Wednesday, October 31, 2007

on mosquitoes

Last night a mosquito was buzzing around my room all night. What with the high-pitched whining next to my ear, the bites on my fingers, the difficulty I had breathing through the sheet over my head, and bad dreams about infected mosquito bites, I didn't get much sleep.

It was very annoying, but I have no deeper point to make. Sometimes a mosquito is just a mosquito.

But while we're on the subject, have you bought some gifts for needy people this Christmas? See Tear Australia's Arguably, the world's most useful gift catalogue.

Even kids can save their pocket money and buy a gift: school supplies cost only $5.00, and mosquito nets $10.00.

Because sometimes a mosquito is more than a mosquito.

In some countries, mosquitoes are not only annoying, but deadly.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

believing the deceiver

I had the most glorious walk this morning. It was one of those sun-drenched Spring mornings, with a cool, crisp breeze, and the air was fresh and clear. Every dancing shadow was sharp-etched and lovely, every finely veined leaf suffused with a deeper meaning, every branch lifted a multitude of tiny twigs to the sky in praise to God.

It was one of those rare times when my eyes were unclouded by tiredness, guilt, discouragement, or illness, and the world seemed fair and unspoiled, like it was made new this morning just for me.

It struck me that this was a small taste of how Adam and Eve must have seen the world, in all its shining newness, when they walked with God in the morning of the world, and discovered its beauties for the first time, through eyes unmarred by sin, doubt, and sorrow.

It made me wonder why they gave all this up to follow their own path away from God. It's not much of a deal is it: "Here, swap this fantastic and wonderful beauty, this serenity and bliss, this tender enjoyment of one another, this intimate walk with God, for a world filled with despair, misery, decay, confusion, pain, and death."

But of course that's not the choice that was presented to them. Satan painted the way he wanted them to take in bright and glowing colours: "God didn't really say that you would die! He's actually trying to keep from you the greatest secret of all: the knowledge of good and evil."

Little did they know the desolation that an inner knowledge of evil would produce.

And is it any different for us? We also hear the taunting, lying words of Satan, the great Deceiver, whispering in our ears, accusing us, challenging us, and tempting us with false promises of wisdom and happiness.

"God can't really have meant he would forgive you, it's obvious that you're beyond the reach of his forgiveness, you've been struggling with this sin for years!" "You don't really believe the Bible, do you, no intelligent person takes it seriously any more." "Perhaps if you expressed your anger...bought this one thing...gave into temptation just this would feel comforted, fulfilled, happier."

Like Adam and Eve, we're tempted by the promise of something better, wiser, more plausible. What we don't remember when we listen to Satan's lies, is that we're giving up all that really matters, all that deeply satisfies, all that is joyful, and meaningful, and true, for a lie that will leave only bitterness and despair in its wake.

And if this world can sometimes be so heart-breakingly lovely, imagine what heaven will be like. Now there's a promise worth believing.

see Genesis 1-3; John 8:44; 2 Corinthians 11:3

Monday, October 29, 2007

cleanliness is (not) next to godliness

I was frantically cleaning the house this morning before our staff team arrived, when the vacuum cleaner broke. I cleaned as well as I could to the accompaniment of some tears of frustration and tiredness (Andrew woke me at 4.30 old time last night, and didn't get back to sleep until 6.30 new time.) I was still cleaning when the staff team arrived, but at least the state of the floor wasn't going to disgust anyone any more!

Having forfeited my morning walk (& pray) to clean, my high stress levels led to some reflections on the godliness of cleaning.

When is cleaning godly? Well, it depends on our motivation, and the impact on ourselves and others (or even, like this morning, on our prayer life.)

Cleaning can be an idol: I've heard of people who spend hours every day sweeping perfectly clean floors. Perhaps it makes them feel in control, I don't know, but I doubt if it helps their relationships with family and friends. But while most of us probably don't have this problem (I certainly don't!) cleaning can still be an idol or an obstacle to relationships.

Perhaps cleaning has become an idol for us:
a) if we make others uncomfortable because our house is too clean, so they and their children can't relax;
b) if we become irritable with our family and friends' children when they mess up our clean house;
c) if our obsessive cleaning makes others feel bad about their own standards of cleanliness;
d) if we don't let people into our house because we feel too ashamed of the mess.

Perhaps we could do with some more cleaning in our life:
a) if the chaos in our house reaches a point where it makes others feel uncomfortable or unwelcome (unlikely, but possible!);
b) if our partner finds it hard to relax because the house is so messy;
c) if we are failing to serve our housemates or family by keeping up our end of the housework;
d) if we don't let people into our house because we feel too ashamed of the mess.

Cleaning can be an obstacle to ministry. Our visitors are probably less concerned with the mess than we are; perhaps we need to relax a bit, and let them see what life is really like for us! Why do we feel a need to pretend we have it all together when we don't?

Cleaning can also be a way to serve and minister to others. I know one godly couple who made sure their house was relatively clean on a Sunday so they could invite people over for lunch after church.

That being said, if you're really struggling to keep the house clean and tidy, relax. There are more important things, like loving your family and friends. Remember Martha (Luke 10:38-42), who Jesus rebuked because she was so "worried and anxious" about the state of the house, that she was cooking and cleaning rather than listening to him (as a fellow homemaker, I've always felt a bit sorry for Martha!)

Next time your house is a pigsty, perhaps you could remind yourself, "I'm more of a Mary, really!" and go for a walk and pray, or play with your kids and have fun making some more mess together.

If you're really struggling in this area, Fly Lady might help - some formerly chaotic and messy people swear by it.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

the problem with blogging

So what did I discover yesterday during my time reading the Bible, praying and reflecting about blogging?

I read 1 Corinthians 1-3 and was reminded:
- that God works through the foolish and weak, not the respected and wise;
- that I should discard "eloquence" and "human wisdom" in order to speak of Christ crucified;
- that those who "boast" should "boast in the Lord";
- that I am nothing - only God can make people grow;
- that the ministry I do will be tested on the last day. If it's worth doing, I will see the good results in heaven; if it's worthless, e.g. aimed only at my pride, it will be lost.

A blog is perhaps the ultimate exercise in egotism: me presenting my life & thoughts uninterrupted, daily (as if it were worth that much attention!), partly (let's be honest) in the hope that others may read it and be affected by what I write, and perhaps even (now I'm being really honest) bolster my ego through their admiration and respect.

I started this blog to get my thoughts on "paper", to reflect on things, to practise writing, to plant the seeds for future seminars and articles, to receive feedback about my ideas, to keep my brain fresh after a day with kids, to find a ministry which suits my family life and energy levels, to fill my over-active mind with helpful thoughts, and to encourage anyone who got around to reading it. Noble goals? Perhaps.

Oh, and to have fun too - and it has been a lot of fun!

But I've realised that, unlike when I lead a Bible study or seminar, I've barely prayed about what I write, or for those who read it. I've been neglecting reading the Bible, thus ensuring that most of what I write comes from my own head rather than from God (not that the blog has made me neglect the Bible, I'm pretty good at doing this on my own!)

It's easy to focus on trivialities - is my blog entertaining? is it clever? is it well-written? how many people are reading it? do they like it? - rather than on important issues - is it Biblical? is it Christ-centred? does it glorify God? is it helpful for me and my family? is it encouraging to others? The same temptations which face every Bible study leader, teacher, writer, and mentor.
So I've made a pact with myself: to read the Bible and pray for myself and you before I blog.

I've also decided to put sensible limits on my blogging: after all, my family and relationships come first. So if you notice a sudden drop in the quality of my blog, perhaps you should praise God that I'm giving more time to my family!

Blogging is no different to anything else. Whenever we minister to others - whether by leading a Bible study, mentoring someone, or speaking to someone after church - it is God's word and his gospel, not our wisdom and eloquence, that helps people to grow.

If I am proud, how it humbles me to know I am nothing, and God's power is everything. If I am discouraged, how it encourages me to know that God works through the weak. As long as I speak of his word and gospel, even in "weakness and fear, and with much trembling", he will powerfully change lives: of that I can be sure.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

no blog like God's blog

OK, here's the thing, I'm not blogging today.

Instead of blogging during my precious 1/2 hour off, I'm going to read the Bible, reflect and pray. Haven't done enough of that recently.

And if you're reading this (which I guess you are, or you woudn't be reading this, if you know what I mean) than why don't you spend the next 5 minutes reading God's words instead of mine?

That would be far more useful.

Friday, October 26, 2007

the man who mistook his wife for a hat

I've been an Oliver Sacks fan for years. I've read many of his books, from "The man who mistook his wife for a hat" to "Uncle Tungsten: memories of a chemical boyhood." So imagine my excitement when I found an article about him in last Saturday's Good Weekend, which showed he is just as much of an oddity as the people he writes about with such sympathy and insight.

Don't know about you, but I'm fascinated with so-called "abnormal" human psychology. I love learning about the amazing variants of the human mind. I enjoy films like "Rain man" and "A beautiful mind". I've read lots of books which open a window into the autistic mind, like Mark Haddon's "The curious incident of the dog in the night time", Daniel Tammet's "Born on a blue day" and Temple Grandin's "Emergence: labeled autistic".

At the moment, I'm reading Jeff Bell's "Rewind, replay, repeat", a first-person account of OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (a bit strong on the whole inner believer / higher power dynamic for my taste, but still interesting!)

My favourite Oliver Sacks case study is about an artist who lost the ability to perceive colours when the relevant portion of his brain was damaged. The world not only lost its colour, but became heavy and ominous, a hideous place where he no longer felt at home. Once a painter in love with colour, his paintings are now dull, grey and leaden, a way of sharing how he sees the world. Sacks also writes of an island community where the majority of the population are unable to perceive colour, and how this influences the way they speak of the world.

Why do I love reading these case studies? I think it's because they reveal the amazing intricacies of the human mind. They give me insight into the issues others have to deal with, like a friend whose son is autistic. They help me understand myself, because I see my own weaknesses mirrored in a more extreme form. I enjoy learning about the techniques, courage and persistence used to find healing. And where healing is not possible, it's inspiring to see how people can overcome the disadvantages, and even enjoy the opportunities, of a different way of thinking.

I am in awe of how wonderfully God made the human mind, with all its complexities. But the original beauty of the human mind has been marred by sin and suffering. Our minds are all damaged, at least to some extent. I look forward to the day when all who trust in Jesus - autistic, mentally ill, brain-damaged, and so-called "normal" - will find our hurts healed and our wholeness restored, when we worship God together in a place beyond suffering.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

...and speaking of facebook

"You are invited to put me in your top friends!...rate your friends!...rate my personality!...guess my IQ! (are you smarter than me?)...describe me in two words! me to my friends!" Is it only me, or do you sometimes feel uncomfortable with the facebook applications sent to you?

Yes, I admit it, I'm a facebook junky. After only 3 weeks on facebook, I challenge any of you to have more applications than me.

I've done the IQ test, the 10 second interview (always wanted to do one of those), the personality test, the "which female super hero are you?" quiz (Wonder Woman and Princess Leia, if you're wondering.) I've listed my favourite causes, movies, and music, and displayed quotes and pictures from the best films of all time. I've joined all the groups with the coolest titles: "I'd marry the Beast if I could have a library like that..."

I've even asked friends to "join my pirate army", one of the more annoying and pointless facebook applications (where are you, me hearties?)

I've decorated my profile with every garden, aquarium and room out there, and I've got my very own art gallery (250 paintings so far - I'm a little obsessive.) I send myself (or my kids) hatching eggs and growing seeds so I can have my favourites on my profile (would someone please send me the grow-a-gift pile of books, by the way, so I look less pathetic?)

Rearranging my facebook profile is the only craft this mother of 4 has energy for at the moment.

Facebook is seriously useful for making and maintaining connections (I've made new friends and rediscovered old ones on the other side of the world). It's quicker and easier than email. It keeps me in touch with how friends, relatives, students and graduates are going (I'm not much good with phone calls.) It enables me to encourage sick and lonely friends with a message or gift. It keeps us mothers from feeling isolated when we're at home all day with young children.

And some facebook applications are wonderful, like the ones which allow you to share books. My 1 year old son now performs death-defying mountaineering feats on the pile of library books recommended by my facebook friends. Unfortunately, I've got no time to read them, I'm too busy facebooking.

But I find some of the applications a little disturbing.

Apparently, a very lovely friend thinks I'm "most likely to kick it with Jesus some day" (the facebook version of salvation by grace?) and some kind and forgiving person (you know who you are) described me as "wise" and "godly" in the "define me!" application (I hide that one down on the bottom left corner of my profile, to remind me what I have to live up to.)

I have my very own entourage ("Jean rolls 71 deep!"). I squirm every time I see it, but it's handy how it shows the photos in alphabetical order. One day, I may even "rate my friends", so I'm not so overwhelmed by the large number of faces on there (I got a bit excited asking people to "be my friend!" when I first went on facebook.)

My facebook profile is an opportunity to display my inner self (or at least the parts I want you to see): my favourites, my top ten, my personality, my mood, how you define me, how you compare to me. Harmless fun? - perhaps, but appealing directly to the self-absorbed egotist in all of us.

That said, I'll "define you", "compare you" or give you a "superlative" any time you ask.

Enough about that, gotta go now, someone's asked me to do a facebook quiz on my top 10 pet peeves...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

a facebook message from my daughter

"Dear mummy, I love you even though you are sometimes grumpy! I hope you like this piture. LOTS and LOTS and LOTS of LOVE LIZZY!!!"
Written after that grumpy morning yesterday. Thank God for the forgiving spirit of children!
My arm is tired after waving and blowing kisses for about 15 minutes to a very excited Lizzy on the bus. She's on her way to her first school camp today!!! Mental images of that smiling pale face, bright pink jumper, and waving arm growing smaller and smaller as the bus drove around the corner on its way to camp...
Now I have that feeling you have when your first child goes to their first day at school, strangely empty and dislocated...another milestone on the way to growing up.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

...and the rest of my day

Well, it took me a while to stop shaking(!), but the rest of the day went well.

Lizzy (9) and I had a fun girly afternoon packing her bag for camp. I've put all her outfits in plastic bags and labelled them e.g. "Thursday outdoor clothes", "disco (believe it or not!) clothes", "bus clothes". Yes, I know, I'm micro managing, but I've been told her clothes will be completely unusable after the outdoor activities, so I didn't want her to wear her good clothes by mistake.

After dinner I read her a chapter of The secret garden, all 10 pages of it, with Yorkshire accents (un)faithfully rendered. Then lots of last minute getting ready for an early start tomorrow.

Lizzy is so excited about the camp, she's telling complete strangers all about it! My shy girl has become a confident, lovely young lady.

Before she was born, I prayed for a girl (secretly!) who would be confident and independent (unlike me as a child) but also loving, gentle, sensible, responsible, caring...sometimes God says "no", but sometimes he says "yes" so exactly you could knock me over with a feather! She is a wonderful companion to me.

one of those mornings...

Well, we had one of those mornings.

The kids were in high spirits, yelling and screeching at the tops of their voices, laughing so hard they could barely stand up, pushing each other over and laughing some more, pulling each other around by skipping ropes and laughing some more...

A delightful scene of family harmony, except they were waking their sick father and moving extremely slowly on the jobs that needed to be done before school.

I had several options at this point:
a) join in, laughing and screeching like a banshee as I danced gaily around the loungeroom;
b) explain in quiet and soothing tones that yes, I enjoyed their high spirits, but it was time to knuckle down and get ready;
c) shout at them to stop screaming! hurry up! get ready NOW!
d) threaten dire punishments if they did not stop screaming! hurry up! get ready NOW!
e) enforce punishments without warning in a random and erratic manner;
f) spend the remaining 40 minutes before school expostulating with various children, whether or not they were doing anything wrong.

Well, I'm sorry to say that my response had more in common with options c, d, e & f than with a & b.

1 minute after time to leave for school, and Thomas (4) is attached to the computer like a leech ("just let me kill these people, Mummy!" - he's playing Age of Empires, a surprisingly bloodthirsty game); Ben (7) has still not packed his bag; Lizzy (9) is having her ponytail done and complaining ("that hurts, Mummy! why are you so cross, Mummy?")

4 minutes after time to leave for school and I can't find my keys ANYWHERE! I call Steve to expostulate ("you had them last! where did you put them?" left on his mobile) only to find them where I had left them under a pile of clothes, and to field a return call from him patiently explaining he never used them.

7 minutes after time to leave for school and we're on our way! At school, I cuddle Lizzy and apologise for being cross - can't let her go to school with a cross mother as her last memory. I cuddle Benny, then look in his bag and realise HE'S FORGOTTEN HIS LUNCHBOX! I let him go to school with a cross mother as his last memory.

Go home, pick up said lunchbox, return to school (and yes, if you're wondering, I do believe in letting kids take responsibility for their own mistakes, but I have visions of a hungry and miserable child.)

As I turn into a parking spot near Ben's classroom, I scrape the side of another car (not too badly, thankfully). AAARGH! Leave phone number with a very forgiving and sympathetic mother (who has also been bringing a forgotten lunchbox to school). Try not to think about the possible expenses we are about to incur. (My own heavenly father's discipline, more gentle and timely than mine?)

Go into the classroom and leave Ben's lunchbox. Feel so guilty about the morning, that I wait for Ben to appear (he's running a message for the teacher) so I can kiss him goodbye. He runs off cheerfully, and wipes the kiss off his cheek, apparently unaffected by the whole experience.

So that's it, a snippet of real life from the Williams household. Welcome to mayhem, impatience, anger, love, stress, apologies, and forgiveness.

Monday, October 22, 2007

...the tooth x-ray saga continues...

And by the way, we made it to the appointment for Lizzy's tooth x-ray today...only the 4th try! - see my post on "how (not) to answer the existential questions of a 4 year old" below.

my dad the mathematician

Q. How do you know a mathematician is an extrovert?
A. He looks at your shoes when he's talking to you.

A statistician, a physicist and a mathematician were travelling from England into Scotland. They saw a black cow by the side of the road.
The statistician said, "Look! the cows in Scotland are black!"
The physicist said, "No, at least one cow in Scotland is black."
The mathematician said, "No, at least one side of one cow in Scotland is black."

If I asked my father "What's 100 minus 56?" he would say "It depends what base you're working in." At the dinner table, we answered questions like "1, 2, 4, 8, 16...What's the next number in the sequence?" (it was fun, by the way, which says a lot about me.) When I got 99% in a test, my father asked me, "What about the other 1%?"

Ever wondered why I'm a perfectionist? I was brought up by a mathematician.

All other children of mathematicians will understand. In fact, I've started a new facebook group just for us.

This blog is dedicated to Bek, who has the good fortune to be marrying a mathematician this December. Go Bek!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

answered prayer

Ben's teacher has encouraged me to write a letter requesting a supportive teacher for Ben during grade 2 next year. I've been told that Ben still needs lots of support, because he bursts into tears when he gets something wrong (a perfectionist like his mother - gotta love those genes!)

Two years ago, when Ben was about to start prep, I seriously considered writing to the school and asking that he not have a particular teacher, who I thought might be too harsh for him - I was told by someone that she would "eat him up and spit him out!"

On that occasion I decided to pray rather than write, since I wasn't certain. And sure enough, my heart sank when I heard that Ben had been given this teacher! But she turned out to be absolutely right for him: supportive, understanding, patient, and caring. Now there's an answer to prayer.

Last year, when Ben was about to go into grade 1, I wrote a letter asking for a supportive teacher, again because his teacher recommended this. I wrote because I figured this was part of loving and protecting Ben. But I also prayed. And again my prayers were answered.

And while I can't give you the details, a couple of months ago my prayers about Thomas' kinder teacher for next year were answered in a spectacularly specific and wonderful way!

So God is powerful and answers prayer - don't know why that surprises me, but it gets me each time. And I will be writing that letter, but I will be trusting God's love and power more.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Spiritual Depression: book review

I want to introduce you to a physician of the soul. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was a medical doctor before switching to spiritual surgery. He became perhaps the most famous British preacher of the 20th century.

His great passion was to diagnose and treat the illnesses of the soul, to help unhappy Christians rediscover their joy in God.

I've been (very) slowly reading MLJ's sermons Spiritual Depression: Its causes and cures, and have recently listened to his talks Standing Fast (aren't we privileged to be able to hear great preachers speak to us?)

It's been wonderful to hear his wise words echo across a century, addressing problems which still feel contemporary:
- will God ever be able to forgive me for the terrible things I've done?
- can I be sure I wouldn't deny Jesus if someone threatened my family?
- why don't I feel more deeply about my faith?
- how do I deal with the fear caused by the uncertain state of the world? (MLJ lived through two world wars.)

He treats spiritual depression with a good dose of common sense (people who are morbidly introspective should pray less!); a familiarity with what he calls "the wiles of the devil" (said with a wonderful Welsh burr); and a bracing application of God's word to unbelief ("You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself!")

Get hold of his book, or if you're not a reader, some of his sermons on CD - he's even better in audio - and allow this great spiritual physician to probe your soul.

Friday, October 19, 2007

aaargh! I've maxed my credit card!

Actually I haven't, but I got your attention, didn't I?

If you know me better than Jocelyn Sinclair (you know, she's minister of health in Dyslexia) then you will realise I have a long-term issue with spending more than we can afford. At least you will if:
a) you have ever been to one of my seminars;
b) we have ever talked about things we're struggling with;
c) we've ever talked about pretty much anything, actually.
As you may have realised by now, I'm a self-revelation kind of girl.

I have spent (no pun intended) the second half of this year climbing - one homebrand product at a time - out of the financial pit I dug for myself (and my endlessly patient husband) in the first half of this year, during a series of bad spending choices of such insignificance that I can't even remember them.

I have learnt how hard it is to maintain the initial impetous of that "aaargh!" moment when you look at your credit card bill, and realise that the total has passed your personal comfort levels (fairly high, in my case - it's amazing what habit can accustom you to.)

If there is any one possession I would gladly relinquish (and it has taken me many, many years of soul-searching to reach this point) it is that little piece of contoured red plastic snazzily designed by Virgin. I have visions of cutting it into tiny pieces and throwing it into a pit of super-heated fire (I've thought about this a lot, haven't I?) and running away at top speed (i.e. not all that fast) only to turn and find that, like the Terminator (haven't seen that movie? you're so young/old/female) it has pieced itself back together and is still following me... with a sub-machine gun.

No other object in my life has been responsible for so much temptation, sin, misery, guilt, self-recrimination, doubt, sleepless nights, and broken promises (to self, that is, I don't make the other kind any more).

So why haven't I done like Jesus said and cut it up and thrown it away? Well, I've been extremely cunning at avoiding this moment for many years, trusting rather in clever financial plans which never eventuated (perhaps if I shuffled my bank accounts around?) or in my own self-control (amazing how you can continue to believe in something so obviously lacking).

Meanwhile the bank rings me every couple of weeks and offers yet another increase in the top limit on our credit card (after all, I am one of their best customers, just look at all that interest we've paid.) Just think, you could buy yet more things you can't afford, with money you don't have! Your own personal ticket to greed and financial ruin!

If you have one, cut it up now! If you don't, never get one! Or you may find it following you with a hatchet, like some B-grade horror flick: "Attack of the killer..." (They're red. They're rectangular. They're deadly.)

(Of course, this may not be a temptation for you, in which case by all means keep the plastic for convenience and security, just remember what I said when you lie screaming on the ground with a chainsaw raised over you...)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

honestly, Jean

A wise man (Peter Adam, principal of Ridley Theological College, not the Dalai Lama) once told me that he often looked at his 300 strong congregation at St. Judes, Carlton, and reflected that every married couple in the congregation was thinking exactly the same thing: that every other married couple in the congregation was happier/less argumentative/more godly/better looking than them (well, actually he didn't say better looking, I made that part up).

And isn't that how it works? We have a heated argument in the car on the way to church, but when we get there, we sit outwardly serene and smiling, presenting a united and apparently loving front to the people around us. Or we lead a Bible study on the importance of daily prayer, while failing to mention the fact that we have been struggling with depression, and have found it hard to pray at all during the last 3 months.

Meanwhile, we wonder whether our marriages are going to make it, or whether we are going to make it, since every one else seems to have it so much more together than we do.

It's terribly discouraging to think that you're the only one who struggles with certain feelings, or gives in to certain temptations. How many of us have thought "I can't really be a Christian. I do..."? But what do we really have to hide from each other? We all struggle, sorrow, and fail. We are all broken people in need of God's comfort. We are all sinners in need of God's grace.

Which is a long-winded way of explaining why I have called my blog "in all honesty". I want to be honest about how tough it can get, and how sinful I can be, my readers (all 2 of you, and I know you pretty well, so it shouldn't be that hard...)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

how (not) to answer the existential questions of a 4 year old

Two weeks ago I completely forgot an appointment for Lizzy's teeth to be x-rayed. Yesterday I cancelled the same (rescheduled) appointment, after realising I was going to arrive 10 minutes late. Today I arrived at the same (re-rescheduled appointment) 10 minutes late (again!), only to be told that I had failed to bring the essential yellow slip of paper which would allow said x-ray to take place. The appointment has been re-re-rescheduled for next Monday: I will keep you posted on that (maybe someone could text me?)

I engaged in some creative road rage yesterday on the way to the x-ray centre, when a taxi held me up on the right turn out of school, an episode which involved thumping on the steering wheel, slapping the door loudly (I've heard that hurries slow drivers up), and muttering under my breath ("stupid taxi, can't say that...God doesn't want me to say that..."), leading to the following conversation:

Lizzy (9) - "Mummy, why are you grumpy with me? I hate it when you're grumpy."
Jean (38) - "I'm not grumpy with you, darling, I'm just worried about being late."
Thomas (4) - "Who are you grumpy with, Mummy?"

Which led to some existential musings on my part: "Who exactly am I grumpy with?...myself for failing to get the kids out of class early?...the rain for slowing down our trip out of school?...the taxi driver who isn't watching the road?...God?...well, yes, probably God for allowing this (admittedly minor) suffering...can't say that to a 4 year old...I hope he doesn't notice I haven't answered his question..."

He didn't.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

personality tests

Yes, I admit it, I'm a sucker for personality tests. I love the way you can spend 10 minutes absorbed in the fascinating topic of yourself, and at the end of it - for only $2.00, people! (actually, I'm too much of a skinflint, I stick to the free ones) - you receive a complete personality profile, tastefully presented with graphs, comparisons to your Facebook friends, and even suggestions for improvement ("perhaps if you opened yourself up to new experiences...")

This week, I've discovered that I'm an INFJ - thus gaining a defining sense of self in only 4 letters - on the impressively named Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. According to Wikipedia, which is, as we all know, the source of all truth, only 1.5% of the general population belong to my type - so I now know that I am rare and unusual (the thesaurus gives the synonym "wierd"). A website on the Kiersey types describes me as having "an unusually rich inner life" (ooh, I like that - great how you can pick and choose) and have an "intricately woven, mysterious" personality which will "sometimes puzzle even" me (yep, agree with that!)

I have discovered that INFJs love personality tests from the fact that I've already met two equally obsessed INFJ friends on Facebook. I now know why my best friends see me as an "extrovert", while a colleague described me (in print) as a "shy girl from Blackburn" (I've never quite forgiven him). I have also learned why I carefully write a pro and con list, then make a life-changing decision based purely on what "feels" right e.g. on whether I've eaten too much chocolate that day, yet another thing INFJs are apparently prone to.

So how much more do I really know about myself now that I've taken the test? Well, I've realised just how self-absorbed I can be, from the amount of websites I've looked at. And I've been reminded how well that little idol, that statue of myself, is firmly seated on the throne in my heart, from the way I am ceaselessly fascinated by my own personality. I have been reminded that I, like all of us, am "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14).

In a sense, I've learned nothing that I didn't already know. I've been reminded that God has given me particular strengths so I can help others; that I have a propensity for certain weaknesses; and that I have put myself, not God, firmly at the centre of my life. In other words, I need God's grace as much as ever.