Monday, March 30, 2009

Easter Series #2

2. How you could celebrate the Easter weekend itself

Even if you plan to do nothing at all in the lead-up to Easter, it's worth thinking about how to make the Easter weekend itself meaningful as well as fun and full of eating!

Here are some thoughts:

i) A passover meal on Thursday night

I did a bit of on-line research regarding the passover meal, which is called a Seder. Having looked at a number of them, including Christian versions, I have decided to ignore all of them! Partly because they are very long (about 5 hours), but mainly because they are based on a tradition which built up over a long period of time in Judaism. The Christian versions just seem to want to do all of that, and add an extra ‘Jesus’ bit at the end. Instead, for us I am going to simplify it down and go back to the bible as my only source.

So, on Thursday night, we are going to sit down to a meal together which will include roast lamb with herbs, unleavened bread and juice/wine.

We will:
  1. Wash one another's feet, to remind each other that Jesus washed his disciples' feet and read out John 13:5-17.
  2. Sit down together to eat the meal. During the meal, we will explain that this was the type of food that was eaten on the night that the Israelites were saved by God and rescued from Egypt. They had to eat it in a rush, which is why the bread had no yeast in it. God commanded them to celebrate the Passover every year in this way, reading Ex 12:24-27.
  3. After the food, talk about how Jesus celebrated this same meal with his disciples, the night before he died, using some bread and a cup of wine/juice. Read Matthew 26:26-29
So, in having this meal together, we will remember how God saved his people the Israelites through the Passover and the exodus and we remember how Jesus has also saved us by dying for us at Easter time.

I understand that this may annoy some people (who would prefer a more traditional Passover meal), but I hope I have saved the elements that are important, while also accounting for the fact that we will be feeding a 5, 3 and 1 year old on the last night of the school term - so I want to be wise about what can be achieved!

If our children were older, able to stay up later, and not terrified of all DVDs, I think we could also watch Prince of Egypt, to emphasise the great act of redemption that the passover and the exodus was.

ii) Go to church on Good Friday

This may sound obvious, but I have observed many Christians (myself included in the past) don't seem to bother with church on both Good Friday and Easter Sunday. However, you really do appreciate the sacrifice of Jesus' death more by pausing on Good Friday, going to church and hearing the accounts of Jesus' death read out. It is a time for reflection on the seriousness of our sin and the price Jesus had to pay.

iii) Easter Saturday

Noel Piper suggests that Easter Saturday should be a day of waiting, with not too much excitement or fun things, to get an idea of how the disciples felt knowing that Jesus was dead and buried and unsure as to what would happen next.

I like the idea, however we have gone and scheduled Mr 6's birthday party on that day, so I doubt there will be much time for reflection! His birthday always falls near Easter, and sometimes it is hard to know where to put the emphasis. [On the year it was on Good Friday it was hard to explain to a 2-year old, that we were going to church and remembering Jesus' death, while also having cake and presents to celebrate Mr 6's birth!]

iv) Easter Sunday

Go to church again - celebrate that Christ is risen!

We will not have a day filled with chocolate and bunnies (I'll post about that later). However, on Easter Sunday morning we will reach the last day of our bible readings working through Matthew and read of Jesus' resurrection. I think we will also read Dave the Donkey again (see previous Easter Post).

In our house when we celebrate birthdays, we wake up to balloons and streamers around the house in honour of the special day. On Easter Sunday, we will also wake to balloons and streamers, to celebrate Jesus' being alive again, and because of that, our 'new birth' to eternal life.

I really liked Nicole's idea about a 'Jesus is alive' cake with a smashed open chocolate egg to symbolise the empty tomb. I think we will do that this year too.

Do you have any other ideas for celebrating the Easter weekend with your family?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Crying Scarlet Tears

Book Review: Crying Scarlet Tears: My Journey through Self-harm, Sophie Scott

Another somewhat challenging topic to be reading about, but this can be the reality of pastoral ministry. Not that we are talking to anyone dealing with this, but G was lent it and it pays to be aware of the possibility and be a little bit prepared.

While obviously about the concerning and depressing topic, it was very good. Scott speaks openly of her struggle with self-harm as a teenager and young-adult, and how as a Christian she struggled to understand how God could love her through what she was doing.

Throughout the book she reveals more about the circumstances which led her down this path in the beginning. What struck me though was that it was nothing entirely concrete. She started after unconsciously hitting herself, which over time escalated into episodes of self harm, including cutting herself with razors and broken glass. As she got older, it developed into other forms such as bulimia, overdosing and putting herself in dangerous situations (eg walking the streets at night). While the book does outline some of the factors which led to it, I found myself thinking that there was no clear reason why this girl chose this path, whereas others could have either chosen other destructive behaviour, or chosen not to do so, even with the same background. Of course, that is obvious - 2 different people will always respond to something differently. But I suspect that makes watching someone go through it even harder - why are they doing this when someone else isn't?

I found it quite a challenging read on a number of levels.

1. It made me realise again just how many problems that women have are related to self-esteem. If we could find a certain way of instilling a sense of worth in children and young women - that they are truly loved by God for who they are and they are treasured by the people around them - I wonder how many of these issues could be reduced.

2. Related to this in many ways is the again saddening realisation of just how many women (& men) are abused in childhood. The effects of these sins against children have such awful and far-reaching consequences.

3. The reaction of her parents stunned me. Her ministers convinced her of the need to tell her parents, and dragging up all her courage she did, and they had almost no reaction. She heard her mother crying that night, but after that it was never mentioned again. What a wasted chance her parents had - here was their daughter opening up to them and they did not jump at the chance to help her. I was really challenged by this. Why not? How many parents just ignore problems in their children and hope they go away? I have seen this in other circumstances too, and the effect this has on teenagers or young adults is huge - essentially their parents seem to be saying, 'we can't cope with this problem, and so we won't help you' - honestly what are parents for?? (I speak as a parent here, not as a teenager). What an effective way to shut down any communication with your children.

Some of the good things about this book:

1. I was very encouraged by how all of the Christian ministers, youth workers, mentors etc that she came into contact with were helpful, appropriate and willing to be there. They challenged her in her misguided views about God and his ability to love her, they set up ways of helping her, they were available and able to cope with her honesty. So many books about these types of issues also include lists of inappropriate responses of Christians and ministers. I was so happy for Sophie that she encountered people who were helpful and godly.

2. The chapter on 'how to help' was very heplful. Good instructions, ideas on what to do for people and how to be a support person for someone with self-harm issues.

3. She had a mentor who set up a relationship with boundaries. This older woman, Bev, with her own family, was happy to be called by Sophie and able to talk with her, but she set up clear guidelines, eg how she could never call after 9pm, so as not to impinge too much on her time with her husband and family. Sophie was honest that she found these boundaries hard to accept at first and got angry about them, but she came to respect them and in time realised that they were essential to ensure that Bev was able to support her without burning out herself.

So, if you are concerned about someone with potential or actual self-harm problems, this book is worth reading. I do NOT recommend it for anyone actually facing self-harm issues themselves, Sophie acknowledges herself that parts of the book would just give a self-harmer more ideas.

And, we should pray that young people find their self-worth in the God who made them and who loves them, no matter who they are or what has happened to them.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Easter Series #1

1. How you could prepare for Easter with your family

I wonder how you 'prepare' for Easter with your family? Well if you are anything like me, up to now you have not really done anything at all. The most preparation that goes into your Easter may be buying some hot-cross buns and chocolate, deciding whether to go away for the long weekend, or deciding whether you will go to church on both Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

We have been the same, well - with some exceptions! We always go to church for both Good Friday & Easter Sunday, and never go away - but that is because Husband is a minister, so we sort of have to be there! (However, prior to him being in ministry I don't think I ever went to a Good Friday service and I very much liked going away for the Easter Long Weekend!)

However, I can certainly say that I have never thought much about 'preparing for Easter' at all. All that has changed though! Which leads me to the first idea...

i) A Bible Reading Plan

Having seen the massive benefit to our family of doing a 25 day advent calendar for Christmas, which included bible readings, prayer and thinking about the passage, I thought we should do one for Easter too.

Last year I searched online, and found this plan (Annie's Easter Eggs). It is a 12-day plan, each day reading a few verses relevant to a part of the crucifixion and resurrection. I taped up a cardboard cross, and each day we opened a little egg (sourced from Kinder Surprises), which contained an item relevant to the story. Then we blue-tacked the item to the cross, to remind us of each thing. It worked for us quite well.

However, having done it, I would have preferred a different emphasis for the bible readings - some that covered more of the time in the week leading up to Good Friday, rather than emphasising various aspects of the crucifixion itself.

So, I have done one myself - it is a 14-day plan, all from Matthew's gospel (my goal is to do 4 over the next 4 years - one from each gospel). It uses the NIrV as it is aimed at younger readers, I had my 6 year old in mind, assuming that my almost 4 year old will get something out of it too.

Each day has a bible reading, a few questions, a prayer and a picture to draw (my kids loved doing the drawings for Christmas and sticking them in a line around the wall).

Here is Day 1 - so you can get an idea.

Day 1
Jesus Predicts His Own Death
Bible Reading
Matthew 20:17-19
17 Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the 12 disciples to one side to talk to them.
18 "We are going up to Jerusalem," he said. "The Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will sentence him to death. 19 Then they will turn him over to people who are not Jews. The people will make fun of him and whip him. They will nail him to a cross. On the third day, he will rise from the dead!"

What will happen to Jesus?
How does that make you feel?
Why did he go to Jerusalem even when he knew what was going to happen?
Dear God, thank you that even though Jesus knew what would happen to him in Jerusalem, he still went - willing to give his life for us. Amen
Jesus walking to Jerusalem
To keep up the excitement, each day has a little plastic openable egg, with the title of the day inside and most days have an item to remind us of the bible reading. (I got this idea from the Annie's eggs page, eg. 30c to remind of Judas betraying Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, or a stone to show that a stone was rolled in front of the tomb). We are using Kinder Surprise eggs, so if you want to do this too - go out and buy 14 Kinder Surprises (in our house the kids get the chocolate and toys in small amounts, and I get to keep the eggs!)
I have included some photos of some of them, I have not done them all yet - still more Kinder Surprises to open & eat!
(PS. the little handcuffs are from Police Lego!)

ii) Easter week

This is really a variation on the same theme above - search through the bible and try to date the events of the final week. Then read out those passages for each day. This will give children (and you!) a good idea of what actually happened on each day. (This idea is in Treasuring God in Our Traditions, Noel Piper). She also suggests making an "Easter Mountain" - a construction our of playdough, in which you can re-enact the events of each day, will people made out a 'chenille-sticks' (which I am assuming are pipe cleaners). A cautionary note she gives here is that once this gets silly for children, stop doing it - the death of Jesus is too serious to joke about. I am considering making the Easter Mountain and will post up photos if I do.
iii) Books to read

I am keen for ideas on this, as yet I have only come across one good book for Easter (although I haven't had a chance to have a good look around). Dave the Donkey (by Andrew McDonough of the Lost Sheep series) has written a fantastic book about Easter for children, told by the donkey who carried Jesus into Jerusalem and his Grandpa donkey. It is well-written, tells the story with appropriate seriousness, but also ends up celebrating 'Long live the King!'

iv) Other ideas

One friend, Lesley, suggested that prior to Easter (if she had a chance) she would "to do a taste and see over the next few weeks of the different foods in the traditional passover meal, talk about them, and then have all decide what you will actually eat on the Thursday before Good Friday." This could be helpful in thinking about various aspects of the passover in advance. My next post will discuss the idea of a Passover meal on Maundy Thursday - but if you plan to do one, you definitely need to prepare for it!
Do you have any other ideas? I would love to hear them!

I will post again in a few days about some ways to make Easter weekend itself a little more meaningful.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Easter series

Easter is coming up, and as with Christmas, I thought it might be good to think about it how we celebrate it with our families and why we do so.

We celebrate Easter as the main historical event in which our faith is grounded - the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Lord and Saviour.

So, I thought over the next few weeks, it might be helpful to think about what we can do to keep this truth the central part of Easter, rather than an additional extra.

I will aim to look at:

1. How you could 'prepare' for Easter with your family.

I have written a 14-day "Preparing for Easter with your family" plan this year, which I will talk about, as well as some other things.

2. How you could celebrate the Easter weekend itself.

3. What to think about the Easter bunny, eggs and chocolate.

And perhaps other things as I think of them!

I am also planning to finish reading Treasuring God in Our Traditions, by Noel Piper and see what suggestions she has.

So, if you have any ideas on how to celebrate Easter in a Christ-centred way, either things your family does, or you have seen done by others - please let me know via a comment and I will collate some things for us all to share.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

365 Nights

Book Review: 365 Nights: A Memoir of Intimacy, Charla Muller with Betsy Thorpe

At first glance this may seem like an odd book for me to read, let alone comment on. However, it is a good book. I will include the description of it from her blog (which is better than I could summarise!):

“365 Nights: A Memoir of Intimacy” came out June 24th by Berkley Books, a division of Penguin. It’s a funny and intimate look into turning 40, being married and wondering if there is more to marriage than laundry, babysitters and negotiating the DVR. It started when Charla’s husband was about to celebrate four decades on this planet, and she offered to give him something memorable – something that only she could give.

She offered him sex every day for a year.

This book documents that year. It’s not the behind-the-scene details of their sex life (which, really, would not be all that interesting), but rather a modest, G-rated story about how a year of daily intimacy transformed a marriage. About how the “stuff” everyone brings to a marriage can bear down on the relationship, intimacy and the desire to connect...

This book is not intended to be a self-help book. Charla insists that she has no more business counseling someone on their marriage than her mailman. Rather, it’s a book about the ups and downs of married life, trying to have it all (and failing) and figuring out how to get back to the basics of a grounded, faith-based marriage.

Here are some of my thoughts having read this book (which echo some of her observations):

Some minor thoughts:

  1. It was a thought-provoking and insightful look at marriage, parenting, the role of women and a number of other topics
  2. It issues a challenge (especially to women) not to settle for or allow their marriages to become 'un-intimate'
  3. She dealt with a delicate subject with reasonable care and choice of words. It was never seedy, titillating or inappropriate.
More detailed thoughts:
  1. I have often observed, especially in Christian circles, that people rarely talk openly about their marriages, let alone the intimacy of their marriage. I wonder if this is helpful? So many marriages struggle in different ways, but the feeling that everyone else out there is happily married prevents openness amongst even close friends. I suspect intimacy is rarely spoken of even within some marriages.
  2. Intimacy or sex is not meant to be viewed as the 'icing on the cake' in a marriage, but a crucial part of it and we have a responsibility to each other, as instructed by God to care for the intimate part of our marriage. 1 Corinthians 7:5 indicates that we should not deprive one another for any period of time, except for prayer - an excuse I have rarely heard used!
  3. The decision to have intimacy much more often in a marriage requires both to make the time from somewhere else to do so. Sounds too practical, but it is true - if you planned to make love every day for a year, what would you have to give up - the TV, the novels, the blog time? And would you consider it a sacrifice that was worth it? This could be a good indicator of how highly we value intimacy in our marriages.
  4. The only risk I thought this book may have had was raising the status of sex too high in a marriage. We don't want it to become our idol on the altar of marriage.
I won't spoil the ending by telling you what her final conclusions were, but I liked them.

Also, I won't tell you what our conclusions were after both reading it - but put it this way, we are both happier these days!

Monday, March 2, 2009

On Becoming Babywise

Book Review: On Becoming Babywise, Ezzo & Bucknam

Having now finished this baby stage of life, I thought I would return to it for a moment and review BabyWise. I realise this is a risky business! There are enough different opinions around regarding parenting, let along regarding the parenting of young babies, their feeding and sleeping. Oh well, here goes...

I should be upfront and admit I was never a fan of the Ezzo material. I read the Babywise manual for Christian parents when pregnant with M and thought while they had some common sense stuff, a lot of it was very strict and prescriptive and the theological justification for their reasoning was shaky.

Having returned to reread it again, I was pleasantly surprised by the content (note that I read that standard book version this time, not the Christian parenting course one - assuming the two different versions still exist?). In fact, it read so differently to me, that it felt like a completely different book. Perhaps there has been a massive revision? (the book I have just read was published in 2001), or perhaps there are two different versions (Christian vs. non-Christian?). It is of course possible that my memory is poor, but I'm sure it is not that poor!

Overall, it was a sensible guide to the first 6 months of parenting, with the emphasis being on establishing routines of feeding and sleeping. They call their method parent-directed feeding (PDF) -you decide when baby needs to feed, taking their needs and the time since the last feed into account. They were balanced between breast and bottle feeding, acknowledging that while in ideal circumstances breast feeding is better, that you have to make decisions that work for you and your baby - "just as breast-feeding doesn't make you a good mother, bottle-feeding won't make you a bad one" (p83). The chapters on sleeping, waketime/naptime, how to read your baby's cries and general info were all sensible and helpful.
There were some parts of it I disagreed with (as there are with any parenting book!):
  • that you had to ensure your newborn baby had a minimum of 8-10 feeds in the first few weeks. While that may be necessary for some babies, certainly not for mine, 7-8 were enough in those early weeks.
  • they recommend a cot bumper guard to prevent the baby hitting the edge of the cot - these are explicitly identified as a risk for SIDS here in Australia.
  • while much of the book, including feeding and sleeping advice was very common sense, there was very little advice on what to do if your baby did not fit the mould. If you adhered to their methodology, but your baby never slept through the night - what next? There was not much practical help here.
When I think back to my (& my friends') concerns over this material when we all read it 6-8 years ago, some of these included:
  • the fact that it almost guaranteed a baby sleeping through the night at 8-12 weeks. We (without realising it at the time) followed the PDF method of feeding, but our children never slept through the the night that early.
  • it claimed a lower incidence of post-natal depression following this method (one friend, whose child, refused to conform to any of these ideals, thought instead it increased the risk of post-natal depression if you & your baby 'failed')
  • they had two children as the examples (I think I recall their names - Ryan & Stephen?). By the end of the book, it was clear that Ryan was going to be the perfect well-adjusted child (as a result of the babywise parenting plan) and Stephen was going to end up in jail, his entire life messed up. OK - perhaps I exaggerate, but that was the idea. In this book, similar comparisons are made between the two fictional babies - Chelsea and Marisa, although nowhere near as extreme.
All in all, while I have some concerns about Babywise, it also does mirror much of our parenting philosophy - we are the parents, they are the children - we know and decide what they need and when things should happen. We decide when they sleep, feed and play, all within a framework of being aware of the signs they give us regarding hunger, tiredness etc. We are not ruled by clocks, but neither by the children themselves.

Therefore, I admit now that I will stop not recommending Babywise. I think there are people who could benefit from it, especially those parents who struggle to find order in their day (and want it), and those who end up feeding almost non-stop with babies who do not sleep much. I still prefer Baby Love (by Robin Barker). As a guide to the first 12 months I think it is the best I have come across, and it covers so much more that Babywise. Having said that, most parents invest in more than one book and this is one that it would not hurt to have.

In the end though, I think if most of us used our common-sense in parenting and trusted our instincts, as well as having a basic long-term goal of parenting, many things would sort themselves out over time. As we say to couples who are about to enter this stage - remember, in the end, all children end up sleeping, eating and toilet trained in the end, no matter which 'method' their parents used. So, trust yourself!!

[Having written the above, I fully acknowledge that it is much easier to talk about how you want to parent and what to do with babies after having done it. I remember vividly those early years, especially with Mr 0 who would not feed, worried about whether he was having enough food, feeling like it my my fault he could not feed and personally rejected by this tiny little baby who would not accept what my body would give him. I remember us at our wits' end listening to Miss 0 crying and awake overnight for months and months. I remember doubting myself and my judgment in almost every decision, sometimes by the minute (and still do at times!) So, I certainly feel for you if you are still in that 'fog' - it can take a while to lift. But, eventually it does.]