31 December 2009

Was 2009 the Year of Optimism?

The other day I was perusing my notebook and found a list labelled "2009". Here's what was on that list in bold print - and how I went in plain text.

Put shelf and mirror up in guest toilet. No. Still on the list.
Smoke alarms in boys' bedrooms. No. But now that we're back into fire season it is on my mind to get onto this again.
Clear out spare room. No.
Sort out the garden. Well, I've made a very small start.

Bible reading and prayer.
Being more regular, more thorough, more disciplined...it's a given on any list of goals for any year. Always room for improvement.
Be more deliberate about housework. Mmmmmm...I did sweep the floor under the table where the boys eat a lot.
Read other books - alternating fiction and non fiction. Gave up fiction except during the holidays. Small success with non fiction.
Respond to letters and emails from missionaries by email as soon as the letters have arrived. Alas, no.
Write one encouraging letter per week. Had a good month in May. Otherwise, I did what I vowed I wouldn't do. I let blogging get in the way of letter writing.

Well, at least I have saved myself a job. I don't need to think of any New Year's resolutions for 2010. I can just recycle the list from this year!!!

When I started this blog at the beginning of the year I mentioned that a friend and I had declared 2009 to be The Year of Optimism. Looking at my list of underachievements for the year you might guess that The Year of Optimism didn't live up to its designation.

But no. In fact it has been The Year of Optimism. And I think there are probably three good reasons.

Firstly, my husband and I have been married for eleven year and this has been the first year of our marriage that has been uneventful. This is the first year in eleven years that we were able to stand together, looking out on the horizon of the year ahead at the beginning of the year, without anticipating the death of a parent, the birth of a child, moving house, moving church, leaving a job, swapping from worker to student or student back to worker, a diagnosis of a serious illness, having to make a major decision that was going to be life changing. We were looking at our first ever ordinary year together. Which is not to say that stuff didn't happen. It did. But we were able to face the year more steadily because there was nothing looming when the year started.

Secondly, our youngest boy has been emerging from the toddler years. Joy. We have entered that golden five or so years when both boys are neither toddlers nor teenagers. Which again, is not to say that stuff won't happen. But as a primary school teacher, I know the primary years to be a steady time of a child's life. And we are loving it.

Thirdly, I think in declaring that this year would be the Year of Optimism up front has given me an incentive and a determination to think optimistically. It's a little trick of the mind really, a way of training the brain. Yes, there were times when I felt far from optimistic this year. However for the most part, if I said it was The Year of Optimism then I was determined that I would finish it being able to say that yes, it was The Year of Optimism.

So what of next year? The United Nations has declared it The International Year of Biodiversity - a celebration of life on earth and of the value of biodiversity for our lives where the world is invited to take action in 2010 to safeguard the variety of life on earth.

I'm going for something much simpler.
2010 - The Year of..
Yes, you'll have to come back tomorrow to find out.

28 December 2009

My Bible Reading Plan for 2010

Ever since I became a Christian I have endeavoured to read through the Bible once a year. I became more convinced of the importance of doing this in 2001 when I took a year off work to do some study at a theological college. While at college the principal commented that he reads through the Bible each year because it is his major tool of the trade. Now I am not the principal of a theological college, although one might argue that being a mother makes you the deputy principal of your own little theological college at home. But whether I am a principal or a mother or anything else, I think it's important to keep reading the Bible in a systematic, organised and disciplined way and my personal preference, at least for daily devotional reading, is to keep sweeping through the Scriptures year by year.

In terms of being systematic and organised, I have used various reading plans, some written by me and some written by others such as:
  • Starting at the beginning and reading through to the end
  • Alternating an OT book with a NT book
  • Systems that get you through the OT once and the NT twice, book by book
  • A plan that did OT book, NT book, a few Psalms, a gospel and then repeating the cycle - designed to read through the gospels many times in order to really get to know Jesus. This one was a two year project.
Now I said that I have endeavoured to read through the Bible each year. Some years have been successful and some have been anything but successful - if the measure is to get to the end of the plan by 31st December each year. There is always benefit, as long as the Scriptures are read but I have certainly floundered these last few years to get all the way through any plan I find or devise. And I always get bogged down in the same spot. Yes, you know which spot it is. Those prophets! And it has become SUCH a problem that I knew I needed to do something drastic about it in the new year.

So I have been praying about an approach to take in 2010. At the time I was praying about this, Jean wrote a post at Equip where she linked to Justin who provided this LIST of Bible reading plans in this post. (I know, too many links there! THE link to follow is probably the one in capital letters. Thank you Jean for finding this really helpful resource. Praising God for you again and again.)
In surveying the possibilities, I have decided to head in a different direction and use THIS reading plan for the year ahead. Rather than go through whole books at a time, it provides a portion of OT, a portion of NT and a Psalm every day and in the year gets through the OT once and the NT and Psalms twice. The OT and NT books are covered in sequential order so it isn't a wacky, all-over-the-place reading system, but it does break up the books each day which means that I won't have to fear wading into the Prophets for weeks and weeks on end, which does my unfit brain and timid heart in every time.
I haven't read the Bible like this in years. I'm looking forward to it. I'll let you know how it goes.

25 December 2009

A Cross from Bethlehem

I was given this small wooden cross about a month ago from another member of a committee on which we both serve. He picked it up while visiting Israel during October. It's made from the wood of an olive tree from Bethlehem. I showed it to our six year old son and explained where it came from.

With eyes as big as saucers he said, “Is Bethlehem real?”
M: Yes.
R: Where is it?
I show him on the map. I thought we had done that before, but maybe not...
M: Didn’t you think Bethlehem was a real place? Did you think it was just a place in a story?
R: I know that everything in the Bible is true, Mummy. Now I know that it is real too.

We have a mad collection of decorations for our Christmas tree. Our tree, when decorated, is no glitzy, department store, colour co-ordinated masterpiece. But it is beautiful to us because nearly every decoration has a story behind it - a Kindergarten craft masterpiece, a gift from a precious friend, a reminder of a special time - and we love to remember each story and give thanks for each special person and occasion behind the decorations as we decorate our tree. This cross from Bethlehem is one of the treasures, with its own special story, that we have added to our tree this year.

Merry Christmas, and may your hearts be filled with joy as you reflect on the One who was sent - a baby born in Bethelehem on that very first Christmas - to be our Saviour. And rejoice.

21 December 2009

More on the Mince Pies

Here are a few more tips for budding mince pie chefs.

1. Unless you are in the habit of making pies during the year, make a small first batch. Making pies once a year is a bit like making pancakes...the first ones are never very good. Best not to use up too much of your delicious home made fruit mince on dud pies.

2. Use an egg wash on the inside of the lids to stick them down and an egg and milk wash on the top of the lids. An egg wash top and bottom is just too...well...egg-y.

3. If you live in the southern hemisphere, they are best cooked first thing in the morning or else in the evening when it isn't so hot. It takes me about an hour in the preparation...and having pastry out on the bench for an hour in the heat just doesn't work. If you must bake in the heat of the afternoon, keep your pastry under a damp tea towel.

4. Trim excess pastry off the edges of the pies before you put them in the oven for the perfect pie.

5. If your fruit mix is nice and juicy, the juice will inevitably bubble out of the air holes during the cooking and run all over your pastry lids. But once the pies are out of the oven and have cooled just a little, you can actually wipe off the juice with a clean damp cloth for near perfect results. And when dusted with icing sugar they'll win awards.

6. For those, such as myself, who use pre-rolled pastry from the supermarket DO NOT use low fat pastry! Even if you have spent an hour lining your pie tins, putting in the mix, putting on the lids and getting them all ready for oven and you check the cooking time on the packet one more time and discover that you mistakenly purchased low fat pastry, even still DO NOT PROCEED hoping that it will all be OK, as I did with my second batch of 24, no less! IT WILL NOT WORK. They will not be nice. Pastry is not meant to be low fat. Low fat pastry cooks into a cardboard-like consistency and is a complete waste of good fruit mince.

With these six tips, along with the right fruit mince, you have everything you need to know to make the real deal. Enjoy.

Garden Update # 8

There hasn't been a whole lot of work on the garden lately. Since the weather warmed up most of my gardening time has been directed at keeping the lawn watered. But there are a couple of little things to report.

Firstly, an addition to the pot plants since the coriander came to its end...

...in the form of a lettuce for summer!

And because it is Christmas, a hydrangea...

...here at my spot for sitting for a quiet moment...

...because like the coriander in the pots, the marigold that used to be on this table didn't make it!

01 December 2009

Real Hope

Some real hope at Christmas - because without Christmas there is no Easter and without Easter we are without hope. This is a beautiful song by Colin Buchanan. The music is gorgeous too but it is deeply refreshing to the read the words as stand alone poetry. Be encouraged this Christmas.

Real Hope

It was a real birth in real stable
In a real dusty Judean town
And a real mother nursed her precious baby
And a bunch of wide-eyed shepherds gathered round
And real angles sang “Glory!”
For real hope was born that day.

I bet all I have on Jesus
I will throw myself on him
For the one who died a real death, for real sin
I bet all I have on Jesus
And throughout eternity
I will marvel at the real hope
That my Saviour won for me

It was a real life
He had real friends
He walked shoulder to shoulder with the lost
He wept real tears
For the fallen ones
And he anguished over sin's dreadful cost
And on a real cross he cried, "Forgive them!"
As his real life drained away.

I bet all I have on Jesus
I will throw myself on him
For the one who died a real death, for real sin
I bet all I have on Jesus
And throughout eternity
I will marvel at the real hope
That my Saviour won for me

I have real fears
I do real sin
And I hurt the ones I cherish and adore
But the real mercy
Of the true God
Sees the filthy fallen purchased and restored
And I cry "My God - O fill me
With a heart completely yours!"

I bet all I have on Jesus
I will throw myself on him
For the one who died a real death, for real sin
I bet all I have on Jesus
And throughout eternity
I will marvel at the real hope
That my Saviour won for me

(And nothing now until Monday. I am onto my once a week with a few exceptions regime until February.)