Thursday, 31 March 2016

Faith - No leap in the dark

What if it isn't really true? 

What if I've based my life on a lie? 

Ever had these thoughts? These midnight doubts? I have.

How do I deal with these thoughts? Push them away and hope they stay away? Don't think too hard about it, just press on anyway?

Well, first I pray, and then I remember...

1) Jesus rose from the dead

My belief in the resurrection of Jesus is based on overwhelming evidence.

The empty tomb, the transformed disciples, the witnesses. The stone rolled away, the attempted cover-up, the lack of a body.

It is a concrete, historical, well attested event.

2) The Coherence of Scripture

When I read the Bible - the more I read the Bible - the more I marvel at such a consistent and beautiful narrative. The echoes of Christ found throughout the Old Testament, or a word or phrase in John's gospel which conjures up a rich image because of the Biblical history behind it.

As I read, I am confident that this is indeed the Word of God, and that I can believe what is written.

3) The Bible's View of Humanity

The Biblical picture of human beings is compelling. People are seen as immensely valuable, made in God's image. The shedding of human blood is a serious offence because of who we are. The poor and weak are valued.

Men and women are also described as sinful and wicked. Even the best are seen in all their weaknesses, and sometimes in dreadful sin.

We are depicted as torn between a desire to do good, and an inability to carry out this good.

This picture rings true with my experience of life, and of what I see as I read books, or teach my children history, or listen to the news.

4) The Person of Jesus

I have been helping my husband lead a Christianity Explored course over the last couple of months, and it has been a great experience to look once again at Jesus - his words, his actions, his death and his resurrection - in Mark's gospel.

We have read about Jesus' compassion and his power; his love and his words which cut to the heart; his predictions of his death, and then the moving account of the crucifixion itself, when the curtain in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

Once again, I have seen a Saviour who I am compelled to trust and to follow.

When all is said and done, I am glad that I am not clinging to a world view made up by clever men.

I am not shutting my eyes and stuffing my fingers in my ears to protect me from facts in case they upset me.

I am not just a follower of an ancient tradition, or a moral code of conduct that I admire.

I depend on the true word of the living God, who has chosen to make himself known - and known in history.

I place my hope in the risen Lord, who has defeated death.

I trust in Jesus, God and Man, Saviour, Prophet, Priest, King, and Friend.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Easter Joy!

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” Matthew 28:1-10
How wonderful it was to hear this passage read at church this morning, to sing with God's people about our risen Lord, and to share the joy of those women who witnessed the resurrection of Jesus that first Easter morning.

What a glorious, real, and solid hope we have in the risen Christ.

Easter Cake - largely made and decorated by the children.

Rainbow inside!

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Facing Failure?

Today I had a message from my son's piano teacher to say that he hadn't passed his Grade 1 exam, which he sat a couple of weeks ago.

I wasn't expecting this: he worked really hard, and seemed to be playing well. He was calm on the day, and felt the exam had gone okay. I've never know anyone fail a music exam!

Of course, a ten year old failing a music exam is tiny when you think of the ocean of human suffering and sadness and grief - of sickness and pain, bereavement and loss, broken relationships and hurt.

I was still quite sad for him. He says he doesn't mind, but I think he cares a little more than he's letting on.

I know, in theory, that failing and then trying again builds character and perseverance - I would just rather that my own boy could have been spared this disappointment.

In reality, it also makes me face up to what really matters.

Education is more than exams - and we have had him take piano lessons as we think that learning a musical instrument is a good thing in itself - not just something that will look good on a U.C.A.S. application one day (if we ever get that far!).

Life will be full of setbacks and disappointments and real griefs. In the midst of all this, knowing that we have a loving, risen Saviour who cares for us and knows us and is with us is an immeasurable comfort.

I am a little sad for my boy - but I know that what Christianity offers is not a message of success and comfort now - but of joy and hope in the midst of all the difficulties of this world.

Missing a piano exam pass is a small sadness really. I hope that it will not just build a resilient attitude, but give us all a chance to remember that our hope is not in success in the ways in which the world measures, but in our risen Jesus.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Writing Letters - A Chance to Serve

In January, my eldest decided he would like to write a postcard each week to some dear family friends who are going through a tough time. We printed a pile of postcards with pictures from our last holiday to the Lakes, and he sat down to write his first postcard.

Of course, as soon as he started to write, all his siblings decided that they would like to send postcards too! So, every week, we have sat down together and written cards and drawn pictures to post. Grandparents have been favourite recipients, as have a number of friends. My 6 year old has also written to an elderly lady from our congregation who he is particularly fond of, and who has just moved into a home.

A simple idea, this has been a lovely opportunity for the children to serve others as they think about who would like to receive a letter. It has incidentally provided extra opportunities for the boys to practice their writing. It has been particularly encouraging to see my six year old write with so little help, given that he has had a slightly later start with reading and writing due to his speech delay.

This week, as a change, we spent an afternoon making and then sending Easter cards. This was more time consuming than our normal letter writing - and certainly more chaotic - but a chance to remember the Resurrection with family and friends.

The children's Easter cards.

All in all, this has been a lovely activity this term. The children have even received a few letters back, which they have been very pleased about.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Easter Traditions

It is just over a week until Easter, and we are looking forward to celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus as a family and as a church.

Each year, we have a few family traditions that help us to focus on the events of the first Easter.

Yesterday we began the first of these - Resurrection Eggs. Each day a child will open an egg, which contains a Bible passage for us to look up, and an object of some kind which reminds us of a key part of the story. Yesterday we had a piece of cotton wool soaked in "perfume" (shower gel!) for the account of Jesus' anointing, and today we had a handful of five pence pieces as we read about how Judas betrayed Jesus. I originally got the idea from here (The Vicar's Wife blog), which details objects and Bible passages.

Our Resurrection Eggs.

The eggs so far.

On Good Friday, in addition to attending church together, I will make hot cross buns with the children.

Hot Cross Buns.

Last year, the children helped me design and make an Easter cake for Easter Sunday, which they are keen to do again this year. We also always have roast lamb for Easter lunch, as a reminder of Jesus, our Passover lamb.

Last year's cake on the inside.

Easter cake and Easter smiles.
We enjoy these few, simple traditions which the children look forward to, and which help us to focus once again on the death and resurrection of our saviour.
"Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!"
Luke 24:5-6

Monday, 14 March 2016

Breakfast - food & Bible & books

When our children were very little, breakfast was a bowl of cereal, and maybe some fruit or toast. On good days, we had porridge. 

Now, our breakfast is invariably cooked, and includes Bible time, and also reading time. It is much more fun now!

Kitchen Bookshelf

What do we eat?

Lots of eggs, usually boiled or in omelette. Today, my husband used 21 eggs for omelette...we do have family staying for a few weeks, but that's still a lot of eggs! We also like to eat drop scones, waffles, bagels, or porridge. On Saturdays, my husband makes us all bacon and egg muffins, and on Sundays we eat croissants.

I started cooking breakfast because my boys just got so hungry (and grumpy) quite soon afterwards. They do much better now. It is also much more of an enjoyable family meal together. We do still have cereal and toast occasionally - or to top them up on particularly hungry days - but not all that often.

Bible time is led by my husband. We have used Table Talk Bible notes, or just worked through a gospel or some Psalms. At the moment, we are slowly working our way through The Big Picture Family Devotional by David R. Helm, which involves quite a bit of memorisation as well as devotions.

Reading time sometimes happens at the table, or sometimes we decamp to the sofa. At the moment, I am ready The Ology: Ancient Truths Ever New by Marty Machowski, and The Wanderings of Odysseus by Rosemary Sutcliff. Sometimes I will read chapter books aimed more at the older children, though I prefer to have at least something that they all enjoy. 

Breakfast is family time - a chance to spend some time together before we all launch into the day. Sometimes it feels a bit fraught, often I am particularly anxious that we crack on with the work for the day, but it is still a lovely opportunity to start the day in God's word and enjoying each other's company.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Top Ten Board Games - Updated

Since I wrote about our top ten board games, Christmas has come and gone, and the children have received a number of new games. We have been playing regularly, and have introduced a Saturday evening board game session for the older two, which has been popular. Our preferred games have changed slightly, so I though it was time to write about our current favourites.

Some of our new games.

So here's my updated list:

1) Settlers of Catan

This is still the family favourite.  Building settlements and cities, trading, defending the island against the invading barbarians - always a lot going on and very satisfying to play. We have both the Seafarers and the Cities and Knights extensions which add a lot of variety to the game.

2) Carcasonne

Another building game, but using tiles to make up a board as you go. The basic rules are easy to follow, but you can get better at it the more you play and the more you learn good tactics. A 5 year old can probably play with help. I have a version on my ipad as well, which we can use when short of time for setting up, or for taking on holiday.

3) Romans

You move around the board fighting for garrisons in order to become Caesar, answering questions about Ancient Rome on the way. The questions are multiple choice, and you can choose easier or harder ones, so even young players can enjoy it. Probably 7+.

4) Risk

I know this is a classic, but I had never played it until this Christmas. Simple strategy, world domination, and lots of fun. Our boys play this fairly often, and my daughter rolls the dice for whoever looks like they are winning.

5) Dobble

We played this last summer with some friends, and my daughter liked it so much we bought it for her fourth birthday. The basic idea is simple - you have to spot which picture on your card matches the picture on the card in the centre - but it is harder than it looks. My four year old loves it, but it is fun for all our children, with various slightly different games you can play with a set of cards. It is also a small game, conveniently kept in a tin, so good for taking to play after church or on train journeys.

6) Labyrinth

This game was another Christmas present. It was recommended by a friend after I wrote my last post about our favourite games. Each player has to move around the maze to reach different places, but every time you play you push a tile in which changes the shape of the maze. Our children have really enjoyed this, and it is great for testing our spatial awareness. 

7) Cluedo

Another classic game, and one which is great for encouraging logical thought. Once again, this is a game that can be played at a simple level, but which you can do much better at as your deductive skills increase. Probably 7+.

8) Articulate & Articulate for Kids

This game involves one person describing a particular word on a series of cards for their team to guess, seeing how many they can guess against a timer. This is our game of choice to play with adults, usually at a Bible study group social. It isn't too intimidating if you make it clear that you can join a team in a merely guessing capacity. It gets people chatting and relaxing together, and bonding over a shared ignorance of famous people and geography.

Articulate for Kids was a present for my ten year old. You can play both games together, with the children using their box of cards against the adults using their set. We find that our older two playing together with their cards are fairly evenly matched against Michael and me. Our six year old will join their team as a guesser, and is surprisingly good at it. Our daughter, who is four, likes to be in charge of the timer.

9) Ticket to Ride

This has been a very well received addition to our collection. It was a present for my 8 year old, but we all enjoy it (adults as much as children). You have to compete to complete various train routes in order to gain points. One aspect that I particularly like is that each go is very short as you can only chose to either take cards or play them in a turn, which means that the game keeps moving.

10) Uno

A simple card game which is also good for all ages. Anyone who can hold and manage their cards can play. Probably a mature 3+ (perhaps with somewhere to spread their cards out).

Board games are a great family activity, and a lovely way for us to spend time together. Increasingly, our children are choosing to play them together without us organising them, and it is great to see them having fun together in this way.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Gingerbread Parthenon

Today we completed one of our favourite history activities - making a gingerbread Parthenon!

My youngest helped me make the gingerbread mixture in the morning:

A happy cook.

We made two models - one made by the younger two working together, and one by the older two:

Parthenon pieces.

The front was made from a template from The Story of the World activity book, and we drew rough outlines for the sides and roof.

The younger children's model.

We stuck it together with icing, and then the children decorated it.

The older children's model.

We have visited the Parthenon marbles at the British Museum many times, so the older two had fun trying to craft centaurs from Jelly Babies and Star Mix sweets to adorn their temple model.

Spot the centaur!