Lessons Learned and Blessings Bestowed through my Church’s Facebook Fellowship Group

Is your social media feed full of introvert memes like mine is?

Like this,

introvert 1

or this

introvert 2

or this?

covid-quarantine-self-isolation-introvertlife-70752058

Jokes and memes aside, for Christians, be they introverts or not (and I put myself firmly into the introvert category), the latest COVID-19 mitigation strategies have meant that our regular modes of fellowship aren’t currently available to us. Bible studies can’t meet, Churches are closed, and for many, even 1-to-1 meetings aren’t possible due to exposure risks – no matter how strictly we may adhere to social-distancing rules.

In God’s kindness, we do have access to alternative modes of meeting. Zoom conferences are prevalent, live-streamed or pre-recorded Church services are already up and running, and I’ve never sent so many texts or made so many social media posts in one week before (and that’s saying something, considering my prolific Facebook use!).

Online fellowship is our new normal for the foreseeable future. In this article, I want to share with you  two seasons in my life when I have personally benefited from my “Church Mum’s Facebook Group” and the lessons I have learned in both seasons. I also want to share some reflections on how God is using online fellowship to build his Church in this current season.

Season 1: Baby Boom

baby-821625_1280There must have been something in the water about 40 weeks before February 2015, because I know of a group of six friends who all gave birth within a one month period – and I was one of them.

One blessing that came from this was the idea of an online network where mums from our church could share what they needed prayer for. I can still remember where I was when the idea came to me, sitting in a rocking chair, cuddling a restless newborn in one arm and scrolling mindlessly through my Facebook feed with another (did I mention my prolific Facebook use?)

And so the  “Church mum’s Facebook Group” was formed.

It was so simple to set up, just make a Facebook group, make sure you enable the “secret” setting so the contents are sealed off from those who aren’t members, write a simple mission statement (we took ours from 1Thess 5:11: “Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”) and bob’s your uncle: instant online fellowship – or so I thought.

I assumed that mums would naturally use the group as a place to share prayer points, encouraging verses, and helpful blog articles from around the web. In its early stages, however, the most frequent posts to the group were “buy, swap and sell” items. Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with reusing, repairing and recycling, but there are countless other groups that fullfil this purpose – our group was the only one on the whole of Facebook specifically created for the mums who attended our church.

And so I took the lead to shape the content of the group. The way I have done that has changed over the years. For a while I had different themes for days of the week: Monday was for personal prayer points, Wednesday was prayers for our world and our link-missionaries, Friday was prayers for our church.

In December last year I tried something new. I posted some verse art from the Gospel of Luke (one chapter from December 1 to December 24). This January, I decided we’d work through the Psalms and Proverbs every day this year, sharing a verse from Psalm 1 on January 1, Psalm 2 on January 2 and so on (enough for two runs through if we time it right).

Some days only one or two women like or comment. Other days there’s up to 10 or a dozen of the group’s 100+ strong membership actively engaging, although many more see the posts as they scroll through their feeds. But, fueled by my grandfather’s Scottish blood, I stubbornly post in season and out of season, trusting how God is at work, even if I have no idea who is reading it and if they find it helpful or not. Quite often, people tell me they do which is enough to spur me on to keep going.

My regularity in posting (which I sometimes wonder if people find annoying) also means that others feel more comfortable to post their own encouragements and questions. The group still has its occasional “buy/swap/sell” posts (which is fine!), but those posts are in the minority.

Lesson learned: Online fellowship groups need a few key members to keep them on track, and to take the scary (and sometimes discouraging) step of posting regular Kingdom-focused content, and to doggedly continue doing so even if some days it feels like no one notices, cares, or is benefiting from it.

Season 2: Living Overseas

passport-2714675_1280From September 2015 – January 2017, my family and I lived overseas. I was going to be teaching English at a University and so I expected that everyone in our city would have the same grasp of the English language that my students did. Boy was I in for a shock! When we moved into our apartment in the “Foreign Guest House”, the friendly staff at the front desk didn’t speak a word of English – and I could only say hello in their language (I soon had to learn how to say goodbye to them as I passed them every day on my way to work – after a few days of my silent nodding it was starting to get awkward!).

In God’s kindness we did find a place to worship, and some other English speakers to fellowship with. But my heart remained back home with my Church family in Australia, and I missed them all so much.

At the same time while we were away, our Church back home was hurting. It was a season of trial for all of them, and for some dear close friends in particular. I wanted to support my friends, to show my love for them and it’s really hard to do that when you can’t see them face to face (sound familiar?).

While I was overseas, that same “Church Mums’ Facebook Group” was my lifeline, my connection to my church. It was also the place where I could keep up with what was happening in my friends’ lives and learn the best way I could pray for them.

Lesson learned: Online fellowship groups will self-select participants who are needing the support the most in that season. If people need connection, they will seek it out, as long as they know where they can go to in the first place.

 Season 3: COVID-19 and Social Isolation

virus-4937553_1280Now to this present moment. This week, the “Church Mums’ Facebook Group” underwent its biggest change since we started it 5 years ago – it is now officially the “Church Women’s Facebook Group”. I woke up on Tuesday morning and I could no longer, in good conscience, seal-off the fellowship, friendship and support of our group from other women in my Church just because they hadn’t had children. And so now, the group is open to all women in our Church from ages 18-88  and beyond (although I think our current oldest members are in their 60s).

Who knows how God will use the group in this season? Nevertheless, I’m so thankful that where our physical congregations have been taken away, online congregations can continue.

Lesson learned: Cast as wide a net as you practicably can for membership in online fellowship groups in this season so that you can support as many people as possible. But make sure you utilise the “rules” feature to keep civility and godliness in content posted. Also, make sure your admins are being careful to delete content that isn’t God-honouring, neighbor-loving, and spiritually nourishing.

I hope this little journey through the above three seasons of online fellowship can help you as you face the challenges of how to encourage one another at this difficult time.

Man does not live by dunny-roll alone

Everyone has had different reactions to seeing empty shelves in supermarkets in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some have taken it in their stride, continuing to shop as if nothing much has changed, with the trademark Aussie “she’ll be right” attitude. Others have done the opposite, with panic-buying creating a feedback loop that leads to more and more panic-buying and less and less items on the shelves.

For me, as I walked through my local supermarket this week and saw the last scraps of onions, no lettuce in the crispers, and very few options for fresh meat (not to mention the distinct lack of toilet paper), I was overcome by sadness. My reaction made me realise something about myself: I have lived in a time of such prosperity, such excess. Here I am in my late-30s and for the first time in my life I may have to go without something. I can’t get the type of eggs I want, it’s hard to get pasta, and the only reason my household has toilet paper is because I routinely buy a 6 month supply online and ours only arrived a month or so ago.

It’s not just millennials and gen-xers who share my experience of plenty. My baby-boomer mum has also never had a time in her life without easy access to the basics (she asked me to pick up some extra toilet paper for her at the shops today, even though they already had a 20 pack at home).

I had to go back to my granddad, who turns 94 this year, to find someone in my family who knows what scarcity looks like. My Poppa was born in Scotland in 1926, during the great depression, and served in the Royal Navy in WWII. He has memories of salted kippers as a staple when he was a kid, and has told me how he used to marveling at his Dad’s ability to leave not a skerrick on the bone. Waste not, want not.

There was another generation with an experience like mine, a people who had gotten so used to their plenty that when it was suddenly taken away, they didn’t know what to do. The book of Exodus describes how God worked through miraculous signs, warnings and plagues to free the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. After the final plague and Passover, after Egypt’s armies had perished in the Red Sea, it seemed like God’s people are truly convinced of his power and might. They even sing a song about it! (Exodus 15).

Yet, mere days after singing God’s praises (and mere verses after it is recorded), the Israelites find themselves without fresh drinking water. What do you think they’d do? They’d seen God’s miraculous rescue just days earlier, the answer seems so simple, and yet their response isn’t to pray. Instead, they grumble (15:25).

God soon provides clean water. Lesson learned, right? Wrong. In only the next chapter, we see what happens when the Israelites get hungry. This time, not only do they grumble (16:2), they actually wish to go back to Egypt, and hoped they’d died there! (16:3)

What does God do? Yet again he provides. This time it’s manna – bread from heaven that arrives in the morning, is sufficient for the day, and is rotten by next morning. Yet when the sun comes up, there it is again (with a double-portion on Fridays for a Sabbath-day’s rest).

Later, when the Israelites complain yet again, because they’re sick of eating manna, God provides even still. This time, it’s quail, and quail in abundance. God’s patience with the Israelites’ lack of faith is nevertheless running thin. In one of my favourite verses that shows God’s exasperation with the Israelites, he says,

“You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it—because you have rejected the Lord, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt?’ (Numbers 11:19-20).

But what for us? Is God going to provide the food we need? Is this a Biblical precedent I can use to assure me there will always be loo roll to spare? Is God demonstrating to us that the squeaky wheel gets the grease and all we need to do is complain as loudly and for as long as the Israelites did?

Absolutely not! There is a wider lesson here, one that Douglas K. Stuart helpfully points out:

[In the story of Manna from heaven] God was teaching them a concept: that he was the ultimate provider, the one who from heaven gave them not necessarily what they expected but what they really needed. Thus his satisfying them with the bread of heaven becomes a theme of Scripture that not only refers to the manna described in this account but to the ultimate provision of eternal sustenance, Christ himself (Exodus: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture).

Man does not live by bread alone, man doesn’t even live by tinned baked-beans or frozen veggies (or whatever the next item is that we all buy in bulk and clear out from the supermarket shelves). Man truly lives by the word who became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14), God’s son Jesus. Jesus himself tells us this: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6: 35). He isn’t promising full bellies and quenched thirsts, he’s promising that our greatest spiritual need will be satisfied, and that our broken relationship with God will be healed.

God’s word doesn’t guarantee me completely-stocked supermarket shelves. But it does promise me that my spiritual and eternal needs are covered, completely provided for, in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 

 

Including God’s Word in your kids’ school-shutdown routine

Last week I kept my boys home from school. They had a mild cough and a sniffle, the kind of thing I’d usually make them soldier on with – but things are far from usual at the moment.

As a treat (for them and for me) I decided it was time for one of my long-awaited parenting milestones: showing them my favourite movies including the Indiana Jones movies (only the good ones – Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade), as well as The Fellowship of the Ring and the Two Towers (the extended cuts, no less!).

As nice as it has been to see their excitement, and to watch them dress up as Indy and follow self-made treasure maps around the house, or to marvel at my youngest son’s inexplicable obsession with Gollum, I expect that even the seemingly-unending stream of Netflix content will soon run out of entertainment for my boys. More than that, there are lots of other, more fruitful ways they can be spending their time in the coming weeks and months.

You don’t have to dig too deeply into Google or scour too many parents’ groups on Facebook to see that there are a lot of people worried about how they’re going to fill the long days and weeks when the schools are (it seems, inevitably) closed. So desperate are people for guidance that one parent’s “COVID-19 Daily Schedule” for her  children went viral, even being shared by the American Neuropsychology & Education Services. This same group posted other tips for parents including “use screens wisely” (whoops, already failed there!) “move your body” and “get outside for fresh air”.

As Christians, there is a lot we can take from these lists; providing routine in uncertain times will without a doubt prove helpful for our children’s physical, emotional and educational wellbeing. But one dimension is missing: how can we care for our children’s spiritual wellbeing in a time like this? If we were to make a schedule to fill our days, what are some ways we can be helping our children dwell in God’s word?

One caveat: I’m not the font of all wisdom on this. Never in my life would I have foreseen myself being a home-school mum. I’m muddling through this, like I guess you are too. So please see this as one parent’s attempt, not one expert’s advice. Nevertheless I have a few suggestions of things I’ve tried, I’d love to hear yours as well.

1 – Bible Reading.

I’ve been trying to encourage my 8-year-old to read more. It’s an ongoing battle, and one I wasn’t equipped for as somehow my parents raised me to be a bookworm who would gleefully spend hours in her bedroom reading – both as a child and now. But my son is different. It’s gotten so bad that I’ve had to resort to bribery – promising him 50c every time he reads at least two chapters in a book in one sitting.

While I’ve been worried about my son’s reading habits, I haven’t had the same concern for his Bible reading habits. This is partially because my husband and I have read the Bible to him every night before bed since he was 3 months old. But now’s the time where I want him to develop habits for life. So, for 10 minutes after breakfast, I’m going to start encouraging him to sit and read some of the gospel of Mark.

For my younger son who can’t yet read, this is a little bit harder and I’m going to have to be more creative. The Bible for Kids’ app is a helpful one as it tells the story, has interactive images that animate when he touches them, and has a little activity at the end. Of course, the 8-year-old gets jealous that his brother gets to use a fun app while he’s reading so I let him have a turn as well as a reward after he’s finished his “grown-up Bible” passage.

2 – Christian music.

One way I’ve been trying to keep my boys active is to have dance parties in the lounge room. They’re huge fans of the game Just Dance – so much so that I now know the lyrics of “What does the Fox Say?” and “Old Town Road” by heart. As an Aussie Christian family, we also love Colin Buchanan’s music and DVDs. So, in addition to Just Dance, we’re going to try to have a “Colin Dance Party” (where we dance to Colin’s music, not where we try to dance like Colin dances!). If you don’t own any of Colin’s DVDs, his songs are available via digital platforms, I’d suggest starting with upbeat ones like “10, 9, 8 God is great” and “Jesus Rocks the World” although “God Rock” is another favourite with my boys.

3 – Good quality Christian Video Resources.

As an SRE teacher and now advisor, I’ve had the privilege of watching the huge growth in the last few years in the number and quality of online resources we can use to communicate God’s word. (Of course, any resources I use in class have to be passed through the SRE multimedia approval process!) .

One series that I’ve loved using first in SRE and now with my sons is “What’s in the Bible with Buck Denver”. Phil Vischer, half of the creative team behind VeggieTales, has ditched the C-G animated tomatoes and cucumbers and instead chosen puppets as his medium for exploring the whole story of the Bible – from Genesis to Revelation – in 26 half-hour episodes. Cute, funny but also theologically deep (unlike Phil’s first project), I highly recommend it. If you want to give it a try some clips are available via their official YouTube channel, but you can also buy full episodes in digital download formats.

While you’re on YouTube, you can also check out Crossroads Kids’ Club for really great animated Bible videos or if you have older kids (or for yourself), The Bible Project is an amazing resource.

By all means make your lists and plan your routines, just make sure you are also building spiritual habits that will help your children not only at this time, but for the rest of their lives.

If you’re interested in what my current daily routine for my sons (ages 8 and 5) looks like, it’s here. Or, if you’d like an editable copy, download this one.

 

 

The Perils, Pitfalls and Pleasures of Online Church

Before last night, I’d only once before used online means to attend my church.

It was in 2016. My family and I were living in a city in China that back then no one had ever heard of, but now in 2020 is infamous: Wuhan.

I was missing my home church Jannali Anglican so much. 2016 was a hard year for our church, with lots of worry, pain and ultimately grief. My friends were hurting, and I was half-way across the world from them all.

One of our ministers decided to stream our Christmas Carols service on Facebook live so that people like me and others from our flock who were temporarily scattered could join in.

I still remember sitting in my apartment in Wuhan with my 20 month old in a high chair, pointing at the screen and saying to him, “that man who is speaking is your Godfather!”. My son just grunted, perhaps wondering why mummy wasn’t showing him an episode of Peppa Pig instead. But for me, it brought a tear to my eye to see the face of my pastor and friend whom I hadn’t seen in months – who was far away from us in body but not far at all from our thoughts and prayers. It brought me such great joy to hear him preach about Jesus from 8,150kms away.

Last night brought back those memories as I again attended church remotely. This time, I wasn’t in a third-tier city in China, I was in my lounge room – 2 suburbs away from my church building.

We don’t know how long that online church will be our new normal, and speculating about the duration of COVID-19 and the safety measures we are undergoing is not a helpful pastime (my husband is very close to forcing me into a digital detox for this very reason!). But I thought I might share some ideas and thoughts about online church as they come to me – I’d love to hear yours, too.

If you’re interested in what Jannali Anglican did for online church, you can see the video here.

  1. Try to keep to your regular church routine.

For some this may be easy – your church is running a livestream and so the only time you can tune in is when they schedule it. For others, like at our church, you have been sent a YouTube link that you can choose to watch at your convenience. But convenience is a problem – we can’t treat church like any other video on YouTube, Netflix or Disney Plus.

So try, as much as you are able, to watch it at your regular church time (although, as you’ll see below, our best laid plans made that a little difficult this week!).

  1. Share photos with your church community of you sitting down to watch.

For me, as a true Millennial and high-frequency social media poster, this is just second-nature. Just yesterday, in addition to shots of my family watching church, I also shared a photo of a travel-size hand sanitizer bottle, a critique of all the Aussies at the beach last Friday, some verse art from Psalm72:4, and shots of my new (very short) haircut. All that in one day (perhaps I do need that digital detox!).

For you, you might never post on social media, and the idea of a shot of you grinning in Image may contain: 2 people, people sittingfront of your TV (like this one here) makes you sick to the stomach. I agree that our compulsive need to share the minutiae of our lives online is problematic, and I accept that a lot of what is shared on social media is fueled by the ego  (or insecurities) of the person posting, but this is different, you’re posting for the benefit of your Church family.

For me, seeing photos of my brothers and sisters as they gathered around the same online content gave me a sense of connection, it reminded me that even though the body is scattered, we are still a body connected to each other and to our head, who is Christ.

  1. Be aware that your kids might not cope well.

As we sat down to watch church, something strange came over my two boys (aged 5 and 8). They’ve coped well with all the changes they’ve seen in the last few weeks, but I think it really dawned on them that things are serious when they realised we aren’t allowed to go to church. Mr. 5 got very clingy, draping his arms and legs all over Mr. 8 who was having none of it. At one point, Mrs. 37 moved to sit in between them both, but in her frustration and haste ended up sitting on them both and the video had to be stopped so that she could apologise.

There was a kids’ spot early in the video, so we decided to have an intermission while we put the boys to bed and resumed watching later that night.

Next week, I’m going to be prepared, printing out the activity sheets that our Children’s minister emailed through to accompany the lesson, so that the boys can sit and colour while we continue watching church. Another option would be to set them up with the Kids’ Bible iPad app, or set up their own YouTube playlist with a few Crossroads kids’ club videos for them to watch. We’ll play it by ear.

  1. Take sermon notes to stay focused

In my work as a High School SRE teacher and advisor, I’ve noticed something fascinating happen whenever video clips are shown in class. Although you can usually hear a pin drop while the video is playing, and although (almost) all eyes are on the screen, quite often when I ask students a simple comprehension question afterwards it takes a while for them to respond. It’s hard for them to remember.

I think it’s because television viewing, unlike reading, writing, listening and talking, is a passive activity. The level of attention I give to an episode of Brooklyn 99 isn’t the same as I would to a sermon. Our brains treat TV as entertainment, not information to be recalled, reviewed and revisited.

To avoid this, I made sure I took notes. As you can see, I have a note-taking Bible, but any old pen and paper will do. It helped me to stay focused, to think through the content, and to remember what I’ve learned beyond the mere moments of it appearing on my screen.

Whatever you do, please don’t treat online church like you would any disposable entertainment. It’s so much more precious than that.

  1. Be sure to thank your ministers and pray for them

Lastly, please find a way to reach out to your ministers and thank them for their hard work. I can’t imagine the hours and hours they’ve put in this week to come up with last-minute alternatives to regular church.

Earlier this week, there was a post shared on social media that said:

“Your Pastor has never pastored a church through a pandemic before.

When he opens, people are going to say he should have closed.  When he closes, people are going to say he should have opened.

When he does not shake hands, people are going to say he needs faith.  When he shakes hands, people are going to say he’s foolish.

He’s going to make some difficult decisions to protect the flock considering everything from your spiritual growth to legal liabilities that you aren’t even thinking about.

Every Pastor believes that they pastor the most amazing group of people and wants to do what’s best for them.

No one wants things to go well at church as much as your Pastor.  Your Pastor needs your prayers and support right now.”

In the 25 years that I’ve been a member of my church, I’ve watched the ministry team endure some really hard seasons, and I suspect that what is to come has the potential to top them all. We’re all operating without a net in this, our ministers included. Let’s do what we can to support, encourage and pray for those shepherds who love their flock and are heartbroken that they can’t meet with them at this time, especially while so many are hurt, confused and scared.

These five tips above are just some ideas I’ve had in the early light of morning the day after experiencing my first of who knows how many weeks of online church. It’s a work in progress. I’d love to hear your thoughts, tips and advice. This may end up being a marathon, not a sprint. Let’s keep encouraging each other.

How Colin Buchanan led me to attempt the unthinkable for family devotion time

On January 1st, 2020, my husband, my two boys, and I found ourselves in a long line of traffic trying to leave the multiple encroaching firefronts on the NSW South Coast. For hours and hours we crawled through bumper-to-bumper traffic, all the while trying to keep peace between two active boys, aged 8 and 4, who were stuck in far-too-close proximity to each other.

As the hours ticked by, our patience as a family was definitely running thin!

Thankfully, we’d prepared for the trip with a few new Colin Buchanan CDs, and one in particular became a family favourite by the time we finally CK_cover-1024x1024_7a3209d0-1943-43d5-b2e3-02f80e504d19_grandearrived home at midday on January 2nd  – Colin Buchanan’s latest: Catechismo Kids.

In Catechismo Kids, Colin and his puppet-pal Nudge sing songs, play games and guide their listeners through a simple Catechism.

I’m expecting the word Catechism might prompt different reactions depending on your experience. For some, it brings back old memories of stuffy, dry, rote-learning at Sunday School in the 1950s and 1960s. For others, you may be amazed that when I ask you “What is the chief end of man?” you can, by sheer reflex reply “To glorify God and enjoy him forever”. For others (like me until recently) the word Catechism draws a complete blank, like a “404 page not found” internet error in your memory.

In his song “Do the Catechismo”, Colin outlines what a catechism is in three simple steps:

  1. You a-a-a-ask the questions
  2. Then you g-g-g-give the answers
  3. Frrrrrrrrrrrrrrom the Bible

(That’s how you dodil-oodil-oodil-oodil-oo the Catechismo – Colin concludes!)

Using Colin’s simple outline, my family and I have started doing a simple Catechism at dinner times. We took the list of questions in the “Children’s Catechism” from Teaching Truth, Training Hearts” by Dr. Tom J. Nettles (the list can also be found here). The questions and answers are very similar to the ones Colin and Nudge use, too!

New City Catechism is another great resource you could use as well.

This is how it would work on a typical night in our house. (Note, we don’t do this every night – there are more than a few nights a week where dinner in front of the TV is all I can manage!).

Over dinner, I show my boys the question we’re going to be thinking about, for example, “Why did God make you and all things?”. I print out the question in large font so that they can look at it while they’re eating.

Last night, my eldest’s first response was, “God made us because he was lonely.” I was able to say that I used to think that, too, but it’s not actually what the Bible says. 

This led us to talk about how God shows us about him through what he has done. We know he’s powerful because he spoke and the world was created. We know he is loving because God saw it was not good for Adam to be alone and created Eve as a suitable complement for him. We know God is forgiving because after Adam and Eve sinned, he promised that one day an offspring of the woman would destroy the serpent and we know that offspring is Jesus.

After we talk about the question, we look at the answer, which in this case is “God made us for his own glory”. For an answer like this, I had to explain what the word glory means, but for others, the answer is pretty straightforward. We write the answer in texta on the page under the question.

We then look at one of the accompanying Bible verses, like Revelation 4:11, in the CEV translation. We then write the verse out under the answer.

At the end, we recap all of the questions we’ve done so far. It’s my hope that over time these questions, answers and Bible verses will be so implanted in my boys that they will know with certainly the things they believe, and can confidently defend their faith in the face of any challenge.

Catechisms might seem out of fashion, but Colin Buchanan has encouraged our family to see how helpful they can be in planting seeds of faith, trust and love for God’s Word and his promises in the hearts of our sons. 

37 Things to Thank God For

In honour of reaching my 37th year, I sat down this morning to think about 37 things in my life I’m thankful to God for. Here they are – in the order they came to me.

I’m thankful to God for…

  1. My husband, D and almost 17 years of marriage. He is an amazing man who has supported me through some hard seasons. He’s seen the best and the worst of me, and still loves me.
  2. My boys, M and O. Every day they teach me and refine me (and reflect my sinfulness) as I journey through life as their mum.
  3. A loving family – Parents, Brothers, In-Laws, 9 Nieces and Nephews, and extended family as well.
  4. My Poppa. I love him so much he gets his own entry. He’s in his 90s and still the strongest person I know.
  5. Friendships that have endured over many years (some 10, 25, even 30 years!)
  6. Friendships I have been blessed to form in just the last few years.
  7. My church family and the 25 years I have been a member of my church.
  8. Wider fellowship networks with Christians all over Sydney, Australia and the world.
  9. A roof over my head to keep the rain out (especially on a day like today).
  10. The Shire (yep – I’m one of *those* people!
  11. Sydney and Australia – my sunburnt country – her droughts and flooding rains.
  12. Wuhan, China – my one-time adopted city, my experience living there, and my love for the many friends and brothers and sisters I met in that city.
  13. God Families – we chose my sons’ God Parents well and I love all 4 of them and their children. And I love our Godson, too.
  14. God’s Word – a lamp to my path, living and active, which will accomplish what God sends it to do.
  15. God’s kindness in offering forgiveness through the life, death and resurrection of his son Jesus Christ.
  16. God’s calling on my life to offer myself as a living sacrifice.
  17. My current colleagues in my new job, and the blessing it is to work with such an amazing team of God-honouring people.
  18. My former colleagues in my old job, and the blessing it was to make so many friends with hearts for God’s work in schools.
  19. The education system in Australia and the many ways it blessed me – even the blessing of my HECS Debt.
  20. The sound of rain as it has been falling constantly today on what was until recently a very parched land.
  21. The air in my lungs, the beating of my heart, and the knowledge that every one is ordained by my God.
  22. Running, the freedom it gives me, and the accomplishment I feel when I see my (not very impressive) PBs getting shorter and shorter.
  23. The community at my sons’ school and the amazing friends we have made there.
  24. Cheese – one of my few remaining vices!
  25. Good Coffee.
  26. Antidepressants that work.
  27. Stephen Colbert (another form of antidepressant).
  28. Podcasts to fall asleep to (or to keep me company when I can’t sleep).
  29. Libraries and bookstores.
  30. Music from the 1990s and the memories it evokes.
  31. Music we sing at church (especially when many voices are making joyful noise to the Lord).
  32. Music in my headphones that draws me closer to God, and reminds me of how great Jesus is.
  33. Tracky-dack weather.
  34. Comfortable slippers on a cold winter morning.
  35. Papermate profile 1.4B Black (my pen of choice).
  36. Notebooks with random scribbles (like the one I wrote this list in).
  37. My LORD and KING and SAVIOUR Jesus Christ.

Walking with our Children through the News

I’m trying something new – reflecting on a story from the news from the Christian Worldview and considering how we can use such stories as talking points and teachable moments as we seek to shepherd our children in their walk with Christ.
  
I’m keen for feedback, and I’d love to hear any ideas you may have for other stories you’d like me to cover!

Controversy Overshadows the US Open Finals as Serena Williams is defeated by Naomi Osaka

(For the full story – go here.)

It all began with a conversation between Williams and her coach Patrick Mouratoglou after she was defeated in the first set, outplayed by Osaka. Umpire Carlos Ramos observed what he believed to be Mouratoglou making a “coaching gesture”, and issued a formal code violation. Williams continued to deny that she was “cheating”. This is in spite of the fact that her coach later admitted that he did offer coaching advice on the court. Mouratoglou added, as an explanation, that although it is a violation of the rules, his action was no different from what all tennis coaches do.

Despite frequent protestations from Williams throughout the next few changes of ends, the umpire didn’t reverse his ruling. Later in the game, a frustrated Williams threw her racket after losing a point and was issued with her second code violation. Under the rules of tennis, two violations results in the awarding of one point to the opponent. This only further fuelled Williams’ ire, who accused the umpire of “stealing a point” from her.

Later, things got so heated that Williams called Ramos a thief. This caused Ramos to issue Williams with a third code violation for “verbal abuse”. Three code violations in a single match means that an entire game is awarded to the opponent. Despite the rising consequences of penalties, Williams didn’t repent of her behaviour, claiming she was being personally attacked by Ramos, and repeatedly calling the whole thing “unfair”.

When Osaka sent the final serve of the game through at 183 km/h, which Williams could only tap, sending it wide, there were no cheers from the crowd for Osaka. Instead, the stadium erupted with jeers and boos. Fans booed again when Osaka was given her trophy. In what should have been a defining moment of joy in her career, Osaka wept; they were not tears of joy, but anguish. In a subdued acceptance speech, Osaka acknowledged the crowd’s disappointment: “I’m sorry it had to end like this. I just want to say thank you for watching the match.”

What can we as Christian parents take away from this?

Reflection 1 – Sportsmanship

I don’t play tennis, but I can reflect on these lessons from what I’ve seen, and done, on the soccer field. I’m sure we’ve all had moments on the field when, like Williams, an umpire’s call hasn’t gone in our favour – the soccer ball is called out when clearly it’s still in. Similarly, I’m sure we’ve all had moments when calls have gone in our favour when they really shouldn’t have – like a goal that’s scored even though we knew we were offside when the ball was passed to us.

Part of playing the game is to accept the good with the bad, and to submit to the authority of the umpire’s call. This can be a lesson for both parents and children alike, as I’m sure many of us have stood on the sidelines of our kids’ games and exclaimed “come on ref!” when we’ve been unhappy with the call. The best lesson our children can take from sport isn’t how to win, or what skills are necessary to play, but how to graciously submit to the decision of the referee, rather than bickering and arguing as Williams demonstrated.

Reflection 2 – Integrity

When we play a sport, even though we are all aware of the rules, sometimes, we’re often tempted to blur the lines, especially if we know that “everyone else does it”, as Williams’ coach admitted. Maybe it’s an “accidentally” timed tackle aimed at the player, not the ball, or a not-so-subtle barge of the arms when chasing down an opposing attacker. One of the reasons that Williams and her coach were happy to break the rules about on-court coaching was because they’re so rarely enforced.

But integrity is about what we do when noone is paying attention. Integrity has an impact outside of the sporting field. Here are some common scenarios your children might face at school:

The teacher has left the room briefly – do they stay on task, or immediately start talking to their friends?

They’re using the word processor app on their ipad or laptop for the day’s lesson – do they stay in the app or switch to a game as soon as the teacher isn’t looking?

There’s no monitoring software on their iphone – do they make sure the content they’re accessing is helpful, excellent, praiseworthy, even if no one will ever know if it’s not?

Reflection 3 – Selfishness

In some ways, it’s easy to understand why Williams reacted the way she did. I have no idea what the pressure of a Grand Slam with an international audience of millions would feel like. I can only speculate that such pressure would shrink the entire world in those few hours to the size of that tennis court. How else could an elite sportsperson function without such intense focus? The result of such focus is evident in Williams’ focus on herself. In her experience SHE was wronged by the umpire’s call, SHE was accused of cheating, SHE was “robbed” of a point and a game, and ultimately the trophy.

The problem with such self-focus is that it easily becomes selfishness. Williams wasn’t the only person on the court that day. In HER outrage, Serena stole the focus from HER opponent. As a result, the superb tennis Osaka played throughout the match became something she soon felt she had to apologise for.

I’m sure you can’t struggle to think of examples of times your children have acted selfishly. I find it harder to find examples of times they act selflessly (in fact, the same is true for myself!).

One way to help counteract our children’s (and our own) selfish tendencies can be to practice empathy. The story of Williams and Osaka is a great example of this. We can ask our children about how they think Williams’ actions made Osaka feel. We can ask them to imagine what it would be like if we had won a match, only to have the opponent complain that they were “robbed” by the umpire. We can encourage them to consider how sad Osaka must have felt when she won the game and received her trophy, only to hear the stadium erupt in booing.

Conclusion: How can the Bible help us approach these issues?

As followers of Jesus, Paul encourages us to be ruled by God’s spirit, rather than by our fleshly desires. The works of the flesh are listed by Paul as “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy” (Galatians 5:20-21). Instead of acting in this way, Paul encourages us to exhibit “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control,” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Much of Williams’ behaviour during the game can be placed in the former list.

How can we help our children learn from this?

1 – We could encourage our children to think about what would happen if instead of following the flesh Williams played the game in a way that was reflecting the way of the spirit.

2 – We could encourage our children to think about a time they have acted in such a way – either on the sporting field, the playground, at home, or with friends.

3 – We could share with them such times we have failed in these ways, too.

4 – And perhaps most importantly, we could pray with them, thanking God that he forgives us through the death of his son Jesus, and praying that his spirit will help us to live a life of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.