You don’t need to have spent long on our blog to have read some of the hilarious/ embarrassing/ cringe-worthy anecdotes of life with our two little boys. We try to keep it real here. Parenting isn’t a competition. Our kids aren’t are personal trophies. And crucially – JESUS is the answer! The answer to our brokenness, their brokenness and to all the stresses and strains of life.
And yet, perhaps we are too critical or negative at times. Not necessarily on the blog. But we have realised that perhaps we have a personal tendency to dwell on the negative in life.
In addition, and linked to thinking negatively, I (Cathy) am a worrier… and all the things that go along with it. I over-think. I get stressed and anxious about things. I am critical of myself.
Well enough is enough!
Jesus doesn’t want us to live life like that.
He died and rose again so that we can be free from guilt, sin and fear, and he fills us with his Spirit to live courageous, joyful and hope-filled lives. That doesn’t mean that hard times don’t come, or that we don’t still struggle with our sin – but it does mean that there should be a trajectory of growth in the Christian life. Such growth that when the hard times come they have the effect of beautifying us and sanctifying us and drawing us close to Christ – not the other way round.
It was designed by a Zoe Powell, a Christian mum of three young children.
It’s a journal which is designed to give you “mental space in the midst of motherhood” and £4 from each sale goes to PANDAS foundation which supports mums with pre and post natal depression. (Give me a chance to buy from a Christian mum with a small business, who gives from her profits to charity and well I’m starting to struggle to find reasons NOT to buy it!)
But, I don’t need to find reasons not to buy it, because this product is really really great.
What is the Mama Book?
The Mama Book is a journal (it’s undated so you can start at any point of the year), and you can use it as a weekly planner. But what makes it different from any other journal is that it is designed to give you a safe place to process motherhood. For me, as an external processor, this tool is exactly what I need!
In the introduction to the journal Zoe writes this:
“Hey Lovely Mama!
The Mama Book was born out of my desire to have a space to process, plan and reflect on life as a mother. I needed a physical space dedicated to this important job as my mind was getting crowded, and some time to process the complexities of motherhood. This is your safe place to dream, process, document, scribble and write through your season as a Mama.”
Zoe has come up with some great questions to get you writing. My personal favourites are:
WHAT MATTERS MOST – My top 5 passions and areas that I really want to invest in. Does my day-to-day match up with this?
MY LITTLE ONES – What things do I want to remember about them as they are right now?
BUCKET LIST – Things to do together before they are grown.
I haven’t had the discipline or inclination to journal for years – even though I knew it would have been good for me. But I can personally vouch for the effectiveness of this journal for getting me into the habit. The questions are so thought-provoking and reflective that I consider each time I sit down to write in my journal to be a real treat. It gives me a little bit of time to be refreshed, take stock, and collect my thoughts. I sometimes use my journalling time as a launchpad for prayer.
I can say that with Zoe’s book, and Jesus’ help, I can already see that I am developing more of an attitude of gratitude and joy and that I am thinking negatively less! Thank you Lord!
And because I love it so much, I decided to buy a copy for a friend and write a blog post about it too!
Did you know that a new Children’s animation has just been released about the very first Christmas?
It’s called “The Star” and it claims to accurately portray “the greatest story ever told” – the birth of Christ. Interestingly though, in this film the familiar story is told from the perspective of the animals (primarily Bo the donkey). This has given the filmmakers some artistic license to tell a funny, sweet and entertaining story outside of the story of the birth of Christ.
Intrigued, and having read a glowing review written by a Christian mum, I (Cathy) took our three year old to the cinema to see it.
Overall, I was really impressed.
It’s really well made and it has all the ingredients required for a Hollywood hit (a strong cast, great script, beautiful animation, lovable characters and plenty of slapstick humour).
The story of the birth of Christ remains true to the gospel accounts of the events (although the timing in the film is not quite accurate, for example the prompt arrival of the Magi at the stable). The baby is unapologetically referred to as the Messiah, the Son of God, the King of the Jews and Jesus. God is assumed to be real, sovereignly at work to fulfil his plan, and Mary and Joseph are depicted as people of faith but who sometimes struggle with the enormity of the task they’ve been given.
It’s an artistic representation and exploration of the birth of Christ; and it does a good job of both being an entertaining film and stirring awe and wonder at the birth of Jesus.
Because the film makers have used artistic license, you may need to explain to your children that the animals are just fictional but the birth of Jesus was historical. For my three year old it’s important to make this distinction because he’s too young to understand this for himself.
It’s a personal choice, but for our family I think it’s a keeper. I love the idea of watching Christmas films together year after year. It’s a good addition to Home Alone, Muppet’s Christmas Carol and Stickman, and it’s the only one that actually represents the birth of Jesus.
It’s no substitute for actually reading the Bible, or going to church to hear the Christmas story through hymns, talks and children’s teaching. But in a world where there are a million distractions from the true meaning of Christmas, this movie is a useful and fun tool in the belt for helping to keep the reason for the season front and centre.
Below is a trailer of the film.
Have you been to see it? If so, we’d love you to leave a comment with your thoughts!
This week we’re trying something new, with a video review from Cathy of the book “Soul Food for Mums*“, by Lucinda van der Hart and Anna France-Williams. Check out the review below, and tell us what you think.
Before Reuben was born, I read a few books to prepare me for the changes ahead. Nothing prepared me as well as “Ordinary Mum, Extraordinary Mission*” by Anna France Williams and Joy French. I wrote some reflections on the book at the time – 2 months before Reu was actually born. Now that Reuben is 2 years old, I can testify that the wisdom of this book has been extremely helpful and has massively shaped my philosophy and approach to being a mum. It’s a must-read for anyone who wants to make the most of their mummy-years for God’s glory.
I’m very excited about us having our first baby. As my tummy gets bigger and the baby gets squirmier, it all begins to feel very imminent! There are so many things to be excited about. It’s so brilliant that Scott and I are going to get the privilege of bringing this little one up – I can’t wait to get to know him/her. What will they look like? What will their likes/ dislikes/ opinions/ interests/ skills be? In what ways will they be like me? How will they be like Scott? There is so much potential and life in this little wriggly one. I’m so excited about all the special times ahead, the baby’s first smile, peek-a-boo, the belly laughs, sticky fingers, their first prayer and all their questions about “why?”
I’ve also had some time to think about what life will look like for me as a mother. While I’ve felt for some time that I wanted to be a full-time mum, I’ve always felt committed to the idea that I won’t really be “staying at home”. I have wanted to be out and about, getting to know other mum’s in the community, blessing the neighbours around us, spending time with Scott’s family, investing in relationships at church, doing some theological study, reading the bible with students, and of course sharing the gospel with people I meet along the way. In my mind’s eye, the house will be tidy-ish, meals would be prepared for Scott and others coming home, and the baby will be cooing happily for all to dote on.
Now all these things are good things to aspire to. I do want to make the most of the amazing opportunities that having a cute baby gives you. However, reading this book has helped me to see what a self-centred and self-reliant vision I’ve had of parenting.
In some ways, I’m afraid of losing my identity as a UCCF staff worker. It can be easy to find your identity in your work – and for me, the thought of not being in paid employment and of not doing “Christian Ministry” is a bit scary. The thought of the “glamour” of staff work coming to an end has resulted in me subconsciously trying to build a new identity on the basis of successful motherhood.
This is what Anna-France Williams says, “When I began writing this book, my idea of what a missional mum looked like was Wonder Woman, soaring around the planet rescuing troubled souls, kids in tow, changing bag slung over one shoulder, cape flying, wearing a freshly applied coat of sheer red lipstick. That was who I aspired to be. I had picked up the idea that mums who could ‘do it all’ and ‘have it all’ (running projects, groups, volunteering, baking, preparing endless creative activities for toddlers, earning money, having regular deep chats about God with strangers) were the ones who were truly bathing in the glory of God’s favour and obeying the Great Commission in Matthew 28.”
As the book goes on, it becomes apparent that the authors, Anna France-Williams and Joy French, have been humbled by the reality of actual parenting! The reality, it seems, is that your deep and meaningful conversations are often cut short due to a need of your child – running to stop them throwing themselves off a piece of furniture, or stop them hitting another child, or to kiss them better when they’ve grazed their knee. The reality is also that parenting is tiring work, and so however good the intentions of doing evening things – community projects, church meetings, even having people round for a meal – is often a battle of the will, because all you want to do is snuggle up with a book and a bar of chocolate! Also, parenting makes you realise that rather than having the natural ability and resources to serve everyone else’s needs – you often really need help yourself in order to keep sane, rested and eating properly. In fact, being real about struggles in parenting can be a much better way of deepening friendships with believers and non-Christians rather than trying to give the impression that you are coping brilliantly.
So the book has been a really helpful corrective for me. I have a bit of a Messiah complex, and trying to be super mum – looking after baby, husband, and all those other needy souls out there, would absolutely play to my selfish pride. It’s liberating to know that I’m justified by God’s grace and have nothing to prove to my heavenly father. My identity isn’t primarily in my employment (or lack thereof), or my marital status, or in how I spend my time – my identity is in Christ. I couldn’t possibly be more loved by the Father then I currently am in Christ. So this frees me up to enjoy basking in his love for me, and serve others out of a place of security. Praise the Lord that my identity is found in his Son and not my performance.
Two years on I can truthfully say that the honesty and realism of this book is wonderful! I recommended it to anyone who would listen then and I would still highly recommend it now. Whether you’re expecting, a new-parent or a seasoned parent, this is a really heart-warming and readable book that will encourage your heart with the wonderful gospel. It is also inspiring, and will make you want to make the most of the exciting opportunities for mission that being a parent give you.
Did you know that in the UK, 4,000 children are waiting for adoption and 8,600 foster families are desperately needed (according to the charity Home For Good)? Stats like that should make us sit up and pay attention.
Some may say that reading a book about adoption and fostering just 3 months before the arrival of our next biological baby is a bit odd. But we reasoned that there’s always an excuse to put off thinking about adoption and fostering and, being realistic, once little Thomson arrives we’ll be sleep-deprived, overwhelmed and pre-occupied for a good length of time. So, we decided to think about it now, completely in the hypothetical, while we still have a bit of mental space (and our brains are still vaguely functioning).
We found the book extremely readable, thought-provoking, well-written and inspiring. We would highly recommend it.
A book for anyone at any stage of life
This book should be read by all Christians. It’s not just for people considering adoption and fostering, but for anyone who belongs to God’s family. The Home for Good book has come out of the Home for God campaign. The vision of this campaign is to see Christian families adopting and fostering not in isolation, but with the encouragement and support of their church families as they care for vulnerable children.
So if you belong to the church, this is a book for you.
It will help you think about how you can support and pray for vulnerable children and the families that care for them. The Kandiah’s message is clear – we all can and should be doing something to help, this isn’t just for the super spiritual amongst us. Christians should be at the forefront of caring for needy children in our country.
A book which is thoroughly biblical
Krish is an excellent Bible teacher, and that shines through as he retells familiar Bible stories in a really engaging and fresh way. He convincingly argues that the central message of the gospel is our adoption into God’s family and that this compels us to show the same compassion to others.
This is something all of us need to keep hearing. JI Packer in ‘Knowing God’* says this:
“What is a Christian? The question can be answered in many ways, but the richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God as Father.
If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all…
Adoption… is the highest privilege that the gospel offers: higher even than justification… To be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is a greater.”
This book is rammed-full of great theology, but it’s applied theology. You’re never far away from being challenged to act. Krish skilfully applies timeless Biblical principles to the nitty-gritty of real life in the modern day British care-system (although he does talk about international adoption in his book too).
A book which is realistic yet full of hope
As experienced adoptive and foster parents, the Kandiah’s candidly share some of their own experiences of caring for vulnerable children. The book also has lots of personal stories from the perspective of people who have grown up in care as well as from adoptive and foster parents. The book is full of realism, but also of hope. This is a book that doesn’t let you get away with the idea that caring for vulnerable children is a walk in the park, yet it does fill you with courage and inspiration for how lives can be transformed.
The book is profoundly practical and informative, with the Kandiah’s helpfully addressing some of our misconceptions and fears about the system – including social workers and the dreaded and intrusive process of getting approved. At the end of each chapter, discussion questions or prompts are provided to help you consider your own motivations and circumstances in relation to this topic. This is really helpful, as perhaps there are many families out there who are interested in adoption and fostering but are simply intimidated by the system. This book begins to remedy this.
A book which will leave you challenged
Home For Good* should come with a health warning. Don’t read this book if you want to be left unchanged. The Kandiah’s are extremely passionate about the church’s role in caring for vulnerable children (with Krish recently stepping down as the President of the London School of Theology to devote more time to the charity Home for Good, who are at the forefront of championing the cause of unaccompanied refugee children). The aim of this book was never to simply give a biblical defence of adoption and fostering but is a call for Christian families and the church at large to get on and do it.
Have you read this book? Why not comment below with your thoughts to help others who are considering reading it.
*Please note that whenever we recommend a book on this blog and link to it, we use an affiliate link. If you use that link to purchase the book than we will receive a small commission from that purchase, at no extra cost to you – we want to be totally upfront with you that this is the case. We only ever recommend books that we have personally benefited from and think will be useful or beneficial to our readers too. We hope that this will go some way to the cost of maintaining and updating this site, so if you have benefited from this blog then please consider purchasing through this link. Click on the asterix next to any link for more info.
If you follow us on twitter then you might have seen that a couple of weeks ago we were at Word Alive, a Christian Conference in Prestatyn. As it was our first time there with a toddler in tow, we thought we would do something a bit different on the blog this week and post a few reflections on how it went.
Word Alive is advertised as “a holiday for life” with:
Enduring Bible teaching
Space to relax and have fun
Exciting and creative kids work
Here’s their promo video for the 2017 event to give you a taste of what they’re about:
So, did it live up to expectations? And importantly, was attending with a child a success?
In this post we want to give you a taste of what Word Alive is, how we practically approached it with a toddler, what is great about Word Alive, and what are some of the more tricky things you might need to factor into your thinking. If you’re not familiar with it as a conference, we hope this post will go some of the way to help you decide whether it’s something for you in the future. Feel free to post any questions or comments at the end.
Well, before we start the review, we should perhaps lay our cards on the table. We have been faithful punters at Word Alive ever since adolescence. The conference was really significant for us:
Early on in our Christian lives: as we realised that there are many thousands of Christians in the UK, and that there are lots of great Bible teachers out there besides the wonderful pastor who brought us to Christ and discipled us (shout-out to Paul Lintott – evangelist, pastor, father-figure and dear friend). It widened our vision of what’s going on in the church in the UK, and across the world.
As more mature Christians: it helped deepen our convictions through some excellent and life-changing teaching, like Graham Beynon’s seminars on the end times*, Jerry Bridges on “The Discipline of Grace“* and Michael Reeves on the Trinity*. (All of whom have books on the topics – follow the links to get your hands on them).
As members of the student team: stewarding during the mornings and meeting to pray with university students in the afternoon. A wonderful time of blessing and encouragement.
As young lovers (well, sort of): Scott declared his affection Cathy at Word Alive 2009 – after Cathy telling him that he’d been acting weird! (For the full version of events contact Cathy!)
As witnesses of God’s saving grace: as Cathy’s brother and sister-in-law made the decision to follow Jesus at Word Alive in April 2014 for the very first time.
So just putting it out there – we love Word Alive! But we have tried to remain objective in this review nonetheless. Now for the review…
Word Alive is a 6 day conference (in reality two half-days and 4 full days) based on a Pontins holiday park in Prestatyn. The conference has a packed and varied teaching programme which you can pick and choose from, with main sessions in the mornings and evenings and lots of seminars in the afternoons. There are also plenty of facilities to use on site: a swimming pool; beach access; adventure playground etc. At the centre of the site there is a large bookstall, a couple of coffee stands (serving decent, fairtrade coffee) and an area for stands from different Christian organisations and missionary societies.
As well as the daytime sessions there is an after hours programme, meaning you could cram your day with sessions from 8am right through to the early hours. (Perhaps students might think that’s a good idea, but parents of young children would certainly take a more leisurely approach to the week!)
There are two options when it comes to Word Alive – to stay onsite (in a Pontins chalet) or offsite. We’ve done both in our time, but this year we stayed offsite. We rented accommodation in Rhyl (a 20 minute drive away) and bought wristbands (£150 per adult, children under 2 go free) to access the conference.
Because of the commute to the conference, we made the most of the days:
From 9.30-11am Reuben would go into his kids club, which was equipped with a ball pool, mountains of toys and lots of smiley helpers. Meanwhile Scott and I would go to the morning Bible readings on Job by Vaughan Roberts.
From 11am- 2pm we would take Reu to a friend’s caravan (also offsite, but only a 5 minute walk away) to feed him his lunch and put him down for a nap. Yes, we are very rigid with the naptimes at the moment – we’re desperately trying to keep them going as long as possible, to ease the transition from one to two children when little Thomson number 2 arrives.
From 2-3.15pm Reu would go back to his club for another session of fun, while Scott and I went to seminars by Graham Beynon on “How to handle money in your hearts and with your hands”… or sometimes we just went for coffee with old friends!
From 3.15-5pm we would make the most of the free onsite facilities, taking Reu to the adventure playground, bouncy castle and inflatable slide. We didn’t even manage to make it to the beach or swimming pool – but they are other child-friendly options which are easily and freely available to you.
From 5pm-8pm we would go back to our accommodation (we were staying with two other families, with 6 kids between them – so there was plenty of fun and hyperactivity to keep all entertained!), eat tea, bath Reu and put him to bed.
From 8pm onwards one or two parents would stay in to look after all of the sleeping kiddies while the other adults went back to Word Alive for the 8.30pm celebration.
So that’s how we structured our days with a toddler. Did it work?
We were really impressed by the kids work at Word Alive. Reuben went into “Shells” a group for kids who were 1 year 10 months to 2 years 6 months (so totally tailored to that age group). Reuben had never been in any child-care where he didn’t personally know the adults before and yet he settled into it really well. For Reu to go into the care of strangers for nearly three hours a day, and for him to enjoy it so much, is a real testimony to the team of helpers! Reu was sometimes a bit clingy when we had to say goodbye to him, but he was always totally engrossed in playing when we went to pick him up. The leaders did age-appropriate crafts with the toddlers on the same topic that we were looking at in Job. They also tried to teach them a memory verse using actions (since speaking in sentences is a bit tricky at this stage). Very cute!
Kids work at Word Alive caters for children aged 3 months – 18 years. If you are staying offsite and buying visitor passes the cost is: – Free (0-2 year olds) – £75 (3-18 year olds) There is a family celebration at 5.30pm every evening.
Teaching for us
We went to the morning Bible Readings by Vaughan Roberts on Job. In light of the difficulties that we have faced over the last year, it was really helpful to hear a series which was dealing with suffering in the life of a believer. Vaughan did an excellent job of explaining what can be a controversial and complex book in a very accessible and engaging way. He did so with a pastoral heart. Music was led by Christ Church Mayfair who picked some reflective songs to help us respond to what we were learning. There was also a prayer team available to help individuals reflect on what is a very emotive issue. The childcare provision enabled us to engage fully with the teaching and get a lot out of it.
We went to some afternoon seminars on the topic of “How to handle money in your hearts and with your hands” by Graham Beynon (there’s also a book on this* which we’re sure will be great but as we’ve not read we can’t personally recommend it). We found these seminars really helpful in getting us to evaluate our attitude to money and to begin the ongoing conversation about how we can use our money in a more godly way as a couple. His seminars were based on the ideas found in his book.
We went to several of the 8:30pm evening celebrations. In these celebrations there is an extended time for worship as well as the Bible talk. These meetings are live streamed on Youtube so on the evenings when we couldn’t physically be in the big marquee we still followed the session from the comfort of our accommodation. Speakers included Graham Daniels, Dave Gobbett, Dai Hankey, Julian Hardyman and others. The sessions were based in John’s gospel, looking at the “I Am” statements.
The teaching programme at Word Alive really is (in our opinion and experience) unparalleled to anything else on offer in the UK. Alongside the general sessions were specific seminars and sessions for international students, people with disabilities and students. As well as this whole range of practical topics were covered this year, including how the gospel applies to marriage, singleness, social media, money, church leadership, dementia and much more.
This year Word Alive had arranged with Pontins for us to be able to use all the onsite facilities for free, rather than having to pay for additional extras like in years gone by. Reu enjoyed the giant inflatable slide, the bouncy castle and outdoor adventure playground. He was too little to enjoy the fairground rides, go-karts and crazy golf but we’re sure he’ll love these as he gets older. As we mentioned before we didn’t make it (i.e. were too lazy!) to go swimming or to the beach but those facilities are free and on your doorstep. Now to be honest, we didn’t go swimming partly out of laziness, but also partly because the pool gets very busy as do the changing rooms, which can make the experience stressful with a toddler. As a remedy to this, Word Alive did provide a toddler-only time in the pool and on the giant inflatables in the schedule every day. We couldn’t go then because it clashed with Reu’s nap time, but we’re sure that lots of parents benefitted from this.
The Pontins chalets are notoriously basic, with the cheapest option having only a bath and no shower in the bathroom. A six-person chalet contains two bedrooms with twin beds and a sofa bed in the kitchen/living room. The sofa beds are not comfortable. There is nothing luxurious about the on-site accommodation, even the most expensive chalets are pretty basic. But despite this, the onsite accommodation gets booked up almost immediately when booking opens 10 months ahead of the event itself, which is testament to the fantastic programme on offer. Word Alive has been based on this Pontins site for several years now and punters are fully aware that they aren’t going on a luxury holiday; instead they are booking onto a spiritual retreat where there will be fantastic preaching, worship and fun times for the family. If you haven’t been before, but are planning on booking for next year, you’ll have a great time, but now you know about accommodation so you can’t be shocked!
The big drawback to Word Alive with a family is the cost. The cost of a chalet includes your accommodation and your tickets for the event. That makes the event good value for money if you have 6 adults staying in your 6 person chalet. However, if you need a 6 person chalet for a family of 4 (let’s say the two kids share one room and the two adults share the other so that no one has to sleep on the uncomfortable sofa bed) it’s the same cost, so suddenly you are paying a huge amount of money for the luxury of just sleeping in a bed (while effectively having 4 spare event tickets!)
If we decide to go next year then both Reuben and our baby will be free – neither will need passes to go into the kids work. So the cost of the event for two adults (in terms of wristbands) is £300. Yet we would have to pay a minimum of £895 for our chalet and 6 adult wristbands. This system doesn’t really seem to work, in our minds. If Word Alive were able to factor in the age of your children while booking your place at the event, this would reduce the overall chalet price if you have children and/or infants. This would mean their takings would be less, however, so the income would have to come from elsewhere. We don’t envy those who have to make these difficult decisions! It does seem, however, that the price is much more prohibitive for families than for adults, and sadly we know quite a number of families who have had to stop going to Word Alive because they simply can’t afford it. We wish there was a different way of pricing it.
Now having said this, we do want to say more positively that it is commendable how affordable Word Alive makes the event for students. There are also discounted chalets for people on a low-income. So if you are a family on a low-income then don’t automatically assume you can’t go, it may be much more affordable than you think.
For middle-income families, staying offsite in a caravan and buying wristbands may be a more affordable (and probably more comfortable) option for you.
If you can afford it, then we would highly recommend Word Alive with a toddler. Providing your child is happy to go into the childcare groups then it will be a refreshing, energising, nourishing retreat which will enable you to set aside a good block of time to grow in your relationship with God. Word Alive claims that is “is a holiday for every day, where getting away from it all is about being equipped and energised to get back to it all.” On that promise, it absolutely delivers. We came back refreshed and ready to keep on living for Jesus in our ordinary lives. Yes it’s an expensive holiday, but if you see it as an investment both in your own walk with Jesus and your child’s, you’ll reap the rewards in the months and years that follow.
Will we be going back next year? Oh we hope so! Time to start saving the pennies…
We’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you been to Word Alive? What did you think? Have you been with a toddler or children of different ages? How did you find it? Do you have experiences from another conference you could share? Please comment on this post and share your thoughts!