Wednesday, 24 December 2014

It's Just One Day

It's just one day, people the globe over are going mad buying in provisions that would last a small army a month, but just for one day.  It's not even substantial food, aside from a good roast dinner we are filling our fridges and cupboards with Pringles and pork pies, trifles and truffles, spending hundreds, only to realise by the day after boxing day there'll be nothing to cook for dinner, unless you count heating up a scotch egg and steaming some celery. All this food just for one day.

And the gift shopping, it can't be done in one trip. No, you have to keep returning, because despite having had 12 months to think about what to buy people, you're convinced that if you just leave it and return in a couple of days one of two things will have happened; either, you will have  become a present buying genius and will walk straight to your shop of choice, pick up the perfect gift that actually turns out to be priced lower than your budget and take it straight to a queue-less till, or..... the shops will have stopped selling over-priced tat, which clouds your judgement and sends you into the panic impulse buy of a 'potty putter', yes, the
gift every household needs, something to entertain you whilst on the loo.  What the designer of this magnificent gift hasn't taken into account, is that on this one day most household occupancy doubles, therefore so does the loo queue, and you have now sold me something that is going to encourage Uncle Fred to stay in the bathroom longer than required, while little nephew Jonny jumps up and down outside the door with his legs crossed, but no, he can't hold it, so while Fred's having the time of his life taking a dump whilst playing pitch and putt, I'm outside cleaning up wee and finding spare clothes and all because I thought I could complete my Christmas shopping in one day, for just one day.

And the relentless TV adverts that think they can sell us happiness, which, it appears comes in ice cream shaped like a champagne bottle or a toy penguin, depending on your persuasion. For just one day.

But what is this one day, that draws people in all over the world? From the strongest atheist to the most humble God botherer, we are all taking part in the preparation and stress and fun and for some sorrow that leads us to this one day. The day that in history can change your future. Jesus was born to bring a peace and hope to a world that without Him would be in a far worse state than it is in now, and for some of us that's hard to imagine as the world does seem pretty screwed up. But we know that through Him all things can be made new, even this mixed up imperfect planet and even more so ourselves.  Imagine if retailers and advertisers and shoppers all led to this one day with just one person in mind: Jesus. How different would the experience be? Quite incredible I think and probably very enjoyable! Knowing that you were going to hit the shops and be treated with the integrity and humility and love and patience and presence of Jesus, beautiful.

I pray you have a blessed and peaceful Christmas, filled with love and joy and hope that Jesus Christ our Saviour brings!

Friday, 10 October 2014

It's Good To Talk....Just Maybe Not To Me

Today is World Mental Health Day where many charities and organisations are trying to raise awareness of different mental health conditions and quash the stigmas that surround many of them.

It seems to me the recurring theme of advice surrounding mental health of a family or friend is 'have a conversation, ask them how they're doing, sit down with them with a cuppa' after all as the old BT ad used to say 'it's good to talk', I think they may have been on to something there......

Sometimes though it's not easy to talk, especially to those we are closest to; that's my experience anyway. We worry about what they might think of us, will we disappoint them, what if they can't take what I want to say? Maybe we blame those close to us for the way we are feeling, so in no way will we want to open up to them.

Looking back to when I was a teenager I think I felt that way, I learned to keep my feelings in and some things that I would've done good to talk about got bottled up and hidden away for years, the trouble with that is eventually they find a way out, no matter how well you think you've tidied them away and moved on with your life.

I suppose I may have started to think about this a bit when our children were younger, around the time you start imparting your wisdom to them and letting them know everything you think they need to know, whether they're interested or not. I said to each one of our four children the usual, "you know you can always tell me anything," and I always followed it with "but if you can't talk to me, it's okay for you to talk to someone else who you feel you can talk to." I know I was just stressing to them the importance of not bottling things up but recognising that I may not be the one they want to open up to, and that's okay; I won't be jealous, I won't feel offended, I will just be glad that they are talking to someone about what's on their mind.

I believe this could possibly the best advice I gave my children, they are now older and I know they have taken this on board and although I think our relationship and communication together is excellent, I also know that sometimes if they feel they need to they will find someone who isn't me, who isn't their Mum, to have a heat to heart with, and that's okay!

So on this World Mental Health Day, I would say yes, absolutely try to have a conversation with whoever you are concerned about, but also give your blessing for them to have that conversation with someone else if they want to.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Wonga Wipe Out

Wonga are writing off £220 million pounds worth of debt for 330,000 customers, who they realised actually couldn't afford their payday loans in the first place.  Earlier in the year Justin Welby declared a war on Wonga, and the C of E launched a new scheme to take on the payday lenders, the Church Credit Champions Network.  "The Church of England is the best branch network in the country," he said. "A major high street bank has at most 3000 branches, but the Church of England has 16,000! The purpose of the Champions Network is to harness that unparalleled presence in the community. The goal is both to help those afflicted by financial problems and equip us all to save and borrow in a responsible way."

You may think they were irresponsible loaning money to people who clearly weren't in a position to pay it back, but a certain amount of responsibility must also lie with the borrower.

Being in debt is a horrible, sad, frustrating place to be. You feel elated when you are able to cover a bill, but guilty when you treat yourself to something that isn't essential.  The generation before us were an 'if you can't afford it, you can't have it' generation. My generation have been fed a diet of credit cards, loans and store cards, and don't worry if you can't pay those off, here's a payday loan to tide you over.....that just grows and grows and grows.

Hopefully now it is turning around again and the next generation will be more frugal with their finances. I always wished that back in the early years of our marriage, someone would have taken the time to educate myself and my husband a bit more about credit cards etc...although our spending was firmly our responsibility, I do feel we were a bit blind about some of the debts we built up.  

Nowadays, you have the likes of Martin Lewis doing an excellent job of guiding the nation through the highs and lows of every financial situation you could possibly imagine. There are also a number of charities who are steering people towards living debt free such as CAP and StepChange who offer free advice; I still think more could be done to educate our young adults at school and at home though.

I am determined not to let our children share our experience, so much so, that our eldest daughter who is in full time work and can afford to buy pretty much what she wants, says I have ruined shopping for her because she's too scared to spend her money!  Imagine that, a world where a 19 year old girl doesn't buy a new pair of shoes or a different shade of lipstick each week.  That's kind of gone a bit too far the other way, but at least she'll be able to move out sooner..........won't she?.......Please?

Have Wonga done the right thing? I think so, but I really hope that those customers who have found their debt cleared do not end up repeating their mistakes and borrow what they can't afford again, I pray that this can be a fresh start for them.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

The Signs Are There.....But Are You Following Another Way?

We are surrounded by 'signs', direction signs, low battery signs, your teenager is on the edge and about to blow signs, I've got a headache get the idea.  The world around us is giving us indicators all the time, but are we taking notice?

The other day my husband and I were out on a day trip in a different town, and although very quaint I was getting a bit bored of just wandering round the shops looking at stuff I couldn't afford and didn't need and suggested we should head to the outskirts to see if there was anything more interesting. I was pretty sure there was a park or a riverside we could go for a nice walk through; soon enough we came to the edge of town and we could see a huge wall with 'private' 'no entry' signs at various points, but just around a corner I spotted a sign that said 'park entrance this way'. 

That looked promising and I was keen to find this entrance and have a wander through the park, so immediately my husband led the opposite direction. "I'm pretty sure we can go this way and find the entrance" he said.  I was confused but couldn't be bothered to argue so just followed, until after finding no such entrance I insisted we u-turned and went the way the sign had pointed!

On questioning his stupidity decision to go in the opposite direction of the sign, he had no explanation other than he just 'thought there was another way'.  Must be a man thing because I pointed out that clearly he had ignored the sign completely and thought he knew better when he obviously didn't - I took no joy in that, well, not a lot of joy anyway.

Thing is, even though on this occasion the blame is landing firmly on my husband, I know I too in the past have looked directly at a sign and ignored it, I had thought there was another way.

So if we can miss these signs that are staring us in the face, how much harder we have to look to notice the signs from God, to follow the 'directions' he has given us, to see the sign from God and not say I think there's another way.

Some Christians are doing this at the moment whenever the subject of Gay marriage arises, they are seeing clearly what is written in the Bible, that marriage is between one man and one woman, but they are saying "I think there's another way". Perhaps we all do that sometimes when we see the sign from God but it doesn't sit well with what is culturally acceptable around us, it becomes easier for us to follow the 'other way'.

High profile Christian Vicky Beeching says "We owe the verses about women as well as the relevant verses in Leviticus [18:22 and 20:13] and Romans [1:26-27], and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah [Genesis 19] a deeper look…" (full article here) Has Vicky found another way?

Saturday, 20 September 2014

I'm Good For What???

We need to think very carefully how we do this, a badly chosen 'encouragement' can be very damaging, and on those occasions it would have been better to have said nothing at all.

Some of us find it very difficult to say what we are good at, where our talents lie, what gives us worth.  I have been in that place along with many others, who have gone through periods of feeling like the most worthless, useless, waste of a human being on the planet.  Thankfully I am over that now and can confess - I am awesome, humble too!

But on more than one occasion I have been on the receiving end of well meant, but badly thought out encouragement; it can be destructive and leave you having to build yourself up and encourage yourself, which we all know is one of the hardest things to do, which is precisely why Paul tells us to encourage and build each other up because we just can't do it for ourselves.

So how do we best encourage one another? Don't rush to speak because you feel the need to encourage is urgent, saying nothing will be less harmful than rushing to speak and blurting out the first thing that comes to mind e.g you know the person always has a clean house so you tell them how great they are at vacuuming and what an amazing skill that is. No, look at who they really are, not what they can achieve at a surface level (even if that surface is a dust free carpet) they may well have an immaculate house but suggesting vacuuming is their talent is going to leave them wondering if that's all they're good for, is that really how people see them?

Also this week I saw a quote from Tim Keller, mega church Pastor on Facebook "When work is your identity, success goes to your head, and failure goes to your heart"

This struck a chord with me, as so often the cop out way to encourage someone is to tell them how good they are at their job.  But we need to look past the 9-5 to really find who that person is and to build them up.  Of course there are some jobs that are only suited to people with certain skills and talents; but when you are encouraging, don't default to what their job is or you are in danger of reinforcing their job as being their identity.

If you want to encourage someone, think about where you have seen that person shine and really show their true selves, where are they happiest? Who do they spend time with? What do they do, that others would struggle to do?

And if you can't do that, please, please, just stop and think, is what I'm about to say actually going to help that person or harm them? Are they going to have to undo the words I speak and find a new truth to speak to themselves?

Remember, we are more than what is seen on the outside, our worth comes from more than our occupation, our worth comes from within, from our hearts inside our dreams. We have been created with purpose not for purpose, our talents are what drive us, they make us who we are. And that is something to be encouraged by.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Anyone got a light?

I thought our house had been blacklisted, but apparently not.  I was up to my elbows in the u-bend when the doorbell rang, I de-marigolded and answered to whom I immediately recognised as Jehovah's Witnesses. 

'Ooh fun!' I thought, as I introduced myself as a born again Christian.

"Oh good, so you'll know Gods views on smoking then?"

Oh? smoking? Yeah, of course I know Gods views on smoking, He posted a meme on face book the other day. Hates it. 

I mean where do the JW's get these ideas? They seriously believe that smokers, because they're smokers, will not enter Heaven! You'd think with the numbers getting into Heaven being so tight, they'd be glad of  a few people scuppering their chances with the odd cigarette, it would improve their odds of entry no end.

I did say I thought they would alienate people with that as an opening gambit. People don't take kindly to being judged about life choices, let alone eternally judged about their life choices.  

I'm pretty sure God would prefer we were opening our conversations about Him with talk of His love for us and the world, and His want for the best for us in our lives, and sure, smoking is not the best for us, it's unhealthy and unsociable, but so is overeating; c'mon, we've all been to
social occasions with food, where we're looking forward to another piece of quiche (this is a Christian gathering - there will be quiche) and the overweight guy is tucking into the last slice, how unsociable!  

And the lady at my door certainly looked like she'd had her fair share of pies, her argument about respecting the body God gave you kind of faltered there.....I wonder if she'll be allowed in?

In Matthew the Pharisees were testing Jesus by asking him about the greatest commandment in the Law. Jesus responded ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’

Love. Not judgement. Not rules. Not do's and don't's. Love.

In being Christians we attempt and often fail to live in this loving way, to accept others and their lifestyle choices, but even if they are choices that are not Gods best desire for them, it won't be those choices that prevent them from entering Heaven. Dismissing Jesus as Saviour is the only thing that can prevent us from entering Heaven. Jesus said  “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Belief and acceptance of Jesus is our way to Heaven, smoker or not!

So I wonder whether you will give up smoking or take up Jesus, both will have dramatic effects on your life, one will secure your eternity.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Christian Charity is.......Charitable....

You'd never catch me dirtying my hands by reading the Mail, and I don't just mean from the newspaper print. However, I follow a lot of people on Twitter who apparently do read it and took to tweeting vehemently against an article they published yesterday on Easter Sunday.

They basically congratulated themselves for sending in an undercover reporter to claim food, from a food bank. STOP PRESS ***CHRISTIAN CHARITY IS........CHARITABLE***

The said reporter got "3 days of questions asked" and after filling out a couple of forms was "asked a series of questions about why the food bank vouchers were needed." 

Of course none of us are naive enough to think food banks aren't open to misuse, but it is not on the same scale as claiming disability benefit or unemployment benefit fraudulently, we all have to pay into those benefits via our taxes, so when they are abused we feel we personally have been cheated.  And defrauding those systems results in cold hard moolah, far more appealing than a Fray Bentos pie.

The food banks are run purely on donations from the public, without those donations they simply wouldn't exist, the people who find themselves having to use them will usually have exhausted all other possibilities before walking into a church clutching a voucher, to leave with 3 days worth of preserved goods.

I imagine it was fairly easy for the Mail On Sunday reporter to rock up to the the Citizens Advice Bureau and lie his way into gaining a voucher. 

Now imagine you are a father and husband, you've always provided for your family but now you have lost your job and are struggling to find employment again. Friends and family have been helping you out, sometimes you've asked for it, other times they've just slipped a few notes into your hand to keep you going. Your self esteem has gone through the floor and embarrassment levels are sky high. Your child comes home with a note that requires money for a school trip, the car tax is due and you need to buy food, you have the grand total of £7.64 in your wallet.

The school might help out but you worry about whether it will affect your child if anyone finds out. You avoid taxing the car and hope you can get away with it for another month. You can probably just about buy food for your family for today with that £7.64 and hope that things will change tomorrow. You don't want to stretch out your hand to your own parents for another handout.

Things have been like this for some time now and this is when you arrive at the food bank. Not proud that you've somehow cheated the system and will be claiming your pot noodles for free, but feeling ashamed and embarrassed that somehow it is your fault that you have ended up not being able to feed yourself and your family.

Yes, some people are claiming more than they are entitled to by returning more than the recommended times but who does this affect? The Mail reporter hasn't been obliged to donate from stoppages from his wages, if they don't agree with it, don't donate; it really is that simple.

It is not gourmet food people are claiming, lets be clear here, it is the cheap end of the non-perishable grocery market. It is usually the supermarket's own low end brand of tinned fruit and vegetables, or packet pasta meals. If you are returning to claim this time and again then I would suggest you are a person of need, and that is exactly who the food banks are for, the needy.

And as a big two fingered salute to the Mail On Sunday, the British public response to the article was to donate more! 

Go to Just Giving Crack UK Hunger If you would like to donate to the Trussell Trust to help fight UK hunger. Or maybe think about volunteering at your local food bank.