Monday, 30 November 2015

Christmas Musings (from Ecclesiastes)

A week ago, my husband preached on Ecclesiastes. He was preaching about money and possessions, and our attitudes to them. According to the writer of Ecclesiastes, we need to avoid either a love of money, or a pursuit of money in the hope that it will bring lasting happiness:

Whoever loves money never has enough;
    whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
    This too is meaningless. Ecclesiastes 5:10

However, we also need to be thankful for the good gifts that God has given us to enjoy, and not to think that some kind of religious asceticism is what we are called to as followers of Jesus.

Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil – this is a gift of God.         Ecclesiastes 5:19

With Christmas coming up, I have been considering what this means for us as a family. In many ways, it is clear that the greatest danger in our culture today is a love of money.

Every advert, every shop window, every email from a retailer gives the same lie: buy this, get this, have the perfect Christmas and the perfect gifts, and you will be happy. Sickness and sin and squabbling are banished from the images we are presented of a perfect Christmas.

Deep down we know it isn't true, but we spend and spend anyway.

OR - we don't, and feel a little smug.

We think that we really understand about Christmas, and think that people who spend money on a Christmas tree which will be dead in a week, or on presents, or luxury food are a little bit silly.

We don't get it, and don't get people who do enjoy Christmas fun.

As ever - it is our hearts that matter.

Huge turkey or modest chicken? Who cares!

£200 a child or £20 a child? Doesn't matter!

Real tree or cheap plastic tree reused 20 times? Whatever you prefer.

So long as you remember Jesus.

Lasting joy.

Forgiveness from sin.

The promise that one day all hurts will be healed - forever.

Riches that last.

So - we can celebrate! We can feast and share gifts because we remember Jesus - the great giver, the greatest gift. We can feast now and look forward to the feast - the Wedding of the Lamb.

If we keep our eyes on Jesus, we will remember that all the stuff in the world cannot bring the joy and salvation that only God can give (no wonder the Bible describes greed as idolatry).

If we keep our eyes on Jesus, then we will have no shame in enjoying the good things that God has given us, as we celebrate the birth of our Saviour.

But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2:10-11

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Christmas Gifts - Childrens' Art Calendar

We have occasionally made calendars with pictures of our children as Christmas presents for devoted grandparents and great-grandparents.

These have been gratefully received, but last year we did something different - pictures by our children rather than of our children.

We have four children, so they chose 3 of their best pieces of art each, so we had one for each month:

A lizard by my (then) 5 year old

An Egyptian by my (then) 9 year old.
An ice-cream by my (then) 3 year old.

A butterfly by my (then) 7 year old.

They were easy to make, as we simply scanned their art and then used an online photo company to print the calendars. There seem to be regular offers of 50% off, so we waited for one of these before we had them printed.
They were very well received, and may become a regular Christmas present as long as the children are prolific artists.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Daily Walks - Daily Refreshment

This year I decided that we should aim to go for a walk every day.

Partly, I know that one of my weaknesses is a tendency to focus on the list of work that we must do that day, and end up missing out on other important activities. The children both need to get out for necessary fresh air and exercise, and also really love to be outdoors - in all weathers.

We have been enjoying the leaves in our local gardens:

And climbing trees:

The children all own good quality raincoats, but they only work if I actually remember to use them:

We had a lot of fun, though.

As with all decisions that I make about our day, there are knock-on effects. We have our walk between about 12 and 1pm every day, and this usually means that at least some of the children end up working for longer into the afternoon.

There are also more muddy clothes to wash. Once my daughter had already slid down a muddy bank last week, I gave up on trying to preserve any clothes and we had lots of jumping in deep puddles. While great fun, we don't do this every day, and sometimes we stick to paths deliberately to try to keep some clothes clean on at least some days!

I also try to make sure that they are well fed in the mornings. I already cook breakfast most days (we eat an enormous number of eggs!), but now I find that a reasonably substantial snack mid-morning helps them through an hour long walk and a slightly later lunch.

The children always want to walk, sometimes I'd rather not! However, it has been a helpful discipline for all of us, and I usually benefit from a break outdoors too.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Welcome Yoda! Children and Animals

Yesterday we welcomed Yoda to our household! She's a very sweet hamster.

Yoda, The Hamster

There was some excitement when we bought her, as she'd chewed through one of the two boxes she was to be carried home in by the time we had walked from the shop to the car. My husband returned swiftly to the shop to get an additional (sturdier) box, and we made it home without a hamster escaping into the car!

Yoda belongs to my eldest - and he named her. We decided that he had more than proved himself able to look after a pet of his own after a year and a half of diligent guinea pig care (shared with his younger siblings). The guinea pigs are called Wilma and Pumba.

My 8 year old with Pumba and Wilma

The two older boys holding Wilma and Pumba.

In all that time, neither Michael nor I have had to clean out the guinea pigs, or look after them at all day to day, except for the occasional help with removing slugs from the hutch.
We try to make sure that privileges (such as pet ownership) are matched with responsibilities (looking after the pet). I'm sure that there will sometimes be complaints, and there will be days when my eldest would rather not do the extra jobs, but overall we hope that Yoda will be as cared for and loved as much as Wilma and Pumba have been.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Welcoming Children (and Parents) into Church

How can we welcome children into church? How can we make sure that they, and their parents, know that that they are welcome, and make sure that they want to come back?

I think that sometimes we assume that what we need are large children's programmes, and lots of other children. Of course, these can be a great blessing to many people, but they are not essential.  There are plenty of churches, like ours, where there are just a few families that bring children. Where the Bible is taught faithfully, and where parents and the congregation are committed to these children, I trust that they will have every opportunity to grow up knowing the Lord.

Here are some ways that anyone can help children and their parents to feel welcome at church - all of which we have experienced at times and really appreciated:

1) Pray for the children in your church. Pray for their faith, for their friendships, for their parents. Ask their parents what you can pray for them.

2) Bear with them. Children, like all of us, can be annoying or frustrating at times - either because they are behaving badly or because they are acting like, well, children. We are called to bear with one another (Colossians 3: 13) - and this includes the children among us.

3) Forgive them. Again, children often do the wrong thing. Forgiveness, without bearing grudges, is a wonderful blessing to them. If they are warmly accepted  back the week after they have behaved badly and apologized, this is a wonderful chance to demonstrate the gospel, and to give a child another chance.

4) Talk to them. Our children really enjoy adult attention as well as playing with other children. My 6 year old and 4 year old love sitting with older members of our congregation at coffee time, and sharing books with them. There have also been adults who have brought books or interesting objects along to show to or lend to our children. Again, this is a great way to share interests and build relationships with children in the church.

5) Feed them cake - and don't complain about the crumbs.

6) Sit with them. We have appreciated people who will sit with us during the service on occasion. The children see other believers joining in with enthusiasm, and I have an extra pair of hands to help, which was especially useful when I had toddlers.

7) Bring tea to their parents. After a fraught service (which happens!) a cup of tea rather than a barrage of advice is the best policy.

8) Invite them into your home. This gives you a chance to get to know the whole family better. We always check what children eat before we have families over, as it can make it more relaxing if everyone isn't worrying about whether or not the children are eating.

9) Encourage their parents. Tell them that you are glad to see them. Say how much you enjoy having their children there. Commiserate with sympathy when it all goes wrong. Tell them they are doing a good job when they have to be firm with their children.

10) Get them involved. Letting children help with moving tables or stacking chairs or collecting plates can be fun for lots of children, and is an opportunity to serve others.

I have written before about how we as parents can keep going taking our children to church. Our experience of church has been enriched greatly by individuals who had taken the time to serve our family by getting alongside our children. We thank God for them.