five ways to bless your child’s school this year

Hello, long-deserted blog (that’s what the title’s about, right?). Each year I make a resolution that August won’t be a dry month for blog posts – and each year it passes so quickly, with a non-stop cycle of holidays, road trips, catch-ups, holiday clubs, and a vague feeling I ought to get organised for two special birthdays in September. So, readers, I’m sorry.

And now, of course, it’s September (only just!) – which means back-to-school for lots of us, and first-time-at-school for some of us. Whether your child is just starting, or returning after many years, here are some ways that your school will be blessed for counting you amongst its families this year:

Be actively grateful. Hopefully, you’re already grateful for what your teachers do. But – it sounds so obvious, I barely want to say it – they won’t know unless you tell them. Be someone who writes emails or cards, someone who makes a point of thanking teachers at the end of the day – whatever comes easiest. Last year, besides sending cards to Mister’s fabulous teachers at the end of term , I also wrote to them at the end of the first half term, after Parents’ Evening, Sports Day, and one of the school trips. It doesn’t take a minute, but it encourages them to keep going in the important vocation they’ve chosen. More about this here.

When you pay for a trip (or anything, really), consider paying double. However affluent your school, if it is a school which serves a particular geographical community, then it will be a school where some of the families are struggling to get by. If you can afford to, why not pay twice the amount next time your child goes on a school trip, or the next time funds are needed for an extra-curricular activity. Note, I’m not talking paying double the cost of some elaborate ski trip or safari trek – more that if £5 is required for a trip, why not consider paying £10? The school will immediately know who needs that money, and it will bless that family enormously, as well as the school’s finances. (NB I know that with the increasing use of online payment this gets a bit tricky, but there are ways and means – perhaps hand some cash into the office, or make a one-off donation once a year?)

Hand stuff in on time. It’s a small thing, but so very helpful to teachers when forms and reply slips are handed in on time. Teachers aren’t supposed to spend their working hours dealing with admin, but, realistically, it’s usually quicker for the teacher to badger parents rather than let the office staff deal with it. And this means that your taxes are paying a teacher to waste time hounding you, rather than planning the next lesson, or making the classroom an amazing learning environment.

Get involved. When an opportunity comes up to get involved in the school, do it. It doesn’t have to be a weekly commitment, something onerous or time-consuming. Perhaps it’ll mean coming in for a one-off baking session, reading a story to the class at the end of the day, or helping with the school disco. Perhaps it means contributing items for the school fair, running a stall, or buying some prizes.

Meet and pray with other Christians. I say this because we’ve been at this school a year, and I have met zero other Christians. If you know of even one other Christian amongst the parents or the staff, see if you can get together to pray for the school. Even if just once a half term, this will motivate you and encourage you to pray consistently for the school through the intervening weeks. And if, like me, you don’t know of any other Christians in the school, ask God to reveal any who exist, or to bring some to join you!

I’d love to hear your stories of how you’re blessing your school – in these or any other ways!

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desert parenting: the early years

There’s been a plethora of new babies born to my friends recently and it’s making me reflect upon my own experience of becoming a mum – in particular, how my faith has grown.

The last five years of my life have been the most exciting ones faith-wise, yet this isn’t because I’ve been extra holy – in fact, the number of times I’ve sat down with my Bible for a traditional ‘quiet time’ is shockingly small. I’ve missed a lot of sermons due to being on the kids’ work rota or chasing toddlers round the church or placating an unsettled baby. On paper, my spiritual disciplines would look pretty awful to an outsider. So what’s helped?

* My tribe. I’ve been so blessed by the good Christian friends God has put in my way since, and because of, having kids. We don’t force theology, it just comes naturally. It comes when we’re chatting over tea and cake; we grapple with a tricky Biblical application over jigsaws with our kids; while we’re eating a plastic banquet, prepared by the littlies, we’re also musing over Scripture and faith and life and the grey areas.

It’s not a big deal – and it comes alongside tales of the previous night’s sleeplessness, potty training anecdotes, plans for spa days and what so-and-so posted on Facebook – but it’s these snatches of God-conversation with friends which have shaped me, encouraged me, and got me thinking over the last few years.

I couldn’t be more grateful for the ‘tribe’ God has put in my life. If you’re new to this parenting business, pray for your tribe to come. And if it’s already flippin’ obvious who they are: use them! Hang out more, open up to them, share your burdens and your thoughts, pray with them.

* Blogs, books and articles. Gradually, I’ve been able to read more whole books – but in times when that’s been too much, I’ve really appreciated blogs and articles sent my way by friends or posted on Facebook. Punchy, succinct thoughts on an aspect of Christian living. Friends, if you read something good: share it! It could be just the encouragement one of your tribe needs.

A particularly helpful blog post I read a while back was this one, about reading the Bible as a young mum. Read it now – go on! I dare you! (It’s short and easy and encouraging – promise.)

* Serving and ministering. This is a really tough one. It requires a fair bit of planning (and sometimes childcare) to be able to serve in your church or community when you have kids. It’s never easy – but it grows faith.

If I haven’t picked up my Bible in a couple of weeks, you can be sure that having to plan a kids’ work session or story for Toddlers, or preparing a Bible study for a Mums’ cell group, or planning to mentor a younger Christian will force me to open it again! I’ve grown in faith as I’ve seen others grow in faith.

* Sharing faith with my kids. There was a time when I was driving my kids somewhere and was massively challenged by a random Bible story that came on the CD player. (We were listening to the Big Bible Storybook, so it wasn’t entirely unexpected to hear a Bible story – more that it was some random part of the Old Testament which I’d forgotten about.)

There have been other times when reading a children’s Bible or Christian storybook with them, or discussing faith, or praying, or playing through the Bible has kept me spiritually ‘topped up’ as well as them.

* My husband. I approach this one sensitively, knowing that several friends long for their other halves to come to know Jesus. I am so massively grateful for a husband who is unswayed in his pursuit of loving Jesus more, and I don’t take this for granted. He shares with me the things he’s thinking about, the books he’s reading, the articles he’s found – and it’s like I benefit from the time he’s put in, without committing lots of energy that I don’t have.

Of course Christian wives are just as responsible for encouraging and challenging their husbands with new theological thoughts – but at this stage in life, low on time and energy, I’m thankful for a husband who keeps me on my toes.

If you’re a Christian whose spouse does the bulk of the childcare, how are you supporting them in their faith? Those of you who are courageously and unreservedly pursuing Jesus without encouragement from your partner: we want to walk this journey with you. Please tell us how we can be better Christian siblings to you.

Before I had kids, my view of discipleship was very different. Perhaps I could liken it to a knitted square in one colour, row upon row of identical stitches forming a unified whole. There was one way to pursue God: through the Bible, in a daily quiet time, followed by a shopping list prayer.

Nowadays, my walk is a tapestry: many different colours and stitches interacting in varied ways. There are dropped stitches too, as well as areas not yet stitched. I am an ongoing work, more aware of my imperfections than ever, but more aware of God’s grace than ever – grace which enables me to pursue discipleship in the haze of early parenthood, guilt-free and joyful.

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pray4school start: week 4

p4ss

Hello again! Hope you’re having a wonderful summer, whatever you’re doing and whatever the weather. (As you read this, I’m enjoying a week away…but thanks to the marvel of modern technology (i.e. scheduled blogging), this post gets published without me. One day, this blog will even write itself.)

I hope you’re also enjoying some time to pray for your kids (or those you know) starting school this term. I’m not the best pray-er, but I’ve found myself challenged by my own blogs, and have really appreciated grabbing those tiny moments in between fetching a drink for a thirsty child and playing yet another game of Go Fish to pray for all the aspects surrounding my son’s schooling.

If you recall, we started with our kids themselves, moving on to their peers, then their teachers…and this week, we pray for those who lead our children’s schools. Friends: massive decisions affecting your child and their peers will be made by Heads, their leadership teams and governing bodies on a regular basis. Let’s pray for great wisdom for them, so that our children flourish and become the people God designed them to be!

* Pray for the Head, deputy/assistant heads, and governors at your child’s school – by name if you know names

* Pray for guidance and wisdom in decision making

* Pray for discernment, and an ability to judge situations accurately

* Pray for unity, agreement and good relationships within leadership teams

* Pray for the wise appointment of new staff – the most important decision that school leaders need to make, in my opinion…

* Pray that Christian school leaders would make a positive impact on their schools, and that many would be challenged by their witness

* You could also pray specifically for any friends you may have who are school leaders or governors, even if they’re at different schools to the child you’re praying for

* Mister’s school has a new Head (been there a term), so I will especially be praying for her as she settles in, that she would quickly get the feel of the school and take it in a positive direction – if you know of any new appointments at your child’s school, you could join me in praying for a smooth transition

* Let’s also remember our Scottish friends, who start back this week. I’ll particularly be praying for Mister’s second cousin, 6 weeks his senior and starting out on this big journey at the same time. Pray for smooth settling in, good relationships with teachers and peers, and a general blossoming of all the abilities God has gifted them with!

That’s all folks! See you when I return…

reflections on running a church toddler group (3)

This is the final of a trilogy of reflections on what it’s been like to lead our church toddler group, Tuesday Tots. My first post spoke of how our group is unashamedly Christian, but with no agenda for others to subscribe to our beliefs. My second spoke of the busyness and exhaustion entailed through running the group. This post looks at the importance of prayer.

I am a do-er. Prayer does not come naturally or easily to me, because I want to be active pretty much all the time. If I’m not engaged in a task on my to-do list, if I’m not feeling ‘productive’, then I struggle. So I’m incredibly grateful that, when we started Tuesday Tots, there were some wise friends around who inspired particular prayer prompts for the group. These prompts slow us down – they remind us that “unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labour in vain” (Psalm 127:1).

Firstly, we always pray for Tuesday Tots before we open the doors. Secondly, we aim to devote an hour or so of our Monday evenings to pray specifically for this group, and other mums/toddlers outreach projects around the city, from wherever we are. Getting together in an evening, when there are young children around and often husbands who work long hours, isn’t easy, but praying in our individual homes at the same time as others still gives us the solidarity of praying with others, in spirit if not in physical presence.

It’s not easy stopping to pray – but, ever since we started Tuesday Tots, I’ve been challenged that unless we’re committing this project to God in prayer, we might as well not be running it. A prayerful friend told me she never takes on a new commitment unless she knows she has the time to pray regularly for it. This sounds so obviously something I can agree with – and yet I still busy my life with action after action, filling every conceivable minute with ‘work’, rotas, good deeds, hospitality, church things, family and friends. All of these are good in themselves, but I know I take on too many commitments/relationships/favours without first asking myself whether I have the time to support them in prayer.

It was prayer which initially fuelled Tuesday Tots. A few of us sensed God particularly asking us to pray for the future of mums and families’ outreach in York, not knowing that just a few weeks later an opportunity would open up to start a new toddler group. God even seemed to be asking me to lay aside a different ministry – when I didn’t yet know what for. So, as Tuesday Tots started with prayer, so it is sustained by prayer. We don’t make decisions without several of us committing them to God first. We don’t make the group more complicated than it is, unless God makes that very clear.

And we’ve seen Him guide us so clearly! From additional volunteers turning up unexpectedly on the mornings we’ve needed most help, to raising our kitty from £10 to £90 in just a fortnight – God has been faithful, and will continue to be as long as we place this group into His hands.

Why am I waxing on about prayer? It’s been my observation that some church ministries – particularly those not overtly linked to worship, evangelism or discipleship – often function with little reliance on the Holy Spirit. Things happen because they always have done, because someone had a great idea, because there seems to be a need. But not necessarily because God is saying Here and now, this is what I want you to do. It feels like many ministries are a slog – and, whilst following God’s plan isn’t always going to be easy, I wonder how much we slog away at stuff which should have been finished long ago (or not started at all)? Carving out time for prayer helps keep us on God’s track.

Those of us who lead Tuesday Tots often feel that God keeps us on the edge – providing just enough of what we need (money, helpers, attendees), but not so much that we stop trusting Him. It’s been an exciting 15 months of relying on Him for the group, and gives us an enormous peace for the future. We don’t know whether the group will last another 20 years or be done with by the summer – but we feel sure that God will sustain it for as long as He wants, and that’s totally OK with us.

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

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.