The Greatest Gift

It’s a year since we found out our baby died early on in pregnancy. The grief has been searing, relentless and so crushing that at times my legs have felt like they may collapse beneath me. Over these months I’ve had so many conversations with people –

I’ve been told that I had a lot going on at the time and I was doing too much and not resting. And that maybe it just wasn’t the right time for this baby. And the suggestion that it may have been a good thing as I wouldn’t have been able to do some of the things I’d done since. There have been lots of taking deep breathes along side well meaning words. Truth is how ever much we desperately try to scramble for the right thing to say, there are no positives to death. Whatever age or time.

Going out with my daughters always seems to bring up two conversation starters;

“They all yours? Are you going to have any more?”

“All girls! Are you going to try for a boy?”

A lady on the bus had come up with the first opener and I told her about our baby, she asked when in the pregnancy and showed her relief when I said it was early on.

The lady doing my hair came up with the second opener. I told her about our baby. “Still, not as bad as my sister” she said and told me that she had three babies die late in pregnancy.

A sweet family friend in her eighties who was so distraught after her little one died she could never bring herself to go through being pregnant again.

“Any more?” one of the home ed mums asked me and this led on to the loveliest conversation as we both shared our experiences of our babies that didn’t make it.

The first time I saw death up close was through a window from the car where I’d been told to stay as it had been decided I was too young to go to a funeral. I watched as the miniature white and brass coffin was carried past.

So many more experiences and conversations that are not for me to share.

So many babies.

There is one conversation that had a huge impact on me. I was sat on the sofa sharing tea and biscuits and letting somebody know about our baby. I was talking about how hard the grief had been for both me and my husband and she met me at this point because she understood, it had been the same for her and her husband. I looked down and my heart sank and I started to feel little bubbles of anger growing bigger from the pit of my stomach and I just wanted to scream “but this isn’t the same, this wasn’t MY choice!”

I started to panic because I couldn’t pop these rising bubbles. I didn’t want to upset her but I didn’t know if I could hold my back my emotions. Then just like that my Prince of Peace rescued me, peace swept over me and draped a warm blanket of stillness around me. I looked up at her and I saw brighter than day how Jesus sees her. Loved. Treasured. Died for. So desperately longed for.

Truth scattered the lies like cockroaches in torch light as I was reminded we are all in this mess together; broken people living in a broken world. I hadn’t made the same choices as her but I was so so so far from perfect in how I’d lived my life.

I saw we were both dealing with the heavy consequences of death and I listened as she opened up about the grief she was going through. We had the same pain, our babies have left huge holes in our families.

So many babies.

I birthed my tiniest baby on Christmas Day, two days after I was told there was no heartbeat. The dark valleys of grief and the trauma of the physical process have not left me and neither has the incredible hope, peace, comfort, joy and love that was poured out to me and that is all because of one little baby given to us all.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Isaiah 9:6

The greatest everlasting conversation we will ever have is the one God has with us. It has never been a question of “Is God speaking?” but rather “Are we listening?”

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

John 3:16-17

A love like no other that at our most destitute facing the punishment of death we rightly deserve, one we can never escape or work to pay ourselves. He took our place and paid the price on the cross. He took our sin, dealt with death by rising again to give us the free gift of eternal life.

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

1 John 4:9-10

The greatest gift we could ever receive from a Father who never gives up on us no matter how far we run and how long we hide. He made the way, the ONLY way that we can return to Him.

We have only two choices when it comes to being presented with gifts; reject or receive.

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Empty

As we were leaving my youngest’s class I heard a lot of commotion coming from the other side of the road. I was careful to put her in her car seat quickly from the road side as the argument was between a driver and traffic warden. Sure enough the angry driver sped past right behind me leaving the warden open mouthed on the pavement. I looked around and people were walking up and down the street as if nothing had happened. I looked back at the man and he still looked shocked so I asked him if he was okay. He crossed the road and we chatted about what happened.

He was a community officer and had issued the lady a parking ticket. She had tried to persuade him to cancel it but when he refused, she got really angry, told him she was a Christian and that God was going to punish him and he was going to hell. He began to laugh and said,

“Not very Christianly of her and anyway I don’t believe there’s a hell so I can’t go there”.

I asked him why he didn’t believe there was hell and he told me it was because the God he believed in who was all loving and righteous wouldn’t send anyone to hell. I replied that it IS because God is loving and righteous that there is hell. Take, for example, somebody murders your child and you are in court and the judge says ‘I’m not sending anyone to jail’. You expect a court judge to draw the line between right and wrong but the God of the whole universe, who is loving, righteous and holy you expect not to draw a line between good and evil?”

We both turned as a small white car came past us, the window was down and the driver shouted obscenities in our direction, making it clear his dislike of traffic wardens.

He turned back to me and continued, “Good people wouldn’t go to hell though”

“Are you a good person?” I asked

He quickly and confidently replied, “Yes I see myself as a good person”

“By whose standards? Because I used to measure my goodness by human standards. I looked at terrible things others had done and judged myself “good” because I hadn’t been as bad. But when you see yourself measured against the absolute holiness of God then every single one of us falls short of that perfection”

The same white car drove around again, more shouting from the window.

He told me he was raised in church and the things he’d seen that had made him question religion and I said that you can go to church from day one and attend every single Sunday of your life and be as religious as you like but it makes absolutely no difference.

Then the conversation turned deeper and the smile dropped from his face as he told me he’d been searching for so long. Then one of the most heartbreaking things anyone has ever said to me came out of his mouth

“My cup is empty”

Empty?! I normally hear people say their cup is half full or half empty but never empty.

“You were raised in church, I’m sure you’ve heard Psalm 23 countless times? Your cup should overflow!…You know, Jesus didn’t just say ‘I know the way, I know the truth, I know where life is’ he said “I am the way, the truth and the life”….the one you are looking for is Jesus.

We were interrupted by a bleeping sound and he began typing into his machine and said he had to go but if he wasn’t in uniform and had more time he could talk to me all day and that I’d really made him smile, I noticed he was beaming by this point. Of course I knew it wasn’t me making him smile but his heart was filling and softening with what he had just heard.

We are good at making up our own gods, gods who turn a blind eye to our wrongdoings, gods who we use to get our own way, gods to frighten people, gods to control people, gods who will punish the way we would, gods who need us to do religious duties, gods who satisfy our fleshly desires, gods we make with our hands, gods who others have made with their hands, gods who don’t speak, gods we can interpret the way we want to, gods who adhere to our own plans, gods of traditions and the root of sin in when we are our own god.

But the living God far exceeds all we could ever possibly dream of. Wanting absolutely nothing from us and pursuing us with such ferocious love. God who loves us so much that when we fully deserved the biggest parking ticket that was way too great for us to ever pay on our own, he stood in our place and paid it on the cross and defeated death so we can have eternal life. Covering us with his righteousness so we have full access to his presence, now and for eternity. There is no greater love!

Thirst. Horrendous in the natural and utterly crushing in the spiritual. Attempting to quench our spiritual thirst with anything other than the free gift of living water will leave us empty. Nothing or no one can satisfy that deep thirst; our relationships can’t, our achievements can’t, our possessions can’t, our addictions can’t, our good deeds can’t, our religion can’t – like downing a fizzy drink they all ultimately leave us still thirsty.

We are ALL given the invitation to drink and the certainty to never ever ever to thirst again. To live with our cup overflowing.

“Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” John 7:37-38

“Come to me”

Not come to religion, not come to the man made, not come to tradition, not come striving to do good deeds, not come covering up, not come to a special building or place, but to come to the one who when we ask we will receive. The living God loves you, his heart breaking until you are home, always searching the horizon for when you will turn back, seeking to find us ready to say ‘yes’ where ever we are; in our rooms, in our cars, in churches, on the bus, on our way to work, in nightclubs, in the park and on a regular afternoon as we go about our job issuing parking tickets.

“Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14

Block Printed Wrapping Paper

Last year we enjoyed printing Christmas & thank you cards with my eldest daughter’s designs, so this year we had a go at printing wrapping paper. This was a great project that we could all get involved with. My four year old did the design this time; a sweet reindeer drawing that made a great print.

 
Materials

1 roll of Plain wrapping paper

Block printing ink

Ink tray

Lino cutter

Ink roller /brayer 

Lino sheet

Paper

Pencil

Marker pen

Wooden block (cut to size of design)

Strong craft glue

1. Draw out a design. Using a thick marker pen on the lino.

2. Cut out the areas around the marked section. Trimming off excess lino. Glue to wooden block.

3. Roll out some ink and apply a very thin layer to the lino. 

4. Do some test prints for positioning and ink density.


5. Apply a very thin layer of ink after each print for an even finish.

6. Print the red noses. We used a flat crayon dipped lightly in ink but fingertip will do too.

7. Leave to dry.

8. Ready to wrap gifts!

Homemade Sparkly Scented Play Dough

We get through so much play dough that I thought I’d be worth having a go making it ourselves. I’ve tried a couple of times before but always ended up with that stodgy floury nursery school smelling stuff. This time I experiented with some different ingredients and invested in some good essential oils. The children enjoyed having different fragrances to sniff, they love smelling the tester perfumes in shops so it was great to have an activity like this at home. 

To make four colours –

You will need 

2 cups plain flour

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil

1/2 cup salt

2 tablespoons cream of tartar

1 – 1.5 cups of warm previously boiled water

Food colouring 

3-4 drops of glycerine

Essential oils

Vanilla essence

Bowls

Wooden spoons

Plastic containers to store play dough 

Glitter


I used cinnamon leaf, pine needle and mandarin essential oils and vanilla essence. Make sure to research the oils which are safe for you and children, also in pregnancy and breastfeeding. Always dilute essential oils with a carrier oil such as grapeseed oil.

I have used grapeseed oil with all my children in baby massage so I knew their skin wouldn’t react to it. A good tip my baby massage instructor showed me, if using for the first time, is to dab a little on the wrist and wait ten minutes to see if there is a reaction or not.

I divided the ingredients into four so the children could make a tub with a different colour and scent each. But you can always make one batch and then divide the dough to  colour and fragrance.

1. Into four bowls add flour, salt and cream of tartar. 


2. In a separate jug add 2-3 drops of essential oil (or 1tsp vanilla essence) to a teaspoon of grape seed oil and glycerine.

3. Add a 1/4 cup of warm water to the mixture and add the food colouring. 

4. Take one of the bowls of the flour mixture and slowly combine the wet mixture with the dry, adding more plain water if needed, until you get a bread dough like consistency that can be kneaded.

5. Adding different colours and scents repeat stages 2,3,4 for the remaining three bowls of flour mix  

I used yellow with vanilla, green with pine needle, orange with mandarin and red with cinnamon.



6. Place the dough on a smooth surface and add a sprinkle of glitter (too much will cause the dough to crack). 

7. Knead the dough well and it’s ready for play. 


8. Work into a soft ball and store in airtight containers when finished with


If you feel the dough needs refreshing at any point rub a few drops of grapeseed oil into hands and work though the dough, it moistens the dough and your hands!