Cross – word of the week

There are quite a few words that I could choose for this week’s word: holiday springs to mind (actually I meant to blog that one last week but I was too busy writing other blog posts of things we were getting up to on holiday whenever I was sitting at my laptop), and also chocolate (having given it up for Lent, it’s been on my mind quite a bit this week as the day that I can eat it again has drawn near). But I’ve gone for….

Cross

Although with 2 young boys to run around after I do often find myself getting cross, that’s not the sense of the word that I’ve been thinking about in the lead up to Easter Sunday. I’ve been thinking about a certain Roman cross, the tool of torture and execution upon which Jesus died. Not a particularly pleasant thing to think about, but I believe (along with other Christians) that it was His death that took the place of all the wrong things that I do. These wrong things (for example, getting cross at my kids, or being jealous of what others have) are what separate me from being close to God. But God loves everyone — yes, even me, even social outcasts, even criminals, even those who believe in other gods — and wants us to know Him, which we can do by believing in Jesus and what He did for us, if we choose (there’s no obligation).

The particularly amazing thing about what we celebrate at Easter is that death isn’t the end of the story. I believe that three days after He was crucified, Jesus rose from the dead. He beat death, he has the ultimate victory over all wrongs. And the key point in this for me is that anyone who believes that Jesus is alive again, can have a personal relationship with Him, with God, and that includes an everlasting life with Him in heaven after our short life on Earth. That’s what I’m celebrating this and every Easter, because I think it’s the greatest day in history in terms of how I live my life.

The greatest day in history,

Death is beaten

You have rescued me

Sing it out Jesus is alive

The empty cross, The empty grave

Life eternal You have won the day

Shout it out Jesus is alive

He’s alive

Oh happy day, happy day

You washed my sin away

Oh happy day, happy day

I’ll never be the same

Forever I am changed

(Tim Hughes)

The Reading Residence

Jars of change for Lent

A few weeks ago in church, we heard about WaterAid jars of change for Lent. The idea is that you give something up for Lent, and every time you would have/do whatever it is you’ve given up, you put some change in the jar roughly equal to what you would have spent on it. You can decorate the jar for fun too. At the end of Lent, the money you’ve raised goes to WaterAid, who will use the money to help provide safe drinking water in countries that desperately need it.

We thought that this sounded like a good idea. I’d been thinking about what to give up for Lent anyway, and it was a good excuse to have some fun decorating a jar with Andrew – we used an empty marmalade jar. Andrew had been given a ‘paint your own mug’ gift for his birthday, so first of all we did that, and then used the paint to start our decoration on the jar.

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I found some stencils in our craft box, and (surprise, surprise) Andrew chose the rocket stencil! Of course he insisted that we use red paint (the colour of Thunderbird 3), and I suggested we add some yellow detail at the bottom for the fire from when it blasts off. He also likes the colour pink, so we painted a pink band around the top. That was enough painting for one span of Andrew’s attention, so another day we finished off the jar by sticking on some small squares of paper with PVA glue in a kind of mosaic style – lots of fun and messy! Again, just about enough for his attention span, and finished off my me. Some red tape around the rim of the lid and ta da – it was finished.

Jar Collage 1 jpg

Jar Collage 2 jpg

Then we had to actually decide what to give up. When I say ‘we’, I mean Tom and I – I don’t think trying to explain to Andrew about giving something up would go down too well, and besides, he’s a bit young yet. But he can start to understand by watching us, as with so many things in a toddler’s life. My abstinence had to be chocolate, as that is something I will really miss and eat quite a lot of as treats to keep me sane on our busy days (which is most days with my boys). Tom decided on bananas, as he eats at least one a day and loves them. I know, bananas are much more healthy than chocolate anyway, but he’s not so fussed about that – if you can believe it.

Tom may be unusual in giving up bananas, but both of us are not unusual in the act of giving something up for Lent. This tradition has been going on for centuries. The 40 days before Easter, which starts on Ash Wednesday, the day after Shrove Tuesday or Pancake day, is a time of reflection for Christians. It’s a time to think about what Jesus did for us by dying on the cross and rising again – to make up for all the bad things we do that keep us distant from God – in the lead up to Easter when we celebrate this. Traditionally Christians used to fast, so give up all kinds of food, in this period, because this was a way to focus their minds on contemplating Jesus. Some do still fast, and others give up just one or two things, whether a food like we’re doing or something else, and spend the time that would otherwise be spent on this activity praying or reading the Bible – in other words, spending time with God.

So that’s what I intend to do this Lent. Whenever I think about eating some chocolate, whether as a bar or in something, instead I will pop some money in our jar of change, and spend some time in quiet reflection of what Jesus means to me. It’s handy that most of the time that I eat chocolate is when the boys are in bed or quietly amusing themselves, so I should have no excuse to not spend that time quietly. It may mean spending less time doing the things I like, like sewing, blogging, social media-ing (don’t think that’s really a word but it sounded good to me), but I know that I will benefit from it, I always do when I spend time with God.

Are you giving up something for Lent? What are your reasons behind it? Maybe you too could think about doing a jar of change? I’d love to hear if you do 🙂

We will rock you, rock you, rock you – Nativity play

No this post is nothing to do with the song by Queen! The title refers to the lullaby that Andrew and his friends sang in the nativity play at church on Sunday. This is the second year that the 18 months to 3 years group in Children’s Church has taken part in the annual spectacular that is the HT nativity play (HT = Holy Trinity, Cambridge). They were stable animals, who came on stage just after baby Jesus was born, and sang him a gentle song, the traditional lullaby of Little Jesus Sweetly sleep…

Little Jesus, sweetly sleep, do not stir
We will lend a coat of fur
We will rock you, rock you, rock you
We will rock you, rock you, rock you
See the fur to keep you warm
Snugly round your tiny form.

They’d been practising it in their Sunday morning sessions, and also at the Wednesday afternoon group that we go to at church. Most of them were a little stage struck, but it was very cute to see them all dressed as animals gathered around the manger whilst the music was playing. Andrew did do the rocking action with his arms, and uttered the odd word. I have a video, but as I don’t know whether all parents want their children online, I won’t post it here, nor photos with more than just my boys in.

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As parents, we’d simply been told that they would be stable animals, so it was up to us to choose their costume. It was funny how most ended up being a sheep – all those white/cream knitted wooly jumpers and fleece jackets came out, with various items of headgear to represent the sheepish ears and facial features! My attempt at a sheep head was to take a white knitted wooly bobble hat that we already had, and hand stitch some black ears on. These were made out of an old pair of tights – I cut the two feet off and stuffed them with the rest of the length of the leg on each side. So a bargain and simple to make sheep costume.

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After the play, there was a short talk given by one of the pastors, Diana, explaining more about the meaning of Christmas. She gave an illustration that I thought was very clever, so I thought I’d share it here. Jesus was born into the world as a gift to us from God, and there are three ways that we as humans tend to respond to this gift, which Diana illustrated by offering a beautifully wrapped-up gift to one of the other pastors, Matt…

1. We ignore Jesus (the gift) and get on with life without Him – this is like when Diana offered Matt the gift but he just stood there, silent and with arms crossed, and didn’t reply to any of her “here you go, here’s a present for you” offers.

2. We learn about who Jesus is and what he did when he was alive, but don’t go any further than this superficial understanding – this is like when Diana offered Matt the gift, and he acknowledged it, but was happy just to look at the wrapping paper, say how lovely and shiny it was, how pretty all the different colours were, and thank her for this nice wrapping paper.

3. We get to know Jesus as a personal Saviour, and believe that through His death and rising again we can draw near to God – this is like when Diana offered Matt the gift, he acknowledged it, and ripped open the wrapping paper, thanked her so much for the amazing gift, tried it on straight away (an adult-sized reindeer onesie!!), and showed much joy and appreciation of this kind present.

This Christmas, as we’re opening presents, I will remember this illustration, which reminds us why we give presents at this time of year – to celebrate the biggest gift that we have ever been given. How will you respond – 1, 2 or 3?

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 🙂

 

 

 

 

The making of a superhero (or 2)

This week, as well as Joel’s first birthday, has included the 31st October. Now to lots of people that means Halloween, but we’re not into celebrating something that originated in dark things, even though these days it’s just a vastly over commercialised festival that most people take part in without any intention of deliberately celebrating evil. Instead we like to join in with the annual ‘Light Party’ that’s put on at our Church, celebrating all things light, including Jesus who we believe is the ‘Light of the World’. We still have lots of fun dressing up, eating treats and spending time with friends, we just do it in a way that doesn’t remember anything like witches, ghost and the devil.

This year’s theme was ‘superheroes’, and children who went were encouraged to dress up as a superhero if they wanted to. I knew that Andrew would want to join in, and thought it would be cute if Joel did too. I also knew that I didn’t have much time to make costumes (a couple of hours last Saturday morning), but I did a quick search on Pinterest and got a few ideas for quick and easy superhero costumes.

costumes

I decided that the superhero kit would include: a cape with letter design, a belt, wrist cuffs with lightening bolt design, and a mask. They then wore ordinary clothes with these accessories – for Joel that was a nappy, leg warmers and a plain top; for Andrew that was trousers and a top that I painted a star on last Christmas for the Nativity Play, with pants on the outside. Andrew’s colour theme was yellow (mainly influenced by the star), and Joel’s was green (mainly influenced by his green star leg warmers).

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The capes were made from an old black t-shirt of Daddy’s. I hemmed the edges quickly, and folded over the top, sewed it down and passed a length of elastic through to make a simple cape. I also appliquéd a letter in the centre for each of them: A for Andrew and J for Joel.

The belts and wrist cuffs were made from duck tape stuck onto paper, and then coloured card stuck on with double sided tape to make the ‘buckles’ and lightening bolt details. I was inspired by Martha Stewart’s blog to use duck tape for these. I then used snaps (which I use for nappy making) to secure them around the waist/wrist.

For the masks I simply cut out a mask shape, cut eye holes in, and fastened some elastic to go around the head using tape. I was amazed that Joel actually kept his on his forehead for the whole party, and Andrew wore his on his eyes for a while before it broke after some rather enthusiastic bouncing on the bouncy castle.

superhero Collage 1

superhero Collage 2

It was really hard to get good photos of them in the costumes at the party, most of mine are really blurry because they wouldn’t stay still! But I think you get the idea from the photo I took of the costumes before the superheroes got into them 😉 We had a lot of fun at the party; the boys (and I, and Grandma and Pop who came too) were all exhausted afterwards because they were constantly on the go exploring all the different games and activities that there were on offer, just like little superheroes who can never really rest with all the important work they have to do!

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Our shoebox for Operation Christmas Child

For a few years now we’ve been joining in with Operation Christmas Child – the world’s largest children’s Christmas project, run by the Christian charity Samaritan’s Purse. The mission of the project is to demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way to needy children around the world, and together with the local church worldwide, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. 

Since having children of our own, we have really appreciated how blessed we are to have enough money to feed and clothe them, as well as buy them other nice things, and to have family and friends who give us so many gifts for them that they are never in want of anything. For many children around the world, this is not what life is like.

The idea behind OCC is for people in the UK to send shoeboxes packed with gifts that children in less well-off countries would like to receive. These gifts can include various items from toys and stationary to toiletries and woolies. The shoe boxes should be wrapped up in bright and cheerful wrapping paper, and a sticker stuck on indicating if the gifts inside are for a boy or a girl and which age range they are suitable for.

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In previous years we’ve always done one for a boy, just because I happen to have seen gifts that are more suitable for boys, and since having boys myself, I guess my eye is drawn towards these items in shops anyway. This year, however, when we popped into a few shops, I mainly saw things suitable for girls (or gender neutral) so we went for that. Andrew helped me choose what to buy, and I explained that we were getting these things as presents for a little girl who lives far away from us but who would love to have some nice presents this Christmas, just like he will. I’m not sure he gets the concept of someone living far away from us, but he seemed to understand that we were buying the gifts and putting them in the box for another child.

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OCC like the gifts in the box to include items from all four categories: toys, stationary and school supplies, toiletries and other (sweets/hat/gloves/jewellery etc.) Our gifts included a bumper pack of wax crayons, a ‘Hello Kitty’ notepad/pencil/rubber/sharpener set, a beany teddy, a slinky spring, toothbrushes, soap, flannel, necklace, hair clips. All together these cost us around £10. In order to help with shipping costs, OCC also suggest a £3 donation, which can be done online by credit card.

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We decorated our shoebox with red wrapping paper on the bottom, silver wrapping paper on the lid, and a ribbon stuck on the lid (you’re not supposed to wrap the whole box up or seal it by tying ribbon around the box, because sometimes they need to look in it for customs or other reasons), and finished off with a reindeer tag on the lid. We hope that the little girl who receives it will enjoy opening it and finding out what’s inside.

If you’d like to find out more about Operation Christmas Child, and even get involved yourself by packing a shoebox (or two, or three), visit the OCC website.

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.

A half birthday

I can’t quite believe that Joel turned 6 months old this week. It only seems like yesterday that he was a newborn, all squishy, little and quiet (most of the time – honestly, he really didn’t cry much at all). Now he’s much bigger and heavier, can roll across the room faster than the time it takes for me to put a load of washing on, and is starting to make some syllabic sounds as he babbles away. I know I experienced these big changes in the first 6 months of Andrew’s life too, but it still never ceases to amaze me just how much my boys are changing all the time. It’s only when I stop and reflect like this that I am totally wowed by the growth and development of the human body – for me this is a real physical reminder of the amazing creator God who I believe in.

Joel a few hours after birth
Joel a few hours after birth

On the whole I am loving my role in life of looking after two little boys. I can’t deny that there have been some hard times – I am human myself after all, and despite my best efforts to be ‘super-mum’, I do have limitations like the possession of only two hands and two eyes (neither in the back of my head) and no super power to avoid the effects of sleep deprivation. But given that there is only a 21 month age gap, so I had two kids under two in my care for 3 months of Joel’s life, I think it’s not bad going that there’s so far only been one occasion when all three of us were in tears at one time (there have been other combinations of one or two of us in tears, mainly the boys).

I can’t claim that this is all my own doing though. I am very blessed to have such a supportive husband who helps out so much with the boys, and it’s a real blessing to both of us that his job is only a 15 minute cycle away so he gets home not long after he finishes at 5pm; things would be a lot harder for me if I didn’t have this help. We also have very supportive parents, and although they don’t live in Cambridge, they come as often as possible to help us; my mum is the most regular visitor every couple of weeks or so for a day, and Tom’s mum usually comes at half-term holidays for several days in a row; our dads have been more weekend visitors with our mums. And looking back over these past 6 months, I can see that Jesus has been with us too, helping me get through some difficult days, even those in which I had little time or space (with the demands of two children being my priority) to talk to him properly in prayer. I don’t think I would have got to where I am now in one piece without Him answering our prayers and the prayers of others on our behalf.

1 month.......2 month.......3 months
1 month…………………………………….2 months……………………………………3 months

For about the first 3 months, I would say that the hardest part of my role wasn’t looking after a newborn – he slept, fed, slept, fed, and not much else, plus I’d looked after a newborn before – no, the hardest part was looking after a newborn AND a 1year old toddler at the same time – I’d not done that before, and was still learning how best to meet Andrew’s needs that were evolving all the time.

There are not many ways in which these past 6 months have been similar to the first 6 months of Andrew’s life – the only big one that I can think of is the similar amount of sleep that I’ve had. In many ways having my first baby and my second have been very different experiences. It could partly be to do with their different personalities, but I think the main difference has been that I know more about what I’m doing and therefore feel less stressed about what I ‘should’ be doing according to society’s parenting wisdom. I always felt I was fairly laid back with how things went with Andrew, and took a mainly baby-led approach with the various aspects of parenting in the early months, but I have noticed that I’ve been even less worried about how things are going this time, I guess because I’ve seen the positive outcomes of the baby-led approach with Andrew.

4 months.................5 months
4 months…………………………………………………………..5 months

One particular aspect of these first 6 months that I’ve been reflecting on, and how different it’s been the second time around is breastfeeding (I already blogged some of these thoughts here). Overall it’s been a much more enjoyable experience this time. In Andrew’s first 6 months I kept on breastfeeding more out of determination than anything else (I am a very determined person!) and my goal was just to get to 6 months; but when I got there, breastfeeding fairly soon became something I enjoyed rather than something I thought was my duty to my baby, and that’s why we carried on (that baby turned toddler still doesn’t think he’s too big for mummy milk!) At 6 months feeding became less about calorific intake and more about the non-nutritional aspects, so I felt less stressed when I (with the help of formula in the SNS) wasn’t the only source of food as he started to eat solids.

This time I have been able to enjoy this longer term perspective right from the start, knowing that even in the difficult times of constant feeding as a baby, it would get better and would all be worth it in the end. Although there was a bit of an issue with his weight (in the GP/health visitor’s eyes) around 2 months, this soon righted itself, and I’ve just realised that I haven’t had him weighed for a couple of months, which has helped, I’m sure, in me feeling less stressed about feeding – he is clearly growing and getting heavier. In fact I think the better experience of breastfeeding, and also having learned how the health system sees breastfeeding compared to my own natural instincts as a mum, have together made the biggest difference to how I’ve felt as a mum of a baby in these past 6 months compared to how I felt last time. And as I said above, I’m sure my prayers, even exhausted and fed up at 2am, have helped.

6 months
6 months

So there we go: I survived the first 6 months of life with 2 kids, and, more to the point, so did they – hooray! Now to carry on with life – looking after a growing baby who’s looking more and more like a little boy rather than a little baby and a toddler whose ability to communicate with me is getting more and more sophisticated.

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!