Friday, April 29, 2011

on marilyn, and being truly fabulous

I finished reading The Secret Life Of Marilyn Monroe by J. Randy Taraborrelli a little while ago. I can’t say I’ve ever been much of a Marilyn Monroe fan, or that I knew much about her or her movies. But she certainly was very beautiful, in – to me – a sad, privately hurting sort of way, and I had been intrigued by an article on her that had appeared in Vanity Fair in November last year. It looked at a whole archive of Ms Monroe’s letters, poems and diaries that were being published in a book that same month.

Naturally, much of these private writings provide a lot of insight into the kind of person she was. But some of her words made me particularly sad for her; for example, “Scream – you began and ended in air”, and “Ah Peace I Need You – Even a Peaceful Monster”.

This beautiful woman, apparently so successful and adored, saying such things, feeling such anguish and despair… well, everyone has their personal challenges it seems. I feel so sorry that she never knew the peace and comfort of Christ in her lifetime.

Well, when I recently saw Mr Taraborrelli’s book on sale at the store, I decided to pick it up and give it a read. And I’m glad I did, for it certainly is a well-written, entertaining biography.

But it is also full of sadness in its revelations. I didn’t know Marilyn had had such a difficult childhood. I just think of my own children, and I feel so terrible for her, and for all children who to this day go through the same neglect and abuse. Such mistreatment can so easily set a child up for a lifetime of misery and wrong choices.

There were many things in the book which struck me, but one thing that especially did was what she said when she was pregnant during her marriage to Arthur Miller. This was shortly after she’d come upon Miller’s journal, which, it seems, he’d deliberately left open for her to see (cruelty in its finer form?). “On those pages, Arthur confessed that he had second thoughts about having married her. She wasn’t what he’d thought she was… She wasn’t as intelligent as he had hoped and, in fact, she was someone he pitied” (p.294).

Marilyn had apparently been very much in love with Miller, and discovering that journal had been devastating to her, and made her lose a great deal of confidence in herself. It was after this, during her pregnancy, that she said, ‘“My little girl is always going to be told how pretty she is”… She was sure it would be a girl. “When I was small, all of the dozens and dozens of people I lived with – none of them ever used the word ‘pretty’ to me. I want my little girl to smile all the time. All little girls should be told how pretty they are and I’m going to tell mine, over and over again”. (p.300).

How very, very sad. I do, in fact, know something of what she meant, which is why I always make sure to tell my daughters not only how beautiful they are, but how smart, and wonderful, and capable, and powerful they are too. And more than that, they have GOD, who loves them and is always with them – making them more than conquerors in Him (Romans 8:37).

So I was very happy to stumble upon this book B had been writing in, while I was tidying up. It’s Think Pink – The ultimate ‘go-for-it’ guide for girls! by Lisa Clark. On the back it says, “… prepare to become the star shine girl you’re destined to be and live your life permanently in the pink… dream hugely, be inspired and wear whatever you want without fear of ridicule because, let’s face it, life’s not a dress rehearsal!”

I flipped through it (no, not snoopingly! I just thought the illustrations were cute), and I saw:

What would you like people to know about you? I am a very happy girl

How would you describe yourself? A fabulous girl
What are your kick-ass qualities? Silly, funny, determined, happy

How would you sum yourself up in one sentence? Fabulous

I would love for my daughters to keep summing themselves up this way for the rest of their lives. For indeed they are fabulous and wonderful and all things great in Christ. And so are you. God loves us, and at the risk of sounding cliched, God does not make junk. Don't let a miserable childhood, or rejection, or cruel words, or challenging situations bring you down - we are more than conquerors in Him who loves us!

Remember Hebrews 13:5-6, "... be satisfied with your present [circumstances and with what you have]; for He [God] Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. [I will] not, [I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let [you] down (relax My hold on you)! [Assuredly not!]

So we take comfort and are encouraged and confidently and boldly say, The Lord is my Helper; I will not be seized with alarm [I will not fear or dread or be terrified]".

(And her dream wish list? I wish I could fly. I wish I could drink chocolate milk for an hour. I wish I could have mushroom soup for all my meals).

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Hep Cat pin

Now you can wear Hep Cat!

I love Hep Cat because he has such a cool, upbeat attitude. Nothing gets him down. He likes to wear stripes and black turtlenecks (but he would certainly never smoke), and says things like "I'm hip to the jive" and "Now you're on the trolley!".

In the shop now. R's pin wears a teeny red beret.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

the Lily of the Valley

I LOVE this hymn. It was written by Charles W. Fry in 1881 and is still so rousing today. Whatever you are going through, however you feel – set your mind, and keep it set, on God and the higher things; keep praying, keep thanking, keep praising and keep singing – you WILL come out victorious!

Speak out to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, offering praise with voices and instruments] and making melody with all your heart to the Lord,
At all times and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father (Eph 5:19-20).

I have found a friend in Jesus, He’s everything to me,
He’s the fairest of ten thousand to my soul;
The Lily of the Valley, in Him alone I see
All I need to cleanse and make me fully whole.
In sorrow He’s my comfort, in trouble He’s my stay;
He tells me every care on Him to roll.

Refrain
He’s the Lily of the Valley, the Bright and Morning Star,
He’s the fairest of ten thousand to my soul.

He all my grief has taken, and all my sorrows borne;
In temptation He’s my strong and mighty tower;
I have all for Him forsaken, and all my idols torn
From my heart and now He keeps me by His power.
Though all the world forsake me, and Satan tempt me sore,
Through Jesus I shall safely reach the goal.

Refrain

He will never, never leave me, nor yet forsake me here,
While I live by faith and do His blessed will;
A wall of fire about me, I’ve nothing now to fear,
From His manna He my hungry soul shall fill.
Then sweeping up to glory to see His blessed face,
Where the rivers of delight shall ever roll.

(The version in this video does not follow the traditional lyrics entirely, but I'm sure you get the idea and the tune - so sing along!)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

we boinga all boinga long



My kids are ENORMOUS fans of The Backyardigans. For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about - The Backyardigans is a 3D, CGI-animated children's series by Nelvana and Nickelodeon. In each episode, the show's five characters - Pablo, Uniqua, Tyrone, Austin and Tasha - use their imaginations to transform their backyard into all sorts of fantastic worlds, in which they play out their elaborate, extravagant adventures.


Personally, I love The Backyardigans; I think they're just brilliant. Every episode has music and dancing, with each one focusing on a particular music genre (like country, mariachi, or rock), which I think is great for getting kids interested in music, learning the different genres, and picking up cool dance moves.

The video above is one of our favourites; it's from the episode "Mission to Mars". Uniqua, Pablo and Austin meet Mommy Martian, who teaches them the Martian language. The kids love dancing to this song and I'm just really tickled by it.

Sample lyrics:

Mommy Martian:
Almost everything is boinga here,
Just in case you hadn't heard.
Almost everything is boinga here,
It's the Martians' favorite word.

Uniqua:
Do you call these hands?
Mommy Martian:
Nope, we call them boinga!

Austin:
Do you use pots and pans?
Mommy Martian:
Yup, we call them boinga!

Pablo:
We wear hats on our heads
Mommy Martian:
Really? We wear boinga!
Uniqua:
Do you guys sleep in beds?
Mommy Martian:
Nope, we sleep in boinga!

Mommy Martian:
Do your birds say boinga?
Uniqua:
No, our birds say tweet!
Mommy Martian:
Do your flowers smell boinga?
Pablo:
No, they just smell sweet!

Hahahahahahahaha... just typing this out makes me laugh. Go listen. And dance. And learn the words so you can sing while you're doing whatever it is you have to do. Thinking boinga definitely beats being depressed and negative! (Alicia Keys is voicing Mommy Martian, by the way).

rise and shine

Today at Easter service, our pastor made mention of a well-known incident between Martin Luther and his wife Katharina. Luther had sunk into a deep and prolonged depression; Katharina, seeing him thus, decided to put on black mourning. Of course, Luther asked her why she was dressed like that, and she answered, “Because God is dead”. Luther rebuked her saying, “How can you say such a thing – God cannot die”. Katharina replied, “Well, the way you’ve been acting, I was sure that He had!”

How often do we act like that – all doom and gloom, wallowing in fear, self-pity and negativity. SHAKE IT OFF! Recall, as David did before he went to kill the Philistine giant Goliath, how faithful God has been to you in the past, and declare with confidence how faithful God will continue to be.

David told King Saul with full assurance, “Your servant killed both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God!”

This Easter we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection with exclamations of “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” So put off your mourning, arise to a new life! Remember Isaiah 60:1 – “ARISE [from the depression and prostration in which circumstances have kept you--rise to a new life]! SHINE (be radiant with the glory of the Lord), for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!” With God’s power working in you and for you, you will conquer all your giants!

Here’s a little article I'd written for our church magazine; it came out just a few days ago. Again, a blessed Easter to you and yours – remember to rise and shine!

As Easter approaches, we find ourselves inundated with chocolate eggs, rabbits, sundry baby animals, and all things spring. They are not what Easter is about of course, but I can understand the use of the imagery, symbolising as they do renewal, purity and hope.

For Easter – the Christian celebration of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection – is what puts the “Good” in Good Friday; despite all the pain and suffering Jesus went through, God worked it out for good, giving us our greatest blessing ever – our salvation and everlasting life. What a glorious hope!

But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our guilt and iniquities; the chastisement [needful to obtain] peace and well-being for us was upon Him, and with the stripes [that wounded] Him we are healed and made whole (Isaiah 53:5).

It is a hope not only for our final outcome, but in our daily lives. For while we may have to go through hard times, we can be confident that our heavenly Father is always with us, that He will see us through, and that He will work it out for our good. Whatever it is you have to face, it will pass, and you will rise again!

We are assured and know that [God being a partner in their labour] all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose (Romans 8:28).

May this coming Easter remind you of – and fill you again – with that perfect peace and confidence, and that blessed, glorious hope!

Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace and confidence. In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you.] (John 16:33).

Thursday, April 21, 2011

on spending time well

I am sooooooo glad I went for evening service this Maundy Thursday. It is so wonderful to be in God’s presence with other believers, to experience that love and peace and joy, that refreshing and renewal of one’s spirit.

Did you know, by the way, that the word “Maundy” derives from the Latin mandatum? "Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos", or "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you". Jesus said this in John 13:34, when he was explaining to the Apostles the significance of his washing of their feet. Maundy Thursday commemorates Jesus’ Last Supper of course, and tomorrow will be Good Friday.

Our pastor delivered such a great sermon this evening (we have four different pastors at our church by the way, so when I say “our pastor” I’m not always referring to the same person). During it, he asked us to spend some quiet time reflecting on the sins we struggle with in our lives, and then to ask God how we can overcome them. Naturally, a whole string of sins and shortcomings came immediately to my mind; they probably came to my mind pretty quick because I’m always having to ask God’s forgiveness for those same sins in my daily prayers.

At the same time, as our pastor had requested, I cried out to the Lord (in my heart) to tell me how to overcome these weaknesses in my life. And I heard then, again and again, with increasing emphasis – “Spend time with Me”.

And in the extra minute or two that our pastor gave us to pray before resuming his sermon, I just came to the realisation or revelation that yes – the way to conquer our weaknesses, to cast out our demons, to break the addiction of our sins, is best summed up by that invitation, that direction, that injunction – spend time with God.

The time we invest in unhealthy habits, negative thinking, immoral, bad or plain stupid behaviour, can swiftly be turned to excellent use by giving it to God. Spend time with Him. Make time for Him. Talk with Him, get to know His character and His ways, listen to His promptings, follow His guidance, ask for His grace and His help. Mark 14:38 says, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” If I don’t discipline myself to spend time with God, it is so easy to drift into sin and all sorts of bad behaviour.

Our pastor used himself as an example, referring to the time he was preparing for a marathon. With discipline and dedication, he eventually did manage to get his body into excellent shape, and complete the run well. But while it had taken him months of effort to get fit and healthy, it was easy, and didn’t take long at all, to drift back to crappy eating habits and couch potatohood.

He cited an excellent quote by Canadian theologian D.A. Carson: "People do not drift toward Holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord.

We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated."

Yes, spending time with God, keeping to His path, is definitely a discipline, but really, it is so so worth it. And you know what, the more time you spend with Him, the less you feel the discipline, and the more you notice the blessings and the gains.

Remember Isaiah 30:18, which reminds us that “the Lord [earnestly] waits [expecting, looking, and longing] to be gracious to you; and therefore He lifts Himself up, that He may have mercy on you and show loving-kindness to you. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed (happy, fortunate, to be envied) are all those who [earnestly] wait for Him, who expect and look and long for Him [for His victory, His favor, His love, His peace, His joy, and His matchless, unbroken companionship]!”

“I love those who love me,” says the Lord, “and those who seek me early and diligently shall find me” (Prov 8:17).

Have a lovely, blessed Easter!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

on the quiet cauliflower

OK, so I’ve cut down on my dear beloved broccoli because it seems I might actually have been overdosing on them (yeah, it’s possible). Did you know – I was told that broccoli would be orange or yellow if not for the green chlorophyll, so an overdose of it could tint your skin orange the way an overdose of carrots might. And so I’ve started exploring cauliflower, the closest thing I could think of to broccoli.

I’m afraid I have to admit that I’d always thought of cauliflower as the less tasty, less colourful version of broccoli, with a weird texture between soft and crunchy. But I’ve decided to like it, and really, now that I’ve started, I realise that it’s really not half bad. (And a mound of melted cheese on top doesn’t hurt either haha).

Anyway, while having my cauliflower for lunch today and thinking half-wistfully about broccoli, I decided I really did need to find out what benefits eating cauliflower had. You always hear such a lot about broccoli’s life-enhancing powers, but not so much about cauliflower (well I hadn’t anyway). I mean, it’s such a subdued, colourless vegetable, I really couldn’t help wondering if there was any real point in my eating it.

Well – it turns out cauliflower is a powerhouse in its own right. Besides the obvious no-fat thing, it’s super high in vitamin C, vitamin K, and omega-3 fatty acids. It also contains other good stuff, including phytochemicals, glucosinolates, carotenoids, folic acid, fibre, potassium and manganese (yeah I know, some of us still wonder what’s manganese for). It’s really quite as decent as broccoli. So have some today! (With a mound of melted cheese on top haha). Remember though, that boiling reduces cauliflower’s nutrient levels, so try steaming or stir-frying instead.

WHFoods has a good article on cauliflower.

And that picture above is my painting entitled, um… Choux fleurs. Yup.

Monday, April 18, 2011

be a joyrider


Let’s say you're taking the train home. If you were to get on the wrong train, it probably wouldn’t take you too long to realise it. After the first wrong station or so, you’d likely feel a little annoyed, dismayed, anxious even. And – unless you enjoyed wasting time or getting lost - if you had any sense at all – you’d get off as soon as you could and get on the right train.

It’s funny how we know how to do that, but when it comes to our thoughts… We get started on a wrong train of thought, and more times than not, we just stay on! The stupid part is, sometimes we’re actually aware that we’re going in the wrong direction, and we’re conscious that we’d better stop and get off quick before it’s too late – but we don’t!

What is it that makes us keep getting on those wrong trains, and then staying on? We start thinking of whatever our apparently negative situation is, and then we start embroidering it, adding our self-blame, our anxiety, our what-if thinking, and our negativity. We add on station after station of wrong thinking, until we’re so far gone that we don’t know how to get back where we should be. I imagine these wrong trains as rides out into the wilderness or to nowhere – they’re like a downward spiral into depression and despair.

And it’s one thing to go on these miserable rides once or twice, but to do it repeatedly? No sane person would keep taking the wrong train home every day, yet I think this is what many of us do with our thought life. We know that going in that wrong direction will only lead to misery and torment, and yet we get on anyway – out of habit, if nothing else. It’s almost as if we develop this perverse addiction to negativity. But how can we expect or hope for good, positive results in our lives if we keep on that way?

For me, I’ve found that one way to get out of that pointless round of going-miles-in-the-wrong-direction-and-then-struggling-to-get-back-to-the-right-one, is to consciously STOP myself the moment I’m tempted to start off on that wrong track. And I know from experience when I’m about to – it usually starts with “what if…” or “if only…” or some other non-joyful, non-helpful, non-victorious thing.

I can literally feel the joy oozing out of me the moment I start, I can literally feel my mouth going down at the corners, my shoulders slumping, I can literally feel myself getting tired, cranky, or short-tempered. Sometimes I even start first thing in the morning, when I’ve barely opened my eyes; somehow in that sleepy haze I’m more than able to start focusing on every apparently negative thing I can think of and even add to them with my boundless imagination. It’s a miserable ride.

So I actively STOP myself – really, I literally tell myself, “Stop it! Just STOP IT!” Remember Philippians 4:8? “… whatever is true, whatever is worthy of reverence and is honourable and seemly, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely and lovable, whatever is kind and winsome and gracious, if there is any virtue and excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on and weigh and take account of these things [fix your minds on them] (Amplified).

Right away, I ask God to help me, to give me the strength and grace to fix my mind on the right things. I ask Him to help me resist the temptations of worry, self-pity and negativity, and remember that I am more than a conqueror in Christ, and that He is faithful to deliver. The fact is, we are in control of what train we get on, for God has given us a spirit of power, a well-balanced mind, discipline and self-control (2 Tim 1:7) – we can choose our direction, our thoughts, we can decide whether or not to let ourselves go downhill and be ruled by our worry and negativity. If we actively get on the right train, filling our minds with the right thoughts, there just won't be room for the bad ones.

And then go do something positive, productive, joyful or plain fun.

From experience, I realise now that it helps a lot to keep close to God all the time, not just when I’m really desperate. If I try to walk closely with God all the time, then I find that it gets easier and easier to stop myself and get off that wrong train. In fact, it gets easier to avoid it altogether, because I'm already heading in the right direction. I actively remind myself that

"... the Lord [earnestly] waits [expecting, looking, and longing] to be gracious to you; and therefore He lifts Himself up, that He may have mercy on you and show loving-kindness to you. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed (happy, fortunate, to be envied) are all those who [earnestly] wait for Him, who expect and look and long for Him [for His victory, His favor, His love, His peace, His joy, and His matchless, unbroken companionship]!" (Isaiah 30:18). Isn't that wonderful?

As with any bad addiction, I think that resisting the temptation to give in to it when one is most tempted, is the best way to effectually beat it. Striving to establish the right mindset at all times really helps with this I think; if one establishes a good spiritual foundation in one’s everyday life, if one habitually walks in God’s love, joy and peace, it’s a lot easier to stop wrong thoughts in their tracks.

Colossians 3 for example is full of useful advice for this: “… set your minds and keep them set on what is above (the higher things), not on the things that are on the earth…

5So kill (deaden, deprive of power) the evil desire lurking in your members [those animal impulses and all that is earthly in you that is employed in sin]: sexual vice, impurity, sensual appetites, unholy desires, and all greed and covetousness, for that is idolatry (the deifying of self and other created things instead of God)...

8But now put away and rid yourselves [completely] of all these things: anger, rage, bad feeling toward others, curses and slander, and foulmouthed abuse and shameful utterances from your lips!

9Do not lie to one another, for you have stripped off the old (unregenerate) self with its evil practices,

10And have clothed yourselves with the new [spiritual self], which is [ever in the process of being] renewed and remolded into [fuller and more perfect knowledge upon] knowledge after the image (the likeness) of Him Who created it…

12Clothe yourselves therefore, as God's own chosen ones (His own picked representatives), [who are] purified and holy and well-beloved [by God Himself, by putting on behavior marked by] tenderhearted pity and mercy, kind feeling, a lowly opinion of yourselves, gentle ways, [and] patience [which is tireless and long-suffering, and has the power to endure whatever comes, with good temper].

13Be gentle and forbearing with one another and, if one has a difference (a grievance or complaint) against another, readily pardoning each other; even as the Lord has [freely] forgiven you, so must you also [forgive].

14And above all these [put on] love and enfold yourselves with the bond of perfectness [which binds everything together completely in ideal harmony].

15And let the peace (soul harmony which comes) from Christ rule (act as umpire continually) in your hearts [deciding and settling with finality all questions that arise in your minds, in that peaceful state] to which as [members of Christ's] one body you were also called [to live]. And be thankful (appreciative), [giving praise to God always].

16Let the word [spoken by] Christ (the Messiah) have its home [in your hearts and minds] and dwell in you in [all its] richness, as you teach and admonish and train one another in all insight and intelligence and wisdom [in spiritual things, and as you sing] psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making melody to God with [His] grace in your hearts".

As Carlene Carter sang more secularly -

We won't turn back, we got some place to be
A better life ahead for the likes of you and me
Leave our sorrows behind
That was a bad old time we had
We're gettin' off a nowhere train

Friday, April 15, 2011

be happy now

Of late, the Lord has been dealing increasingly with me on my bad habit of worrying and wasting the present. It really is such a bad habit to jump ahead into the future and think "what if" type thoughts. I mean, it's one thing to jump ahead and think postive, uplifting thoughts, but if you're going to be all negative and self-defeating... The stupid thing is that it's just so pointless! We simply can't know the future. All we know is what we have here and now - if we keep anxiously jumping ahead, we're losing the present, what we do actually have.

There's no other way to put it, and I can only say it again and again - worrying is completely pointless, and it is a total waste of time, a total waste of the now that we do have. Luke 12:25 says, "And which of you by being overly anxious and troubled with cares can add a cubit to his stature or a moment [unit] of time to his age [the length of his life]?" (Amplified).

I've been reading Present Perfect, by psychologist Pavel Somov. The book is about "a mindfulness approach to letting go of perfectionism and the need for control". Dr Somov makes many pertinent points, including, ' "Any time you're thinking about something that no longer is or about something that isn't yet, you are thinking about something that doesn't exist. And any time you are thinking about something that doesn't exist, you're not thinking about something that does exist. Put differently, you are missing out on life. Here's how a great Soviet Georgian philosopher, Merab Mamardashvilli, conveyed the existential suicide of rumination and worry: "We often get stuck on that which does not exist. And, in so doing, we cease to exist ourselves" ' (p130 - 31).

Dr Somov's book is intelligently and well-written, but it does not factor in the powerful advantage we Christians have - God. So besides the sheer torment and pointlessness of worry and negativity from a practical standpoint, there is also the power of God at work in us and for us. Our perspective should be greater, higher, reaching beyond our small, earthly confines. The Word is full of encouragement, comfort and reassurance for all our challenging times, and I've found it helps enormously to focus on them and even repeat them out loud in faith.

For example,

Do not fret or have any anxiety about anything, but in every circumstance and in everything, by prayer and petition (definite requests), with thanksgiving, continue to make your wants known to God (Phil 4:6).

Casting the whole of your care [all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares for you affectionately and cares about you watchfully (1 Peter 5:7).

Let us then fearlessly and confidently and boldly draw near to the throne of grace (the throne of God's unmerited favour to us sinners), that we may receive mercy [for our failures] and find grace to help in good time for every need [appropriate help and well-timed help, coming just when we need it] (Heb 4:16).

The Lord is my Strength and my [impenetrable] Shield; my heart trusts in, relies on, and confidently leans on Him, and I am helped; therefore my heart greatly rejoices, and with my song will I praise Him (Ps 28:7).

Unless the Lord had been my help, I would soon have dwelt in [the land where there is] silence. When I said, My foot is slipping, Your mercy and loving-kindness, O Lord, held me up.
In the multitude of my [anxious] thoughts within me, Your comforts cheer and delight my soul! (Ps 94:17-19).

For I the Lord your God hold your right hand; I am the Lord, Who says to you, Fear not; I will help you! (Isa 41:13).

I am heartily sick of fretting myself. The Bible says, "This is the day which the Lord has brought about". I will rejoice - yes, make a conscious decision, discipline myself, deliberately choose - and be glad in it.

I can't keep saying "I will be happy when...", even subconsciously, for isn't that what I'm doing when I'm not choosing to be happy now? Why wait to be happy when? Why not just be happy NOW? We can't know the future, but it is enough that we know the One who does.

(And the picture above? It's the kids managing to have an enormous amount of fun with nothing in a tiny changing room).

inner peace

Someone just sent this to me; I think it's one of those mass emails that's been around for awhile, but it's the first time I've received it, and I couldn't help chuckling a little. It's so true though isn't it - animals and kids - we can learn so much from them!


If you can start the day without caffeine,
If you can always be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains,
If you can resist complaining and boring people with your troubles,
If you can eat plain food every day and be grateful for it,
If you can understand when your loved ones are too busy to give you any time,
If you can take criticism and blame without resentment,
If you can conquer tension without medical help,
If you can relax without liquor,
If you can sleep without the aid of drugs,

Then You Are Probably .......

The Family Dog!

And you thought I was going to get all spiritual didn't you?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

happy. yup.

So I went for my appointment today, and almost needless to say, God faithfully saw me through.

As I was on my way there in the cab, you can imagine how I was endeavouring to keep my mind fixed on God and his goodness and all that. And you can also imagine how every now and then an anxious, negative thought would try to squeeze its way in. Well, I can tell you from experience now – you DON’T have to think them. As you would with that old man of the sea, don’t even let one word of your crappy thoughts start. SHAKE IT OFF.

“… SET your minds and KEEP THEM SET on what is above (the higher things), not on the things that are on the earth… And let the peace (soul harmony which comes) from Christ rule (act as umpire continually) in your hearts [deciding and settling with finality all questions that arise in your minds, in that peaceful state] to which as [members of Christ's] one body you were also called [to live]. And be thankful (appreciative), [giving praise to God always] (Colossian 3:2, 15, Amplified).

But anyway, while my mind was engaged in its battle, lo and behold, what should slowly pass us by there on the highway, but one of those massive container trucks. Printed in large clear letters across the length of its huge tan body were the words: JESUS WILL CARRY YOUR LOAD.

Yup.

(And I deliberately wore my happy shirt today).

Monday, April 11, 2011

on fear and the adventures of sinbad

sinbad4a
Illustration for Sinbad the Sailor by Edmund Dulac

2 Timothy 1:7 in the Amplified Bible says, "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (of cowardice, of craven and cringing and fawning fear), but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of calm and well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control".

While praying about overcoming the spirit of fear and negativity today, I suddenly had a revelation, a sort of vision, which -– while strangely incongruous under the circumstances -– really captured the whole "thing" that we do to ourselves when we let ourselves become anxious or fearful. And yes –- I say "let", because it is something we allow to happen; we permit the spirit of fear to rule us.

Almost like a tiny little film clip, I saw… Sinbad and the old man of the sea.

I know -– huh?

I literally saw the character of Sinbad with a horrible old man sitting upon his shoulders; this monster was torturing Sinbad and making his life a misery until Sinbad finally shook him off. I took this all in in about 3 seconds flat, but it was a thought-provoking revelation for me nonetheless.

Needless to say, after I finished my prayers, I went to look up the story. It seems that on Sinbad’s fifth voyage, he encounters an apparently weak and decrepit old man on a desert island. The old man signs to Sinbad that he wants Sinbad to take him up and carry him on his back across a stream so that he can pick some fruit. Sinbad lets the old man get on his back and carries him over, but when he tries to get him off, the old man tightens his legs about Sinbad's throat and refuses.

In Antoine Galland's translation, Sinbad continues the story thus: "Notwithstanding my fainting, the ill-natured old fellow kept fast about my neck, but opened his legs a little to give me time to recover my breath. When I had done so, he thrust one of his feet against my stomach, and struck me so rudely on the side with the other, that he forced me to rise up against my will. Having got up, he made me walk under the trees, and forced me now and then to stop, to gather and eat fruit such as we found. He never left me all day, and when I lay down to rest by night, he laid himself down with me, always holding fast about my neck. Every morning he pushed me to make me wake, and afterwards obliged me to get up and walk, and pressed me with his feet. You may judge then what trouble I was in, to be loaded with such a burden as I could by no means rid myself of".

Well! That sure sounds like me when I’m carrying a burden of worry or fear!

Happily, as with all Sinbad’s adventures, this one ends well; Sinbad gets the old man drunk, the old man falls off, and Sinbad crushes his head to pieces with a stone. How would you like to crush your fears to death?

The story continues, "I was extremely rejoiced to be freed thus for ever from this cursed old fellow, and walked along the shore of the sea, where I met the crew of a ship that had cast anchor to take in water to refresh themselves. They were extremely surprised to see me, and to hear the particulars of my adventures. 'You fell,' said they, 'into the hands of the old man of the sea, and are the first that has ever escaped strangling by him. He never left those he had once made himself master of till he destroyed them, and he has made this island famous for the number of men he has slain; so that the merchants and mariners who landed upon it dared not advance into the island but in numbers together".

What does this curious revelation mean to me? Simply this – don’t let the monster of fear rule you. Don't let it master you till it destroys you. Whenever you’re tempted to let it gain a foothold in your life – SHAKE IT OFF.

The old man of the sea reminds me of the apostle Peter’s words: "Be well balanced (temperate, sober of mind), be vigilant and cautious at all times; for that enemy of yours, the devil, roams around like a lion roaring [in fierce hunger], seeking someone to seize upon and devour" (1 Peter 5:8).

If someone warned me that there was such a monster lying in wait – whether it be the demon of fear or worry or negativity or despair – I should certainly endeavour to avoid it altogether. But if I had to confront it – and in life we probably will have to – then – like the sailors who ensured that they did not venture forth unless they were empowered by the strength of their numbers – I would ensure that I was empowered by God, by His Holy Spirit dwelling within me and filling me with divine peace, comfort, hope and strength.

"Peace I leave with you; My [own] peace I now give and bequeath to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. [Stop allowing yourselves to be agitated and disturbed; and do not permit yourselves to be fearful and intimidated and cowardly and unsettled] (italics mine, John 14:27).

As I confront my fears once again, I remind myself -– yes, the way David reminded himself of God’s faithfulness when he had to confront Goliath, "The Lord Who delivered me out of the paw of the lion and out of the paw of the bear, He will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine" –- God IS more powerful than any monster I have to face, and HE IS FAITHFUL.

(And, while I'm on the topic, I could perhaps learn a thing or two from Sinbad, whose fearlessness and zest for life filled volumes in the Arabian Nights. For indeed, while life does have its share of monsters, serpents and sundry crazy people, it is also full of joy, wonder and treasures untold).

Thursday, April 7, 2011

sticker dolly dressing

OK - the success of this series of books with my young daughters is so phenomenal that I feel compelled to share them with everyone. They're Sticker Dolly Dressing books by Stella Baggott et al for Usborne Activities. There are a whole bunch to choose from, including Fairies, Popstars and On Holiday, or the ones shown above, Fashion Long Ago, Dancers, and Princesses (ours is the French version).

The thematic paperback books have all sorts of different characters and little stories inside, and they're pretty educational too. The people start out in their underwear, against an appropriate backdrop, and it's up to your little one (or you) to dress them. The pages of stickers in the middle - literally tons of them - are easy to peel and manage for even 3-year-old fingers (they're reusable too and there are extras your child could use for her own crafts), and all the illustrations are bright and pretty.

Checking them out on Amazon today, I saw that Usborne had other cool sticker books as well, including ones for boys, and interesting ones like Around The World, Airport, and Art. My girls looooove them and I'd definitely recommend them as things-to-keep-your-kids-occupied-and-quiet-for-a-bit while you try to get something done.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

on families and keeping close


(Photograph by Shiho Fukada for The New York Times)

I read an article in The New York Times today headlined “Monuments to Clan Life Lose Appeal for Chinese”, by Edward Wong. It was about the earthen buildings – tulou in Mandarin – of Yongding, China, built by the ethnic Hakka and Minnan people of rural Fujian Province. These buildings housed entire clans – generations of families – making each one almost a village. The tulou would usually have four floors, and hundreds of rooms, with a massive central courtyard, many being round; others square or rectangular. Everyone living in a tulou would have the same surname, except for those who married into the clan.

The article says that tulou construction ended in the last century. It seems that as China’s clan traditions decline – and increasing numbers of people moving out of the tulou to live in modern apartments – the art of building these architectural wonders is dying. Mr Wong writes that the United Nations is seeking to preserve surviving tulou, and Unesco declared 46 tulou together to be a World Heritage Site in 2008. A UNESCO museum in one of the tulou says the structures were built between the 13th and 20th centuries.

“Perhaps the most famous tulou is the 17th-century, 402-room Chengqi lou, which has concentric ringsof homes and alleys on its ground floor,” Mr Wong writes. “Its diameter is about 100 metres. The people here are surnamed Jiang”. The photograph above, by Shiho Fukida, shows Chengqi lou. Isn’t it amazing? (More tulou pictures can be seen at architecturelist.com and UNESCO World Heritage Sites).

Mr Wong quotes in his article: ‘“People don’t clean it anymore,” said Jiang Qing, 28, as she stood on an upper balcony of the 500-year-old Huan Xing tulou, whose name means “embracing prosperity.” “As long as people live here, the ecosystem thrives. Once people move out, then it all falls apart.”’

While I was fascinated by the article, I also felt a little, I guess, wistful. Whether migrating from a tulou to modern Hong Kong as many of the Chinese in this article are, or just moving our of your parents’ home when you’re 18 – I think it’s sort of sad, and perhaps reflective of the times, that families are not as close, and close-knit, as they used to be. "Once people move out, then it all falls apart".

It’s common for us Chinese to live with our parents, and even grandparents and great-grandparents, even after marriage – I think it’s based on the Confucian ideal of filial piety, which lauds respect for one’s parents and ancestors (filial piety is considered the highest of Chinese virtues, and covers a variety of things, including being good to, and taking care of one's parents).

My own family and many of my friends do have several generations living within the same house, which, while occasionally infuriating or just plain trying, is I think a great way to keep the family close, building strong ties, learning from each other, and best of all, having love and support whenever they – or you – need it. It’s not unusual for us, but I realised some time ago that many of my Western friends found it so.

Not too long back there was a bit of a hoo-ha when a certain American student uploaded a video on YouTube, voicing her feelings about Asians. In her public monologue, she referred to the Asians who lived around her, saying, “… their moms and their brothers and their sisters and their grandmas and their grandpas and their cousins and everybody that they know that they brought along from Asia with them – comes here on the weekends to do their laundry, buy their groceries and cook their food for the week… it’s seriously without fail... you will always see old Asian people running around this apartment complex every weekend, that’s what they do, they don’t teach their kids to fend for themselves”.

While I found the video itself laughable – and at the same time vaguely sad – the young lady was right in observing that many Asian families do like getting together as often as possible and doing domestic things like that. It’s not that we don’t teach our kids to fend for themselves – though I’m sure there are families like that regardless of culture – it’s just that we love the closeness that doing such familial things together brings, the love that it exemplifies. And I’m sure there are many families the world over who understand and do that, Asian or otherwise.

What’s sad is that this young lady is voicing the view that many people today have that having a cohesive family, being with them like that, spending so much time together, is somehow inexplicable, embarrassing even, and reflects a lack of maturity or independence. While striking out on one’s own is of course important and a part of growing up, I think it’s equally important to stay connected with where one came from. So often you hear of young people out on their own somewhere, indulging in all the follies of youth, uncaring of the wisdom of the older generations, ruining their own lives – and others too – in their pride and ignorance. Having a strong parental or familial presence in their lives could go a long way in helping to keep such individuals grounded in the right values, for the betterment not only of themselves, but of society as well.

“Honour thy father and thy mother, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee,” it says in Deuteronomy 5:16, “that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with thee, in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee”.

For it is in the very act of honouring one’s parents, in caring about one’s family, that one learns respect, patience, tolerance, responsibility, kindness, accountability and love – some of the things that surely this world needs a lot more of.

PS: Go call your Mom ;)

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