The Father’s Kiss – review and giveaway!

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No father is perfect, of course, but psychologists will tell you the benefits of growing up with a stable father-figure – someone who loves you unconditionally, is proud of your achievements, and helps to nurture you into a well-rounded, empathetic adult.

Sadly, many people haven’t had this experience. Their father was absent, neglectful, sharp-tempered, condemnatory, or abusive.

Besides the ‘obvious’ disadvantages suffered by those growing up with this kind of father (anxiety, perfectionism, low self-esteem, and so on), any lack of fatherly nurturing will have implications on how someone can relate to God as their Father.

‘God loves you’. It’s so trite, isn’t it? So obvious, in a way. And yet do we really believe it, when we haven’t seen a human example of unconditional fatherly love?

Even when we have had a positive experience with our father – when do we ever really plumb the depths of God’s affection, outlined for us in the Bible? Do we actually believe that He not only loves us, but that spending time with us brings Him – the creator of the universe – such joy?

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I’m so excited that, today, The Father’s Kiss is released – a book which, I’m certain, will bring healing and revelation to so many Christians who struggle to believe just how much and how freely God loves them.

Tracy Williamson’s story is powerful. As a young child, she suffered an illness which affected her hearing and sight. Her birth dad died when she was very young, and her step dad abused her verbally and sexually. You can read a fuller account in this brilliant interview she did for Claire Musters.

She entered adulthood insecure, with little self-worth, but became a Christian in her first year of college.

However, the journey didn’t end there. Tracy’s whole life has been a journey of healing from past hurts, learning to forgive her abuser, and allowing her thinking to be changed when it comes to her Father God – the God who doesn’t abuse her, the God who doesn’t see her as a mistake.

Why not take a couple of minutes to watch Tracy’s video, which shares her heart for the book?

I so appreciated Tracy’s honest, vulnerable writing, and believe it has the power to help so many others on their journey of reshaping their thoughts about who their Father God really is.

Although I’m blessed with an amazing Dad, as I was reading this book my thoughts were so often with my younger two boys, and how they might cope as they get older with not knowing who their birth Dad was (I wrote about that here, ‘Can you imagine having no father?’).

And for me, too, the book was challenging. Although I understand that God loves me, I often think of it as a begrudging kind of love – a bit like me when I’m tired and grumpy with my kids. I do love them – but sometimes I wish they’d just leave me alone for a few minutes, or let me get on with something.

It’s so tempting to think of God like this, but Tracy helped to reshape my thinking by showing, very clearly, from the Bible, that God is not a grumpy or begrudging kind of God! He loves to spend time with us – all the time! He’d never prefer to be on His phone, or spend a quiet few minutes cooking away from us all, or any of the other things I crave as an imperfect parent.

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Tracy and her book!

Now I like my Christian non-fiction books to be structured, with several clear and easy-to-follow points that I can mull over, remember and act upon. This book is not like that, and I have to say it took me a while to adapt to the style.

But then again, with such a deep and abstract topic such as ‘God’s love’, I’m not sure how this book could have been written in simple bullet-points all beginning with the same letter! It’s not like someone can teach you the A-Z of absorbing God’s love, can they?

Instead, Tracy effortlessly combines Bible passages, teaching, personal stories, poems, songs, prophetic pictures, and opportunities to ‘pause and reflect’, in order to draw us further into the reality of God’s love. It’s not a book to be rushed through, but one to mull over slowly and gradually.

The prophetic insights, in particular, I found very powerful. Tracy has a real gift in this area (her ‘day job’ is travelling the country with MBM Ministries, leading retreats and conferences with the singer/songwriter Marilyn Baker), and I’ve never read a book which is full of so many “As I’m writing this, I feel God saying…” moments. Truly spine-tingling and awesome!

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The Father’s Kiss is a beautiful book, full of hope and encouragement, and I really hope that you’re convinced to go and order a copy right now for yourself or someone you know would be blessed by it!

But – as always – don’t order just yet, as Authentic have kindly given me a copy of The Father’s Kiss to give away to a lucky reader! To enter – as always – simply join my mailing list (you can always unsubscribe later if I start to ramble on) – or, if you’re already on it, leave a lovely comment here to encourage Tracy!

The giveaway is now closed. Thanks to everyone who entered, and well done to Kerry who won!

Affiliate links are used in this email, meaning I earn a small commission on any purchase made through this blog, at no extra cost to you. Tracy kindly sent me a free copy of The Father’s Kiss to review for this blog but, as always, you have my guarantee that I would never publish a review of anything I didn’t genuinely like.

Interested in my other reviews? I’ve read some stonking books this year!

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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parenthood and bible reading

(This is part of a series. For the previous posts, see here.)

You know the phrase “If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well”?

I have a new version, designed for parents: “If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing at the first opportunity you get…you sure as hell won’t get another chance”.

Example: my kid goes down for a nap. “Great,” I think. “I’ll just empty the dishwasher, tidy away lunch, put a load of washing on, then read my Bible…” MISTAKE. I just know that I won’t get round to the last thing on the list. My kid will wake too soon, or I’ll get distracted by other needy tasks.

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There is, of course, no Biblical directive to spend time each day reading the Bible. And thank goodness for grace, which means salvation through Jesus, not through our own endeavours. But if I believe that the Bible is God’s word, then spending time reading it, hearing from God, needs to be my number one priority for those rare opportunities in my day when no one else is making any demands on my time. Unlike my kids, God never makes demands on my time. (He doesn’t repeatedly say my name over and over until I take notice, like my 3 year old, or bend His head round into my line of vision so that I can’t ignore Him, like my 1 year old.) But if I take seriously our relationship, I will choose to make time for Him.

I need to be careful that I don’t blame my kids for my own lack of discipline. Were my daily devotionals perfect when I was childless? Were they even daily? No they were not. As mentioned previously, I am hopeless at discipline. But – let’s be honest – protecting a bit of time each day for God is always harder with small people around. Our time is no longer our own, but theirs. For the hours of the day when our children are being looked after by someone else, or asleep, chances are we are at work, doing housework, calling the doctor, or just falling asleep, shattered by the day’s demands.

I would like to say that I’ve cracked this one, and here are five simple tips to help you find the disciplined life you’ve always wanted. But – again – no. This blog continues to be a log of my failures. (Failure log = flog??) But Jesus came for failed people, so that’s OK; I’m learning to see things through His eyes and not the world’s.

There is one thing, however, that I have learned: Bible reading requires some sort of routine. When you have kids, they also have some kind of routine. But it changes. Sometimes after a year, sometimes after a few months, sometimes daily. So, as parent-disciples, we need to be flexible to adapt our routine to theirs. When my kids’ routine changes, so does mine. God has given me 24 hours in my day as he has everyone else – so I know there must be time to spend with Him. It may look very different to pre-2009, it may look very different each day, and it may not be many minutes at all, but I believe in a God who is powerful enough to use each word of His word to grow us more into His likeness.

And this makes me very happy. 🙂

~

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

2 Timothy 3:16-17

parenthood and meeting together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

nothing left but jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

christmas is coming…

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

Christmas toy box

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

Advent calendar

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

Food

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

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

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

Decorations

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

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

Others are made:

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

Advent time

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

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

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

days like these

Yesterday I had one of those Days. There were no tantrums, no trips to A&E, no breakages of major appliances. It was just one of those Days.

I felt severely lacking in creative ideas. Joel spent the morning at pre-school, while Lois napped, so I had both kids awake and needing to be entertained from 12.30-7.00pm. Al was at work till late, so it was just me. We usually swim on Thursday afternoons, but the kids have had dodgy tummies so we cancelled. The weather was awful – no chance of a cycle ride or park trip. A bit of rain doesn’t frighten me or Joel, but with Lois not yet fully walking, it’s just a bit too tricky. If I hold her, I haven’t got hands free for Joel. If I carry her in the sling, she gets frustrated that she’s not able to move.

Before motherhood, I dreamt of a family utopia where afternoons would be filled with creative activity upon creative activity – baking, painting, glueing… Again, while Joel is keen for these things, Lois is at the ‘wrong’ age. Too old to sit in one place and watch, too young to participate. Likewise, Joel enjoys playing games and doing jigsaws, but we usually save these for Lois’ nap time, as small cardboard pieces and a one-year-old just don’t mix.

So the afternoon dragged. It wasn’t boring, it didn’t make me want to pack it all in, apply for teaching jobs and research childcare options. It just felt I was letting my kids down by not being able to come up with any interesting pursuit.

Now, before you feel sorry for me and write affirming messages of “Don’t give up!” “You can do this mothering thing!” and so on – please don’t worry. I don’t think I’m a terrible mother. I’m telling you this for two reasons. Firstly, I hope it connects with other mums who have days like this – to reassure and encourage you that we can’t all be exciting and creative all of the time.

The second reason is this. One of the things I did while Joel was at pre-school and Lois napped was read my Bible and pray. I’m shocking at spiritual discipline, so it had been a while, and I was pretty hopeful that God would realign my priorities, give me peace and generally sort things out. But the day was still a bit of a wash-out. My point is that we shouldn’t spend time with God in order to gain something instantly. We need to come to Him regularly and trust that He is working in our lives, however gradually. I can’t say that yesterday I experienced much of the peace, motivation or creativity I know God has in abundance for me. But it doesn’t matter. Firstly, God owes me nothing anyway. Secondly, I believe He wants to bless us with all these things and more – but it happens over time.

I would love it if there was some immediate connection every time I read the Bible. But, actually, I’m pleased there’s not. Because, conversely, that could suggest that God was not willing to connect with me in those times when I’m not reading His word. And that would mean that my relationship with God was actually one of legalism, and not one of grace.

I think when I have another one of those days, I’ll try and remember God’s continuing grace and His never-letting-go arms around me and my family.