Counting down to Christmas

On Sunday, the boys looked inside the first stocking on their Advent calendar line of ‘socks’ (as Andrew refers to it); they got a chocolate treat, and we decided that they can take it in turns to consume the contents of the day’s sock – odds for Andrew and evens for Joel. This is our way of counting down the days until Christmas, which will soon be here. I’ve always enjoyed Christmas, and since having children it has become exciting seeing it from a child’s perspective again. The boys love spending time with their grandparents, uncles and aunts, and they get to do a lot of this over Christmas. Of course presents feature quite a lot over the days that we spend with family, and it is lovely to see the genuine joy expressed as a toddler rips the paper off and excitedly looks to see what’s inside.

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Although all the celebrations are exciting in themselves, I also hope that my boys will come to understand the reason why we celebrate Christmas. Advent (from the Latin ‘adventus’ meaning ‘coming’) is a time when we as Christians often reflect on how Jesus, God’s son, came into this world as a baby. It was a very low-key event in earthly terms – his teenage mum from Nazereth (a small unassuming village back then) travelled heavily pregnant to Bethlehem to comply with the ruling Roman orders, and gave birth there in a shed of animals; only a few shepherds (who were fairly low in social status back then) heard about the birth immediately and visited soon after. Yet the reason why Jesus came meant that his birth was extraordinary, and certainly something that deserves a huge celebration over 2000 years later.

So why did Jesus come to Earth? The short answer is: because God loves us. Every week at our church, the kids all gather at the front before they go to their groups and we sing an action song together. This Sunday, the first in Advent, the song was a fantastic reminder of God’s love for everyone He’s made – here are the lyrics, and, if you can stand the slight cheesiness, a video of the tune and actions…

Some of us are big and tall
Some of us are very small
Some of us like pink and some like blue
Some of us like reading books
Some of us like feeding ducks
That’s because we’re different, me and you

But God loves everyone he’s made
God loves each of us, in a special way…

That’s you and you and you and you
And you and you and you and you
God loves you! God loves you!
That’s you and you and you and you
And you and you and you and you
We’re part of the big family of God!

Some of us have curly hair
Some of us have specs to wear
All of us have different families
Some of us are very loud
Some of us don’t make a sound
That’s because we’re different, you and me

But God loves everyone he’s made
God loves each of us, in a special way…

[© 2007 Song Solutions Daybreak, www.songsolutions.org, CCLI# 5100093]

…One of the points of this song is a very important one for children to pick up – to know they are loved no matter what they look like or what they enjoy doing, because in a world of bullying and peer pressure to conform to what is socially desirable, it’s easy to feel different and left out. And the point in this song that GOD loves everyone no matter who they are is the link back to the reason why Jesus came that first Christmas.

All the bad things, big or little, that we do, think and say in our lives separate us from God who is perfect. But God is not at all happy with that situation, because He loves us so much, and wants us to know Him as our loving Father. So God sent His only son Jesus into this world as a baby, who grew up and showed the people living in the Middle East at the time some signs of what God and Heaven are like, and then was crucified in order to take the punishment for all those bad things WE do on HIMself. But because God is greater than death, Jesus came back to life and beat death. It is through His death and rising again that anyone and everyone who believes in Jesus can know God in a close relationship and ultimately have everlasting life with Him in Heaven. It is through God’s love for us, the fact that He doesn’t want to be separated from us by bad things, that Jesus came.

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I have to admit that I’d like to spend more time this Advent reflecting on what Christmas means to me, because with two active boys to look after (one of whom doesn’t sleep beyond 4.30am most days or nap for long at a time), going out and doing all sorts of other stuff, and being somewhere on a continuum of tired to exhausted most of the time recently, I have found it hard to take any opportunity I have each day to sit quietly and pray (and not fall asleep!) So the fact that I have an Advent calendar right in front of me when I sit on the sofa will hopefully serve as a reminder to share my thoughts with Jesus daily, because it really is amazing when I do 🙂

 

 

 

 

A thought for Fathers’ day

One of the groups we go to regularly is called Little Sheep, which takes place at our church, Holy Trinity Cambridge, on Wednesday afternoons. There is an activity for all the parents to do (recent ones that spring to mind were making fresh pasta, making a magnetic fishing game for toddlers, coming up with and sharing present ideas for children of various ages, a clothes swap), and the children have fun playing with toys and are looked after by volunteers from the church. Anyone with children under 4 is welcome to go. Every week there is a ‘thought for the day’, which has been described as ‘a bit like the ones on radio 4 but less intellectual’! A few of the leaders and other mums who go to the church take it in turns to give the thought each week, and we are usually given a broad topic to talk on however we’d like. This week it was my turn, and my topic was Father’s day. So this is what I said…..

As it’s Fathers’ I’ve been asked to do a thought for the day on God being our Heavenly Father. A couple of weeks ago, the daily Bible reading and short study that I get sent by email was from the book of Romans (which is Paul’s letter to the early church in Rome), chapter 8. You can read the whole passage and notes here. Verse 15 in the passage says that ‘the Spirit [that’s the Holy Spirit] you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba Father.’

Now I’d read and heard this verse read many times before, it’s quite a well known one, often used to illustrate that God is not a distant Father but one who we can run to like a small child and he will be there for us – ‘Abba’ is the Aramaic (or Hebrew) word for ‘Daddy’ rather than the more formal ‘Father’. I love thinking of God like this, someone I can turn to for a hug if things aren’t going well, and someone who genuinely cares, just like a good father here on Earth cares for his children. I think this hits home to me even more now that I see Andrew running to his Daddy when he comes home from work, shouting excitedly “Daddy, Daddy!”, and his Daddy picks him up and gives him a big hug. That’s how God wants to be to us, and I imagine myself running to him shouting “Daddy” and him giving me a big hug.

Daddy and boys

Going back to the verse from Romans, the first part of it talks about our adoption to sonship through the Holy Spirit. I understood this on quite a superficial level before, and it always reminds me of a rather cheesy 80s worship song that has the line “Now I am your child, I am adopted in your family, and I will never be alone, cos Father God you’re there beside me”. But my study notes email a couple of weeks ago gave some background on what this meant in the context of the Roman Empire at the time that the events of the book took place and therefore what it would have meant to the original readers.

In first-century Rome, wealthy people would often adopt a young boy (who was often one of their slaves) to become their son. This adoption was a public act, and the boy received a new status and security, a new family and inheritance; an adopted son, unlike a biological son, could never be disowned or abandoned, and he could go to his adoptive father whenever he wanted. So when Paul, the writer of this letter to the church in Rome, uses the word ‘adopted’ when talking about these early Christians’ relationship with God, the same is true, and the same is also true for anyone who believes in Jesus today: God is our Heavenly Father who has adopted us into His family – we have a new security in God rather than worldly things, a new family including all the other Christians in the world, and our new inheritance is a new life in Jesus that lasts beyond our life on this earth.

This analogy with Roman adoption isn’t something I knew about until the Bible study recently. And now that I do know this context, the meaning of the verse is even clearer to me. I know that God will never abandon me. I know that I am blessed with a good relationship with my parents, but if that wasn’t the case, I imagine that it would be a great comfort to know that God my Heavenly Father would be someone to turn to.

Whatever your relationship with your own dad is this Fathers’ day – maybe it’s good, maybe it’s not, maybe your Dad isn’t around any more – wouldn’t it be amazing if you had someone even bigger and even better to run to calling ‘Daddy’ just like a child?

A helper for life

Every Thursday morning, the boys and I go to a group at church – it’s for women of any age, most of us have children of various ages, and there is a lovely student who looks after the toddlers (who love her!) whilst we read a passage from the Bible, discuss what we’ve read, and pray with each other. This term we’ve been looking at the book of Acts (short for Acts of the Apostles – they were Jesus’ first followers), which was written as an account of what happened to Jesus and his followers after He had died and risen from the dead.

The first chapter of the book describes how Jesus stayed with his followers for 40 days after he rose from the dead, then, as they were all eating a meal together, Jesus went back up into heaven. We were discussing in our group how the followers might have felt at this moment; I think I would have felt like a complete emotional wreck – I’d have been through the grief of seeing Him killed, the joy and amazement of seeing him alive again, and now he goes and leaves again by disappearing up into the clouds – what’s that all about?! The followers’ response was to pray together, which is probably the only response that could make any sense of their situation.

However, Jesus had promised them something which would appear after he had left them, and we see what this was in chapter 2 of Acts. The followers had gathered for the traditional Jewish festival of Pentecost as they would every year. During this celebration, God sent the Holy Spirit to them, which is described as being like a violent wind that whooshed among them and like flames of fire that came between them and fell upon them. As Christians in the present day, it is this sending of the Holy Spirit into the world that we celebrate and remember today (and every year) on Pentecost Sunday. So it is very apt that our group has been looking at Acts leading up to today.

We can read an account of how the Holy Spirit was sent to Jesus’ followers back in the first century AD, but what relevance is this to our lives today? God’s plan was that the Holy Spirit would stay with anyone on Earth who believes in Jesus and what He did for us, throughout the centuries until Jesus comes again. As the Holy Spirit stays with us and we are filled with Him, His role is a ‘helper’ – there are several ways in which He helps me in my life. Here are a few examples, along with Bible verses that refer to these too:

  • How to live my life….
    • He leads us and guides us (John 16:13; Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:18;)
    • He teaches us (John 14:26; 1 Corinthians 2:13), and specifically to pray (Romans 8:26-27; Jude 1:20)
    • He speaks to us  (Acts 8:29, 10:19, 11:12; 1 Corinthians 12:3; Hebrews 3:7; 1 Timothy 4:1; Revelation 2:11)
  • How I’m feeling….
    • He puts God’s love into our hearts (Romans 5:5)
    • He gives us deep down joy even in suffering (1 Thessalonians 1:6)
    • He encourages us in good and hard times (Acts 9:31)
  • How I interact with others….
    • He speaks through us to others (Matthew 10:20; Acts 2:4)
    • He gives us the power to do what God wants us to do in helping others (Luke 4:14;  Acts 1:8; Romans 15:19).
    • He unites us with each other in peace (Ephesians 2:14-18, 4:3)
  • The big and deep bits….
    • He shows us who Jesus is, that Jesus is present in our lives (John 16:14-15, 1 John 3:24; 4:13), and He transforms us to be more like Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18).
    • He lets us draw near to God the Father, and shows us the profound and amazing things He has done for us and given us through Jesus’ death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 2:10-12, Ephesians 2:18)

For me, the Holy Spirit is key in how I became a Christian and how I continue to live for Jesus. As a child and a teenager, I felt like I knew a lot of the theory about God and Jesus as I read about them, but it wasn’t until I experienced the Holy Spirit that I really knew what it was like to live a life for Jesus – it’s difficult to describe this because it’s an experience rather than something tangible like a book to read. Life isn’t always easy, Jesus never promised that it would be, in fact He told us it would be hard at times, but He also promised that the Holy Spirit would be there to help, and I’m so glad that He is!

Here is a song that I have in my head for today – it is a song asking God to please ‘send the fire’, and the fire it refers to is the Holy Spirit, just like it was first experienced by Jesus’ followers as described in the book of Acts.

Easter for everyone

Although Andrew is now experiencing his third Easter in life, this is the first year that I have really thought about how to start explaining to him what happened at the very first Easter, because 2 years ago he was just a couple of months old and last year he still wasn’t understanding things we said half as much as he does now. To get some inspiration for how to tell the Easter story in language that a toddler will grasp, I’ve turned to the various children’s Bibles that we have.

Both boys were given some Bibles for their dedications (Joel’s was last week), but despite the number we have, we’ve only ended up with a couple of duplicates between both boys. Some are board books aimed at babies and young toddlers, some have paper pages but lots of pictures and simple text for age 2 years plus, and some have more text aimed at early-school-age children. This is good because as they grow up we have a nice progression of Bibles to read with them.

There is something very refreshing about reading the Bible in a version that is meant for children. It brings me back to basics and reminds me of some of the most important points there are to know about God.That’s not to say that I don’t want to explore the more detailed and challenging points of what we are taught through the Bible using a version meant for adults, but sometimes in studying the more complicated bits, it’s easy to lose sight of the simple truths. So this Easter I have been reminded, through the simplicity of children’s books, of the enormity of what Jesus did for me by dying on the cross and rising again.

The two board book Bibles that Joel was recently given, which are aimed at babies and young toddlers, don’t actually say that Jesus died, but put it more figuratively: ‘Some people did not like Jesus. They took him away….Then Mary saw Jesus. Jesus had come back to life again!’ (The Baby Bible); ‘The people hurt Jesus and then put him on a cross, and soon Jesus was gone. Jesus’ friends took his body down from the cross and carried him to a tomb with a big stone door.’ (Baby’s First Bible).

For about the past year or so, we have been reading a Bible story to Andrew each night before he goes to bed. We’ve been using the two Bibles for toddlers that he was given, and although he doesn’t understand everything, he enjoys looking at the pictures and talking about what’s in them as we read (I say ‘we’, but since Joel’s been born it’s mainly been Daddy reading). As we’ve worked our way through the Bible, we have of course got to the Easter story; he has heard it, but he doesn’t yet understand what it means when they say ‘they left him to die’ (Candle Bible for Toddlers) and ‘Jesus died on the cross’ (The Beginner’s Bible).

However, he does understand that some of the people in the story were very sad about what happened, as he sees the sad faces on the pictures and we explain that they were sad. But the great thing about the Easter story is that although Jesus died, he also rose again, so it’s a happy ending and we can explain to a toddler that the people who were sad became happy again, shown by their expressions in the pictures in the books.

These emotions of sadness and joy are at the heart of how I feel when thinking about what happened to Jesus and why we celebrate Easter. It is so very sad to remember that Jesus died, and in particular that he suffered a horrific death, tortured and killed on a Roman cross, even though he had done nothing wrong – in fact He went through this to make up for all the wrong things that I do which separate me from God. This is such a massive thing to fully appreciate, and it’s quite easy to forget throughout the rest of the year just how hard that must have been for Him, so in the days leading up to Easter Sunday, particularly on Good Friday, I think it’s the least I can do to reflect on this with feelings of sadness and thankfulness.

But in the sadness there is always hope! Death was not the end of Jesus’ life, death did not beat Him. Having been through all that suffering, He rose again back to life from the dead. Now that is definitely a reason to be so very happy. What’s more, Jesus promised that whoever believes in Him and that He died for them to make up for everything they do wrong, they will have everlasting life with Him in heaven after their life in this world. That’s even more reason to be happy, and that’s what I am celebrating today. I have this song in my head and will no doubt be heard humming/singing it several times today 🙂 Happy Easter everyone!

The gift of a baby – Joel’s dedication

On Sunday we had a dedication for Joel during the church service that we usually go to. It is traditional in the Church of England to baptise babies in what is often called a ‘Christening’; this involves sprinkling them with water, and the parents of the baby declare their own faith and commitment to Jesus, and make promises to God on behalf of the baby. In other denominations, for example the Baptist Church, it is not traditional to baptise babies, but rather adults, and this usually involves them standing in a pool of water and being fully immersed and brought back out of the water, just as baptism used to be done in Biblical times.

Although the church we go to each week is part of the Church of England, it is not prescriptive in requiring babies to be baptised – as parents we have a choice whether to have them baptised or dedicated. Dedication does not involve water; instead it is an opportunity for us to publicly thank God for the gift of Joel, and pray for him as he grows up, that he might come to know and love Jesus for himself like we do, then if he chooses, he can be baptised as an adult.

Joel was a very smiley and happy boy for most of the day.
Joel was a very smiley and happy boy for most of the day.

Tom and I thought and prayed for a long time both before and after Andrew was born as to whether we wanted our child(ren) to be baptised or dedicated. Some of our thought processes were based on what we had experienced as babies and adults. I was dedicated as a baby and made my own decision to be baptised as a teenager; Tom was baptised as a baby and went on to be confirmed in the Church of England as an adult. Both my adult baptism and Tom’s confirmation were public declarations of our faith once we were old enough to decide for ourselves what we believe.

We also talked with our vicar, who explained some of the reasoning based on what the Bible says for baptising babies or adults. The theological arguments that have been made for and against infant baptism and adult baptism are quite complicated, and I won’t go into them all here – if you’re interested you can read all about them on Wikipedia. Essentially it boils down to what exactly we believe the meaning of baptism is. One way of looking at baptism is as a New Testament (and right up to the present day) Christian parallel to the Old Testament Jewish tradition of circumcision, in other words a way of welcoming babies into a faith community, thanking God for their safe arrival. There are various verses in the Bible, such as in the Book of Acts (chapter 2, verses 38-39; chapter 16, verses 14-15; chapter 18, verse 8), that talk of whole households (presumably including children) being baptised or that the promise of forgiveness through baptism is for everyone including children. Another way of looking at baptism is as an action of repentance, admitting that we have done wrong things, saying sorry for them, receiving God’s forgiveness by his grace, and also as a public statement of faith or belief in Jesus – of course babies are not old enough to understand and do these things on their own. There are various verses in the Bible that suggest this is what baptism means (e.g. Luke chapter 3, verse 3; Mark chapter 1, verse 4; Acts chapter 13, verse 24; Acts chapter 19, verse 4). Whichever way we look at it, the Bible teaches that there is only one baptism for each person, so it is either as a baby or as an adult, not both.

Overall, taking into account our own experiences and what we thought and prayed about having looked at the Bible, we felt like baptism made more sense to us if you actively choose to do it as an adult rather than if you passively have it done on your behalf as a baby. That is not to say that we think infant baptism is wrong – every parent has a choice on this, and this is just what we chose to do.

Two smart boys - each a gift from God.
Two smart boys – each a gift from God.

As well as us parents, Joel also has two Godparents, who have committed to praying for him and being available as mentors for things that might crop up in his spiritual journey that he’d rather talk to someone other than us about; they also stood up with us at the front of church on Sunday. Andrew was also dedicated in the same way (before I started blogging, so I didn’t write about it), and shares the same Godparents.

We had a lovely day celebrating the gift of Joel with family and friends. We missed a few people who couldn’t travel due to the ridiculous weather – who would have thought that organising this event at the end of March would mean there would be travel problems due to snow! After the church service we had a lunch at one of the colleges in the centre of Cambridge to continue the celebrations. Both boys enjoyed having lots of people there to wrap around their fingers with cuteness.

Rainbow cake with rainbow sponge
Rainbow cake with rainbow sponge

A special mention must go to the cake…. Although I would have loved to make it myself, I decided that I didn’t want the stress of it having to be finished for Sunday morning, not knowing in advance how much Joel would want to feed on the days running up to the day itself. And I’m glad I did decide this because things have been quite busy this week with one thing and another, and it was Tom’s turn to be ill. So I asked Andrew’s old childminder if she could do it – she would often have amazing-looking cakes ready for family and friends when I used to drop him off, and she’s now applying to get all the paperwork in place to make a proper little business out of it. She didn’t disappoint with this beautiful rainbow design with rainbow sponge inside 🙂 The idea of a rainbow was mine, and she asked if we wanted rainbow sponge too.

What’s in a name?

It occurred to me whilst thinking about writing about Joel’s dedication day (which I’ll post soon) that I’ve not written about how we chose the boys’ names. We didn’t know the sex of either of them before they were born, so we had a pair of boys names and a pair of girls names ready. The girls names we still haven’t told anyone, in case we decide to have a third (not that likely, but you never know) and she’s a girl; the girl’s middle name stayed the same between having Andrew and Joel, but the first name changed because I’d met a rather whingey whiny girl with the original name at a group we started going to when Andrew was a baby, and it put me off!

When Tom and I sat down together to talk about baby names, my general personal preference was for traditional and (not necessarily but probably because many traditional names are) Biblical; I didn’t like anything too modern because that could potentially become out-dated or of its time, whereas traditional names have stood the test of time already. But I was also aware that many of the traditional names are very popular at the moment, so if we chose one of them, the baby could end up being in a school class with several other children with the same name – in my year at secondary school there were 6 Matthews and 6 Helens, and I quite liked being the only Ruth.joeledit

At first I was also keen to try and choose a first name that we liked which cannot be shortened. I’m not quite sure why, but I like that my name is just Ruth, with no shortenings; occasionally close friends and family have been known to lengthen it to Ruthy, but generally it’s just Ruth. It soon became clear, however, that there weren’t many names which we both liked for other reasons that fulfilled this criterion, so it became less of a priority for me. Tom (who is really Thomas) wasn’t bothered anyway.

There were certain sounds that I wanted  to avoid. I don’t like alliteration, so I didn’t want anything beginning with a (hard) C or K as that would be the same sound as our surname. It also didn’t sound right for the name to end in this sound – for example, I like the name Luke, but try saying Luke Cumming and it doesn’t flow right at all, and for that reason, names which could be shortened to end in that sound, such as Michael > Mike, were also out.

There are no family names which we felt obliged to take (or not take!), but on my side of the family, there have been a line of boys with the middle name James – my brother, Dad and Grandad – and as I liked this name anyway and felt like it worked well as a middle name with various other first name possibilities, we decided on that for Andrew. We both have mostly boys in our extended family, and all 6 of my boy cousins have nice traditional names; I’m sure they wouldn’t have minded having a first cousin once removed with the same name as them, but we didn’t want it to be confusing, so that cut down our shortlist.

Although we broadly agreed on what kinds of names we both liked, when it came to specifics there were some which I liked but Tom was less keen on, and vice versa. For example, I like several boys names beginning with J (Joel, James, Joshua, Jacob, Joseph etc.), but the only ones that Tom was really keen on were Joel and James. So that also cut down our individual shortlists to make a joint shortlist.andrewedit

Once we had Andrew, we felt a little more restricted  when choosing Joel’s name than when we were choosing Andrew’s. We actually liked Edward, David and George, but decided that none of these could be first names because with Edward we’d be going for a Royal Family theme, and with either David or George we’d be going for a Patron Saints of the UK theme!

In the end, Andrew James and Joel David were our final decisions, which fulfil our criteria above, and, most importantly, we both liked and felt they sounded good together as a pair (Andrew and James, Joel and David, and of course Andrew and Joel). They are traditional but not very popular right now, as far as we can tell. Some people had said to us that we might change our minds when baby was born, because we might think that he/she didn’t look like the names we had chosen. Although I can see how this might happen, we didn’t feel this way at either birth, so the names were given to our boys within half an hour of being born.

Although we didn’t choose the names specifically for their meanings, we were interested in what each of them meant before giving them to our babies, just in case they seemed a bit odd to us! Here’s a list of the meanings of each name:

  • Andrew – from the Greek name Andreas, which was derived from Andreia meaning “manhood, valour/bravery”.
  • James – English form of the Late Latin name Iacomus, which was derived from Iakobos, the New Testament Greek form of the Hebrew name Ya’aqov (Jacob) meaning  “holder of the heel” (Jacob was born holding his twin brother’s heel) or “supplanter”.
  • Joel – from the Hebrew name Yoel meaning “Yahweh is God”.
  • David – from the Hebrew name Dawid, which was probably derived from Hebrew dwd meaning “beloved”.

We were also aware of and interested in the roles of the men with these names in the Bible….

  • Andrew – he was one of Jesus’ disciples, brother of Peter, and fisherman before he decided to follow Jesus; he was the disciple who brought the little boy with five loaves of bread and two fish to Jesus so that he could feed thousands of people with them.
  • James – there are a few men called James in the Bible; two were disciples of Jesus – one was the son of Zebedee and one was the son of Alphaeus – the former we know more about, he was brother of John and was one of the disciples who witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration (a miracle which involved Moses and Elijah appearing next to Jesus and talking with him); the latter we know little about other than he was one of the 12 disciples; another James, probably the half-brother of Jesus, wrote the New Testament book of James, a letter which teaches us about various aspects of being a Christian.
  • Joel – he wrote the Old Testament book of Joel, a prophecy (or foretelling of what was going to happen in the future) for God’s people and the coming of Jesus as the Saviour of the world.
  • David – he was a king of Israel, and Jesus was a descendent in his ancestral line; as a boy he fought and won against Goliath the Philistine giant, and as an adult he committed both adultery and murder but sought and received God’s forgiveness; he was also the writer of many of the Psalms, songs of praise and lament to God.

I hope that one day the boys will be interested to know about the meaning of their names and about Biblical characters with the same names. At least this blog post will now serve as a useful starting point for me to come back to when we talk about it. If you have a child or children, how did you go about choosing their name(s)? I think it’s such an important job that we do as parents because they have to live with our decisions for a long time. I hope our boys will think we did a good job!

Counting my blessings

Since I started blogging just over a year ago, I’ve come across lots of other mummy bloggers online through various things like the BritMums bloggers network and the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt. I wouldn’t say that I know them well, but I do feel a connection with them as we write about similar topics, giving our own individual takes on them, and I was pleased to meet quite a few in person, albeit briefly, when I attended the BritMums live 2012 conference, which allowed me to put face to avatar.

Being part of this community is mainly fun and encouraging as people share their snippets of life with a family. But along with the smooth comes the rough, and recently there have been some tragic losses of life, a blogger herself and babies both inside and outside the womb. Hearing of these awful events has made me feel so sad, even though I don’t know the people involved as well as I know my close friends offline, because I see how they are families just like us – ordinary people living ordinary lives – and it makes me realise that bad things can happen to anyone.

When such tragic events happen, it makes me step back from the busyness of daily life, the getting on with things regardless, where there is a danger of taking things for granted; it makes me count my blessings. I usually don’t mind the current night feeding that much, but this week I’ve positively delighted in the opportunity to hold my baby close. Often cheeky toddler antics wear me out, but this week I’ve savoured the moments watching his wide grin and listening to his giggles. Although as parents of two young children we don’t get to spend much time alone together, this week I’ve made sure that Daddy gets the recognition, appreciation and affection that he deserves, particularly after he came off his bike one evening on the way home from work (he escaped with only a minor gash to the chin, a grazed knee and a few bruises).

As a Christian, when I count my blessings, I thank God because I believe that they come from Him. The question of why such awful things happen in this world is a tough one, and I don’t claim to have a definitive answer on it. But I do know a few things that help me at times of pain, either my own or seeing others’: first, Jesus Himself went through great suffering when He died on the cross, so He knows what it is like to experience extreme physical and psychological pain; second, Jesus never said that following Him would be easy, or that it would involve no suffering – in the Gospel of John (chapter 16, verse 33) Jesus was recorded as saying that we will have trouble in this world – but the good news is that He also said to take heart because He has overcome the world, through His death and resurrection, and anyone who believes in Him will have everlasting life with Him in Heaven after life in this world; …which leads onto point three…. I believe what God said through the writings of John in the book of Revelation (chapter 21, verse 4) in the Bible that in Heaven there will be no more tears, crying or pain. For these reasons, I know that death is something I do not fear, although of course it is a natural human emotion to feel sad and mourn loss of life from this world, and that is absolutely fine to do.

Although I have not experienced such tragic loss on the scale of some bloggers and their families recently, I have found the song ‘Blessed be Your Name’ by Matt Redmann helpful, both when I’m going through a tough time and feeling very down and when things are going well and I’m happy. I’ve given the lyrics below and a video at the end. The words remind me that there will be times when I’m on ‘a road marked with suffering and ‘there’s pain in the offering’, as well as times when ‘the sun’s shining down on me’ and the world’s all as it should be’, and that my attitude towards God is the same throughout – praising Him – because He is constant, unchanging, always there for me no matter what life throws at me. The last few lines of lyrics as shown below remind me that God gives and God takes away, and although it’s hard for me to see the bigger picture, I trust that He has a plan and everything that happens throughout eternity fits into that. My time on Earth, however long that turns out to be, is a small drop in the large ocean of eternal life. It may seem hard to praise when there’s such a strong feeling of pain or sadness inside, and in my experience it really is, but it’s times when I’ve felt the lowest that I’ve drawn closest to God and He has helped me get through it.

I find to hard to know what to say to those who are going through such difficult to deal with times, but I know there’s one thing I can do for them, and that’s pray for them.

Blessed be Your Name – by Matt Redman

Blessed Be Your Name
In the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name

Blessed Be Your name
When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed Be Your name

Every blessing You pour out
I’ll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

Blessed be Your name
When the sun’s shining down on me
When the world’s ‘all as it should be’
Blessed be Your name

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

Every blessing You pour out
I’ll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name

Star Christmas cards

There seems to be a bit of a star theme going on on this blog this Christmas! First there were the cupcakes we made for my friend’s sister’s charity fundraising efforts, then Andrew’s nativity play costume, and now these homemade cards. One of my reasons for choosing a star as the shape to feature on the cards was that I wanted to use the finger paints that I bought last year (they seem to last ages, even having used them a few times since last Christmas) to do some potato stamp painting, and a star is a shape that is both Christmassy and simple enough that I could easily make a potato stamp using a star biscuit cutter that we have. Plus Andrew is a big fan of stars, particularly the song Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, so I knew he’d enjoy making cards with stars on.

Potato stamp cut with biscuit cutter and knife is ready to roll (or stamp!)

Potato stamp painting is something I haven’t done for a long time, and it reminds me of early school days. It’s such an easy and cheap way to make your own stamp – a baking potato cost me about 30p, and we already had a star cutter for making biscuits and playing with play dough. I cut the potato in half, and pressed the cutter into it and took it out again; I then cut out the potato from around the edges of the star to the edge of the potato, to a depth of about 0.5cm.

Andrew enjoying helping me paint the stamp before pressing it onto the paper.

The paint we used was some blue finger paint that came as a set of 4 pots (with red, yellow and green too). We stamped one blue star into the centre of A5 orange paper (A4 cut in half) – blue and orange are complementary colours, so the star stands out well on the background. Once the paint was dry, we stuck some glittery mini star stickers randomly around the big star, to make it look like a starry sky (with a bit of imagination 😉 ). Then to assemble the cards, I chopped a 1cm border off each edge of the orange paper, and stuck it down using double-sided tape onto A4 brown thick card folded in half.

11 stars drying overnight on our kitchen floor.

I always like to make (or buy) my Christmas cards with a design that reflects the real reason for Christmas, rather than something seasonal like snowmen, robins or holly. That was another reason for choosing a star – it was a star that marked the place where Jesus was born, so it had a vital role in the first Christmas. To go with this star design, I printed the text of a Bible verse that tells of the Magi’s (or ‘kings’ or ‘wise men’ as they are traditionally known) encounter with the star that shone over Bethlehem:

The star the Magi had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
Matthew 2:9-10

We then stuck this verse onto the inside of the cards, the opposite side to where I wanted to write the greeting. I used a silver pen to write on the brown card. And that’s all there was to our card making, pretty simple really, but something Andrew could get involved with and enjoy doing!

A finished card, ready to write and send!

Light of the world

This winter I’ve been very aware of darkness. With an active toddler to entertain, I’ve noticed all too well the fact that on an overcast day it’s pitch black by not long after 4pm, so we can’t have a trip to the park or do any other outdoor activity after his afternoon nap which usually comes to an end around 3.30pm. Instead, as there are few groups on in afternoons, I’ve had to come up with indoor activities like baking, play dough, craft or (as a last resort) DVDs to keep him amused, and although he generally likes these, I can tell he’d rather be running off some energy outside. Roll on spring and its lighter evenings!

Apart from this annoying aspect of darkness for us at the moment, I do love to see Christmas lights twinkling in the streets, which you can only see when it’s dark; Andrew has noticed them too this year, shouting enthusiastically as he points out various shapes like stars and trees that he can see in lights as we walk home from the one afternoon group that we go to on Wednesdays. I also love open fires at this time of year, providing light and warmth on cold, dark winter’s evenings – not that we have one in our flat, but I love just thinking of that image.

For me the twinkling lights and image of an open fire are, when I stop and think about it, a reminder of what Christmas is all about. Jesus, the little baby who was born in Bethlehem to Mary and Joseph, grew up to become a man, who lived life as a human, just like you and me. But he wasn’t just an ordinary man, rather he was God’s son, sent to this world to die for us, to make up for all the wrong things we do. During His time here on Earth before His death and rising again, Jesus called himself various things when He was explaining to people who He was and why He was here – He made several statements starting with “I am….”, one of which was:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12

The people He was talking to directly at the time would have been familiar with the writings of Isaiah, a prophet who told of Jesus’ birth long before it happened, who said this about Jesus coming into the world:

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” – Isaiah 9:2.

So when Jesus said He was the light of the world, this would have reminded His listeners of the prophet’s writings about someone who would come to fulfil a very special role. But Jesus’ message of who He is was for “Whoever” – everyone, in all places and throughout history right up to now and the future, not just those he was speaking to about 2000 years ago.

The thought that I’ll always have a light guiding me through life’s darkest times is extremely comforting, and let’s face it, the world can be a dark place both literally and metaphorically. I’ve been through some dark patches personally, and even if it wasn’t an obvious light like a spotlight or headlamp at the time, I look back and can totally see God’s light shining into my life through other people and events, and that brought me out of the dark times.

It’s at Christmas that I’m most often reminded of this great promise that Jesus made about being the light of the world, which is why I thought I’d share this on Christmas Day. If you’d like to read more of the statements that Jesus made about Himself, then I’d recommend reading John’s Gospel, a book from the Bible (4th in the New Testament) – if you can’t easily get hold of a whole Bible, then you can read online at Bible Gateway, it’s not a very long book and would take maybe a few hours to read in total. You never know, it might just shed some new light on how you think of Jesus this Christmas.

Happy Christmas everyone! 🙂

To us a child is born

It was the start of December last year that I started this blog – so it’s Happy 1st Birthday to Mixed Bag of All Sorts! I remember distinctly that one of my first posts was about Advent, and what this time of year means to me and to us as a young family as we start new traditions. Well, what a difference a year has made to us as a family – there are now four of us instead of three, and this is the first Christmas that Andrew really has much idea of what’s going on. He was 11 months old last Christmas, so although older than Joel is for his first Christmas, he didn’t really get the concepts of presents, parties and why we were spending time with family and friends.

Guarding the Advent calendar from early morning predators - you never know who might want to get at your mini socks!

Last year I wrote about the Peanuts (Snoopy and co.) Advent calendar that tells the story of the first Christmas line by line each day as you open a door, all in rhyming verse. It has survived many Christmas-times from my childhood to the present. My parents gave it to us last year so that we could carry on the family tradition of opening it with Andrew, not that he had much clue what it was then, but this year he’s definitely more interested in listening to stories. Next year Joel will also be more in to this kind of thing.

It's a bit fiddly to get at the contents of these socks, but I'm determined to do it without help, and that's part of the fun of it!

In addition to this calendar, my parents have bought the boys another Advent calendar this year. It’s one that you can fill with your own treats again and again each year. It came with little chocolates for this year, but in future we could put various things in like little toys or pieces of paper telling a story a bit like the Peanuts calendar. The design is quite simple but lovely and effective – a string of 24 mini stockings that you hang up between two hooks on the wall. Ours is hung at Andrew height across our living room window so that he can help us discover what’s in each day’s stocking. When he first saw it he was very interested in it and kept saying ‘socks, socks’! This morning he took out the first chocolates – two mini chocolate Father Christmas figures, and he proceeded to say ‘Father Christmas’ after me with not bad accuracy. We think he understands that it’s only one sock per day, now that we’ve explained to him after Tom caught him fiddling with another stocking after we’d emptied number 1!

Wow! There's shiny stuff in these socks - cool!

In the build up to Christmas, which we are marking as a family with our calendars, I am personally thinking about the first ever Christmas, when Jesus was born into this world. During Advent each year I’m often reminded of a couple of verses from the Bible, from the book of Isaiah, chapter 9, verses 6-7. Isaiah was a Prophet who told of Jesus’ birth many years before it actually happened – Jesus is the child referred to by Isaiah in these verses:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.

Although I have read and heard this passage many times, it wasn’t until I had children of my own that it really took on a new meaning for me. This Advent, a child has recently been born to us, a son has been given to us; last Advent, the memory of our first child having been born to us was still fresh in my mind, 11 months after the event; and the Advent before that we were anticipating the birth of our first chid in about a month’s time. The experience of our own children being born to us brought it home to me that Jesus was a real person who was born to a real mum and a real dad, just like us. As I sit here feeding Joel, I think of Mary feeding Jesus, and changing his nappies (no Pampers or Huggies around in those days!) – or maybe Joseph helped out with that? I think of Joseph finding a place for them to stay just before the birth and supporting Mary through it, and how that’s similar to Tom’s role of getting me to hospital and being with me for the birth of both our children.

The difference between this family in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago and our family is that Jesus, as well as being fully human, was also fully God, just as it says in the Isaiah verses above. And not only is He Mighty God, but also Wonderful Counsellor, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace – the person I turn to for help in the most difficult of life’s situations, who is always there for me and always will be, giving me His peace which goes beyond all human understanding.

Baby Jesus didn’t stay a baby, he grew up; as a man He went on to do what He was born into this world to do – to die on a cross in order to make up for all the wrong things that we do which separate us from God, and if we believe that He did this for us, we can have everlasting life beyond our lives in this world. The ‘us’ referred to in Isaiah’s verse doesn’t just mean Mary and Joseph in a literal sense; it means anyone, at any time and in any place on Earth – Jesus was given as a present to everyone, it’s just up to each and every one of us whether we accept the present.

In all the busyness of Advent – the shopping, the parties, the chocolate eating – why not take some time to think about why this time of year involves all these things. Advent is the anticipation of celebrating Jesus coming into our world many years ago. Have you accepted the present that He came to be? If you’d like to find out more, there’s a great course called Alpha that runs across the country – you can find one near you here.

Now there are only 24 days left to celebrating Jesus’ birthday this year. Can’t wait!

Ha ha, I have chocolate.... not sure I should share it with Mummy, Daddy and Joel....!