How Can We Build Community In Our Churches?

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Perhaps you have visited a church, or maybe attended for a few months. You’ve enjoyed the worship and the teaching, but at the end of the service you’ve stood round and thought – I actually don’t know anyone here and I don’t have anyone to talk to. Everyone is moving around chatting to others but for you it feels like a sea of unfamiliar faces. If only someone would smile and say hello. If you haven’t had this experience, you may be fortunate. If you have, you will know how awkward it can feel.

One topic that has been on my heart for a while is that of building community in our churches. Community adds a richness to life. Living in authentic biblical community can be challenging and indeed messy, but it is important all the same. If you enjoy good community and even a sense of family in your church, you are blessed. You may even take it forgranted. Sadly, many believers today don’t experience fellowship in church. It seems that fostering authentic church community is challenging in today’s modern world. A common theme in church life all over the world (but especially in the West) is that believers feel that they aren’t ‘connecting’ with others in their local churches. Real face to face heartfelt relationships are rather rare today. This isn’t a criticism of churches, as most churches do what they can to develop community and many do offer pockets of community. I wonder whether it is a symptom of a wider picture, which is the fragmented society that we find ourselves living in. Difficulty connecting with others in church is a problem that many people face, regardless of their circumstances. Disconnection is prevalent amoung many sectors of the church – the elderly, singles, students, young parents, and those who are struggling econonically. It is also one of the top reasons why people leave churches. Offense is also a primary reason, but if we don’t have connections in church, it is easy to either hide or to stop going to church.

‘WE LOVE THE IDEA OF COMMUNITY—EVERYONE ENGAGED AND INVOLVED AND CONNECTED—BUT HOW MANY PEOPLE SHOW UP … LONGING FOR SOMEONE TO REACH OUT TO THEM, SHAKE THEIR HAND AND HAVE MORE THAN A TWO-SECOND CONVERSATION?’

What are some of the barriers that people looking for church community might face? Well for one, many folk don’t attend their local church, preferring to travel some distance to find a church that suits their needs. In previous generations, people lived their whole lives locally and so relationships developed naturally. These days we have to be a lot more intentional about community. Take our family for example. We don’t attend our local village church because it doesn’t have a weekly children’s programme. We do however, maintain links with our village church. We live in the countryside and we drive half an hour to an inner city church in the nearest small city. I’ve often found that it can be difficult to build community in inner city churches because it’s harder to connect with people who live across a broad geographical area. Smaller churches often offer more community, but it is possible to develop community in a larger church setting. It just takes time and a ton of effort.

A second barrier is because people are so busy today. Some busyness is a choice, but much of it isn’t. People are working longer hours, and many families require two jobs just to pay for the ever increasing costs of housing and basic living. Let’s not forget that living in a capitalist society makes us busy. Things and stuff (though not wrong in themselves) make us busy. Busyness means that it is more difficult to serve (which helps in getting to know others).

Another reason for limited community is that people may be afraid to get to know others, for fear of being hurt. I’ve seen this dynamic play out in many situations. If you have been hurt in home groups or just in general relationships, you are naturally more wary.

‘IF PEOPLE FEEL THEY’RE GOING TO BE JUDGED OR RIDICULED OR IGNORED BECAUSE OF A LIFE CHOICE, THEY’RE NOT LIKELY GOING TO ENGAGE IN ANY COMMUNITY’.

How can we foster community in church? Small groups/life groups are often the backbone of church community. They are a good start, and while we have only been at our church for six months, we have helped to start a community group in our rural area. The ladies meet once a week and the blokes meet when they can, and then we have a family lunch once a month at our home. I am very thankful that I have a small group of friends to pray with and do life with.

Church leaders can also develop community by making it a priority and encouraging the congregation to be community minded and inclusive. But it’s not just about leaving it up to the leadership team or the welcome team. Everyone has to play their part. We need to be aware of others and practise being others focused. We can be a blessing to someone else, even in our busyness and brokenness. Most of us really only have time for a few good relationships, but relationships where we are invested in one another are key. We need to bear one another’s burdens and be accountable to one another.

It’s great to be mindful of building community, but at the end of the day, we don’t just want to talk about community, we want to get out there and practice it.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.  And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,  not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10: 23-2

Mind the Gap: Taking the plunge into work after a career break

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So you are ready to take the plunge back into the workforce after a career break? Whether it’s been a year, three years, five years or more than a decade, getting back into the workforce after time away can seem more than a little daunting. For many women wishing to find their way again in the world of paid work, they don’t know where to begin. I know I didn’t. Many women seek to resume work out of financial necessity or the desire for a bit of professional engagement, but they can feel lost and lacking in confidence. Women who have had career breaks face obstacles that other job seekers may not face. However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Don’t fall for the media lie that taking time out of a career to raise children will be the death of a career. In fact the good news is that many employers acknowledge that mothers can be good employees because they are hard working, efficient, mature and organized. They get stuff done!

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After children, one’s working outside the home life may look very different to the working life one may have had B. C (before children). I can’t speak for other people, but personally I feel that my capacity for work is much smaller now because so much is required at home. I would say that I am surprised at how busy life is with three school aged children. It’s great, but it’s also getting busier as the children get older. In an ideal world, I’d love a job that is essentially school hours or less. Something that fits in with everything else. You know, the school runs, sick days, school holidays and taxi-ing to scouts and football. But those sorts of jobs are quite hard to come by. Having embarked upon the herculean task of moving country with a family early last year, it is only now that I feel ready to pursue a little bit of paid work. As there is no harm in looking, I began by perusing job websites. And it was interesting to see what is out there. Without wishing to sound too pessimistic, I found that most of the jobs were not really feasible for me. They were either not commutable (as I live in the countryside), or they were not a good fit for my qualifications. Furthermore I don’t yet have membership of my professional body over here so that means that I can’t work in my profession – yet. It was a little demoralizing.

Apparently this is how most people begin a job search, and accourding to the UK consultancy Women Returners, it’s a strategy that rarely works. While raising children is possibly the hardest (and most rewarding) work one has ever done, sadly it is unlikely to be seen in that way by a prospective employer. We may have had many life experiences over the course of our career break, however these experiences are difficult to articulate on a C.V. Furthermore, many employers want their staff to have recent experience. And then it’s a chicken and egg scenario. How can you get a job when you don’t have relevant and recent experience, and how do you acquire experience until you get a job? Many people wonder about the ‘gap’ on their C.V. Some people highlight it, however the general consensus seems to be that a chronological C.V may not be the best option if you have had an extended career break. Perhaps a better option would be to utilize a skills based C.V template, highlighting particular strengths and skills.

Instead of trawling job websites, here’s what the experts recommend:

It’s who you know. Many jobs are discovered via word of mouth. Tell family and friends what you are looking for. They may have contacts and connections that are helpful for you. Be prepared to network.

Have confidence. Many returners lack the confidence to put themselves out there. Isn’t confidence half that battle with most things? Boost your confidence by taking small steps. Don’t undervalue what you can offer an employer. Discover your strengths and take a quiz or even a psychometric test if you are not sure what those strengths are. Career counsellors and coaches can be invaluable. Remember that you are the same capable person that you were before you had a career break, albeit a little rusty! Don’t undervalue the whole host of skills that being a parent has developed in you- skills like time management, stress management, project management and communication skills.

Think outside the square. Be creative and be open to looking at internships, ‘returnships’ or voluntary positions (I know these options may not be feasible if you need the income). Also be prepared to start small and even consider entry level positions. It’s easier to get another job once you have a job.

Look for something that you would enjoy rather than something that is a strategic career move. This is one of the more helpful pearls of wisdom I’ve been given recently and it makes sense.

If you have taken the plunge from working at home to working outside the home, what advice would you offer other returners? Drop me a line, I’d love to hear from you.

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Deck the Halls DIY: A Christmas Tablescape

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Last month I discovered a new hobby that I love. It’s table decorating! Who knew that decorating a table could be such fun. We had seventeen family members over on Christmas Day and in preparation I had spent a little time coordinating decorations for the centrepiece of the celebration – which was the christmas table.  As it was our first Christmas as a family in the northern hemisphere, we wanted to go for a winter wonderland theme. In keeping with this, white and silver were the obvious colours of choice. There was also a musical theme playing in the background too. We used silver candles in jars with potpourri around them (not to 1990’s I hope!). Most of the decorations were homemade or bought from IKEA. These decorations can be re-used year after year. I spray painted pinecones  that I foraged in the forest with silver spray paint, bleached a few pinecones (with household bleach), and then added pine tree branches and the individual place settings. It took about two hours to set the table on Christmas Eve but it was well worth the effort! There are many creative ideas out there for how to decorate a table. But they will just have to wait til next year!

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An Artful Advent: Creating a Handmade Christmas

artful-adventAdvent. The expectant waiting for the celebration that is Christmas. The anticipation of Christmas can be a joyous yet hectic season. This is our first festive season in the northern hemisphere as a family and my first ever time hosting Christmas at our house. I have to say I am just a little excited. I love Christmas in winter. With family coming from New Zealand, we wanted to make it special, but without spending too many pennies! Inspired by Kirstie’s Homemade Christmas (www.kirstieallsop.co.uk), a show on the telly, I set about creating our own homemade christmas. Sometimes crafting at christmas can seem overwhelming in an already busy season. I spread my projects over many months, and because of this it hasn’t seemed quite so overwhelming. The majority of these projects have been completed before December, when the crazy season of kid activities begins and before visitors descend on our house. Here are a few sneaky peaks of the projects I’ve been working on over the last few months.

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christmas-table-settings

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christmas-bunting

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Wishing you a peaceful Christmas,

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holly

Have a little hygge: Embracing the Danish art of cosy living

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I love winter. I love nothing more than cosying up at home, lighting the fire, fixing the fairy lights, reading a book, watching a film, making soup, hot drinks and mulled wine. The Danish have a term for this, and the term is hygge. You may have noticed that ‘hygge’ has become a household name recently. This old Danish concept has become fashionable and ‘on trend’ in Britain and around the world. Stroll through the blogosphere and you will find many a lifestyle blog heralding the praises of this cosy way of life. Hygge (pronounced hue-gah) is really a thing now! Hygge has been categorized as a word of the year in both the Collins and Oxford Dictionaries.

So what the heck is hygge? Well it’s not a new age concept. It simply refers to the Danish art of living well, and it can be loosely translated into English as a ‘cosiness of soul’.

Origin of ‘Hygge’

  • Term comes from a Norwegian word meaning wellbeing.
  • First appeared in Danish writing in the 19th Century and has since evolved into the cultural idea known in Denmark today.

The Danes are reported to be the happiest people on earth. Economically Denmark does well, however hygge has nothing to do with economics or materialism, and it’s not a middle class concept either. Hygge is practised by Danes from all walks of life. Hygge is the practice of creating warmth and togetherness. It can be described as the feeling you have when you are camped around the fire indoors, snuggled under a blanket, wearing warm socks and drinking hot chocolate with friends. But it’s so much more than being cosy. It’s really a state of mind. The Danes aren’t the only country who know how to be cosy, but they do lead the way in teaching the world about how to manage the challenges that winter brings. Not everyone loves winter. Many people dread the shorter days and freezing temperatures. And with stress levels rising in the West, and treacherous tragedy happening everywhere, embracing the art of enjoying simple pleasures with family and friends seems all the more imperative. It is interesting that in a year that has seen Brext, Trump and other turmoil take centre stage, cosiness has become a huge lifestyle trend here in the UK and abroad.

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Image courtesy of Amara

You don’t have to be Danish to pratice hygge. Hygge embodies the themes of family, belonging, community, connection, security, home, presence and love. These are all themes that may be lacking in the West today. We may have higher standards of living today, but do we have better quality of life?

Even in Denmark, some older Danes feel that hygge isn’t what it used to be, as the emphasis on community has lessened. It’s now generally considered hyggeligt to watch telly alone, perhaps while consuming crisps!

But these are concepts that all cultures can identify with. Perhaps you and your family practice hygge instinctively, but you didn’t know that there was a word for it. Hygge is about enjoying the moment – whether it be savouring a cup of coffee, having a bubble bath at the end of a long day at work, or bringing people together over a meal.

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What are some other ways to cultivate hygge in our homes?  Candlelight is absolutely key. Cosying up the couch is also key- add texture by using throws, pillows, and quilts. Invest in comfortable loungewear. And of course, there is always the ambience that a fire brings. Hygge isn’t limited to the indoor sphere. In fact, getting out into nature can be just as hygge!

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Image courtesy of Amara

Don’t overdo – hygge is not about overdoing things. It’s not about indulgence. Hygge is about utilizing our five senses to absorb the joy of even the simplest things; the smell of an orange and cinnamon cake; the words in a favourite poem; the feeling of lying in a bed of freshly laundered linen; or just looking out at the autumn leaves in the garden. Hygge is everywhere; we need to slow down and learn to linger.

Perhaps it’s natural to long for a simpler, cosier life, however critics have argued that the hygge craze is overhyped. It’s even been mocked by some critics claiming that the concept has become very commercialized. Everything from shoes to shepherd’s pie has been marketed as hyggeligt. Hygge has been used to sell anything and everything from woollen socks, bedding, and furnishings. The hygge craze has single handedly revolutionized the candle industry! There are also hygge socks, hygge hammocks, hygge colouring books and even hygge phone covers. How ironic. A college in London has even started teaching its students how to hygge. But it’s important to remember that hygge isn’t about stuff.

Hygge can be embraced at any time of year. In summer, picnics in the park, barbeques with friends, outdoor concerts, street festivals and bike rides can all be very hygge. Reflecting it’s northern hemisphere origins, Christmas is regarded as the ‘high season of hygge’. What better time to introduce it into your family.

Next week I’ll be featuring a post on how to hygge with kids! Til then, keep calm and have a hygge day!

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Masterchef Mayhem: Hosting a Junior Masterchef Party

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So my daughter celebrated her birthday recently, and as she is a keen cook, we decided on a Junior Masterchef party. It wouldn’t be too much work I told myself. After all, I wouldn’t have to prepare any food. And having a party at home would be easy on the old budget. Having had a busy time with summer school holidays and our second house move in five months, I’m not sure I thought it through very well! We ended up having 16 five and six year old children (plus cousins) over to cook in my kitchen. I mean what on earth was I thinking!! All the other parents thought I was mad.

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We transformed our kitchen/dining room into a Masterchef headquarters. My husband was Gordon Ramsay (but a nicer version!). He certainly didn’t tell the children that their culinary creations were rubbish! I kept the decorations very simple. I made a few Masterchef logos to fasten to the windows and then decorated the dining room with balloons and chinese lanterns. Instead of goodie bags, the children were given chef hats to wear for the party and to take home afterwards.

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The plan was to organise the children into teams, where they could decorate pizzas in groups. What really happened is that most of the children ran around outside and the children who wanted to cook did so. Then we served up pizzas. It was tough luck for the children who didn’t like pizza! For pudding the children decorated pancakes and cupcakes. Fruit kebabs were also on the menu. I think the pancakes were more of a hit! My husband makes amazing pancakes.

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We played a few food related games, such as the chocolate game that I recall from my childhood. The children had to dress up in a few clothing items such as a scarf and hat, and then they had to cut the chocolate with a knife once they had thrown a six on the dice. We also played another retro game from my childhood – the flour and sweetie game, where you have to retrieve the sweetie from the flour cake without getting covered in flour! This was played outside as it is rather messy. We also played the egg and spoon game, and we watched the Disney film ‘Ratatouille’. Then we had cake and lemonade. The children had a good time and when it was all over, I needed a cup of tea and a lie down!

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Hindsight is a marvellous thing, and looking back, I’m sure the party would have been a lot more manageable if we had limited the numbers to only around six children, or up to eight maximum. I also feel in hindsight that a Junior Masterchef party would be more suited to older children, and children who had an interest in cooking. We found that most of the children just wanted to run around outside and had no interest in the tasks, even though they were simple age appropriate tasks.

Sometimes one arranges an event and it doesn’t go completely to plan. That’s life and it’s what keeps us humble! We learn from our experiences, and I have to say that any parties that we organise next year are going to be much smaller. I’ll keep them to five children at the most!

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My Response to the Article: ‘Why a Christian Woman’s Place is Outside the Home’.

my response to the Atlantic article

(Original Caption) Photo of a woman filling a glass of milk from a pitcher on an already set table. The kitchen has the look of a modern 1950s design. Circa 1950s. (Photo by �� Bettmann/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

So this week I read an article written in the Atlantic titled ‘Why a Christian Woman’s Place is Outside the Home.’ The article (by Jonathon Merritt) was based on a book by Katelyn Beaty. Ms Beaty’s first book ‘A Woman’s Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home and the World’ is due to be published this month, and I would very much like to read it. The article can be found here: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/07/the-conservative-christian-case-for-working-women/490025/?utm_source=atltw. Please have a read and let me know what you think.

Tim

Usually if I read something on the internet that offends me I just let it go and scroll on by. But this article really ruffled my feathers. And I don’t think I’m the only one. The 31 year old managing editor is proposing that God wants women to work outside the home. Apparently being a stay at home mother is a thing of the past. Beaty once believed staying at home with children is a mother’s “central call”; But her perspective has changed.

I’m wanting to tell wives and mothers that there is so much inherent goodness in the call to work and that we needn’t pit certain types of roles against each other,” Beaty said. “There are ways to be a devoted wife and mother and a devoted CEO. In the church, we need to make space for women who feel called to both at the same time.”

She’s 31, and doesn’t have children yet. I don’t wish to be insensitive about the fact that she is single and doesn’t yet have children, however it is hard to be familiar with the nuances of family life if you don’t have a family. I agree we don’t have to ‘pit certain types of roles against each other.’ And of course there is nothing wrong with being a mother and a CEO. In fact I am in awe of women who can do both, however (as many women who have done both have admitted), it is very difficult to manage both. Time is a very finite resource.

Ms Beaty argues: ‘We are all called to have influence—cultural influence outside of the private sphere of the home,” Beaty said. “It wouldn’t necessarily have to be a career track, but certainly all Christians, including all Christian women, are called to have cultural influence outside the home.” Well I can’t disagree with that. But how about these statements:

While Beaty said she wants to affirm the value of the labor of motherhood, she considers it a separate category. While she isn’t willing to call full-time mothering “sinful,” she encourages women with children to assess their talents and put those to use outside of their households.

So now full time mothering is ‘almost sinful’?

“When you talk about scales of influence or scales of societal influence, a woman who is staying at home with [her] children isn’t going to have as much influence on the direction of culture,” Beaty said. “We can talk about motherhood as a specific type of calling, but I’m not ready to professionalize it.”

I couldn’t disagree more. And I’m a bit baffled why The Atlantic would choose to publish something that is disrespectful to so many women. I don’t want to get into the tired old mummy wars. They really are a bit petty, and there are more important battles to be fought in the world. However, it’s telling that the author of this article doesn’t actually have children yet, and consequently, she may not really comprehend the enormity of the task of mothering. Guess what? All mothers work. Whether that is in the workforce or in the home – it’s all work. And not to mention the boatload of volunteer work that mothers contribute, whether they are employed outside the home or whether they work at home. Who do you think helps at preschools, runs the school fair, helps with the soup kitchen or runs the soccer club? Society would be lost without it’s army of volunteers.

One expects the devaluing of mothering and homemaking in the world. But now we have these disparaging voices in the church too? I’m not suggesting that women give up their jobs and tether themselves to the kitchen sink, however we have to be respectful of the different seasons that women are in. Furthermore, who says that how we influence society is a measure of our worth? God’s word says we are valuable just because of who we are, not because of what we do. We need to stop confusing who we are with what we do.

The author also raises the issue of women’s opportunities to serve in church and in society. This is a separate issue I believe. I agree that women should be treated as equals in ministry and should be wholly free to use their gifts and talents for God’s glory. I am sorry that the author has been overlooked in business meetings. This is not right. It’s not something that you would expect in 2016, but sadly many women still encounter discrimination in church and in the workplace. I agree that workplaces need to be far more family friendly for working mothers. And I also agree that not all women are cut out to be stay at home mothers or homeschoolers (God help me if I was ever called to homeschool!).

What I strongly disagree with is the idea that any work that is out there in the world is valuable and anything inside the home isn’t. If we really want to influence culture, this starts at home. Whether we work outside the home or at home, we need to prioritize our children, and this is going to look different for each family. For many of us, our greatest contribution to society may be who we raise. Much has been written recently about the crisis that we are seeing in children’s mental health. I would argue that disrespecting the important work that is done between the walls of one’s home really doesn’t help this matter. We need to value the home, for the health of the nation and the next generation depends on this.

‘The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.’

Not Purrfect, but a whole lot of feline fun….

Not Purrfect

So I was quite looking forward to blogging about our little feline themed party that we had for our four year old over the weekend. And then I came across this in my facebook feed. http://www.newshub.co.nz/tvshows/paulhenry/have-childrens-birthday-parties-have-become-too-extravagant-2016061712#axzz4CAW2RpSN

Yep, I really like the author and blogger who was featured on the news, and yes…she really does have a point. Perhaps parties have gotten out of control. I would agree that no one needs to spend loads of hard earned cash on their child’s birthday party. After all, kids really do like simple things. But this was a bit of a downer. It seems like it’s in vogue to criticize anyone who wants to put their heart and soul into a kid’s celebration. But my take on it is simply this: if people want to spend time on creating a celebration then let them go for it. And if they don’t want to and it’s not their thing, then that’s absolutely fine too. It’s a heart issue isn’t it, and we can’t assume we know why people do what they do. Maybe parents aren’t trying to out-do one another. Maybe they just love it. And you have to do more of what one loves, whether it’s cycling, writing, going to the gym or throwing birthday parties. So I’m just going to keep on doing my thing, even if I’m misunderstood. That’s the whole risk with the internet isn’t it – that people will misunderstand us. See my post on this topic: https://latteslacedwithgrace.com/2015/06/11/each-to-their-own-my-response-to-the-birthday-party-guidelines-blog-post-that-went-viral/

If like me you really love creating celebrations, then be sure to check out this kiwi blogger: http://www.greatfunforkids.com. I really like her philosophy on birthday parties. You can read it here:  http://www.greatfun4kidsblog.com/2012/03/why-party.html

Katie's kitty cat party invitation for blog

My cat crazy kid ordered a cat themed party this year. And it’s a pretty easy theme to come up with ideas for. I started off by googling ‘kitten party’….which really isn’t a good idea – even with a safe blocker on our computer! Enough said.

This party took a bit of time to organize, but it didn’t cost much. In fact, most of the supplies came from Poundland (the equivalent of the $2 shop).

cat door

For decorations we decided on pink polkadots with a dash of black and white. We had a cat decoration on the door, balloons, a pinata and a cat themed photo booth. I made cat themed plates, which took a ridiculously long time to make, but I just sat in front of the telly while making them. It was downtime really.

cat themed plates

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disco ball pinata

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For games and activities we kept it simple:

  • We had a mat time, and my husband got out his guitar and sang cat themed nursery rhymes to the kids. He’s great like that.
  • We played Pass the Parcel, Pin the Tail on the Cat, and Cat & Mouse.
  • Then we decorated cat themed cupcakes and biscuits in the kitchen. Ten four year olds in the kitchen decorating cupcakes is not for the faint hearted!
  • We then finished off with cat face painting and pinata bashing.

cupcakes

For the feline food, this is where I went a little crazy….but it was all good fun. We had:

A watermelon cat:

watermelon cat

A cat themed veggie platter with crisps (rather than chips). As you can see I’m embracing all things British.

Strawberry Mice:

strawberry mice

Cat Doughnuts:

Doughnut Cats

We also had cat fairy bread but I drew the line at cat shaped pizza’s. Normal store bought pizza had to do. We also had individual ice-creams and pink lemonade which went down a treat.

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And in place of goodie bags, we gave away stuffed animals. Unfortunately Poundland didn’t have toy cats, so dogs and teddy bears had to do!

goodie bags

kitten cake

When it was all over, we all needed a cup of tea and a lie down!

The Black Dog: On Getting Real About Depression and Supporting Those That Suffer

The Black DogI still remember the day when I saw someone in my university hostel being taken to hospital following an overdose. Thankfully she survived, but many do not.

Since the tragic death of Matthew Warren a few years ago, much discussion has taken place about ways Christians can meaningfully minister to people in our communities who suffer from depression.

Depression is not an easy subject to talk about, or write about for that matter. But it needs to be brought out into the open. For depression seems to be rampant today. And the effects can be deadly. Almost all of us have known someone who has lost the battle to depression. It happens in church too. I have been privy to the stories of those bereaved by suicide, including pastor’s wives.

As heart breaking as these stories are, there are also many stories of hope. Individuals who have seen breakthrough, healing or maintenance of their depression.  I’ve always thought of the church as a hospital for hurting people and this is not a new phenomenon. The church has a significant ministry to those who are depressed. Jesus spent a large part of his ministry healing those who were ill. And we as his followers are called to do likewise. Consider Isaiah 61 where it talks about:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor’.

I love this verse. It’s my go-to verse. God wants us to ‘bind up the broken hearted’. This ministry can operate collaboratively with those in the secular mental health field. Sadly though, the church has historically fallen short in engaging in helpful conversation about depression. Sometimes Christian folk are made uncomfortable, and they can’t understand why the depressed person hasn’t ‘snapped out of it’ and declared amazing victory through their faith. Until one has been through it, one may struggle to understand it.

Many people in church leadership can feel lost when it comes to ministering to the depressed. We may be able to relate to feeling down in the dumps, but true clinical depression can be somewhat of a mystery to many people.  Perhaps the worst mistake we can make is to expect church leaders to be able to solve all the problems the depressed and their loved ones have. In a study cited in Leadership Journal, BuildingChurchLeaders.com, and other publications for people in Christian ministry, it was found that of the 500 leaders who responded, 16 percent indicated they felt “not equipped at all” to minister to people with mental illness. Another 53 percent felt “somewhat equipped.” Only 30 percent felt at least “competent.” Expecting ministers to be able to solely address depression may be equivalent to expecting them to perform bypass surgery, and the damage done can be extensive.

There are many misconceptions that abound when it comes to depression, and perhaps the first thing that Christians can do to help those who suffer is to become educated. It can be as simple as browsing some good websites about depression, like Psych Central,MentalHealth.com, Web MD, Revolution Health, and Everyday Health; checking out nonprofit groups such as NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) orDBSA (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance), and others; visiting a library to see what kinds of literature they have available on depression; attending a lecture by an expert in the field at a nearby university; tuning into one of the top 10 psychology videos found on YouTube.com; visiting an expert’s website or blog; and finally, making an appointment to speak to a psychiatrist or psychologist in the area. There is a wealth of information available today.

Wrestling with our theology of suffering

Part of becoming educated about depression is wrestling with our theology of suffering and how it relates to depression and mental illness. We need to recognize how depression and other mental illness fits within Christian teaching on the effects of original sin, the presence of sickness in our world, God’s unconditional love, redemption in this life, and complete healing in the next. We need to be able to make peace with the questions we can’t answer. After all, this side of eternity there will be many, many questions that we simply don’t have answers too. I think many Christians are not all too comfortable with mystery. Many of us want to have definite answers, rather than walk a journey of mystery.  We have a tendency to want to explain out the mystery of life and faith and God. But the older I get, the more I am at peace with not having all the answers. We can be assured of the overriding hope offered through Christ’s love, His purpose for all people, and His coming renewal of all creation. There is no need for us to have all the answers, but we must have assurance of God’s truth, or our own uncertainty will leave drowning people gasping for air.

The church also needs to talk more about depression. It would make a good subject for a sermon. After all, so many heroes of the faith suffered with depression. Consider David, Job and Elijah, amoung others. Job was known to despair: “I cannot eat for sighing; my groans pour out like water. What I always feared has happened to me. What I dreaded has come to be. I have no peace, no quietness. I have no rest; instead, only trouble comes …. I will never again experience pleasure … I would rather die of strangulation than go on and on like this. I hate my life” (Job 3:23-26, 7:11, 15-16, NLT).

In a piece over at CNN’s religion blog on mental illness and the church, Ed Stetzer argues the following really important points:

  • There are people in the pews every week—ministers, too—struggling with mental illness or depression.
  • People of faith know that God has freed them to love others, and that love extends to everyone, even (and sometimes especially) those we don’t understand.
  • Christians need to affirm the value of medical treatment for mental illness.
  • Compassion and care can go a long way in helping people know they don’t have to hide.
  • Mental illness has nothing to do with one’s beliefs or the beliefs of one’s family. It can impact anyone.

Churches can also provide a library of relevant literature and could even consider hosting support groups and a special service for those suffering. Before it’s needed, churches can create a network with local mental-health professionals. Get to know the Christian counsellors in your area; you may have some in your own congregation. The network ought to include professionals from across a spectrum of specializations—psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, general practitioners, who can address not just depression, but also anxiety disorders, eating disorders, Autism Spectrum disorders, psychotic disorders, and others. Perhaps consider hosting ‘mental health first aid’ for your church. ‘Mental health first aid’ may help people to understand the basics of various types of mental illness and how to respond. And you may like to ponder these questions – How can I handle conversations around depression? And how can I extend grace to someone struggling with depression?

Meet the Beets BLU Heart Rate Monitor

Beets BLU

So recently I’ve been approached by a few companies and asked to review different products.  And I was particularly interested to review the latest gadget – a Beets BLU Heart Rate Monitor. Anyone who knows me will be aware that I am by no means an exercise junkie. However I do like to stay moderately fit and I’ve recently taken up cycling again. This was the perfect opportunity to review the Beets BLU Monitor. Control of one’s heart rate is very important for training, as it helps you to achieve your desired results. Depending on the goal of one’s workout, you can:

  • Strengthen your cardiovascular system
  • Increase your stamina
  • Burn fat
  • Avoid your heart beating too fast

The Beets BLU Monitor is a wireless heart rate monitor that sits around your chest with a comfortable chest strap. It features:

  • Heart rate sensor with belt around chest delivers the most accurate heart rate readout thanks to ECG-based technology
  • Smoothly sync with iOS phones (iPhone 5, 4S) and selected Android devices* No dongle required
  • System consumes low energy therefore a small firmware battery is enough for more than a year
  • A recorder that works with all popular apps like Endomondo, Runkeeper, Map My Run, etc
  • Wearable tracker approaches to running, fitness, crossfit, spinning, workout, exercise and other athletic sport.
    The Beets BLU is compatible with:
    — Apple iPhone 4S (and later)

    — Apple iPad 3 (and later)

    — Any smartphone with Android 4.3 (and later) with Bluetooth 4.0

  • It also works with Ipads.

I found the Beets BLU easy to use, once I had downloaded the app (which was a bit fiddly). But this device is comfortable to wear and provides a very accurate heart rate measurement. The only downside to this product is that you have to take your phone with you, which for runners may be a little tedious if you are used to running without carrying anything with you.

Overall, this is a great product for those who wish to maintain an active lifestyle, or those with cardiac problems. Father’s Day is coming up in the UK next weekend. The Beets BLU would make an ideal Father’s Day gift!

 

See: http://www.beetsBLU.com