Two-ice-cream days

It had been a big day. As I put our five-year-old to bed, I asked him ‘Did you have a good day?’

‘I had a great day,’ he said.

So I asked him, ‘Why was it a great day?’

‘Oh mum!’ he exclaimed, as if it were completely obvious. ‘Because we had 2 ice-creams of course!’

 

I guess I was taken a little aback. He’d played all day with almost all of his cousins. His grandparents had showered him with love and his favourite things. It had been a really happy day for lots of reasons.  So I continued the question,

‘So that’s what makes a great day, then …when you have two ice-creams?’

‘Yeah!’ Again he gave that exasperated look that means something like ‘Are you for real mum? Of course.’

He continued though.

‘You know when we went on our holiday and we had ice-cream for dessert and you said we could eat as much ice-cream as we like. That was the best day.’

That was the first day of a recent two-week holiday which included toboganning, whale watching and climbing tall towers, and his favourite part was …ice-cream?

 

Kids have a great way of putting life into perspective. While we are often carried away with making things bigger and more exciting, kids seem to revel in the simplicity.

How many children are swamped by technological gizmos and are still bored, only to find delight in simple pleasures such as digging in the dirt, splashing in water or stirring the cake mix?

How often does a toddler delight in the paper wrapping from the Christmas present rather than the present?

 

Especially if life has been too hectic lately, why not take a step back today and turn off the television, DVD and I-pad?

Then steer your kids in the direction of a pile of dirt, a stack of boxes or some water and plastic cups, jugs, funnels and implements from your kitchen and see the wisdom in simplicity.

Oh – and don’t forget the ice-cream!

 

Originally published as ‘2 Icecream days’

in The Lutheran, 24 July 2006, Vol.40, No.7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unusual Saturday: Perfect beginning

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The church site is busy with the annual fete. People from the church community, from the local area, even from interstate, meander through the stalls, devonshire teas, barbecues and treasures – still undiscovered.

 

The sanctuary, usually quiet, dark and still on a Saturday, is full of children, parents and leaders singing and dancing.

 

A man opens the only closed door on the premises. Slips through it. Glances at the people – the sanctuary that is full of life and laughter. He returns to the cold of outside where his wife and a baby cradled in her arms are waiting for him.

 

The door re-opens. Some-one goes out to greet him.

‘Can I help you?’

 

‘We are on our way home from the hospital.’ He beams as he introduces his wife and newborn son. ‘We want to give thanks to God. Could we use your church to pray?’

 

They are ushered in midst the noise, the singing, the dancing.

The altar is bustling with children and music.

 

But, in front of the garden, the crosses and open tomb are still in place after Easter.

 

And that is where the brand new father and mother unwrap their tiny son, place him on the ground and bow their heads.

 

New life, in the same place as we remember His death.

Sacrifice of thanks, midst the chaos.

Midst the noise, the singing, the dancing – perfect peace.

 

Perfect beginning.

 

Unusual Saturday.

School Daze: Settling into School Life

‘Mrs Hahn, I didn’t think this would happen in your family!’

I can still hear the words of our principal when my child (who shall remain nameless) threw their body down onto the ground in the middle of the school driveway, arms and legs flailing, refusing to walk home.

I had decided that it would be good exercise to walk home with my child after their first day at school. When I think about it, that probably wasn’t one of my better ideas.

Though eventually enjoying school, each of my children struggled with the stresses and strains at the beginning. One cried from separation anxiety—made worse by their mother hanging around to try to calm the hysteria. Another asked to be dropped off at the kerb so they could walk up to the school alone — only to return to the car to ask us to open the very heavy front door of the school.

At the end of the first day, from more than one child we heard, ‘There’s no point going anymore. I didn’t learn how to read or write.’

What I learnt in the process of beginning four children in three different schools I’ve shared with other mums and dads who have all said, ‘It’s so nice to know that it’s normal!’

Hints for beginning school that I’ve learnt so far:

  • Beginning school is tiring for all concerned: A more regulated structured day, as well as little bodies and brains that struggle to keep up with each other’s demands, is much more than we can expect of anybody without experiencing some teething problems.
  • Little bodies that are beginning school need lots of rest, lots of love and lots of energy replenishment.
  • Learning, making new friends, trying new things and growing is hard work. So it’s important to plan your child’s day so that she can rest and ‘chill out’ after school and replenish energy.

Our family found it helpful to have a supply of yummy, easy-to-eat, healthy snacks in the car, to restore a little energy supply and get us home without too many tears. Another family I know walked home with picnic food, stopping at a playground along the way to eat, rest, play and relax.

A comfy chair or bed at home, and having ready a supply of favourite storybooks and a milkshake or smoothie for the children to sip while I cuddled and read to them became a safe haven for them (and me) for the first few weeks of school. It also helped to create great memories by giving them devoted time to share the joys and frustrations of their day.

  • It’s worthwhile to resist ‘play dates’, extra-curricular sports and other activities after school until little bodies have become used to the increased demands of school.

In our family, we decided to plan that we had specific nights of activities, and other nights of rest. We also restricted each child to one sport or physical activity such as gymnastics or ballet at a time, and one musical instrument. It’s not only exhausting for kids to be taxi-ed all over the district, but also exhausting for their parents. 

  • Sticking to familiar and established routines such as baths, bedtime stories and prayers helps children to settle and relax for a good night’s sleep, and helps them to have control, knowing that not all of life has changed.

Many schools adjust their schedules for school beginners by having a mid-week day off, having shorter days for the first few weeks or having naps during the afternoon. If you feel that your child needs an occasional ‘early moment’ and would benefit from an afternoon nap, don’t be afraid to negotiate with the teacher to pick him up at lunchtime:

  • Keeping in touch with the teacher is about the best investment you can make, as far as their education goes. 
  • After school is not the best time to go shopping!           
  • After the excitement of beginning school wears off, many children come to realise that they are stuck there!

Be prepared for the end of the honeymoon period. Anticipate ‘tummy aches’, sore heads and sore toes (even if imagined, all of these are very real to your child) and have suitable strategies planned. While being sympathetic and loving, it is also possible to be matter-of-fact and deal with the situation confidently and appropriately. In our home we have often used the same strategy I learnt from my mother: ‘I’m sorry you’re not feeling well. You obviously need some more rest. Why don’t you go back to sleep? I’ll pull the curtains and make sure it’s quiet and dark so you can sleep. I’ll check to see how you are going later on.’

Importantly, the child needs to know she is taken seriously. If she is genuinely sick or needing to catch up on sleep, she’ll soon be back to sleep, and it will become obvious in other ways that there is a genuine illness. However, if the ‘sickness’ is her strategy to stay home, a morning in bed resting without television, games or books is very likely to inspire a quick recovery by recess time. And sometimes, little bodies just need to have a rest.

  • We found that celebrating ‘getting bigger’ helped our children to accept the changes more readily; by going on special weekend dates alone with Mum or Dad; having extra responsibilities, such as helping with the shopping by using the shopping list; or even being able to stay up a little later than younger siblings.
  • Remember that there is definitely somebody out there (probably at your school) whose child has outperformed your child’s tantrum.

Registering discontent is normal and healthy — it even seems to be part of a 4–6-year-old’s job description. It does not mean you are a bad parent, but it does give you the prompting to learn new strategies as your child grows.

Listen to your child. Ask how they feel and acknowledge their feelings as important. Avoid asking ‘WHY?’* Instead, ask something like ‘What happened?’

*’Why’ is a tricky question to answer if you’re a child because it opens up many more questions – and you can get into trouble for not answering the right way, or according to the adult’s expectation.

  • Your child’s teacher will be able to reassure you about particular behaviours you may be worried about and can also suggest ways you can work together to help your child to settle into school life.

If you speak with other more experienced parents you may also be reassured that your child is not the main contender for the Academy Award for melodrama!

 

Originally published as ‘School Daze’ in The Lutheran, February edition, 2008.

The Should Depot

All I wanted was toothpaste!

Something to clean my family’s teeth and freshen our breath.

It should have been simple.

But at the local supermarket I was overwhelmed by the different sizes, shapes, colours and flavours; of the many varieties of toothpastes.
73! Yes! I counted them–much to the bemusement of the woman who was stacking the shelves.

Seventy- three different toothpastes to choose from, each with a perfectly valid reason why I should purchase that particular variety:

‘a whiteness you can see’,‘ice sensation’, ‘extra bright’, ‘stages for children’, ‘herbal’, ‘no added sugar’.
I am sure that advertising agencies play on the minds of shoppers by creating a special compartment in our heads: the ‘should’ depot.

Should I worry about too much fluoride, or too much artificial sweetener? Was it accidental that the denture tablets were at eye level, reminding me why I should buy certain brands of toothpaste?

Whether or not I was worried before I made my purchase, the ‘shoulds’ certainly got to me by the time I nervously passed my chosen variety to the checkout operator:

Would she notice my smile?

Did my breath smell like last night’s lasagne?

Should I have gone for the herbal blend?

 

Quite frankly, I’d like to ban the word ‘should’. 

If I listen to my head on days when I am particularly overwhelmed by life, there are a multitude of ‘shoulds’ that flood in and swamp me:

I should get up this morning and go for a walk. I should not eat that last piece of chocolate cake, but I shouldn’t let it go to waste. I should get outside and do the weeding. I should be more diligent with composting and recycling. I should use a timer for the shower. I should be a better parent.
 I should …
I’m not sure when it crept into our vocabulary so prolifically, but I think ‘should’ has become one of Satan’s sneaky but effective ways of creating false guilt and unnecessary anxiety in us.

After all, what am I really saying when I say ‘I should …’?

Am I saying, I feel guilty because there is so much to be done?

Or am I imposing guilt on others, because, even if I didn’t do something, if I thought I should have, I have gone one better than someone who had not even thought they should have?

If I take on the guilt for what I should have done, does that absolve me?

There almost seems to be a hierarchy of holinesses associated with ‘shoulds’. If Monty Python were to perform a skit about ‘should’, I imagine it would go something like:

Guilty Person (GP) 1: ‘I should have taken a meal around to the family who was struggling.’
Guilty Person (GP) 2: ‘You think that’s bad! I should have spent time with the person with cancer and I should have given to the charity, whose blind representative was at the door of the supermarket.’
GP 1: ‘Luxury! I should have offered to babysit for the family with 23 children, served at the local soup kitchen eight days a week, mown the lawn for all the elderly folk down the street, assisted the frail woman across the road, hemmed all the trousers in the local Goodwill …’
GP 2: ‘And if we told the younger generation of today what we should have done, they’d never believe us!’

‘Should’ does not motivate us, encourage us or equip us. It confuses us, tempts us and lessens our effectiveness.

‘Should’ uses energy we don’t have in order to worry about things we probably won’t do anyway.

We spend more time worrying about what we think we ‘should’ be doing than on doing what really needs to be done, what we are capable of, or what there is actually to be done after all.
What would happen if we used the energy we waste on ‘shoulds’, for the ‘Coulds’ and ‘Let’s’ and ‘Why don’t we?’

Just thinking about the possibilities makes me smile.

It opens up a rainbow of opportunities: our minds to the creativity that freedom brings; our hearts to the warmth of really understanding what we were created to do; our hands to the doing; and our voices to singing God’s praises so that everything we do or think about actually glorifies God.

Imagine a world in which we replace worry about what we ‘should’ do with a prayer to the creator of our days, followed by a desire to do his will.

Imagine a world in which we leave the ‘shoulds’ of today’s society behind us and take up ‘We can!’ as our catch-cry.

The late missionary and author Elisabeth Elliot once included the following words in her radio program Gateway to Joy: ‘I have only one thing to do today. That is God’s will, and he will enable me to do it!’

Life might look less depressing and more achievable if, instead of being ‘burdened again by the yoke of slavery’ (Gal 5:1) of the ‘shoulds’, we replaced ‘should’ with ‘can’.

If we are parents, we ‘can’ get on with cleaning up after the 19th spill for the day, and play with our kids once it’s done.

Or we ‘can’ sit and listen to our teens as they tell us about their horrible day.

If we are students, we ‘can’ study diligently to equip ourselves with the knowledge we will need to apply later.

If we are employees, we ‘can’ work conscientiously for our employer.

If we are employers, we ‘can’ assign tasks fairly and reward appropriately for effort.

If we are leaders, we ‘can’ serve those we lead.

If we are senior citizens, we ‘can’ share our lives with those who don’t yet have our experience.

Let’s spend our energy on what we ‘can’ do.

No ‘shoulds’ about it!

 

Originally published as:

‘Canning the Shoulds’, in The Lutheran, October edition, 2008.

Money Matters: teaching kids the value of money

Mum’s birthday was approaching. I decided to give her a surprise and buy her a present. On my way home from school, I took a slight detour—via the main street. Boldly I walked into Eudunda Farmers, chose a lovely perfume and took it to the shop assistant.

‘Book it up, please!’ I said as I signed my very grown-up eight-year-old signature in Mum’s ‘book-it-up’ book. The shop assistant was most helpful and gift-wrapped the lovely present. I went home, gift in hand. A few days later I gave the lovely gift to my mother.

As I remember, Mum was very gracious. She said ‘Thank you’ and then asked where the perfume had come from.

Then she explained that ‘booking it up’ wasn’t all there is to paying. She would have to go to pay the shop, and we would have to go without something else because we didn’t have enough money to just ‘book it up’ whenever we felt like it.

But she knew I’d done it with the best of intentions, so we would call it ‘squits!’ this time.

But I was not to book anything else up without arranging it with Mum first, or I would have to pay for it myself.

I learnt a big lesson that day, and I think Mum did too, because at around the same time she began to give us a weekly allowance, so we could actually learn to save, spend and learn the value of money.

These days I work in a church setting, where we regularly hand out emergency food parcels. Some people are in need of help because they are experiencing a tidal wave of circumstances beyond their control. We are privileged to be able to help them with food and refer them to other services.

But others have never learnt the skill of budgeting, problem-solving or having to plan beyond today.

In February, when the Christmas sales have been forgotten and the payments begin, these people are likely to return to us because they can’t pay for food, gas or electricity. We’ll be told that their payments to department or electronic stores have been due this week. And very often, those payments are more than their income.

They’ve simply never learnt the ‘book-it-up’  rule—that anything bought on credit is not really yours until it’s paid for, and that you have to pay for it somehow.

As parents and youth leaders over the past few decades, Chris and I have learnt that different kids, different personalities and different life experiences lead to different attitudes to money.

We’ve tried to enable our kids to learn about money in small, manageable amounts while they’re little. By the time they’re adults we hope  they’ve learnt about managing money in a way that will protect them from the world’s lies, ‘You need this for your life to be fulfilling’, ‘Get this and you’ll be happy!’, ‘More is better!’

We want them to have experienced the consequences of handling (or mishandling) money before it means that their car is reclaimed or they get a bad credit report.

Where possible we’ve tried to relate kids’ money management to real life.

We’re not in favour of paying kids for jobs that simply need to be done in a family. In every family it’s important that we work as a team. If somebody doesn’t empty the bins or feed the dog, somebody else suffers.

So, rather than earning money to do ‘team’ jobs, our children have received a ‘salary’—an agreed fixed amount. But if they don’t pull their weight, they get charged.

It speaks pretty loudly to an eight-year-old when you hand him his allowance and then ask him to pay you back because you made his bed, emptied the bins or fed the dog, which were his jobs. It also helps teenagers to appreciate the value of reward for effort if they are expected to pay their sibling for doing the dishes, or pay for a takeaway meal for the family if they didn’t take their turn to cook.

Salespeople are taught the tactics of putting something in a customers’ hands for them to ‘feel’ ownership; the same principle works with allowances that have to be paid back.

Once our kids reached high school we gave them a debit card and transferred money into it regularly. To get the debit card they needed to present us with a budget which included clothes (except uniforms and sneakers), youth, Christian giving, savings, sports fees and phone credit (no going out if there is no credit on your phone; it’s a safety issue).They needed to demonstrate accountability.

We’ve also had a rule in our family for years that we don’t purchase on impulse. If somebody decides while we’re shopping that they simply ‘must have it’, they need to think about it for 24 hours before we buy it. Usually it is forgotten by the time we leave the shop. That rule has saved us making lots of poor decisions!

One of our children had her heart set on a game of Cluedo and had been saving for it. When she saw it advertised in the junk mail she asked me if we could go to buy it.

‘This is such a good sale. It’s 30 per cent off. Couldn’t you buy it and I’ll pay you back?’

Stored in my memory banks was the ‘book-it-up’ rule. So I came up with an alternative plan—lay-by. I explained how lay-by works, and we went to the shop to set up an account in her name. The shop assistants took time to explain all the details to our eight-year-old. For the next few weeks my daughter paid about 50 cents a fortnight, until she had paid in full.

What an accomplishment! She’d paid for an item herself, recognised its value, and only received it when it was really hers.

To have a real-life understanding of how money works is something that is important to children. It gives
them experience, teaches them problem-solving and risk assessment, and hopefully will prepare them for life in the big world where, unfortunately, money does matter.

Postscript: The author reserves the right to give a false impression of being a perfect parent. She’s not! Ask any of her kids!

 

Originally published in:

The Lutheran, 2010, February edition

Today was one of those days I should have stayed in bed.

Today was one of those days I should have stayed in bed.

I took too long to wake up, so my coffee intake was late.

The kitchen was full of people,

and I was full of caffeine-withdrawal shakes.

That was easily remedied with a quick coffee.

 

I’ve been trying to get into the habit of a walk each morning.

So I set off – with my phone, a drink, pens and a notebook in the quilted bag I’d machine-embroidered – custom-made for walking and writing.

Usually I walk about one kilometre, then turn around to walk in the opposite direction. But this morning I felt that I should cross the main road, sit by the duck-pond and spend the morning in quiet contemplation.

Last week I bought new walking shoes to go with my new orthotics.  I decided to break them in…this morning. So my feet hurt.

The opportunity to sit for a while before the return trip home seemed to be favourable both to my head and my feet. So off I toddled.

Soon I reached the board-walk by the duck pond and found a bench. I checked the bench for tell-tale signs of early morning dew. I’d had wet pants from wet benches before. There were no dew-drops on it. So I sat down upon it.

It wasn’t until sometime later, after I’d been contemplating the ducks, the skeletons of dead trees, and a magnificent river red gum on the bank of the creek, that I decided to do some writing in my notebook.

As I began to write, I noticed that my fingers were green. I looked inside my bag, knowing that in it was a green fluoro-pen, and it would not have been the first pen to leak in my bag.

So I dug it out.

Aha! I thought as I turned the pen around in my fingers, not realising that my fingers were making the pen green as I turned it over and over.

I looked into the bag. There was no evidence that anything had leaked. I emptied the remainder of the contents of my bag onto the bench, then picked up my notebook. It too was green.

This is really strange,  I thought – as I stood up to survey the bag more closely.

Then I happened to look at the seat again.  Graffiti on the seat shouted at me in bright fluoro green.

Very strange. I thought. I didn’t notice that before.

I looked closer.

The shape of my bottom and thighs encircled the graffiti; the knit pattern from the back of my jumper patterned the backrest. And a little further up the bench, underneath a pile of stones to keep it in place, a scrunched paper sign warned

“Wet Paint!”

It was then that I realised the enormity of what I’d done.

My backside was green

and my face was red!

Today was one of those mornings I should have stayed in bed.

A true story – it happened to the friend of a friend of mine…me!

(Facebook Post by Julie Hahn, June 11, 2013)

 

The Disciple in Discipline

 

‘We think it’s time that we start to discipline Tommy’, the mother of a toddler told me.

I’d been enjoying watching Tommy play: pushing cars around after each other, over mountains and tracks, running into traffic obstacles and finding alternative ways of getting around them. Every now and then Tommy would look up and give his mum a very cute, cheesy grin, which his mum would return. Tommy would then continue with his very serious work of play — complete with the obligatory ‘brmmm…brmmm’.

‘What do you mean by discipline?’ I asked Tommy’s mum.

I thought back to several months before when I was presenting a six-week course. The fourth session is about ‘discipline’. For as long as I’ve been presenting this course, I’ve been intrigued that formerly absent dads appear out of the blue for this particular session. This course proved to be no exception.

On this particular night,  I felt reasonably confident that most of the parents were Christian. So I began with a big, empty whiteboard and wrote the word ‘discipline’ at the top.

‘What do you think of when you see this word?’ I asked.

Very quickly the whiteboard was covered with words: time-out, thinking time, spanking, distraction, self-discipline, self-control, naughty corner, removal of privileges, punishment, consequences, ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’, control … you get the picture.

I’m sure the list could have continued, but the space on the whiteboard didn’t. It was fairly obvious that we each had our own ideas about discipline.

I then crossed off the ‘ine’ from the end of ‘discipline’ and replaced it with an ‘e’. ‘Disciple.’

‘Does anybody recognise this word?’ I asked and I watched the faces change as I continued.

‘We know that Jesus had disciples. Let’s have another look at our list and decide which of these words describe how Jesus ‘disciplined’ his ‘disciples’.

Together we crossed off three-quarters of the words on the whiteboard.

With my own energetic and inquisitive children, I really struggled with discipline. People told me that my particularly ‘enterprising’ child needed a good dose of medication. That child certainly copped a fair degree of the only thing I knew then — a ‘good spanking’. But all that achieved was to rob that particular child of a sense of adventure and creativity.

Eventually, having heard a lot from authoritarian, hands-off ‘experts’, and feeling like a failure, I sat down in a library with my Bible, alongside a Hebrew and Greek Bible with translation, and searched every reference to discipline I could find.What did I learn? That discipline means ‘to train’ and that a ‘disciple’ is a follower who follows a leader — the ‘disciplin-er’.

When I saw discipline through Christ’s example, I saw a demonstration of love through patient leading, through example, through instruction, story-telling and the use of analogies, as well as through pre-empting and warning of what to expect. When I looked at discipline as what Christ did with his disciples, I saw that it was not punishment or retribution. Even though he had all authority in heaven and on earth, Jesus did not use discipline as a form of power or control.

So my approach to discipline changed.

I realised that I had treated discipline as a reaction to my kids’ actions, and, mostly, the kids were getting into trouble because they’d do things I didn’t expect or want them to do. There was a lot of ‘don’t’ without instructing what to ‘do’. With a fair bit of practice, we were able to turn it around.

Discipline became proactive rather than reactive. It meant that we would try to stay ahead of the kids — to plan that our days would begin and end in a more predictable fashion.

Our kids responded really well to being told what to expect each day, or every moment.

For example, we told them: ‘Today is Monday. You need to get dressed, and have breakfast and then we’ll take you to pre-school. We’ll come to get you after pre-school, and then we’ll have lunch and a rest and then we’ll go to the zoo for a little while.’

Then, having given them a virtual map of the day, we would navigate them through it according to their age.

Our five-year-old could manage all that information, while our three-year-old needed step-by-step information, and our baby needed to be taken through it all.

We used charts so that they (and their mother) could have visual prompts for routines such as getting dressed and going to bed. The children knew what to expect and what was expected of them.

Life became more ordered and therefore predictable, as did our children’s behaviour.

When the lives of our children turned upside-down when we moved from the USA back to Australia, the reminder charts and routines were portable and offered reassurance that not everything in life had changed.

We also needed to appreciate our kids’ individual differences.

For example, being aware that each of them would dawdle at a different stage in the morning, we used that to our advantage. We used breakfast as the motivation to ‘hurry up and get dressed’ for the child who took ages to dress but loved breakfast. We made the child who took great pride in personal appearance eat first because of the tendency to dawdle at breakfast.

We smiled more and said ‘Yes!’ much more often.

Since then I’ve also learnt to say, ‘Yes, when you have …’

For example, when our ten-year-old asks to use the computer, our response might be, ‘Yes, when you’ve finished your homework and taken out the rubbish’. It gives positive instruction, gets the job done, and everybody wins.

The Parenting Place in New Zealand uses the motto: ‘If a kid feels right, they act right’. If children can go confidently into a situation, knowing what to expect and what is expected of them, they are more likely to act right. If they are confident that they are loved unconditionally, they are likely to follow instructions and return to the safe base of their parents’ arms in between adventures.

Did Jesus’ disciples always do as they were told? Did they always understand what Jesus told them? Did Christ punish them when they got it wrong? A look from him was all they needed.

Parents have the perfect example of discipline from Jesus, and the incredible, humbling opportunity to look into the eyes of our children to see the reflection of our example to them.

 

Originally published as:

‘The disciple in discipline’ in The Lutheran, February 2010 Vol44 No1 P32-33

 

 

 

 

Tears in our hearts

The heart-breakers in the news are closer to our home today.

The mother inside me wants to hug, console and take away all the pain from my adult-child.

But when she asks whether she should come to me or go to her friend, I say
‘No. You must go and be strong for your friend. There will be time again for me to console you.
You know you have my love.
Right now, your friend needs your presence more than you need mine. The arms where she belongs are too broken to hold her now.
Run to your friend.
Be strong and courageous.
And know, that when the time is right, you can return to my arms to be refilled with the love you have given out; when your need is greater than the one who needs you.’

God don’t do math

Some of us love numbers!
More than one of us in our home love to play with numbers, whether it be in a Sudoku or more recently, working out equations about the force of water. Unfortunately, in our house, none love to balance the books or pay the bills, reconcile accounts or collect info for the tax man.

But, in more than 20 years of paying bills, feeding a growing family and surviving on grant funding (and very generous family) there has only been one time when we almost went hungry – at the same time that we didn’t trust God enough to give Him a tenth of what we had.

This was only one instance that has helped me come to the conclusion that

“God don’t do maths”.

Please pardon the grammar – but I can hear my African-American friends singing this in chorus! Certainly, God’s method of mathematics is not taught in any conventional business or accounting course.
Let’s look at some examples:

Many parents expecting their second child have told me of their fear of not being able to love their next child as much as they’ve loved their first. Every time, God has shown them that He is the God of multiplication – not division.

Ask any parent of multiple children and you discover an incredible capacity to love more – not less, with each child.

Love grows the more you give it away!

It’s a bit like Elijah and the widow who was about to make the last meal for her son and herself, from the tiny bit of flour and oil that she had. She gave to Elijah, and her flour and oil never ran out. It’s like Jesus feeding the 5000 (plus women and children) from 5 loaves and 2 fish – and collecting 12 baskets of left-overs. God don’t do maths!

What about time? Yesterday was one of those days when I had more things to do than minutes in the day. I had no choice but to stop and take a breath prayer.
I breathed, and God-incidentally, I remembered Elisabeth Elliot’s words,
“I have only one thing to do today. That is God’s will, and He will enable me to do it.”
“OK God!” I breathed and my heart remembered,
“Be still and know that I am God!”
“What’s going to happen about the catering tonight? I’m handing that one over to You, Lord.”
I settled into what I was doing, taking a quick break for lunch when a couple of youth leaders arrived to do some pre-event planning.
“We’re going shopping for supplies for tonight. Would you like us to pick up something?”

The next morning, Jan from my favourite coffee shop, where I’ve been going for four years, offered her un-sold muffins for our youth group on Friday nights. I’d not asked – and she’d never offered before. It wasn’t until then that I realised that God had answered my prayer – twice – without me even acknowledging Him. I’d been so caught up with how much time I didn’t have, that I forgot to notice that God had taken over what I’d asked Him to.

We get so caught up following two little sticks chasing each other around a dial we carry on our wrists that we forget that our best friend is the creator of the universe. God is not bound by the rules of our human-measured concept of time. If our universe was limited to our meagre understanding of how it works, what a small universe we would inhabit.

We live in a very weird period of time in that “If we don’t understand it – we can’t believe it!” There goes the theory of relativity, space, gravity, healing, my lap-top computer, the egg I just ate for breakfast…the children I bore.

We argue about periods of time, about budgets, about our capacity to do things. In our determination to work things out mathematically- logically, we diminish the world’s capacity to see God because we diminish Him.

We limit God’s work to our own imagination.

As Elisabeth Elliot once said, “The God who is small enough to be understood is too small to be worshiped”.

Whether or not it fits into a mathematical equation or our understanding, God’s will, will be done. Our capacity to love Him and achieve great things in His name can only grow as we take the opportunities He gives us to learn to rely on Him, rather than on our budgets and imagination.

I guess it works in reverse too. Look at the lives of the rich and famous who hoard up stuff for themselves and end up having to cocoon themselves away for peace and quiet. Those who gather everything for themselves tend to diminish in what they really have. Life seemingly implodes.

Look at a church that limits itself to the same budget it’s had for years. It makes as much sense as a flower keeping its petals in its bud to conserve energy, or a chrysalis deciding to stay where it is safe and dark, rather that breaking out to become a butterfly.

Mathematically, a butterfly cannot fit into a chrysalis.

Mathematically, a flower cannot fit into a flower-bud.

Mathematically, faith as big as a mustard seed cannot move a mountain.

Mathematically, forgiveness doesn’t add up.

Mathematically, we cannot love and keep giving it away.

What would happen in our homes, in our congregations, in our communities if before we set out to do something, we stopped to take notice of God’s economy?

As I heard in a sermon a couple of weeks ago, “God’s economy is different. It’s upside-down.”

Love grows the more you give it away.

God gives.

God gives everything.

God is glorified in His generosity.

God loves everybody – and His love of everybody enables Him to be generous with His love.

What would happen if we stopped counting the wrongs anybody had done against us, and loved and forgave them anyway? What would happen if we chose to love because God first loved us?

This week, this month, this year, let us together consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, and trust God – Rely on Him – and not on our own mathematical equations.

 

Originally published as:

“God don’t do maths” in The Lutheran, May 2010 Vol44 No4 P154-155

Pooped, Purple and Perplexed: Looking to Easter

I’m pooped, purple and slightly perplexed.

Pooped is an accurate description of how I feel right now. Gabby and I decided to go for a walk at Morialta Falls this morning. Well…falls is something of an overstatement. Perhaps they could be re-named  Morialta Puddles.  I’m sure my legs will be reminding me tomorrow and half way through next week of our little adventure.

Purple – well that is a slight exaggeration. Purple is the colour we believed we would be by the time we returned to our car judging from the amount of blackberry bushes we were pushing through at one stage.

And perplexed…well… the maps and signposts along the way were rather ambiguous. There were frequent maps and posts with arrows for particular walks. But halfway along the walk we’d chosen, the signs for our walk became peculiarly absent. Missing was some very vital information … where to go next. So we chose the path we thought we should take – the only one that still had an arrow pointing to it.

Having trekked through unchartered blackberry territory for several hundred metres, we figured that since the path we had chosen was one of the shorter walks, it should not feel as though we needed to get our machetes out to get through the jungle – especially in suburban Adelaide. So we re-traced our steps back to the most recent map and used our powers of deduction.

Though there were no directions at that stage, there were steps that led down to the top of the waterfall (aka puddle), and steps going up the other side. My high-school memories of the same walk prompted us to brave the steps across the puddle and eventually guided us back to the car park.

The walk was great. The weather was perfect, the company and conversation was stimulating and we both feel invigorated. It’s as though we’ve been on a mini-holiday – even though it only takes 15 minutes to drive there.

But the ambiguous instructions got me thinking. One of the most difficult aspects of going anywhere new, meeting and mixing with new people, or trying new things is discovering the things that nobody tells you about; the stuff that nobody explains; the pieces of information that would have made life a whole lot easier if only somebody had said “You need to know this first” or “This is how to do it” or “Ask me. I may know!” or a simple arrow that says “This way!”

I recalled a young man, a friend of our teenagers, who we’d taken to church for the first time in his life. When it came time for communion, he leaned over to me and said

“What is this?”

Try explaining in 20 seconds or less, the meaning of communion! That lesson was a good lesson to me of the things I take for granted; our belief, our rituals, our traditions, the things we do for God and the things we do for the sake of doing them, and the things we do simply because that’s the way we’ve always done them.

Most of us can relate to visiting a new church, going to a new school or moving into a new community. There are some places that make us believe it is the loneliest place on earth. Where is the front door? Am I supposed to sign in somewhere? Is there a toilet close-by? Will anybody talk to me? If I put my name down on this piece of paper will I end up getting a bombardment of emails?

Fortunately, there are some places where you feel as though you are welcomed and feel ‘at home’, straight away. Somebody comes up to you when you arrive because either they are really friendly, have been trained really well and have practised to greet everybody, or they simply recognise that look of “lost” on your face, and have come to rescue you. They introduce themselves with something simple such as

“Hi, I’m Jim. Great to meet you. What’s your name?”

If they’re really well trained, or have practised, they might continue with “How do you spend your time?” or “What’s your favourite ice-cream?” They give you any information you might need, including where to find more information, and offer to sit with you. Or they introduce you to somebody else who they know has a similar interest to you.

“Hey Fred. This is Steve. He’s visiting from Gonunda. He’s interested in the sound system. I thought you might show him around later.”

This last Christmas gave us the opportunity to have some of our friends from different cultural backgrounds celebrate Christmas with us in our home. Because of my experience with the 20 second- introduction- to- communion, I wanted to make sure that our friends would not leave our home without knowing why we celebrated Christmas.

Just as we were about to ask a blessing for our food, which was already foreign to many of our visitors, we brought out our bible and read Luke Chapter 2. I hope we began a tradition – or perhaps, re-instated one. I hope that it will be a ritual that continues in our family to consciously dedicate our time and effort into introducing to our family and friends what is important to us– not taking what we know and believe for granted.

As we look to Easter, there are many people who don’t understand what Easter is about. How many Australians recognise the significance of Ash Wednesday – other than a horrible day of fires in 1983? Do our children understand  the meaning and purpose of Good Friday and Easter Sunday ? It is up to each of us to make sure that those around us know why we commemorate Easter, of Jesus life, death and most importantly, his resurrection.

At a local high-school about 20 years ago, a Christian group acted out the story of Easter. At the end of the play, a student went up to the Principal and said,

“That was a great story. Do you know who wrote it?”

So this Easter, no matter where I am or what I do, I want to be making sure that I do not take knowledge of the Easter story for granted. I do not want to behave as though it’s just a long weekend. I want to make sure that others will know that we celebrate Easter because, as the angels said, “He is not here, He is risen!”

Originally published as:

‘Pooped, Purple and Perplexed’ in The Lutheran, April 2012 Vol46, No3, P102-103