – and I’m convinced of this – we need to find different solutions to working and worshiping together peacefully and lovingly. Solutions which embrace the diversity of opinion found within the Church and use it to strengthen our mission, not divide it.

It’s why I loved reading Sexuality, Faith and the Art of Conversation earlier this year. And it’s why I was thrilled to attend Living Out’s Identity conference in London this June.

I’ve already blogged a few thoughts reflecting on this conference, firstly how culture shapes our identity (without us even realising), and secondly how affected I was by the testimony of four celibate, gay Christians. Do have a read if you haven’t already.

This is the third and final reflection, and it concerns our approach as churches.

Kathy Keller spoke wonderfully in the afternoon on the more practical issue of how we make our churches welcoming and inclusive, while holding to traditional Bible teaching about sex being for (heterosexual) marriage.

This will jar for those who don’t read the Bible this way, but one thing I found particularly strong was Kathy’s assertion that actually homosexual ‘sin’ is a lot less common/frequent than heterosexual ‘sin’ – purely by nature of there being more heterosexual than homosexual people in the world. Of course this is obvious really, isn’t it? Only I’d never thought of it this way.

In other words, where do our churches stand on teaching about sex within marriage generally? How do we address those who are living together outside marriage, those who have had affairs, those who are in the process of a divorce, those who are considering remarriage?

There are no easy answers, of course, to any of this – but the point is: sexual sin needs to be addressed as a whole. Singling out any one group of individuals is not helpful, and it certainly isn’t Biblical.

Living Out had produced a church inclusivity audit for the day, which I found incredibly helpful, not to mention challenging. If we really ask these questions of ourselves and our churches, where do we stand? I know we fall down in a number of areas.

For example:

“Church family members instinctively share meals, homes, holidays, festivals, money, children with others from different backgrounds and life situations to them.”

I’m not so sure that our church, diverse and welcoming as it is, really models this kind of sharing with those of different backgrounds. The thinking here is that if a church develops this kind of culture then it will make life easier for a person who has chosen, for whatever reason, to live a celibate lifestyle, as they will automatically feel included, and experience life-giving relationships within their church family.

Another example:

“All in your church know that we all experience sexual brokenness and all are being encouraged to confess their own sexual sins.”

I just don’t think that we talk about sex very much or very well! Are we encouraged to think about past sexual behaviour, and whether it was God-honouring? We might be in committed marital relationships, but have we ever asked God to forgive us for what we did before that, or for mixed motives even now?

Again, this general focus on sexual sin (rather than homosexual sin) is helpful, I think, as it sets high and challenging expectations for all of us.

You can download the full audit here and I really recommend taking a look – there are some stonking statements on there. In addition, there’s a great video of Ed Shaw (a same-sex attracted church leader) explaining at the conference how he went through this audit with his church leadership team.

There were some great books recommended during the conference which I wanted to mention here, as well as some of my own favourites:

Walking with Gay Friends – I found this incredibly helpful a few years ago in helping me think through this issue. The author is a Christian and a lesbian.

Space at the Table: Conversations between an Evangelical Theologian and His Gay Son – this is on my to-read list, and looks amazing! Check out the trailer video here: it might make you cry!

The Gospel comes with a House Key – Rosaria Butterfield’s story of converting to Christianity as a gay, feminist academic is one I want to read – this is a follow-on book, where she describes the kind of radical hospitality Christians are called to give.

Mere Sexuality: rediscovering the Christian vision of sexuality

The plausibility problem – written by Ed Shaw, featured in the church audit video.

Gay girl, good God – I spotted this on Twitter, and it looks fascinating – the story of Jackie Hill Perry’s coming to faith.

Undivided – Vicky Beeching’s story, from a different perspective, has also been on my to-read list since it was released, and I know many of you have already read it.

Sexuality, Faith and the Art of Conversation – as mentioned. Read my review here!

Happy reading!

A note on my affiliate links: this post contains them! You know the drill: click through, make a purchase, and I earn a small amount of commission.

However, I realise that many of you will Google the book titles, just to check whether there’s a cheaper price. I get it – I do that too. I always try to put the cheapest price I can find right here in the blog post, but that’s not always possible (prices change all the time, I’m UK based so some things will be cheaper/dearer in other countries, and I have an aversion to Amazon…). So by all means, go check the cheaper price – but if you find that it’s the same as what I’ve recommended, do come back here and click on my links pretty please. It’s how I keep the blog free! Thank you 🙂

 

 

Dysfunctional families? There’s hope in marriage!

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For better or worse, I’ve recently been receiving The Daily Mash emails. I find the humour a fitting antidote to the sadness, confusion and terror in the ‘real’ news – and, like all good satire, much of it is masking some important, but uncomfortable, truths about our culture.

One such headline this week was “My family not nearly as f****d up as theirs, says Meghan Markle”.

Apologies to any who might be offended by asterisks, but there’s so much we can learn from secular humour, that I couldn’t let this one go without sharing my thoughts.

Absolutely, you could say Meghan has come from a dysfunctional family. Absolutely, you could say that Harry has also come from one.

And absolutely, you could say that we’ve all come from dysfunctional families. Because however loving or supportive our families were and are, none of them are perfect: they’re all dysfunctional in some way.

We all like to speculate on the problematic family lives of the rich and famous whose lives are constantly on show, lacking the privilege most of us have of being able to hide a few more embarrassing family details from the world. Everything is on display, everything is up for grabs.

But I guess what this shows us is that neither money nor fame nor popularity nor success can deal with the human condition some of us call sin. Relationships break down in the royal family – and they break down on council estates. Deception is found within Hollywood families, and within families living on the poverty line.

Communication struggles, lack of empathy, self-centredness, hoarding, over-busyness – these problems exist everywhere, because humans exist everywhere. And where humans exist, there exists sin.

With such a depressing outlook, why should any of us bother to get married? Isn’t it inevitable that we will let our partner down? Let our children down, by bringing them into a relationship and a world that is far from perfect?

After nearly 16 years of marriage, and a heck of a lot of observation of other people’s marriages, I firmly believe that marriage brings hope.

Yes, it’s uncomfortable and sometimes painful: my experience of marriage has been like a mirror, held up to show me more clearly my failings and inadequacies, not only as a wife but as a friend, mentor, worker, daughter, sister and mum. As wonderful as my parents are, I am a product of their own struggles and difficulties – and my own children will bear the scars of mine.

And yet: there is hope. There is hope that two failed people can come together and make something which is beautiful, something which blesses the community of which it is a part, something which offers a haven and support to others, something which provides a secure base for children to develop.

We do it through listening, through laughing, through sharing our thoughts and feelings, through being willing to compromise, through learning from each other and from those around us. And hope comes.

It is this hope that delights me when I consider our own marriage, attend the weddings of friends, and look forward to Harry and Meghan’s big day tomorrow. Hope that we can be shaped by our families, but not defined by them.

As Harry and Meghan commit their lives to each other tomorrow, it is my prayer that they will know this truth: that they are not defined by their parents’ problems, but that they have every chance of success in their marriage and family life as they learn to listen, laugh, forgive and grow together.

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the silent anniversary: celebrating marriage in a culture of relationship breakdown

Last month, us Desert People celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary. Most of the time I feel our life just plods on, so the slightly startling fact that we’d been plodding on longer than Facebook, Netflix and (most people’s access to) digital photography seemed worth celebrating.

We had a lovely couple of days of dates, nice food and presents – but few others knew of our celebrations. I nearly posted our happy day on Facebook – but something held me back. This year one of my friends is finalising her divorce whilst another has become a single mum. Other friends have divorced years ago, but any mention of marriage still stings. Then there are those who always dreamed of marriage – but are still waiting. How could I post a shiny picture of the two of us against that backdrop?

The problem is that a happy, long-lasting marriage can so easily end up being miscommunicated as an ‘achievement’, a ‘notch on the scale’, something to wear as a badge of honour. Entirely by accident, the Happily-Marrieds can end up suggesting that they possess a greater level of emotional intelligence, a more kind and forgiving character, or simply ‘work harder’ at their marriages. But I can tell you that many of my now-divorced friends worked harder at their marriages than I’ve ever done. So there was no way I was going to risk getting the tone wrong on Facebook.

In a month’s worth of reflection over whether I was right to hold back, or whether I was being stupidly over-cautious, a few things have come to mind.

One is that, regardless of our own marital status, all of us can celebrate marriage in some way, shape or form. Almost all of us have benefited from a strong, healthy marriage – if not our own, then our parents’, grandparents’, close friends or other family members. We may have received security from our own parents’ marriage – or support and hospitality from the marriage of friends. Marriage can be celebrated as a wonderful institution, even if we ourselves are not married.

Secondly – contrary to the polarised ‘marriage=lifelong joy’ and ‘singleness=lifelong discontent’ philosophy of our culture, the reality is tinged with much more grey. Marriages can be hard, tiring, frustrating – and singleness can be enriching, freeing, empowering. Celebrating marriage should not be about pretending that life is brilliant all the time. When we celebrate our marriages publicly, we need to acknowledge the grey – sensitively, but not silently. Similarly, even the worst separations, divorces and bereavements can bring about many new positives. Recently, my friend wrote about how the painful time around her divorce gave her an insight into suffering and mental health that she would never have had otherwise.

Thirdly – and this is especially true if our marriage has been easy so far – a great way to celebrate our marriages, in addition to shouting about them, is to invest in them. I suspect that most divorces are not based on one event, an affair, a life change, or whatever, but on a gradual drifting apart over a few years. If we assume that a strong marriage will be built without any input from us, we assume wrong. When we celebrated our anniversary last month, I realised we hadn’t read any marriage books for a while, so did some research and grabbed a handful of titles which looked interesting and challenging for where we’re at right now. (And yes, you’ll be seeing mentions of these books on the blog over the next few months as we devour them!) But investing in your marriage could also mean attending some marriage counselling – and remember that you don’t need to be having marital problems in order to book an appointment. You can see it much more like an MOT, as explained in this amazing article by Marina Fogle. In short, put some deposits in your marriage bank – you never know when there’ll be a hefty outgoing.

Finally, whilst investment in our marriages is vital, we also need to recognise that a healthy marriage is not solely a result of our own hard work, stamina or ability to meet 100% of our partner’s needs 100% of the time. We must acknowledge that a greater ‘force’ is present in them. Christians might call this force ‘grace’, which forgives us and picks us up and gives us what we don’t deserve. If you’re not a Christian, you may call it ‘luck’ or ‘good fortune’, that you’ve found a spouse who loves you despite your faults. The point is that the success of our marriage is not all down to us, and therefore any proclamation on social media or other public forums needs to recognise this.

I don’t regret, on this occasion, holding back from social media. I’m not sure I would have had the sensitivity, wisdom, or turn of phrase to announce our anniversary as carefully and respectfully as I’d have wanted. But I’ve enjoyed seeing the many other anniversary announcements that this season brings, my favourite being this:

“Our anniversary is a good opportunity to say thanks to everyone who celebrated with us this time 9 years ago, and to those who continue to support and journey with us. Marriage is a mini expression of community, which both serves and is fed by the wider community. Thanks to all those who are part of this”.

Marriage is something for us all to get involved with (and – dare I say – excited about?). We can all play a part in supporting those we love as they seek to keep their marriage vows.

And, more than this, it fills us with hope that one day we will enjoy the closest, most intimate relationship with God Himself. Celebrating the highs and lows of marital union – whether ours or our friends’ – reminds us that earthly marriage is not the end result, but a very faint picture of the 100% loving, 100% forgiving, 100% perfect Bridegroom – Jesus Christ, who one day will fulfil the strongest marriage vow ever made.

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what we want for our kids: gender equality

This blog post is part of a series, considering what we want for our kids. If you haven’t read the previous posts, then please click here for the first post, which will take you to the others, as what follows will make more sense in context.

Oh, and here’s a disclaimer (I could have written a few): this is not a complete theology of gender! It is deliberately and unashamedly focused on how we as Christians raise our children to promote gender equality.

This is perhaps the most sensitive of the three ‘sub-heading’ topics I’ve written after the seemingly controversial post about whether it was OK for my daughter to aspire to being a mum. I decided it was wise to break that one down into the three areas I felt were potential sticking points: status, financial security, and now gender equality. And, let’s face it, most of us get more than a little bristly at the thought of women being expected to fulfil stereotyped roles, so it was no surprise that, at face value, my words were challenged. But as Christian parents, how should we aspire to, and encourage, gender equality in our children? What is the basis of this equality? And what does it look like in practice?

1) Gender inequality is an outcome of the Fall. Sexism can work both ways, but as the issue usually involves the dominance of men over women, it is this that I’m going to focus on. And the fact that there has been such dominance throughout history should come as no surprise to any Bible-believing Christian:

To the woman he said,

“…Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”(Genesis 3:16)

In other words, gender inequality is not ‘just because’. It is a direct consequence of our sin. God designed us to live as equals, side by side, with a joint mission to accomplish (Genesis 2) but sin brought an inequality to the relationship between the genders that will never be resolved until the new heaven and new earth. And this was not just a curse on women. The suppression of women throughout history will have undoubtedly lost the world a whole host of strong female political leaders, breakthrough female scientists, wise female strategists and inspiring female artists – it is men, as well as women, who have suffered this loss, and therefore the curse is felt by both women and men.

2) The curse of gender inequality will always be present in our world. For every win of the feminist movement, there are a handful of ‘new’ and discriminatory practices taking root in all corners of the globe. Some are old practices recently brought to the attention of the media (FGM for example) – others are new. Twenty years ago the pay gap between men and women may have been larger – but at least women didn’t have to worry about social media trolls and increased online sexism based on how they looked or what they believed in. One demon is abolished, and another is birthed. It’s because, quite simply, gender inequality is a product of the Fall, a result of our sin – so, as long as humankind remains sinful, it will remain discriminatory.

3) The belief that gender inequality is part of living in a fallen world is both sobering and hopeful. Just because discrimination will remain till the end of this life doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight against it. On the contrary – because it is not of the Kingdom, therefore we do not subscribe to it. We have been saved, and life in the Kingdom starts NOW – so, just as we fight against poverty, war, racism, hatred and other results of the Fall, so we must also practise a different way when it comes to gender discrimination. We go about our lives as equals – and teach our children to do the same – challenging any discriminatory behaviour when we encounter it – not because of a secular feminist agenda, but because equality is a characteristic of God and His kingdom.

This is all well and good if it actually ‘works’ – but, of course, because we live in a gender-biased world, our children will be subject to all sorts of influences outside our control, and even we as ‘gender-aware’ parents probably imbibe some of the unhelpful gender-skewed culture around us without even realising. So how do we remove our blinkers and start to teach our children God’s way when it comes to gender? Here are two important perspectives which have been important to me while thinking through this issue:

  • Godly feminism is about who we are – i.e. children of God, rooted in Christ – not what we achieve. Paul said, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female,for you are all one in Christ Jesus” – Gal 3:28. Are we teaching our children that they are valuable, not because of gender or achievement or subversion of gender roles, but because they are made and loved by God? Realistically, it is highly unlikely that my daughter will ‘just’ be a mum when she hits adulthood – real life usually demands a salary of some sort, and besides, I have every belief that God has given her the most incredible gifts to contribute to wider society, as well as her own children (should she have them). But if my opinion of her is based on what she ‘achieves’ according to the world’s views, this doesn’t show her the God who loves her because of who she is. It also devalues the role of motherhood, every bit as important as fatherhood, and not something to campaign against just because there are ways in which some families and societies are ordered which do constitute a form of female suppression. Nowadays, investing in motherhood can be a true feminist option: a ‘right’, a ‘choice’ that many have the freedom to make to whatever extent they like. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater – but, rather, let’s be willing to think creatively and boldly about family, work, vocation and the Kingdom of God. It may not look as we imagine.

 

  • Godly feminism is not about trying to get one over everybody else – and those of us who call ourselves Christians must resist a worldview of unhealthy competition and ladder-climbing. The Bible’s teaching on equality is radically different: it is that, rather than compete with one another, we all submit to one another. The problems come when this submission is not equal. The Biblical model is that women submit to men, men submit to women, and we all submit to Christ (Ephesians 5:21 says “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”.) The world says we reach equality when we strive to equal the achievements or status of the opposite sex – but the Bible says we reach equality when we self-sacrificially serve each other’s needs. Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” This – not aspiring to be better than everyone else, but serving each other’s needs – is how true equality is achieved, and will be achieved in the new heaven and new earth. Are we teaching our children to respect others, of all genders and backgrounds? Are we teaching them to serve sacrificially and without reward? Are we teaching them not to think less of themselves, but to think of themselves less?

Drawing these perspectives together, we see that the Biblical model of gender equality is based on healthy amounts of self-worth and humility. A distortion of the former leads to oppression of others – a distortion of the latter leads to being oppressed by others. Neither results in equality.

As Christians, we have a unique basis for these two qualities. We have self-worth through knowing that God made us, that He has entrusted us with caring for the world, that He so desperately wants a relationship with us that He sacrificed His only son in order that we could enjoy life with Him forever. We have humility because, in light of these truths, we realise that our skills and knowledge, our passion and vision, are so small in comparison to the God who gave us life. And we are aware of all the ways in which we hurt this God, this ever-loving, slow-to-anger Father – how we don’t deserve to sit in His presence, yet are able to do so through grace alone.

So, in light of this, with regards to our parenting:

1) Let’s affirm our children’s self-worth as much as possible. Christian parents, this is an easy job if you’re reading the Bible with your kids, as there’s so much packed in there about our identity being in Christ. We are so totally precious and loved by God that our gender is not even a consideration when totting up our value. When my kids do things that make me proud – winning ‘Star of the Week’ or getting full marks on a spelling test – I praise them, but always make a point of telling them that even if they were the worst behaved that week, or got 0 on their test, I would still love them just as much. It’s a little crass, and I always cringe as I say it, but I’d rather do crass than raise children who associate their value with their achievement.

There is plenty of gender discrimination in the world and, sadly, in the church – but I think much of it stems from how women are seen and treated in their families. A woman who has a secure base – parents and/or a husband/partner who believe in her – will find it easier to overcome discriminatory obstacles in everyday life and in the workplace. Raise your girls (and your boys) to be confident in the abilities God has given them. And raise your sons (and your daughters) to honour the gifts God has given to the women (men) around them. If you’re married, model a positive relationship of mutual respect and division of labour – your children will model their future households on this. Show your children how they deserve to be treated – and show them to recognise signs of ill-treatment.

2) Let’s encourage humility in our kids when relating to others – and let’s model it ourselves. We often think that we need to raise our girls up to believe they can do anything – but it’s equally important to raise our boys to understand what it might mean for them to allow girls to do anything – a stepping aside, a demotion, a position which holds little ‘status’ in the world’s eyes. Far from the arrogance and ladder-climbing we see in misogynistic cultures (and, occasionally, in some secular feminist writings too), teach your boys and your girls to follow Christ’s example, “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant…” (Philippians 2:6-7).

The most humble person in history was a man – Jesus Christ – and, if we look to him, we will find enough self-worth and humility to serve one another as equals. I relish the day when gender discrimination will be a thing of the past – but, for now, let’s be encouraged by the work of the Holy Spirit in us and our children, shaping us to be more like Jesus, who stood for equality right up to death.

 

For the first time in five years of writing this blog, I’ve received editorial help from another, so feel it only right that I should credit her here. Thank you, wonderful friend, for reading this through, for your gracious comments and wise alterations, and for articulating on my behalf where I was getting tangled in knots.

 

13 today! happy birthday, breadmaker

 

The breadmaker we received for our wedding - 13 years on. A little stained and well-used, but still going strong - like our marriage!

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This is our breadmaker, and it is 13 years old today. Through four different homes, it has consistently produced beautiful, fresh loaves, as well as pizza dough, ciabatta, focaccia and numerous other variants. To me, it has always been a total miracle of a machine: the fact you can tip in seven simple ingredients one evening, whack on the timer, and wake up to the most heavenly bready smell the following morning never ceases to amaze me.

And it has lasted 13 years – a pretty decent lifespan for any electronic item. The non-stick has gone, and loaves now require a plastic fish-slice to cajole them out of the tin – but the quality of bread has not suffered. If ever we become complacent about what this marvellous machine does for us, we need only listen to visiting family and friends who are often vocal about the quality of the bread.

Why do I mark the birthday of our breadmaker? Only because it was a wedding gift.  One-by-one, the beautiful array of presents received on 13 July 2002 have ended their life. Plates have smashed, bed linen has ripped, microwave has broken and been replaced (twice). This last year saw the final demise of our wedding saucepan set. The breadmaker, however, seems to be matching us year for year, in a silent but unswerving contest to see which one of us can survive the most usage.

Three years ago, I wrote that I felt like a fraud. Our marriage hadn’t had any serious knocks or tumbles – no challenges to make us or break us. Simply two individuals bumbling through life together while the years rack up.

The last three years, whilst they could never be described as ‘hard’ compared with what many families have to contend with, have brought their own set of challenges. But do you know what? The challenges haven’t felt challenging. They’ve brought us closer together, alligned our minds, strengthened our relationship, and enriched our family.

We’ve learned about guidance, and listening to God, and how He brings all things together so perfectly when we leave Him to it.

We’ve learned that human wisdom is fallible.

We’ve learned more about children at risk, fostering, adoption, and God’s heart for ‘orphans’.

We’re more compassionate than we were three years ago – not just with children, but with the vulnerable adults that we’re now meeting and befriending regularly.

We’re learning to entrust our children to God – and realising that, when we do, they get His best, which is far better than ours.

We’ve learned – I write hesitantly, still not quite sure I want to be here – that the safest place to be is a place of risk, a place where all you can do is throw yourself onto God and wait for His perfect will to be done in His perfect way.

Was it a challenge turning down a perfectly good job? Was it a challenge to send Mister to a school which was ‘failing’ by Ofsted standards? Is it a challenge to now be preparing for adoption? Well yes, I suppose so – but actually no. If God is the foundation of our marriage, then these things are the bricks and mortar. They strengthen us, draw us together, produce perseverance, and make us more aware of our Cornerstone, Jesus.

The breadmaker may be scratched and worn, splashed and burnt – and we, too, are a little more worn than we were 13 years ago, a little greyer, a little flabbier, with darker circles under our eyes and more questions in our hearts. But God has been faithful in putting those vital ingredients into our lives, and it’s to His glory, and by His grace, that we stand here today, still Mr&Mrs.

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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!

going and not going, staying and not staying: how does god guide us?

If you’d asked me three months ago what I would be doing this week, the answer would have been easy: moving house. We would be finishing up the last bit of packing before heading off to a different part of the country, where Desert Dad would be starting a new job come September.

And yet, we’re not doing any of that. According to my diary, this week looks pretty similar to any other: the usual round of play dates, swimming, friends coming for dinner. By the end of the week I’ll have been to two goodbye parties, not one of them for me. What happened?

I used to think that God guided in a very hands-off way. You apply for a job, you pray about it, you go for interview – if you get it, great, that’s God saying ‘yes’. If you don’t, no worries, that’s God saying ‘no’. This is a very optimistic approach, and it’s not that I think it’s bad theology, it’s just incomplete. The last few months have shown me that God can and does intervene in situations when it seems that everything’s done and dusted. I’ve learned that perhaps we need to approach decisions with less vacuous positivity, and more serious God-searching.

For a large part of last year, there was one particular option for Desert Dad’s job and our future which was looking incredibly likely. Then, suddenly, God intervened: it was not to be. The way in which this happened was so unexpected, so awkward and so baffling that we just felt it had to be God: it defied much of the human logic which, up to that point, had been suggesting a positive way forward.

Five months later, God intervened again: this time to tell us that we shouldn’t be going to the job that Desert Dad had secured at the start of the year. Through one week in May, God taught me more about guidance than I’ve learned in my entire life.

But both interventions were puzzling, confusing and painful. During the latter, I found myself yelling at God “Why? Why do it this way? Why confuse things? Why couldn’t you have guided us right in the first place?” It seemed like needless time and energy had been spent, not just by us but by the church we were letting down. And for what? I don’t often break down in tears before God, but on this day there was nothing else left.

I wish this were a post with some clever things to say about God’s guidance – I really do. But right now, despite the steep learning curve of the last few months, I have more questions than answers. I don’t know, for example, how much weight our emotions hold in decision-making. There have been times over the past year when I’ve had to pull myself back because God’s plan seemed to be so much in line with my own desires that I didn’t dare believe it was true. There have been other times when I’ve had to submit my desires to God, knowing that they weren’t of Him – there have been more of these moments, and they have been the hardest.

Honestly, this is where I am at the moment:

* Before this year, I believed that the decision about which job my husband should go for was purely down to him, and very little down to me. Now I realise that if it’s right for him, it’ll also be right for me and the kids;

* Our emotions are important, but changeable. We need to neither ignore nor be swayed by them;

* Big decisions require the kind of prayer and fasting that I don’t think I’ve even touched the surface of yet. How one gets away for retreat when tiny children are about is another question – possibly one for a future blog post. But the last few months have made me see how vital it is, when facing a big decision.

So, for the moment, we are not going. That is not to say that we are staying – for there is a sense of temporaryness to the life we’re currently living – but we are not going. We are neither going, nor staying. We are simply waiting for the next direction. It might sound like a place of insecurity; in actual fact, we have known it, so far at least, only to be a place of peace.

You will keep in perfect peace
those whose minds are steadfast,
because they trust in you.

Isaiah 26:3