Friday, July 31, 2009

a rocket ship cake for Thomas

Time for another birthday cake! This one was for Thomas' 6th birthday, which we celebrated a couple of weeks ago. It was a very simple cake this time, from one of the older Women's Weekly cake books (we have a whole pile!). Here's how we did it.

We made the cake using 3 packet mixes.

We cooked it in a very large tin.
We cut around the rocket ship pattern.

We iced the cake: yellow in the middle,
and orange for the fins and edges.

We used licorice straps to outline the different sections.

We attempted the word "TOM" in lollies!

Great candles, aren't they?

The sparklers were the highlight.

Candle time!

Happy birthday Thomas!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Carmelina Read on why we need more stress

I spent a wonderful day on Saturday with the women from Bundoora Presbyterian Church. I got to lead a seminar (oh, frabjous day!) on spiritual disciplines (which will probably turn into a series on this blog some time) and even better, I got to hang out with Carmelina Read (oh, frabjouser day) and hear her talk on prayer from Equip last year (it's even better the second time!) and a great new talk she's written on stress. It's her talk on stress I want to tell you about now.

What would you expect from a talk about stress? Some handy hints about how to overcome stress? A new resolve to reduce stress in your life?

What you probably wouldn't expect to be told is that you need more stress.

But for me, and, I suspect, for many of the women who listened to Carmelina's talk, it wasn't so much the helpful hints about how to overcome stress that were useful - although they were very useful! - as the reminder that some stress is actually good!

Good? Huh? Aren't seminars on stress supposed to tell you how to get rid of it?!

No, because there's a kind of stress we should have more of in our lives. The kind of stress which comes from sharing the gospel. The kind of stress you feel when friends don't like you quite as much because you talk about Jesus. The kind of stress that missionaries experience every day when, "compelled by the love of Christ", they leave comfortable Western lives to bring Christ's love to others (2 Cor 5:14).

No, because there was a kind of stress which Paul felt every day. He experienced "conflicts on the outside, fears within" in the face of beatings, hunger, thirst, danger, cold, labour and even death as he talked about Jesus. He felt "great sorrow and unceasing anguish" for those who hadn't come to Christ. He worried over those he had brought to Christ with "great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears" as he faced "daily the pressure" of his "concern for all the churches". (2 Cor 4:7-12, 11:23-29, 5:20, 7:5, Rom 9:1-4, 2 Cor 2:4, 11:28-29, Gal 4:11, 1 Thess 3:5)

Gospel stress: now there's a kind of stress we could do with more of!

Carmelina made a resolution a year ago: that her non-Christian friends like her less by the end of the year! Not because she's insensitive and overbearing in how she talks about her faith, but because she just can't shut up about Jesus - you know, in that "today I was reading this and this struck me..." kind of way. She said she would rather that a friend said this about her (even complainingly!) than they not hear the gospel at all.

It's a scary resolution, but one worth making.

image is from stock.xchng

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

when a child isn't interested in Christianity

"I don't want to read the Bible anymore!"

Mother and daughter look at one another, one a smaller version of the other: straight blonde hair, fine nose, pretty features. The only difference is the mulish expression on the daughter's face.

She lies on the bed and turns her back, hunched over to express the maximum amount of disapproval. Her mother looks at her in exasperation.

Every night she sits beside her daughter's bed and reads the Bible, and every night her daughter listens. Until tonight.

The choices flash through her head. Get angry. Insist her daughter turn around. Keep reading.

She keeps reading.

"Well, you can refuse to listen if you want, but I'm reading the Bible to you anyway."

For an entire year they follow the same pattern: stubborn face, turned back, reading voice. She can picture the words flowing out of her mouth, around her child's back, across her closed ears. A year of reading to a back.

Until one day her daughter turns around.

The choices flash quickly through her head. Say something. Smile. Keep reading.

She keeps reading.


This is the true story of a mother I know, and her daughter, now grown, loving and serving Jesus.

A mother who trusted God's word enough, and who was wise enough, to gently persist without comment and without giving up. A mother who knew her responsibility, who wasn't scared of her child, who knew what her daughter needed. A mother who excelled in faithfulness.

I've been wondering what to do when your child doesn't seem very excited about God.

Now I know.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tim Chester on hope

There is hope for change. That hope is not in counsellors or methods or rules. That hope is in a great and gracious Saviour who has broken the power of sin and placed his life-giving Spirit in our hearts. … Our gracious Saviour, who died for us ‘when we were God’s enemies’, invites us to ‘approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need’ (Romans 5:10; Hebrews 4:16).

Tim Chester You Can Change 191

JI Packer on holiness

The holiest Christians are not those most concerned about holiness as such, but whose minds and hearts and goals and purposes and love and hope are most fully focused on our Lord Jesus Christ.

JI Packer Keep in Step with the Spirit 134

HT Of First Importance

image is from { Karen } at flickr

Monday, July 27, 2009

how we change (3) what would you like to change?

Today we begin our look at Tim Chester's You Can Change. You don't need the book to read along! I'll give you some quotes and ideas and we can reflect on them together.

"Close your eyes and think for a minute. If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?"

I gave the women in my seminar a couple of minutes to think, then we shared some of the things we'd come up with.

We agreed there are two kinds of change: things you can change and things you can't. A change from singleness to marriage? Not under my control. A clean living room? Well, maybe I can manage that.

In my case, the change I want is almost always to do with self-improvement. Eat better. Exercise more. Run our home efficiently. Hug my kids more. Get irritable less often. Pray regularly. Read the Bible faithfully. Worry less. I could do my head in with all the changes I'd like to make.

For me, change is about becoming a better Jean. It's about my inner life becoming uncluttered and peaceful. It's about managing my tasks and responsibilities with serenity and skill. It's about mastering the things I struggle with. It's about control. It hasn't got much to do with love.

Which is why this perfectionist needed to hear these words from chapter 1 of Tim Chester's You Can Change:

Jesus shows us God's agenda for change. God isn't interested in making us religious. Think of Jesus, who was hated by religious people. God isn't interested in making us 'spiritual' if by spiritual we mean detached: Jesus was God getting stuck in. God isn't interested in making us self-absorbed: Jesus was self-giving personified. God isn't interested in serenity. Jesus was passionate for God, angry at sin, wept for the city.

God's goal for us is that we become like his Son. It's not self-improvement. It's not peace. It's not control. It's not serenity. It's Christ-likeness. As Chester says, it's not about becoming a better Jean, it's about becoming a better Jesus.*

I've noticed that when the New Testament calls us to be like Jesus, it talks about his death: the humility of his death (Phil 2:1-11), the patient endurance of his death (1 Pet 2:20-25, Heb 12:1-3), the self-giving love of his death (1 Jn 4:7-21).

It's not so much "What Did Jesus Do?" as "How Did Jesus Die?" (HDJD - now there's a new acronym for those armbands!).

We take Jesus' life and make yet another set of rules for living: Jesus offers his death, and calls us to follow in the footsteps of a love that can't possibly be defined by rules. A love which calls me away from my self-absorbed perfectionism to the messy service of others.

At the end of chapter 1 Tim Chester encourages us to choose a personal "change project" to work through as we read his book. I decide to face the issue I've avoided for so many years: I'd like to give up my self-absorbed perfectionism, and to live in the freedom and self-giving love of God's grace.

That's my change project. What's yours? You might like to choose one and think about it during this series, as we seek together to be changed into the likeness of Christ.

So whom do you want to be like? What would you like to change? Please don’t settle for anything less than being like Jesus and reflecting the glory of God.

If you'd like to see or use my seminar How Change Happens, which is based on Tim Chester's You Can Change, please contact me.

* A slightly odd phrase which makes sense in the context of a story about Chester's daughter. He doesn't mean "improve on Jesus" but "be like Jesus". In other words, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me" Gal 2:20

quotes are from chapter 1 of Tim Chester's You Can Change

images are from stock.xchng and mommylolly at flickr

Friday, July 24, 2009

growing up in the Christian community

One of the great blessings of being part of a Christian community is watching your children grow up surrounded by people who love Jesus. We went to a conference for Christian uni students the week before our Bright holiday (I'm still catching up on my posts, as you can see!).

Ben spent his whole time on the shoulders of the (very patient) young men at the conference, having a fantastic time and learning how to be a Christian man. Here he is with Ollie.

Being a man, apparently, includes watersliding into a freezing cold lake in the middle of a Melbourne winter (believe me, it was COLD!).

Being a man also means learning how to dance.

Ben also got to meet our prime minister, Kevin Rudd.

Well, maybe not. But he did learn heaps about being a Christian man. How grateful I am that he is growing up with such fantastic role models!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

anxiety-proofing your child

My daughter Lizzy (10) was having an anxious morning.

She'd been away from school for 2 weeks, and was returning to school carrying an enormous eye-catching poster for a project which was late (necessarily!). She was worried that other children might stare at her on the way into school, and that she might be the only child presenting her project to the class that day.

It was one of those golden opportunities for teaching your child how to deal with anxiety. So often, I miss these opportunities altogether. Here's how it went the other day - or how I would have liked it to go! Actually, I forgot point 1 altogether, and forgot point 5 until 10 minutes after our conversation!

1. sympathise
"Yes, it's really hard when you're worried about people looking at you because you're doing something different, isn't it? I don't like people looking at me, either."

2. bring God's truth to bear on the situation
"It doesn't matter what people think of you. What matters is what God thinks of you, and he loves you in Jesus."

3. bring common sense into the situation (replace catastrophic thinking with more realistic thinking)
"The other kids probably won't even notice or think it's odd anyway. Your teacher knows the project will be late - I told her the other day. It's unlikely she will ask you to be the only child presenting your project today."

4. get prepared for the most difficult outcome
"If you were asked to give your project, you actually know the topic pretty well by now! You could say ..."

5. pray
"Would you like to pray together about what's worrying you?"

6. follow up
"Are you feeling any less anxious now?" (She was! If she wasn't, I guess I would have talked about being courageous in the face of our fears - if I'd thought of it!)

7. hug
Well, that's what happened next, anyhow!

Just a little snapshot of life, and how I'm trying to teach my children the same lessons I'm learning about turning to God in our anxieties and putting our trust in him.

(She didn't have to do the presentation - nor was she the only child carrying her project into school! - that day.)

image is from treblig at flickr

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sunday School - the law and sacrifices wrap-up

You might remember our Sunday School lessons on the law and sacrifices last term. I promised you a look at our finished books, and here they are, outside:


and showing how they were put together:

Yes, that is a gameboy Andrew is holding. Since the older children were proudly holding up something they'd made, he thought he'd better join in.

The books turned out well, didn't they? The pop-up crosses on each page look fantastic! The kids and I have learned an immense amount about God's law and sacrifices and how they point forward to Jesus.

If you'd like to see or use my Sunday School material on the law and sacrifices, Romans, or the fruit of the Spirit, please contact me.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Octavius Winslow on the cross

One moment’s believing, close contact with the cross will do more to break the heart for sin, deepen the conviction of its exceeding sinfulness, and disenthrall the soul from all its bondage and its fears, bringing it into a sense of pardon and acceptance and assured hope, than a lifetime of the most rigid legal duties that ever riveted their iron chain upon the soul.
Octavius Winslow, The Foot of the Cross

image is from freefotouk at flickr

Monday, July 20, 2009

how we change (2) overview

I've grown more during the last 12 months than I remember growing during the 12 years before that. I'm sure this isn't true! - I know how God has used motherhood, temptation and suffering to refine me - but that's what it feels like.

I've learnt so much about God's grace and how it changes our hearts.

Blogging and a return to ministry after years of baby-care has brought many issues to the surface, like pride, perfectionism and people-pleasing. At times I've felt overwhelmed by anxiety, stress and discouragement, which has forced me to dig deeper into the gospel.

The other catalyst for change, under God's mercy, has been the books I've read. Martyn Lloyd-Jones helped me remember the Puritans' wisdom about preaching to myself. Ed Welch's books and talks unearthed the issues beneath my addictions, fear, legalism and people-pleasing. Tim Lane and Paul Tripp encouraged me to grow in the heat of suffering. Elyse Fitzpatrick, my sister in Christ, has walked beside me through struggles with greed and worry. Tim Chester's You Can Change brought it all into clear focus.*

What has affected me so profoundly? Two truths that I already knew:

  • that below every sin are the lies and idols of my wayward heart
  • that only the grace of God in Christ and the work of his Spirit, not rules and programs, can change my heart and transform my life

Really, it's no more than God's age-old key to change:

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Col 2:6-7)
I like the structure of You Can Change, so as we explore how God changes us through his grace, it's this structure that we'll be following (with a couple of detours, I'm sure!). Here's the topics he covers:

1. What would you like to change?
2. Why would you like to change?
3. How are you going to change?
4. When do you struggle?
5. What truths do you need to turn to?
6. What desires do you need to turn from?
7. What stops you changing?
8. What strategies will reinforce your faith and repentance?
9. How can we support one another in changing?
10. Are you ready for a lifetime of daily change?

Nicole has already blogged her way through You Can Change, and as always, her blog posts are thoughtful and helpful, so I won't double up. I'll share with you the personal story of how this book has shaped my thinking and life. I've just written and led a seminar on this material, so some reflections from my seminar will make it into these posts. Along the way, I'll include insights from writers like Tim Keller and Elyse Fitzpatrick.

Please join me on the great adventure of digging deep into the grace of God and how it changes our hearts.

* The books which have had a big impact on me include Martyn Lloyd-Jones's Spiritual Depression, Ed Welch's Running Scared, When People Are Big and God is Small, Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave and Issues in Biblical Counselling, Tim Lane and Paul Tripp's How People Change, Elyse Fitzpatrick's Idols of the Heart, Overcoming Fear, Worry and Anxiety and Love to Eat, Hate to Eat, and Tim Chester's You Can Change.

If you'd like to see or use my seminar, How Change Happens, please contact me.

images are from stock.xchng

Saturday, July 18, 2009

all things Bright and beautiful

During the school holidays, we spent a week in Bright and the surrounding mountains. For me, there's no more beautiful spot on earth. Here's some photos.

Now that's beautiful!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Now I am Six

Here's Thomas on his 6th birthday. He's finally grown into the poem he loves:

When I was One,
I had just begun.

When I was Two,
I was nearly new.

When I was Three,
I was hardly Me.

When I was Four,
I was not much more.

When I was Five,
I was just alive.

But now I am Six, I'm as clever as clever.
So I think I'll be six now for ever and ever.
I was reciting this poem to Thomas as we walked through a park during our recent holiday, and he looked up at me and said, "That poem reminds me of happiness, Mummy. Does it you, Mummy?"

Well, it does remind me of my Tommy, so I'd have to say "yes".

Thomas has taken this poem to heart. He said to me, "We're going to do something special every day I'm 6, aren't we, Mummy?". Then he declared with yearning, "Mummy, why did God make birthdays? If God didn't make birthdays, I would never turn 7, and special things would happen every day!"

Ah, but special things will go on happening every day, won't they, Thomas? For every morning we wake to new mercies (Lam 3:23). Six is just the beginning!

the poem is from AA Milne's Now We Are Six

Thursday, July 16, 2009

coping with difficult seasons (2) attitudes

Yesterday I talked about some of the practicalities of coping with difficult seasons as a wife and mother. But just as important - in fact, far more important! - is what's going on in our hearts. How do we fix our eyes on Jesus during these times? How can we find time to pray, if we can barely find time and energy to breathe? How can we trust God when our hearts are heavy?

1. cry out to God, ask others to pray for you
God wants us to cry out to him when things get tough (Ps 88). Only he can give us the strength to go on. Tell him how you feel. Ask him for help. Ask others to pray with or for you, especially if you're having trouble praying.
2. realise that time with God will be limited but is still important
I know how tough it is to spend regular time with God when you've got a new baby or the kids are sick! Sometimes this is because we aim too high. Try for 5 minutes: put your Bible, a prayer list, a book of helpful reflections and a set of memory verses in a bag and grab one when you've got a spare moment. When you're sitting feeding a baby or cuddling a child, perhaps you could quickly pray or repeat a Bible verse you've learned. Christian music and talks or the Bible on MP3 are good ways to get input during difficult times. Don’t wait until you’re coping: come to God messy.
3. understand that suffering is part of life
We’re often surprised at how tough life is – at least I am! But it shouldn't surprise us (1 Pet 4:12), for suffering is part of this fallen world. God never minimises our suffering. Suffering hurts. Suffering is real. Sleep deprivation (and sick kids and stressful times and sadness and …) are suffering.
4. understand that God is in control
That might not feel all that comforting right now! But your loving, heavenly father is in control, and he is good and gracious (Job 1:20-21, 2:10). Nothing comes to us except from his loving hands (Heb 12:7-11).
5. understand how suffering reveals your heart
Times of suffering are times when God reveals our hearts (Deut 8:2, 1 Cor 10:1-15, Jam 1:13-15). If I get irritable when I'm over-tired, that's my heart talking, not the suffering! The suffering just shows what was already there. But there’s hope …
6. understand how suffering helps you grow
God uses suffering to make you more like Jesus, even when you can’t see it and you feel discouraged by your sin (Rom 5:3-5). You'll look back on those times and realise that you've grown in hope, joy, love and patience: I know, I've been there, although there were times I wondered if I'd changed at all!
7. try to serve cheerfully
Remember that it's Jesus you're serving (Col 3:23-34) when you serve that annoyingly sleeping husband, that baby who's just dirtied the 4th nappy in a row, or that child who's just woken you again. Count to 10 before you say anything! Try to speak words of patience and kindness - with God's help.
8. remember it will end
God doesn't tempt us beyond what we can bear, although it often feels like it! (1 Cor 10:13) This time will last as long as it needs to and no more. It will come to an end, if not now, then in eternity.
9. fix your eyes on Jesus
Jesus is the one who endured all things for your sake. He endured suffering with patience (1 Pet 2:21-25). He knows your struggles and sympathises with your weaknesses (Heb 4:14-16). He's praying for you right now (Heb 7:25). His Spirit is within you, praying for you and helping you to be godly (Rom 8:26-27, Gal 5:16-25). Suffering can't separate you from his love (Rom 8:31-39). One day you'll enjoy perfect rest with him forever! Now that sounds good.

* You'll find some great suggestions for spending time with God when you have a new baby at growing with a newborn by Cathy at The Best Book Co-op.

images are from stock.xchng

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

coping with difficult seasons (1) practicalities

The women in my Bible study have been going through a difficult time recently. Every family has had a run of illnesses, from colds to gastro and flu. Most of the women are suffering from sleep deprivation, with young children and babies waking up many times a night. This post is for them - and for you!

We all have to cope with busy, difficult seasons of life. Pregnancy brings persistent nausea (don’t I know?!), aches and pains, and sleepless nights. New babies come with constant demands, breastfeeding difficulties, and those 3 or 6 o'clock moments when you’re forced out of bed feeling like you’ve been hit over the head with a sledge-hammer. Older children catch gastro, colds and flu, and generously pass them around the family. PMS can cause despondency or anger every month. Grief, sickness and depression steal time and energy from the rest of life.

How do you cope as a mother and homemaker during those times? Here’s some ideas.*

1. do only what’s necessary
The main thing is that your family has something to eat and wear. If you've fed your family off clean plates and put clean(ish) clothes on their backs, you've done what needs to be done.
2. simplify your tasks
Order take-away, take clothes to the laundromat, use the dryer, pay for a cleaner if you can afford it. If you must clean, clean only what you can see or smell.
3. let the real priorities surface
Care for your husband, cuddle your kids and let the rest slide. Dust balls and dirty sheets won't kill you. People matter more than places and things!
4. do what works
When I have a new baby I often let guilt do the talking: “I should settle my baby this way.” “Breast is best.” There are no rules in the Bible about these things! Do what works for you and your family. You might need some help to set up routines or encourage a child to sleep (feed-play-sleep is a simple and flexible approach) but remember these are just suggestions which may or may not work for you.
5. do the next thing
It's hard to drag yourself through your tasks when you're feeling sick, exhausted or discouraged. You don't have to do everything: just do one thing. Often that will get you moving so that you can do the next. But just one thing is good!
6. be prepared
This isn't always possible, of course! But if you know a difficult time is coming - a new baby, an absent husband - plan how you'll cope. Cook meals, or ask someone else to cook meals, and freeze them (a personal favourite!). Ask for help in advance. Work out what you'll do (e.g. call a friend) when things get tough. Organise babysitting or company if you need help with managing hormone-driven emotions. You need to do these now, while you’re thinking clearly!
7. sleep when you can
If your new baby or sick child is sleeping, it's probably not the time to be racing around tidying. Get some sleep, put your feet up or go for a walk.
8. ask for and accept help
You weren't made to do it alone! Ask your husband to do the shopping. Ask a family member to vacuum your loungeroom. Ask a friend to cook some meals. Accept help when it's offered. God made you to be part of a community which serves one another: have the humility and wisdom to accept help.
9. trust God for the things that don’t get done
This is a great opportunity to remember that you’re a creature, not the Creator, and to learn to depend on God. Don't expect to be able to do everything: you're not God. Trust God for the things you have no time for.

* I've taken many of these ideas from these helpful posts, which you might like to read:
Carolyn Mahaney and daughters A Busy Woman's Survival Manual, managing busy seasons and busy time survival
Jess' post collected thoughts for new moms from Making Home
Nicole's post when my kids are sick from 168 hours
my post sleep deprived mamma from in all honesty

images are from diathesis & oksidor at flickr