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Jo 17I am always amazed at the power of memory. At times, only a slight aroma of something or the sound of a particular piece of music or even the atmosphere in a room can thrust us back in time to places and events we thought we had forgotten forever.

I cannot smell the distinctive perfume of the yellow and white blossoms on our frangipani tree without remembering the two frangipani trees in the front yard of our grandparents’ home in Brisbane and the fun we had as kids, making leis from those fragrant flowers. I cannot eat black grapes without remembering the delicious, old Isabella grapes our grandfather grew. And occasionally towards evening, when I go to turn on the lights in our kitchen, for a fleeting moment I am back the dimness of our grandparents’ dining room as I remember how our grandfather would leave the lights off until really necessary, in order not to waste electricity.

Whenever I handle a ball of wool, I remember with almost painful clarity how beautifully my grandmother knitted and how patiently she would unravel those mistakes I made as a child or pick up my many dropped stitches. And whenever I sit down at the piano I inherited from her and play those old Scottish and Irish ballads my grandfather used to sing, even the musty smell of the sheet music brings the memories flooding back. In an instant, I am a twelve-year-old again, sitting at that same piano in my grandparents’ dark lounge room, trying my best not to ruin those same beautiful, old melodies.

If all these childhood memories can return so readily, why is it not the same with God’s gracious workings in my life over the years?  Why are those times when God spoke to me so clearly or rescued me from some situation or was just there so close for me in such power and strength so easily forgotten?

Yes, I well remember the night as a fifteen-year-old when I was blown away to discover God is real and alive and that God knows and loves me. I remember too that morning as young mum when Jesus challenged me to walk more closely with him. I remember the clear picture years later one New Year’s Eve when I saw Jesus holding me as a baby, gazing at me with such delight, loving me before I had achieved anything. But how easily I forget those many, many other times God has spoken or reached out to me in some way or intervened in my life! How often the enemy, I believe, snatches away these memories so that we lose sight of God’s gracious and ever-present hand on us!

Recently, I came again to Psalm 136, which pans through Israel’s history and includes in each verse the refrain, His love endures forever. Yes, I realised, that is what I need to do constantly too. I need to remember—really remember—and be so thankful for God’s amazing love and for what God has done for me in so many ways. Is that your heart too?

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, His love endures forever.

Give thanks to the God of gods.  His love endures forever.

Give thanks to the Lord of lords.  His love endures forever. Psalm 136:1-3

Jo 17Recently, our grandson went to dart across the driveway in the grounds of our church when his lovely Kids’ Church teacher managed to grab him in time.

‘Careful! We need to stop, look and listen for cars before we cross,’ she reminded him.

‘Oh, I have supersonic hearing,’ Zain blithely told her. ‘I can hear from a long, long way away. I can even hear people in Ghana!’

Last year, Zain went to Ghana with his family to visit his dad’s home town and to meet his other grandmother, so he knows how far away it is.

‘That’s interesting,’ his teacher said. ‘What are they saying?’

‘They’re saying they need help!’ he told her in all seriousness.

What could he have meant? In Ghana, Zain did visit some little villages not far from his dad’s home town where the children have very few new clothes and hardly any toys, so perhaps he meant his friends there really do need our help. On the other hand, perhaps he was thinking of his favourite ‘Power Rangers’ TV characters, who seem to have all sorts of abilities like supersonic hearing that enable them to know when people need rescuing!

Now our Zain has an amazingly vivid imagination. Sometimes he can become so lost in his imaginary world that he has trouble hearing his parents or grandparents or teachers calling him or telling him to do something. So, while he may not have supersonic hearing, there is no doubt his selective hearing is well developed at least! And that’s something I can easily relate to, especially when it comes to hearing what God is saying to me at times. The reasons for this may vary, but I know that, on occasions, fear and unbelief have caused my ears to become deaf to God’s voice and very selective about what I choose to hear.

One example of this occurred in mid-2003 when I was overseas, visiting a friend. I was reading my Bible one morning and asking God to show me what I was to do next in my life. I had recently left a ministry role and sensed God wanted me to write, something I had wanted to do for years. Yet I was unsure I could do it, so found myself reluctant to try. Then I came to Isaiah 42:18-20:

Hear, you deaf, look, you blind, and see! Who is blind but my servant, and deaf like the messenger I send?  …  You have seen many things, but have paid no attention; your ears are open, but you hear nothing.”

Wow! Gulp! I knew immediately that God was saying to me, with even perhaps a little sigh: ‘Come on, Jo-Anne—how many times do I have to show you? Go home and start writing!’ So that is what I did—and here I am, almost fourteen years and eight published books later, still writing.

I might not have supersonic hearing quite yet, but I hope in those years I have become a little better at hearing God’s voice and at acting on what I hear—because that, after all, is what really matters.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. James 1:22

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27

Jo 12I enjoy doing crossword puzzles and was recently given a crossword book that is just the right level for my slightly addled brain. This enables me to take a break from writing now and then, yet still play with all those fascinating words in the English language. What fun!

The other day, while tackling one of those mega crosswords that completely fill a large page, however, I found myself flummoxed. There seemed to be so many clues that could be taken different ways. For example, one clue simply said ‘hide’. So … did that mean the noun ‘hide’ or the verb ‘hide’? But if it meant the noun, ‘hide’ can have at least two different meanings. Or take the clue ‘sort’. Did that refer to the verb ‘sort’ or the noun meaning ‘type’? And what about that one little word ‘dear’? Did it mean the opposite to ‘cheap’? Or did it mean ‘sweetheart’ or ‘beloved’?

But most confusing of all was the clue that simply said ‘badgers’. Now I took that to mean those animals called badgers. ‘They must have another obscure name,’ I thought. ‘I’d never know that.’ So I left the spot blank until the end. Then, when I saw that the answer had to be ‘pesters’, it finally dawned on me that my ‘badgers’ clue meant the verb ‘harasses’ or ‘nags’, rather than any animal! There I was, trying to think of a scientific name for a badger when the clue meant something quite different.

As I thought about those crossword challenges, I began to wonder how often I myself confuse or mislead others with those words that roll off my tongue so readily each day—or spill out onto my computer screen. How glibly I can say one thing yet be thinking the exact opposite! How many times I seem to opt for those pious-sounding words and phrases that sound good but lack integrity and can leave others feeling puzzled or, even worse, discouraged!

There are some verses in Psalm 139 that have always challenged me about the words I speak—or write.

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. Psalm 139:1-4

Hmm. To me, it is a very comforting thought that God sees into the depths of my heart and knows me through and through. There is no pretending with God—and that is so freeing, don’t you think? But it also challenges me deeply that God knows every word I utter, before it even leaves my mouth. I cannot fool God with my words. I cannot get away with saying one thing and meaning another with God. And it does not please God whenever I try to fool others around me either.

So Lord, this day and forever, may all the words I speak and write honour you and be as honest and unambiguous as I can make them. And, as King David also prayed:

May the words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.  Psalm 19:14

Jo 12Drum roll, please … today marks the posting of my 400th personal blog! Thank you so much to those readers who have travelled this whole journey faithfully with me and for your special words of encouragement that have kept me going at times.

I began my blog back in July 2009, although it doesn’t seem so long ago to me. Did I envisage then I would still be going strong in March 2017? I don’t think so. Yet here I am, still producing those little pieces of writing that I hope have encouraged or challenged some of you along the way.

I am often asked how I can think up a new blog each week. Sometimes it is easier than others. Sometimes I struggle to hear clearly what it is God wants me to write about. Sometimes I no doubt get it wrong. But at other times, I seem to hear God whispering to me, almost in an excited voice, ‘Yes, that’s it, Jo! Share those words of mine you just read with others! Put that insight I gave you out there! Let others join in that experience you had with me!’

My WordPress stats tell me that some weeks, more people visit my blog than in other weeks. While whatever blog topic I choose plays a part in this, I have discovered certain natural reasons as well. Any time near Christmas or Easter or even school holidays is not the best, if I am aiming for maximum readership. Weekends are not always good either. Even posting at certain times of the day can change those readership statistics. But I have stuck to Tuesday mornings, not only because it works best for me but also because some of my faithful readers expect that new blog to arrive then, right on cue, whatever time of year. I remember one occasion when I inadvertently scheduled my blog to post on a Monday instead of a Tuesday—which caused a couple of my faithful readers to wonder if they had somehow lost a day out of their week!

What motivates me to spend time blogging, when I could be writing my next novel? Firstly, I enjoy it—well, mostly anyway! Secondly, challenging myself to write something worthwhile each week in only around 550 words has I think helped me become less of a wordy writer. But thirdly and most importantly, I want with all my heart to share those words and insights I believe are from God with you all. And I love reading that feedback, either via Facebook or blog comments, as to how God has spoken to you through them.

I know my words are only a few among so many others, as I launch them into cyberspace each week. I know they will soon be lost to sight. I know that, however hard I try, my words may not always be right or perhaps even wise. But I also know that God’s words are different. They are flawless and will remain true forever—and that is why I choose to include some at least in each of my blogs, including my 400th!

God bless you all!

 As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless. 2 Samuel 22:31

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. Matthew 24:35

Jo 23We have had an interesting time in our house recently. Our bedroom and bathroom needed painting, as well as various spots in the kitchen. So each morning, bright and early, our friendly painter turned up, cheeky and chirpy as ever.

Some parts of our house needed much painstaking work. We have lived here for thirty-two years, after all, and the house was in existence long before that. But other parts, especially our kitchen area, needed only a little touch-up on the ceiling—or so we thought. However, when asked his opinion, what was our erstwhile painter’s response?

‘Look, I don’t need any more work … but have you noticed at how dirty these walls are? It’d be just as easy to paint’em than to scrub them all. I could clean’em down a bit with metho and water, then give’em a quick couple of coats. That way, it’ll all look spic and span!’

I was doubtful—until he showed me the area high up he had wiped clean. In that spot, the wall was a nice, light cream colour, while elsewhere … Well, let’s just say it was noticeably a few shades darker. Hmm. Now I could see where all that kitchen grease had gone!

In the end, we decided to paint those kitchen walls. It made sense, after all—and that way, other imperfections would be covered up as well.

As I watched the whole process unfold, I began to think how much easier it is to repair our material surroundings than to repair ourselves. If we try to clean ourselves up in our own strength and make ourselves appear more presentable, we might look and feel okay for a while, but nothing has really changed. Soon we fall into those same old traps—judging others, losing our temper, being a little dishonest here and there, or whatever seems to come naturally to us and has been our weakness for so long. As Jesus himself said:

No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.” Matthew 9:16-17

What we truly need in our lives is not just a ‘touch-up job’—or even a good makeover. We need those new wineskins. We need a complete demolishing of the old, a brand new start, a deep change that begins on the inside and flows out into our words and actions.

And that is exactly what God has given us in Jesus.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17

Yes, we will still make wrong choices in our lives. But we are still God’s beloved children, part of God’s family, changed forever at the core of our being. God’s own Spirit lives in us. And God is always there for us, welcoming us home, reaching out in forgiveness. In Jesus, God has given us much more than a couple of coats of paint to cover those blemishes. And I’m so glad of that.

Jo 17I walked towards the shopping centre escalator, only to realise it was not working.  A young male employee was obviously trying to clean those grooved steps while they were stationary, while a slight young girl stood nearby, looking worried. A lady with a pram and I went to try to find some lifts, but by the time we returned, the worried-looking girl was already climbing the stationary escalator. Others were pushing past her—she seemed to be taking forever. And only then did I notice there was something very wrong with her legs.

Now she was halfway up and clinging to the side of the escalator. The young employee stood there looking helpless, while others kept rushing past. So, in the end, I climbed up to her and offered to help. She leant on my arm and managed a few more steps, legs flailing in various directions, but the effort was agony for her. Those limbs seemed to have a mind of their own.

Eventually, she let go of my arm and hung onto the side again with both hands. She managed to haul herself up a few more steps, but then stopped.

I saw she was crying. I looked around wildly and noticed a huge line-up of people behind us, but for once, I did not care. This girl needed help—she could not stay where she was.

‘I can’t go any further!’ she whispered.

‘Yes, you can!’ I heard myself say. ‘See, we’re almost at the top! Only a few more steps!’

A resolute look came over her face. With a surge of determination, she began climbing again. A young, Muslim woman wearing a pretty headscarf was standing at the top, concern written all over her beautiful face. She reached out, and both of us helped her take those final steps.

I stood there for a while with the poor exhausted girl, arm about her waist.

‘Are you okay?’ I asked her. ‘Would you like a coffee? Or I’ll help you sit down over there.’

‘I’m okay,’ she told me, as she gasped for breath. ‘But thank you so much!’

‘What’s your name?’ I found myself asking her.

‘Lisa,’ she smiled, her eyes still moist.

By then, tears had welled up in my own eyes.

‘Lisa, I will be praying for you today,’ I told her. ‘Are you sure you’re okay?’

She nodded and we parted. Still shaking a little, I decided to buy a coffee for myself. As I sat wiping tears away that would not seem to stop, it was as if God said gently, ‘Jo-Anne, this compassion you are still feeling for that girl is only a tiny fraction of the compassion I have for her—and for you—and for everyone. Oh, how much I long for them all to experience it!’

I remembered then a description of Jesus that has always touched me:

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:36

I don’t know anything more about Lisa and will probably never see her again. But that day, I certainly sensed God’s great compassion for her—and for us all. I know it is so deep and true and wonderful—and I hope with all my heart that you do too.

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?