Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The Christmas Story

I wrote this short 'read aloud' version of the Christmas story last year and we used it on Christmas Day with our boys to get them thinking...

Mary, Mary” the angel whispered. Mary looked around her and then fell backwards in fright.
Who are you?” She whimpered.
I am Gabriel and I have come from God's presence to you. I have brought you a message. You are going to have a baby. He will be the light of the world and his name will be Jesus.”
Eeerm, I'm sorry Gabriel, but I am a virgin. I'm not even married! This is not possible!” offered Mary.
The Holy Spirit will fill you, and you will become pregnant. Don't worry Mary, God has it all sorted out.”
And with that, Gabriel disappeared.
Mary rubbed her eyes and looked around her. Was that a dream or had it really happened? All she knew was that she was filled with joy, wonder, love and awe.

Close your eyes and imagine the scene.
The donkey brayed,
The cows pooed,
The goats watched curiously through the slits of their eyes.
Into this dirty, straw filled shed a baby was born.
His mother, frightened and with only her husband to help, pushed the baby out with a grunt and a scream and King Jesus, naked and covered in blood and dirt, cried his first cry.

Long awaited and long promised, the King had finally come. Was this King to enter a palace, with gold robes and a jewel encrusted throne? Was he given a baby-sized crown to fit his tiny head?
No, he was wrapped up in the cleanest scrap of material his mother could find and he was put to sleep in a feeding trough, with straw for a mattress.

His people had longed for him to come more than we long for presents. They had waited hundreds of years, sometimes wondering if their God was really going to fulfil his promise or not.

The first to visit this tiny baby were not important dignitaries, not the prime minister, not the richest in the country. The first to visit were the poorest of the poor – the shepherds. Despised by others, they had nothing to bring but themselves. Did Jesus want extravagant gifts? No, he wanted their hearts.
The shepherds knelt in the smelly shed and kissed the feet of their new King. They worshipped him and gave him their hearts. They were his first followers, the first Christians.

What do we have to bring to King Jesus? How much do we long for him to come and be our Saviour? How can we worship him? How can we show him we want to follow him, love him and give him our hearts?

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Realistic Rest

We're all feeling it. "End of term-itis" mixed with the dark evenings and pitch black 'middle of the night' mornings produces feelings of weariness and fatigue. This term has been a long, drawn out one, and now the end is in sight we are all longing for it (even though, on the first day of the holidays I'll be wishing they were back at school). The boys are exhausted and we are having to wake them all up every morning (apart from weekends, when they are as sprightly as the duracell rabbit at 6:30am). They are swinging on a pendulum of extreme grumpiness to extreme hype and hysterical giggling. Even if they can carry on like this, I can't. I cannot bear the walking on eggshells and the screams and cries everytime I leave them on their own in a room together. We are ready for some time off.

It has got me thinking though. Reading the bible with the boys a few days ago, we came across the ten commandments. Oh yes, call me old fashioned, but actually they made alot of sense. To our detriment, our society has slowly and quietly pushed to the side the good things that God introduced, thinking in our 'wisdom' that we could do things better.

Instead, we have produced a culture which doesn't know how to rest. Of course, you can book into a spa for a day, or have a relaxing holiday once a year. By the time we reach that stage, we are always burnt out, exhausted and ready to crumple in a heap. This isn't real rest, this is desperate rest. God's idea was to put rest into our weekly diary, so that we don't actually reach the exhaustion stage. A whole day, each week, where we don't do any work? How can we realistically manage this in our 24 hour society with our children who need constant entertainment, our homes that need constant updating, our emails which require constant reading and our jobs which can take over time at home as well as time at work? I don't have any clever answers, I just know we need it.

Is it possible to have a whole day each week where we live simply? Although this was the historical day, Sundays are no longer sacred with shops closed and families together. Perhaps another day of the week is a better day. Church leaders often choose Mondays for their days of rest, scheduling church activities on Saturdays and forgetting that this is often the day of rest for people who work on weekdays. How do we say 'no' to such honourable activities without feeling that 'rest' is not a good enough excuse? The ideal lifestyle seems to be one that is as packed and busy as possible.

However, this was not God's intention. He wants us to rest. He wants us to schedule rest into our diaries. Not just a 'once in a while' occurance, but every week. He doesn't endorse burn out. He doesn't clap his hands in admiration when we have filled every moment of our diaries with 'good, healthy activities'. He wants us to enjoy guilt-free rest.

As I think about the new year, I am pondering how to put this into my diary. How, with three active boys, do I find a whole day each week in which to rest as a family? How can we make that day more simple? Do we eat more simply on that day? Can I manage not to do any jobs around the house? Will we play games together, go for walks in the country and relax together? For each family, this will look different. But I am becoming more firmly convinced of the necessity and as our lives become even more busy in the year ahead with our new business, we will need to make the time to rest a priority. After all, it's God's idea, not mine.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Friday Failures

Today has been one of those 'bad mother' days again. We all have them, sometimes more often than we would like! Here are some of my failures to make you giggle, sympathise or both....

1. I tried to be a good mother, I really did, and made Max an Egyptian Costume for his Egyptian Day today. Unfortunately, my excitement probably pushed him into wearing more than he would have liked, and he ended up crying because he thought he looked like a girl (it was the heavy eyeliner that did it). When he refused to get out of the car and into school, I bribed him with sweets.

2. On the first very cold day of the winter, Max (underneath the Egyptian costume, which was just a sheet) was wearing shorts and t shirt. I forgot to give him a hat or gloves. Jonah did not have his coat done up, and I don't even know what kind of coat / hat / glove combination Toby might have been wearing because I didn't see him leave for school. (I was too busy putting eyeliner on Max).

3. When I collected Jonah from Nursery, we came home and I strongly encouraged him to watch the television so I could sit down. Once he was bored of the television, he asked me of he could play Angry Birds on my phone (should a 4 year old even know that you can play Angry Birds on a phone?).
Jonah: (Polite voice) Can I play Angry Birds on your phone?
Me: (Heavy sigh, knowing that I am going to give in...) No, not today.
Jonah: (Rude voice, bordering on the edge of a tantrum, knowing that one more will push me over the brink of giving in) Can I play Angry Birds on your phone?
Me: (Even heavier sigh, knowing I have given in) Yes, ok.
I didn't even attempt a battle.

4. After playing Angry Birds for longer than he should have been, I found a cardboard box and attempted to drag myself into good mother mode by suggesting that he cut it up and make something with it. He was enamoured with that idea, but not with the fact that while he was trying to make Buzz Lightyear from a cardboard box, I was sitting in the other room checking facebook.

5. The Buzz Lightyear making went wrong and he asked me to help him. When I didn't help him straight away, he lay on the floor kicking his legs and screaming at me. Instead of calmly putting down the computer and helping him with Buzz's wings, I lay on the floor next to him and pretended to have a tantrum. It didn't help. He screamed louder, kicked harder and rolled further away from me.

6. To distract us both from eventual murder, I suggested we feed the chickens. Getting on our wellies ( Actually, I wore my wellies and he refused to wear his. Another battle I could not bring myself to fight), we tramped down to the end of the garden. Feeding the chickens could have been a lovely educational moment. It was, however, far too cold to attempt anything educational so we threw the food in and then I enticed him back indoors with the promise of watching Curious George.

7. I am about to collect Max from school. He will be walking home in shorts and a t shirt, on the coldest day of the winter so far.

Now, if that's not a list of bad mother crimes, I don't know what is!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Strikes, Pensions and Wildflowers.

Wow. What an interesting week this has been. Whilst half the population of the UK were fighting the injustices of the latest government cuts, the other half were worrying about their own futures. Mostly, I have refrained from unleashing my opinions about it all. However, I would like to throw one more, perhaps rather outlandish in today's culture, ingredient into the mix.

"If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don't fuss about what's on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.

Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.

If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes."

In our society that is steeped in looking out for 'number one', we rely on ourselves and our flawed, human governments and societies instead of looking to the Number One for all our needs. My hope for this time in my life and for my future, pension or no pension, is in my God who can and will provide for all my needs. Instead of shouting out about the rights and wrongs of the current and increasing cuts, lets model to our children a faith in God that is unwavering and surpasses all the difficulties of financial instability. We know the One who will give us stability. This is a perfect opportunity for those of us who follow God to live a radically different lifestyle, and by doing so we will be instilling in our children one of the most important life lessons they will ever learn - dependence on the One who promises to not just provide for and sustain them but to do more than they could ask for or imagine.