Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holidays...

It's holiday time at Musings.

I plan to enjoy Christmas with friends and family and have a relaxing holiday, so there will be no blogging here for a few weeks, and then I 'll return in January with the reviews of the books I hope to read.

Hope each of you have a wonderful Christ-centred Christmas and a good start to the New Year.

Monday, December 21, 2009

5 conversations with your daughter

Book Review: 5 Conversations you must have with your daughter, Vicki Courtney

There is a lot in the media these days about girls, how they grow up too early, they are oversexualised, and so on. I have ordered Melinda Tankard Reist's book Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls, and am still waiting for Fishpond to deliver it. While I am looking forward to reading it, I suspect I may well feel overwhelmed by the problems and not have any idea what to do.

This book, 5 Conversations, helps you with what to do. She helpfully presents the issues facing girls and young women, and talks to us as mothers as to how we can show our daughters that there is another way to go.

Her 5 conversations are:

1. You are more than the sum of your parts - a look at beauty, size, weight, appearance, etc, as well as the lies in the fashion industry and the media.

2. Don't be in such a hurry to grow up - some ideas on growing up, friendships, boys and dating. She had some good ideas and principles in this area both with regard to friendships and with boys.

3. Sex is great and worth the wait. She talks about the reality that most women will not wait for marriage and the implications that it has. Again she addresses the lies that society tell you about sex, and what they don't tell you about (eg. STDs, pregnancy, emotional attachment, etc). There was a particularly honest and moving chapter about the realities of teen pregnancy and the author's own experience after choosing to have an abortion at 17.

4. It's OK to dream about marriage and motherhood. It's OK and it's normal for women to want these things. She also addresses the misunderstanding surrounding how easy it is to have children later in life, ie. the myth that women really can 'have it all'.

5. Girls gone wild are everywhere - dare to be different. Be different by being servant- hearted and virtuous.


It is very easy to read and full of good ideas. Throughout it Courtney also talks to us as mothers, challenging us to think about the message we are sending our daughters in areas such as how much time we spend on our own appearance and how we supervise our girls. She also addresses how to talk to our daughters about our own mistakes as teenagers, and when and how to be honest with them. She also has a blog where she talks about each conversation and age-appropriate things to say for each one, ie for 0-5s, 6-11s and over 12s. (see these links: age appropriate things for conversation #1), for #2, #3, #4 and #5.

She concludes the book with these words:
If you practice the principles contained in these pages and lean on the Lord for wisdom, strength, and discernment, you will have provided your daughter with the tools to embrace God's truths and reject culture's lies. You can't force her to build her life on God's truths - she will have to make that decision on her own. ... God is not looking for perfect mothers to raise perfect daughters. He's looking for imperfect mothers who are raising imperfect daughters in an imperfect world, and desperately dependant on a perfect God for the results. (p257)

Well worth reading. Thanks to BP for the recommendation!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Mao's Last Dancer

Mao's Last Dancer, Li Cunxin

I read this last week, needing a book to give myself a break after a busy few weeks/months and knowing I needed something that wasn't too intense. This was a great choice.

I'm sure most of you already know the vague outline of the book. A young boy in rural China in the 1960s is given the chance be trained for the Chinese Ballet. He becomes one of the best in the country, and ends up defecting to the USA in the 1980s. He goes on to be one of the best ballet dancers in the world, marries an Australian and ends up in Australia with his family.

It is a fascinating insight into China under communism, especially in the 1960s-80s. As G's heritage is Chinese and therefore our children are Eurasian, I found it particularly interesting. His childhood and his devotion to his parents is wonderful to read, and even though I have no real knowledge or interest in ballet, but I loved the whole story.

I may even hire the DVD now!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Another nativity

Thanks to the recommendation from a friend, I found this great little book at Koorong, which makes a Christmas nativity scene, has the Christmas story and also has 12 pop-out Christmas cards.

We made it up to replace the toilet roll nativity, which was looking a little worse for wear.

Mr 6 especially liked being able to use the cards as the ones he wanted to send.




It looks pretty good, and the whole book only cost $5.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

How's your health?

I have had occasion to ponder my health this year, as I have followed the blogs of two others who are not in good health.

The first is Husband's cousin's son - a 4 year-old who has had leukaemia this year, he was diagnosed around February, has had a lot of chemo and a bone marrow transplant. While he is certainly still recovering, he is officially in remission, with this post put up by his father a few weeks ago:

To God be the glory
Great things He has done!
The bone marrow transplant
Has healed our dear son!
The latest results of his bone marrow be -
There's no more leukaemia in Jeremy!
Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD! ...


Another friend here in Adelaide has been recently diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. She is blogging through the experience too.


It certainly makes you put your own health in perspective.
  • when I survey my increasing grey hair, I thankful I have my hair and have not lost it due to chemotherapy;
  • when I ponder what to eat, I am thankful I have an appetite and a taste for food; and
  • when I am frustrated at the waiting time at the GP, I am thankful I am not looking at long hospital visits.

But mostly, I am thankful that each of these people and their families trust that God is good and that he cares for them, even in these hard times of bad health.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Girl talk

My summer reading kicks off with two books about mothers and daughters - reviewed today and next week.

Book review:
Girl talk: Mother-Daughter Conversations on Biblical Womanhood, Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Mahaney Whitacre

Another great book from the girltalk bloggers. Mother-daughter team Carolyn and Nicole have made a book for mothers and daughters to help them grow closer together and really talk about the issues that women face today and how to be godly women in all circumstances. Using the language of biblical womanhood, they explore all aspects of life and the challenges for women as they try to be different from secular society.
The wonderful results of building our relationships on the foundation of God's Word are joy, peace, fellowship, and fun that make the mother-daughter bond strong. Far from being a duty or obligation, the mother-daughter relationship can be one of the greatest blessings of our lives...

This must be the aspiration of all mothers and daughters: the successful transfer of the qualities of biblical womanhood that sparkle with the gospel. - so that in the midst of this me-centred, self-focused, ungodly language of our culture, we can speak the refreshingly pure, altogether true and saving message of Jesus Christ. (p26, 27)
They have divided the books into 2 parts, I'll briefly summarise what each of them cover

I) The Forging of the Mother-Daughter bond - that God made our family, so the mother/daughters we have are his choice for us; how to maintain communication; conflicts; for mothers - their faith, example, love & discipline; and for daughters - their honour and obedience.

II) Biblical Womanhood in the Real World - navigating the realities of life: friendships, guys, beauty, modesty, homemaking, reputation, courting and marriage.


This was a helpful book that has already made me start thinking about areas where I want to be pro-active with my daughters. They are only 2 & 4, but it's good to think about these in advance!

Here are some things I liked:

1) Her advice about teenage years when girls tend to move away from their mothers. She talks about actively being present in those years and not allowing daughters to move away and stop talking to their mothers, because really they do need encouragement, advice and help in these years, even if they don't think they do.
Biblical womanhood is transferred through our example, our speech, and by teaching these virtues in the nitty-gritty of everyday life.

This process requires a relationship. Clearly, for me to exert any meaningful influence in my daughters' lives, I must be close to them. I must be consistently, actively and intimately involved in their world. And while this is important at any stage it is absolutely crucial during the teenage years. (p42-43)
2) The chapter on communication - she had five principles: Godly mother-daughter communication starts with Mum*, happens all the time, is about the Word of God, is open and honest and is possible through the grace of God. I found this helpful thinking about all the things we talk about in a day, and making sure that I am open to conversation all the time (even when I often I like a little silence!)

3) Her suggestions for a mother to show her tender love for her daughter: pray, take an interest, listen closely, encourage, express affection and make memories (p77-79)

4) The way she thinks through teaching our daughters the practicalities of modest dress, passing on the ideas of true beauty, dating boys and then moving towards marriage.


The only thing that sat uncomfortably with me was the emphasis on teaching daughters to be homemakers. Now I agree that we should be teaching our daughters how to manage a home, including cooking, cleaning and washing. However:
  • we should also be equally teaching these skills to our sons, and
  • I struggled with her emphasis on making the home beautiful. I don't think we need to be teaching them how to home-decorate, but how to manage a home. This assessment may be a little harsh though, it just seemed like there was more attention here to some things that I would see as unimportant (eg. how to wrap presents, etc)

However, I suspect even my hesitation over this is my response to societal views that women should not have to be at home doing all these things, even though, I have chosen to be at home and do all these things! What I did like was her emphasis that we can teach our daughters that there can be real joy in managing a home and it does not have to be seen as drudgery. We can choose to see it as a privilege to care for a family and their needs, or view it as an imposition that we are the cook, cleaner, etc. As mothers, we will be passing on our attitudes to these things, whether we realise it or not.


It's a book worth reading for any Christian mother with daughters, especially those approaching or in the teenage years.



* Note - they use 'Mom' for all references, but because it is more natural for me and most of my readers to use 'Mum' I have changed to that.

Going the Distance - Chapter 7

This series was originally posted on In Tandem, a blog for ministry wives. 

Chapter 7: The pastor's family
The clergy family lives in the midst of a larger congregational family ... This can be good news or bad news, depending on the quality of the relationship between the two families. (Jack Balswick & Cameron Lee, quoted p99)
The balance between family life and ministry can be a difficult juggling act. Work pressures can push out relationships, and family can be left feeling isolated and alone. Some couples need to honestly assess their work in ministry and their marriage, and ensure that the marriage is not being ignored. Read this heartfelt quote from a minister:
I tried to explain my behaviour as immature zeal to serve God but this was yet another spiritual sounding defense, totally unacceptable. The real issue was whether I loved my work more than I love my wife. The ministry had clearly come between us. I had never imagined that a call could become a seduction that would destroy a marriage. Nor had I been aware of how subtly a ministry can give one an inflated view of one's own importance. (quoted on p1o3)
I'm sure all of us know of ministry marriages that have failed. I wonder how many of them are due to work pressures and the 'other woman' that is actually the job itself.

Brain suggests that a helpful theological mindset, which puts God at the centre, and everything else branching out from that can work to prevent the three pressures which attack healthy family life:
  • workaholism - the drifting into a life dominated by work. Ministers may claim they are 'doing God's work', but surely caring for their marriage and family is also 'God's work'
  • scapegoating - the tendency to misdirect frustrations from work into the ones we love and live with.
  • sublimation - the redirection of energy and time by the spouse (here we are talking about the minister's wife) into other things as a result - usually the children or work.

Throughout the chapter, Brain makes a number of suggestions:
  • Don't be a minister at home - the minister is a husband and father at home, before he is a minister. Our families should be treated as family, not as parishioners
  • Use 'time-outs' as priority times with family. These include meal times, days off and holidays. He makes some observations about whether or not you should be contactable and willing to return on holiday (in almost all cases, Brain says no - you are not indispensable)
  • Don't take each other for granted - talk about issues when they come up, be willing to listen to each other and your children. Give each other time together as a couple and as a family.
    • Don't break promises - take that day off, don't answer the phone, finish the sermon in enough time...

    • Spend time with your children - schedule it in your diary if needed. Do not expect too much of them as clergy kids, but remind them of the benefits of being a clergy kid.
    • Value your family immensely - they will be your family long after you have finished this job or finished your work of ministry.
    He also gives some helpful and biblical advice on how to handle regrets we may have in this area.


    Some things to think about:

    1. How is your family going at balancing both family life and ministry?
    2. What areas could you improve in?

    Next time: Chapter 8 - Sexual temptation in the ministry

    Saturday, December 12, 2009

    School holiday plans

    As we now face 6 weeks of school holidays, and as I like to have a plan - here is our plan:

    We have desingated these holidays the Alphabet Holidays. We are going to have every day (that we are home) given a letter of the alphabet.

    Today we started with "A day"

    We ate apples..


    and apricots:


    We wrote a list of people we know whose name starts with A, and also animals and place names that start with A.

    We got out the Alphabet foam letters.


    And, in my opinion, the piece de resistance, we made an Aquarium.


    We had lots of fun. Tomorrow should be "B day", but I think the consensus is that since we are already going to Church and Carols, we will swap it with "C Day"!

    I'll let you know how it goes over the holidays, probably not a blow by blow daily account though!

    Nativity

    Mr 6's class made these fantastic nativity pictures in the last week of school. They looked great.







    I was so impressed with them, and I think his teacher knew, because she offered them to me! She thought church could use them for something (which I have offered to the relevant people), but chances are they will end up hanging in our home for the Christmas season. I am even covering them in contact, so they last for a few years.

    Thursday, December 10, 2009

    Kids Craft Ideas - Christmas

    As we are now approaching school holidays with at least two weeks of holidays till Christmas, perhaps you would like some simple craft ideas.

    Here are two crafts we had fun making last year, which were very easy and fitted my craft preferences of no glue and no paint!

    The easiest by far were the paper-plate angels (a simple cut out and attached at the back with a staple).



    We also attempted a nativity scene with toilet roll people - the kids liked this one so much it still has pride of place this year! Again, very simple - a few staples, bits of fabric, rubber bands, some pop sticks and a texta.


    Joseph, Mary & Jesus


    The angels



    Shepherds (looking astonished) and a sheep.



    3 Wise Men.


    This year I am also saving toilet rolls, I am going to attempt bon-bons this year...

    Tuesday, December 8, 2009

    Christmas Books for Children

    We have a number of Christmas books that we enjoy reading this time of year, from the very simple baby and toddler ones, to the more detailed nativity stories.

    A very simple one for young ones (0-2) is Joy to the World: A Christmas Counting Book. Counting backwards 10-1 with verse, it covers a simplified story of the nativity (although it's not very accurate!)





    Again, for younger ones (0-4) is Twinkle Twinkle Christmas Star, by Christine Harder Tangvald. This lovely book uses the rhyme of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, but rewords it all to fit the Christmas story. A nice one to read and also to sing.







    A beautiful retelling of the nativity story is The Nativity, by Leena Lane and published by ABC books. It is surprisingly accurate, with lovely illustrations. Good for 3-5 year olds.






    Two other books, not Christian specifically, but about nativity plays themselves are:

    The Nativity Play, Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen. A story of a children's group putting on a nativity play and all the fun that ensues.








    Wombat Divine, Mem Fox. Told with Australian animals in the parts, a story about a wombat who wanted to be in the nativity play, but the right part could not be found for him.









    And none of them mention Santa!


    PS. We quite like Slinki Malinki's Christmas Crackers as well...



    Which Christmas books do your family like?

    Monday, December 7, 2009

    Summer plans

    This summer, my plan is to read & review all the relationship books I have lying around, including a number that you, dear readers, have recommended to me. These include:
    • books on marriage
    • books on intimacy in marriage
    • books on parenting
    • books about daughters
    • books about sons
    • maybe a few books about women, and
    • a lot more fiction!
    So, summer at musings is going to be 'people' book time. Then in February, we might kick off with a bit more bible and a bit more theology! I'll be people and relationshipped-out by then!

    Most of these books are listed in my planned reading list going down the right hand side over there -->

    Hopefully there will be something that will interest you.

    Going the Distance - Chapter 6

    This series was originally posted on In Tandem, a blog for ministry wives. 

    Chapter 6 - Anger: Using it constructively

    That's not a chapter heading you normally read! But, it's a helpful chapter.

    Brain points out why anger is a problem for ministers - 1) ministers (and Christians generally) are not meant to be angry and 2) ministry can be a source of much frustration (eg. expectations, community status or lack of, and the voluntary nature of church leadership can place large stresses on a minister).

    Interestingly Brain notes that Hart observed that pastors "are amongst the angriest group of people he works with" (p84). What I find interesting about this statement is a there is a companion to it I heard some years ago - that minister's wives are also one of the angriest groups of people around. They bear the same burdens as their minister husbands, and in addition, they bear the weight of people complaining to them about it. And, I think, as many of us would be willing to admit, women do (generally) take things a little more personally, so personal attack or criticism of our husbands makes us rise up like protective lionesses (same as we do with criticism of our children).

    Well then, anger can be a problem for everyone - so the question is, what to do about it?

    Brain suggests that anger needs to be understood, acknowledged and then dealt with. We must take care not to allow anger to be expressed in sinful ways (eg. Eph 4:31) - either in anger turned outwards (rage, slander) or turned inwards (malice, bitterness). He says the key here is also in Ephesians, 4:32 - 'Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.' So Brain notes that there are two things from this verse which can help us:
    - kindness and tenderheartedness will remind me to be self-controlled, so that I can understand why you too might be angry
    - God's forgiveness of me through Christ will alert me to the fact that, if you have wronged me, forgiveness, not anger, should be my response to you. (p87)
    Brain does make a distinction between anger as a feeling, and anger as behaviour:
    anger...is like an alarm signal that prompts us to make a choice as to how we will behave or respond. We need to have in place ways of knowing what the appropriate choice of behaviour is to be... Here is the place for self-control. To be able to identify and then think carefully about the reason for anger is essential. (p91)
    He goes on to show how forgiveness plays a key role here:
    "Forgiveness is surrendering my right to hurt you back if you hurt me." As such it "is the antidote to anger. There is no other satisfactory solution to our urge to take revenge." (quoting Hart, p93)
    Brain goes on to make some helpful comments about the realities of forgiveness, which are worth reading. He says that forgiveness is a choice, which has to be confirmed consistently - the idea of 'forgive and forget' is rarely helpful or possible. He suggests three attitudes and actions which are involved in forgiveness:
    - I will not raise the matter again
    - I will not tell others about it
    - I will not dwell on it myself (p95)
    I found these very helpful personally. With these guides in our minds, we are preventing from mentioning things again and again, and continually thinking about the issues that caused the original anger.

    He ends the chapter with some helpful comments on the benefits of anger. It teaches us to trust God, to realise we face situations under God rather than as God, we mature with the proper management of anger, and that we can use good management of anger as a witness to others. I know this to be true in parenting as well. My actions when angry speak volumes - and when I control it well and express it with self-control, my children also learn how to express their anger better.


    Some things to think about:

    1. Do you struggle with anger?
    2. How do you generally express your anger?
    3. What could you do better in managing your anger?
    4. Do you need to forgive anyone at the moment?

    Next Monday: Chapter 7 - The pastor's family

    Friday, December 4, 2009

    for women only (part 10) - conclusions

    for women only:
    what
    you need to know about the inner lives of men
    Shaunti Feldhahn

    Chapter 9 - Words For Your Heart
    What Your Man Most Wishes You Knew About Him

    At the end of the surveys, men were asked one open-ended question that they could answer however they wanted:
    What is the one thing that you wish your wife/significant other knew, but you feel you can't explain to her or tell her? (p179)
    The top answer (almost 2x as many as the next response):
    How much I love her.

    Here were some of the responses that men wrote:
    "How much I love here and appreciate her."

    "How much I truly do care for and love her and the kids."

    "How much she means to me."

    "I have a wonderful relationship with my wife and we communicate well, I wouldn't change a thing."

    "I love here and only her. It doesn't matter that our relationship isn't perfect - my love for her is so deep than nothing could break it."

    "That I will love her no matter what."

    "That she truly is the light of my life."

    One man concluded:
    "It is so true, that behind every great man is a great woman," he said. "There are a lot of men out there who are mediocre, simply because their wives will not support them and bring them to greatness. And there are a lot of mediocre men who are destined to become great men - who are are becoming great men - because their wives love and support them." (p183-4)

    So, be encouraged wives - and encourage your husbands!


    Hope you enjoyed this series - or it at least provided some thinking material!!

    Wednesday, December 2, 2009

    Comment on visual images

    In case there are other men out there reading along in the for women only series, 'anonymous' has left a comment on the post on visual images. You may want to have a look and interact with what he has said.

    for women only (part 9) - how you look

    for women only:
    what
    you need to know about the inner lives of men
    Shaunti Feldhahn

    Chapter 8 - The truth about the way you look
    Why What's on the Outside Matters to Him on the Inside*

    Very wisely, Feldhahn starts this chapter suggesting that we (women) pray before we read it, because we may struggle with what it says. And this is the point where I wonder if I have bitten off more than I can chew!

    She opens with this statement:

    The effort you put into your appearance is extremely high on his priority list. Yet the chances that you know his true feelings are extremely low. (p156)

    Some things she clearly states:
    • we need to recognise and celebrate our bodies given to us by God with our individual appearance, she is not taking about fitting into a standard of beauty defined by the media;
    • most men actually wished their partners weren't so oversensitive about their bodies; and
    • the issue was not about the size or shape you are, but about the effort you make.

    So, why does it matter to our men?
    • "When you take care of yourself, I feel loved" - when we bother to make an effort, they feel cared for by us.
    • "When you don't take care of yourself, I feel unvalued and unhappy" - this also related to how we might, as a result of not looking after ourselves, be unwilling to play together (romantically), see part 8 - unwilling to go for that walk, or swim together.
    • "When you take care of yourself, your expectation that 'I only have eyes for you' feels fairer (and easier to accomplish)
    • "I want (and need) to feel proud of you" - because you bother and care
    Here, Feldhahn stops and says: do not ask your husband about this! The reason is, chances are, we are all sensitive in this area, and they either don't want to hurt our feelings or they have tried to talk about it before, and don't want the pain of that again. She says instead, take her general rule instead:

    If you are not realistically happy with your overall appearance and fitness level, assume he's not either. (p171)

    Do you know what though? I completely ignored her advice and went straight to Husband on this one! I wanted to hear it straight from him. I found his comments really helpful. Can I suggest though, if this is a particularly sensitive topic for you, and it is for many women, don't ask your husband what he wants, ask yourself if you want to and need to change your level of fitness or effort. My guess is you know the answer honestly yourself, without having to ask him.


    She concludes with some good news:
    • He wants to help you - almost all men interviewed would help in almost any way to help you out - with time, money, etc.
    • There's a lot of resources to help you these days - with lots of good eating and health advice out there
    • God will help you in your desire to have a 'healthy temple' - I was less convinced by this argument biblically!

    I realise, this may have been an uncomfortable chapter for you. Before you do anything, make sure you have a realistic and healthy view of your own body and appearance. And, I suggest you think about it from the perspective of health, rather than appearance.


    Some things to think about:


    For men:
    • Do you agree with this chapter?
    • Do you feel able to discuss this with your wife?
    • If this is an issue for you, concentrate on the things you love about your wife and tell her what they are.
    For women:
    • How do you feel reading this chapter? Are you angry, frustrated, defeated? Remember that you are made by God in his image, and that he (and your husband) love you very much.
    • Have you let the busyness of life prevent you being able to take time to stay healthy? Do you want to change anything so that you can be healthier?

    Next time: Part 10 - conclusions (& words of great encouragement!)


    * these are her titles and subtitles - not mine!

    Monday, November 30, 2009

    for women only (part 8) - romance

    for women only:
    what
    you need to know about the inner lives of men
    Shaunti Feldhahn

    Chapter 7 - Chocolate, Flowers, Bait Fishing
    Why the Reluctant Clod You Know Really Does Want Romance*

    I found this chapter a little less illuminating - or perhaps not so surprising. She found that men want romance however, they have some hesitations about making a move in that direction:

    1. "I won't do a very good job" - the risks of humiliation
    2. Haunted by romantic failure - or being unable to top the last success
    3. It's difficult to change gears from job and responsibility to romance

    Then she explored how there is or can be a difference in definition of romance between men and women, because

    1. Playing together is romantic for many men - so that game of golf or bushwalk he suggests may be his idea of romance.
    2. Romance without sex may not feel complete - it's viewed as all part of the experience.

    So, our response?
    1. Encourage - all efforts at romance, and go along with suggestions to play together
    2. Entice him - make him want to pursue you romantically
    3. Drop hints, let you know what you would like and find romantic
    4. Keep him number one - this includes #1 over the kids, give him time too.


    Personally, one thing I did find enlightening in this chapter was the idea that for some men, playing together is romantic. I realised that when Husband would ask if I wanted to go for a bushwalk, or come with him on the golf course, these are things he thought were romantic. I am much keener now to say 'yes' to these suggestions!


    Some things to think about:


    For men:

    • What types of things do you find romantic - candlelit dinner or outdoor activities? Or something else? Have you told you wife?
    • Are you afraid to organise romantic events, for fear of failure? Chances are, your wife would love it if you tried.

    For women:
    • Can you identify the things your husband finds romantic?
    • Are you enabling him to do those things?


    Next time: Part 9 - how we look



    * these are her titles and subtitles - not mine!

    Going the Distance - Chapter 5

    This series was originally posted on In Tandem, a blog for ministry wives. 

    Chapter 5: Depression doesn't have to be depressing

    This is an interesting chapter. Brain makes a distinction between exogenous depression (depression that is reactive to a loss) and endogenous depression (which is biological). He does not attempt to deal with endogenous depression (which is often treated with medication), instead pointing people to other resources. Instead, he deals with exogenous depression - the more common depression experienced by many people, often. A simple (yet hard to absolutely define) difference may be the feeling of depression, rather than actually having depression.

    It is important to see this distinction and understand it, for otherwise some of his suggestions seem inappropriate and a little superficial. However, as he is dealing with the more usual 'downs' of life, this chapter is a helpful one.

    He states that depression, is
    a part of our body's 'early warning system', alerting us to the fact that something is wrong and needs to be dealt with. We may need to slow down, seek medical treatment, turn to God in repentance or allow the grieving process to take its course. Depression may be an agent used by God for our sanity (where depression is a response to loss), or our sanctification (if there is an sinful act or attitude involved). For every loss situation there is an appropriate amount of depression. (p70)
    I wondered whether I agreed with his definition - that depression is the reaction to a loss. When we discussed this a little more, we wondered whether it could be more broadly defined as the reaction to change.

    Brain goes on to talk about how the truth of God and the gospel inform us and prepare us for these times:
    the learning of contentment and trust in God's sovereignty and faithfulness can help us face loss when it comes, whether through happy or unhappy, expected or unexpected, circumstances. None of this is meant for a moment to downplay the loss of people or things in our lives, but in so far as we are detached from them as reasons for living, and attached to our Lord, we will be better able to face their loss and move through the resultant grieving process. (p73)
    I think my husband is good at this. When something happens that could cause disappointment, he is able to separate himself from it. Not to say he doesn't care (he certainly does), but he is able to discern when he is responsible, or when things are best left to God or others. He knows that God alone can change people and they are responsible before God. On the other hand, I need to work at this a little more, and not take things as personally as I tend to.

    This chapter then gets a little more practical - addressing some issues of self-care that may help, helpful tips in listening to those who are depressed and a reminder of the truths of God that can help Christians who are depressed.


    If you would like another place to go to think a little more about depression as a Christian, read Paul Grimmond's article in the August 09 Briefing here.


    Some things to think about:

    1. What losses or changes have you experienced that have caused you to feel depressed?
    2. Do you have someone with whom you can share about the hard times and disappointments in ministry, as well as the highs? Do you actually do so?
    3. Where/to whom would you turn if you thought you were clinically depressed and needed professional help?

    Next Monday: Chapter 6 - Anger: Using it Constructively

    Tuesday, November 24, 2009

    Advent

    Well, here we are again - Christmas is coming up fast and so we need to start our advent calendar next week. Some longer term readers may recall what we have done in previous years.

    We want to teach the kids that Jesus is the reason we celebrate Christmas, and to use every chance we have to do so. We have found that 25 readings/activities in December have been a great way to teach about Jesus as well as making it exciting to do so.

    We started out having a cardboard Christmas tree with numbers attached to it, which each had a verse on the back, which matched up with the special verses in the Advent Tree material in Disciplines of a Godly Family, by Kent and Barbara Hughes. You can see pictures and details in this post.

    Last year, I got more detailed with little numbered boxes each containing a bible verse and a special treat, still using a form of the Advent Tree, although quite edited by me. More photos & details are here.

    Fast forward to this year!
    • We are still going with the boxes - they were a big hit last year - and they can fit enough in them (but not too much!)
    • I have written my own material this year - for the last three years we have done a biblical theology of Christmas, a 'Genesis to Jesus' if you will (as mentioned above). This year, we are focusing on the events around the birth of Jesus. We have 25 readings mainly from Luke and Matthew's gospels, so we can really spend time thinking about when Jesus was born and what it means for us today. Each day there is a bible reading, some questions to think about, a special verse and some optional extras - something to draw, a song to listen to, a craft to do, etc.
    • In each box there is a verse for each of our 3 children. The verse in full is written out for Mr 6 (a confident reader), then a simplified version for Miss 4 which she should be able to remember bits of, and the same for Miss 2 - she will remember nothing, but we have to include her!).
    • They will also get a special treat each day, which will be a selection of little trinkets I got from Koorong (bouncy balls, erasers, stickers, etc), bubbles, Christmas decorations and some candy/chocolate. I do this to make it FUN. We want Christmas to be fun and learning about Jesus to be fun too.

    Now I am really looking forward to December 1!

    Monday, November 23, 2009

    Going the Distance - Chapter 4

    This series was originally posted on In Tandem, a blog for ministry wives. 

    Chapter 4: Stress and adrenalin: understanding your body clockIn this chapter, Brain looks at stress and how we respond to it. He says:

    Stress cannot be avoided in life and ministry. There will always be emergencies to attend to, difficult circumstances and people that need attention, regular deadlines to meet, plus our own expectations driving us.

    What is important is our response to stress, and the way we manage our lives so as to avoid unnecessary stress. (p53)
    He goes on to detail some of the body's natural responses to stress. It is helpful how he points out again that stress cannot be avoided, nor should it be:
    Life is to be lived - and lived to the fullest. Being highly motivated to accomplish some task and able to work with enthusiasm is a great blessing. (quoting Hart, p57)
    However, he does warn of the toll of long-term stress, with no release, using the words of Arch Hart:
    Both roads - stress and burnout - lead ultimately to depression. The depression that comes from stress is due to the exhaustion of the adrenal system. On the other hand, the depression that comes from burnout is the loss of your vision, of your ideals. (p58)
    Hart goes on to outline the 4 danger areas for a minister, when under ill-managed stress:

    1. Arrogance - "I can do it myself"
    2. Addiction - excited and addicted to own work
    3. Aloneness - cuts off from other people, here depression can set in
    4. Adultery - turns to sex to fulfill his needs

    So what to do??

    Brain gives a number of suggestions, which include:
    - manage your diary well
    - build in time for friends
    - remember that God is in control - not us!
    - plan ahead (similar to a well managed diary)
    - watch your use of artificial stimulants - caffeine, etc.
    A factor in all of it, one that I really have learned is that we work better when relaxed rather than stressed. Some will disagree with this claiming "I work better with a deadline", but research is suggesting that people are most creative and innovative when relaxed.

    I have certainly found this to be true for myself. Earlier this year I had a number of talks to give. On days when I only had a little time to work on them, and I was trying to squeeze in a moment here and there with kids around, I got almost nothing done. But on quiet days, when I had time to think and no urgency - I was able to think clearly and productively. It made me decide not to even try to work on them on higher stress days and leave my time for the quieter days, for I knew I could get more done that way.

    **

    Some things we thought through as we read this chapter were:

    1. It is useful to think about how your body physically copes with stress. I have realised recently that my response is tiredness, I just need to sleep. This has been good to identify, so that I can realise when body is saying "enough!"

    2. Similarly, for those of us supporting husbands in ministry - we want to learn what their signals are. Some signs people have told me about include:
    - a lower level of patience with children
    - the need for a break, some time-out
    - forgetfulness - when she notices coffee cups in odd places and glasses left at home, she knows he is stressed
    - more likely to get sick

    3. Be aware of times of high-stress. In our little prayer group, Term 3 for our husbands is a big one. It starts with Mid Year Conference (MYC), and the energy needs to be maintained through to Jesus Week (Mission Week) 4 weeks later and then through to the end of the term. After watching the pattern for 5 years, I have realised that I need to be prepared for Term 3 to be busy and to make home a relaxing place, rather than another source of stress. So, the lawns are unlikely to be mown for some time, but that doesn't really matter!

    4. Try to factor in some 'down time' after times of high-stress. My husband likes to go out for dinner, just to chat, in the days after MYC, to catch up and have a breather.

    5. I wonder whether it is pointless to try to relax prior to a high-stress event? We used to take holidays in November, but I always felt a shadow hanging over me as  my husband would leave a few days after to be away for 2 weeks. I felt the anxiety knowing I was to be parenting alone for 2 weeks, and was less relaxed on holiday. We learnt not to take holidays before he went away, but rather afterwards. Similarly there is no point him trying to take holidays in the weeks before he is speaking at MYC, there is just too much on his mind.


    Some things to think about:

    1. How do you respond to stress?
    2. How does your husband respond to stress?
    3. Have you talked about this together so you can help each other identify those times?
    4. Do you factor in 'down times' after high-stress times? And what would you like to do in those times?


    Next Monday: Chapter 5 - Depression doesn't have to be depressing

    Friday, November 20, 2009

    for women only (part 7) - visual images

    for women only:
    what
    you need to know about the inner lives of men
    Shaunti Feldhahn

    Chapter 6 - Keeper of the Visual Rolodex
    Why It's So natural for Him to Look and So Hard to Forget What He's Seen*

    This is a fascinating chapter, and one which for many women will be a little bewildering, as well as a bit concerning. Feldhahn explains the moment when the truth of 'men are visual' clicked for both her and her husband:
    Jeff: "Maybe we just use different language to describe it. For example, think of a movie star you find physically attractive - Tom Cruise, say. After we've seen one of his movies, how many times will that attractive image rise up in your mind the next day?"
    Me: "Never."
    Jeff: "I must not be explaining myself correctly, I mean how may times will a thought of what he looked like with his shirt off just sort of pop up in your head?"
    Me: "Never."
    Jeff: "Never - as in never?"
    Me:
    "Zero times. It just doesn't happen."
    Jeff: (After a long pause). "Wow" (p117)
    What she found was:
    Even happily married men are instinctively pulled to visually consume attractive women, and these images can be just as alluring whether they are live or recollected. (p111)
    I'm not going to include too much detail about the whole chapter, but will summarise a few things she said. Firstly the progression of male response:

    Step 1: For every man, sensual images and thoughts arrive involuntarily
    Step 2: Even man's involuntary physical impulse is the enjoy the feelings associated with these thoughts and images
    Step 3: But every man can make a choice - to dwell on the images and thoughts, or to dismiss them.

    Then she gives reassurances (for wives):
    #1 - His temptation is often not primarily sexual - it can just be admiring beauty
    #2 - Every man is different - some really struggle with this, others do not
    #3 - It's not because of you
    #4 - This doesn't impact his feelings for you

    So what should wives do?
    • Pray for him & and us - to protect our own hearts from anger or hopelessness and to protect our husbands from the sex culture around us
    • Check our own hearts - are we wiling to support them in their temptations and struggles rather than freak out about them?
    • Determine your involvement level - we can be supportive but sometimes men should be sharing these struggles with other men. Also, some wives cannot cope with hearing these types of details - in that case, we should show we are willing to be supportive, but would prefer they sought help from a male friend.
    • Become a support - try to have openness and honesty in your marriage - the ability to share struggles in this area in a way that is supportive and helpful rather than accusatory or blaming.
    • Champion modesty in yourself and others - the images men have of women came from somewhere and they are other women. Make sure you are not unwittingly becoming an unwanted visual image for a man other than your husband.

    Some things to think about:

    For men:
    • How strongly are you affected by visual images?
    • Do you need more accountability measures in your own life to help you control your temptations in this area? Can you seek out a trusted male friend for help and support?
    • Are you able to talk with your wife about whether you struggle with visual images?

    For women:
    • Does this chapter surprise you or upset you? Why?
    • Are you willing to talk with your husband about whether this issue is one he struggles with?
    • How can you support your husband and help him to avoid temptation?
    • Do you need to think about your own modesty and encourage others (eg. your daughters) to do the same?

    Next time: Part 8 - romance


    * these are her titles and subtitles - not mine!

    Monday, November 16, 2009

    Going the Distance - Chapter 3

    This series was originally posted on In Tandem, a blog for ministry wives. 

    Chapter 3: Stress and the demands of ministry: learning to say no
    It becomes clear when reading this book that Brain is aiming it at a certain type of person, many of whom I suspect he has come across - the ministers who struggle under the weight of their jobs and who struggle to say no.

    This chapter is designed for them. Whether or not you are in ministry, if assessing the wisdom of and deciding whether to comply with various requests is an issue for you, this chapter will be helpful.

    Brain starts with a strategy of how to deal with demands on our time:
    1. Articulating priorities
    2. Being assertive
    3. No's give value to yes's

    He then goes into a little more detail of how to say no:
    - clarify the request - make sure we really understand what is being asked
    - assess the reasonableness of the request
    - you don't have to give an extended reason why you are saying no
    - confidence in our status before God - it is not based on how much work we do, but on what Jesus Christ has done for us in the cross.

    In setting the scene for this chapter, Brain quotes a saying which we should heed - and which can be either positive or negative:
    If you sow a thought you reap an act
    If you sow a act you reap a habit
    If you sow a habit you reap a character
    If you sow a character you reap a destiny (p42)
    I liked this, it reminded me that we do need to be aware of our thought-processes, because over time they influence who we are.
    He is obviously aware of the dangers that surround the over-worked and under-supported minister. One of the things our trio felt as we read through this book was how it was really aimed at ministers who are running churches on their own - the 'one-man band' as it were. I know this is the reality of many ministers around the country and the world, but he hardly ever addresses any of these issues in the context of a team ministry.

    In our group of wives, my husband is 'the senior staff' (for want of a better term!), one other is a senior trained male, but in his first year out of study; and the other is a trainee. Therefore, the way each of them are responsible for their own time differs greatly.  My husband is more in control of his time. The other 'senior staff' member manages most of his own time, but with some guidance from my husband (eg. he sets the preaching program), and the trainee's time is more planned for him by others. So, there are complications - each 'minister' is not solely responsible for assessing and planning their own priorities. This is where Brain could have included more ideas of how to work in a team - how would (for example) the trainee approach the senior minister when he felt overwhelmed by the things he was required to do? Hopefully easily, as his boss would be kind, understanding and helpful - but we all know that is not always the case!

    I found this chapter helpful personally as I do really struggle to say no to things. If I am asked to do something, I want to do it - and often for the wrong reasons, some of which Brain outlined. Sometimes I like being asked to do things, if makes me feel needed, or makes me feel like I am good at something or that I am useful in that area. Also, I feel the pull of real needs - when there truly is a need and I feel like I could help out, I struggle not to offer my assistance, even when it would be a bad idea for me personally or for our family.

    Not surprisingly, again in this chapter my mind turned to the balance of time required in various stages of parenting. We still have young children at home, so I have little time and the time I do have I want to use well. Each year we sit down and consider what I could be involved in, besides caring for the family and running the home.

    Some years it has felt like very little - but that is because life at home is very busy. Some years I did way too much, especially years with newborn babies. This year has seemed good so far. I took on more, some bible studies and talks, and we all managed well. However, we are always re-assessing what I do, and there are many more things I would like to be doing.

    I find my husband very helpful in this regard. He is good at assessing needs and requests, and is able to say no when required. I really respect him for it, and he is the one who helps me assess what I can realistically do and what I can't. And he has already started warning me about what is going to happen in 3 years when my 'baby' goes to school and I want to do everything! Must keep praying for wisdom!


    Some things to think about:
    1. Do you struggle to say 'no' to things? What types of things?
    2. If you find it hard to say 'no', why do you think that is so?
    3. How do you assess what to say 'yes' to and what to say 'no' to?
    4. Do you need to re-assess the amount of things you are doing at the moment? Are you at risk of burnout?

    Next Monday: Chapter 4 - Stress and Adrenaline: understanding your body clock

    Saturday, November 14, 2009

    Religion Saves - part 1 of 2

    I have been listening to a series of talks recently - Religion Saves and 9 other misconceptions, by Mark Driscoll from Mars Hill, Seattle. I know there are some major fans of Driscoll out there, however this has been the first time I have heard any of his sermons. I have found them thought provoking and generally quite helpful.

    He addresses 9 major questions, which were determined from online surveys and responses. Each sermons deals with one issue. I am not going to go through them in depth (mainly because I did not take detailed notes, as they were my exercise listening material!), but I will just give a summary of each, to see if you might also be interested in listening to them.

    I know that Driscoll uses humour somewhat harshly, and can be quite overt in his preaching style and therefore sometimes he can offend. However, even so, I find his exegesis is usually pretty good and when it is appropriate to be serious, he certainly is.

    Talk 1: Birth Control - I found this talk extremely helpful. He started by outlining ~16 principles of family, life and children from the bible. Then he scaled the types of birth control from 1 (nothing) to 5 (abortion and abortive methods). I found it well balanced, educational and biblical. I have written about contraception before, and this helped me to think again about the issues - how we should view pregnancy and life and the contraceptive methods which are appropriate, inappropriate and which are grey areas which mean that you need to be well informed.

    Talk 2: Humour - This one appealed to me less, and in this one I thought his exegesis was questionable in several areas. (eg. Jesus named Peter 'Rock' like 'Rocky' making fun of him, because he was so weak, and unlike a rock. I disagree, for while Peter struggled to even own Jesus during his trial, the resurrection transformed him and in Acts, Peter is instrumental in the early church). He seemed to be trying to find jokes in the bible to suit his purpose. Now, I fully agree that there is humour, satire and irony in the bible and that Jesus used irony often in his parables and stories about the Pharisees. However, it doesn't seem to be to 'get a laugh' but to point out the sad misconceptions and mis-interpretations that 'religious people' had.

    He does say that we should never mock God, never mock those who are godly and never mock our spouses, children or mothers. Those who were most open, in his opinion, to mocking were ourselves, which is very true - we should not take ourselves too seriously, and also religious people, who take themselves too seriously.

    I didn't like the use of 'mock'. Mocking seems to imply an unkind element. The whole sermon, while having some very good points still sat a little uncomfortably with me. It seemed like the whole thing was designed to justify his own stance and the way he preaches. Having said that though, he earnestly apologised for anyone who he may have offended or sinned against, while at the same time urging them to honestly think about why they were offended (ie. was he right and therefore it was too personal?)

    Talk 3: Predestination - started with the history of various views including Augustine, Calvin and Arminius. This helped to set up where he stands on this issue - Jesus died for all to be saved, and God saves those he has elected. I found this talk informative and helpful. He uses an extremely powerful illustration at the end to show how predestination is the act of a loving Father. It did not answer all questions someone would have about predestination, but really could anyone? He only touched on the impact this doctrine can have on our view of evangelism, but helpfully used Paul as an illustration - eg. he firmly believed in predestination, having seen it in action in his own life, and he was a committed evangelist.

    Talk 4: Grace - this was great. Contrasting with a few of the previous talks, where he shouted a lot, this one was very gentle and therefore much easier to listen to. He talked about both common grace (the grace God shows to all humanity) and saving grace (the grace which believers experience). He had about 15 types of saving grace that God bestows on his believers, including electing grace, sanctifying grace, transforming grace and preached grace. I liked this one.

    Talk 5 - Sex (sexual immorality). This sermon even started with a warning about its explicit nature! He starts by talking about how much sex has saturated society, to the point where sex is like a major religion, with its own adherents. It is idolatry which has taken over much of the world. Most of his application was related to how sex is idolatry, and we need to worshipping God and him alone, rather than any idol that the world offers. (I did disagree with his exegesis of the 'gift of singleness' in this talk)

    One point that was excellent was that, for those who are married, our standard of beauty should be our spouse and nothing else. So when your wife is 20, that is your standard of beauty. When your wife is 40, that is your standard of beauty, as it is when she is 60 and 80, etc. Obviously the same applies in reverse and the way my husband looks now is my standard of beauty/handsomeness.


    I'll get to the other 4 in the next few weeks, once I have listened to them!

    I just discovered that Driscoll has recently turned this sermon series into a book, which I saw on the Koorong website.

    Friday, November 13, 2009

    Persistence

    I read this post from the Desiring God blog today, and found it helpful:

    Did you wake up not feeling like reading your Bible and praying? How many times today have you had to battle not feeling like doing things you know would be good for you?

    While it’s true that this is our indwelling sin that we must repent of and fight against, there’s more going on.

    Think about this strange pattern that occurs over and over in just about every area of life:

    • Good food requires discipline to prepare and eat while junk food tends to be the most tasty, addictive, and convenient.
    • Keeping the body healthy and strong requires frequent deliberate discomfort while it only takes constant comfort to go to pot.
    • You have to make yourself pick up that nourishing theological book while watching a movie can feel so inviting.
    • You frequently have to force yourself to get to devotions and prayer while sleeping, reading the sports, and checking Facebook seems effortless...

    You can read the rest here.

    for women only (part 6) - sex

    for women only:
    what
    you need to know about the inner lives of men
    Shaunti Feldhahn

    Chapter 5 - Sex Changes Everything
    Why Sex Unlocks a Man's Emotions (Guess Who Holds the Key?)*

    Some of you are thinking - now we get to the real stuff! Well, here it is:
    • men want to be wanted
    For your husband, sex is more than just a physical need. Lack of sex is as emotionally serious to him as, say, his sudden silence, would be to you, were he simply to stop communicating with you. It is just as wounding to him, just as much a legitimate grievance - and just as dangerous to your marriage. (p92)
    There is a lot in this chapter that is worth reading, but I'll try to be brief:

    She outlines two benefits of a fulfilling sex life:
    1. Fulfilling, regular sex makes him feel loved and desired
    2. Fulfilling sex gives him confidence
    And in contrast, the responses to an unfulfilling sex life are:
    • "If she doesn't want to, I feel incredible rejection"
    Although we might just be saying that we don't want sex at that point in time, he hears the much more painful message that we don't want him. (p100)
    • Your lack of desire can send him into a lack of confidence, withdrawal and/or depression.

    So, ladies, what are we to do? The simple answer is - desire your husband as he desires you, or start trying to. Feldhahn gives the following pointers:
    • Choose to love him the way he needs
    you've probably been viewing his sexual need as mostly physical - important, yes, but probably also optional... But once you realise...he is saying "This is essential to my feeling of being loved and desired by you, and is critical to counteract my stress, my fears and my loneliness ... If at all possible, respond to his advances with your full emotional involvement (p102-3)
    • Get involved... and have more fun too. Your husband wants you to be interested, involved, and to occasionally make the first move. A quote from another man,
    The woman needs to play an active role in the sex life. She needs to tell her mate what she needs, wants, and feels. Passive wife = boring life. (p104)
    • Get help if you need it - there can be reasons, medical and otherwise, why sex is a problem for a couple. Seek help and keep trying to seek help until you get satisfactory answers and hopefully, solutions.
    • Make sex a priority (or at least a higher priority than you currently do)- sometimes when we stop and look at the things we do in a day, we do all the things that matter to us (or even just what we think we should be doing - cooking, cleaning, caring for the kids, etc). It is possible that the thing our husband wants most, we view as just another demand on our time. I could almost guarantee that most husbands would be delighted with a sandwich or take-away pizza for dinner if they knew it meant that we had more time and energy to spend with them in the bedroom! Sometimes, it's also worth reminding ourselves that we usually enjoy it, once we make the effort (and, as I said above, if you don't - please seek professional help).
    • Try to listen to his signals. Your husband may have been sending you signals that he would like things to change - he may have hinted, talked about it directly, or become withdrawn and no longer suggest anything at all (in a mode of self-protection). Perhaps it's time to have an open and honest discussion about how you both feel about it and a way forward for you both.


    Some things to think about:

    For men:
    • Do you agree with what Feldhahn is saying in this chapter?
    • Are you willing to raise the issue with your wife?

    For women:
    • Do you consider yourself 'a willing participant' in the bedroom?
    • What signals do you think you are sending your husband when you are disinterested in sex? Have you asked him what he thinks?


    More reading:
    • 365 Nights, by Charla Muller. I reviewed it earlier this year here.
    • Feminine Appeal, by Carolyn Mahaney has a helpful chapter on both The Delight of Loving my Husband (more about our attitudes) and The Pleasure of Purity (about sex within marriage). I am planning to review this book later this year. Both Nicole and Jean have written about it previously.

    Next time: Part 7 - visual images


    * these are her titles and subtitles - not mine!

    *** PLEASE NOTE: if you are reading this and I have had a conversation with you about this topic, please do not assume I was thinking about you when I wrote this post. I have talked about this topic with a number of people, always completely confidentially. ***

    And, if you want to comment on this post, but prefer not to leave your name - that's OK too!