Tuesday, December 27, 2011

This spacious place before New Year.

Christmas was 'simply' marvellous. It started with a  'Santa' gift for our 14-year-old, a big animal rights supporter. She was genuinely happy with her certificate informing her that on her behalf a donation had been made to Animals Australia. (I feel like I have done something right. I wonder how many kids would be happy with this.)

 Four of us took ourselves to church at the decent time of 10.30. We took our time to prepare food and by mid afternoon we were joined by my best friend and her family, down from the city. It made my heart sing to see those teenagers sitting around our dining room table happily playing board games and cards, with no prompting from me. We exchanged no gifts, as planned, and I don't think anyone felt deprived.

The highlight for me though - was the addition of our rescued greyhound. We collected him from his foster carer just before Christmas. It was a 6 hour round trip. What a pleasure it was to share Christmas with him - and most of all to give him a forever home. He is so very worthy of love and we are privileged to have this gentle, placid, regal and most kindly creature in our home. (If you want to know more check out GreyhoundAngels of Western Australia on Facebook.)

 I am happy that Christmas was not materialistic and that our greatest fun came from family, friendship and a dog we've named Jasper (Jasper - a red gemstone - because he is red, and that was his former name, and he is a gem!).

I love that we have this spacious place now just after Christmas and before New Year to reflect on the year and to look forward to the new one.

I am encouraged that we managed to get through the Christmas period with our ideals in tact.

I feel hopeful that I truly can live more simply and that I will breathe a little easier in 2012 because I am finally living by my convictions. I don't have a long list of resolutions this year. I have a visual journal with images and words that support my growing vision of simple living - and a heart of gratitude for things beyond stuff.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Tis the season for re-gifting tra la la la la la la la la....

In the last few days I have given away many loved items. Some of these things came straight off my wall or from around my neck, others were one-day-ers. If one day comes I am sure I will be able to replace them. And how sweet it was to see that I had made the right matches with my gifts. I feel I could give almost everything away now. I could almost do a 'St Francis'. Only my library holds me back from doing this completely, and I rather like my computer! And I have my family reminding me that they do have a say about shared items.

What excites me is that I am not the only one doing this now, this re-gifting.It really doesn't have the stigma it used to. Maybe it depends on how much love goes into it. At our staff party yesterday my Secret Santa gave me a re-gifted gift - two treasured books, one wrapped in a beautiful handmade book wrap! A card said how hard it had been to part with these books that she had read and re-read over many, many years. My language was being spoken and it took all my emotional energy not to cry. It really made me think - anyone can grab a present from a shop shelf, not everyone can give a treasure away. When they do it makes the gift very special indeed ( as long as the recipient is like me and gets it, I guess).

My dear friend Caroline sent me her copy of the Christmas edition of the Australian Woman's Weekly. It just arrived this morning. It is so refreshing to read of people who want, amongst other non material things, 'calm' for Christmas. There is an article about faith and Christmas with one lady featured sharing about how her family buy practical gifts for those in developing countries (two Secret Santa gifts were these yesterday, actually one from me), and a simple liver gets a mention in the Christmas day section. There could be more. This was all gleaned from my first casual flick.

The internet has lots of stories about alternative Christmases - ones that are going back to good old family values, and there seems a lot of talk about it in general.

 Can anyone else feel the shift in the universe? Things are a foot. I wonder if it is just the company I keep, but I don't think it is just that. Materialism isn't what it used to be. It's lies are bringing it undone. People don't want to be in debt to a lie any more!!!

It is funny that as I prepare my heart for Christmas and focus on the coming of Christ, I am also preparing to foster/adopt a rescued greyhound. I told a friend at church about simplifying my life and in the same breath I told her about my dog. She thought that was a contradiction in terms, only it's not, is it? I think I am finally getting it. My life is better when it focuses on relationships - my relationship with my creator God, my husband and children, my extended family, my friends and my pets!

Merry Christmas and if you haven't thought of re-gifting can I suggest you have a go. Pick your recipients carefully and give them something you love. Then watch their reaction and note how happy and free you feel. It really is a gift within a gift. Consider also the value in giving the gift of yourself - the gift of our time. Everyone loves focused attention.

It was said that He (Jesus) would be called the Prince of Peace. May peace be within you and yours this Christmas.


Asta x

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Are clothes a distraction? Thoughts on simple living.

My friend Natalie has been posting 'Finishing 2011 Strong' on Facebook. Today's reading (which must have taken her forever to type out) says so much about simple living and the things that have been on my mind. You can read these words of wisdom near the bottom of this entry.

 I have just finished reading 'The 100 Thing Challenge: How I got rid of almost everything, remade my life, and regained my soul' by Dave Bruno (http://guynameddave.com/100-thing-challenge/). At the end of the book Dave gives the reader suggestions on how to create your own 100 Thing Challenge - and so I am having a go at his first suggestion: Choose seven complete outfits and section them off from your other clothes. Wear them for the next couple of weeks or more. He suggests this because most people are nervous about getting rid of clothes and he wants the reader to prove to themselves that they can 'dress comfortably and look dignified' on less and because 'clothes are a distraction'. You'll notice Natalie's bible verses have quite a bit to say about clothing.

I actually have this bizarre thought - and anyone who knows me will know just how bizarre it is - that I could get rid of all my many, many bright and much loved op-shop finds and just buy a few simple outfits. I wonder how many I would need...any thoughts?  This is like me telling people how much I would enjoy a silent retreat. That comment is always met with cynicism, because I love a chat. But what a relief it would be to do the opposite. (And I know I am suited to it because I have gone long periods without talking, and in company.) The same with clothes. I love colours and accessorising, but what would it feel like to let it go - to wear simple clothing and paired down accessories? (And anyway my funky glasses say it all these days!)

And make up and hair - what of them? I have never regretted shaving off my hair and letting it go grey, and I am always amused and somewhat pleased that people generally like it, and that some see it as an encouragement to do the same.  Today I bravely went to the shop with no make up on! Hah. It felt good. All I had on my face was my home made moisturiser. I have to confess it was only our little local shop. Can I do that down town? At work?

It will be a process - this simplifying, this paring back. In 2012 I am going to make this my focus. Here is Natalie's verses for today. I hope that something in this resonates with you as it did with me. Thanks Nat.

Scripture: Matthew 6:25-34 
MSG-25-26"If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don't fuss about what's on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.

27-29"Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.

30-33"If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

34"Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.— Make a list of your worries and concerns and how those are hindering your journey with God. Are there people or circumstances that need to be fully surrendered? Give each worry to God in prayer, asking Him to shoulder those burdens on your 

Christmas planning update:
In my last entry I mentioned that we are having a no gift giving Christmas day. We now have a little loop hole - re-gifting and making gifts is fine, and the kids are all in agreement. In fact our daughter is so against 'stuff' and 'clutter' that she has stipulated that even a re-gifted gift or a handmade gift must not become more 'stuff'. She says that she feels like she is already drowning in it. Her ideal gift is a consumable! That's easy. Her dad is making her a cheesecake and I am making a writing paper set decorated with potato prints. She's our youngest and a gift giver by nature so this is something that we feel we should do for her. Her brothers seem relieved to be let off the hook. I am really looking forward to our Christmas day, and our focus on Christ, and the gift of time that we will give one another!

Peace be within you this Christmas season.

Asta x

Monday, December 5, 2011


Christmas is just around the corner, and this year more than ever, I feel affronted by the commercialisation of it all. It makes me feel ill. What's happened to me? I'm told that I will make my family happy if I buy them 'stuff'. It is absolutely expected of me. People keep asking me if I have done my shopping yet? The shops keep telling me to buy. The ads on TV, the radio, in the newspaper - tell me I only have a few days left! There is this nagging voice in the back of my mind that tells me I'm mean spirited if I don't buy my children something - and something big. Won't they think that they are unloved? Will they compare me to their friends' mothers? Maybe I won't measure up as a mum. What will their friends think? And so my mind goes on and on tying me up in knots.

Is it wrong to buy something for someone else, rather than my teens and adult son, my husband - like chickens for a family in a developing country through charities such as TEAR Australia, or as I just did today - a book each (The Prisoner: An invitation to hope, Paul Everett) for the lonely prisoners I write to ? Is it wrong to put money into things we can share - like the vegie garden we've wanted to get started? Is it wrong to not spend money at all?

On Christmas day my best friend is coming down for lunch with her family. We have decided that we will not exchange gifts with the intention of turning the focus onto what Christmas is about - the birth of Christ, who would surely have a thing or two to say to us about what we have done with his birthday! I am looking forward to sharing conversation and laughter over a meal, playing board games, to a long walk in the late afternoon, and to just being in the presence of these people I love dearly. I know my children are too, and they have not shown any disappointment at the 'no gifts' idea. (Well at least when it comes to Christmas day. There are a few 'humphs' about no individual gifts at all. We are planning family conference about this. Homemade gifts - especially food, are a real possibility.)

It is difficult to broach this subject with some people, and so I usually don't. It can seem as though I am being self righteous, and not at all how I want to come across. I just want to be allowed to approach Christmas my way, without being labelled a scrooge and yes I would like to challenge my family to consider where we stand on this. Really we have more than enough. Our house can't fit any more. It feels almost obscene.

The first to visit Jesus at his birth were the shepherds. They were humble. They brought nothing but themselves. (Why do we forget this and think of the kings and their expensive gifts?) This Christmas I want Jesus to be enough to satisfy me. And I want to know that I am enough. The love of Jesus is not conditional on a gift. And thank goodness for that. I recently read that we are atrocious at gift giving. Apparently Americans give over 70 billion dollars worth of gifts that the receivers don't want or even like!

Now after reading this you may be surprised to know that I am a gift giver ( I actually love to give something of myself - a prized possession, something I've made, books that will make a difference, a letter or card...). I just don't believe that we have to give expensive gifts that will put us, or our loved ones, in debt. And if there is any time that we should remember this it is at Christmas when Jesus entered this world naked, with nothing but love to give.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Praying with the right side of your brain.

Today I took myself for an artist's date, as prescribed in The Artist's Way. This is one of my favourite parts of this 12 week program. I found a quiet corner outside in a garden centre cafe. I had with me my latest book that promises to teach me to pray with doodles ('Praying in Colour' by Sybil Macbeth), and some trusty art supplies. It took no time at all before I lost myself in the prayer closet of my journal.

It really struck me as quite profound when the author suggested that perhaps I might want to start with my own name, because we often overlook our needs. And yes I feel I have quite a few burdens that I am carrying at the moment. Our family has not had the easiest time lately. So I wrote my name in the middle of the page and doodled all around it. Then I wrote my husband's name and did the same, and then our three children... and then I wrote the name of our little dog - Oliver, who we have just had to say goodbye to after 12 years, and I gave it all to God. I felt lighter when I'd finished my prayer session/ Artist's date.

And so I have found another way to pray - a creative way. It feels like such a natural fit for me. It is such a deceptively simple way to pray and yet it is also deeply spiritual. It is also a lot of fun.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I am once again working through that inspiring and popular workbook - The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron. Using the word 'working' seems somehow wrong because it is sheer pleasure and my creative self is in overdrive. I wonder if this enthusiasm will last all 12 weeks. It helps that I have joined an online support group and we are working through the book together.
And so, after a very long gap, I am blogging again. This is one step in my 'creative recovery'.