Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

26 April 2010

For SMR with my love and prayers.

You are near–yes, Lord, I feel it–
You are near wherever I rove;
And though sense would try conceal it,
Faith often whispers it to love.

Am I fearful? You will take me
Underneath Your wings, my God!
Am I faithless? You will make me
Bow beneath Your chastening rod.

Am I drooping? You are near me,
Near to bear me on my way;
Am I pleading? You will hear me–
Hear and answer when I pray.

Then, O my soul, since God does love you,
Faint not, droop not, do not fear;
For, though His heaven is high above you,
He Himself is ever near.

by Octavius Winslow

24 April 2010

Hooray for Godparents # 3

So this is the bit where we really say HOORAY FOR GODPARENTS because here are...

Four Ways Godchildren can Bless their Godparents

1. Pray.
Encourage your child to pray for their godparents every now and then - a simple prayer of thanksgiving when they have been blessed by their godparents and simple prayers of intercession if their godparents are facing a difficult situation and it is appropriate to share this information.  Over time, as capacity to pray grows, encouraged your children to keep their godparents in their prayers. And at odd times engineer a way to help your children let their godparents know they are praying for them - what an encouragement that will be.

2. Remember Christmas and birthdays.
Encourage your child to draw a picture, make a card, send a card, write a letter, cook something, make something...for their godparents' birthdays and for Christmas.  We try, each year, to give our boys' godparents an up to date photo of the boys at Christmas time...although sometimes it happens well after Christmas if the run up to 25th December gets all too hard.

3. Share the news.
Keep the godparents in the loop.  If something amazing happens, let them know.  If possible, get the children to let them know.  Share the news of the first lost tooth, the broken arm, the standing ovation at the ballet concert, the excellent exam result, the removal of the training wheels.  And keep the godparents informed when there are difficulties too - anxiety about an exam, a reluctance to attend church, troubles at school - so that they can pray specifically.

4. Encourage gratitude.
Help the children grow in awareness of the blessings of godparents - their prayers, their gifts, their time, their concern.  And build up in the children an armoury of ways to say thank you - actually speaking those words ("thank you!"), a card or picture, a phone call or email or text or..., and prayers of thanksgiving.  It is good to cultivate gratitude in any case and HOORAYS FOR GODPARENTS - priceless.

To our boys' godparents - our heartfelt thanks. 
We are thankful to God for the way you love and care for them
and for the way you truly show how wonderful it is to be members of God's family.

22 April 2010

Hooray for Godparents # 2

Four Ways Godparents can Bless their Godchildren

1. Pray.
* Pray for your godchild's salvation as they travel through the stages of knowing Jesus as their friend, then Saviour and then Lord. 
* Pray for their love of God's Word, for their love of prayer and for their love of attending church.
* Pray that they will find a friend or two of their own age who is walking the same journey and pray that they will be  a great witness to their other friends and not be led astray.
* Pray for their day to day lives.
* Pray for their future - to press on in their relationship with God - that this might be their main purpose - and for a spouse who loves God.
* Pray for gratitude in the good times and grace and a godly perspective in the hard times.
* Pray for their parents - as they raise your godchild, for their relationship with God and for their marriage.

2. Celebrate Christmas, Easter and othe Significant Moments.
* Make the most of Christmas and Easter - this is your moment.  Our boys' godparents gave us an advent calendar for our first son's first Christmas and every year, just before December, we receive the goodies for the pockets - readings, questions, activities, a book to follow along and so.
* This year we started reciprocating (we're a bit slow around here) with fifteen empty eggs with readings leading up to Easter.  Next year I aim to be a bit more organised and less "thrown together" about this.
* If that is too complex, give books (colouring in books, activity books, story books and as the children get older, detailed books about Christmas and Easter.)  Find some way to promote Christmas and Easter every year.
* Send a card each year to mark the anniversary of their baptism/dedication.  If you are godparenting in an unofficial capacity, choose a random time of the year to send a card (at the same time each year) with the specific purpose of reminding them that you are praying for them and to encourage them along in their journey.
* Send cards, texts, emails...or make a phone call to mark other important occasions like starting school or going on a first overseas holiday or getting braces put their teeth or doing an important exam or...

3. Remember birthdays.
* Presents are good.  I try to give something with a Christian slant to our godchildren but I mix it up with games, toys, clothes and the like.  I have a friend who gives her goddaughter new (funky)  pyjamas every birthday.
* In your birthday card don't forget to mention that you pray for your godchild often and to spur them on as they get to know Jesus as their friend, Saviour and Lord.
* Give them a framed photo of yourself for their own room with something like "I pray for you" written on the frame.

4. Be a mentor. (This works best if you live in the same city!)
* In their early days, visit a lot.  Make sure they know you.
* Be a great role model.  As our boys' godparents promised, show them that being in God's family is great.
* Talk about Jesus with them. I have a friend who makes a point of always slipping something about God into conversations when her children's friends are around.  She wants to be known as "that lady who always talks about the Bible."
* As they get older, take your godchild out every now and then - for food, to a movie, to something they like to do.  Hang out and give them every opportunity to chat, ask questions and open up.
* Again, as they get older, make sure they have your phone number, mobile number, email address, that they are friends with you on Facebook - whatever is easy, quick and contemporary at the time to make yourself available.

Any other ideas?

List caveat: Don't attempt to do everything on this list by the end of the week.  In fact, don't attempt to do everything on this list.  Most especially, don't be overwhelmed. Choose one or two things that will work for you. 

20 April 2010

Hooray for Godparents # 1

Are you a godparent?  Do your children have godparents?  Maybe you don't have children or godchildren but you might have a niece or nephew.  Or a special little friend at church.  Maybe you have a special bond with a certain friend's child but it was just never formalised. 

Godparents, official or otherwise, have a great opportunity to be a rich blessing in the lives of their godchildren.  Here are the promises our boys' godparents*  made to them both.

1. To pray for our boys.
2. To be a witness and example of what it is to be a part of the Christian family and how wonderful that is.
3. To encourage our boys to join that family.
4. To encouraged their parents to raise them to be part of that family.

That is a breathtaking set of promises and I might add, they are doing a wonderful job.  We are deeply thankful to God for them.

So coming up...four practical ways godparents can bless their godchildren and four ways godchildren can bless their godparents.

* Our boys share the same godparents.

14 April 2010

Marshmallow Kisses

Here are some biscuits we made during the school holidays. We found the recipe in a Kidzone magazine with an adaption we learned from Sharon when we visited her during the summer. 

Firstly bake the biscuits - which do not get a heart foundation tick of approval, by the way.  But they are delicious and hold their shape well in the baking process!

250gm butter
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 and a 1/2 cups self raising flour
pinch of salt
1/2 cup custard powder
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla essence

1. Place butter in a large bowl and soften with an electric beater.
2. Add icing sugar to the butter, a little at time, mixing until creamy.
3. Add flour, salt and custard powder and mix well.
4. Stir in milk and vanilla essence.
5. Place mix in the fridge to chill.
6. Roll out dough between sheets of baking paper to 1cm thickness.  Cut out biscuits using a heart shaped cookie cutter.
7. Place hearts on baking paper on a tray and bake at 180 degrees C for 10 minutes.
8. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

At this point the recipe described how to make strawberry frosting for the centres.  The biscuits were originally called Strawberry Kisses.  But here is Sharon's groovy trick instead.

Place marshmallows on half of the biscuits.

Return the biscuits to a low oven for three or four minutes - just long enough to make the marshmallows go squishy - and then place the remaining biscuits on top. 

They set fairly quickly but if you have to eat some in a hurry, a few minutes in the fridge will do the trick.  And there you have it...easy peasy, yummy scrummy Marshmallow Kisses!

08 April 2010

A Difficult Transition

This is the post that won't go away.  I have half written it about four times and then deleted it, but it just keeps asking to be written - somebody out there must really need to read it - so here it is in full with the caveat that by throwing this out into cyberspace I don't wish to enter into the stay at home or go back to work debate.  This is a personal reflection.

Back in December 2002 I walked out of Room 6, locked the door, handed the key over to the principal, said goodbye to the teaching staff and headed off into the sunset (so to speak) into a new chapter.  For as far as the eye could see, I knew what I would be doing - and those who know me well know that I like to have a plan.   

In March of the following year we welcomed this little man into our family. 

And then two and half years later we welcomed this one too.

And so for the last seven years I have stayed at home and looked after house, home and our two small boys.  Having already dropped to one income, pre-children, when my husband left his engineering job to study, we now went down to student and parenting allowances.  For a short while we lost the student allowances!  But there was never any question about it.  We weathered all conditions of financial change through God's good grace and providence.  God blessed our socks off time after time.  Through God's good blessing we did what we had decided we'd do, long before any children were born.  I stayed home to look after the children.

The last seven years at home with the boys have been great, hard, a joy, tiring, full of wonder, stimulating, at times very small...a list familiar to most parents.

But it needs to be said that I spent much of 2009 thinking longingly of 2010, the year when our youngest would go to Kindergarten for two days a week.  Don't get me wrong, I love them both to bits.  But two lots of five hours a week, childfree, to teach Scripture without having to organise childminding, to clean the house and have it stay clean for an hour or two, to get a haircut or go to the dentist, to have extended times of prayer, to read a thousand books, to catch up with friends and finish the conversation, to visit some of the older folk from church who are finding it harder to get there now, maybe even do some exercise...  I was tantalised by the options for most of last year.

So, I have had a term with ten hours at my own discretion.  And how has it been?  Firstly I discovered that I had highly unrealistic expectations about what one can get through in that time!  Housework in particular has barely rated a mention in the last ten weeks, apart from the absolute essentials.  In fact, I've done worse in that area this year despite the extra time because I have been more intentional about spending time with the boys when they are home.  Housework will need to rise to the top of the list next term - at least for a day - for the sake of on-going good health.

That said, having the time available has been good.  Really good. 

And yet, for most of first term my heart was troubled.  I have realised that I am in transition from what was last year - at home with child/ren in my full care - to what will be next year - both children in school full time. Next year, or sometime therefter, I am faced with a decision.  Whether or not to return to paid work in some capacity.  It has really troubled me.  And the fact that it has troubled me has taken me by surprise.

Not going to work during the last seven years was a no-brainer for me.  And we have managed to make ends meet, thanks be to God.  But here is the thing.  We now get to decide whether we continue on like this or not.  We are faced with a choice.

I could quite easily and happily fill my time volunteering at church and the school - and doing a little bit of housework!  I could quite easily get some part time work nearby, confined to school hours that doesn't disturb the flow of the household.  One choice fills a need in my community.  The other choice fills a need in our bank account.

So the next question is, does the bank account really need filling?  Aren't we managing?  Well, yes we are.  But we live simply and we now face the decision whether or not to make this our long term operating style.  To live counter-culturally and not have it all.  Or else to work and have a bit more flex. 

I have excellent role models in both camps - women who have gone back to paid work and women who have deliberately chosen otherwise - women in both camps who I respect enormously.  

I write this post because I know I am not alone.  There are others out there in blogosphere anticipating this same transition.  Nicole is writing a series on this very topic and for this post, Simone (who blogs here) left a particularly astute and helpful comment. 

At the height of my agitation last the term, Jean shared her manifesto with us.  Amidst her words was this sentence written as though in neon lights,

The majority of married women with children return to work soon after their children go to school—sometimes for financial reasons but also often because of the pressure of feminism, careerism or materialism.

Great, searing words that invite thorough investigation of one's motives.

I'm not fully thought through as yet, although for those sweet enough to be worried for me, it's not overwhelming me anymore.  So please do not worry.  I am over the angst and now happy to let it be for a time.  I don't actually need to make a decision any time soon.  And a decision will come.  Let it also be said that I also know that any decision I make at some stage in the future will not be irrevocable.  But this post has been nagging away at me to be written because maybe it needs to be said (ie. this was a long of saying) that this transition, from having small children at home to having those small children at school, is hard.  Because there is a big question that needs answering...

As a Christian, how do I best use the time now given to me to serve God, my family and my community, bearing in mind my own capacities and circumstances?  It's not a question anyone else can answer for me.  Nor is it one I can answer for anyone else.  But that is the big question.

And as a sideline, it has given me some empathy for those in another of life's transitions - those anticipating retirement.  I have heard that this transition is really tough on some.  I never used to be able to understand it.  But now I do.  I have been travelling from a period of really intense activity to one that brings with it discretionary time.  There is a parallel in retirement. 

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven.
Ecclesiastes 3:1

06 April 2010

New Life

A few years ago, at about this time of the year, I received a letter from a dear friend who was residing in London at the time.  At one point she described the scene from her kitchen window of a window box and beyond it, a garden, that was coming to life now that Spring had arrived.  

As I reflected upon her letter I thought how wonderful it must be to live in the northern hemisphere at Easter time with such visible signs of new life all around.  It must be such a joy to celebrate new life in the risen Christ with gardens coming to life after a long, cold winter.  Noel Piper certainly thought so this year.  It is such a beautiful parallel to be found in nature. 

In my neck of the woods Easter comes in Autumn, after a long, hot summer.  Most gardens blessed to have me as their caretaker are fairly dry and crisp by this time of the year.  There are no parallels of new life to be found anywhere nearby!

This year was going to be no exception.  The garden bed that I famously started planting out last year was in a terrible state at the end of summer.  By mid-February I decided to prune back the daisies and the geraniums hard.  I figured I would reduce the stress on the plants, trying so hard to keep their few remaining leaves alive in all this heat and lack of rain.  So I cut them all back until they resembled small, brown stick plants.  I didn't know whether they would survive the pruning, but then they weren't going to survive the summer anyway.  I should have taken a photo of this appalling sight.  But it was just too miserable!

However things have turned out differently this Easter following a big storm that dumped 50 mm of rain in one afternoon nearly two weeks ago.  Since then we have had warm, sunny days - not unlike spring - and the spectre of brown that surrounded our house has turned to green.  Including the poor little stick plants in the garden bed.  They have all started sprouting and are giving the distinct impression that they are going to be in good form by the time spring really does arrive.  This was a real Easter treat for me.

So I have a little shopping list on the whiteboard on our fridge.

2 x daisies
2 x rosemary bushes - important for a roast lamb chef
4 x lavender bushes

Eight tough plants that will finish the planting out and will hopefully survive future summers of heat, little water and inevitable neglect.  I hope to go shopping soon.  I think there's almost enough in the piggy bank.

It was a joy to experience new life in the garden this Easter.  And I am glad to have new life breathed into the great gardening project as well.  More photos to follow, I am sure. 

04 April 2010

Easter Sunday

because we are all
betrayers, taking
silver and eating
body and blood and asking
(guilty) is it I and hearing
him say yes
it would be simple for us all
to rush out
and hang ourselves

but if we find grace
to cry and wait
after the voice of morning
has crowed in our ears
clearly enough
to break our hearts
he will be there
to ask us each again
do you love me

from The Sighting

02 April 2010

Good Friday

The love of Christ!  Such a precious theme!  Of it can we ever weary? Never! Its greatness can we ever know? Never! Its plenitude can we fully contain? Never! Its depths cannot be fathomed, its dimensions cannot be measured! It passes knowledge! All that Jesus did for His people was but the unfolding and expression of His love.

Traveling to Bethlehem—I see love incarnate! Tracking His steps as He went about doing good—I see love laboring! Visiting the house of Bethany—I see love sympathizing! Standing by the grave of Lazarus—I see love weeping! Entering the gloomy precincts of Gethsemane—I see love sorrowing! Passing on to Calvary—I see love suffering, and bleeding, and expiring! The whole scene of His life is but an unfolding of the deep, and awesome, and precious mystery of redeeming love!

Octavius Winslow (1808 - 1878)