Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Heavenly Honeyeater

'Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?'

The words of Jesus from Matthew 6 25-26

I do not feed the birds at Eight acres of Eden, I have no need to, for there is there is food in abundance on our forest property which is a haven for wildlife. I only have to glance up from my computer screen and look out the window to see my feathered friends such as the blue faced honeyeater arrive at the 'fly through' tree restaurant I have christened 'Mc Banskias'! Its numerous golden 'candles' are attracting birds in their droves and every few minutes another bird arrives, sometimes there are six or seven at a time - rainbow lorikeets, honeyeaters and eastern spinebills with 'designer' beaks, perfect for extracting the sweet nectar.

I love these birds! Especially the honeyeaters who hop along the pergola and remove the spiders who spin those messy webs that create so many cobwebs. I take great pleasure in taking a few moments out of my busy day to admire their stunning colours and striking markings - they have no need to ask 'Does this colour suit me?' or 'Do these feathers make me look fat?' and they never declare 'I have nothing to wear!'

And when it is time to eat they are fairly spoiled for choice. Where shall we go for breakfast today 'The Callistemon Cafe?' asks the Blue honeyeater. 'Ki-owt' replies the other honeyeater which roughly translates as ' Nah, let's go to Mc Banksias!'

I am so blessed to live in such a beautiful place, a banquet house for birds and daily I am reminded by God not to worry about my life. As Jesus spoke these words I am sure a bird was nearby or flying past. He reminds us that God our Heavenly Father feeds the birds! This is more than just the provision of nature for God is a person - Jesus does not say 'The birds find food', as if they came across it accidentally, he declares that it is provided from the hand of God - wow! Isn't that just incredible? As I observe the birds arriving on the branches I should be thinking 'God is feeding you guys - he cares for you and ensures that all you have need of is provided and then He tells me I am of more value! I do not have to worry!

Here is another of God's creatures that receives 'heavenly provision' at Eight Acres of Eden. The koala eats only the leaves of the eucalyptus tree of which there are many here including the species favoured by these furry marsupials. We often spot them and have on occasion been able to rescue sick koalas off the road and see them returned to their forest home after vet treatment. Just a little way in which we can exercise stewardship and care for God's magnificent creation. Every time I have the opportunity to observe a koala in one of our trees I am reminded that God provides for them and here in the forest that provision is in abundance. Not just food but the right kind of food in plentiful supply.

Our forest is also a source of life and shelter for insects, reptiles and my favourite amphibian, the green tree frog. I love to see the green tree frogs and if this was a not good place to live he would not be in residence here! God has provided him with a healthy habitat and everything he needs to thrive!

Living so close to nature, seeing every day how God my Father provides for the animal life He designed I cannot help but be reminded that He cares so much more for me, yet there are times when I forget to read and rely on His promises and I do not take him at His Word when he says if you ' ... seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, all these things shall be added onto you'.

As tough times lie ahead, as power bills are set to soar here affecting the cost of everything else - food, fuel and other services, I will admit we have sat down and asked ourselves 'How on earth will we afford to live and afford the basics for day to day life when we have predictions of 60 percent rises within 3 years for electricity?' We already budget, we do not live extravagantly, we do not have cable TV subscriptions, private health care premiums or school fees to pay.

The honeyeater is looking upwards, I think he knows where his food comes from!

Worrying can set in and besiege our minds so as Christians we pray and recently I asked God the same question 'Lord, how will we afford to live in the days that lie ahead?' And his answer was to send a honeyeater - I call him my ' Heavenly honeyeater' who arrives daily to remind me that God my Father in Heaven who feeds this splendid creature with the naturally sweet food he desires and gives him the tools he needs to extract his food with, cares for me so much more, knows that I need all these things and tells me I need not worry about tomorrow - His hand will provide!

With Love and Joy,

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Daughter's Dream

When she was a little girl she loved to decorate her sandcastles at the beach with the shells she had collected at the water's edge, painstakingly laying them out in an intricate pattern as she pressed them into the wet sand, knowing that later in the day, the sea would come in and wash all her hard work away.

Today she still pays attention to the detail as she decorates her cakes knowing that before the day is through, all her hard work will be consumed by members of her appreciative family.
This chocolate cake was made for an ordinary weeknight dessert. It is a favourite recipe and has a rich velvety, moist texture and of course it tastes good! When this cake came out of the oven and was sitting on the bench top cooling, her big brother was taking a study break. Funny how he always seems to be on a study break when cakes have just come out of the oven!

Soon the pleading begins. 'Oh, good, chocolate cake, freshly baked, just the way I like it.' Sister responds 'Keep your paws off my cake, I have to decorate it'. Big brother says 'Oh come on, you don't need to pretty it up, it is going to be eaten and I am hungry now!' Sister replies 'You tell that to Matt Moran!' (well known Aussie chef) Brother retaliates 'But I'm not Matt Moran, this is not a restaurant and I would really like a piece of that cake!'

As you can see from the picture her big brother lost that argument, the piping bag came out and the cake remained intact until shortly after the main course at dinner on that day. Her brother should be grateful that his sister loves to bake and at the moment with Masterchef back for its second season the mixing bowls in this house are in daily use as she whips up her experimental desserts - more pictures to follow at the end of this post.

Baking was always her first love. As soon as she could stand up on a chair at the counter she was stirring cake mixture. Before she could read a recipe she was making biscuits and muffins on her own. I even made her a special recipe book with symbols drawn on the pages so she knew how many eggs or cups of flour were needed.

There were other interests of course - the cakes stopped appearing for a time when this guy came into her life!

Horses, ponies and riding became a girlhood passion. She had a few riding lessons and was incredibly blessed when our neighbour allowed her to care for and ride an old pony. She brought this pony down from her other property and placed him in the paddock adjoining our property. But our daughter's love affair with riding was brief, the pony was getting old and stubborn. He didn't want to be ridden and preferred to go and join the thoroughbreds on the other side of the fence! Nevertheless for a couple of years she spent her afternoons with the pony or on rainy days would be reading all her books on riding and care of horses. Her homeschool projects were about horses - anatomy, breeds and care. 'Saddle Club' books lined the shelves of our home library. The recipe books were still in use but mainly on special occasions such as birthdays.

Then she caught the gardening bug and planted and cared for her own vegetable garden.

She faithfully tended her little garden, weeding and watering daily but her favourite task was harvesting. She kept a garden diary and labeled pictures of heirloom tomatoes but after a season or two her interest waned. It was quite obvious that gardening was not going to be a passion.

Ice skating came into the life of our family six years ago and every Saturday mornings during term time you will find us at the ice rink for several hours. This has become a passion for my daughter, she loves to skate and has worked hard to progress through the different levels from novice up to advanced and beyond - edges, jumps, ballet and spins. She loves to read up on the subject too - skating is a very low profile sport in this country but the Internet has given her access to a wealth of information about the sport and its stars.

As we do not have the opportunity to pursue competitive skating in our region this will be likely to remain a weekend pursuit. She has recently added in a contemporary dance class during the week but when she is at home what does this daughter love to do?

Yes, you guessed it, she has returned to her first love - baking! A day rarely goes by when we do not have dessert on the table and over the past few weeks we just have to ask what the dessert of the day is going to be. Take a few moments to savour these shots. All these desserts were invented by my daughter, they are amalgamations of recipes as she puts together unusual variations. Last night for example, we sampled plum meringue - not lemon meringue but lightly stewed plums on a biscuit oatmeal crumb base topped with a layer of chewy meringue. It was different and delicious!

This recent dessert was my personal favourite. A peach custard tart, slices of peach are encased in a creamy egg custard with a caramelized topping. Melt in the mouth creaminess with a smooth fruity surprise!

This caused a sensation. A deep and delectable chocolate mousse layer cake for Easter. There was enough left over to serve to our guests on Easter Sunday. Most of our friends now know to ask my daughter whether it is one of her creations rather than compliment me! I can take no credit. I didn't even suggest it but I am enjoying these experimental desserts! Remember she has to use freshly milled wholemeal flour, there is no superfine white flour in my pantry, no white stuff at all but somehow she is able to incorporate these healthier ingredients into her desserts. Icing sugar is the exception to the no white sugar rule but we do not use artificial essences to colour the icing. I might allow her to buy some caster sugar to make a pavlova to rival Donna Hay's which was the first elimination challenge on Masterchef last evening, though fellow kiwis will be appalled to know they claimed it as an 'Aussie classic'! We don't have a food mixer to whip the egg whites so it looks like dad's drill will relocate from the shed to the kitchen. It is amazing what you can make with a Bosch drill with the right attachments!

Her gorgeous Kath Kidston recipe folder

I have deliberately allowed my daughter to pursue this passion for baking. A lot of time has been invested into this delight directed learning. It becomes more apparent each day that this is what she would love to do to not just for her own family but as a means of earning money in the future. She is already a productive daughter in the home. She loves to bake for other people too - our neighbours, our guests, her friends. The compliments flow. We are encouraging her to start thinking about the future and where this talent could take her. We would love to see her work out of home, setting up her own business and therefore we are making suggestions such as attending day or evening classes - a food handling certificate will be both necessary and useful. A cake decorating course perhaps. Learning book keeping skills. Investing in high quality appliances. Looking into leasing time in a commercial kitchen. Researching the options for a business based around desserts.

I never imagined when this photo was taken that she would one day end up working in a dairy shed alongside her older brother - yes this is the guy who eats all her cakes! I often say to him that he will have to marry someone who bakes like his sister. He says if he gets desperate he will go and visit her but I remind him that by that time she may be baking cakes for her husband rather than her brother! If she marries a farmer that guy will be so blessed - a girl who can spot mastitis in a cow at thirty paces, chase heifers on a quad bike and bake amazing cakes! The dairy farm employment has been such a blessing, it fits into her weekly schedule and provides her with an income to invest in her dreams.

What dreams do your children have? Do you encourage them to pursue their dream? If you are homeschooling do you give them enough time to practice their art whatever that may be, incorporating subjects that will be beneficial in that area of special interest? Are you brave enough to let go of certain subjects that you think they need to know but in the end will reap no real harvest. Homeschooling has given us so much freedom and the opportunity to tailor make an education for each child to pursue their God given dream has been one of the best aspects.
I do not know yet where this daughter's dream will lead her but what a joy it has been to see her talent unfold, to experience her creativity unleashed in the kitchen - we have been her grateful test subjects! And as she starts to map out her future and takes further steps along the road to Godly womanhood I am there encouraging, advising, praising and cheering her on.

With Love and Joy,

Monday, April 12, 2010

My Valley Week

After a lovely Easter weekend spent with family and friends, I was brought down the side of the ravine into the valley below faster than Bear Grylls on an episode of 'Man versus Wild'. And my valley experience has been pain, the physical pain of neuralgia which came out of nowhere.

It started on Monday - pain in the left side of my face close to my ear. I naturally assumed it was dental pain and as it was Easter Monday took some pain killers and prayed for Tuesday to come quickly. I was on the doorstep of the dentist at 9am and they fitted me in at 11am. However, my time in the dentists chair was short, the dentist could find no abscess, no gum problems or any 'dental evidence' for the pain. She said I should go to the GP as it could be an ear or sinus infection. As it takes three weeks to get in to see my own doctor I decided to try a clinic in town which will fit you in if you need to see a doctor without you being on their books. Thankfully, they had a spot for me. The doctor checked out my ears - they were fine and decided it was most likely a sinus infection and prescribed antibiotics though he was surprised that I had no respiratory symptoms - no cold, no blocked nose, no pain behind the eyes - just this awful nagging pain in the side of my face. I have suffered sinusitis in the past but never with this type of pain level and it usually follows a cold and affects my forehead. This was different.

The pain did not go away and for three nights I had very little sleep. I was taking paracetamol and ibuprofen but they were giving me short lived relief. At night the pain was severe, pillow hugging, pillow bashing, head clutching pain to accompany the aching in my jaw and neck. This was starting to concern my husband and when I awoke at 1am crying with an episode of all I describe as white hot, searing facial pain as if someone had stuck a knife into me, he said 'That is it we are going to the hospital.' That episode lasted about 10 minutes and had subsided by the time we were ready to leave.

The young doctor at the ER or A& E as we call it here was puzzled and perplexed by my symptoms. No vomiting, no dizziness - nothing to suggest a cause. He had a French accent and I think my attempt to give precise descriptions of the pain were lost in translation! He requested that I return the next day. I obliged and did not take any pain relief that morning which I was starting to regret by 11am, three hours into my wait. I had started to pace the floor by now clutching my face, holding onto my baby boy and I knew the nurse was thinking she obviously can't afford to go to the dentist!

At last I was in and a more experienced doctor did not take long to give me a diagnosis. Nerve pain possibly caused by a virus. He had very little advice for me except to time when I took my pain relief and to return immediately if I started vomiting or developed any other neurological symptoms. If I needed stronger pain relief I would have to consider giving up breastfeeding! No way!

And that was the week that was. I have not had another excruciating episode but 24/7 I have had a dull, unrelenting aching in the side of my face during the day which I am choosing to ignore. I'm distracting myself with activity at home - baking biscuits, making preserves, cuddling and feeding my baby, reading blogs and finally today writing a blog post. Thankfully I have not been incapacitated by this but I'm praying it will go away. I really do not like this, it is so out of character for me. I rarely get stressed or sick. Life's events such as being cut off by flood waters do not affect me greatly. I am used to floods now, I keep my pantry well stocked - I'm prepared but pain that arrives with no warning is quite a different matter.

The road to nowhere! The valley I live in often experiences floods. These waters cut us off last year for three days. My husband could not get home from work! That is our border collie in the flood waters. The folks in the little house had to be evacuated in the night when the waters rose further.

I like to be informed. I have read up on facial neuralgia. It is scary stuff, the pain that some people live with and the fear of pain makes for heart rending reading. I have only experienced this for a week and only had one really bad episode. People live with this condition for years, their lives are turned upside down. Some even take their own lives or consider this as the only way out of the pain. It is a place I do not want to go to, so I am seeking the Lord, praying for healing and have been prayed for at church and taking practical steps which I hope will eradicate the pain and discomfort. I'm taking a vitamin B12 supplement and a herbal tonic which contains elderberry and other herbs which are good for the nervous system. If you have suffered from facial neuralgia and know of natural cures which worked for you let me know.

I'm sharing this story of my week because well that was my week. Not my most pleasant week I have to say but sometimes we are taken down into the valley. Not every day is spent on the mountain top but down in the valley what does God provide? Still waters to walk beside, green pastures to lay down in. A loving, faithful God who walks with us and never abandons us.

During my stay in hospital following the birth of my son last December I was starting to feel quite lonely and a little depressed in my room. I wanted to be home with my newborn not stuck in the clinical surrounds of a hospital. I was so bored I had bought the newspaper, a tabloid which is usually filled with sensational gossip about the misdemeanours of sports stars and not much real news. Then a headline caught my eye 'Loving Father walks with us'. Did I have the right paper? It was the title of an article by the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen. It simply was the most succinct, beautiful description of who God is and what He has done for us. It was precisely just what I needed to hear at that moment in time. I sat on my bed and cried. God used the words of Peter Jensen to minister to me in that hospital room and I also prayed that this article would speak into the lives of people reading it who did not have a personal relationship with Jesus. I will try and find a link to this article but for now I will share the closing words of Archbishop Jensen (a born again believer) from the article which are particularly relevant for me this week. If you are experiencing a time in the valley below, I pray these words will also minister to you.

'One of the main things Jesus taught us was that we can call God Father and trust Him to walk with us through life. This does not mean we are spared pain and suffering. We still die, after all, but God is with us in the midst of pain and as we entrust ourselves to Him He will forgive us and bring us through safe to the end. Who is God? I understand so little about Him. But I trust Him and call him Father. That is enough.'

Thursday, April 1, 2010

'Like Sheep without a Shepherd'

Over the years I have penned a number of poems, some are humorous filled with nostalgia, others poignant, designed to challenge and inspire. I call them my 'Poems for People' - most have been written for individuals, family or friends celebrating important milestones, the birth of a son, the wedding of a daughter, a 40th birthday or a wedding anniversary.

As Easter is upon is, I wanted to share from a poem I wrote for the church which I believe, needs to be on the forefront, leading the way in offering care and concern, compassion and hope for the world that God loved that He sent His only Son to die for.

I need to take you back in time. I was living in New Zealand, a beautiful country. The picture at the top of this post was taken there. But some awful events unfolded in the late 1990's which were coming across our television screens. Several mass murders, one in a sleepy hamlet where you would never expect such a tragedy to unfold, then in Tasmania, the Port Arthur massacre. At this time, an unrelenting bloody war was being waged in the Balkan states. This was long before Columbine, 9/11 or the London and Bali bombings but even back then, I realized that multiple exposures to scenes of mass suffering in so many places, broadcast as images on my television news straight into my home were causing me to develop an immunity. I was no longer being greatly affected by sufferering and very rarely shedding tears. This caused me concern.

Then one story did give me cause to weep. A deranged man walked into a Scottish primary school and gunned down sixteen children and their teacher. I had young children and when those pictures of the children flashed across the screen I cried. I cried for the families I did not know who had sent their children to school that morning never imagining that they would not be tucking them into bed that evening. When words cannot express God sometimes moves the writer's hand...... and 'Sheep without a Shepherd' was penned. You may not remember all these events but recently we have witnessed the scenes from Haiti. Perhaps you can still picture the children left without parents and parents left without children as you read these verses.

I watched the TV news last night
I'd seen it all before
Scenes of devastation
People hungry, homeless poor

Seventeen Scottish families torn apart by grief
When you saw those children
Did you begin to weep?

In the former Yugoslavia
There's been a raging war
Pictures of such suffering
Should cut us to the core

Images that should move us
Or at least cause some tears
We've grown so immune
Over the years

I opened up my Bible that day and read a passage in Matthew 14 which relates a terrible event - the most hideous murder of John the Baptist. Jesus hears the news and goes away to a deserted place to find solitude but the crowds follow him. Can you imagine this? You have just found out that your friend has been killed in a most horrific manner and hoardes of people are chasing after you as you retreat to somewhere peaceful to grieve and come to terms with what has just taken place. What would you do? Surely, you would ask them to leave you alone but this is not what happens ....

'And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and He healed their sick.'
Matthew 14 v14

Later on, it is evening and the crowds remain and the disciples want to send them away to buy food in the villages. Jesus again commands that they stay and performs one of his most well known miracles by feeding thousands of people with five loaves of bread and two fishes.

Jesus 's heart was for people. His compassion was extended to family, friends, strangers, the oppressed, young and old, rich and poor, men and women, individuals and crowds. He was particularly affected by suffering for he healed the sick and fed the hungry and commanded His followers to do likewise.

But I do not want to offer charity whether it is sponsoring a child, sending money to a relief agency or assisting a neighbour merely out of a sense of obligation or civil duty. I want to

Look upon the crowd
As Jesus did one day
His heart filled with compassion
He commanded that they stay

Even though He had good reason
To ask them all to leave
After all, his friend had died
He needed time to grieve

'Like sheep without a shepherd'
Their needs He chose to meet
And people just like these
Are living on your street

I also wanted to reach out in person - to get out of the boat and help those in need. We prayed for opportunities and God started to put people across our path - literally landing them on our doorstep. Lonely people who needed friends, neighbours who needed practical help and often complete strangers.

For some may be your family
Workmates, neighbours ,friends
And you may be the messenger
The one whom Jesus sends

And yet there are still others
Whom God would have you reach
They won't come of their own accord
To hear the Pastor preach

An old lady in an institution
Died the other day
She used to have a family
But they chose to stay away

A young man wants to kill himself
He really hates his life
His father is an alcoholic
Who beats up on his wife

And beyond our shores
Are people who don't yet know
About the love of Jesus
Are you prepared to go?

It is easy to find excuses
Perhaps you've used a few
'Evangelism is not my gift'
'I've got too much to do'

'I've enough problems of my own'
You might be prone to say
'I can't make a difference'
So you simply turn away

But you can change your world
The place you are right now
Start by asking God
And He will show you how

God given opportunities
For these you need to pray
God will then equip you
He'll give you words to say

It may seem insignificant
The way you play your part
But simple acts of love
Can change a person's heart

Will you take a stranger home?
Do you have an open door?
Or is your home a place on earth
Where treasures you can store?

Will you walk with people
Feel their pain and strife
People in a dying world
For whom Jesus gave His life

Too many sleeping Christians
This fact is sad but true
The harvest fields are ready
But the labourers are few

Oh God restore our passion
Set our hearts on fire
To seek and save the lost
May this be our desire

'Jesus got out of the boat, and when He saw the large crowd, His heart was filled with pity for them and He healed the sick'
Matthew 14 v14

Wishing you and your family a blessed Easter. Never forget the price that was paid and rejoice in the relationship you have with Jesus, a Risen Saviour, Lord and friend.

With Love and Joy,

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