Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Praying in the new year

Happy New Year to you all. I hope you can make peace with 2013 and that 2014 is full of God’s good things.

I am having a quiet night at home. I had thought about inviting some people over, but the reality is that my place is very small, there is nothing at all to be seen from it, and I haven’t actually made any new friends as yet in Canberra, so I don’t really know what I had in mind. I do have a lot of old friends here, but, I don't know who's in town and presumably if they were doing something (and many of them have small children so probably not) and wanted me to be there, they’d have asked. But I can’t complain – some time ago I had an invitation to go camping on Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour, but because I hadn’t even moved then, and had no idea where I might be, and it required a booking and commitment, I thought it best to decline at the time. So I turned down my opportunity for the spectacular.

In the mean time, at the risk of sounding absurdly pious, I actually thought I would take the opportunity to reflect and get some things in order, and I have been writing out some prayer cards. Back when I read A Praying Life by Paul Miller, he suggested the use of prayer cards, and the things is, I actually tried a version of this method some years ago. (Tell me I am not the only person who has tried (and failed at) about 600 different prayer systems.) I have been meaning to revisit this idea since, especially because I still have the cards, so I dug the box out from where it has been going derelict in my bedside cupboard and thought I’d resurrect it. Here are a few pictures of some of the wonders I found inside.

There are some complicated and intense little cards and bits of stuff to be found in there. But now that I am older and wiser I realise that the key to sticking with these things is keeping it simple. I usually get all zealous in a burst of enthusiasm and set the bar way too high for myself, and soon fizzle out with the impossibility of sustaining my own systems.

What Miller suggests is card system like the list below (taken from the book), with a bible verse and a few key areas for prayer written on it (not a list of 56 things because you got on a roll one night and thought you’d cover absolutely everything), and on some of them, like suffering people, are just names. So, that was my new aim.

* 4-10 family cards (one for each person)
* 1-3 people-in-suffering cards
* 1 friends card
* 1 non-Christian card
* 1 church leadership card
* 1 small-group card
* 1 missionary, ministries card
* 1-3 world- or cultural issues card
* 3 work cards
* 1 co-workers card
* 3-5 repentance cards (things I need to repent of)
* 3-5 hope or big-dream cards

Here’s to keeping this going for at least some of 2014.

An update on my nephew

For those who expressed a concern for my sweet little nephew, an update. Things actually didn’t go so well while I was down in Melbourne. My little nephew was basically just vomiting back up everything he was fed when I arrived. And it was heart-breaking to watch my sister spend so long trying to feed him through a tube, then so long holding him upright afterwards in the hope of preventing it all coming back up, but then he would pull a sad little face and it would all come streaming out of his mouth, which was not great given that the goal was for him to gain weight for the surgery. But then they switched formula back to a previous one, and he seemed a lot better, except for the wind that is, and when he started screaming with the pain they remembered why they switched in the first place.

They’d also noticed that they could no longer put him flat on his back to change his nappy because he screamed and went blue and coughed. My sister had taken him to the child health nurse before Christmas who saw this and didn’t seem to think it a problem. But this has been the problem with this baby all along: nobody seems to know what normal is and my sister hasn’t known how much to just take as par for the course with the hole in his heart. But by the 27th my sister thought his breathing was way too fast, so they took him to emergency, and he was admitted to ICU. Then my sister got really upset because it seemed like she should have taken him in earlier, but it’s so hard to know.

Originally they thought he had pneumonia and heart failure, then they decided he didn’t have an infection, it was basically just his heart that was a problem, then his temperature went really high and they decided he did have an infection, then they discovered that he has VRE, which is that superbug that has been on the news, which he must have picked up at an earlier visit. (It was apparently only in the neo-natal ICU unit, where he didn’t go previously, but it seems he has it in his system anyway.) So, he is still in ICU down there, on a drip as they haven’t sorted out his feeding, and his temperature is erratic, but he is doing a little better, and he might just stay there till surgery. And I think my sister is actually a little relieved to have him there where he is on monitors and one-to-one care, rather than dealing with the anxiety of having him at home. Also, because they discourage parents from staying overnight in ICU (as basically there is nowhere to sleep) they have been going home at nights and catching up on all the sleep lost from trying to feed him every three hours (when the feeding took so long that there wasn’t much of a break between feeds).

I feel rather bad for coming home, but I tried to change my ticket and there wasn’t a seat available when I wanted one, then they decided to send my nieces to their cousins in Newcastle, where they were supposed to go for Christmas anyway, and only two people can be in ICU at any time, so there didn’t seem to be a whole lot for me to do. Also we really don’t know how long this might go on for, or when the need might be greater. This is the problem of living at a distance. If we were in the same town, I could be an ongoing support, but as it is I can only go down for concentrated spurts, and you have to decide when. My younger sister was already going down for a few days next week, and my Mum is ready to go if needed, so we shall just see how it goes.

So, I tried hard not to completely lose it saying goodbye to him in ICU (and wasn’t entirely successful) hoping to God it wouldn’t be the last time I saw him. We are hoping and praying that he can get well enough (and gain enough weight) for the surgery to fix the hole, and from there on it will all improve.

(I did have some fun taking me nieces out to a few things. Well, sort of. They got a MYER voucher for Christmas and wanted to use it, so I was mad enough to say I’d take them into the city on Boxing Day to the sales. Seriously. There was such a long queue just to get up the escalators, being manned by no less than three suited men saying things like “no pushing in”, that we were led off to walk up the fire escape. Never in my life have I seen so many people in a department store that big that there were long queues for escalators and people were walking the fire exits. It was insane. My nieces aren’t quite old enough to appreciate the culinary delights that Melbourne has to offer so I took them into the Lindt cafĂ©, where it was relatively peaceful and we could sit down for a while. Then we discovered a shop called Minotaur “pop culture specialists” where they went crazy over all the Manga things and what not. The shop was full of teenagers and men approaching middle age walking around with head phones on. The appeal of that stuff is lost on me and I felt a little “out of touch”. Why don’t kids these days watch Anne of Green Gables?

Another day I was ready to take them to see a movie, when my sister decided to take my nephew to the hospital, so while I waiting for them to come out of the movie I wandered a few shops, and actually managed to use my own MYER vouchers on some new sunglasses (I couldn’t bear the thought of trying on Boxing Day), then I started getting texts from the hospital with the bad news. So the next day I took them to the hospital and then on the way home thought we’d try Brighton Beach. This was very pleasant until some of those extreme winds some of you may have seen on the cricket came along and whipped sand up till it stung and everyone on the beach fled like a swarm.

Anyway, I am getting good at borrowing strange cars (my brother-in-laws old second car is hideous to drive) to find my way around strange cities and pretending I know what I am doing. Last time I was down there I actually missed the right freeway exit coming home from the hospital, in peak hour, in the rain, then the GPS wouldn’t work, but you know, we survived and we made it home eventually.)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger

I can’t really say why it took me so long to actually read Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. Perhaps it had something to do with phrases like “most tragic of fates” and “most terrifying of enemies” on the back cover, and the way they filled me with an emotional dread.

But I have now finished it and can say it’s a wonderful book.

It’s a little bit Marilynne Robinson, with it’s empathy and grace towards the sinning, a little bit To Kill a Mocking Bird, with a trial portraying how the public can be swayed on questions of justice and a character as much to be admired as Atticus Finch, a little bit Tim Winton, with it’s extra-ordinary happenings over which we are told to “make of it what you will”, and if I had read any Westerns I’d mention one of those too.

Like Robinson, Enger is very much a Christian, and this is very much a book about faith. But it’s not forced on the reader, rather it’s held out with a stunning attraction in the figure of Jeremiah Land. Neither is the book simplistic in it’s treatment of the stumbling and fallen and it’s representation of a complex ethical dilemma. Here are a couple of excerpts that might serve to prove my point:
You can embark on new and steeper versions of your old sins, you know, and cry tears while doing it that are genuine as any.

I began to weep ... weeping seems to accompany repentance most times. No wonder. Could you reach deep in yourself to locate that organ containing delusions about your general size in the world—could you lay hold of this and dredge it from your chest and look it over in daylight—well, it’s no wonder people would rather not.

One thing I wasn’t waiting for was a miracle.

I don’t like to admit it. Shouldn’t that be the last thing you release: the hope that the Lord God, touched in His heart by your particular impasse among all others, will reach down and do that work none else can accomplish ...? ....I puzzled it through, concluding that God, feeling overworked on our behalf, had given us ... a parting gift ... Was it unjust? I’d have thought so once, and not long ago. But these activities—whining about what’s fair, begging forgiveness, hoping for a miracle—these demand energy, and that was gone from me.

You know how it is – you grow up with a story all your life, it can transmute into something you neither question nor particularly value. It's why we have such bad luck learning from mistakes.
I could go on. But all I will do is recommend it as a piece of modern fiction that is worth the time it takes to read it, and as a chap called Andrew Roe, from the San Francisco Chronicle, has said on the front cover, “serves as a reminder of why we read fiction to begin with” (and this a good review).

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas! - again

This year I have a special treat. A carol, brought to you by Tamworth High School, from sometime last century. They actually used to give this air time right before the news on the local TV station.

In case it isn't obvious, I'm the one with the fuzzy hair, third from the right in the back row, who stars in the first close-up (I've used up some of my 15 seconds of fame). It's so spectacular, you need a count down to prepare yourself.

I believe this came about because a little group of us decided to sing carols in the local nursing homes, and we got our photo in the Northern Daily Leader, and then the TV station picked it up and asked our school to come out and record carols. So we were totally famous.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Merry Christmas ...

Merry Christmas one and all.

Apologies, this year well and truly went out with a whimper.

But I now have two weeks leave, and am looking forward to a break from work and going back and forth to Sydney. I actually left it way too late to buy a plane ticket to Queensland this year, as I didn’t really know what was happening (with my nephew potentially needing surgery and all), and so then I contemplated staying here for Christmas, as it would be nice to have Christmas in my own place and town and not have to travel elsewhere one year, but the reality is, even if I could find somewhere to go for Christmas lunch there is still Christmas Eve and Boxing Day and all those other days that I would just be hanging around by myself, and it probably would get lonely and I’d end up feeling blue, so I am now getting on another sodding bus soon and going back to Melbourne. I imagine there I will do a lot of helping, as my nephew has been back into hospital twice, and is now being fed through a tube, and is just generally wearing everybody out and scaring the life out of them with his struggles. But it will be good to be there again.

So, hope you all have a joyful time celebrating our Saviour’s birth, and a rest as well.

Till next time, Ali

Friday, December 20, 2013

Friday - The Runners

I don't mention running on this blog very often, probably because for a long time now it's just been part of my life, like cleaning my teeth. But I do like to run. Maybe it's a mix of like and need.

Having recently moved I've had to find a new route in a new city. I don't take electronic things with me running, so it has to be straightforward enough in the beginning that I can remember where I am going, till I find my way around (and I don't want to have to think too much about where I am going), and I've been temporarily lost a couple of times here in Canberra through not taking enough notice of a map before I set out. That and streets here are so long, so deceptively long. Just going to the end of my street, around the bend and down to the end of that street is 2.5 km already. But I have now found a route that I think is roughly about 8 km and takes a little under 45 mins. That's about the distance I like for regular running. And I can cut a bit off it if it's just not a good morning, because there are still some days when I get out of bed and I just don't have it.

(It's been a long time since I bothered measuring or timing these things, but I used to be able to run 5 min kilometres relatively easy. Who really knows now. Back in school I could do the 1500 m in under 5 mins, which was good for a teenage girl back then, but I don't compete in anything much these days. It's just maintenance. The truth is, I think I am (or rather was perhaps) naturally more of a sprinter. I have the quads and calves for speed rather than distance and my legs are too heavy to drag around for the very long distances (that is my excuse for having never tried a marathon anyway).)

But running is good for me, physically and mentally. And I like it to be outdoors, even in inclement weather. It's when I process things - though sometimes I need to "change the tape" and stop thinking about the same thing over and over like I'm putting one foot in front of the other - and get some air and vitamin D and all that.

So, when I saw a link to short film on twitter (via Ben Myers, via here) about runners, I watched it. The idea was that people might open up more to strangers while running. The result is fascinating.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Friday fun

Here is another of these lists of things introverts love. I suspect it's mainly introverts that read this blog in any case (not enough dopamine inducements here for the extraverts), so let us indulge and enjoy.

I laughed, especially when I came to No 5 and No 19 (yes!), but most especially when I got to No 10 (though not in reference to bed time).

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Tolkien and the long defeat

I have gone and drowned in the internet. My feedly dam burst some time ago, then I saw on social media articles around CS Lewis's anniversary floating by that I had in mind to read, then link after link on Nelson Mandela that beckoned me into the tide, and I haven't kept up with any of it. But as I was closing down my email just now I glimpsed the one from Bloglovin (why I get emails from there still I don't know as I don't use it) and within it a post with the title Tolkien and the Long Defeat. How could I resist? I have posted on Tolkien on the long defeat before myself, and I like it.You might too, and can read it here.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Lo, how a rose

I thought I posted this after it appeared in the Art House America blog last year, but perhaps I didn’t and it was just that Cath and I read and discussed it. Either way, it is worth posting again. It is a most beautiful and beautifully written post by Lanier Ivester describing how she moved (or perhaps was moved) through her anger at God, in the approach to Christmas, over her ongoing infertility. (And I think single people, who have never had the opportunity to have children, are allowed to experience the grief of childlessness that infertile married folks experience.)

And here is a version of the carol that I love from Sting (from his album If On A Winter's Night, which I also love, though it be perhaps a wee bit Catholic). Needless to say, there are going to be crochet roses on my Christmas tree also.

The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them;
and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose.

Isaiah 35:1

Monday, December 02, 2013

Christmas decorating

You will just have to indulge me here, because I have actually decorated a "real" Christmas tree this year, so I thought I'd show you. It's fun. I didn't really want to buy a plastic tree that had to be stored in a big box somewhere till next year, and had in mind a little twiggy something to hang my few paltry decorations on. Then one day last week, on my way down to the letterbox, I came upon this branch under a big old pine tree in the driveway, and I decided it had potential. Perhaps I am nuts. But here it is. 

I only have a handful of scrappy old decorations, mostly cast offs from my Mum, but I have plans to make some more in future (after searching all over Canberra in search of some 5 ply red yarn I ordered some online). I liked the crocheted words, which I found after Christmas one year in Koorong for about 50 cents, and I like the hand-painted ball around the back that I bought at the Made Fair Markets we used to run at my church in Sydney, and of course I like my crocheted star from last year. So, this is the tree by day.

And this is the tree in the window by night, just to make sure you see all it's facets. :) The words show up nicely here.

I do have a few other random ornaments in my newly christened "Christmas Box". Some Babushkas that my Aunt sent one year, which, again, my Mum decided she didn't want anymore.

Some carolling people I bought years ago in Sweden (originally given to my Mum, who decided she didn't want them anymore either).

Some sweet little people I bought in Austria years ago also.

Some other folks I found in Vinnies one time.

A hand painted glass bauble that I bought one year when I was going to St Andrew's Cathedral in Sydney. It has the Christmas story painted around it, and is a bit too precious to hang on my twiggy branch this year.

Some cardinal birds on a candle-holder that Mum didn't want anymore. I love this and I snatched it up. It might be absurd, as we have neither cardinals nor snow here, but red birds in winter, and cardinals in particular, have become a kind of symbol of hope in my mind. It all started with the poem Red Bird by Mary Oliver, and the song From This One Place, by Sara Groves. To me the idea, or the metaphor, goes with the story of Christmas, when Christ came as the hope of the world, a light shining in a dark place.

And I thought I would stuff these little hand-knitted finger puppets I bought in Berrima and turn them into Christmas decorations. Because why not. I don't see why Little Red Riding Hood can't hang on my tree, and I like sheep and alpacas.

I have a few more random things, like the whole herd of white felted reindeers I bought for $1 each in MYER after Christmas last year, but this will be all for now.

One about prayer

I still don’t seem to be on top of this head cold (the nose blowing! - where does all the goop come from? – you’d think I’d hadn’t blown my nose for 20 years), and felt inexplicably overwhelmed with weariness on both Saturday on Sunday afternoon, leading to a couch snooze. But the good news is that I went on a weekend frenzy, mostly online, and am done with Christmas shopping.

I am still reading A Praying Life by Paul Miller (and I have no idea how far through it I am, because that is how it is when you're reading on a Kindle), and being challenged by it. I don’t spend half as much time praying for others as I could and should, and one of the big things I have learnt is that there are times I should spend less time and energy trying to talk to other people about whatever I happen to want to talk about (even though I am a big conflict avoider in the first place), and more time talking to God about it.

To that end I found this little diagram helpful, for those times when there is a problem and I haven’t bothered praying about it, or have given up praying about it. And so I cheat and take a photo.