Showing posts from 2013



Advent 4

The readings we're following for advent this year had 'Love' as the theme for the fourth Sunday of advent.  One of the hymns we sung is below.  It has such good words that I've copied them below.  If you click on the link at the end you can hear the tune if you're not familiar with it.

My song is love unknown,
  My Savior’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
  That they might lovely be.
    O who am I,
    That for my sake
    My Lord should take
    Frail flesh, and die?

He came from His blest throne
  Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
  The longed-for Christ would know:
    But oh, my Friend,
    My Friend indeed,
    Who at my need
    His life did spend.

Sometimes they strew His way,
  And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
  Hosannas to their King:
    Then “Crucify!“
    Is all their breath,
    And for His death
    They thirst and cry.

They rise and needs will have
  My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they save,
  The Prince of life they slay.

Our Redeemer comes

A few days ago, Martin and I read Isaiah 63.  It's one of several passages we've read this Advent season that describe God coming to redeem the Earth.  They're not cosy pictures.  Here God is described with robes splattered with blood, like the clothes of people treading grapes.

But, when I hear of what's been going on in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or think about women trafficked into sexual slavery, this is the God I long for.

Some people just have to be stopped.  By far the best option is for them to repent and turn away from what they're doing.  To them, God offers forgiveness and a new life.  But not everyone chooses to accept that, and for those who won't, God is coming to destroy them.

Our Redeemer came at Christmas 2000 years ago.  One day he will come again.  And this second time, he'll come in power and will put the world to rights.

The Bible often speaks of the great and terrible day of the Lord.  It will be a day of destruction, but it is …

Cool spider

This spider's been hanging out on my bedroom window for a few days.  Martin wondered if it was dead, so he poked it. It turned out to be very much alive, just remarkably immobile.  We've put it outside now - I don't think it's really an indoor spider.

Advent 3


Advent 2

P.S. Radio New Zealand Concert has made a recording of The Messiah available for free download for the month of December.  You can download it here, and the words are available here.  I've been listening to it a fair bit over the last week or so and am appreciating letting the words get into me as I prepare for Christmas.

Advent 1

The season of preparation - waiting and hoping - has begun!

No-knead bread from frozen sourdough starter

A while back a kind friend gave me some sourdough starter, along with twolots of instructions to make no-knead bread with it.  I love sourdough, plus it's good for me as it's low GI, so no-knead sourdough sounded like a winner!

Unfortunately, the instructions involved making bread frequently in order to keep the starter alive.  I don't eat much bread, so that wasn't going to work for me.  I was sure that the culture would survive freezing, but I couldn't find any information on how to go about freezing and reviving it.

After some experimentation, I seem to have come up with a method that works reliably:
Freeze your sourdough starter in 1/4 cup lots (I put 4 or 5 'blobs' of it on a silicone tray in the freezer, spaced well apart as my starter is quite runny).  When they're frozen, store in a ziplock bag in the freezer.  I don't know how long they keep like this, but definitely at least 6 months.A few days before you want to bake your bread, take one p…

BU Kofi

Martin and I are excited about a new project that the Baptist Union of churches in New Zealand is involved in.  In partnership with the Baptist Union of Papua New Guinea, they are starting up a fair trade coffee growing and processing business.  It will be established in the Baiyer Valley in the Highlands region of PNG and be called 'BU Kofi'.

You can read more about the project here*, but the things that appealed to us are:
the project has been initiated by people from Papua New Guinea (rather than foreigners);they see this project as being important in peace-building in an area that has seen a lot of conflict in recent times;their process has been guided by a World Bank report into the coffee industry in PNG, so they won't be making the same mistakes as have been made by others in the past (although of course they can make new mistakes and they still see this as a high risk endeavour). The Baptist Union of PNG is asking the Baptist Union of New Zealand to help them financ…

AppWriter Cloud

I've recently been really enjoying a tool Martin came back from Thailand with: AppWriter Cloud.  One of his fellow vendors at the conference there was touting it and was kind enough to give me a free login for it.  It's an add-on to the Chrome browser that reads web pages aloud - and it can read any web pages, including the pages within my Google Drive, meaning I can use it to read pdfs and other documents to me as well so long as I upload them there first.

It's a bit temperamental, and using it requires me to have a Windows virtual machine running as it doesn't work in Chromium, but I'm still delighted with it.  After years of failing to get Orca* to work for me, something that works most of the time is fantastic :-)  I find reading pretty hard work, even on a screen where I don't have to deal with holding the weight of a book, but this has suddenly made it a lot easier!  Yay!!

* the Linux version of JAWS - the text to speech programme blind people generally use

Give a man a fish...

I was intrigued and excited by the story in 'Act one' of this recent This American Life episode.  In it, Planet Money reporters looked into the work of GiveDirectly: a charity that, rather than giving poor people cows or seeds or other goods or training, simply gives them money.

The reporters went to a village in Kenya where the poorest residents had each received the equivalent of US$1000.  From what I could gather, they were people living in a cash economy and this money was roughly what they would normally earn in a year.  The reporters were keen to find out what that money had been spent on.

The villagers lived in thatch-roofed huts and the majority of them had used part of their money to replace the thatch with corrugated iron.  Iron is not only more water-tight and much less hassle to maintain than thatch, over its 10 year life-span it also works out considerably cheaper (you have to buy special grass for thatch).  With the remainder they did all kinds of things: mostly …

Caring for onesself

In a recent issue of Meeting Place, (the magazine of ANZMES, the CFS support society for New Zealand) I was struck by three articles placed close together.

The first was by a Christian woman with whom I have corresponded over the years.  She made a complete recovery from CFS a few years back and was writing here about the therapy through which God healed her: Mickel Therapy.  It is a talking therapy and is based on three principles.  In my words, they are:
being honest/not being afraid of creating waveslooking after your body and your needsnot letting people abuse/manipulate you. Although the therapy is secular, she was keen to emphasise how these were principles that she has since been seeing again and again as she reads the Bible.  The principles all seem to me to deal with different kinds of looking after yourself.
Soon after this article came two more.  One was from a woman who had recently been on a holiday on a cruise ship.  While she was on the cruise she found her health gr…


Our neighbour's kowhai tree this morning from outside our bedroom window :-)

Big Fair Bake

Yesterday I submitted an entry in the Big Fair Bake: a baking competition that aims to promote Fair Trade.  All entries must use at least two Fair Trade ingredients.  Here's my entry photo and my answer to the competition question "why did you bake fair".

When I heard about the Big Fair Bake, it inspired me to research some new fair trade ingredients.  I first started buying only fair trade cocoa and chocolate a few years ago when I learned that much of the world's cocoa is grown by child slaves.  I didn't want anything to do with that!  Later we switched over to buying all our coffee and bananas fair trade, too, as we didn't want poor people being abused so we could get our treats.

For the Big Fair Bake I decided to try out a new recipe: Earl Grey tea biscuits.  The recipe uses icing sugar, butter, flour, salt, lemon zest and powdered Earl Grey tea leaves. I'd never bought Fair Trade tea or sugar before, but here was my opportunity to research it!  I learn…

Fun with Shadow :-)

Sarah recently got a kitten, a wee boy named Shadow.  Today he was outside when Martin and I were blowing bubbles....

He jumped for them a few times, tried to pounce them, seemed confused when they kept on disappearing, and generally was a heap of fun to watch :-)

40 Maps That (Might) Help You Make Sense of the World

A friend recently drew this to my attention.  I found instructive the maps of:
where Google streetview is available (map 1),how much maternity leave is available in different countries (map 6),global population density (map 12) andalcohol consumption (map 14 - look where NZ ranks!) and the maps of where MacDonalds operates (map 5) and of the longest straight line you can sail in the world (map 38) were just plain interesting :-)

God is a person

Martin and I are currently reading the Old Testament book of Ezekiel.  Two recent chapters have really struck me.

Ezekiel 16 is an extended metaphor of God's relationship with Israel.  God describes how, when he found her, Israel was rejected and weak - like a newborn baby that no one was bothering to take care of.  He took care of her, then later married her and gave her riches.  In response, she rejected him: she gave the gifts he'd given her to other men (i.e. offered them to idols - idolatory seems to be a huge theme in Ezekiel) and was as promiscuous as a prostitute.

The chapter is full of pain and anger.  God is no dispassionate force here: he is a person.  Rejection hurts him.  His wife taking other lovers makes him jealous and angry.

Then a few days later we came across Ezekiel 20, which starts like this:
In the seventh year, in the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month, certain elders of Israel came to consult the Lord, and sat down before me. And the word of the L…

Re-upholstered bathroom stool

Our bathroom stool was moving from 'looking tired' towards 'no longer functional'.  The time had come to re-cover the seat!

I found someinstructions that looked workable but I didn't have enough vinyl to do it without buying more.  A check of TradeMe revealed that vinyl is surprisingly expensive.  What to do?

Just then, Martin had to go out.  He went outside then popped back in to pick up a piece of bicycle inner tube rubber, marvelling as he did so that they seemed to be an inexhaustible resource around here.  Ah ha!  I bet they'd make a nice wipeable cover for our stool :-)

A quick internet search revealed that others had had this idea before me.  At first I thought I'd follow these instructions, but Martin thought a woven top would be nicer and I could always seal the edge with more inner tube, rather than metal.  (Aren't the prices being charged for those commercially-available stools astonishing!!)

So, I set to and ripped off the old vinyl.

I piece…

Brick by Brick

A little something we found amusing. For the latest game you have to go to the Guardian's own page.

I don't believe in Bible verses

Earlier this week, Martin and I came across this in our morning reading:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. I know these words as part of a popular hymn/song: one that I have always taken as affirming that things will generally go well for me because of God's love for me.  And yet look at where they show up: in the middle of one of Jeremiahs' laments following the destruction of Jerusalem.

Located there, those words are so very powerful.  Jeremiah is trusting in God's steadfast love, mercy and faithfulness in the midst of destruction.

That song I know so well certainly contains Bible verses but, by taking them in isolation, it makes them sound as if they say something ever so much safer than the original.

I've come across so many examples like this in recent years and they all make me a bit angry.  I no longer believe in Bible verses.  You can find verses that say more or…

Sewing gifts

From time to time I like to share photos of gifts I have made - like these booties I made for Martin's cousin's new baby.

However, there are other gifts I make that I don't tend to photograph.  Here are some of those that I've been working on recently.

As I sew these things, I feel good about the gift I am giving to the people of Bangladesh: the gift of fertile farmland, of fresh drinking water, of children living to a healthy adulthood.

I'm sure I started mending things due to my natural frugality and aversion to waste.  However, as I've learned about climate change I've come to realise that buying new stuff requires lots of energy and hence the burning of a lot of fossil fuels.

This past year, I was shocked to realise that our carbon footprint was significantly up on the previous audit year, even though it was down in most categories.  The difference: we'd bought a similar amount of household goods as in previous years, but had tended to buy new rathe…


I've been enjoying watching this fellow in recent days as he flits about in our quince tree.  He seems to be there most times I'm in the kitchen.  He (or she) moves fast, though, so this was the best photo I could get!

New glasses

My old ones snapped in two about 10 days ago, and I received the new ones yesterday.  It's quite a different look, but I think I like it :-)  Also, we had absolutely fantastic service from Specsavers New Lynn: no hard sell, prompt service and they really put themselves out to accomodate me and my slightly unusual glasses requirements!  Highly recommended.


This week I listened to an Ideasprogramme from Radio New Zealand National on Euthanasia.  The same arguments for euthanasia that I have heard elsewhere came up in the programme: it gives people control over their lives, and people should have a way out if they don't want to be a burden on their families.  As a Christian, I wish to reject both those arguments: control of our lives (including their ending) belongs to God, and independence is not a virtue.

However Dr. Rodney Syme, the last speaker to be interviewed, made an intriguing point that was quite new to me.  He is pro-euthanasia and has dealt with many patients who have wished to end their own lives.  In his experience it is only the middle class and well-educated who want euthanasia - the poor don't seem to ask for it and he doesn't know why.  I wonder if it is because control and independence are luxuries of the middle class?  The poor have never been allowed to feel that they are in control of their lives, and the…

Educating donors

I thought I'd share my response to this post by Vinoth Ramachandra in Sri Lanka.

Hi Vinoth,

You raise good points but, like Carol, I've been wondering what I - a rich westerner - can do with them.  Here are two thoughts:

1. Handled appropriately, child sponsorship itself can be an excellent way to educate donors.  I'm currently reading a Psychology for a Better World by Niki Hare (available as a free download from the author's page here).  The book looks at what psychological research can tell us about how to go about effecting social change.  One point she makes is that people are more likely to respond generously to the plight of one person in need than to the plight of many people in need. Child sponsorship makes use of that psychological trait by giving a potential donor a single person to respond to.

Once the potential donor has responded in that way, the agency providing sponsored children is in a position to further educate them about development needs and where…

Healing as a sign

Recently I've found myself in a number of conversations about why God hasn't healed various people.  Implicit in the question is the assumption - an assumption I've shared - that the primary reason God would heal a person is to relieve their suffering.  However, as Martin and I have been reading the New Testament book of John, that assumption has been challenged.

Firstly, in John 9 Jesus and his disciples encounter a man who was blind from birth.  The disciples want to know why this has happened.  Jesus tells them it is "so that the works of God might be displayed in him" - presumably by the healing Jesus then carries out.

We come across something similar in John 11.  Firstly, Jesus hears that his dear friend Lazarus is very sick, at which he says: "This illness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it."  A few days later, news reaches Jesus that Lazarus has died.  Jesus passes this news on to his di…

Fun with hessian

Late last year I acquired a coffee bean sack. Here are some of the things I've made from it :-) 

Coffee bean sacks are huge!  All of this has used just over half of one side of it!

Sweatshop clothing

At our Bible study group today we got talking about the collapse of the sweatshop clothing factories in Bangladesh and about how we can avoid supporting such factories.  It's a topic Martin and I have been wrestling with for some years: we want to buy products from the Majority World in order to support the employment of desperately needy people; however, we'd rather buy from producers who treat their workers well, if at all possible.

Unfortunately, finding clothing produced in the Majority World in decent conditions is really difficult.  It's easiest to find baby clothing, then childrenswear, then womenswear: menswear is next to impossible.  For adults, T-shirts seem to be the easiest things to find, then really dressy clothes: everyday stuff is hard to source, as is underwear.

With those caveats, here's a list of all the retailers I've been able to locate that sell adult clothing:

Marketplacers (an initiative of the Baptist Union here in NZ)
Micah cl…

In God's hands

Here's something I shared in church this morning:
Good morning.

For those of you who don't know me, my name is Heather, I'm married to Martin and we live with Sarah.

I have a medical condition called chronic fatigue syndrome.  It's a somewhat controversial condition.  Some medical people think that people with this condition have become convinced that they can't do things that they really can do - so to get better they need someone to make them do things that they think they can't manage.  Other medical people think that CFS people have got something wrong in how with how their body works, and that pushing them to do things they can't do actually makes their health a lot worse.  Probably they're both right - some people with these symptoms will get better if you push them, other people will get worse.  For myself, I've had this condition for 10 years and I know that I get worse if I push myself to do more.

Anyway, last week I went to se…

Being human

Last week Martin and I listened to a lecture by N.T. Wright on 'Being Human'.  I was intrigued by his concept of Jesus as the most 'real' human there ever was - living in the world in the way we were always meant to.  I've been chewing over that ever since.

If you'd like to listen to it it's available here.  It's a bit over an hour long and we found it very engaging.  The whole blog that we found it on (from Compass) is also well worth a poke around :-)

Faith and deeds

Recently our Bible study group was looking at James 2:14-26.  It starts out with:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? it then continues with what I've always taken as an example of 'deeds':
Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? however, it's not clear from the text that that's actually what it's an example of: instead, it may simply be an example of words and actions not matching up.  After all, the text simply continues by saying:
In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. This interpretation is borne out by the two explicit examples of 'deeds' the passage does give.  I found these two examples quite obscure until Martin realised that we were thinking of the wrong kinds of deeds.  I was thinking that the 'd…


Earlier this month I noticed a letter in the newspaper of the New Zealand Baptist churches.  In it, a man explained that he had been a Christian for 50 years when he experienced significant complications after a routine operation.  He prayed for healing and other members of his church also prayed for him.  He wasn't healed (although his problem was later resolved by further surgery) and that led him to conclude that God was indifferent to his suffering.  He still believes in God but no longer worships or follows Him.

I felt that, due to my own medical history, I had an unusual authority to reply to this letter.  It's taken a me a few weeks to do so and I've missed the deadline for getting it into April's edition. Hopefully it'll appear there in May.  Here is what I have written:
I was deeply saddened by D. S.'s letter in the March issue of The Baptist.

Like Mr. S., I am afflicted by a medical condition that significantly restricts my life.  For the last ten years…

Neighbours Day

On the weekend, our street celebrated Neighbours Day.  It was the third time we've done it, and definitely the best.  A few more people came and most people stayed a lot longer than in previous years.  I think the bouncy castle and face painting had a big impact on that: drawing the kids out of their houses, bringing their mums and dads with them :-)  I had a good catchup with someone I hadn't spoken to since last year as well as some general chitchat.  It's nice to gradually recognise more of the people I see on the street :-)


Last week we spent a day staying with friends in the next street - escaping the sounds of chainsaws next door.  In the afternoon, a flash of movement caught my eye.  My subconscious promptly identified the bird that settled on the neighbouring roof as a kingfisher; my conscious mind was doubtful.  Surely kingfishers don't have such stunning irridescent plumage?!  Then it turned and showed me its distinctive beak.  No doubt about it: the bird was definitely a kingfisher!

It was a wonder to behold.  I know I only felt that way because my life is so restricted and because it's years since I saw my last kingfisher.  But that doesn't make it any less of a wonder :-)

image source

Ten years on

Last Monday was the 10th anniversary of my developing CFS.

It was a curious day.  Leading up to it I was very aware of it looming ahead of me, and yet whenever I tried to think about what the day meant to me I couldn't: my mind shied away from the topic.

I sincerely believe that I have a remarkably good quality of life, despite my illness.  In may ways, I'm pleased to be ten years down the track.  Those early days were so scary and baffling; these days I'm mostly dealing with the familiar.

And yet I do so wish life was different.

I grieve for the lost possibilities - especially for the children I most likely will never have.  I'm sick of hurting all the time, of rarely having the mental energy to have a decent conversation, of having to push through mud every move I make, of failing to understand so much of what I hear.  I'm sick of having to be so disciplined.  I'm sick of feeling exhausted all the time. I miss human company and generally being out and about i…

Holiday in Whangarei

Martin and I have just got home from a week in Whangarei visitng his parents.  I made it on one outing there: to the A.H. Reed Memorial Park - a patch of forest that includes a boardwalk up near the tree canopy!  It was lovely being there.  Martin also went on a few walks with Dad, including up their local hill - Parahaki.

Photos of those outings, as well as a few from around the house, are up on flickr.  There's also a kind of panorama from the canopy boardwalk here.  If you click on the photo it'll scan around the panorama, but using the mouse you can also look up to the sky and down to the ground.  That was Martin's first go using the fancy panorama feature on his new phone :-)

Incidentally, I remain quite stunned at how well I'm doing since I started taking the ribose back in August.  I've recently reduced my dose (standard advice is that you should do this after about 4 weeks but it was never the right time for me to do this until a week or two back...) and my…

Kiwi cards

I made the above cards yesterday for a couple of overseas friends.  I'm really pleased with them :-)

The desire to be heard

I've just listened to the BBC documentary Voices from the Ghetto, in which Polish Jews describe their daily lives in the Warsaw ghetto during World War II.  It's a sad account of what people can do to other people, but also a striking example of the strength of the human desire to be heard: to know that others know that you exist.

The texts read by actors in the documentary are a tiny fraction of the systematic records left by Jews of ghetto: recorded by individuals, copied in triplicate by a typing pool and periodically buried in metal cans to (hopefully) be found by posterity.  Such committment to the telling of their story!

In a funny way, it reminds me of Facebook.*  Why else do people record the minutiae of their lives (or, indeed, post increasingly outrageous pictures of themselves) if not from a longing to be seen and heard?  They may not have such a terrible or important story to tell but still, I hear echoes between the two in that common desire to be seen, heard and …

The greatest commandment

A recent post on Paul Windsor's blog referred back to his 2008 reflections on David Kinnaman's book Unchurched.  According to research from The Barna Group, non-church-going American 16-29 year-olds perceive the Church as:
 too hypocritical; too focused on getting converts (outsiders 'feel like targets rather than people' p29);too antihomosexual (for a staggering 91% of respondents - as 'hostility towards gays has become virtually synonymous with Christian faith' p92);too sheltered ('Christians seem aloof and insulated', p124);too political ('a movement that was bursting with energy to spread good news to people 20 years ago - has been exchanged for an aggressive political strategy that demonises segments of society', p153);too judgmental.  The thing that strikes me about Paul's list?  When outsiders look at us, they feel our hate.*

It reminds me of my Saturday morning walks to my local Farmers Market when I lived in Pittsburgh.  En rout…