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.

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! 🙂

A starry role

At less than 2 years old, Andrew took part in his first nativity play this year. For our church (Holy Trinity, Cambridge), the children’s nativity play is an annual tradition. Since we started going there over 6 years ago, Tom and I have always enjoyed watching the play and seeing how excited the children are to take part and reinact how Jesus came into this world as a baby. We hoped that the day would come when our own children would be involved too, though I thought it would be a couple more years yet.

My little star! (after the play had finished - it wasn't a solo)

Until last year, the youngest children taking part were about 3 years old, as that was the age when toddlers graduated from the creche on Sundays to the youngest Children’s Church group, where they learn about Jesus through reading the Bible, making crafty things and singing kids’ worship songs. Recently, however, the creche has split into two, because there are so many young families with babies and toddlers at the church now that the room was getting overcrowded and toddlers couldn’t play as freely as we’d like because there were young babies playing on the floor too. Now there is a group for 18-month olds to 3-year olds (and the creche is just for babies up to 18 months old); it’s mainly a group for play, just like creche but with toddler-specific toys, but they also sing songs and read simple Bible stories together. This is a great transition from creche to the older Children’s Church groups.

This year is the first Christmas that the 18-month plus group has been in existence, and the leaders decided they were brave enough to include these little ones in the annual nativity play. Their role was to be a chorus of stars, and they sang a version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star which was adapted with an extra verse which describes how it was a star that guided visitors to Jesus after he was born.

Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky

But there was no pressure, they didn’t have to do it, and could go up to the front with a parent if they liked. Andrew was happy to go up on his own and sat just in front of a leader, looking at us in the congregation. He was unaware that Granny and Grandad were also in the congregation, up on the balcony, just in case he caught a glimpse ans would have rather gone and sit with them than sing.

So, to make my little star into a real good looking star, I set to and made my very first costume for a nativity play. It’s been an easy start, easing myself in gently to the world of kids’ costume making; I’m sure future years will bring times of more complicated animal and people costumes that will require more imagination and trips to scour various charity and craft shops. Have you made any nativity play costumes? I’d love to hear from anyone who has, especially if it was a bit unusual or complicated.

Here’s a quick guide to how I made the costume. I bought a long-sleeved white t-shirt from our local supermarket (in fact it came as a pack of three, with bright green and blue ones too). I made a star stencil by printing from my computer a star shape drawn from the shapes available in LibreOffice word processing software, and cutting out the star to leave the A4 card with a star shape in the middle. Using this stencil and some yellow fabric paint that came in a set of 6 colours from a craft shop, I painted a star onto the t-shirt. A quick iron to make it colour-fast… et voila, a simple star costume! He wore it with some plain black trousers (he doesn’t have any light coloured trousers – who would put such a thing on their toddler other than someone who likes doing laundry?!)

Star printed out on card, ready to cut out the grey bit from the middle
Stencil held in place on fabric with selotape at each corner. Also there's a scrap piece of card undreneath the fabric where the star is, in case the paint leaked through, but it didn't.
Painting with the stencil to get a nice clean line around the star
The finished costume

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....!

Pregnancy diary: week 32 – “you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139)

This week I’ve been thinking about knitting. It’s not me who’s been doing the knitting – I fear it would take me longer than a 9 month pregnancy to knit even one item of newborn clothing, having not done any since I was a child and having little time for craft these days. Recently we were very kindly given two new cardigans in baby sizes (1 newborn, 1 second size) by Tom’s Nan. She loves knitting, and can whip up garments in no time, even those that are bigger than tiny baby sizes. She, along with two of Tom’s aunts, knitted lots for us when Andrew was born, which was great because he was born in a cold January and needed a woolly top most days, but he grew so quickly, as babies do, that he didn’t get much wear out of each individual jumper/cardigan, so there’s plenty of wear left in them all for our new baby. Since Andrew was born, Tom’s Nan and aunt have also provided us with jumpers and cardigans throughout the year, so we’ve not had to buy any woolly clothes at all, and again there’s plenty of wear left in them for our second child.

2 new white cardies for the newborn (1 first size, 1 second size) and 2 of Andrew's most recent jumpers/cardies, all beautifully knitted.

I know we are very lucky to have such lovely handmade clothes given to us when they would cost a fortune to buy, and it’s also nice to know the person who made them, and know that they were made with our kids specifically in mind. In fact, because we are still being given more hand-knitted garments by Tom’s family for this baby, we’re able to give some away to another family baby, who is due to come into the world 4 weeks before ours. I’m so glad we can share these lovely gifts with another baby who will benefit from gorgeous warm clothes in the winter months. I’m sure the bigger sizes will continue to come in too, as Andrew has also received some bigger jumpers recently that he’s just about growing into. So there will be lots of hand-me-downs in the months and years to come.

Wow! Will the new baby really be that small?! It's hard to remember that my big buster boy was once a delicate little newborn who fitted into something this small.

All these knitted clothes have reminded me of a verse in the Bible which I really love. Psalm 139, verse 13 says:

“For you [God] created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

I’d read this verse before I was even thinking about becoming a mum, but it wasn’t until after I’d given birth to Andrew that these words took on such a strong meaning for me. I remember lying on the hospital bed the night after Andrew was born, just looking at him sleeping peacefully – his little chest moving up and down as he breathed air after so many months of developing his lungs in the womb, his tiny but perfectly formed fingers wrapped around my big index finger, his tiny mouth that instinctually sucked whenever my breast (or anything else!) came near it. It suddenly hit me that this little being had developed from just one cell inside my womb, he had been knit together, all his tiny parts perfectly formed into one body that was now living on its own outside of me. That thought really made the verse in Psalm 139 hit home to me, and I was grateful beyond words to God for giving us this amazing gift of new life. I just lay there in utter amazement, and got not a wink of sleep, but it didn’t matter to me.

I had thought about the verse a couple of times in pregnancy with Andrew, but I don’t think it was until I held him in my arms that I fully grasped what this meant: God had knit Andrew together inside me, and there I was holding this amazing piece of God’s creation. This time in pregnancy, the verse has come to me again a few times; this time I have more of  a sense of what it means to me, because I am constantly reminded every day when I look at Andrew of God’s amazing creation. Already in 19 months he has grown and developed even more; from being that tiny newborn baby fast asleep, he has turned into an active toddler who walks (read: runs) around and is starting to talk words that I understand. He no longer fits in the white cardies in the picture at the start of this post, and is rapidly growing out of the blue ones in the picture too! Conception to birth is one incredible act of knitting, and the finished piece of knitting at birth continues on its journey of growth throughout childhood.

Before I finish, I’d like to share the section of Psalm 139 (verses 13-16) that the verse about being knit together in the womb comes from. This is from The Message translation (a modern take on more traditional translations)….

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me [knit me together] in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day.

It’s not just the knowledge that God knit Andrew and this baby together in my womb which I find so amazing – I love the fact that God has a plan for my life and He knows exactly what will happen, in fact he knew before Iwas even born. That is mind-blowingly awesome! And it certainly makes me want to praise God like the person who wrote the Psalm did. Mind-blowing it may be, but I know that it’s true because I have already experienced so much of God at work in my life, even in times when I couldn’t see the plan myself and I was going through difficult times.

Another week down, another bit of growth from bump.

Next week I know I’m going to have to start thinking about packing my hospital bag and getting some things ready at home in case I end up being at home for the birth. Tom has been asking me this week when I’m going to do it! I’m usually the one who gets prepared first out of the two of us, but I think I’m just so busy still, and lacking in energy in times that I do have to myself, that I’ve not got around to it yet. Let’s see if I get around to it this week…..

Anyone else tired and weary?

Yesterday at church, the talk was highly relevant to me, and it’s been making me think a lot since, so I thought I’d share what it was about, because I’m sure I’m not the only tired and weary person (specifically parent) around. The reading from the Bible on which the talk was based came from the book of Isaiah, chapter 40, verses 28-31:

28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Tired and weary are two things that I have definitely been feeling lately. It’s not surprising me really, it’s obvious why. I’m pregnant for one thing, and, unlike last time, I’m also looking after a toddler who likes to run around and go outside a lot, and who generally doesn’t stay still doing one activity for more than a few minutes (except when he’s napping – like as I write!) I also have a part-time (paid) job, which is very busy at the moment as I try to finish off and tie up loose ends before I leave it at the start of October. Then there’s my editor role for the local NCT branch magazine, for which I spend a fair amount of time editing articles and sending emails. And let’s not forget housework that slots in somehow (helpfully Tom does (more than) his fair share too). Oh and of course I like to blog about what I’m up to, whenever I get chance. Life is pretty much the busiest I’ve ever known it, though it’s all (well, mostly) stuff I enjoy doing and get a lot out of on different levels.

Hearing this passage from the Bible again (it’s one I’m quite familiar with, but it really struck me yesterday), reminded me that when I’m feeling tired and weary from everything going on in life, I can look to God to give me the strength to get through it all. This can be both physical strength (through, for example, the blessing of good sleep, nutritious food and nausea that’s no longer constant) and mental strength (like the ability to focus on and persevere through a particular project without becoming demotivated or distracted). Unlike me, God does not get tired, faint or weary, and His strength is everlasting. I love the image of ‘soaring on wings like eagles’ – I imagine myself flying high in the sky, looking down on all the things I need to do, not worrying about how/when they’ll get done for now.The important thing for me to remember, however, is that in order to get this renewed strength and soar on wings like eagles, I need to actually take some time out from everything and spend time focused on God. He does promise to help by giving me the strength, but the key bit in the passage is ‘those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.’ This isn’t just a passive thing, but rather it involves an action of hoping in God (or waiting for, or expecting God to help). This action means spending time praying, reading the Bible, singing to God about how amazing He is and what He’s done for me. I was reminded in the talk yesterday that it’s no use trying to do all the things in my life in my own strength, without taking the time to ask God to help me. This can seem like a hard thing to do; it’s tempting to plough on with stuff whenever I get a bit of time to myself, but ultimately some time spent with God before I do other stuff will help me have the strength to do what I need when I do it.

I can’t say that I’m perfect at always remembering to put this into action, but it’s something that I’m going to try and keep in mind this coming week and beyond, even when life is hectic. Already I feel more calm and relaxed about the prospect of everything that I will do this week, just by remembering today to hand it all over to God in the knowledge that He has everything under control.

How Pentecost is like the Olympic Flame

Most of you are probably thinking ‘Oh no, not someone else banging on about the Olympic Flame’, though there must be some people out there who aren’t fed up of the Olympic coverage already (mustn’t there…??). If you have been interested enough to click onto this post and start reading, you’ll (be relieved to) find out that I’m not going to focus on the Olympics, but rather show how Pentecost, the Christian festival celebrated today, has some similarity to the Olympic Flame. I have to admit that I got this idea from John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, a very cool guy for someone who wears such a funny hat, he’s even on twitter and his tweets are very down to earth  – don’t just take my word for it, check him out all you twitter peeps 🙂 I liked his idea and thought it was very relevant with all this Olympic Flame revelry going on, so I thought I’d share my take on it with you (his full message can be found here).Pentecost is celebrated seven weeks after Easter. In the UK it usually falls sometime around the late May bank holiday (depending on the date of Easter which moves each year), though of course this year the bank holiday is a week later in June because of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Here is a description of the first ever day of Pentecost from the book of Acts (chapter 2 verses 1-4) in the Bible (taken from The Message version – a modern-day translation):

“When the Feast of Pentecost came, they [the first followers of Jesus Christ, i.e. the early Church] were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.”

This describes how God sent his Holy Spirit to be with the early followers of Jesus on the first ever day of Pentecost. You see, Jesus had previously died and risen from the dead three days later (as I wrote about at Easter), and then, just before Pentecost, had gone back up to heaven leaving His followers behind. But it had always been God’s plan to send the Holy Spirit to help His followers on Earth after Jesus was no longer around in person. And this is just what God did on that first Pentecost.

The early followers of Jesus, the early Christians, needed this Holy Spirit, a ‘helper’, to give them the words to say, and the perseverance amidst the adversity they would encounter, when telling others about Jesus and being involved in bringing more people to follow Him. When the Spirit was sent, it was like a ‘wildfire’ that spread through the followers. Can you see where the Olypmic Flame parallel is starting to come out here? That first Pentecost was the start of the flame relay, and it’s a relay that has been going on ever since, and will carry on forever.

When someone first decides to become a Christian, to follow Jesus and put Him a the centre of their life, they too become ‘filled’ with the Holy Spirit, they get the flame in the relay, just as the first followers did ages ago, just as Christians have over the centuries, and just as continues to happen today. This may sound a bit weird and potentially a reason to freak out about becoming a Christian. I know that for years I was happy enough to read all about God and Jesus in the Bible, and accept and believe in all the written words (the ‘Word’ part of believing), but I hadn’t actually encountered God from a personal perspective – that was what happened the day I first experienced what it was like to feel the Holy Spirit (the ‘Spirit’ part of believing). There were no actual flames involved (I suspect we would have set the building’s fire alarms off these days!), but I can relate to the metaphor of a rushing wind.

Before this experience I was a big sceptic of this kind of thing, and I guess that’s why it took years for me to really accept that God could still work in this way in the 21st century. But even I was finally able to let my barriers down, and I’m so glad I did, because now I can see that being a Christian makes so much more sense with both the ‘Word’ and the ‘Spirit’ side of things together. The day I accepted that flame passed to me, it changed my life. I can’t say that it instantly changed me into a perfect person (still a LONG way off that!) but I do know that it is having this flame which helps me in my life as a Christian. It’s not always easy, for one thing we get a lot of stick, but it would be a whole lot harder if I didn’t have a way of interacting with God on a personal level. I believe that He can guide my thoughts, my words and my actions (if I let Him, not always the case) and show me what plans He has for my life, which (experience tells me) are way better than anything I could have come up with by myself.

The Olympic Flame analogy isn’t quite perfect for the Holy Spirit, because the great thing is, you never have to give up the flame and pass it to someone else. So it’s like a special relay where every participant keeps holding a flame even after someone else gets a flame too. In fact not only that, but you can ask God for a renewal of the Holy Spirit in your life whenever you like, if you feel like you’ve drifted away or had a particularly challenging time that’s used up all your spiritual ‘energy’. So it’s like each flame never goes out, never runs out of fuel, and there’s always enough to go round everyone who wants it at the same time. Pretty amazing!

So have you ever thought about what it would be like to accept the flame? (the Holy Spirit that is, not the Olympic one – I wouldn’t be able to run very far with that!) It might sound like a big step, and I know how it feels to be standing on the edge of that big step thinking about whether to go for it, but I would definitely recommend it as a life-changing experience. If you’re not even sure about, or haven’t heard about, the ‘Word’ side of things, I’d recommend reading one of the first four books of the New Testament in the Bible – the four ‘Gospels’, which recount Jesus’ life, death and rising again. The book of Acts (which describes Pentecost) carries on from where they stop. A great way to explore what you think about both the ‘Word’ and the ‘Spirit’ is through an Alpha course, where you can ask questions and discuss your views with Christians who would love to do that with you. These run in churches all over the world. Why not look up one near you if you’re interested?

What’s so good about Good Friday?

It’s a Bank holiday, right? No wait, we get to eat hot cross buns – that must be what the Good refers to. I love a nice hot cross bun, especially indulgent when topped with melting Nutella – yum! I’ve been contemplating whether my bread fast should extend to sweet buns. Technically I guess it should, but it’s Good Friday, and it wouldn’t be the same without them. Tough call. Although I can’t deny the goodness of hot cross buns, I know that they are not of course the real reason why Good Friday is good.

A cross of hot cross buns

The word Good here is used in the sense of ‘Holy’. On Good Friday, Christians like myself remember that Jesus died on a cross (that cross is what inspired the tradition of a cross on a hot bun). In the time leading up to his death, he was living in an area of the Middle East that was at that time under Roman rule. He was brought before the Jewish High Priest in Jerusalem, because he claimed to be the Son of God, which the Jewish priests thought was blasphemous. After that he was sent to the Roman governor, Pilate, but after questioning Jesus he decided there was no reason to sentence him. However, with mounting pressure from an almost riotous crowd of priests and others, demanding that he be crucified for claiming to be God, Pilate ultimately, in fear, handed Jesus over to be put to death. Jesus hung on a cross, tortured for several hours before he died, in between two criminals who had been tried and found guilty of crimes, even though Jesus himself had not actually been found guilty of anything under Roman law.

So why on earth call this day of torture and death, by one of the most excruciating means ever devised by man, Good?! Well, that’s not the end of it! (And remember that Good here is in the sense of ‘Holy’ – Jesus’ death and what happened afterwards were a sign of his ‘Holiness’ or ‘Godliness’). Jesus’ body was taken away, wrapped up in cloths and placed in a tomb, as was the custom at the time. On the third day, what we now celebrate as Easter Sunday (i.e. Friday = 1, Saturday = 2, Sunday = 3), some women who knew Jesus well went to his tomb and found that his body had gone. He then appeared to them, and later to some of his disciples (friends who had followed him closely before his death), showing them that he had risen from the dead and was alive again. These people, who had witnessed his death and then got to meet him in the flesh, alive again, became the first to believe that Jesus Christ really was the Son of God – they were the first Christians, and they went on to spread the Good news of what had happened to others.

You see, Jesus’ death and rising again were exactly what had been foretold (prophesied) in the scriptures, the religious texts, that the Jewish priests would have known inside out – but they just didn’t recognise him when they actually met him during his time on earth. It was written in these scriptures that God would send a ‘Saviour’, who would sacrifice His life and rise again from the dead, in order to make up for all the ways that all of us people fall short of being perfect like God. So we could then draw near to God, be forgiven for our wrongs, and live a new life in Christ, one that lasts beyond our time on Earth. We just have to accept that Jesus died for us, and follow Him, putting Him at the centre of everything we do (which I’ve found you automatically want to do if you’ve accepted the enormity of what He did for us). This message is the Good news that those early Christians went around telling people about, and what ultimately (several centuries later) I got to hear when I was a child, and then later came to understand and accept in my life for real during my early twenties.

So what’s the good bit about Good Friday for you? Do you have a soft spot for hot cross buns like me? Or do you like to take advantage of the Bank holiday and go somewhere different or do something fun? If you’re curious to find out more about the original reason why Good Friday was called that, get in touch and I’d be happy to talk some more about it. For now, have a Happy Easter everyone! 🙂 We’re just about to go on holiday for a week. I’ll leave you with the words of one of my favourite songs (check it out on youtube)….

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

(by Tim Hughes)