Tuesday, August 11, 2015

In defence of free play

My kids woke up at about 7 this morning. It had been raining most of the night, and this morning was cool and misty.

'I've had a dream that I had a cow to ride', said Olivia to me as we passed on the stairs. 'Can I go find one?'

Sleepily, I nodded yes and remembered to ask them to put on their gumboots. I am still coming to terms with the amount of cow poo around here.

For over an hour those kids chased cows. At one point, Jim asked me if I realised that there was a bull in the paddock.

No, I wasn't aware. Quick check out the window to see if said bull was chasing my offspring, and then back to reading.

After they tired of the game (mainly, I believe, after Wil fell into a cow pat) another elaborate game began, this time involving making a cubby house in the shovel of the tractor in the barn. It lasted another hour at least.

Compare that to this afternoon. I let the kids watch an hour of television at midday. Bad move. They've spent the last two hours fighting and screaming at each other.

Anecdotal evidence, but I'll take it. Less manufactured entertainment and more falling into cow pats.

Vive the countryside.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Many happy returns

You know those moments of deja-vu? That rare moment when a song, a scent, a face can instantly return you to a moment in time.

Yesterday I was in the supermarket and heard the strains of Powderfinger's hit song, These Days, a song which was played constantly on my Sony Discman in the early years of the second millenium. When I heard it, filtered through the noise of the store and my children's chattering, I felt a slight pang but couldn't help but smile.

This life well it's slipping right through my hands
These days turned out nothing like I had planned
Control well it's slipping right through my hands
These days turned out nothing like I had planned

A decade ago, I genuinely believed that these lyrics were true. At age 23, I honestly believed that my life would only be characterised by disappointment, that I was the opposite of Bacchus, with everything turning to ash in my hands. I was so desperate, so lonely, so far from God that I was full of self loathing.

I was, as Israel Houghton writes in the beautiful Sing Redemption's Song, lost, desperate and broken, with a wounded heart ... and the wounds were still open.

Yet, here we are, ten years later. Today, I turned 33.

I honestly didn't think I would make it this far.

And I certainly didn't think, ten years ago, that it would be possible to be so full of joy and so content.

Isn't God amazing?

Today was a day full of simple pleasures. My husband preparing me breakfast in bed before he went to work; my children jumping on the bed while I opened my thoughtfully-chosen presents, modest and heartfelt. Sharing morning tea with my babies. Speaking on the phone to my beloved family. The pleasure of coming home from the supermarket to find a bunch of flowers ordered from across the world by my brother in law in the UK. Pizza and cake for dinner, the latter secretly chosen by J during his scant lunch break.

Simple pleasures indeed, but a day where I truly rejoiced in being alive and living in the world created by our God.

I used to be very angry at God, not too long ago, for all the hard things which had happened in my life. Some of them, truly terrible indeed.

Yet, how would I have been able to know the joy in the morning after the darkness of the night, had I not endured these trials?

I was lost
I was desperate and broken ... that's the way you found me

That's why I love you.
(Israel Houghton, Sing Redemption's Song)

Today has been a testament to God's unfailing goodness and the way He is changing my heart to seek my contentment in Him. You see, when I was 23, thinking that my life was dead in the water, I seemed to have everything going for me. I was young. Beautiful, or beautiful enough. Smart. Outgoing. But inside my heart was so black, so dark. God has changed that. Through the darkness of the night, God has changed my heart so that it yearns for Him rather than striving for the futility of this world. And ironically, this has meant that I can rest easy in this world, enjoy God's good gifts while I wait for my eternal home.

Thankyou Lord. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Doctor has left the building

A long, long time ago, or so it seems, I was once deemed to be a promising academic. In one year, I had all 5 submitted papers published (the accepted rate is 1 out of 4). I was one of the younger lecturers in a distinguished sandstone university. I had just finished my PhD, and my thesis was deemed to be near perfect (no corrections!). (Just quietly, in case it isn't obvious, I also had a massive ego to match my impressive CV).

But allow me to wax lyrical about my PhD for just a minute. Truly, it is a magnificent piece of work. I read it now and then just to remind myself that I can write. That I once did write, and when I did, I did it beautifully.

I love my PhD thesis. It's my magnum opus.

Mainly though, I loved the freedom to research; to sit in an archive all day and leave with one juicy find. I loved being a keeper of knowledge, and a creator of knowledge. 


When we made the decision to relocate to Tasmania, we didn't realise that the move would effectively spell the end of my academic career. It's a tough grind being an academic in the humanities these days, and one needs a big city, lots of connections and a long slog working in temporary roles to get even a contract position. And so, after a lot of soul searching and Spirit-leading, I accepted that.

My days are now filled with wearing gumboots chasing after children who enjoy ignoring my warnings that they not go into the bull's paddock. The bull who has been recently separated from his girlfriends. An angry bull, in other words. My life now revolves around attempting to nurture my children, to help foster a love of learning in these two little beings entrusted to my care, to feeding and cleaning and patting and, occasionally, yelling. And it's mostly fun. It's a pretty special moment to tramp through a paddock (sans bull) at dusk, with the golden light fading through the gumtrees, while the kids romp down hill and dale. It's lovely. But it also means that, most of my time, I am out on a secluded property, with very little phone or internet reception, with two small people who demand most of my time and energy.

I've written before about contentment, and finding myself with a change of heart towards at-home parenting. I've celebrated, on this blog, about God's blessing in providing the opportunity to home school my beautiful little daughter. 

I thought ... Look Ma, I've done it! I've reached the pinnacle!

And then came the temptation.

An email, out of the blue. An invitation strongly urging me to consider applying for a plum role as an historian, back in my beloved hometown. Not just any old historian, mind you. One responsible for curating exhibitions, for coordinating research projects; essentially, to oversee the way that history is managed and told in that fair state.


In an instant I was there. I am well acquainted with the building where the role would be based. It seems I spent half my life there, back in those halcyon days of wandering across to Northbridge in the fading Perth summer light. I could see myself charging up the stairs, looking fabulous (of course), taking charge. Making decisions. Finding out cool stuff. Being A Very Important Woman.

I always know I'm far from God when my dreams start to edge out His plans for me. When I instinctively turn off worship music on the car stereo to replace it with something a little less ... demanding. When the Bible gets pushed to the edge of the bedside table so that I can read something that requires less of me, spiritually. When I start to seek my own vision for my life instead of God's.

I know I'm far from God when, instantly, I forget all the lessons He's been teaching me - about patience, about timing, about contentment - and begin to dream my own big dreams.

Is it wrong to want to use what are clearly God-given talents? I don't think so. Is it difficult to really know when one's dreams and aspirations are for the fulfilment of self, or for the glory of God? Sometimes. Oftentimes. At this point, not really. 

I am a fine writer. I know that. I've proven it, amply. The question is, do I trust that God will use those talents, in time, and for His glory? That, my friends, is my next journey.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The fruits of the Spirit

Tonight, I stood in my sister-in-law's kitchen, making spaghetti sauce and just hanging out with her. Although we have seven kids between us, it was relatively quiet and we just chatted and pottered around together.

As we worked, I silently thanked God for her: for her faithfulness and her steadfastness over the fifteen years she's been married to my brother.

An observer might assume that Rach and I have always gotten along so well. But the truth is, we have a history, Rachael and me.

When Rachael and Matt started dating, I was quite possibly the snottiest little sister ever. I would openly roll my eyes at Rachael, would scoff at anything she said - I was just generally a brat. I planned to go to their wedding in full goth gear; thankfully, my vanity overrode that!

Looking back on the past fifteen years, I can see how Rach persisted with me. When I decided to turn back to Christ at age 18, Rachael and Matt were the first to celebrate with me (alongside the angels, I'm sure!) When I backslid, they opened their home to me. When I backslid really, really badly, they still loved me.

Rachael was the one who came with me to the doctor's office that day nearly a decade ago, to have my first pregnancy confirmed. I was 22, unmarried, and scared as heck. She held my hand and loved me through it. She came to the first ultrasound too, and squeezed my hand at just the right time. She bought my unborn baby a Bonds wonder suit and a teddy bear, and this simple action showed me that although I was a sinner, I was loved, and I was forgiven, and my baby was loved too.

I am sometimes in awe of her graciousness and her forgiving spirit.

Not that she's perfect; I know that. But to be around Rachael is to get a little glimpse into the nature of Christ. 

I love you Matt and Rachael, and I thank God for your faithful witness.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Riches I heed not ...

... nor man's empty praise.

Or so goes one of the lines from the classic hymn, Be Thou My Vision.

It's an arresting statement.

The next line is equally striking. Be thou mine inheritance now and always.

Well, I think that they are confronting statements, when one really sits down and thinks about it. They are completely counter-cultural: unsurprising, I suppose, considering the Gospel itself is counter-cultural. But how often do we really pick apart what this means for us, for our lives and the way we respond to others?

We don't actually have to look to hymns, however soul-nourishing and challenging they can be, to find what Jesus thinks about things. You know, things. CD collections, shoes, a penchant for fine dining, coffee snobbery, musical equipment, friends in high places. Houses by the ocean, houses with brand new kitchens or bathrooms, or whirlwind world tours. Inanimate or animate, it really amounts to the same thing.

The Gospel of Matthew records Jesus' words in chapter 6 verse 19: Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal.

That's a pretty clear directive, isn't it - but it's one that we in the West seem to find really, really hard to keep. Christians, too.

Why do I ponder these things? Good question. Our 8 year old is obsessed with Stuff. A common lament is But if I only had that, I would be HAPPY! It's caused us a fair bit of angst. How can we teach our daughter about contentment? In fact, I actually thought this blog post was going to be about that very topic. How to Solve Consumerism in Your 8 Year Old By Friday.

Recently, though, we've realised that all she is doing is holding up a mirror to ourselves. We are craftier, sneakier, more creative with our desire to consume, to have things which will surely, surely make us happy. That will make us feel secure. That perhaps will lift our names in people's esteem ( ... man's empty praise?). Nonetheless, our soul's greatest lament is but if only I had that ...

Recently, Jim and I paid off our car. We were three years ahead of payments, and it was a darn good feeling to not be in debt anymore. We loved our car. It is small. It is unprepossessing. But it starts every time, and for two people who used to have to jump-start a beat-up Camry Spirit, that is a good feeling. But it's amazing how quickly I have forgotten that feeling of gratitude.

When we rolled into Burnie earlier this week, our little car stuffed to the gills, we passed a strip of car yards. Ah, such shiny glorious beasts were on display. I even went and had a look. Nissan is offering low interest finance deals on those overgrown vehicles now known in the Australian vernacular as 'SUVs'. I went home and told Jim with some excitement that we could get a much bigger car for, really, not much cash. Really. I even started having visions of myself cruising through town in one of these you-can't-touch-me vehicles. Probably with shinier and glossier hair than I really have, but hey, it was my dream.

Long story short, we realised that our hearts had become discontent. We were starting to desire treasures on earth instead of vowing that God is our inheritance, now and always.

I doubt that we are alone in this.

Our culture celebrates the instrinsic linking of what we have (or enjoy, or cherish) with who we are. Although she enjoys pinterest, to a degree, blogger Sarah Bessey has written about the phenomenon that is the website, writing that:
'Here is the thing I have noticed about Pinterest:

We pin the clothes we wish we wore.
We pin the places we wish we could visit.
We pin the home we wish we lived in.
We pin the crafts we wish we had time to do.
We pin the quotes and sentiments that we wish defined us more.
We pin the meals we wish we made.

Really, we pin the life we wish we had.'

(You can read more about this at Sarah Bessey's site; something I found particularly insightful was her observation that, in the postmodern age, we scorn consumerism but really, what we consume has become what defines us. Food for thought). 

The question I have is this though: how do we escape desiring the treasures of this earth? Can we escape desiring the treasures of this earth? Is Sarah Bessey right, and we just redefine our consumerism over time?  Timothy Keller would likely agree; anyone who knows me would have heard me rave about his book Counterfeit Gods. The subtitle for the book is The Empty Promises of Money, Sex and Power, and the only Hope that matters. It's an amazing book. Buy it. Read it. And read it again. Essentially, Keller's thesis is that we turn good things (and yes, sometimes bad things) into our ultimate security - or rather, attempt to, because there is no way that these things can truly satisfy.

The answer clearly lies in Jesus. When he spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, he gave the answer we need, and need daily. Referring to the water of the well, he declared that “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,  but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13 & 14).

Today, my prayer is that I will remember this. That I will stop craving 'the lesser gods' instead of the God who is the only one who can satisfy.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

And so we begin!

I have learnt several things already on this trip.

1. A Kia Rio can fit an awful lot of stuff, but overstuffing in the front passenger seat leads to very cramped legs if one actually expects a real human passenger to be part of that overstuffing.

2. Don't buy a 2 year old and an 8 year old hot chocolates and smartie biscuits in Campbell Town and then expect the next two hours in an overstuffed Kia Rio to be pretty.

3. It is never advisable to make a 2 year old and 8 year old share a bedroom.

4. Our accommodation, a fully renovated beach house overlooking the centre of Burnie, is truly and utterly gorgeous, and makes up for 1, 2 and 3.

5. Old habits die hard.

The house is so funky it has a popcorn machine. How could we resist making popcorn as soon as we arrived? 

In all seriousness, we've really begun this adventure. We left Kingston just as the St Clement's bells were tolling. We managed to fit four striped bags, one huge sports bag, an acoustic guitar, a bag of guitar pedals and 'things', two laptops, two pillow pets, assorted bedding, and a huge crate of other miscellaneous stuff in a Kia Rio sedan. After a long five hours in the car, we're now in Burnie, where we will spend two weeks before leaving Tasmania.After arriving we checked out our amazing house for the next two weeks. It's awesome. It's clean. It's funky. It's tidy. And I don't have to ensure that it is particularly clean and tidy once we leave. Bliss. And to add to the bliss, the kids are (I think!) asleep in bed, after the requisite 'I'm thirsty!' 'I can't sleep!' complaints.

So, that's 1, 2, 3 and 4 covered. But what of point number five, I hear you demand?

Ah yes. Old habits. A while ago, I had a word from God to homeschool Wooja. I have never received a word from God. To say I was skeptical is an understatement. But we've pressed ahead in faith. I believe I am being called to be a more present and intentional mother to my children (and a more present and intentional wife, too). This trip is giving me that opportunity. I am so looking forward to spending time with my children.

But back to the old habits ... standing in Burnie Coles, arguing with Wooja over why she can't have yet another Tinkerbell toy ... the same old irritation, the same old lack of graciousness, that familiar feeling of anger. And I was struck by the thought: I haven't been praying about this. My role as stay at home parent is paramount to this trip. And I am going to need bucketloads of patience, of grace, of kindness and courage. And I need prayer.

Please pray for me, friends. I'm so excited by this opportunity, and am stepping out in faith that God will be sufficient for my needs.

PS St Clement's folk - miss you!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

So long ... For now

Today we were farewelled from our home church, St Clement's Anglican Church. I had woken this morning with a huge knot in my stomach; dread about our impending departure. I've spent the last couple of weeks saying goodbye; last night was a fabulous dinner with a beautiful friend, and today was to be our official farewell from church.

We first walked into St Clement's two and a half years ago, and my immediate reaction was I hate this place. People waving flags, big band music - I just wanted to go home. I actually left that first service for about half an hour, to collect myself and calm down. And now, two and a half years later, I feel like I am leaving my home. 

Our first week in Hobart. How could it be so cold in January?!

We've been so stretched at St Clem's. I have grappled more with my faith these past two and a half years than ever before. I have sought the Lord, sometimes with my face on the floor, I was that desperate. I have sought Him, and He has been found. We have become part of a Connect Group (in the old parlance, home group) and our group has been a source of refuge, of testing, of growth.

And now, we are abandoning this spiritual home.

When we first floated the idea of going back to the mainland, I think we both truly believed that we were leaving Tasmania for good. Gradually, we've come to realise that we have built a home here. We have people we love. Amazingly, there are people who love us! So, we are leaving Tasmania with the hope that we will return, but with the caveat: DV. Deo Volente. God willing.

Not long after we began to make plans to leave Tasmania I read these words:

Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that."' James 4:13-15

In every other decision Jim and I have made cursory nods to the Lord. We're relatively capable people, well-educated and not too socially inept so we've been able to push ahead with our own plans to a large degree. This time, we are stepping out in faith. In faith the our Heavenly Father knows us, has a plan for us and will reveal that plan to us. I greatly desire that we return to Tasmania. I could say to people that we are only going for six months; after all, Jim has a job waiting for him in 2013. But I am realising the futility of that. We could say that. We could genuinely believe it. But if God has different plans, then our words are in vain (and on the other hand, we could also say that we won't return but God may think differently!). 

So, while I do hope that we come back, we have to wait and see.And in the meantime, there be cows to be chased, and kids to be educatin'!