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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

Jo 17What fun we are having in our house right now, as we prepare to move soon! In every room, there is a growing pile of boxes filled with photo albums, music, framed pictures, board games and other paraphernalia—not to mention books, books and more books! But outside, our rubbish and recycling bins are also being filled to the brim with reams of old files, books no one else would want to read and music very few would recognise now.

I suspect my husband’s part in all this activity has proved to be more challenging than mine. You see, he has a whole wall of built-in bookshelves in his study. So, of course, much culling of books has had to take place. But perhaps the hardest part for him has been dispensing with all those bulging folders of notes from courses he undertook as part of his Doctor of Ministry studies many years ago, along with his resulting three-volume dissertation.

‘I feel as if I am throwing a key part of my life away!’ he commented at one point.

I understand his sense of loss, to some degree at least. I too have dispensed with many folders containing courses I helped devise and run, manuals from other programs I attended, as well as many sermon notes. Yes, it is sad at times, but I have found there are ways of approaching this culling and packing adventure that have helped me not to become too overwhelmed by it all.

Firstly, I think it’s important to acknowledge any grief we feel, as we throw out work that represents a significant part of our life or significant personal growth experiences. Yes, we put our whole selves into preparing this course or that or completing some challenging ministry task. And yes, those days are gone. But God knows this—and God is right there with us, bringing comfort, as well as whispering, I believe, a  gentle ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’ into our hearts.

Secondly, while not ignoring any sense of loss felt, we can try to take a more positive approach. We can thank God for the variety of opportunities we have been afforded in our lives to learn about so many things and to serve others by sharing these resources with them. We can remember how fulfilling it was to use our gifts in these ways and how others grew closer to God as a result. What a privilege to be entrusted with these tasks in God’s kingdom!

But I think the most positive approach to this culling of material and impending move can be found in a wonderful, insightful question a friend asked me recently:

‘So … what is the invitation God is extending to you for the next part of your life?’

What a beautiful thought! Why would I keep looking back then when I can turn and accept God’s gracious invitation to move forward into the next part of my life? God knows me. God loves me. And God still has a myriad of ways for me to bless others in the future. We’re not finished yet!

And the same goes for you too.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

I wonder if you have ever experienced one of God’s gentle but firm ‘ambushes’. There you are, getting on with your life, when you read some words of Scripture or someone shares a deep thought with you and—kapow! In an instant, you know God is reaching out to you, longing for you to pay attention.

A few weeks ago, I was talking with someone about an issue she was facing.

‘Lately, I’ve sensed God is asking me, “Do you trust me? Do you really trust me?”’ she said, almost as a throw-away line.

Even as I continued listening, I felt a definite nudge in my spirit and knew God was challenging me with this same question. But inwardly, I blustered a little. Of course I trust you, God! I don’t need this reminder. This person is talking with me to glean wisdom for her own life—not vice versa!

Then we put our house on the market. Hmm … did I really trust God to find that one person who would pay a good price for it? If I did, why did I have so many ‘what if’ questions in my mind? Why did I occupy my time inventing those worst case scenarios where everyone would think the house was too small or too old and where we might not have the money to make our own next purchase?

Then came Easter—and this year, I decided to read the account of the crucifixion and resurrection from John’s Gospel. Of course, John was writing in an entirely different context about an entirely different situation, but as I read, I realised God was speaking into my own life as well.

On the evening of the first Resurrection Sunday, we are told in John 20:19, as the disciples huddle in a room with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus joins them.

Peace be with you!’ he says, as he shows them his hands and side.

In an instant, I sensed those words were for me too.

‘Yes, Lord,’ I admitted at last, ‘My situation is nothing like what the disciples had just experienced, but I know I need that same peace right now too.’

I read on and came to the account of another meeting Jesus had with his disciples a week later, when Thomas was also present.

Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you! Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”  John 20: 26-27

Hmm—‘StopIMG_20170421_145112767 doubting and believe.’ Those words speared straight into my spirit. There was no way around it. I had certainly doubted God was able to look after us in the whole process of selling our house. I felt rebuked—and rightly so. But I also felt deeply comforted. Yes, God knew our situation. Yes, God could indeed be trusted, even in the face of my unbelief. And yes, God was forgiving too!

Then last Friday, even before going to auction, our little house sold for a very good price indeed—and only twelve days after being put on the market. Thank you, Lord, for your unending faithfulness to us in so many ways!

This past weekend saw the beginning of our ‘open house’ days for potential purchasers of our home—as well as the merely curious! In preparing for this event, I found it a weird experience to walk around our house and try to see it from an outsider’s point of view. What would put them off? What personal items should I remove? What could I do easily to de-clutter our home of thirty-two years?

As I did, I began to feel quite vulnerable. We have had plenty of visitors in this house over the years—but that’s a little different from people we don’t know prying and poking everywhere!

IMG_20170414_172906326_HDRActually, I had begun to feel vulnerable the moment a huge ‘for sale’ sign was erected outside our home a few days earlier, featuring large photos of our backyard, kitchen and lounge room. There for all to stare at were key parts of our property only friends or family usually see. As well, on several websites, interested parties could take a virtual tour around our home, room after room. I felt a little unmasked, if you like—as if my precious home where I love to curl up had suddenly been peeled open and laid bare for the world to see.

Later, however, I wondered why I felt this way. After all, I am a writer, with eight books published and out there in the market. Two of these in particular—my non-fiction books, Soul Friend and Becoming Me—made me feel very vulnerable when they were released. After all, there was my life, served up on a plate for anyone to consume! Yikes! True, the publication of my earlier novels was also a vulnerable experience—yet that was different. Writers can hide in novels, giving their characters things to say we have wanted to say for years! And, in the end, they are novels, not my own personal story. Yet … what if no one liked them? What if those reviews were terrible? What if I had made a huge mistake, thinking God had led me to become a writer?

Now I realise I need to remember those lessons from my publishing journey. It is okay to put my work and what feels like my very self out there to be scrutinised. In fact, it is more than okay. After all, what does it matter if people criticise or misunderstand or disagree? Surely God has taught us things that need to be shared, that will make a difference for others—it is well worth the risk. Besides, there is a kind of sweet sense of freedom in letting others into our deepest thoughts and experiences, don’t you think? Here I am—and nothing has been wasted.

I am reminded too of the beautiful freedom and transparency that God, who knows all things, offers us and the comfort this brings. With God, it is ‘open house’ all the time—a place where nothing is hidden. So I can relax in those loving arms, knowing I am totally accepted there, just as I am. And that’s the kind of ‘open house’ where I am happy to live—forever.

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. Psalm 139:1-2

IMG_20170404_142602648Last week, I discovered a new calling in life! Someone lent us one of those water pressure cleaners that make concrete, bricks and stones look as good as new. Over a couple of days, I had such fun finding that nice, white concrete all around our yard and the lovely golden and brown rocks that form the terraces and borders everywhere. We had forgotten what it was meant to look like. All that moss on the rocks and that greying of the concrete paths and barbecue area had kind of crept up on us, just as it had on the rocks and paths themselves.

Inside our house too, I recently unearthed quite a few possessions I had forgotten about, as we have cleaned and tidied everywhere, in preparation for putting our home of thirty-two years on the market. Some of these brought joy to my heart—books I remember our children loving, videos our grandkids liked to watch over and over again, jewellery that is not precious but has sentimental value. But there were also some I could not believe I had kept all these years—pictures I had cut from old Christmas cards for our granddaughters to create something with, material for covering our own children’s school books, instructions for long-gone kitchen appliances.

These two experiences, both inside and out, have given me much food for thought, especially in the lead-up to Easter. What a stark reminder it was, as I unearthed those lovely, clean surfaces outside again, of the ease in which we forget how we ourselves have been made pure and clean through the death of Jesus! Once we were lost. Once the unique image of God we were created to be was hidden under layers of mess and wrong thinking and wrong choices. But then Jesus came, washing it all away, giving us a way to be made new through him. How easily we forget the huge, huge difference this brought about—for all of us!

But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:11 NLT

And as I tidied inside and unearthed those hidden things, I reflected on how easily we forget the wonderful treasures God has given us through Jesus Christ and how readily we replace them with our many material things. Yes, we do need those material things in our lives—for shelter, for covering and warmth, for sustenance in various ways. But that is not where our true wealth is. That is not where our deepest security lies. What a reminder, especially as Easter approaches, that my focus in life needs to be firmly on Jesus! As Jesus himself told us:

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.  Matthew 6:19-21 NLT

As you remember Jesus’ sacrifice and celebrate Easter this week, may you too rejoice in the renewal this brings us and those riches in God that will last forever.