God’s gifts in suffering (1) Introduction

Life, Sola Panel, Sola Panel

flickr: Sadness by SashaW

Suffering. You don’t know it till it’s grabbed you by the neck and held you down for weeks, months, even years.

It drives out every subterfuge and scours out every illusion. It chases you into every corner and steals every illusion of control. It empties you of every vanity and robs you of every trace of self-reliance.

If you’re stubborn like me, this takes some time. (more…)

A cry of hopelessness

Life, Sola Panel, Sola Panel

What I’ve written here is not all that can be said about suffering: far from it. But I’ve published it, somewhat hesitantly, because I think suffering will drive all of us to this point sooner or later.

flickr: Pink Sherbet Photography

I sit there stony-faced, staring out the windscreen, driving in automatic, lips pressed together. I’ve had enough. I don’t want it any more: this struggle and these doubts and these unanswered prayers. I’ve had enough. It’s been a long week – a long year! – and there’s nothing left. I’ve had enough.

My 12-year-old son sits next to me. (more…)

Reading Leviticus

Life, Thought, Sola Panel

I’m reading the Bible through, chronologically this time. I’ve just got to Leviticus: the shoal that’s wrecked a million Bible reading plans (at least, it did mine when I was a teenager). Once again, as I read this hard part of God’s word, it seeps into my skin and reshapes my insides. 

flickr: natematias

There’s something beautiful about Leviticus. Sometimes, like those 3D pictures, you have to blur your eyes to see it. As you persevere through the bewildering details (split hooves? a sore with white hairs in it? two materials woven into one?) you begin to sense the outlines. Laws that protect life and relationships. Laws that forbid detestable practices and depraved worship. Laws that uphold justice and provide for the poor.1

There’s also something terrifying about Leviticus. (more…)

A son for sacrifice

Thought, Sola Panel

It’s nearly Christmas. My children read stories about lambs and donkeys visiting a baby, but the story I’m up to my Bible reading plan shows the season in a different light…

Rembrandt: The sacrifice of Isaac (detail)

How strange Genesis 22 has always seemed to me. Why would God ask Abraham to sacrifice his son? What kind of Father asks another father to kill his child? Did Sarah know what was going to happen as her husband and son left that day? What psychological scars did Isaac carry into adulthood? (A very modern question, I know.)

What did it cost Abraham to take each step on that three-day journey? (more…)

Why I read my children stories

Life, Sola Panel

illustration by Pauline Baynes

I stood under my favourite oak trees today and stared upwards, heavy dark branches and deep green leaves reaching into the blue of the sky. For a moment I was far from here, in the Enchanted Wood or Narnia or Middle Earth.1 (more…)

The joy of service (2)

Everyday Ministry, Life, Sola Panel

In my last post, The joy of service, I wrote about the need to serve practically when all you want to do is teach. Karen asked a great question: “Does it work the other way, Jean–when you’re good at (and often prefer) to stuff envelopes, stack chairs and wash dishes, but the thought of leading Bible study fills you with extreme terror?” Here’s The joy of service re-written (with apologies) for such a person. Because, yes, I have friends who lead Bible studies even though it terrifies them. And, yes, it works both ways. (more…)

The joy of service

Everyday Ministry, Pastoral Ministry, Sola Panel

flickr: UggBoy

I’m no behind-the-scenes servant. My love is given to wordy ministries: the nervous plunge when I teach a group of women, the energy that sparkles in a small group, the light in a friend’s eyes when God’s truth sinks in. If I’m honest, I also love the recognition that comes with this kind of ministry. There: I’ve said it.

The humble roles, the practical roles, the self-effacing roles: they don’t come naturally to me. Setting up for a meeting, cooking for an event, serving food, running crèche, stuffing envelopes: these mundane tasks aren’t on my bucket list. I have to fight my inner whinger as I do them. I don’t like this about myself, but it’s true.

I know this isn’t good enough. (more…)


Life, Sola Panel

We made a fire today:
piled branches
in a top-heavy heap
and watched
as flames licked and spat and hissed,
roared high above our heads,
flicked their tails in a column of

Thanksgiving: it’s not trivial.

Life, Sola Panel

flickr: Liz Grace

“Count your blessings.” “Put a smile on your dial.” “Raindrops and roses and whiskers on kittens.” Thanksgiving has always seemed a bit trivial to me, a Hallmark greeting card sentiment next to the lyric poetry of praise.1

Here’s how my (faulty) reasoning goes: (more…)

Of God’s gifts and chocolate torte

Everyday Ministry, Life, Sola Panel

Jess’s chocolate torte

I burst into tears.1 It was one of those comments made occasionally by even the most sensitive of husbands as he dares to go where female friends fear to tread: “Jess made some yummy gluten-free sandwiches for the staff meeting today. You should get the recipe!” (more…)

Learning to see God’s glories in a Melbourne spring

Life, Sola Panel

flickr: Pink Sherbert Photography

A week ago it came, kicking its heels like a witless lamb. Spring. Didn’t it know it wasn’t due yet?

We’ve been locked down in cold for months. We swap war-stories of coughs and runny noses, risk suffocation under layers of bedding, and shiver in the school yard as we wait for the kids to emerge from over-heated classrooms. I listen to winter complaints but secretly love it: (more…)

Giving thanks for suffering

Life, Sola Panel

Edvard Munch: The sick child (detail)

I’m striving to be more thankful. Self-pity is one of my habitual sins, and I’ve found thankfulness to be a wonderful antidote.

There is one place where thankfulness is particularly difficult for me. For many months I’ve watched my son struggle with ongoing sickness. (more…)

In the footsteps of Ezekiel

Life, Sola Panel

Ezekiel: Michelangelo

When a man was called by God to be a prophet in Israel, he could be pretty sure he wasn’t in for an easy life. Jeremiah, marked out as a traitor by his own people, thrown into a cistern and waiting for his nose to slip beneath the mud (Jer 38:1-28). Ezekiel, his life a bizarre acted parable of Jerusalem’s fate, lying on one side for months on end and cooking his food over excrement (Ezek 4:1-17). Hosea, commanded by God to marry and be reconciled to an adulterous wife, to picture God’s relationship with his unfaithful people (Hos 1:2-11, 3:1-5).

All those words of judgement, all that rejection, all that sacrifice! I sometimes think how glad I am that God didn’t make me an Old Testament prophet.1  (more…)

The delightful results of memorizing the Bible

Life, Sola Panel

This is the final post in my series on Bible memorization. Today I’ll talk about the “why” of memorizing Bible passages and the impact this has had on me. You can read part 1 here, part 2 here and part 3 here.

flickr: chefranden

God’s word written on three-by-five inch index cards: it doesn’t sound like much of a weapon. But there I was, sitting on the floor, staring out the window, repeating words scribbled on the index card in my hand: “…do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own…” (Matt 6:34 NIV).