Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

When I was thinking about Advent this year and getting my heart in the right place for Christmas, I started to feel overwhelmed. I know many of us feel the same.

Sometimes we feel like we should be doing a special daily advent devotional, alongside devotions or Christmas crafts for our children, then there’s all the extra things that happen in December – school concerts, Christmas parties, Christmas light switch ons, carol services, family get togethers – and that’s before you start thinking about Christmas Day itself and buying the presents and food.

We all know that this isn’t what Christmas is really about. We are excited to spend Advent focusing on Jesus’s coming. And yet we feel overwhelmed at how we can do this.

This is a simple, short four week series that should only take fifteen minutes at one point in each week. I thought about doing something a little different – sometimes devotions can be so samey – and have based the series on four Christmas hymns.

By listening to the music, looking at the passages of scripture behind them and thinking about how we might respond, I’m hoping that we won’t only benefit from that time but we’ll listen to the piece of music again as we go about our week and the words and truths will soak further into our hearts.

Week one – Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

Listen to the hymn: This version is on Chris Tomlin’s album, sung by Christy Nockels  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fAGE1Es8IPs I grew up Methodist so I’m built to appreciate the Wesleyan hymns before I even delve into them, in fact I actually struggle to sing ‘Methodist’ hymns in our Presbyterian church as I can only sing the alto lines! I do miss church worship regularly involving hymn singing in parts.

Read the lyrics:

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel's strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.

Reflection: The first verse of Come Thou Long Expected Jesus is based on Haggai 2 v 7 I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,' says the LORD Almighty. (NIV)

The hymn reflects on this longing of the Israelites for their Messiah and yet it goes beyond that first coming, as we also long for Jesus – both His presence in our lives daily and our hope in His return again. At Christmas we don’t just look back at the first coming of Jesus, every day we look afresh at Him and the joy and peace He brings to our everyday.

I’m always fascinated by what the Jewish people were expecting in the promised Messiah. They were primarily looking for a political leader, a King in earthly terms, to rule over them and restore their nation. Sometimes I wonder if we do the same with Jesus, hoping that He will be able to help with one area of our lives but not welcoming Him into it all. Or perhaps we focus too much on the physical needs we have and not our spiritual needs.

Can you say that Jesus is the central longing of your heart as we come into this festive season? Pray that He would be. All around us we see people in pursuit of selfish ambitions, a focus on parties, on presents or food in this season. Let’s not lose our focus and longing for more of Jesus in our lives.

And did you notice that line ‘let us find our rest in Thee’? How often we feel like need to just keep saying yes, turning up to every event we get an invite to, ensuring our kids have as many Christmas experiences as possible, exhausting ourselves and making it even more difficult to get ready for Christmas.

That’s not what it’s about. Let’s not make more work for ourselves. Rest as much as you can. Have lazy days at home. If the children get sick, see it as an opportunity to slow down not a disruption to all your plans.

Have you looked to Jesus for your rest before this Advent season gets started?

Is there stuff in the diary you should be saying no to?

The second verse is a prayer, building on the expectations of that first Christmas and how it should impact on our lives. Maybe we could use it to reflect this week on how we need to have Jesus rule in our hearts. And let’s not miss the fact we don’t need to worry about our own ability to deserve Him. I always love the words of the Prayer of Humble Access in communion services, where we acknowledge we are not worthy to so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table and that we come to this table, trusting in your mercy and not in any goodness of our own.

There is no pressure on us to create the perfect Advent and Christmas experience for ourselves or for our children.

We don’t earn Jesus at Christmas any more than we do throughout the rest of the year.

Step outside the crazy, take some time to be still and reflect on the fact Jesus came to show us how to live, to point us to God and to deliver us eternally.

 

Come back next week to take a look together at Mary Did You Know? 

Every New Beginning Comes From Some Other Beginning's End

    

It’s day 31, I’ve actually written something every day this month! When I came up with my blog name I was thinking about how I longed for contentment in my home. A feeling that often wasn’t there at the end of each day. The joy in parenting and homemaking wasn’t there. I just felt so discouraged. I read blogs where life at home with children was presented as a series of quirky vintage tea cups on a perfectly clean kitchen island unit. Or a perfectly put together outfit for the school run. This is not my reality, and I don’t think it is for many of us. My life is chaotic, messy, fun, exhausting, relational, filled with more love than I ever thought possible but also more frustrating than I ever could have imagined.

I wanted to encourage women that there is contentment, happiness, joy to be found in being homemakers and mothers to young children. To encourage parents of children with special needs that our homes can be as full of joy as everyone else’s. (I’ll let you in on a secret, I actually think our lives are happier because of our special children, but that’s for another post!) To think about how as a Christian, God has called me to a new life in Him, that my identity is not in being a mother or a homemaker, but in a daughter of the Living God and that this brings the deepest joy.

This month I looked at various things that made my home happy over the month, from hobbies to people to activities we’ve done. I don’t know exactly where I’m going from here but I’m excited that I’ve finally taken the first move with my writing.

It does the heart good to focus on the positives. Our brains are malleable and by recalling things we’re grateful for each day we can rewire our brains to be happy. Our homes can be like this too. So let’s start by being thankful for the small everyday things like our children giggling, or time spent with our best friends who know exactly how we take our coffee. What can you be thankful for today?

Faith

    

Faith

On the penultimate day of this writing challenge I turn to what gives our home the focus to get through the tough times we face, that gives our lives meaning, that brings us joy in all of life – our faith in Jesus.

Honestly, if my identity was in being a mum I can see how our children would become obsessions in my life and how the bad days would be horrendously difficult to deal with. If I placed my identity in being a wife, I would fail to find fulfilment in a relationship that will always fall short of perfect. Likewise friendships don’t define me. Nor does the car I drive or the clothes I wear.

It’s my faith in Christ that gives me hope, that roots my identity in Him and when I focus on Him, our home is happier. There is a freedom that comes from faith that I think you can’t understand until you’re there yourself. It frees me of the lies that I’m not good enough or that my life is worthless. It frees me from a sense of guilt. It frees me from the fear of the future.

Many days though I do listen to the lies in my head, I don’t look to God for strength to face the day and try to solve the problems myself.

One of my favourite blogs is over at Home Sanctuary, (www.homesanctuary.com) where Rachel once said “Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can with what you have, and then give the rest to God to take care of” and that’s what I’m doing with my life. My identity is in Him, not in my role as a mum, or the decoration of our house, or the clothes we wear, or what we ate for dinner, or the strength of my relationship with my husband.

Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Matthew 11 v 28-30

Is it time we listened to these words afresh and come back to Him who can give us rest for our souls? Time that we stopped listening to the lies that we’re not good enough?

 

A song of ascents

     

Psalm 121

A song of ascents.

1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

3 He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

5 The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

7 The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

So tonight I’ve decided to just reflect on a psalm that I was doing with the girls at GB tonight. Recently I’m been reflecting on how my identity is in Christ (and not my relatively non-status as a stay at home mum) and I think this psalm follows on a similar vein about how my confidence and comfort shouldn’t come from this world but from God. People will always disappoint us and our best and fullest comfort in times of trial will come from the Lord. What a delight and happy truth for our homes; that the God who created heaven and earth cares about us and watches over us faithfully. 

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Bible Journaling

   

Bible Journaling

I’ve talked about bullet journaling and how it’s helped me keep my head above water (see earlier blog post here) and I’m sure at some stage I’ll talk about my holiday journal which is a record of trips we do away from home with photos and memories rather than detailed itineraries. Today’s post is about journaling that’s a little different and something I’m only starting out with: Bible journaling.

There are some amazingly talented women (I’ve not come across any men yet) blogging about this and I’m going to do the whole thing a disservice here with my efforts. Basically, the idea is that you add colour, words, tape, decoration, paint and embellishments around your Bible to bring God’s word alive.

I’ve done some illustrative calligraphy work in the past and would love to start using that in my Bible but for now it’s mostly just colouring pencils. I need to work out what exactly I’m going to do as I have sermon notes on my Bible app and in old Bibles that might be worth transferring in but they’re VERY comprehensive so I’m not sure how much of them I’ll bring in. So for now, I’m just doing the basics but loving how it’s keeping me focused on that passage for the time I’m colouring, I’m reading the words more closely and feel like it’s going to be a great way to hear God’s word afresh.

I’ve loved looking back at passages we’re studying in church at present and seeing how knowing them better after recent teaching and then thinking creatively about how to illustrate the passage. We’re currently doing Genesis in our morning services and I’m looking forward to working through the passages each week and see and hear better what God is saying.

If anyone is interested in finding out more, Illustrated Faith is the most comprehensive source of Bible journaling information, and I’m hoping to sign up to one of their online courses so I can move on from colouring pencils! Ha!

Have you ever been creative with your Bible studying?

 

A Special Guest Contributor!

  

Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.
— Abraham Lincoln

So tonight, with no little fanfare, I am pleased and somewhat nervously welcoming a guest post from my husband, Colin. I have literally no idea what he has written about and he's posting this himself so it's with faith that i hand over my lovely blog for the evening! (The quote is his too; *rolls eyes*)


As you might have gathered from the many entries in this blog, there are a million different things that make our home happy. There is however a consistent theme running through them; two themes really but they’re not entirely independent of each other!

The first theme is…… Nicola!

As you can tell from her writing, my wife is a thinker. She spends a lot of time and effort thinking about what is good for our family and our home. She reads countless books, articles, blogs and more. She reads about God’s plans for a family, about homemaking and housekeeping, about educating children with special needs, about disciplining children in a gentle and loving way… the list is practically never ending.

When we were going out (‘dating’ for our American visitors!) she used to tease me about how much harder I had studied than her just to get up with same classification of degree. (She actually revisited that theme only yesterday! Have to let her get her victories where she can nowadays!). Now that we’ve been married over eight years though the shoe is now very definitely on the other foot. I have developed an intellectual shortcut over the years – I’ve learned from extensive experience that if Nicola has read up on a topic that she cares about, that not only will her views be well formed but they’ll also be persuasive and compelling. She really does take time to know what’s she’s talking about and what she thinks that means. All of this means that there is often no need for me to do anything like the same amount of research on a given topic. I have confidence in the opinions and ideas that she forms as I’ve seen how time and time again, they’ve been proved sound by time and events.

 

Cloth Nappies – an evidence based, well thought out decision that I am glad to have been persuaded of!

Cloth Nappies – an evidence based, well thought out decision that I am glad to have been persuaded of!

 

Of course, no-one is free from mistakes – I’m sure she has it in her to get it wrong from time to time. But it’s not common!

You can see from a quick browse through the pages of this blog all the different ways that this body of thought has been applied in our lives. All these little things that make our home happy come from the same source – Nicola. Me and the lads are just here for the ride!

 

The second theme is….selflessness.

It’s easy in the midst of the chaos of every day life to find yourself getting caught up in what is best for me, and losing focus on the people and things around you. Whether that’s not wanting to be the one who has to get up at stupid o’clock AM when our youngest son decides that the day really ought to be getting started now, or the one to go back to the dinner table once the boys are in bed and begin the painstaking process of cleaning, wiping, brushing and otherwise removing the residue of another chaotic mealtime!

At this time in our family life, I go out to work, while Nicola stays at home and raises our children. Believe me when I say that although there are many days when I’d like to be the one to stay home and take them to one of the many inspiring and engaging activities Nicola has planned, there are equally plenty of days when I burst free from the house and run for the shelter and relative calm of my office; hot coffee on tap, adult conversation and intellectual stimulation.

 

A good day to be in the office!

A good day to be in the office!

We’ve been parents for just over four years now and now, more than ever, it needs selflessness to keep things running smoothly. I’ve suffered from ill health for years now and when I’m going through a period where I’m particularly unwell, my ability to contribute plummets. At times like that, and day to day, Nicola has demonstrated an unending capacity for selflessness. I find that both inspiring and a little intimidating. It’s not easy to stay on message all the time. But having said that, I know from experience that the days in which my selfish desires for rest or my own entertainment creep to the fore, are the days when home life does not function as well, and is not as happy, as it could be. A happy home is one where the load is shared, where each person feels valued and appreciated and where people do their best to put the needs of the others before their own.

 

 

 

 

 

Ethical Living

   

Today I’m thinking about how our home is made happy by living ethically. Living ethically is bit of a buzz word these days along with words like sustainability, organic, fairtrade and environmentalism.

So what does it mean?

Well, for me, it’s about being conscientious in all areas of my life and trying to live with integrity and compassion. There are plenty of areas where the decisions I make and money I spend is not as ethical as it could be but I try to make as many sustainable choices around our home and with what I buy. Many mainstream choices are not sustainable in terms of the environmental impact they have, or not ethical because of the way the products are made. It’s a bit awkward to talk about as I don’t want to seem sanctimonious, but here are a few areas in my life that it impacts:

Baby stuff

Firstly, as a parent there is some amount of stuff that the companies all tell you is necessary. You don’t need much. You definitely don’t need reams of plastic toys at any stage. We tend to only buy wooden toys with a few of the plastic ones being bought second hand on gumtree. There tends to be a lot of plastic that comes in to our house as gifts, but I’ve now realised you can’t change other people’s buying habits, and that’s ok! 

We also use cloth nappies and reusable nappy wipes, and the ones I bought 4.5 years ago when pregnant with Daniel are still going strong. I’ve used them from birth with both boys and have only used disposables on holiday a couple of times, I even bring cloth when we’re camping! Disposable nappies are full of chemicals, they end up in landfill sites (5,000 nappies on average per baby if they potty train at 2.5 years old) and they cost a lot more money. Cloth is better for the environment, for your baby and reusable so far more sustainable!

Ethical banking/Loans

We bank with a building society after both deciding to move away from the standard banks years ago. We give through CARE International’s microfinance lending initiative Lendwithcare and continue to reinvest when repayments are made. It involves loaning money directly to entrepreneurs in developing countries for them to buy raw materials, expand their business or employ extra staff and it is a really fantastic way to give money. We don’t have any stocks or shares, but there are ethical ways to invest your money too.

Clothing

I don’t buy my clothes from Primark or the supermarkets which are renowned for their poor ethical stance. If your tshirt cost £2 to buy, it wasn’t made ethically. The Bangladesh factory collapse a few years ago brought it all to our minds, but despite many promises following that awful incident, many of the companies involved are still selling exceptionally cheap clothes. Unfortunately it’s difficult for small ethical companies to stay in business. My favourite pairs of pants are all from Who Made Your Pants?, a worker cooperative in England that employed refugee women and used offcuts from fabric from the lingerie trade. I was gutted when they shut down about a year ago.

It does cost more to buy ethical clothing but the quality is better and actually we don’t need to buy ten new items of fashion each season. If you need cheap, charity shops are a great way to shop. You’d be surprised there are sometimes items for sale brand new with tags on! I’d love to have the courage to go down to a capsule wardrobe of only ethically sourced, organic materials but for now I just try to ensure that I support companies with a good corporate social responsibility record and limit what I buy.

Transport

We’re a one car family who use buses and trains as much as the car. We tried being a no car household before we had kids but it wasn’t doable in a city like Belfast as the public transport isn’t great once you’re out of the city, and even our bus route is only half hourly at peak times and hourly outside of peak. My husband gets the bus to work every day and I try to walk or cycle as much as I can in the morning, though do the school pick up normally in the car as Daniel needs to get home quickly for his nap! At the weekend we go out most Saturdays for an adventure somewhere and a lot of weeks that’s a train journey to another town, get brunch and come home! 

out for a walk and Daddy’s bus was about to go past. At this point I think Daniel still thought Colin actually WORKED on the bus!

out for a walk and Daddy’s bus was about to go past. At this point I think Daniel still thought Colin actually WORKED on the bus!

Other things you can do: support small businesses locally: buy handmade products: recycle: look at moving to reusable female sanitary products; having one meat free dinner each week; menu plan to reduce food waste; and growing your own food in a vegetable patch. I’ve yet to work out how to do anything in the garden really, aside from having one tomato plant that produces lovely tomatoes (with no work from me), but would love to start with even a small herb garden.

When we’re rich by the world’s standards, we have the opportunity to make a difference with the way we buy and the way we live. I get that apathy plays a big part here – what difference can one person’s decisions make? Well, you can actually make a real difference with your own spending alone, but also the ripple effect could lead to you impacting many. With cloth nappies, for example, we’ve ‘converted’ lots of friends, some of whom only used them for six months, others use them sporadically, others full time like us. At a quick reckoning though, I reckon through me persuading others to use cloth and my using them that’s well over 40,000 less disposable nappies in landfill.

I have still so much work to do with our ethical living but I’m glad I’m bringing up my boys to question what they buy and to think as consumers about where the products we buy come from and who was involved in making the products. 

Faith and Candle Anchor

We all have anchors in our day. Anchors are the daily rituals that remain the same while the activities and work we do in between changes. These anchors are normally food related – our breakfast, lunch and dinner anchors are constants by which the boys know where they are in the day and give us much needed fuel for all the things that happen in between.

At the start of this school year, we’ve introduced a new anchor in our day. This one was inspired by a similar anchor from a book of Sally Clarkson’s called ‘The Life Giving Home’. Colin sends me a text when he is on the bus home from work and we have a crazy 5 minute tidy up of all the toys, then I gather the boys around the kitchen table, we light a candle and sit down on the sofa with their devotional book and we talk about God. Colin then comes in to a relatively calm house and the boys are normally sitting happily on the sofa reading with me. It’s not been perfect every day. Some days the candle gets blown out as I light it, other days one of the boys (I’ll not name and shame) refuses to sit on the sofa but I’ve been amazed how most days it has been magical. 

In that difficult half hour when it isn’t yet dinner time, daddy isn’t home yet, I’m tired and the boys are too, this anchor has given us a focus and a calm. It has also allowed us to successfully cultivate a healthy habit we’ve been trying to implement for years, reading God’s word together and having a conversation (as much as you can with a 15 month old and 4 year old with a severe speech delay!) about who God is and what that means for us.

I love that this anchor, if we keep it up, might be something that the boys look back at with fondness, something they associate with our family and this home, and something that made this home a happy place. Looking back at my childhood it was these daily rituals that shaped the feel of the house. The things that I realise were so ingrained in my day they felt like natural moments that just happened and contributed to that home being happy, relaxed and loving.