Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A new blog

I have not written anything for months.  I can't give a good reason at all.  The stuff of life has consumed my thoughts and writing has not been a high priority.  However, I am keen to return to writing, but have decided to create a new blog and write on it.  Don't ask me why, but I thought I would enjoy the challenge of trying to make my blog look better.  I am struggling to do this on my blog, but I have begun to write.  If you have enjoyed reading this blog, you will find my new blog at: http://sarahcondie.com.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A calm and quieted soul

Last week I listened to my husband speaking to a group of women.  He used an apt illustration that has stayed with me.  He talked about life being a bit like living in a banana tree filled with monkeys trying to eat the bananas. We face countless distractions and demands from those different monkeys and at times it can be chaotic and unsettling.  Whether it is babies, small children, work, busyness, a long “to do list” that never gets completed, exams, study, noise…. I am in that banana tree and it is pretty turbulent and exhausting.
Is it possible with all the clamour, noise and chaos to have a calm and quieted soul? 

Psalm 131, a Psalm written by David describes how to zone out to the monkeys in our tree and sit quietly on a branch and draw breath.
1 LORD, my heart is not proud;
    my eyes are not haughty.
    I do not get involved with things
    too great or too difficult for me.
    2 Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself
   like a little weaned child with its mother;
   I am like a little child.
    3 Israel, put your hope in the LORD,
   both now and forever.

In this Psalm, David is not noisy inside.  We have a picture of a quiet, calm man.  This is not the experience of David during his whole life – we all know he had failings – adultery and murder come to mind, but this is a picture of the inner soul of David at a particular time in his life.  

This Psalm also points us to Jesus.  This stillness was true of Jesus’ life – this Psalm gives us a picture of God who became man thinking out loud for us.  He speaks of the stillness of the soul of those who walk closely with God.

David had much to be proud of – he was King, handsome, intelligent, and musical and was clearly adored by his family and those who knew him.  Despite these very qualities, he put them aside to have a heart not proud.  Nor did David look down on those around him.  Sometimes we have such a longing to feel recognized and appreciated that this can often be the only way of achieving this – by looking down on others.  David has learnt not to have a proud heart or haughty eyes. 

Does it matter what our house looks like?  Whether one of our children has a very public tantrum or we perform perfectly in our studies and workplace?  Sometimes these very things are the monkey’s vying for our attention and we become so preoccupied in making ourselves look good that we stress ourselves out completely and feel rattled and unsettled – our self expectations, usually high are the undoing of us.

David has also freed himself from trying to make sense of his world.  There is much that happens in my life, and in the lives of those around me that makes little or no sense.  Sometimes I try and make things better for myself or others, and again, I get overwhelmed, as it is never enough.  There is a challenge to be like David, and simply say “I do not get involved with things too great or too difficult for me”, because it does not help me.  David knows he is not God.  I Sarah Condie, am not God – nor are you.  It is only God who sees life in all its fullness. 

David has a soul that is at peace.  He is quiet inside.  It didn’t come spontaneously.  He learned how to do it.  There is a beautiful picture painted for us of a weaned child sitting on its mother’s lap – this is a picture of a soul at rest.  A weaned child is no longer breastfed.  If a hungry breastfed baby is put in its mother’s lap, it is wriggly and irritable until it is fed.  This same child, once weaned will sit on its mother’s lap, quietly and at peace.

David challenges his readers to put their hope and trust in the Lord.  This is what will free them from their inner restlessness.   Sit quietly in your banana tree, even for five minutes and focus on the Lord and you will find rest for your souls. 

Prayer:  Lord, please give me a calm and quiet soul.  I am positively giddy with trying to stay on my banana tree – there is much to distract, dismay, disappoint and hurt me.  I ask that I can be like that weaned child and sit still.  Please remove the distracting restlessness from me.  Help me to feed on your word and be encouraged to remember to put my hope in you – both today and tomorrow.  Amen.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A little light reading and a little more...

I love reading and usually have a pile of books waiting to be read sitting beside my bed.  I have a somewhat eclectic taste.  I do enjoy a soothing book – a book that is easy to read when nothing terribly bad happens.  Why?  Sometimes I feel the weight of sadness in other people’s lives.  This last week has been particularly hard – and I am only a bystander. 
I have spent time with a woman who lost her eleven year old daughter last December, a woman who has just lost her much longed for baby who died in the womb at 19 weeks, a couple who were struggling to emotionally connect in their marriage and I listened to hurts expressed, a woman whose husband had just lost his job and this is not all.  Sometimes life is hard and sad and sometimes I feel a little overwhelmed and swamped.
Reading light books sometimes helps me and gives me some space to collect my thoughts.  I have just finished reading a series of three such books.  I suspect I am not the only woman who craves to read a book that is pleasant company.  I have a number of women who ask me for suggestions of books to read and they often say “I just want a nice book to read”. I am often lending my books to friends and lose track of them for months at a time and hope they will return.

The Elm Creek Quilt series by Jennifer Chiaverini is not demanding and utterly enjoyable.  Each volume contains three stories.  Recently, I was given the second series as a gift from my work colleagues – they loved the look of the cover and know that I am a mad quilter.  These stories are based around a group of women who live in rural America who are friends and share a passion for creating quilts. 
Mostly, the stories revolve around one particular woman and events that are happening in her life – the stuff of life is present – relationship issues, infertility, wild children and other issues, however, they are stories in which the women survive these events because of their friendship and they are prepared to face up to weaknesses in their own self that they can change.  There is much detail about quilts, so if you have zero interest in quilting, you would probably hate this series.
I found one of the stories The Runaway Quilt particularly interesting, as it explores the family history of one the characters – Sylvia, in which she discovers that her ancestors were involved with smuggling slaves from the South up to the Canadian border to safety.  A particular quilt would be hung on the washing line, indicating that the house was a safe house for slaves to take refuge.  These events took place just before the American Civil War – it is a time in history that I find quite fascinating.
This week I took refuge in these stories.   To be honest, this is not my only solution to escaping life when it becomes overwhelming.  I have recently returned to the gym and regular walking exercise and this helped enormously. 
I do also seek refuge in God’s word – particularly the Psalms.  This last week I have been reading Psalm 77.  The voice of the Psalmist expresses his distress – he feels rejected and abandoned.

“Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favour again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion”? vv 7-9

These are deep questions that we all have from time to time.  Last week, I felt this, not so much for myself but for my friends.  There was nothing I could do to fix any of the situations other than sit and listen.  However, the Psalmist turns and remembers what he knows to be true about God and reminds himself of how God rescued His people – with His mighty arm, he redeemed the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.  He remembers how the Red Sea parted so His people could walk safely through the waters.

“Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen. 
You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.”  v19-20

God’s footprints are there – we just can’t see them.  I find that immensely reassuring.  This blog post is not just about a little light reading at all.  It is about things that help me walk with friends during times of crises.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Barneys Seven Churches Walk

This coming Saturday our church is holding a walk to help raise funds so we can build a new Barneys.  I am passionate about our church - it has been our church family for twenty years and we have seen many people come to know and love Jesus during this time.  We have watched young people come and be challenged about what they do with the rest of their life and leave equipped to serve God in other churches either in a full-time paid capacity or as fully functioning members of their new family.  My whole family will be walking, as will numerous others - both young and old.  I am looking forward to it immensely.

I know that we could continue meeting without a church building, but there is so much that we could do with a place of their own.

If you would like to sponsor someone you know at Barneys, can I encourage you to do this - every cent counts.  You can sponsor someone online and even leave a message of support.

Peter Fitzsimons mentioned our fundraising last Sunday in his article  "Bitter whine a case of sour grapes, 12 September 2010, SMH - there was this excerpt:
  On a mission

'MEMBER when that famous old church on Broadway – St Barnabas, burnt down four years ago? The one that used to always have the amusing exchanges on its noticeboard with the pub over the road?
"Jesus bowled over death" was met with "And Lillee bowled overarm."
"This church is only for sinners" received the reply, "This pub is only for drinkers."
"Money does not make you happy," was met with "I'd rather be rich and happy than poor and happy." And so on.
Well, they're finally starting to rebuild it. The church has been a part of the fabric of Sydney for more than 150 years. It was built by a rogue English evangelist in what he described as "the worst place in the colony" and it was later the church of Arthur Stace, otherwise known as "Mr Eternity". Anyhoo, on Saturday, as part of its fund-raising, the church is holding its inaugural Seven Churches Walk to raise money for the rebuilding. See www.barneys.org.au

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Add to the Beauty

In early 2006 Keith bought me a Cd by my favourite Christian singer Sara Groves called "Add to the Beauty".  At the time I was not well and was unable to work or function and I spent a huge amount of time listening to it and the words touched me profoundly.  Sara Groves wrote this album in response to the injustices that she saw happening in the world and to raise awareness and promote the work of the International Justice Mission which is a human rights agency that secures justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression. IJM lawyers, investigators and aftercare professionals work with local officials to ensure immediate victim rescue and aftercare, to prosecute perpetrators and to promote functioning public justice systems.  They are a Christian organisation and their work has been in my heart and prayers since first hearing about them.

In the life before my illness, I did some part time work for my church working with young women in the evening congregation.  I used to meet up regularly with Amber, a young lawyer who was working for a large law firm and wondering what she should do with her life.  We had many conversations about God, life and praying that God would equip her to do    His work in the world.  About a year later, Amber then left her job and went with her husband to India where she worked with the International Justice Mission.  During her time there, she was involved in helping a number of villagers who had become slaves to a brick kiln owner and forced to work long, hard hours, locked up, beaten and the women were gang raped repeatedly - all to pay back a debt that grew ever larger.  The IJM managed to free these women and bring the owner of the kiln to justice - the government repatriated those who had been enslaved.  There was a law making slavery a crime, but no one had ever enforced it and men like this particular owner had always gotten away with breaking the law.

The work of IJM inspires me - but I also feel overwhelmed by the immensity of the injustices that people face world wide - I want to close my eyes and ears and pretend that it is not happening.  But it is.  I am not a lawyer, I am not a doctor and I feel ill equipped to do much that can help.  However, I have always prayed and I have prayed.  The words of one of Sara Groves had a huge impact on me and formed part of a prayer that I have prayed for over four years:
We come to every new morning with possibilities only we can hold....  I want to add to the beauty to tell a better story... shine with the light that is burning up inside.  It comes in small inspirations, it brings redemption to our life and our words.  It comes in loving community, it comes in helping a soul find its worth.  This is grace - an invitation to be beautiful.
Over these years, as I have struggled with my health, it has not been possible for me to do much at times other than survive.  Last year was particularly bad, but I still wanted to do something a little more.  I started supporting IJM financially.  I met up with Amber, who had returned from India to ask her what I could do to support the work of the IJM.  I told her that I could sew - I wondered whether I could make things to sell and give the money to IJM and raise awareness of their work.  Fabric and cottons and wadding are not cheap, so I prayed that God would provide me with these things.

Sadly, one of my dear friend's Mother died about a year ago, leaving behind a room filled with unused fabric, cottons and other stuff.  Out of the blue, my friend called and asked me if I could use her mothers things? Could I?  Wow - what an amazing answer to my prayer.  I filled my car with her things and then had to find a place in my cupboards at home.  I love making things, but every time I make something, I give it away - so I was not keeping up with my desire to give gifts and my dream of making things to sell.  Also, I am a perfectionist and want to make things that are beautiful and this takes time.

Last Saturday our church held a women's conference titled "Let your light so shine..."  There were a number of stalls for women to look at to raise their awareness of different ministries that women are involved in.  I was asked to run the stall for the International Justice Mission.  I had hoped to make some quilts for babies, some bags and brooches.... alas, these hopes were dashed as my life has been filled with other stuff - including making quilts to give away.  O Sarah - I despair.

About ten days ago, I suddenly thought about another way of making money.  I love taking photos.  Ever since I have been unwell, I have had a camera that I have used to take pictures of the tiny things in life that are beautiful.  It has given me enormous pleasure and I have made numerous cards which I have used myself to write, or give away in packs as gifts.  I thought that I could make some cards and sell these.  I also love to encourage snail mail.  There is something special about getting a handwritten card in the post - that someone has taken the time to sit and write and then to put it in a letter box with a postage stamp.

I have just had a significant birthday and one of my favourite aunts gave me some money.  I knew that she wanted me to buy something special - just for me.  So I did - I bought a teapot which is simply beautiful.  However, I had much change left over which enabled me to buy the makings for 150 cards.  I then filled every spare moment in a very busy patch making cards.  Last Saturday, I had these cards at the stall promoting the IJM.  I have ten cards remaining and made $350!

One of the other stalls was promoting Kairos - a ministry to those in prison.  The woman hosting this stall runs a retreat for women from Emu Plains every year.  Shirley writes a card for each participant and asked me if she could buy 20 cards.  I wanted to give them to her as I think her ministry is so invaluable. However, she is very happy to support my ministry, so she will pay me for these cards - this was my first bulk order!

Several women have indicated that they would like to help me make more cards to sell.  Several others, on hearing my story, which I shared about sewing things expressed a desire to get involved.  One of my favourite songs is written by Paul Kelly "from little things, big things grow".  My idea is so little that it is doable.  Even little old me could do it and I did.  This morning I have a song in my heart, Psalm 145 sums up what I want to express to God.

Friday, June 25, 2010

A quilt for May

I have just finished this lap quilt for my Mother-in-law May.  After her stroke before Christmas, she has made a remarkable recovery and is home being cared for full time by her husband of over fifty years.  He is an inspiration as their lives are altered beyond comparison.
May spends most of her day sitting in their back room which can be quite cold.  I made this quilt for her to put over her knees.  It is a two-sided quilt - one that is bright and cheerful - the fabrics begged to be made how it has turned out - I had no plan - it just happened, while I made the other side more mellow and muted, so she can decide whether she needs cheering or soothing.
I have made a number of quilts recently for babies, so it was fun to make one for a person of more mature years.  It is soft and snuggly and hopefully will keep her warm.
I gave this quilt to May last weekend and she looked thrilled to receive it.  Communicating is not easy for her, but there were many smiles - Alan, her husband told us that she had rarely smiled during the previous week.  I machine pieced the front and back and hand quilted it using an embroidery cotton.  I love this range of fabrics and two other projects designed using them.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Truth by Peter Temple

Two nights ago I finished reading Peter Temple's latest book Truth.  To be perfectly honest, I breathed a sigh of relief when I reached its final page.  Peter Temple is an earthy writer and I felt like I had spent  my reading time in the gutter in Melbourne - it depicts the darkness of our world that I sometimes try to pretend does not exist - but exist it does and this book confronts the reader with its reality in all its shades of blackness and evilness.
This morning I awoke to the news that this book has won this years Miles Franklin Award.  Am I surprised?  I haven't read any of the other books that were shortlisted but it is rare for a crime writer to be awarded such a prestigious writing award.  One of the criteria for the judging is that the book "must present Australian life in its many phases".    This book certainly does this.  It is just not a pleasant phase to read about.
Most of us will have watched Underbelly on television and read reports in the media about the criminal under life of Melbourne.  We have also watched the recent bushfires and its impact on the surrounds of this city.  Peter Temple combines these two themes into his book - it is summer, hot, smoky, smelly and we are confronted with the death of a young woman, closely followed by a gangland torture killing.  Steve Villani, the head of the Homicide squad is set to investigate both these crimes, but is strongly warned off investigating the death of the woman.  This does not stop him or his team.  As the story unfolds, we find out about Villani's childhood, his family life, his disintegrated marriage, his daughter Lizzy and her drug problems, as well as the corruption in the government, police department and the lives of the rich and wealthy.
Temple is understated in his writing, and uses words sparingly and well.  Despite the lack of flowery descriptive language, I can smell the fire, feel the relentless heat and see the world that he describes - quite remarkable.  The theme of truth unites all the different stories into one complete story - Villani is determined to find out the truth about what really happened to the girl who died who bears an uncanny resemblance to his daughter Lizzy.  He is also confronted with facing the truths about his own life - how his father feels about him, his past and why his marriage is over, also what sort of father has he been to his own children?
There is wonderful description in the book of a forest that Villani and his father planted years ago - it is the only place of beauty and sanctuary to exist in the entire book.  Even it is threatened by the fire - but miraculously survives: "Scorched, the outer trees singed.  They would lose some.  But everywhere, in their circles and clumps and paths, the oaks were in full glorious summer green leaf."  This single sentence could easily be missed, but indicates to me, the reader that truth will prevail - it survives - as does Villani.
This morning I read Psalm 52, and in a way, this book is almost a modern day tale with a similar theme.  In this world, there are those who love evil, who store up much wealth, and who love falsehood rather than speaking the truth, those who trust in their own wealth and grow strong by destroying others.    David ends this Psalm:
But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God's unfailing love for ever and ever.  I will praise you forever for what you have done; in your name I will hope, for your name is good.  I will praise you in the presence of your saints."  v8-9
There is an encouragement in the book, that the evil will one day be laid bare and shown for what they really are.  Truth does survive all. The challenge is to continue to put my trust and energy in the things of God - they will stand and survive.
If you love a good crime thriller, you will want to read this one.  Henning Mankell writes similarly about life in Sweden.  It is almost easier to read books like this that are set in another country.  Sadly, there is no Commissario Brunetti, who is the main character in all of Donna Leon's books, who writes about similar themes, she manages to sooth her readers with the wonderful descriptions of his home life and the food he eats and his little visits to coffee shops.  There is none of that in Truth - it is relentless and harrowing.