Saturday, January 31, 2009


He came back.

After that brutal Friday, and that long, quiet Saturday, he came back.

And that one intake of breath in the tomb changes everything. It changes the very reason I drew breath today and the way I move about in this world because I believe he’s coming back again. The world has gone on for more than two millennia since Jesus’ feet tread the earth he made. What would they have said back then if someone had told them that some two thousand years later we’d still be waiting? They would’ve thought back to that long Saturday and said, ‘Two thousand years will seem like a breath to you when you finally lay your crown at his feet. We don’t even remember what we were doing on that Saturday, but let me tell you about Sunday morning. Now that was something.’

These many years of waiting will only be a sentence in the story. This long day will come to an end, and I believe it will end in glory, when we will shine like suns and stride the green hills with those we love and the One who loves. We will look with our new eyes and speak with our new tongues and turn to each other and say, ‘Do you remember the waiting? The long years, the bitter pain, the gnawing doubt, the relentless ache?’ And like Mary at the tomb, we will say: ‘I remember only the light, and the voice calling my name, and the overwhelming joy that the waiting was finally over.’

The stone will be rolled away for each of us. May we wait with faithful hearts.

—Andrew Peterson, CD liner notes for Resurrection Letters Volume II (Centricity Music: 2008)

HT Of First Importance

Friday, January 30, 2009

my 2009 reading list

I've been thinking about which Christian books to read this year. I'm planning to set aside 15-30 minutes a day for serious reading. I don't need any extra encouragement to read novels!

I want to be more intentional about which books I read. So I've made this list, which you can see in the right hand column of this blog. I'm sure I won't read all these books, and I know others will make their way onto the list, but it's a starting point.

Here's how I picked the books on my 2009 reading list:

  • Books about grace. I'm a little tired of books on women's issues. How easy it is for me, and I suspect for many women, to think so hard about our emotional states and the tasks we have to do every day, that we forget to think about Jesus! And I need a refresher course on God's grace (don't we all?). So I'd like to read some books about grace and the cross.

  • Books about change. I'm still working through a pile of books on biblical counselling, people-pleasing, anxiety, depression and feelings. In term 2 I'll be writing and teaching on Tim Chester's You Can Change. As for personal change, I'm reading CJ Mahaney's Humility: True Greatness: expect to hear more about how God is dealing with my pride.

  • Books on the Bible. I'm leading a Bible study and teaching Sunday School this year. You can probably tell what I'm covering from my book list: Proverbs, Hebrews, and the tabernacle.
  • Christian biography. There are few things more inspiring than reading about the lives of God's faithful people. Don Carson's story of his dad, Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor, sounds inspiring. Any other ideas?

  • Christian classics. I want to keep reading books by the Reformers and Puritans, both for my own sake and so I can share them with you. So there are books by Martin Luther, John Owen and Richard Baxter on my shelf: I haven't decided which to read yet!

  • Books about ministry to women. I've dipped into Sharon James' God's Design for Women and would love to finish it, and Wendy Alsup's Practical Theology for Women looks interesting. There are also a couple of books on women mentoring women, which I might write about in term 3.

  • Books about marriage, parenting and homemaking. I'll be honest, I don't enjoy reading books on these topics, as they often leave me drowned in rules and guilt. But since these are the main spheres of obedience for me and many women, I thought I'd aim to read a book on each of these topics every year.

  • Books about other stuff. If you look closely, you'll notice books on mid-life, writing, prayer, exercising, and spiritual warfare: an interesting hodge-podge!

Any other books I should read? What are you reading?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

surely goodness and mercy

How are you feeling about the year that's just begun? Are you optimistic and ready for its demands? Or are you anxious and stressed, worried that you won't be able to cope with the months ahead?

I've been regarding this year with trepidation. Normally by early January, I've reflected on the year that's passed and the one that's coming. I've thought about what areas of godliness I want to work on, and written a list of resolutions to be observed or ignored, as the case may be. I've drawn up a budget, and typed out a daily and weekly plan. But an overly busy December and illness during our post-Christmas vacation left little time for reflection and planning. What's more, last year was a hard year, which scared me a little. I feel anxious about my ability to cope with the unknown, and worried that the known will look all too familiar.

Or I was feeling like that until I picked up my Bible the other morning. I turned the pages to the well-known words of Psalm 23, and read each sentence slowly and prayerfully. ...

Read the rest at Sola Panel today

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

a thank you to you

I just wanted to thank you for your many comments since this blog started over a year ago. It occurred to me that I don't often thank you, but I really appreciate the imput of so many wise and godly women on topics close to my heart. Your comments help me to clarify my thoughts, give me ideas for dealing with practical problems, and make me smile - and sometimes cry. So thank you! I thank God for you.

fruit platter

Don't you just love fruit platters? Healthy and fun!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

my favourite children's books (1) chapter books

Here's a list of my all time favourite chapter books for children and teenagers, as promised. With very few exceptions (when one of my kids, a good friend or her child adores them) these are the kids' books I love the most.

Most of them are books I enjoyed as a child, some I discovered as a young adult, and others I found as I searched for books to read to my kids. I'm a great fan of children's and teenage fiction, so I add more to my list every year!

There are many, many others I could have included, including lots I'll be encouraging my kids to read as they get older (Treasure Island, Tom Sawyer, Obernewtyn etc.) but this is a personal list, and I've only included my favourites.

Ages are only approximate, as every child and parent is different. There are a few adult books in the teenage section which I enjoyed at that age, and some collections of stories and 1 or 2 books of poetry have snuck onto the list.

Please add your own favourite children's books to the comments. I'd especially like to hear about well written, well produced, theologically astute Christian books for kids - but I'm also interested in all kinds of other books, as you can see! I hope you enjoy browsing the list, and perhaps choosing some to read yourself, or to your child.

young children
Paul White Jungle Doctor Fables
Enid Blyton Faraway Tree series, Wishing Chair series, Naughtiest Girl in the School series (I could keep going)
Joyce Lankester Brisley Milly-Molly-Mandy
Dorothy Edwards My Naughty Little Sister
Ruth Park The Adventures of the Muddle-Headed Wombat
Leslie Rees The Big Book of Digit Dick
James Herriot James Herriot's Treasury for Children
Beatrix Potter The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter
Rev. W. Audrey Thomas the Tank Engine
A.A. Milne Winnie the Pooh (although I like his poems better - When We Were Very Young and Now We are Six)

early to late primary
CS Lewis The Chronicles of Narnia
Patricia M St John Treasures of the Snow, The Tanglewoods Secret, Rainbow Garden (all of her other books too!)
Irene Howat Ten Boys who Changed the World / Made History series and Ten Girls who Didn't Give In / Made a Difference series (Christian biography for kids)
Paul White Jungle Doctor series
John Bunyan Pilgrim's Progress
Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House series
Arthur Ransome Swallows and Amazons series
Elizabeth Goudge The Little White Horse
Elizabeth Enright's Melendy quartet: The Saturdays, The Four-Story Mistake, Then There Were Five, Spiderweb for Two
Noel Streatfeild Ballet Shoes, White Boots, Gemma series (I love everything she writes)
Fraces Hodgson Burnett The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, Little Lord Fauntleroy
E Nesbit The Railway Children, The Story of the Treasure Seekers, Five Children and It trilogy
Astrid Lindgren The Bullerby Children series
Johanna Spyri Heidi series
Robert C O'Brien Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimb
Roald Dahl Danny the Champion of the World, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Matilda (I love most of his books)
Kenneth Grahame The Wind in the Willows
E.B. White Charlotte's Web
Tove Jansson Finn Family Moomintroll series
Dodie Smith 101 Dalmations
Meindert Dejong The Wheel on the School
Mary Norton The Borrowers series
S.A. Wakefield Bottersnikes and Gumbles
Susan Coolidge What Katy Did series
Elyne Mitchell The Silver Brumby series
George MacDonald "A Little Princess" in The Light Princess and Other Stories, The Princess and the Goblin
Susan Adler Samantha, Valerie Tripp et al Josefina, Janet Beeler Shaw Kirsten, Connie Rose Porter et al Addy, and the rest of the American Girl series
Emily Rodda Fairy Realm series (excellent Australian author)
Enid Blyton Famous Five series, Malory Towers series, St. Claire's series
Beverley Cleary Ramona the Pest series, Ralph Mouse series (I've enjoyed all her books)
Eleanor Estes The Moffats series
Glenda Millard The Naming of Tishkin Silk, Layla Queen of Hearts
Hugh Lofting Dr. Doolittle series
Elisabeth Beresford The Wombles series
Lewis Carroll Alice in Wonderland (I'm not such a fan, but my 5 year old loves it)
May Gibbs Snugglepot and Cuddlepie
Hans Christian Anderson The Complete Fairy Tales
Jenny Nimmo Dog Star (a good author to look out for)
Alexander McCall Smith Akimbo books
Kate Dicamillo The Tale of Despereaux

older primary to early high
Marie Barham Blossom of the Crag
Sallie Lee Bell Until the Day Break
JRR Tolkien The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings trilogy
Madeleine L'Engle A Wrinkle in Time
Richard Adam Watership Down
Paul Gallico Jennie, Thomasina (I love all his books)
Louisa May Alcott Little Women series
Robert O'Brien The Silver Crown
Tamora Pierce Protector of the Small quartet, Circle of Magic quartet and The Circle Opens quartet
James Herriot All Creatures Great and Small series
Gerald Durrell My Family and Other Animals trilogy, Encounters with Animals (and all his books)
Mary Mapes Dodge Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates
Norton Juster The Phantom Tollbooth
L.M. Montgomery Anne of Green Gables series
Katherine Paterson Bridge to Terebithia
Alison Uttley A Traveller in Time
William Horwood Duncton Wood
Jean Craighead George Julie of the Wolves Trilogy, My Side of the Mountain Trilogy
Emily Rodda Rowan of Rin series
J.K. Rowling Harry Potter series
Colin Thiele Blue Fin

CS Lewis The Space Trilogy, Till We Have Faces
Isobel Kuhn By Searching
Corrie Ten Boon The Hiding Place
E.L. Konigsberg From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (I enjoyed all her books)
Dodie Smith I Capture the Castle
Robert O'Brien Z for Zachariah
John Marsden So Much to Tell You, Letters from the Inside, Tomorrow series (some sexual content)
Todd Strasser The Wave
Jack London The Call of the Wild
Margaret Balderson When Jays Fly to Barbmo

mid to late teen
Anne Frank The Diary of Anne Frank
Ursula Le Guin The Earthsea Quartet
John Wyndham The Crysalids, The Day of the Triffids and all the rest
Chaim Potok The Chosen, My Name is Asher Lev
Miss Read Village School series
Mary Renault The Bull from the Sea
Mary Stewart Merlin Trilogy
H.G.Wells The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds
John Knowles A Separate Peace
Alan Paton Cry, the Beloved Country
Margaret Craven I Heard the Owl Call My Name
Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes
Shakespeare Complete Works
Robert Frost The Poetry of Robert Frost
Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice and the rest!
Charlotte Bronte Jane Eyre

image is from emilywjones at

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Lizzy's first animation

OK, it's a bit blurry, but I laughed when I saw this on my old digital camera:

by Elizabeth, age 10

It would look better as a slideshow, but I don't know how to do that - can anyone tell me how to import slideshows into blogger?!

Cathy McKay speaks about honesty

I said I'd spoken my last words on honesty - well, actually, I cheated and used Tracey's words instead - and so I have, until next time. But I just had to link to this wise and challenging post on women encouraging each other one-on-one by Cathy McKay at the ever excellent The Best Book Co-op.

Cathy talks about how to confess sin to one another in the context of a relationship of mutual encouragement, how to respond when your Christian sister confesses sin to you, and how to pray about your sin together. I found her suggestions about how to be careful in our honesty, and how to respond to honesty, particularly helpful.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Charles Spurgeon speaks to the broken

There never was one who came to him with a broken heart, but he healed him. He never said to one, “You are too bad for me to heal;” but he did say, “Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out.” My dear hearer, he will not cast you out. You say, “You do not know me, Mr. Spurgeon.” No, I do not; and you have come here to-night, and you hardly know why you are here; only you are very low and very sad.

The Lord Jesus Christ loves such as you are, you poor, desponding, doubting, desolate, disconsolate one. Daughters of sorrow, sons of grief, look ye here! Jesus Christ has gone on healing broken hearts for thousands of years, and he is well up in the business. He understands it by experience, as well as by education. He is “mighty to save.” Consider him; consider him; and the Lord grant you grace to come and trust him even now!

Charles Spurgeon, Christ’s Hospital

HT Of First Importance

Friday, January 23, 2009

encouraging children to read good books

My older 2 children love easily digested books. Lizzy (10) can get through 3 Rainbow Magic books a night. Benny (8) spends hours browsing through his Pokemon Diamond and Pearl Pokedex. Left to themselves, they wouldn't do much serious reading.

For a long time, I've comforted myself with the thought that at least they're reading. I exclaim perkily (and proudly) to the librarian as I borrow yet another enormous pile of books, "Oh, yes, my daughter will read all those!" I'm glad Ben enjoys filling his head with facts, even if they are often limited to an alternate universe filled with bizarre, small creatures.

But I want my children to read good books. And there are many old favourites I'd love to share with them! I read to them fairly regularly: Lizzy and I are about to finish Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess, and Ben and I are up to the second book in Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series. But I'd also like them to learn the discipline of reading more challenging books for themselves.

It occurred to me recently that there's a very simple solution. I've set them a nightly reading task. When they read their Bibles, which they do every night after dinner, they're now expected to read a chapter of a book as well. I'm sure this approach isn't for everyone, but it's working really well for us at the moment. They're enjoying it - they just needed that little bit of extra prodding!

Lizzy (10) is half way through CS Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia. Benny (8) has started Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books. When they've finished, I'll encourage them to choose another good chapter book from our shelves or the library. I'd like to share my list of favourite books for independent readers with you soon.

If you have children who are independent readers, I'm interested to hear how you encourage them to read. When and how do they read? When and how do you read to them? How do you (or they!) choose which books they'll read?

image is by Novelist from flickr

Thursday, January 22, 2009

a tear fell to earth

A tear fell to earth
I know not where
It's dried up now
But in that tear
Were pain and heartache
Grief and fear
All wrapped up in
That tiny tear
Forgotten now
But one thing's clear -
God hears my sighs
And counts my tears.

I woke up yesterday with this little ditty in my head. Funny what pops into your head while you're sleeping!

a final word on honesty

Tracey wrote to me with a wonderful comment about honesty which I think sums up really well the discussion we've all been having on this blog and Simone's. No more needs to be said (not by me, anyway!). With her kind permission, here it is:

I agree that this is a tricky issue and I think is a matter of motivation and ultimately our focus.

I can think of a time recently when I was chatting to a friend after the loss of someone very dear to me. I shared that I was struggling to pray and read my Bible because I was angry with God. She shared that she too has had times when she has struggled in this way but she didn't leave it there. She went on to remind me of God's love and trustworthiness and told me that I needed to get back to talking to Him however hard that might be. So her motivation in sharing came from a desire to empathise and support me but also to challenge me. Her focus was Christ-centered.

In contrast, I can remember a time years ago when I was struggling with an area of sin and someone close to me acknowledged the same struggle but looking back the focus was on ourselves as we kind of just admitted it was just hard and 'all' Christians struggle. There was no motivation to getting our focus and obedience back to our loving Heavenly Father. Our motivation in sharing was maybe even to let each other off the hook!

I think, as Christians it is important we share our weaknesses as it is there that we most understand the glory of God. It is there that we are saved from pride or competitiveness. It is there that we learn a dependence on our Father God.

However, let's be sure that our motives are for one another's 'spiritual' good. Let's always be seeking to point one another back to Christ, his truth and his desires for our lives 'in Him'.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

an example of helpful honesty

I was pondering this morning whether honesty from an older Christian about their sin is ever helpful, when I read the following passage from John Piper's A Godward Life during my morning quiet time. I found it profoundly helpful. See what you think:

Self-pity in suffering is the taste left after your sacrifice goes unadmired. There are two ways to get rid of it. One is to make sure you get admiration. The other is to make no sacrifices. Or could there be a third way? Like seeing the sacrifice in a new way?

Take being a pastor, for example. Are there sacrifices? Is there any suffering? Well, that depends. Let me tell you a story that has punched (for a season, at least) the air out of my self-pity ...

[He tells the story of Irving Hetherington, a missionary to Australia in the the mid 19th century, and the stresses he faced compared to the difficulties he used to complain about as a minister in Scotland.]

What this powerful story did for me was to put the pressures of my ministry into missionary - and biblical - perspective. How easy it is to begin to assume that I should be comfortable. How quickly I can start to expect an easy and hassle-free ministry.

But I tell missionaries just the opposite. Life is war. Life is stress: the language-learning is stress; the culture is stress; the food is stress; the kids' education is stress; relationships are stress. Get ready for incarnation and crucifixion.

Yet here in American, where everybody speaks English and eats pizza, I bellyache over an extra meeting, an ill-timed hospital call, and too many choices. Then I read of Irving Hetherington, and I think of "normal" missionary life. I see my "sacrifices" in a new way. [He quotes Mark 10:29-30.]

Before the words of Jesus and the example of Irving Hetherington, my self-pity goes up the chimney. And in its place? A passion to have the mind of Christ. "The Son of man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. ... It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Matthew 20:28; Acts 20:35, RSV). (pp. 112-113, my emphasis)
Piper could have left out the bit in bold. But I'm glad he left it in. It drove his point into my heart, leading me to repentance, because I saw myself all too familiarly in the specific examples he gave of his own sin. I think this is a good example of how honesty from an older Christian can help - as long as they lead you by the hand to Jesus.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

honesty: a question for you

Following on from yesterday's post, I'd love to hear your advice about the following scenarios. They're examples of 3 times honesty about sin was a big feature of conversations I had with other women: a chat with a non-Christian mum, a social morning with Christian friends, and a discussion in a small group.

Scenario 1: playgroup, in the long ago days when I had 2 children.
I was telling a non-Christian mum about the effects of sleep deprivation on my temper. Her reaction? "That makes me feel so much better! It's such a relief to know you do that too! I always thought you were so patient and serene!" (It's funny how mistaken people can be.) I'm not sure how to move from here to the gospel without being preachy, so I keep quiet.

Scenario 2: having a coffee with Christian mums
There's lots of laughter. We're all enjoying a break from the constant demands of children. We ask one another how things are going, chat about our lives, and talk about our struggles. One woman with a young baby confesses that she hasn't read the Bible or prayed for the last 3 months. I tell her that it was the same with my babies: I barely ever prayed or read the Bible. She's relieved.

Scenario 3: women's discussion group
I used to lead regular discussions in a monthly group for mums. The most popular study I ever led was about parenting and anger. There was much horrified laughter as we shared stories of times we had lost our temper with our children. We looked at the Bible, but I'm not sure that's what they took away from the evening.

What do you think? Is it better to be open about our sin, or to shut up about it, in situations like these? How could I have made sure that sharing my sin helped, not harmed, the women who were listening? And finally, can you think of a time when honesty from an older Christian about their sin encouraged you - and another time you found it hindered your godliness? What was the difference between the two?

image is from stock.xchng

Monday, January 19, 2009

online meanderings: honesty

Is Archie (HT Honoria) right? Does the devil love secrecy?

Is Simone right? Does honesty normalise sin? She says

I'm thinking increasingly that it's unhelpful to talk about some sins. If I confess that I am struggling with, say, hateful thoughts, and everyone else in my bible study group says 'yeah, me too', I stop thinking that hate is such a dreadful thing. It's been normalised. Unless there is a very godly woman in my group who will take us to a passage and show us that murderers etc will not inherit the kingdom and then ask us all to repent and bring the gospel to us, nothing good has been gained.

Challenged by their posts, I wrote a couple of my own, and decided that it all depends on whether our honesty is loving and helpful, and shelved the issue in the back of my mind.

Until last Wednesday, when I read this paragraph by Paul:

You're sitting in church feeling a little more nervous than normal. If you had known that the sermon was going to be about that, you might have decided to stay in bed this morning. But there it is, front and centre on the service outline. What should you do? Thinking at a speed that would normally startle you, you hit upon the perfect strategy: talk to others about ‘it’ before they talk to you. If you start the conversation and talk about how you struggle with ‘it’ before they raise the topic, you're home free! People will think you're godly and open, and you'll be able to walk away feeling good about yourself without having to change a thing. The best defence is a good offence.

It was one of those times God uses what another Christian writes to perform open heart surgery on me.

I've often wondered why I'm so ready to share my sins and failings. I understand that honesty can be a great starting point for encouragement, and that's ok, but why do I enjoy it? I'm not talking about this blog. I'm talking about conversations like those with other mums, where among all the laughter, there are terrible admissions: "I said ... to my son the other day! Can you believe that?"

Thanks to Paul's post, I understand better my unhelpful motivations for talking about my sin. I'm hoping that if I get in first, and admit how terrible my sin can be, others won't challenge me. I hope that they'll be so busy admiring my honesty, they won't think to judge me. Perhaps they'll even share some sins of their own, so I can feel better about mine. Honesty can be a useful smokescreen to hide my need to stay in control. It looks vulnerable, but it stops me ever being really vulnerable to criticism or change.

So how can I decide when to be honest? I found Paul's suggestions really helpful (I've taken them from this discussion):

I need to ask two questions (1) Am I doing this for myself or the other? - if the answer is myself, then now isn’t the time to disclose (even if it would be genuinely helpful) - for myself includes things like my desire to get it off my chest and feel better about it, my desire to impress others by my humility, and even my desire to get people listening to my preaching because a personal story always gets people’s attention (we are so sinful aren’t we?!). (2) Will this genuinely benefit others in the congregation? (we don’t always get this right, but it is the right question to ask).
I've been reminded, once again, that honesty isn't an end, but a beginning.

images are from stock.xchng

Sunday, January 18, 2009

our Melbourne Adventure

Family traditions can be helpful things. They draw a family together with ties of familiarity and fun.

Year after year, they create happy memories. They give children the rare experience of their parents' undivided and extended attention. They help define a family culture, a sense that this is my family and this is how we do things. They bind a family together, provide a feeling of stability and belonging, and are a wonderful opportunity for joy.

I wouldn't elevate family traditions to any great place in the eternal scheme of things, or place burdens on parents to create certain kinds of annual celebrations, as I feel Christians are sometimes prone to do, but I do think they can be a great blessing. And how privileged we are to live in a place and time when we can give some of our annual relaxation (a privilege in itself) simply to enjoying one another as a family!

One of our annual family traditions is our Melbourne Adventure. This came about when we discovered through bitter experience one year just how expensive a holiday by the beach can be! Steve is no fan of tents, after a school camping expedition which managed to combine one boy's hypothermia with another boy's severe sunburn (don't ask me how!), and you know how pricy holiday houses or cabins can be.

So after my parents spoil the kids and me with an annual trip to Apollo Bay while Steve has some down time at home, we devote 10 days of Steve's anual leave to our Melbourne Adventure: no one else, just our family. Every adult and child gets to choose a day's expedition, we go to the supermarket and stock up on cans of drink and chips (much cheaper than buying food when you're out!), I make sandwiches, we collect our discount vouchers, and off we go!

Steve always chooses a morning at Carlton footy training. I choose a day exploring the city and the art gallery, at the botanic gardens, or on a Yarra River cruise. Lizzy loves water slides, and is rejoicing in yet another Christmas kinder raffle win: a free pass to a water park nearby. Ben always chooses the science musem, Thomas the zoo or the museum, and Andrew's too little to choose yet, but we chose Puffing Billy for him this year ... until Steve got sick.

We've put off the kids' chosen days until Steve is well enough to come along, and I've done my best to keep up the annual tradition with help from grandparents. So far, we've:

explored the Botanic Gardens together;

come face to face with penguins, fish, stingrays and sharks at the Melbourne Aquarium;

and learnt to row at the Fairfield Boathouse.

I'd love to hear about your family traditions.

John Owen on despondancy and unbelief

There is not any thing that, in our communion with him, the Lord is more troubled with us for, if I may say so, than our unbelieving fears, that keep us off from receiving that strong consolation which he is so willing to give to us.

- John Owen, On the Mortification of Sin (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2000), 77.

HT Of First Importance

No, I'm not doing a series on unbelief - not at the moment, anyway! But no doubt it will come up in just about all of my posts. For we all struggle with unbelief. Every time I'm anxious or desponding I doubt God's goodness, every time I'm proud I doubt God's greatness, every time I wallow in guilt I doubt God's grace. Unbelief is at the root of all my sin and every one of my fears. God help us to trust his love and goodness this year!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Charles Spurgeon on despondancy and unbelief

Beloved friends, let us never look upon our own unbelief as an excusable infirmity, but let us always regard it as a sin, and as a great sin, too. Whatever excuse you may at any time make for others—and I pray you to make excuses for them whenever you can rightly do so—never make any for yourself. In that case, be swift to condemn.

It is a very easy thing for us to get into a desponding state of heart, and to mistrust the promises and faithfulness of God, and yet, all the while, to look upon ourselves as the subjects of a disease which we cannot help, and even to claim pity at the hands of our fellow-men, and to think that they should condole with us, and try to cheer us.

It will be far wiser for each one of us to feel, ‘This unbelief of mine is a great wrong in the sight of God. He has never given me any occasion for it, and I am doing him a cruel injustice by thus doubting him. I must not idly sit down, and say, This has come upon me like a fever, or a paralysis, which I cannot help; but I must rather say, This is a great sin, in which I must no longer indulge; but I must confess my unbelief, with shame and self-abasement, to think that there should be in me this evil heart of unbelief.’

—Charles Spurgeon, “Unbelievers Upbraided” (a sermon on Mark 16:14)

(HT: Pyromaniacs HT: Of First Importance)

Friday, January 16, 2009


Steve's sudden speechlessness, which makes it more than a little difficult to teach the Bible, has left me considering (irrelevantly) which jobs are least able to be done when you have laryngitis. Here's the list so far:

- preacher
- opera singer
- spruiker
- sports commentator
- voice coach
- ringmaster
- lawyer
- door to door salesman
- rowing cox
- school teacher
- audience warm up person
- interpreter
- call centre employee
- news reader
- stand up comedian
- actor
- interrogator
- speech therapist
- performance poet
- TV reporter
- ventriloquist
- psychiatrist
- phone receptionist
- inspirational speaker

Imagine a spruiker communicating only with gestures, or a ventriloquist limited to writing things on paper, and you'll see what I mean.

Trying to think up additions to the list is surprisingly absorbing. You have a go.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

the waves and the "why?"

It was a funny old holiday.

Half way through Christmas afternoon, my throat developed that threatening soreness which is the first sign of a cold or flu, and by 2.00 that night the pain woke me with a start when I swallowed.

It stayed like that through a day of tidying up after Christmas and packing for our beachside holiday, segued into feeling tired and off-colour for the long trip down, and for the first 2 days of our holiday I could only lie on the sofa while my parents took the children to the beach. Three weeks later I'm still feeling tired.

We left Steve at home for a break. He was going to come and join us, but when I rang he had a fever and was barely moving, let alone driving 4 hours to Apollo Bay. Ten days later I returned to a very sick husband, with an awful cough which developed into acute laryngitis. He's even now dragging himself from bed to bath to chair, and is definitely not ready for a return to work, which was supposed to start a week ago. Holidays, wiped out; year, in disarray.

And I'm left trying to see the "why". I think being sick was good for me, because it brought me to a complete halt. I was exhausted after an overly busy year, and needed to stop and do nothing. God knew what he was doing. And if there were less meditative walks along the beach, and no swimming in the surf, I treasured every moment.

Instead of doing what I always do on holidays - asking myself if I'm really making the most of it (applying perfectionism to relaxation) - I found myself intensely grateful for every moment: the waves curling and racing in towards the sand, my 2-year-old laughing as he discovered the joy of splashing through foaming water, and quiet hours spent playing games and reading to children on the grey days (of which there were many).

But if I can find a reason for my own relatively minor sickness, Steve's far more severe illness isn't so easily explained away. I can't see any higher purpose in him being dreadfully ill right through a much needed holiday, and into another demanding year of full time ministry. I can't see any point in him missing his normal holiday with the children, one of the few times they enjoy each others' undivided attention. If I was in control of the universe, I would have arranged things differently.

I always want to know why - to understand God's purpose in every bout of sickness and every painful experience - but what arrogance this is on my part! How great is my need to be in control, even of how God is growing me in godliness! Sometimes I think I see a reason for suffering, but often the reason will remain a mystery. Only God is Creator and Lord of all. Only he ultimately knows why. I can trust him with every one of our days.

One scene from our holiday plays like a moving picture across my mind. My mother and I were going for an evening walk, watching the waves crash on the rocks in the light of the setting sun. We came to a small bay, where the waves run up a steeply sloping beach between two rocky outcrops. The water was unusually calm, filling the bay with the heavy silkiness of molten metal, each ripple edged with glowing silver. It seemed to me that the water was cupped in the palms of two great hands.

We may not know why the waves come, breaking with violence over our heads: but here we will always be, held in the hands of God.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

summer reading for kids

These 3 books make wonderful holiday reading for kids. They accompany us to the beach every year. It's good to see that 2 of them are by Australian authors!

Pamela Allen Grandpa and Thomas

I bought this for my son Thomas the moment I saw it, because it describes so well his relationship with his beloved Pa. It's a gently illustrated, gently told story for toddlers and preschoolers, about a grandfather and his grandson Thomas.

They spend a day at the beach, splashing through the surf, munching sandwiches under a green umbrella, decorating a sandcastle, and wriggling their hands through it to find each others' fingers (remember the joy of doing that as a child?).

As they walk to the beach, Thomas independently carries his bucket and spade; by the end, Grandpa carries everything home including Thomas, while the tide comes in and washes their sandcastle away. And all to the repeated refrain, which sighs like the waves through the pages: "Splish, splosh, splash sings the sea".

Alison Lester Magic Beach

I dearly love children's books which describe the wonders created by a child's imagination - and this is one of the best.

One page depicts, in rhyming words and a beautifully detailed picture, one of the wonders of a beachside holiday: splashing through the waves, building a sandcastle, searching for stones and shells washed up by the tide.

Turn the page, and it shows a smaller, round picture, like a peephole into the imagination of a child experiencing each of these wonders: sea horses thundering towards the land, a castle complete with prince and princess, an overflowing treasure chest. I love to celebrate and encourage my children's imaginations, and this book does it with me.

Shirley Hughes The Big Alfie Out of Doors Storybook

Anyone who's read any of Shirley Hughes's books has probably fallen in love with them - especially the ones about Alfie and Annie Rose. Alfie is a loving and loveable preschooler, Annie Rose his toddler sister.

Scruffy haired and rosy cheeked, they enjoy all the normal childhood experiences: arranging soggy cornflakes around a bowl, setting up shop in the backyard, putting boots on the wrong feet, going to the school fair.

One of my favourite Alfie stories is the last one in this book. Do you remember finding that perfect childhood treasure, a smooth, round stone which fitted exactly into the palm of your hand? This is the story of how Alfie's special stone, Bonting, is found, lost among the anonymous stones at the beach, and found again. Perfect beachside reading.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

ah! summer holidays

And that brings us to the end of the in all honesty summer reading archives. I hope you enjoyed them! I thought I'd kick off the year with some photos from our 10 day holiday in Apollo Bay:

If you're in the middle of school holidays too, I hope they are happy and blessed.

Monday, January 12, 2009

from the archives: trusting God with the life of a child

It's still tough, watching Lizzy struggle with the effects of coeliac disease. The dietician tells me it will probably be 6 months more before she's herself again. She's a lot better on her new diet - she's lost the dark circles under her eyes, doesn't feel sick at school all day every day, and she's missed 1 day of school every fortnight instead of every week - but we're still waiting for her body to heal. In the meantime, our little gymnast can't get through a 2 hour gym class, her muscles ache when she does too much walking, and she still gets tummy pains and headaches. Here's how it all began:

Last Tuesday afternoon, I sat on our back verandah, looked up at the lemon-scented gums, and sobbed. And no, it wasn't about my father-in-law, who died 5 days before, although I've shed many tears for him.

I was crying out to God for the ability to trust him with the life of my only daughter.

Lizzy has been sick for over a month. Sore stomach, a bizarre headache in the back of her head, aching muscles. She's been dragging herself through school and putting herself to bed an hour early every night, as her skin grows whiter and the circles under her eyes more purple.

The doctor examined her and found nothing wrong. "Try these pills (the implication being they probably won't do much) and come back in 2 weeks if she's still sick." One week later and I'd had enough, so the doctor booked her in for a battery of blood tests last Monday.

The final brick in my towering wall of anxiety came when Lizzy's teacher approached me last Tuesday afternoon, obviously worried about the sick, pale little girl struggling to sit through 6 1/2 hours of school every day.

You probably understand the thoughts that go through a parent's mind at times like these. Thoughts you barely dare to name, certainly not to the doctor, for fear they'll think you're an over-anxious parent (which, let's face it, you are). Cancer. Brain cancer. Leukemia.

And if you give in to the impulse to look it up on the internet (I succumbed after a month of anxiety) you get big medical names for your worries, like slow-growing chronic myelogenous leukemia, with symptoms vague enough for any vague set of symptoms.

So I sat on the verandah and cried out my worry and fear to God.

I committed my children to God years ago. I pray,

Keep them safe. Please keep them safe! But do with them as you will. They are yours, you love them more than I do, you know what is best for them. Watch over them, grow them into the people you want them to be, and use their lives for the good of your kingdom. Even at cost to me - or them.

God's preparation for the times when the pit of fear opens before my feet. So I was able to say through my tears "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21). I was able to tell God I love him more than anything, more than life itself, more even than the life of my children.

But I was unable to trust him.

I know God isn't capricious. I know he doesn't delight in hurting us. I know he's no cosmic kill-joy. I know "all things work together for good for those who love God," the good of making us more like Christ (Rom. 8:28).

I've said it myself: "He gives us only the suffering that is needful, no more."

But is it really true? Does God give me just enough suffering to make me more like Christ? Is the Christian who suffers more in need of being made like Christ than the one who doesn't? Of course not! So what does it mean to say God gives us only the suffering that is needful?

Is there always a reason for the suffering of God's people? What does it mean to say we may never know the reason? Does it mean there isn't a reason, or that there is a reason, but it may stay hidden in God? And what kinds of reasons does God have for our suffering?

In other words: can I trust God with the life of my only daughter?

Here's how my wise husband answered my questions: Yes, there's always a reason for our suffering, as there was for Job. But no, we won't always know the reason, just as Job didn't. God's reasons aren't limited to making us Christ-like, so there's certainly no direct link between the amount of suffering I experience and my lack of Christ-likeness. All suffering is used by God to make us more like Christ, but he may have other reasons as well.

For there are many reasons for suffering. God's fatherly discipline for things I do wrong. His training ground to produce greater Christ-likeness in me. An encouragement to find comfort and joy in God. The testing and and refining of my faith. Prying my fingers away from holding too tightly to the good things of this world. Increasing my sympathy for another's suffering. The catalyst to lead someone else to Christ.

Above all, I hope suffering will always be an opportunity for God's great and holy name to be glorified in my life.

And I can live with this uncertainty. I like to know the reasons, but I can live without a reason. I can live with the absolute certainty that God loves me and my children more than I will ever know, that he always has a reason for allowing us to suffer, and that the reason may stay hidden in his loving Father's heart.

I can trust my heavenly Father with my life and the lives of my children.

It turned out that Lizzy probably has coeliac disease, like her father: an intolerance to gluten, which means she'll be unable to eat wheat, barley or rye for the rest of her life. Good news, especially for a family already used to coping with this condition! I am already praying God will use this condition to grow her in thankfulness, patience and self-control.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

from the archives: goodnight, Mister Tom

If there's a star of this blog, it's our irrepressible 5 year old Thomas, because he asks such impossible questions and makes such unique observations about life, the universe and everything. Here's one of the first posts I wrote about Tommy, on his lengthy bedtime routine.

One year later, and his bedtime routine is as convoluted as ever. Every night I sing him a song of his choice (at the moment it's usually The Carpenters Close to you, but I made up a song about Thomas last night, and I suspect I started something), we count kisses (we're counting 1 number closer to 100 every night, and we're up to 99 tonight - counting by 9s or 11s, no doubt!), and I answer the same 4 questions (When's Benny coming to bed? How long till Mummy goes to bed? How long till morning? Can I get Mummy if I need to during the night?). Then it's "kissy kissy kissy" and goodnight.

Here's how it went a year ago:

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

Mummy rises to her feet...

Thomas - "I want a story."
Mummy - "Ok, Thomas. Once there was a boy called Thomas.
He woke up in the morning, had breakfast, and got dressed. Then he went on the computer.
He watched Playschool, had some special time with Mummy, played with Andrew, and had lunch. Then he went on the computer.
He went to school to pick up Lizzy and Benny, came home, and had afternoon tea. Then he went on the computer.
He played with Lizzy, Benny and Andrew, ate dinner, and went to bed. The end."
(I kid you not. Just you try keeping Thomas off the computer. And I'd make up a story, but I'm better at non-fiction, worse luck. NB Just to let you know, I do limit Thomas's computer time to 1/2 hour a day!)

Mummy begins to leave the room...

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

Mummy begins to head down the corridor...


And yes, I mean EVERY night.



Saturday, January 10, 2009

from the archives: the bigger the raindrops

Another from my back verandah post, where I reflected on my father-in-law David's illness. He went to be with Jesus on the 15th of May last year. We still miss him greatly.

The rain was plopping down in huge, fat drops the other day, and the sky glowed lilac in the late afternoon sun. I stepped out on the back verandah, and this is what I saw.

Those aren't water droplets on the lens: they're raindrops in freeze frame.

The bigger the raindrops, the brighter the rainbow.

We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Romans 5:3-4

Please pray for our family. Steve's Dad is very ill, so there are a few extra large raindrops in our family right now. Praise God that the rainbow of hope shines brightly in his life.

The rainbow fact is from Ben's Freaky Facts book.


Friday, January 9, 2009

from the archives: this weight I'm carrying

This was written three months into this blog, when the pressure of posting every day, the expectation I was feeling from others to keep writing, and the unfamiliar sensation of exposing my inner thoughts and feelings to others, was starting to tell.

I've been feeling down recently.

I'm on my morning walk. I have dragged my feet to this rock, and am sitting here writing this in a tiny notebook, next to a lake with a rippled blue surface and visiting wood ducks and herons. The beauty is the furthest thing from my mind: it doesn't even touch the way I'm feeling.

I hesitate to call this feeling "depression" because I know clinical depression is far worse than this. I can get out of bed in the morning. I am aware of the cool breeze on my face, and the soft, deep blue of today's sky - although, like inadequate pain medication, they only take the edge off. When I pray, I can feel God's nearness - the skies haven't turned to brass, and my prayers don't feel like they're echoing off an empty heaven.

But my insides feel like a medicine ball which I am doomed to carry around with me. A wide band of over-tight elastic seems to press around my chest. I find it difficult to breathe - in, out, in, out, each breath meets the resistance of the weight I'm carrying.

I can identify some of the reasons for what I'm feeling. I'm over-tired and over-wrought after months of blogging, writing, dreaming, planning and raising 4 children. I've repented (repeatedly) of people-pleasing, of trying to live up to others' expectations and hopes for me, of the over-conscientiousness and perfectionism which will make me read what I'm writing 10 times before I post it.

But the weight remains, heavy and suffocating.

I know this is normal. While only (only!) 5-8% of people will experience clinical depression in their lifetime, the kind which often requires medical treatment, most of us will experience this heaviness from time to time.

It's part of life, a normal reaction to stress, loss, tiredness. It comes and goes: sometimes it's with us for an hour, sometimes for a week. Sometimes it persists for months on end, like the mild post-natal depression after my second baby, when I cried for an hour every afternoon and barely made it through each day.

I know Jesus probably felt like this too. If it's part of the normal human condition - this sadness, this melancholy, this heaviness - then he experienced it with us. He stayed up nights praying desperately for his Father's comfort and direction. He felt every temptation as we do - the idolatry of human need, the pull of expectation, the siren-call of human praise. He dragged his feet through days of tiredness and discouragement.

Somehow, the fact that my Lord in heaven knows exactly how I feel is intensely comforting.

And now I will drag my feet home again. As I open the door, all 4 children will probably have a fight to settle, a hurt to comfort, or a need to fill. There's cooking to be done, piano lessons to be given, family Bible time to sit through (sorry - I mean enjoy). I will do these things as cheerfully as I can, because it's my job and I love my family. I know from experience that I may feel some small comfort in the hard labour.

I will keep forcing myself through the motions of love and responsibility until the day - maybe tomorrow, maybe in a month - when happiness becomes a normal state again, rather than a fragile surface like thin ice, which I press on gingerly to see if it will give way.

I will go on knowing that Jesus went on, that he battled exhaustion and despair, that he put one step in front of the other, spoke one more word to the demanding crowds, escaped in a boat and found the crowds still waiting, called out to his Father on a night lonely with cold stars, went back and kept on loving. All in the knowledge that the day would come when he would plumb the ultimate depths of sadness and endure his Father's abandonment on the cross for our sake.

Meanwhile, I will try not to treat my children's demands as interruptions, or this sadness as a burden, for sadness is God's blessed gift to grow me in love, patience, trust and hope. Sadness is not something to be rejected, but something to be embraced, for in its fire my faith grows stronger and I become more like my Lord.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Hebrews 4:14-16