Life in Pictures: Easter

Life in Pictures is a photographic journal of things we’ve been doing lately.

At the start of Easter week, I had no plan for how our family would celebrate, beyond hosting a lunch for some of our church family on Easter Sunday, and some new books about the Easter true story which I had bought a few weeks back and stashed away.

And I felt a little paralysed by not being prepared.

The true story of Easter is so weighty, so deep, so important – and I didn’t feel ready to tell it.

I thought I needed a fancy plan, bells and whistles, to bring the story to life in our home, and to counteract the pervasiveness of chocolate and bunnies.

Even though we know and trust in the truths of Easter all year round, it is a joy to join other Christians during Easter week to remember – specifically and purposefully – this true story.

Yet somehow, Easter seems more difficult to frame than Christmas. At Christmas, there is advent, the time of waiting, and it climaxes with a birth, God breaking into this world. Easter ends with another kind of birth, but there is a death to get through first. A death that can’t be overlooked because it’s the source of life.

I think part of my paralysis was not knowing how to approach the subject of Easter with my children, because the Christian story of Easter is so very far removed from the world’s version.

And also, I had taken the joy out of the celebration by thinking I needed to perform.

I scoured the internet for ideas, and I used some of them.

But I discovered, as the week went on, that all I really needed was a willingness to share with my children.

Whenever I read one of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection, I get a lump in my throat and, often, tears in my eyes. After the darkness, comes this light-filled, earth-shattering, everything-changing moment. And this joy, this breaking open of everything to show us the One who sets us free, was what I wanted them to grasp in their hearts. It is freedom, and joy, and light.

In the end, our Easter week involved reading lots of books, including making our way through the Easter story in our children’s Bible, making things, and enjoying God’s beautiful creation.

We made a Holy Week calendar (inspired by The Domestic Notebook). Each day, we took a small part of the Easter story and made a poster with a simple craft, starting with Palm Sunday and working through Jesus turning over tables in the temple, Jesus teaching in the temple, Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, the last supper, the cross, the tomb, and the resurrection. Sophie loved doing a daily craft; in fact, she wanted to dive right in and do all the days at once! I had to explain that we would take our time over the week to reflect on this true story of true stories.

On Thursday, we shared a last supper meal together. We made hot cross buns on Good Friday. I made a challah loaf on Easter Saturday and we shared it to remember that Jesus’s broken body was in the tomb.

There were plenty of outdoors adventures too. The bluebells at Leigh Woods were stunning.

There are more ideas and resources for celebrating the true Easter story with children on my Easter Pinterest page. I recommend Faith at Home for some lovely ideas about building Easter family traditions. 

When you feel like you’re not enough

Monday was the first day of the Easter holidays. Normally, I get up on the first day of the holidays feeling excited, privileged, and eager. Not so this time. Instead of a sense of anticipation, I had a sense of anxiety and overwhelmedness.

Of not-enoughness.

There was no plan of ‘things to do and places to go’ in the holidays (there normally is). I had had a broken night’s sleep with a blocked-nose 4 year old and was feeling under the weather myself. I felt frazzled by the last few weeks of busier-than-normal life, and by the mental to-do list which began when I got up and saw the laundry basket and just kept getting longer. All by 9 o’clock.

I simply felt that I was not enough for my children, not enough for my work.

You might think that I am heading towards some pat answer that the moral of the story is that I prayed, and things got better.

Well I didn’t. And they didn’t (not until later).

Actually, I sat down and cried.

Then I got up, and we got through the day. We stayed home for a while, the kids played, I scoured the internet for other people’s inspired Easter ideas. We walked to the shops. We made Easter bonnets. We ate lunch while watching the window cleaner shine our dirty windows. We read the next part of the Easter story we’re following in our children’s Bible. The youngest napped, the oldest watched some cartoons. I cleaned the insides of the outside-clean windows. We went to the park to play in the sandpit. We came home for dinner.

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On the surface, this mum and two preschoolers had an OK day.

But scratch a little deeper, and I was just filling the time in order to cover up my own inadequacies. My not-enoughness.

I didn’t want my children to realise that I’m boring, that I’m uninspired, that I don’t have grace in my heart, that I’m not sure how to impress the truths of Easter on them.

So I started to put up a wall. A barrier between my heart and them. So I could go through the motions but not deal with the emotions.

Where’s the love in that?

After they had gone to bed, and I’d just got my holiday list together and written up, I was standing in front of a sink full of bubbles and a pile of dirty pots, and it came to me. I am not enough, and that is the point, and it is OK.

God is enough.

And he gives me grace in my not-enoughness.

If I could count up all the mistakes I have made in life, and especially as a mother, it would be impossible to list them. But if I could count up all the ways He gives me grace, that would be an even longer list.

And the point is that I’m not to be at the centre of their lives. God is. And I’m not to believe that I am meant to be the primary source of love, grace, forgiveness, compassion to them. God is.

In all my not-enoughness, God says that He is enough. ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Often I think that God lets us come up against walls, against barriers, against difficulties to remind us that we aren’t in control, that we need to depend on Him, that we can’t do this thing on our own. The walls and barriers stop us from getting proud.

My not-enoughness yesterday was a trigger which, when I put on the yellow rubber gloves, pointed me to His sufficiency.

But this barrier I was putting up between me and them? It was a different kind of barrier. I put it there, not God. I wanted to put a wall around myself, instead of going along the walls that God puts there to find my way back to His path. It was self-defence, not God-defence.

So I want to tear it down. And in its place, I want intimate vulnerability that points to God and says to them: Yes, I fail. I’m not enough. But God is.

Raw thoughts on being a stay-at-home mum

Would it surprise you to know that, some days, a lot of days, I feel as if I am failing at life?

Yeah, really.

I know. I’m only just in my 30s and I have so many things to be thankful for, things that others my age might be only dreaming of having. A husband, two kids, a home that we own (even though we technically own pretty much just the chimney stack and owe the bank for the rest), a degree from a prestigious university.

I also believe in and trust a God who gives, and gives, and gives, and demands nothing, and made the world, and made me, and is good, and has planned all of history and all of future.

So why this feeling of failure? Or is it discontentment? Or both?

And when I meet new people, and they ask me what I do, why do I respond as I do?

‘I’m just a mum.’

Just a mum.

Why just? Where does this downtrodden tone spring from? And why does it make me feel so sad?

The thing is, I have been wondering recently about the world outside motherhood. It’s four and a half years since our amazing daughter burst into our lives. Four and a half years since I became ‘just’ a mum. What else is there?

So I’ve been trying to put my finger on what this feeling is. First I started wondering if maybe… I’m a little bored? I don’t think that’s the name for it though, because I adore my children and we have lots of fun together and their father and I have consciously and continually decided that having a parent at home full-time is the best thing for our children and our family.

So maybe… I feel boring? I’m like a girl at a party who has nothing to say that anyone wants to hear because, well, I’m just a mum.

Or maybe… I feel oppressed? Not by my children but by all the peripheral things that go with being a stay-at-home mum. Preschool runs. Toddler groups. The same and same and same shallow conversations with other parents at said school and toddler group. Isn’t there more?

Or maybe… I have dreams? My own dreams, which have been buried and forgotten and unfulfilled. Dreams of creative endeavours. Dreams of success. Dreams of being admired.

Not long ago, one of my friends posted this on her Facebook profile, and it floored me:

Shoutout to the world’s best in laws. They pray for me and my family daily. They want [my daughter] every chance they can get. They travel to visit us at any opportunity, to make living [overseas] easier. They build my confidence daily by praising me for being a stay at home mom. I really don’t know where I would be without these loving people.

I was bowled over. These people sound amazing. And so different to anyone I’ve ever encountered. Being praised for being a stay-at-home mum? Far more often the questions I hear from people are, ‘So when are you going back to work?’ and ‘So what are your plans for work in the future?’

Sometimes, it truly feels that no-one admires a stay-at-home mum. We are the silent, the forgotten, the obscure.

I even recently found myself asking my husband, ‘Does it bother you that I’m a nothing?’

A nothing. I feel like a nothing.

I wonder whether I could have broken out of the rut of boring jobs that deadened my soul in the years after graduation and been something. Been someone. Whether I could have taken the plunge and dived into the creative world and made things, beautiful things, for people to enjoy.

Instead, I became a mum, and whilst I delight and rejoice in that identity, there has been sacrifice.

Those desires, those dreams, they are still real. And this grappling and battling with God over this discontentment, this feeling of failure, it is also real. There is a real sense in which my dreams have been laid waste on the altar of motherhood.

There’s another element to this story. That my apparent failure to amount to anything, anyone, is compounded by my failure to do well at the thing I am supposed to be doing.

Daily I fail at being the patient, kind, attentive, communicative, godly, wise, compassionate, outward-looking, hospitable, fun, thoughtful mum that I would like to be. My failures as a mum? Humiliating my children. Being too brisk with my words. Thoughtlessness. Saying no when I could easily say yes. Prizing my convenience over their curiosity. Not hiding from them that I find children’s stories and games just a little boring after a while… My failures are many.

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And yet… in this ongoing battle within myself and with God, there are silvery threads of hope and light to be caught and held.

What lessons am I finding in the embers of this unease, this sadness, this disappointment? What is He teaching me?

That He is sufficient. Yes, these worldly desires are real, and won’t be lightly or easily set aside… yet they are an aside. The real thing, the genuine thing, is knowing God, knowing His love, and sharing it.

That my identity in Christ. I am not my mistakes, my failures, my wrongs. I am righteous, because of Him. My value is not found in my achievements. Christ achieved it all: ‘It is finished.’

That repentance is crucial. Turning from an old, self-worshipping life to a new, God-worshipping life, where forgiveness is asked for and received and fellowship is restored because God makes us righteous (Matthew 3 and 4). Acknowledging the truth about who God is. And idols. Peeling away the idols. Whatever we desire more than God, dethrones God. ‘If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand firm at all’ (Isaiah 7:9).

That there is healing for broken hearts.The woman in Matthew 9:18-22 who believed she would be healed if she just touched Jesus’ cloak – what did he say to her? Your righteous acts have made you well? No. ‘Your faith has made you well.’ Our faith allows God’s healing into our hearts. Not because of our holiness, but because of His love.

That humility is the hallmark of a full life. See in Matthew 19 and 20, the kingdom of heaven belongs to little children, not to those who have a semblance of holiness but are wedded to riches not to God; God welcomes everyone to his kingdom and in his kingdom the greatest are the ones who serve – and he heals two blind beggars, to reinforce the lesson that those with worldly status are brought low, those without status are exalted. C.S. Lewis wrote that humility ‘is not thinking less of myself but thinking of myself less.’ I find this lesson particularly painful. What about my needs? My dreams? It is so hard to put my own desires aside to help these little ones flourish, and I do it so badly, and I feel it so insignificant. But He has been reminding me all over the place – I keep seeing it wherever I look – that ‘You are doing something great with your life – when you’re doing all the small things with His Great love.’ What fanfares are needed for a life like that?

Will this feeling of failure, of disappointment, of discontentment just disappear with the wind? No. I will keep on failing, and feeling like a failure. I will keep on looking to the left and to the right for meaning and fulfilment even though I know the true source of those things is at my fingertips. I will wonder about those unfulfilled dreams, those broken ambitions. Idols will rise up…

But I will come back to Christ. To the God who authors this whole cosmic existence, who made me, who made my children and made us for a time such as this.

In his final speech as President of the United States, Barack Obama said to his daughters: ‘Of all that I’ve done in my life, I’m most proud to be your dad.’

If the president can say that his proudest achievement is being a dad, perhaps I can become proud of being just a mum, because this is the work God has given me to do, and because in Christ I am so much more.

Beef curry udon

I {heart} Japan.

Honestly, it’s pretty much my favourite place on Earth.

During our first trip there, in 2011, we read in our guidebook that the place to go for delicious curry udon (beef curry soup and udon noodles) was Hinode Udon in Kyoto. So, on a swelteringly hot September day, the hottest of our trip, after wandering around Nanzen-ji Temple and along the Philosopher’s Path, we made our way there for possibly the most wintry meal on offer in the area. Slaves to the guidebook we were, but with good reason. We were absolutely not disappointed. Being equipped with our coveralls (eating udon is a messy business) we were served with steaming hot bowls of melting beef, thick noodles, and oh-so-tasty curry soup. It was amazing. Thankfully the restaurant was air conditioned, otherwise there would have been some serious overheating going on!

In fact, Hinode Udon was so good, that on a rainy June day last year, the kids and I pitched up there again, not by accident. The weather was more suitable and the noodles just as welcome and just as delicious. And the kids really, really enjoyed the fact that I, too, had to wear a bib.

This recipe is my attempt to recreate beef curry udon at home, with added vegetables (because, you know, man cannot live on rice and meat alone, though the tourist-in-Japan’s diet would suggest otherwise). It isn’t as good as the real deal, but it will have to do until we can get back to Kyoto…

Beef curry udon

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • Groundnut oil or another unflavoured oil
  • 1 onion, sliced thickly
  • 300g beef steak, sliced into strips (sirloin is good, or use a cheaper cut and cook for longer)
  • 2 tbsp medium curry powder
  • 400ml coconut milk
  • 400ml water
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 300g mixed stir-fry vegetables
  • 300g udon noodles

Directions

  1. Fry the onion and beef in a little oil until browned.
  2. Add the curry powder, cook for 1 minute.
  3. Add the coconut milk, water, honey and soy sauce. Bring to the boil. Simmer for 20 minutes if using sirloin steak. (If using stewing steak, at this point cook for 1-1.5 hours until the steak is tender.)
  4. Add the stir-fry vegetables and the noodles. Bring back to the boil. Serve. Bibs optional but recommended.

Pear frangipane tart

This little beauty was one of the crowning glories of my Christmas baking last year.

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Pear. Frangipane. Pastry. Melt-in-the-mouth deliciousness.

What’s more, it is a brilliant stand-by recipe because the ingredients are almost all from the store cupboard – who knew tinned pears could taste so good?

A joy to make and to eat.

Pear frangipane tart

  • Servings: makes a 23cm deep tart, cuts into 10-12 slices
  • Time: allow 3 hours
  • Difficulty: needs a little skill and patience
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Ingredients

For the pate sucree
  • 200g plain flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 100g butter, chilled
  • 4 large free-range egg yolks
  • 100g caster sugar
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
For the filling
  • 125g unsalted butter, softened
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 150g ground almonds
  • 50g plain flour
  • 3 free-range eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4-5 tbsp apricot jam
  • 2 x 410g tins pear halves in fruit juice, drained
  • 1 tablespoon flaked almonds
  • Icing sugar

Directions

  1. Make the pate sucree. Place the butter between two sheets of baking parchment and pound with a rolling pin until pliable but still cold. Cut the butter into pieces. Sift the flour and salt onto a clean worktop. Make a well in the middle and place into the well the cubed butter, egg yolks, caster sugar, and lemon zest. Mash the ingredients together using the ends of your fingers (make your hand into a beak shape) or a dough scraper. When it looks like coarse crumbs, bring it all together to make a ball of dough. Dust the worktop with flour and gently work the dough, pushing it away from you with the heel of your hand and gathering it up into a ball again. Do this for about 2 minutes, until it is smooth and pliable. Shape into a ball, flatten to a disc, wrap in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes.
  2. While the pastry is chilling, make the frangipane. With an electric whisk, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition and adding some almonds if it starts to curdle. Add the vanilla extract and beat in. Fold in the almonds and flour with a large metal spoon until thoroughly combined.
  3. Dust a worktop with flour and roll out the pastry and use to line a 23cm deep loose-based fluted flan tin. Prick the base of the pastry and trim the edges. Place in the freezer for 10 minutes. Save any excess pastry for decorations.
  4. Preheat the oven to 190C and place a baking sheet in the oven to warm up.
  5. Spread the apricot jam over the based of the chilled pastry. Spread the frangipane over the top of the jam and smooth with a palette knife. Pat the pears dry with kitchen towel and place on top of the frangipane, pressing them down lightly.
  6. Set the tin on the hot baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes.
  7. Re-roll the pastry trimmings and cut out decorative shapes. Remove the tart from the oven (the frangipane should have puffed up around the fruit) and lay the pastry decorations on top. Scatter over the flaked almonds. Dust with icing sugar.
  8. Reduce the oven temperature to 180C and return the tart to the oven for 25-30 minutes until the pastry and filling are golden.
  9. Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before carefully removing from the tin to serve. It can be made a day ahead and reheated at 160C for 10-12 minutes, or eaten at room temperature.

Butternut and blue cheese risotto (slow cooker)

Risotto – in the slow cooker?

Yes, it can be done!

It works best in a tall rather than a wide slow cooker, and as it’s ready in just 2 hours it’s not really a meal you can put on in the morning and enjoy for dinner, but it definitely beats stirring a pan continuously for 40 minutes and it tastes almost authentic.

I like to make this in my Instant Pot because the whole thing can be made in there, no frying pan required, less washing up!

This recipe is posted on request, so I hope it lives up to expectations!

Butternut and blue cheese risotto (slow cooker)

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 150g leeks, halved lengthways, thinly sliced, rinsed
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 150g arborio risotto rice
  • 1 tsp dried sage
  • 300ml dry white wine
  • 500ml vegetable stock
  • 450g butternut squash, deseeded and cut into 2cm cubes
  • 85g soft blue cheese, such as dolcelatte
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Toasted pumpkin seeds, to serve (optional)

Directions

  1. Heat the oil using the Instant Pot saute function set to medium (or in a frying pan over a medium heat if using a traditional slow cooker). Add the leeks and fry for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and fry for a further 1-2 minutes until the leeks are soft. Stir in the rice and sage.
  2. Add the wine and boil until it is almost all absorbed. Add the stock and season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil. Stir in the pumpkin.
  3. Put on the lid and cook on the Instant Pot slow cooker function on Low (or transfer to the slow cooker, put on the lid, and set to Low). Cook for 1.5-2 hours until the pumpkin and rice are tender.
  4. When the pumpkin and rice are tender, add the blue cheese, stirring in until melted. Top with toasted pumpkin seeds and serve with a green salad.

January: Embrace Simplicity

Wait, January is over already?

That happened fast.

My headline for January was Embrace Simplicity.

The subtext: Read more. Read the Word. Have less. Sleep early. Take things slow. Give thanks for life’s simple pleasures.

In the end, it didn’t happen as I had anticipated. I had viral syndrome for almost a week in the middle of the month, and it took me another week to feel truly well again afterwards. It was a kind of simplicity which I hadn’t expected, desired, or asked for! It forced me to be vulnerable, to allow others to take charge, and to acknowledge my total lack of control, ultimately, over my life and the lives of those around me. What a way to re-learn that lesson.

Pursuing simplicity had its drawbacks. I deliberately reduced our social schedule, and I got lonely. I wanted simple evenings, reading and getting extra sleep by going to bed early, and I got frustrated that chores and admin and life still had to happen and still got in the way of those things.

And this simplicity, it also got me thinking. And then battling with God. And then confronting idols. And still battling.

Simplicity got me thinking because, in truth, it didn’t look particularly different to normality. Days at home, preschool runs, quiet evenings – it was all quite run-of-the-mill. And I got to wondering: is this all?

Yes, this work the Lord’s given me as a mum, it is holy work. Yes, it has been my choice, my conscious choice, to stay home with my children while they are small. Yes, as a family we decided it was important for them to be cared for and raised by their parents rather than placed in a nursery. Yes, it could have been different. Yes, I want to help my children achieve their dreams and ambitions. Yes, I want to ensure that they have every opportunity to know God and take their place as vital members of society. Yes, to all of these.

But is this all?

What about my dreams? What about my talents, my aspirations? Where do they fit into the picture?

The simplicity I embraced and sought opened me up to a feeling of dissatisfaction. And it was a dangerous place to be.

The questions I was asking, they weren’t wrong. I am a person. I have gifts, abilities, dreams. I am more than a mum. The problem was that a demon of discontentment took a seat on my shoulder, and made me crave something other than God.

I started to believe that something other than God could fulfil my deepest longings, and give me true security and joy.

Thankfully, God provided a corrective influence through a sermon I heard at our church on Isaiah 7. When Ahaz is under pressure, he looks to men and the things of men for his security. He doesn’t trust in the God who made him and who directs every little thing.

Every little thing.

It’s all under his command. All the moments, all the dreams, all the challenges, all the disappointments, all the brokenness. He is there. Immanuel.

Not one moment of my life is outside of his sight. ‘All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.’ (The Bible, Psalm 139:16)

Yet… that idol of discontentment – or was it pride, or ambition, or desiring man’s approval or praise, or all of those? – it has taken root. The corrective message is in my head, but my heart is not so easily changed. But I do know: I need to break this idol, before it breaks me.

My dreams, my talents, my ambitions, they aren’t wrong, when they remain in their rightful place. All that I achieve in this life could be gone in an instant. Only God will remain.

So while I continue on, considering how and when and where to fit in those dreams and use those gifts, the pursuit of them is to happen always in the context of the pursuit of God, who is ‘over all and through all and in all.’ (The Bible, Ephesians 4:6b).

Next month: Engage People (Not Screens). This will be a challenge to me. Two days in and I have removed Instagram and Twitter from my smartphone, so I can only access them (along with the news and Facebook) on my desktop – which I will try to keep switched off during the daytimes. I will report back!

On heavy, tearful, and anxious days

My soul is dark today. I could put my finger on a few things that are making me feel this way, but the envelope of darkness is far more potent than those things would merit.

I’m tearful and anxious. I can’t concentrate. My mind wanders to sad things, obsesses over unreal things, feels heavy. My head feels heavy.

Sometimes, there is no reason to feel the way we feel.

What lightness can be found?

Do not be afraid, for I am with you.

Genesis 26:24

And

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Isaiah 7:14

And

So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.’

Isaiah 41:10

And

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Matthew 28:20

And

I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.”

Revelation 21:3

Throughout the whole of His Word, there is God’s reassurance that He is with us.

‘I am with you.’

‘God with us.’

In the past, now, and forever.

The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

Deuteronomy 33:27

This heaviness, it lays me low. His Word, His grace, His love, they lift me up.

More than resolutions

This post has been a long time in coming…

In fact, I started it on my birthday, four months ago.

But. Now it’s 2017. So I guess I can call it my new year’s resolution post.

I previously wrote about my two solo hours on my birthday, my birthday treat from me to me. As well as reflecting on why time alone is so worthwhile, I thought about what sorts of things I’m aspiring to in the coming year and beyond. And I wrote a big list, an eclectic list, a long list of things to do, things to learn, places to go.

But honestly, on reflection, the whole new year’s resolution thing, it isn’t those things. It boils down to something very simple. Know God, know His love, and share it.

So simple.

What does such a simple desire look like in the flesh?

It looks like a person who knows that God breathed out the Bible and that the words found in there are God’s Word. A person who reads it.

It looks like a person who knows that God sent Jesus into the world because He couldn’t stop loving us and there was no way we were going to be able to put things right ourselves. It looks like a person who rests deeply and with abandon in this certain hope. A person who sees things as tools and sees God as truth.

It looks like a person who gives freely and knows that the greatest gift she can give to any other person is to point them to Christ.

A person who loves the Word and cares nothing for wealth, worries, or the ways of the world.

Could I maybe be more like that person this year?

That’s my prayer.

The list I made – it’s a good list. But this person who knows God, knows his love and shares it, she knows that these things are pale in comparison with the beauty of Christ. That she doesn’t need to do or achieve any of these things to be considered a success. That deep, deep joy is not to be found in experiencing things but in knowing Him.

That’s it.

When I looked back at my big list of ideas written all those weeks ago, I still wanted to do most of those things. Then I realised, this list, it’s not a goal list… it’s a wish list. And the thing about wishes, is that they’re not what we really need.

The real-life resolutions are to do with knowing Him, knowing His love, and sharing it. They are soul changes that will happen through perseverance and discipline. Through time spent in His Word. Through the sharpening and honing of the Spirit and through on-the-knees prayer.

So now I have two lists. The wish list – which tells me what my eyes see and desire. And the real life list – which points me to what my soul needs.

There is an overarching idea. That God is ‘over all and in all and through all’ (The Bible, Ephesians 4:6) and that every part of life is lived in His presence, His joy, His love, His grace. And that we are to do everything in love.

‘Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.’ (The Bible, 1 Corinthians 16:13, 14)

Do everything in love.

The Real Life List

  • Embrace… simplicity – read more, have less, sleep early
  • Engage… people (not screens)
  • Be… loved
  • Believe… in saving grace
  • Break… free
  • Daily… give thanks
  • Do… less; pray more
  • Let go… of perfectionism
  • Learn… something new
  • Live… with less
  • Give… the gift of words
  • Grow… in His grace

(My list of cues came from Ann Voskamp’s blog. They’re for the whole year, but because change is gradual, each month has its focus.)

The Wish List

Things that I really want to do this year…

  • Teach Sophie to read.
  • Make a prayer photo album.
  • Start (and continue) the habit of regular family devotions and prayer.
  • Buy a new table and chairs.
  • Have seasonal photos up in the house.
  • Get into making sourdough.
  • Bake bread regularly.
  • Attend a Bible overview day.
  • Start (and continue) weekly ‘dates’ with my husband.
  • Start (and continue) scrapbooks for Sophie and Matthew.
  • Make a photo book of 2016.
  • Keep on running – run a 10K race.
  • Do Parkrun with Sophie.

Things that would be nice to do…

  • Start (and continue) studying Maths A-level.
  • Teach Sophie to knit.
  • Learn a new piano piece.
  • Fly a kite.
  • Do a jigsaw puzzle.
  • Make ice cream.
  • Enter a baking competition.
  • Make creme brulee.
  • Finish knitting my jumper.
  • Read 10 books (at least!).
  • Bake a cake for someone when they don’t expect it.
  • Make cinnamon rolls.
  • Read a book with Nick.
  • Go on a family bike ride.

Things that need a little planning…

  • Go for a walk in the Brecon Beacons.
  • Go camping.
  • Read a book all morning long (fire and cosy socks recommended but optional).
  • Swim in the sea.
  • Have a picnic at the beach.
  • Go out for breakfast.
  • Go vegetarian for a month.

Things that need a little dedication…

  • Have an internet detox – no social media, online news etc for a month.
  • Unplug for a whole weekend – no smartphone, no emails, no internet.
  • Make a list of places I’d like to visit.
  • Make a list of 100 things I’m thankful for.
  • Do a no-spend month – no spending on anything other than food and bills.
  • Post 30 recipes on the blog.

Things that need a little money…

  • Go on a weekend trip with Nick.
  • Soak in a natural hot spring.
  • Have a spa day.

2016 in review

2017 is almost upon us, and the sentiment that I keep on hearing is that no-one will be sorry to say goodbye to 2016.

And to be honest, looking around, it’s easy to see that the world is sore and broken and it’s no wonder that people are looking for hope from a new year.

All over the news there is sorrow, hardship, and hatred. I could mention celebrity deaths… or Syria… We stand helpless and aghast as we see such destruction and suffering.

What is it about the end of a year and the start of another that inspires hope?

The notion that things will be different.

Or just that they can’t possibly get any worse.

We make resolutions, clear up, turn over a new leaf, start afresh. I do these things, too.

This hope… will it be fulfilled?

No. And yes.

All our trying, all our striving, all our performing and fixing and improving – they don’t save us. We can’t save ourselves from ourselves. We are bent on self-destruction and only a cosmic shattering can bring us back.

Christmas.

Hope is Yes when we look at Jesus. He came to be with us forevermore. He knows we can’t make things right on our own. We may make some things right – but ultimately, we’re desperate. So He came to get us.

The thing I’m most grateful for this year is that this Hope has taken deep root in my heart and mind. It’s changing me.

This world is broken. There’s no denying it. But there is Hope.

From my home to yours, we wish you a year filled with grace and truth.

Here are a few of our family highlights from 2016. Enjoy.