Friday, November 30, 2007

responses to my brush with mortality

I was nearly side-swiped by a truck merging with my car on the freeway this morning, when I averted sudden death thanks to a vacant spot in the next lane - more accurately, thanks to God's sovereign care. It reminded me that the exact timing of my death is in God's hands, and that he is in control of every tiny circumstance. Nothing to fear, when he knows us and loves us so much!

Clearly, I'm not the only one who thinks about death. The post my brush with mortality received quite a few responses this week. I was very encouraged by what people said, so I thought I'd share their comments with you (anonymously, of course.)

- I told one friend how ridiculous I felt speaking of my fear of being on the edge of death when I obviously wasn't(!) She said that whether I'm sick or not is irrelevant, because I was writing about "the fear of the unknown, or more precisely the lack of fear of the unknown (praise God!)" She reminded me of how amazingly God works in us - that he changed the way I respond to death, even when I wasn't looking.

- a couple of people were struck by the fact that God's supernatural power is available to us in the midst of grief and suffering. One wrote that she has been feeling like her faith is weak and wondering how she would cope with severe suffering, and was encouraged to be reminded that the grace we need is from God, not us.

- a friend who has dealt with similar (but more serious) uncertainty in her own life said that she felt many of the same things, and that she found it "great to be able to rest in the assurance of God's sovereignty and love." She reminded me, very helpfully, that even our grief is temporary if we are Christians, for we can be confident of being reunited with those we love in eternity.

- other relevant Bible passages people suggested included Hebrews 12 (one of my own favourites), Lamentations 3 (a great example of arguing yourself out of discouragement), and Psalm 139.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

spoiled brat? me?

It dawned on me this morning what a spoiled brat I am. You see, our family is in the incredibly privileged position of receiving a cheap holiday in Bright every year, as part of others' generous support of our ministry. Now, this is no small thing for me. Steve gets 4 weeks off, and this is the 1 week of those 4 which is my week off, a week which perfectly suits my requirements for relaxation.

For the kids, it's a chance to play games with their parents, ride their bikes, visit the adventure playground by the river, and toboggan in the snow. But I'm perfectly content to be alone with my family for a week, in a house with a couch where I can sit and read, occasionally glancing up to see the view. Around the corner, there's the most glorious walk, past sunset skies glowing on green fields, hazy blue hills and rows of golden poplars; through a little tangled wood like a fairy wonderland; and up the hill to a distant view of snow-topped mountains. My own special little corner of Bright.

We just received the news that - shock, horror! - on the week we plan to go away, the only house available in Bright is different to our usual house! A disaster of epic proportions! And of course, my main moan to Steve was "But this is my week off! I love that house! I hate change! The other house looks like it doesn't have any views! This is so unfair!" Petulant child, that's me.

While going for my walk and praying this morning, I realised what a spoiled brat I am. This is a great opportunity to serve Steve, to go away during a week which suits him (it's the week just after Summit, our mid-year conference, when he has reached the point of maximum exhaustion) even if the exact placement of the holiday doesn't suit me. In other words, a very small opportunity to be like my Saviour, who "did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45)

How much we have - a family, a big house we can (just!) afford, opportunities to take time off most weekends and 4 weeks every year, free access to modern medicine, a safe and secure society, the freedom to meet publically with other Christians, money to spend on stuff we don't need, and - get this - a virtually free holiday to Bright every year!! - and what do I complain about? "But it's not the house I like!"

Meanwhile, not so far from here, parents watch their children starve because they can't feed them; natural and man-made disasters bring widespread homelessness; people work for long hours in awful conditions every day of the year to feed their families; death from diseases like cholera, HIV and malaria is commonplace; children are kidnapped to serve in armies; and Christians live in constant fear of torture and death for their faith.

So what words did the Holy Spirit speak into my heart as I walked this morning? "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (1 Thess. 5:16-8) A timely reminder from God to stop being so petulant, and to be thankful for the enormous number of blessings he has given us: above all, the gift of eternal life through his Son.

I am working on my thankfulness today. Want to join me?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

a Melbourne story

This story does not begin on a boat.

We begin our story in a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, in a market swarming with fat pigs and thin people. The fat pigs are hanging from hooks, waiting to be hacked into segments, and the thin people are waiting to buy these segments wrapped in newspaper over a glass counter. When they haggle over the price of trotters, there is much
hand-gesticulating and furrowing of brow because the parties do not spick da Ingish velly good. "Like a chicken trying to talk to a duck," my mother calls these conversations. But she is not here today to quack over quality pigs' paws because she is lying in a white hospital room waiting for me to arrive. ...

This is the suburb where words like and, at and of are redundant, where full sentences are not necessary. "Two kilo dis. Give me seven dat." If you were to ask politely, "Would you please be so kind as to give me a half-kilo of the Lady Fingers?" the shop-owner might not understand you. "You wanna dis one? Dis banana? How many you want hah?" To communicate, my father realises, does not merely mean the strumming and humming of vocal cords, but much movement of hands and contortion of face. The loudest pokers always win, and the loudest pokers are usually women. My father's moment is lost when a middle-aged woman with Maggi-noodle curls points at the man behind the counter with a flailing forefinger and almost jabs out an eye as she accuses the other Non-English-Speaking Person of selling her furry trotters. "Why yu gib me did one? Dis one no good! Hairy here, here and dere! Hairy everywhere! Dat nother one over dere better. Who you save da nother one for hah?" Bang on the counter goes the bag of bloodied body parts, and my father knows that now is the time to scoot away to the stall opposite if he wants hairless ham.

This suburb, Footscray, has possibly the loudest and grottiest market in the Western world, although that term doesn't mean much when you're surrounded by brown faces. Footscray Market is the only market where you can peel and eat a whole mandarin before deciding whether to buy a kilo; where you can poke and prod holes in a mango to check its sweetness. My father does not even bat an eye at the kid who is covering her face with one hand, holding out a wet peeled lychee with the other, and wailing "Aaaarghhh! My eyeball!" to her little brother. He watches as the baby in the pram starts howling and the mother pulls off some grapes from a stand to shut him up while she goes on with her poking and prodding and justified pilfering. Parsimonious women aren't going to spend four dollars on sour strawberries simply because they were too stupid to taste-test them first. "Cause you more trouble coming back the second time!" declares my mother. "Ayyah, no good to be tormented by four dollars! Try and avoid it if you can." But there is no way to taste-test these trotters, my father thinks as he looks through the clear plastic bag, so he has to take the word of the shouting woman in the opposite stall. He will bring these trotters home for his sister to boil into a broth, and then he will take the broth to the hospital for his wife.

He steps out onto the footpath, away from the damp smells of the market. This is the suburb of madcap Franco Cozzo and his polished furniture, the suburb that made Russell Crowe rich and famous for shaving his head and beating up ethnic minorities, so it doesn't really matter that these footpaths are not lined with gold but dotted with coruscating black circles where people spat out gum eons ago. "Don't swallow the rubber candy," mothers say to their kids. "Spit it out. Spit it out now - that's right, onto the ground there." Ah, this wondrous new country where children are scared of dying because they have swallowed some Spearmint Wrigley's, not because they stepped on a condensed-milk tin filled with ammunition!
This is an excerpt from Alice Pung's autobiography Unpolished Gem. It's her story of growing up in Melbourne in an immigrant Chinese-Cambodian family, with a father who opens an electrical appliance store to chase the Australian suburban dream, a mother who treats advertisements like documentaries of how the "white ghosts" live, and a bevy of relatives who watch her every move. It was fun to read a novel set in the suburbs of Melbourne, and I gained much more insight into and sympathy for what it's like to live as an immigrant, or an immigrant's child, in Australia.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

my brush with mortality

On Friday I confronted my mortality. Of course, we all think about death from time to time. As you know if you've been reading my blog, I've been thinking about it a lot recently. This is mainly because we recently received the devastating news that Steve's father has liver cancer, which is enough to bring anyone face-to-face with the possibility of life-threatening illness.

A few weeks ago, after hearing the news, I told Steve that there is only one thing which really terrifies me: not death itself, but leaving our 4 young children without a mother and with the scars of losing me during their childhood, and coping with the grief of knowing I would not being able to watch them grow up. At least, I may be able to watch from heaven - who knows? - but surely it wouldn't be the same as holding a child on your lap, stroking their hair, reading them a story.

I have recently had some gradually worsening lower abdominal pain. And this just after having read a Good Weekend article about how these vague kinds of symptoms should be investigated in case they are ovarian cancer. When the pain became more persistent, it was clear I needed to book a date with my GP.

Of course, I also took refuge in that modern source of medical misinformation, needless anxiety and terrifyingly gross-me-out medical photographs, the internet, which told me what I already knew: that lots of minor conditions could cause this kind of pain, the least likely of which was ovarian cancer, but that this was a possibility.

Now, I've used the internet for medical (dis)information before - most memorably at 3:00 am during my last labour, when I became convinced (incorrectly) that I had been struck down with some terrible labouring woman's infection (can't remember exactly which one at this point, but it seemed very real at the time, as these things often do at 3 in the morning.) And always there is a little rational voice somewhere at the back of my mind, telling me how ridiculous I'm being. But this time the voice was silent.

So last Friday I made an appointment to see my doctor after a visit to the hairdresser. I was driving the car with tears streaming down my face, doing my best to stop crying so I could see the road and escape instant death of another kind, as well as prevent the social embarrassment of arriving for my hairdresser's appointment with red-rimmed eyes (I avoided the first successfully, but not the second.)

What astounded me was that these were tears of grief, not fear. I was amazed to discover that, at the deepest level, I am not scared of death at all, even for the sake of my children. Which is not to say that I wouldn't experience terror if I was suddenly confronted with a knife-wielding maniac, or dread if I was lying in hospital waiting to die, but at the deepest level I was feeling trust rather than fear. I was able to say to God "Your will be done" and actually mean it, even if every fibre of my being was crying out against it.

You see, after all these years, I know God. I don't mean that in a boastful way, I mean that through experience I have found him to be absolutely trustworthy. I know his faithfulness, his love, and his dependability. I know (although I have doubted it at times) that he is not capricious, and he doesn't enjoy inflicting pain. I know that he holds each member of our family in his hand, and that he will not allow any suffering to come to any of us which is not necessary for our growth or his glory, both of which matter more to me, in the last assessment, than our comfort and happiness.

And even more remarkable to me was the realisation that this inner certainty was not from me. I generally think of my inner states as products of my strength of character or things I have done: programs I have followed, actions I have taken, attitudes I have adopted. But on Friday I learnt that trust in God in the face of death, and joy in God in the midst of grief, are in no way human, they are supernatural. The peace and joy we sometimes feel when confronting our deepest anxieties and fears are not from us, they are from his Spirit working within us. They are not from us, they are from God. Praise be to his name.

Which is not to say we can't prepare for suffering. We can read books that will give us the kind of big view of God and his dealings with us which will help us to keep trusting him whatever happens (the one which has most impacted me is Don Carson's How Long O Lord.) We can read, memorise and meditate on the Bible, until it soaks into us, and is there whenever we need it, springing up from within (the passages I keep coming back to are Ephesians 1:3-10, 1 Peter 1:3-9, Romans 8:28-39.) We can learn to argue ouselves out of despair and discouragement (like the writers of Psalm 22, 42, 73.) We can live for God, and learn to trust him, through years of getting to know our heavenly Father. From these truths working within us, will come peace and joy in times of trouble, the fruit of God's Spirit speaking to us through his Word.

Of course, none of this is a miraculous panacea for grief, for Christians are not exempt from sorrow and pain. I know the harsh reality of discovering I was desperately ill would be far worse than my vague fears. If the worst came to pass, my grief at leaving my family would be absolutely terrible: knowing that I wouldn't be there to welcome Steve home and enjoy his quiet company, to help Lizzy become a young woman, to exclaim as Ben describes his latest imaginary world, to laugh at one of Thomas' quaint sayings, or to hold little Andrew close in my arms. And I don't even want to think about the grief and life-long issues that my family and friends would be left to deal with, although I know God would be with them - and me - through it all.

But I also know, from reading about the experience of Christians in the midst of excruciating pain and loss, that there is a joy in God, a delight in his glory, a trust in his love, and a hope in heaven, which go beyond human doubt, fear and sorrow, and which can co-exist with agony and grief. I think I don't often glimpse them because my troubles are so often imaginary or trivial. But they are there, deep down, gifts of God's Spirit, for any Christian who finds themselves in need.

BTW (that's By The Way for you SMS philistines - of which I was one only a few months ago) the doctor declared me clear on the cancer front (as far as you can know from poking and prodding in search of lumps) and concluded (after much poking and prodding and waiting for me to say "ouch!") that I may have uterine fibroids, a benign and treatable condition. I'm having an ultrasound in a couple of weeks.

Monday, November 26, 2007

the maelstrom and the sea of tranquillity

I was standing in the kitchen on Saturday, feeling like the still centre at the heart of a tropical cyclone, a whirlpool of love, affection, enthusiasm and joy. My mother had come over to help out while Steve was away.

Children were running, shouting, playing. Mum was alternately reading a series of board books to baby Andrew, helping Thomas with the dot-to-dot and sticker books she brought, patiently listening to Ben recite lists of Pokemon and their evolutions, creating beautiful cards with Lizzy using every scrap of fabric and craft paper in the house, and intermittently asking me "Is there anything I can do to help?"

When my mother walks in the door, all four children run screaming "Grandma Ruth's here! Gwandma Wuth's here! Ga-ma!" depending on their various stages of verbal development, and she drops all her belongings on the floor while she cuddles each one and tells them how much she loves them and has missed them since last time she saw them - yesterday.

When she stays the night, at 6.30 they all creep into bed with her and time-travel the globe in the stories she tells: "Where shall we go today? I know, Imperial China!" At the end of her stay, after numerous hugs and goodbyes, the house is littered with unfinished cups of tea, forgotten possessions, the detritus of numerous craft projects, and four bereft children. Thomas speaks for all of them: "I like she! When is Gwandma coming back? I want she!"

When Audrey, Steve's mother, comes over, I stand in the kitchen and feel a warm, peaceful stillness descend on the house. You can barely hear the "click" of the door as she steps inside: I will sometimes go into the kitchen and realise she has been unpacking the fruit, vegetables, jams and eggs she has brought from her garden and chooks, without me noticing her arrival.

She spends her time in the kitchen, scrubbing cupboard doors, unpacking the dishwasher, heating soup; or in the garden, pulling weeds out of garden beds, fussing over the neglected lemon tree, and pruning rampant rose bushes. The children trail behind her, fascinated, as she bakes trays of anzacs and gingernut biscuits, or shows them worms and snails as they dig in the dirt together.

Audrey is a midwife, and has brought a quiet calm to the birth of each of our children, and a secure feeling of being cared for during the days of recovery. She leaves as silently as she comes: sometimes I only know she's gone by the empty yard and kitchen, and Thomas asking "Where's Gwandma Audrey? Can I go and see Gwandma?"

Somewhere between the maelstrom and the sea of tranquillity there's me: enthusiastically affectionate or calmly loving, reading stories or mopping floors, excitedly playing or quietly present. It's odd how, when either of my mothers enters the house, it takes on their character. When they leave, I slip back into my own skin.

But while they're here, these two wonderful women introduce us to two different ways of being, bringing with them an exuberant love and joy in life, or a gentle affection and serenity, as their gift to me and the children.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

wild animals of the tame kind

While we're on the subject of animals, I've been reading about a wild animal of another kind: an enormous, rambunctious, destructive, affectionate, psychotic labrador called Marley, the kind of dog who pulls garage doors from their moorings, gets expelled from obedience class, and tears walls to pieces during thunderstorms.

The book is Marley and me: Life and love with the world's worst dog by John Grogan, which I read after seeing it on a facebook friend's profile (I can't remember who, but thankyou!)

This book was a breath of fresh air, making absolutely no intellectual demands (it's fairly well written, but not in the "worthy English literature" sense) and causing lots of big belly laughs (LOL, as they say in SMS land, unless you're my mother, in which case LOL will never mean anything other than Lots Of Love). Good medicine for a troubled mind and heart, following the trivial (see whiny blogs below) and not-so-trivial (family health issues) trials of the last couple of months.

My brain also needed a break after ploughing slowly through the encouraging but densely written book Spiritual Depression by Martyn Lloyd-Jones (yes! I've finished, thanks to a looming deadline for a book review.) I've also been trying to wrap my brain around some difficult issues to do with self-control and food, involving my first encounter with New Testament Greek (thank you, Rachel!) And I've been reading some pretty heavy novels recently (thanks again, facebook friends, you and your Visual Bookshelfs.)

Of course, you won't enjoy this book if you're like my husband, who has a pathological aversion to dogs of any kind; or if you can only bring youself to read worthy books by Calvin and Carson, Nietzsche and Foucault, or Dostoyevsky and Doctorow. I'm not so discerning, I'll read pretty much anything, including the small print on the side of the muffin mix box, unless it's too appallingly written. I do like my apostraphes in the right place, though.

So if you're feeling tired after exams, a year at work, or months caring for young children, I suggest you take a copy of this book on holidays this summer, and relax mentally as well as physically. Happy reading!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

content in all circumstances? not me.

From my facebook profile this morning:
"Jean Williams is miserable...her computer has died AGAIN! Aaargh! 10:26"
"Jean Williams is happy...her computer has been fixed by her wonderful brother! YAY! 11:48"

From the apostle Paul's declaration in Phil. 4:10-12 ...
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.

... as rephrased by Martyn Lloyd-Jones in Spiritual Depression (pp.280, 285) which I read only yesterday:
"I am in control. I am master of the situation, I am not mastered by the situation, I am free, I am at liberty, I do not depend for my happiness upon what is happening to me. My life, my happiness, my joy and my experience are independent of the things that are going on round about me, and even of the things that may be happening to me...
"[Paul] had learned to find his pleasure and his satisfaction in Christ and always in Christ...
"Christian people, can you say that, do you know that state?"

I think that would be a no.

Yesterday I was on top of the world after a wonderful meeting with my kids' school principal, in which I discussed doing some writing, editing, and maybe even some special interest teaching, at the school in the years to come.

This morning I was in the depths of despair, after a 5:15 wakeup, lots of baby brother baiting and tantrums from Thomas, and a computer which was dead in the water...again!

Ok, so I've got a long way to go before I'm as godly as the apostle Paul. No surprises there.

Thankfully Martyn Lloyd-Jones says that contentment is something Paul struggled to learn, and which we can learn too.

I'll keep you posted.

Just to clarify (and to reassure myself!) Martyn Lloyd-Jones would never argue that Christians should be immune to circumstances. They feel happiness, grief, joy, sorrow, and that's perfectly appropriate. But they have an abiding inner joy in Christ, independent of feelings of happiness, which never really disappears, whatever their mood or circumstances.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

circular conversations about linear time

questions about time (1)
Thomas (4) - "Mummy, when can I go on the computer?"
Jean (38) - "After school, honey."
Thomas - "When are we going to school, Mummy?"
Jean - "At 1/4 past 3."
Thomas - "When's that, Mummy?"
Jean - "When the big hand and small hand are both on the 3."
Thomas - "When's that, Mummy?"
Jean - "At 1/4 past 3."
Thomas - "Mummy, when can I go on the computer?"
...repeat ad infinitum throughout the day, every day...

questions about time (2)
Thomas - "Mummy, when will I be seeing Grandma?"
Jean - "On Friday, darling."
Thomas - "Mummy, how many sleeps is that?"
Jean - "Only 2 more sleeps, darling."
Thomas - "But Mummy, I WANT to see Grandma!"
Jean - "I know, honey, you'll be seeing her soon."
Thomas - Mummy, when will I be seeing Grandma?"
...repeat frequently, especially if we've just seen Grandma...

questions about time (3)
Thomas - "Mummy, when is my next birthday?"
Jean - "In July, in 8 months, darling."
Thomas - "That's a long time."
Jean - "Yes, honey, your last birthday wasn't very long ago."
Thomas - "Mummy, is my birthday after Andrew's birthday?"
Jean - "Yes, Andrew's birthday is in June."
Thomas - "Mummy, is that after our Melbourne adventure?" (our annual home holiday)
Jean - "Yes, our Melbourne adventure is in January."
Thomas - "Mummy, is that after Apollo Bay?" (my family's annual beach holiday)
Jean - "Yes, we go to Apollo Bay in January."
Thomas - "Mummy, is that after Christmas?"
Jean - "Yes, Christmas is in December."
Thomas - "Mummy, when is my next birthday?"
...repeat as often as possible...

Thomas - "Mummy, when is it Summer?"

Thomas - "Mummy, what time do I eat?...go to bed?...wake up?"

Thomas - "Mummy, how long until Lizzy and Ben get home?"

Thomas - "Mummy, when will I turn 5?"

Thomas - "Mummy, was that to the tonight before this night?"

Thomas - "Mummy, when can I go on the computer?"

Thomas - "Mummy, WHEN can I go on the computer?"


At which point we mercifully draw a veil over these happy family moments, and a mother frantically tearing out her hair, hoping that she never has to answer another question about time. Never, never, NEVER again.

(And yes, I do mean never again, as in an infinite space of time beginning from this current point in time, which, for your information, is a time when the big hand is on the 12 - so it's something o'clock - and the small hand is on the 1 - so it's 1 o'clock. Never. Again.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

thoughts on death and aging

This Spring, for the first time, I started to feel the itchy, aching eyes that go with a high pollen count and hayfever. Many odd weaknesses appear as my friends and I grow older: an allergy to fish oil, flabby upper arms, sensitivity to caffeine, wrinkles, lowered immunity, grey hair, less energy. Small indications that our bodies will one day fall apart, and we too will have to face the final hurdle.

But as our bodies gradually wear out, our inner selves are receiving life. God's Spirit works in us to make us more patient, more loving, more selfless. We become more aware of our sin, and experience God's grace more deeply, with every year that passes. Our ministry bears fruit, and those we have ministered to live fruitful lives of their own. Small (or not so small) indications that one day even our bodies will be renewed, and we will be finished with mourning, pain and tears forever.

In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul speaks of the immense persecution he suffered for preaching the gospel, far greater and more significant than the first signs of aging. But as I experience these minor ailments, I too am reminded that though "outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day."

Monday, November 19, 2007

courtroom dramas and other trials of life

Just wanted to fill you in with lots of useless trivia about my life during the last week or so.

The week started with our second weekend away in a row. Two wonderful weekends, but still exhausting.

You may remember I had to go to court to testify in a commital hearing on behalf of a friend last Tuesday. I worried for days about what would happen at court. Would it be like those courtroom dramas, where an intimidating and aggressive lawyer peppers you with questions and objections: "What exactly happened on the day of 10th July 1979 at 3:15 pm?...Did you personally witness these occurrences? Well, how do you know they took place?...Objection! That's hearsay!"

And an even more vital question: what exactly do you wear to court? I was trying on outfits for a good hour. My wardrobe is more sloppy housewife than professional woman.

Picture me on the morning of the hearing, running in my falling-off shoes and long, tight Savers skirt, along the tram tracks to catch an impatiently "dinging" tram. The driver was definitely not smiling when I said sorry for holding him up - in fact, I think he avoided eye contact of any kind. Probably thinking "stupid woman, she runs just like a girl". Which I did.

I travelled for 1 1/2 hours on our environmentally sound but very slow public transport system, including a 1/2 hour wait for a late train. Ran from Flagstaff Station to the family court building, where I rode up and down in the lift to various floors until I found the court room, by which time I was light headed and shaky, and 15 minutes late for my legally binding appointment.

All this only to be greeted with the news that they might not need me that day after all, at which point I nearly burst embarrassingly into tears in front of a very official looking lawyer.

I was put in a small room with the other witnesses, mostly old school friends. We were told to check our statements, but not to talk about the one thing we were all thinking about - our evidence. So we swapped stories about our children and talk about the inadequacies of the public school system. We waited for 2 hours while the lawyers argued, only to be told that our evidence was inadmissible.

So I never did experience the inner workings of a courtroom. Ah, well, at least I got to have lunch with Sue, one of my best friends from school, who I barely get to see any more, so that made 3 hours on public transport almost worthwhile.

What else can I whinge about? Let's see. My computer died over a week ago, and has shown no signs of life since, despite an attempt by Mike, our poor, put upon trainee staff member, to fix it yet again. It's now residing uselessly at the computer repair shop. So I've been blogging and facebooking as best I can from Steve's office all week.

Which, of course, led to all kinds of heart-searching questions for a self-obsessed woman like me: does God want me to stop blogging and facebooking? does he think I'm neglecting my family? is he punishing me?

Well, actually, the main result of a week without a computer was a welcome respite from the children's over-use. They have been playing old-fashioned energetic games all week, so perhaps I should leave the computer at the repair shop. And our family scored well in the diabetes' quiz at school, when Ben was the only child able to report he had zero screen time the day before, which hopefully gives me the rating of super-parent.

The lack of a computer also led to my mother giving me her old laptop, making it much easier for me to write blogs in the heart of my family without neglecting them. Blogging is starting to feel like a natural part of life, a relaxing hobby which no longer disrupts or steals time from the family.

So even if I had shoulders tight and sore from stress all week, perhaps it was worth it to get in touch with an old school friend, rediscover the delights of non-computer play, and resolve some issues about blogging and the family.

Gd's faithful providence in the midst of everyday trivialities.


I've got this massive pimple on the right side of my nose. You know the ones: red and shiny, until you put cover-up on them, when they're still red and shiny, but now with brown patches.

So I'm saying to myself (repeat after me) "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." (1 Sam. 16:7)

At the same time, whenever I talk to people, I stand on their right, so they can only see the left-hand side of my nose.

Which leads to some very one-sided conversations.


(Sorry about that, I never can resist a really bad pun.)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

quote for the day

Thomas (4) - Sometimes you can talk to spiders, but sometimes spiders don't talk back to you.

I think we can all learn something from that.

Friday, November 16, 2007


If you've wondered why my blog has included some sober reflections on life and death recently, you will understand when I tell you that David, Steve's dad, has just been diagnosed with liver cancer. We heard the news last week when our family stayed at David and Audrey's house.

I found myself looking around their beautiful bush property, reflecting on their lifetime's work. David's handiwork is displayed at every turn: the carefully landscaped gardens, the enormous chook pen, and the "dendradomes" (David's Greek word for tree house) enclosing large numbers of fruitful trees and vines. The house is surrounded by overflowing cottage gardens, the drive is planted with a young avenue of liquid ambers, and there's a productive vegetable garden. A testament to the work of a lifetime, but also a constant reminder that even the loveliest products of earthly labour cannot be taken with us into eternity.

And yet there is a sense in which David and Audrey's work will last forever. For this is not only a place for gardening, making jam, and collecting eggs and fruit, but also a place of ministry. David and Audrey regularly open their home to church and student groups, like they did for our staff team last weekend, feting them with delicious soups and curries. They have a loving ministry to the people in their street, caring for their needs, and sharing their hope in Jesus. They run a weekly Bible study in their home, and every day they pray together for the people in their lives. David has written many sermons in his small study, after a lifetime of preaching, lecturing, and writing books on God's word. And even those eggs, vegetables and jams have formed the basis for many generous gifts and church stall provisions. Faithful service and fruitful ministries which will last into eternity.

For David and Audrey have heeded Jesus' call to store up treasure in heaven rather than on earth (Matt. 6:19-21) and Paul's encouragement to build a ministry of true value that will accompany them into heaven (1 Cor. 3:10-15). Imagine the joy when David hears Jesus' words: "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Matt 25:21).

In the meantime, I admire the brave way that David is facing whatever tomorrow may bring, and the incredible faith and trust he has in God. Like their bush home, which was renewed after the Ash Wednesday fires, David knows that what looks like an end is really a new beginning. Now there's a true and living hope.

Please pray for David and Audrey. Please pray for comfort, faith, and a sure and certain hope, as they face the uncertainties of the next few years.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

a comment on comments

Thankyou, my beautiful bloggees, for your lovely comments. Actually, some of them have been there for a couple of days, I'd forgotten I have to approve them!

I have been feeling a bit like I am writing to the void ("Dear void...", as they say in You've got mail.) I know there are people reading this, but blogging is a bizarre form of self-expression/ministry, it can have an extremely slow response time ("So-and-so said to so-and-so that they liked what you wrote", that kind of thing.)

And it's not so much that my ego needs massaging (though that's always nice, of course) as that it's wonderful to know people are being encouraged by what I write.

Also, I've reached a particularly low point this week, hence the somewhat downbeat reflections on life and death on my birthday (I'll explain when I blog next - my computer's down, it may take a couple of days). So it was lovely to receive some encouragement.

Thankyou! I know this makes me sound needy, but I don't care. Keep those comments coming - agreements, disagreements, ideas, responses, whatever. I love hearing from you.

And here's a beautiful birthday song from Honoria. Her comment says:

"This is a Mexican birthday song (hence the Catholic overtones), so please imagine a lively mariachi band serenading you.

"Las Mañanitas Lyrics: Estas son las mañanitas, que cantaba el Rey David,Hoy por ser día de tu santo, te las cantamos a ti,Despierta, mi bien, despierta, mira que ya amaneció,Ya los pajarillos cantan, la luna ya se metió. Que linda está la mañana en que vengo a saludarte,Venimos todos con gusto y placer a felicitarte,Ya viene amaneciendo, ya la luz del día nos dio,Levántate de mañana, mira que ya amaneció.

"This is the morning song that King David sang
Because today is your saint's day we're singing it for you
Wake up, my dear, wake up, look it is already dawn
The birds are already singing and the moon has set
How lovely is the morning in which I come to greet you
We all came with joy and pleasure to congratulate you
The morning is coming now, the sun is giving us its light
Get up in the morning, look it is already dawn."

I vote we all stop singing "Happy birthday" and set this to music instead. A challenge for the musos amongst you. With a lively mexican rhythm, of course.

birthday fun for all

My birthday afternoon turned out to be a barrel of laughs, with all the kids except Andrew having noisy tantrums about something or other.

Thomas - "I want to play pass the parcel! I want to hide ALL the lollypops! I want to open the present NOW!" (repeat ad infinitum, with tears and screams)
Lizzy - "I want my favourite thing for dinner! I don't LIKE spicy stew! It's your birthday! It should be something special! Can I have bacon?" (repeat ad infinitum, with tears and screams)
Lizzy, Ben and Thomas - "But I want to sit next to Mummy at dinner! No, I do! NO, I DO!" (repeat ad infinitum, with tears and screams)

You get the idea.

It was oddly reassuring to be surrounded by my screaming, crying children, all upset because my birthday was not going according to their plans. Somewhat perversely, it made me feel loved, in the same way that "I want to sit next to the birthday girl!" are sweet words for any 9 year old to hear at her party.

Picture me sitting at our scratched old table, surrounded by my tired, grumpy family and the lollies and 2 candles the kids chose for me (told you it would be candles or mugs, didn't I?), blowing out a recycled pink candle on my Safeway chocolate cake (a cake they carefully picked out and have been demanding ever since), and listening to a very subdued and erratic happy birthday song.

The wonders of family: tears, wonky candles, and sticky chocolate-covered kisses.

why I love universities

I love universities.

I love the long, echoing corridors, the book-lined offices, and the ridiculously steep lecture theatres. I love the lawns and paved areas spotted with students chatting, eating lunch, reading, or kissing. I love the beautiful old stone buildings, and the funky modern ones, with their round windows and lime-green fittings.

I love university libraries. I love working in the far, dim recesses of the library, where the silence is broken only by the rustle of turning pages. I love the eye-boggling microfilm screen, filled with tiny, wavering, impossible to read words. I love the dark shelves devoted to journals, where you pull a cord to turn the lights on, only to have them turn off half way through searching for that elusive article...leaving you imagining someone creeping up behind.

I loved visiting my father's university as a child. White concrete stairs led to his office, with its linoleum floor and sunny window, smelling of ink and paper. A glass cabinet near the building's entrance displayed crystals in a mind-boggling array of colours and shapes, from magenta fuzz to silver cubes; some glowed mysteriously under ultra-violet light. Outside the door, my brother and I played on the huge rocks which dotted the lawn, pretending they hid buttons which produced any food and drink we desired.

I love to walk and pray amongst the ancient red river gums which grow in the university near our home. I love to sit at our back window and watch the rising sun reflect from the university building's curved walls, tawny orange tiles glowing against the deep velvet blue of the sky. I even love the car park lights shining like stars brought to earth, glinting through the trees behind our house at night.

I love the feeling of intellectual discovery which hangs over a university, the sense that great ideas are taught in the shabby lecture theatres, and wonderful discoveries made in the laboratories and libraries.

I love students, their enthusiasm, idealism and readiness to learn.

Of course, this is only half the picture. Students don't usually go to uni to pursue intellectual discovery; they go to get academic recognition, or a ticket to a more prestigious and better paid job. In one philosophy class I attended, the Christian doctrine of sin was openly mocked and attacked. I was also exposed to pornography publically displayed without warning (twice!) by lecturers who took great delight in shattering our innocence.

But I feel immensely privileged that Steve and I work with uni students. We enjoy helping students to find their way through the bewildering moral and intellectual climate at uni, to teach them about a true knowledge which lasts forever, and to encourage them to live for someone outside themselves.

Meanwhile, I get to hang around universities for the rest of my life.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

pushing 40...

Here's a 39 year old diary entry my Aunty Dot sent to me today:
"Last night at 20 to 10 Ruth had Jean Dorothy. Ruth was in the labour ward 1 day(?) - having contractions main labour 9.10. 8lb 8 oz dark hair, loooks like Dad, round face. Colin came in last night. Robert is very excited. At school I told everyone, even Mrs Stanton."

Today I turned 39. It's amazing how insignificant birthdays feel these days! To remember exactly what age I am, I have to think of Lizzy's age and add 30. She asked me this morning, "How could you possible forget how old you are, Mummy?" I told her it gets very easy once you're in your 30's.

But my birthday is very significant to my kids, who are out with Steve choosing a cake from Safeway (without cream from a can, I hope), some small gifts (chocolate, please? or perhaps another mug or candle to add to my Mother's Day gift collection), and some lollipops for a treasure hunt (games being essential to a party, according to Thomas). And Steve and I will have a "date night" - that rare and precious thing - this Friday evening.

Birthdays are a reminder that this life, which flies past more quickly year by year, doesn't last forever, but that there is a better life to come. God's faithfulness to me during the last 39 years has made me certain of this: that he will continue to hold me safe in his hand, whatever may happen in the future. I look forward to discovering more and more of the breadth, height and depth of his love as I grow older, and to enjoying that love in all its fullness in eternity.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Briefing gets cheeky

I want to draw your attention to a wonderful article in this month's issue of The Briefing. It's Katie Stringer's "Wives and lovers", one of those short "Couldn't help noticing" articles at the front of the magazine.

I love The Briefing, I read it every month with anticipation and pleasure, but I must admit it sometimes feels a bit "boy's clubbish" to me (am I the only one?) - you know, serious, masculine, and a bit self-conscious. So it was refreshing to read this article, which burst like a firework into the sometimes sober world of The Briefing.

Smart, sassy, femimine, fun, witty, light-hearted, but also thoughtful, challenging, thought-provoking, and thoroughly Biblical, this article made me think, repent and giggle, all at once!

Should be read by every married woman who sometimes struggles to meet (or to want to meet) her husband's physical needs. Also by anyone else whose curiousity was piqued by the last sentence. That's you, right?

Well done, Katie, keep up the good work!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

a poem

Something short and sweet today, a poem I wrote 11 years ago, at a time when I felt uncertain and scared about what my life would be like. Today it struck me how faithful God has been to me during my life so far, through all the times of pain and happiness, as I know he will be to the end. One day I may take this "pom" and put it in iambic pentameter (if I ever find out what that is) but here it is for now, in all its unadorned amateurishness.

The future

The future:
a road of shadows,
sudden beams
of light break through.

Joy, suffering, no guarantees -
save that Your company
the journey long
beside will be.

Your love, sweet draughts,
life-giving drink;
Your words to hear,
Your work to do.

The joy of Your dear countenance.

At journey's end,
an open door,
a sudden light,
home -

and You.

Friday, November 9, 2007

in all honesty?

Dear bloggees,

I've been thinking about what honesty does and doesn't mean (Is it appropriate to blog about ... ? Do I really want to write about ... ? Do you want to read about ... again? - you get the idea!) so I thought it might be time to explain what I mean by "in all honesty".

Honesty should not be taken to include:

a) slanderous or whining remarks about other people, even if I think them;
b) insteresting gossip about other people, although I enjoy gossip as much as the next person;
c) any information which I am legally forbidden from sharing with you (this is more relevant than you may think, I'm giving evidence in a committal hearing soon, if I told you more I would have to kill you);
d) information of such tedium, insignificance and occasional grossness that you wouldn't want to hear it anyway (I'm picking my nose. I'm scratching my bottom. That kind of thing. For such information see my facebook profile.);
d) yet more, repeat more, examples of things I have told you about many times previously (e.g. Today I got cross with my children. Today I got cross with my children. Today I... Silence on such topics should not be taken to imply that our family has now reached perfection.);
f) revelations of major sins which may prove embarrassing to me or you, or break the confidence of others (sorry about that, my self-disclosure agreement only goes so far, just don't imagine I'm nearly as godly as may be suggested by the relatively minor sins I agonise about in my blog);
g) lots of things, really, I just can't think of them all right now.

Humourous comments should not be taken as an expression of honesty (in point c above, I won't really kill you, this is an example of humour, not honesty). And while I will honestly tell you what I think to be the facts, factual claims may be shown to be innacurate. Also, while I will honestly share my views on God, the universe and everything, all I say should be checked against the Bible.

I do promise to try not to lie to you. Not consciously, anyway (can you subconsciously try not to lie?) But I don't promise not to occasionally and insignificantly distort the facts, in favour of humour, succinctness, good writing, sweeping generalisations, or when making a particularly good point. Like this one.

In all honesty,

from your friendly neighbourhood spiderm...I mean blogger.

P.S. I also don't promise to be honest about my super hero double life. Except to say that my alter ego is beautiful, charming, witty, intelligent, and spends far too much time hanging around libraries.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

spiderman and me

*Spoiler alert* don't read this if you haven't seen Spiderman 3, unless you have absolutely no interest in seeing it, in which case read on.

During the last couple of weeks Steve and I watched all three Spiderman movies. Yes, I know, don't tell me, I'm a wonderful wife. Actually I enjoyed them, I'm a sucker for a corny action movie, and I made him watch "Miss Potter" in payment. And he enjoyed that too, we're very movie compatible - except for that movie about intergalactic bugs disembowelling people, I wasn't so keen on that.

Steve and I are catching up on all the movies we didn't see while raising babies, using Blockbuster vouchers from the back of packets of Just Right, the only cereal our kids will eat regularly, and also the main reason we're now in debt. Hey, maybe I should get Kellog's to sponsor my blog, with all this free advertising!

What struck me about Spiderman 3 was how eerily Spidey's life story echoed my own. You know, super smart nerd with super hero double life, complete with sexy partner...hey, if it wasn't for my arachnophobia (and gender) I could, like, so be him.

Seriously, I thought the film was an interesting (if somewhat obvious - I have to say that so I sound sophisticated) illustration of the dynamics of humility and forgiveness (note the use of film critic speak.)

The film opens with Spiderman as an arrogant and insensitive young man, puffed up with adulation and success; followed by a descent into evil, forcing him to realise the depths of his own hatred and desire for revenge; and ends with his new-found humility enabling him to forgive the man who killed his uncle.

You may have heard my own story (too many times, no doubt) - how I prayed for humility as a young, proud woman, sure of my own desire and ability to do what was right; followed by years of struggling with my sinful tendencies; resulting in, I hope, deeper humility and a greater willingness to understand and forgive others.

But Spidey and my stories diverge at a very important point: the film reminds us repeatedly that Peter Parker is really a "good" young man, and it's only the evil suit which brings out his aggressive tendencies. (If you haven't already seen the movie, surely you want to now - I mean evil suit, who wouldn't want to see that!) And in the end, he is able to forgive his enemy because he realises he wasn't really so bad after all, only sad, desperate and misunderstood.

The "evil" characters in the three movies do get their just desserts - death and destruction - but never really through Spiderman's hand, and they are all good people at heart, turned to evil through no great fault of their own.

Whereas I have no doubt about my inner tendency to self-love and self-centredness: it goes right to the core, as it does for all of us. There is no "evil suit" which can conveniently be removed to reveal the good within. Death and destruction are exactly what I deserve, for I have committed the ultimate evil: I have failed to serve the God who made me, and have served myself instead.

Which is why I, like you, and every else on this planet, desperately need a different kind of super hero: one who, instead of shooting the bad guys with super speedy bits of web (gotta love that) takes a less conventional path. Like Spiderman, Jesus could have swung into planet Earth and killed all the bad guys, but instead he allowed them to kill him, accepting death and destruction on my (and their) behalf. And like all the best movie heroes and villains, he came back from the dead - only for real, this time.

And if I am able to forgive others, in the end it's only because I know exactly how much I have been forgiven: everything.

and have you noticed...

1) Spiderman never has hood hair (life is so unfair!)
2) Toby McGuire is actually the offspring of Matthew Perry and Meg Ryan;
3) either that, or he's an android, not a human being, aka Data on Star Trek.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

helping the 1 in 10

We've just received our copy of BarnabasAid, the bi-monthly magazine of Barnabas Fund, an organisation which supports persecuted Christians. The issue is called "Iraq's Martyrs", and the cover shows 16 grainy black and white photos of Christians killed for their faith in Iraq in recent years.

Barnabas Fund's mission is "to support Christians where they are in a minority and suffer discrimination, oppression and persecution as a consequence of their faith. Our goal is to strengthen Christian individuals, churches and their communities by providing material and spiritual support in response to needs identified by local Christian leaders."

Or, in other words, to help The Other Nine Christians to support the 1 in 10 of their brothers and sisters in Christ who are daily discriminated against and treated as second class citizens because of their faith.

Barnabas Fund fights to protect and educate women in countries like Pakistan, where Christian women are commonly kidnapped, raped, and forced to convert to Islam and marry their abductor; supports television and radio programs used to reach people in closed countries; provides employment, accommodation and church buildings for Christians suffering discrimination in places as diverse as Korea and East Africa; and opposes anti-conversion laws in countries like India.

There are lots of people willing to give to big organisations such as World Vision and Tear Fund, and even more supporting popular causes like the Red Cross or Royal Children's Hospital, which is wonderful. But there are relatively few people interested in supporting persecuted Christians. In fact, Christians are often deliberately overlooked in relief efforts, such as after the recent catastrophic floods in Bangladesh.

Perhaps you could consider giving regularly to an organisation like Barnabas Fund, partly because your fellow Christians are so neglected, and also because God calls you to care for your brothers and sisters who are in need:

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. Galatians 6:10

Friday, November 2, 2007

goodnight Mister Tom

We're going away for a couple of days to visit friends, so this blog is going radio silent. I'll leave you with these profound words...

Jean (38) - "How many kisses do you want tonight?" (to be asked every night)
Thomas (4) - "60 100 and 2."
Jean - "Do you mean 162?" (and yes, I mean every night)
Thomas - "YES!"
Jean - "Let's count by 20's" (anything to shorten the process)
Thomas and Jean together - "20 (kiss kiss), 40 (kiss kiss), 60 (kiss kiss), 80 (kiss kiss), 100 (kiss kiss), 120 (kiss kiss), 140 (kiss kiss), 160 (kiss kiss), 161 (kiss), 162 (kiss), CUDDLE!"

Mummy rises to her feet...

Thomas - "I want a story."
Mummy - "Ok, Thomas. Once there was a boy called Thomas.
He woke up in the morning, had breakfast, and got dressed. Then he went on the computer.
He watched Playschool, had some special time with Mummy, played with Andrew, and had lunch. Then he went on the computer.
He went to school to pick up Lizzy and Benny, came home, and had afternoon tea. Then he went on the computer.
He played with Lizzy, Benny and Andrew, ate dinner, and went to bed. The end."
(I kid you not. Just you try keeping Thomas off the computer. And I'd make up a story, but I'm better at non-fiction, worse luck.)

Mummy begins to leave the room...

Thomas - "Mummy, open the door."
Jean - "Look, Thomas, I'm opening the door. See, the door is open. The door IS open. THE DOOR IS OPEN." (to be said every night as emphatically as possible accompanied with repeated door opening actions)

Mummy begins to head down the corridor...


And yes, I mean EVERY night.


Thursday, November 1, 2007

numbers and the meaning of everything

When I was One,
I had just begun.

When I was Two,
I was nearly new.

When I was Three,
I was hardly Me.

When I was Four,
I was not much more.

When I was Five,
I was just alive.

But now I am Six, I'm as clever as clever.
So I think I'll be six now for ever and ever.
A.A.Milne, Now we are six

on playing Uno...
Thomas (4) - "Look, Mummy, a 5 just alive!"
Jean (38) - "Yes, darling."
Thomas - "Look, Mummy, a 1 just begun!"
Jean - "Yes, sweety."
Thomas - "Look, Mummy, a 2 nearly new!"
Jean - "Yes, honey."
Thomas - "Look, Mummy, a Reverse spoodilyerse!"
...who said a mathematician can't be a poet?

on aging...
Thomas - "Mummy, when was Lizzy 3?"
Mummy - (calculating quickly) - "6 years ago, honey."
Thomas - "Mummy, when will Ben be 9?"
Jean - (more calculating) - "In 2 years."
Thomas - "Mummy, when will I be as big as Ben?"
Jean - (yet more calculating) - "In 3 years."
Thomas - "Mummy, how old was I when Lizzy was 7?"
Jean - (even more frantic calculating) - "You were 2."
Thomas - "Mummy, what did I do when I was 1?"
Jean - "You were a baby. You couldn't walk or talk yet."
Thomas - "Mummy, where was Andrew when I was 1?"
Jean - "He wasn't alive yet, honey."
Thomas - "Was he in your tummy?"
Jean - "No, he wasn't in my tummy yet. He was..." of those awkward existential moments.

on being 100...
Thomas - "Mummy, when I'm 100, I will touch the ceiling!"
Jean - "Well, maybe not, but you will be much taller."
Thomas - "Mummy, when I'm 100, will I be as big as Daddy?"
Jean - "Yes, honey, you should be around the same size as Daddy, maybe even bigger."
Thomas - "Mummy, when I'm 100, will I go to heaven to be with God?"
Jean - "Well, I'm not sure when you'll go to heaven to be with God, but probably when you're about 80, not 100."
Thomas - "Mummy, where will you be when I'm 100?"
Jean - "Well, I probably won't be around any more, I'll be in heaven with God."
Thomas- "Will you be deaded, Mummy?"
Jean - "Well yes, honey..."
...another awkward existential moment.

Which is a faithful reporting of "3 hardly me" typical conversations between this "Now I'm 38, I'm simply great" mother and her "4 not much more" year old.