The build-up to Christmas Day is my favourite part of December- we usually go to candle-lit Carol services at our church, do some absorbing of the seasonal atmosphere in the Christmas markets and of course, decorate the house. As a young family, we are still in the process of figuring out our family traditions and working out which things from each side of the family to incorporate and change into our own. What started as a little Christmas tree on our first Christmas together after three months of marriage and some wonky salt dough decorations, has become a fun tradition of putting up the tree at the beginning of December, filling vases with baubles and hanging our felt advent calendar. Often we have little pocket decorations on the tree to hide chocolate treats in, or we hang Cadbury’s Christmas tree chocolates off the boughs. I find it’s really easy to forget in the hustle and bustle, the reason for the gift buying- the real gift that God gave us at Christmas, in Jesus.
Did you have a treasured possession as a child? I had (still have, actually), a panda bear who I cuddled every night. His face is squashed to the side from where I held him and his fur is matted but it never mattered to me. It was what he meant to me, not how he looked that mattered. Sometimes I wonder if the volume of ‘stuff’ in our children’s lives will dilute this joy of treasuring possessions. In this western world our society is very consumer driven, pushing towards replacing items when they’re not the latest model, selling you things you ‘need’ even though we are all living in great abundance. I hate the mindset that things can be easily replaced, so we don’t need to care about them- we should be grateful for the things we are fortunate enough to have, and be able to buy, but often I’m not.
I hope that our children can learn to treasure the things they are lucky enough to have, and that the attitude towards presents and Christmas and gift giving doesn’t turn them into expectant people, with a sense of entitlement. I’m going to try to work hard to make sure they understand the true meaning of gifts. After all, Christmas is about the best gift ever, the gift of a perfect baby to a hurting and broken world. We didn’t deserve that gift, but God gave it to us anyway.
Obviously not everyone in the world is living in the abundance that many of us enjoy, and so I thought I would take a moment to share about how you could make a difference to a child’s life this Christmas. In Ecuador children are often poor, in families who struggle to make ends meet, and for them Christmas is a much different experience. My cousin Andrea’s charity Project Ecuador has its Christmas appeal running now- giving these children their only present this holiday season. £5 not only gives a child a present, but the local women have been taught to sew the soft toys and so are able to work and feed their families through this work. Giving a present to a child who doesn’t feel entitled to one, sharing the joy that God’s great gift brought to us, isn’t that a wonderful way to celebrate Christmas?
If you want to give, just £5 will give them a treasured Christmas present, one they will cherish for years. Visit the Virgin Giving page, it’s easy to do online from wherever you are. There are lots of other ways you can get involved or find out more about life for people in Ecuador, such a different place. Keep up with photos and developments on the Project Ecuador facebook page, check out the website for more information or read Andy’s blog or one of her books.
Since I started regularly reading my Bible in the morning, I’ve been finding it easier and easier in the day to pick up my Bible a bit, or open the She reads truth website, or my Morning and Evening App to get a bit more spiritual nutrition in my day. I’m finding that the things I’m learning and absorbing and understanding are linking together in great ways.
The heart is a key part of our physical anatomy, and I’m starting to understand the spiritual significance a bit more too. A telling part of my relationship with God is what state my heart is in. If I’m being really honest, I think that for a while my head has been trying really hard to work at my relationship with God, without my heart really being in it. All my knowledge of God tells me that I can’t work harder to earn his favour or love, that I can’t DO anything- he has already done it. But I wanted to be closer to God, so I kept trying at it. I’ve actually found that the routine of picking up my Bible has been wonderful to help change the attitude of my heart, but that prayer, time spent talking to the person who knows and loves me so well has really affected my heart.
A passage of Matthew I read this week reminded me that my words come from my heart, and reveal what state it’s truly in. When I use my words unkindly, in content or tone, it’s reflecting on my heart. Patience has been an area I have been lacking in recently so those times when I snap or neglect to say the kind thing are convicting me. I am so grateful for God’s grace, because I am not perfect, and never will be. He can fill in the gaps where I fail to be the perfect parent that he is. I’m praying that my heart, along with my mind, is renewed in Him to be more Christlike, so that the words that come from my heart are the right ones, said in the right way.
It’s often said that only God can open the eyes of our heart, and that is why I think prayer has made the biggest difference to me recently. However much I try, however much Bible I read, or study theology, or tick other boxes which could be seen to make a difference toward improving life, it’s only God who can make impossible changes in us, changes we can’t make by our own strength. True worship has to come from the heart, not from the lips- saying you’re a Christian isn’t the same as your heart having a desire to put God first and loving him before anything else. Singing worship songs isn’t the same as meaning them.
Because our hearts are so important, temptation is doubtless going to strike, and in the Thrive Moms retreat (which you can listen to here, I REALLY recommend it if you’re a mother), the talk about the armour of God really made me think about which pieces of armour are what. Ephesians 6: 10- 18 tells us to put it ALL on, in ALL occasions, to pray at ALL times. Our hearts are vulnerable and we cannot afford to be lazy in protecting them. The breastplate of righteousness can protect our bodies and the shield of faith and sword of the Word help us out too. I’m praying that I continue to remember and apply these things I’m learning, and that God would let me continue to have a heart for him more and more.
What have you been learning about recently? I’m hoping to continue sharing in weeks to come- I often find I learn even more by writing through these things, it helps me to process and to remember things in the days to come.
I started praying properly again.
Back in.. oh, 2007 when I was a teenager at school still, I had a prayer wall (or, a big sheet of paper tacked to my wall with post-its on). It reminded me to pray everyday, I could see what prayers were answered and it was the best visual thing. One of the best New Years’ Eve’s I spent was curled up on my cabin bed in an otherwise peaceful house, hearing the booms and bangs of fireworks going off, praying. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that whilst I used that wall was one of the times I felt like my relationship with God was in a really great place.
At church the other week we looked at Matthew 21 verses 21-22.
If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.
(Obviously this is dependent on your requests being in line with your heavenly father’s heart, and not bourne of your own selfish desire- there was a whole talk on this and the preceding few verses- check them out and figure out what you think they mean for yourself in the context!)
So anyway- I started praying, and actually believing that God could and would, and did do it. I often fall into that trap of thinking ‘of course God could do ___, but would he bother with me? With my little day to day worries, when there’s so much else?’ Answered prayer surprises me every time, not because of God’s faithfulness but because of my attitude towards it. I prayed that Phoebe would get the hang of her potty training properly. Literally overnight, she started doing it, consistently, without needing any reminders. For weeks she had got it for a few days, gone off, got it again… but it’s been a few weeks now.
I prayed that Simeon would sleep better. We had two rough nights, when I got a bit mad, and prayed in complete frustration and anger. But since we have had several nights when he has managed to sleep from 7.30, rouse vaguely at 9ish and not wake until 3 or 4! Compared to waking at 12, 2, 3… that was amazing.
So, I am learning to pray intentionally, and God’s response is great.
[photo- I am reading How to Pray by R. A. Torrey]
This one is very much in progress. I am writing this after two days of intending to get up early, having horrendous nights with the little ones, and staying in bed instead. On those days I gave myself grace, and resolved to try again the next day without feeling guilty about it.
Since Phoebe has been born I have pretty much stayed in bed until she woke up, out of an attitude of sleep being the most precious thing- why would I get up a moment earlier than necessary? Because it’s good for me mentally, that’s why! In days gone by I would happily (not always easily) get up early to get my bus to school, arriving at school about half an hour earlier than I needed to, so that I could spend time with friends before the day started off. If I was willing to do that to spend time with friends before the day began, how much more so should I be willing to do the same to spend some quality time with my heavenly Father? He has made me, given me all the wonderful things which make my life so full, and blessed me with his amazing love and mercy through the biggest sacrifice of his own son.
But, I still don’t find it easy. This morning, I set my alarm for six, praying that we would have a better night’s sleep. In fact, Phoebe came and slept next to me in the night, and the alarm (on it’s quietest, lowest setting) woke her up. We came downstairs together, into the dark quiet of the early morning. I curled up on the sofa under a blanket, clutching a mug of hot chocolate, Bible on my lap to start reading Isaiah, while she watched some cartoons. It’s not perfect, and it’s not always going to go to plan, but I am choosing to live intentionally and put this bit of time at the start of my day. I have tried other ways of getting a ‘quiet time’ in my day, but I know that rising early is going to be a sacrifice worth making. As well as time spent in the Word and praying, I’m making a list of six things I want to do that day. This is focusing my mind and heart on what matters at the forefront of the day, making God first priority, and helping me set up mentally for the day.
I am making an intentional choice to put God first in my day, and I’m hoping to get into the habit of this soon so that it comes a bit more easily than it does now! I find it one of the hardest things in these days of toddlers and babies, to sacrifice what little sleep I am getting. But ultimately this demonstrates the place of things in my life- do I prioritise God, or do I covet sleep more?
This post is part of my 31 day series, Learning to simplify and live intentionally as part of write 31 days.
At the moment I’m reading a book (okay, a Kindle book!) called Desperate: Hope for moms who need to breathe and it is just exactly what I needed right now, at this place and season of life. I read about it on one of my favourite blogs, ever, Your Wishcake, and knew that it was going to have to be the top of my reading list.
At the end of a long day of mothering, when all is finally still and quiet in the house, I am finding that the best thing for me to do is to curl up with my Kindle and read another chapter of this book. It is rest in the best way- setting me up for another day of mothering, encouraging me, challenging me, teaching me fresh things and reminding me of things I already know. I’m nearly three-quarters of the way through and I am dreading finishing, honestly, although I expect I will just go back through and read it again. I have highlighted most of it already, which probably defeats the point in highlighting.
Being a stay at home mum to two little tiny ones can honestly be quite a challenge. I found it really tough in Phoebe’s first year- being alone with a small person who needs watching 24 7 and who can communicate in a very limited way is quite a draining adjustment from any ‘normal’ life previous to that! As she’s grown and Simeon has been born the challenges have changed, and I am better suited to some challenges than others. It is a massive learning process for me, not just the baby who is learning how their body and the world works. It is also really amazing and wonderful, to have the privilege. Parenting, mothering is by far hardest, most rewarding, challenging and wonderful thing. Shaping small people, and shaping them in a way that will show them who God is, and glorify Him in the way I do it is quite the challenge. There have been times that I’ve felt lost, alone, tired and worn out. Reading other parent’s blogs, seeing their lives pan out over social media has really encouraged me at times I have felt a bit alone and at a loose end, but reading this book has encouraged me above and beyond that, with really truthful, helpful words.
Each chapter has honest reflections from Sarah Mae and Sally from their own experience of mothering, and the topic covered, and a few bits of Scripture to look up and some thoughts of things you can do at the end, to practically put things into action. Reading it has been the most refreshing thing, to know that I am not, and have not been alone in what I have been doing, thinking and feeling, and being refreshed to get up each day with new joy and intention and a better attitude towards the eternally important task which is at hand. It has been like breathing one big sigh of relief.
I am pretty bad, when reading eagerly through a book like I am, at doing the questions and action points at the end, but I have decided to dedicate an evening to go through them all and write them down once I have read the whole thing. If you have children at home, I would recommend a read- you can usually read the free sample on Amazon to see if you like it anyway- and if you may have children in the future, put it on the ‘to-read’ list!
PS. I was going to call this post ‘Desperate’, but this book is making me feel so refreshed that it was a much better fit!
Your Lord is very jealous of your love, O believer. Did he choose you? He cannot bear that you should choose another. Did he buy you with his own blood? He cannot endure that you should think that you are your own, or that you belong to this world. He loved you with such a love that he would not stop in heaven without you; he would sooner die than you should perish, and he cannot endure that anything should stand between your heart’s love and himself. He is very jealous of your trust. He will not permit you to trust in an arm of flesh. He cannot bear that you should hew out broken cisterns, when the overflowing fountain is always free to you. When we lean upon him, he is glad, but when we transfer our dependence to another, when we rely upon our own wisdom, or the wisdom of a friend—worst of all, when we trust in any works of our own, he is displeased, and will chasten us that he may bring us to himself. He is also very jealous of our company. There should be no one with whom we converse so much as with Jesus. To abide in him only, this is true love; but to commune with the world, to find sufficient solace in our carnal comforts, to prefer even the society of our fellow Christians to secret intercourse with him, this is grievous to our jealous Lord. He would fain have us abide in him, and enjoy constant fellowship with himself; and many of the trials which he sends us are for the purpose of weaning our hearts from the creature, and fixing them more closely upon himself. Let this jealousy which would keep us near to Christ be also a comfort to us, for if he loves us so much as to care thus about our love we may be sure that he will suffer nothing to harm us, and will protect us from all our enemies. Oh that we may have grace this day to keep our hearts in sacred chastity for our Beloved alone, with sacred jealousy shutting our eyes to all the fascinations of the world!
So there are some of my musings from this week. I’ve also been getting loads of practical, spiritual advice from a book I’m reading at the moment, so I will share more about that soon.
Not so long ago, Phoebe went through that wonderful toddler stage, of claiming ownership, very assertively, of everything that was hers, and Simeon’s, and really anything she felt like owning. Behind ‘no’, and ‘my mah’, ‘MINE’ was the most commonly heard word in our house for quite a while, accompanied by the panicked clutching to the chest.
Sorting through our house to pack things, having children, wanting to simplify, all of these things push me to re-evaluate this idea of ownership. When I come across something we no longer use or need, part of me wants to lament the initial purchase, wanting to go back in time and get that money back. Part of me wants to try selling it on to try and gain financially from it, even if money is lost along the way, and another part just can’t be bothered. Stick it in a box, we might use it one day.
But really, whilst the things we are passing on to new homes or to the charity shop may have been things we bought, so many other things have been generously given or leant to us. Being part of a great church has given us so much opportunity for sharing, recieving from others’ generosity and being able to be generous ourselves, not just with things that were given to us. Sorting through all my clothes, initially making me feel sick with how much I had amassed and didn’t wear over the last ten years, in the end gave me a massive ikea bag full which some friends were able to go through. We have given some baby clothes to friends who are expecting, shelves, washing liquid… it feels better to have things out of the house, and better to know they are being needed, rather than sold for my own gain.
I am in general trying to have a looser grip of our posessions. I value what we have, and want to look after it, but I don’t want to be distressed when things break or get lost, as happens- my priorities are not in our stuff, but in our life, and in God’s kingdom. I feel like worrying about all the things which are mine is distracting me from what is really important.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Maybe I will translate the ‘capsule wardrobe’ concept into the rest of our possessions. Less is more, they say, but really I think that less is simpler. If someone else needs something that is ‘mine’, then I want to be able to let go of it without it being a big deal- after all, what is really mine, when God has provided it all? All I need, and so much more.
Goodness me, what a week. Last week Josh finished uni, after an interview on the Tuesday, an exam on the Thursday and various dissertation related things. He launched headlong into a temporary job at a restaurant, doing late shifts and sleeping at odd times over the weekend. Come Monday, it was our first week of ‘new normal’- only the odd morning of nursery, no university, and we had a three day stretch before nursery. After battles all weekend about nappy changing and other signs, I decided now was the time to attempt a potty-training in three days method, involving not leaving the house for most of those three days. Turns out whilst that has been going pretty well, I ended up sick and mostly unable to move on Tuesday, whilst Josh was busy working, and Phoebe is back to waking five days out of seven close to 5am.
This all adds up to exhaustion. Where before we could take it in turns to rest while the other got up early, Phoebe only wants Mumma now, and Josh needed sleep anyway after his late shifts. This week, I have been reduced to pleading with my flailing child to just go to sleep, or at least stay in your room, to my standard response to any question being I’m exhausted, or I’m just so tired, and just being unable to move by the time Phoebe has, finally stayed in her bed or her room and gone to sleep.
It all sounds pretty grim, and I wonder why no one warns parents to be that the newborn sleep problems are nothing, nothing compared to toddler tantrums and battles of the will. But we have had generous church family and friends come to the rescue in various ways again, and some days lovely naps have been had, often by all. I have, however come to realise that I am defining myself by my exhaustion, at this point. Obviously I need physical rest as much as any other person, but the way I act in between the times I can rest doesn’t need to revolve around my wish for sleep. I’ve been tearful, needy, frustrated and downright angry more times than I wish to recall, all because I’m depending on sleep, and lacking in it.
This post in the current study on Ruth (http://shereadstruth.com/2014/06/19/new-name/) made me realise that I have been defining myself by my exhaustion and my love of sleep. This has lead to me demanding things of Josh which he can’t do, already doing his best to support me, and generally becoming a big mess. Because of this mental attitude, I haven’t been taking much or any time to study God’s word, to remember that he is sovereign and King, and has all the strength I need to depend on. I think if only I had more sleep, but the answer is actually in God, regardless of my energy levels or outward circumstances. No matter what I encounter in life, He remains the same, provider, sustainer, loving Father.
This week may or may not hold sleep problems (it’s likely to), but I want to choose to remember the God who is in control and to find my strength and identity in Him. Not to pray in times of frustration only, but to seek Him first and foremost.
[Just a quick reminder that there’s still time to do my reader survey- find the link in the post below!]
As of about a week ago, my degree is done, and I can make a pretty good guess at my degree score although I don’t get it officially until the end of the month. The essays all got written and the exam went well- the last week of Phoebe being in nursery on her normal hours has just ended, which I have spent mostly washing, meal planning, shopping and sorting the house- all things which have needed some catch-up time.
Having time to sit and think about the summer, our weeks in Sheffield with only a few regular commitments in the week is both scary and exciting. We’re fortunate to have great networks of friends around us as well as great libraries, parks, museums, and so I hope our time will be well spent. I have learnt not to make the mistakes I made when on ‘maternity’ leave from uni with Phoebe, of trying to be laid back- and then doing nothing (!). We could all do with some interaction outside of each other!
In a lot of ways things feel the same as a few weeks ago, before uni ended, but I think that’s because the bulk of my time is being spent in the same way- caring for two children! The change is going to be more apparent with whole weeks with two at home full time, rather than Phoebe being at nursery part time. It’s so lovely that she really understands things I say to her now, that she’s making sentences, however short they are, and that she really plays now. Simeon has started chatting chatting, loving his own voice, and Phoebe frequently laughs at what he’s doing, taking real joy in watching him. ‘Kick legs’ she says, and imitates the way he’s wriggling, or mimics the way he’s eating his hands. He is fascinating to her, and I love that the two of them are already finding each other interesting.
A big part of my education, my life has drawn to a close, which does leave me with some sad feelings, but more gratitude at the great time I had, the wonderful friendships made and the great memories made, especially from church family, choir adventures and all the fun of having children at uni and seeing how our friends have been part of our life as a family. Church family who have often been at different ages to us, but with children the same age, have reached out and loved and welcomed us. We were not typical students by any stretch, not in student accommodation, married before we got here, and then having two little ones come along. Our uni friends have been great and some have really stepped up and shared and been involved, not put off by how apparently different our lives are to theirs.
The future is still a little hazy, but I’m looking forward to the adventures it’s going to bring. These small people in my life are growing and changing so quickly, I really don’t want to spend all my time thinking about how small they used to be, or thinking about how one day soon they will be able to do so much more. I’m realising that it’s so important to enjoy now, invest in it with them. Not for the sake of being able to remember it well later, but knowing that it was done well, now. We’re going to keep going one day at a time in our little family of four, striving to remember the gospel, the grace we have been washed clean by, loving as though we remember that, despite the fact I keep forgetting. Somehow these small people who I am moulding and teaching, they will grow into adults, and I want them to know God, more than anything else.
One thing ends and another, new, but familiar stage of our life is beginning. Now I just need some more sleep.