Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Raising our Ebenezer {trusting our faithful God}

It's the end of another year.

Another 12 months, flown past.

As I look back, there is SO much for which I am thankful for.  I can see so much goodness, from God's hand. So many blessings, that I couldn't begin to count them.  Family, friends, fellowship. Our daily needs, of food, clothing and shelter.

We were considering, on the Lord's day, of the Prophet Samuel interceding for the children of Israel, when they were threatened by the Philistines.  Samuel called out to God for them, and God rescued them, as He so often did.

After the Philistines were defeated, Samuel created a memorial, a stone - one would imagine it was big enough for all to see, and know what it was.  He raised an Ebenezer.  To some, that may sound strange.  Why name a stone Ebenezer? Isn't that the Dickensian man who is associated, in literary terms, as one so miserly and mean?

What does Ebenezer mean?

"Hitherto hath the Lord helped us"

They raised a memorial.  That stone was placed to remind them of one crucial thing.

Their help was from GOD alone.

Up to that point, they were there purely because of God's greatness, faithfulness, and kindness.

Nothing of themselves.

Nothing of their own strength.

Nothing of their own goodness.

God.

God ALONE.

It wasn't just about the trial they had recently passed through.

It wasn't even about everything they had been kept through BEFORE that.

It was so they would not forget, when the inevitable trials would come once again - because they DO keep coming - that God was still faithful.  God, who had helped them before, would do so again. God, whose faithfulness reaches to the clouds,  whose faithfulness is GREAT.

Like the Israelites of old, we, too, must raise an Ebenezer, whether it's a physical reminder of God's faithfulness, or simply that the daily rhythm of our heart beats out GOD IS FAITHFUL.

When those hard moments come, our heart's cry ought to be "Ebenezer".

When the sorrows roll like sea billows.

When the cares press down upon our soul.

When we deal with struggles and challenges that make us feel like we are drowning in difficulties.

When the daily details are overwhelming.

When we just feel that we can't go one step further.

That is when we need to look back, and remember

"Hitherto hath the Lord helped us"

He's helped before - He WILL help again.

As Hebrews teaches us, we need to hold fast to our profession of faith, without wavering. Why would we waver? Because we are tossed about on the sea of struggles.  Yet, we are told why we can hold fast, even in those times - HE IS FAITHFUL THAT PROMISED.

The words are so simple, yet the truth is profound. We trust God, because He is faithful.

As we gaze back, with memories both fond and hard, upon the year that is past, we can see how the Lord has helped us - time, and time again. He is, and always will be, faithful.  Along with Samuel, of old, we can raise our Ebenezer, knowing, that in the days to come - in joy or in sorrow - that God will ALWAYS help, and ever remain faithful.

I pray, as the new year dawns, we can all raise our Ebenezer, and go forward with expectation of blessing in the days to come.
















Monday, 15 December 2014

"My soul doth magnify the Lord" {magnifying in the mysteries}

Mary, the mother of Jesus.

A title so known by those who know Christ, that we may hardly think of the deeper sense of this title.

Mary.

The mother of JESUS.

I was thinking about Mary, as I travelled last night.  I was bemoaning, internally, the horrible driving conditions - rain and spray, in a dark, road-works scattered motorway.

Yet, I was in the comfort of a minibus, surrounded by my children.

I got to thinking about Mary, travelling to Bethlehem, thousands of years ago. We think of her, often, on the donkey, of which there is actually no mention of in the Bible. Heavily pregnant, heading to the town in which her betrothed one was born.

Heavily pregnant.

Not married.

Going to get taxed.

Not three of the most ideal scenarios.

And yet...

She was living the life which God had planned for her.

God.

GOD!

HE had planned.

In His infinite wisdom, and according to His eternal purposes, He designed that a woman - sinful, ordinary, nothing saintly or divinely superior about her - would bear His son.  She would carry Him around within her body, feeling his every move and wiggle, just like any other mother with any other child.  Not only that, but she would do it with the shame and ignominy of a child borne out of wedlock.  She had an angel announce the mystifying news, of the child she would carry - no such privilege was extended to every other person she came across. Can you imagine seeing a woman, carrying a child under such circumstances, and her trying to explain it to you in terms of an angel's message from GOD? She would have been laughed to scorn.

Can you imagine how YOU would feel, given this news?

I would think it to be confusing, in the extreme.

And yet...


"Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word."


She accepted her lot in life - she took on board God's great plan, that would lead to the bearing of sin upon the body of the One she would carry - she humbly accepted the "cup" that she was given.  She knew God's plan, and accepted it.  No questions. No doubts. No arguments.


"Whatever you have planned, I humbly accept it to be perfect"


THAT'S how she took the news.

She had faith -  she believed that God's plan would be fulfilled in her.

After receiving the news, she rushed off to her cousin, Elizabeth, who was carrying her own gift from God. The words Mary speaks, in response to Elizabeth, are the words of worship that should come from our lips, no matter what God allows in our life.

It's often called "The Magnificat".

Why?

Because of the words that come from her lips, before any other.

"My soul doth magnify the Lord"

Her situation, humanly speaking, was a difficult one, yet she chose to magnify, praise, and glorify God, before anything else.  Lifting HIM high, above her circumstances, as the one who does "all things well".

How far from that the refrains of MY heart often are.  Trying situations do not automatically spring to magnifying God - rather, we so often jump to despair and doubt.  That is not the way God wants us to live! He wants us to see HIM in everything - His perfect, leading, guiding, and sustaining presence, no matter the circumstance.

She turns her focus away from the frailty of her own flesh, and the opinions and criticism of those around her, and onto the Lord God, and His blessings abundant.


"my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. 
For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. 
For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. 
And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. 
He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. 
He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. 
He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. 
He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever."


Nothing of self - all of God.

That is how God wants us to live our lives.  We need to keep our focus upon Him.  Taking the circumstances which He has allowed, in His infinite wisdom, and bringing praise and glory to Him through it all.   Although God's ways seem mysterious, rejoicing.

Turning our back on the dissenters, and keeping our eyes firmly upon the one who  planned it all.

His glory.  Our good.

Mary's life didn't get EASIER, humanly speaking.  The bitter sorrow of seeing your son - GOD'S Son - nailed to a cruel cross, is unfathomable.  Yet her faith and trust carried on - she KNEW He was the Saviour.  She knew it was why she had carried Him, and cared for Him.  It was hard, but it was necessary.

Our life is filled with hard, but necessary, things.  God's perfect way is filled with things often NOT of our choosing.  They are mysterious to us, and past finding out, so, so often.

The underpinning principle is the same as that of Mary.

God's ways lead us closer to HIM.

Mary was as physically close to Jesus, as anyone could be.

She carried Him in her womb - she birthed him amongst the filth - she nourished and tenderly cared for Him, as a babe - she provided for His physical needs as He grew from babe, to child, to adult - she followed after Him right to the cross - she formed part of the early Church, as they met together to pray and learn.

Our trials should bring glory to God, and draw us close to His side.

Our soul, no matter how mysterious His ways, ever magnifying God.










Friday, 12 December 2014

Cake, craft and companionship {the blessing of making new friends}

Last night, I was incredibly blessed.

My lovely sister-in-law hosted an evening, which she called "Cake and Craft".

How to make many women happy - put those two things together in one sentence.

Cake.

Craft.

Ohhhhhh yeah.

I was instructed to bring some cake, and whatever craft I was working on.  So, I brought two cakes, and all the craft I am working on.

Needless to say, I was heavily laden.

I brought my faithful brownies (a bit undercooked, as I did a "lastminute.com"), and a THM inspired raspberry and almond slice.

Craft wise, I just chucked all my current projects in a bag.  That would be 4 involving yarn (not including my never ending blanket, which keeps ending up on the back burner), and one involving felt.  I had great aspirations to work on the project involving felt, but that didn't happen.

You see, the most precious part of the evening was not what we were to bring, but who brought it.  I had the wonderful opportunity to meet some of the other Mums from a home-ed group my SIL goes to, and whom I had never met before.

These ladies were all lovely.  All different situations.  All different groupings of children.  All different backgrounds.  All united in Christ.

THAT was the precious part.  Fellowship with others of "like precious faith".

Being able to share in our common interests, not least of all home schooling.  Talking about our children and families - the varying struggles and challenges we mutually shared.

That feeling and sense of not being alone in the journey.

It was such an edifying experience, and one I simply don't get the chance to do very often.

I am a VERY sociable person, and I find it hard to not have much contact with other adults, more especially women.

God created us to have companionship.  Firstly He made that perfect union of man and wife, united in marriage. From that flows family, then community, and friendships.  So much of that community amongst family, and Christians, is not the same as it was years ago.  It's not so immediate. It's not always right there, at "hands reach".  It's something that you often have to FIND.  And, like digging for treasure, in a deep, dark mine, it's worth finding.  Fellowship with other Mums is like the glistening of a diamond, dug out from the dark, grimy rock that it has been buried in. It shimmers and shines, from the darkness.

I'm not saying, for a moment, that my life is dark and dull.  I love my children.  I love my responsibilities.  But the craving for companionship can feel dark and lonely.  Finding the gem of fellowship brings beauty and encouragement.

Having spent such a blessed evening together, we want more.  It's our hope to meet together again, in order to be an ongoing help and encouragement to each other. To share experience - to lift each others spirits - to guide in spiritual matters - to laugh and bring joy.

I had thought that I didn't have much opportunity to meet with other Mums, because I don't know that many who could meet together like that.  How glad I am for a sister-in-law who thought of including me in her get together, and encouraging me in tat way.

It has made me realise that the things we need in life are not always immediately obvious.  We may have to look for them, or think of different ways to go about accomplishing things, than we originally envisioned.  It has made me realise that God answers prayers in HIS perfect timing.  The many years I have had with few opportunities to meet others were for a reason.  Those years have taught me much, and maybe now is the time to meet with others, so I can share what God has taught ME!?


I had heard Sally Clarkson talking about "Mom Heart Groups", where Mums got together to fellowship and encourage one another.  I had sighed deeply, and thought, "Wouldn't THAT be nice?"  Well, maybe, now there is  a way to HAVE that!?  A group of Mums, wanting to be the best they can be for their families, and seeking to be encouraged!  Sally's new book, "Own Your Life" points us to remember that God has given us the ability to live life fully, for Him.  It's up to us to make the best choices we can, and connecting with other people is a wonderful way in which live life fully.






I am praying that this New Year will bring the opportunity to have such a group, and share with others in our walk with God and I pray that the Lord will be able to use me to build up and encourage others, in their walk with God.




Own Your Life by Sally Clarkson

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Teaching children life skills {investing time, to shape their future}

Our home has been filled with much activity recently.  Mummy busy, children busy, and Daddy busy.

My lovely husband is a highly skilled "jack of all trades"!

Well, I think so, anyway.

He is able to turn his hand to just about ANY practical job, which has saved us a LOT of money, over the years.  He amazes me, regularly, as to what he can do. From laying laminate floor in an evening, to fixing light fittings - building sheds, to making rope swings - fitting cabinets and work surface, to creating desks for the children's school room. I could go on, but I don't like to boast.....

I was pondering, as he was busy the other evening, on WHY he was able to do this.

The answer is two-fold.

Firstly, his Dad TAUGHT him.  I will be eternally grateful that my father-in-law is, himself, so skilled in many, many practical ways. Being a man who has worked on the land, in farming situations, he can turn his hand to just about anything.  Not just in a basic, "fluffing it" way - VERY well. He has then taken the time to teach his two sons the many things he can do, for which I know my sister-in-law is also thankful! As boys, growing up, they were expected to work on the nursery, too, so their Dad naturally taught them to do the things HE did. He knew that they may, one day, need to be able to do these things for themselves. HOW RIGHT HE WAS!!! To be fair, Robert no longer has need to walk on stilts or reverse a tractor and trailer through a tight space (yes, my husband can walk on stilts!), but who knows when it could be hand? The "around the house" skills, however, are invaluable.

Secondly, his Dad was happy for his children to watch him do things.  My sister-in-law, Anna, (Robert's sister), was telling me, the other day, that she can even do many things, or at least knows how to tell someone else to do them, because her Dad simply let her observe him as he worked. It's amazing what a child can pick up by watching something being done, time and time again.

As parents, we have a wonderful opportunity to pass on skills to our children.  We don't all, as parents, have the same skills, and that is fine! Your hubby may not be able to do the jobs mine can, and I know there are many things other people's hubbies can do, that mine CAN'T! Likewise, as a mother, there are things I can do, which others can't, and vice versa.

The WHAT doesn't matter.

DOING it, matters.

Taking the time to pass on skills to our children, to help them be prepared for jobs in the future.  Having the patience (yes, PATIENCE!) and willingness to bring them alongside us and showing them how to do things, like we do. From making custard from scratch (something my Mum did!), to showing them how to bake a cake.  Laundry jobs.  Hobbies.  Computer skills. Sewing a button on.  The list is endless!

Even just taking the time to teach basic skills like cleaning.  Showing them how a basic chore is done correctly, like tidying their room! They won't know if you don't teach them, and especially showing them by example!

Simply having your children with you whilst you do jobs will help them in the future.

God has shaped our own past, with all of our experiences and skills acquired. What our parents have invested in us, we should make sure and pass on to the next generation.

Maybe your parents DIDN'T teach you much? Perhaps you feel you don't have much to pass on? There are two possibilities! Firstly, that you have skills and talents you just haven't thought of! Maybe you can teach your children about being generous with their time and efforts, or how to show kindness and love.  Maybe you can teach them to be thoughtful.  Perhaps you can teach your sons how to show thoughtfulness and compassion to their future wives, and your daughters how to be supportive and submissive?

Secondly, you could LEARN things yourself! You could ask a friend to teach you how to do something you'd like to be able to do.  There are also loads of adult learning courses for many practical topics, which can save you lots of money in the long run.  Don't forget the Internet! If in doubt, find an instruction video on YouTube!

We have it within our power to massively help our children in future years, by teaching them NOW.  They are never too young to watch us while we work, and it can equally give wonderful opportunities for conversation, too.  Win-win! We are investing our time wisely, if we teach our children in practical life skills, every opportunity we can get.







Monday, 8 December 2014

Own Your Life {New Sally Clarkson book, coming SOON!}

As you may remember, I had the joy of finally meeting Sally Clarkson, in person, last month.  As someone whose books have challenged me, and encouraged me, I was super excited to find out that she had a new book coming out.  What she spoke to us about, that day in Oxford, was the essence of the content of the book.



Own


I was invited to join the team, helping to launch Sally's book, so, TODAY, I can finally share with you a little about it.  How can I resist sharing what looks to be a wonderfully helpful book?

First off, watch what Sally says about, then I will tell you some more.




I SO love that teacup analogy.  It really helps to understand the principle which Sally seeks to expand in the book.

We have a life, which God has wonderfully gifted to us.  The circumstances which are part of that, no matter how easy or hard, are also given by God. They belong exclusively to us, and it is our duty, and should be our delight, to live it out as faithfully and fully as we have the capacity to do.

Not half heartedly.

Not begrudgingly.

Not resentfully.

Not cautiously.

But.....

Fully.

Joyfully.

Embracing.

Boldly.


There are so many situations we find ourselves in, which can make us, or break us.  It's entirely up to us how we approach it.  If we can always see God's hand in it all - as the Giver of every perfect and good gift, which everything that comes from Him IS - then we will live life in a transformed way.

I know that I can find myself wallowing and struggling through circumstances that come my way, as well as the everyday sort of issues that are part of life as a mother.  My attitude towards all these things is the key to enjoying life as fully as God intended me to.  How can I live a life that brings glory to God, if I only live it half-heartedly, and with the wrong attitudes? How can I bring glory to Him if I don't do EVERYTHING heartily, as to the Lord? *note to self - that includes toilet training, and all the other "not-so-fun" things*

This is a book about fighting mediocrity, pursuing purpose, resting in God's sovereignty, having a heart transformed by God, and above else, loving.

It's practical, it's meditative, it's heart-warming, and it's full of Sally's personal touch.

I KNOW that Sally's heart's desire would be to sit down with each lady who reads her books, and to help and encourage them.  She can't do that, so this book is an extension of her own heart, right into the hands and hearts of YOU, the reader.

If there is one book you want to get this year, to fill you with a renewed passion as a woman of God, THIS is it.  You see, it's not JUST all about you - it's about how you can shape the lives of those around you - the people whom God has given you to share the journey you are on.

Investing in it, will be investing for your family, too.

Sally quotes a Bible verse in the book, which really sets up the challenge that the book is all about.

"For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him."
II Chronicles 16:9

This is a verse in the KJV which doesn't fully express, in our modern day English, what the verses MEANS.

"Perfect toward him"  means "fully given to him".

FULLY.

GIVEN.

That's what "Owning our Life" means - to give ourselves fully to Him, and fully live that life FOR Him.

I know I want a life fully given to God, and fully lived out for Him.  I know I want to use every means I can to live it that way, and Sally's new book looks like a perfect tool for such a job.

You can pre-order it,  from HERE for the US, and HERE for the UK.  It's a reduced price, right now, and if you head over to Sally's website, you can see some super multi-buy extras, too.

If you follow Sally's page on Facebook, and her blog, you will also see lots of sneaky peeks and insights from the book, as the publication date creeps closer! You won't be disappointed!

I'm not going to buy the book, though.

I will leave that wide open for one of my lovely people in my life, to get it for me for my Birthday! You know who you are!







Friday, 5 December 2014

Why I don't like Santa {the antithesis to Jesus}

I was standing waiting to get served at my local store, when I heard a child talking to a parent. The child was pawing at some lip balm (of all things), wanting some.

The mother replied thus

"If you are good boy, you may be lucky and Santa will bring you some"

I have had SO many people ask my children -

"So, what are you wanting from Santa"

"Have you been a good boy/girl?"

I politely reply that half my children have no idea who this "Santa" is, who they speak of, and the others are not awaiting any gifts from aforementioned character.

I got thinking, though, tonight, about Santa, and what that woman said to her child.

"If you are good" and "Santa will bring you some".

It got me thinking about the truth of gift-giving.

It got me thinking about the "Giver", and what I want my children to know about Him.

 I want my children to learn about the greatest Giver.

Jesus.

I want them to know that they are NOT good.  That they are sinners, in the sight of a righteous God.


"Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. 
For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous."
Romaans 5:18-19


I need them to know that no matter WHAT good they try to do, they are still sinners, and they do NOT deserve any good thing.

They can try as hard as they want, but doing good will not get them closer to Jesus, and to the Salvation they need.

"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 
Not of works, lest any man should boast."
Ephesians 2:8-9

What they need is a Saviour.  The one who came as babe, wrapped in mortal frailty, born in such humble surroundings. The one who grew to be a man who would heal the sick, raise the dead, make the blind to see.  The one who spilled His blood, on a cruel Roman cross, to take the penalty for sin, so they could be saved.

NOTHING they can do will save them from sin's penalty. They can be good, nice, wonderful, and lovely until the cows come home - it's worth NOTHING.

I need them to understand that.

That Jesus is the best, and only, gift they will ever need.  A gift that was offered freely, with no conditions.


"For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. "
Romans 6:23



Jesus.  The Best Gift.


"Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift."
2 Corinthians 9:15


If I want them to understand that, I need the concept to be reinforced in our lives.

That means, for me, at Christmas they get gifts from their parents.  They are given out of love - unconditional love - and don't have a requirement of "good" or "nice", in order to be given. No threats for weeks on end, hoping to get good behaviour from them to "deserve" their gift.

Given, simply because we love them, and it's good to give.

We want our children to see the connection.  That their parents express their love,  in part,  through gift-giving.  That God is the ultimate gift-giver - Jesus, the best gift.  Both given from unconditional love. Both given despite the recipient being undeserving.

How can I teach these truths to my children, if I tell them lies about a man who will give them gifts if they are good? I just can't do it.

I want my children to learn only of the kind of love and giving that is a reflection of that is a reflection of

Santa just doesn't cut it for us.

A demonstration of unconditional love, does.



Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Family photos {a day of memories}

Yesterday I had a very trying day.

Yesterday I had a very wonderful day.

Are the two mutually exclusive?

Let me explain.

Every year we send a Christmas card with a photo of the children on it.  It's a nice way for people to see how the children are growing up, and have record of how they look at that age and stage.

Some years I attempt it on my own.

That's, erm, fun.

Some years I have some others to try and make them smile.

That's also fun.

Some years, my incredibly kind brother-in-law has done it, with the help of my awesome sister.

This year, my awesome sister did it, using her incredibly kind husband's equipment!

Eight children.

One photo.

That's the aim.

Yes, well.....

However, for all this to happen, I need to travel, with all 8 children, about an hour and 45 minutes away.  My parents also live nearby, so they offered to feed and water us for the day, as the awesome sister is getting work done in  her house. (Rather you than me, sis - but it will look amazing when it's done!)

We set off, about when I planned to.

Clothes for photo shoot.  Check.

PJs for coming home at night.  Check.

Changing bag.  Check.

Children dressed in suitable clothing..... ummmmmm

I got a gorgeous hooded top, given to Tabitha for her birthday.  So snuggly.  So warm.  Co incredibly cute.  Great for car journeys...

Off we toddled, and all was going swimmingly well, until we hit the M1.  Signs telling me "Major delays after Junction 12".  Well, considering we get on at 13, it wasn't boding well.

I phoned aforementioned awesome sister, and she told me that there had been an accident further down, and I reprogrammed the SatNav (GPS) to avoid the M1.

Well, it avoided it for a little while, then tried to get me back on too soon, resulting in more back roads than we had already experienced.

Then more back roads.

All the time, Tabitha in her cosy jumper.

She started to get moany - she does that, in the car.

Next  thing, Daniel announces "Mum, Tabitha has just had a big vom".

Seems Tabitha gets car sick, when too warm in the car.

So, that added some extra time onto the journey.

Trying to clean her up with a cold, biting wind whipping into the bus, was interesting, with all the other children saying "I'm cold, Mum"!

EVENTUALLY, after a THREE hour journey, we arrived.

It was so lovely to see my parents, my sister and my nieces.  One of the best moments was when my parents told me they LIKED my new glasses.  Given the mixed response I have had elsewhere, that meant a lot.

We ate lunch, then hurried off for the photos to be done.

As my sister finished setting up, I asked an older sibling to take care of Tabitha, whilst I got others ready for the pictures.

Next thing, she fell over and bashed her head - BIG TIME - on some stocks.

Yes, some stocks.

Not the scented, floral variety (yes, there are flowers called stocks)...

The type used to keep prisoners from running off.

(Doesn't every Church's Sunday School room have them?.... I'm going to just leave that there without explanation, because it is quite funny to think of that being there, as if they torture their Sunday School students... bwahahaha)

Large, purple bump on her head.  Terrific.

(Awesome sister says she can edit it out, because she's awesome, don'tcha know?)

Well, we had fun.  Some children posed beautifully.  Some posed hilariously.  Getting the group shot was almost impossible, as Tabitha didn't want to sit still. Then there are the children who keep looking away, or looking at me instead of the camera (oops....).  We did our best, and my awesome sister is working her magic on a finished product.

Then, I went to see the work being done at my sister's house, which is lovely, because now I can "see" it in my mind, instead of just imagining what's happening.

Back to my parents for dinner, and a chat.

The day ended with me helping my Mum, by drying up the dishes.  Seemingly mundane, I guess?

However, as I was thinking about my day, with it's trials, and challenges, this "mundane" made me smile.

I used to dry up the dishes a lot when I was a girl.  You remember the days, before dishwashers? It was, more often than not, a time to chat, and often have fun with siblings.  I may be remembering with rose tinted spectacles, and perhaps we bickered, too.  My memories, today, were happy ones.

It was also precious just to talk, in person, with my Mum. To share recent experiences, and to talk about my children, and how they are growing up.  The challenges of parenting.  Our memories of years gone by.

From start, to finish, it was a day all about family.  Travelling to see family. Family who are generous with their time, efforts, gifts, and homes. Family who God has given me to care for.  Family who, when I got home, had done painting in my utility room, and bathrooms, so that they look super duper. Family who my children got to see in old photos, and giggle at, and exclaim how alike they were to themselves, with great excitement.

Family.

Family is a gift.  It's a treasure to be valued and appreciated. I wish I lived closer to my family.  My parents and sister, with her husband and girls, live the closest, and my brothers are over the sea, with their wives, and my nephews. None of them are close, really.  Especially when you have the journey I had yesterday!

Yet, it was so worth it.  So worth it for the moments where I laughed with my sister at my posing 4 year old.  Worth it for seeing my oldest child chat so happily with  his Grandpa.  Worth it see Tabitha giggle when she did Eskimo Kisses with Grandpa.  Worth it to chat with my Mum, in her kitchen like old times.  Worth it to eat a dinner I didn't have to make myself.  Worth it to relive memories when looking at old photos.

Just, worth it, because family IS worth it.

God gave us family.  Right in the beginning, when He saw that it wasn't good for man to be alone, the concept of family began, and it was good.  Two become one, which, if God sees fit, can become three, or more.  Generations are added, and parents become grandparents.  Such wonderful blessing.

Of course, when God established this family unit, they stayed close to each other, in a community sense.  They were able to support and encourage each other in a tangible way.  As the world has become a smaller place, this has shattered.  So few families remain in a close proximity with all their near relatives.  We have phones, FaceTime and Skype, of course, but nothing can replicate actual, physical time together.  It's precious.  It's uplifting.  It's a joy.

Now, as I look back on my day yesterday, I can see that what I am doing as a mother, today, is forging the kind of thoughts, in my children's minds, that I am thinking.  The little things, like singing in the car, laughing along with them at Adventures in Odyssey, or chuckling with them at old photos, are the memories THEY will have as an adult.  Going to visit grandparents.  Having an Aunt willing to spend time taking photos of them, and making them laugh.  They are all memory makers.

Maybe you don't have such happy  family memories.  Well, make sure YOU are making good ones for your children RIGHT NOW! It doesn't have to be big things.  Just the little things are forging happy memories of tomorrow.

As their Mum, I need to put in the effort today, to make the memories of tomorrow.  It doesn't have to be spectacular things - the simple things, like chatting whilst you wash dishes, can be  memory maker. They make memories which remind us of what a blessing our family is, and we can acknowledge God's grace in goodness in giving us to each other.

I truly hope, in the future, our children will look back and think the same.

In the meantime, I will look forward to having the photos to remind me of my wonderful day.

(As well as the ones taken by me, and, well, the picture says it all....)



 




(I did not have any hand in the making of that ^^^^  - self confession all the way)



Monday, 1 December 2014

God's way, the high way {making beauty, from the mess}

Today was the day.

The day I had been busily planning for, for weeks.

Today was December the first.  The day we would start our month of giving. All of our fun activities.

Our giving.

Our focussing on the Saviour.

The greatest Gift of all.

It wasn't quite the day I had planned.

We all slept in, then the children had jobs to do, then I had jobs to do.

Before I knew it, it was only 30 minutes until lunch.  I wanted, desperately, to start well, so we read our scripture, and we read our "Giving" challenge for today.  We were planning to make a gift for some family we are visiting.

We also planned to sort the clothes from last season, to get stored away, and thin out what we had, to give to charity, when we put them away in boxes.  It was a job we planned to begin today, but knew it wouldn't get finished until Wednesday. That was fine.  The boys brought it all to the dining room, and the girls sorted it out.  Success!

I planned to read Jotham's Journey in the evening, before bed.  I had it all organised, in my mind. My mother-in-law also gave us an Advent Candle, that we planned to light whilst we read.

The afternoon held a trip out to the shops.  I needed some craft supplies for our home-ed group on Thursday, and we needed to pick up some new shirts for the boys, for our photo session tomorrow.  As with all plans involving a trip out with eight children, it never takes as little time as you expect.  ALWAYS more.  We had a lovely wander around The Range, but it just took longer than I planned.  By the time we got home, it was almost time for dinner, so the craft didn't get started.

Dinner, clear up, messing around, and FINALLY we began the craft activity, whilst I read Jotham's Journey.

Candle lit, reading started - then began the interruptions.

Children asking for help with the craft, little ones getting tired and cranky, and me not being very patient.  Then I noticed the time, when my patient husband phoned, wondering when he should come home to eat.... it was 8pm!

So, Jotham was paused , and I told them we would read extra tomorrow.

Then came teeth brushing, children crying and having accidents, and finally, bed.

It was not the way I planned it.  There had been tears, tantrums, impatience, and a complete deviation from things being the way I hoped.

It was messy.

It was imperfect.

It was REAL.

Yet, there was still beauty at the end of it all.  We had still learnt of God, and His plan for salvation.  We had thought upon giving and generosity.  Seeds were sown in their hearts.

We had created gifts, that I KNOW the recipients will love, because they were created by children, longing to love others.

There was mess, and plans which didn't work, but beauty came, in spite of my plans failing.

It pointed me to my Saviour.

It pointed me to a truth I read, just this morning.

"Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD,he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. 
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."
Isaiah 55:7-9


Our lives our ruined by sin.  All our ways are nothing, because the imperfection of sin taints them.  No matter how hard we try, we will fail.  We are sinners by nature, and our heart is inclined toward sin and self.

Yet, God has mercy.  He ABUNDANTLY pardons. He makes beauty, out of our mess.

Why?

Because His thoughts and ways are so much higher than ours, in that place that forgives, despite what our puny minds can understand. It's not dependant on our perfection, but upon His greatness, mercy and grace.

Despite our messy, broken days, we can start again the next day, back on track, because He abundantly pardons.  We turn from our sins, turn our back on what we have done - on the mess, the failings, and the imperfections - and start over again, through His ways, higher than ours. Through His mercy.

Oh, how thankful I am, that despite the mess I can make, and the days, spiritually, which don't turn out how I planned, God's ways are higher.





Friday, 28 November 2014

A month of Advent fun and giving {plus me giving to YOU... FREE printables and a GIVE-AWAY!}

I am so excited!

This year, I am going to lighten up and make December a fun-filled month, in the middle of the dark, cold winter.

IT all started when I found an "Advent Calendar", in the form of a stocking garland, for a great price! It was only £4.50 in Home Bargains - a bargain, indeed.





At first, I thought I would just put one decent chocolate in each, and the children would take it in turns to have one.

Then, I decided that I wanted to make the whole month more fun.

That's when my brain started going wild with ideas!!!!

Firstly, I want to focus on scripture.

Now, I know we don't know exactly when Jesus was born, but I reckon it's always a good thing to focus on His birth - it's so incredibly wonderful and special.

So, I have come up with 24 different scripture verses, or portions - one for each day.  We will read it together, and talk about what it means. I had such a special time, today, looking through various scriptures, and trying to wheedle it down to just 24! It brought great joy to my heart to read those special verses - it really did reiterate, to me, how precious the Incarnation IS!

I will pop these little scripture cards in each stocking, along with the cards I will get to in a moment.



If you want to print off the same cards, shaped as tags, click on the images below, and it will take you to the file.  They span from Genesis to the accounts of Jesus' birth in Matthew and Luke.







You could, of course, use any scripture verses you want, and use the printable via the image below.







         


Next, we are going to go through the book Jotham's Journey.  This is a fictional story, based on scripture, which brings many fascinating things to life, associated with the account of the incarnation.  It should be a lovely read-aloud for each day.




The next thing I want to focus on is GIVING.

I think it's SO easy for children to get caught up on GETTING at this time of year.  Thinking about what they WANT.  I really want to instil in my children - not just now, but all the time - of the importance of GIVING.  It's such a scriptural principle, that shouldn't be ignored.  I have come up with a list of things to do, which go from the simple, to the more complex - from those nearby, to those further afield.   I am going to use the blank tags above, to write out which "giving" activity we will do each day.  I will share some of these with you now, but will tell you about them, either as I do them, or when we have finished.

This is the list, so far.



Gifts to each other
 - having a “give each other kind words” day;
 - do chores for each other; 
 - do chores for Mummy, 
 - do chores for Daddy
 - help prepare for Christmas meals, to help Mummy, Daddy and extended family, too!

Gifts to extended family 
 - making place cards for Christmas; 
 - recital for Great-Granny;  
 - make cards and thank them for their love, and tell them what you love about them;
 - make Christmas craft kits and send them to your cousins (shhhhhhhh - parents, don't tell!!)


Gifts to friends
 - visit Jean (elderly lady in Church)
 - bake for elderly 
 - invite friends over and make them a meal
 - surprise a friend with a visit and do something to help them

Gifts to those nearby
 - sing at Broomfield (local nursing home)
 - bake for Police/Fire/medical staff 
 - give away toys
 - donate  something to Specsavers gifts for children 
 - donation to local homeless shelter 
 - sort through clothes and donate to charity; 
 - donate craft kits to the children at the hospital


Gifts to those abroad 
 - letter for military 
 - support a child abroad 
 - send a letter to a foreign child  


The next thing that we plan to do is to just have a general, merry time making  seasonal themed crafts, and doing lots of seasonal read alouds.

If you want to see my ideas for crafts, visit my board,  on Pinterest, which you can find up at the top of the side bar, here on the blog, on the right.

 I will also find free, printable worksheets for the basic school subjects, just to make it more fun.  We will do a few Christmas themed writing projects, such as these writing prompts from Writeshop.  Keep reading for exciting news on that topic!....

You can find more great suggestions at 101 Random Acts of Kindness, here.

The Minimalist Mom has some ideas for advent activities here.

Anna, at The Imagination Tree has done her own version of "Elf on a Shelf", and provided me with inspiration for some of my activities.

Now, I can't have a month focussing on giving without giving, right??

The lovely Kim Kautzer, from Writeshop, has kindly donated the prize for not 1, not 2, but THREE of you to win your own Winter Word Bank writing prompt set.  It's a great little product, filled with word based writing activities for your children.  They give you several ideas of what to do with the over 200 winter words they give you, as well as about 120 printable cards, to use for inspiration.  You can enter below, by either visiting my page for The Joyful Keeper, on Facebook, or by commenting under this post.  Feel free to share with your friends, so they can enter, too!


So, there you have it! Free printables, a give-away, and some fun ideas, for December!

If you have any ways in which YOU have done activities through this season, then please link up, or share in the comments.




a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Tots on a Tuesday {Mess free finger painting - ohhhhhh yeah!}

I was tidying up my homeschooling supplies, in a bid to chip away every day at my clutter problem, (Yes, I have a clutter problem - the first step in rehabilitation is acknowledging, right?.....) when I came across a set of finger paints I had stashed away.

Now, I am the epitomy of the useless home-educating mother.

I HATE strongly dislike things that make mess.  Mess = extra clearing up to do, on top of normal life with 8 children.

Yup.

I avoid messy activities like the plague.

I have recently come to the conclusion, however, that it MAY be ok, under strict management.

MAYBE.

Better still is finding a painting activity that makes NO MESS?!!?

Yes, you read right.

NO MESS.

I was wandering around on Pinterest (wandering? perusing? obtaining creative inspiration?), when I came across a GENIUS idea.

It's quite simple, really.  All you need is ziplock bags, electrical tape, and paint. Not in that order, or it won't be mess free....

Put a few good squidges of paint in the bag, and squeeze out the air.

Shut the bag.

Put a piece of white paper onto the table.





Tape the bag  VERY firmly to the table, over the paper.




(Of course, making it a sneaky lesson in colour mixing, and primary/secondary colours, is always good!)


Let the little ones loose.

Hope fervently you have taped the bags down correctly....

The result??















(Elijah, only second time writing his name - not perfect, I know, but *I* didn't teach him, he taught himself - clever little chappie!)



This activity is a lot of fun, easy to do, and if you are careful, very much reusable.  I will be doing it again, especially when we get to doing phonics with the younger children, as it's a great kinesthetic, and fun,  way to do letter formation.

Oh, and remember the "no mess" part??

Just don't leave any pencils nearby a 2 year old, and it will be FINE.

Minimal mess, thankfully. Minimal.

Compared with normal painting??

LOVE it!

On Pinterest, I also saw people putting it up on the window, for little ones to do. My slight concern would be that if there were a leakage in that situation, clean up would be more tricky than my tiny dribble on a wipe clean cloth. If you're brave, you could give it a go! 


Please feel free to link up with any posts you have on Tots Activities, and pop the button on your post!  We'd love to see what activities you are doing with your tots! 



TheJoyfulKeeper
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Monday, 24 November 2014

"That's Amazin' {telling our children of God's greatness}

At the weekend, we were all in London, as Robert was preaching at a service there. Our journey brought us past Terminal 5, at Heathrow -  its newest terminal building.

It was night time, and it was all lit up.  It's a huge, glass building, and looks pretty awesome.

As we drove past, a little two-year old voice spoke up from the back, and said

"LOOK, Mum. That's AMAZIN'"

He was absolutely awed by this enormous, bright and shiny building.

You see, we live in a sleepy country village, and he doesn't see many building bigger than a manor house.  Rarely, we go to the big towns, but shopping centres are not quite like Terminal 5!

His new word (I've never heard him say "amazing" before!), and the gasps, and tone of voice that went with it, made me smile.

Then it made me think.

It made me think about God.

We, as the parents, know how wonderful God is.  We may have known Him, through our personal relationship with Jesus, for many years.

We know how wonderful, great, and amazing He is.

Sometimes, we can even lose the wonder, because we don't dwell upon that greatness as much as we ought to.

Our children, however, will not see how amazing God is, if we don't show Him to them.

If I keep Simeon at home, and never expose him to places like Terminal 5, he'll never have those amazing moments where he sees something new, and takes great joy in it.

Similarly, our children need us to tell them about our great God.

Of His love, grace, mercy, lovingkindness, and most importantly, His great salvation.


Look to God's Word, and see it for yourself.

"We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done."
Psalm 78:4



We need to tell them, so that THEY can see the wonderful of it, and how truly amazing it is.

They won't know, if we don't expose them to the amazing truth of God's Word, and how they can know it for themselves.

As those bright lights shone out, on a dark night, making a building look spectacular, if we share God's Word and ways, with our children, the wonder of it will shine out, like a light in the darkness, into their hearts.

We need to keep the wonder in our own hearts, so we will share it with our children.

Remember His wonderful acts toward us.

Remember His incredible attributes.

Remember His greatness.

Expose your children to the wonderful knowledge of God, and His ways. Then, watch as they learn of His greatness, in a personal way, in amazement.







Saturday, 22 November 2014

Faithfulness {every night}

Another "working" week has come and gone.

I know, I know, us mothers don't have a "working week".  It's sun up, to sun down, every day of the year.

In this house, though, there is a little pressure lifted off, as school has finished for the weekend.  Yes, there are still jobs for me to do, but the added strain of school is lifted.

I'll not lie.

I love to homeschool, but I love Friday nights.

I'm about to iron for a little while, as I do every Friday night.  Then I will relax. Internally, and externally.  It's a chance for a "breather", when I can unwind, and the pace changes.

This evening, my mind has been drawn to God's faithfulness.

My lovely friend, Menekse (Men-eck-sha, in case you are wondering.....), has just started up a home business, making hand made items, in particular fabric art to hang on the wall.  (Shameless plug coming up ..... find her at The Primrose Parasol, on Etsy, or on Facebook)  When she opened her Etsy shop the other week, after giving sneak peeks of the upcoming products, my eye was drawn to THIS beauty.





THIS is one of my all time favourite verses.  I'll not get into the many reasons why, right now, but suffice to say, I have MUCH to be thankful for, and I try to do so every day.


The next verse, though, is so important, too.


"To shew forth thy lovingkindness in the morning, and thy faithfulness every night".



Thankfulness stems from two crucial things.

God's lovingkindness, and His faithfulness.

Without those two elements, I have NOTHING to be thankful for at all.

Without it, I am lost, and hopeless.

The Psalmist also says

"Because thy lovingkindness is BETTER THAN LIFE, my lips shall praise thee".


My life is FILLED with wonderful things, all graciously given from God.  

Filled.

No matter what testing and trials I am going through (and, trust me, I have them), I have so much in my life for which I can be thankful.

Think of it.

Think of all the wonderful things you have, right now.

It will take you some time.

Now, think that God's lovingkindness is BETTER than that.

His love.  His kindness.  It's better than any of those wonderful things for which we are thankful.

How can we do anything BUT praise Him, and return thanks to the Giver of every good and perfect gift?

Now see how that verse tells us we should begin and end our day?

We don't begin with a sigh, as we have to get up, yet again, from beautiful sleep, to attend to our daily responsibilities.

No, we start by shewing forth His lovingkindness.

Not "think", or "breathe a silent thank-you", for it - SHEW FORTH! Let everyone around us KNOW we are thankful for His lovingkindness, in the way we greet the day, and greet them.  Our lives should be ones that reflect our gratitude. 

How should we end?

With a head hitting the pillow, thankful once again for sleep, awaiting us, and a "I'm so glad THAT day is over"?

No, we end with expressing appreciation for His faithfulness, every night.

Not forgetting it -  but being thankful for it, and saying so.

I am guilty of forgetting.  I remember to say thank-you through the day, and forget to end it well, with acknowledgement of God's faithfulness.

Oh, how faithful!
Faithfulness encompasses God's security, stability, steadiness, truth and trustworthiness.

At the end of the day, we can raise our Ebenezer - "Hitherto hath  the Lord helped me".

No matter what happens, GOD IS FAITHFUL.

I can't worry about the "what ifs" of my testing situations, I need to just trust that God is, and will be, faithful.  Ending the day with that thought chases away any doubt, fear and anxiety. 

Focus on the thankfulness.

So, today, I look at so much around me, and I am thankful.  

Thankful for God's lovingkindness and faithfulness, which then gives me SO much for which to be thankful, right here, right now.



Thankful for my crazy children, making funny faces to their Uncle, a token of God's faithfulness in giving them life, health, wonderful personalities.




The faithfulness of God in the salvation of Bethany, and her realisation that she needed to share that with others.

God's faithfulness in gifting me with a wonderful husband, whom He gives great leadership, grace and love, to bless me with as his wife.




My precious girls, who God has faithfully given to us, to bring joy into our lives. 








God's faithfulness in giving me strength to deal with my two most challenging children, so far!  Such joy, along with the challenges!






God's faithfulness in giving life to this precious, growing girl, when we thought that her life was gone.






A recently rediscovered photo, reminding me of God' faithfulness as He placed me in a loving, kind, supportive and wonderful family, as I grew up, who all love and serve the Lord where He has placed them,

(Photo August '05)





Every morning....






Every night....




Thankfulness.

Lovingkindness.

Faithfulness.











Equipping Godly Women

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Being a soft place {good wives use soft words}

I have been through some very testing times in my courtship, in days long, long ago.  Being in a long distance relationship brought many hardships.  As I look back, I see things which I would have done differently, with the advantage of age, and experience, now on my side.  As the nature of life is, however, I came across difficulties that really challenged me in many ways.

In the course of one such trying time, a certain gentleman told me I was to be a "soft place" for my "young man".

At the time, I was so heartbroken  over another incident, that the words didn't really sink in.  I thought I WAS being a soft place, already.

I was thinking about it again, today. You often hear of someone being stuck between a "rock and a hard place".  This was the context where my "soft place" was suggested. I realised, today, that the concept of being a "soft place" still slightly stings in my heart, when, in fact it shouldn't.  Today, I needed to bring this to the Lord, and instead focus on being exactly what I need to be for Robert - a soft place.

I know, in many ways, I already am.  I have not always been, to my sadness.

How CAN I be a "soft place" for my husband?  What can I do to be "soft" instead of "hard"?

When you think about a soft place, what does it even conjure up in your mind?

Mine thinks of my snuggly, soft bed, with a deliciously comfy mattress, which I can sink my weary body into at night.



That's what we need to be for our husband.  No sharp edges.  No lumpy, bumpiness.

A soft place.

A solace.

A comfort.

I think the most important thing, that this "soft place"  can be, is my words.

Proverbs tells us

"A soft word turneth away wrath".


We have SO much power in our words. How we say and what we say can influence the spirit of those around us, especially our spouse.  We have the power to be soft and gentle, which leads to anger being turned away.

It's so easy, in the hustle and bustle of a busy mother's life, to forget that our husband doesn't want to come home, at the end of the day, to a screaming, crazy wife, getting schitzy at the children, and snippy with him!  What has HE done to deserve such hard treatment??

Maybe there are times when you DO think such treatment is deserved?

I'm going to be frankly honest with you here.

I made a lovely dinner for my hubby and myself the other night.  We don't have opportunity to get out on our own, so I try, once a week, to make us our dinner later in the evening, to enjoy alone.  Duck was on the menu - a special treat.  I told him I would ring when it was ready, which I did. He was only a few minutes away, at Church, but I could hear he was busy doing something. I waited at home, whilst the greens turned into puce, soggy looking things.  He eventually arrived home. I wasn't happy.  Sadly, my sinful heart made it known in a less than soft way, commenting, indirectly, to a question asked by a child "What's that, Mummy?" - "A soggy dinner" said I.

*Blush*

The answer the child WAS looking for was "duck" - as they didn't recognise the meat in question.

My answer was to my husband, just in ear shot.

Nothing soft about that.

It was harsh, and borne out of my frustration and impatience.

I quickly felt my wrong-doing, and carried on serving up dinner and bringing it to him.

You see, it didn't really matter why he was late.  He likely had a very good explanation, which I would have been given had I but asked, in a soft and gentle way.   he may NOT even have had a "reasonable" explanation at all! That was irrelevant. The dinner was still entirely edible, just not the way I had planned and hoped (nor the way I knew he liked it).  He did the right thing, thankfully.  He said nothing, and ate the dinner with thankfulness, stating how lovely it was upon completion.

My lack of "soft" words could have ended differently, because it could certainly have produced anger.

It was uncalled for.

Unnecessary.

Not soft at all.

Then there are times when our husband may say something that riles us up inside.  We think we are entitled to harsh, angry words, because we are in the right, or we think they need to be said.

II Peter 2 gives us a wonderful run down of how one right choice leads can lead to the right responses, including in our words.


"Add to your faith virtue; 
and to virtue knowledge; 
And to knowledge temperance; (self control) 
and to temperance patience; 
and to patience godliness; 
And to godliness brotherly kindness; 
and to brotherly kindness charity"


You see, what starts out as our profession of faith, leads to a desire to be excellent in all we do, which leads to having self control in WHAT we do, and patience in HOW we do it, which makes us more godly, which extends affection, which produces love.

Love.

What our relationship as husband and wife should BE.

Our soft words are an extension of our love.  Our self control in what we say, and the patience in how we say it, is an evidence of our love.

You see, it doesn't matter what someone else has done, it's our place to still be soft and gentle.

It's our place to love in our words.

As I have been studying the verses to bring you, here, I stumbled across something I have certainly not noticed before, to my knowledge.


 "Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof. 
 Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the LORD." 
Proverbs 18:22  



It explains that the tongue has the power to cut so harshly that it brings death, or it can bring healing words of life.  

Then, we are told that a man who finds a wife finds a good thing.

I'd never made a connection between the two things before, but boy did I notice them today!

I can just imagine how a husband feels when his wife uses words which bring death, instead of life.

"I thought having a wife was a GOOD thing?"

Conviction.

When I use words that are not soft, I'm not exactly being the poster woman for the wife campaign.

If we want our husband to think he's got a "good" thing, we need to use soft words.

Good wives use soft, life-giving words, not harsh, hurtful ones.

We can be hard in the words we say.  We can be hard in how we say them.  We can be hard in our attitudes and responses to our husband.

All of these things need to be soft.

Soft = loving.

Soft in what we say and how we say it - soft in our attitudes and responses.

I still have so much to learn, and maybe I am not so changed from my 18 year old self, as I think...