Wednesday, April 30, 2008

freaky facts from the brain of Ben

My son Ben (7) has one of those brains which gathers facts like a woolly jumper collects lint.

Ben's reading 1001 Cool Freaky Facts today. Here are some freaky facts from the brain of Ben:
  • In Florida unmarried women are prohibited from parachuting on Sundays.

  • Barbecued tarantulas taste like prawns.

  • Albert Einstein never wore socks (they don't go well with Bermuda shorts and thongs).

  • 45 km of zippers are made across the world every hour.

  • Bill Gates' house was designed on a Macintosh computer.

  • An apple, an onion, and a potato all taste sweet if you eat them with your nose plugged.

  • More monopoly money is printed than real money in a year.
And my personal favourite:

  • Frogs can throw up. A frog throws up its stomach first, so that its stomach is dangling out of its mouth. Then it uses its forearms to dig out the stomach's contents, and swallows its stomach again.
I hope you're not eating right now.

a 4-year old reflects on infinity

And while we're on the topic of very big things:

Thomas (4) is fascinated with the idea of "infinity".

He says, "Mum, after infinity there's infinity!"

Sounds about right to me!


Thomas is bouncing on the trampoline, counting each jump. "One, two, three ... one hundred and ten, ten hundred and one, ten hundred and two..."

He stops, disheartened. Clearly, he is never going to reach the end.

In exhausted tones, he says: "Infinity is the last number. Infinity means numbers go on forever. Infinity means numbers don't ever end."


Thomas has found at least one thing which completely defeats him.

A good preparation for a lifetime of worshipping the infinite God.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

galaxies without number

This glorious photograph was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995. It's from the Hubble Deep Field, an image of a small region of space about a thirteeth of a Full Moon wide. Almost 3,000 galaxies were found in this tiny patch of sky, including those dots and spirals of light in the photograph above!

Which brought new meaning for me to this post by John Piper, where he talks about why God's universe is so enormous, and humankind, the crown of his creation, so very small:
The heavens are not designed to declare the glory of man. “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalms 19:1). ... Man must reside on tiny planet earth in a seemingly infinite universe. ... Only God is infinite. The universe is declaring that. Pretty well.
Pinnacle of creation? Maybe. Point of creation? No. The point of creation is God's glory, and the glory of his Son.

The universe is not really about us at all. It's about God, and the glory of his Son. God made all things through and for his Son, who will one day wrap it all up and give it back to his Father for his glory (John 17:1-5, 1 Cor. 15:20-28, Col. 1:15-20). Which is why we were made too.

Glory be to the God who shaped astoundingly beautiful galaxies without number, including this galaxy where our tiny planet spins at one edge. Who made this universe so much huger and more wonderful than we can ever imagine.

A fitting witness to the glory of its Creator, who is ever beyond our ability to comprehend, but who overwhelms our minds and moves our hearts with His glory.


Image reproduced with thanks to NASA and STScI.

Monday, April 28, 2008

dieting and gluttony (5g) Carolyn Mahaney on self-control

Let's eat to the glory of God, not our own glory!

Carolyn Mahaney encourages us to glorify God by enjoying food with thanksgiving, and by avoiding over-eating, comfort eating, and eating (or not eating) for vanity.

I enjoyed her story about the woman who always ordered a salad!
I usually don't stop to contemplate why I am eating. ... Most of the time we eat because we are hungry or simply because we desire food ... Scripture, however, tells us that we are to eat and drink to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). How then are we to fulfill this command?

We are to receive food with gratitude and enjoyment; however, we must not be given to overeating. ... Eating too much food is sin. [Prov. 23:2, 20-21] ...

Eating to calm our fears, alleviate stress, or overcome feelings of depression are other habits that do not glorify God. Food is not our source of help and comfort. God is. ...

Our society promotes the pursuit of physical beauty, but God's Word exposes this quest as vanity and calls us to pursue the fear of the Lord instead: "Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised" (Prov. 31:20) ...

Being thin is one of our culture's requirements for physical beauty. ... We must not chase after the ideal our culture worships, but instead pursue what God esteems.

A disciplined approach to eating does not automatically indicate the presence of self-control ... I know a woman who always ordered a salad at restaurants because she desired a figure that would attract the attention of others. Although she appeared disciplined to those around her, this woman realised that her motives were actually sinful. She was pursuing self-glorification - not godliness. This sin of vanity is no less serious than the sin of gluttony. When this woman repented of her vanity, she was then able to pursue self-control in a manner that brought glory to God.

We need to ask ourselves: Am I seeking my own glory or God's glory with my eating habits?
My highlights; this quote is from Carolyn Mahaney, Feminine Appeal, pp.69-71.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

expecting more from teenagers

Have you ever had that experience (if you're a parent) where people admire your cute pre-schoolers, then say gleefully: "But just wait till they're teenagers!" I always feel like punching them on the nose.

My Mum always said if you tell your kids how horrible teenagers are, they'll live up to it. She expected my brother and me to be human and likeable teenagers. We had our moments, but mostly we were.

So here's a book I've added to my wistful wishlist: Brett and Alex Harris' Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion against Low Expectations. It's a book by teens and for teens, about God's purpose for teenagers. I'll also be checking out their blog, The Rebelution.

For parents of teenagers, here's a book with a similar message: Paul David Tripp's Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide for Parenting Teens. I'll tell you more once I've read it(!).

As always, my mottos are "Be prepared" and "When in doubt, read." My daughter's 9 already, gotta get ready for those teen years!

grace when we need it

I've said it before, and C.S.Lewis said it better (although you might have to scroll through this over-long post to find it), but I'll say it again: God gives us grace not for imaginary events in the future, but for the situation we find ourselves in right now.

Here's a wonderful GirlTalk post on grace when we need it. What a great comfort when our imaginations run away with us, and we feel anxious or afraid!

As always, God gets the last, best word. He promises to give us "everything we need for life and godliness" through Jesus (2 Pet. 1:3).

Sunday School - fruit of the Spirit - joy

Today in Sunday School we’re looking at a fruit with special meaning for me: joy! (You know, the one that's juicy, like an orange.)

My life has been lived to the tune of something I learned as a child:
What is the chief end of man?
The chief end of man is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever.
(Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q.1)

Our daughter’s middle name is Joy. For 5 long and exciting years I wrote about the Puritan quest for enjoyment of God for my PhD. And I’m leading a seminar on enjoying God in a couple of months.

So I’m really looking forward to Sunday School. I want to tell the children that we can rejoice in God – be happy that we’re his children, on our way to heaven, with the wonderful job of telling others about Jesus – in bad times and in good.

Which is harder: to rejoice in God when your life is falling apart? Or to rejoice in God when everything is going well? I think they’re equally difficult. We so easily forget God when we’re consumed by despair, or absorbed in earthly pleasures.

So I’ve chosen a Bible passage about joy in good and bad times: Acts 16:16-40. It’s the story of Peter and Silas’ joy when they suffered for Christ in prison, and their joy over the salvation of the jailer and his family.

We’ll be using two backdrops: one a dark and gloomy dungeon, and one a comfortable light-filled home. We’ll be talking about how Paul was filled with joy in God in the darkest and happiest times of all.

May we all experience the “inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Pet. 1:8) which is ours in Jesus.

Here are Paul and Silas, looking for all the world like two Southern Baptists in business class. Well, at least they look happy, if also extremely comfortable in their cardboard stocks and nicely ironed shirts. I thought naked, blood-stained dolls might be a bit much.

And here is the jailer and his family, in their comfortable home. Again, not particularly first century! But at least it should be clear which is the "happy" and which the "sad" part of the story. And lots of joyful-looking dolls in both!!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

interview about blogging (2) on honesty

How did I choose the name "in all honesty?" I went to bed last October thinking about a name for my new blog, and woke up with the words "in all honesty" echoing around my brain! Nothing like sleep to inspire the mind.

But people are constantly fascinated by honesty. So here's the Q & A about this topic from the interview about blogging I did recently.

Your blog is called “in all honesty” and from reading it regularly I can say that it is exceptionally honest. What was the catalyst for committing to this angle for your bog?

I have never had a problem with honesty. I’m sure there must be some darker motives behind my honesty, like a quest for affirmation. But honesty has always been one of the ways I encourage people, whether I’m meeting one-on-one or leading a seminar. You can’t expect people to open up to you if you’re not open with them.

And it’s just so important that Christians learn to be honest with one another, otherwise we will spend our whole lives thinking no-one else struggles, or doubts, or fears like we do. Honesty undercuts hypocrisy, which we are very good at: we argue in the car on the way to church, then sit there like the perfect couple or family, while everyone wonders why everyone else’s relationships are better than theirs.

But the main reason for honesty is that Christianity is all about grace. I want to be honest about my sin and struggles, so I can show God’s strength in my weakness, and the forgiveness and hope God has given me, which are available to everyone through Christ.

Do you ever feel vulnerable blogging about personal issues and ones that impact on your husband and children?

Absolutely! Although I have learnt to be very, very careful when posting things about other people. I don’t mention people’s names any more without asking them first; I get my husband to read anything about him before I post it; and I don’t post stories about my kids if I think they would be embarrassed to read them when they’re older.

As for my own honesty – well, that’s up to me – but I have found that vulnerability comes at a high price. It can leave me feeling very, very scared and alone, very fearful of what people will think of me. For a while, coping with all these new feelings made me quite depressed. But I am learning when and how to be vulnerable, and it affects me less with time. And if this is part of the cost of encouraging people, I am prepared to pay that price – it’s easier for me than it would be for someone who’s naturally more reserved.

What topics won’t you blog about?

That’s a tough one. Certainly nothing that may prove embarrassing to others: not everyone wants their private thoughts and feelings splattered across the internet. That’s a lesson I learned the hard way. Nothing clearly marked “private,” and I’ll leave private exactly what lies behind that door!

Look for the rest of the interview in the May issue of RedWhiteYou. Susan interviewed my bloggy friend Nicole from 168 hours as well, so you'll find her answers there too!

Friday, April 25, 2008

... and again

Although, as Ben (7) said, this gun really does need some animation. I think he meant ammunition. But animation would do just as well.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

boys and their guns ... again

Told you boys can make guns out of anything. Even worthy educational toys like this one. Come to think of it, they haven't played with this 3D word game much at all, so at least it's being put to good use.

to wake or not to wake

So how's getting up at 6.00 going, I hear you ask?

Very well, for a week. Lots of peaceful time to pray, read the Bible, reflect, and read Christian books. A more relaxed morning getting the children ready for school.

Then the entire family was struck down pretty much simultaneously with a horrible cold. One of those phlegmy, throaty, coughy, chesty kind of colds which leave you feeling exhausted and useless for anything.

And here is the triumph: I didn't attempt to wake up at 6.00 that week!

Does this sound like a victory to you? Well, it is for me! My tendency is to think if I find the perfect spiritual program, I'll get on top of my godliness once and for all. It's easy for me to serve plans not people. It's easy for me to worship programs instead of God.

So once I've planned something, I find it very hard to be flexible. Which is a brilliant way to make sure no plan lasts very long. Have you ever tried to keep a complicated, demanding plan going for a month? I have. It ended in tears, exhaustion, and discouragement.

So it took some courage to even decide to start getting up at 6.00. And even more courage to decide not to for a week.

Plans are not my god: God is. When they help me serve him, I'll use them. When they stand in the way of wisdom, love and godliness, I'm learning to let them go.

But if only I could get some sleep, that 6.00 wake-up is looking very attractive ...

on hell and hypocrisy

Thankyou, Sandra, for telling me about this great little blog by Honoria. Here's two excellent posts:

- attributes we often mistake for godliness

- lying about hell.

Keep up the good work, Honoria! More thought-provoking, insightful posts, please!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

from the archives

My bloggy friend Nicole tagged me for this archive meme. Oh, my! So little time, so much blogging!

I'm supposed to pick blogs from my archives on 5 topics: family, friends, me, something I love, and anything I like. Here they are:

family: four babies, no sleep - humbled by small, crying creatures.

friends: our neighbours - the true story of a small miracle.

me: my personality - my very first blog post.

something I love: my husband, of course! Also reading, walking, and universities.

anything I like: mugs, feeling down, watery blessings, a divine wink - these ones just about wrote themselves.

And now I'm supposed to tag 5 other people to do this archive meme. But I don't know that many bloggers except Nicole, and she's already done it. So I nominate my friend Susan.

don't believe everything you read

Don't believe everything you read: I'm not sure I do, and I wrote it. Every fact can be true, but is the conclusion right? You'll have to figure that one out yourself.

Monday, April 21, 2008

dieting and gluttony (5f) Jerry Bridges on self-control

Wondering what self-control around food looks like in practice?

Here's some helpful guidelines about how to be self-controlled in our eating from Jerry Bridges' Respectable Sins (an insightful look at "forgotten" sins like pride and selfishness).

I found his definition of self-control particularly helpful, and I couldn't agree more that lack of self-control in one area can lessen self-control in more important areas. Again, the real issue is not "How much ice-cream do I eat?" but "Does my eating control me?"
"A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls" (Proverbs 25:28). ... [A] person without self-control is vulnerable to all kinds of temptations. ...

What is self-control? It is a governance or prudent control of one's desires, cravings, impulses, emotions, and passions. It is saying no when we should say no. It is moderation in legitimate desires and activities, and absolute restraint in areas that are clearly sinful. ...

[S]elf-control needs to be exercised in ... eating and drinking. Let me say right away that I am not singling out those who have a so-called "weight problem." That may or may not be due to a lack of self-control. One of the most self-controlled men I have ever known struggled with his weight all his adult life. On the other hand, some who can eat what they please without gaining weight may, because of that fact, fail to exercise self-control in their eating and drinking.

What I am addressing is the tendency to continually give in to our desires for certain foods or drinks. ... I think of my own craving for ice cream years ago when I would have a dish of it at dinner and another at bed-time. ... A seemingly benign practice greatly weakened my self-control in other more critical areas. I learned that we cannot pick and choose the areas of life in which we will exercise self-control.

One of the ways we can exercise self-control is by removing or getting away from whatever tempts us to indulge our desires. In the case of the ice cream, I asked my wife to no longer keep it regularly in the freezer. Instead, we now buy it for specific occasions. Even though I made that decision more than thirty years ago, I still have to exercise self-control. Recently I was on my way to mail a package at a contract post office that is located in an ice cream shop. As I drove, I began to think about having a dish of ice cream. As I wrestled with that strong desire, I concluded that it was a time when I needed to say "no" to myself just for the purpose of keeping that desire under control.

I'm not trying to lay a guilt trip on those who enjoy ice cream or soda pop, or even those who go to Starbucks every day for their favourite coffee drink. What I am addressing is our lack of self-control - a tendency to indulge our desires so that they control us, instead of our controlling those desires.
My highlights; this quote is from Jerry Bridges, Respectable Sins, pp.109-114.


I saw a kangaroo on my morning walk today. A big old forlorn grey kangaroo, the last of its tribe.

I was walking in the grounds of the suburban university over the back fence, a small rectangle of green surrounded by houses and busy streets. The kangaroo looked up startled from the one remaining clump of river red-gums, a half-hearted effort at bush regeneration.

Seeking an escape route, it hopped onto the footy field, across the car park, and along the edge of an arterial road, where it stopped, gazing bewildered over the blaring cars. My last glimpse was of it bounding, powerful tail beating up and down, back to its tiny patch of bush.

One last old man kangaroo.

We live near the urban fringe, creeping steadily outwards year by year. Not all that long ago, we could take the children for a walk down the road in the early evening, and watch mobs of kangaroos grazing in nearby paddocks, fringed in gold against the setting sun.

But the paddocks are gone. For a while, we visited the building site instead, sneaking through a gap in the wire fence to explore the exposed innards of the Coles before they put on the ceiling. These days, we walk to the supermarket.

Don't get me wrong: I love the new shopping strip. I chat with friends in the European coffee shop, browse in the Greek delicatessan, and buy heavy spiced fruit-loaf from the Italian bakery for Sunday lunch. I occasionally treat myself to lillies or gerberas from the tiny florist, and the kids to bizarrely flavoured ice creams (Snickers! Bounty!) invented and made in the local ice creamery.

Instead of paddocks and bush, there's a spotless Coles and Priceline, and a shiny office building all windows and reflections, standing among rows of stunted newly-planted trees. Cranes swing languidly over a discount warehouse in the process of construction, and excavators bite out a gaping hole for the artificial lake which will bring its hint of nature to the new housing development. Rows of over-sized billboards line the road, proclaiming "You deserve this!"

Perhaps we do.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Sunday School - fruit of the Spirit - love

A script, 6 kids, and a "marinator" (my son's word for "narrator") will help us perform a drama of the parable about the "Good Samaritan" at Sunday School this week.

We'll be adding the strawberry of love to our fruit of the Spirit banner tonight.

All kinds of big Bible ideas about love go through my mind, especially after yet more over-zealous preparation. (As well as some confusion: why does the covenant of love God made with Israel in the Old Testament sometimes seem conditional - "I love those who love me," and sometimes unconditional - God's faithful love for his unfaithful people? An enormous question for another day!)

I chose Luke 10:25-37, because it has both a great summary of love - "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind' and 'Love your neighbour as yourself," and a fantastic story about what love looks like in practice - the Parable of the Good Samaritan.*

But when I looked at the parable more closely, I noticed that it's not just a story about love. Jesus told this story to a self-righteous religious teacher who wanted to show how well he kept the law, including God's demand that we "love our neighbour" - perhaps if we limit the word "neighbour" to people like me?

As usual, Jesus raises the bar on what God requires of us: he wants us not only to love people like us, but also to love our enemies. Like the Samaritan who loved the Jew who probably despised him. A Samaritan who was a religious outcast, but who was so much more loving than the self-righteous religious people in the story (ouch!). And Jesus even got the teacher of the law to admit it.

No-one is this loving - not the teacher of the law, not us. When Jesus says "Do this and you will live," there's a barb in the tail. We can't love like this. Which is why love is the fruit of God's Spirit, something only God can produce in us.

For isn't this what children - as well as adults - find hardest? To love those who hate us, who despise us, who are our enemies?

Like my friend's 8-year old daughter, who was the only girl in her circle of friends not to be asked to her good friend's party. I was so impressed by how her mother encouraged her to keep loving the girl who had hurt her!

That's the kind of nitty-gritty love I'm going to be talking about with the children today.

* This is the point that I step in and give the parable a startling new name, showing how well I understand it, except I can't think of one. Over to you, Gordon. Maybe "The parable to show the self-righteous Bible teacher how he doesn't keep God's law very well at all, really."

an interview about blogging (1) how it all began

My friend Susan recently interviewed me about blogging for RedWhiteYou, an online magazine run by her brother and his Christian friends in Ballarat.

A great chance to do something I've been wanting to do: stop and reflect about the impact of blogging on my life. The interview will be published in early May, but I thought you might enjoy a sneak preview. Here's how it starts:

Do you remember how you first discovered blogging?

Now this will sound bizarre. I woke up one morning last October and thought, “I might start a blog!” I had never read a blog, and had very little idea what they were, but I knew I was interested in writing and encouraging people. I’d been thinking a lot about what my life and ministry would look like now we’ve probably had our last child, and dreaming about possibilities … start a women’s conference? start a training group? do some writing? … when the word “blog” upped and hit me in the face.

What is the purpose of your blog?

To encourage women in their Christian lives. To reflect on how God’s Word affects all the little and big ways we act, think and feel: when we wake up, how we clean the house, how we respond to exhaustion and discouragement.

To be honest about how tough life can be, and how much I stuff things up. To show people – especially Christian women – they’re not alone in their sins and struggles.

To glorify God by telling of his work in me. To show that God is faithful, and wonderful, and loving, and true, even when I’m not.

Along the way, to introduce people to great books, articles, talks and blog posts, especially the great Christian writings of the past, and to share what we can learn from them.

How long have you been blogging for?

I posted my first blog, about personality tests, on 16th October 2007.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

a 4-year old's view of the zoo

My father and I took the kids to the Melbourne Zoo the other day.

Thomas was very excited about going, until he realised we didn't mean the brightly-coloured children's museum, which he loves, and where the animals are conveniently stuffed.

"Is it the coloured building?" he asked hopefully. "No, the animals are real. They're in cages."

Tantrums. Many tantrums.

But in the car, having reconciled himself to the idea that yes, we were going to the zoo, and starting to get excited, he said: "I like the zoo, but I like the coloured building better."

A big admission, coming from Thomas.


And here, in three sentences, is how Thomas saw the zoo:

"I don't like butterflies, they're not boy-ly."

"Why are the tortoises real?" He was clearly disappointed. The giant tortoises weren't moving much, and he wanted to climb on them.

"The penguins had red scarves on." I was puzzled, until I realised he meant the tiny red plastic identity tags clipped on their wings.

A young child sees the world through eyes so very different from our own.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

grieving as those who have hope

My heart is grieved today over an article on the front page of The Age.

It's about six teenagers and a teacher from Elim Christian College who died yesterday during a canyoning accident on a flooded river in New Zealand. I was encouraged that this secular newspaper reported how the school responded with prayer, and spoke with grace not blame for those responsible: so unusual in our litigious world.

It reminded me of a similar accident last year, where students died during a Christian school camp in Australia (does anyone remember the details?). I also remembered the attack on Murree Christian School in Pakistan in 2002, where six adults were killed, but where God protected the children inside.

My first response was confusion. Why does God allow his people to suffer in one place, and protect them in another? Then anger: "Has God forgotten to be merciful?" (Psalm 77:7). Then sadness. I prayed for the parents, teachers and students, that they will be able to trust God even in their overwhelming sorrow.

So I was encouraged to read these words of faith by the principal of the college, who, after wise advice about grieving, writes:
    We do have a hope - God is our Comforter, God’s love surrounds us, and we do have an eternal perspective that death is not the end. This may be little comfort now as you miss your friends so much but in the big picture of life, we can be so thankful for our hope in Jesus- it truly makes all the difference.

    Psalm 18:2
    The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

    Psalm 71:20-21
    Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once again.

    Psalm 73:26
    My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Praise God with me for these brave people of faith, and pray for them tonight.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

the little red writing book

The air is so clear, you can see straight through it. Sharp-edged distant hills stand behind green bush stand behind nearby gums, layered stage scenery against the flat blue backdrop of the sky. River red gums, scab-skinned and pot-bellied with age, stretch twisted limbs into the warm still air. Long morning shadows lie in dense black tiger stripes across the highlighter green grass. Sweat moves sluggishly down my skin.

I've been reading The little red writing book. It's full of writing exercises like this one, which I wrote in my head during a morning walk. The book is a rich feast of hints about writing: it reminded me of things I'd forgotten, and taught me things I never knew.

I could have picked up any book on writing, and been told to vary sentence length, avoid cliches, use the active voice, and cut out unnecessary words. But most writing manuals are tedious collections of rules. I borrowed one so badly written it was virtually unreadable.

What sets The little red writing book apart is that it's written with such style and grace, you'll want to stop and savour every sentence. It practises what it preaches: you can't help noticing how precisely every word is chosen, how skillfully every sentence is constructed. Each chapter opens with an example of lucid, glorious prose. Lovers of good writing, as well as writers, will be captivated by this book.

And we're all writers. We all need to know how to write, especially with so much communication happening on line. Whether we're working on a technical paper, leading a discussion group, or typing an email, we could all write with a little more grace and clarity. It doesn't matter what kind of writing you do, once you've read this book you'll do it better.

The little red writing book not only reveals how to write, but what it is to be a writer. Mark Treddinick invites us through the looking-glass into his experience writing this book: the frustration of the first blank page, the unexpected usefulness of a child's interruption, the process of planning the final chapter on planning. He takes books from his shelves and shares favourite quotes from famous writers. And he shares his own writing with us:

I sit down to write the book. Nothing happens.

It's summer out there. I'm working at a seventies office desk in a seventies ranger's hut close to a visitor's centre by a glacial lake, far from home. Being here's a gift, part of a prize I won for writing something else. And I want to spend my time here well; I want to spend it writing this book. If I don't, my publisher may kill me.

It got down below freezing last night, and I was cold in here. But the morning is warm and still and clear. There are black peppermints standing up in it, and black currawongs crying their guttural cry in it; and filling it out, there's a light as clean and a sky as blue as you're ever going to know. I've come here to write a book. So I walk out into the morning to find it.

I've just found out Mark Treddinick will be speaking at The faithful writer, a conference for Christian writers in Sydney. What sounded interesting now sounds unmissable! Want to come with me?

Thank you, Karen, for introducing me to The little red writing book (have you finished it yet?) and for freeing me from the necessity to read lots of tedious manuals about how to write.

Monday, April 14, 2008

broccoli and the joy of obedience

I was cutting broccoli for our stir-fry this evening, and enjoying the simple pleasure of preparing healthy food for my family.

This is more remarkable than it sounds. I am not a natural cook, as you may have noticed. Cooking by nature feels like drudgery to me: messy, hot, unremitting hard work. Which shouldn't be surprising, since one of the results of the Fall was to make work difficult and laborious, whether in the home or outside the door.

But one of the things I have noticed about obedient service is that it becomes easier and more joyful with time. What was once a constant fight with self, and then relentless labour, becomes a happy freedom.

Like the body-memory of a skilled athlete or musician, whose muscles repeat a pattern of activity until it becomes natural, so the muscles and sinews of the soul become accustomed to obedience and service.

I didn't find it easy to serve my husband and children at first. It was a sharp struggle with the self-centred desire to have my needs met, my rights observed. With practice, it felt more natural, but still tedious, repetitive and never-ending. Those feelings haven't gone away, I won't lie to you. It's still a daily battle.

But I increasingly find myself smiling at the joy of service.

The pleasure that comes from nurturing loving relationships. The satisfaction of giving more than I thought I was capable of giving. The unlikely freedom to choose to put others' needs before my own.

The joy of pleasing my Lord, of giving him the love-gift of costly obedience. The wonder of humbly serving others, and in them serving the Master who humbled himself to serve me. The privilege of laying down my life, of walking in the footsteps of the One who laid down his life for me.

It shouldn't surprise us that obedient service feels natural and joyous. For we were made for this. God made us for himself, and we are never fully ourselves until we lose ourselves in him.

In his service there is glorious freedom and inexpressible joy.

"It's good we aren't all like Jesus" by John Piper

"Jesus never wrote anything. He hung out, and talked, and healed. But if his followers had only done that, we wouldn’t know even that about him. Both-And, not Either-Or. And some people more one than the other."

From this post by John Piper.

dieting and gluttony (5e) Henry Fairlie on gluttony

Here's a scathing, witty attack by Henry Fairlie on the modern obsession with fine dining, dieting, and health food:


An invitation to dinner has ... become a hazard. What used to be a sociable occasion has been turned into a form of solitude. The hostess or host - for when they take up cooking as a fine art, men are the worst offenders - will hardly be with their guests. They will be in the kitchen. But that is not all. The guests in turn are hardly permitted to be with each other. As each course is brought to the table, it must be tasted, discussed, each ingredient told ... This is no less a form of solitude than that of the glutton at his trough. All companionship is destroyed. The guests might as well have stayed at home and read The Art of French Cooking, or watched Julia Child whip up a souffle on television. At least they would not have had to applaud her ...

[W]e usually think of gluttony as so unsightly and bloated that few of us today may seem guilty of it. On the one hand, there are the dieters and calorie counters; on the other, the addicts of health food. ... These may seem to reflect a self-denying abstemiousness, but there is Gluttony in all of them. (Fastidiousness in eating is regarded in theology as just as much a fault of the sin as excess in it.) ... They are just as obsessed with their food, even if their attention is fixed only on a raw carrot and a prune ...

It is worth watching the obsessive dieters. They are constantly going to their refrigerators ... They gaze on the morsels, fondle them, even rearrange them ... From hour to hour they return to ... count the spinach leaves. But at last the bell rings. It is mealtime. Salivating like Pavlov's dogs, they scurry to the kitchen table with a stick of celery, a radish, a spoonful of cottage cheese, and a dried apricot for dessert. Watch them as they eat. They devour their delicacies just as the conventional glutton sucks up his bouillabaisse. Their eyes also are fixed on their plates.

They occupy the rest of their days by reading and thinking about food. There must be some new regimen they should be following, one more impurity that has been discovered in the endive. Whether they are eating or not, their minds are on their food and what their food is doing to their bodies. ... There is neither time nor need to talk of anything else. The interest is gluttonous and, as with all forms of Gluttony, the end is solitude. For none of the activities needs a companion. The driving motive of the dieter is again an inordinate self-love.

This is no less true of the addicts of health foods, as they exclaim at the wholesomeness of a sassafras nut or hymn ecstatically the savour of a sunflower seed. They also may not seem to be gluttons in the common sense, yet their interest in their eating is again a form of Gluttony. It is disproportionate and unnatural. There is a great deal of the fastidiousness of self-love in it. A creaturely thing is magnified beyond its actual significance and made some kind of expression of oneself.

One of the pleasures of food ... is that it offers occasions for social intercourse. But it is precisely this that is refused by the dieters and addicts of health foods. Eating is their one staple of interest and conversation. By giving to food a false value, they also rob it of its real value. ...

The Gluttony of our own age ... has at least a part of its cause ... in the boredom of our societies. When there is so much to do, when so much is spread before us for our titillation, surely we should not be bored. Yet it is all so dissatisfying, with neither purpose nor deep reward. ... We are left with a hollow at our core, a sinking feeling in our spirits from day to day, and we resort to the device of the glutton ... We will fill and stuff our emptiness, even if it is only by chewing ravenously on a raw carrot. ... If our societies are founded on Avarice, the state to which they reduce us is Gluttony.
Highlights mine; this quote is from Henry Fairlie, The seven deadly sins today, cited in Os Guiness, Steering through chaos pp.222-5.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

a blossom in the desert

Lilias Trotter was a faithful woman of God who gave up life as a promising artist to become a missionary in Algeria. I was inspired by her story recently when I read Noel Piper's Faithful women and their extraordinary God.

So I was excited to read this post by Noel Piper. It seems that Lilias Trotter's artwork and reflections are now available in the book A blossom in the desert. How dearly I would love to read it, as well as her biography, A passion for the impossible! But I think I have reached my book quota for the year.

Go on, read them, and tell me what you think.

boasting ... and all the rest

And another little rave, this time about Nicole's blog 168hours. If you haven't already read it, hop over there and have a look at what she wrote last week. Lots of challenging and encouraging discussions about topics like boasting, contraception, marriage, and blogging.

Carolyn McCulley

More talks on womanhood I'll have to download to my iPod, this time by Carolyn McCulley, who wrote Did I kiss marriage goodbye? and whose new book Radical Womanhood is due out in October. Can't wait!

good for how long?

Sunday School went well. Although I discovered an interesting fact about children's beliefs, even (especially?) well-taught children.

When I asked them "Can we make ourselves good?" there was an almost unanimous "Yes!" (One boy also had an endearingly stubborn conviction that bad trees could make themselves good.)

And when I challenged them - "Have you managed to be good for a whole day? How about a week? No whinging, no disobeying, no tiny lies?" I had to push it out to "a year" before one of the boys would admit he wasn't good the whole time.

In other words, children are no different to the rest of us: blind to our sin, and convinced of our ability to do good. And just as in need of having God open our eyes, so we can see how helpless we are without God's grace.

fruit of the Spirit (1) bad fruit

Is it a waste of good fruit to throw an apple round the room so you can use it as a Sunday School illustration? Or a waste of of money to deliberately buy a woody pear and a wrinkled kiwi fruit?

I'm taking two baskets of fruit to Sunday School today - one bad and one good - to show the different kinds of fruit which come from different kinds of trees. Our first lesson on the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) is about fruit.

In the grand tradition of over-preparation, I enjoyed discovering how much the Bible has to say about fruit. The places God gives to his people - Eden, Canaan and heaven - abound in fruit-bearing trees; God's people are like a fig-tree or a vineyard, which all too often bear only bad fruit; and every one of us, like a tree, produces fruit in keeping with our nature.

Our attitudes and actions show what we are really like:
    No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. Luke 6:43-34
Of course, a thorn-bush can't turn itself into an apple tree. We can't make ourselves good.

But when we trust in Jesus, God gives us his Spirit to help us to live his way. Then we bear this kind of fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentlenes and self-control (Galatians. 5:22-23).

One fruit for each week of term.

In the meantime, my collection of bad fruit is growing.

with loud singing

Which reminds me of another occasion, when I was sitting in a crowded waiting room with Ben, who was 4 at the time.

Ben's voice has always been set to "loud."

He was singing about God and how he made the world "... and the flowers ... and the mountains ..." and I was doing my best not to shush him in embarrassment.

Until he sang "and if you don't believe, he will throw you into the pit of fire." Not language we've used with him when talking about God's judgement, but maybe he was reading Revelation at the time (it's quite possible, he was an early reader). Or does Colin Buchanan sing something about this (can anyone remember?).

Ashamed of Jesus? I hope not. But ashamed of my son singing loudly about hell in a room full of mums? Definitely.

I'm ashamed to admit.

wake-up call

Thomas (4) is outside waking up the neighbourhood, literally and metaphorically, with a rousing musical-style rendition of a made-up song:

Only God can touch the sky,
Only God can touch the sky,
It's way up there,
Only God,
Only God can touch the sky!

Imagine the last word delivered on a raised note, with out-spread arms and a stirring vibrato.

I hope the neighbours appreciate the theology lesson they're getting with their Sunday morning newspaper and coffee.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Sunday School: to craft or not to craft?

Over at Children Desiring God, where they have the temerity not to include craft in their excellent Sunday School material, you can almost hear the anguish in this Frequently Asked Question: "Why aren't there any crafts included in the curricula?" You can read their response here.

I agree that craft can be expensive, that it uses important preparation time, and that it often teaches little. And I don't think it's necessary - I'm pretty sure it wasn't a big feature of my Sunday School growing up, where I learnt heaps in a fun way.

But I am including craft in the Sunday School material I'm writing on the Fruit of the Spirit.

Craft, if carefully chosen, is not only enjoyable, but an excellent aid to communication and memory. But it has to be craft that counts!! Craft that teaches. Craft that is meaningful. Craft that provides a lasting reminder of what's been learned.

Many years ago, Lizzy made a banner which still hangs next to her bed, and every night we pray together through its four words - thankyou, please, sorry, and love. Every night it teaches her how to pray.

Here are some of the craft ideas I've come up with for the fruit of the Spirit:
    - a laminated bookmark with Galatians 5:22-23 on it for their Bibles;
    - a smiley face badge to remind them to be "joyful" in all circumstances.
    - a money-box to set aside pocket money for poor children, to model "kindness";
    - a friendship bracelet or wrist band, to remind them to be "faithful" to God when they're at school.
If anyone has any ideas for craft (or activities) illustrating "patience" (which I now think is about enduring insult and suffering, not about waiting, so the Harold the Snail statue I was planning probably won't do) or "gentleness" (the only thing I've come up with is a fuzzy-wuzzy to stroke when feeling cross, to calm down and help stop the angry retort), please let me know.

resources for teaching children (3): Sunday School

I've written recently about my conviction that we often underestimate children when it comes to teaching theology.

Especially in Sunday School, where we tell comforting stories about how Jesus welcomed the little children, but avoid concepts like judgement and atonement because they seem too confronting or difficult (and a bit scary if the parents find out what we've been telling their kids!).

But I've never forgotten the day my Sunday School teacher took out a little book with coloured pages and explained the way of salvation, complete with creation, sin, atonement, justification and heaven, in terms we could understand.

So I was excited to find the Children Desiring God website, which bases its Sunday School curriculum on the conviction that "children can handle deep truth at a young age. We want to fill them with solid Bible truth that will give them a foundation to fall back on when they go through deep waters." Wow!

I had a quick look at the sample lessons and was impressed to find that the study on the flood aims to teach preschoolers, amongst other things, that God knows everything, that people are sinners and can't save themselves, that God is holy and can't tolerate sin, and that God is merciful.

And the material isn't boring, even though (horrors!) it excludes craft as expensive and time-consuming. It uses vivid acted illustrations - substitution is taught to school children using a mess on the floor and a wooden spoon - to provide "an important bridge from what children see and understand (concrete thinking) to what they can't see and find hard to understand (abstract thinking)."

There is some other excellent Sunday School material out there, which takes no short-cuts in teaching children theology.

The best I've seen is The king, the snake and the promise, which gives the big picture of God's saving plan in the Bible. The 10 lessons come with a CD of children's music, and they trace the theme of "God's people in God's place under God's rule" from creation through Abraham and Jesus to heaven. You end up with a colourful banner as a permanent visual reminder of the big Bible story.

Stephanie Carmichael's Teaching little ones is reliable and fun, and covers lots of big Bible themes - like God's character, promises and kingship - for ages 3-5 and 5-8. It's inexpensive and easy to use. We use her material most weeks in our Sunday School.

Convinced of the need for Sunday School material teaching theological concepts, I've also written some of my own.

In 2005 I wrote and led a 9-week Sunday School series on Romans 1-8 for primary school aged children. We discussed Christianity with an incredulous puppet, added a new line to our "Good News Rap" each week, and used lots of visual illustrations, to communicate difficult concepts like sin, hell, justification, faith, and atonement. It was fun! Every child took home a laminated book of coloured pages which they had illustrated themselves week-by-week, showing the stages of sin and redemption.

At the moment I'm working on a 10-week series on the Fruit of the Spirit for our little Sunday school (10 kids, ages 5-10, Aussie and ESL). I've decided to explain each virtue - love, joy, peace, patience - using the story of one of God's people, since that's what the Bible often does to illustrate a concept like faith (Romans 4, Hebrews 11). We'll talk about what each virtue means in the Bible, and apply it to the everyday experience of children.

I'll tell you how it goes.

Expect more on the topic of Sunday School over the next couple of days. Tomorrow I'm planning a post on the usefulness - or otherwise - of craft in Sunday School, and on Sunday I'd like to tell you why I've been collecting bad fruit all week.

You can e-mail me if you'd like to see my material on Romans or the Fruit of the Spirit (you'll have to wait for the last one!).

Thursday, April 10, 2008

learning to cook

Here are some pictures of our beautiful girl Lizzy (9) doing what she loves to do: cooking a meal for the family.

She's making Vietnamese Summer Rolls, with rice paper wraps, rice noodles, avocado, cucumber, carrot, fresh coriander and smoked salmon (not our cheapest shopping week). The recipe is from her favourite cookbook, Kids' Cooking, an excellent collection of meals that are fun to prepare and actually taste good!

I'm determined to send our children into the world prepared to look after themselves. Young women and even young men (gasp!) who can clean, cook and wash their own clothes. It's hard enough adjusting to the responsibilities of adulthood without the necessary skills. And I've heard you have to start boys early if you want them to wash their clothes as young adults.

So a year ago we started a new chores schedule: as well as regular jobs like setting and clearing the table (which receive no financial reward), every week the older two children vacuum their rooms, put a load of clothes into the machine (Lizzy, who's old enough to stand on a crate and reach the clothes line, hangs hers out too), and help with an outside task like sweeping or weeding (pocket money depends on these chores).

They also do a cooking task. Ben (7) makes muffins from a packet, Lizzy (9) makes a meal and/or a dessert for the family (I deal with hot pots and sharp knives). Pocket money can be highly motivating! But I think Lizzy would cook, pocket money or not - it's a hobby she's come to love.

Meanwhile, Lizzy and I are discovering something which women have enjoyed for many centuries: a lovely female companionship of the kitchen.

kick back

A conversation I overheard between a mother and her 4-year-old son at pre-school this morning:

mother - What happened to your forehead? Is that where the boy kicked you?
son - Yes, Jesse kicked me.
mother - Well, you should have kicked him back!

Hmmmm ...

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


Ben (7) - Mummy, when you say "Maybe," you mean "yes," and when you say "I'm not sure," you mean no.

Mummy-ese is a language all of its own. But my children speak it good.

a new discipline

I've started getting up at 6.00 in the morning.

It's not that hard, since I'm usually lying in bed half awake by this time, stretching out every last moment of rest. And I get to bed around 10.00 most nights, and have a nap every day after lunch (which helps me cheerfully serve my family during the afternoon), so I'm getting plenty of sleep.

But it's been lovely to sit in the quiet (until a child wakes, which they do pretty soon!), read the Bible, and pray. And then I've still got half an hour to read some of those great Christian books on my reading plan (see list to the right) before I get everything started for the family at 7.00. It's also good for my kids to see me reading the Bible and praying.

We actually made it on time to kinder this morning!!! We've been starting off the day much more calmly - no shouting at the kids to get ready, no hurrying people out the door. This morning, Lizzy, who's getting very observant at 9 years old, said "I like it when you get up earlier, Mummy." And I have time to look at the calendar and think about the day, so that's less things forgotten.

My earlier rising has been inspired by two things I've read recently:

- this post on GirlTalk (well, they aimed for 5.00, which is very noble of them, but that's a bit beyond me if I want to spend time with that night-owl, my husband, and still get enough sleep to be cheerful with my family during the day).

- this quote from Martha Peace (an author I've discovered recently who writes wonderful books for Christian women). I've never seen a quote I simultaneously agree and disagree with more. Read it and see what you think:
I have heard of women who pride themselves on being "night people." That means they have trouble getting up in the mornings because they come alive at night. They may stay up to all hours reading, watching television, or pursuing some sort of interest. The next morning they are too tired to get up and care for their family. ...

These women are not "night people." They are lazy and selfish. Who would not rather stay up late to do whatever they pleased and sleep late the next day?

Once a young wife begins getting up earlier than her children and her husband, she will cease to be a "night person." She will be tired at night and go to bed at a reasonable hour so she will be there to serve her family the next morning.
I wonder if she knows anyone who really is a "night person". My husband and one of my close friend are night people, and I know how intractable body clocks can be. My friend, after trying and failing to get to sleep early for years, has recently discovered what a precious time the late evening hours are to read Christian books, reflect and pray (although she's still careful to get to bed at a reasonable hour so she can get up to care for her family). I'm under no illusion that the godly Christian life will look the same for everyone.

On the other hand, I'm sure these words are appropriate for some women (and men) who stay up late to enjoy themselves, then rise late at the expense of their families. Let these words inspire you to be disciplined in your use of time and sleep, just don't take them as Scripture!! If the Bible doesn't make it a rule, neither should you. Do what suits you and serves God and your family best: but be careful not to be self-indulgent and unwise in your sleeping habits.

Can I assure you that this post should be completely irrelevant to some of you? During seasons of illness or grief, and times with a baby or young child who wakes during the night, your life will look nothing like this, and that's absolutely fine: you have other responsibilities at the moment.

But as for me, now my children are past babyhood, I'm going to try getting up earlier. I'll see how it goes. But that's what I'm doing for now.

Expect a follow-up post soon on perfectionism and discipline: when discipline can be dangerous.

The quote is from Martha Peace's Becoming a Titus 2 Woman, cited in Carolyn Mahaney's Feminine Appeal p.72.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

mothers and daughters, mothers and sons

Nicole suggests downloading and listening to these talks by Carolyn Mahaney on mothers and daughters and mothers and sons, and being a massive Carolyn Mahaney fan (she wrote the fantastic book Feminine appeal and her daughters write my beloved GirlTalk blog) I'm going to do just that. Thanks Nicole!

... and another Carolyn Mahaney talk on motherhood, thanks again Nicole!

Monday, April 7, 2008

helping those who grieve

Here is a wonderful series by John Piper's daughter-in-law Molly about the loss of baby Felicity, about when grief hits the hardest, and about how to help those who are grieving.

As someone who feels like I never know quite what to say around those who grieve, I found this very helpful.

And here is the honest, raw, but inspiring story of a mother's sorrow over the loss of twins Nicholas and Olivia, her overwhelming and at times angry grief, and her ongoing trust in the goodness of God.Her blog is compelling reading from last to first, although it will make you cry:
I need to tell you something. I am afraid of my grief. It lurks deep within me behind a door that I don't know what to do with.

You see, I have no idea what's behind that door. My imagination whispers to me that it must be a portal to a hell that I would never want to explore. Common sense tells me that I need to march right on in there and deal with it, head-on. Popular culture is an enabler and tells me to own the door and carry it around with me as a constant reminder of the tragedy that is a part of my life.

I've walked with the Father closely enough to know that I can dismiss these voices. He takes me by the hand and tells me that I don't have to go in there without Him.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Faithful Woman and their Extraordinary God: book review

One of the books I finished recently (yes, I actually finished a book!) was Noel Piper's Faithful women and their extraordinary God.

It's a gem, not least because it will make you want to read more Christian biography. It includes 5 short biographies of Christian women: Sarah Edwards, Lilias Trotter, Gladys Aylward, Esther Ahn Kim, and Helen Roseveare.

I won't spoil the suspense for you by telling you their stories - buy it and read it for yourself! - and anyway, I think different things will speak to different readers.

I was struck by two of the women in particular:

- Lilias Trotter, who gave up a promising career in art (the well-known artist and philosopher John Ruskin told her she could be the greatest painter of her time) to become a missionary in Algeria.

How often during 8 years of motherhood I have felt a sense of regret because of the training I haven't been able to use, and the interests I haven't been able to pursue! As Noel Piper says, "For me, it's been especially true in my years with small children - 'I got a college degree for this?" Maybe our problem is the way we see ourselves. Maybe we think more highly of ourselves than we ought." (p.172)

It was encouraging to read about this faithful woman, who gave up what was good for what was better.

- Helen Roseveare, a missionary doctor in Africa, who found that God worked more powerfully through her weaknesses than her strengths: building hospitals alongside Africans when she longed to practise her medical skills, struggling to find time to speak of the gospel but discovering local Christians doing it for her, seeking forgiveness again and again for her hasty temper, being nursed through frequent illnesses and receiving rebuke and encouragement from those she came to help.

Like me, she was a perfectionist, and needed to learn to see God's grace and power in her sin and weakness. As Noel Piper says, "seeing the battles in someone else's life ... can give us perspective to understand clearly our own struggles." (p.170)

Whatever your struggles, there is probably a woman in this book who experienced similar temptations and trials. I found this book inspiring: I'm sure you will too.

boys and their stories

My thoughts about boys have traced an unexpected path, from
- how different boys are from girls, to
- the destructive games played by some boys, to
- whether violent toys like guns or swords are helpful, to
- the importance of stories for boys (and girls).

So what kinds of stories should we be sharing with our boys and girls? Do the books our children read, or the DVDs they watch, inspire characteristics like love, courage and perseverance? If I was exposing our 4-year old son Thomas to tales of noble quests, would he be out slaying dragons instead of killing the world?

I've been thinking about Thomas' exposure to three kinds of story: computer games, DVDs, and books. I'll take them in turn and give you my thoughts so far. Those of you with boys - or girls - may find them interesting, or have something to add.

Thomas has always been a child who prefers computer games to books. We read to him daily, and limit his time playing computer or console games to less than half an hour a day. He plays mainly educational and problem-solving computer games, some of which, like Zoombinis (a bit like Lemmings with a quest) combine logical thinking and adventure.

Thomas also loves console games like Croc and Crash Bandicoot. They're not overly violent or bloodthirsty, and they involve overcoming obstacles and navigating various levels in a quest to overcome enemies and rescue small furry creatures. I think they're quite appropriate for the imagination of an active boy.

As for DVDs, some of the stories Thomas watches definitely appeal to the adventurous pre-school imagination: Harold and the purple crayon, The land before time, and Harry and his bucket full of dinosaurs. I love the way these stories encourage children to explore different worlds in their imaginary play. But I'd hardly describe them as noble quests, and the values they teach are pretty much limited to tolerance and overcoming fear.

We occasionally watch movies as a family like Finding Nemo and The Incredibles, which at least model courage, perseverance and family loyalty (and tolerance again - funny how often that comes up). Thomas is nearly old enough for The Chronicles of Narnia (many of Thomas' pre-school classmates already watch Harry Potter and Spiderman, but I think they're too bloody, scary and confusing for a 4-year old).

I love collecting books, and I'm always looking for the rare picture books which encourage children's imagination and sense of adventure. Here's some I'm thinking of re-reading to Thomas: Maurice Sendak's Where the wild things are, Frances Thomas' One day, Daddy, Alison Lester's The journey home, Jane Ray's The hidden forest, Crockett Johnson's Harold and the purple crayon, Jan and Stan Berenstain's Bears in the night, Anita Jeram's I love my little storybook and Paul Geraghty's The great knitting-needle hunt.

I'd like to read Thomas our picture book version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, illustrated by Christian Birmingham. I don't usually like abridged versions, but this one's beautifully told, exquisitely illustrated, and faithful to the original.

Of course, noble or not, there's always fairy tales, like The Orchard Nursery Story Book. And there's bound to be some collections of myths and old tales re-told for a young audience which I don't know about (please tell me if you know of any!).

Most of all, I've been inspired to dust off The Children's Treasury of Virtues, a collection of stories aimed at "training the heart and mind toward good things: good habits, good attitudes, good behaviour." And yes, it's a little preachy in parts, and has a leaning towards American stories. But it's mainly a collection of fine old tales, beautifully told and illustrated: Peter and the dike, the tortoise and the hare, Genghis Khan and the hawk, St. George and the dragon, David and Goliath, Helen Keller, Theseus and the Minotaur.

Knowing Thomas, he will have his own ideas about whether he wants to listen to these stories. I'm thinking of setting aside half an hour after lunch for reading them together, and taking turns to choose a book, since the routine and choice will encourage him to read them with me. So far, he likes the idea. But we'll see how it goes!!

There's one book I haven't mentioned: the story of the greatest quest of all, an enormous collection of adventure stories which make lovely every kind of noble quality. The best book for boys - and girls - on the planet: the Bible. And we do read that to Thomas every day.

If you have any other ideas about tales of noble adventure for young children, please add your suggestions to the comments.

For the moment, chapter books are probably beyond Thomas, although I know some 4-year olds enjoy them. One of these days I'll get around to a post I've been dreaming about, on fantasy and adventure stories for older children: but that will have to wait!

And there are many other wonderful picture books I would love to mention, but again that's a post for another day.

pray LOUDLY!

Everyone else (see here and here) is referring to this post by David Powlison, but I wanted to mention it for those of you who missed it. It's required reading for anyone who has ever struggled to concentrate through a prayer time.

Here's what he says:
It's fair to say that having a "quiet time" is a misnomer. We should more properly have a "noisy time." By talking out loud we live the reality that we are talking with another person, not simply talking to ourselves inside our own heads. ... We can ... close the door, take a walk, get in the car—and speak up. ... Prayer is verbal because it is relational. ... I've known many people whose relationship with God was significantly transformed as they started to speak up with their Father. Previously, "prayer" fizzled out in the internal buzz of self-talk and distractions, worries and responsibilities. Previously, what they thought of as prayer involved certain religious feelings, or a set of seemingly spiritual thoughts, or a vague sense of comfort, awe, and dependency on a higher power. Prayer meandered, and was virtually indistinguishable from thoughts, sometimes indistinguishable from anxieties and obsessions. But as they began to talk aloud to the God who is there, who is not silent, who listens, and who acts, they began to deal with him person-to-person. It's no gimmick or technique (and there are other ingredients, too, in creating wise, intelligent, purposeful, fervent prayer). But out loud prayer became living evidence of an increasingly honest and significant relationship. As they became vocal, their faith was either born or grew up.
I have definitely found that going for a walk or choosing a time when no-one is around (early in the morning? late at night?) so I can talk out loud, sing, or recite Bible verses when I pray and meditate (reflect on God's truth) focusses my thoughts, frees me from self-absorption and helps me to concentrate.

In his post, Powlison explores the Psalms and the teaching of Jesus, and comments on the prayer of contemplation, Buddhist and Hindu practices, and what it means to be quiet before God. You can read the rest here.

not much reading happening ...

And if you're wondering why I'm including a lot of dedications (see yesterday's post) in this blog at the moment, it's because that's about as far as I'm getting in all those wonderful books in my book list on the right.

All my reading time at the moment is taken up with concordance, commentary and text work on the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. Every morning I pick another fruit, and look through the references to it in the Bible. Gentleness today, self-control tomorrow ...

I'm preparing a 10-week Sunday School program on the fruit of the Spirit for the 5-10 year olds at our church. It's led to lots of lights-go-on moments about the meaning of words like "peace" and "faithfulness" in the Bible, and plenty of reflections about how to teach the Bible in Sunday School.

More about that another time!!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

to those who sorrowed and now rejoice

And another dedication, this time from Edward Welch's book Depression: A stubborn darkness:

To my father
W.Edward Welch,

who, on this side of heaven,
after years of depression, guilt and worry,
persisted on an ordinary yet heroic path
with quiet wisdom
and is finding joy

I opened this book today, and was immensely comforted by these words. For only this morning I was longing for heaven: and how far away it seems to this nearly 40 woman!

At this point in life, it feels like the battle has been going on for a very long time, and that it will probably continue for many years to come: the same old sins, the same old discouragement, the same old anxieties, the same ordinary days.

And yet I know I have been richly blessed by God. I enjoy so much, I won't deny it. But even for me it can be hard to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

How much harder it must be for those who are grieving for someone dearly loved, suffering from a chronic illness, or struggling through deep depression!

The "ordinary yet heroic" lives that lead to the joy of our Lord.

dieting and gluttony (5d) Graham Tomlin on gluttony

Graham Tomlin defines gluttony as getting food out of proportion, using food to do what it was never intended to do: fill the spiritual emptiness in our lives.

This may take the form of eating for comfort, or fastidious eating and obsessive dieting. At its most extreme, it may become compulsive over-eating (loss of control) or food refusal (holding on to control).

Why on earth is gluttony a sin? ... surely just eating a little too much is as harmless an activity as you can get? ...

Strange though it may seem, in the earliest fourth-century lists of the deadly sins, gluttony used to head the list as the worst of them all. Pope Gregory wrote: "Unless we first tame the enemy dwelling within us, namely our gluttonous appetite, we have not even stood up to engage in the spiritual combat." ...

[There are] reasons that ... might make us question why gluttony is considered a sin at all. ... Jesus, it seems, was rather fond of a party ... A fine claret, a tasty slice of rich, creamy Camembert, a pint of dark beer, a sweet-tasting pear are all good, God-given pleasures. ...

When we think of gluttony we normally think of very large people stuffing food into their mouths with no thought of tomorrow; over-indulgence to a large degree. Yet the sin of gluttony has always been seen as covering a wider area than that, including that fastidiousness about food that obsesses over what we can and cannot eat. ... Obsessive dieting can be just as much a sign of gluttony as overeating.

Gluttony then is an inordinate obsession with food, drink or plain consumption. It is getting food out of proportion, just as lust is getting sex out of proportion. ... [W]hen food become a god, it becomes dangerous. ...

The evidence of that is all around. Obesity is one of the biggest ... problems in the developed world ... [F]irst-world gluttony is scandalous when related to third-world poverty and hunger.

But overeating is not the only way of abusing food. Obsessing about quantities is also a sign of bad inner health. ... Suffering from anorexia, bulimia or a compulsive eating disorder are not sins as such, but they are an indicator that something is deeply wrong. ...

Why do people overeat themselves into obesity, or starve themselves into anorexia? All the studies suggest that these disorders often emerge from a sense of lack of worth. We all know the pattern of comfort eating. When we feel a bit low, a slice of chocolate cake or apple pie can make us feel a whole lot better. ... Similarly, anorexia or bulimia often emerge out of patterns of unhappiness or self-dislike. ...

Now these of course are extreme cases. Yet they point to the ease with which we use food and drink to replace something that's missing from our lives, to comfort us when we feel lonely and to satisfy us when we are not just physically, but also spiritually hungry.

Peter Kreeft, an American philosopher and writer, puts it well: "The motivation for gluttony is the unconscious self-image of emptiness: I must fill myself because I am empty, ghostlike, worthless." Gluttony is trying to fill a spiritual vacuum with a physical remedy. ...

So how do we know when we are in danger of gluttony? The guilt feelings that come when we know we have eaten too much once in a while ... are most probably not true, healthy signs of guilt ... [They] may be caused more by vanity than gluttony.

Gluttony happens when the connection between food and its proper purpose is broken. Food is given to sustain the body, to enrich our communal life and to give pleasure to the taste. It is not there to comfort the isolated and lonely, to bolster a fragile self-image or to be a substitute for prayer. ...

Gluttony begins to rear its head when someone begins to get food out of proportion. The key issue here is control. The overeater loses control over how much he eats. He is unable to stop himself ... He believes the lie that it is impossible for him to control his eating. For the anorexic or bulemic person, the issue is the other way round: it is a matter of giving up control. ... Here, the remedy is to learn to give up control and re-form their identity around something other than eating habits, so that food can take its normal place as something to be enjoyed. ...

Gluttony is disordered desire. It is thinking that food can satisfy our deepest needs. And no created thing can do that. We were made to find our deepest satisfaction when we are connected with our creator; when we learn to desire him above everything else. ...

The Christian answer to gluttony is not self-denial for the sake of it, nor is it the boring routine of endless moderation, a meagre diet of lettuce leaves and dry bread. It is the rhythm of feasting and fasting, the ability to take time to enjoy the delicious flaviour of a Belgian chocolate ... when the time is right, yet to say no to any of these at other times, because our deepest needs are not met by food, but by fellowship with God.

Graham Tomlin The seven deadly sins pp.101-120.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

wild beauty

I woke up this morning to the creaks and groans of lemon-scented gums bending in the violent gusts. I stepped out on the back verandah, and this is what I saw.

Wild wind like a giant's paintbrush trailing brilliant orange over a purple canvas.

God splashes his colours across a squally sky.

Lest we forget his glory.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

the true story of a small miracle

We've been blessed with good neighbours.

On one side, most weekends you can see Paul up on the roof painting, laying guttering, clearing leaves, and dispensing good advice to his less home-maintenance-savvy neighbours. Every now and again his grandson pops his head over the fence, and shares dreams of wild adventure with our kids.

On the other side, in a gingerbread-brown house with white edging, live David and Lisa with their two sons, Alan and Ian, the same age as our middle two boys. Lisa and I have become friends, and I can talk quite openly with her about my faith: we meet for coffee, we chat on the phone, and our younger sons went to play gym together.

David and Lisa's older son Alan is autistic. Although he's at the milder end of the spectrum, he goes to a school for autistic children, and Lisa devotes hours to teaching him. We've invited Alan over to play with Ben - they are both passionate about mathematics, after all - but it's been difficult for them to form a connection.

A month ago Ben was paired up to do maths at school with an autistic boy called Alan. The teacher knew they both loved maths, and wanted to increase Ben's confidence by entrusting him with Alan's care. Knowing that the boy next door doesn't go to our children's school, I was pleased for Ben, but thought nothing of it.

Earlier this year, in a moment of irrational generosity, I agreed to help with the Red Cross Appeal. Two weeks ago we were asking for donations at local houses. When we reached our neighbours' house, I asked if Alan could possibly be going to our children's school. "No, he goes to a school for autistic children," David answered.

We continued our hot and sweaty walk around the court, knocking on doors and receiving no response, when a voice called from behind me: "Jean! Wait! Alan does go to the local school twice a week! Is that the school your children go to?"

You can guess the rest: even though his teacher didn't know they were neighbours, she paired Ben to work with the boy next door.

What happened next was so lovely, it took my breath away. Alan, who finds it difficult to form friendships, came out of his front door and tried to cross the court to get to Ben. Although he struggles to make eye-contact, he was glancing up at Ben, smiling a slight smile.

Our school was the last one David and Lisa tried, since it didn't claim to have an integration program - but it turned out to be the only local school interested in welcoming Alan. He will probably be in Ben's class full-time next year, and his brother Ian may well be in Thomas' prep class.

How wonderful our God is! How he weaves the circumstances of our lives, small happenings as well as large, and links us with other people for their blessing and ours! He knew where we would live, he knew who our neighbours would be, he knew how the details of our lives would mesh together.

How grateful I am for the small miracles which scatter our lives.

Names have been changed in this post.