Sunday, September 19, 2010


Things are slowly getting back into routine at our house. 

Pastor Pete recently posted a timely blog on “Habits”.  He mentioned in passing the “ruts” that unhelpful habits can get us into. 

At the same time, over the last month I’ve been reading my way through “Celebration of Discipline” by Richard Foster (thanks for the loan, Craig).  Foster points out that when we see the need for change in our lives, we usually rely on willpower and determination, and struggle to make that change any deeper than the surface.  As soon as the going gets tough we revert to our previous form. 

As Foster puts it - “When we despair of gaining inner transformation through human powers of will and determination, we are open to a wonderful new realisation: inner righteousness is a gift from God to be graciously received.  ...  We cannot attain or earn this righteousness of the kingdom of God; it is a grace that is given.”

Fosters spiritual disciplines are habits and routines that can help us come into a place where we are open to receiving that grace.  He also cautions against turning them into “laws” that become condemning and confining. 

I’d like to think it wouldn’t have taken an earthquake to shake me out of my ruts, but nonetheless here I am with the perfect opportunity to make some “tweaks” in my habits and routines in a helpful way. 

A starting place for me is to re-establish the habit (that stopped happening over winter) of a morning prayer time.  Especially seeing as I’ve been woken up before the alarm by the toddler anyway.  That will also be a chance to start practising some of Foster’s disciplines, and see what comes of them.  I’ll keep you posted of my progress.

On a more mundane level, I’m also aiming to start drinking more fresh water and less coffee, and I’m still working out how to rearrange our household chore roster.

What about your habits and routines – which are the helpful ones and which are unhealthy and need changing?  Are you in a rut, and if so what will it take to shake you out of it?

Sunday, September 12, 2010


As I was surfing the web this week, I found a number of comments out there on a number of sites along the lines of:

I wonder what Christchurch did to anger God to deserve this???

My first reaction in most cases was to shrug it off as a very insensitive remark, particularly since the authors of those comments are often overseas, and making many kinds of assumptions about the morality or immorality of Canterbury residents.

However, on further reflection, the comment does raise a couple of valid questions.  Why did God send this earthquake? If we consider the lack of fatalities, why did God not spare the lives of those in Haiti, Samoa etc?

I’m not a theologian nor a philosopher, but here are my own thoughts as a Christian on this matter.  In other words, Why do Bad Things happen to Good People?

I think the assumption underlying these kinds of questions is that calamity and disaster are a sign of God’s judgement for sin, while blessing and prosperity are a sign of God’s reward for righteousness.  I’m aware of a number of Christian preachers who appear to hold this idea (mostly ones I’ve seen on TV), but I don’t personally agree with it.

Reading the book of Job in the Old Testament, this issue has been grappled with by people of faith since the days of the Patriarchs. For those who haven’t read it, here’s a brief summary:  Job was a righteous man, yet God allowed major disaster and bereavement to fall upon him.  The bulk of the book is a dialogue between Job and his friends trying to convince Job he must have committed some grave sin, and his need to repent.  Job protests his innocence, and questions God, appealing to God’s justice.  (Read God’s answer to Job here).

The message I read in this book is that we don’t know or understand God’s plans or reasons, but the reality is that sometimes disaster does happen to “good” people, and it is not necessarily punishment for sin.

Another passage I found helpful in this is Luke 13:1-5.  Jesus challenges his listeners that victims of recent disasters were no more sinful than everyone else.  Romans 3 tells us that everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s ideal.  What grace we receive is a free gift, neither earned nor deserved.

We live in an imperfect world, a creation that groans awaiting redemption. Tectonic plates are unstable, and produce earthquakes and volcanoes.  The atmosphere is unstable, and can produce hurricanes and other extreme weather.  The humans that are on the receiving end of these things are no more or less sinful than the rest of humanity.

I do believe in miracles.  Many of the close escapes last weekend have been described as miraculous. I don’t know if there was divine intervention in those cases, but if so then it does not mean that those receiving the miracle are any more righteous than anyone else.  Miracles are gifts of God’s grace. 

The God I believe in isn’t an old man with a white beard sitting above the clouds, handing out rewards and punishment.

The God I believe in never promised that Bad Stuff wouldn’t happen, or that I would always have blessing and prosperity if I follow his rules and regulations.

The God I do believe in does promise to always walk through the hard times with us.  He promises to provide comfort and strength.  He helps us find courage and compassion in times of disaster.

The God I do believe in challenges me about how I respond to hard times.  Do I spend time whinging and complaining, or by showing thankfulness, and practical love for those around me?  I don’t think a Christian response to disaster is to pronounce judgement, but rather to share the grace and love of God to those who are suffering.

John Key said this week “At the worst of times you see the very best of New Zealand”.  I like to think this would also be true of Christians.

How do you respond to suffering around you?  Are you tempted to think that in some way they’ve deserved it, or brought it upon themselves?  Or do you recognise the blessings we’ve received are so we can bless others, and demonstrate love and compassion?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A New Kind of Normal

Humans are amazingly resilient creatures.

A week ago, a shallow, magnitude 4.something quake about 5km from where I live would have had me ducking for shelter.  Yesterday I stayed seated.  I still didn’t like them. When the tremor starts my stomach immediately knots up and I take several seconds to figure out whether it’s going to be one of the really big ones or not.  There’s been a couple that have been, but most of them I’m riding out.

Yesterday (Wednesday) morning there was a particularly sharp 5.1 magnitude shock.  My four year old carried on playing with her blocks, until I scooped her up and carried her to the door frame.  By the time we got there the shaking had stopped again.  A facebook friend posted photos of her children playing Jenga, with any aftershocks being treated as just an extra challenge to the tower falling over.

Of course we’ve been lucky to suffer no structural damage, and there are reports of very traumatised children in the evacuation centres whose families weren’t so fortunate.

But it got me all thinking about how relative “normal” is, and how “normal” changes over time.  When the shaking finally gets round to stopping, however long that takes, life in Christchurch will return to “normal”.  But it will be a normal minus certain historic landmark buildings around the city.  It will be a normal that sees a lot more people with emergency stocks of drinking water and camping stoves than we had last week.  Earthquakes will no longer be something that happens “somewhere else” like Wellington or Rotorua or on the main Alpine fault.  It will be a normal with rebuilt houses, and possibly rebuild suburbs.  In a few years time, we probably won’t notice the difference. 

Normal changes in other ways as well.  When I was growing up, I lived in a comfortable middle-class home.  Now I live in a low-income neighbourhood.  My perception of normal has shifted accordingly.  Parenting one child is quite different from parenting three children, and our normal has adjusted with the arrival of each child.

When you think back, how has your “normal” changed over time?

Monday, September 6, 2010

I’m over this.

I am OVER this earthquake.  I am over the aftershocks, and the continual wondering at the beginning of each one whether it will be big enough to need to duck under the table, or just stay put.  Even the smaller tremors tie my stomach into knots.  I’m over the stress.  I’m over needing to boil my water, and not flush unless absolutely necessary.  I’m over all the news about being nothing else except what I’m already living through. 

I need something to help me take my mind off all this stuff for a while, but all everyone around here can talk, blog, twitter or facebook about is swapping their various war stories.  I turn on the television and every channel is extended news coverage.  My normal method of relaxing is a deep hot bath, but we’re being asked to conserve water. 

The children are coping better than I am.  I wish for the resilience of childhood.  If I curl myself up in a little ball will it all go away?  Please?

So I’m thinking now about different strategies for stress management.  Not just the surface anxiety stuff – but the day in day out this isn’t going away in a hurry kind of stress.  It can relate to other situations, not just natural disasters.  Long term unemployment or sickness, for example, can also bring these kind of feelings. 

So far I’m working on journaling, prayer and meditation, reading fiction (but NOT John Christopher’s “Wrinkle in the Skin” or C.S. Lewis’ “The Last Battle”).  Normally finding someone to talk to helps, but everyone here is in the same boat so it’s harder to find someone not also emotionally involved.

What do you do to cope with stress and extended anxiety?

Saturday, September 4, 2010


I started drafting a post last night about making choices.  I’ll come back to that another day.

I was rudely woken up at 4:30am this morning by the world rattling around me.  There’s something about that kind of movement that the pit of your stomach recognises as unnatural.  I immediately thought “earthquake” and moved to grab the children and shelter in the doorframe.

The earthquake was a 7.1 magnitude quake only about 40km away.  Once the shaking paused, the three children all landed in our bed to huddle through the aftershocks.  No-one got much sleep.  A few restless hours later, my radio alarm came on and we got an idea of the scale of what we were in the middle of.

16 hours later, we’re still experiencing aftershocks, and still feeling shaken and rattled – literally as well as emotionally.

Last week I commented about choosing to an attitude of thankfulness.

I’m thankful that everyone I know is okay.  In fact, the news reports tells me that there have been only 2 serious injuries, and no fatalities, out of a city of some 300,000.  I’m thankful that in our neighbourhood there has only been minor damage – broken chimneys, cracked pavements.  I’m thankful for neighbours and friends checking up on each other and looking out for each other.  I’m thankful we still have power and water (even if it does need boiling).

I’m praying for the two families I know of (so far) who have experienced serious structural damage to their homes.  I’m praying for my children, that they won’t be too scared to settle tonight.  I’m praying for a city still in shock, still in a state of emergency, and for those families without power or water, or have been evacuated from their homes.

By giving thanks and praying, I find my heart rate starts to calm, and my focus shifts off myself.  I touch base with a spiritual reality that brings peace and stillness in the midst of all this.  Try it – it does actually work.

What are you thankful for today? Who are you praying for?