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The moment had come. For some time, I had planned to clean out a particular bedroom drawer that was stuffed to the limit with precious memorabilia—cards and notes I had received over the years, old school reports, certificates for music and academic achievements, programs from concerts and shows I had attended. It all seemed far too daunting, since I knew I would not want to throw any of it out. But I could not put it off any longer.

First, I tackled all those cards. Many were beautiful thank you notes from groups where I had spoken or from readers who had appreciated my books and taken the time to let me know. Others were special birthday or Mothers’ Day cards from our granddaughters, some handmade, with lovely messages inside written in wobbly letters. After reading them all again, I decided it was pimg_20170211_103120558-2robably time to throw away most of the thank you notes at least … but surely I could keep those precious Mothers’ Day cards?

I dug deeper and found more home-made Mothers’ Day cards from our own children, including one that said: ‘You will like this … and it only cost $1.49!!’ I found some funny notes as well: ‘Dear Mum and Dad … could you please make sure that in the morning Tina does not, I repeat, NOT wake Andrew or me up and play the piano? Thank you. Warning: If Tina does do these offensive things, you will probably not live to regret it—that goes for Tina too!’ From your loving daughter, Jane.’ Still another was in distinctly grovelling mode: ‘Mummy darling dearest, if you are in a fantastic mood, PTO. If not, don’t bother!’ How could I throw such gems out?!

I kept digging and soon found many more cards written to me at key points in my life. Cards for key birthday celebrations. Cards when moving on from jobs. Cards congratulating me on my graduation from theological college. Cards on the death of my mother. Cards on leaving our church. Cards for no reason at all—except simply to encourage me. So many words written just for me. So many words expressing so much love and heartfelt thanks for things I had said or done, some of which I now have no memory of saying or doing.

As I completed my mammoth task, I felt quite sad and nostalgic. I sat still for a while, trying to let all that love and affirmation people had expressed sink in. And in the quiet, I sensed God saying, ‘Remember my words to you too and take them to heart.’ Then those precious snippets came flooding back—words I tend to forget so often:

I will never leave you nor forsake you. Joshua 1:5

I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving kindness.” Jeremiah 31:3

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. John 14:1

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. John 14:18

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. John 15:16

I love reading those heartfelt words from family and friends. But these are the best heartfelt words ever, don’t you think?

I stood watching our five-year-old grandson digging in our front garden. I had suggested we pull out an almost dead shrub—a task he carried out with great relish! But now came the tricky part—preparing the ground for whatever I would decide to plant there next.

Our Zain can be an eimg_20170127_151716548xcellent helper. The previous week, he and I cleaned our very dirty garage door that rarely gets closed because my car cannot fit in our carport! Zain did an amazing job, scrubbing hard and hosing down everything in sight—including me! But gardening? Well, let’s just say I was a little concerned about the welfare of the other nearby plants in my garden.

However, I had promised he could help, so we forged ahead. I let him use my small trowel to form a neat hole that soon became bigger … and bigger … and bigger. I hurriedly pushed some dirt back in and suggested we didn’t need it quite that wide. So then our hole became deeper … and deeper … and deeper instead! At that point, I explained we needed to water the ground, so it would be nice and moist for the new plant. And soon my little helper had created an interesting mud puddle, complete with brown bubbles gurgling up in the middle.

Deciding distraction was the best option, I suggested we head off to buy our new shrub. Nurseries are not the best place for active grandsons, so I decided the first native plant I saw on a ‘specials’ table would do. Anyway, how could I go past a shrub called ‘Nandina Nana’? We headed home and Zain seemed determined to get our purchase into the ground as quickly as possible—even though I could see that hole was not exactly where I wanted it.

The next day, when I checked on our handiwork, I noticed the ground was still soft. img_20170203_081329095So—you guessed it—on the spur of the moment, I dug my little shrub up and moved it about twenty centimetres to the left, where I had wanted it to be all along! Hopefully, Zain will never know. And yes, my ‘Nandina Nana’ is still alive—for now at least.

As I reflected on our gardening attempt, I could not help but remember the many times God has had to exercise great patience with me, as I forged ahead willy-nilly in life, wanting to help others without stopping to listen. How many times has God mopped up messes I created as a result? Just as well the Supreme Fixer-Upper has been so ready to forgive my failures and mistakes, put my botched efforts to rights and enable me to stand tall again.

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. Psalm 103:8, 13-14

Each day as I walk past my new little shrub, may it continue to remind me to be so thankful for our patient, compassionate God. May I learn to listen more often—and then obey. And may God enable me to show something at least of that same patience and compassion towards others, including our lively grandson!

Jo 17I wonder if you have ever experienced one of those days when it is brought home to you how short life really is. Last week, three events converged in one twenty-four hour period that highlighted for me the fact that our lives here on earth do not last forever.

The first event was my birthday. Now, I haven’t hit the big three score year and ten as yet—although I’m not far off! To be honest, I don’t mind growing older, for various reasons. For a start, I think I am finally learning some wisdom from life’s experiences and from what God has shown me over the years—and it feels good to be able to pass this onto others when I speak publicly or in the course of a private conversation, as well as via my writing. But secondly, it means I know am getting nearer to meeting Jesus face to face. With that in mind, things seem to fall into perspective in life so much more readily, don’t you think?

The second event that same day was our five year old grandson’s visit. He arrived, full of energy as usual, ringing the doorbell, then running and hiding, so that we had to say to his mum, ‘Oh hello! I thought you were bringing Zain today! I wonder where he is!’ Throughout the day, as I chatted to him, I was amazed at the way his curious little mind works. He is at an important threshold in his life, about to start ‘big school’, and I wonder what all the years ahead will hold for him. What direction will he choose to take in life? Where will his focus be?

The third experience my birthday held was an appointment in a nearby retirement village to inspect a unit. As we waited for the sales person, I glanced around and noted several elderly people engaged in various activities. They moved slowly—in stark contrast to our grandson, who wanted to run everywhere and was so curious about everything! Some smiled politely, but I wondered if our grandson was making far too much noise for them in this quietest of places. Sometime in the distant past, those people had been young too. They had been full of energy and curiosity, running around everywhere like our grandson—yet now life has slowed down so much more for them. What had they done in those intervening years, I wondered. Had their dreams been fulfilled? Had they lived for God? Were they looking forward to that day when they would meet God face to face?

In James 4:13-14, we find the following solemn reminder:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

Yes, on my birthday, I was reminded again how nebulous and brief our lives truly are, when compared with eternity and when viewed from God’s perspective. So, before we vanish like that swirling mist, let’s live each day well, trusting God with all our tomorrows, grasping every opportunity to love and bless others and to shine God’s light wherever we are!

Jo 12I am so thankful for computers and the internet–for enabling me to email others so easily, maintain a website so people can find out about my books, write a blog each week and link it to Facebook, and also research all sorts of weird and wonderful topics—including how to deal with that pesky wasp’s nest under our back steps right now!

But last week, I came to appreciate another whole aspect of the internet, after my husband spoke at our church on Sunday. As is the custom there, his sermon was made available on the church’s website immediately after as a podcast for anyone to listen to (please click here).  Now I had not considered to any great degree how useful this might be in a church context, in this day and age when some people might be unable to get to church because of work commitments or the busyness of life or any other reason. In fact, at times, I had even wondered if anyone listened to such podcasts. How wrong I was.

You see, last Monday, a very special email was forwarded to my husband from our church office—and what an encouraging email it was! Someone had taken the time to listen to his sermon podcast and then give some wonderful feedback. Here is part of what this lady wrote:

Recently I have taken to listening to your weekly presentations on your website. Yesterday’s “When God Is Silent” was especially relevant in my life at the moment and I am so pleased I was not in church as it was being said as I would have just fallen apart. …

The writer went on to thank my husband for what he had said and the power and healing she found in it. She then continued:

Although I still have no idea why I am going through what I am going through, I now can acknowledge that it is not because I have been forsaken, but I must wait for God’s plan to be revealed to me and rejoice in all the little encouragements I receive. …

Thank you again. Just thought you would want to know.

Not all of us have our words recorded a podcast for anyone to listen to. But almost all of us talk every day—some of us quite a lot! Wherever we have an audience, even if only an audience of one, our words have power to impart hope and healing, wisdom and comfort—but also power to hurt or shame or discourage or anger.  People—especially our children and grandchildren, I have discovered—seem to remember so much of what we say and take things to heart in ways we would never have imagined. How careful we need to be with all those words that flow so easily from our mouths!

So this week, may the words you and I say in whatever context be spoken with great care. May they bring life and not death, hope and not discouragement. And may each one of them reflect our gracious, loving God, just as is needed, to those who hear.

A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. Proverbs 25:11

Words are powerful; take them seriously. Matthew 12:36 The Message

I was intrigued, even as I opened the lovely card that had just arrived for me in the mail. Apart from anything else, hand-written cards or letters do not pop into my mailbox often these days, what with emails and other electronic forms of communication. Who would bother to write at length to me in this way—and so neatly and carefully too?

I soon discovered thimg_20170116_123459191_hdre card was from a lady I had never met. She had just finished reading my latest book, Becoming Me, she explained, and wanted to tell me how much she had enjoyed it. But that was not all. She went on to tell me she had thoroughly enjoyed all my books and had not been able to put any of them down until she had finished. Wow—now that’s the sort of letter authors long to receive, for sure!

But it was the way she had come across my books that captured my attention even more. You see, it seems this lady has never actually bought any of them but has instead borrowed them from others. And it was who those ‘others’ turned out to be that intrigued me most. The first kind person to lend her my books turned out to be her sister-in-law, a lady we knew quite a few years ago at a church here in Sydney. Every time this lady would travel interstate to visit her, she would apparently pass on my latest book to her—something I love to hear, as to me that means my book isn’t sitting on a shelf somewhere, gathering dust, but will hopefully be enjoyed by yet another reader!

Eventually in this way, the lady who wrote to me got hold of my first five novels, one after the other. But while reading my fifth, Heléna’s Legacy, she noticed I had dedicated it to my parents, Tom and Rene Wardrop. ‘Wardrop?’ she thought. ‘I know someone of that name at my mother’s retirement village. I wonder if there’s a connection?’ She enquired further and soon discovered this person she knew is actually my cousin! And thus began this lady’s journey of borrowing books six, seven and eight of mine from my cousin, instead of having to wait until her sister-in-law visited from Sydney!

As I read about this whole sequence of events, I could not help thinking, once again, how amazingly God weaves our lives together in ways we would never have imagined. Who would have thought the lady we knew here in Sydney would bother to pass each of those books of mine onto to her sister-in-law interstate? Who would have thought her sister-in-law would notice my parent’s surname in the front of my fifth novel and make the connection with my cousin? Who would have thought my cousin would go on lending her my books? And who would have thought this lady would bother to write such a lovely, encouraging card to me, so full of ‘God-connections’?

Truly, God’s ways are so much more amazing than ours could ever be—don’t you agree?

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

img_20170106_175801393As the years go by, it so interesting to see what captures our grandson’s interest and imagination and what doesn’t. Last week, our Zain turned five and, right now, he has such fun pretending to be one of his two favourite ‘heroes’. Yes, as can be seen from the photo of his special birthday cake his mum made, Michael Jackson currently ranks pretty high in his estimation! Wimg_5707hile in Ghana around a year ago, visiting his father’s family, he heard lots of Michael Jackson songs—and that was that! And of course, with a beautiful Australian mum and a handsome Ghanaian dad, ‘Black or White’ is one of his favourite songs! If Zain can be enticed to sing and dance for us, we soon discover he knows only some of the lyrics—and fortunately only some of those dance moves too! But he has fun trying, especially in his glittery Michael Jackson outfit, complete with sparkly white glove, and especially with the new karaoke toy his aunty, uncle and cousins gave him.

But if you look carefully at the photo below, taken when blowing out his birthday candles, you can see Zain is quite partial to fictional superheroes too—especially Spiderman! So when we reminded him at his party that, when we saw him last, he was convinced he was actually Peter Parkeimg_20170106_194218996r, aka Spiderman, off he went and put on his Spiderman costume over the top of his glittery Michael Jackson one! His imagination is so vivid and all-encompassing that he seems to have no trouble swapping from one to the other—with a good dose of active, normal little boy Zain thrown in as well!

Now while I might laugh at Zain, I wonder at times if I am so different from him. I can easily pretend I am someone other than who I truly am. I might try to be that well-read, experienced author person when promoting my books in a bookstore. I might hope I come across as completely confident and at ease when getting up to speak somewhere. I might pretend to be more extroverted or more patient or more understanding than I am. And—dare I say it—I might pretend to be more Christian than I am at times. I might even think I am fooling God, as well as others, yet in my heart of hearts, I know I can’t. Anyway, why would I want to? After all, I am well aware God not only knows me through and through but loves and accepts me as I am. As David declares:

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely, O Lord. You hem me in, behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Psalm 139:1-5

I hope one day our Zain will experience the deep comfort of these words and that amazing love of God for himself. I hope he will realise he doesn’t need to impress God by pretending to be other than he is. And I hope I realise this more and more too in the coming year.

p1040399I love each of my electronic devices. I almost live on my trusty laptop. I wouldn’t be without my mobile phone. And, as of Christmas Day, I now own a Tablet—although I have yet to figure out how to use it properly! But there is one thing I draw the line at. I refuse to give up my ‘hard copy’ diary. Yes, I know I can use a calendar on all these devices I own and link them in a way that is beyond my understanding. But no—I prefer my humble little diary, purchased from a Hot Dollar shop for $2.50!

There are advantages of swapping to an electronic diary/calendar, I’m sure. I could check my calendar via my mobile phone while out and set up appointments much more easily. I would have a record of the year ahead at my fingertips on several devices. I could store information about each speaking engagement in one place, rather than putting the main details only in my diary and typing the rest into a Word document on my laptop, as I do now. Surely this would be more efficient all round?

On the other hand, there are decided advantages in having a little paper diary. It will always open and ‘work’, wherever I am and without any power supply or wireless connection. I can scribble information in it quickly, even while still talking to someone. I don’t need to worry about the calamity of stored information disappearing altogether. But best of all, there are those pages at the back which enable me to keep all sorts of valuable information on hand—including the addresses and phone numbers of family and friends. Yes, I need to take time to transfer this information each year to my new diary—but that in itself is a huge blessing, as I discovered afresh this past week.

God has ways of ambushing us, don’t you think? As I began copying over details for close family members, it was as if God was reminding me to be thankful for each one of them and their unique personalities and to pray for them as the new year begins. What will 2017 hold for the one hoping for a new job? What about the ones studying hard to complete university degrees? How will our grandson fare as he starts ‘big school’?

Then as I write down details of close friends, I pray for them all as well. Some have big mountains in their lives to climb. Some have had such difficulties in the past year. Some are slowing down and enjoying retirement. I ask God to bless and strengthen them all. I pray too for our doctor, as I add her details. Who knows what issues she has in her life? Only God.

I am thankful God used my humble little diary to keep me on track in praying for each of these people. And I am so thankful for those who pray for me too. So as we step into 2017, may this be a year when we each faithfully keep track of and support one another in prayer even more.

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. Ephesians 6:18 NLT