Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Events

Joseph and his conscience
Our church for several years now has held a huge Christmas event for families called Christmas Steps.  I wrote about it 3 years ago. It is a great event with a huge effort put in by many volunteers. It is based around a tour of the Christmas story in scenes, this year had: Mary travelling, Joseph relating Mary’s pregnancy news, the shepherds hearing from the angels, the baby and his parents in the stable and then the wise men travelling along. It is performed with acting skits and popular music changed to fit the purpose. It is very well done, always entertaining for both children and adults and tells the first Christmas while also explaining the significance of it.
The angel Gabriel & the heavenly host

To complement it there are various activities to do around the church grounds – crafts, face painting, petting zoo and food stalls etc. The entire event is free (with the exception of food purchased), and as you can probably imagine a huge team is need to put it on, around 80 people. God is indeed very kind, and this year 472 people registered for a tour, of whom 281 were visitors (not church members). The people we have invited over the years have always been amazed at the scale of the event, the quality of the tour and and the fact it is all free.


The yard full of activities
Fun face painting


That was last weekend’s major church event.

This weekend was carols – four services over two days held in the church, with wonderful singing and a clear presentation of the gospel.

Great singing led by marvellous voices

The church was dark and lit with fairy lights, it looked great.
Praise God for the creativity and energy of many of his faithful saints.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Down Under

Feeling like some light relief on holidays recently, we took along Bill Bryson’s Down Under. We read it years ago and both enjoyed it, and it did not disappoint the second time around.  In fact, because on our recent long service leave we travelled to many of the areas he also travelled to, we could more easily understand and appreciate his observations and anecdotes.

Bryson’s travel books are funny.  Generally laugh out loud funny. When reading a book that assesses your own country and culture you can get offended or suspect the author hasn’t really done their research.  However, I found Bryson’s assessment of many Australian attributes were accurate, if generalised. From the ‘we don’t care what you think of us’ attitude of NT hotel staff, to the bemused way people in Canberra drive in circles, to the unwillingness of most Australians to face problems in our indigenous population, Bryson hits the nail on the head again and again.

Both my husband and I would be laughing aloud reading, and when we let our 11 year old son read it too, he was the same. He didn’t get all of it, but he appreciated most of the humour.  Perhaps I’ll pick up some others of his for some summer reading.


(I also really enjoyed his Short History of Nearly Everything a few years ago as well as At Home.)

Monday, December 8, 2014

Far from the Tree

Far from the Tree, Andrew Solomon

It has taken me a few months to get through this massive book, but boy was it worth it. This is a long review, but considering the length of the book, necessary.

Andrew Solomon has taken 10 years to write this study of parents, children and identity. Based around the idea that most parents have and expect to have children who are like them; those for whom the saying applies - “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. Solomon has researched families where the children are different from their parents, and as such their identity does not always come through the vertical lines of genetics and family but through horizontal lines of similar experience.

Solomon takes 10 identities, illnesses or life conditions and thoroughly investigates each.  The ten he has chosen are: deafness, dwarfs, Down’s Syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, disability (predominantly multiple severe disability), prodigies, children of rape, crime, and transgender.  He makes it clear in the introduction there are others he could have chosen, but these were the ten he went with.  He is also open about the fact that not all members of each group were happy about the inclusion of other groups alongside their own.

Each chapter has is a clear discussion of science, genetics and medicine about the condition where appropriate. Woven throughout is the real power of the book - personal stories. He spent hours and hours of time with people living lives with illness and challenging conditions. Throughout too is included his own personal experience of being both dyslexic and gay. He has experienced being different from his parents and while being completed loved and cared for, felt the reality that he was not always was they would have wished for.

The book achieves a number of goals:
  • It opens our eyes to the varying life situations around us, without which society would be much less compassionate, aware and understanding.
  • It investigates the relationship between parent and child and the bond that can form through both joys and struggles; and that most parents will rise to any challenge thrown at them.
  • It looks at the differences between a condition being classified as an illness or an identity, and shows how both impact our perspective of someone’s quality of life.
  • It looks at disability mostly positively and challenges the current medical view that all such disabilities should be screened out.
It is an incredibly powerful book and anyone who reads it will gain great benefit. For those for whom these life experiences resonate, you will find a voice of compassion, understanding and many others who also live similarly. For those who do not, it opens our eyes to the lives of those around us, for whom life is often harder, yet at the same time can be richer and produce more love and compassion than we think possible.

Some of the comments that resonated with me:
“Though many of us take pride in how different we are from our parents, we are endlessly sad at how different our children are from us.” (p2)

“All kinds of attributes make one less able. Illiteracy and poverty and disabilities, and so are stupidity, obesity and boringness. Extreme age and extreme youth are both disabilities. Faith is a disability insofar as it shields you from self-interest; atheism is a disability, too, for it shields you from hope.” (p33)

“Family inflicts the deepest wounds, then salves them the most tenderly” (p46)

“This book’s conundrum is that most of the families have ended up grateful for the experiences they would have done anything to avoid” (p47)

Looking at a book this large (955 pages), it is a solid read which takes some commitment and my paperback version has suffered under the weight! However, ignoring notes and references you are down to 700 pages. If you are unsure even about that - read the first chapter “Son”. I took down more quotes on this chapter alone that the rest of the book. Or you could also see if you can find an online interview with Solomon, I heard him on an ABC conversation.

It is written from an atheistic perspective. There will be large amounts of it you will disagree with from a Christian point of view. Not surprisingly in a book dealing with such issues, the question of abortion comes up throughout. He is clearly pro the right to choose - that is the right to choose to not keep a baby and the right to choose to keep a baby, whatever the diagnosis. Again and again, interviewed parents say that they were glad they never had the choice, for they would have aborted and now realise what their lives would have lacked had they done so. There is an increased poignancy to this repeated statement.

However, the call to love our neighbour as ourselves has never been presented more strongly for me in a non-Christian work, whether it is our co-worker who struggles with schizophrenia or the parent caring for a child with disability or the friend who struggles with transgender issues.

Even more than that for those of us in pastoral ministry, there are parents and children living with these issues or variants of them all around us. This book will help us to be a voice of compassion and grace with a willingness to understand and walk beside; as at the same time we use other resources to encourage one another to godly living.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Facing up to the Candy Crush Addiction

I would have loved to title this post “Beating the Candy Crush Addiction”, but that would be a lie. Facing up to it is much more realistic, managing it is a skill that is getting there but it is real and it has been a problem.

I have always known I have an addictive personality. My desire to always be in control of myself physically and emotionally probably meant I was unlikely to be drawn to some things like smoking, drinking or drugs. However, I have also always been thankful I never liked them much and so the attraction was not there.

However I know I struggle with what some might term ‘less obviously damaging’ addictions. My body and mind stay healthy - but boy can I waste time! I can play iPhone games for hours, I can read fiction for hours, I can get obsessed by home projects for hours and I can look at Facebook multiple times a day.

Realising this tendency and being willing to acknowledge it has taken years. But it’s probably taken having children that are at an age to notice what I do that has really made me pay attention.

When they would walk out and check what level I was up to on Candy Crush or my progress on Plants vs. Zombies, or wonder why I was spending hours of the weekend sanding windows, I had to analyse my own behaviour and what I was modelling.
  • Do I want my children to learn self-control? Yes
  • Do I want my children to know when to stop? Yes
  • Do I want my children to know they are more important than a game? Yes
  • Do I want my children to think that as a stay-at-home mum I had endless time that I wasted? No
  • Do I want my children to learn that leisure activities and hobbies are fine, but in moderation and generally only when essential things are completed? Yes
  • Do I often feel that I should spend more time with my kids playing games and reading books, but don’t? Yes
This issue has been drifting around for me for ages. I have managed it with reading only in holidays, downloading certain games only on holidays and I shut down Facebook for 9 months. But it really came to a head with Candy Crush this year. (For those who don’t know what it is, be thankful, but it’s an app that you move things around to get groups of three and need to solve challenges in doing so. When described like that, one wonders what the attraction is!)

I listened to an ABC conversation on gambling, and the speaker had written a book on casinos and gambling and how they destroy lives. The interviewer asked if she had ever had a gambling problem. She said, no, but while writing the book she developed an addiction to Candy Crush and started to realise the attraction of gambling and poker machines. It is called something like “Positive Feedback Reinforcement” where nice colours and flashing symbols make you feel good. It rang very true for me.

So cue decision time. First was acknowledging it was a problem, this took much longer than it should have. Second was deleting it off most devices. Third was telling the kids what I had done and why (& my husband and some friends).

It’s still in management phase. It has crept back onto most devices, because the kids also like to play it and their screen time is very monitored.  I seem to have it pretty well under control at the moment. I generally only let myself play during tea/coffee breaks and only for as long as it take me to drink the tea/coffee - and seeing I like it hot, that’s not too long.

So, there you go - my issues for you all to read about.

Do you struggle with similar things? How have you managed it?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Christmas time

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

We put the tree up over the weekend, which has already greatly added to the general festive mood.


The advent boxes are out (under the tree) and ready to start this afternoon.  I have included a fair number of presents and gifts among them this year, meaning there will not be many presents on Christmas Day, but we will have had lots to play with and have fun with for the whole month.   We will have some new music, some new craft, some new ornaments and some things to do together. 


The Christmas music has been released from it's 11 month ban and is on regular playlists.  Our favourites include Colin's Buchanan's  King of Christmas, Third Day's Christmas Offerings, Nathan Tasker's A Star, A Stable, A Saviour and I still like Mariah Carey's Merry Christmas.   If anyone can recommend a version of Handel's Messiah in which the words are clearly distinguishable, I would much appreciate it!

I have recently started reading Matthew's gospel again and will combine it now with Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.   Oh, and I'd better get the kid's Christmas books out too...

Good times. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Gingerbread

The results of the baking day
Last Saturday a group of 6 Christian families at our local primary school hosted a family gingerbread house event.  The mums have been praying together on and off for years, and this year it seemed like the right time to try an event.

It all crystallised in my head when a friend at a similar stage made the comment that she cannot interest school mums in events run for adults, but if their kids want to do it the parents will do anything to get them there. So I realised – run something for kids and families together.
Lolly sorting!

God was very, very kind in enabling it to go ahead and people certainly came!

We had 100 people there - 37 adults & 64 kids making a total of 65 houses. There were 32 school families represented, including our six.  I think about 10% of the school’s students came.

It was fun, it went well, people were welcomed and talked to, we met new families and chatted with usual friends, and they all heard a great interactive presentation of the first Christmas.
House construction

We were all so thankful for this opportunity to get to know other school families better and to share of our hope at Christmas time.

Already we are talking about doing it again next year! 

(As much as I would love to include photos of the whole event and the people, I do not have permission from anyone, so have kept it to my family.)

The set packed for houses to sell/give
Decorating with lollies

 



Our family houses

Monday, November 24, 2014

Lit!

Lit! Tony Reinke

This book came across my shelf because of Jean’s high recommendation a few years ago. I read it and loved it. I chose it as the book I would go through with a Ministry Trainee group in an annual seminar. Then I turned it into a “Reading as a Christian” seminar and gave it to two different groups of women, one through a bible study group and one through a conference.

So it’s fair to say I am a big fan of this book. As you know, I am a reader - an avid, keen reader. But this books appeals to me as much as it will to someone for whom reading does not come so naturally - because it encourages you to read, gives you good reasons to read and helps you to think about how to read through the lens of your faith, using wisdom and discernment as tools to assess books and what we can learn from them.

This review is not so much a detailed review of the book, but a collection of thoughts as a result and the basis of my seminar.

My overall question is: If our lives are to be lived to the glory of God, how does that shape our reading?

Firstly, we start with a Christian view of reading:

1.  The bible is in a category all of its own - it is the Word of God

2.  Christians value words - we value the Word of God, his Son is the Word, we know words give meaning in a way that images cannot.
 
3.  Being a Christian brings wisdom and gives discernment
“Faith in Jesus brings with it a critically important benefit for the Christian reader – discernment. Discernment is the ability to do three things: the ability to “test everything”, to “hold fast to what is good,” and to “abstain from every form of evil (1 Thess 5:21-22)” (p35)

“Christians can read a broad array of books for our personal benefit, but only if we read with discernment. And we will only read with discernment if the biblical convictions are firmly settled in our minds and hearts. Once they are, we have a touchstone to determine what is pure gold and what is worthless.” (p59)
4.  There are great benefits to reading Christian books - both fiction and non-fiction

5. There are great benefits to reading non-Christian books - both fiction and non-fiction
‘In non-Christian works we discover what is so close, and yet so far away, from what we read in the Bible. The challenge is to make use of the “so close” for our edification and for the glory of God while being aware of the “yet so far away”.’ (p77)

Following on from this, there are some practical suggestions:
  1. Examine your heart - what do you read, why do you read, do you read widely but with discretion or is your reading divorced from your faith and godly living?
  2. Dwell in the word of God - as first priority read your bible.
  3. Have a balanced reading diet - include Christian growth and understanding, life stage and professional development reading and reading for pleasure/enjoyment.
  4. Guard your heart in your reading - be aware if there are some types of books you should avoid
  5. Be active in your reading - take notes, put aside time for reading, be willing to stop reading a book
  6. Read with others - in a bible study, with children, in a book group
  7. Consider whether reading can be a problem - when, what, how much, etc
  8. Be a mature reader:
“1. Mature readers prize wisdom
2. Mature readers cherish old books
3. Mature readers keep literature in its place
4. Mature readers avoid making books into idols
5. Mature readers cling to the Saviour” (p177)
In the end, I really enjoyed Reinke’s conclusion:
“Regardless of how many books we read, we cling to the old rugged cross. When books overwhelm us, and our intellectual limitations discourage us, we recall the gospel. In the good news of Jesus Christ, overwhelmed readers find peace, and joy, and the courage to keep reading.” (p185)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Advent

If you are interested in using my advent calendars this year, just hop over to the “Resources” tab to download them. 

As usual, there are 2 options:
  • The Birth of Jesus - a set of 25 readings mainly from Luke and Matthew's gospels, so you can spend time thinking about when Jesus was born and what it means for us today.
  • Genesis to Jesus - a set of 25 readings covering the unfolding story of the bible and it's fulfilment in Christ.
Each day there is a bible reading, some questions to think about, a prayer, a special verse and some optional extras - something to draw, a song to listen to, a craft to do, etc.

This year our family will be doing The Birth of Jesus.  We are looking forward to it already, it is definitely a tradition we have all come to cherish.  If you would like more details as to how we do Advent, what goes in the little boxes, and how it has changed over time, see previous posts on Advent.

(update from 2017: these have now changed and are only 24 days of readings)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Time away

Regular readers may recall that for the last few years I have gone away for a few days on my own.  I talked about it a little in 2012, and referred to it in passing in 2013. Both of those times were designed to be times of rest and recuperation, both coming in God’s good timing after appendicitis and then a mild fatigue.

These times were previously in Term 2. This year it ended up being a few weeks ago. I almost wondered if it was worth going. I had energy, I didn’t need to rest and felt there was a lot I could be doing at home & I have also been away a bit recently for other reasons.

However, sense prevailed (and my husband!) and I went. To the same wonderful place provided by generous parishioners.

And what a great few days they were. I had no idea how much work and planning I could get done with 3 days on my own with no interruptions, no school pick-up and drop-off, and the opportunity to work productively between the hours of 3pm and 8pm. Wow! I reviewed a marriage course, started planning a new one, became better trained in marriage inventory material and planned a talk series. I wrote blog posts. I read my bible. I prayed. I read books. I went for a few walks. And I did some embroidery and watched a few more episodes of As Time Goes By, the old BBC show.

I am thankful yet again for a husband who makes these things happen & our God who gives good gifts.

The hive of activity (& rest treats) at the work table.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Ordinary Hero

I have enjoyed a number of books written or co-written by Tim Chester over the years, especially The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness which became the source for a number of seminars I have run on the topic (and a whole series on in tandem)

Two more of his books have sat on my shelf for ages. I finally got one down: The Ordinary Hero. I will say I started off on the wrong foot, because I thought I was picking up a book about Jesus - that he was the ordinary hero that we model our lives on, and picked it up because I was keen to read directly about Jesus again. While it is certainly based all about Jesus and how his death and resurrection shapes who we are, the ordinary hero talked about is each of us who live our lives centred around this fact. My mistake, but I think that’s why it took me a while to get into it and a while to get through it.

With that misunderstanding out of the way and some time to change my mindset, this really is a very helpful book. Chester focuses on the cross and resurrection through 5 sections:
  1. The pardon of the cross - that because of what Jesus has done in dying for us has shown us his love, given us humility for none of us deserved it; and then gives us confidence because there is no now condemnation for those who are in Christ.
  2. The practice of the cross - the way Jesus died in sacrificial service is to be our model for life - we are also to die to self and instead consider sacrifice, submission, self-denial, service and suffering to be what we are called to. In this we find joy and meaning
  3. The pattern of the cross and resurrection is to see that life in Christ is suffering followed by glory. This was Christ’s experience and it must also be our own. Christ was a king, yes, but a king who suffered and so to seek to avoid suffering ourselves does not recognise the pattern to which Jesus called us.
  4. The power of the resurrection - we see that the resurrection gives life and freedom, yet also the power to be weak for in the cross life comes through death and strength comes through weakness (p150)
  5. The promise of the resurrection is powerful hope - we await a truly resurrected world, of justice, love and joy. We await a promise that is worth dying for and worth living life differently now. He finishes with challenges to check again where your heart is, where your thoughts are and where your treasure is.
This is a book for all those out there who think their life does not matter, that their struggles in the Christian life are not worth it or there is really no point. It is also a powerful counteractive to the popular notion that Christians should not suffer now and should experience all their future glory in this present world. It will remind you of what your Saviour did for you and how in response our lives can be shaped by the cross and resurrection, for our joy and for his glory.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Christmas Books

 Do you find that Christmas sneaks up on you from year to year and so you never have the resources or books on hand that you had planned to when you had great dreams about it in March?

That’s why I planned to post this in March! Oh well. Perhaps there is still time...

Two books we have discovered in recent years may make it to your Christmas reading list.

The first is Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, edited by Nancy Guthrie. Meredith has been talking about her books for some time, and I was pleased to finally get my hands on this in time for Christmas last year.

It is a collection of 22 writings or sermons from authors such as Luther, Spurgeon, Augustine, Piper and Keller and each focuses on a different aspect of the Christmas story.

This was a great way to keep me anchored to the word of God throughout December and helped me focus on Jesus coming as Messiah and Lord. I combined it (accidentally, but with unexpected benefit) with reading through Luke 1-2 in depth at the same time and it was marvellous, there were treasures abounding in every verse.  I plan to do the same this year, starting on December 1.


The second one is for families: The Lion Storyteller Christmas Book by Bob Hartman and Krisztina Kallai Nagy. These are great read aloud stories for children. The book is divided into thirds:

1. These are the accounts of the first Christmas retold in segments. This section is very good and we really enjoyed them, they helped to add more to our own advent readings.

2. This section is a collection of stories explaining where various Christmas traditions have come from - like the tree, the presents, the man delivering presents, etc. These were interesting and fun.

3. The final section is a collection of Christmas tales and legends from around the world. These were fine, but we all preferred the first two sections.

We read it at night and it was a nice end to the day, especially if you read it around the Christmas tree! 

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Jesus Hokey Pokey

This new Colin Buchanan CD has been played regularly in our car in the last few months. It rose quickly to the top of the list and has steadily stayed there on request. We all loved the last Colin CD God Rock because it really appealed to my older son.

This one has appealed more to the younger ones, it seems Colin’s music has got younger again! There are the fun action tunes - Boss of the Cross, The Jesus Hokey Pokey, The Horsey Dance, Dig! Dig! Hammer Saw! (Building on the Lord) which all were great to experience the first time at his concert so we could see them in action. There are great songs about living for Jesus and the truth of the gospel: Truth is still True, God is Good all the Time, Invisible Believer and He’s the Greatest Name.

Then there are the songs that have great depth of meaning. Just like the older Press on Mums, his new Get Back to Jesus based on the prodigal son and his older brother brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it.

If you have kids in the pre-school and primary years, get this CD. And if you are a parent of children in this age range, and struggling to remember the goodness of God, his promises to us and how to live for him -  listen to it yourself with them, over and over again. You will be fed, encouraged and refreshed.


Monday, October 27, 2014

AFES Wives Conference

Another Term 4 and so another AFES wives conference has come and gone.

Another year of good teaching, helpful seminars, encouraging prayer groups and lots & lots of talking.

As my long term readers know, this conference is a highlight of my year. To gather together with women around Australia and see how each is striving to be godly and faithful in their own circumstances, life stages and challenges is such an encouragement and blessing. Student ministry is an odd thing in some ways, but all these women ‘get it’.

This was my 5th conference and it is such a joy to catch up with old friends and connect in depth each year with the same prayer group. It’s also lovely to see new faces and meet new people.


I also seem to be better at balancing the large amount of people time and personal conversations. While I come away very tired (and struggle to keep conversations going for that final hour at the airport!), I am no longer completely overwhelmed. (Must be managing shyness better!) Although I will say, it can take me up to a week to tell my husband about it all in detail – for when I return I have no words left in me!

I thank God for these women, they really are a terrific encouragement.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Making Couples Happy

I should have written this review months ago when it was fresher in my mind.  Oh well!  We watched this ABC Production over a few days in June and enjoyed it.

‘Enjoyed it’ is the wrong term actually, ‘found it helpful’ is a better one. There is not much enjoyment in watching the way marriages have deteriorated over time with unhelpful communication, destructive conflict management and poor attention to family of origin issues.

However it has much to offer. Four couples come to meet with experts and each other to address the issues that have pushed their marriages to the brink of survival.  Over four episodes spanning 8 weeks, they are assisted to see unhelpful patterns, to work through hurts and resentments and to face each other honestly.  No matter what stage your marriage is in, I would imagine there are many things covered here that you would see reflected in your own relationship – the realities of having a young family, work pressures and unmet expectations.

We found it helpful to be reminded how quickly resentments and bad habits can spiral when unaddressed. All the principles applied by the experts were sensible and similar to things we all know we should do – listen properly, speak positively and fight fairly, to name but a few.

One of the tips that I thought was really useful for an issue that particularly needs addressing is the idea of writing a letter to each other. Firstly, the letter written by the partner who is ‘at fault’ (bad use of language but you know what I mean). This was a long detailed letter with explanation but also asking for forgiveness. This was read out - a great idea, because then you get tone right. Then, the other spouse could draft their own letter of forgiveness and a commitment to move forward. (Actually it might not have been exactly this, but I took it away as a helpful idea!) In areas of large conflict or large transgression this may be a helpful way of both being able to address what happened, how it affected each of you and how to move forward, yet the process of writing out what to say in advance adds the ability to temper what you say and not react ‘in the heat of the moment’.

As pretty much all the marriage stuff we look at are Christian books, this DVD series provides another useful tool, being both non-religious and visual, therefore I could see the appeal for other applications. If a couple were really in crisis, professional help would be much better. But for those who want to stay on top of things and be proactive in this area, it might provide enough conversations starters and tools to get you going and hopefully keep you on track to a happier marriage.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Knuffle Bunny

I have almost left the world of children’s picture books, but every so often one comes across your path that you have to share.

Mo Willems has written and illustrated three books about Knuffle Bunny, the story of Trixie and her favourite toy.

In Knuffle Bunny, Trixie is a toddler out with daddy for the day when Knuffle Bunny gets lost. Oh no! The expressions on Daddy’s face during Trixie’s tantrums are fantastic.

In Knuffle Bunny Too Trixie is now a little older, having started pre-school. She takes her one and only special Knuffle Bunny to school only to discover that he is not so ‘one of a kind’ after all.  The page my children loved here was when Trixie finally realises the wrong knuffle bunny has come home with her and the caption to the illustration is ‘Trixie’s daddy tried to explain what “2:30am” means.’

The final in the series, Knuffle Bunny Free, shows Trixie as a schoolgirl, still with her treasured Knuffle Bunny on an international trip. We know what’s going to happen as Knuffle Bunny has been mislaid twice before. How Willems demonstrates it though is marvellous: older children will realise the truth that we do all eventually learn to cope with lost toys, and younger children will see how this could happen.

Overlaying these lovely stories are fantastic illustrations: photographs of scenes (mostly set in New York), with wonderfully expressive cartoon people drawn over them.

My 7 year old loved these, the older two both appreciated the humour and I really enjoyed reading them aloud. Highly recommended.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Call the Midwife

Recently I finished watching the third season of Call the Midwife. I think it’s one of the best TV series I have ever seen. Based on the books by Jennifer Worth, they are a lovely insight into London’s East End in the 1950s through the eyes of Worth working as a midwife with the nuns of the Anglican convent Nonnatus House.

They are likeable and realistic characters (probably because they are based on real people!), very true-to-life birth scenes and a great insight into medical care at the time. Stories develop over the series as the nurses make friends & meet partners, and the lives of the nuns develop and change.

I recently read the first book in the series, which shows how closely the DVD series matched the stories in them.  I will try and get the other books to read on holidays.

I think I would like to own both the books and the DVDs – they make for both lovely reading and wonderful watching, and as my children get older this is a series I would happily watch with them.

I had assumed Season 3 would be the final series, the final episode definitely felt like a finale. However, apparently there is a 2014 Christmas special planned and also a Season 4 for 2015.  Some good viewing to look forward to!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Shyness, introversion and ministry

During the year I have listened to some wonderful interviews on the ABC Conversations program with Richard Fidler (lovely to fill in time on a long run).

There are great stories and interesting things about different people.  Recently an interview was with Sian Prior who has written Shy, A Memoir. Despite being an accomplished performer and journalist, she has suffered from shyness all her life.

Listening to it brought back many memories of my own experiences and how we learn to function with shyness in the world.

Some of these include:
  • Never liking children’s parties in primary school and often choosing to spend time with the host mother rather than the other children.
  • Hating giving talks up the front of class in high school, and being unable to stretch a book review talk to the required 2 mins.
  • Struggling to walk up to groups and join in a conversation.
  • Only really having one or two close friends at a time, rather than a lot of friends.
  • Being quite happy with my own company and quite contentedly enjoying a good book and some silence.
Then it made me ponder the reality of being a shy person and being in ministry.

Much of my natural shyness I have had to overcome in ministry:
  • While I struggle with it, I will walk up to new people and introduce myself.
  • I still find breaking into groups of people hard and am more likely to be seen standing on my own at church wondering who to approach.
  • I have learnt to lead services, give talks and speak up the front with ease and comfort – this is still astonishing to me.
However it has made me realise that shyness, and her related sister, introversion, do come at a cost. My husband is not shy, but is introverted.  At times, I am both.  Both of us need silence at times.  We both need to ‘veg out’ and not talk at the end of busy days before we have energy to talk together.  We both cherish silence but need to keep remembering realise that a house with 3 children will never be quiet.  We both want to be hospitable and have an open house, but know we have limits in how we can do so in a helpful way for others yet also for ourselves.

When we talk about ensuring about ministry is sustainable for the long term, it includes rest and holidays and days off, but it also means we need to ensure we don’t so overload ourselves with people that we are unable to care for ourselves, each other and our family. Some of the things we have found work for us are:
  • We do not host Sunday lunches. Sunday is busy enough with morning and evening church, and having people over for lunch means that there is no break in the day to recharge.
  • We try to make sure school holidays have no busy evenings. Evening meetings and catch ups mean we usually have 3-4 nights a week automatically taken up, and at times it’s 6-7 nights. Breaking the cycle every school holidays is a chance to re-set a bit and take a breather.
  • We share our calendars online. That means we can both see when things are getting too full and we need stop booking in more things.
  • I have to plan my days with ‘free-time’ to enable me to get through the evenings. Sometimes it feels decadent making myself put my feet up with a cup of tea for an hour or two in the early afternoon, but it means I can manage the rest of the day so much better.
  • We have to make a concerted effort to accept each other’s limitations in this area. When one of us cannot do more, we both have to respect that and change things accordingly.
I find it odd that people think I am not a shy person. I am definitely still shy. I just manage it reasonably well in public.

What about you?

Friday, October 3, 2014

ANZAC Girls

I stumbled across this ABC series as it was going to air.  Set in World War I, it chronicles the lives of Australian and New Zealand nurses who volunteer to serve along the armed services providing health care to the soldiers on the front. A six part series, it starts with them arriving in Egypt, progresses to Gallipoli, Lemnos Island, serving on hospital ships, and ends up in France.

I have always enjoyed a good medical show, with favourites such as A Country Practice, The Flying Doctors ER, Scrubs, Northern Exposure, Doogie Howser MD, Chicago Hope, M.A.S.H., N.C.I.S, and Call the Midwife featuring in my watching over the last 30 years.

So I was keen to give this one a try. The combination of history and medical ticks most boxes for me and I have really enjoyed this series. What is really nice is that while some liberties have been taken, the characters are based on real people, adding authenticity to the characters themselves and also to the brutal portrayal of war. You can read what happened to each of them upon returning to Australia here.

Recommended viewing.

Monday, September 29, 2014

What did you expect?

What did you expect?  Paul David Tripp

I have worked my way through this book over a couple of months. It took time and energy to read.  It took a willing heart to hear what it had to say and it took humility to accept it.  It will take longer to absorb its teaching and a lifetime to apply it.   It was very, very good.

Up until now when we recommend marriage books they have generally fallen into two categories:

I think Paul David Tripp has managed to combine the two in a way that is practical yet completely grounded in the gospel and God’s grace.

It’s not an easy read. It challenges you to the core of your being as to why you got married and what you expected from it. From that he makes it clear that:
  • You are conducting your marriage in a fallen world
  • You are a sinner, married to a sinner
  • God is faithful, powerful and willing
His overarching message is that a marriage of unity, love and understanding will grow out of a daily worship of God. It is our relationship with God that matters. How we view him as creator, sovereign and saviour defines the way we view our marriages. Addressing how we view God (our vertical relationship) is the key to how we view our marriage (our horizontal relationship). He emphasises that the mentality of a healthy marriage is living with a harvest mentality (there are consequences), an investment mentality and a grace mentality.

The main body of the book is structured around 6 commitments of marriage:

1. We will give ourselves to a regular lifestyle of confession and forgiveness. These powerful chapters nut out the real need for grace with each other on a daily basis. He strongly endorses a lifestyle that is confessional and forgiving in depth.

2. We will make growth and change our daily agenda. We must be willing to pull out the weeds in marriage – selfishness, busyness, inattention, self-righteousness, fear and laziness and replace them with fruitful seeds, for “you cannot escape the influence of what you do and say on the person you live with and your relationship to him or her.” (p117)

3. We will work together to build a sturdy bond of trust. We must be willing to trust one another and be am person who is trustworthy, for trust is “readily given, easily broken and costly to restore” (p152). He claims that the early years of marriage are building years so we must set patterns of being straightforward, keeping our word, facing up to wrong and keeping short accounts of wrongdoing. To keep this up we must be talking, listening and praying.

4. We will commit to building a relationship of love. These chapters were quite challenging, exposing false ideas of love – the attraction that might be only physical, emotional or spiritual. Yet true love is cruciform – cross-shaped - and has very high goals. This chapter was a little overwhelming in terms of how true love could really look in a marriage, yet again grace was emphasised to show that none of us can do this alone.

5. We will deal with our differences with appreciation and grace. These chapters addressed the positive ways differences can affect our marriages and then he dealt in depth with the idea of never letting sun go down on your anger. I am in two minds about this one, from personal experience, continuing an argument at night is often a bad idea for us. However the principle of never letting anger remain between you or always dealing with an issue is a good one.

6. We will work to protect our marriage. This is the section for those who already count themselves as having pretty good marriages. The risk of thinking you have a good marriage is that you stop working and start coasting, “there is one thing you have to accept: your marriage may be great, but it is not safe. No marriage this side of eternity is totally problem protected. No marriage is all it could be.” (p238) God’s grace can work things in all marriages, but you still have to do the work. He then encouraged couples to make prayer a central part of the marriage and to continue to remind themselves that it is their relationship with God that defines their marriage. It is both toil and trust. Work daily at the relationship yet trust that God is faithful, powerful and willing.

A very helpful book for any couple who are willing to keep putting in the work to make their marriage better.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Crash Test Mummies & Daddies

There are a few DVD/TV show reviews coming up in coming weeks.  I seem to have found a few of note recently. 

This week's one is Crash Test Mummies and Daddies.  Produced by the ABC it chronicles the first four months for first time parents.  With five couples from diverse backgrounds and situations, there is:
  • An Asian couple with a Taiwanese mother who comes out for a month and insists on a traditional confinement period.
  • A Greek couple with a large involved extended family and the husband who works a lot.
  • A couple with the unexpected surprise of a baby, who are hoping it won't change their life too much.
  • A couple who broke up but decided to try make it work once they realised she was pregnant.
  • A young couple with financial struggles.
So it seems to be a pretty typical selection of average Australian new parents.  It starts with the reality of birth and those early weeks of sleep deprivation and feeding, mastitis and early health scares.  It shows them coming to terms with this massive life change, dealing with extended family and their expectations, returning to work and managing life at home. 

For those of us past this stage, it's a helpful and sometimes humorous reminder of what those early months were like.  For those in the thick of it, it could be good to watch others going through the same thing.  For those about to face it, it could be a helpful dose of reality and a good conversation starter for the two of you.

I have to say though as I watched these couples the phrase that kept flitting through my mind was that quote from Thoreau: "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."

I have only watched 3 episodes of the 6 so far, you can catch them all still on iView.


Monday, September 22, 2014

Operation Christmas Child

As it is definitely approaching that time of the year again, we have just completed assembling our Operation Christmas Child boxes. I know a version of this post appears every year, but we find it so helpful and so much fun, I just can’t let it go!

Here are some tips I have gathered over the years:
  • See if you can get boxes with the lids still attached, so much easier to keep all together. Keep an eye out for shoe boxes that enter your house throughout the year.
  • Wrap the boxes in Christmas paper and then cover them with clear sticky wrap (contact). The contact makes it look great, the box is sturdier and paper does not rip.
  • Pay your donation for the box shipping cost online ($9 per box), then print out individual bar-coded labels for each box to stick on the lid with a piece of contact. In a few months, you'll get an email telling you where your box went.
  • Take a list with you when you go shopping. This list was prepared by a member of our church who works in the box processing centre, so she really knows what works and what doesn't.
  • Remove all packaging from every item. Including a pencil case makes this much easier - put all the pens, pencils, erasers, etc in the pencil case. There is no rubbish collection in rural villages - imagine how much plastic rubbish you would add if you kept all the packaging on.
  •  Include a folded up bag (like an envirobag from the supermarket) or a string bag so that all the treasures in the box can still be kept together when the box disintegrates.
  • Put in a photo of yourself or your family, so the child has an idea of who gave them the gift - this makes it personal.
  • Put an elastic band around the whole box to keep it secure.
  • Drop it off to a collection centre by the end of October.
  • AND THIS YEAR’S NEW TOP TIP: buy $2 thongs/flipflops from Kmart (this is for Australians). They help fill up the box and are very practical.
All packed up and ready to go.


We started doing these boxes regularly 5 years ago (look how much everyone has grown!). It's a good activity for Term 3 school holidays. You might consider getting involved for these reasons:
  • It teaches generosity to your children (and to you!)
  • It's fun shopping for kids who you know have very little (much more fun than shopping for kids with everything).
  • If you like Christmas, it makes it feel that little bit closer.
  • If you don't like Christmas, you at least help a child like it!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Back online – and an update

After another extended break during the last 12 months, I think it’s time to resurrect this blog.

I have hesitated again and again about doing so, just like when I restarted again for a brief few months in March.  However I have decided that purposefully reading and writing is helpful for me and therefore I am back.  I am not sure there will be many who follow along, but while it continues to stretch my own mind it is probably a useful thing to do.

The last few months have held a variety of ups and downs.

One of the downs included the death of my maternal grandmother. It was a sad time and one in which I felt the distance of not living near my family. She is the last grandparent either of us had, but what a privilege it was that my husband and I still had 7 grandparents living when we got together and our children will likely remember 3 or 4 of their great-grandparents. Even greater was the privilege I had of leading the very small funeral service for her.

Highlights over the last few months have been (in no particular order):
  • The opportunity to give 4 talks and write matching bible studies on Matthew 22.
  • The chance to think about developing the marriage ministry at our church further.
  • Becoming a godmother again. This little god-daughter of mine is just new and it’s an honour to be involved in her life. It’s also a treat to have a godchild when you are no longer in the midst of young children yourself. I may actually have some time for her in a way I struggled to do with other godchildren.
  • Planting out our back garden including 2 apple trees, a lemon, lime and orange tree. I look forward to produce.  If they become anything like our mandarin tree which probably produced 100 kgs this year, we will have to set up a fruit stall out the front!
  • Watching my daughter start playing netball and love it.
  • A lovely holiday and another one coming up.
  • The training for and running of another half marathon – this was a great day, I had a ball. Sadly though I seem to have injured my feet on the day and have not been able to run since (a month ago).   I did not realise how much running has helped my body work well and my mind to refresh.  I would love to get back to it soon, hopefully having cortisone injections today will  help.

So, it’s nice to be back. Book reviews will be coming shortly, and other thoughts along the way.

Let me know if you are reading along, it’s nice to know who I share this with.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Two movie reviews

Taking a break from book reviews for the next few weeks, today I’ll bring you 2 movie reviews.

These are just fun, enjoyable films, for different audiences.

1. CHEF

We saw this a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it. It’s a fun, easy-going story with a great cast (including John Favreau, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman and Sofia Vergara).  It details the spectacular downfall of a restaurant chef, followed by remaking of himself with a food truck travelling across the US.

We loved it. It combined three great story elements: the fun of good quality food & cooking; the highs and lows of using online technology (mainly Twitter) to comment on people and what they do; and a lovely story of a father and a son.

It was a gently meandering story, nothing traumatic happened (rather like About Time which we also liked last year). I loved seeing some beautiful parts of the USA in the scenery and really think I should take my family to New Orleans where I spent some of my childhood and treat them to the delights of coffee & beignets!


2. FROZEN

Chances are anyone with daughters around the same age as mine (9 & 6.5) has already seen this and like us, probably also already owns the DVD. My girls LOVE this movie.

I took our elder daughter to see it when it came out, and we were both delighted with it. Now, our younger daughter is equally hooked.

It is the story of Elsa, Queen of Arendelle, who has special powers to turn things to ice, but she cannot control them. She hides away from the world, including her sister Anna, who she does not want to hurt. When Elsa’s powers threaten to destroy Arendelle, she flees and Anna follows her to bring her back. With a love story along the way, a snowman Olaf, some great fun trolls and a reindeer for sidekicks, it is lots of fun.

For my girls, I love the message that the true love that saves them in the end in the love of sisters, not the love of a man. This is a quite a change from your average Disney princess movie. I also love that when Anna becomes engaged to Hans after one day, everyone thinks she is crazy and keeps telling her so.

It has a great soundtrack, which my daughters sing to each other most of the day, after having decided to it was worth spending their money to download their favourite songs. I personally think Disney hasn’t produced a soundtrack this good since The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast.

So, if you want some light, fun kids or adult viewing, you might like these ones.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Serving Without Sinking

Serving without Sinking, John Hindley

Here is another offering by The Good Book Company, in the same series as Compared to Her.

John Hindley faces head on the issue many committed Christians feel - we should serve, we are called to serve, we want to serve, and yet sometimes it is very hard work, be it through tiredness, busyness, or being unappreciated and unacknowledged.

He challenges us to see that many of the reasons we serve as Christians are actually flawed. They can come from a wrong view of God and Jesus - I serve to be good enough, I serve to get something, or I serve to pay Him back. We can also have a wrong view of people so we serve to impress or belong; or we can have wrong view of ourselves so perhaps we serve because we think Jesus needs us, or in fact we don’t really need Jesus. All of these possibilities are fleshed out well with good examples and explanation, and I could honestly see myself in all of them at various times.

He ends this section with the challenge that if we see these reasons operating strongly in us and we feel like our serving is sinking us, we should consider stopping some of our service:
“If you’ve sat reading and the thought keeps coming: I know this is me. But I can’t stop for a while to sort my heart out. I’m the only cleaner. I’m the one who lives close enough to open up. I’m the pastor. then remember: it is better to quit your job than lose your Lord.” (p44)
Hindley then take us back to Christ and our relationship with him. Through a series of chapters, he leads us to see that we are served by Christ, we are friends with him, we are his bride and we are his true sons; and even now Christ is still serving us. Through all of this, we can see that serving follows love and Christ is indeed our first love, and so serving Him brings joy.

The strength of these little books seems to be in identifying the issues. Like Compared to Her, I found the last few chapters on how we find our true value in Christ a little light on and would have liked to see them fleshed out a little further. However these books are designed to be short and easily readable, and so that is really only a comment from someone who always likes to read in more detail!

As service is an area in which many Christians are indeed serving for the wrong reasons and sinking in the process, this would be a great ‘reset’ for both our motivations and our desire to serve Christ fully.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Running on Empty

Running on Empty, Barbara Bancroft

I was sent this book by New Growth Press, and very much enjoyed this one of their latest offerings.

Barbara Bancroft is a ministry wife in the US, who with her husband Josiah has been involved in parish ministry, church planting and mission work. So in writing this book for women in ministry, you know she understands the joys and challenges that face wives and women in a variety of ministry situations.

Subtitled The Gospel for Women in Ministry, Bancroft brings her reader back again and again to the gospel, emphasising that this good news is one we also need to hear repeatedly; and while we are often tempted to rely on our abilities (or despair at our lack of them), in fact we must keep relying on the work of Christ for us and the Spirit working in us.

She does not want us to shy away from the role or position we have, whether paid or alongside our husband, in fact alerting us to the reality that “those in ministry are in a unique position to deeply affect the life of the church” (p65), yet “being in ministry places us in a battle for our faith and faith of others... All who work in the church...live in harm’s way and feel the effects of the battle. The difficulties of ministry are real and many have fallen. We all know stories of adultery and secret sins, children who have left the faith, and burn-out, just to name a few.” (p58)

I found myself resonating with many issues Bancroft raised. In truth many of them would be relevant to all Christians and to Christian women generally, but they do hold a power over many women in ministry.  Some of the issues she dealt with in detail were:
  • How women in ministry and ministry wives are viewed differently from the rest of the congregation. This includes people’s expectations and stereotypes, and expectations you place on yourself. This also affects friendships and how honest you can be with people about your own life and various situations.
  • Some of the unique dynamics missionaries face, including raising support and people’s view that you are somehow spiritually superior
  • The ways our culture affects us and our ministry, and the need to be able to see the culture we are in and be able to critique it.
  • The trap of feeling entitled to more or envious of those around us - be it money, skills, support, or appreciation.
Yet amongst all these issues, which are very real, Bancroft keeps bringing us back to the cross and the message of the gospel. We are reminded of our very real sin, our great need for a Saviour, the need to forgive for we have been forgiven and the joy it is to serve our Lord.

I wrote many notes on each chapter and could easily have given you a whole list of great quotes. I found myself often smiling in wry acknowledgement and nodding in agreement as I read along. It should be noted that it is written with a strong North American emphasis, but mostly can be easily converted to our Australian situation. She also assumes a complementarian view of ministry and I loved how she addressed even some issues women can face here: “In the church, humbling ourselves under the leadership of men may be one of the hardest things women do, particularly if we are competent leaders ourselves.” (p108)

Bancroft has also structured each chapter very helpfully. She sets up the issues, clearly identifying it and how we find ourselves in it, then asks some diagnostic questions for our own personal assessment and honesty; then she delves into a bible passage to help re-orient our thinking. I felt many issues were dealt with well and at length and not just glossed over.

In the end, the overwhelming positive emphasis of this book is that she keeps bringing women back to the gospel, encouraging heart change, confession and a desire to let Christ do his good work in us through the Spirit.

A very helpful book.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Out of my mind

Out of my mind, Sharon M. Draper

We have discovered another excellent book for upper primary students, as good as Wonder (high praise indeed!).  Wonder is the story of a boy with a facial disfigurement; this is the story of a 11-year old girl with cerebral palsy.  Melody is confined to a wheelchair, unable to move her body with precision (except her thumbs), and unable to talk.  While a very intelligent girl with a photographic memory, no-one except close friends and family have ever seen past her disability to acknowledge what her mind contains.  That is, until she gets a talking computer which all of a sudden challenges school friends, teachers and others to realise that just because someone’s body is limited is does not mean their mind is.  There are also two big twists in the story which left us both completely surprised and very keen to read on.

I read this to my 11 year old son and he loved it.   It is more serious than Wonder (although that has very serious parts, it is also very funny). In some ways the pain for Melody is more raw, I struggled to read numerous sections through my tears, although my son is used to that now!

This should also be on all school reading lists, it would provide excellent material for discussion amongst upper primary and also high school students about both the realities of living with a disability, and how people can be unkind and thoughtless as they make incorrect assumptions. 

Highly recommended.