Tuesday, January 25, 2011

In the Land of Smiles




She returned home from the land of smiles smiling. I don't think she ever stopped smiling when she was there - her first missions trip to the orphanage that our church has supported long term and has been sending teams of young people to for many years. She was full of stories of hope and heartache - it was the children 's stories that affected her most. 'Do you realize mum - that they are not all orphans, some of them still have parents?' The word orphan had always conjured up in my mind, a child whose parents have died but as my daughter discovered, many of the children have ended up there as a result of poverty, neglect or abandonment. Some of the stories she told me would move you to tears. Orphanages I had always pictured as institutions - bleak, unlovely places with dormitories and uniform rows of cots where individuality is suppressed. I know these places exist but I wanted to show you this is not always the case. These are the buildings and grounds of the orphanage my daughter worked at. For many this is truly a refuge, the children are well-cared for, they receive schooling but the work goes beyond the meeting of physical and educational needs. It is here they have found out what it means to be accepted and loved - it is a place of hope.



In just two weeks she fell in love with Thailand and the people she had met and served. Teaching English classes, playing games with the children when they returned from school. Participating in church services. Helping deliver food to families in the area who live as outcasts because they have 'Hansen's disease' - you probably know it by its other name - leprosy. Their village is separate to the main village. How many young people would have the opportunity to meet someone with leprosy I wondered. I asked my daughter about this - she was quite matter of fact. She had noticed the deformities, the skin abrasions and the blind eyes but through it all she saw the person and had no fear or reservations about meeting or having close contact with those who live with this debilitating disease. 'They were so happy to see us. They didn't want us to leave after our visit' she told me. One man had burst into tears after the girls had prayed with him. 'To see a grown man cry' she said. An experience she will never forget.





Leaving the orphanage was hard for her. Saying goodbye. Her infectious smile, caring nature and compassionate heart endeared her to many of the children. The sights and sounds of Bangkok where they would spend two nights before flying back to Australia were just a formality. Its just 'another city with lots of people, temples and crazy traffic' she informed me. 'The lights were good though.' Even shopping at the markets for clothes and gifts was another formality and didn't excite her. 'It was much better at the orphanage.' I was now aware that this trip for her had been much more than just a cross-cultural experience which had been one of my concerns about short- term missions trips.




She has renewed vision for what direction her life might take. She is keen to return to Thailand. She has done her research. A certificate in child care will enable her to take up a longer term position at an orphanage. There are no wages of course and she will have to self-fund any future trips. We have found out she can obtain her qualification via correspondence and this is her educational goal for this year. Working out her budget - how much she needs to save to pay for her course. No longer dreaming of being a pastry chef and having people praise her culinary creations. She still loves to bake for people. She discovered that the orphanage had no oven - most food is cooked on the stove top but she wanted to make something sweet for the children. It would have to be a no-bake slice. At the little grocery store in the village they found biscuits - sort of like oreos but not the plain ones she needed so she scraped off the cream and added the condensed milk and jelly lollies. A little improvisation and she had made 'lolly cake' - a sweet treat famous in New Zealand she has introduced her friends in Australia to. The children loved it.



Raising missions-minded children has always been important to me - I want my children to look beyond their own little corner of the world. I want them to know about the world that God loves, to discover what it is like to grow up in a country where life is different, where people value different things. To see how poverty, disease and other circumstances can impact people and how they adapt and survive. To be amazed at how they keep on smiling no matter what they have been through. Learning some important lessons about what really matters in life and to experience first hand, love in action and what happens when others reach out and minister to those who hold a very special place in God's heart, as the Psalmist declares 'A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy habitation.' (Psalm 68.5) Who also proclaims "For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, Now I will arise" says the Lord; "I will set him in the safety for which he yearns." (Psalm 10.5)





I will admit I had some concerns about letting her go but knew that she needed this life experience. I can read stories about missionaries, educate my children about different cultures, support missions and sponsor children from the comfort of our home but there is no substitute for going - this was my own experience of a short term missions trip to Indonesia. Put simply, it opened my eyes. The words of the Keith Green song 'Jesus commands us to go' played over in my mind as I thought about these issues. I do hold some reservations about teen missions trips and I asked the leader lots of questions in regard to supervision of the girls. The trip was well organized with a year of meetings the girls were required to attend. Much prayer went into the trip. There were no problems and the only thing that went wrong was when they arrived back in Australia. Somehow, the team managed to miss their domestic flight home from Sydney. For those of you who may travel to this beautiful country you may find this information quite helpful. Sydney airport has 3 terminals - one international terminal and two domestic terminals. If you are flying internally, be sure to check you are in the right terminal! My daughter had wondered what had happened to McDonalds - it was there when they left! It was still there - in the terminal they should have been in! She didn't think to ask the leaders why their flight had not been called. They discovered the error of their ways with one minute to spare - remember the scene from 'Home Alone?' This was re- enacted as bemused businessmen watched on but they missed their flight. Thankfully, the airline put them on the next flight at no extra charge. An answer to this mum's prayer - 'Bring her home safely Lord' and a reminder that God goes with us wherever we go.






And speaking of airports and traveling. In just one week we will be at Sydney airport awaiting our flight to New Zealand. It's going to be one big adventure - all the family together. The last time their nana saw the twins on her visit to Australia they were this small. She has not yet met her latest grandson. We are all excited but especially the twins who have never been to New Zealand. Try explaining to 5 year olds that they are New Zealanders (by descent) even though they were born in Australia. I'm busy organizing bags, washing clothes and trying to ensure all the perishable food is used up before we leave. I'm not sure if I will have time to post before we leave but as the grandparents do have internet access I may be able to post some pictures during our trip. The beaches await us and fresh fish for dinner each evening. We have been in touch with friends we have not seen for many years thanks to Facebook and hope to meet up with some of them. Hoping for sunshine after all our rain too.

If you don't hear from me for a while don't worry. Will be back soon to tell you all about the country that Oprah didn't visit!

With Love and Joy,


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Figuring Life Out - One Thousand Gifts




After watching this today I was changed. A realization that I didn't want to miss a moment, not one. I had things to do and places to go. Even as I was driving my son to his tennis clinic, the words and phrases were playing over in my head - 'life is not an emergency.' 'These are all gifts.' I thanked God for every bend in my country road - around each corner a new vista of emerald green thanks to sunshine after rain. I drove like a Sunday driver taking the scenic route. It 's not Sunday but I do take the scenic route to town, taking joy in the journey - so much to be thankful for. A baby boy, just one year old singing in his car seat . The song he was clapping to and raising hands for - ' Everything that has breath praise the Lord'. My daughter sitting alongside him let me know about this - he loves music and he worships! I could hear his singing but to have her tell me 'Mum, he's raising his hands!' I was so glad I had not missed this moment. There were many more moments today - seeing my son's excitement at just holding a tennis racquet in his hand, landing his serve and enjoying his moments on the court - this is what he looks forward to. I have asked him many times what he wants to do - the answer is always the same, 'Play tennis'. I spoke with his coach who tells me he has a natural talent for the game. He is gifted. Today has been all about gifts and recognizing them.


I know by now many of you will have seen this beautiful video, it is probably going to feature or be mentioned at one thousand blogs in the coming days - if you follow Ann Voskamp's blog 'A Holy Experience' you will know all about the One Thousand Gifts and may even be participating in that challenge. But there will be some who have never encountered Ann's writing, visited her blog or know about the book.... some blogs become books. I love that! There is something about books, written words on paper. I can hold a book and it feels like it is mine, written for me. I eagerly await its arrival in Australia. As another Ann without an e who is inspired to write (see my last post) I felt compelled to share this at my blog today. For someone - maybe you. I pray this touches your heart, your life and that after watching this you take the time to figure life out. You can - its in the moments and the tiniest details of your day, don't miss them!

With Love and Joy,

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Taken

'When water was the city's friend.'
My children playing in the pools on the banks of the river during a trip to Brisbane.
This is what they loved most about Brisbane - its river.




You have seen the images on your television screens, pictures that have now been broadcast across the world. Just a few short years ago, the images of devastation were of fire ravaged communities and towns in the state of Victoria. I do not need to share any more pictures from news media websites and it is hard to find the right words to say but sometimes when spoken words cannot express the depth of emotions -

The poet's hand is moved. This poem is dedicated to all those who have been affected in some way by the disasters of recent years in this country.

'Taken'

Victoria 2009

The perpetrators used nature as an accomplice
And I suspect
Stood back in triumph
As the fires ignited
Nature was more than obliging
And the fires journeyed
Sending sparks ahead
With their traveling companions
Smoke, billowing, choking, blinding and
Heat so intense

Queensland 2011

Too much of a good thing (water is life but not on this day)
The torrent of waters chose its path
Without discernment - a city on a hill
And gave no notice to its inhabitants
As it continued on its furious journey
To settlements and communities
And in the city of its destination the rain kept falling
Awaiting its arrival - the unwelcome visitor
Brown and murky, meddling, malicious

And so they were taken
Homes lovingly built, restored
Occupied by families
Farms and livelihoods destroyed
Towns taken
Beautiful people taken
Babies and children taken
Mothers and fathers
Husbands and wives together until the end
Young and old
Weak and strong
Taken

But I will proclaim in the day of disaster
You will not break the spirit of the people of this land
You will not crush their courage
Or weaken their resolve
You will not dampen generosity
Or kill kindness in the heart
You have not marred the memories
Of those who lost their lives
Their legacies remain
Future generations will remember them
And love and honour them always

You will not lessen love for this great Southern land
The majesty of river valleys
And glory of the trees
Both friend and foe
To those who choose to live here
In the beauty of the bush
Or in a river city

Some will leave and bid farewell
We will respect their choice
But most will stay
Rebuild their homes, their towns, their lives
We will understand
This is their land Australia


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Queensland Floods

I had another post almost ready to publish but wanted to inform my readers from overseas about the flood disaster that is unfolding in South Queensland. The scenes on our television news this morning are hard to comprehend. I do not live in this state but our region has received lots of rainfall in recent weeks. A flood warning is in place for our local river and it is highly likely that our town will be isolated later today. My property is on a hill and apart from being cut off from town, we are high and dry and unaffected when the valley floods. This photograph was taken further down our road on the flats during the last big flood a few years ago. That is my border collie in the water. The people in the little cottage were evacuated during that event. To give you some perspective of how much worse the floods in Queensland are you may want to watch the news clip that follows. The death toll is eight but expected to rise and reports state that 72 are missing.

Your prayers are needed and appreciated for my country at this time.







Eight dead in Queensland flash floods: "Flash flooding in the Toowoomba area has killed at least eight people and left many stranded on rooftops. //
Information hotline for frien..."

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Delights of Christmas 2010



'Our God reigns - it may be raining on Christmas Day but the Son is shining brightly today'. This was my Facebook status for Christmas Day. Rather than complaining about the weather, I resolved to be thankful and to enjoy this very special day at home with the people that God has blessed me with - my family. A special day deserves a special table. I ironed my new tablecloth and relished every moment of setting it beautifully.



A last moment of inspiration to set out a favourite French style metalwork tray for a centrepiece arrangement that took less than 10 minutes to create - I call these my 'trim, toss and tuck' arrangements. So simple to create for any occasion - no trips to the florist needed, just use whatever you have to hand! Walk in the garden. Look in the pantry, the fridge, the fruit bowl!
,
Step 1. Trim some greenery.
Step 2. Place your candles on a shallow decorative tray or bowl and toss in some tiny pine cones and fruit. I was able to use summer fruit - rosy red nectarines.
Step 3. Tuck some greenery into the gaps. I also added on each corner my 'final four' succulent candles which I dare not light until I find some to replace them - have been to every discount store in town searching for more!


I found matching tea light holders for my wine glasses at a local discount store - $2.95 each!






My place setting and my favourite bon bon - I couldn't bear to pull it! It is now gracing the top of the piano. I will untie the end and remove the chocolates to enjoy with a coffee one evening this week. The children of course, delighted in pulling their crackers - they were all covered in glitter from the paper I had used - next year it is a return to all 'crackers in crepe'.



It felt like fine dining this year at our house as we also enjoyed entrees! Another last minute inspiration. We usually sit down to a Christmas lunch around 2pm but with a husband saying he was hungry at midday I had to whip up something - totally last minute using what I had plenty of - eggs to make mini quiches. Eggs, cottage cheese and fruit chutney are the ingredients sprinkled with Parmesan and a topping of cheddar. The garnish is Lebanese cress - which grows in a big pot outside my kitchen door, a plant I am singing the praises of - more of that in a future post. And our second entree - gourmet wafers, sun dried tomatoes and smoked salmon, courtesy of Aldi! The cucumbers courtesy of the neighbour.



We dropped off a jar of my 'Holiday muesli' (I will share my recipe in 2011!) to the neighbours who grow the most amazing bio-dynamic produce in their front yard. A last minute gift made on Christmas Eve! Last minute doesn't have to be racing to the store for a box of chocolates or a tin of biscuits - last minute can be thoughtful, hand made, frugal but fancy and once again, using what you have on hand - ingredients from the pantry, fabric scraps, ribbon and recycled trims from last year's crackers.



December is a month for celebrations. Lots of birthdays and a wedding anniversary. I'm sure you are not surprised that I chose the Christmas season for my wedding day 21 years ago!
So many pictures I could share but first birthdays are always special so I'm sharing this picture today - he was born three days before Christmas one year ago. I brought him home on Christmas Eve. He has been such a blessing to our family. We love him and we call him the 'Vroom Vroom boy'. He loves cars, anything with wheels and is always saying 'vroom vroom'. He also discovered the delights of pulling the bead garlands off the tree and rolling baubles across the floor - which is why they are plastic and not the vintage glass ones I dream of owning!




You can imagine his excitement when he saw this for the first time! It even has a number 1 on the side - the perfect gift for the vroom vroom boy on his first birthday. The teenage son is asking why he didn't have a ride-on car like this. Those were the days when we didn't think twice about buying cheap plastic toys. Now we give more consideration to quality and durability. I hope to keep this car for my grandchildren one day, therefore - no riding outside and the twins are banned from it! This beauty came from Vision Forum in the States. At the time it was on sale at fifty per cent off, the Australian dollar had reached parity with the US dollar. I saw a smaller version in a store here at a much higher price.




His feet don't quite touch the ground yet so he needs volunteers to push him around at the moment. In a few short months he will be racing through the house on our miles of tiles - another reason for it remaining an inside car!



I want to take this opportunity to wish all my readers a very happy New Year. And to say thank you to the friends who were so thoughtful to send gifts - Kylie from 'abiteofcountrycupcakes' sent me a lovely little koala ornament for my tree and these sweet festive chocolates - they look good enough to eat don't they? The children were almost fooled. You can see more of Kylie's amazing faux creations at her blog.

I felt so blessed by my friend Carrie at Farming on Faith who made me a very special glass pendant. I haven't had a chance to take a photo yet but I will and feature it again at my blog in its own dedicated post but I needed to say thank you now. There are so many creative people in blogland and I am in awe at the diversity of giftings that God has bestowed upon us. Each different, each unique. It has been an honour to read your stories, to be inspired by your creativity that you all share so freely and it makes my heart glad when I realize how many women are truly dedicated to their families who do as the Proverbs 31 wife does and 'watch over the affairs of their households and do not eat the bread of idleness.' Your children will arise and call you blessed, your husband also and he will praise you.

And that is my prayer for myself and my focus for the year ahead - to watch over the affairs of my household. To be a faithful steward not just of the physical gifts I have been given - a home, a garden, health and finances but of the children I have been blessed with to raise. They are my most precious gifts. I hope you will continue to accompany me on my journey at eightacresofeden in 2011 as I with God's help and by His grace and Favour raise this family and share with you from my heart the challenges and the delights along the way.

Please take time today to remember to pray for the families in this country, particularly in Queensland who have been affected by the devastating floods. Its on a huge scale - this is such a vast country. This year we have had lots of rain but not experienced a flood which is a common occurrence in this region - we have been cut off in the past for several days. A temporary inconvenience. My house is on a hill so we will never have to experience the water coming into our home or be evacuated - this is how some families have started the year. Keep them in your thoughts.


With Love and Joy,

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