Thursday, 8 December 2016

My Sons

Each one unique,
They are like new books;
Waiting to be read.
They are stories;
Waiting to be written.
Oh how I love reading them!

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Birthday parties and other failures

So yesterday I held the ninth birthday party of my third child, which for the record means it was the 39th time I was staging some kind of birthday celebration, and by now, you’d think I must be somewhat of a pro at this. (Snorts)

But it’s been a very rough month in a very rough year in a fairly rough life and I was feeling, to use a theological term, ‘fucking awful’. (Credit to Annie Lamott for that little gem)

So I sent an invitation on Monday via whatsapp for Friday.  And what ensued was one of those tiny miracles whereby everything went off quite passably with the help of my two gorgeous older boys. Broken bicycle notwithstanding.

My older two had half term so they walked to my youngest’s school and then walked a motley crew of 12 third and fourth graders home.  This involved taking on pretty much all their school bags half-way home, which are heavier than you could possibly believe (are these kids carrying dictionaries to school?), and consequently they arrived looking fairly heated and laden like pack donkeys.  I arrived home from work just 4 minutes before they did, in time to delegate the assembly of the cake to my daughter, to take a wee, and to gather some juice and cups (yes those two things shouldn't be in the same sentence, sorry). My saintly boys had already carried chips and sweets (something more substantial since they’re just back from school? I hear you ask. No. sorry, just no.) down to the pool and bless their cotton socks, the gardeners had mowed!

I then plonked myself down to make sure no-one drowned.  All seemed in order but then there was the small matter of helping my child come to terms with the fact that out of the 14 kids, only one had brought a gift and 2 had brought money (WTF?).  Slightly put out, he then had to cope with getting hit on the head with a very chunky tennis bat (accidental) and a bunch of kids wandering off from the pool, finding his bike and managing to break the pedal and the seat within the space of 10 minutes.

Again my oldest saved the day by producing (unasked for) a pass-the-parcel gift!  He also quickly downloaded an upbeat song onto Mother’s sadly-lacking phone.  Bombs away! here we go!  The kids were fairly tolerant when I halted the game half way for a phone call.  On we played; what I wondered curiously had my child wrapped up? Since I obviously wasn’t prepared enough to buy party prizes.  2nd in charge, came to give me a heads up – there’s an Oreo box inside, mom, but that’s not the prize, the prize is inside.  Super. Soon the last wrapper came off producing… an Oreo box with 10 bucks sellotaped on. Cool.  But I’ve been told there’s something in the box… Take the R10! I yell, there’s another round for something inside – the children’s eyes light up… Bam, the music stops, what’s inside?  Half an already opened pack of Oreos.  Oops… I guess the 10 bucks and the box was the jackpot.  Never mind! I yell, to the surprised little girl, you can share them with everybody!  My youngest pipes up quietly, somewhat put out – those were my Oreos, I was saving them!  Never mind! mommy will buy you more.

A short, sequestered conversation about pulling your attitude right ensues, (no gifts, tennis bat, bicycle and now Oreos, but pull it together, you're nine now!) then it’s more swimming, no we won’t have a present opening session my sweet, cause it’s 2 notes of money and a pair of flip-flops.  Cake! Let’s have cake!  Candles are lit with the usual pre-requisite impossible lighting of candles, and then no sooner had 14 slices of hand-baked-the-night-before-by-the-sweat-of-my-brow, cake been handed out, than said-cake was flying through the air in a spontaneous food fight.  God help me to smile and not beat the shit out of these little kids.

Finally the parents arrive and even the kids who have yet again arrived with absolutely no plans to get home, have been foisted onto another parent to deliver.  Now that it’s all died down, my son seems to have recovered his composure and is playing happily with the last 2 playmates. Cheers and thanks for coming, party-packs? Don't make me laugh!

Another birthday party under my belt. Managed with a half pack of oreos, R10 bucks and little help from my family.  That's when you know you've really arrived!

Saturday, 8 October 2016

What can you, as a male pastor, do to encourage women in ministry?

A while back I asked a 30-something male pastor if he had a conscious strategy to empower women in ministry.  His answer was, “I just follow the lead of the Holy Spirit.”

Mmm. Well that’s one of those unanswerable comebacks, but let me have a go anyway.

If you think that you as a white, 30-something, male with a relatively privileged background are an uninterrupted channel for the Holy Spirit, then let's apply to the Vatican for sainthood straight away!  Am I really to believe the fact that every preaching opportunity in the last year was given to young, white men, was a move of the Holy Spirit? 

But, YOU reading this are thankfully not that guy, so thank you for caring enough to find out what at least half your congregation needs!

Firstly, open yourself up to the reality that you (like all of us) are prejudiced to favour what feels familiar, comfortable and relatable to you.  Then pray that God will open you up to notice those who don’t fit into the above mould.  Actively take note of these people and ask God how you can encourage them and empower them in your church.  If you feel ill-equipped to do this then ask someone else in your congregation (maybe a woman) to make a list and bring it to you.  Or brainstorm with a team of people; a team that is diverse in age, marital status, gender and colour.

Here are some practical ways to empower women:

1.    Ask them.  Ask them what their gifts are and how you can provide opportunities for them to use their gifts.  On that note: don’t reserve preaching opportunities for times when you are called elsewhere.  How will you evaluate and support this gift if you are not present to hear it and give feedback?

2.    People who feel disempowered need to see examples of people like them, up front and visible.  So ask women to make announcements (not tea). Ask women to serve communion (not tea). Ask women to come forward to pray or share or preach or baptize.

3.    Examine the make-up of those serving, leading and ministering in your church critically. If there seems to be an imbalance, then set out deliberately, led by the Spirit, to correct this.  Ask more women onto your leadership teams if necessary.  Churches need balanced teams rather than charismatic leaders alone.  When you visit people for prayer at home or in hospital do you have both men and women present?

4.    Single women deserve a point for themselves.  These women are as available to minister as single men. At any age.

5.    Some women need to be challenged to step up to leadership just like some men!  If you can’t do this; find someone, male or female, who can be a ‘talent-scout’.

6.    People need to see no one is above the so-viewed ‘lesser tasks’; so have men serve tea and teach children’s church.

7.    Don’t open with or use predominantly male references or illustrations when you’re up front - like rugby (yes, I do know there are female rugby teams).  Don’t make jokes at the expense of women.  When these jokes come from a male leader they become weapons not jokes.

8.    Be mindful that gender-neutral terms in the Bible have often been translated with male-gender pronouns.  Try to correct this or get a new translation.

9.    Don’t be threatened.  If you feel threatened by strong women then you have issues that need to be worked out with a trustworthy colleague behind closed doors.  Go and do the work.

10.  I truly hope this doesn’t need to be said, but I suspect it does… Don’t talk down to women.  Realize that some of the women in your congregation are lawyers and doctors and actuaries and have teams of staff reporting to them.  They are smart and capable.  I am not one of the above, but I am smart and capable and find it patronising when a male pastor assumes he knows more than me about how to lead, how to guide or manage others or world issues.

11. Be sensitive to the global issues women face: violence perpetrated by physically powerful males, rape, abuse, trafficking.  Chances are a good proportion of the women in your church have experienced some level of these.  And every women is haunted by the threat of rape even if she hasn’t experienced it.  So be careful of imagery of force and power, even biblical stories which are heavily-laden with cultural stuff that is not specifically rebuked (eg.polygamy).  When reading a story like that of David, don’t assume we all relate to David.  Some of us are sitting thinking about how Bathsheba felt and whether God cared about her too.

I hope that’s a good start, no doubt the women in your congregation can give more insights, so ask them!

Monday, 20 June 2016

Speak Life

This past Sunday I had the delightful opportunity to speak at Hillside Vineyard.

Our words can bring life to others or death.  If you'd like to hear more follow this link.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Follow me

Hello and welcome,

My latest offering is a cooking blog 'Osso Bucco and Risotto' - which is really a post about drinking wine while looking busy.  I don't really like cooking because I do it far too much.  My blog is being hosted by my friend Bev, who is a prolific blogger, and you can see more here:  Check out her other stuff while you're there.

I blog sporadically, so if you don't want to miss it, follow me - I assume Google has a way of notifying you... Otherwise on twitter @Natalie_1971 and yes, that does give away my age!

Happy reading.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

We all need a little kindness...

One particular incident from my childhood always sticks out in my mind.  I had accidently broken a cup and, despite knowing that I was in a loving home, my immediate reaction was one of fear – what would happen?  My mother responded gently, “It’s okay, sweetie, accidents happen.”  As a youngish child, that was such a pivotal experience of grace.  There was no punishment, no reprimand, just gentle grace.

It’s something I have always kept in mind as I raise my own children.  Of course, I know I haven’t succeeded all the time.  Especially on accidental matters.  It always seems too easy to react with a raised voice and to add on a rebuke, “if you weren’t running this wouldn’t have happened; or if you’d just been more careful it wouldn’t have happened!”

How much harder it is to show grace when the transgressions are not just accidental, but deliberate thought-out choices: hitting their brother, saying something rude, and so on.

Yet God models such amazing grace to us.  There are very few instances where Jesus rebukes people for sin, instead His encouraging presence seems to lead them to their own sense of conviction and repentance (Zaccheus).  Jesus seems less concerned with the past and more with the future.  To the woman caught in adultery there is no lecture or urging her to think about how she got into the situation, just an injunction to go and sin no more.

What is grace? When does someone deserve grace?  When they are repentant?  When they have shown remorse?  The definition of grace is ‘unmerited favour’.  God says that while we were still sinners, his grace was released on us.  Of course grace doesn’t mean that there are no consequences to be faced or things to be mended, but that these are to be administered in a spirit of grace.

There isn’t a good word in English for showing grace to others.  We have gracious, but that inspires images of the ‘gracious’ queen bending regally down to her subjects.  We have graceful, but again this inspires images of ballerinas and their fluid movements.

Kindness is probably the best word, but it seems too weak to hold this powerful concept of acting with love and good intent towards those who do not deserve it.  Perhaps the compound loving-kindness can capture the idea of being full of grace toward others.

It’s not just kids who need grace.  Parents need it too.

Many of us place tremendous expectations on ourselves to be ‘good parents’.  Yet the Bible pretty much assumes that we will love our children (note the many parental metaphors).  We are urged simply to pass on what we know to be true, to our kids.  And really that’s pretty much all we can do.  Take care of their bodies and minds and hearts with that which we have and know.  And it is 100% guaranteed that we will make mistakes, because we are all flawed and limited human beings.  If we have added Jesus into our life equation, we have access to tremendous resources in Him.  But, but… we are still limited by the choices our children make for themselves.  God has given them a free will and as much as we can guide and direct them, they ultimately are responsible for their own actions, whether we have messed up or not.

I have sat with several friends whose kids have messed up and they are so ready to take the blame on themselves.  I too have experienced on several occasions the deep pain when my children have chosen a path I didn’t feel was good, and felt the guilt come swarming in.  What did I do wrong, I cry to God.

On a recent occasion I received this beautiful message from a friend.  I can see that she is someone who understands the concept of grace.

‘Dearest friend, I just want to say my heart goes out to you and your family.  Everybody makes mistakes somewhere in life and God’s most amazing characteristic is His immediate and total forgiveness and love. To every single body. Always.  And please know that I still love your son.  We all do.  He is a stunning young man, as you are a stunning Mum.  And just know that it will all work out for the best in the end.’

Her kind words were a balm to my wounds.  Let’s remember this as we deal with one another on this planet which is so often a harsh environment.  There is a place for learning to do better and a time for rebuke but at all times and especially when we have been deeply hurt, we need grace.

The story of Zaccheus - Luke 19
The woman caught in adultery – John 8
God’s grace to us - Ephesians 2

Friday, 19 February 2016

People are not commodities (Part 5 in the Budgeting Series)

I know I joke about how I can’t live without my domestic worker, but of course I know I can. 
It would be hard… With a family of 6 we do about 6 large (top loader) loads of washing a week.  My 3 teens leave home at 6:30 every morning and are often not home before 5, my husband is gone 12 hours a day, so most of the work would fall to me, and I already work half day.  But I have done it before and I could do it.

But for me employing someone in this country, where unemployment stands at 25%, is truly an act of social compassion.  Having a job is a great source of dignity which is denied to 25% of our work eligible population.  Is it any wonder we sit with so many of the problems we do?

As my budget continues to be challenged (several cost-of-living increases have led to further adjustments this month) it is very tempting to either retrench or reduce the hours of both my domestic worker and gardener.  But on reflection, let me tell you, I cannot do it.

I cannot do it knowing that these people support extended families.  I cannot do it knowing that these people will most likely not find other employment.  I cannot do this knowing that just as I am facing hikes particularly in food costs, so too my employees are facing the very same hikes.  I cannot do this to someone that I have employed for 12 years.

I always find it so sad that when the minimum wage is increased; many businesses respond by retrenching people.  I do understand that this is sometimes truly unavoidable, but I also think people are too often regarded as commodities that can simply be dropped when we can no longer ‘afford’ them.  Have all those businesses truly considered other cuts?  Management lifestyle, advertising budgets, office space, etc?

So I must ask myself where else can I cut, and my heart says I would rather take my children out of their private school than cause two families to face hardship.  Practically I’m not going to do that right now, instead I will probably run deeper into debt at this time hoping that the economy will improve, or that my income will improve as I actively look for other opportunities.

To drive this point home can I mention my dogs?  We have 3 dogs (they were all rescued dogs) that cost me about R700/month in dog food.  If I protect them against ticks that’s another expense.  Luckily our vet visits are few and far between.

Should I at this point say, sorry pups, I can’t afford you, off you go to the pound?  Yes, once again, I know this is sometimes unavoidable.  I won’t do that, however.  And these are animals, not people.

I implore you, as times get tough, if you employ people, or have any influence with those who do employ people; please make it your absolute last resort to retrench someone!