Home

I'm not entirely sure when this happened, but somewhere along the way 'home' has moved. When I moved interstate nearly four years ago the state I'd left was most definitely home. Over the Christmas break I would spend nearly two months there visiting family and catching up with friends, as well as coming home several times during the year for a week or two. That time was so important to me and really gave me an emotional lift. I felt like a stranger and an alien for a very long time when I moved interstate so coming home several times a year helped me to get through the rest of the year. Lately, though, I've realised that the opposite is true. I come 'home' to visit family and find myself anxious to get back 'home' to familiar and comfortable surroundings. How did this happen?

I think one thing that helped this happen is that, about 18 months ago, I finally found a church that feels like home, and where I have made good friends. Previously I longed for my old church where I knew there were people who cared about me and were praying for me; and where everything was familiar, because my 'new' church never ever felt like home, even though some of the people were friendly. Now, however, I feel like I have a church family again and that's made a huge difference to the way I feel about the place. This is not to say that I have abandoned my old church - I still miss the people there and I still feel a wonderful sense of belonging when I come back for holidays, but now when I say 'my church' I'm talking about the new(er) one, not the old one.

Church has been a big factor in my alliegance shift; and another thing that's helped is having a 'proper' job. I've had lots of jobs since I've been there but they've all been 'get me through uni' jobs. Now I'm not studying and the decision to find a job there instead of going back 'home' to find one was a big step for me. That's when I really felt like I'd moved for good.

Having said all of this, and given the supposed rivalry between the two states (which actually only exists from one side), I'll always be proud to say that I came from the first place, even though I now live in the second.


Free Rice

I've just stumbled across a site called Free Rice. It's really cool - you go on there and do a vocab quiz, and for every word you get right they donate 20 grains of rice to the UN World Food Program. 20 grains of rice doesn't sound like much, but since the site started in October they've donated 6,306,039,81 grains of rice (and initially it was 10 at a time, not 20). I don't know how many grains are in a bowl... let's say there are 1000 - that's 630,603 bowls of rice in the last two months. Please check out the site - this is NOT one of those "if you send this to 5 squillion people Microsoft will send you a new laptop" scams. It's the real deal, and it makes a real difference to real people.

Doubts

Anyone who's known me for more than 10 minutes usually works out pretty quickly that I love to help people. If there are meals to be cooked, a house to be cleaned, packing to be done or any other way I can lend a hand then I'm usually there. I do these things because it makes me happy to help... but on the flip-side of the happiness, it causes me some insecurity and doubt.

My friends are usually grateful to have help when it's needed, and because I tend to help a number of different people I'll often have people saying things like, "You're so great... what would we do without your help?" While that's lovely (and entirely heartfelt) it often makes me wonder, "What would our friendship be like if I were not so willing to help out so often?" I guess this just highlights my own insecurities and inability to trust people... but it would be really good sometimes if people said nice things about ME as a person, and not just about me in reference to what I do. The things I do stem from who I am as a person, but there is more to me than that. I'd like to think that if I were suddenly incapacitated and unable to do the things I do now (or I were not incapacitated but decided to stop doing them anyway), my friends wouldn't change their opinion of me. And frankly, I'd like to be sure about what that opinion is... it's not like people are over-eager to share. I include myself in that - I very rarely tell my friends how much they mean to me, and why.

I know, I know, it's all about my fears and insecurities.... but surely I'm not the only one who thinks things like this occasionally??


Study, work and sanity

Another boring update... Firstly, I love my new job. It's exactly what I needed, when I needed it. (Hmmm.... is it possible God IS in control after all??) I have a large degree of autonomy - ie, I can do whatever I like in whatever manner I choose so long as the work gets done. I have already developed a good relationship with the minister so I feel very good about working there.

Secondly, uni. After some agonising I decided to take a complete break from study. I realised I was hating it, and treating Honours like a prison sentence that had to be survived. Given how much I used to enjoy studying, that was very sad, and not at all the way I wanted to approach uni, so I have applied to withdraw in good standing. This means my Honours credits will stay there for ten years and I can return any time within that ten years and pick up where I left off. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders and I'm very happy with my decision. I've been getting mixed reactions from people though. Here's a sample:

"About time you made that decision - I thought you should have quit months ago. Now make sure you get out there and start having a life."

"It's a good decision so long as it's only a short break and you go back to what you were doing soon, instead of leaving it for too long."

"You're just doing a 20hr/week admin job now? But what do you want to do with your life?"

"Staying well and keeping sane and safe is a good thing. Honours is good but not worth being crazy for."

"Can you survive on that amount of money?"

"I really hope to work with you again and am sad you're leaving, but you've made the right decision. Looking after yourself is the most important thing."

"But what do you want to do with your life?"

"But what do you want to do with your life?"

"But what..."
(you get the idea...)

I can understand the "what do you want to do with your life" question and I probably would have asked it myself if I hadn't had the experiences of the past year. But now I feel differently and I'm not so goal-oriented. Or perhaps I just realised that I was aiming for the wrong goals.

In addition to the church admin job, which is 2.5 days per week, I've kept two of my cleaning jobs. They're both fortnightly on a Monday so I have one cleaning job per week. It's a little extra cash which I don't entirely need, but it helps to get it because I'm paid monthly in the new job... getting the cleaning money weekly will help me survive on the months when I don't budget very well!

Finally, my mental health. Well, my emotions continue to be up and down but the general trend is upwards. There are far fewer really horrendous days and overall I feel a lot more in control of things. Counselling is helping a lot, and pulling out of uni has made a big difference too. When I saw my psychologist this week she said, "You're smiling! It's so great to see you looking a bit happier... you're like a different person. It's a huge change; you have no idea." I said, "Oh yeah, I have an idea!" I'm still working through a whole lot of stuff and I don't feel like I'm my old self yet... but I don't think I'm going to be my old self anyway. There are some things I'm throwing away and there are some things that are healing but leaving scars. I'll be okay in the end, but I can't be the same person. Maybe that's a good thing.






Women's friendships

Obviously I can only speak about this as a woman, but I think there's something special about friendships between women. I have many female friends who are married, yet they all have close friendships with other women and seem to find them immensely valuable. Not more so than their marriages, obviously, but they're different.

I have friendships with many people - men, women, couples, singles - and I enjoy spending time with all of them, but it's the time spent alone with other women that's most valuable to me. I'm not even sure exactly what it is... is it the shared experiences? Is it the similarity in the things we think or the way we think them? I'm not sure, but I know that when I spend time with my female friends I usually leave feeling refreshed and strengthened.

When I lived in my home state I had a good network of women friends, and I'm slowly building that here but it's taking some time; and it's something I miss very much. Recently some friends went away for the weekend with other women (this is something they do every year) and I was somewhat jealous when they told me about it. Not jealous of their particular weekend, and not desiring to go to that, but jealous because it's something I used to do with my friends back home, and haven't done for a number of years now. Well, maybe jealous isn't the right word... but it stirred up some feelings of loss. I've managed to reproduce many things from home, here in this new home, but there's still a bit of a hole where that network used to be and I'm finding things quite lonely and empty without it.




Deadly integrity

I know the quotation marks are meant to stop confusion, but the headline below from Yahoo makes it look very much like the poor man died because he had a rare and deadly form of integrity...




Edit: Wow, I've just found out that this was my friend's uncle. I offered to remove the post and she said, "No, he was a journalist... it would have amused him!"

Simpsonize me

Even for non-Simpsons fans I reckon this is still a fun site. Here's me as a Simpsons character:



Actually on reflection I think it's more like what Elizabeth Perkins would look like if she were a Simpsons character (at least before her plastic surgery)... but with the choice between extremely flattering and realistic, which would you choose??


Hurrah!

Yesterday I went for a job interview and this morning they rang and offered it to me. Hurrah! Actually I already knew because they rang my referees and told them they were planning to offer me the job... so of course one of them immediately e-mailled me and said, "I have good news about your job." To which I replied, "I think that's actually a breach of privacy legislation... but yay!"

It's a church secretary position - one of those catch-all jobs that's perfect for someone like me who loves to organise things and bring order to chaos. It sounds like I'll have a number (a large number) of regular tasks each week/fortnight but a fair bit of autonomy as to how they are done. I'm looking forward to starting... okay, I admit, I'm mostly looking forward to having a regular - and quite decent - income. Nothing like what I was earning in the old days, but about double what I get from Austudy so I'm definitely ahead. I'll keep at least two of my cleaning jobs but may have to negotiate the others. I'm not sure it's feasible to keep all of them, but if I drop one of the fortnightly ones that leaves me with two per week (three clients, two of them fortnightly and one weekly). I'd like to keep them up, partly because all three of them are friends from church and I know that the cleaning is a big help to them, and partly because I don't want to drop all my cleaning jobs and have the church secretary job fall through unexpectedly in two months. I'll try it this way for a month or two and see how it goes.

My only small concern is that I'll have less time for doing uni work, although the way I'll probably organise my hours means I'll have one full day and two half days free, as well as evenings and weekends. It will mean being more disciplined, and that's a bit of a worry given what my concentration and energy levels have been like. However, I'm hoping that having less time might motivate me to work more efficiently in the time I have. My iron levels are better and that has given me a bit more energy, but I'm still sleeping quite badly and still having some pretty bad days emotionally. However, I feel like I'm moving uphill, albeit very slowly and not without pain and effort, so I think this will be good, ultimately. If nothing else, having a regular job will give me a reason to get out of bed, and organisation/admin tasks will be good for my brain.

I'm constantly amazed at God's sense of timing. I was looking for a job a couple of months ago and really hoping that I would find a church admin type position somewhere. I ended up being very discouraged because nothing was available, but in hindsight I realise I just didn't have the physical or emotional energy for a regular job. I really needed those few extra weeks to get a bit healthier and to start to see some benefit in counselling. This last counselling session was the first one where I felt like it might actually be helpful, not just painful, and the first time that I felt like I could eventually feel better... and was offered this job two days later. This is not to suggest that everything is fixed now, but I can see the way God knows the best timing for things. This is both an answer to prayer and a reason for prayer - praise God!

Raining

I've just looked out the window at uni and it's raining. Pouring. (The old man probably IS snoring.) Did I bring an umbrella with me? Of course not.

Teddy Bear

A friend posted an A. A. Milne poem on his blog recently, which sent me scurrying off to find my A. A. Milne poetry and spend a delightful hour re-reading them... which prompted me to post this one. I wish I could find the illustrations - he's such a serious looking little bear! Enjoy...


Teddy Bear

A bear, however hard he tries,
Grows tubby without exercise.
Our Teddy Bear is short and fat,
Which is not to be wondered at;
He gets what exercise he can
By falling off the ottoman,
But generally seems to lack
The energy to clamber back.

Now tubbiness is just the thing
Which gets a fellow wondering;
And Teddy worried lots about
The fact that he was rather stout.
He thought: "If only I were thin!
But how does anyone begin?"
He thought: "It really isn't fair
To grudge one exercise and air."

For many weeks he pressed in vain
His nose against the window-pane,
And envied those who walked about
Reducing their unwanted stout.
None of the people he could see
"Is quite" (he said) "as fat as me!"
Then, with a still more moving sigh,
"I mean" (he said) "as fat as I!

One night it happened that he took
A peep at an old picture-book,
Wherein he came across by chance
The picture of a King of France
(A stoutish man) and, down below,
These words: "King Louis So and So,
Nicknamed 'The Handsome!'" There he sat,
And (think of it!) the man was fat!

Our bear rejoiced like anything
To read about this famous King,
Nicknamed "The Handsome." There he sat,
And certainly the man was fat.
Nicknamed "The Handsome." Not a doubt
The man was definitely stout.
Why then, a bear (for all his tub)
Might yet be named "The Handsome Cub!"

"Might yet be named." Or did he mean
That years ago he "might have been"?
For now he felt a slight misgiving:
"Is Louis So and So still living?
Fashions in beauty have a way
Of altering from day to day.
Is 'Handsome Louis' with us yet?
Unfortunately I forget."

Next morning (nose to window-pane)
The doubt occurred to him again.
One question hammered in his head:
"Is he alive or is he dead?"
Thus, nose to pane, he pondered; but
The lattice window, loosely shut,
Swung open. With one startled "Oh!"
Our Teddy disappeared below.

There happened to be passing by
A plump man with a twinkling eye,
Who, seeing Teddy in the street,
Raised him politely to his feet,
And murmured kindly in his ear
Soft words of comfort and of cheer:
"Well, well!" "Allow me!" "Not at all."
"Tut-tut! A very nasty fall."

Our Teddy answered not a word;
It's doubtful if he even heard.
Our bear could only look and look:
The stout man in the picture-book!
That 'handsome' King - could this be he,
This man of adiposity?
"Impossible," he thought. "But still,
No harm in asking. Yes I will!"

"Are you," he said,"by any chance
His Majesty the King of France?"
The other answered, "I am that,"
Bowed stiffly, and removed his hat;
Then said, "Excuse me," with an air,
"But is it Mr Edward Bear?"
And Teddy, bending very low,
Replied politely, "Even so!"

They stood beneath the window there,
The King and Mr Edward Bear,
And, handsome, if a trifle fat,
Talked carelessly of this and that....
Then said His Majesty, "Well, well,
I must get on," and rang the bell.
"Your bear, I think," he smiled. "Good-day!"
And turned, and went upon his way.

A bear, however hard he tries,
Grows tubby without exercise.
Our Teddy Bear is short and fat,
Which is not to be wondered at.
But do you think it worries him
To know that he is far from slim?
No, just the other way about -
He's proud of being short and stout.

Alan Alexander Milne

Poetry to go

I use the term 'poetry' loosely and would like to caution you to click on this link at your own risk. I can't imagine anything worse than attending a function where someone recited one of those poems... unless it's a function where they recited one of those poems and served Sparkling Passionfruit Spumante for the toast.



Tampon craft

When I started using a menstrual cup I was left with boxes of tampons I no longer needed or wanted. I ended up giving them to a friend... if only I'd known about this site; I could have done something creative with them!


Over the rainbow

Check out this clip of a six year old girl auditioning for Britain's Got Talent. I've never heard such a mature voice on a child - it's amazing.


Remembering God

Last night I read Joshua chapters 3 and 4. In these chapters the Israelites cross the Jordan River during flood season - God tells them that so long as the priests are standing in the river, he will stop the water flowing and allow them to cross on dry land. The priests stand there while 40,000 men cross (as well as the women, children and livestock, who weren't counted in that number), then they get out and the river starts flowing again as soon as the priests are on dry land.

When they get to the other side God instructs each tribe to erect a memorial stone so that when their children see the stones and ask why they're there, they can tell them about God performing this miracle and allowing them to cross the Jordan.

These chapters tell us about God - his mercy and his faithfulness to his promises - but they also speak loudly about the human condition. Seriously, if you saw God stop a raging river (and presumably it would have been raging during flood season) and 'pile up' all the water upstream while 80,000 or so people crossed the river on dry land, would you really need a stone to remind you about it? Surely you'd be telling everyone?? Apparently not... we are pretty quick to forget miracles and pretty quick to take the credit for ourselves where we can. I know I see miracles every day - maybe not of the "stop a river flowing" variety, but certainly of the "God is powerful, merciful and loving" variety. How often do I stop to give God the glory? How often do I remember God at all, instead of taking it all for granted?

Who among the Gods is like you, O Lord?
Who is like you -
majestic in holiness,
awesome in glory,
working wonders?
(Exodus 15 v 11)


Crocs

As someone who HATES Crocs (the stupid rubber shoes, not the scary animal), I thought this parody was pretty funny... as did the 478,000 members of the "I don't care how comfortable Crocs are, you look like a dumbass" Facebook community. I've found my people...

More poetry

And while I'm on the subject of poetry, I thought I'd add this one - another favourite.

Sonnet XIX
When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide,
'Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?'
I fondly ask. But patient, to prevent
That murmer, soon replies, 'God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts. Who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at his bidding speed,
And post o'er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.'
--- John Milton


Leunig poem

Someone sent me this poem today... it speaks to me very strongly right now.

When the heart
Is cut or cracked or broken
Do not clutch it
Let the wound lie open

Let the wind
From the good old sea blow in
To bathe the wound with salt
And let it sting

Let a stray dog lick it
Let a bird lean in the hole and sing
A simple song like a tiny bell
And let it ring

Let it go, let it out
Let it all unravel
Let it be free and it can be
A path on which to travel
--- Michael Leunig

Thoroughly equipped

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13 v 20-21)

This is a great thing to be praying for each other but I think it's also something good to be praying for ourselves. I pray for a lot of things - and that's fine; God wants to hear my prayers and wants me to bring all my requests to him - but I confess I don't often pray to be equipped to do his will. I think I'm more likely to grudgingly accept that I might have some spiritual gifts that I'm prepared to use if I'm not too inconvenienced... perhaps I need to spend a little more time actively seeking to do God's will, and praying that he will equip me with everything good in order that I may do so (rather than asking for everything good so that I may lead a comfortable life).



Shadow puppets

This clip is absolutely amazing (you'll need to turn on your speakers) and this one is hilarious - it has subtitles so watch it full screen if you can.

Faith restored

Just when I was feeling grumpy and had lost all faith in human nature, I went to the markets at uni and discovered that my favourite earring seller is back. (He sells other things, but I've only bought earrings from him.) He's been away for a few weeks and I wondered if he would return. I bought a pair of earrings and chatted with him for a little while about where he's been etc, then mentioned that I had been devastated a few weeks ago to lose one of my favourite earrings, which I'd bought from him several months ago. He asked which they were, so I pointed them out... and he gave me another one so I'd have a complete pair again! I should note that these earrings are sterling silver and more expensive than the cheapy ones I bought today, so it's not like he was getting his money back. When I protested that he now had a lone earring he couldn't sell he said, "Don't worry, I'll make a pendant out of it." (Perhaps he's hoping I'll buy that next week...) Anyway, it was a very nice thing to do and gave me a warm glow!


Top fifteen children's books

Truly, I tried... but I couldn't get the list down to ten. Even fifteen was a struggle...

Top fifteen children's books
The Friends of Emily Culpepper - Ann Coleridge
This is a picture book by Australian author Ann Coleridge... sadly, it's now out of print. The book is funny and surprising with a couple of jokes for the grown-ups. It's definitely one for reading aloud.

Tell Me if the Lovers are the Losers - Cynthia Voigt
My first introduction to Cynthia Voigt was the Homecoming series. This is quite different in style but I love the character development. A couple of changes are predictable but there are a few surprises too.

Danny, the Champion of the World - Roald Dahl
I'm a big Dahl fan anyway and this is probably my favourite. Danny's father is so wonderful - or as Dahl calls him, 'sparky'.

Carrie's War - Nina Bawden
For some reason I have a fondness for WW2 evacuation stories... no idea why, but in any case this is a great one.

Tom's Midnight Garden - Philippa Pearce
Delightful from start to finish.

Where the Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak
Did you know this book is one of a trilogy? Where The Wild Things Are, In The Night Kitchen and Outside Over There (which was NOT, as many people believe, the inspiration for the movie Labyrinth). Sendak manages to delve into the deepest parts of the mind, but without scarring children for life - no mean feat!

The Narnia series - C. S. Lewis
When I first read these (in completely the wrong order because I was given The Silver Chair as a gift by someone who didn't know it was part of a series) I had no idea they were Christian books. The imagery is obvious to Christians but I don't believe it's that obvious to kids with little knowledge of Christianity. Well, at least until The Last Battle, which contains my favourite scene of all, where the unicorn realises they are finally in the TRUE Narnia, and says the reason they loved the old Narnia was because it sometimes reminded them of this real Narnia... but he realises that this is his real home, the one he's been longing for his whole life without even realising it. Amen!

Mistress Masham's Repose - T. H. White
A nod to Gulliver's Travels, without the political commentary.

The Swallows and Amazons series - Arthur Ransome
The whole series is completely alien to me in ways - English kids, camping and sailing, set in the 1940s - and yet totally captivating. A grand adventure story with likable characters, particularly the 'pirate' uncle.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase - Joan Aiken
Neglected orphans, a wicked governess, a cunning and evil plot and an alternate historical timeline... what's not to love?

Horton Hears a Who - Dr Seuss
Like Mistress Masham's Repose and Mary Norton's Borrowers series, I was fascinated with the idea of a whole world of tiny people, living their own lives in their own little world that's part of ours yet quite separate, and hidden from those who don't open their eyes to look. I've never looked at dandelions the same way since reading this!

The Little White Horse - Elizabeth Goudge
What can I say? It's just delightful.

A Sound of Crying - Rodie Sudbury
Sudbury wrote a series about the character of Polly. I hated the others but this one is great - the idea of living someone else's life while she dreams was scary yet somehow appealing. It was released under the alternate title of... ummm... I think it was The Voice in the Woods, but don't quote me.

Miss Happiness and Miss Flower - Rumer Godden
Ordinarily I don't care for books about talking dolls but these dolls are lovely, and a good foil to the parallel story of a girl trying to find her place in a strange family.

The Silver Crown - Robert C. O'Brien
When I went back and re-read this I was astonished that it's much shorter than I remembered. So much seems to happen that I was convinced it's a much longer book. When I was in primary school I must have borrowed this from the library about 20 times. It was out of print for many years but someone finally came to their senses about 6 years ago and reprinted it.


Top ten books

I had a discussion earlier with my housemate about which books would make my 'Top Ten' list. Wow, it's very hard to come up with a top ten. For a start, I would have to differentiate between books chosen because I think they're quality books and books chosen because they're 'comfort books' - ie, ones that have a special place in my heart for any reason, even if they're somewhat trashy books. I have to say I've found the task near impossible; and I suspect that a list I make today might be radically different from lists made tomorrow or next week... but anyway, here (in no particular order) is an attempt at my top ten list. I'll do a children's book list later on.

Top ten 'comfort' books - books that will always have a home on my shelves

To Kill A Mockingbird
- Harper Lee
Fortunately I read this before being forced to read it at school. I loved it for the character sketches and for the novelty of an adult book written entirely from the point of view of a child (who is still a child at the end). I wasn't even that concerned with Boo Radley coming out because I was so engrossed in the everyday stuff.

The Eyre Affair - Jasper Fforde
I love this for the wit and the 'in' jokes - because they're mostly literary or grammar/language jokes. This book caters to my Inner Nerd in a hugely entertaining way.

Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
It's sentimental and preachy and the author moralises constantly but I still cry when Beth dies... every jolly time!

Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
What's not to love about a book where the author gives her favourite paragraphs a star rating?

The Chrysalids - John Wyndham
This book is where I developed my love for 'classic' science fiction... it was the Golden Age, in my opinion.

The Mapp and Lucia series - E. F. Benson
Difficult to describe; fun to read. Dry wit is my favourite kind!

The Belgariad series - David Eddings
Not really very well written, and at times very predictable and somewhat awkward, but these were the first fantasy novels I ever read so they're special to me. The characters feel like family.

Les Miserables - Victor Hugo
Wow, reading this was like going on the most fantastic journey ever. I read it during every spare second and it still took me weeks. I was so invested in the characters that I practically needed counselling when I finished it.

Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
I wrote on this in my HSC without having read it. It's the only time I'd ever done that and I'm just lucky I did well despite myself. I read it later and kicked myself that I hadn't read it way back in high school. I would have liked it then as much as I like it now... admittedly, I do now find it hard to read it without picturing Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth from the wonderful BBC production from a few years ago.

Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
It took me a long time to get past the bit where they cut off the girls' hair...

Hmmm... not a well developed list if one is looking for 'classic' literature, but this is my list and all the books on it are there because they mean something to me. The next list will be harder... I do love my children's books and I'm not sure I can keep it to ten. We'll see...



Ripped-off joke #5

Jim and Edna were both patients in a mental hospital. One day while they were walking past the hospital swimming pool, Jim suddenly jumped into the deep end. He sank to the bottom of the pool and stayed there. Edna promptly jumped in to save him. She swam to the bottom and pulled Jim out.

When the Nurse Director became aware of Edna's heroic act, she immediately ordered her to be discharged from the hospital, as she now considered her to be mentally stable. When she went to tell Edna the news she said, "Edna, I have good news and bad news. "The good news is you're being discharged. Since you were able to rationally respond to a crisis by jumping in and saving the life of another patient, I have concluded that your act displays sound judgment and that you have a sound mind. "The bad news is that, Jim, the patient you saved, hung himself in the bathroom with his bathrobe belt right after you saved him. I am so sorry, but he's dead."

Edna replied, "He didn't hang himself; I put him there to dry. How soon can I go home?"

The list

I recently followed a link to The Happiness Project. As 'advice' blogs go it's okay, but I was curious about the "Wednesday is tip day" section. Some of the tips listed are quite useful... while some are useless platitudes that sound great but make no sense when considered thoughtfully. What made me curious, though, is why blogs like these are so popular. I think it comes down to the fact that we really do want rules. As much as we like to say, "Do whatever you like as long as you are true to yourself and you hurt no one", the fact is that at some level we want to be told what to do. It's somehow safe and comforting to be told, "Do these 12 things and everything will work out okay for you." We need - we embrace - rules. I suppose this is part of the reason that Christianity is so radical for people. Despite the popular idea of Christianity, it's not about rules at all. Humanity tried living by a list and we failed miserably at it; following Jesus is about HIM following the rules and doing the right thing. And it's hard... in some ways it would be easier if we had a list. "Okay, do these 5 things and you'll get to heaven. Just tick them off as they're completed and then you'll be alright." Instead, we hear "Hate your family. Love your enemies. Follow me even when it's hard. Surrender your control. Be despised by the world." I admit, a part of me wants the list... but the other part rejoices that my list contains only one item: "Trust in Jesus". Tick.


Drawing near to God

"On the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect), but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God."
(Hebrews 7 v 18-19)

I've been thinking about the idea of drawing near to God; and the significance of the fact that Jesus' death and resurrection allows us to draw near to God. I guess there are two pictures here... one is of us standing still, being approached by God whether we want it or not - but potentially this leaves unsure about what God thinks of us, or whether we're welcome in God's presence at any other time. The other is of us approaching God boldly, being sure of our welcome. What's the real difference?

When I was growing up we were great friends with the family next door - the mother of the family is my godmother, in fact. Our properties were separated by a wooden fence, but some years before I was born my father cut a gate into the fence, so we had access to each other's backyards. I never asked permission to go next door, nor did I have to wait for an invitation. I certainly never used the front door! Did I wait for them to approach me? No. Did I ever hesitate or fear to go next door? No, of course not, because I was absolutely sure of my welcome. That's what it's like with God - because of Jesus, I am absolutely sure of my welcome with God. Of course God does draw near to us too, but I feel we shouldn't underestimate what it means that we can draw near to God. I'm not hanging around just waiting for God; I can approach the creator of the universe with confidence, knowing I'll be welcomed, accepted and loved. How great is that??


Tracking a package

My MP3 player broke a while ago, and the company agreed to replace it under warranty. (Yay!) I received a tracking number for it the other day so I could track it via UPS. I checked it this morning and discovered that in the last five days it's gone from Morrisville, North Carolina, to Greensboro, North Carolina, to Louisville, Kentucky, to Honolulu, Hawaii, to Ascot Vale, Victoria (Australia) and now to Sydney. I'm in Melbourne so I don't know why it's gone off to Sydney, but I do hope it's enjoying all the travelling it's done...

Update:
It arrived... and was greeted with cries of delight!




Rules for evil overlords

We all know that the evil overlord gets defeated in the last 10 minutes of the movie, usually because he's overlooked something vital, he's been betrayed by one of his underlings, or he's seriously underestimated the hero. If you have any aspirations to try the evil overlord business yourself, I suggest you first read this list, and you might avoid the last minute defeat. (And if you have no plans for world domination, read it anyway. It's pretty funny.)



Harry Potter 7

I started (and finished) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows yesterday. It was good to read it all in one sitting... although not so good for my uni work. Without posting any spoilers, I'm still deciding what I think about it.

It was certainly a very dark book, although they've been getting darker as they go along so that's no real surprise. I feel they stopped being children's books about halfway through the third one, and they've been getting more 'mature' - and darker - ever since. Not necessarily a bad thing in itself, and a trend for which there is precedent - eg, Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books, while not dark, did get more mature in language and subject matter as the character of Laura matured. The target audience seemed to change partway through the series, and I think it's the same with Harry Potter. I would be happy for an 11-year-old to read the first couple; I wouldn't want them to read the last few until they were a bit older. Or not without reading it with them and talking about it, anyway.

I think what I feel at the moment is relief that it's over! I started reading the Harry Potter series before they became popular, so I've been invested for what feels like a long time. I was happy with the way Rowling tied up the ends she'd left dangling in previous books - all in all, I've been quite impressed with her ability to misdirect without using anvils, and the level of continuity between books. The hints she drops in earlier books are never left hanging, and it's not always obvious they ARE hints, which suggests she had the whole thing planned out thoroughly (unlike some other authors who just keep writing and writing and make you feel like they have no clue what's going to happen... *cough*Wheel of Time series*cough*). There are some things that weren't neatly tied up, but I kind of like that. Life, after all, is not neat and sometimes we never know how things turn out in the end. The major plotlines were tied up acceptably, I thought.

Her writing style tended to waver between 'aimed at adults' and 'aimed at kids', but I think that's almost inevitable when you have teenaged characters involved in very serious and grown up situations. There was a section in the middle of the book that dragged frustratingly, but I'm willing to forgive it because other parts moved along nicely. And I'm happy that she de-sanctified one of the more 'perfect' characters and made them a bit more likably human.

As for the answers to the big questions... "Is Dumbledore really dead?" "Is Snape a baddie or a goodie?" "Does Harry live or die?"... you'll have to read it yourself! Or go on line to find spoilers, but that's a lazy way of doing it and it will wreck the experience of reading the book. Resist!

Anyway, now it's done, and I can confirm that there IS life after Harry Potter.

Caffeine

I couldn't get my regular decaf teabags when I went to the supermarket a few days ago, so I bought 'normal' teabags, which I do drink occasionally anyway (although not more than one or two cups per week). I've just remembered why I gave up caffeine - I've been drinking the normal tea for three days and have had a massive headache for two of those days. Think I'll switch back to the decaf...


Reflections on Daniel

I finished reading Daniel a couple of days ago and I'm still reflecting on what I learned from it. It's a difficult book in many ways - even the 'easy' chapters - and it's hard to know quite what to do with it when it's so far outside my experience and talks about things that seem irrelevant to me.

One thing to which I keep coming back is that God is in control of all things, even the bad things. In one way it seems like the early chapters, which focus on events that happen to Daniel, are a prelude to the later chapters that focus on things that happen on a much larger scale. God was in control of the smaller things and therefore can be trusted with the bigger things. The later chapters also show that God is not unaware of suffering; nor is it outside his control or outside his plans for the world (or the individual). There is plenty of suffering prophesied in Daniel, but it's never unexpected and never takes God by surprise. In chapter 11 there is a lot of stuff about a powerful and evil king who will arise, yet the chapter makes clear that "he shall come to his end, with none to help him" (11 v 45). God was in control of the king's demise AND in control of his initial rise to power. All of it was God's plan. Makes me think twice about some political leaders who haven't impressed me... I think I've been trying to ignore the bits in the Bible about God appointing the rulers and authorities... ;-)

Daniel ends with a vision of what will happen when the suffering is complete:

"...there shall be a time of trouble, such has never been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt." (Daniel 12:1-2)

It reminded me what prayers for world peace and justice really mean - they are prayers for Jesus to return to judge the world. That's a pretty sobering thought, particularly in light of the many people I love who do not know Jesus.



Reclaiming the news

YouTube clip of Mika Brzezinski refusing to read the Paris Hilton prison release story as the lead news story, on the basis that it's not real news and shouldn't be the lead story on a news program. Apparently her inbox was later flooded with e-mails - every single one of them applauding her actions.


Yay!

I submitted an essay and an annotated bibliography today. Phew - such a sense of relief to get them out of the way. Still plenty to do, of course, but at least that's two things off my plate... so I have taken the night off and cooked a delicious macaroni/spinach/bacon dish and some pumpkin soup. I've never used this particular pumpkin soup recipe before but the end result looks pretty good. It's not a thick soup but quite tasty. I'll post the recipe another time. Anyway so my freezer is full, which means I won't need to cook again for some weeks (it already had two other soups in there, as well as some spinach pie). I like to have enough food to last through a war... or at least a border skirmish.


Single... but okay

On Sunday morning at church, after the service, I was chatting with two other unmarried women over a cup of tea. I didn't seek them out because they're unmarried; it just happened that the three of us were chatting. Someone came up to us to introduce a woman who'd come to the church for the first time that morning. This particular newcomer is married with a small child, but was there on her own that morning. The woman introducing her said (I kid you not), "This is [name], [name] and [name]. They're not married... (pause)... but it's okay. They're mature."

I think I know what she was trying to say, but honestly - "they're not married... but it's okay"?? Nope, didn't make me feel like a pariah at ALL...




Crowded House

While I'm delighted to see that Crowded House is touring again and has released a new album, I'm wondering if it can be the same without Paul Hester? Yes, I know, he left the band in 1994, but their last studio album was in 1993, and Paul Hester played on all the albums from the 'glory days'. I'm completely non-musical so I doubt I'll even notice the difference, but still... it doesn't feel right! At least it's not as bad as INXS trying to replace Michael Hutchence. That was just wrong on all levels...


Visions

It's really quite hard to know what to do with the visions and prophecies in the Bible. I'm reading through Daniel at the moment and today I read chapter 8, where Daniel has a vision of a ram and goats. Gabriel interprets the vision for him, but at the end Daniel says, "I was appalled by the vision and did not understand it." (Daniel 8 v 27b) While it's somewhat comforting to know that even Daniel didn't quite get it, it does leave me wondering exactly what I'm supposed to take from this? We're working through Daniel in the evening service at church, so I suppose I'll have someone else's views on this in a few weeks... for the moment, what I'm taking from it is that God is in control of all things. Daniel's visions are mostly about the rise and fall of kingdoms and of evil in the world - that's the kind of thing that can be disheartening and leave people wondering what God is doing. I guess it's comforting to know that God is in control of the (seemingly) godless stuff too. (But I'll keep you posted on what is said in the sermon in a few weeks...)

And in other news:
I managed to get a fair bit done on my essay yesterday, so I'm feeling okay about that, even though I'm still way behind in my work. I actually enjoyed what I was studying, too, which is a definite answer to prayer. Honours has not been fun so far, which has been somewhat disappointing given how much I enjoyed the previous three years. Well, I enjoyed the studying... there were plenty of other things going on in life that weren't so enjoyable. Anyway I was starting to feel like this year was tainting everything I've done previously, which would be no way to finish (if I should have to finish after this year).

And while I'm talking about answers to prayer - Melbourne's water storage levels are up to 32%, while Sydney's are up to 55%. They've both increased over the last few weeks; and that's the highest Sydney's has been in ages. Praise God!




Action vs. permission

In Daniel chapter 5, King Belshazzar dishonours God by taking items from the temple and using them at a dinner party. He sees a hand, writing something on the wall, and calls Daniel to tell him what it's all about. Daniel gives him a message from God, which says in part:

You have not humbled your heart... but have lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven... the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways you have not honoured. (Daniel 5 v 22,23)

Sometimes I read things like this and think, "Yeah, those foreign kings (or Pharisees or disciples) really need to humble themselves before God, and recognise that he has power over their whole lives." Oh wait... don't I need to do that too? Recognising that God holds my very breath in his hand is a good reminder that he doesn't just permit; he wills and acts. God is not some benevolent and distant landlord who lets us do whatever we like so long as we don't damage the walls and lose our bond - he actually has power and authority, and he DOES act in the world. Yes, he allows us free will, but I don't think this means he simply steps aside for things to take their course - he plans and directs the course of our lives. This is not to say that things are on a set path and can never change... my point is that God is in active control of the world, not passive control.


Feline tendencies

Yesterday I received an e-mail from a friend, attempting to organise a couple of things we need to do. In the middle of the e-mail she wrote something along the lines of "you are dear to us and we feel blessed that you're in our lives". (That's 'us' as in her family, not as in the Queen Victoria usage of the first person plural.) The comment was unrelated to the other stuff in the e-mail; just a nice thing to say. I'd been having an okay day anyway but that made it a really good day - I had a warm glow for the rest of the afternoon! Which made me think... I'm just like a cat - all it takes is one little pat on the head and I start purring. It was something so simple, too... so maybe it's a good idea to let people know we appreciate them. It doesn't have to be roses and chocolates (although who needs a special occasion to eat chocolate??); just a little note or e-mail can brighten someone's day. Why not try it yourself?


God's plans, our plans

Most of the time it's impossible for us to see God's plans except in hindsight, although sometimes things 'feel right', or are clearly the right choice (eg, between something legal or illegal). Usually, however, we just have to trust that God has it all under control.

I started reading Daniel today, and have never noticed before how clearly it states that the captivity to Babylon was part of God's plan. "And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his [Nebuchadnezzar's] hand..." (Daniel 1 v 2) Although Daniel and his friends were faithful Jews, I still think they must have been wondering why on earth God had allowed them to be taken to Babylon. It's all very well to say, "God is in control of all things" but it gets a bit harder when you're the one being taken into captivity... or losing your job or suffering depression or losing a loved one or writing off your car or whatever it might be. I find I'm good at the '20/20 hindsight' part but not so great at the 'trusting God while the crappy stuff is happening' part. I suppose this is where we need to be reading God's word and praying - how can we remember that God is trustworthy unless we're reading the Bible, where we can see time and again that God is trustworthy and faithful? Sadly, we tend to be creatures who need evidence before we'll believe anything. Well, the evidence is there.

And in other news...
I'm still really loving the new prayer routine. I don't know what it was, but writing my prayers seems to have unblocked whatever it was that was making prayer such a chore for me before. I still pray the 'old fashioned' way too, since it's not always convenient to stop and drag out a prayer diary and a pen, but the times I can sit down in peace and write out my prayers are pretty special. Praise God, eh?

And in other other news...
Uni work is getting back on track slowly. Well, I am getting back on track with it. I wrote a new research/writing timetable that has realistic goals this time - boy, that makes a difference! I'm still behind where I should be, but sticking to this timetable will help get me to a point where I'm not panicking - and won't be trying to write an 18,000 word thesis in the last week before it's due.

Weird

Okay, now this is getting weird. Yesterday I received an e-mail from an ex-housemate... I haven't seen her in about 18 months, and I think we haven't contacted each other for probably about a year. She was writing to tell me she'd finally handed in her Ph.D thesis (she started the Ph.D when we were sharing a house, back in 1998) AND to tell me that she's pregnant - the baby is due this week! It was great to hear that, but so weird to hear from another old friend. I'm starting to wonder if word has got around that I have a terminal illness, so everyone feels they should catch up with me one last time...


And another!

Unbelievable - I just got another message from a school friend with whom I've not had contact in 21 years! I think there's something in the water...


Blast from the past

Yesterday I received an e-mail from a school friend with whom I have not had contact for 19 years. NINETEEN years, and she tracked me down through the Friends Reunited website - I'd forgotten I was even a member of the site. It was great to hear from her and I'm looking forward to catching up properly. What was weird, however, was not trying to condense 19 years into one e-mail, but working out exactly what I've been doing for 19 years. "Well, I worked for about 15 years in the same industry... have moved house 9 times... quit my job and moved interstate to go to uni... yep, that's about it..." I'm sure I've been quite busy - really! - but when it's in an e-mail it sounds like nothing at all. Of course, there are many things that I wouldn't bother putting in an e-mail - I've made new friends, lost some old friends, had some emotional lows, felt spiritually barren, felt spiritually on fire, been bored, loved my life, had my heart broken, contributed to the heartbreak of others, changed churches, supported friends through hard times and joyous times... these things are all part of my life experience, and all contribute to making me the person I am today... but how to express that in an e-mail that answers the question "what have you done since we left school?"

This friend is keen to organise a reunion next year, when it will be 20 years since we finished Year 12. I'm not sure how I feel about THAT. I didn't exactly love being at high school and I'm not sure I want to relive the glory days! (Added to that, I'm not sure I would remember anyone, even with name tags. I don't think I've had contact with any schoolmates since about a week after I left.)




Urban myths

This is a fun quiz about urban myths. My score was 6/10... some of them I'd never heard about (the myth or the reality) so I was guessing. However, I'm pleased to know I'm not completely gullible!

A new start... again

I seem constantly to make resolutions about changing various areas of my life... then making said resolution again some months later after having slipped back into slothery again. Nevertheless, I woke up this morning determined to get some control over the areas of my life that I've allowed to slip away into lazy and self-destructive habits. With that in mind, I went to the pantry and threw out the remains of the cooking chocolate and the half-jar of Nutella (well, the contents, at least... I kept the jar) and took inventory of the fridge and pantry. Mostly it's pretty good, but that's because it's nearly empty. There's very little junk food but there's not much healthy food either. I'll be going out later to buy some more veges and fruit, and to cook up a few healthy things for the freezer. I think laziness is part of the problem - it's not that I don't like eating healthy stuff; it's that it's easier to make crumpets and honey, or cheese on toast, or a sausage sandwich. High fat, zero vegetable. At least if I have the freezer stocked well there's a chance I'll eat food that's a bit more healthy. I'm also keeping a better track of what I'm eating, because accountability, even if it's just to a notebook, helps me not to graze thoughtlessly.

I also rode my exercise bike this morning - and the fact that I could only manage 10 minutes shows how long it's been since I did any proper exercise. I used to do an hour every day! This afternoon I'll be doing my regular walk with a friend - we walk for about an hour, once a week. It's not enormously strenuous (we can still talk comfortably) but it's still more exercise than I've done in about two years so I'm happy to keep doing it. Even a moderately easy walk for one hour is far better than no walk at all.

Part of this is to lose some weight, as my clothes are getting rather snug and I'm feeling like a blob, but also it's because I know how much better I function in the other areas of my life when I'm eating properly and getting some exercise. My stress levels reduce and my concentration increases. (Hmmm... perhaps there's something in this 'eat properly and get some exercise' thing...) So, between the exercise, the better eating, and the Bible reading and prayer, I'm feeling quite good today. Hopefully this will be reflected in better focus on uni work too.




Cheese grater

And in other, more trivial news... I bought one of these cheese graters a while ago and used it for the first time last night, to grate some carrot. (Actually I bought a cheaper version, but the same idea.) It's really great; I wish I'd discovered them ages ago. It grated the carrot in about half the time and with a lot less effort. Still some effort required but I didn't have a sore arm at the end of it. I can't wait to see what it does with cheese...

Acts 8

I've just been reading Acts ch 8. There's this great bit where Simon, a magician, hears the disciples and realises that God's power is greater than his - he's convicted by their message and their miracles, and he believes and is baptised. Not long after this he sees Peter and John laying hands on people and giving them the holy Spirit. He offers them money to give him the power to give people the Spirit too... understandably, they tell him he's got it totally wrong and urge him to repent.

What I love about it is that Simon is so human - it's so typical of us to say, "Oh, I get it now... hey, wait, what's this shiny heresy over here?" It's very comforting to know that even the best of us can get it completely wrong - but there is correction and truth in the Bible, and there is most definitely forgiveness in Jesus.

Later on in the chapter Phillip meets an Ethiopian eunuch who is reading Isaiah but doesn't understand it. Happily, Phillip is at hand to explain it to him and show how it is about Jesus. The Ethiopian believes and is baptised. I like to imagine what the Ethiopian felt when he realised that God had been working in him to prepare him to know Jesus. "Oh, so that's why I was reading a book I didn't understand, from a religious group that is nothing to do with me!" I was telling someone the other day about how I became a Christian when I was 17 - part of it involved a friend nagging me constantly to come to church with her, and me consistently refusing. One day we were walking home from school and I heard myself saying, "I've been thinking about coming to church." Even as I said it I thought, "Wait.... what?" I couldn't believe the words had come out of my mouth. It confused me at the time but made sense later, since I liked the people at the church, went back every week (willingly, this time!) and became a Christian later that year. God's preparation of us seems strange at the time but it's fantastic to look back on it later and realise that God had his hand firmly upon me the whole time... especially when I think stupid things like, "What if I hadn't gone to church in year 12 - would I be a Christian now?" The answer is yes - God was working in me and couldn't be thwarted by my flippy, spur of the moment decisions. The circumstances might have changed but the end result would have been the same.


Being a security blanket

When I first came to my current church I knew one person, who's in my Bible study at uni, and I met his wife when I came to the church. They've been really great at looking after me, being extremely generous with their time, having me over to meals and introducing me to various people at the church. (Oh yes, AND they got me completely hooked on The West Wing, but that's another story!) I love them dearly for a number of reasons, but I've only recently realised what a difference it has made to the way I feel about the church, and how quickly it helped me settle in and feel at home.

We recently had a couple leave our Bible study because they're looking for a new church. They've been at the church for a year but I don't think they've ever really felt part of the place. I know how hard it is to come to a new church, and it led me to wondering why I had so little trouble coming to this church. Is the congregation actually that much friendlier than other churches I've attended? Well, they're certainly very friendly and loving, but I doubt they're that much friendlier than many other churches, and I'm sure there are still plenty of lonely people in the congregation who think it's not a friendly church. There are three congregations and they're all quite large so it's very easy for people to slip between the cracks. No, I think the difference for me is that I quickly became friends with this one couple at church. This was helpful in several ways - firstly, I knew there were at least two people who would smile and be friendly to me, which makes a big difference in that awkward, 'hanging around drinking a cup of tea on my own and trying not to look pathetic and needy' period after the service - they tended to look out for me... and notice when I was looking a little pathetic and needy! Secondly, they were very good at introducing me to different people, hanging around briefly to join in the conversation and then leaving me on my own to continue chatting (once it was clear I wasn't going to cry because they'd left). Lastly, just knowing that I had one set of friends gave me confidence to branch out on my own and initiate conversations with other people - because I knew that if it was a disaster, I still had my 'security blanket' of friends to fall back upon.

This has made me think differently about the way I approach new people, particularly if it's a person on their own. I'm usually okay at having a brief conversation, and at introducing new people to other people. I think, though, that it may be more helpful to invest a bit more time with one person, rather than trying to meet all the new people at once. It doesn't mean we have to become best buddies with a new person every month - I have been blessed by this couple becoming my good friends but that's certainly not guaranteed - but I do think it's a good idea to make the effort to look after a new person for a month or two, or however long it takes them to find their feet. I've heard so many people say "I wouldn't have stayed at the church if so-and-so hadn't made a point of talking with me every week." It's not a matter of hand-holding, it's a matter of showing love and letting people gain confidence and feel at home slowly. Moving to a new church, and especially a large church, is very daunting and having a friendly face or two on whom you can rely to remember you each week makes a massive difference.

Giving things to God

It's really quite hard to know when I've truly given something over to God. I've been worrying about my future - partly about the rest of this year, but also about what I'll do next year, and about the end of the year, since my government benefits will cease in November some time, but I won't know until January whether I am eligible for a scholarship for post-grad... and even then it probably wouldn't be paid until March, which means I'll be 4 months with no income. Scary, since I have to pay rent and eat. So anyway I was praying about all this tonight, and I prayed that I would be able to stop worrying and give the situation over to God. The thing is, though, giving something over to God doesn't mean I can entirely dismiss it from my mind. I still need to make a decision about applying for post-grad, I still need to fill in the forms, I still need to think responsibly about how I'll pay the rent at the end of the year. I don't think that handing things to God means we're allowed to turn off our brain, but then that raises the question of whether I've really handed it over to God. I suppose the real indicator will be my stress and worry levels... I suspect I'll need to hand this to God more than once!

In other news:
I'm still enjoying spending time with God, possibly for the first time in my Christian life... which is a little worrying. (Still, better late to this party than not at all.) My struggle at the moment is to make Christianity part of my whole life. Obviously I'm always a Christian, but the temptation is to 'do' God time and leave it at that. Reading the Bible and praying are great things to be doing, but I don't want it to become a case of 'I've done my 20 minutes; now I can get on with my day'. It's a bit of a balancing act and I'm not too good at it at the moment.





The boring details...

I'm reading:
Mrs Pollifax on the China Station by Dorothy Gilman
The book of Acts in The Holy Bible
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

I'm eagerly awaiting the publication of:
First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J K Rowling
Monster Blood Tattoo: Lamplighter by D M Cornish

I'm watching:
West Wing Season 6
Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 3
Spicks and Specks

I'm reading for uni:
Various articles about the morality of the gods in the Iliad
Various books and articles about Victorian England and their treatment of ancient Greece, particularly in fine art

I'm listening to:
Arriving - Chris Tomlin
See The Morning - Chris Tomlin
The best of James Taylor - James Taylor
Sacred Love - Sting
Secret of the World - Nicky Chiswell
Speechless - Nicky Chiswell
Live in Paris - Diana Krall
Mad About The Boy - Dinah Washington
U218 - U2
A Window in Heaven - The Cafe of the Gate of Salvation
Various 60s, 70s and 80s music to give me energy when doing housework

I'm procrastinating:
...almost constantly, and in various ways (see lists above).

Spiritual gifts

I've been a Christian for 19 years now, and I think for a lot of that time I've been secretly hoping to develop one of the 'sexy' gifts. You know, hoping that I'd suddenly develop musical ability, or discover that I'm a great writer, a dynamic speaker or a gifted evangelist. I think that after all this time it's safe to say that if I did have one of those gifts it would probably have emerged by now. I know that I am a good administrator (some have called me borderline OCD, but I prefer to say 'administrator') but I've never really considered it a gift... which is somewhat stupid since it's specifically mentioned in the Bible. The thing is, I've always approached it as a 'fill in' type thing; a way of helping people out while they exercise their gifts. I've never seen it as kingdom work, and thus never been particularly thoughtful about the way I use it.

I have only realised recently (ie, in the last couple of weeks) that administration is not something that is done to allow others to use their gifts; it is itself a gift. Sure, it's a support function, but as part of the body of Christ we're all in support roles, aren't we? We all make up different parts and we're all supposed to be helping each other. Anyway, since it IS a gift I have come to realise that I need to be using it deliberately, rather than just stepping in to help people out as needed. I came to this conclusion about half an hour before going to my Bible study at uni, where the AFES person who looks after the Christian Union work on campus said, "Could you please pray for CU admin stuff, because there are a whole lot of things that needs to be done and no one really has time to do them... and we can't pay anyone." I thought, "Far out, God really doesn't waste any time, does he?" We prayed about it there, and I prayed about it again when I got home. And of course... guess what? I'm now giving CU three hours of my time each week to do admin work. Now there's a surprise. Actually, since I was the one who happened to pray for it during the study, I was in fact my own answer to prayer. Now THAT'S efficient!

I'm also doing some admin stuff for the music team at church, but that's not as regular and won't take up so much time. I feel good about these decisions, even though it impacts on my time. I think what I feel good about is the understanding that I'm doing what I should be doing, not just wandering around looking for little jobs to help people out. Helping people is important, of course, but committing to something on a regular basis can be far more helpful than the one-off stuff.

The other things about which I've always tried to be deliberate is encouragement, although I'm not sure that's necessarily one of my gifts. I try to make sure I'm sending out at least one letter / e-mail / card etc per week, to different people, just to encourage them in whatever they're doing, or to let them know I'm praying for them, or to say whatever happens to be appropriate to their situation at the time. However, I see this as just a regular part of caring for each other, and encouraging fellow believers to stay strong in the Lord - so I don't see it so much as one of MY gifts, but rather as the sort of thing we should all be doing anyway.




Renewed enthusiasm

It's amazing how picking a different time of day to read the Bible and pray has given me a renewed enthusiasm for it. I haven't yet started the 'quiet times in the car' plan, as I've taken a couple of days off uni, but I've made an effort to spend some relaxed time with God in the middle of the day. It's been good - I think part of the reason is that I'm not trying to read a huge number of chapters at a time, and I'm not pressuring myself to have 28 life-changing moments before breakfast, so to speak. At the moment I'm reading a chapter of Acts per day - given how low my enthusiasm has been for this, I thought it better not to make things harder by starting with Chronicles or Leviticus.

Another thing that's really helped has been writing my prayers down. I was chatting with a friend the other day and she said she finds it helpful to write her prayers, and since doing that she's been enjoying prayer a lot more. At the time I thought, "Good for you, but that's not for me," but I decided to give it a go anyway... and I recant my former scepticism, because it's been really great. One fear I had was that I would be less than honest, because I'm not sure I want people finding this when I'm dead (!) but decided, meh - I'll be dead anyway; what do I care? I'm sure it would be good for my family to know what life is like as a Christian, since they're somewhat baffled by me at the best of times! Also, although I am someone who keeps diaries occasionally but not with any real regularity or enthusiasm, I thought it would feel a bit weird to write prayers down in the same way I'd say them... but it's not. I should have known it would be fine, since I've become a bit of a fan of free writing in a uni context, and I'm a letter-writer from way back. (Yes, I mean real letters, on paper, with a pen. Remember those?) And, you know.... I keep a blog! It's not that much different and makes it feel more like a dialogue with a real person. Which it is, of course.



End of semester

It's officially the end of semester tomorrow and I'm feeling quite relieved. The beginning of semester was a crazy, anxious, stressful time and I'm very happy that settled down eventually. At least now my stresses are mostly about uni work, and occasionally about money, but not about uni work AND money AND sleeplessness (caused by aforementioned uni stresses and money stresses).

I still have plenty of work ahead of me, and the so-called 'break' between semesters is when I've agreed with my supervisor to get all my coursework finished, so it will be quite busy. However, it will leave me with no other distractions next semester, thus I'll be able to concentrate exclusively on my thesis... that's a little scary!

I had my last Greek class today - I don't need to do it next semester - and I feel bad that I hardly devoted any time to it this semester. I do enjoy studying the language and I want to be good at it, but I had so many things to do this semester that it was severely neglected. I think my final mark is something like 82%, but that's only because my teacher is quite generous in her marking. I certainly haven't consolidated the grammar properly and it's all rather confused in my head. At Campus Bible Talks yesterday I met a girl who wanted to learn Latin but couldn't fit it into her timetable, so she's been teaching herself. She studies Latin (with absolutely no assistance) on her own for half an hour every morning. I felt ashamed - I've been enrolled in the subject and I haven't done as much study as she does! Surely I could manage half an hour a day?

And speaking of allocating half an hour a day... I haven't been anywhere near my Bible for weeks - and if the weeks were added up it would work out to 'months'... but weeks sounds better! My prayers have been short and thoughtless, and rarely about other people (or God, for that matter). It's pretty disgraceful really, given that it's been a mere six months since I had an experience of God that was so awesome and real that I felt like I'd had the conversion experience I never had the first time, having come to know God in a 'slow and steady wins the race' kind of way as a teenager. It was life-changing (I wrote about it very very briefly here) and despite my current apathy I'm still feeling the results of being turned around by God last November - but it didn't take me long to fall into old habits and behave like God is irrelevant, did it? It's definitely time for this situation to change!

Getting up earlier to pray never works for me; I just end up turning off the alarm and then feeling guilty. Saving it until I go to bed is equally disastrous. (I think the moral there is that it's not good to try to listen to God, and talk to him, in the sleepiest part of the day.) However, I've devised a cunning plan... although I don't have classes as such, I still drive to uni every day so I can do some study away from the distractions of home, and so I don't associate home with constant stress and anxiety. I park a couple of streets away from the campus, outside the home of friends, and it's nice and quiet in the street. I think I'll park there, spend some time with God and then walk over to the campus. It's not like I have to be on campus at a certain time, so I have no real excuses - although I'm sure I'll be able to come up with something! Anyway, that's the plan for the moment.

And in other news...

Not all that much to report, really. Uni work is taking up my time but should be taking up a lot MORE time... or my time should be used more efficiently, at least. I'm in the process of rewriting an essay where I'm comparing the representations of Andromache in the Iliad and in two of Euripides' plays, Andromache and The Trojan Women. The essay was okay as is, but I'm much happier about the changes and I think it makes it a better essay.

Church is going well and I've been getting to know a few more people, so I feel happier about that. I certainly feel more a part of the place and I'm happy to refer to it as 'my church' instead of 'the church I currently attend', which I guess is a good sign! We're having a weekend away for the women on the long weekend... I have my hesitations about it (long story involving bad experiences with going away with a bunch of women) but I'm going and plan to do my best to have a good time anyway.

For the people who asked me, the poem a couple of entries down was a direct rip-off of "O Tell Me The Truth About Love" by W. H. Auden. (So direct a rip-off that it's exactly the same in places.) It's one of my favourite Auden poems because of the cadence... especially the way it changes as the tone of the stanza changes. I don't know why but it particularly appeals to me in this poem - but then, I'm an Auden fan so I'm somewhat biased. Anyway I was just messing around with it to see if I could... a bit of a mental challenge. Well, why not?


Relationship-killing anger

Great sermon yesterday morning on Matthew 5 vv 21-26; the bit in the sermon on the mount where Jesus talks about anger, and reconciling with each other before leaving gifts at the altar. The person preaching pointed out that this is the first of several sections that starts "You have heard it said... now I say to you...", which links it back to verse 17 where Jesus says he has not come to abolish the Law but to fulfil it - so the following sections teach his listeners how to obey the Law. He said that the Pharisees were all about 'list-ticking' to determine whether they were righteous, but that by their list-ticking they defined and controlled righteousness instead of hungering after it.

One thing that really stood out from the sermon is that it's all about relationships. In verse 22 where it talks about being angry with your brother and calling him a fool, the important point there is not the words 'you fool', but the fact that he is your brother. The words 'you fool' are just indicative of the attitude that breaks relationships. It's significant that they were told to restore relationships before making sacrifices at the altar - and that's a pretty big thing for a Jew at that time, since sacrifices were necessary for them to get right with God. Also, I'd never noticed in verse 23 that it says we are to reconcile with the person who has something against us, rather than the other way around... so really we're never off the hook! No matter who is in the right, we are called to seek reconciliation. Jesus died to bring us into relationship with God AND with each other, and we just can't ignore this. As was said in the sermon yesterday, "How can we be people who are totally reliant on grace but remain ungracious?"




Shout-out to a famous poet

10 points* if you can name the poet... a further 10 points if you can name the poem I've ripped off here.

(*Disclaimer: the only thing you get for your points is the satisfaction of knowing you were right. Isn't that reward enough?)


O Tell Me The Truth About God

Some say God's a distant king
And some say he is here.
Some say he reigns in truth and love
And some say we should fear;
And when I asked the preacher-man
To tell me of the Lord
He stared at me in silence
And looked like he was bored.

Does he look like the sky in the morning?
Or a traffic jam on the road?
Will he speak to me while I'm yawning?
Will he help me carry my load?
Is he rough and spiky with anger?
Or will he smile and nod?
Does he live in an aeroplane hangar?
O tell me the truth about God.

The internet has sites on him
For anyone who looks.
His name appears quite often in
A multitude of books.
Some say he is dead and gone
With the confidence of youth;
Other people speak of him
As if they have the truth.

Does he cry and scream in frustration?
Does he speak to us in vain?
Does he take a yearly vacation
To Paris or to Spain?
Does he shop at the local grocer?
Does he prefer haddock or cod?
Will he truly let me come closer?
O tell me the truth about God.

I looked into a meeting hall;
I didn't see him there.
I tried to find him at the mall;
I tried the open air.
I don't know what the poets write
Or what the songs will say.
I thought I heard him in the night,
But wasn't sure by day.

Does he look into our faces?
Does he know what the future will bring?
Is he there in the darkest places?
Does he hear me when I sing?
Does he want me to give him my money?
Will I face a firing squad?
Does he think that my jokes are funny?
O tell me the truth about God.

When he comes, will he come without warning
As I'm mopping the kitchen floor?
Will he knock on my door in the morning
As I'm rushing out to the store?
Will he come like a change in the weather?
Will he think I'm pointless and odd?
Will he change my life altogether?
O tell me the truth about God.







Trying to write a paper...

Is it possible that attending a seminar on writer's block has given me writer's block??

100 words down... many, many more to go!

Edit:
Yay, it's finished! It's for an oral presentation, which I'll be doing today. I've followed the Law of Presentations - ie, it doesn't matter what the content is like so long as there are impressive Powerpoint slides.


Writer's block

I went to a seminar yesterday on overcoming writer's block when writing a thesis. It was quite useful - the seminar leader pointed out that writer's block is more about habit than ability - she said, "writer's block is the authorial equivalent of letting muscles go to waste, but 'exercise' can compensate for inspiration (or lack thereof)." The bit I really liked, though, was at the beginning where she put up a slide that said:

Your thesis should be...
  • an opportunity to become passionately excited about your topic
  • an opportunity to explore your topic in more depth than previously possible
  • an opportunity to engage in independent scholarship
  • an opportunity to become a grown-up - a bona fide academic!

We all nodded dubiously (clearly thinking "does everyone else in the room really feel excited about this?") until she put up the next slide:

...but all too often it is
  • a super clean bedroom
  • accumulation of several dress sizes
  • adoption of various nasty habits
  • perpetuation of facial blemishes
  • an extended masterclass in whinging and procrastination

At that, we all nodded much more vigorously! It was actually good to know that everyone else there is feeling the same stresses and fears, and employing the same procrastination techniques for the same reasons. Anyway she gave us some excellent strategies to use... which will no doubt still be painful for a while since none of us has been doing the 'exercise', so to speak, but I reckon it will be good once I break through the pain barrier.


Hatred

I had a conversation recently about dealing with emotions etc, and specifically about dealing with hatred towards us - which is a topic that tends to crop up amongst Christians, what with the Bible saying the world will hate us and all... It led me to thinking, though, that in some ways indifference can be far more damaging than hatred. At least with hatred there's something to fight against, but how does one fight the nothingness of indifference? I don't know much about this, but I imagine that when people contemplate suicide it's often because they feel that no one cares, not because they feel hated. How do we stop people feeling unloved and unnoticed?

As a society we're conditioned to look after ourselves and to mind our own business... but maybe it's time we started minding other people's business too. We Christians are usually pretty good at being friendly at morning tea and caring during 'prayer point' time at Bible study, but a simple phone call during the week to say "how are you going?" can make a world of difference to people. Or an e-mail that says, "I'm thinking about you" instead of one that says, "I'm thinking about you... and I think you'd be the perfect person to go on the new roster"! They're only little things but I reckon they could be big things to someone who's feeling lonely and isolated.



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