MeRF Getaway

Back in June, some folks in our church (MeRF = Messiah’s Reformed Fellowship) headed out to Pennsylvania for a getaway at Kirby House, a beautiful old house that was once used by the Kirby family as their summer home in the mountains.

It was really great to spend some decent time with church folks. Our church is a commuter church so most of our fellowship times happen on Sundays because it is so difficult to get together during the week. So, having a weekend to spend time together was great. I didn’t take many photos, which is a shame because the grounds are gorgeous, but I was spending time with people instead.

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I handed my camera off to someone else to take the real photo — this one was me getting the settings right — but the ‘real’ photo didn’t turn out, so this is the best I’ve got!

We had some good talks led by Pastor Murphy, time for swimming and walks, and just hanging out enjoying each other’s company. We also had a talent evening, which was fun!

Looking forward to the next one!

Easter 2016

This year’s Easter was a busy but lovely one. We kept up the tradition of making hot cross buns and egg dying, which the kids always love,

 

and on Easter Sunday we hosted a large crowd of church folk for a yummy dinner, followed by some rousing hymn singing. It was such a great time with people enjoying each other’s company and having some great discussions, mainly on theology and life. It was so wonderful to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection with such a neat bunch of people!

Before the dinner we had an Easter egg hunt for the kids, which was of course full of excitement.

And while we were all dressed in our Easter finery, we asked a friend from church to take a long-overdue family photo of us. We had a little fun posing in the street with midtown Manhattan in the background. Unfortunately I didn’t realise I had my transition lenses on (stupidest invention ever), so that doesn’t look the greatest, but that’s okay.

Pie Day

Back in mid-November I had a few girls from church over at our house for a pie making day. We worked hard, had lots of fun and got to enjoy some pretty yummy pies.

For those of you who might be interested, here are the recipes of what we made. Some of the pies were just assembled on the day, and even as it was I attempted to do too much! It was still fun, though. :-)

Oh, and here’s a little confession: even though some of these recipes have directions for the pastry, I have yet to make a pastry that rivals store-bought pastry. Maybe I need more practice, but until then it’s store-bought all the way!

Spinach and Cheese Pastries
(makes 16 triangle pastries)
Ingredients
2 packages flaky pastry
1 small onion, chopped finely
1 package frozen chopped spinach (about 1 lb)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 package of cream cheese
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon flour
½ cup of milk
Salt and pepper to taste
1 egg
Method
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Sautée the onion until it starts to brown, then add the garlic and fry for a minute or so before adding the spinach. Cook until heated through, then add cream cheese. When the cream cheese has melted and been incorporated, sprinkle over the flour, and stir it in until well mixed. Fry for a minute or so, then add the milk and cook until thickened. Season with salt and pepper, and take off heat and stir in the cheddar cheese.
While the mixture cools, lay out the sheets of pastry and cut each sheet into 4 squares. Place spinach mixture on a triangle half of the square, making sure to leave about an half inch margin on the edges. Fold the pastry over and seal the edges with your fingers and then press down with a fork. Stab each pastry lightly about 3 times with the fork (this helps the steam escape as it is cooking).
In a small bowl, whisk an egg and use a pastry brush to brush egg over the pastries. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Steak and Cheese Pie
Pastry
Ingredients
2 cups plain flour
1 tsp salt
2 sticks butter, fridge cold
½ cup fridge cold water
Method
Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Roughly break the butter in small chunks, add them to the bowl and rub them in loosely. (Or use food processor with blades) You need to see bits of butter.
Make a well in the bowl and pour in about two-thirds of the cold water, mixing until you have a firm rough dough adding extra water if needed. Cover with cling film and leave to rest for 20 mins in the fridge.
Turn out onto a lightly floured board, knead gently and form into a smooth rectangle. Roll the dough in one direction only, until 3 times the width, about 20 x 50cm. Keep edges straight and even. Don’t overwork the butter streaks; you should have a marbled effect.
Fold the top third down to the center, then the bottom third up and over that. Give the dough a quarter turn (to the left or right) and roll out again to three times the length. Fold as before, cover with cling film and chill for at least 20 mins before rolling to use.

Pie filling
Ingredients
1 large onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
½ pound bacon, chopped
2 lbs stew beef (like chuck roast), cut into 1 inch cubes.
Salt and pepper
2 T dried parsley, or 1 T fresh parsley
1 ½ c wine (preferably red, but white works too)
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
2 T corn starch
¼ c cold water
6 oz cheddar cheese, cubed

Method
Preheat oven to 275 °F. In a Dutch oven, fry one large onion with bacon and garlic until browned. Add beef cubes and brown the meat. Add the mushrooms, salt and pepper, parsley and cook for about 5 minutes, then add the wine. Place the Dutch oven into the oven and cook for about 3 hours, until the meat is tender.
Place on the stove on low heat. Mix corn starch with cold water until no lumps remain, then stir into the stew mixture and cook for a few minutes until thickened. Take off the burner and let cool.
Prepare the pastry in the pie dish (you can do a bottom layer as well as a top layer, or only a top – whatever you prefer), spoon in the filling (you might have some left over), and dot with the cheese. Put the pastry lid on and seal. Place the pastry over the top of the pie dish and criss-cross it lightly with a sharp knife. Brush the top with beaten egg, then bake the pie directly on the bottom of the oven for 45 minutes, until the pastry is cooked, puffed and golden.

Shepherd’s Pie

Ingredients
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 t salt
4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
About 1 cup milk
1 t garlic salt
1 T oil
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
1-2 cups vegetables—diced celery, carrots, corn, peas
1 1/2 lbs ground beef
1 can crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt, pepper
1 t ground coriander
1 T dried parsley

Method
Place the peeled and quartered potatoes in medium sized pot. Cover with at least an inch of cold water. Add a teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until tender (about 20 minutes.
While the potatoes are cooking, heat the oil in a large sauté pan on medium heat. Add the chopped onions and cook until tender, about 6 to 10 minutes. If you are including vegetables, add them according to their cooking time. Carrots and celery should be cooked with the onions, because they take as long to cook as the onions do. If you are including peas or corn, add them toward the end of the cooking of the onions, or after the meat starts to cook, as they take very little cooking time.
Add ground beef to the pan with the onions and vegetables. Cook until no longer pink. Season with salt and pepper. Add the Worcestershire sauce and tomatoes. Bring the broth to a simmer and reduce heat to low. Cook uncovered for 10 minutes. When the potatoes are done cooking (a fork can easily pierce), remove them from the pot and place them in a bowl with 4 Tbsp of butter and milk. Mash with a potato masher, and season with garlic salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat oven to 400°F. Spread the beef, onions, and vegetables (if using) in an even layer in a large baking dish (9×13 casserole). Spread the mashed potatoes over the top of the ground beef. Rough up the surface of the mashed potatoes with a fork so there are peaks that will get well browned. You can even use a fork to make creative designs in the mashed potatoes.
Place in a 400°F oven and cook until browned and bubbling, about 30 minutes. If necessary, broil for the last few minutes to help the surface of the mashed potatoes brown.

Apple Pie

Ingredients
Dough:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
14 tablespoons cold butter, diced
1 large egg, lightly beaten with 2 tablespoons cold water
Filling:
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 pounds baking apples like Golden Delicious, Cortland, or Mutsu
2/3 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling on the pie
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Generous pinch of ground nutmeg
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Method
Make the dough by hand. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Using your fingers, work the butter into the dry ingredients until it resembles yellow corn meal mixed with bean sized bits of butter. (If the flour/butter mixture gets warm, refrigerate it for 10 minutes before proceeding.) Add the egg and stir the dough together with a fork or by hand in the bowl. If the dough is dry, sprinkle up to a tablespoon more of cold water over the mixture.
Form the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 1 hour.
Make the filling. Put the lemon juice in a medium bowl. Peel, halve, and core the apples. Cut each half into 4 wedges. Toss the apple with the lemon juice. Add the sugar and toss to combine evenly.
In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the apples, and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture begins to simmer, about 2 minutes. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until the apples soften and release most of their juices, about 7 minutes.
Strain the apples in a colander over a medium bowl to catch all the juice. Shake the colander to get as much liquid as possible. Return the juices to the skillet, and simmer over medium heat until thickened and lightly caramelized, about 10 minutes.
In a medium bowl, toss the apples with the reduced juice and spices. Set aside to cool completely. (This filling can be made up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated or frozen for up to 6 months.)
Cut the dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll each half of dough into a disc about 11 to 12 inches wide. Layer the dough between pieces of parchment or wax paper on a baking sheet, and refrigerate for at least 10 minutes.
Place a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Line the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan with one of the discs of dough, and trim it so it lays about 1/2 inch beyond the edge of the pan. Put the apple filling in the pan and mound it slightly in the center. Brush the top edges of the dough with the egg. Place the second disc of dough over the top. Fold the top layer of dough under the edge of the bottom layer and press the edges together to form a seal. Flute the edge as desired. Brush the surface of the dough with egg and then sprinkle with sugar. Pierce the top of the dough in several places to allow steam to escape while baking. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.
Bake the pie on a baking sheet until the crust is golden, about 50 minutes. Cool on a rack before serving. The pie keeps well at room temperature (covered) for 24 hours, or refrigerated for up to 4 days.
Note: You may freeze the uncooked pie, but don’t brush it with egg or dust it with sugar beforehand. Place the pie in the freezer for 30 minutes, to harden it slightly, and then double wrap it with plastic wrap. Freeze for up to 6 months. When ready to bake, unwrap the pie and brush it with egg and sprinkle with sugar. Bake, from the frozen state, until golden brown, about 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Pumpkin Pie
(Absolutely nothing special here: it’s the Libby’s Recipe!)

Ingredients
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 large eggs
1 can (15 oz.) p puree
1 can (12 fl. oz.) evaporated milk
1 unbaked 9-inch (4-cup volume) deep-dish pie shell
Whipped cream (optional)

Method
Mix sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger and cloves in small bowl. Beat eggs in large bowl. Stir in pumpkin and sugar-spice mixture. Gradually stir in evaporated milk. Pour into pie shell. Bake in preheated 425° F oven for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350° F; bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until knife inserted near centre comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 2 hours. Serve immediately or refrigerate. Top with whipped cream before serving.

CCEF’s 2015 conference

A couple of weekends ago, I had the amazing opportunity to travel down to Virginia Beach for this year’s CCEF (Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation) Conference. The topic of this year’s conference was Side by Side: How God helps us help each other. I was incredibly blessed by the speakers who were knowledgeable and so humble in their presentations. I learned so much, and grew in my understanding of how I could come alongside others in their walk through life’s difficulties — not with all the answers, but to be there with and for them.

I drove down to the conference with 3 friends from church. It was a really beautiful drive!

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I was really thankful that we drove down instead of flying (not that that was really an option), because it gave us a total of about 16 hours’ worth of talking time in the car (plus more over the time we were there!). Conversation ranged from serious to hilarious, and I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say there was no more than 15 minutes of total silence during our trips! I’m thankful that I could get to know Julie, Naomi and Jen better — to learn from them, to laugh with them (there were some gut-splitting laughing times), pray with them, and just enjoy them.

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I don’t know how much longer this will be available online, but for now you can view many of the sessions here. If you don’t have hours to dedicate to watching these, and want to choose just one, then choose the first talk by Ed Welch on Our Neediness Is God’s Gift.  I have often felt ill-equipped to help others because of my acute awareness of my own failings and struggles. And then the very first session I get told that my failings and struggles — my neediness — is something that I should even grow in, that when I feel inadequate and weak, that’s a perfect start for ministry. Because having a keen sense of my own neediness eliminates a lot of potential hurt because I’m not approaching others with an “I know what you need” mentality. It made me realize that my feelings of inadequacy and my failings are not and should not be a hindrance to walking alongside others in ministry. In fact, it is necessary and beneficial. It was such a blessing to hear that!

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Oh, I should add a little something about our nighttime excitement. The first couple of nights we had super loud planes from the nearby  Air Force base. On the night we arrived, we were unloading the car when one of them flew over us and it shook everything — I thought the plane was about to crash on top of us, it was so loud! Then, on the last night we were woken up by the hotel’s emergency alarm. Let’s just say that it’s very disorienting to wake up to that sound and to then think clearly enough to throw on some shoes and a jacket and grab your valuables. Yes, I know, you’re not really supposed to do that… but I did. I’m such a rebel. We went outside with the whole rest of the hotel and stood outside in the cold in our pajamas waiting for the fire department to arrive. They came and we were eventually allowed to wait in the lobby. After a long wait, we were given the all clear. We went back to our rooms, got nicely settled in bed, switched off the light, and then literally 2 seconds later the alarm went off again (!). Both times turned out to be a technical fault (or that is what we were told, anyway). Still, a fun little add-on story of the weekend!

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If any of you ever have the chance to attend one of CCEF’s annual conferences, I’d highly recommend it! Next year’s conference is going to be on the topic of emotions, and is set to be in Chattanooga, TN.

Presbyterians of the world, unite!

Original Westminster Confession of Faith title pageAfter hours of sweatless toil, I present to you the Plain English Westminster, or PEW if you like. It’s my “translation” of the Westminster Confession of Faith into modern English.

This is a project I’ve been working on for the last couple of years, very on and off. The writing is my work, though hats off to the OPC’s MESV, and to Franci for her help with proofreading.

But why on earth do this? It started long ago in a galaxy far, far away. I’m a member of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand, and — oddly enough for a Reformed Church with roots in the Netherlands — the Westminster Confession is one of our church’s confessional documents. I was asked to (attempt to) teach it to a catechism class a few years back, but wading through 17th century formal English with 14-year-olds is tough going … and thus the PEW was born.

So without wasting any more ink here, you can read more about all that from the horse’s mouth over at my Plain English Westminster page.

The 3-step guide for mothers who want to Do It All

Yes, you too can Do It All! Small children? A big workload? Stack of dishes in the sink? Pile of bills to pay? No problem! Just follow my easy 3-step program and soon you too could be one of those special people who can Do It All!

1. Marry a millionaire.

2. Hire a nanny, cook, housekeeper and gardener.

3. Put yourself, your dreams and ambitions before anything or anyone else.

I was asked recently to give a talk at a women’s Bible study about “something I’ve learned from life as a Christian woman/wife/mother with the other women”. I thought they got the wrong number. Uh, I’m not sure I’m the right person for this… I tried to get out of it, but as I prayerfully considered it, I thought there might be something I’ve learned. Actually, it’s more accurate to say that I’m currently learning this lesson: How Not to Do It All.  Since giving the talk a couple of weeks ago, I’ve thought of all sorts of edits to make and ways to say it better, but I’m in the thick of getting ready to pack my life in the US up into 4 suitcases, so it’ll just have to do as it is. Below is the written version of what I talked about.

So often we think or even ask the question of someone else: “How do you do it all?” It’s a perplexing question, but I think I’ve come up with 3 answers to it:

1. Nobody does.

2. At different times in life, and by working hard.

3. With good planning.

I’ll come back to those things soon, but first I have to deal with the question itself. More often than not when we ask (or think) such questions, it is because we’re looking at Exhibit A’s mothering/cooking/sewing/housekeeping/job/everything skills and feeling like we don’t measure up.  We women are far too good at comparing ourselves to others, and we do it far too frequently. The problem with comparing yourself to someone else is that it seldom turns out well. Most of the time you either:

a) inwardly cower in shame because you think you don’t measure up and you’re left wallowing in a cesspool of misguided guilt, or

b) you feel just a little too pleased with yourself because you’re not struggling like her. At least your kids don’t behave as badly as her kids. Pure unadulterated, stinking pride.

So, why do we have this strange idea that there are real superwomen out there? The kind of woman who has done her Bible study and run a few miles before her kids are even up, who cooks everything from scratch and always has an empty laundry basket, who is nicely groomed and is always entertaining visitors, whose children love her and obey her and never embarrass her in public… the list goes on. (In that vein, here’s a funny poem I read recently. It’s written in a Mormon context, so some of the references are a bit foreign, but I definitely think that on the whole this is something many Christian women can identify with.)

To come back to my answer to that strange, strange question: “How do you do it all?”:

First off, no woman “does it all”, and if she’s making it look that way, she’s either faking it or has some serious help.

Maybe we have this idea in our heads that such a thing is possible because we take all the great qualities we know of all the women we know and think we should channel all those qualities. Or perhaps it’s the Perfect Proverbs 31 Woman who makes us look at ourselves and cringe. (I’ll talk more about that Proverbs 31 Woman soon.) Or maybe we are concerned with this because at some root level we are desperate that our lives here on earth be meaningful and not wasted, and for our lives not to be wasted we have to do everything and do it well? Or maybe it has subtly become a great big idol taking over your life.

Here’s a little exercise: think of someone you actually know (not someone you only know through her writing) and of one or two qualities you really admire about her. Let’s say, for example, that you think she’s a really good cook, because the one time you’ve eaten at her house the food was fantastic. Now you have this idea in your head that this is the way she always cooks for her family and that eggs on toast for dinner or a hot dog slapped in a bun with some ketchup and mustard hastily squeezed on would never appear on the menu at her house. Guess what — 5 o’clock melt-downs quite likely happen at her house too. You’re not the only mother in the world who has served a hasty dinner on occasion that had no vegetables in sight. Now, if this happens frequently, you have some work to do, but don’t beat yourself up and compare your hot dog meal with that woman’s 3-course special meal that she planned 3 weeks in advance.

To be realistic, there are some things that you’ll do more naturally and some things need to work at a fair bit. But do just that — work at it, don’t mope because you can’t do it the first time you try.

Some women love to knit and crochet. Yes, this is a great thing, but it’s not for me. I’ve tried. I’ll probably keep trying when I have some more time, but that time is not now. I once tried making a quilt. It looked like an 8-year-old made it, but Marica still loved it. I think quilting is something I’d enjoy when life has mellowed me a bit and I have a bit more patience. :-) I love to cook and I love to spend time with people, so our family puts a lot of emphasis on hospitality. Just because you aren’t a good cook isn’t a good reason not to be hospitable, but don’t feel like you have to put on a feast.

In other words, look at yourself realistically, and know where your strengths and weaknesses lie. Look at your situation in life realistically and decide where you should spend your time and energy. Pray about it, and get your husband’s useful input — men can sometimes see these things more clearly.

Secondly,

As you go through life, your workload will have some ebb and flow. You’ll always have work to do in, around and outside your home. Do it cheerfully and well.  The work you do when your kids are little is going to look different from the work you do when they are teenagers, or when your nest is empty (that day looks unimaginably far away to me, but people keep telling me it comes quickly!). Life brings different chapters, and in each chapter of life you’ll have different challenges and different things you are really on top of. Be realistic — know what chapter of life you and your family are in at the moment and think about what your main priorities are. Focus on doing those well, and anything extra is a bonus. If you’re saying yes to being on committees at church or your kids’ school because you think you’re supposed to, but it frazzles you out and it means you snap at your kids and you don’t get your laundry done, then scrap it.  Don’t be surprised if you find yourself constantly busy, and working hard. This is a good thing. You should work hard, but your workload should be manageable.

Have you got a house full of little ones? Then know that your time and energies are needed and wanted at home, and that all you’re pouring into them is so, so valuable. You don’t need some sort of ministry or special calling outside the home — your ministry and calling is right there in the high chair and it has squishy cheeks and needs a clean diaper. When you’re out of this busy phase of having little ones, you might look into working part-time, or volunteering somewhere or joining committee X.

If you have a look at the Proverbs 31 woman, you’ll notice that she works very, very hard. Yet it would seem impossible for one woman to take care of her household and still do all those things, even with servants. People have suggested that she’s an ‘idealized’ woman, making up good qualities from many different women. Or it could be that she does all those things, but at different times in her life. While it is very valuable to look at what she does and try to do the same, perhaps you’re not the kind of person who’s going to start making stuff out of flax. I think it’s more valuable to look at how she works: she works with eager hands, she does it vigorously. She’s described always doing: she gets up, she considers, she makes, she speaks, she watches. Use your time wisely, and work hard, be a blessing to your husband and children; all to the glory of God.

My kids know that they should obey straight away, all the way, and with a happy heart. Think of yourself in relation to the work you need to get done in the same way. If you don’t have a good work ethic, read good books to help you cultivate it, or talk to someone who can help, encourage and even mentor you on that front.

Thirdly, plan! I just mentioned using your time wisely –you can not expect to be very productive if you spend a few hours every day checking out Pinterest, Facebook, the news, twitter, or even really valuable blogs and articles out there. Spend not only quality time with your children, but quantity time. Your kids are more important than “getting things done”. (Boy am I preaching to myself here!) If you have thought about what your priorities are, then how you spend your time should reflect this. Now, life happens and if you don’t actively plan for your priorities to happen, they might well fall by the wayside because let’s face it, when you’re tired it’s easy to slip in to time-waste mode, and mothers are often tired!

Here are some things I find helpful:

Plan to read the Bible and pray. You might do this while nursing the baby, or if things are desperate, lock yourself in the bathroom for 5 minutes. Take time to look around you and be thankful for where God has chosen to place you. If you’re in the thick of mothering, you might not be at a stage in life where you’re spending an hour on Bible study every day, and that’s fine. But don’t let it slip completely.

Do not neglect your relationship with your husband. Fiercely guard your time together to talk and reconnect. Plan to have date nights regularly, even if you have to make them in-house date nights where you put the kids to bed and then order in some take-out just for the two of you.

Plan to sleep. If getting to bed at a decent hour is not a priority that you fight for, then chances are you won’t get to bed at a decent hour! I find that I function badly without sleep and am a lot more prone to sinning when I’m tired, so I need lots of sleep, sometimes even an afternoon nap.

Plan to carve out time for things that rejuvenate you as well — little pockets of precious time of figuratively (and sometimes literally!) taking a deep, cleansing breath to get you ready to jump back in with a happy heart. Exercise. Sing. Skip down the road with your kids, or splash in the puddles with them. I try to meet up with a couple of good friends at The Chocolate Room (a dessert place where everything’s chocolate) about once a month. We talk our heads off and come out feeling heavy in the stomach and light in the heart.

Use a diary! Anyone who can operate without a wall planner and/or diary is either amazing or highly disorganised. A diary is your friend. Plan things out, even housekeeping chores that should happen on a weekly basis (though it’s a good idea to plan for more thorough cleans every few months too). If you’re really in the thick of life, then writing down things like ‘sweep the floor’ and ‘clean the bathroom’ every week in your diary is a totally acceptable. Recently it took me an entire morning to strip and remake the 3 beds in our house, because I was being interrupted the whole time with little people and little problems, many of which involved bodily fluids. This is normal if you’re in the stage of life where you’re living with little ones, though there are days it can feel discouraging to get to the end of your day and wonder what on earth you did all day — you know you were busy the whole time, but what were some actual things you did? If you can then go to your to-do list and tick off ‘fold laundry’ and ‘read to kids’, there is a sense of satisfaction, as silly as it seems.

Plan your weekly menu, and shop accordingly. Not only will it save you time and money, it’s good for your sanity because you don’t have to get to 5 o’clock and wonder what on earth you’ll feed people tonight.

Read literature that will challenge you, but also encourage you. Read books that will help you and encourage you in your marriage, in mothering, or other areas of life. Read some fun fiction too in between or about other things you’re interested in!  I’m not in a stage of life where hours of sweet quiet reading time is available to me, so I’ve taken to reading short stories, or books with short sections that I can read just a little bit at a time.

I could go on, but you get the idea. To wrap things up, remember that God created you with your own unique set of talents and abilities and situation in life, so don’t try to compare yourself to other women. Work hard at things that are a priority in your life, plan your time and use it wisely, and work cheerfully.

Some helpful articles, if you want to read more on the topic that people much wiser than me have written:

Preschoolers and Peace: Drowning in Home Management Part One and Part Two. (And plenty of other articles on that blog.)

Femina (you should just read the whole thing, and everything in the archives (I’m not kidding), but here are a few recent ones that I found very helpful): The Littleness of Motherhood, Domestic Kindness, You make me feel so guilty!, and False Comfort.

Clover Lane: I don’t know how she does it all.

The Power of Moms: Your children want YOU!

Caring for Creation

My friend Matthew Bartlett recently started his own publishing company, and his first book is The Biblical Mandate for Caring for Creation by retired New Zealand minister Dick Tripp. The 158-page book, which can be yours for a mere $24.99, is definitely worth a read. Actually, “worth a read” is not a great compliment — what this book and this topic deserve is thought and action.

This post is partly a book review, and partly a discussion of the subject more generally. In terms of the book, there are several things I didn’t love about it, but there are many things I did, so I’m going to start with those.

Things I loved

His biblical take on the subject. Chapter 6 through to the end of the book is a thorough look at what Genesis through to Revelation has to say about creation, how God sees it, and how we should treat it. In the introduction, Tripp notes that

It is the revelation of Scripture, what God himself thinks about his creation, that should provide the most compelling reason of all for Christians to be concerned about it.

As well as quoting a lot of Scripture, Tripp shows how some of the big themes of the Bible tie in directly to caring for creation. Some examples: God’s love of fruitfulness, the goodness of creation, humans being made in God’s image, the Fall, an emphasis on “land” with Israel, and the new heavens and the new earth.

It’s pretty simple, really. As Christians, we believe God made the world and everything in it, and he made it very good. The universe is the greatest work of art by the greatest Artist. So we should do what we do with other good art: enjoy, respect, and preserve. And by preserve, I don’t mean keeping it under a glass case, like old art in a museum. The world is living art. It’s the most amazing display of interactive art there is — and it’s not merely interactive, it’s to be cared for and ruled. (In chapter 7 Tripp goes into detail about what “ruling it” means, and what it doesn’t.)

On a related note, although I don’t usually go for bold text in books, the author and publisher have done something I really liked in this one: all Scripture quotations are in a semi-bold font. It makes them stand out, and shows how much Tripp digs into the Word in chapters 6 through 14.

I also appreciate the timeliness of the book, in the sense that this topic — caring for creation, the environment, etc — isn’t something evangelical Christians have been saying much about. We say we’re conservative, but we’re more worried about conserving thees and thous than trees and boughs!

There’s Francis Schaeffer’s Pollution and the Death of Man, a really thought-provoking little book, but published in 1970. Then there are a few concerned individuals who’ve said something since then, but other than that, we’ve left the topic to the liberals and greenies! Okay, I’m being somewhat tongue-in-cheek here. In fact, Tripp’s book shows just how much has been written and done about it since then — and a lot of that by orthodox Christians.

Tripp doesn’t compromise core Christian truth (in fact, he also authors a Christian apologetics website). He’s big on the message of the gospel: our brokenness, and our need to submit our lives to the Creator and Saviour. He’s clear that if we don’t care for our souls, our care for creation is going to mean little. In his conclusion, he notes that “perhaps the greatest reason for caring for the earth is, simply, gratitude.”

Oh, and I enjoyed his five references to C. S. Lewis. How can you go wrong with that? Seriously, though, Lewis thought a lot about this topic: not so much environmentalism, but God’s care for creation and creatures. In fact, you could see the entire Chronicles of Narnia as a story against cruelty to animals. In the chapter on humans being made in God’s image, Tripp says:

C S Lewis, who wrestled in many essays with the senselessness of animal suffering, argued that is was precisely because humans are higher than animals in creation’s hierarchy that they should oppose animal cruelty. Our superiority to animals ought to motivate us ‘to prove ourselves better than the beasts precisely by the fact of acknowledging duties to them which they do not acknowledge to us.’

Near the end of the book, he also notes Lewis’s rejoicing in the final renewal of creation:

C S Lewis painted a great picture of this in the conclusion of The Chronicles of Narnia. Aslan takes the children into a new world. Following a great conflagration of fire and wind they see a world strangely familiar and yet one in which every blade of grass and every leaf on every tree seems to mean more. Everything is deeper.

Thinking of Narnia and animals reminds me of a discussion I had a few years back with some folks in our youth group. Someone said how sad it was that there are only about 5000 tigers left in the world today, when just 100 years ago there were probably more than 100,000. A dissenting voice said something like, “Saving animals is for greenies … who cares if a few big cats die out. They’re just another animal!” That’s not only callous, it’s theologically screwed up, forgetting God made all things good. The tiger is my favourite big cat, and one of the most wild and beautiful animals designed by God — but for every 20, we’ve killed 19.

Things I didn’t love

There were a few things about Tripp’s book that I didn’t go for. First, I’m not a fan of how the book begins. I’ll admit my bias up-front: I’m skeptical of much in the modern environmental movement — if you want, put me in the “fairly typical right-leaning Christian” basket. In the first few chapters, he quotes a huge number of statistics from all sorts of people, some of them very sad, some of them hard to believe, and a few of them almost laughable. Apart from the fact that you can prove anything with statistics, I thought this was an unconvincing start for a book with Biblical Mandate in the title.

Tripp is no doubt trying to use these facts to build an emotive case for the need to care for creation. But for many, beginning with a truckload of scary facts may work against his argument. And a few of the statistics simply need removal. For example, he quotes the WWF saying that “the only nation living sustainably is Cuba.” Huh? Cuba has one of the worst human rights records around. The WWF might as well have said, “Adolf Hitler was a non-smoking vegetarian who loved animals,” which is factually correct, but completely misses the more important issue.

However, plenty of the facts sound reasonable enough, and many are incredibly sad. Just one example: “4 billion cases of diarrhoea each year are associated with lack of access to safe water. 1.7 million people, mainly children under five, will die as a result.” There is a lot to think about in these first few chapters, and the statistics-laden beginning doesn’t spoil the book. As I mentioned above, the rest of the book is filled with Biblical and philosophical arguments for why all this matters.

Second, I didn’t love his general acceptance of leftist evaluations of the problem. This is related to the above: particularly near the beginning of the book, he quotes a whole spectrum of different environmentalists. While I appreciate his non-partisan spirit, the problem with this is that they have very different ideas on how to solve said problem. So much of the time, proposed “solutions” to environmental problems involve stricter and stricter laws. But if the main problem is greed, the solution is not bigger government; it’s getting rid of greed. That’s a much harder problem to solve, of course, but it’s one that the Bible has some pretty good answers to.

Finally, Tripp’s stance on evolution didn’t sit right. He’s dismissive of Christians who “are more concerned with how God created the earth, and in particular in arguing against evolutionary scientists, than they are with our responsibility to revel in, nurture and sustain God’s creation today”. He also says it’s “significant that Genesis does not state the process by which God made the earth”. Hmmm … my version of Genesis 1 states the process quite clearly: God spoke, and it was so.

Sure, I disagree with him on how God created the earth, and that’s fine as far as it goes. However, there are two problems here. First, I think his dismissals are rather simplistic, and he may end up turning away more conservative Christian readers than he intends. Second, it strikes me that the creationist position is actually stronger when it comes to caring for creation. If all of of life (including humans) evolved by random mutations, what is there to make each species so worth preserving, like a unique piece of art? But if God designed and created each type of plant and animal as a work of living art, then we have every reason to care for them all.

That said, I appreciate the fact he doesn’t dwell on this, or make a big deal about it throughout the book. Instead, he simply points people to his earlier booklet on the subject, The Complementary Nature of Science and Christianity (which I haven’t yet read).

Where to from here

Tripp ends with (and I say this respectfully) a good, old-fashioned call to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives and Saviour of the world. One of the results of acknowledging Christ, he says, will be a new appreciation of the world in which we live. He notes that while there are many “generic reasons” to care for the earth, Christians have even more reasons — God-centred ones at that:

The earth is of value because it is God’s creation; he has declared it good and he delights in it; he has appointed us his vice-regents to care for it as well as for one another … and, in view of the resurrection, we have assurance that any good we do will not be in vain.

So practically, where can conserve-ative Christians start? Tripp’s book is about the biblical mandate to care for creation, not so much how to care for it, but he does provide some helpful pointers and further reading.

For one thing, reading his book makes me want to re-read Schaeffer’s Pollution and the Death of Man. Tripp mentions this book positively in his chapter on Christians and the environment, and it was Schaeffer’s book that started me thinking about the topic several years ago.

But there’s more than just things to read. Tripp mentions A Rocha a few times — they’re a Christian organization already doing creation-care in various places throughout the world. John Stott, theologian and bird-watcher, had a fair bit to do with A Rocha. Incidentally, the publisher’s sister and her husband, Anna and Lynton Baird, recently returned from a trip helping A Rocha in Canada and Kenya. In short, A Rocha seems like a really good place to start for those keen to help “in the field”.

One concern of mine is that while people are willing to talk about “saving the planet”, they are often unwilling to think about things like frugality. I really think part of the reason we use and abuse so many natural resources is because we want as many nice things as the next guy. Call it greed, covetousness, or whatever you want, but Christians especially need to be content with what they have, if not less. Many of our mothers and grandmothers exemplified this, as well as the now-forgotten attitude of “waste not, want not.”

As an American-born New Zealander, this seems to be even more of a problem here in the United States. Everything comes wrapped in a few layers of petroleum-derived product and then double-bagged. “Organic” vegetables that cost three times as much as normal produce are carefully sealed in fancy plastic containers. Every other person on the subway is carrying their coffee in a throw-away cup. Convenient, efficient, and ugly — right down to the litter scattered on the footpaths. P. J. O’Rourke’s quip is very true: “Everybody wants to save the earth; nobody wants to help Mom do the dishes.”

So go help mum with the dishes. Then check out A Rocha, order Dick Tripp’s book, start thinking about how you can care for creation, and post your thoughts in a comment!