Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019: The Grieved Bystander


I’ve popped in to type a rare blog post as the final hours of 2019 ebb away.

This year has been hard. While nothing absolutely terrible has happened to me and my immediate family, it has been a year where my heart has been heavy. Sad circumstances and change have hit those I care about hard, and I’ve felt their pain. Sometimes I think I’ve felt more pain than they have. While I’ve grieved over the bad choices I’ve witnessed others making, they’ve seemingly skipped along, thinking that they’ve made wonderful decisions.

There have been more separations and divorces than I can count. Some have been Christian couples. The family breakdowns have hit my town hard as the wives have left with the children to (usually) head to Perth. This has meant less kids at the school and a loss of friends/acquaintances. One of Rory’s besties is one of these, but Rory has taken it pretty well. I don’t know why, but divorce really affects me emotionally (my parents have been married for 45 years, so it's not that I'm from a broken home). I think I was more desensitised to it when I was younger.

We lost Duncan’s cousin’s husband and a friend who used to go to our church – both to cancer. They both trusted the Lord and their witness in their final days was a great encouragement. I hadn’t been to a funeral for ages, yet went to two within eight days, both just before Christmas.

I’ve witnessed God’s amazing hand in bringing a couple of young adults to faith this year – one with no church background whatsoever, who literally found the pastor’s phone number and decided to come along. It is an absolute joy to see these two young women worshipping God joyfully each Sunday, and it is an enormous encouragement to see how they have already made some hard decisions in what needs to be put off in their lives in order to live for Him. Sadly, for one that comes to the Lord, another falls away. It has grieved me that several people I knew in Perth no longer follow Jesus, either that or I have some grave fears for them (judging by some of their posts on Facebook). When people say, “I’m a new person,” or “I’m not that person anymore”, or “I think differently about things now,” coupled with other things they’ve been posting, it is often a cause for alarm.

There have been some dramas with other relationships and I have put my foot down this year, no longer willing to be a door mat and pushed around. For years, it seemed people think Duncan and I will constantly adjust our plans, especially concerning kids’ routines, to suit them (and then change their plans again and again and expect us to comply) and I won’t. I don’t regret it; it’s been a year of incredible freedom in that regard, but not without friction and grief.

My writing seems to be going nowhere and, like last year, I have felt despondent over whether it is what God would have me do. My novel was sent out, but I heard nothing back. I’m currently doing another full edit to send it out again. I’ve entered this writing competition every month this year, bar one, and have failed to make the short list. I want to give up, but a small determined part of me won’t quit.

My battle with PMDD has lingered on this year with no cure in sight. I cannot take the one thing that could ‘fix’ the symptoms as it would put me at risk of a stroke. So, it seems I just have to battle on and face menopause later on with nothing (that works) to give any relief.

There have been highlights. Our family trip to Exmouth in July/August (must blog about that) was wonderful as I got to see my cousin and her family for the first time since October 2010. It was the first time she’d met my children. I joined a new Bible study group this year, made up of women from my church. It was an absolute delight meeting with women of different ages and stages and getting to know them better. We went into recess for harvest, but hopefully we can meet again in 2020. I’ve been doing Zumba every Tuesday morning and it was so good exercising in such a supportive environment. We all have coffee together afterwards and it’s organised upfront and openly by the instructor; no secret cliques sneaking away together. Everyone is invited and there is no bitching. It’s great!

Although 2019 has at times felt boring and dull, that I was just plodding along doing the day-to-day stuff, it has given me a shake up in that I’ve been forced to question who or what my security is found in. Is it when things are going smoothly, or when everyone around me is well and happy? Or is it in my great God, who holds the world in the palm of His hand. I’m praying the ‘shake-ups’ so many people have been through this year will bring to Him and not further from Him.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Courage in a Hostile World

I have to admit, before I read this book, I was more of the opinion that Christians should just show the love of Jesus by the way they live their personal lives, and not get so involved in politics. This book helped change my mind and get me to see that God's people need to call the world back to living for Him.

Courage in a Hostile World is the story of FamilyVoice Australia, or, as it was originally called, Festival of Light. It documents how the group grew from South Australian to nation-wide, weathered many changes in staff and directors, and celebrated many victories by the hand of God in halting acts and bills which would have caused great harm.

Like the Old Testament prophets called God's people Israel back to Him, and had to endure much persecution in the process, FamilyVoice Australia (and other groups) have persisted in calling our wayward nation back to the God who made us all. The difference is that many people now do not know God at all, and see it all as 'morals'.

One of the issues explored in the book is the devastating impact of no-fault divorce on family life. in 1988, during an inquiry into the growing number of street children, an Aboriginal woman was quoted as saying:
"Twenty years ago you'd never see an Aboriginal kid on the streets. Our families were strong then. There was always a home of some relative who would take you in. But that doesn't happen as much these days. The Aboriginal family unit has broken down, just like the white family." (page 51)

One chapter which really made an impact on me was the story of Linda Watson (then Coyle), a former Perth brothel madam who came to Christ. She later founded Linda's House of Hope to encourage and help prostitutes leave the industry, and also lent her voice to the fight against legalising prostitution.
She had been deeply affected by Princess Diana's death on 31 August. "If Diana with all her beauty and wealth can die, what hope is there for me?" she cried. "Where am I going to be when I drop dead? God, please help me!"
What happened next was a powerful miracle - Linda was touched by God's hand. She said it was 'as if I had a new mind'.
(page 114)
Linda exposed the lies of other madams who insisted it was a safe and clean industry. A street survey exposed the public's hypocrisy. Many believed brothels should be legalised, but did not want one in their street, and would certainly not want their daughter to work as a prostitute. Why not, if it's such a safe and clean industry? Hmmm.

This is quite a fascinating book. It is the stories of men and women of true courage and faith, who endured much ridicule and abuse in standing up for the honour of God's name and protection of people and how we created His world to be. One thing I was glad of is that it isn't morals which drive their work (one thing Christian groups are often accused of), but the gospel of Christ and the true hope and transformation only He can bring. No-one can 'legislate Christianity', nor should we want to become a theocracy. But this book showed me that Christians have an important part to play in politics as much as everywhere else.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Transgender

This is a controversial topic and I bought this book mainly to get some help on how to speak to non-Christians about it should the opportunity arise.

Vaughan Roberts is a British minister, who has admitted that he struggles with same-sex attraction, but has chosen to remain celibate. He writes with great compassion while remaining faithful to what God has said in His Word. I think this makes the book more likely to be read by Christians and non-Christians struggling with gender dysphoria, knowing that the writer can empathise with what it's like to deal with unwanted feelings.

In just 74 pages, Vaughan Roberts explains the meaning of gender dysphoria and transgender as well as a host of other terms, while taking the reader through a whirlwind tour of the biblical worldview. He shows how Christians' objection to changing sex is due to how God designed and created the world - how we made men and women in His image, equal, yet different. This is one thing those who push for a genderless society try to erase.

Yet, he also says we mustn't try to make the Bible say what it doesn't say. While there are fundamental differences between men and women, there are also many differences between men and men, and women and women. Part of the confusion many people feel is when they don't fit into a gender stereotype. The Bible is silent on many of these issues.

Roberts also shows how sin has affected the world in exchanging the truth for a lie:

Our culture says: Your psychology is your sexual identity - let your body be conformed to it.
The Bible says: Your body is your sexual identity - let your mind be conformed to it. (page 43)

We mustn't see the body as something evil which needs to be changed. God made us physical creatures. The future resurrection when Jesus returns will be physical one. When the Bible talks about the 'flesh', it's not saying our physical bodies are evil. It's the mind which has been darkened.

One thing I was pleased to read that in order to reach out to transgender people, Christians should call them by their preferred name, even though they disagree with it. It's pretty hard to build a relationship with someone if you won't even call them what they want to be called.

This is not an exhaustive study of transgender issues - in 74 pages it can't be. It's a Talking Point Book, written to raise issues and help people gain a basic understanding. I felt as though this book didn't really tell me anything I didn't already know. It would be good for new Christians, and those who haven't really thought much about the topic before. It would also be a good book to give away after an evangelistic conversation, if transgender issues were a barrier to faith.

We might think transgender issues are a new topic that has got the church into a spin about how to respond. But this book reiterates that there is nothing new under the sun; the gospel remains the answer for everything.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

New Wives

The latest happenings at Cluckingham Palace....

We welcomed Victoria Peckham and Hyacinth in June.



And sadly farewelled Dixie, who died of natural causes in September.


If Brewster the Rooster isn't careful, he'll be farewelled soon. Poor old Sheba seems to be going through 'henopause' and he has rejected her as his wife, attacking her and ripping her feathers off whenever he gets the opportunity. She spends much of her time hiding in the nesting area.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Joyfully Spreading the Word

This was a book I was looking forward to reading with eager anticipation, as spreading the gospel is not really one of my strengths. It has been said that 'evangelism' is in the same category as 'cancer' when it comes to words which provoke intense fear. At times, my fear of evangelism and rejection has crippled my life to such an extent, I began to seriously doubt the power of the gospel I was afraid to speak was able to save me from this sin. Other times, I have been blase, and neglected to see the urgency that the people around me needed a Saviour.

I needed to read this book!

To be honest, I found the first few chapters rather boring and frustrating. The book opens with reminding us of what the gospel is. While you could argue that ALL Christians need to be reminded of the good news they are commanded to tell, I felt it was a bit ho hum, been there done that. I get their point - we do need to know the 'what' before the 'how' - but I just wanted real-life examples of evangelistic life in the trenches. Will there be anyone who is faced with similar people I know with similar objections to Jesus and the Christian faith? Will there be any encouragement for me in my specific context?

The book is a collection of experiences of different Christian women, in different situations around the world. Therefore, each chapter has its own 'voice'.

One of the chapters which impacted me most powerfully was the one by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, author of The Secret Life of an Unlikely Convert. She speaks of her experience as a lesbian, university academic who came to Christ through the loving hospitality of a pastor and his wife, who invited her into their home and church for years, gently and patiently witnessing to her. This, she believes, holds the key to reaching out to the LGBTQ community. The LGBTQ is a real community, constantly in each others' lives and homes, supporting each other. For Christians, our idea of community is often just church on Sunday and Bible study one night/morning a week. We need to do more in this area if we are to reach out to people whose worldview is often on a collision course with our own. Rosaria reminds us that LGBTQ people's greatest sin is not sexual sin, but unbelief - just like everyone.

I also gained a lot from the chapters on evangelising children (something on my mind right now as a parent and Sunday School teacher), and also on evangelism in universities and workplaces (two former stages of my life). Often people fit into four categories:
- The Interested
- The Uninterested
- The Curious
- The Churched (people who have been raised in the church, and may know a lot about Jesus and the Bible, but are not actually trusting and following Him).

There are plenty of encouraging stories of how God is powerful and can change even the hardest of hearts. There are also plenty of doses of realism and heartbreak - people who received the Word with joy, but later walked away. It is a reminder that we have a role to play, but only God can save. He is sovereign over all.

This book is such an encouragement and I recommend all Christian women read it.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

I Have a Teenager

Blog, that is. It's still another six and a half years until I have a teenage child.

I have been blogging since the 19th June 2006!

I know I never seem to post anything except book reviews these days, but I'll be back. One day. Maybe next year when Flynn starts kindy (can you believe it?) and I have some time to breathe and process.

Does anyone still read this?

Saturday, June 08, 2019

The Happiness Effect


If you see that I’m reviewing a fair few books on social media usage it’s because it’s my pet topic at the moment.

The Happiness Effect is a study of the attitudes of American college students towards social media. While some of it was extremely interesting, I found some was not relevant to me. Unfortunately I’m not in that young twenty-something demographic anymore, and chapters on sexting, selfies and nude photos are not really my thing. I don’t need to worry about what my future boss might think of my posts and photos as my profile is set to private and there is nothing incriminating there anyway. There was also discussion of apps that I have no idea about; I’m really only familiar with Facebook and blogging.

The main point of the book is that there seems to be no place on social media for sadness or overt seriousness, and there is great pressure to only post happy, positive things. Whether it’s pressure that friends will cut you off, or that a post will affect your future employment, people of all ages feel they must edit their lives. I’ve found this to be very true. There is pressure to post things for ‘likes’ and the thrill of acceptance and validation that gives. There is no place for vulnerability, hence some insensitive twit will use it against you. Yet, if you’re too positive, you get accused of being fake. You can’t win.

These are some of the points which really stood out to me:
  • There is a real love-hate relationship between young people and their smart phones. They long to be free of them, but feel disconnected to their peers and the world without them. Nowadays, smart phone users are expected to be on-call like they were doctors or other emergency workers. There is a fear of being out of phone range if there is an emergency and they need to be reached. Yet, previous generations survived without this technology. Those who have deactivated their social media accounts have noticed they tend to get less invitations to things and it’s the fear of being left out that often makes people reactivate.
  •  In the past, you’d hear about a party you weren’t invited to via overhearing conversations. Now the photos are plastered all over social media to rub it in your face (often deliberately).
  • Being on platforms which allow you to post or comment anonymously is freeing because you can be your authentic self. I’ve found this with blogging; I can be much more honest than I can on Facebook. However, this has led to the rise of trolling, and people showing their nasty sides.
The book didn’t address all of the areas I wished it had and I suspect that is mostly because it’s not aimed at my demographic. What I want to read is a book about social media usage by women around my age – the subtle nastiness women often display, such as tagging all of your mutual friends but you in a ‘best friend meme’, posting photos or ‘checking in’ at an event you were excluded from, liking everyone else’s posts but yours. But you can’t pull them up on this behaviour as they’ll just deny it and you’ll look like a crazy person.

My hunt continues….