Marriage Matters: The Crisis of Children

Having children is a shock to the system. There’s no denying it. We look back on life pre-children and wonder what on earth we did with all our time. How did we ever feel busy when we didn’t have children?

Of course that’s a simplistic way of viewing it, but there’s a lot of truth in it.

For many people and (crucially for today’s topic) many marriages – crisis ensues when children step on to the stage.

It’s ironic really. Children are so often the focus of so many prayers, hopes and desires, and yet when they come along life can get really difficult. The potent mix of sleep deprivation, altered routines, new levels of noise and a sense of changed identity can impact our marriages in ways that haven’t previously been experienced.

This kind of crisis can be serious for our marriages, which can have a huge impact on how we point our children to the gospel, as our introductory post pointed out.

So all we wanted to do in this post is suggest three things that might be useful to you when you face the ‘crisis of children’.

Keep a running conversation

Both of you – Mum and Dad – will be experiencing a range of emotions when a child enters your family. Joy, wonder, anxiety, frustration, impatience and anticipation, to name just a few.

Talk about them.

God has placed this child in your family. He wants you to lovingly nurture them and point them to him.

But this new dynamic doesn’t mean that your marriage is not important. No, it’s as important as ever – perhaps even more so. With all the competing emotions and demands on your time, you might find it easy to put the brakes on investing in your marriage, but don’t! Now, more than ever you need to keep investing. And a crucial element of this is… talking. It’s simple, but so important.

Talk about how you’re feeling. Talk about the new things you’ve seen in your spouse since they’ve become a parent, and how you admire, respect and love them all the more for it. Talk about stresses and strains. Talk about how things have changed, and what life is going to look like going forward.

Talk!

And listen.

Listen really well. Remember that your spouse is going through as many changes as you right now. Listen to them. Try to understand them. Ask questions to help you listen even better. Do all of this even when you’re tired, because it matters.

And when you’re working through all of this, make sure you do our second suggestion too:

Pray

Pray for your spouse. Pray with your spouse.

Your marriage matters, and keeping your marriage spiritually fresh is really important. It won’t necessarily be easy, but try to do it. Even if it’s only a 20 second prayer as you lie in bed at night, try to keep at it.

Don’t let your longed for children steal your spiritual intimacy. And if you never had that spiritual intimacy, now is a great time to start. It’s often at the times when we feel most at our wits end – most on the cusp of a break down or like we simply can’t do it anymore – it’s these times that we are often driven closer to God. So let that happen. And let that happen for you together. Let it strengthen your marriage, not weaken it.

And finally:

Keep Perspective

We could say lots of things here about keeping perspective. It won’t last forever – they will sleep through eventually (or leave home!). They’re only a baby for a short time – you longed for it, try to treasure it.

And so on, and so on.

But that’s not what we mean by keep perspective. What we mean is this:

Your marriage is a God-ordained one flesh union for life. Remember that, and protect it. Your children have sprung from that union, but don’t let them drive it apart.

One way that they could drive it apart is by becoming an idol. It happens so easily. You’ve dreamed about having children for so long. They’re so small and vulnerable and dependent. You have so many happy hormones surging around. They can quickly supplant all else in your affections, including your spouse and even God.

Don’t let them do that. Keep your eyes on Jesus. Love him more than anything. Obey his command to not let them drive your marriage apart (Matt 19:4-6), and don’t be fooled into loving them more than Jesus (Matt 10:37). In the end, it’s more loving to them to love them in their proper place (see our blog post on loving your child by loving them less for more reflections on this).

One of the key things God has given you to help you keep perspective, is church. He’s given you that community to point you back to himself, to remind you of the gospel and to love and care for you.

So even if you’ve not washed your hair all week, you smell of baby sick and you have a slightly crazed look in your eyes… try to make it to church. People will understand. And even if they don’t, don’t let that put you off. Because keeping perspective on the gospel will help you to perservere through this wonderful but tricky time, and keeping perspective on the gospel with your spouse will help you together have your eyes fixed on the right thing, and that can only be good for your marriage.

So there we have it. There’s no magic formula in this post, and no rocket science. But we do believe marriage matters, so do what you can to protect it during the crisis of children.

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Announcing our beautiful gospel-centred product!

Announcing our beautiful gospel-centred product!

After months of planning, praying, preparing and producing, we are now super excited to be able to reveal to you our very first gospel-centred parenting product.

We are thrilled to introduce you to our Jesse Tree Ornaments and to offer you an exclusive discount as a gospel-centred parenting blog reader. More on that below…

What is Jesse Tree?

Jesse Tree ornaments date back hundreds of years, and are a bit like a Christian advent calendar. The name Jesse Tree comes from a prophesy in Isaiah 11. Each day through December in the run up to Christmas you’ll hang a Jesse Tree Ornament and read a section of the Bible with your child(ren) that points forward to the coming of Jesus.

We think it’s a wonderful tool to help keep excitement about Jesus at the centre of the Christmas period.

As you will know if you’ve read this blog before, we think that gospel is good news for both parents and children, and we want to help you to keep the gospel central to everything. Advent and Christmas should be times of wonderful, joy-filled, gospel-saturated wonder. Very often, however, the gospel gets crowded out with everything else that’s going on. Jesse Tree is just one thing that aims to help keep the gospel at the heart of Christmas, and that’s why we’ve decided to design this product.

If you decide to make a purchase, you’ll receive 24 ornaments which correspond to the first 24 chapters of the Jesus Storybook Bible*, or you can read along with the suggested passages from our Jesse Tree Guide, which comes free with your purchase. So every day, from December 1st, you will be able to fix your family’s eyes on the wonder of the coming of Jesus. You’ll be able to build expectation as you look at some of the wonderful ways that Jesus is anticipated throughout the Old Testamant, and you’ll enjoy the climax of the story as you read about the coming of Jesus, leading you right up to Christmas day.

The usual price is just £30.00, but purchase before September 30th, and use the discount code

blog-discount

and you will receive 10% off the purchase price!
This level of discount is only available to you as a blog reader, and only for this limited time.

We hope you love the design – we certainly do. We are blessed to be working alongside a brilliant designer from our church, Rory Henderson.

Each ornament is hand-printed with ink on rustic hazel wood, and comes pre-strung. We can ship it to you wherever you live in the world.

We’re also thrilled to be able to give 10% of profit to the work of Bible translation and distribution. This means that not only will your family enjoy this gospel-centred product, but you will also be contributing to work that will mean others around the world can gain access to the gospel too.

We have a number of colour options available – click through to our shop to see more images and place your order.

Our prayer is that your family will use these ornaments for many years to come. Through them, we hope that you will create some truly special memories that are recounted and repeated down the generations. And more importantly, our greatest prayer is that you will all grow in love for Jesus as you together see how (as the Jesus Storybook Bible* so memorably puts it) “every story whispers his name.”

Click here to head over to our website now to take a look, and if you do decide to purchase before 30th September, don’t forget to use the discount code 
blog-discount 
to receive 10% off.

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Motivating Good Behaviour

“BECAUSE I SAID SO!”

Have you heard yourself saying that to your child?

You’ve asked them to do something – something very simple and very reasonable. But yet again along comes that three-letter swear word. “Why?”.

Because I said so!

I’m done with explaining things. Just obey, for goodness sake!

Thankfully, neither of our boys are quite at the stage of using the “w” word yet. At least not regularly anyway. So we’re not quite reaching the end of this particular tether quite yet.

That’s not to say they don’t try our patience sometimes.

But we love our boys, just like we’re sure you love your child(ren) too. It’s because we love them that we want them to have good behaviour (it’s not only because good behaviour is far less embarrassing when we’re out and about… though it does help!).

So when children disobey, it’s good and right that parents sometimes seek to help their children to see why obedience is the right path for them. (Incidentally we think that, on occasion, “because I said so” – said in a calm way, of course – is exactly the right response. They need to learn that we have authority and obedience shouldn’t be questioned. But that’s for another blog post!)

So, how do we justify it? What should we say to our children to motivate them to obedience?

Let’s consider the options.

We could threaten the consequences of disobedience:

Sit at the table, or no pudding.
Stop teasing your sister, or you’ll have a time out.
Stop wiping your nose on the arm of the chair (we’ve been there), or I’ll chop it off (we didn’t really threaten that, though… an empty threat if you’ve ever heard one!).

Or perhaps you could promise reward for good behaviour.

If you sit well in church today, you can have a sweetie in the car.
If you go a whole morning without shouting, you can have some screen time later.
If you brush your teeth, you can have an extra story at bedtime.

What about some of the other options for trying to get our children to obey us?

Being domineering and making our children scared of us so that they obey? They won’t step out of line if they know that we’ll be really angry, because they’re scared of us.

Talking about God – how he is holy and how he demands obedience from us?

Shaming them into obedience? Do this or don’t do that, or I’ll tell your friends that you’re a baby.

Talking about how we should obey as a thankful response to what God has done for us?

Or using praise? Whenever they do something good, going overboard in letting them know how pleased we are with them. This positive reinforcement and extra attention when they do good things is, for lots of children, very effective.

All of these techniques could be used to motivate good behaviour (some would be more recommended than others!).

But today we want to suggest to you another tool for the belt.

How about helping our children to see that God is good? That he’s a kind Father, who only wants what is best for our lives. That he is the Good Shepherd, who only wants to lead us to good pastures.

You see our children, just like us, often see the rules in their lives and the way that God calls them to live as a bad thing. A kind of straitjacket – prohibitive and restricting and stopping their enjoyment of life. They see obedience as a necessary evil – what we ought to do because that’s what God has said we should do, but not good. Just necessary.

But how much better is the reality!

In church recently we were looking at John 10, where Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd.

The Good Shepherd is just that. Good. He cares for his sheep. He loves us. He wants what is best for us. In John 10 he says this:

I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Pasture. Life to the full! That’s what Jesus is offering.

That’s not to say that living a life of obedience is easy. Nor is it to say that the good that Jesus chooses for our lives is the same thing that we would choose for ourselves. But when his good is different to our good, we can be sure that he knows best.

And we can say one thing for certain: the Good Shepherd went so far as to lay down his life for the sheep. He did it to bring us life to the full. Why then would he go back on that now? The life he calls us to is the best possible life, whatever it looks like.

So when we struggle with obedience, or when our children do, we could remind them of this. Obedience may be hard. It may not feel fun in the moment. But if the Good Shepherd calls us to live this way, we can be sure that it’s the best possible way to live. What a great motivator!

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Global Insights | Parenting in New York City

Global Insights | Parenting in New York City

Christian parenting looks different in different countries, cultures and contexts. Here we get some insights from our dear friends Cait and Joel Kady who live in New York City. Joel works for Redeemer Presbyterian Church (Tim Keller’s church) where he works with community groups for Redeemer Westside, and is attending Reformed Theological Seminary’s New York campus. Cait is a stay-at-home Mom for their three young children – aged 5, 3 and 1.

Where do you live and what’s it like?

We live in upper Manhattan, New York City. It’s a slightly calmer neighborhood but still very much the city and only a subway ride away from the typical, touristy, or busier parts of New York. It’s exciting, with a lot of opportunities, but challenging to get around with kids, take strollers on the subway, do laundry in the apartment basement, or get enough time in nature when it takes more effort (though it is there!).

What are some of the challenges and opportunities that you face in Christian parenting because of your context?

We were very much influenced by Tim Keller’s ministry before moving to New York, and appreciated his perspective on raising kids here and on how God views cities. It’s wonderful to be in a place where there are so many people – even though that can feel like a drawback at times!  People are the most beautiful thing that God has created, and beloved by him. There is also concentrated opportunity for ministry and culture formation when there is just so much happening. With our kids, it can be hard to have them exposed to difficult subjects at a young age, but we see that also as a positive thing to talk through with them from a biblical perspective in real life, not just hypothetically. It can make God and his ethics much more real to them as they get older and know their parents are not clueless about the world because they have been encountering it together. Being around people very different from me has been a huge blessing, challenge, and learning curve which will hopefully benefit my parenting as well.

What do you do to encourage your children to love Jesus?

We are always growing and trying to be better stewards of our time with our little ones. Right now we pray and read Bible stories together, and are trying to make singing and memorizing God’s word a part of our routine as well. Conflict is an opportunity to point them to Christ and teach them about forgiveness and their need. Our personal choice of homeschooling this next year has us excited about the chance to create lifegiving routines at home and the flexibility to explore the city and read beautiful books full of truth. The biggest thing for me right now has been personal growth, knowing that what I model, not what we teach, will have the biggest impact on them.


We hope you enjoyed this latest post in our series “Global Insights” where we hear from Christian parents from all over the world. It’s so encouraging to hear how different believers are parenting their children in contexts very different from our own.

We’d love you to consider contributing to this series – whether you live in the Highlands of Scotland, the Cape of Good Hope or the Gold Coast. Please take 5 minutes to fill in the form below to let our readers be encouraged by you.

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Nurturing Your Child’s Heart For The Poor

What do you want to teach your children?

There are lots of ways that we can answer that question.

Our toddler is currently being potty trained, so we really want to teach him the importance of telling Mummy or Daddy when he needs “to go”… otherwise the result isn’t too desirable.

We want to teach our children manners. We want to teach them to read and write. We want to teach them social skills. Everyday practical things that they need to know for life.

We want to teach them the gospel – we want them to know who they are before God, who God is, and how he wants to extend grace to them.

And we want to teach them the heart of God – we want to teach them to have the priorities that he has.

That’s where Compassion comes in.

Throughout the Bible, we see clearly that God’s has a heart for the poor. He cares for people in all sorts of poverty – material, spiritual, emotional, social. He cares for the marginalised, the downtrodden – he cares for those that society often forgets.

He calls his people to do the same.

Often some of God’s strongest admonishment of his people comes when they neglect the poor or, even worse, exploit them.

So we try to regularly think how we can help our boys to develop a heart for the poor.

Compassion is a great charity that will help with this.

The premise is simple. You pay £25 a month to sponsor a child. For that, the child gets the fees and uniform that they need to go to school.

We take education for granted, but for many in the poorest parts of the world that is certainly not the case. Without education, the path out of poverty is very hard to navigate. To enable a child to be educated is a wonderful thing to do.

As well as investing in their education, the child sponsored through Compassion will receive nutritious food and health check-ups.

But more than that, Compassion will also link the child in with a church-based Compassion project every week. So the child has the opportunity to escape poverty, and to hear the gospel. They’re not forced to become Christians – they can remain on the programme whatever religion they are, but they are given the opportunity to hear about Jesus.

All that is brilliant, and it’s good for our children to see that we can make a real difference in the lives of the poorest people in the world.

But when it comes to teaching our children about care for the poor, here’s the best thing about it. We’re not just sponsoring a nameless, faceless child (which would be brilliant in itself). We have been linked with an actual child.

The child we’re sponsoring is aged 3, like our eldest son. (We hope to begin sponsoring another child when our youngest turns 3 too.)

We know his name. We have a photo of him. We know where he lives in Tanzania. We will be able to write letters to him and receive letters from him. We can send him pictures of our family and he can do the same.

So as our toddler grows, he’ll grow alongside the child were sponsoring. Over time, we can tell our son more and more about the boy we’re sponsoring. We can talk to him about what the poverty might be like that people in Tanzania face, including the boy we’re sponsoring. We can pray for him. Compassion will even arrange for us to visit him, should we be able to afford that in the future. (We think our eldest will be keen on this – he is regularly asking already if the little boy we’re sponsoring can come and play).

What a brilliant way to tangibly and meaningfully teach our boys to share the Father’s heart for the poor. What a wonderful privilege to be able to help this little boy in poverty in Tanzania.

So why not consider it yourself? You can choose the age, gender and country of the child you will sponsor. If you want to do the same as us and sponsor a child the same age as your child, then the age range of children waiting to be sponsored is (from what I can see) from 1 to 15, so there’d be someone for most of us. Click here to find out more. 

Not everyone can afford £25 a month. But if this idea isn’t for you, why not try to think of another way to keep the poor on your children’s hearts? Let us know in the comments what things you do to nurture your children’s hearts for the poor.

(As an aside we want to help our children see how they suffer from a poverty of their own, just like we all do – even if it’s not currently material poverty… but that’s for another post!)

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Marriage Matters: But Why?

Marriage Matters: But Why?

There are few things that will teach your children more about the gospel than your marriage.

Because of that, we’ve decided to start a new series of brief blog posts that will help you to think about your marriage. We know that being parents puts particular pressures on marriage, and so we thought it might be helpful to have occasional posts that focus on our marriages – remembering that strong marriages will help us as we seek to share the gospel with our children.

Let’s start with a caveat. We know that not all of our readers are married. Some are single parents, and that can be for a variety of reasons. We’ve spoken to some of you who have spouses that aren’t Christians and we’ve thought with you about some of pressures that come through that. If you’re reading this series as a parent in either of these groups, then we hope there still might be some things that are useful for you – even if it’s simply to help you support marriages within your church.

We started this post with a pretty strong sentence: “There are few things that will teach your children more about the gospel than your marriage.”

How can we make such an extreme statement?

Well we don’t think we’re overstating things.

The new testament teaches that marriage was designed by God to be a small picture of the relationship between Jesus and the church. So as our children look on at our marriages, they have an opportunity to see a mini picture of that greater relationship.

As well as this Jesus-church relationship, we can also say that the marriage relationship shows us something of God himself, too. In the account of the creation of humanity, the writer of Genesis reminds us that humanity is made in the image of God. This means lots of different things – much ink has been spilled on this topic – but one of the ways that the writer shows us what it means to be an image bearer is found in Genesis 1:26-27:

“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…

 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.”

God is a Trinitarian God – a God who for all eternity has been in relationship – Father, Son and Spirit loving each other. This God creates humanity to display something of himself, and God says let us make man in our image… male and female he created them.

In marriage we see united yet distinct people in a relationship of love. At it’s best moments, this displays something of the God it’s meant to image – a God who is three persons, united in love.

So that’s the idea behind this series. When marriages function as they should (and even when they don’t but we respond in godly ways), we demonstrate something of the gospel to our children. When they don’t, the damage can be deep and the scars can often last for a lifetime. God is gracious and powerful and can work through that anyway – but we all want to work on our marriages to try to avoid that. Broken marriages and fractious relationships can serve to undermine the gospel that we’re speaking to our children. So we must seek, with God’s help, to make our marriages strong.

Our marriage isn’t perfect. If yours is, do let us know your secret (but we’re not holding our breaths!).

But marriage matters. That’s why we’ve named this series what it is. And there are all sorts of matters (see what we did there!) relating to marriage that it’s worth thinking about – not only for the sake of our marriages themselves and our witness to the world, but also because our marriages are hugely significant as we seek to live out gospel-centred parenting.

We hope you enjoy walking through this new series with us.

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Hey “Mean Mum” – this one’s for you…

Hey “Mean Mum” – this one’s for you…

Our last post, “A Mean Mum, Mastitis and Mars Bars” was our most popular post ever.

If you haven’t read it yet, stop reading this right now click the link above first. You’re going to need to get the backstory to see why this post is going to be even better…

There was a villain in the last post, she was called “Mean Mum”.  Get ready to hiss as she enters the stage.

A few people mentioned Mean Mum to me after reading the post. They wanted to express their distaste for her, to tell me what they would have said to her if they’d been there, a few speculated as to what was going on in her life to cause her to overreact in such a way.

You know what? Each of these reactions I’ve had too. With hindsight I’ve wished I’d reacted differently in the situation – stood up for my son a bit. Tried to reason with her to help her see how inappropriate she was being. I’ve speculated as to what wounds she has, to cause her to react in such an angry manner. But you know what? It doesn’t help. It doesn’t help me. And it doesn’t help her.

Because at the end of the day – what has happened has happened. And at the end of the day what she did was wrong. She mistreated me and that had consequences for me (condemnation, fear, anxiety) and it had consequences for her (stress, anger, and I’m guessing/hoping shame and regret). So, what do we even do with that? What do we do when we cause ourselves and other people pain because of our selfishness and yes I’m going to say it, because of our “sin”?

This is where the good news of the gospel changes everything…

So Mean Mum, this post is for you. I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again, and even if I did, I’m not sure I’d even recognise you. I’m not sure if you’d recognise me or even remember the incident that occurred in the park that day back in February. I doubt you’d speak to me, unless my son came too close to your son again (let’s hope and pray that never happens!).

So I doubt we’ll ever have another interaction.

But whether we do or not this is what I want you to know. (And by the way Mean Mum – you need to read right to the end, because while the first bit is really uncomfortable reading – you gotta get through it to hear the best possible news ever – which could make your heart sing and you dance in freedom and joy from now into eternity).

[And as an aside – the comments below are not just about “Mean Mum” as an individual – they are statements about humanity in general. Not just her but me too. Not just me but my son too. The following truths are claims that Jesus makes about all of humanity and about himself].

So here we go Mean Mum – this is what you need to know.

You’re not a good person.

This is more offensive than anything you said to me that day. It flies in the face of everything society teaches us about the nature of humanity. Society says by nature we’re good. Society says that we make mistakes because we are victims of something – parental scaring, or PMT, or sleep deprivation or any other number of things. Society says that when we are under pressure sometimes we make mistakes, but most of the time we can justify them, learn from them, but we should certainly not dwell on them. “No regrets” is our mantra.

So, Mean Mum, society would say that that incident in the park was simply you reacting to my son’s boisterousness in a disproportionate way – not because you were in the wrong, not because your words were a direct result of the anger in your heart. But because there was something external going on in your life making you a victim. It’s not really your fault.

But you know what? That is not satisfying.

Not satisfying for me. You didn’t know me or my circumstances and how they made me especially susceptible to despair and internal condemnation. I didn’t know you or anything about what’s going on in your life. Regardless of externals – your anger was not justified. If we shrug off your yelling as an unfortunate experience then there’s no justice for me. 

But it’s not satisfying for you either. Because when we get the pang of regret because of our actions (and we all carry around remorse, shame and “if I could just relive that moment again I would have done it this way…”) we need to do something with that. I don’t believe you if you say that you don’t experience these emotions about situations in your life.

The reason “no regrets” is a mantra we have to repeat in society is because naturally we do have regrets. We all do. And if we don’t we could actually be defined as a psychopath incapable of empathy. But Mean Mum you do have empathy – plenty of empathy for your son (who faced an injustice at the hands of my son). So because you have the capacity for empathy I’m going to make the educated guess that you do have regrets in life.

So what do we do with regrets? There are three common options I guess.

Firstly, we might feel the pang of regret and then we think of all the reasons why we were justified in our actions. It was the external pressures; we were provoked; everybody does it – it’s normal.

Or secondly, we might despair. We accept our error and our self-talk becomes condemning. We get dragged into a downward spiral of self-hate.

Or thirdly, we could look to escapism. We push the regrets out of our minds by turning on netflix, going out shopping, having a drink. We anesthetise ourselves to our self-inflicted pain. Sometimes we do all three of these – often in quick succession.

What do you do with your regrets?

But here’s the thing Mean Mum…I want you to know that there’s a better way, a much better way of dealing with regret. A way that gets rid of regret, a way that enables us to own up to mistakes, get them removed from our lives and have the ability to change. But it starts with this truth – you are not a good person, and yet – 

You are more loved than you could ever imagine.

There is a God that exists. He knows everything about you. All your dreams, all your hopes, all the beautiful service that you give to your son and husband on a daily basis. He cares about you deeply. He knows what makes you laugh, what makes you feel alive and what causes hope, joy and gratitude to rise up in your heart. He knit you together – creating you to be the exact person that he intended you to be. There has never been anyone else throughout history like you. You are unique and you are made in the image of God – designed to bring him great pleasure and joy. He knows what you’ve good at and the strengths of your personality.

He loves you.

Do you know the way you look at your son with love and pride and joy and amazement? That is how God longs to see you. He wants to be your father and he wants you to live your life as his child. He wants you to be in relationship with him.

He offers you a relationship with him – you can know God personally if you want. Are you interested?

Well there’s a way that can happen – or more accurately there’s a person that can make that happen – Jesus, God’s son.

You see, God is a God of justice. That means he cannot sweep our sin under the carpet and act like these injustices are unimportant. And believe it or not this is good news. God knows about all the anger, selfishness and shame in your heart. He knows all about your life circumstances. He knows all about the ways in which you’ve been mistreated and he cares about your wounds. He knows you are a victim and his anger rages against the things that cause you harm in your life. He knows that you are also a perpetrator and he holds you to account for that. He’s a God of justice and he hates wrongdoing. But not just your own wrongdoing against others – also that wrong that’s been done against you. He’s the perfect judge who shows no favoritism.

So he did something amazing.

He needed a way to punish sin – to eradicate evil. A way for justice to be satisfied. He wanted to do that without making humanity face that themselves.

So rather than directing his anger at humanity – the cause of injustices – he did something extraordinary, something unlikely, something almost unbelievable.

God became a human being and was punished in the place of broken and sinful humanity.

You may have heard some stuff about Jesus Christ. That he lived 2000 years ago. That he walked around doing some miracles and teaching some stuff about God (even claiming to be God himself). That he died on the cross and came back to life again. You may have heard about it and thought, yes I’ve heard about it – but what does it have to do with me?

Let me tell you Mum From The Park (because you should not be defined as Mean Mum, your sin need not define you) – Jesus has everything to do with you. 

Jesus died so that you can be forgiven by God. And if God forgives you for every bad thing you’ve done in your life – then your debt has been cleared, your innocence has been declared and you can truly live regret free.

Imagine a court room – you are standing in the dock before God – the good and impartial judge. The list of your offences throughout your life are read out before him and you are asked if you have committed these acts and thoughts. You’re under oath and you answer “yes.” You are just about to be taken away to pay for your crimes but someone else steps in – a substitute in your place steps into the dock. He declares that he will accept the punishment for your crimes – he will pay in your place – and the judge accepts his life in place of yours.

That is the gospel.

You can go free – you can be forgiven – you can swap punishment for acceptance and relationship. You can be made right, clean, innocent and beautiful in the sight of God – now and forever.

Something better than “No regrets” can be yours. No guilt. Being declared innocent. That can actually be yours.

That is what’s available for you because of Jesus.

And not just that. When we begin a relationship with God, his Spirit comes to live within us, reassuring us that we are precious to God. Speaking beautiful truth of our worth over our voices of self-condemnation. And crucially – giving us the ability to change. He can heal our wounds, replace anger with peace, soothe our anxious souls with reassurance that God is for us. 

That is good news. And Mum From The Park that’s what I want you to know – now and forever more.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

John 3:16

 

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A Mean Mum, Mastitis and Mars Bars

A Mean Mum, Mastitis and Mars Bars

I wasn’t sure if I’d ever write this post, I wasn’t sure I could bring myself to, I wasn’t sure if I could bear to be this real… but we claim to believe that “the gospel of grace gloriously speaks into our messy lives” here at Gospel-Centred Parenting. So here we go, warts and all…

I (Cathy) went through a rough patch back in the New Year.

We’d had quite a good run I suppose. For six months the baby and the toddler synced naps for an hour or so every day (glory!!!). In the early days I’d sometimes nap too, but often I’d use that hour to do a job or two, and just rest with a coffee. It was a little respite in an otherwise long and exhausting day of looking after a young baby and a jealous and energetic toddler. I could cope with the days (often enjoy them in fact!) But that little break was really helpful for me to refuel and brace myself for the afternoon.

But suddenly everything changed; within the course of a few weeks…

  • The toddler got chickenpox (we were in quarantine for a week).
  • We went on holiday, and then the baby got chicken pox while we were away (we were in quarantine for another week).
  • I got mastitis (if you’ve never heard of this – think breast duct infection while being a breastfeeding mother – ouch!)
  • The toddler stopped napping but the baby didn’t stop his incessant night-feeding, resulting in sleep-deprivation and exhaustingly LOOONG days.
  • The toddler was 2.5 years old – cue tiny tyrant behaviour and many embarrassing social situations.

Then to top it off –

  • A mean mum yelled at me the park – we’ll get there later on…

Hence –

  • I was exhausted. I was sad. I was exhausted, it was making me sad.
  • I started gorging on Mars Bars  (for you non-Brits, all you need to know is that Mars Bars are basically 100% sugar… with a bit of fat thrown in the mix. Battered Mars Bars are a Glaswegian delicacy: I didn’t go that far).

In the space of a few weeks, my somewhat ordinary life had been turned upside down and I felt totally overwhelmed and like I couldn’t cope.

Let me explain to you what this felt like, because a list does not do the misery justice!

Mastitis is, for me, clear evidence of the fall! How can something as beautiful and natural like feeding your baby be such torture?! That horrendous infection was so debilitating.  I had never experienced feeling so unwell as a mother; how are you meant to look after two tiny dependent children, when you can’t even get down the stairs safely because you feel so faint?

Superhero Daddy flew in to save the day…but still, after he returned to work the exhausted lingered on for another week or so. Recovery was not helped by the fact that…

Just at the very time when I most needed the toddler to nap, he decided enough was enough and he would much rather be awake ALL DAY LONGGGGG. No respite and a grumpy, naughty “terrible two-er”.

But then I finally started to feel well again. “It’s ok”, I thought. “We’re through it”, I thought. “We’ve survived!” We’ve battled the chicken pox, the mastitis, the sleep-deprivation, the nap-loss, and now we’re feeling ready to go on an outing (we hadn’t done one of these for a while – apart from to nursery, to church and to visit family) and so, we decide to venture out to the park; at 4pm in the afternoon; the week that the toddler dropped his afternoon naps. I should have seen a disaster was waiting to happen, but alas…

There I was chatting to some friends as we congregate around the climbing frame, watching our little ones. At the time, my two-year old was going through quite an aggressive stage. Occasional hitting, pushing and “NO”-ing. Not OK behaviour, but age-appropriate I hear. To be expected I hear. They grow out of it I hear. It’s called the “terrible twos” I hear.

I don’t think the other mum had ever heard of it before. But I get ahead of myself.

I was watching the toddler and chatting to my friends (probably bemoaning the fact that I had just had mastitis) when the baby started crying. I took my eyes off the toddler and leaned down to pick up the screaming baby, I straightened back up again and BAM…

Mean mum was there, in my face, raising her voice.

“Your boy pushed my little boy” It started off, innocently enough. Oh I thought, she wants me to get the toddler to apologise. I call him over.

Oh no… I quickly realise. That’s not what she wants.

She just wants to have a go at me. Swear about my child. Humiliate me and try to provoke me to yell back at her. She’s aggressive. She’s intimating. She’s acting completely disproportionately to the situation.  She’s creating a scene – we’re surrounded by the post school-run crowd.

I was shell-shocked.

I have never had someone speak to me or my child like that.

What my toddler did may have been wrong (incidentally I didn’t even see the scuffle, as I was getting the baby out of his pram, although I don’t doubt that mean mum was telling the truth) – but her reaction, unlike my son’s – was not age-appropriate or defensible. It’s never ok to insult a tiny child in their hearing!

Well, I did what I always do in confrontational situations. I fled… I fought back the tears, grabbed my little boy and took him to a quiet corner of the play area to talk to him about his behaviour (and out of earshot of the mean mum).

After a bit more mouthing off, the mother cycled off, with her very embarrassed looking husband behind her.

It was so ridiculous, so disproportionate and so unexpected, that it sounds almost comical!

But the damage was done.

It was at an all-time-low for me as a parent. The whole incident was completely unexpected and mind-boggling to me. Perhaps if it had happened during a period of motherhood when everything had been going swimmingly then I could have coped fine. I would have considered it rude but I would have seen it in perspective – an overprotective mother taking out her anger on me. But the incident occurred right at the time when I was already feeling deflated, overwhelmed and utterly sleep-deprived.

I wasn’t in an emotionally stable place and her accusations really played on my mind and I started to internalise them. What she said about me and my son started to become how I viewed us too. I saw his aggressive behaviour as reflecting on me and my poor parenting (incidentally he is three now and has outgrown that aggressive phase). But at the time, there was no end in sight, and it got me down. I felt like a failure, and I wanted to withdraw from social settings.

It could have easily been a downward spiral.

But here’s what happened instead – God helped me out through different means of grace. God was kind to me and ministered through a number of very ordinary things. These were:

Friends

The incident happened in front of my friends. At first I felt that made the situation worse – how mortifying! But after the incident, they spoke truth to me, gave me perspective, helped me to see that this woman was acting irrationally and her opinion was not to be trusted. I’m so glad they were there – and as I replayed the situation in my head countless times after the incident, I clung to their words of advice and perspective.

Scott

Scott was great. He listened to me recount the scenario lots of times, he comforted me when I cried, he reminded me of all the great things that we cherish about our son, and he gave me perspective. And when I was still anxious and down about it several days after the incident, he patiently went through the whole process again and prayed that God would take my anxiety away.

Church

I didn’t want to go to church, because I didn’t want my son to be around other young children. I was afraid of another aggressive incident and I wanted to isolate us rather than allow us to be in a situation where he could act badly, embarrass me and quite simply cause a great deal of stress! But you can’t really opt out of church if your hubby is in church leadership. So I had no choice – and thank goodness I didn’t. Being in Christian community where you and your children are accepted regardless of your/their bad behaviour is freeing. And being exposed to the gospel is the best possible solution to every problem and every situation. Christian community and gospel exposure were exactly the antidote to my temptation to withdraw.

Mum

My mum lives abroad but had just come back to the UK the week of the incident. Sometimes what you need is a few day outings, a change of scene and a doting grandmother who thinks your children are cute, wonderful little creatures who are simply going through a phase. Compassion, encouraging words and a good giggle is sometimes what’s needed.

Nursery

A few days before the mastitis hit, we learnt that a local primary school  had some subsidized spots for 2-year olds. They were very cheap and the child care was exceptional – so we decided to put Reuben in for 6 hours a week. This was God’s grace to us! The following weeks of challenging behaviour, nap-dropping and my being ill, demonstrated just how much we needed some external support. This support exceeded our expectations. God used these 6 hours a week to help give me rest and crucially to stretch our son socially, behaviourally and academically – his aggressive behaviour diminished very quickly. Secular nursery has been used by God as a means of grace – common grace abounds in secular education – and we are deeply grateful!

Jesus

Of course all these means of grace come from Christ – who gives grace upon grace. It is the Spirit of  Jesus who speaks truth to us through the people around us (notice how in all of the sections above, God has used people to bring healing and truth to me, where circumstances and mean mum were only bringing condemnation).

So let this be my message to you.

Are you feeling alone? Condemned? Overwhelmed? Angry with your kids? Unable to cope? Down and anxious?

Then come to Christ – who is with you in the midst of it all. And expose yourself to his grace, by surrounding yourself by his people. Because we were never meant to do this parenting thing, or this life thing, or this being a Christian thing alone. 

So there we have it: “the gospel of grace gloriously speaks into our messy lives” yes it does… if we let it.

So there we go…. I actually wrote it… and I think I’ll probably publish it…

I can tell this story now. Now the baby sleeps through (some nights) and I feel refreshed. Now the two-year old is a three-year old and we’ve left that aggressive stage behind us. Now that I’m purging the mars bars from my diet. But you know what? I share this with you so that you know, whether you’re reading this while knee-deep in the messes and stresses of parenthood or whether you’re in a relatively easy/enjoyable stage – Jesus is enough. He’s always enough. He loves you when you feel strong. He loves you when you’re a mess – a leaky-boobed, leaky-eyed, barely-thinking-straight mess. He’s not phased. In fact, he’s compassionate. And he’s not going anywhere.

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Our New Initiative…

Our New Initiative…

Something exciting is on the cards for Gospel-Centred Parenting.

We’ve thought for a long time that we’d like to do something more for the Gospel-Centred Parenting community than just write blog posts (though we hope you find them helpful!).

Ideas have buzzed around our heads – you might remember us talking about this back in our First Birthday Post.

Well for several months now, behind the scenes, we’ve been beavering away to try to make just one of these things a reality… and we’re getting close.

Our new product will be launching in the next month or so, and we couldn’t be more excited about it. Check out the picture below of Cathy and our designer meeting on the floor of our living room to work on it (Scott’s behind the camera!).

If you’d like to be kept in the loop, then check out our new page by clicking here, or sign up below to receive updates on how things are progressing.

We can’t wait to reveal more (but we’ll have to, because it’s not quite ready yet!).

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5 Parenting Mistakes to Avoid | #5 Fearing the Worst

5 Parenting Mistakes to Avoid | #5 Fearing the Worst

I wonder what it is for you?

Is it when you hear about parents dropping their children from the windows of a burning tower block? Is it when you hear of an 8-year old dying in a terrorist attack at a music concert? Is it when you think about Brexit negotiations, expensive university tuition fees, a housing shortage and your inability to get on the housing ladder?

What is it that brings you fear as a parent?

The above examples are all current issues occupying the headlines and, to be frank, it is easy to feel overwhelmed, scared and saddened for the world that our children will grow up in.

No matter your personality type, your life experience, or the strength of your faith, as soon as you get that positive pregnancy test, fear creeps into your life. Because now you are not only concerned about your own needs but also for those of your children.

This is the fifth and final part in our “Parenting Mistakes to Avoid” series where we explore how the gospel is the answer to the mistakes that we often make as parents. This isn’t about the “Oops! We’ve given the baby too much salt” kind of mistakes. Rather it’s the mistake of forgetting the gospel in all the different ways we do: the deep-rooted-heart-issue-mistakes like feeling excessive guilt, feeling like our identity is bound up with that of our children, discontentment, competitiveness and others…

So today we are exploring mistake number 5: fearing the worst.

For us personally, we are fearful about the teenage years and our boy’s experience of secondary school. We hear radio documentaries about the bullying epidemic, or we watch TED talks about teenage mental health, or we learn that the only secondary school that we are keen on, has just this week, been put into “special measures” by Ofsted – and we fret. We’re afraid of the many damaging influences outside of the home and we start to feel fearful about their wellbeing and spiritual development. It may a decade away, but already we can be fearful at times.

Fear can lead us to react in all sorts of ways. Let’s explore some of them:

1. Disengage and retreat

The world can be a sad and scary place. Unfortunately this has always been the way ever since the Fall – when humanity turned it’s back on God. Ever since that moment when human beings decided to reject a relationship with their loving creator, the world has been broken and relationships fractured.

It can be tempting to think that we should just turn off the news, stop being aware of the suffering of huge swathes of humanity and get on with living our own little lives. As ordinary citizens we feel disenfranchised, and so we disengage and retreat. We withdraw ourselves and our children from the mess of other people’s lives and society. Rather than being a light on a hill we let our light be snuffed out by the overwhelming darkness. We become about self-preservation rather than self-sacrifice. So rather than exposing our children to the brokenness of the world in a safe environment, we wrap them up in cotton wool.

2. Anxiety and overprotection

Or perhaps we don’t disengage. We engage. We are aware. But this leads to anxiety and to being overprotective parents. It can be in the little things – we watch our child’s every move on the climbing frame, hovering over them and intervening in every dispute. Or perhaps we don’t let them go on that school trip because we’re afraid of them getting hurt. We are paranoid about them, we often glance at their smartphones, we don’t allow them to spend much time with peers, we watch the clock with nervousness and contemplate the worst possible scenario in our head.

But there is another way… It’s not easy – it’s not always simple. And at times we we will get it wrong and make the wrong judgement call.

We should aim to engage with the world we live in, inform our children about the brokenness in age-appropriate ways and crucially, offer gospel hope and action.

Because in the end… without the hope of the gospel, the darkness of fear and dread can engulf us. But we are not without the gospel! 

The Gospel is true and it’s wonderfully Good News

So here’s the alternative: Gospel hope, leading to courage, prayer and action.

Do you know that we are told over 100 times in the Bible to “Fear not”, “Do not fear” and “be not afraid”? Why would this be the case? God knows our predisposition towards fear, but he knows that it need not be our reaction. We have a God who is loving and in control. Not a single atom in this universe can move even a fraction without his permission. What’s more, we’ve been told the outcome of all things ahead of time. We know the future before it will happen – the Bible tells us.

God will not allow the suffering, pain and sadness to last forever, he will bring an end to it, and remake the world in perfection. There will be a day when God will come back to judge the world, and on that day justice will be done, and those sheltered by the grace of Jesus Christ will live forever in the perfect New Creation.

Whether our fears are founded or not, whether we fret about hypothetical situations or real troubles, we can be sure of this, in the end, Jesus wins.

We may have some cause to be afraid in this world, but we can take comfort from Jesus, who before facing the most terrifying experience in this world – the cross and judgement of God – selflessly looked to the needs of his fearful disciples.

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

John 14:1-3

You see, there was nothing more terrifying to the disciples then their leader, Jesus, being killed. What would they do without him? How long would it be before the religious authorities would come after them too? They had good reason to fear. And yet it was unnecessary. Why? Because Jesus would be victorious over death, and he promises eternal life for all who follow him.

Jesus doesn’t sugar coat what it’s like to live in this broken world, “In this world you will have trouble” but he does offer hope in the midst of it, “Take heart! I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33)

So where does that leave us?

There are many things that can cause both us and our children to fear. Some of them are justified and real threats. Some of them are just in our heads and imaginations (I’m thinking about our toddlers recent nightmares about “the scary owl!”). But whether true threats or imaginary, Christ is victorious over them all. We need not fear because we believe in the one who looked fear itself in the eye and overcame it.

This is the gospel. This is what gives us hope. And it is knowing this God which enables us lift our heads, to pray into the situations around us, and practically give, serve, act to bring light into dark places.

We as Christians should be the biggest activists for good. We should be the most generous. Most fearless. Most hopeful. Yes the world is a scary place, but anytime that we feel that dread creep into our hearts we need to look to Jesus – our hope and our refuge.

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!”

(Jesus Christ, in John 16:33)

“How sweet the name of Jesus sounds, in a believer’s ear! It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds, and drives away his fear.”

John Newton

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9

That’s the end of our series “5 Parenting Mistakes To Avoid” – we hope you enjoyed it! If you did, we’d love it if you would share it with others.

If you missed any of the previous posts, check out the related posts below and go back and read through some of them.

 

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