How to exercise and get your baby to nap at the same time

This blog post encompasses two problems:

1) Madelyn doesn’t like to sleep. Why would she? Sleep is silly. There are plenty of other, much more fun, things she could do instead. Once she finally gives in and has a nap, she wakes up within the hour, and you can see her thinking “What did I miss out on?!”

2) Finding the time to exercise takes skill greater than I possess. I would love to keep myself healthy, but it’s just so hard to find the time to do it.

I may have solved both of these problems with one simple solution:

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The baby smiled at me while I talked and sung to her until the gentle movement across the water lulled her off to sleep. And then I got to spend a couple of hours kayaking across the lake, enjoying being alone with my thoughts. I even pulled up on the bank under some shade and read while she slept out of the sun.

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I might do this more often.

I love my life.

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Parent, talk to your child about the end of the world

A lot of what I do is based around building relationships with children and young people. I have had thousands of conversations over the last few years, ranging from the mundane to the really serious stuff. The conversations I have with these fabulous little people allow me to have great insight into what is on their minds. One thing that I have noticed a lot lately is the anxiety that children, particularly 7 and 8 year olds, feel about death, dying and the end of the world. Often, I am the first adult they have had the chance to talk to about this, which makes me really sad because it means their parents aren’t talking to them.

I know 7 and 8 year olds are babies, and they seem way too young to need to know about this stuff, but they are picking up bits and pieces and without an adult to talk things through with, they’re getting afraid. This is particularly so with this year being 2012, the year the world is supposed to end. Parent, you need to talk to your child about this. Pretending it isn’t an issue won’t help. They need to know that there is nothing to worry about. Here are the three most common questions I am asked on this topic (my answers are based on what I would say to an averagely intelligent 7 or 8 year old):

1) What happens to you after you die? 
I know many parents choose not to tell their children their beliefs about an afterlife, preferring to let them figure out their own beliefs. I challenge you to tell your child what your beliefs are. She will figure out her own beliefs as an adult regardless of what you tell her – children go against their parents’ beliefs all the time. At this age, children are developing their core values. These will have been developed, for the most part, by age 10. They are figuring out the world, and they need your guidance in doing so. You can start with “I believe…” and finish with a disclaimer that they may believe differently, and that’s okay, if you want, but give them something. Even if it’s “I believe that dying is like having a really long sleep.”
When talking to children in a religious context who ask this question, I say, assuming I have explained the concept of sin and Jesus’ sacrifice:

“The really cool thing about Jesus is that He died in our place, so that when we die we can go to Heaven and be with God. The Bible says Heaven is a really awesome place, with only good things. When our bodies die, our souls (the part of you inside that holds all your thoughts and feelings) go to Heaven. Our souls already know the way, so we don’t need to worry that we won’t know how to get there.”

Hidden questions (the real reason they’re asking) include: Will I know anyone in Heaven/the afterlife/where ever? Will you be there? Will I be lonely and afraid? How will I know how to get there?

2) Is the world going to end in December?
There are adults who have fallen for the hysteria surrounding this, so is it any wonder that children are falling for it? Yes, it is true that the 21st of December 2012 brings to a close the 13th Bak’tun, and almost 400-year long period in the Mayan long-count calendar. But this is like the year ending on our calendar. It’s the end of an old phase, and the beginning of a new one. There is nothing to suggest that it predicts either the end of the world, or a phase in which the world will decline to it’s eventual end. If you are still convinced that there is serious cause for concern, I point you back towards Y2K, when the new millennium was starting and everyone thought that the computers weren’t going to handle the changeover and subsequently the world was going to descend into chaos and then end. Or the countless times a “prophet” has predicted the coming of Christ, and then that day has passed like a normal day. Or the days dated 666 in some way.
With that in mind, I confidently tell children:

“When I was just a little bit older then you are, everyone thought the world was going to end because it was the new millennium and they were worried all technology would fail. I went to bed that night and I was so, so, so scared that I wouldn’t wake up in the morning. But I woke up the next morning, and guess what! The world hadn’t ended! And the world isn’t going to end in December, either. Some people like to say they know when the world will end, but it never comes true. There is nothing to worry about.”

I say this which such confidence because not only is it probably not going to happen, but if it does we’re not going to know about it, because we’ll all be dead. Children don’t yet know how to discern truth from scare tactics from the media. They haven’t had enough life experience to know that predictions such as this don’t tend to result in the world’s end actually happening. The last thing they need is adults buying into the hysteria and scaring them more.

3) When will the world end?
This one usually directly follows the above question. If it’s not going to end this year, when will it end? Spiritually speaking, Jesus could come again at any time. But no one knows when that time will be. The Bible is very, very clear about that. A lot of Christians think that the time is near because current events seem to line up with the prophecies in the Bible. But they have done so since the beginning of time. You don’t think they thought the same thing in either of the World Wars? In the Dark Ages? During the periods of revolutions? The writers of the New Testament clearly thought it would happen any day. No body knows when Jesus will return. Physically speaking, when scientists say “soon,” they are talking within the context of several billion years. Remember that when reading about global warming, imminent eruptions, etc.

“No one knows exactly when the world will end, but chances are it won’t happen while you are still alive. It will probably be thousands of years from now.”

This question scares us all, because we don’t like the idea that we can’t control what will happen. I think that’s why people get so caught up in end-of-the-world predictions. If we can predict it, we can prepare ourselves. The world might end in December, but you might be in an accident and die next week and therefore never know about it. Worrying does nothing to prolong our lives. God knows what each one of our days holds, and no matter what happens between now and the end, all will be alright in the end.

What I now know about life… (Part 4)

For the past few days, I’ve been going through the major life lessons I have learnt while working in full time ministry for the last three years. My job has been to “follow up” the children and young people who attend our events, with particular focus on those who become Christians or make other big life changes/decisions. You can find the past three lessons here, here and here.

The final lesson that I will share is this:

It is better to be rewarded in Heaven then on earth.

One crazy thing I’ve noticed about our society is that we reward stress. We all want so desperately to feel significant, and to feel like we’ve made a contribution. I see so many people working themselves dead trying to prove that they matter, that their contribution matters. Then they complain about how stressed out they are, how hard they’ve been working. They play the matyr role.

I prefer to be a “human being” rather then a “human machine” (unlike my husband, who has definite machine status), so I am not inclined to stress. But over the past three years, there have been times where I’ve been grumpy, short, and talked all about how oh-so-stressed I am, how many hours I’ve worked, how much I’ve had to get done, etc. And it’s not like I am consciously seeking for affirmation that my contribution matters, but after watching people and reflecting on my own life for some time, I’ve found that this is what I, and others, are doing subconsciously.

In the Matthew chapter 6, Jesus issues a warning around how we should pray, fast and give. He tells us that we should not announce it with trumpets, stand where we can be seen by all and change our appearance so that everyone can see. As harsh as it can be to hear sometimes, He tells us that the people who do that have already recieved their reward in full.

This makes me sad, that so many times I have let my pride seek out an earthly reward, at the expense of one in Heaven.

So, the time I gave food to a homeless person, and then bragged about it and only got “That’s really cool” as a reaction, well, I wasted my reward on that one.

The time I went on and on about how tired I was after working a 100 week and just got a few looks of amazement for a couple of seconds, that reward was wasted too.

The time I joked about how little we earn working in ministry, secretly trying to show how good we are for it, and the person didn’t give it a second thought, that was another reward gone.

I didn’t really get much of a reward for all my hard work any of those times, did I?

This last lesson is not something that I have seen in full yet. But the Bible tells us that no mind has concieved what God has prepared for those who love Him, so I trust that the reward I receive for all the times I give with humility is going to be far above what I’ll ever receive here on earth. So I resolve to stop seeking out earthly rewards, and start focusing on the Heavenly reward that is to come.

“Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Matthew 6:4b

What I now know about life… (Part 3)

I hadn’t anticipated how good it would be for me to write about what I’ve learnt in the past three years.

To recap, so far I have talked about the specific gifts God has given me, and humility. Now, for Part 3…

God’s strength is made perfect in weakness.

This has been most evident in my involvement in an annual youth event that draws a crowd of 400 or so.  The great thing about this event is the number of young people who come to know Jesus as their Saviour through it – it’s been running for longer then I’ve been alive, and it is astounding how many stories come out of people first becoming Christians at this event. The not-so-great thing about it is that, as part of my job, I have to get up infront of those 400 teenagers and, pretty much, ask them for money.

Telling people that your cause is a worthy cause that they should get excited about and give to is hard enough. But remember in Part 1 of this series, where I alluded to the fact that I don’t really do public speaking? Well, what I meant was that when I first became involved in the leadership side of this ministry, I refused to talk into a microphone. Everyone else would jump up and introduce themselves, and then someone would go “…and this is Courtney” and I’d wave a little and die inside with everyone watching me.

So, the first year, no one had really mentioned it to me until the day, when someone casually said “So, are you all set to talk about the ministry you guys do and take up the offering?” ….Uh, no. I am not. I tried to be all set, I really did. But I could not do it. Thankfully my friend, Heidi, knows me so well, and she asked if I wanted her to do the talk that year. She is amazing, seriously. We decided that my goal would be to do it next year.

Well, the next year came around faster then I expected it to. It was like I blinked, and then it was time for me to get up infront of all those teenagers and speak into a microphone in front of them. I was so nervous I could barely talk beforehand (people later admitted wondering if I’d do okay and praying furiously about it). Heidi and I went over my notes and then she prayed with me right before we went into the auditorium. Then I went backstage, and I was on my own. The tech guys and the MC were all so casual about it, which I just couldn’t believe. Obviously they hadn’t seen me try to speak just 10 minutes earlier and almost burst into tears. I had 3 minutes, and they would also be playing a highlights DVD of the kids on silent behind me. When I got on stage, I could hardly see anyone, and my heart was beating so loudly that I couldn’t hear them either. I remember saying something along the lines of “You’re not going to believe it, but this event isn’t the only thing we do here” and hearing someone fake gasp, and so I fake gasped back and said “I know!” and then everyone laughed. I relaxed a little after that (because, you know, they got my joke), but every now and then I’d get a little flustered. Halfway through, I mentioned the DVD and so turned around to look at it and saw myself, and I said “Hey! That’s me!” and got distracted for a bit watching it. Then a bit later I noticed that the giant number that I’d seen earlier had said “3” but now said “0.30” and I realised that it was timing me, and I said “Oh, I think I only have 30 seconds left!” When I finished, I practically ran off stage. The speaker, who was standing back stage waiting to go on, said “Well done! And that timer thing freaks me out too.” So, I did it! And then I walked back into the audience and started to cry from relief.

The next year. Oh my goodness, you don’t even know. I was all good. This time, my slot was slightly later, and Heidi and I went up together, but were “interviewed” seperately by one of the MCs. Which meant that I was up there for longer (about 10 minutes), but at least I wasn’t alone. For the first part, while Heidi was being “interviewed” about her role within the ministry and how others could get involved, I just sat and looked pretty. I played with my hair and spun around on the chair* (yep, got distracted…), and laughed at all the jokes.  When I was being “interviewed,” I got so excited about my job that I barely noticed I was speaking infront of 400 teenagers.

Because, you see, the important thing wasn’t that I was on stage, the important thing was the work God was doing, and would continue to do.

Afterwards, many of the youth leaders who had been both years encouraged me about it. But the one that sticks out to me came from the speaker for that year, who had been at the event with his youth group the year before. He came up to me and said “I want to tell you a story. Last year, a young woman got up in front of us and said ‘I hate public speaking, but please bear with me because I want to talk to you about something close to my heart’ and she did well, though she was obviously nervous. This year, a young woman got up on stage to talk about the same thing, but she spoke about it with confidence and passion.” And then, he said to me “That young woman, both times, was you. It is unbelievable how much you’ve grown.”

What was the different between those three seperate occasions? I think that God had taken me on a journey that was bigger then I’d realised. Not only had He grown me in my confidence, but He’d taught me that what I couldn’t do, He could do through me.  

The first year, I had simply said “I can’t do it.” The second year, I had prayed for strength, but hadn’t really learnt how to trust Him yet. At some time between the second and third year, I think that God had taught me that He was in control, and that He wasn’t going to let me stuff it up if I stood aside and let Him do His work through me.

I may be weak in public speaking, or in many other areas. But if there is a job to be done, and God has decided that I’m the one to do it, He will use my weakness to show His strength.  Hopefully, I will remember this, and continue to learn it more fully.

“But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
2 Corinthians 12:9

*That rhymed. I’m a poet and I didn’t even realise ;)

What I now know about life… (Part 2)

For the next few days, I will be going through some of the major life lessons I learnt while working in full time ministry for three years. You can find Part 1 here

Now, for Part 2:

It’s not all about me.

This was a big lesson, and one that I learnt over and over again.

As humans, we so desperately want to feel significant. We want our hard work to be acknowledged, we want people to admire and respect us, we want to feel important. Our pride doesn’t like the hard hit it takes when we feel insignificant.

Working in ministry is often a very thankless job. So often I haven’t gotten the recognition that I’ve thought I deserved. I haven’t felt thanked. I haven’t felt significant. I haven’t felt encouraged. I haven’t felt like I’ve been rewarded for my hard work (more on this one soon). And so I’ve found myself at times fighting to feel significant, getting stroppy, trying to make people see how hard I work and how amazing I am.

But it never turns out the way I want it to.

Why?

Because it’s not all about me.

I didn’t start working here because I wanted to be glorified. I started working here because I wanted God to be glorified through my life. Unfortunately there have been times where, in the craziness of life in ministry, I have forgotten this and started working for the earthly gain of pride.

God has taught me over and over again about humility. There have been times where I have been so wounded by being over-looked or pushed aside, that I have said “No, God, please don’t teach me humility again. I’ve had enough of humility, I can’t take any more lessons on this.” But then He always reminds me that I am a work in process and then – if that’s not enough – that He humbled Himself for me. Jesus, who was there when the universe was created, put on the skin of a human being and humbled Himself first through His life and then through His death, so that God would be glorified and we would be saved. If He isn’t above being humbled for God’s glory, then why should I expect that I am?

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”
1 Peter 5:6

How to get the most out of your dance class (a Wednesday dance post)

Being a dance teacher means that I get a special insight into the ways of champions. There are certain things that a dancer does that increases his or her chances of suceeding in dance. Here is a list of 10 ways to get the most out of your dance class.

1. Be ready to dance when the class starts. If your class starts at 5:45, then you should be outside the class at 5:44 with the correct shoes and clothing on, ready to go. You should not be running to get changed when your teacher opens the door for you to come in. You should not bring your shoes into class to put on while the class warms up. Your teacher should not have to wait for you. Every minute you waste getting ready once class has started instead of taking the opportunity to grow as a dancer, is a minute that you will never get back.

2. Wear the correct attire. Your dance class is at the same time each week. It is not a surprise. “My uniform is in the wash” wouldn’t be an acceptable excuse at school, it’s not going to fly at dancing either. When you get home from dancing, put your dance clothes in the wash that day, and then make sure they are washed and dried for your next class. And know where they are. It is not okay to wear trackpants to ballet because you forgot your tights.

3. Put in your best effort. If you give a poor effort, you’ll get poor results. If you give a good effort, you’ll get good results. If you give it your best effort, you’ll get the best results that you can get. If you don’t try your absolute hardest, there is nothing your teacher can do to make you a better dancer.

4. Know what you’re good at. It is amazing the improvement that comes simply from a dancer starting off with the attitude of “Oh yeah, I got this.” I don’t mean that you need to be cocky, just confident. Confidence starts with what you tell yourself, so stop putting yourself down and start telling yourself what you’re good at.

5. Know what you need to improve on. And then want to improve on those things. If you aren’t so good at leaps, when it’s time to do leaps in class, give it everything you’ve got. It’s easy to get stuck in this cycle of hating what you need to improve on, and so not trying, and then falling even further behind. Be determined, and tell yourself that you want to work hard on those things that don’t come so easily.

6. Pay attention. The best dancers are the most focused dancers. You won’t learn anything if you’re fluffing around or talking. Your teacher should not have to ask you to stop talking or to pay attention. If you want to improve, you’ll do that anyway.

7. Take on corrections, even if they’re not aimed at you. You aren’t perfect yet, so every correction that is given in class can be applied to your dancing, even if the teacher is talking to someone else. And when your teacher corrects you directly, or corrects the whole class, take that on. Your teacher should only have to tell you to point your toes or tuck your tummy in once. If she or he needs to tell you more then once, then you are slowing down your own progression.

8. Take notes. It is an extremely good idea to keep a dance journal where you write down corrections after each class.  Also write down the choreography you learn, and the things you need to remember to master certain technique or tricks. This will help you remember what you learn far more then just keeping it all in your brain will.

9. Practise. You will not improve if you don’t practise. For one thing, dancers who don’t practise are lucky if they can remember choreography, and even if they do they almost always forget the corrections they were given. Don’t have time in the evenings to practise? Get up 20 minutes earlier in the morning. If you’re serious about dancing, you’ll make the time.  

10. Decide where you want to go, and then work to get there. Set a goal for yourself. Do you want to get Honours in your exams? Do you want to win competitions? Do you want to perform in Cirque du Soleil? Figure out what you want to do with your dancing, and then do everything in your power to get there.

Because it’s a Wednesday, I will finish this off with a funny story. I have a little girl in my 6 year olds class who likes to tell stories. She’s told us all about her twin sister, Lucy (she doesn’t have a twin sister), and about how she can do the splits, but only when she’s wearing her sparkly sandals (um, no, she can’t?). Yesterday, she told me that her dad was 152 years old. I know her dad, he’s good friends with my husband. I can’t wait to tell him how old he is.

But how we got onto that subject was a little bit akward. Two of the girls were fighting over the fact that one had bumped into the other, and I (stupidly) said “It’s okay. We’re all okay. No one has died” and one of the girls said “My grandad died” and then they all started talking about people they know who have died. So I was very happy that the daughter of a 152 year old piped up.

“To dance is to be out of yourself.  Larger, more beautiful, more powerful.” 
– Agnes De Mille

When is he going to propose?

“When is he going to propose?”

That was the question I hated most between years two and three of our courtship. But it didn’t stop there:

“Has he told you why he hasn’t proposed yet?”
“Do you worry that he’ll never marry you?”
“Have you got a date in mind when you’ll stop waiting?”
“If he hasn’t proposed by the time you’ve been dating for two years, he probably isn’t going to.”

Constantly. As if there wasn’t something wrong with us because we weren’t married yet. Something wrong with me because he hadn’t proposed.

Christians! Why do you do this to young people? Why has it become the norm to get engaged within a year of meeting each other? Why all this pressure?

I know that there’s this belief that getting married within months will keep young people from having sex. It comes from 1  Corinthians 7:9. But that verse is not saying that everyone needs to get married as soon as possible to avoid having premarital sex. It’s saying that if you can’t control yourself, you should get married. Looking at the verse in context isn’t very hard, you only need to go back eleven words, to half way through verse 8: “it is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am.”

The idea that getting married early into a relationship is good because it will keep the young couple from premarital sex is a myth. The answer to staying away from premarital sex is very simple. “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to Your word” (Psalm 119:9). A person who is not living God’s way is not going to avoid sin.

(And if they do have sex? I’m going to be honest, it’s not the worst thing a person can do).

I haven’t seen all this pressure to get married so young and so soon work very well for that many people. I’ve seen it cause an 18 year old to rush into marriage, only to end up penniless and heartbroken. I’ve seen it cause a 20 year old to search constantly through books and websites for an answer to what is wrong with her that her boyfriend of two and a half years hasn’t proposed. I’ve seen it cause a 22 year old to think that something is wrong with her because she’s not married, and conclude that God must have planned for her to be alone.

Is that really the best life that God wants for young women?

I’m going to say something a little bit risky: I have noticed that men tend to have this ability to cast a vision over a much wider future then women tend to. In other words, if there is a young couple who have been courting (specifically, courting) for two or three or four years, then the young man in the relationship is probably looking five, ten, thiry, seventy years into the future and working out whether or not right now would be a good time to marry. If she is in university, he is considering whether they could afford for her to study in their first year of marriage. If he is looking at changing his job, he is considering whether he can do that and support his wife. If they live in different areas, he is considering where they will live, and whether a commute is possible. A young woman thinks of romance and “I got you, babe.” A young man thinks of providing.

My reference to my husband in this blog is “my tender warrior,” which comes from a book called (suprisingly) Tender Warrior, by Stu Weber. In this book, Weber breaks down the word “provision” to explain that it is about a vision for what is ahead, the original Middle English word meaning “foreseeing”.  

A comment that we both got often was “rings don’t cost that much.” For one thing, my ring is beautiful and did cost quite a bit. But he had it for a while before proposing. Because he knew that he wanted to marry me, he just wanted to give me every I needed within marriage. In other words, he was leading me as a husband should before he even put a ring on my finger.

I have seen rushed into marriages not work, and to be honest, they’re the marriages that happened because the young lady pushed for it. My happiest married friends are the ones who, like me, let their husbands make the decision themselves.