Thursday, December 31, 2009

a year of grace

I look back over the year, and all I see is failure.

I'm sitting at my favourite table in my favourite cafe, sipping sweet spiced chai from a large mug. The table is on a verandah shadowed by oak trees, and I can glimpse the occasional train flashing silver through the thick leaves. There's an open notebook in front of me, which I surreptitiously cover whenever the waitress approaches. I'm writing, trying to unknot the tangled snarls in my head.

At the top of the page I write, "I'm pretty disappointed in myself."

And then the list. Over-busyness. A cluttered house. Over-eating. Lack of exercise. Prayerlessness. Disorganisation. Chores not done. Opportunities lost. So many sins, so many failures, so many unmet resolutions. I should have learned by now. I shouldn't need to learn! I should get it right, right from the start. The perfectionist in me reacts like I did as a child to my test results. "You got 95%? What about the other 5%?" All I can see is the 100% I didn't get.

But as I write and pray, I begin to see the past year in a different light. I think back to term 1, when God took Tim Chester's You Can Change and Ed Welch's Issues in Biblical Counselling and turned me upside down and inside out. I think back to Easter, when God's grace became so blindingly brilliant that it was that all that I could see. I think back to term 3 , when I learned more than I wanted about what happens when I attempt too much ministry outside the home.

This has been a year of grace. A year not of perfection, but of progress. A year when God used suffering to push me into a new shape. A year when I came to see the love of Christ more clearly. A year when my self-control, my ability to say "no", grew just a tiny bit stronger. A year when I gained a little more courage to share my faith. A year not of completion, but of growth.

And so I face next year with confidence. I'm confident that I'll fail. I'm confident that I'll struggle. I'm confident that I'll keep on sinning. I'm confident that no list of carefully designed resolutions will give me some measure of perfection.

But I'm also confident that I'll grow. I'm confident that the gospel will feel new to me, over and over again. I'm confident that I'll make progress, as God's Spirit changes me (1 Tim 4:15). I'm confident that the love of Christ will seem bigger by the end of the year (Eph 3:17-19). I'm confident that, in every circumstance, God will make me more like Jesus (Rom 8:28-30). I've seen him do it before, and I know he'll do it again.

So I turn to a blank page in my notebook and start a new list. It only occurs to me later that instead of writing a list of new year's resolutions, I've written a list of prayers. They cover more ground than my usual resolutions: there are prayers for the coming year, prayers for my family, prayers for others, prayers for myself. It's God, not I, who will make next year one of grace and growth. And so I pray.

images are by tonyhall and aussiegal at flickr

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

from the archives: teaching younger women - the need

I was a kid bride, married at the age of 19. I was pregnant 3 months after the wedding; I had my first baby at age 20, and a year later I had my second baby. To say the least, I felt overwhelmed by the task. There were so many times I longed to have an older, more experienced godly woman in my life that I could just call for counsel and advice. My Mum was an excellent role model, but she lived 1000 miles away, so it was not very practical to contact her on a daily basis. I was the first among my circle of friends to have a baby. I really had no-one I could call and ask for help. I felt very alone in this daunting task of being a wife and a mother.

I had to learn from doing it all wrong the first time around, and sometimes it can't be avoided. However, the better way is to glean from the wisdom and experience of those who have gone before us. The better way is to benefit from the training and instruction of older women with godly character. (from Carolyn Mahaney's talk A Fresh Look at Titus 2)
There is a thirst in the hearts of many young women. I should know.

I remember so well how it felt to be a single 18-year-old with no idea of how to grow into godly womanhood, a married woman in my 20’s wondering how to love my husband, and a 30 year old bewildered about how to care for our new baby. How I longed for an older woman who would take me under her wing and show me how to live as a Christian woman!

Oh, I knew the facts. I had read books on Biblical womanhood, agonised over the theology and practice of submission, trawled through books on marriage and motherhood.

But I had no idea about how to serve Jesus through a lifetime, how to love my husband during times when marriage got tough, how to manage our home effectively, how to settle a baby, discipline a toddler, or teach a child about God. And it felt like there was no-one I could ask.

I looked around for older, wiser women, but my husband and I were in university ministry, and there weren't many around. The few faithful, godly older women I knew, who took time to encourage us younger ones, I regarded with admiration tinged with awe. I asked a couple to meet with me, but they weren’t able to. So my friends and I were left to stumble through on our own, with the help of some wise books and the occasional seminar for women.

I’m older now. Perhaps I fit the category of “older woman” myself. But the thirst has never really gone away.

Is this a thirst you have felt? How do you feel about "older women"? Have you ever asked an "older woman" to mentor you? Is there someone you could ask?


image is Diego Rivera's "Two women and a child"

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

from the archives: biblical womanhood

Today we begin our new series: biblical womanhood.

There are few topics more neglected in modern Western society. We talk a lot about the rights and needs of women, but little about God's plan for women. It's a bit of an embarrassing topic: what modern woman wants to be caught thinking about caring for her home, or loving her husband, let alone submitting to him?

In Titus 2:3-5, Paul gives women our challenge and our call:

Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.
Taking our lead from Paul, each week I'd like to attempt two things:
1. A post on one of the characteristics of Biblical womanhood;
2. A post on how to teach and train younger women in Biblical womanhood.

We'll be loosely following the chapters in Carolyn Mahaney's Feminine Appeal, which follows the characteristics older women are to teach younger ones in Titus 2:3-5. Why don't you read along with me, or listen to the talks the book is based on, To Teach What is Good. Since I think Biblical womanhood is bigger than Titus 2:3-5, I'll mix this up with a few other topics, which I've listed here.

This week, we'll begin with the first of Carolyn Mahaney's chapters, "Transformed by Titus 2". We'll be talking about the need, and the call, for older women to teach and train younger women. Let's kick it off with my first post, the need ...

image is Jean-Honor Dragonard's "Young Woman Reading"


Monday, December 28, 2009

biblical womanhood from the archives

It's that time of year again. Time for a good, long break from blogging, both for me and perhaps for you!

As usual, I'll gather some old favourites from the in all honesty archives and post them for those of you who'd like to keep reading along.

I'm doing something a little different this year. Instead of choosing random favourites, I'm going to post my series on biblical womanhood from late last year. I'm taking a break from comment moderation, so it may take a while for any comments to appear.

Of all the series on in all honesty, it was my series on biblical womanhood which aroused the most interest. We talked about all kinds of things (and I mean "we" - there were plenty of comments!) like sexual purity, love and submission in marriage, and how to balance homemaking and ministry. There were a few memorable posts along the way, like the day of the apple and how to really hate your child. The series was loosely based on Carolyn Mahaney's Feminine Appeal (which would make great summer reading!) but we ranged far and wide.

There are few topics we have more to learn about than biblical womanhood. I hope you enjoy exploring it with me.

Friday, December 25, 2009

happy Christmas!

That's our Christmas tree. You can barely see the tree for the decorations.

There are decorations we've made - decorations which were made for us - decorations we've bought - decorations from my childhood - decorations which were given to us. A glorious conglomeration of unmatching things! And every one, as my son said this year, with a special memory attached.

It's been a lovely and hectic time leading up to Christmas in our house, with most of the usual traditions. We put up our tree and nativity scene. We went to Carols by Candlelight, and the kids learned to play some carols on the piano. We read about how Jesus fulfils all of God's promises as we opened the doors in our Jesse advent calendar.

I also started a new Christmas tradition just for me. I've been reading the early chapters of Luke, and I'm stunned once again by the glory of the Saviour come to earth. It's been so encouraging that I'd like to follow Nicole's example and read something about the birth of Jesus in the weeks leading up to Christmas every year.

I'll be back blogging sometime in January. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the next few weeks' posts from the in all honesty archives. I'm thinking of you all, and praying that you have a blessed and happy Christmas, as you celebrate the greatest gift of all: the gift of God's own Son.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

a survey about books

More books! Here's where I look back over the year for a Sola Panel survey and talk about the books I enjoyed reading - and some other stuff I enjoyed - during 2009.

1. Three best Christian books of 2009:

◦Tim Chester's You Can Change
◦Elyse Fitzpatrick's Overcoming Fear, Worry and Anxiety
◦Ed Welch's Depression: A Stubborn Darkness

I've been reading a lot about change, anxiety, depression and biblical counselling, as you can see! These three books are top in their field.

2. Top stretching theological read of the year:

◦I've just written about John Piper's When I Don't Desire God for EQUIP book club, and while it's not a stretching theological read (along the line of Calvin's Institutes), it certainly continued to push my thinking about the place of joy in the Christian life—as Piper's books always do!

3. Best fiction of 2009:

◦Definitely Marilynne Robinson's Gilead: the beautiful, haunting reminiscences and reflections of an old American Protestant preacher writing his last letter to his young son, as he recalls the family relationships, long lonely years and historical events that have shaped his life. I enjoyed the book's sympathetic portrayal of the Christian faith, with reference to John Donne, George Herbert, John Calvin and Karl Barth! I can't put it better than The Washington Post article which said Gilead is “so serenely beautiful, and written in a prose so gravely measured and thoughtful, that one feels touched with grace just to read it”.

4. Best non-theological non-fiction of 2009:

◦Arch Hart's Adrenaline and Stress was exactly what I needed in a year when I came close to burnout through a workaholic and over-enthusiastic tendency to schedule far too much into my life! I'd recommend this book to anyone in ministry, and certainly to anyone who experiences stress or tends towards workaholism.

5. Favourite Matthias Media release of the year:

◦Always The Briefing, of course! It's a monthly treat when it arrives in our letterbox.
◦I was also helped by Peter Bolt's Living with the Underworld (AUS US)
◦I'm looking forward to reading Paul Grimmond's Right Side Up (AUS US) and Colin Marshall's The Trellis and the Vine (AUS US); they're looking at me eagerly and expectantly from the shelf!

6. Best website(s) discovered this past year:

◦I'm enjoying Tim Chester's blog
◦My friend Meredith has started a good blog for Christian women called ‘The key to the door’.
◦Any other blogs I read are old favourites.

7. Three best sermons or other audio downloads heard this year (individual talks or series; could be from preachers you hear locally, and not just the overseas heroes):

◦I haven't listened to many individual sermons this year. Instead, I worked through a 24-talk series by Ed Welch: Issues in Biblical Counselling. I highly recommend it to anyone in ministry or counselling, or anyone who struggles with (or who supports anyone who struggles with) any of the big four: suffering, anger, anxiety or guilt. That should cover everyone! The series is available from PTC Media at the Presbyterian Theology College in Melbourne.

8. Most memorable article(s) you've read this year:

◦Guan Un's ‘Diary of a ministry apprentice’ (The Briefing #375, December 2009)
◦Paul Grimmond's ‘Trusting in the dark’ (The Briefing #371, August 2009)
◦Simon Flinders' ‘When it's time to go: The what, why and how of leaving church’ (The Briefing #374, November 2009)
Jennie Baddeley's ‘The nuts and bolts of forgiveness’ (Sola Panel 31/7/09)
◦The anonymous article ‘A practical guide to fending off non-Christian men’ (The Briefing #368, May 2009).

9. Book of the year and why:

◦Tim Chester's You Can Change: This book broke through my legalism and perfectionism with the gospel of Christ—something I wasn't sure would ever happen. Chester taught me that change is possible through God's grace. He encouraged me to turn in faith from the lies of my heart to God's truth and, in repentance from the idols of my heart, to obedience. I'm sure this book will become a Christian classic. It's a rare thing to find a book on Christian growth that is gospel-centred, readable, biblical, real, intelligent, clear and practical.

This is reprinted from Sola Panel.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

lead us not into (Christmas) temptation

The side mirror on our car got smashed last week. Okay, okay, I admit it - I smashed the mirror reversing into our slightly opened gate. I think it was the wind's fault for blowing the gate open. Or mine for not noticing. Whatever.

There are things about this time of year that really aren't good for me. I mostly avoid shops, because that's the only effective strategy I've found to overcome a ten year addiction to spending. I go to department stores twice a year, once for winter clothes for the family and once for summer clothes. That keeps me safely out of the way of temptation.

Except for at Christmas time.

I can resist temptation during the first Christmas shopping trip. By the second trip, and certainly by the third, shopping gets under my skin. Things I wouldn't have dreamed of buying a week ago suddenly seem perfectly reasonable at the price. I buy things we don't need and don't really want. The pile of gifts under the tree gets larger.

It's an odd way to celebrate the birth of the One who gave up everything and made himself nothing, who exchanged his riches for our poverty, so that he could give his life for us (Phil 2:5-11).

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I was heading south to buy a new side mirror for the car the other day. I was aware that en route was a shopping centre where I'd seen a very cute jacket that my son didn't need. My wheels were about to turn towards the shopping centre, until I realised that somehow I'd passed the turn-off - one I'd never missed before. I comforted myself with the thought that I still had time to go to the shops on the way home.

I found myself wandering through the wilds of an unfamiliar suburb, fathoms deep in bumper-to-bumper traffic, lost on the wrong part of the map, trying to find the Toyota parts shop. After three quarters of an hour of increasing tension - I was running late for a school pick-up - I found the shop down an obscure side street, bought the mirror, and drove to school with no time to spare for a detour to the shops.

And that's how God used heavy traffic and a misread map - of all things! - to keep me from a choice I knew to be sinful.

One small example of God's severe mercy. One thing not bought that we didn't really need. One sinful habit unfed, at least on this occasion, and growing that little bit weaker in consequence. One tiny taste of my heavenly Father's loving discipline (Heb 12:7-11). One renewed commitment to spend less on us and more on others. One answered prayer - a prayer I hope to be praying again in 11 months time:

Our Father in Heaven, lead us not into (Christmas) temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (Matt 6:9, 13)

images are from wockerjabby and Fabi Dorighello at flickr

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

next year on in all honesty

I'll be taking a much needed break from blogging after Christmas. While I'm having a rest, you'll see some archival posts on in all honesty. Do look out for my post on New Year's Eve, when I'll reflect on the past year and the year to come! Around the 20th of January I hope to start blogging regularly again.

I've also been thinking about next year on in all honesty. I'm not planning to tackle one series each term - it's too much pressure for this blogger! Instead, I'll run with several series, and post on them gradually during the year. I don't know exactly what they'll be. But here's some ideas.

how we change
It may look like I've forgotten about my series on change, but I haven't! We've talked how change comes through grace, how it springs from a changed heart, and the nitty-gritty of faith and repentance. There are 4 more chapters to go in Tim Chester's You Can Change.

I've still got a few posts to write in my childcare series: a review of of Steve Biddulph's Raising Babies, a discussion of the practicalities of childcare, and some stories about real women and how they made the decision to use, or not to use, childcare.

I know, I know, you haven't heard much from me on the topic of pride since the start of this year! I've had a post in mind all year long - but never found time to write it! - on how God wants us to think about our gifts and talents. Who knows, there might be more to come in this series.

discipling your daughter
My daughter is now 11 years old. About a year ago, I decided to start discipling her formally. We've been getting together every couple of weeks to read the Bible using Donna Miller's Growing Little Women. We'd like to try various resources and give each a mother and daughter score. I also hope to tell you about some books and magazines by Vicki Courtney which we enjoyed.

women encouraging women
I feel like I've been thinking about this forever, especially since my series on biblical womanhood! I thought it would be good to throw around some practical ideas for how older women can teach and train young women (Tit 2:3-5). Get ready to share your stories!

teaching Hebrews in Sunday School
Yes, it's nearly time for another Sunday School series on in all honesty! During term 3 next year I'd like to teach Hebrews in our Sunday School. I plan to write my own material, and tell you about it week by week. People often write to me asking for theologically focussed Sunday School material, so I'm hoping this series will be a useful resource for Sunday School teachers and parents.

other ideas
Waiting in the wings are lots of book reviews (I hope!), a discussion on how to approach dating with teenagers, and plenty of random posts. Plus any questions you'd like to raise.

your suggestions
Tell me if there are any topics you'd like me to tackle on in all honesty - just contact me or click here. This is your chance to tell me what you'd like to read and discuss!

images are from stock.xchng except for images of children in heart, women talking and cross, which are from photokraft, jhall987 and minishorts at flickr

Monday, December 21, 2009

making it to the end

The year is winding down, and life is unravelling a little around the edges. I'm no longer so keen to get up early and read my Bible. Chores go neglected. The kids' homework tapers off, then stops. The days I planned so carefully at the start of the year and launched myself into with shiny new enthusiasm gradually become chaotic and disorganized.

We're all tired out, sick of the familiar tasks. We drag ourselves out of bed and into the car in the mornings. We hold onto what's left of our routine by our fingertips. We feel like we deserve some respite—some reward for getting this far. We'll make it to the end of the year—to holidays and rest and a new start—we will!—but we'll be glad when we get there.

It occurs to me that many things in life are like this. I once worked in ministry alongside an enthusiastic, committed Christian leader. When he knew he was moving on to another ministry position, he became distracted and emotionally absent. I imagine it's the same with a marriage that's coming to an end—or a job, a task, a relationship. When you're no longer committed to the long haul, or when the long haul is nearing its end, it's hard to keep on going.

Life itself is like this. I wonder how it feels to approach the end of a life. Does it feel like you can't be bothered any more—like you've earned some rest now that the long, hard years are nearly over? Is that why so many people retire from an active role in life when they grow old?

This tendency of humans to move on before we've moved on—to peter out before we've reached the end—to give up, give in, give ourselves over to laziness and inattention—is just one more example of how deeply sin infects us. For the attitude God wants from us is just the opposite:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Heb 12:1-3)
I think of my father-in-law, who served and taught and evangelized and encouraged right into his last cancer-ridden days. I think of a faithful couple who adopted a disabled child and who haven't given up caring for that child even into adulthood—even when it's harder rather than easier. I think of friends who endure chronic illness, ongoing grief, or persistent depression—who stubbornly fight for their faith even though every day is a struggle.

Let's not give up before we get there. Let's not let go of what we've attained (Phil 3:16). Let's keep on loving, even when we're weary of loving (Gal 6:9). Let's not taper off. Let's not end weakly. Let's remember that what lies beyond the end makes reaching the end worthwhile. Let's make it our aim to be able to say one day,

… the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness … (2 Tim 4:6-8)

This article is reprinted from last Friday's post on Sola Panel.

images are from expatriotact and Mollivan Jon at flickr

Friday, December 18, 2009

how Lizzy made an atom model

Lizzy was allowed to choose the topic for her last school project. It didn't surprise me that she chose a topic - Atoms and Molecules - which involved making a model.

So we set off to the craft store for some polystyrene balls; got hold of some poster paint, craft glue and wire (the wire hoop from the pink net which used to hang above Lizzy's bed proved to be just the thing); looked up ideas on the internet; and got cracking.

Here's how we did it.

Lizzy painted some medium-sized polystyrene balls blue for the protons.

She painted some medium-sized polystyrene balls red for the neutrons.

She painted some small polystyrene balls green for the electrons.

She glued the blue and red polystyrene balls together with strong craft glue to represent a nucleus.

She screwed an eye hook into the top of the "nucleus".

She threaded the "electrons" onto the wire.

She formed the wire into hoops (with help!) and held it with strong tape.

We tied the nucleus and hoops together using fishing line.

Voila! One model of an atom.

And it was a lot easier to make than this!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

the books I'd like to read in 2010

Ah, yes, it's that glorious time of year when I think about the many, many books I want to read and the limited time I have to read, and, like a girl on a parent-imposed budget in a clothes store, pick and choose from the delectable offerings before me.

My book list for 2010, which you can see in the right hand column of this blog, is a little less ordered than my 2009 list. I've topped it with the books I'm reading (or would like to be reading) at the moment:

A book on the cross:
CJ Mahaney's Living the Cross-Centred Life

I haven't started this one yet, despite my good intentions! It's one of the books I should be reading, or would be reading if I wasn't feeling so exhausted and end-of-yearish, as part of my ongoing goal to read a book on the cross every year. I was about to read this a couple of months ago and discovered I'd lost it; I just bought a new copy.

A book on biblical womanhood:
Mark Chanski's Womanly Dominion: More Than a Gentle and Quiet Spirit

I have to admit that the title made me wonder. But this book was warmly recommended on girltalk and by my friend Sus, so this the next book on biblical womanhood I'm planning to read. There are many others I'd like to read, like Sharon James' God's Design for Women (I've dipped into this and it's excellent!) and Carolyn McCulley's Radical Womanhood.

Some Christian biography:
Naomi Reed's My Seventh Monsoon

I wanted to read this book in 2009 but didn't quite manage it. I'd love to read it this summer! The wonderful exchange on EQUIP book club between Naomi and Rachael whet my appetite. I enjoy Christian biography, and would like to read much more than I do.

A book on writing:
Mark Tredenick's The Little Green Grammar Book

Yes, I am reading this, and enjoying it, if you can enjoy a book which uses words like appositives and complements and prepositional phrases (and no, I don't know what they mean). I love books about writing, I love the way Mark makes grammar interesting, and I'd love to learn how to use a dash, semi-colon and comma correctly!

A Christian classic:
GK Chesterton's Orthodoxy

As I said last year (and didn't!) I'd like to read a classic Christian book every year. I'm taking Chesterton away with us this summer. Later in the year, I may also attempt John Owen's The Mortification of Sin and Overcoming sin and temptation because they're so often recommended, and because they might help me prepare my seminar on change. And I'd like to read CS Lewis's The Weight of Glory.

A novel (or six):
Marilynne Robinson's Home

The summer holidays are swiftly approaching, and this is one of the novels on my holiday list! I've listed them all together so you can see what I'll be reading during the hols: more Marilynne Robinson (I read Gilead and adored it), Marcus Zusak's The Book Thief, and Margaret Atwood's Surfacing, just for starters!

Some teen fiction:
Stephenie Meyer's Twilight

I'm only reading this so I can understand teen culture more deeply. I love teen fiction, especially teen fantasy (Tamora Pierce, Emily Rodda, J.K.Rowling). I read Twilight a couple of weeks ago, and I'm about to launch into the rest of the series. A treat I'm saving for the summer holidays - long, lazy days reading on the couch (and taking the kids on outings, and decluttering our home, and ...).

A book to read with my husband:
John Piper's This Momentary Marriage

Steve and I would like to start reading a chapter from a book on marriage together each week. We're starting with John Piper. I love the way Piper shows us how marriage has cosmic significance far beyond itself! Another book on marriage I'd like to read (or rather, finish) is Christopher Ash's Married for God.

A book on discipling my daughter:
Vicki Courtney's 5 Conversations You Must Have With Your Daughter

This is from my unofficial list of "Books I started reading before writing for EQUIP books interrupted my reading plan". One of my projects for 2010 is to read lots of books about how to disciple your daughter (including Becky Freeman's Mom's Everything Book for Girls). I plan to start a new bloggy series called Resources for discipling your daughter in early 2010.

A book to read with my daughter:
Donna Miller's Growing Little Women for Younger Girls

My 11 year old daughter Lizzy and I started getting together weekly earlier this year to read the Bible and learn about godly womanhood. This is the first book we've sampled; we plan to sample more, like Carol Fiddler's A Girl of Beauty, as my book list shows. We're going to give each book a mother-daughter score for my series Resources for discipling your daughter - watch this space!

A book on women's sexuality:
Linda Dillow's Intimate Issues: 21 Questions Women Ask About Sex

I foolishly volunteered to write an article about women and sexual purity (gulp!) next year. Hence the large number of books I want to read on this topic: Ed Wheat's Love Life for Every Married Couple, Tony Payne and Philip Jensen's Pure Sex, and Tim Chester's yet-to-be-published Captured by a Better Vision: Living Porn-Free.

A book on change and Christian growth:
Jerry Bridges's The Discipline of Grace: God's Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness

I loved the way Jerry Bridges' The Discipline of Grace gave me a more grace-centred and biblical perspective on the topic of spiritual disciplines when I was reading and writing about it earlier this year. I'm hoping he'll do the same as I think about the topic of change for a women's retreat I'm leading late next year. I suspect John Piper's Future Grace will be similarly helpful.

A book on biblical counselling and depression:
Ed Welch's Depression: A Stubborn Darkness

I'm a third of the way through this book, and I'm enjoying its sympathetic, biblical, wise and readable approach to depression. Reading this is part of my ongoing quest to read everything Ed Welch or any other biblical counsellor from CCEF has ever written! Hence the large number of books by Ed Welch and David Powlison on my list.

A book about childcare:
Steve Biddulph's Raising Babies: Why Your Love is Best

I started reading this a few months ago, but life got a little busy, so I've put it down for now. I'm reading this as part of my ongoing project to write about childcare on this blog. I'm half way through, and the book is fantastic so far. If you're thinking about childcare, this is a must-read. Expect a review soon(ish).

A book about teenagers:
Josh Harris's I Kissed Dating Goodbye

Steve and I are thinking about the ground rules we want to give our children for dating in their teen years. We're leaning towards Josh Harris' approach (we think!) but I'd like to read more about it first. This is a discussion I'd like to open up on in all honesty some time. Another book about teens which I can't wait to read is Paul David Tripp's Age of Opportunity.

So there you have it. Pretty much all the books I want to read in 2010 are about these topics, except for a few random Christian books like Paul Grimmond's Right Side Up and Colin Marshall's The Trellis and the Vine. I hope you enjoy browsing my list!

What are you planning to read in 2010? Have you got any other suggestions for me?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

a question of childcare (4b) research - Peter Cook 's Mothering Denied - studies of childcare

A few weeks months ago I told you about Peter Cook's online book, Mothering Denied (yes, I did lose track of my series on childcare while I wrote for EQUIP books; and no, I haven't forgotten about my childcare series, although it looks like I'll be finishing it in the new year!).

My last post in this series was on what Peter Cook says about the ideologies underlying childcare. I was challenged by his comments on feminism and the pressure on women to return to the workforce.

But it's when it comes to studies of childcare that Peter Cook's arguments become uncomfortably compelling. Childcare, it seems, has negative effects proportionally related to the big three: too early, too much, too long. Here are some of the findings of respected studies (often government-sponsored studies sympathetic to childcare) as described in Mothering Denied.

  • Affordable care is low-quality care. "High quality care" is often claimed by childcare centres, but in reality, is nearly unachievable. High quality care includes staff responsiveness, warmth and sensitivity to infants; a carer-infant ratio of 1:3 for children under 3 (1:5 is usual in Australian childcare); no more than one change of caregiver in a year (i.e. low staff turnover); and, preferably, the same carer continuing with a particular group of children from year to year. Which gives you some idea of what to look for in a childcare centre!
  • You can't expect a childcare worker unrelated to your child to love and delight in your child. What is often lacking even in good childcare centres is the positive, joyful, spontaneous interactions which take place between a mother and child, because crying babies take attention from happy ones.
  • Infants react to separations from their mother first with 'protest' (loud crying), then 'despair' (apathy and withdrawal), then 'detachment' (the child seems to settle but is emotionally distant from the mother). Evaluating a child's response to childcare needs to take all these into account, not just lack of crying.
  • Studies show that increased hours of childcare during the early years leads to increased risk of insecure attachment between mother and child, and maternal insensitivity to the child's needs; aggression and disobedience or withdrawal and sadness during childhood; and abnormal levels of the stress hormone cortisol into the teen years. Too much early childcare may diminish a person's long-term ability to form relationships of intimacy and trust, and their ability to bond with their own children when they become parents.
  • Some infants are tough and resilient and others are tender and vulnerable, so the impact of childcare will differ from child to child.
  • Childcare may be preferable to mother-care for children of mothers with depression or mothers who don't prioritise motherhood; best quality care can also improve educational outcomes for children from lower socio-economic backgrounds
  • Penelope Leach's anonymous study found that most infant mental health professionals privately believe that it's very important for infants to have their mothers available to them for most of every 24 hours, ideally until the child is over 2 years of age (although they are often unwilling to admit this publicly).
  • Childcare workers are amongst the lowest paid in our society, leading to high staff turnover and inexperienced staff. But the childcare industry is powerful and wealthy, and unwilling to reduce profits by increasing quality of care, for example by increasing carer-infant ratios.
  • By 2007 over 25% of babies in Australia were in childcare before they were 12 months old.
  • Surveys from 24 countries show that the great majority of mothers believe that mothers should not undertake paid work that requires them to leave their children while they are of preschool age (in Australia 71% of mothers thought this; 27% favoured part-time work; and only a tiny minority favoured full-time work).
  • The cost of subsidising childcare for under-2s is similar to the cost of generous parental leave for 2 years - in Sweden, either parent can take up to 3 years' parental leave, much of it paid; they can choose between high-quality childcare or a home-care allowance (which most parents prefer); and the right to work 6-hour days on reduced salary until the child is 8. I'm moving to Sweden! :)
What are the implications for you and me? I guess to take a close look at the facts before we consider putting our children in childcare (I'd suggest that you read Steve Biddulph's Raising Babies before you read Mothering Denied). Use childcare as little as possible, especially for children under 3 - at this age, infants' main need is consistent care from an attached carer who loves them. If you do use childcare, choose your centre very carefully (see the first point above); observe your child closely for ill-effects (not just crying, but also emotional withdrawal - see the third point); and avoid the big three: too early, too much, too long.

first image is from Mothering Denied; others are from Stephane Delbecque, swo_co, and CastleGonyea at flickr

Monday, December 14, 2009

One to One: book review

Earlier this year, a friend of mine started meeting one-to-one with a new Christian to encourage her in the faith. She'd never mentored anyone before, so she asked me for advice. If she asked me now, I'd give her Sophie de Witt's One-to-One: A Discipleship Handbook.

I feel like a bit of a dill telling you to read this book, because my friends have been telling me to read it for years, and I haven't. Well, I've finally got around to it. Now it's my turn to tell you: if you haven't read it by now, it's time to get a copy or take it off the shelf!

We're all called to encourage one another as Christians. Women have a particular calling to teach and train younger women (Titus 2:3-5). One of the best ways we can do this is to meet regularly with a younger Christian one-to-one. This kind of ministry doesn't look spectacular, but it's incredibly effective, and multiplies itself over time, as those we disciple go on to disciple others.

One-to-one ministry can feel very intimidating if you've never done it. Short of setting up a hidden camera, we can't observe people as they meet with others one-to-one, so it can be hard to know what to do. What Sophie De Witt does brilliantly is to de-mystify one-to-one. She breaks it down into three simple elements:

  • pray for and with the person you're meeting with
  • open the Bible together (there are some wonderful guidelines for how to prepare a Bible passage and learn from it together)
  • build a friendship

Sophie de Witt writes from the context of uni ministry in the UK, which gives her great expertise in one-to-one ministry, so she's able to respond to many puzzling issues. How can I tell if I'm suited to mentoring someone? Who should I choose to meet with? How can I ask them to meet with me? What should we do during our first meeting? What's a good place to meet? How can I tell when someone needs professional help?

This is a very readable book. It deals with real issues in a biblical and informative way. It's not fancy and technical, but it's packed full of good, simple, practical advice. It would be a great book to read with someone you're training in one-to-one ministry. Whether you're experienced in mentoring, or whether you've never done it before, you'll benefit greatly from this book, and so will those you meet with one-to-one.

image is from jhall987 at flickr

Friday, December 11, 2009

a child's view of rain

We had the most delicious long day of heavy rain the other day. Only someone who's lived through many years of drought can understand how welcome it was.

We were running a little late in the morning because all the kids had to put on their raincoats before we left the house. As he was about to get out of the car and walk into school, Thomas looked outside and said,

"Look, Mummy, pregnant rain!"

A poet in the making.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

how I exercise (2) restarted

Why do I exercise? Why does a Christian women try to exercise for half an hour every day?

The Bible says that "physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come" (1 Tim 4:8). Now there's a verse which appeals to me. Love, service and obedience are far more important than exercise. Yes!

But the older I get, the clearer it becomes that when I don't exercise, it's these more important things that suffer. Lack of exercise hampers my joy, energy, and willingness to serve. I'm more tempted to irritability, laziness, and despondency. I'm no exercise-worshipper - far from it! - and I don't want to waste too much time and money on exercise. But when it's within my control, I want to keep my body suited to cheerfully serving God and my family.

So here it is: one busy woman's personal exercise program. Interrupted, restarted.

  • I aim for half an hour's exercise most days, after the morning school run while Andy watches Playschool (the key, I've found, is to discover a time that works well in my day)
  • when I can, I go for 30 minute's brisk walk (and have done so regularly for many, many years!). I let my thoughts drift, or pray and meditate on the Bible, or memorise a Bible passage, or listen to a talk on my iPod, or just enjoy God's world and allow it to catch up my thoughts to him.
  • twice a week I get out my weights and do this set of exercises from Strong women, strong bones:
    Chair stand
    Biceps curl
    Upward row
    Overhead press
    Side arm raise
    Back extension
    Abdominal curl
    Pelvic tilt
  • on the days when it's too wet for a walk, I get out Wii Fit and do some aerobic and balance training. (Shadow boxing and step are FUN! Jogging on the spot is not so fun, but good for the soul. Skiing down a virtual slalom course, and tipping virtual balls into holes with your feet, are definitely too much fun to be left to the kids.)*
  • I'm also discovering that when exercise does get interrupted by illness or busyness, the key is to start again as soon as I can: starting slowly (after the flu, walking was all I could manage), then building up gradually.
Okay, that's enough from me. I'm going to brush the cobwebs off my box of weights. Playschool's nearly over (oops!) and I have some exercising to do. Now.


Done. And I really do feel better for it.

*I love swimming laps too - such a meditative experience, all in watery blue, and it leaves you so deliciously all-overly relaxed! But my hair and timetable don't like me doing it often.

images are from toughkidcst and Frodrig at flickr