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

22 September 2015

Hope and Comfort


Sometimes when someone dies you just know they have gone Home to glory.  Other times though you find yourself floundering somewhere between doubt and dread, fearing that they may not have put their faith in Christ - even faith as small as a mustard seed.

Uncertainty and fear add to the already heavy weight of grief.  And it all serves to remind us that death is wrong.   When Jesus wept for Lazarus it seems it wasn't just for the lost relationship, but weeping over the state of things.  It was never meant to be this way.  Death is a hard place.

I've thought about all of this a great deal over recent years and my thoughts have been tested.  What I have found, in the face of death, is that there are two things that bring me enormous comfort, no matter what the circumstances.

The first thing is this.  We are made in the image of God.  One of the things this means is that we are made to be in relationship with Him.  Every single human being ever.  I see evidence of this most clearly when someone is thrown into crisis, especially sudden crisis.  So often in those moments the person's immediate response is to cry out to God in prayer, even when they've never prayed in their life and they don't really know what they're doing.  Or else they seek out the prayers of someone who prays.  It's like we are all microchipped to God and when the need most hits we are drawn Home to our Father in heaven.  It's the strongest magnetic pull in the universe. 

And as God is "not wanting anyone to perish but for everyone to come to repentence" (2 Peter 3:9) I wonder that God maybe responds in grace and mercy to those cries Home in the greatest of all crises - as one is facing their own death. 

Sometimes we see the evidence of God's mercy in the lives of those around us over many years and we know, in death, that they are going Home.  Sometimes in God's great kindness we might see His grace and mercy in someone's last days or hours - a kindness more for our own benefit and comfort.  And I wonder if there are times when we may not be aware of God, mercifully at work even when all communication between the one dying and the outside world has all but shut down. 

The Bible is clear.  God wants all to turn to Him.  But not everyone will take up this most precious of invitations.  While on this earth we don't get to know ultimately who will take up this invitation and who won't.  But I think there is more hope than we sometimes apprehend because God has made every single one of us to be drawn to Him and has done all that we need through Jesus' work on the cross in order to take hold of His invitation of eternal life with Him - even only with mustard seed sized faith in a final moment.  There is hope, and that is comfort enough.

The other source of comfort then is this.  God's ways are perfect.  All things happen in His perfect, loving and sovereign timing and wisdom.  So when someone dies we can be confident that whatever has happened, it will have happened in God's perfect will and wisdom.  I trust God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength.  (Well, I try to.)  And so I trust Him to get it right in every single instance and circumstance.  Whatever has happened, when someone dies, it will have happened as God willed it to be.  More than anything I might hope for in all my human weakness, I trust God.  And that is the deepest comfort in the world.  I will still be sad.  Death is a hard place.  But I will be comforted by the God of all comfort whose ways are always right. 

When peace like a river attendeth my way,
  When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot Thou hast taught me to say,
  “It is well, it is well with my soul!”
(Horatio Gates Spafford) 

13 September 2015

How to Walk into Church


When friends move and they’re in the serious business of finding themselves a new church I always pray that they will find a church where they will be well ministered to AND where they can minister well, because going to church isn’t just about receiving. It is very much about giving as well. 

If you are someone who wants to do church well – or wants to know how to do church well – can I commend a fantastic little book to you called “How to Walk into Church” by Tony Payne.  It’s 64 pages and it took me about half an hour to read.  Thirty well spent minutes.

This little book is an encouragement to:-

*  Go to church and go regularly.  The very act of turning up every week is an enormous encouragement.

One of the most important acts of love and encouragement we can all engage in is the powerful encouragement of just being there – because every time I walk into church I am wearing a metaphorical t-shirt that says, “God is important to me, and you are important to me.”  And on the back it says, “And that’s why I wouldn’t dream of missing this.”  Similarly, when we stay away for no good reason one week out of three (or more), we send the opposite message. 
Page 37

*  Prepare for church by praying – about who you will sit next to, about a good conversation you might have before church or afterwards over coffee (and there some excellent, God honouring conversation starters mentioned in chapter six) – and also by reading and thinking through the Bible passage to be covered in advance.

*  Determine to participate actively during the service – standing and singing with joy, bringing your own Bible to follow the readings and listening actively to the sermon by taking notes, making good eye contact with the minister, nodding in agreement or giving an encouraging and warm smile at an appropriate moment.

*  Be on the lookout for ways to serve – fill in for someone who’s rostered on for something but didn’t make it, get the person who has a coughing fit a glass of water, open the window if it feels hot and stuffy.  Be the meerkat on guard and look for opportunities to be a blessing.

Our aim at church should be to build up and encourage other people – rather than thinking about how much we’re getting out of it or whether we’ve had a chance to exercise our gifts.  Love does not insist on its own way or press its own claims.  It is not obsessed with its own enjoyment or convenience.  Love does not complain or grumble, or stay home in bed because it couldn’t be bothered.  Love seeks the good of the other – patiently, kindly, truthfully, joyfully, constantly. 
Page 31

Who should read this book?  If you go to church, no matter how well (or otherwise) you walk in that church door, you should read this book.  It is such an encouragement to godliness.  Even better, because going to church is a group activity after all, is to read it with a group from church – maybe your Bible study group – so that you can encourage each other in the ministry of walking into church well. 

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. 
Hebrews 10:24-25

04 August 2015

Boys Adrift by Leonard Sax

"What are you reading Mum?" asked one son.
"It's a horror story," I replied.

"Boys Adrift" by Leonard Sax is a study into the growing problem of unmotivated teenage boys who grow up to be underachieving young men who fail to launch, have no aspirations and aren't interested in leading functional, productive lives.  Sounds like a fun holiday read?  Well, it wasn't that much fun to read really.  But terror turned to thinking and discussing as soon as I had read the last page and I continue to ponder the issues.

Sax looks at five areas that he thinks is contributing to the problem of boys adrift.
1. An education system that doesn't suit boys.
2. Computer games.  (The book was written in 2009.  I think you could safely broaden this out to cyber addiction in general, although there are some specifics attached to gaming.)
3. The effects of medications prescribed for ADHD. 
4. Changes to the male body wrought by modern life - chemicals, plastics and so on.   The evidence Sax has collected suggests that the male body is affected more than the female body.
5. A bundle of things including a growing shortage of good male role models, a devaluation of masculinity, no real rites of passage for boys coupled with too many trophies along the way and parental failure to show a little tough love (like mothers still doing the washing for their 30-somethings who still live at home).

He provides a very in depth study into each of these areas and all five stand independent of each other.   That is, one is not the cause of another. 

I really like this book because it reads real.  It's not all neat and tidy.  The author doesn't present each problem and then offer a five point plan on how to fix it.  There are some solutions and ideas along the way but this is very much a work in progress and he is really just raising flags.

What is terrifying then is that in some instances there are no solutions, not for an individual family anyway.  Some of the problems raised are systemic issues that are just too big, and so in some senses the solutions lie in working out how to live, work and problem solve alongside these issues that aren't going away anytime soon.    

While he did suggest on at least a couple of occasions that some of the issues or consequences reaped were beyond solving, I think it's worth noting that since 2009 there has been huge research done on brain plasticity.  More things are reversible than we previously ever imagined.  It would be interesting to see how his thinking has developed.  And as a Christian and without being all silly about it, I believe that there is plenty that we can change through a growing, maturing, prayferful faith. Granted, Sax is not writing this study from a Christian perspective.

Anyway, not a fun book but an important one I think.  It is written thoughtfully and soberly.  Sax has not set out to give anyone nightmares.  This is all about education and awareness.  I thought it was helpful.  Who else might find it useful?  Parents of boys.  Teachers.  Youth group leaders and folk in university ministry.  Observers of rapid sociological change. 

Now, I'm off to teach a couple of boys to use the washing machine.  :-)  Nah, just kidding.  I'm off to make a cup of tea.

02 August 2015

The Minor Prophets

Speaking of the Minor Prophets, if you are looking for a resource to help you get into the last twelve books of the Old Testament then "The Minor Prophets" by Jack P. Lewis is the book for you. This book has been around for a while but wait...wait...WAIT!  Don't switch off.  Because I have just read some reviews of this book and lots of them said words to the effect of, "Still one of the best guidebooks to the Minor Prophets."

Not that I had to read the reviews to find out about this book.  I have just used it in preparation for Monday evenings and have studied it two or three times in the past during similar tilts through this section of the Bible.  And I often refer to it during my personal reading of the Minor Prophets when it gets to that point in the plan.

Why?  Because it's short, concise and supremely useful.  There is a chapter, each one no more than ten pages, for each prophet.  Every chapter includes some general information about the prophet, where he fits into biblical history and dating as can best be determined (and where there is some debate Lewis outlines the possibilities.)  There is a general overview of the book, a structure and some commentary on significant sections, key concepts and on some of the trickier bits than cannot be left unexplained.  It's detailed but not technical.  You can read it and reasonably speedily.  Towards the end of each chapter Lewis mentions where each prophet is quoted or alluded to in the New Testament and brings the reader back to Jesus.  And every chapter finishes with a short set of astute study questions. 

I don't think this book is in print anymore which is a huge shame but a quick search shows that there are still plenty of copies to found here and there.  And if you are serious about learning not just to understand but to love this part of the Bible then this is THE book for you.

---------------------------------------------------------------
The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever.
The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous.
They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb.
By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
Psalm 19:7-11

28 July 2015

The Monday evening Bible reading group

 
Last night the Monday Evening Bible Reading Group came to the end of an adventure we embarked upon last November - reading through all of the Minor Prophets.  This group works on the One to One Bible Reading model, except that it isn't one-to-one.  At present there are seven of us.  The intention is to get together and read the Bible.  There aren't a set of prepared study questions.  We just read between one and five chapters each time we meet and after  each chapter discussions loosely fit around the three questions, "What made you go WOW?", "What made you go WHAT?" and "So what does that have to do with us?"  We don't specifically ask those questions anymore.  That has just become the natural flow of our discussions.

This style of reading models that it isn't necessary to understand every single detail.  The aim is to get enough meaning on this read through to give the courage to read it again some other time and hopefully glean a little more understanding.  It's about building joy in the Word and building in a diligence to read ALL of the Word.

I should add that I did do some preparation before we met, which is not part of the model, but the Minor Prophets make so much more sense with a bit of background knowledge

So the Minor Prophets are done.  In the past we have done Luke followed by Acts.  Last year we did the bookends - Genesis and Revelation.  Both of these are wonderful Bible reading projects.  A couple of other interesting projects would be to read Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi altogether or to take the Chronological Bible Reading Plan and read through the Samuels, Kings and Chronicles with a good number of the Psalms and some of the Wisdom Literature inserted along the way as best placed as we can - to get the more poetic writings sitting in their historical context.  That would be a HUGE project - it's about three months worth on the plan!! - but it would be amazing.

But for now, on Monday evenings, we are heading off in a different direction.  We are set to read through all the epistles from Romans to Jude, which should keep us busy for a few months.

24 July 2015

She did it!

 
The Everyday Gratitude Diary for 2016 is fully funded which means it is going ahead.  Hooray!  And the Pozible funding is still open until the end of July which gives everyone the opportunity (if you were thinking about it but didn't get around to it) to pre-order a diary that includes free shipping and a small donation to The Black Dog Institute.  I haven't met Rebecca but she is fast becoming one of those people who fall into that lovely category of "blogging buddy" who I'd love to meet in the future.  But for now I am grateful to God that lots of people have got behind her on this project which is so worthwhile at so many levels. 
 

23 July 2015

Some help for tackling the book of Ezekiel

I've been toughing my way through Ezekiel recently.  It's a tough book about tough times.  Ezekiel knew some very hard times.  He lived through the siege and sacking of Jerusalem and was carried off into exile by the Babylonians.  (Reading through Jeremiah gives a clear picture of just how horrible it would have been to have lived through that time.)  And Ezekiel - God's messenger to His people in exile - was deeply, deeply aware and heavily burdened by the blackness of sin. 

So many of the pictures and messages recorded in the book of Ezekiel are largely of pain and hardship.  There is clear judgment for God's people who have persisted in their sin and turned their backs on the One who loves them.  There is clear judgment for the nations who have scorned God's people. And then there are the natural consequences of bad decisions.  It is hard reading.

And yet, the words "Sovereign Lord" are mentioned over 200 times throughout the book.  This is what the Sovereign Lord says.  This is what the Sovereign Lord will do.  This is what the Sovereign Lord is doing.  In all the hardship, confusion and grief, God is present and with a purpose.  Natural consequence is fair and God's judgment is righteous.  And that righteousness and purpose is borne out in a second phrase that appears time and time again - "Then they will know that I am the Lord."  And so the book of Ezekiel, in all that is tough, is filled with hope because for all who cry out and turn to the God who loves them, there is the promise of restoration and peace for all eternity.

Ezekiel presents a snapshot of a particular time in the history of God's people.  It's also a timeless message for all people - God's very good creation - through all of history because even though the details are different, the reality is much the same.  But back to the book and how to get into it...there is hope through God's sovereignty, love and righteousness to be found on every page of Ezekiel - and looking for that will assist in the very worthwhile work of persevering through the pages of this book for deep insight into times past, present and future.

21 July 2015

Winter update - 2015

Completely missed: the autumn update.  Autumn was mainly taken up with my mother-in-law's final illness and passing away.  I spent many hours with her particularly in her last month and shed many tears for not one but two mothers when our boys' last grandparent went Home to be with Jesus.   

Thereafter: I felt compelled to do some homely stuff.  So we installed some raised garden beds and I have been growing vegies.

 




Seedlings, good soil and some rain will do the trick.  It's not very hard.  Well, not in winter.  Summer may be a different matter. 

I did hear the good advice of planting out one bed with all the things you are likely to use every three weeks so that the harvest is staggered.  That makes very good sense.  Because in a few weeks, if all continues to go to plan, we will have a colossal beetroot stash.  So once the winter vegies are in I might give that system a go.

While the vegies were busy growing: I pressed on with the crochet project.  The want to crochet came to me at just the right time.  I didn't realise it but I have needed to sit and rest a while and it has been so nice to sit and create something beautiful, and while hands are occupied in this gentle work, to pray.

If you look closely you'll see it's pretty rustic really - and that's just the front.  The back, with all the finishing off...well, let's just say I'm not going to win first prize at the local agricultural show.  (Might enter my beetroots instead!)  But it has been a restoring thing to do.
 
There is a pattern in all of that, believe it or not.  It's on the diagonal.

And one of my sons, bless him, has suggested that I ought not to leave it out on the sofa when it is finished because all the babies and toddlers that come to visit during the week might ruin it.  So he has offered to keep it on his bed.  And I think I might just take him up on his sweet offer.

While crocheting: I often think of Psalm 139:13 which says, "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb."  As I have made this blanket every inch of wool has passed through my fingers on its way to being crafted into a granny square, which gives me a warm sense of wonder and awe at God's personal love for us.  Amazing.

Reading: well, there's an interesting story.  I read and read and read and read for months on end.  Got to the end of one book and started in on the next one straight away.  I worked my way through an impressive list of titles - all fiction and even during term time (!!) - and then I read "The Poisonwood Bible" by Barbara Kingsolver and it stopped me in my tracks.  I was so moved by it that I couldn't pick up another book.  For days.  So I picked up a crochet hook in earnest and haven't really read anything else apart from the (real) Bible since then. 

But I am recently emerged from a very busy season (we just had our annual five day Holiday Bible Club and this year I was administrating it as well as running games and craft activities) and am thinking it is time to get reading again.  I have a couple of books by Allan Chapple and a couple by Jerry Bridges that I am keen to read and I have two books about teenagers on the list as well.  So reading it seems is set to recommence.

Fringe update:  "It was already getting annoyingly long and I think I will past the truly annoying stage in five to ten weeks at current rate of growth," said I at the beginning of February.  I'm not one to spend hours gazing at myself in the mirror but oh, it has been a long and awkward six months.  Two weeks ago I figured it had finally grown into something you might dare to call a hairstyle.  So if I ever mention that I'm thinking of cutting in a fringe again you must take me in hand and tell me, "No."  Be firm.

In other news:  I have ventured back into the world of paid work in a small way.  When I made the decision back here to not work it came down to this...

"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 I have asked the same question in deciding to put my name down at our local school for some relief teaching.  It came down to a Kingdom decision rather than a bank account one.  So I did a few days here and there and not long after I found myself with a one-day-a-week fixed position until the end of the year in a year 4/5 room. It's lovely being back in the classroom actually.  And middle primary is just the bees knees.

However...I can see that trying to get full registration back is going to be quite an exercise...

Loved: series five of Downtown Abbey.  I waited impatiently for it to come out on DVD and then devoured it almost whole.  I guess it will be a year before the next instalment.  Waiting, waiting... I'm glad they are finishing at series six though.  It is good not to push these things too long or too hard.

Was also waiting impatiently: for all your advice on mobile phones.  But you all just wanted me to work it out on my own, I know.  Well I think one of the statements I made, more than the others, and my slow cooker have helped me come a mind on the issue.  More on that later.

Nearing the end: of the minor prophets with the Monday evening Bible reading group.  Wow!  It has been a wonderful adventure.  If you want to know about God in all of His mighty power, holiness, righteousness, mercy, compassion, love and sovereignty then this is the part of the Bible for you.  Breathtaking.

Also recently: had a ramble through Philippians again.  It has been a while since I was there.  And the desire to memorise this book has been rekindled.  Does anyone want to join in with me?

Very excited: to be following the Everyday Gratitude project.  As I write this, the project has 10 days to go and is close to 80% funded.  I hope it happens.


Fresh back: from a five day holiday by the seaside. 





Nothing nicer than a winter holiday by the sea.  Feeling refreshed, a few goals for the next six months set in place and all ready for the second half of the year.  I hope you are too.
Mx

12 July 2015

Everyday Gratitude

If you have been reading this blog for a while there are a couple of things you may have picked up about me. 

Firstly, I like to keep the comings and goings of daily life in a paper diary.  And the best format for me is A5, a week to a page so that I can see the whole week in one sweep (and as I have mentioned before, if I find I need more diary room for planning out my days than what is offered by a page for a week  I figure I need to reassess my life, not my diary format) and room for a TO DO list.

Secondly, you would know that I am pretty keen on the idea of gratitude.  I've blogged about it plenty over the years and gave the whole of April this year over to practicing the art.  I first discovered the power of gratitude when I was at university, fell into a slump and finally pulled myself out of it after setting myself the task of writing down two things I was grateful for at the end of each day - even if all I could muster was that the sun came up and the sky was blue .  I was amazed at how quickly my mood shifted.

So I have been absolutely delighted to discover someone who has launched a project that combines these two loves of mine. 

 
 
The Everyday Gratitude Diary is a crowdfunded project developed by a lovely person named Rebecca who has also worked out the power of gratitude in every day life.  And she has created a diary for 2016 that seamlessly moves gratitude into the rough and tumble of daily life.  It's a magnificent idea and it's going to be a beautiful diary.  I've pledged my support, and in doing so, will receive a few copies - Christmas gifts for our older godchildren, a gift for a friend or two and one for me.  
 
Read about it here.  You can follow along on Facebook here.  Pledges have to be in by the end of July.  And 5% of profits will be given to the Black Dog Institute.  It doesn't get better than that.
 
Go for it.

08 July 2015

Which century to live in?

My flip phone (aka dinosaur phone and dumb phone) is in the death throes.
Some days I think I should get myself technologically up to date.
Some days I think my flip phone has all I need in a mobile phone.
Some days I think having a smart phone would be fun.
Some days I think I don't want all the stuff a smart phone offers at my fingertips.
Some days I think having the answers at my fingertips would be useful.
Some days I think having a flip phone resonates with living simply.
Some days I think I am disadvantaged not having a smart phone.
Some days I wonder why I am making such a big deal of this.
Most days, these days, I know I'm going to need a make a decision soon because there are not many more days left for my flip phone.

11 May 2015

Keep your head and pray. With hope.

"The end of all things is near.  Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray." 
1 Peter 4:7

I read this verse yesterday.  It reminds me to keep my head, to keep praying and do both with hope and purpose.  Blessed reminders with a couple of busy months on the horizon. 

02 May 2015

Feeling grateful


I came across this quote at the end of March and decided to dedicate April to giving it a go.  I threw the concept up onto Facebook and not too many moments later #gratefulapril was a thing.  So it's been pretty quiet here because there have been daily moments of gratitude happening on Facebook instead.

Over the month I found myself variously grateful for...

The Word of God.
Jesus' death and resurrection.
The gift of prayer and the gift of my prayer triplet.
Long weekends.
Bargains.
Schools, educational opportunities and holidays.
New ministries starting up at church.
Family, friends and neighbours.  Specifically neighbours who intentionally planted their lemon tree right up close to our fence so that we could share their lemons.
The abundance we enjoy.
Music and books.
Art and history.

I wasn't sure about doing the daily thing on Facebook to begin with, because I didn't want it to become a month of zoning in on one thing each day.  The intention was to practice gratitude continuously throughout the day. 

But it ended up being an excellent discipline.  Many days, as I grew in my capacity for thankfulness, it was hard to choose one thing.  That was a good problem to have.  But as with any life in any month, some days were hard.  And on those days it was good to have to dig deep and redeem God's goodness in daily life.

It was such a good exercise that I have decided to keep going.  Not on Facebook though.  The community aspect was very encouraging, at times moving and often lots of fun however I think it would become boring and tedious for others in time and of course it led to considerable time wasting.   So I'm taking away the "Face" and just recording one or two things that I'm grateful for each day in a book.

On the good days I hope this practice will remind me to be grateful for ALL the good things (moreover, to give expression to that gratitude, which is the very thing that gives this quote legs) and on the harder days to be reminded that even so, we have much for which to thank God.



01 April 2015

Grateful April


I don't know who Sue Fitzmaurice is but it doesn't really matter.  I think what she says is right.  I recall when I was at university and for a time the world wasn't looking all that bright.  I decided I would finish the day listing three things I was grateful for, even if two of them were that the sun came up and the sky was blue, every single day.  It took little more than a week to shift me out of my mood.  And as I recall, I was in quite a mood, so that was a fairly quick turn around.

There are lots of ways to express gratitude. 
Write it down.
Say thank you - spoken words, written words, a hug, a gift, a smile.
Return an act of service or pay it forward.
Show respect.
Find contentment, even in the small things.
Shake off discontentment by searching for the good in the moment. 
Praise God.

Will you join me?

12 March 2015

The Radical Disciple by John Stott


Here's a wonderful book you might like to read.  The Radical Disciple is the last book written by John Stott.  At the end of this book he put down his pen and finished his writing ministry.  As such it has a similar feel to Paul's second letter to Timothy - full of wonderful and pastoral words but with the tenderness that comes with a final letter.

In The Radical Disciple Stott chose to wrote about some of the hallmarks you would hope to see in someone who is actively and intentionally seeking to grow in Christlikeness.  He has addressed eight issues that growing Christians ought to be thinking about.  These include:

Non-conformity
Christlikeness
Maturity
Creation-care
Simplicity
Balance
Dependence
and
Death

It's a slightly random list but Stott himself says that this list isn't exhaustive.  The style shifts and changes from chapter to chapter - at times it reads like a short essay (don't be scared by the word "essay" though because it is very accessible writing) while at other times there are personal anecdotes, specially selected quotes from old favourites and extracts from sermons and talks.  In lots of ways it reads like a personal journal - and you get a real sense of what it must have been like to sit with him in his study and talk together about all the good stuff.

This book is a pure delight to read, filled with the words of a mature, wise, well thought through saint - instructive, pastoral and full of encouragement to strive for godliness without engendering guilt. 

The Radical Disciple would be a great birthday present book (I know this to be true because I received a copy of it for my birthday from a dear friend), a valuable volume for a church library and a fascinating read for a book club with so many great and relevant issues up for discussion.  John Stott has left us with an amazing and beautiful gift in this book.

06 March 2015

We always have a choice, all of us.


As she sank to her knees on the grass and sobbed, the memory of a conversation with Frank floated into her awareness. 
"But how?  How can you just get over these things, darling?" she had asked him.  "You've had so much strife but you're always happy.  How do you do it?"
"I choose to," he said.  "I can leave myself to rot in the past, spend my time hating people for what happened, like my father did, or I can forgive and forget."
"But that's not easy."
He smiled that Frank smile.  "Oh, but my treasure, it is so much less exhausting.  You only have to forgive once.  To resent, you have to do it all day, every day.  You have to keep remembering all the bad things...No," his voice became sober, "we always have a choice.  All of us."

From The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman, chapter 35.

10 February 2015

For the fans of The Lego Movie

So I was continuing on with At Home by Bill Bryson yesterday, in a chapter on domestic architecture, when I came upon this paragraph...

Palladio's methods were based on rigorous adherence to rules, and were modeled on the precepts of Vitruvius, a Roman architect of the first century BC.  Vitruvius wasn't a particularly distinguished architect.  He was really more of a military engineer.  What made him valuable to history was the accidental fact that his writings survived - the only architectural work from classical antiquity to do so.  A lone copy of Vitruvius' text on architecture was found on a shelf at a monastery in Switzerland in 1415.  Vitruvius laid down exceedingly specific rules regarding proportions, orders, shapes, materials and anything else that could be quantified.  Formulas ruled everything in his world.  The amount of spacing between columns in a row, say, could never be left to instinct or feeling, but was dictated by strict formulas designed to confer an automatic and reliable harmony.  This could be dizzyingly particular.

From At Home by Bill Bryson, page 411 - 412.

No wonder Vitruvius was the master masterbuilder.

07 February 2015

Summer update - 2015


Getting in: on a summer update just in time.  Twenty one days until the change of season.

Had: a lovely summer including two weeks of a house sitting holiday close to the beach.  House sitting holidays are the best.  Ever thankful to our family members and friends who let us live in their houses at odd times in the year.  And while we were at the beach on Australia Day we saw a television team on the shore collecting footage for the evening news so #2 son got himself interviewed and had his five seconds of fame that evening. 

Saw: several movies during January.  Night at the Museum III - very, very good but quite poignant at the end given it was Robin Williams' last film.  Madagascar Penguins - crazy stuff.  Too much going on for me.  Or maybe I was just feeling tired that day.  Paper Planes - a great Australian kids' film.  Loved it.  And the last Hobbit installment - loved it.  Better than part two.  Some very moving moments between the characters.  Great acting. 
Four films...lots of maltesers.  Happy days.

Sent: #1 son off to high school after the holidays.  He is doing well.  It is lovely to see them growing up and thriving and getting all big and independent.  Such a gift and a blessing.

Thankful: to God for His loving faithfulness.  I feel like my prayers have been very small lately (not praying the big prayers at the moment at all) and yet God has answered all of my prayers in all of their smallness in more abundance than I could have ever imagined.  More so, He has answered the prayers I haven't prayed as yet but meant to get to at some stage.  So encouraged.  And ready to pray bigger again.

Feeling good: about a less structured year.  I have two days that are fairly full and three days that may be filled with relief teaching a bit later on in the year when the teachers are so not freshly out of school holidays.  And if not filled by teaching these days will be filled well and appropriately depending on what's on the TO DO list or whether I need to have a quiet one.  Even now I still find myself easily wearied.  Not quite recovered from last year as yet.  God in His kindness has given me some space to rest and also the space to live and respond a little more spontaneously this year.

Loving: the old Bible reading plan.  Behind already. (Could I have been distracted while on holidays just a tiny bit???)  But will catch up again.

Looking forward: to my Bible study/reading groups starting up again this coming week.  One group will be studying John.  Another is reading through the minor prophets in one-to-one Bible reading style.  And the group with lots of kids, distracted mothers and one or two enquiring about the Christian faith is going to have a go at a terrific new Matthias Media study called  You, Me and the Bible which looks like one-to-one Bible reading meets Two Ways to Live

Reading: At Home by Bill Bryson still.  I was trying to think of a word that sums up his writing style and finally it came to me.  Endearing.  That was two pages before I hit the chapter about rats in homes.  Now I am even more certifyably, scream-like-a-girl scared of them!  Rats aside, a brilliant brilliant book. 

Reserved: One Day by David Nicholls at the library.  The summer reading continues it seems.

Growing: my fringe out.  I'm sure you all wanted to know that.  I made that decision on a whim last week.  It was already getting annoyingly long and I think I will past the truly annoying stage in five to ten weeks at current rate of growth.  That's not that long...

Apologising: to landfill.  The great two house clear out of 2014 has seen me launch a pitiful assault on landfill.  More and more I am committed to the decluttering movement - have only what you need and what is beautiful.  Get rid of the extra.  And then don't replace it.  Fortunately I am not much of a shopper and while we are dealing with the volumes of stuff, we are paring down our own possessions as well.  Op shops have done well too but there has been so much that just had to be junked.

Becoming addicted: to Gumtree and another online buying and selling site.  Not that I am buying anything.  Just selling.  And it is going well.  Although I do have table that no-one seems interested in.

No: progress on the Philippians project or the crocheting project.  Did write some short letters to send with our Christmas letter - the ones that finally went out by snail mail.  I well and truly crossed over to the darkest part of the dark side at the end of last year.  No Christmas cards in the post.  Christmas letter written and EMAILED out on New Year's Eve.  Those that needed to be sent out via snail mail posted, I think, on 28th January.  And yet, despite all these things, the earth still seems to be turning.

Off: to watch the end of The Hundred Foot Journey newly out on DVD.  A beautifully filmed, intelligent, feel good movie.  It's gorgeous.  No maltesers.  Ah well.

04 February 2015

Summer reading

I got myself reading glasses two or three years ago and there has not been a day when I haven't been thankful for them.  It is truly miraculous to be able to read print so easily.  But clearly in the time I've had them I haven't read lots and lots.  How do I know?  Because this holidays I read a vast amount and the bridge of my nose where my glasses sit is slightly tender.  But so worth it.  It has been a joyous time with so many good books.
 
 
This summer's reading commenced with The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce.  I have declared this to be the best novel of 2015, which is a big call so early into the year. Harold receives a letter from Queenie, a friend and work colleague from many years previous, letting him know she is dying and is thankful for his many kindnesses shown to her all those years ago.  In shock, he pens a quick letter back and sets off to post it.  When he reaches the mail box, deep in thought and memory, he isn't quite ready to let his letter go and head home so he decides to walk to the next letter box, and then the next and then the next...and ultimately he walks the entire length of England from south to north, to deliver the letter in person.  But does he make it in time?  This is a tale about a journey, reflection, atonement, transitions, moving on. 
 
 
I read The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, the companion volume to Harold's story, straight after.  This is Queenie's story, told while Harold is making his pilgrimage.  The benefit of reading them back to back is to see the extremely cleverly crafted parallel journey they take.  The downside is that this story is grittier and it takes away some of the innocence of its companion volume...although the truly innocent characters remain innocent in both.  I am a sucker for books that tell the same story from different points of view but given my time again I would probably give myself six months gap between volumes.
 
 
Speaking of telling the same story from different points of view, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd is the story of Sarah, a white American, and Handful, her black African slave given to Sarah on her 11th birthday.  Both are of similar age.  The story commences in the early 1800s - a time when intelligence in women and racial differences were not honoured.  (That is putting it positively...)  The story spans their lives, told in the first person alternating chapter by chapter between Sarah and Handful, with some delightful twists and surprises for the reader especially towards the end.  It doesn't make for easy reading at times - it is difficult subject matter - but Sue Monk Kidd has an astonishingly large and elegant vocabulary and her turn of phrase time and again was breathtaking - and it was her beautiful command of the English language that kept me turning the pages especially in the more torrid sections.   Very worthwhile reading.

 
And then Lila.  For anyone else who loves reading the same story from a different point of view and loves a novel by Marilynne Robinson, this one ticks all the boxes and more.  Companion volume to Gilead and Home, it felt like a sad book at times but at the same time full of hope, light and blessing too. A tale of transitions from harsh life to gentle life.
 
 
Us reads like a cheery, chatty blog with short, cheery chapters.   Douglas (54) is married to Connie and they have one son named Albie (18).  Douglas and Connie plan to take Albie on a Grand Tour of Europe to see all the great works of art before he heads off to university.  It ends up being a grand tour in which Douglas seeks to save his marriage and reconnect with his increasingly distant son.  If you love art and Europe this is a fun read.  I admit that it was losing me at Amsterdam - which is the cleverness of the writing because Nicholls captures the hallmark elements of each location with each change of scenery - and I only held on because Italy (ah, bell'Italia) was approaching.  But I found my happy place in Italy and the novel finished well.  It was fun.  I would like to get One Day from the library and have a read some time soon.
 
 
Speaking of wanting to read more of a particular author, I haven't read any Bill Bryson before but it won't be too long before I put his book Down Under (and maybe even some others by him) on reserve at the library.  At Home.  This is not a novel.  It's a history book.  And it's fantastic.  I haven't finished it yet.  Bryson takes the reader on a tour of his home - a rectory in Engand - room by room, recounting the history of domestic life.  Things like why we even have rooms - a relatively recent thing historically speaking - for starters.  Things like why we have salt and pepper on our tables and not some other spice, why forks have four tines, a history of lighting and electricity in houses.  Windows.  How did houses come to have windows?  Sounds a bit dry?  I do it no justice.  This books is a laugh out loud (and I generally laugh on the inside when I am reading but not with this one) and fascinating page turner.  The best I can say is that of the eight books I read this summer, this is one of three that I own - not reading this from the library - and it is one I am very pleased to be able to keep on my shelf and share with my friends.
 

I stopped At Home for a few days because my request at the library for The Rosie Effect, the sequel to The Rosie Project, came up.  (And At Home is a book you can comfortably pick up and put down without losing the momentum.)  The Rosie Project is a fun read and so is this - good for holidays  although you know how sequels are often never quite as good...  Compared with The Rosie Project the plot in this one is busy, which is structurally right given the move from single man living and working in Australia to married man living and working in New York.  Mix Apserger Syndrome (fairly high end) into the equation and you get the idea.  The book captures the changes perfectly.  Chaotic at times but it all came together in a very satisfying way in the end.


At one stage I was in between books, waiting for The Rosie Effect to come up on reserve at the library and for At Home to arrive in the mail, so I pulled The Happiest Refugee off the shelf where we were staying.  Ahn Do is a Vietnamese refugee, family man and actor/comedian/author.  The Happiest Refugee shows life as a refugee (what life was like before escaping, the horrible, horrible escape and what life is like in a new country with few rights and no resources) in a light way.  Enough to get a very clear sense of what it is like to be a refugee without leaving the reader having nightmares - enough to engender empathy and response without being paralysed by the horror and with plenty to entertain along the way.  And Ahn Do shows gratitude in action.  Good work Ahn Do.  He also has a series of kids books - the Weir Do series - that does the same thing for children and our boys loved them.

But for now, it's back to At Home for me.

11 January 2015

Moving into 2015

At the beginning of the year I was truly glad to see the back end of 2014.  It feels very wrong to say that because I know with all my heart, soul, mind and strength that God was ordering our steps day by day in His loving kindness.  But at the jars of clay level, it was just a tough year.  In our better moments my husband and I would say, "economy of scale."  In my own darker moments the words "annus horribilus" crossed my mind and sometimes my lips. 

As you know, my mum passed away.  And it became necessary for us to settle my mother-in-law into an aged care facility.  Which led to clearing out not one but two family homes with our siblings in the second half of the year and preparing said homes for their new lives.  (Declutter now, I tell you.  Your kids will love you for it.)  And while all of this was happening my beloved Scripture programme at our local primary school was placed under review by the new principal and was shut down at the end of the year - completely his right and privilege but still, it ached to see it go.

So with Mum safe with Jesus, MIL safe in good care (nice and close for easy and frequent visiting), both family homes and all their contents nearly done and dusted and no Scripture this year (which took two days of my week last year), 2015 is looking very different from any year I can remember in a long time.  Maybe ever.  A large chunk of my previously very scheduled week is now unscheduled.  Ten years ago, even five, (even two!) those gaps would have been planned for and filled already - two weeks in.  This time around I am not filling the space. 

But there are some things I would like to do this year including...

Resurrecting the Philippians project.  Memorising the whole of Philippians fell in a mighty heap last year - but last year, more than ever, I saw how important it is to have Scripture locked safely away in one's own heart and mind.  Philippians has always been my soft spot to fall.  This is what I want more than anything to put away for times ahead.

Reading the Bible.  This year I am using my usual favourite plan (daily OT, NT and Psalms, getting through the OT once and the NT and Psalms twice) but with a twist.  Firstly I'm adding a fourth daily reading.  While I am in the gospels from the plan I'll add a chapter of Romans per day.  And when I reach Acts and beyond I'll read a chapter of the gospels per day.  Also, I have started at the beginning of the year in the middle of the plan (ie. from 1st July) so that Chronicles and beyond (ie. the prophets) get my first-half-of-the-year, fresh attention.  That department was a bit (lot) short changed last year.

Learning to crochet.  I've been inspired by the work of a couple of friends and always come back to admire Ali's beautiful rugs...

From here...

...and here

which takes away the bad press crochet received from lurid, acrylic granny squares.  (For a minute's amusement, enter "ugly crochet projects" into google images.)  I'm thinking real fibres, elegant colours and maybe starting with something slightly smaller than a rug.  All (helpful) advice will be gratefully received.

Writing letters.  I was going to call this the "Forty Letter Project" but now that I'm feeling less "a project for the new year" oriented, I think I'll just stick to "writing letters."  Some might be quite short but very lovely because I got a set of these postcards for Christmas.


The big question will be whether to send the postcard coloured in or left for the recipient to colour.  Mmmm....

And finally, leaving the week reasonably flexible in the first instance because I feel tired. I just haven't got the capacity to fill in all the spaces in my week at the moment and I have the luxury of some time to leave some of the recently formed gaps empty.  The tiredness will pass though and then the more flexible week will come into its own because the other thing I did last year was have my teaching licence reinstated.  I'm off to do a bit of relief teaching.  (I know...it flies right in the face of a certain epiphany from a few years ago.  There's a backstory to it which won't be making it onto the Internet.  You'll just have to trust me on this one.)

And when there's no teaching to be had and I am feeling more energetic, there is plenty, day by day, to be doing.  It will be interesting to see how this goes.  I generally thrive on a structured, timetabled week.  It's all I've ever known and having unpredictable days is an entirely new concept.  I may end up connecting a few new synapses out of this.

Happy New Year dear ones.