• Faith,  Family

    It’s okay to not be okay

    On Friday my country, New Zealand, was irrevocably changed.

    To live in New Zealand is to live in freedom, peace and comfort (compared to many other countries around the world). We are proud of the breathtaking scenery here, and of our friendly, easy-going people.

    But our peace was shattered by a gunman with a sick agenda, who shot and killed 50 people and injured another 29 while they were praying at two mosques in Christchurch.

    The impact of this event will be felt for a long time to come; so great is the shock and grief and anger that such a thing could happen here.

    Along with mourning for the people who were killed or injured, and their families, I feel for the poor citizens of Christchurch – people who have been through so much trauma in recent years due to the earthquakes.

    I can say that this event touched me deeply.

    While I wasn’t in the immediate vicinity, I just happened to be in Christchurch that day. Here is my story.

    My husband accepted an invitation to a good friend’s wedding in Sydney. We could’t afford for us all to go after our recent trip to Australia, but I encouraged Mr G to go, and to take a few days off to have a bit of a holiday.

    I’m used to him going away for several days at a time. It’s usually fine, although weekends are tiring, as there’s no school or kindy to give me a break.

    I decided to take the children to Christchurch for the a night or two at the weekend. I hadn’t spent much time there in years (the longest stretch was between the two earthquakes). Because of all the fun things to do in Christchurch, I was looking forward to having a great adventure with the kids.

    I originally planned to arrive in Christchurch on the Friday night. But on the Wednesday, E was very tired (she’s 6). I changed my plans. She needed a day off school to recharge her batteries, plus D was recovering from a cold.

    I’ll give them the day off, so we can sleep in and then head for Christchurch on Friday morning, I thought.

    Which we did.

    The weather was iffy, and I couldn’t decide whether to take them on the Gondola or to the Toy Collector, a toy museum in the cbd. The drizzle and cloud meant we wouldn’t get to see the spectacular views of Christchurch, but after arguing with myself about which option was best, I decided to go with the gondola. I would later thank God for this decision.

    On the gondola

    We had a great time, despite being able to see absolutely nothing at the top because the cloud cover was so thick.

    We were done around 1:30pm, so I drove us to our AirBnb accommodation as it had an early check-in time. I drove via Linwood Avenue, missing the shootings there by mere minutes.

    We dumped our things, and set off for K Mart as I had a few things to get, plus I needed to buy dinner for the children (I had AIP food with me). When you don’t live anywhere near a K Mart, you make the most of any opportunity to go there!

    My kids are currently obsessed with this George Ezra ‘Shotgun’ spoof, and were singing ‘K Maaart…’ at the top of their lungs. It is now 2pm.

    We arrive at the Palms mall in Shirley, and I stop to let the kids play at a little indoor playground there. I chat to a young Maori couple, when a lady comes up to us and says quietly, so as not to alert the children:

    “They’re evacuating the mall. A guy’s shot some people in the CBD and they don’t know where he is”.

    We look at her in disbelief. The young Maori lady jokes, “Well, he hasn’t met me! He’d betta watch out,” and we laugh.

    A security guard comes around the corner and tells us we need to leave immediately as they are locking down the mall. He tells us the CBD is in lockdown.

    We walk out of the mall to see an armed policeman who tells us to get in our cars and go home and stay home. Police cars are screaming along the main road by the mall.

    “Why do we have to go home?’ asks E.

    “There’s danger,” I say. “A man with a gun has hurt some people.”

    “Why?”

    “I don’t know,” I say, but I think it’s probably some guy who started to take pot shots at police after they’ve responded to a domestic. That’s usually the way of it.

    In a frightened voice, D who is 4 years old, asks me if he’s going to get shot in the back.

    “No darling, ” I say, but I scan the car park to make sure there’s isn’t a gun-wielding madman there, just in case.

    I have no idea where the shooting took place. All I know is we are near the CBD, and if the cops are locking this place down, the police musn’t know where this man is.

    We are a short drive from our accommodation, and once inside I lock the door and shut the curtains.

    I look at my phone and see I have missed a call from my Dad. I call him back.

    “Did you hear what’s happening down in Christchurch?” he says, even though he is calling me about something unrelated.

    “Dad, I’m in Christchurch,” I say. “What’s going on?”

    “Oh no! Some guy’s gone and shot people at a mosque, and they’ve just said on the news there’s been shootings at another mosque. They think it’s a coordinated attack, and they’ve found bombs,” replies Dad.

    Bombs?

    I wonder how far away we are from these mosques, and if there’s any others near by. I feel sick, and scared for the safety of my kids.

    After I’ve finished talking to Dad I try to get the TV at our accommodation to work. It won’t, and I spend several frustrating minutes trying to get it work, while my kids are in raptures over the toys in the house.

    I message our AirBnb host to ask if there’s some special way to work the TV, and add that I’m anxious to get news of what’s happening in the CBD. I remember to enquire after her welfare, in case she’s caught up in it.

    “I’m in lockdown,” she replies. “They’ve just arrested someone outside my work. My kids are in lockdown at school.”

    She sends me photos taken from her work, which show armed police everywhere.

    I feel stupid for even bothering her and tell her to stay safe, and that I hope she gets home to her kids soon. I feel grateful that my kids are with me, and can imagine how frantic I’d be to get to them if this had happened in my sleepy little town. I think about all the kids in lockdown at school, and how frightened they must be.

    I manage to get TV streaming to work on my phone. The news is horrific.

    When awful events happen, experts say we should shut off the TV or radio so as not to alarm our children. I do none of this, although my kids are playing in another room, oblivious. I sit glued to the screen in horror.

    Have they got everyone? Are we safe? I wonder.

    The news has no information about where the cordons are, or if there are any more attacks going on around the city.

    “Have you managed to get the TV working?” messages my host.

    I say no, and tell her not to worry as I’m using my phone.

    Finally, word comes that some people have been arrested. The cordon is lifted.

    I look online to see if the Palms is reopening – only because I have no dinner for the children. They don’t. I look up food delivery in the area because I don’t want to go out if I can help it. Everywhere is shut for the night. I don’t blame them.

    The children eat toast for dinner without complaint.

    At 6:30pm my host shows up at the door to fix the TV. I tell her not to worry about it and to go home, but she insists she’s okay and comes in. She tells me her kids are okay and have been picked up by her ex-partner. She asks if we are okay.

    As my children play loudly around us she tells me:

    “They found a bomb in my car.”

    I look at her in utter shock.

    She explains that she works near the Deans Ave mosque and parks her car nearby.

    After making sure the bomb posed no threat, the Police have taken her car to forensics. Goodness knows when she’ll get it back.

    The nice men on the building site next door gave her one of their work utes to borrow for the weekend. The kindness and trust of strangers.

    I can see she is in shock despite her insistence that’s she’s okay. It will hit you later, I think.

    She triumphantly manages to wrangle the TV into submission. I tell her to go straight home and have a stiff drink. I really hope she did.

    I look at the time – bedtime for my kids. I go into the room where my son will be sleeping. He’s got a few toys out, but it looks different.

    “What happened in here?” I ask.

    Miss E looks down and says, “Do you mean the stickers?”

    I realise that’s what is different. She found a sheet of stickers and put them all over the bed and drawers!

    It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

    I’m pretty sure you could have heard me yelling all over Shirley.

    Fortunately the stickers peeled off just fine, and E went to bed in disgrace.

    I watched the unfolding horror on TV until late. The news says that children are included in the dead. I cannot imagine the pain their parents must feel.

    The next day I decided to head for home. All the things I had planned were in the CBD, and I didn’t want the kids to see armed police anywhere and make them anxious. Plus, it felt very wrong to go sightseeing at such a time.

    Later that night I noticed how frazzled and fragile I felt. Exhausted, I fell into bed, only to be bothered by intrusive thoughts about someone breaking in to attack us.

    At midnight, D came in crying. He’d had a nightmare a man was attacking him. We cuddle together and fall asleep.

    On Sunday I am so tired, but I have to, need to go to church. We have a special service to mourn for those who lost their lives, and to process what has happened. It is a very moving service, and I almost cry.

    We light candles, and pray for our Muslim brothers and sisters who lost a loved one, and whom are no doubt feeling scared and angry. My daughter flits around each person, handing out love hearts that the children are making behind us. The old ladies smile. One says, “I needed that.”

    At the end we stand in a circle, hold hands, and sing the national anthem. It has never been a more fitting song. Here’s verse two:

    Men of every creed and race,
    Gather here before Thy face,
    Asking Thee to bless this place,
    God defend our free land.
    From dissension, envy, hate,
    And corruption guard our state,
    Make our country good and great,
    God defend New Zealand.

    My faith is a huge comfort to me. I hate it when people say ‘thoughts and prayers are not enough’. I know if you don’t have a faith, it may seem trite to say “I’m praying for you“. But believe me, it’s not trite. Like most people with faith, I believe that prayer works. Prayer can help. Prayer can create miracles. Prayer is sometimes the only thing I can do, but I believe my prayers are heard and answered, even if it’s not in the way I want.

    After church, a friend offers to take my kids for a play date with hers, and I jump at the chance.

    I have unpacking to do, the never-ending jobs around the house to do. But I know I am not okay.

    I take a nap instead. I eat some comfort food. I watch several episodes of Queer Eye because my God, the Fab Five lift my spirits.

    On Monday, I’m still feeling a bit fragile and I start berating myself for feeling that way. After all, I wasn’t in danger at any time. I had no right to feel the way I did.

    My inner voice is a total bitch.

    I tell that bitch even though I was never in any danger, I didn’t know that at the time. And I had my kids with me. My protectiveness was in over drive.

    Instead of continuing to beat myself up, I let myself feel all the feelings. I smile at what a number it’s done on my brain. I drop things. I fumble things. I break things. I keep saying the wrong word, which my kids think is hilarious.

    Mr G comes home, after what feels like an eternity. His holiday was a very damp squib as he just wanted to be home with us, but he is grateful that it ended with a joyous event – his friend’s wedding.

    I am deeply saddened by story after story coming out from Kiwi Muslims, who all say they were expecting this one day, given the level of racism they experience here on a daily basis. Stories of being told they are dirty, or smell, or to ‘go home’, or of swastikas being painted on their mosque. Despite all the wonderful ways our people have rallied together to help after the shootings, this too, is New Zealand. We need to own that, and we need to change.

    I think about things I can do to extend the hand of friendship to others in my neck of the woods. I know what it is like to be an immigrant, an outsider, to be different. I will be thinking about how I can best respond.

    If you have been affected by Friday’s events, it’s okay to not be okay.

    Even if you live nowhere near Christchurch, you are still entitled to feel shocked and grief. What happened was appalling.

    Talk to someone about your feelings. Journal it, if it helps. Take naps. Do the things that bring you comfort. Turn those feelings into something constructive. There are many ways to respond, many ways to help, many ways to bring about a more inclusive and safer New Zealand.

    You can call or text 1737 to talk with trained counsellors, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

    Take care of yourself. And love your neighbour, always.

  • Faith,  Family,  Parenting

    A Simple Advent

    Long-time readers of mine will know that I love, love, love Christmas.  While I’m not quite Buddy from ‘Elf’, I I enjoy Christmas as much as my children do, only I’m not motivated by presents.  It’s not just the day itself, but all the little things spread throughout December that add to my sense of anticipation and joy.

    Things like decorating the tree, prepping the advent calendar for my kids, singing Christmas carols, making gifts – and my all-time favourite, looking at the Christmas lights.  

    I also enjoy revisiting the story of Jesus’ birth.  The weird, fantastical, miraculous birth that changed everything.

    As evident in the shops where the nativity is all but swept away in a tsunami of Santas, reindeer, and elves, it can be difficult for Christians to find time for quiet contemplation in a culture that tells us to shop ’til we drop; and that we absolutely MUST end the year with some sort of Christmas party if you are a part of any sort of group at all. 

    Terrible things will happen if we don’t have a Christmas work do!  The world will cease to exist if Little Johnny doesn’t get to sit on Santa’s knee at his third Crimbo party of the season!  Have you even lived if you haven’t handmade your own ugly Christmas sweater?  

    I go on about this every year.  I’m essentially Gollum at Christmas time:  I loves it, and I hates it.  It is a deeply meaningful religious celebration for me, and I hate what it has become in my culture.

    This year I have gone into Advent even more mindfully than before.

    This is our first Christmas as a ministry family.

    While you and your kin are enjoying a leisurely day, my husband will be conducting two services on Christmas Day, and is expected to put in an appearance at a combined church Christmas Eve service.  We’re also supporting friends who are hosting a community lunch for locals here in Point.  We will have family staying with us.  Christmas Day will be anything but quiet.

    Knowing this, I am more careful than usual with what I say YES to.  Mr G was away at his studies when we put up the tree and danced like lunatics to carols (The upbeat ones, obviously.  One cannot boogie to Silent Night).

    He missed out on the excitement on our children’s faces as they came down to breakfast and saw our Advent Calendar was up and ready.

    Actually, our kids are lucky – they get two advent calendars this year.  The one above was made by me a few years back.  The children get a chocolate and a piece of paper with something they will do that day – which is always stuff we would do anyway: like choosing things to donate, making a gift for their teacher etc.

    Normally we wold keep things simple with one calendar, but then we found this beauty put out by @home&church.org.nz this year.  We gave one to all our Sunday school families, and I hope they are enjoying it as much as we are.

    The Advent Tree by @home&church.org.nz

    The detail is incredible, the characters friendly-looking, and it includes simple devotions the whole family can do together.  What could be more simple for harried parents?  Made from thick cardboard, this will be a family taonga for many years to come.  You can buy them at The Warehouse, but the trees are all sold out on the @home&church.org website.

    I myself, start off the day with a short devotional, snatching a few minutes of quiet time to think and pray.

    Prior to Advent my kids (and Sunday school) made these simple Advent Candle wreaths I found on Pinterest.  Even a group of older boys took time and care making theirs.  Each Sunday in Advent they flip a flame up to light the candle of peace etc.  You can find them here.

    We’ve been to see The Grinch at the movies, and believe it or not, a real family highlight has been the four of us watching the Christmas season of Nailed It on Netflix!  

    Still to come is going to see a pantomime, and driving around to see the lights.

    As the ‘Minister’s Wife’ I have repeatedly had several church people come up to me and say ‘we should do x event for Christmas’ and try and leave it with me!  Nuh-uh.  I’m always happy to support events, but if people really want to do something, they need to make it happen, not me.

    Simple Advent.  Say yes to the things that bring you joy, and biff all the rest.

    Wishing you a very merry – and hopefully peaceful – Christmas.

  • Faith,  Family

    Life lately (in pictures)

    It’s been a whirlwind of activity here in the Pleasant Point Manse: birthdays, visitors, fashion parades and more.

    First it was my birthday, which I celebrated a little early by having three nights away at Lake Hawea, BY MYSELF.  It was a very restorative break, both in terms of getting rest and in doing things-that-make-Angela-happy.  “Oh, there’s a museum!’  ‘Oh, there’s some historic buildings!’  ‘Oh, there’s a Mexican restaurant!’  ‘Oh, there’s some gobsmackingly beautiful scenery!’.

    Lake Hawea

    I read two books, pottered around Wanaka, and explored Cromwell.

    I almost cried when I came home to this lovely gift that friends had made for our house/my birthday…

     

    Before I could blink it was my beautiful boy’s fourth birthday!  He had a simple, frugal, and fun Star Wars party.  We borrowed my brother’s precious Star Wars figures to use as cake toppers, and had an obstacle course and a pinata.

    D is 4!

    For the first time in my life I am a bit lost as to what to do with myself for work in the distant future, and exploring options is taking a lot of time and headspace.  But I find myself regularly loving on the children at our church.  It’s not hard, as they are a nice bunch of kids, and I genuinely enjoy their friendship and look forward to catching up with them each week.  The beauty of living somewhere small like Pleasant Point is that everywhere is walkable.  We find our house overrun with children most Sundays after church as our kids and the church kids continue their play.  I have quite a ministry in providing copious amounts of baking to the hungry hoards, and judging various magic tricks and fashion parades that unfold.  I grew up doing the same stuff, so I love, love, love seeing the kids playing like this.

     

    Life is not all sunshine and roses (and lakes).  Mr G is really feeling the pressure of his internship now.  Balancing study with the demands of the parish is stressful and the study often takes a back seat, only to loom large when assignments are due.  All four of us have been sick a lot with little bugs that don’t last long but are annoying to deal with all the same.  I’ve been missing my friends, family and ‘life’ we had in Whanganui.  I’m not usually a person who looks back, but this move has been difficult to process – I suspect simply because it was not my own choice to come here.  It’s not that I don’t like it here!  I do, and I am grateful for the friendships I’ve made here; I think it’s more that I feel at a bit of a loose end here as this move was for Mr G to learn the ropes of ministry which has meant putting my own plans on the back burner.  My aunt passed away, which has naturally been extremely hard for my cousins, and the only silver lining in that dark cloud is that while I am here in Pleasant Point, I am only an hour away from them and therefore am close enough to provide support.

     

  • Faith

    When church gets in the way

     

    Once I committed myself to Jesus, and decided that if I was going to be serious about this Christianity stuff, I’d better get serious at going to church.  I didn’t grow up going to church – at least not regularly.  But to me, the Bible is pretty clear that you can’t live out your faith on your own – you need the fellowship of other believers to encourage, stretch and even enrage you.  God knows that by getting alongside a bunch of imperfect people you can’t help but to grow and mature in your faith.

    I can be a bit of a boots-and-all kind of girl, and I’ve long been quite involved in the life of the various churches I’ve gone to.  I’ve sung in the band, read scripture and led prayers during the service, helped with the kid’s ministry, led bible studies, prepared devotionals, been part of the church leadership team, and preached; as well as welcomed strangers, poured copious cups of tea, cleaned the toilets and vacuumed up the morning tea crumbs.  So I was not completely unprepared for the life of a ‘not-quite-Minister’s wife’, and for how busy it can be.

    As in the rest of life, sexism abounds in the church.  I’ve had expectations of my new role – both said and unsaid – that are simply not aimed at the male spouses of female ministers.  The minister of my last church was a woman, and while her husband is a wonderful, wonderful guy, I’m pretty sure no one expects him to make meals for the sick, go visiting, go on the morning tea roster or be on the kid’s ministry team (he actually is, by the way).  Men who do these things are applauded.  Women who don’t do these things can find themselves the target of bitter resentment – usually by the women who do.

    Soooo many cups of tea

     

    I’m a card-carrying feminist, and whilst I’m certainly not above scrubbing toilets or pouring cups of tea or anything like that(!), I am trying to forge my own Angela-shaped role, and not do things out of a sense of obligation or because ‘that’s what minister’s wives do’. What has surprised me is the depth of my own feelings of responsibility for the church as the ‘minister’s spouse’.  When Mr G worked for an emerging IT company, I didn’t lie awake at night pondering the future of his company.  I didn’t ask after the welfare of his colleagues in any more than a desultory way.  I didn’t even pray for the success of his company!  But now I am enmeshed in my husband’s workplace.  His employers/clients are my friends.  I want this church to thrive and grow.  I want to see lives transformed in this community.  I pray for this church all the time.

    I’ve always had an overblown sense of responsibility for others, which means I have to enforce good boundaries in my life as they don’t come naturally to me.  “Oh, you have a problem?  Let me help you with that,”  is generally my first reaction until Wise-Angela kicks in.  When we got to Pleasant Point, both volunteer children’s workers needed to step down for personal reasons.  I stepped up because no one else would (there’s that boots-and-all thing), and I felt responsible for the continuing success of the church because kid’s ministry matters.  I really felt that mantle of responsibility.  Like I’m the minister.  Like I’m God.

    I found myself spending hours on the children’s ministry in the lead up to Easter: so many hours that I had no time to reflect on the most important event in the church calendar myself.  I had no time to just be with Jesus.

    It was only after I managed to get a team on board with the children’s ministry, and got some breathing space that was I able to see the ridiculousness of my situation.  Which was of my own making.  Wise-Angela had lots to say to boots-and-all-Angela.  I’ve learnt my lesson.

     

    Church can be a wonderous thing.  A refuge, a sanctuary.  A family, a safe place to land.  But it’s not going to fall over if you’re not there.  Even if you’re the minister.

     

    Frantically ‘doing’, even if it’s for the church, can stop you from ‘being’.

    I can’t lead or mentor others in Christ if I’m not spending time in prayer or reading scripture myself.  I’m not giving glory to God if I’m doing His work with a resentful heart.  I’m certainly not doing His work if I haven’t even taken the time to discern if He wants me to do it in the first place!

     

     

    When church gets in the way

    If you’re a churchgoer, there will most likely be the odd season where church takes over your life due to an event you’re helping with, or perhaps there’s a crisis with a church member.  Sometimes stuff just needs to be done.  Bills need to be paid, rosters need to be drawn up, someone needs to write a sermon. But if it’s more than a season, then it’s time to make a change.

    How can we stop being so busy with church groups, or events or administration (yawn) and just hang out at the feet of Jesus, like Mary?

     

    1. Take responsibility for your actions.  If you are so busy that your personal devotion time is non-existent, or your church family sees your more than your own family, it’s time to take stock and figure out how you got yourself in this mess.  Was it because you can’t say no?  Were you pressured into it?  Guilt tripped into it?  Do you think that your ministry will fail if you step back?  Is it time to ask for help from others?  Is it time to let that role go?  Ask God to reveal the truth of your particular situation.

     

    2. Ask yourself – is this MY responsibility?  When we don’t have good boundaries, sometimes we take on things that aren’t our responsibility in the first place.  This is especially true of roles that are inherited from others, and where there is a culture of ‘that’s the way it’s always been done’.  For example, some ministers find they are expected to do all sorts of things unrelated to their actual calling because ‘the last minister  did it’.  If some of your tasks aren’t actually yours to do, it’s time to either hand them back to the person who should be doing it, or discuss it with the church leadership to find a less busy way forward.

     

    3. Am I doing this solo because I need control?  If you find yourself swamped with an event or ministry and you’re the one doing all the leg work – why haven’t you asked for help?  Do you find working with others too irritating?  Are you able to take suggestions or advice if others want to run things in a slightly different way?  Or is it your way or the highway?  I’ve seen this many times in churches, where someone has a very definite vision of how an event or outreach ‘should’ run.  They don’t listen to others – instead they take offence or think these people are just trying to rain on their parade, so they soldier on by themselves.  Most folks don’t want to rain on your parade, they just might see pitfalls that you don’t, and we all need to be humble about stuff like that.  Other people can be micro-managers, unable to fully let others take on responsibility in case something goes wrong/it’s not done properly/I don’t trust them.  Do you need to let go of your need to control others?

     

    4. Is this event necessary?  Just because your church has ALWAYS had three services over Easter, plus a stations of the cross installation, a prayer vigil and a hot cross bun outreach, doesn’t mean you have to do all those things this year.  Or indeed, ever again.  Each congregation should approach the year afresh, acknowledging changes in its makeup and capacity.  If it all just seems too much, then let some things go.

     

    5. Does this event have to be done to this standard?  Sure, last year’s women’s night was epic; with a guest speaker, home made nibbles, and fancy handouts and worksheets.  But if this year seems too stretched, there’s nothing wrong with simply watching a DVD and discussing it over some store-bought crackers and cheese.

     

    6. Am I in a hard season of life?  Have you had a baby?  An illness?  A chronic illness or disability? Your personal life has imploded?  You’ve switched to a more demanding job?  Old age has caught up with you?  IT”S OKAY TO GIVE UP YOUR MINISTRIES.  IT’S OKAY IF ALL YOU CAN DO IS PRAY.  PRAYING IS PLENTY!  There’s not a single person alive who hasn’t endured a busy season of life.  Most of the time it’s not forever.  And you know what, if it is forever, God’s got other things in store for you.  It’s okay.

     

    7. Is this life-giving?  Do you enjoy this ministry or this role?  Do you look forward to it, or is it something you grit your teeth and suffer through?  Have you lost your passion for it?  If it’s not giving you joy, or you feel obligated, resentful or angry about doing it, then make like Elsa and LET.IT.GO.

     

    8. Am I self-soothing with unhelpful things like TV, food because I’m so stressed and busy?  Again, examine your motives for doing what you are doing.  If it’s because you feel obligated, or guilty, or resentful because no one else is helping you, then start over at question 1 and dig deep.  What changes can you make to your schedule?  What can be let go?  Who can I bring on board to help?

     

    9. Have I discerned if I’m called to do this?  Have you prayed about how you should use your time?   Or asked for God’s direction?  I love listening to Joyce Meyers on the radio.  A few weeks ago, I caught a talk where she said she was called to be a teacher, but is often asked to do other things that take her away from her purpose.  So she says NO to those things.  What would life be like if you were fulfilling your purpose?

     

    10.  Let things fall over.  I know several beautiful people who hung on and on and on with a particular ministry because no one else was willing to take it over.  Sometimes you just need to let it fall over.  To end.  Yes, it’s going to be really sad.  But if it’s time for you to step down, then step down.  If I’ve noticed anything about church life, it’s that they have seasons.  Perhaps in your church people reminisce about the once-thriving youth group you had, or that really awesome home group that petered out, or the Friday night dances that bought many couples together.  Your church might simply be in slower season, or have no young and energetic folks to run things anymore.  GOD IS DOING A NEW THING.  Let Him.  It’s not up to you.

     

    11. If you are a churchgoer, contribute!  In just about every church the bulk of the work is done by a few.  If you have the capacity to help out in some way – big or small – don’t just be a consumer.  Bless your church with your gifts and maybe help lighten the load of the few.

  • Faith,  Family,  Frugal Living,  Parenting

    Dollar Diet: A frugal date

     

    Mr G and I often take it turns to plan a weekly date night.  Occasionally we’ve had times where it falls by the wayside for a period, sometimes due to life just getting a bit busy, or when we were in a baby-induced fog.

    We’ve always managed to get back on track as we take date night seriously.  Even if what we do for date night isn’t the slightest bit serious!  Marriages fail all the time, and we see date nights as an investment in our relationship, and as an important tool to help keep us connected.

    When we lived in Whanganui, Mr G’s mum was always volunteering to babysit so we could go out on a date – I think because her marriage to Mr G’s dad didn’t make it – and we found it hard to get her to understand that we didn’t always need to go out and spend money to have a great date.  We’ve had loads of great dates that didn’t require us to spend a cent, or even leave the house.  You can read about some of our ideas here.

    When you take turns to plan dates, something rather magical happens.  Especially if you’re trying to save money, or it’s just difficult for you to get a babysitter, you are forced to be creative.  My husband has gone to extraordinary lengths to wow me or put a smile on my face.  We’ve stargazed, he’s made up songs for me, found a hard-to-get movie I’d really wanted to watch, reminisced with me over our wedding photos and we’ve sung karaoke for hours.  I’ve made him his favourite treats, filmed him telling his life history, and we’ve danced the night away in the lounge.  We’ve made cakes together for our children’s birthdays as a date night activity.  It’s more fun than it sounds, I swear.

    My husband would absolutely not describe himself as romantic or even overly creative, but he often surprises me with the thought and care and love that’s he put into our evening together.

    Don’t get me wrong, many times our date nights involve watching Netflix because we’re so darned tired after a busy week!  (We totally recommend Fallet, it’s hilarious.)

    My point is, you don’t have to spend megabucks to have a meaningful date – our date this week (below) was no exception.  A few minutes time spent on google looking for ideas is time well spent.

    On to this week’s frugal happenings:

    • We sold our bike trailer.  I had big plans for this bike trailer, but thanks to a back injury a few months after we bought it, the trailer ended up seldom being used, and gathering dust in the garage.  Our children can ride their own bikes now, so we have zero need for it.  We sold it to a someone who doesn’t drive, who is stoked to be able to transport their kiddos around.  We wasted money on the darn thing, but we weren’t to know it at the time we purchased it, and at least we were able to sell it for a fair price.

     

    • The kids had friends over again, so free fun!

     

    • I had a very frugal outing with D, where we took a packed lunch with us while we played in the great outdoors, and I spent .20c on a toy from an op-shop.  Contrast this with the mummy-daughter date I took E on.  She had a definite idea of what she wanted to do, which involved going to a cafe, and then a (free) playground.  I spent $25 on lunch for the two of us at the cafe, but it was a planned expense.  E doesn’t get treats like that too often, and it was good for this mama’s soul to spend one-on-one time with her.  Now she’s at school, I have to be very intentional about this.  Still, not all our mummy-daughter dates will require any money changing hands, but that’s a post for another time.

     

    • It was my turn to organise date night, so I made a quick dinner for the kids, sent the kids off with Mr G for their bath and bedtime routine, while I made a special dinner for Mr G and I.  On the menu was chicken tikka masala, rice, naan, and veggies, with flutes of champagne.  The dinner cost maybe $10 to make, and the champagne was a gift from a friend.  I lit candles, put on some music, and laid out a fancy dinner setting.  And by fancy, I mean our totally mismatched set of crockery.  We had a lovely night – it was just as good as a swanky restaurant, and we solved the problems of the world as we ate our dinner in peace.  For parents, you can reclaim the bliss of a peaceful dinner!

    • I made another batch of bean and cheese burritos.  Inspired by this post, I’ve tweaked the recipe to my liking, and can make these burritos for about .75c each.  They freeze beautifully, and make for a quick and easy lunch.
  • Faith,  Family,  Frugal Living,  Parenting

    Dream Small

     

    It was both a quiet and momentous week.

    D was sick, whiny and rather belligerent due to a cold.  E was run down and in need of a day off school to recharge her five-year old batteries.  D had woken up with a coughing fit in the wee hours of the morning.  He was wiiiiiiide awake, so I dragged my bleary-eyed carcass out of bed to look after him.  The three of us had a duvet day and watched lots of TV – I now know the entire backstory to Transformers: Robots in Disguise, so if you lie awake at night wondering what the heck happened to Russell’s mum* and why he never seems to go to school, just ask me.

    D had gotten over the worst of his cold the next day, which happened to be a warm and sunshiny day, so I took him to play at the nearby Temuka Domain.  I pushed him on a swing for 30 minutes while he kept up a monologue of how aliens were trying to take over the earth and get into our brains, but fortunately he, D, had special weapons and was big and strong and would defeat the aliens single-handedly.  We had a ferocious debate over whether aliens have birthdays (answer: yes, but they don’t play games like ours), and then looked for Decepticons (bad Transformers) in the native forest at the domain.  I basked in the sun, and chuckled at D’s marvellous imagination.

    The Decepticons are here somewhere…

    There’s a fabulous op-shop in Temuka called Paws and Claws (all proceeds go to the SPCA).  It’s a treasure trove, and my kids love visiting the shop because the lovely manager always gives them a wee lolly.  If you are in the area, do pay them a visit – it’s especially well stocked with secondhand clothes, books and household goods.  D wanted to visit the shop, and was so filled with extroverted joy he announced it to the nice old lady passing by, “We’re going to Paws and Claws!  Mummy might let me get a toy!”.  I did, for the princely sum of 20c.

    Little things.  Snuggling on the couch with my children, warm sun, the joy of a secondhand toy.  

    Like many stay-at-home parents, this time of having under little ones has been an opportunity for me to take stock and decide what’s next for my career.  In a little over a year, both my kids will be at school and the world is my oyster.

    Yet, as I get older I am increasingly called to live small.

    Since moving to Pleasant Point I’ve kept an eye on the part-time jobs on offer in the area.  Each time I mentioned them to D he wisely said “But what about the school holidays?  What about when I’m away?”  He has a demanding job that encompasses our entire family, in a way that most jobs don’t.  I’ve also been toying with the idea of going back to further study to upskill, but have felt daunted by the stress it would put upon me, along with the need to find someone who doesn’t mind doing rather bitsy childcare.  Most caregivers want regular gigs, and I can’t say I blame them!  I got very frustrated, and felt like I’d never be able to work without putting our children in after school care and holiday programmes (for my overseas readers, NZ schools have around 12 weeks break spread throughout the year).  

    I don’t want that for my kids.  I’m not judging working parents.  Honestly, I’m not.  If my children had different personalities, I’d definitely be considering full time work.  But I have two very sensitive souls, and I know that they would not thrive in a schedule that full-time work would have them locked into.  Especially D.  For all his bravado and confidence, he finds change hard and often needs handling with kid gloves.

    And so it wasn’t because of a lightening-bolt moment of clarity, but a gentle conversation with Mr G (plus lots of prayer) that helped me to decide to continue as a stay at home mum, so I can be present for the kids.  I also feel called to be present for church, and certainly once both kids are in school I’ll be available to lend more of a hand with the various things churches run.  I’m also quite fortunate that most of the things I have a passion for doing in the church are quite often things that you get paid for.  I love preaching, and running workshops and retreats, and there’s definitely some scope to learn a little income doing these.  So stay tuned folks.  I’m not ruling out further study or full time work in the future, but for the next few years at any rate, I’ll be living the quiet(er) life.

    This decision requires some sacrifice, certainly in terms of income, and it limits my bigger dreams – which mostly involve my favourite thing ever, travel.  I’d be lying if I said that didn’t matter to me.  It does, and I’m sure in times to come I’ll find myself wishing I was at Abu Simbel or St Petersburg or even Bonnie Doon.

    image credit

    The song ‘Dream Small’, by Josh Wilson is one that I play on repeat, because it is just so apt for where I’m at.  I’ve dreamed big dreams and even achieved many of those goals, and had a lot of fun and learning in the process.  In the song, Josh talks about little moments changing the world; being used by God just as and where you are.  More and more I am more content with these little moments shaping my life.  I notice them, am thankful for them, and they give me direction and purpose in the same way my big dreams once did.

     

    Dream Small – Josh Wilson

    It’s a momma singing songs about the Lord
    It’s a daddy spending family time
    That the world said he cannot afford
    These simple moments change the world
    It’s a pastor at a tiny little Church
    Forty years of loving on the broken and the hurt
    These simple moments change the world
    Dream small
    Don’t bother like you’ve gotta do it all
    Just let Jesus use you where you are
    One day at a time
    Live well
    Loving God and others as yourself
    Find little ways where only you can help
    With His great love
    A tiny rock can make a giant fall
    Dream small
    It’s visiting the widow down the street
    Or dancing on a Friday with your friend with special needs
    These simple moments change the world
    Of course, there’s nothing wrong with bigger dreams
    Just don’t miss the minutes on your way, your bigger things, no
    ‘Cause these simple moments change the world
    So dream small
    Don’t bother like you’ve gotta do it all
    Just let Jesus use you where you are
    One day at a time
    Live well
    Loving God and others as yourself
    Find little ways where only you can help
    With His great love
    A tiny rock can make a giant fall
    So dream small
    Keep loving, keep serving
    Keep listening, keep learning
    Keep praying, keep hoping
    Keep seeking, keep searching
    Out of these small things and watch them grow bigger
    The God who does all things makes oceans from river
    So dream small
    Don’t bother like you’ve gotta do it all
    Just let Jesus use you where you are
    One day at a time
    Live well
    Loving God and others as yourself
    Find little ways where only you can help
    With His great love
    A tiny rock can make a giant fall
    Yeah, five loaves and two fishes could feed them all
    So dream small
    Dream small

     

    * She’s working in Copenhagen.  Now you can get some sleep.
  • Faith,  Family,  Frugal Living

    Dollar Diet: Use it up

    This week’s frugal results of the Dollar Diet. 

    This week we chugged on pretty nicely with our frugal fortnightly meal plan – although we had two takeaways, which is unusual for us on our Dollar Diet.

    The first takeaway was due to our Wednesday night church home group deciding to include a meal as part of the evening’s activities.  I pushed for this as 1) I think something magical happens when people share a meal together, and 2) one of our group has a long commute and often turns up without having eaten dinner – now that’s faithfulness!  I figured we could make Wednesday night easier for her by providing dinner.  We kicked off with Fish and Chips, but we’ll definitely have some home cooked fare in there too in the future.

    The second meal was due to having a bad day, as I referenced in my previous post Parenting with Hashimoto’s.  For some reason my Hashimoto’s is bad at the moment, and I’m having a LOT of bad days.  I got to early afternoon and was all-in.  Mr G was knackered too.  Our cupboards and freezer were bare thanks to last week’s pantry audit.  It was annoying, yet funny.  I’m gratified to know I had done a great job at using up all our food!

    Anyway, I aim to restock our freezer this week with delectable leftovers to avoid takeaway temptation.

    This week’s frugal doings:

    • I made vegan muffins using last week’s applesauce.  Applesauce makes beautifully moist muffins.  They didn’t last long!  We still have lots of applesauce left which will go in more baking or as a breakfast topping.

      image credit and recipe here

     

    • I hung out our washing on the line as the weather permitted.

     

    • I baked, and baked and baked some more.  Biscuits, scones, those muffins.  It all makes filling lunchboxes, filling tummies, and hosting guests that much easier.  And you can make much healthier alternatives to store-bought baking.

     

    • The kids had play dates with friends at the weekend – free entertainment.  The mother of my son’s friend stayed to chat and she brought brownie.  She’s a keeper…

     

    • A friend of mine came over with a DVD and wine.  She’s most definitely a keeper!

     

    • We scored a secondhand Pippins uniform for E.  She adores Pippins (which is baby Girl Guides/Girl Scouts if you don’t know what it is) and asks nearly every day if it’s a Pippins day.  Getting the uniform cheaply is a big help as their activity fee is high.  I’ll elaborate more on why we chose Pippins as an extracurricular activity at a later date.

      What Pippins Do
      image via Girl Guides NZ

     

    • I decluttered the kid’s clothes, toys and books for approximately the 1,237th time.  Seriously.  I seem to be constantly biffing out things the kids have outgrown or broken or had no idea they owned in the first place.  Decluttering gives many people a headache, I know, but I LOVE it.  I give away what I can to friends, and donate to op-shops; only relegating broken stuff or things that I wouldn’t wear or use myself to recycling.  Why is it a frugal thing to do?  1) You can sell your unwanted goods for profit.  2) The less stuff you (or your kids) own, the less time and money you have to spend cleaning it, caring for it,  storing it and stressing about it.  Your time, energy and money are better spent elsewhere.  3) It’s freeing to get rid of things that are otherwise collecting dust, plus I love giving back to the frugal chain of charity shops, where I get most of our clothing and household goods from.  My trash is someone else’s treasure. Donating your goods to charity shops helps them stay open and usually funds all manner of good works.

     

    • Our church has a budget for children’s ministry, but I like to save them a buck or two whenever possible.  On Sunday the church kids entered an art competition, and used paint, brushes and palettes I had leftover from a rock painting event I ran; and they used some high quality paper we’d had lying around for ages after it was gifted to us by a neighbour.  We even used Mr G’s old t-shirts as painting aprons. $0 expenditure for the kid’s ministry this week!

      God’s wonderful creation by Z, age 7

       

     

    What frugal things did you get up to this week?

  • Faith

    Movie Review: Mary Magdalene (2018)

    When you hear the name Jesus, many non-Christians – and heck, many Christians – conjure up an image a bit like this:

    Image credit

     

    We know from scripture that Jesus was kind and compassionate, and didn’t shoo noisy children away.  But the historical Jesus was also a troublesome rebel who went around saying seditious and (for the time) totally outrageous things, and was ultimately killed for it.

    This Jesus, not twee Jesus, is the Jesus we encounter in Mary Magdalene.  Told entirely from Mary’s perspective, we learn what Mary gave up to be a follower of Jesus, and the story shows some of Jesus’ ministry, his death, and resurrection.  Taking liberties with her background (we know nothing of Mary’s antecedents), Mary (played by Rooney Mara) lives in the small fishing settlement of Magdala, where she lives a simple life with her family.  As an unmarried woman, she is an object of curiosity and embarrassment for her family who are doing their best to marry her off.  Mary yearns for something more than the traditional role her culture demands, and becomes very distressed when told she must marry.  Her distress convinces the men in her village that she must be possessed by a demon, and they attempt to cast it out of her.

    Into this situation comes Jesus, and he SEES Mary, really sees her.  He speaks to her and his words bring her great comfort.  This in itself is extraordinary, if you know that in this culture and time, men were not permitted to even greet women in public.  Jesus has an extraordinary attitude to women – he never treats women as inferior, unclean or unworthy, unlike the patriarchal society in which he lives.  Not only did historical Jesus teach women, he had female disciples who travelled and served with him, and who were highly regarded by early Christians.

    Jesus (played by Joaquin Phoenix) describes a kingdom where peace and justice reign, a topsy-turvey world where the lowly are lifted up and an end to oppression.  Mary is so captivated by Jesus’ message that she gives up everything to follow him.  In becoming a disciple, Mary not only gives up her home, but she gives up her reputation and chance of marriage – for no man would ever be permitted to marry an unmarried woman who associates with men outside her family.  The Mary Magdalene of scripture is Jesus’ most prominent female disciple; she is always listed first in named groups of female disciples, and with ‘movie Mary’ they explore just how important she must have been to Jesus’ ministry in such a patriarchal society.

    I was very moved by this film.  Firstly, I’m stoked that Mary Magdalene has been so accurately portrayed.  She’s long been a subject of fascination and respect for me.   Thanks to Pope Gregory who wrongly identified Mary as the prostitute who washes Jesus feet with expensive perfume (and merges her further with yet another Mary) Mary has been wrongly associated with prostitution, seduction and sinfulness.  The dichotomy of the Virgin Mary vs the Penitent Whore served to oppress women for centuries – women were either expected to be good, dutiful wives and mothers, and those that weren’t were often considered mad or bad and in need of repenting.  Don’t get me started.  Scholars surmise Pope Gregory wanted to downplay the importance of women in the early church, because, you know, patriarchy.  There is absolutely no evidence that Mary was anything but a devoted disciple, who was so important, that she was the first person to see the resurrected Jesus.  To see the society in which Mary lived, and to understand the courage it must have taken for her to follow Jesus makes this film inspiring viewing.

    FYI, not Mary Magdalene
    (image credit)

    Secondly, it was great to see historical, rebel Jesus doing his stuff.  Giving poor and oppressed people hope, smashing the patriarchy, performing miracles, and to get a sense of how much the disciples were waiting for Jesus to smite the Romans, and usher in his new kingdom.  Thirdly, I thought their treatment of Judas was sensitive and thought-provoking, and it made me understand what may have motivated him to betray Jesus in a whole new light.

    Jesus and Judas
    (image credit)

    I do have my criticisms of the movie, however.  The actors playing Mary, Jesus, and Jesus’ mother are way too old, and white.  They play their parts well, but it still bugs me.  Joaquin Phoenix is 43, and looks every bit of it.  The actress playing his mother is positively geriatric for someone who should be in her 40s, given that many women were married by 14.  Blue eyes are everywhere.  There’s also lots of inexplicable lying down, and Jesus swoons rather a lot.  While I think Joaquin Phoenix does a good job as Jesus, he is let down by a script that offers a Jesus who smiles and gives compassionate looks, rather than life-changing teaching.  I found the depiction of the Last Supper and Jesus’ resurrection rather flat and disappointing.

    Despite its shortcomings, I  recommend seeing Mary Magdalene to learn more about this remarkable woman.  It is beautifully shot, with great attention to detail, and is reasonably faithful to scripture, although some liberties are taken.

     

    Lastly, I would like to say I’ve seen some Christians raging online, and telling people not see the movie because the movie-writers also used the Gnostic gospel of Mary to inform the movie.  Yes, there is something from the Gospel of Mary included in the movie, but hey, let’s think for ourselves, okay?

  • Faith,  Family,  Frugal Living,  Parenting

    Woah, we’re halfway there!

    My favourite tree in Point (Is that even a thing, to have favourite trees?)

     

    Hey world, I’m back!  Since my tots are no longer in Tawhero, I decided to wipe the slate clean and start a new site charting life in our new town of Pleasant Point.  If you’ve been a Tots in Tawhero reader, I’d love you to stick with me over here.  You can do so by liking Living on a Prayer on Facebook, or subscribing below.

     

    Why Living on a Prayer? 

    Let me publicly confess that YES, I am a Bon Jovi fan, and I have nailed that song many, many times during karaoke sessions.  And by nailed it, I mean I sounded like a dying cat.   Sorry, Jon.

    But lest you think I shall be blogging about how totally awesome mullets and acid-washed jeans were,  the name actually refers to the new situation my family and I are inknee deep in church ministry.  My husband, who will now henceforth be called ‘Mr G’, decided way back in 2011, that he felt called to become a minister for the Presbyterian church.  After much blood, sweat and tears, two kids, more tears, lots of sweat and maybe a little blood, he added a qualification in ‘knowing lots of stuff about Jesus’ to his long list of qualifications.  Mr G is sole-charge of a sweet little congregation here in Pleasant Point, as he completes a two-year process as an ministry intern.  You can call him a not-quite-Rev, but I prefer ’embryo parson’ (shout out to all my Cold Comfort Farm fellow fans).

    I am the ‘not-quite-Minister’s wife’.  My kids are the ‘not-quite-Minister’s kids’.  Gulp!

    Living on a Prayer also refers to the fact that Mr G has taken a huge pay cut to become a minister, and he’s the sole breadwinner for now.  My long-time followers will know that I enjoy living a frugal lifestyle, and am looking forward to the challenges that our new life will bring.  Relying on God to provide – really, truly relying on God – isn’t something this pair of middle-class, educated folk have been used to, and it’s been a humbling realisation for Mr G and I.  So you can expect me to continue sharing my frugal doings – and I hope also sharing stories of God’s provision for our family.

    So how’s it all going?

    After the.most.hideously.stressful.move.ever, thanks to our terrible moving company, I arrived in Pleasant Point ahead of Mr G and the kids, with broken belongings and high blood pressure.  I was scooped up into the arms of the lovely church ladies who sheltered me for a night, helped me unpack, fed me, and generally soothed my blood pressure back to normal.  One lady had even made my kids presents as her way of welcoming them!  Folks, THIS is what church is all about.  THIS is what they do well here.

    We’ve settled in.  The people are nice – I already have friends!  It’s a pretty spot, surrounded by more pretty spots, which neighbour upon some of the most gob-smacking scenery on the planet.  Needless to say, I’m enjoying life here immensely.

    Church of the Good Shepherd, Tekapo

    Here are some observations I’ve made:

    • If you call this place Pleasant Point, you are immediately flagging yourself as an outsider.  Pointsiders (I just made that up, umm, Pointers?  Pointizens?) simply call it ‘Point’, as in “Yeah, my kid goes to Point Primary, ” or  “I grew up in Point.”  Timaru (the nearest big town) is called ‘Town’.

     

    • No, they don’t roll their ‘r’s here.  I’ve checked.  But the local cafe does make a mean cheese roll.

     

    • I suck at predicting the weather here.  I have no idea what it’s doing.  But, I don’t feel bad, because clearly neither does the weather.  In one week it was so hot I considered taking up residence in our fridge/freezer, immediately followed by needing to dig out my winter coat and wondering where I put the matches to light the fire.  In ONE week!

     

    • The people here are mostly hard-working, practical farming folk.  See that lady in her 60’s walking her dogs?  Boom!  She’s actually 93.  That middle-aged man lifting bales of hay?  Boom!  He’s 86.  True story bro.  They don’t want to talk about your feelings or your latest hippie venture – it’s not that they don’t care, but there’s work to be done.

     

    • I am not merely an older mum here, I am frigging geriatric!  Most mums here are blond, pony tail sporting glamazons who were clearly child brides, because I’m pretty sure they’re all 23.  Either that, or I seriously need to get the number of their botox provider.

     

    • It’s like everyone remembers New Zealand being in ‘the good old days’.  I’ve been here two months and know loads of people.  People know their neighbours.  There’s little crime.  No graffiti.  No hoodie-clad teenagers misspending their youth.  You can leave your bike outside a shop without fear of someone nicking it.  It’s safe enough to ride a bike here.  CHILDREN PLAY OUTSIDE AND RIDE BIKES WITHOUT ADULT SUPERVISION.  Because it’s safe.

     

    • Point has all I need.  Point may only be home to about 1,300 people but it has two schools, a health centre, a bike park, a hairdresser, public swimming pools, a supermarket, a pub, a dress shop, a cafe,  a taxidermist’s, a railway museum, several playgrounds, scenic trails and more.  And I can WALK to it all.

     

    So walk with me as we navigate our new life in Point.  At the moment Mr G and I feel like kids dressed up in suits and ties – our new roles don’t quite fit right, but we hope by the end of the two years, they will.