Tuesday, December 22, 2009


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. 

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 ...!
Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD! ...

Another friend here in Adelaide has been recently diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. 

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


    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:
    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:
    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!