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Jo 17I think I can understand shopaholics just that little bit more these days, after my recent forays into finding furniture and other items for our new unit. It has been quite exhilarating to catch sight of something I like in a shop window, walk in, check it out—and buy it. Now I have always been a cautious shopper. Just ask my friend who has accompanied me on these recent expeditions and who also knows me well from past times! Yet, after experiencing that thrill of purchasing something I love at first sight, I can well appreciate how addictive it could become.

Alongside this, I have also learnt a little more about interior decorating. As my friend and I explored the different stores, she pointed out things I would never have thought of—what would go with our current decor, how I could position things well and what colours would look right. All very helpful—and my own likes and dislikes soon became much clearer.

I discovered as well what styles are currently ‘in’ or ‘out’—and what has come back in again too! Everywhere, there was a retro this or that, taking me straight back to the fifties and sixties. If only we had kept some of those things, we might be so trendy—or not!  However, with apologies to my daughter who loves that era, I admit I am not a great fan of retro home decor—or of furniture that seems to be made out of old fence palings or wooden pallets. I like things that look elegant and original, even a little quirky, yet still blend in well with those old pieces of furniture we are never likely to change, like my grandparents’ old, walnut piano!

After each of these shopping expeditions, I have sensed God’s delight in the beautiful things I found to buy—things that truly reflect God’s own creativity, in my opinion. Yet my mind has also been filled for hours with even more ideas of what would suit our lovely unit and what wouldn’t. I have felt energised by it all and am eager to hit those shops again—and buy. I want everything to look good. I want … I want more stuff!

Then this week, I read 1 Peter 1:17-18:

Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For you know that is was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

Wow—‘live your lives as strangers’! Yet how easily I have found I can be sucked into putting so much more store on owning just that right material possession here and now and of spending too much time dreaming about it all. Yes, I will enjoy the lovely things God has enabled us to buy right now and is delighted to give us, I believe. But it’s good to remember too, don’t you think, as Paul reminds us in Colossians 3:2, to set our minds on things above rather than on earthly things?

I hope I have the balance right. And I hope you do too.

Jo 12I have never been a great furniture shopper. After all, we lived in a small house for thirty-two years where there was often no room and no funds for a bigger—or better—this or that. If something worked, we tended to hang onto it, even if it looked a bit worn or old-fashioned.

Since we have moved into a beautiful, new unit, however, the picture has changed. We decided we needed several lovely, new things. As it happens, I have a friend who has a good eye for colour—plus she tells me she has such fun spending other people’s money! So we embarked on a shopping spree. Over several hours, we managed to tick five items off my list. Wanting to save a few dollars, we decided to pick up a TV unit I had bought rather than pay to have it delivered—and noted it came in a rather large flat pack. Hmm.

I knew my husband would sigh when he saw it, because he has had some interesting experiences putting together things in flat packs. One TV unit we bought years ago was supposed to take three-quarters of an hour to assemble. Three hours later, it was finally finished! With this bigger, new one, I did offer to help, but he decided to work quietly by himself, methodically checking every step. And several hours later—voila! There was our completed unit—and I must say it looks excellent. Yes, it took a while, but if I had attempted it, I would probably still be working on it!

We have both had to put not only several individual items together in this move (some without any instructions!), but whole rooms of furniture. Where would this or that fit? Where would it look or work best? Should we throw it out and buy something new? And that’s when I began to reflect on God’s amazing ability to arrange not merely rooms in a house, but our entire, very messy, complicated lives.

At various times over the years, God has managed to put the pieces of my life together in wonderful ways, rearranging things, pointing me in another direction, giving me hope, showing me the best way ahead. At one stage years ago, friends suggested I might try a different occupation, but I could see no way of doing that. Yet God managed to provide me with a job that suited my abilities so well and even gave me skills I would need years later as a writer. At another stage, when I wondered if my first novel would ever find a publisher, God managed to do just that. And now, as we have recently moved house, God has done it again and provided somewhere special that is so beautiful, quiet and comfortable—just right for us.

I’m very thankful I belong to that Master-builder who is able to put those pieces of my life together in a way that is so wise and just so right. Truly, God’s ways are vastly different from our ways—and so much better too!

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9

Jo 17‘So how is the moving going?’

I looked around, trying not to drop the mountain of things I was carrying into our lovely, new unit in a village complex. Then I saw a lady eyeing me curiously as she worked in a nearby garden.

‘Oh, not bad, thanks,’ I responded, keen to keep going, yet realising I needed to introduce myself. ‘My name’s Jo-Anne. You’ve done a beautiful job in the garden here.’

We chatted on—and then my new friend came out with something that took my breath away.

‘We’ve been praying for you, ever since the man who lived in your unit left ages ago,’ she said in such a matter-of-fact manner that I wondered if I had heard her correctly. Did she really say that word ‘praying’? I decided to fish a little.

‘Er … did you know my husband has been a minister all our married life?’

‘Yes—we did hear that,’ she admitted. ‘We go to church in Auburn.’

‘Which church?’ I asked, unable to resist fishing further. ‘I know Auburn quite well.’

‘The Salvation Army,’ she responded. ‘We have so many different nationalities there. They all love us and call us “Mum and Dad” or “Aunty and Uncle”.’

I was gobsmacked—as I have been several times lately during our move from our old home into our beautiful unit. At each step of the way, God has guided us, protected us and watched over us. Now here someone was telling me she had been praying for us for months!

‘Wow—thanks so much for those prayers,’ I told her. ‘Lots of people were praying for the sale of our old home and that worked out so well. Now I find you’ve been praying for whoever would move into this unit. No wonder our move has gone so smoothly!’

The next day, I saw her again. I had decided to ask our near neighbours first, before playing my piano, but as it turned out, I had to practise briefly before I could do this. You see, just before moving into our Village, I was asked to play for the monthly church service here, to be held two days after we arrived. I usually don’t play for services anymore—so what a surprise to find myself doing such a thing again! It was as if God was saying, ‘Come on, Jo—you can do this! Let’s bless some more people with those gifts I gave you!’ Now however, I decided to ask at least this one neighbour.

‘Oh, I’ve been waiting for you to play!’ she said. ‘And I’m sure no one will mind at all.’

I was relieved. It had been a moot point whether to bring my piano with me at all, but now through this lady’s response and through being asked to play for the service, it seemed so right that I had.

Truly, God hems us in, behind and before, as David wrote, watching our backs but also smoothing the path ahead for us. And, just like David, that is the type of love I still cannot fathom. How blessed we are!

You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Psalm 139:5-6

Jo 23In the past few weeks, we have had the joy of reconnecting with various old friends, as we have prepared to move house. Some have emailed, in response to our emails notifying them of our change of address, expressing their delight that we have found somewhere lovely to live. Others have said they will come and visit, once we are fully settled in. Still others called in before we moved out, making their way around boxes and enjoying a final, informal cuppa in our old home.

One couple came with whom we have stayed in contact for over forty years, mainly through email and Facebook. Yet when we met again face to face, the years simply fell away. We had heard they were shipping old but good theological books to an overseas country and asked if they could use my husband’s remaining books that we simply cannot take with us. What a joy to know these volumes will be used yet again by those who truly need such resources! And what a joy too to see how this couple have remained so faithful to God over the years, using the gifts God has given them in amazing, practical ways, with such servant hearts!

Another popped in with homemade slice in hand to visit us one last time in our old home. Many years ago, we were in the same small group at church. As we talked, I realised all over again the journey we had shared during those years and beyond, as this girl went through huge, traumatic life events. Yet here she was, still firmly trusting God, ready to pray with us as we faced our big move. Over the years, we have not seen each other often, yet our friendship has remained as fresh and firm as ever. How deep those roots go when we share those big life experiences with others and with God!

As for those emails from family and friends, I found myself deeply touched by the good wishes in them and especially those assurances of prayer on our behalf, as we said goodbye to our old home. Some emails were only brief, yet I could still feel that heart connection with those who wrote them and picture their faces as they did. One girl I rarely see but with whom I have shared some deep things via email simply wrote: ‘Oh Jo! That’s huge!’ Those four little, heartfelt words almost brought me to tears. Immediately, I could tell she was with me in spirit, feeling for me, praying for me, understanding the depth of emotions I might well be experiencing as we move. What a comfort and privilege to have such constant friends like her who love us and are so concerned for our wellbeing!

Then one morning just before we moved, I ‘happened’ to read Psalm 121. And it was as if the Lord, the greatest Friend of all, reached out to me once again, wrapped his arms around me and lovingly reassured me of his faithful protection:

The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.   Psalm 121:7-8

What more could we want or need? Forever friends—with God and with so many others.

Jo 12After thirty-two years of living in our little, weatherboard house here in Sydney, the week when we move is finally here. Most rooms are filled with boxes, waiting for that truck to arrive on Friday and relocate us just a few kilometres away. Over the past few weeks, I have slowly made my way through all my packing, stopping at times to reflect on memories associated with this or that possession, sometimes culling further, but also holding onto various bits and pieces that still have too much sentimental value to be thrown out.

In many ways, it will not be a wrench to leave. Our old, comfy house owes us nothing—it has served us well, even when our three children still lived at home and it was bulging at the seams. And it has served the next generation well too, with our two older grandchildren spending many Fridays here when they were younger. To me, it is lovely too that even our two younger grandchildren have memories to take with them from Nanna and Granddad’s old house. We hope and pray the next owners will be equally as happy here, perhaps raising their own family to run around the garden and attend school nearby.

Yet in other ways, it is sad to say farewell to a place where so much happened for each family member. For me personally, this is where I prepared all those lessons and marked those piles of exercise books, after returning to teaching when we first moved here. It was here many years later, too, that I returned to study and sat on a stool at our kitchen bench for hours on end at our big, old desktop computer, completing those assignments for my theology degree. Later still, I wrote my first five novels on my trusty laptop at the end of our kitchen table, packing up everything before dinner. Three more books emerged after I finally ended up with my own desk in our spare bedroom—the room where I am now writing this blog for the last time. These are just a few of the many memories I will take with me.

A few days ago, in the midst of this slightly surreal time in my life, I was particularly touched when God reached out to me yet again through the words of a psalm my mother used to sing:

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young—a place near your altar, O Lord Almighty, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you. Psalm 84:1-4

Yes, this psalm may well be speaking of a physical ‘house of God’. But it reminded me too that, no earthly home, whether old or new, can compare with being at home with God. What a beautiful place to live, enjoying God’s close, comforting presence each day! Wherever I am, I am in God and God is in me. And this is the home where I plan to stay put, both now and forever.

Jo 17There are some great perks in selling my books at a school Mothers’ Day market each year. One definitely is watching the children try to decide what to buy their mothers and grandmothers. The youngest students tend to have only five dollars at the most to spend—although this year, I saw one girl waving a fifty dollar note around! Yet, whatever amount they have, each one comes hoping to find something they are sure their mother or grandmother will love—and it is all quite heart-warming to watch.

I couldn’t help but smile as I saw one class sitting together, waiting for the stragglers to finish making their choices. Almost all of them were pulling their prized purchases out of their bags and proudly displaying them to their friends. Some had bought special cards to write in. Others had found sweet smelling candles or soaps. Still others had decided on some jewellery or clothing item. One little girl held up what looked like a rather large, garish, bright red satin cross on a ribbon, complete with white crocheted edging. Hmm! Her face was pink with excitement, as she lovingly stroked her precious gift. In my heart, I hoped and prayed her mother would be delighted when she received it—or at least pretend to be! I could not imagine any mum wanting to wear it, but I hoped this little girl’s mum would think of some special use for it.

Now I go to these markets with other hopes as well. Yes, I hope I will sell a good number of my books. But beyond that, I hope that the books I do sell will be read and enjoyed by the mothers or grandmothers who receive them and that they will draw them closer to God in some way. Can you imagine how lovely it was then when a young girl came bounding up to my table early on with a beaming face and pointed to my latest novel, The Inheritance.

‘Oh, I bought that book last year for my grandmother and she really, really loved it! So she wants another one of your novels!’ she told me, almost breathless with excitement.

Not long after, a staff member came by and pointed to my first non-fiction book, Soul Friend.

‘I bought that as a gift for a friend in Canada last year—and she thought it was wonderful! She’s now in the middle of lending it around to all her friends there.’

How encouraging both these conversations were for me—as I know they would be for any author. We write in the hope that our books will strike a chord with people, but we never know if that will happen. After all, our readers have different tastes and needs—and that’s okay. So I have learnt to be grateful when I receive such positive feedback, but not to set my hopes on such things. Instead, I know I need to keep my eyes focussed firmly on God, the best encourager of all, and trust the One Who gives me deep and lasting hope—hope that will never disappoint.

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. Psalm 62:5-6

There is something quite therapeutic, I have discovered, about throwing things out—or perhaps I should change that statement to some things! Yes, I admit I do still have trouble parting with my beloved books and old music. So, as we prepare to move soon, those precious items are packed tightly away, in the hope I can find a spot for them in our next home.

It has amazed me how much extraneous stuff I have found everywhere that I have had no trouble getting rid of, however—forgotten things, things I have rarely used, things I had always thought were ugly but, for various reasons, had kept them in the corner of a cupboard. Somehow it is kind of freeing to place them in that bulging bin outside or give them to someone who truly likes them or can see a use for them.

IMG_20170507_162156393Then there are those larger items we have used for so many years that are now too shabby or too big to be taken with us to our next home. I had thought I would feel some pangs of grief as we put certain of these items out on the footpath this past weekend for the council clean-up. Yet instead, what fun it was to watch some of them disappear, as various passers-by decided they would like this or that!

First off, I watched as the metal scrap dealer wheeled away our daughter’s ancient bike, along with another daughter’s very heavy, old vacuum cleaner. Then I smiled as I saw two young men take an old bedside chest of drawers. My husband had kept lots of paperwork in those drawers throughout our married life—what would those drawers hold next? And how good it felt to give away our old, art deco sideboard to someone who plans to do it up! We bought it second-hand around forty-five years ago for twenty dollars when we first moved to Sydney—it owes us nothing and will hopefully take on a whole new lease of life as a trendy, art deco piece of furniture in someone’s lounge room.

It seems to me that our whole house has become lighter, as we have gradually got rid of all these possessions of ours. Of course, we still have more than enough left—embarrassingly more than enough. As I pack, I keep thinking of those in other countries who would feel wealthy beyond measure to own this or that item or so much stuff in general. Perhaps this move has been a good exercise in itself to remind me of that and to nudge me towards sharing what I do have with others in a much more generous manner.

But beyond that, I have also been reminded of a sermon illustration my husband saw as a young man. The preacher took a bowl of water, dipped his hand in it and then shook the drips of water off his fingers. ‘That’s how lightly we need to hold onto our possessions in this world,’ he told his congregation.

And that’s an important lesson I need to learn too.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 1 Timothy 6:6-8