Thursday, February 28, 2008

horrible? I don't think so.

"I'm a horrible person."

It's the kind of statement calculated to make a parent's heart sink into their shoes.

My son Ben (7) was having a bad morning - grumbling, getting ready for school as slowly as possible, taking 10 minutes (really) to put on each piece of clothing. Usually happy and confident, he was obviously feeling grouchy and miserable.

Thoughts went through my mind: have we undermined Ben's confidence? Have we made some terrible mistake in our parenting? Have we destroyed his self-esteem or resilience by praising him too much / not enough? (Oh, the pitfalls of modern over-psychoanalysed parenting!)

What if he has childhood depression? What if he becomes self-destructive and suicidal as a teenager? What if he has a terrible relationship with us as an adult and never wants to speak to us again?

Ben's not the only one capable of catastrophic thinking.

I think one of the reasons I over-reacted is that I could hear myself in Ben's words. Like him, I'm a perfectionist, and every little blemish or difficulty is blown out of proportion. When you see one of your worst characteristics reflected in your child you'll do anything to prevent it.

So I went into parental overdrive: "You're not a horrible person! You're a wonderful boy! You're loving, kind, smart and funny! I love you!" True and helpful words, and worth saying - it's good for kids to know their parents think the world of them - but I wish I'd taken time to listen and think before I spoke.

Did I ever tell you I have an over-active mouth as well as an over-active imagination?

As I stood in the shower afterwards, I thought about all the ways I could have responded. About what a wonderful opportunity this was for reflective listening. Or for helping Ben to develop more resilient thinking. Or even better, to encourage him to see himself the way God sees him.

So as I helped Ben tie his shoes (he was holding his Pooh bear and had calmed down by this time) I said: "You know what you said earlier about being a horrible person? That's called catastrophic thinking. It's when something little goes wrong and you turn it into something really big. Like when you drop and break something and you say 'I always break everything.' I think what you really meant is that you were feeling tired and discouraged. Is that right?"

And, no doubt far more usefully, I also reminded him: "Did you know that the Bible says that you are 'fearfully and wonderfully made?' That God did a great job making you? That he made you exactly the way he wants you? That he has great plans for you? And that he loves you so much that he sent his one and only Son to die for you? He must love you a lot to have done that!"

Ben, of course, said "I know, Mum." But he was smiling again.

P.S. Of course, I could have just given Ben his teddy or a hug to begin with, and headed this whole thing off. But then I could spend all day second guessing myself!

I learnt a lot about teaching children (and myself) to think more resiliently and optimistically from Martin Seligman's The Optimistic Child, which I read about 5 years ago. But Seligman is only touching on something Christians should already know: to set our minds on things above, to retrain our minds to think God's thoughts after him. For the truest and most hopeful thoughts come straight from the Bible.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

song, interrupted

In the car yesterday I listened to "Faith Enough", one of my favourite Jars of Clay songs.

I love this song because it reminds me that God meets me in my weakness. That what he wants from me is not self-confident goodness, but for me to admit my poverty and frailty. That when I'm broken I am strong, for my brokenness moves me away from self-reliance and forces me to cry out to him. That even the weakest faith will find in Jesus a strong resting-place.

Of course, I seldom get to hear a song all the way through. Here's how my listening time went yesterday ...
The ice is thin enough for walkin'
The rope is worn enough to climb
My throat is dry enough for talkin'
The world is crumblin' but I know why
The world is crumblin' but I know why

The storm is wild enough for sailing
The bridge is weak enough to cross
This body frail enough for fighting
I'm home enough to know I'm lost
Home enough to know I'm lost

It's just enough to be strong
In the broken places,
in the broken places
It's just enough to be strong
Should the world rely on faith tonight
At which point this song, like all the songs we listen to in the car, was interrupted by a voice from the back seat:

Thomas (4) - Mum, what's this song called?
Jean (39) - "Faith enough."
Thomas - What's that mean?
Jean - Faith means trusting in Jesus. So "faith enough" means...
Thomas - I know, it means enough to be stwong!
Jean - Yes, you're exactly right! Thomas, you're a sweetheart. (Somewhat off the point, I admit, but he was being pretty cute.)
Thomas - Why?
Jean - Because God made you a sweetheart.
Thomas - I love you.
Jean - I love you too, darling.

We now pause to insert a collective "aaaw". And continue with the lyrics:
The land unfit enough for planting
Barren enough to conceive
Poor enough to gain the treasure
Enough a cynic to believe
Enough a cynic to believe

Confused enough to know direction
The sun eclipsed enough to shine
Be still enough to finally tremble
And see enough to know I'm blind
And see enough to know I'm blind

It's just enough to be strong
In the broken places,
in the broken places
It's just enough to be strong
Should the world rely on faith tonight ...
May God open our eyes to our blindness and need of him.

"The world breaks everyone and afterward many are stronger at the broken places" is from Earnest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms - a book which is now on my to read list.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

warning: house falling down

Our house is falling apart.

A week ago I woke to find a large piece of plasterboard lying on our front porch (so that's what the noise was!). The porch ceiling has been sagging ominously for years under the combined weight of bird's nest and the water which gushes down it every time there's a heavy rainfall.

I tore down the rest of the ceiling to reveal enough nesting material for an albatross, and bare rafters under corrugated iron.

When we bought this house 7 years ago, we knew it hadn't aged gracefully. Permanent stains on threadbare carpets, unmatching external paint and decaying gutters, a verandah with rotting floorboards and inadequate railings, and a delightful 70's colour scheme - pale apricot walls and dark brown wood.

Water stains and a long crack in the ceiling indicated a leak in the roof which the previous owners claimed to have fixed (hah!).

But when I glimpsed mature lemon-scented gums through the back windows, and walked out on the (rotting) back verandah and saw the uni where Steve works over the back fence, I knew it was the one.

We confidently signed the clause in the home loan - "we will keep the house well-maintained" - not knowing quite how hard this would be.

You may recall the waterfall through our ceiling 2 days before last Christmas: we still haven't fixed the leaking roof. The external paint is now flaking as well as unmatching. The tiles have fallen off the walls of one of the bathrooms.

We've spent as much on maintaining the house as we can afford. The first thing we did was to re-point the roof and buy new couches (well, we did need them, but strange priorities new home owners have!). We had the wiring checked, installed a safety switch, mended the fence, replaced the hot water service, and re-built the verandah.

We're about the fix the roof and gutters (finally!), but it may be a long time before we get around to painting or re-carpeting. And the ugly beaten copper range hood which I swore to replace the moment I saw it is still proudly in place.

But you know what? I'm thankful to God for our huge, unfashionable, slowly decaying home. I'm thankful for its size, comfiness and view. But I'm also thankful for its imperfections.

The outdated kitchen leaves no room for pride in fashionable colour schemes and trendy renovations. The anxiety I feel during every heavy rainfall reminds me how fleeting this life is, how vulnerable we are, how dependent on God for all that we have. The worn paint and carpets are a constant visual reminder not to get too comfortable, not to pour all our time and money into creating a beautiful life, as if this is all we have.

Our imperfect house constantly encourages me to set my heart on my true home.

For God has promised us a far greater home in heaven. A place where rust does not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. A mansion with many rooms. A golden city which needs no light, for God is its light and dwells there with his people.

One of the seven angels ... came and said to me, "Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb." And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel ... I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life. Revelation 21:9-11, 22-27; see also Matt. 6:19; John 14:2

Monday, February 25, 2008

every knee should bow

Less of me, more of Christ.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death —
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11

Less of me, more of Christ.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

caution, learner drivers ahead

A superfluity of learner drivers has been creeping around our neighbourhood recently (what's the collective noun for learner drivers? annoyance? crash? amble?)

Twice a day, on our drive to and from school, they're there, bright yellow L-signs displayed fore and aft.

They creep cautiously around the corner in front of us, swing their noses with impeccable timing into the path of our car as they perform death-defying parallel parks, and work up their courage to turn across two lanes of traffic while long queues of impatient parents build up behind.

I coudn't work out the cause of this sudden invasion. The idea that it was God's personal training ground to teach me greater patience seemed more than a little egotistical.

But I was going for a walk the other morning when a car pulled up beside me, and the woman driving asked me the way to the local RTA (Roads and Traffic Authority). Of course! I'd forgotten that an RTA was due to open nearby.

The roads near our school are full of challenges which stump even experienced drivers: peculiar T-junctions where turning cars have right-of-way; a ridiculously busy intersection so dangerous that I (fleetingly) considered writing to the local council to request a set of traffic lights; and a primary school complete with lollypop ladies, 40 km limit signs, and parents competing for parking spots.

Obviously, this is a wonderful place to train drivers, despite (or because of?) the presence of hundreds of kindergarton and school children on the roads twice a day.

But it's particularly hard to be patient with learner drivers when you're running late for school.

As I shake my head and mutter under my breath (and that's in my more self-controlled moments) I keep reminding myself that the kids in the back seat are watching my every move and copying me. That they will be learning to drive one day (terrifying thought!) and I'll be grateful if other drivers are patient with them. That this is a wonderful opportunity to practise that neglected fruit of the Spirit, patience (and this mother of 4 could certainly do with more of that).

I find myself humming Herbert the Snail's song:

Be patient, be patient,
Don't be in such a hurry.
When you get impatient,
You only start to worry.
Remember, remember,
That God is patient to.
So think about the times
that others have to wait for you.

And while I'm still learning patience, perhaps I could learn another important lesson: to leave for school 5 minutes earlier. Which, of course, will require even more patience as I chivvy reluctant children out the door.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

the final isolation of the soul

Here's some wise words about contentment which mean a lot to me:

Let me put it plainly - the danger with some of us is to spend far too much of our time even in reading [Christian books] about Him. The day may come, indeed will come, when we shall not be able to read. Then comes the test. Will you still be happy? Do you know Him so well that though you become deaf or blind this fount will still be open? Do you know Him so well that you can talk to Him and listen to Him and enjoy Him always? Will all be well because you have always been so dependent on Him that nothing else really matters! ...

"I have come to learn in whatsoever state I am therein to be self-sufficient and independendent of circumstances." (Phil 4:11)

Christian people, can you say that, do you know that state? ... Life may force it upon us, but even if circumstances do not, the time is bound to come, soon or late, when earth and every earthly scene will pass away, and in that final isolation of the soul we shall be alone, facing death and eternity. The greatest thing in life is to be able to say with Christ Himself at that hour: 'And yet I am not alone because the Father is with me' (John 16:32).

In the final isolation of the soul, may Christ be all and everything to me.

The quote is from Martyn Lloyd-Jones Spiritual Depression pp.285-6.

Monday, February 18, 2008

3 words

Andrew (20 months) said his first 3-word sentence a couple of days ago:
"Give me some."

He is also an expert at:
"Mine" and
"Me" or rather "Me me me."

A wonderful illustration of the natural self-centredness of little people. And big ones too.

Friday, February 15, 2008

boys and girls

Mummy (39) - "What are you doing?"
Lizzy (9) and her good friend Emma - "We're making a castle for a fairy princess."

Mummy (39) - "What are you doing?"
Thomas (4) and his good friend Jack - "We're making weapons and scary monsters so we can kill Andrew and go to the next level."

And they say there's no difference between boys and girls.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

dieting and gluttony (3) in search of self-control

Mention "self-control" in a seminar for women, and someone will share their struggles to be more self-controlled in their eating.

I have always wondered whether this is Christian-speak for "I feel a bit over-weight, and wish I had more control around chocolate." A statement I thoroughly identify with, and could echo with complete honesty.

But I was never sure whether "self-control" in the Bible really had anything to do with eating, let alone dieting. Partly because I knew that some argue "self-control" in the New Testament has more to do with sexuality than anything else. So I decided to find out for myself.

Little did I know this would involve coming face-to-face with New Testament Greek, which I have no familiarity with except for the α, δ and θ of high school mathematics (how I wish I studied Greek instead of New Testament during the year I deferred uni!).

But I summoned up my courage and dived into the strangely compelling world of New Testament Greek, armed only with a lexicon (quite hard to navigate if you don't know the order of the Greek alphabet - yes, laugh, all you Greek scholars), a Greek-English concordance, and a pile of commentaries.

What I found was that when you read the word "self-control" in the New Testament, it could be one of several Greek words. Some would be better translated "right-minded, sensible, level-headed", and don't have a lot to do with controlling one's body in the use of food. But some are definitely about controlling bodily desires, for example:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23

[M]ake every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 2 Peter 1:5-7

These lists of virtues are similar to the lists found in Greek literature of the time. While "love" was pretty unique to Christian writings, "self-control" was a typical Greek virtue. Plato and Aristotle defined it as avoiding excess indulgence of physical desires, like sexual incontinence and gluttony. So it's likely that the Bible's call to "self-control" includes food as well as sex.

There you have it! The Bible definitely teaches that, with the Spirit's help, we should control our bodily desires. This includes exercising control over the food we put in our mouths.

Of course, we can't assume "self-control" in eating means the same for Christians as it did for pagans. The New Testament rejects Greek philosophies which taught asceticism (extreme self-denial) and hedonism (devotion to pleasure). To work out what "self-control" in eating looks like in practice, and whether it has anything to do with dieting, we'll need to look at the Bible's teaching on issues like the body, pleasure, self-indulgence and gluttony.

But we'll leave that for next time.

You can follow the thread on dieting here.

The small print:
There are three main word groups often translated as "self-control" in the New Testament.

The first is sophron (n) and its derivatives, often translated as "self-controlled" but probably generally better translated "level-headed, sober, sensible, thoughtful, in one's right mind, prudent" (the various forms are sophron [n.] - "self-controlled" NIV, ESV perhaps better "sober-minded, reasonable" - Tit 1:8, 2:2, 2:5, 1 Tim 3:2; sophroneo [v.] - translated variously including "self-controlled" NIV and ESV, better "right-minded, of sound mind" - Mk 5:15, Lk 8:35, Rom 12:3, Tit2:6, 2 Cor 5:13, 1 Pet 4:7; sophronizo [v.] - "train" NIV, ESV literally "bring to one's senses" - Tit 2:4; sophronismos [n.] - "self-discipline" NIV, "self-control" ESV, better "prudence" - 2 Tim 1:7; sophronos [adv.] - "self-controlled" NIV, ESV, better "sensible" - Tit 2:12; sophrosyne [n] - "propriety" NIV, "self-control" ESV, should be "good judgement" or "propriety", and has application mainly to women- 1 Tim 2:9, 2:15; in Acts 26:25 means "reasonable").

The second is nepho, often translated "self-controlled" in the NIV but better translated "sober-minded" (1 Thess 5:5, 5:8, 1 Pet 1:13, 4:7, 5:8; 2 Tim 4:5). The related word nephalios means temperate, mainly in the use of wine, 1 Tim 3:2, 3:11; Tit 2:2).

So these two word-groups have more to do with being level-headed, sober-minded and prudent than with controlling one's body in the use of food.

The third, enkrateia (n.), is found in Acts 24:25 (where it might be a sly dig at the sexual irregularies of Felix and his wife) and in the lists of virtues in Galatians 5:22-23 and 2 Peter 1:6. Enkrateuomai (vb.) appears in 1 Corinthians 7:9 ("if they cannot control themselves" NIV, "exercise self-control" ESV) where it clearly relates to sexuality, and 1 Corinthians 9:25 ("goes into strict training" NIV, "excercises self-control in all thing" ESV) where it refers to the athlete's strict training. Enkatres (adj.) is found in Titus 1:8, where it's the "disciplined" not the "self-controlled" in the list! You also get its opposite, akrasia (n.) translated as "lack of [sexual] self-control" in 1 Corinthians 7:5 and "self-indulgence" in Matthew 23:25; and akrates (adj.) in 2 Timothy 3:3 ("without self-control"). Some of these clearly refer to sexuality, but others include various forms of control over one's body, including eating - see the discussion of Greek lists of virtues in the main text above.

I used lots of references for this post, including W.F.Arndt and F.W.Gingrich's A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament; The NIV Exhaustive Concordance; L.T.Johnson's The Acts of the Apostles; D.Williams' NIBC on Acts; C.K.Barrett's A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians; R.N.Longenecker's World Biblical Commentary on Galatians; A.Cole's Tyndale commentary on Galatians; F.F.Bruce's Commentary on Galatians; B.Witherington's Grace in Galatia; R.A.Ward's Commentary on 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus; and R.J.Bauckman's World Biblical Commentary on 2 Peter and Jude.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


The other day I filled our car with petrol. It was one of those muggy Melbourne mornings, and hot air hit me full in the face when I stepped out of the car.

As I sweated gently in the heat, petrol fumes writhing through the air around me, I imagined the fuel igniting, and the car and myself being consumed by a huge ball of flame. I often do this when I fill the car with petrol. (And now you will too, sorry about that.)

I even peopled my mental scene with the faces of innocent bystanders, filled with horror, then touched with relief that it wasn't them, as they dialed 000 on their mobiles.

I think I have an over-active imagination.

Why does the mind entertain such awful possibilities? The police knocking on my door with news of a car accident. The petrol tanker looming over us on the freeway exploding. Finding one of my children face-down in the bath.

Perhaps mentally replaying such horrors helps us prevent or prepare for tragedy and disaster.

Questions go through my mind: Am I prepared? Would I be able to stay hopeful in the face of pain or disability? Could I go on trusting in a God who allowed someone I love to die? Am I strong enough to face suffering for the sake of Christ? Am I ready to meet God face to face?

Foolish questions, for I trust God to give me the grace I need when (and not before) I need it. Yet not so foolish, if they remind me of my absolute dependence on God, encourage me to think God's thoughts about suffering, and help me to live for heaven rather than earth. If they make me hold tighter to the hand of God.

I know one thing for certain: none of these eventualities, dreadful as they are, will ever be able to separate me from the love of God which is mine through faith in Christ.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-9

(The book that has helped me most in preparing for suffering is Don Carson's How Long O Lord. It's a wonderful read.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

getting to know you

Here's a brilliant get-to-know-you-game my good friend Jenny used at her first Bible study for the year.

You write all the questions on separate pieces of paper, fold them, and put them in a bag. Then you go round the room and people take it in turns to pick one out and answer it. She says her group got to know each other much better, and had so much fun they didn't want to stop!

Here are the questions:

How did you become a Christian?
Name one film or book that you hated and explain why.
Who was the best teacher you had at school and why?
What is one of your favourite parts of the Bible?
What is you favourite ice-cream flavour?
If you were an animal, which animal would you be?
What is one of your favourite songs we sing at church?
Tell us about one time when you were really scared.
What is one thing you think you are very good at?
What's the most important thing that happened to you this week?
I've always wanted to...
The person in my family that I get along best with is...
What was one of the nicest presents you ever received?
If I could be an animal, I'd be a...
Tell how you are feeling today in the form of a weather report.
If you could go anywhere in the world for a holiday, where would it be?
One of the hardest things I have ever done is...
I'm most aware of God's presence when...
Three things that make me angry are...
Three things that make me happy are...
An embarrassing moment...
Three of my favourite films are...
My favorite tv show is...
If I could be one fictional character who would it be and why?
A talent or skill I have is...
Something I’m not good at but would like to be is...
On the way to this meeting, I was feeling...
Introvert or extravert? And would you change?
The first album I ever bought was...
My first job was... And I was paid...
My favorite pizza topping is...
Tell us something about the shoes you're wearing.
Who is your favorite super hero and why?
What would your family say you're like first thing in the morning?
What’s your favourite room in the house and why?
What's the weirdest thing you eat at home?
What is a Christian book you have enjoyed? (not including the Bible)
Name a Christian leader or historical figure you admire.
If you could have a full day at home by yourself what would you do?
Which fruit of the Spirit do you struggle with most?
What is something goofy that another family member does that makes you laugh?
What is one habit you just can’t break?
What is one thing your parents did for you that you are really grateful for?
What is one naughty thing you did when you were little?
A toy I really liked playing with when I was little was...
A film or book that really made me laugh was...
Name two of your favourite film stars.
Tell us about something you collect.
Can you think of one thing you might be doing differently if you weren’t a Christian?

Monday, February 11, 2008

sleep deprived mamma

Last week I caught up with two new mothers.

I asked one how her 6 week old baby was sleeping, and she said, "Fine! She's only had two bad nights sleep!"

I asked the other how things were going with her 3 month old baby, and she answered "Not so well", her face pale with tiredness and her eyes brimming. Things had reached a low point the week before when her baby woke every 1-2 hours 3 nights in a row, and slept no more than 40 minutes at a time during the day.

Add to this the fact that her baby was refusing to breast feed - and this after weeks of anguished persistance through terrible pain at every feed, until they finally reached a point where breast-feeding became possible - and you can imagine her frustration.

Sleep deprivation does odd things to the mind. Believe me, after 4 children, I know.

I remember pushing Lizzy to and fro in her pram while she screamed for 2 hours every afternoon, and the numbing bewilderment that comes with a first baby. I remember making every mistake in the book, and how badly she slept in consequence, and the dragging exhaustion after 8 months of waking up every 2 hours every night. How everyone asked "Is she a good baby?" meaning "Does she sleep through the night?", and how I would cover for her, saying "Yes, she's a good baby" and meaning "I love her."

I remember training perfectly sleeping Ben (who would have slept whatever I did) according to the strictest baby-training methods, desperate not to make the same mistakes. I remember getting up with him at 5.30 for weeks on end, when his perfectly trained little body clock woke him, and he refused to go back to sleep in bed with me (after all, I'd trained him to sleep in his cot, hadn't I?). Every day I sat holding him and watching the sun rise, filled with resentment against the world and everyone in it, especially my sleeping husband.

I remember being more flexible and relaxed with Thomas, but still becoming so exhausted and irritable that I would slam objects down hard with frustration (I had the self-control to ensure they were plastic, not glass, but I've replaced a few plastic containers in my time). When each baby grew older I thought I had outgrown such childish displays, until another baby came and rudely reminded me that it was sleep, not godliness, which had increased. I remember that there were times when I sat staring into space crying with exhaustion, and had to will my feet to walk across the room to settle my screaming child one more time.

I remember Andrew, the worst sleeper of all my children, who didn't sleep through the night until after 14 months, even though he was the 4th child of an experienced mother. I perfected the art of dropping back to sleep to the sound of crying, before automatically waking up after the recommended 10-15 minutes to re-settle him, hour after hour after hour every night. Each time I thought he had learned to sleep, he would disappoint my expectations by screaming through the night again.

I remember the different feel of the night hours: how at 12.00 your head is stuffed with cotton wool and you sleep-walk to the cot, how at 3.00 the world turns into a gothic nightmare full of gloom and despair, and how at 5.00 the lottery of "will I fall back to sleep before the baby wakes up?" begins.

And I remember how unfair life can be where babies are concerned: how one mother can be given the "perfect" child, who sleeps through from 2 weeks, while another receives a baby who wakes every 1/2 hour for their first 6 months.

Once I would have put this down to different baby-handling techniques, and smugly advised a new method, until I saw how little my 4 babies' waking habits had to do with anything I did. How I used identical training techniques, and some slept through the night, and others didn't sleep at all.

It took me 2 babies before I became wise (or humble) enough to ask for help, and accept it when it was offered. I learned to stay in the hospital as long as possible (ah! the bliss of a quiet hospital room!), to say "yes!" when someone offered to cook us a meal, and most importantly, to call a friend the minute I started to feel depressed.

Wonderful aids to humility, babies. The more, the humbler.

And oh, the bliss of that day when you wake up in the morning and realise that your baby and you have just slept through the night for the first time in many, many months! It comes to all of us in time.

There are lots of books on settling babies. The most sane, flexible and helpful (and shortest) book I discovered on the topic was Settling your baby (a survival guide for parents - birth to 12 months). When anything worked, it did. And it didn't make me feel inadequate when nothing worked, either.

And for some helpful blog posts from GirlTalk on this topic, check out here and follow the thread here.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

be careful what you weed

I was weeding a patch of garden yesterday. I pulled out a big clump of grass (I haven't weeded in a while) and realised I was also holding the central part of one of my favourite bushes.

Be careful what you pull out: it might not be a weed.

How easy it is for us to squash the small beginnings of a great idea, a stumbling towards understanding, the first tentative steps of repentance!

Instead, let's free our team to pursue a crazy idea (even if it's not exactly the way we would have done it); praise a Bible study member's flawed efforts at understanding (while gently guiding them to discover God's truth); and encourage every small step taken by someone who's struggling (while we patiently wait for God's growth).

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. Isaiah 42:3

Friday, February 8, 2008


Andrew (1) pointing to a pile of red balloons in a shop window -

Andrew pointing to the mounds made by Lizzy's bent knees under a blanket -

Andrew pointing to a round shape in a wood carving -

Andrew pointing to the line drawing of a ball in a board book -

At least he has a good sense of analogy.

Thursday, February 7, 2008


Me fulminating against slow drivers in the car park this evening (not that I would ever do this) -
Jean (39) - "Why are you taking so long?" (as the slow car in front of us drove away)
Thomas (4) - "You mean why did you took so long, Mummy."
Jean - "So you know the difference between the present tense and the past tense, do you?"
Thomas - "What?"

Thomas commenting on a cold wind sweeping through the car park -
Thomas - "Mummy, that's not a breeze."
Mummy - "What is it then?"
Thomas - "It's a wind. I don't like winds, Mummy. I like breezes."

Thomas and Mummy discussing the wind -
Thomas - "Mummy, when it's hot, the wind makes me warm."
Mummy - "You mean cool. The wind makes you cool."
Thomas - "I know that, Mummy. I already know that."

Thus English grammar makes its way gently into the 4-year old mind.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

dieting and gluttony (2) the bizarre and the beautiful

Welcome to the bizarre world of popular Christian diets. Look no further than your nearest online Christian bookshop.

I typed the search "diet" into the Koorong Books website, and the 5 top search results were books about these diet plans (chosen for their popularity not their bizarre-ness, believe it or not):

    1. Daniel's Diet, a "safe and effective detox plan" by an Australian author. "In Daniel, chapter 1, Daniel himself takes on a challenge to show the value of a natural diet (v12) and goes on to prove its success (v15)... 'Daniel's Diet' ... teaches God’s principles of natural health and healing." (I thought Daniel's aim was to avoid defilement (v 8), but there you go, perhaps he was trying to prove the success of a natural diet.)

    2. The Maker's Diet, which follows God's "dietary laws. Eat any fish with fins and scales but avoid fish or water creatures without them (Lev. 11:9-10). Those to avoid include smooth-skinned species such as catfish or eel and hard-shelled crustaceans such as crab, lobster, or clams. The meat of animals with a cloven or split hoof that also chew the cud (Lev. 11:3) can be eaten. This includes cows, goats, sheep, oxen, deer, buffalo, and so forth. Do not eat swine (pigs). They have divided hooves, but they do not chew the cud. These are unclean animals (Lev. 11:7-8)." On the 7th day of the 40-day detox, like God, you can stop and rest. (I think this author may need to read Acts 11.)

    3. The Diet Alternative, which includes this unique interpretation of Romans 8:1-4 (see p.11) - "So now there is no condemnation awaiting those who belong to Christ Jesus. For the power of the life-giving Spirit - and this power is mine through Christ Jesus - has freed me from the vicious cycle of sin and death [overeating and guilt]. We aren't saved from sin's grasp by knowing the commandments of God [how to diet], because we can't and don't keep them, but God put into effect a different plan to save us. He sent his own Son in a human body like ours - except that ours are sinful - and destroyed sin's [overeating's] control over us by giving himself as a sacrifice for our sins [overeating]. So now we can obey God's laws [overcome overeating] if we follow after the Holy Spirit and no longer obey the old evil nature within us. Romans 8:1-4 TLB." (Redemption through overcoming overeating. Note to self: is overeating sin?)

    4. The Hallelujah Diet, a "biblically based", "scientifically validated" and "personally evidenced" vegan diet based on Genesis 1:29 - “And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat (food).” (I wonder what the author makes of God's provision of meat for food, for example in the Passover - a suspect health decision?)

    5. The Weigh-down diet. "Why have diets not worked so far? The reason is that you ... have tried using man-made rules (diets) instead of God's rules. ... God is too smart to let a local weight-loss group or fat gram counting be your Savior and thereby get all the credit. ... Now, welcome to the Weigh Down Workshop, a place that teaches you God's rules for eating ... Welcome to the Weigh Down Workshop, a place that shows you how to use God's strength rather than your willpower! Welcome to the Weigh Down Workshop, a place where thousands of people are now thin after years of trying..." On their old website you can even click HERE to see a church that has lost 10,000 pounds (who could resist?) Weight loss is divinely prescribed because "the body is His temple" (1 Corinthians 6:19).
Now, I must admit that out of all these (mis-)interpretations of the Bible, the only one I expected was the last one. It's all too common to (mis-)interpret "your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor. 6:19) as a call to keep your body healthy, rather than to keep your body from sexual impurity.

So what's wrong with these Christian approaches to dieting? Here's some suggestions (no doubt you can think of more):
- they apply verses completely out of context (e.g. God's provision of plants for food becomes a dietary recommendation);
- they encourage legalism, even in its most blatant form (Old Testament law, anyone?);
- they move the focus from Christ's death to weight-loss (attend our church! see how much weight we have lost!);
- their "biblically based" recommendations are uncannily similar to modern health regulations (some of the most extreme kind);
- they have a disturbing tendency to be linked to multi-million dollar enterprises spruiking over-priced diet products. Anyone fancy a spot of Hallelujah Acres BarleyMax or Maker's Multi?

Is dieting Christian? Well, these books certainly haven't convinced me.

We'll have a look at the Bible's teaching on self-control next time, and see if it has anything to do with food.

You can follow the thread on dieting here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

guest post: Emma's vacuuming

For the first time in my life, I regretted vacuuming today.

Normally it gives me such a wonderful sense of satisfaction. A physical, productive, efficient job where the results are obvious really quickly. But today, I feel a great sense of loss after my vacuuming endeavours.

As I was vacuuming Isabella's room, I heard a chink. "Oh dear", I thought, but kept on vacuuming. "It must have been a little trinket of jewellery or something. Oh well, she's got millions of those." Kept on vacuuming...

And then I realized as I swept the vacuum head over yet another yellowy-white hard object...

A memory came back to me - a memory of a little silver box with red velvet lining. An empty box - sitting on Isabella's shelf - I had seen it a few days ago. "Oh no." Chink. These thoughts happened in the space of a split second - too quickly to stop what I was doing.

Two baby teeth and a big one.

"Will I tell her?" I thought. "Oh dear, I have no more of her baby teeth to keep. That period of her life is lost forever."

As I went on with the vacuuming, I kept thinking about childhood memories and the desperate attempts I sometimes make to preserve them for my children.

Why do I take this so seriously? Is it because I feel like my parents hardly kept anything from my childhood? Is it because I am obsessive about my children and I just want to keep them small and cute forever?

I was reminded today that I probably spend too much time on this kind of thing - writing down cute quotes, recording heights, measurements, keeping 1st drawings (and 2nd, and 3rd.....and 99th). Some of this time I spend could be reallocated to working on their godliness - with far more eternal consequences.

Treasures in heaven, that do not rot or spoil (or get vacuumed up....)

Monday, February 4, 2008

sock service

I still remember the day I decided to start putting Steve's socks away.

I used to hand him a pile of folded clothes, and he put them in the cupboard. My small domestic nod to feminism. Somehow, putting away his socks felt like giving up the last bastion of my female independence. And perhaps it was.

But one day an older, wiser woman told me that she had recently started putting her husband's rolled socks in his drawer, as a small act of service to help him during a time of heavy responsibility.

Knowing the politics of marriage, she is probably still doing it.

It was C.S.Lewis who taught me that love is not about justice. If we aim for equality in marriage, we will never get equality, but we will get plenty of conflict. Better for each of us to serve the other, in humility and grace; and if there are times I am not served, to go on serving.

And it was Jesus who taught me about the beauty of humble service involving feet. Ruler of the universe, he took the job of the lowest servant:

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them. "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them." John 13:12-17

If it's good enough for my Lord, it's good enough for me.

And if feet, why not socks?