25 December 2013

Countdown to Christmas 2013

When I was a little girl all of our families’ Christians friends celebrated Christmas. It was appropriate and a welcome saying to say, “Have a Merry Christmas!” Now days it is different. I’m almost hesitant to invite friends to my home after the first weekend of December, or share pictures of activities of my home on Facebook. Afraid that my friends see the Christmas tree and lights, or learn that we make Christmas crackers, a Gingerbread house and share presents on Christmas day and get offended. 

The truth is, our family are committed Bible believing Christians who joyfully celebrate Christmas with a Christmas tree and lights, a ginger bread house and delicious meals; the nativity scene and presents, with the sole purpose of celebrating the entering of our Saviour into this world -  be it  the right date or not.

In our home celebrating birthdays are big! We celebrate birthdays for at least two days - the day of the birthday and another day of celebration over the weekend. It is thus just normal practise for us to celebrate the birthday of Jesus, our Saviour.  The children seldom refer to Christmas, rather Jesus’ birthday.  

Over the past few years I learned about Ann Voskamp’s Jesse Tree on her blog, A Holy Experience, but in all the buzz of December never came to make a Jesse Tree.  This year I got The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp and the Lord powerfully spoke into my life.  

“In the Greatest Gift, Ann Voskamp invites you to celebrate the lineage and majesty of God’s greatest gift to us - His Son, Jesus Christ - through the timeless Advent tradition of the Jesse Tree.Beginning with Jesse, the father of David, The Greatest Gift retraces the epic pageantry of humankind from Adam to the Messiah, with each devotional reading, prayer and reflection leading you one glorious day at a time toward the magnificent promise of Christ.Beautifully designed and exquisitely written, The Greatest Gift is a treasured reminder that it is Christ and Christ alone who endows Christmas with meaning.”

The past year was a difficult year. Quite a few changes in my daily life responsibilities, becoming more involved in my husband’s business, my older children (and helpers) becoming more involved in their talents, gifts and interests, taking them out of the home more often. As a result I experienced major tests of faith, holding on to the promises and truths of Christ, my only life-line. 

So this year I planned well in advance to do the Jesse Tree with my Children! I want them to experience day by day the fulfilling of promises in the birth of Christ and His sacrifice on the cross. I don’t want my children to only see the Baby in the Manger on Christmas day.  

I want them to see the whole picture of the Baby, growing up to be the One who sacrifice His life on the Cross for sinners like us, reconciling us with God our Father.  That is exactly what is accomplished with the Jesse tree. 

While I was preparing, downloading ornaments and being in praying anticipation for what the Lord is going to do in my families’ lives, I learned one of my friends got permission from Ann Voskamp, to translate the Jesse Tree in Afrikaans! Wow, what a blessing!  How often I feel we miss out, being an Afrikaans speaking family, with everything available in English. Now the Jesse Tree was translated and available as the “Boom van Isai”. 

By the end of November my Jesse Tree ornaments were printed, laminated and ready. There are two sets of Jesse Tree ornaments available . One from the Jesse Tree devotional - colourful aimed for children, and the Greatest Gift ornaments - classic and timeless. 

Since I was a little girl we had a colourful Christmas tree, and the children have the privilege to decorate it. I got our Christmas tree when CJ was 3years old and Heidi-Mari a baby girl. Each year I allow them to decorate it to their heart’s desire. This year I wanted a real festive atmosphere in the home, with more colour and lights. I saw the opportunity to decorate our Jetmaster fireplace with holly, and Heidi-Mari and I decided to decorate it in a more classic way with red and gold decorations and white lights. We had quite a laugh when the sales person at the Christmas decorating shop’s eyes widened with concern that I want to wrap our fireplace with Christmas decorations. We took the time to remind him it is high summer in South Africa, we do not lite the fireplace during December/January and he relaxed!  

"The Jesse Tree may take on a number of wondrous forms: a silhouette of a tree may be sewn or painted, cut out of felt, quilted, hung from the fridge, a wall, a door, a window. Or it can be a small evergreen tree, a cluster of red dogwood branches, a pot of hemlock, pine, spruce, sticks or holly.  The  27 ornaments may be printed out onto card stock, cut and laminated and strung up, or the ornaments taped , fastened or buttoned  onto your tree."

After we set up the Christmas tree and decorated the Jetmater, I just knew our Jesse tree ornaments, laminated and stringed, need to hang on the holly of the Jetmaster. For this reason we chose the more classic Greatest gift ornaments, to fit the red, gold and white decorations. 

Then despite all my preparations and anticipation, we almost missed the Jesse Tree again.   We should have started on Friday the 29th of November, but it was weekend, filled with activities, packing Above Rubies and restless little children who missed their afternoon naps. On Monday evening I was ready and the little ones who saw all the preparation for the Jesse tree were filled with excitement and anticipation.  That evening after a delicious dinner, while we were still sitting around the table, we started the first day of Advent. 

What a blessing to share the Word of God around the Family Meal Table. 

"The table is more than a place to eat a hurried meal on the run. The table is a feeding place. A place to minister to our loved one’s physical needs and yes, this means preparing and cooking a meal, which means work! Feeding and nourishing our family is a huge part of mothering. But the table is more than a place to feed hungry tummies, it is a place to feed the soul and mind, synonymous with intimate communion and fellowship. It is the heart and soul of family life; it is a sanctuary, a secret place from the daily world of strife, where our husbands and grown children may spend their days. When they arrive home to a waiting table - a table that welcomes them with good food, love and fellowship, the filth of the day washes away. In preparing the food and eating of the meal together, we pave the way for the culmination of the meal - to feed the spirit. Did you know that every time Jesus revealed Himself to His disciples after His resurrection, it was when they were reclining at the table?  God loves to present Himself at the table of the family that fears the Lord. He loves to reveal His truth to us, as we open our hearts to Him and talk of his wondrous ways." 

And this is for our family the blessing of doing the Jesse tree. Each evening, after dinner, we take out the next ornament that reminds us of a story in the Old Testament, from the very first blink of the first star over Eden to the blinding light over Bethlehem - pointing us to the coming promise of the Messiah.  After reading of another promise fulfilled, we’ll hang the ornament of each story on the branches of our tree and we rejoice in the coming of Jesus, redeeming us from a dooming future!  Each child has a change to hang an ornament, while we ask one or two children to pray out loud with us. 

My absolute favourite devotion is the one of Abraham who had to offer his only beloved son, Isaac. How Abraham let his son carry the fire wood and he, himself carried the fire and knife. And then after binding Isaac on the fire wood, hand lifted high to offer his son, God provided a ram in the thistles. God always sees, He will always provide. 

The power of the Jesse tree, is how it talks into my life at first. The Lord ministers into my life in a way beyond what I can imagine. What a joy to share this with my children. 

Years ago, we received a teaching from Bruce Wilkinson on the Three Chairs. Often first generation Christians are sold out, Bible believing Christians, who experience the Lord in every day miracles. They share their testimonies with their children (the second generation), giving them the opportunity to choose to follow Christ. If the second generation do except the Lord Jesus Christ, but do not put Jesus in the centre of their lives and start to experience their own miracles and share their own testimonies. Instead still drawing memories from the first generation, their children, the third generation would most likely deny the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour. The bottom line of the teaching, we must live a transparent Christ-like life for our children, or they will deny our faith, and seek answers elsewhere than from God. 

This past 25 days we could share with our children the miracle stories of the old Testament, but even more powerful, we could link it to stories in our own personal life, many of them current tests and struggles; seeking God for answers and experiencing victory, while they are witnessing and/or are partakers. I could never have imagined the holy moments where a little one get an ‘aaa-haa’ moment understanding a little more about Jesus and their purpose in Him, or an older child nod in absolute agreement.

This Christmas I come to understand more, that getting ready for Christmas has nothing to do with having all the presents and meals ready ahead of time. No! It is all about getting my heart ready to receive this Biggest Gift ever, Jesus Christ, my Saviour!

May you all have a blessed CHRISTlike feast.

Much love

30 September 2013

Dead or Alive

Two weeks ago, Christo and I went away, just the two of us, for the first time in 18 years. I thought the day would never come! 

Since CJ was born in 1994, we only went away once. It was the year after we moved to Cape Town, CJ was only 18 months old. Our business needed serious changes, and my Parents in Law offered to look after CJ, while we went brain storming in a nearby town. Sadly it was the time during which CJ was still suffering from the terrible side-effects of his 15month vaccination, and he become seriously ill during that weekend. Needless to say we decided to not go away ever again while our child, or children (God willing) were small and depending on us.

In 2010, the day of Michael’s birth, Christo won the Sevenpointfive Franchisee of the Year award, winning 7 days in Mauritius.  Three month old baby Michael accompanied us to Mauritius, while CJ (then 15years old), Heidi-Mari and our stunning babysitter, Surine (months before her own wedding) looked after our smaller children, then 5yrs, 4yrs and 21 months old. 

You can read more here and here, how the Lord blessed us during that 7 days. How CJ and Heidi-Mari were a blessing to their siblings, looking after them with the greatest care, and even being ‘virtual babysitters’ for Baby Michael in Mauritius, so Christo and I could have peaceful dinners, while Michael could sleep undisturbed in our room.

The past few months were quite stressful, me becoming more involved in our family business. Life was challenging, trying to balance raising Godly children and being a true Helpmeet to my husband. Then suddenly, out of the blue, everything just came together for Christo and I to go away for just one night to the beautiful Franschoek, just 45min from home!  It happened so quickly, since it was the only weekend in a series of weekends, during which the older four children were NOT having an archery competition and thus available to look after our Health shop and their four younger siblings! 

The weekend was beyond what I could have imagined. Being in my husband’s company for 36 hours, having conversations without interruption, I appreciated more than anything!  The scenery was awesome, the 5star hotel beautiful, the food outstanding and being with my best Friend and the love of my life, amazing!  

Walking through the streets of Franschoek, with everything from handmade chocolate and homemade jams to scarves; wine in dim lighted, damp cellars, others beautifully displayed in sun light rows; a unique shop selling olive oil and balsamic vinegar in all kinds of flavours; walking in the rain in purple lavender gardens and raindrops on sun ripe lemons, was the perfect recipe for a memory making day in my marriage.  

As I reflected on this very special time alone with my husband, feeling alive and loved, I noticed how easily one can get caught up in an overwhelming life full of challenges and emergency situations. The danger of finding a comfort zone in surviving mode, dumbfound, refusing to get fully involved in the moments, in the fear of getting hurt or defeated. 

For some time I did.

There is only one way to get alive when living emotionless. Allow the Lord to open your eyes for His beauty and the love He gave you in your life.

The next weekend we went back to Franschoek for a one day outing, with all our children (except CJ, who went for his first compound bow competition!). It was a beautiful spring day. 

Just the night before it was one of the coldest nights this winter, leaving the mountains  surrounding Cape Town, covered with snow.  We were surrounded with beauty! We again walked the streets of Franschoek, with our beautiful children. Appreciating the comeliness of the scenery, visiting the charming Franschoek Pancake house, delighting in mouthwatering pancakes, peeping into little curios shops, and ended up on the green grass around the Franschoek Memorial, before driving up the Franschoek pass, with it magnificent mountains.

And all the way I was consciously aware of the presence of the Lord in all these beautiful blessings. From my children to the mountains.

Ironically, the beauty was highlighted by the white topped mountains, which was only possible due to the icy cold night before. Then it dawned on me, my life is beautiful particularly due to challenging, stretching, hard and difficult moments. 

The secret is in what I choose to do with it. 

Will I allow it to push me down and make me living like a dead? Overwhelmed and dumbfounded?

Or will I overcome? My God promised He has already overcame! Walking in faith and the hope of the Lord is part of the heritage of the Children of God. In Hebrews God promises His rest, if we mix faith into the Word, so it can profit us.

After experiencing the beauty of the Lord, I choose to walk in victory, because I'm under God's umbrella of hope, faith and love!

What do you choose in your difficult situation?

With much love

16 August 2013

Yeast, Fermentation and Raising Children

I absolutely love the smell of yeast! In my previous posting, I shared my passion for baking bread the artisan way.

One of the highlights of baking bread is the measuring of the fresh, crumbly yeast, then pouring the lukewarm water over it and watch how it dissolves in the water.  

I’m fascinated by yeast and it’s role in the bread baking process.  Yeast is unquestionably the key ingredient in making bread, through the fermentation process.

There are two distinctive phases during the fermentation of dough made with only flour, water, salt and yeast, with no added sugars:

During the first phase the yeast ferments the naturally present sugars in the flour, which can be directly and easily assimilated;

The second phase corresponds to the fermentation of a specific sugar in flour, called maltose, through the action of some enzymes, the amylases. 

The amylase enzyme split starch into much simpler sugars, called maltose. With the help of another enzyme of yeast, maltase, the maltose is then split in the most simple sugar, glucose. 

It is only then that the glucose can be transformed into carbon dioxide and alcohol. 

The two main ingredients responsible for the characteristic light and airy texture in bread.

Interesting when sucrose or glucose (sugar) is added to the basic ingredients to bake bread, they are directly fermented before maltose (phase one), which means in such a dough mainly sucrose and/or glucose are consumed by the yeast. As a result maltose, naturally available in flour, is not consumed as effectively and the bread doesn’t have a distinct characteristic sweet taste, due to only partial consumption of the maltose.

I also noticed something else. Being over 40 I struggled big time with insulin resistance when consuming starch, and then specifically bread. Since I’m baking our bread with only flour, water, salt and yeast, with no added sugar, I started to loose the weight I struggled to do for two years, after three miscarriages. It just might be due to consumption of all the maltose in phase two of the fermentation process. Transforming the maltose into carbon dioxide and alcohol, which evaporate during the baking process.

When thinking of yeast as the driving force behind fermentation and how it allows a dense mass of flour and water to be transformed into a well-risen loaf of bread, which nourish and satisfy us humans, it is not surprising that there are more than 31 passages in the Bible on yeast, of which 7 are in the New Testament. These passages are either parables by Jesus or comparisons by Paul on yeast and it’s spiritual meaning.

Sadly, as much as I am fascinated by yeast, in the Word of God, yeast is symbolic of sin. When taking into account how only a small amount of yeast can have such a crucial effect on dough, it is no wonder Jesus warns us about the effect of only a little sin (leaven) in our lives. 

Some time ago we had an incident with one of our children. For years she was participating in an extra mural which she enjoyed tremendously. Unfortunately over the past year I noticed she became more and more unsettled each time when she got home. The group with whom she practiced was very much into the world with dating and immorality. It become extremely disturbing to her, especially since she boldly declare not being into dating. She knew only a little leaven will soon leaven a whole lump and evil company corrupts. After much prayer she made the decision to stop this specific extra mural. Though it was very difficult and she was sad to stop it, it was worth to throw out the old leaven.  And God was faithful. He gave her something amazing in return. I’ll share about that in another posting soon.

Over the past few months I not ONLY baked perfect, well developed bread. I had quite a bit of failures, too. Most of the time it was because the fermentation process wasn’t in a perfect controlled environment. The fermentation of the dough is very sensitive to temperature. 

Since it is winter and room temperatures are below 20degrees C, I often had to put the dough in warmer areas. My home doesn’t have sunny rooms, so the only place was in a slightly warm oven. But often, when I was distracted, I didn’t control the temperature of the oven as well and the yeast was exposed to too high temperatures, resulting in over fermented bread. 

This just confirmed to me the reason why we’re homeschooling our children. We want to let our children mature in a controlled environment. Children are very much sensitive and receptive to influence, positive as well as negative.  Very much the same as baking bread and controlling the fermentation process of bread. Once the bread goes into the oven, you cannot go back, change the ingredients, make corrections in the ratio or make adjustments to the resting times and temperatures. And as for the quality of the yeast you used, it is only after the bread comes from the oven that you realize the yeast wasn’t fresh.  We have only this one time to raise godly children. 

We have only this one life-time to raise them in a safe, loving, positive learning atmosphere. 

We have only a few years to teach them about God and His creation. 

The Bible is very clear about the influence of bad company. I traced over 50 verses here.

God reminds us in Deutoronomy 7 to teach our children diligently when we sit in our house, when we walk by the way, when we lie down and when we rise up. Sounds like a full time job.

Just as I have to plan my days for baking bread and cannot leave my home, but have to stay busy in and around the kitchen, I cannot raise Godly children as a part time job.

Obviously this will ask for commitment and time investment.  As there is quite a difference in buying shop bread, and the time investment in baking an artisan bread, there is tremendous amount of time, effort and sacrifice in homeschooling my children and raising them with the intention to become Godly men and women for God’s glory!  In a culture where everyone wants everything to happen instantaneously, we have to remember bearing and raising children is a long-term investment, we must think long term - for the future.  

Dear Mother do you dread the commitment and sacrifice of intentionally raising Godly Children?

As I’m writing the finishing lines of this posting, it is just about time to take a batch of bread out of the oven! Oh! I wish you can smell the aroma of freshly baked bread, which fermented for just the right timing in just the right environment. It took time and effort from my side. I intentionally direct my effort to create nice bread. 

I don’t need to remind myself that the reward on raising Godly children for God’s glory will be even bigger, if I intentionally turn my focus on God, His ways and His plans for our family.

With much love

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