Tuesday, February 28, 2012

a glimpse into my life as a "helper"

A couple of weeks ago I published a quote about being a helper to your husband. Tamie asked,

Jean, can I ask you a personal question about how this has worked out in your own life? When did you do your PhD - before or after you got married? How did pursuing that cohere with your life and passions being wrapped up in your husband's?
I thought it might be fun to share my answer. A little glimpse into my life history. (And look! There we are, all young and skinny!)

My husband was studying theology, to prepare for work in ministry, while I was doing my PhD. I wanted to study theology too, but we couldn't afford that: I needed to work, and his studies came first, as he would be the one in full-time ministry later on. We couldn't really afford to start a family yet either (which perhaps would have been the ideal, and perhaps, looking back, we might have managed it, but there you go!). So I did a PhD in history (but really in theology) which I got a three year scholarship for. This meant I could de facto study theology, and support us financially at the same time. Our main goal was that Steve study theology and be prepared for ministry: the rest was a subsidiary of that.

Steve was also working part-time during that time as a children's and youth worker in a church. We lived on the grounds of the church, and I helped him run the kid's club once a week - hardly my first choice of ministry, but I enjoyed it all the same! He also did some unpaid, related ministry at the university campus nearby. We did this together as much as possible: I went to socials and perhaps (I can't quite remember now) I may have mentored some of the girls.

So you see I did a lot of "following" and "supporting" and "helping" as he prepared for his (our) life's "mission", if you want to put it that way!

During the last two years of my PhD - which, perhaps predictably, took longer than expected and the scholarship ran out - I did, and then we shared, a staff working job at another university. I handed in my PhD, got pregnant, and continued to minister alongside Steve on campus while I still could, until greater numbers of children made that impossible and my role became hospitality and encouragement. He kept working at that university full-time, is still there, and I'm still raising our family and supporting his work. We go to a church connected with the university ministry, and I encourage the young women there. I write (my own hobby/ministry!) and do a little paid editing work as needed by our family.

And the rest, as they say, is history! Not a perfect model, but that's how being a "helper" has worked out for me.

Monday, February 27, 2012

what I'm reading: how prayer grows as we grow from The Praying Life

The older I get, the more prayer becomes part of who I am. That's why I love what Paul Miller says about how prayer grows as we grow:

Because prayer is all about relationship, we can’t work on prayer as an isolated part of life. That would be like going to the gym and working out just your left arm. You’d get a strong left arm, but it would look odd. Many people’s frustrations with prayer come from working on prayer as a discipline in the abstract.

We don’t learn to pray in isolation from the rest of our lives...For example,...if I suffer, I learn how to pray. As I learn how to pray, I learn how to endure suffering. This intertwining applies to every aspect of the Christian life.

Since a praying life is interconnected with every part of our lives, learning to pray is almost identical to maturing over a lifetime. What does it feel like to grow up? It is a thousand feelings on a thousand different days. That is what learning to pray feels like.

So don’t hunt for a feeling in prayer. Deep in our psyches we want an experience with God or an experience in prayer. Once we make that our quest, we lose God. You don’t experience God; you get to know him. You submit to him. You enjoy him. He is, after all, a person.

Consequently, a praying life isn’t something you accomplish in a year. It is a journey of a lifetime.

Paul Miller A praying life page 2.

image is from Emily Elisabeth on flickr

Saturday, February 25, 2012

only an N could say that...

I overheard my older son Ben saying to my middle son Thomas,

"Thinking and dreaming about something is just as good as doing it."

Only an N could say that.

Although surely there's something a little Hebrews 11:13-16 about it?

At least it will save lots of money on overseas trips.

Friday, February 24, 2012

see, you're not wasting your time

From my friend Steph on Facebook:

I made some offhand comment about wasting my time reading blogs. Wal said indignantly "reading Jean Williams' is not 'wasting time". ;-)
Thanks, friends!

Let's hope they're right.

online meanderings - criticized husbands, parenting with emotion, questions about sex and other stuff

This week, I was challenged by

How to help your husband when he's criticized - "Carefully listen to what's being said. If there is something legitimate, bring that lovingly and carefully to your husband...If I observed a wife who was reluctant to correct her husband I would be concerned with that marriage." CJ and Carolyn Mahaney quoted by Tony Reinke.

Pray with your books closed - I'm all too prone to pray with them open. "The aim of our study is to know God...Marvel...Close your books and pray." Jonathon Parnell.

Hospitality and generosity in the Luther home - A home open to boarders, and a pocket-book open to the poor. Justin Taylor

A rant about the black hole of social networking - "I wonder if we added up, collectively, how many hours mankind currently wastes on social networking sites rather than real-life doing good to others, or learning a new skill, or reading a good book, or performing Noble and Brave Acts, we would be amazed and apalled." An old post from a blog newly recommended to me by Leila and Maddi.

I was encouraged by

The glories of God's sustaining grace when our prayers aren't answered - "Sometimes God is more clearly present in the sustaining grace and peace he grants when he doesn’t choose to heal in this age." John Knight

Besties and resties - Glad to know I'm not the only one who feels oh, so uncool. Glad to hear your thoughts on friendship, Bek. Sounds like a plan - a good one.

Diciplining a child is like being on a permanent diet - Disciplining children is hard, constant work. Yeah! Soph HT Nicole.

Grace for today and not a drop more - "God showed up today with enough grace to get me through the day, and he’ll show up tomorrow too. So shut up imagination." Stephen Altrogge

I was helped by

Go beyond the sex questions - What do you answer when someone asks you what's appropriate in bed? "Perhaps it’s time that we shift focus from “Can we?” and “Can’t we?” to a better question: “Why do you ask?”" Trevin Wax

Love God in front of your children - "Don't just tell your kids to love God. John Piper talks in this short clip about why it's important to model and express our feelings about God to our kids." Thanks, Nicole.

How Seinfeld's productivity secret fixed my procrastination problem - An interesting organisational tip. HT Challies

I was informed by

What to say when someone says the Bible has errors - Really helpful stuff. Something I need to read slowly so I can answer my Muslim friend. Jonathon Dodson.

My twit's view of Lent - "I’m a little uneasy at how excited everyone seems about Lent...all the urgings of the need, wisdom, or great spiritual value of giving something up or adding some special activity...The reality is Christ. Do we need anything more?" I liked this post by Sandy Grant.

Anniversary number 1 for Sunday - A fascinating post about the attack on Darwin Harbour in 1942, a stained glass window, and prayer for our armed forces. Welcome back, Sandy!

A second anniversary for Sunday - "200 years ago...Adoniram and Ann Judson sailed from Massachusetts..., apparently the first Protestant American missionaries to travel overseas...A comfortable life for their kids was not the Judsons’ great ambition." Inspiring stuff from Sandy - again!

and this made me giggle.

The glory of the stay-at-home mom - From Vitamin Z.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

gems from online: Why I hope real books never die

I might be some kind of Luddite but I love this. It's one of the reasons - the main one being cost - why I won't be getting an iPad anytime soon. Cool as they are. And I do acknowledge their coolness. And I wouldn't refuse one if you gave it to me. But all the same. Give me a book any day.

Old books are like old friends. They love to be revisited. They stick around to give advice. They remind you of days gone by...And they prefer not to be invisible....If all my books disappeared on to a microchip I might have less to lug around and I might be able to search my notes more easily, but I’d lose memory; I’d lose history; I’d lose a little bit of myself.

The other problem with ebooks is their bland sameness. This is why I can’t make it much farther than two books on any electronic device. The books don’t feel like anything. The font is the same and the white space is the same. There is no variance in paper or size or weight. Each book, when read on an ereader, loses its personality...

In a virtual world, with all its ethereal convenience, there will be many...who long for what is real. Something solid. Something you can hold. Something that hangs around even when you are finished with it. Something like a book.

Kevin Deyoung - Why I hope real books never die

image is from Sapphireblue at flickr

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

teaching our kids Two Ways to Live

The other day, my husband Steve told our four children to grab a piece of paper and a pen. Then he rolled out those old, familiar words: "God is the loving ruler of the world...".

We're teaching the gospel outline Two Ways to Live to our kids. Steve told them they'll get five dollars for every panel they get word-perfect. Actually, he wanted to give them one dollar, which says something about what a dollar was worth back when he was a child!

We figure that kids have great memories, so why not make the most of this by stuffing their heads with good things? And what better to fill their heads with than a simple gospel outline?

So far, our eight-, eleven- and thirteen-year-olds are word-perfect on the first panel. We're yet to see if the five-year-old can get his head around it. Although now I think about it, jelly-beans might be a better bribe reward for him than a five dollar note.

Oh, and we're getting the Two Ways to Live app on our daughter's iPod.

(By the way, please don't think our family is super-spiritual because I write about all the ways we teach our kids the Bible! We vary what we do from week to week and year to year. You'd never find us doing everything I've talked about in a single week. In fact, some days you won't find us doing anything at all!)

This post first appeared at The Briefing.

image is by Andy, age 5

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

a question for you: what does a woman's model of evangelism look like?

It seems I'm not alone. A few women agreed with an odd little statement I made last week:

I’m not sure where my mental image of “evangelism” comes from. I know one thing, though: it doesn’t look like me. It’s masculine and argumentative, maybe because much that’s written about evangelism is by men.
To which Bec said:

I think the point about masculine, argumentative evangelism is excellent. Something for me to think through further. I reckon there might even be a post in it too - what does a woman's model of evangelism look like in practice? - if you're up for it! And how do we do better at training younger women to think like this rather than the masculine model.
They're excellent questions, but I have no idea how to answer them. Can you help me?.

  1. What do you think a "woman's model of evangelism" might look like in practice?

  2. How could we do better at training younger women to think like this rather than the masculine model?

To leave a comment click here.

Monday, February 20, 2012

what I'm reading: time-wasting on the internet from The Picket Fence

I've been wondering recently just how much time it's possible to fill up with online meanderings and Facebookings and Tweetings and such, so this is timely.

I wonder if we added up, collectively, how many hours mankind currently wastes on social networking sites rather than real-life doing good to others, or learning a new skill, or reading a good book, or performing Noble and Brave Acts, we would be amazed and apalled. Such a generous way for the devil to make us all completely dull and ineffective as human beings...

If every social networking aspect of the internet were to crash, we would get on, we would make do, we would still have friends. Maybe more genuine friends. And maybe more time to love our neighbour, too.

I discovered this gem in Cath's A rant about the black hole of social networking from The Picket Fence, recommended to me by Leila and Maddi. Thanks girls!

image is by Write From Karen from flickr

Saturday, February 18, 2012

not so small anymore

Conversation between my daughter and her "baby" brother.

Andy, you're cute!

I'm at school now. I'm not small and cute.

What are you then?

I'm big and tricky. I will trick you really easily. You had better get out of this room or I will trick you.

Friday, February 17, 2012

online meanderings - bedroom imaginings, helping the grieving, homeschooling and other stuff

My top picks for the week were

An intrusion into the Christian bedroom - "Christian bedrooms, I suspect, are doing less well than we think. Friskiness, when it exists, too often relies on illicit imaginations. Our consciences can be sexually reckless. So we aim for a sanctified sexual imagination." Ed Welch.

When good lives are bad news - "I tell people who are rejecting Jesus as Lord to repent, find joy in Christ and change their ways. I tell people who are rejecting Jesus as Saviour to do --- nothing. Stop. Listen. ‘It is finished.’ There is nothing left to do." Tim Chester.

I was encouraged by

Once more, with any feeling - "It’s clearly not sinful to feel nervous or scared while obeying God; it’s probably not even unusual!" Well that's a relief, the way I've been feeling. Great stuff from Rachel, on her way to Mongolia.

Don't give up - Why am I so tired? "In embracing the gospel we find ourselves...drafted into a war...And wars are exhausting — especially long ones. That’s why you are often tired." Jon Bloom

20 ways Satan may seek to destroy you this week - Straight from the Bible. Here's one that often affects me: "He may try to cripple your effectiveness through confusion, discouragement, and despair" (2 Cor 4:8-9).

Introverted - So you're introverted? So what?! Challies says some good stuf about what to do with personality categories like "introverted".

What to do when someone you know dies - A helpful post on how to respond to someone who's just lost someone. Rebecca.

CS Lewis on the danger of love - "The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell." CS Lewis quoted by Jonathon Parnell.

I enjoyed

Because sin is everywhere - "Sometimes God intervenes in postpartum depression with a miracle, and then other times, you just look at the options, piece together a plan, and muddle through to the other side- simply thankful to have made it there."

"Writers do well to engage one of two things: great content or a willingness to bleed a little bit in public. The best have both; the worst have neither." Amy

The down side of school at home - Good on you, Rachael! A balanced and helpful post on homeschooling. I'm glad I don't have to do it, but I would if our kids needed me to, and I admire those who do.

Interview with Don Carson on the TGC Women's Conference - "I would love to see far more churches utilizing the gifts and training of women, whether in paid staff positions or not — positions that are shaped by complementarian confessionalism and simultaneously encouraging, liberating, gospel-focused. Our churches could do with a lot more women in the heritage of Priscilla, Phoebe, Euodia, and Syntyche." Amen to that!

Fitting in what really matters - A helpful reminder from Jenny about the importance of the God-stuff when filling your child or teen's week.

Valentine the brave - "A godly husband, then is not one who four times a year takes up the aggravating task of trying to be relational, in order to keep his wife from getting grumpy." RC Sproul HT Challies.

Study the word for more than words - Another helpful post in the "How to stay a Christian at seminary" series.

and I was puzzled by

Love: a new commandment - I think Carolyn McCulley is wonderful. But the tendency to listen for God's voice in the silence disturbs me (as does the emphasis on fasting, but that's another issue). Something I've noticed among some Gospel Coalition folk.

Oh, and you've got to check these out.

Two Ways to Live app - I'm getting it for my daughter's iPod!

An update from John Piper (and an offer too good to refuse) - "We are putting all of our books and resources on sale for $5 or less."

Thursday, February 16, 2012

gospel speech at our school

Late last year I wrote about praying for our school and loving people at our school. Today I conclude my mini-series with the bit I find the hardest: gospel speech.

I’m no saleswoman. I don’t have the thick skin, the showmanship, or the gift of the gab. But apparently, that’s not what I need to help people get to know Jesus. The best salespeople, I’m told, show genuine concern and sympathy, and believe in what they’re talking about.1 That sounds a bit more like me. I can love; I can believe; I can pray. But I also have to open my mouth and speak.

That, I’m not so good at. Clever ideas for gospel conversations run off me like water off a waxed car. I’ll never be one of those gifted individuals who can turn a chat about graffiti into a conversation about Jesus. Instead, my tongue ties itself in knots, and only later do I have that lights-on moment when I realize, yes, that’s what I could have said. I’m queen of the sweaty palms, the awkward silence, and the fumbling answer.

I’m beginning to realize that it doesn’t have to be so hard. Speaking about the gospel isn’t some obscure skill I have to master. I don’t have to become like someone else to do it. In fact, it’s not even something I “do”, an added extra to my faith. It’s just me being who I am, chatting about the things that really matter to me. So what I want to do here isn’t to talk about gospel outlines or apologetics, useful as they are.2 Instead, I want to share ten things that have made gospel speech more natural and joyous for me.

  • Close the gap
    When I’m with Christians, I’m relaxed and open: I share what God has been teaching me and talk about my struggles. When I’m with others, I’m cautious and reserved: I weigh what I say and look for rejection in their eyes. It’s exhausting. I’m tired of being two people! It’s time to close the gap. It’s time to talk the same way whoever I’m with. There’s something deeply attractive about people who talk about their faith with enthusiasm and warmth. What have I got to lose?

  • Don’t assume people will respond in a certain way
    For so long, I’ve assumed that people will respond badly if I talk about Jesus. They’ll be bored. They’ll be offended. They’ll be embarrassed. Inevitably, this makes me nervous, and invites the very reaction I’m trying to avoid: I’m embarrassed, so they are too. To my surprise, I’ve found that people are often interested in what I believe. One woman even wanted to read the Bible with me! It took years to work up the courage to ask her; now I’m kicking myself for not asking sooner.

  • Speak the way you speak
    I’m not sure where my mental image of “evangelism” comes from. I know one thing, though: it doesn’t look like me. It’s masculine and argumentative, maybe because much that’s written about evangelism is by men. It’s extroverted and eloquent, like my gifted female friends. Lionel Windsor says, “Different people will speak the gospel in different ways.” Phew! I’m introverted, relational and reflective, so these things will characterize my gospel speech, and that’s just fine.

  • Talk about your life with God (and do it from the start)“I’ve been praying for you”; “We went to church on the weekend”; “I’ve been thinking about…”: there are lots of little ways to talk about God without explaining the whole gospel. Some people show further interest; some don’t. I’m learning to put it out there and see where it goes. It’s important to do this right from the start: this avoids that embarrassing “Oh, gosh, I never let them know I was a Christian” moment.

  • Listen more than you talk
    “Do twice as much listening as talking”: so says my friend Ben Pfahlert. I’ve got a long way to go on this! Too often, I shut off a conversation by talking about what I think instead of asking others what they think. Next time someone tells me they’ve got a Catholic-Charismatic background (something that happened to me recently) I hope I’ve got the good sense to ask them to tell me more about what that was like, what stopped them being part of it, and where they’re at now.

  • Get ready to answer the questions you know are coming
    We all know what the questions are likely to be: “How are you?”; “What do you do?”; “What are your plans?”. Why not get ready to include God in the topics you know are coming? It’s a little corny, but sometimes I rehearse – out loud – what I want to say. “My father-in-law died, but I know he’s gone to be with Jesus” rolls more easily off the tongue when I’ve practised, or at least thought about, what to say.

  • Live differently – and be ready to explain why
    Here’s a fine moment from the life of me. I was chatting to a friend when she said, “I can’t believe how some parents over-protect their daughters, not letting them go out with guys and stuff.” Through my mind ran the words, “Well, actually, that’s pretty close to how we plan to raise ours”, but I laughed sheepishly and didn’t say anything. Later, I realised that living in a way that’s shockingly different can be a good thing, because it gives me a chance to explain why we live the way we do.

  • Relax
    One of my friend’s friends told her that when she talks about her faith she sounds anxious and unnatural. That’s a little close for comfort! Telling yourself to relax can be a bit like trying not to think of a purple hippo (try it now), but it helps me all the same. I remind myself that this isn’t the Roman arena: it’s just a chance to chat about something I care about. I take a deep breath, smile, and make eye-contact. It can also help to admit, “I’m a little nervous telling you this. Would you mind if I talked about it?”.

  • Get lots of practice - and make lots of mistakes
    I think the main reason I find gospel speech hard is that I don’t get much practice. It took time to learn to lead a Bible study: why do I expect this to be any different? The more I talk about my faith, the easier it gets. I make heaps of mistakes; but instead of berating myself, I try to learn, apologise (if needed), and do better next time. In the meantime, I remind myself that God is sovereign: he’s the one who chose me to be part of these people’s lives.

  • Bring it all back to Jesus
    In the end, it’s Jesus I want people to meet. It’s the gospel – the good news of his life, death and resurrection – that will bring people to him. So that’s where I want my conversations to end up. If I can bring every question back to Jesus; if I can talk about the hope I have in him; if I can read a gospel with a friend: well, that’s half the battle. The rest happens as God’s Spirit works in people’s hearts.
This probably all sounds very upbeat. The truth is, I find talking about my faith difficult. I battle fear, laziness and inertia. It’s easier not to bother. But to my never-ending surprise, when I start chatting about Jesus, I discover an openness in people’s hearts (because God is at work in them), and a joy in my own heart (because God is at work in and through me), beyond anything I expected. And if I can learn to talk about my faith, anyone can!

1. See Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, The Trellis and the Vine, pages 169-170.
2. I’m not sure I would have any confidence in explaining and defending my faith without the evangelism training course Two Ways To Live and books like Paul Barnett’s Is the New Testament History?.

This post first appeared at The Briefing.

image is by activefree at flickr

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

when all your kids go to school

I've been writing and re-writing this post in my head. How do you sum up the end of one season of life and the beginning of a new one? The answer is: you don't. But here are a few thoughts that occur to me.

Well, I've finally done it. Thirteen years of parenting, and my youngest is in school. I can't quite believe it. I catch my breath, and the world spins by.

There's a mixture of grief and relief. Grief that my littlest boy will no longer be around, asking me to play. Grief for those small interruptions in my day when I downed tools and sat down for a jigsaw, a book, a game - or just a cuddle. I see young mothers pass by, holding their toddlers by the hand, and my own hands felt empty.

But I won't deny that I also feel relief. Relief that - finally! - there is a stretch of time in my day when I can just be. Be by my blessed self. Like all introverts, time alone is - well, how can I put it? It's a bench where you catch your breath on an uphill hike. It's a clearing in the forest where you lie back and disappear into the sky. It's the plunge of hot skin into an icy stream. (Sorry about the purple prose, but that's how I feel about time by myself. Purplish.) Without solitude, I grow small and shrunken. I gasp for breath. I prickle.

There are benefits for the kids, too. When they get home from school - wonder of wonders! - I actually feel like spending time with them. Instead of fighting the urge to escape to the computer, I sit on the couch with my daughter and we chat like civilized grown-ups. I make milk-shakes with energy instead of reluctance. I ask my sons if they want to play a game, and they're the ones that refuse me. Not sure how I'd do home-schooling!

As for those thirteen years with young children at home, I've realised one thing: they were really tough! If you're in the middle of them, here's my advice: don't be surprised or dismayed if you're exhausted and get nothing done. I got some medical tests a year ago to work out why I was so tired. They came back with every box ticked: yes, I was in perfect health. I was just plain tired. With every year that passed, every child that was born, I got tireder and tireder. I got less and less done. That's just the way it is during that season.

(But oh, the joys! The naked new babies with their soft, wrinkled skin and that indefinable new-baby smell. The ridiculous pigtails askew on my toddler daughter's head. The tender curve of a boy's head under his newly-cut hair. The books - endless books! - that we read together. The games that we played, and the tumbling wrestling cuddles.)

This new season isn't all blessed solitude and after-school reunions. There's a vagueness to my days that disturbs me. You see, I've decided not to take on huge new work or ministry responsibilities - not yet. I've been advised by many friends to treat this as a year of recovery and adjustment: a year of grace. I want to feel my way into the shape of my days before I take on new tasks.

I like control. I like structure. I grow tired of the question, "What are you going to do now the kids are all at school?" It's not easy for me to sit lightly to order and organisation and regular commitments. But I think this is where God wants me this year, and perhaps for many years: being present for my husband and growing children, making a home, giving time to relationships outside the home (Titus 2:3-5, 1 Timothy 5:9-10). If life is vague and unstructured - if, at times, I feel like a waste of space, or like I'm lost in space - well, God knows and determines my path. I'm learning to put my hand in his and feel for each step of the way.

The days slowly fill. I invest in relationships with neighbours and mums at school. I get to know younger women at church. I look around the house, and all the jobs I didn't do during the last thirteen years vie for my attention. I read the books I haven't had time for. I write. I'm grateful for space to do these things. I'm sure they will gradually coalesce into some kind of routine.

So what will I be doing this year? I wrote down three words in my journal the other day: "Wait. Trust. Depend." That seems like a good place to start.

image is by from flickr

Monday, February 13, 2012

the unhappiness of Western mothers: Christine Mallouhi's Miniskirts, Motherhood and Muslims

I've been getting to know a lovely Muslim woman at school. Our sons are best friends, and we've had several in-depth chats about our different faiths. It's highlighted for me what a wonderful time of life this can be, with abundant opportunities to get to know women you'd never usually meet.

I want to bring honour to my friend. I want my life to adorn the things I say. And so I've been trying to think about what an honourable life might look like to her (it's a little challenging, as I consider issues like dress, hospitality, and relationships). The book that's been really helping me is Christine Mallouhi's Miniskirts, Mothers and Muslims.

As I read it on Saturday I came across an amazing passage about the lonely life of many Western mothers. There's some great stuff here about motherhood, ministry, family, and singleness. The quote is quite long, but take the time to read it if you can! It's worth every word.

The recent pattern of daily life where the woman is alone in the house with young screaming children to care for, while the man is out all day earning a wage, is not a common model of the family in world history...A common factor is the unhappiness of the women. "Who am I?" and "What can I do that counts?" are painful questions for many young Christian mothers. Whether women are living overseas or at home in the West, many spend years feeling frustrated that they can't be "out ministering" because they have young children at home to care for...

How many Christian mothers have felt unfulfilled and useless as ambassadors of Christ, because time is taken up with changing nappies and mopping up mess? Since mothers will spend about ten years of their lives primarily consumed in family care and the rest of their lives centred on it, they need a biblical perspective. If the real way to serve Christ is only street-evangelism and teaching the Bible, then Christians should get full-time help for the house and the children. But, since God made motherhood and desires responsible parenthood, as well as the fulfilment of the Great Commission, God must have a plan for mothers...

The home and children are not in the way, keeping women from "ministry". They are the ideal vehicle for a ministry to families and every woman in the church has the opportunity for this kind of full-time work. Family ministry is so badly needed in the West with the breakdown of the family unit. So many young people have never experienced a loving family and have no models.

In Arab culture, raising children is not something you do in your own home away from the community. There are many Western full-time mothers caring for young children at home all day and struggling with depression because they lack adult conversation...This is one area Western Christians can really celebrate in Muslim societies. Local women don't stay home alone with their small children. They raise their children with other women's children. They send the day with their sisters or friends, and while the children all play together, the women spend hours talking. Let's celebrate this wonderful advantage in cultures that love babies and small children. Children are a perfect bonding mechanism. If you have small children you should never be lonely...

As in many societies, there is more that one "mother and father"...The other "mothers and fathers" also give a lot of affirming love...The sharing of children enables single Westerners to be aunts and uncles and fulfil some of their need for family. Arab children [and Indian and Pakistani children] call all unrelated adults "Uncle" and "Aunt". It is a term of respect for age, but also one that symbolises the connection of society as an extended family.
My children call their Indian and Pakistani friends' mothers "Auntie". It's a term that puts our cold, (in)formal relationships with other people's children to shame. These women greet my children with such warmth, treating them like their own children! I have an immense amount to learn from them, as I seek to enter their culture, learn about what they believe, and share my life and hope in Jesus.

From Christine Mallouhi Miniskirts, Mothers and Muslims pages 120-122.

With thanks to Nicole, who posted this quote way back in 2009. When I searched for it on the internet (much easier than typing from scratch!) it was 168hrs that came up! Funny that the same quote jumped out at both of us. I'm sure she won't mind me repeating it, with a few changes.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

an interview with Andy about school

My son Andy started school just over a week ago. Compared to my other kids, he's remarkably chatty when he gets home! Here's what he told me after his first day at school.

So what's school like? Is it very long?

It goes for millions and millions of years.

Are you tired out?

Oh yes, it was a long day. Even when you're in the first year of school, why does it have to take so long?

Do you do work yet?

We don't do work, we just do fun stuff like playing around. That kind of thing.

Did you have sport or art?

Well, Mum, I tell you what. We done our sport till we went home.

What did you do with Ben [his big brother] at playtime?

We weren't really playing anything. We walked around doing stupid stuff.

Anything else to tell me about school?

All of the guys at school when you're not counting the teachers are kids!!! Big kids, small kids, all kinds of kids! Because you're not at school when you're a grown-up. Because when you're a grown-up, straight away you'll stop school.

Friday, February 10, 2012

online meanderings - ordinariness, self-image, suffering and other stuff

This week, I enjoyed

Singleness and searching for your "mythos" - Another bittersweet post by Ali. *sigh* I could read her all day.

How can I love seven billion neighbours? - part 1 and part 2 - Really helpful stuff from Tim Chester.

Reality "snapshot" of mission teams - A fascinating description of the good and bad of mission teams by Steve (see also 10 things to remember after a Summer mission trip). HT Justin Taylor.

I was encouraged by

Nine good purposes in our suffering - Rebecca shares some reflections on the purpose in suffering.

An ordinary podcast - Feeling ordinary? "God’s will for me, and indeed for most of us, is to be extraordinarily ordinary." Challies.

Jesus chooses and uses failures - Feeling like a failure? A beautiful post by Jon Bloom.

Concept of self - A helpful post from Rachael on self-image and beauty.

I was challenged by

A heart of hospitality - "We practice hospitality because we have first received hospitality." Sounds about right to me! From Nicole.

Wealth, privacy, relationships - Cathy talks about the link between wealth and community.

A passing thought on receiving criticism from Dane (HT Challies)

Darrin Patrick on being and building men -"When you become a leader...you plug your life into an amplifier and everyone hears it." "You have to have some guys who aren’t impressed with you. You need elders who tell you no." Shared by Jonathon Parnell.

and I'd now like to

watch this free online production of Hamlet that finally makes sense, says Justin Taylor

give to my kids - and read myself - this history of the whole world recommended by Justin Taylor

regularly read the The Journal of Biblical Counselling, now free online

check out the bookish blog Sarah's postcardsnaps (thanks Jenny)

read along with the series Gospel-centred Life: "This month is a little different for EQUIP bookclub as we’re looking at three books instead of one. While we’ll focus on Gospel-centred Life, we’ll also be road-testing Gospel-centred Family and having a brief look at Gospel-centred Marriage." Fantastic, short, very readable books. Bring it on!

Monday, February 6, 2012

what I'm reading: being a "helper" from Challies

Today I'm posting a quote from Challies about what it means to be a "helper" in marriage. It's a really helpful reminder to me of what it means to be a "helper" to Steve. I hope it helps you too. (There are a lot of "helps" in that paragraph!)

You are his helper, which means your life is wrapped up in his. Whatever he longs to be, however he intends to use his gifts and passions and calling, you are to join him in that. His mission is your mission, his calling is your calling, his passion is your passion. So join him, serve him, love him, respect him and you will be your part in this portrait, this image of the real marriage.
See Genesis 2:15-25; Ephesians 5:22-33.

From A picture perfect marriage II

Friday, February 3, 2012

the arithmetic of love #2

"How did Andy's first day at school go?", I hear you ask.

So well that he now not only wants to replace his Mummy, but his Daddy too. He had sport with Mr. Gray. When he got home, he said:

"Mr Gray's funny! He said, 'I'm not called Mr Green or Mr Blue or Mr Polkadot!'"

"Do you wish he was your Daddy?" (No, I don't usually ask this question. The reason I did is here.)

"Well of course I do! Mr Gray's much more funnier than Daddy!"

Apologies to all who received this post already - my mistake!

online meanderings - failure, singleness, love and other stuff

There was much wealth this week on the internet. Much that encouraged me and made me think. Comfort in failure and in sorrow. Gold. (And a lot of Challies.)

On loving and speaking.

How do you love the way Jesus loves? - The very question I've been asking about the year ahead. I'm adding this to my reading list. A book by Phil Ryken reviewed by Justin Taylor.

Evangelism uncomplicated - Cathy says lots of things about relaxing into evangelism - things I'm finding to be true in my own life.

On sorrow, discouragement and failure.

Looking forward - I love the way Amy writes. I love this post. Hope expressed in small things, in the face of sorrow.

Crushed (written)/(podcast) - Challies talks honestly about his struggle with pride and failure when his sermons, books and blog posts don't measure up to his standards, or to others' achievements. How comforting it is to know that I am not alone! - and that "all is well with my soul".

Post prayer satanic whispers - A truly helpful post for all who feel discouraged about their prayers (hands up, everyone!) by David Murray. HT Challies.

Self-centredness in woundedness - "'Woundedness’ is compounded self-doubt and guilt, resentment and disillusionment...As badly wounded as persons may be, the resulting self-absorption of the human heart was not caused by the mistreatment. It was only magnified and shaped by it.'" A really helpful post by Ali quoting a chapter from the Keller's book on marriage.

On failure in parenting.

For parents who have failed - Such comfort! "Even if we haven’t gotten it all right, even if we’ve trained little Pharisees or have a house full of prodigals." We've got both kinds. We are both kinds. But we have God's grace. From Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson's Give Them Grace via Justin Taylor.

Parents beware: Proverbs are not promises - Why we can't assume that because the kids turn out badly, the parents have done a lousy job. David Mathis quotes Richard Pratt HT Challies (yes, that's another 4-way link.)

On the related topic of raising boys.

Raising boys: A pep talk on The Talk - Jeff Robinson discusses a book which looks worth reading: Time for The Talk: Leading Your Son Into True Manhood (Shepherd Press) by Steve Zollos.

CS Lewis on "little cyclones" (young boys) - Now I know why I'm sometimes (often!) so tired. The main refrain of our holidays: "Quieten down! GO OUTSIDE!". Tony HT Challies.

On singleness.

How to serve "the singles" in the local church - A very helpful article by Carolyn McCulley.

On communication: oral, written and technological.

A short history of communication - "In an oral culture...word-for-word accuracy was less important than thought-for-thought accuracy." Challies answers a question I have long had about the differences between the gospels.

Empty minds, empty hearts, empty lives - “We are becoming symbiotic with our computer tools...The experience of losing our Internet connection becomes more and more like losing a friend.' ...What we are seeing is the death of memory." Challies is helpful, as always, when discussing the impact of technology on memory and friendship.

On humanity.

Pondering Psalm 139 - Ashley, a woman with a disability, writes, "I believe with every fiber of my being that I was no accident...My heart grieves for the little ones gone and the mothers and fathers who never held their tiny bodies or kissed their sweet new skin. No earthly thing can fill a chasm so deep as a child lost. The grace of the cross, though, is a greater thing than the weight of our sin, and redeeming love awaits us all."

Where does blackness and whiteness come from? - "The genetic difference between blacks, whites, browns, etc. is so marginal that we’re left to affirm Acts 17:26: 'He made from one blood all nations of men.'”

In China, human costs are built into an iPad - The human cost of our toys. (The last three are all HT Challies.)

On everything.

Nothing nothing - This quote keeps popping into my mind. I used it to discuss the existence of God with my eight-year-old just the other day. "The first basic answer is that everything that exists has come out of absolutely nothing...Now, to hold this view, it must be absolutely nothing. It must be what I call nothing nothing. It cannot be nothing something or something nothing." Francis Shaeffer quoted by Challies.

And just for fun.

A rap for crochet - For my friend Jenny, crochet-er extraordinaire. Well done, Ali! But when do I get mine?

I must write something again some time - Please do, Meredith! (But only if you're putting your family and other relationships first, and have fulfilled all your primary responsibilities, and aren't just doing it out of people-pleasing, and, and, and... :) )

Thursday, February 2, 2012

the end of an era - and the start of a new one

My littlest started school today. I'm feeling sad, but hopeful too: Andy looked very happy at school!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

what I'd like to read in 2012

One of the best things about a new year is that you can read books during it. Just think! Books to read! And all that unused time to do it in!

It's a sad fact, but I didn't post a reading list at the end of 2010, thus breaking a proud two-year tradition. I was feeling more than a little burnt out, and a grand plan for reading lots of challenging books was low on my priority list. Rightly so, as it turns out: I did very little Christian reading last year. Instead, I took the year off to rest with my family.

But I am now re-energised! Re-enthused! Re-invigorated! Ready to do some serious reading! And what better year to do it in? For the first time, all my kids will be at school, and I'm not taking on any major new challenges. So I should have plenty of discretionary time to delve into some good books.

As usual, as I dream happily about what to read, I think in terms of topics. What would I like to learn more about? Where is God stretching and challenging me? What responsibilities do I have? Here are eleven topics that occur to me, with the books I'd like to read on those topics - as well as a few I've read already.

Every year I try to read at least one book about Jesus, because he matters more than anything, and because my eyes are all too easily drawn away from him. In 2010 it was CJ Mahaney's Living the Cross-Centred Life. This year, Tim Chester's The Ordinary Hero is looking eagerly at me from my shelf. My friend also recommended Tim Keller's King's Cross, because it's a great book to give to friends. And to read too, I hope!

The Bible
You might remember that I'm attempting to read the Bible through in a year or two. I'm about to get to the prophets, and they don't make much sense if you don't know when and why they spoke! So I've just ordered Mark Dever's The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made and The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept. I'm planning to read one of his whole-book sermons before I read each book of the Bible.

I've been ve-e-e-ry slowly working my way through Paul Tripp's Lost in the Middle: Midlife and the Grace of God for two years, and I'm one chapter from the end. This book has helped me in all kinds of profound ways. It's been my own personal guide to the confusion of mid-life, but it's so much more than that. I'd give it to a 20 year old to read! It's a book about the dreams we build for our life, and what happens when these dreams fail. It looks at big issues like idolatry, identity, values, control, regret, decay and suffering from the perspective of God's story.

I deal with technology just about every day of my life (don't we all?). I blog, email, Facebook, and even, these days, Tweet. I've always had mixed feelings about the impact of this on my godliness and relationships. I don't usually read Christian books during our vacation, but I gobbled up Tim Challies' The Next Story, which tells you how much fun it was to read! It's an invaluable guide to using technology in a God-honouring way. The questions at the end of the chapters are fantastic.

Sharing my faith
If you don't want your life to change, here's a hint: don't pray. At the start of last year, I made a mistake an excellent decision: to pray with some friends about sharing our faith. By the end of the year I had a bunch of new opportunities and relationships. I'd like to learn how to make the most of them! I've just finished John Dickson's The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission, which gave me heaps of ideas. I'd also like to read Mark Dever's The Gospel and Personal Evangelism and Christine Mallouhi's Miniskirts, Motherhood and Muslims.

This is one area I'd really like to grow in this year. And what does a book-worm do when they want to grow? They read, of course! I've just finished the latest prayer-book doing the rounds - Paul Miller's A Praying Life - and while I don't agree with everything he says, especially about listening to God, I was greatly encouraged by this book. I'm currently reading the heavier Praying by JI Packer's and Carolyn Nostrum: I'll tell you how it goes. Do you know of any other good books about prayer?

Biblical womanhood
Sometimes I dream of writing my own book about biblical womanhood, perhaps focusing on equipping women for ministry to other women. So it's about time I did some more reading on the topic! Top of the list are some excellent books I've dipped into but never read cover-to-cover: Kisten Birkett's The Essence of Feminism, Sharon James' God's Design for Women, Carolyn McCulley's Radical Womanhood, and Mary Kassian's The Feminist Mistake. We'll see how many I get through!

When I made my 2009 reading list, I decided to read about some of my primary areas of responsibility: marriage, motherhood and homemaking. I hate reading this kind of book, so I wasn't looking forward to it! I've been pleasantly surprised - mainly because I pick books that don't do the "perfect housewife" thing, but encourage and challenge me from the Bible. Last year my husband and I read John Piper's excellent This Momentary Marriage. This year, we're thinking of reading Christopher Ash's Married for God (which I've dipped into and love), Tim Keller's The Meaning of Marriage, and/or Tim Chester's Gospel Centred Marriage.

For my daughter (and my sons)
My thirteen-year-old daughter and I are slowly reading Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Whitacre's Girl Talk, and we're enjoying it. It's helped us talk about all kinds of issues we wouldn't otherwise discuss. My husband and I are also enjoying Paul Tripp's Age of Opportunity, about parenting teens: if you read one book on raising teenagers, try this one! I'd also like to trial Alex and Brett Harris' Do Hard Things so I can give it to our kids to read.

What's on your reading list this year?