Sunday, March 31, 2013

Who will have the last word?

One of the blogs I've followed for the last couple of years is I'm thinking of starting a blog by Alison. 

If you've never heard Alison's family's story let me sum it up as briefly as I can: Alison has three kids, including identical twins who were born very premature after a complicated pregnancy (which was featured on the TV show RPA).  One of the twins, the cheeky and vivacious Ashlea, has multiple disabilities.  Last year, Ashlea underwent a kidney transplant.  Her father was the donor and a few days after the surgery (a year ago today) he suffered life-threatening complications that have left him with an acquired brain injury.

Now that's a pretty big lot of stuff to have on your plate.  Today Alison posted her thoughts on the anniversary of her husband Murray's injury.  You can read it here.  Today is resurrection day.  Today we remember that death did not have the last word.  Alison writes,

Brain injury will not have the last word.  Jesus will have the last word when He raises Murray to new life with Him.

Amen and hallelujah!  Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

If a few philosophers turned to organised crime...

My Philosophy teaching buddy (the other half of our whole department) sent me this cartoon yesterday. Click on the picture to make it big enough to read.

From here.

Thank God it's Thursday

Don't know if I'll get to posting anything tomorrow so I thought I'd move TGIF forward a day.

Today, I'm thankful for the great teachers my children are enjoying this year.  We had parent/teacher interviews last night and I was struck by the care and attention these kind teachers were lavishing on my kids (and I'm sure all the other kids in their class too).  It's a real blessing to have them teaching my kids.

How about you?  Got anything you're particularly thankful for this week?  Join in!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Catching my breath

Wow, it's been nearly a whole week since I've posted anything!  That's because we are having a massive couple of weeks in our family.  Last week, my husband was only home 3 nights out of 7.  It's pretty unusual for our family and thus challenging.  He had to change times zones during the week, which is always hard, and then spent the weekend hiking up a mountain with below-zero temperatures.  In addition to that, I've been trying to fit in extra meetings at work, parent/teacher interviews (in which I was the teacher - next week I'll be the parent), a professional development workshop and extra church stuff too.  Ahghghg!

This week hasn't been much slower with more than one "extra" thing on each day and juggling children here-there-and-everywhere to make it all work.  Tonight is the last "extra" thing when some of our middle school students put on their "Night of the Notables" presentation.  Before that, I have to squeeze in a trip to the shoe store for my 9-year old who has been trying to play sport in too-small sneakers for about two weeks while I find the time to go shoe-shopping.  Sigh.

But after tonight, we can all take a deep breath.

Actually, it's been a really big term.  The new job, the hectic pace of activities that comes with school-age children, the cat dying and all the other sundry bits and pieces have left me feeling really stretched.  And anxious.  I haven't been this prone to worry in years - literally.  I think it's all that stress from being a "beginning teacher" again.  While I have quite a few years of teaching experience under my belt, Year 12 has been a whole new ball game and taken up a huge portion of my head-space in the last three months.  It's really humbling, after being a fairly together professional, to go back into that situation where you feel you know very little and you're constantly needing to ask for help.  But that's a valuable experience to have been through.  I feel a great deal of sympathy for my students at present!

Anyway, just letting you know I'm still alive.  Just working hard and keeping out of trouble.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Thank God it's Friday

I know that “Thank God it’s Friday’ is usually said in absence of any kind of thankfulness towards the Almighty, but I’d like to do my bit to remedy that.

Today, I’m thankful for home and family and the end of a week.  It's been a big couple of weeks in our house.  I'm tired.  And anxious (about my Year 12 students).  Rest is needed if I'm to fire on all cylinders next week.  I need to learn to feel grateful and thankful for rest rather than feeling either I'm the only one who's earned it (in my "I'm such a martyr, why isn't everyone noticing" mode) or too guilty to take it (in my "I'm such a slacker, I don't deserve to stop" mode).  It's a gift.

You got anything you’re thankful for today? Join in! Let’s count our blessings for a bit.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Children’s Bibles

We’ve used a few different children’s Bibles over the years. Before I had kids, I probably would have argued that children’s Bibles were not going to have a place on my bookshelf. There’s an argument to be made for reading the Bible as it was written, not as an edited version with coloured pictures. And the pictures bother me especially. Because most Bibles do okay until the New Testament when all of a sudden pictures of Jesus appear and I’ve never been comfortable with an artist deciding what the Lord looked like. We probably all have some kind of mental image of a guy wearing a dress and looking holy that is a composite image of all the “Jesus” pictures and paintings we’ve been exposed to over our lifetime. And given that the Bible is pretty clear that we should not make images of God, this is sometime I try to avoid having in my head.

However, despite my misgivings, I have amassed a collection of storybook bibles for reading to little people. I think of these as Bible storybooks rather than real Bibles, even if the title “Bible” is on the front. None of them cover the whole Bible and all of them to some degree or other paraphrase and embellish it. But our kids see us reading a “grown-up” Bible regularly at home and church and they know the difference. I do understand the argument for only ever reading to them from the Bible itself and then explaining it. But we’ve found the storybook Bibles have given our kids a good general knowledge of the key stories in the Bible and a sense of the flow of Scripture from start to finish. And it’s easier to keep a two-year old’s attention on a picture Bible than the full text.

So if you are going to go down the children’s Bible route, what’s available? I’ll give you my take on our collection and you might find something suitable for your family amongst it.

The Beginner’s Bible

Really basic text, colourful illustrations, aimed at 2 – 5 years old. A great bedtime Bible for little folk if you don’t expect too much. Each chapter takes just 2 or 3 minutes to read and it follows the key events of the Bible so a few readings through will get the kids familiar with the big stories. Cartoon pictures are okay but you may feel uncomfortable with the later depictions of Jesus. And I can’t really believe so many cute kittens and mice were present at the major Biblical events. Ours has been read and read and read so many times that its cover is hanging by a thread and it’s a wonder half the Old Testament hasn’t fallen out. Maybe that’s a good recommendation in itself. It’s not fantastic but it’s a start and you can begin with this one as soon as your little one will sit still for 2 minutes.

God’s Little Princess Devotional Bible

If you know me well, you’ll be surprised I own this! I’m not a big fan of encouraging little girls to think of themselves as “princesses”. But it was a gift to our little girl from some dear and respected friends. This is not what I would call a Bible - it’s more a devotional book. The Bible text used is taken straight from the International Children’s Bible. The devotional stuff around it is a bit hit and miss. Some of it is only loosely linked to the passage but some of it is quite good. If you are looking for a children’s Bible, this is not the right book. If you are looking for a devotional book you could read aloud at bedtime to a 4-7 year old, it might suit you.

Goodnight Warrior

This was the matching gift to our son written by the same author as the previous Bible. It has a glow-in-the-dark cover. Glow-in-the-dark, peoples. Truly awesome. Again, it’s not a Bible but it’s good for developing bedtime devotional time. Boys aged 4 – 6.

Big Picture Story Bible

Now we’re getting somewhere!  This book focuses not just on the individual stories in the Bible but constantly points out the overall story of salvation that runs through the Scriptures from start to finish. It’s one I’d highly recommend for bedtime reading or family devotional time. My cousin tells me if you only buy one picture-story bible this should be it and I’m inclined to agree for younger ones. Ideal for ages 4 – 7.  

Jesus Storybook Bible

For a slightly older age group – ages 6 – 10 years – this book again takes a “big picture” approach to the Bible aiming to show that it is one unfolding story of God rescuing his people. The illustrations are delightful and whimsical. If you get nervous about excessive paraphrasing you might not be happy with this one. The text takes a “storybook” approach – it reads like a fairy tale or adventure story – and so there’s a fair bit of artistic interpretation of the smaller details. The theology is sound, however, and you’ll be left in no doubt that all of the Bible points to Jesus. I’m currently teaching the Sunday School curriculum based on this book. If you want to get an idea of what it’s like, go to youtube and search for Jesus Storybook Bible and you’ll be able to access a number of animated clips that use the illustrations and script of the book. This is my favourite “give away” Bible.

Gospel Story Bible

We’ve been really pleased with this one and it’s our current after-dinner family reading. It’s much meatier than most children’s bibles. It is not straight text – it is still a re-telling of the story – but it sticks closely to the text and doesn’t add in too many imaginative details. What it does have is an explanation of the text at the end of each reading and, like the last two bibles, the focus is on how the passage fits with God’s redemptive plan. The illustrations are bright and vivid. Highly recommended - this would be my pick for the older age group. Ages 7 – 12 years.

The Lion Day-by-day Bible

We read through this one and mostly enjoyed it. It's main advantage is that, because it has 365 readings, it is quite comprehensive and covers many stories that other children’s bibles leave out. The Old Testament was well done and the New Testament letters were covered in some depth which is a rare thing in children’s bibles. We did, however, find the gospels poorly done. In particular, attributing thoughts or feelings to Jesus that were nowhere to be found in the original text was a worry. We wondered if there had been another writer employed to do the gospels because it was such a break with the way they had dealt with the Old Testament. My husband took to editing it on the go as he read aloud. It’s a real shame because the later New Testament readings were well-done. If you are alert to its faults, it’s still a good resources especially for its treatment of the less-visited passages in the Bible. Ages 6 – 10 years.

International Children’s Bible

I think you want to spend as short a time as possible in the storybook-bible phase and move on to a good easy-to-read translation of the whole Bible, with chapters and verses numbered as usual. I aim to give a personal copy of this Bible to each of my kids as soon as they are beginning to read for themselves. It is also ideal for reading aloud once they can sit for a reasonable length of time. One possible drawback is that it will not be the same translation that is read in church. You may want to skip this translation as a first Bible and go straight to an ESV or NIV or whatever is being used at your church so that they can follow along more easily. But I do think it’s a great help to have a translation in simple language easily available in a child’s own bedroom if you can manage it.

There’s my take on a few of the most commonly available children’s bible storybooks. Have you used any of these yourself? Any thoughts to add? Or maybe you have another one you’d recommend?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Behind The News

Scene from the video
Maybe you remember Behind The News  from your primary school days?  It's a news and current affairs show for kids  We had to watch it once a week in Grade 5 & 6.  Now, with the curriculum so crowded, a lot of schools don't always find the time to watch this ABC program.  Which is a real shame!  Because a lot of our kids have little idea of what is going in Australia and beyond our shores in the wider world.

As well as covering the major news stories of the week from Australia and the globe, BTN provides in-depth explanations of some stories.  For example, I had no idea what the Higgs boson was until I watched it on BTN.  The inclusion of carefully explained background information and graphics helps young viewers to not only understand the current events of the day but builds their general knowledge of the world providing them with a rich mental map of how things fit together.

I think it's such a brilliant show that I've taken to putting it on for my own kids each Thursday afternoon (watching it on our computer via their website).  The show is aimed at upper primary but my kids in junior/middle primary are easily able to understand most of the content and it won't be too daggy for junior highschool.  Even if the news deals with war or danger, BTN is usually very careful with the footage they use and the way they describe the situation.  Nevertheless, I'd recommend watching it with your kids, both because you can monitor the content, but also so that you can have some rich discussions afterwards.

Episodes of BTN are easily accessed via the BTN website and new episodes appear each Tuesday during school terms.  You can also watch it live on ABC 1 on Tuesdays at 10 am and repeated on Thursdays at 10:35 am.  Make your kids watch it!  Their teachers will thank you and your kids' world will grow.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Sending small gifts in your letters

It can be hard to keep up the motivation to write to your sponsored child year after year. Sometimes you might feel you are saying the same thing over and over again. But don’t underestimate the value of putting pen to paper. If you need a bit of a motivational shot in the arm, click over to Compassion Australia’s website to hear what a former sponsored child says about the difference that letter writing can make in the life of a child struggling in poverty.

I’ve posted a list of possible writing topics before but you might also like to think creatively about what else you can include with your letters. A little page of stickers or a personalized bookmark can be a token that tells your child you are thinking of them and that they matter to you.

Compassion’s guidelines for things to include in letters are as follows:

YES: flat, up to an A4 size, up to 6mm thickness, made of paper or cardboard.

NO: balloons, magnets, ribbons, fabric, teddy bears, dolls, sports goods, metal objects.

It is okay to laminate a bookmark, or to send a sheet of stickers that is inside a clear plastic cover, but on the whole you need to avoid plastic. Avoid anything stuck together with velcro or magnets. Compassion send letters in bulk as “documents” for customs purposes. Anything that doesn’t fit the criteria of “document” can create huge headaches for Compassion and could result in a whole batch of mail being significantly delayed. Compassion will remove items from your letters that can’t be sent on to your sponsored child and if possible donate them to another charity locally.

Remember that anything that is sent on with your letter needs to be separately labelled with your child’s name, child number, your name and your sponsor number. That way if it gets separated from your letter somewhere in the process, it will still be deliverable.

So given that your gifts need to be flat and made of paper, what are the options?

· Photos – again and again photos are mentioned by sponsored children as their favourite thing to receive with their letters. They can be photos of your family or photos that relate to topics in your letters. I have previously sent our sponsored kids who live in tropical countries photos of one of our trees taken every four months to show them the change in seasons that we experience. I’ve also taken photos of frost on our grass to show how cold our winter was. Local fauna and flora also provide interesting photos and topics for letter writing. Be aware of cultural differences and sensitive to your child’s situation: don’t include photos of people wearing clothing that might be considered immodest in other countries and photos of your house and cars or photos which have expensive goods featuring in the background are best avoided.

· Bookmarks – either store-bought or homemade. There are plenty of printable templates on the internet for blank bookmarks that you or your children could decorate. Every so often, I make a personalize bookmark for each of our kids and laminate it. I put a picture of them (copied from their photo on my Compassion account page) and a Bible verse in their language on one side and then a head shot of each member of our family with our names written under each photo. I figure it’s hard for young kids to keep track of who is who in our family especially with names that might be unfamiliar in their language. So the bookmark serves as a reminder of who everyone is. Using, you can easily look up and copy Bible verses in other languages.

· Drawings, paintings and pictures. Sometimes our kids have made a special drawing for one of our sponsored children. You might like to trace everyone in the family’s hands and send an extra piece of paper for your sponsored child to trace their hand and send back to you.

· Commerically produced pictures or calendars. This week I saw our kids’ school bookclub was offering folded world maps for only $1 each! Any educational poster makes a great inclusion along with your letters. Look out for multiplication tables or maps or diagrams. Sometimes newspapers will produce a series of posters of endangered or Australian animals and they can be worth keeping an eye out for. Be careful that any pictures are appropriate culturally to send, especially any pictures of people, and don’t forget to check both sides of the poster in case there’s inappropriate advertising on the other side.

· Stickers!!! The local $2 shop is my favourite hunting ground for these. I especially love scratch ‘n’ sniff stickers if I can find them because I’m sure they are a rare treat. I often buy a small pad and then send a page each to each of our children. Just a few at a time is probably better than an avalanche of stickers. Avoid puffy, foam-filled or gel-filled stickers as these won’t be sent through.

· Lapbooks. For the more seriously creative amongst us, a lapbook can be an exciting, albeit time-consuming, project to develop. Just remember the final product can’t exceed 6mm and must be A4 size or smaller. Don’t know what a lapbook is? Here’s a link. We’ve sent a butterfly themed lapbook to a young Tanzanian girl and a cricket themed lapbook to our older Indian lad. The older lapbook was a comparision of Australia and India including maps of our countries, flags, flora and fauna and other fun facts. The butterfly themed lapbook focused on counting and numbers.

· Printed colouring-in sheets, puzzles, mazes, Suduko etc. Lots and lots of colouring sheets can be found free on the internet or you might like to photocopy some you have at home. Mazes and dot-to-dots are go for developing your child’s hand-eye co-ordination, counting and handwriting skills. Suduko, briefly explained in your letter, can be a fun challenge for older sponsored children.

· Paper crafts. A host of printable paper-crafts exist just waiting for you to Google. Try the Toymaker for some good ideas. Just remember your sponsored child may or may not have easy access to scissors, glue and sticky-tape. To overcome this, I often pre-cut the crafts and attach double-sided sticky tape to the flaps so that all my child has to do at the other end is assemble the final product. Choose paper crafts with simple instructions that are easily translated. In addition, most craft sections in department stores will have simple card shapes – like people or animals – which can be sent for your child to decorate and enjoy.

· Small thin activity books can go through to your child. I’ve sent these sticker scene books before. Do not send books with proper binding but if it’s just stapled it’s usually okay. Of course, with activity books you have the issue of language so unless you can get hold of a book in the same language that your child uses, it’s probably not worth sending. I would urge caution with sending activity books - you don’t always know the level your child is capable of working at and it may be a better use of resources to save up and send a financial gift than spend money sending gifts that may not be so helpful.

· Paper dolls.  Oh yeah!  And lots of them to be found and printed off the web if you don't want to buy them.  Again, consider pre-cutting them and putting the pieces together in a ziplock bag or envelope so that your child doesn't have to find scissors to do the cutting-out.

It’s fun to send small personalized items to your sponsored children. But remember it’s all about relationship rather than sending “stuff”. Don’t spend a lot of money – save up for a family or child gift that can be used to meet their specific needs. Instead, be creative! One year we made a large poster to say “Happy Birthday” to one of our sponsored kids. I drew the letters and the kids coloured them in. Then we took a photo of the kids holding the poster. Finally we folded the poster and put the poster and the photo of us holding it inside his birthday card. It’s fun to imagine him holding in his hand something that came so personally from our kids to him.

I'd love to hear any other flat paper ideas or links you might have!

And if you are interested in sponsoring a child in extreme poverty who needs encouragement and a helping hand up, check out Compassion Australia if you are in Australia, Compassion International for US readers or Compassion UK for readers in the United Kingdom. For information about what child sponsorship involves click here or about Compassion's financial integrity click here.

Friday, March 8, 2013

That moment when {Writing prompt}

That moment when I thought I was going to lose her is etched deeply on my memory. She was a few weeks old, but not old enough yet to have lived past her due date. Born more than 6 weeks early, after a complicated pregnancy involving major surgery for me at 24 weeks, she had done pretty well and been able to go home after 4 weeks of special care.

But she came home on a portable breathing monitor. Just a bit bigger and thicker than a business-sized envelope, it was linked to her by a thin blue hollow tube whose end was a pad of plastic that was stuck down on her tummy. It registered every breath and set off a piercing shriek if too long had passed between breaths. Most of the time, if it went off, it was a false alarm. The pad had come loose or she’d moved into an awkward position and her breathing was no longer registering.

We did have a couple of true alarms in the first couple of weeks she was home. Because her system was so immature, reflux could set off the normal protective reaction not to breathe so that no foreign substance was accidentally inhaled. But then her system would sometimes forget to restart. Usually, you just needed to pick her up and rub her back and she’d be right again.

This is time it was different. And wouldn’t you know it, it wasn’t even a time I had the alarm on.

I was changing her for a bath. The alarm would come off then and after the bath we’d re-stick the padded disc to the other side of her tummy so that she didn’t get a pressure sore from it. As I changed her and moved her around to get her undressed, she must have had some reflux. She looked up at me with wide-eyed panic all of a sudden. I froze for a moment. Is she breathing? No she wasn’t.

I lifted her up to me and rubbed her back. I brought her back down and looked at her face. I waited a moment. Would she breathe? No. She was turning blue. And for just a very long second, before I raced into action, I remember everything hanging still in time. And this thought: “Are you going to stay or go?” And it felt like she and I hung there in that moment with that question and all the world was still.

Then I moved.

Before we’d left the hospital, a senior nurse had walked us through some CPR. And he’d made us say, very specifically, what we would do if this happened. Where was the phone? Where was a safe surface she could rest on while I used the phone? What steps did I need to take until the ambulance arrived?

So in a bizarre calmness now that I look back on it, I went on auto-pilot towards the phone. As I went, I followed instructions in my head. I turned her upside down and pointed her downward. I turned her back up, put her on the kitchen bench and gave her a couple of breaths. I don’t think I even did it right. But the motion and the turning over so that some liquid ran from her mouth had done their job. And she cried.

Beautiful sound.

No longer needing an ambulance, I rang the nurse in special care who had taught us our plan. He pointed out that I’d missed a step. “Must remember. Must remember,” I thought. And then told us to take her to hospital for checking.

The rest of the day was spent in emergency and then overnight in a children’s ward. I slept next to her cot on a horrible foldout bed. Every few hours I was woken either for observations or for a feed. The sun finally rose and we went home.

There weren’t many true alarms after that one. Maybe one or two more at the most. But there was a spot on the carpet in that room where every time I stood I went back to that moment. Would she stay or would she go?

When we sold the house a couple of years ago, I went into that room just before we left. It was empty and we were minutes from leaving. She’s a big healthy child now. But I stood on the spot again for one last time and let myself cry for a moment. I’m so glad she didn’t go.

This post was a writing prompt from Meredith's blog The Key to the Door.  Feel free to click over to see what others have written for this prompt or to find out the details so you can join in too.

Thank God it's Friday

I know that “Thank God it’s Friday’ is usually said in absence of any kind of thankfulness towards the Almighty, but I’d like to do my bit to remedy that.

Today, I’m thankful for some unexpected events that have relieved some work stress I was feeling.  On Wednesday night, I was really fully of anxiety about my students because some of them are really struggling and I felt that maybe I hadn't prepared them well enough for their first assessment in a week and a half.  One of the problems was that next week I'd lost all my classes due to Sports' Day and other interruptions.  Then I woke the next morning to find Sports' Day postponed due to an extreme weather forecast.  This gives me back a double-period in which to prepare the kids for their assessment the following week!  Hooray!  And I also got an unexpected contact from a parent asking for any work their child needs to catch up on and this meant I could communicate with them about the work that student was behind in and what he needed to do next.  Those two things have made a really significant difference to my anxiety levels and I'm so thankful that God's still in control.

You got anything you’re thankful for today? Join in! Let’s count our blessings for a bit.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Sad farewell

Our dear old cat took a bad turn this afternoon.  I took her to the emergency vet but in the end she was put to sleep.  Sobbing from the kids' bedrooms tonight.

A good friend.  Sorely missed.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Thank God it's Friday

Today's thank yous have a soundtrack.  Click below to enjoy Bryan Duncan's I See You.  It's sums it up for me.  You'll be humming it for the rest of the day.

I know that “Thank God it’s Friday’ is usually said in absence of any kind of thankfulness towards the Almighty, but I’d like to do my bit to remedy that.

Today, I’m thankful for my friend's prem. baby's continued good progress.  I'm thankful for the study opportunity my husband's work is providing for him.  I'm thankful my Year 12 curriculum is starting to make sense (to me at least - not sure about the kids yet).  And I'm thankful for good health, sunshine, good food and a safe home.  And I'm thankful for Jesus - oh yeah!

You got anything you’re thankful for today? Join in! Let’s count our blessings for a bit.

Oh, and do you want to hear the radio version of that song?  Click here and it will play automatically.