Category Archives: Pregnancy and Parenthood

A copy of the book "Deborah and Jael' on a shelf

How Do You Teach ‘difficult’ Bible Stories to Children? Guest Post by Lucy Rycroft

“She put WHAT through his forehead?!”

“The FAT closed over the SWORD??!!

The Bible is full of colourful stories. Some of them seem to have ended up in a sort of ‘children’s canon’, a repertoire we are happy to teach to our kids, stories which publishers are eager to bring to life again and again and again.

But some of them have not.

I wonder who decided which stories made acceptable reading for children? And who decided that certain stories should Absolutely Never Ever Be Told?

I’m sure that part of the answer is blood and guts. 

Stories like Jael putting a tent peg through Sisera’s forehead, or Ehud plunging a sword into the belly of Fat King Eglon (that’s how the Bible describes him, anyway) are likely to induce nightmares in sensitive children.

But I think there’s another reason. Many of the most interesting and lesser-known stories in the Bible raise questions which are difficult for adults to comprehend, let alone children.

  • Why does God kill Uzzah, simply for steadying the ark of the covenant on its journey back to Jerusalem? Is He a cruel and vengeful God?
  • Why does God command Joshua and his army to kill, destroy and plunder those who are living in the land God has set aside for the Israelites? Does God have favourites?
  • Why is the servant who hides his one talent thrown ‘into the darkness’ with ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’? Does God value risky investment over safe stewardship?
  • Why does Jesus send demons into the pigs, which cause them to fall into water and drown? Does God not care for the animals He has created?

Let’s be honest – when do busy parents have time to wrestle with these questions for themselves, let alone with their children? As an exhausted, time-starved mum of four, I can tell you it’s not an appealing prospect.

And yet I wonder whether we’re missing a trick with sticking to the ‘safe’ stories? I wonder whether our children need to hear a fuller story of God’s movements through history, in order to grow in their love for, and relationship with, Him?

With that in mind, here are some thoughts about how we can approach the teaching of difficult Bible stories:

  1. Get to know them yourself

It’s slowly dawned on me that most Bible reading notes or devotional books focus on the New Testament, or well-known passages of the Old Testament like Psalms and Isaiah. Fair enough – these are more easily applied to our lives.

But if we never expose ourselves to the difficult historical books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles, we’re not going to be able to share these stories with our children. So: read some different parts of the Bible. Learn a new story or two. Share with your kids what you’ve been reading.

  1. Seek out books which tell these stories

Of course, when family busyness and parent fatigue kick in (like, when do they not kick in?), it’s helpful just to have a few ‘go-to’ Bible story books which can do the heavy lifting for us.

So deliberately look for children’s books which tell the hard, or lesser known, stories! My book, Deborah and Jael, is a retelling of this heroic and exciting story from Judges, written in rhyme with beautiful illustrations. It’s not the only book you could get to redress the balance, but it’s a start.

  1. Go with your kids’ interests and personalities

Sometimes we assume that children are super-sensitive. But children are just like adults – they have varying trigger levels when it comes to graphic scenes.

I was persuaded, when writing Deborah and Jael, to gloss over the tent-peg scene, and I think this was a good call. After all, I don’t want any child to be excluded from enjoying this story, and parents can decide whether or not to share more detail. But my kids love a bit of gruesome; their eyes light up whenever we share with them a particularly yucky bit of Scripture!

  1. Edits are OK

Likewise, it is fine to edit out the more extreme details of a difficult Bible story if you know it will upset your child. It’s better than not telling a story at all!

Remember, your children probably have plenty of years ahead of them to revisit Bible stories, going deeper each time. They don’t need to know all the details now. Focus on the main facts of the story, gloss over any details which they might find traumatic, and share instead what we learn about God from the passage in question.

  1. It’s OK not to have the ‘answer’

As parents, we get used to answering every question, from “Why is grass green?” to “Do starfish have eyes?”. We’re expected to just know the answers. When I tell my kids I can’t explain why the tide goes in and out because I was never very good at science or geography, and my degree was in music, they look at me like I’ve been washed up in said tide. Thank goodness for Auntie Google.

But when it comes to sharing the Bible with our kids, it’s perfectly OK not to know the answer to a difficult question. We can turn it around by saying, “What do you think?” or “Maybe we should think about this over the next few days” or “Shall we chat to God about that and see if He helps us to understand?”

It’s healthy for our children to know, even from a young age, that some questions are big and don’t have easy answers. And that we, their grown-ups, are on a journey of faith too.

***

Teaching difficult Bible stories to children is not going to be easy – the clue is in the word ‘difficult’! But it’s also not something to be afraid of. 

As we explore the full richness of Scripture for ourselves – yes, even if that’s in a snatched 5 minutes, once a month – we can know God’s favour as we share these stories naturally with the next generation.

“Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Deuteronomy 6:7

Lucy blogs at The Hope-Filled Family and is the author of Redeeming Advent and Deborah and Jael. She lives in York with her husband and four children.

Baby Change, by Anne Calver – Review

Usually these days I find myself reading books in fits and starts, frequently having to re-read the pages as I’m snatching moments when my own baby (well – racing toddler is more apt) is asleep.

As it happens however, I read this in just over a day as I was stuck in bed unwell and unable to do much else but read.

Anne eloquently echoed many of my own feelings about motherhood, especially the tensions between calling and working out what that looks like as a stay at home mum.

I found the stories of other mums really helped to shape the book – proving once again that there is no “right” way to do things – that motherhood looks as different as we all do! The only criticism I would possibly level is that there was little recognition, or inclusion of a story from a Mum who’s doing it alone, whether through family breakdown, being widowed or solo adoption – but perhaps that’s another book.

The interweaving of Anne’s own experience with her biblical reflections produced some really valuable wisdom. I loved her thoughts on 2 Corinthians 4:7-9 which reads:

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

Anne writes:

“Baby Change does not equal persecution, but it can make you feel perplexed, out of your depth, weak, crushed and alone…Our feelings do not limit [God’s] power.”

This served as a potent reminder for all of us, whether parents or not that God reigns, that as tough as things are (and they are feeling pretty tough this year, aren’t they?) God is stronger than anything and everything we face (although we should continue to do our part).

I’d really recommend this book for Mums in their first few years of parenting – I’ve got a 15 month old and found it a valuable read.

You can buy it anywhere that sells books including Eden and Amazon* and SPCK currently have 50% off all ebooks on their site until 25th March.

 

*Affiliate link

 

 

 

Breaking the Mould by Jules Middleton: Book Review

As someone still early on in the journey of motherhood and my own multi-hyphenated job title, I was intrigued to read Jules Middleton’s reflections on life as a “ministry mum” ordained with the Church of England and leading a church on the south coast.

“Breaking the Mould” is part memoir, part navigation guide for the weird and wonderful world of being a parent in a ministry context – however that looks.

Jules writes with warmth and humour, without dodging the sometimes difficult realities of parenthood and life as a minister. Although the initial premise of the book seems quite niche, I found so much wisdom and information in it that I think would be valuable to any parent whether or not you work in full time christian ministry.

I particularly valued the nuggets of biblical reflection and wisdom interweaved throughout; Jules’ reflections on the (in)famous passage of Jeremiah 29, so often pasted onto posters and fridge magnets was refreshing and encouraging. She writes:

“The word for God for the exiles is to embrace where God had put them…to essentially bloom where they are planted – to embrace where they are put; to settle, to build, to forge ties and pray for the area.”

In my own hinterland as stay at home Mum/author/speaker/charity founder, the book was one which inspired me to work in and with what I have at the moment in terms of time and circumstance. I was reminded once again that God doesn’t wait to call us and use us when it’s most convenient (in fact, He usually does the opposite), but that’s what allows us to keep relying on His grace and timing.

Jules’ thinking around the Sabbath rest were also hugely helpful; it’s something I’ve struggled with, to carve out time for a Sabbath when you don’t actually get a day off from parenthood! Again, the reflections in the book don’t ignore the difficult reality, cliched answers are avoided and intensely practical suggestions for recognising the deep spirituality in everyday life are worth their weight in gold.

Whether you’re a stay at home Mum, work full time, study full time or a mixture all of your own, I highly recommend “Breaking the Mould” – especially if you’re relatively new to the wonderful world of the ministry mum life.

You can buy Breaking the Mould from your local Christian bookshop or on Amazon.*

 

*Affiliate link

Cold Cups of Tea and Hiding in the Loo – An Honest Conversation About Motherhood

Before you become a Mum, you’re told lots of things:

“Don’t rock the baby to sleep – it’s a rod for your own back”

“Never let your baby use a dummy”

“Breastfeeding is the most natural thing ever – it’s a breeze!”

“You’ll never sleep again”

But no matter how much advice (helpful or otherwise), no matter how many books you read or how many children you’re around, you can’t really prepare yourself for it. (That’s another thing you hear, isn’t it!?)

One of the best pieces of advice I was given, was to be honest about the reality of motherhood – the dizzying highs and the desperate lows and it’s advice echoed in Annie’s book. She writes:

“When we choose vulnerability, connection can happen i the messiness of everyday life.”

So, inspired by this and taking my own advice, here are my honest confessions about motherhood, a year in.

  1. Personally I’m finding parenting a toddler harder than having a newborn. (This one depends completely on your child – some breeze through babyhood, others are beset with colic and constipation – my son was what some might call an “easy baby”, but the same cannot be said for toddlerdom.)
  2. There have been times when I’ve missed my old life, particularly the freedom I had to work when I wanted and take every opportunity going.
  3. Making sure I take a book wherever I go is great for those car naps I don’t want to waste!
  4. I fall too easily into the trap of the “who’s more tired game?”
  5. Teething is a sure sign of the Fall and I’ve sometimes counted the minutes until I can administer the next dose of Calpol.
  6. Sometimes I regret making my son give up his dummy at six months old.
  7. On difficult days, nap times are my favourite time of the day.
  8. I quite enjoy daytime TV as company as a backdrop to pottering and parenting.
  9. I love going to work.
  10. Being a Mum is the most ridiculous, difficult, hope-filled, despair-making, contradictory, frustrating, heart breaking and joyful thing I’ve ever done.

“Cold Cups of Tea and Hiding in the Loo” is available to buy now from Amazon* and christian book shops. *Affiliate link Head over to my Instagram and Facebook to get the chance to win a free copy!

I also heartily encourage you to head over to Annie’s blog Honest Conversation – it’s great.

Advent Reflections – Birthing

I’ve never told my birth story publicly. It was far from the candle filled water birth I’d imagined – in fact it was the total opposite of what I’d hoped. Three types of induction, hooked up to monitors, pethidine and an epidural before my newborn was whisked away for observations and antibiotics.

Within hours, I knew that these words from Sarah Bessey were true.

“Birth is never not a miracle…It’s never not the best and most at the same time.”

I’ve been wondering what Mary’s birth was like.

We know there was no pain relief, that there was no shiny hospital or consultants on call.

But was it long? Did she wonder if she could do it? Did she beg and plead for it to be over?

(I’m guessing she didn’t cry “it’s like the cruciatus curse!” like I did at some point between my waters breaking and being given pethidine.)

The thing is, whichever way we look at it, birthing is painful.

The seed breaking through the ground to the light.

The baby breaking through to begin life in the outside world.

The butterfly breaks through its cocoon to fly.

The stars break through night’s sky.

We can’t separate birthing from breaking.

But that also means we can’t separate breaking from beauty.

The pain of birth certainly felt like a breaking, if nothing else it was a breaking of my old life, but the new life was and is undoubtedly beautiful.

All too often, we hold back from the birthing because we fear the breaking. We fear breaking ourselves open to allow God to do a deeper work, we fear breaking open new possibilities in case we fail.

But there is good news. It is called the gospel, after all.

Jesus went first, He was birthed and he broke through every barrier between us and God.

Alia Joy writes in her book “Glorious Weakness”

“It was always the plan that in the midst of the catastrophic brokenness in this world, grace would surprise us all.”

As Christmas approaches, let the birth of hope in Jesus surprise us with its grace and allow it to fill our brokenness.

Advent Reflections – Journeying

Throughout the Bible, God’s people are on the move, and God seems to do much of His work in people through their journeys.

Abraham’s journey to Canaan.

The Israelites protracted journey to the Promised Land.

Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem in the months before Jesus’ birth.

We can but imagine the maelstrom of emotions evoked during this journey; the uncertainty, the more than likely physical aches and pains of Mary, the anticipation, the worry perhaps – about having your first baby far from home?

I can remember, all too clearly, the relatively short journey to the nice clean and safe hospital to have my own son just a year ago, knowing my life would never be the same again, stepping into the unknown and trusting that my feet found some solid ground.

There’s something about journeys that disrupt us, perhaps it’s that they signal change (something I’m not a great fan of), and throughout history, God disrupts His people. He sends them to new places, on new adventures and asks us to take each step away from certainty and toward Him. Perhaps the reason He speaks so loudly to us on journeys is because we are already distracted from day to day life.

I remember studying Abram’s call during some of my first lectures at LST – how he had been called away from everything he’d known to enter a promise unseen – and I felt stirred by it, a similarity, even though my journey was only 30 miles down the motorway and nowhere near as drastic as Abram’s life-changing journey! But I had left behind the life I had known and stepping into something new where each step was one of faith.

It’s that journey that I remind myself of now, when I’m fearful of the next steps, or the next journey; because at the time it was the scariest thing I’d ever done and yet it was one of great joy.

We each go on countless journeys throughout our lives; some are inconsequential (such as the one my husband has gone on to get bin bags from co-op as I write), others are earth shattering and life changing, like the journey to Bethlehem or my own through university.

One of my favourite journeys recounted in scripture is one Jesus takes the morning of His resurrection, when he takes a walk with a man named Cleopas and his friend who are lamenting the loss of the one ‘they had hoped’ for and hoped in. It’s a sliver of a story which reminds us that the journey matters – that through Jesus – God walks with us on our journeys and reveals Himself in the tenderest of places, in the tenderest of ways. For it was not through lighting flash and growling thunder that Jesus revealed His identity on the journey, it was not even as he recounted His own story through the scriptures, but as He ate with them and broke their bread with His own scarred hands.

Advent retells Jesus’ journey to be with us, one not done in majestic fashion, but one that began in the womb of a teenager and ended on a sinner’s cross.

They journey of Advent is nearing its close for this year; soon the darkness of these weeks will be pierced by the unquenchable light of the God who came wrapped in a mother’s womb to save in the most unexpected of ways. Jesus’ journey to be with us is the greatest comfort in the darkness and ignited the flame of hope forevermore – it is what keeps me walking this strange journey of surrender and freedom.

Malcolm Guite’s beautiful poem O Emmanuel captures something of the mystery of Jesus’ journey to us as our hope.

“Be folded with us into time and place,

Unfold for us the mystery of grace

And make a womb of all this wounded world.”

 

 

 

The Way of the Waves

There are things you begin to notice.

Your voice quietens, just a little.

Noise seems louder, scratching at your eardrums.

You’re more easily irritated, patience worn thin.

You are tired, the tiredness spreads through your body like slowly freezing water. It is cold, painful and slows your thoughts and movement.

The feelings are dully familiar, and yet they catch you by surprise because the reprieve has been so long, so welcome.

Thoughts and feelings you have written about many times in the past tense have crept back into your present and they are as fresh and frightening as they were the first time.

Depression is an unwelcome returning guest. And yet you welcome you must, for fighting delay and worsens the inevitable tide which may or may not knock you off your feet.

You know how it goes, it’s a tide you’ve chased many times before and yet it feels new.

The newness is the baby, your delight, who gives no heed to your falling mood or slowing movements. He still needs to be fed, entertained, cherished.


Being a Mum made me reach out sooner than I might have done in the past; because there is not just me and my husband to consider, but a tiny boy who depends on us for everything (whether or not he cares to agree with this.)

And so I fell into my community, I allowed them to care for my family. We accepted help from all sides and I tried to push away the guilt and shame.

I realised, this time, that pride had crept in over the months and years of relative wellness. I speak of struggle in the past tense, I am a “new me” now.

Somewhere along the way, I had forgotten that I still need the grace I encourage others to share.

That I experience more freedom is no small amount of work – but it is also the way of the waves – that they have been ridden and not overwhelmed me.

So I write because I believe in honesty, in fighting the stigma (even if today it exists only in my own mind) and in a God who does His most beautiful work in our weakness.

 

Motherhood: The Brutality and the Beauty

The pain.

The first look.

The exhaustion.

The first smile.

The relentlessness.

The revelation.

The brutality.

The beauty.

The mystery.

Ten months in, motherhood remains a mystery.

It’s a thousand mundane moments punctured with moments so full of wonder that they steal your breath away.

As much as I expected a lot of it; the tiredness, the love, the mum guilt. I could not have conceived of the way my emotions swing from exasperation to joy and back again within the space of five minutes; or how I can be desperate for space one minute to desperate for him to wake up so I get to give him a cuddle the next.

Rollercoaster doesn’t cut it.

But gratitude and grace do.

Gratitude for the baby I prayed for.

Grace for the difficult days when the baby screams and I don’t know why.

Gratitude for health, when I feared my son’s tiny lungs would forever struggle.

Grace for the long nights of teething, croup and colds.

Gratitude for the life I live, the God I serve and the family and friends who provide company, support and sanity after sleepless nights.

Gratitude for all that has passed – the beauty and the brutality. Grace for all that is to come.

 

 

 

Where is the Wonder?


“Wonder blasts the soul – that is, the spiritual – and the skeleton, the body – the material. Wonder interprets life through the eyes of eternity while enjoying the moment, but never lets the moment’s revision exhaust the eternal.” 
Ravi Zacharias

There is no doubt about it, going on holiday with a baby is less relaxing. It was enormous fun and refreshing in the way a change of scenery (and that fact that we outnumbered the baby 3:1)  but I probably came home tireder than when I went (due to sharing a room with said teething baby who appreciated sharing a room with us as much as we did!)

I kind of expected this, but what I didn’t expect was to come home energised by something else.

Wonder. 

It’s perhaps something we miss a lot in the everyday humdrum of life. Perhaps we don’t feel there is a lot of wonder to behold in our own lives; the grind of the 9-5, relentlessness of caring for a relative or struggling with chronic illness. I know it’s hard to find wonder after a day of changing nappies, comforting a teething baby and trying to slot work in and around somewhat unpredictable naps.

But whilst I might struggle to see wonder in the world, my son certainly doesn’t.

Each time he experiences something new, the expression on his face shows us his wonder at the world.

When he first saw the wide expanse of the sea, his mouth dropped open.

When he first felt sea water between his toes, his smile widened into a grin and his infectious laugh broke forth like the waves.

Every time he sees a window or mirror in which he can glimpse his own reflection, he is captivated by it.

And the excitement the discovery of his own shadow produced was quite something!

For him, wonder is to be found every day – but as grown-ups we’re lucky to find wonder every month!

And yet there is still so much wonder to be had in the every day, in the ordinary – because all the world and all the people in it are creations of the God of all wonders.

The gospels record people’s reactions of wonder at Jesus’ miracles; from him calming the storm to raising Jarius’ daughter from the dead, but it is not only miracles that are the wondrous work of God.

It’s easy to feel wonder when God does some out of the ordinary; more of a challenge to find wonder in the work of the Creator every day.

Wonder in the intricate workings of the human body which keeps our hearts beating, wonder in the family we have, wonder in the foods we can consume.

And even in the darkest of times, I’m reminded again that wonder can be found when we look to Jesus. Jesus who left the wonder of heaven for our sakes.

As C.S Lewis writes in the first installment of the Chronicles of Narnia:

“Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great front feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself. “My son, my son,” said Aslan. “I know. Grief is great. Only you and I in this land know that yet. Let us be good to one another.”

When we don’t feel able to look at the world with childlike wonder – we can look to the one of all wonder and hope and rest assured that wonder can be found in Him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Motherhood and Mental Illness

They are the strangest and most uncomfortable bedfellows. For some; motherhood heralds the beginning of mental health struggles, for some an improvement and for others motherhood entangles itself in a pre-existing mental health condition.

For me, my mental health was the best it’s been since I was thirteen. Pregnancy seemed to soothe the anxious waters of my mind and, despite a traumatic birth and my son arriving with a chest infection, the calm and contentment continued.

Motherhood is everything I hoped, quite a bit like I expected but more demanding than I could have imagined. My son has so far been what some might call “an easy baby”; we escaped the newborn phase without colic and he generally eats, poops and sleeps as one might expect.

What I’ve discovered however, is that an “easy” baby doesn’t mean that parenting is easy!

There are shades of difficulty; I for example was an objectively difficult baby for my poor parents (I didn’t sleep through the night until I was nine), others seem to breeze through babyhood as if they got an instruction manual in utero. Most are somewhere toward the middle of the spectrum, but wherever on that spectrum you find yourself in, there is the uncertainty, less sleep, recovery from a child’s arrival (however that happens) and general “winging it”!

For my little family, learning to navigate parenthood alongside pre-existing depression and anxiety has been the steepest of learning curves. For whilst I’ve been better than I can remember over the past year, I constantly feel as if I’m walking a tightrope. I want to be the best Mum I can be – but I don’t want to get unwell.

The things I have done for the last decade to manage my conditions are exponentially harder with a baby. You can’t be a freelance Mum, for starters! Whilst I would usually protect my sleep at all costs to prevent my mind going into free fall, it’s almost impossible to ensure a solid nine hours a night every night, but I am beginning to navigate this new normal.

And my new normal wouldn’t be possible without my village – not my actual village, although I do live in one, – but the people who step in and step up.

A few weeks back, I found myself stumbling (I’m mixing my metaphors quite spectacularly, aren’t I?!) I started to sleep less, laying awake for hours after getting up to do a night feed. My mind began to spin with anxiety and I felt shame shroud me like a dementor’s cloak.

And then the tears started to fall.

This is a well worn path for, a scarily predictable descent into what we euphemism as “a dip”.

Usually, I would hide; cry and sleep for a couple of days and re-emerge slowly into the world when I felt stronger.

Instead, I had a six month old baby who needed me to feed, play and care for him.

The curious thing is, that this responsibility made the situation simultaneously harder and easier.

Harder because when I could barely think straight, I had to think on behalf of a helpless baby. But it also made me take care of myself and take action in a way I don’t think I’ve been able to before. I rang my husband, we arranged for my best friend to take my son for a day long play date so I could get some rest, and I took a break from trying to be both full time Mum and full time freelancer, working out a new rhythm that wouldn’t completely exhaust me.

Motherhood and mental illness are the strangest and most uncomfortable bedfellows, but they can and do co-exist.

The bright side, if there is one, is that it has already taught me that taking care of myself is not an optional extra of parenthood – but vital. It doesn’t mean candles and massages (although I do quite like the both) but getting enough rest, food, exercise and fresh air. It means allowing people to help out without feeling guilty and being honest about how I’m coping.

For some, mental illness is a far more disruptive and difficult bedfellow, but taking care and being taken care of are universal needs- even for those without any mental health conditions!