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One recent Sunday, I was standing near the door of our church when a friend came rushing over to me.

‘I’ve got a great story to tell you that I think you’ll really like!’ she told me excitedly.

Needless to say, she had my full attention that instant.

‘I took your book Soul Friend away with me on my recent trip, but didn’t get time to finish it,’ she went on. ‘Anyway, I was reading it in a coffee shop back home here one day this week when the waiter brought my coffee to me. I saw him taking a good look at the cover, so showed it to him and told him I knew the author.’

‘What’s a “soul friend”?’ he asked.

‘Well, it’s someone who is like a mentor to you, who listens to you, supports you and helps you understand more about God.’

‘Oh, that’s interesting—I’m on a bit of a spiritual journey myself right now.’

‘Well, I’m nearly finished the book. Would you like me to lend it to you when I do?’

‘Thank you—that’s very kind of you.’

My friend was so excited about this little interchange with her pleasant, young waiter and encouraged too.

‘I’m wondering though if there’s some other suitable material I could perhaps give him to read that might help him. What do you think?’

We talked about some possibilities and I know my friend will think and pray about the wisest thing to do next. But this whole lovely story has set me thinking too. How easy was it for my friend to take her current book to a café and sit there reading it? I am sure I could do that—if I thought of it. And how natural was the conversation that ensued with the waiter? Again, I reckon I could do that too—if I was alert enough and cared enough. And how many other similar opportunities do I tend to miss out on in my normal, day-to-day life where those gentle ‘God conversations’ could flow if I watched out for them more?

We all need to be in tune with God each day as best we can, don’t we? And it helps so much in doing that if we take time each morning to read some part of God’s Word and to sit quietly for a few moments, reflecting on what we have read. Then, before getting on with all we have to do, we can commit our day and any other issues on our hearts and minds to God, asking God to bring the healing, guidance, comfort and so much else we and our world in general need. When I do this, I feel so much more aligned with God as I head into whatever my day holds. And I am hopefully able to hear and respond better too when God’s Spirit prompts me to pray for someone or email them or talk with them.

We are not on our own as we go about each day. Jesus our Shepherd is right there with us, longing for us to listen to him.

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

May we do that, even today—and may we find our own special ‘coffee conversations’ along the way too.

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Wish lists

Recently, our eight-year-old granddaughter came up with a most intriguing Christmas wish list that boggled my mind:

Go Go Flamingo (an expensive toy)

Robux gift card (Max: $50)

Cloud Puddy (she means ‘putty’!)

Ipad with Apple pen

Pet hamster

Magic Mixies (another expensive toy)

Bunch of Reese’s chocolates from Nanna and Granddad!

New TV in my room

Five-dollar allowance monthly (optional)

Drivers’ licence, car and keys

Makeup desk with chair and wall mirror

Snuggles Dream Puppy (yet another expensive toy)

Hmm. Nothing like a list that ranges from special playdough and a few chocolates to a drivers’ licence and car—oh and the car keys would help too! Although Maxine has been quite reasonable, I suppose, with her request for a five-dollar allowance each month—especially since she has stated it is optional! I strongly suspect, however, that Maxine may be heading for disappointment as far as this list is concerned, except perhaps for one or two of the cheaper items included. And I know her parents would not welcome a hamster into the household!

I laughed at my granddaughter’s wonderful list when I first saw it. But as I have thought about it since, I have realised I have often made up equally weird lists over the years when it comes to asking God for things. In my late teens, I used to pray I could become a famous opera singer one day! Instead of heading to the Conservatorium, however, I ended up studying languages at university. Now, I think God honestly preserved me from making a big mistake back then.

Much later, I remember praying our children would turn out to be geniuses and always top their classes at school. In the end, God had to show me my prayers were really driven by my own desire to achieve academically, rather than our children’s own desires and interests. I was pushing my agenda onto them—and I was hoping God would step into line and make it all happen.

Of course, we can—and should—bring all sorts of requests to God, as the Apostle Paul urges us to:

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. Ephesians 6:18

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Philippians 4:6

Yet, sometimes, like a petulant child, I can demand things from God, then become upset and disappointed when I don’t receive them. How much better would it be if I took time to try to listen and hear God’s heart on these matters, even as I pray? And how much better it would be too if I accepted it when God, who is all-loving, all-knowing and all-wise, says no or perhaps ‘wait a while’?

I hope Maxine won’t be too disappointed when she doesn’t receive that car for Christmas—I suspect she was only kidding with that request anyway! I am sure she will be happy, whatever gifts she receives. And I am sure she will still love her parents and will know they love her so much too. As for me and those prayer requests of mine—and yours, I hope we can all continue to love and trust God, whatever the outcome, because God will never give up on loving us.

It never ceases to amaze me how often words of Scripture can jump out at us and impact us all over again, even if we have read them many times before. They may challenge us deeply and perhaps even make us a little uncomfortable, but what a privilege to receive these reminders over and over and know they come from the hand of our loving, patient Lord!

One day recently, I finished reading Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well but decided to continue a little further in the same chapter. And there I found the wonderful story of the royal official in Cana in Galilee who asks Jesus to come and heal his son (John 4:43-54). At first, Jesus seems reluctant, but the official still insists he do just that.

Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”

The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” John 4:49

Jesus then responds with a brief but huge statement of promise—and, lo and behold, the official takes him at his word and immediately leaves.

Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.”

The man took Jesus at his word and departed. John 4:50

Wow! Jesus’ few words hold such power and authority—but the official’s simple, unquestioning obedience made me sit up as well. Perhaps he was among those who had witnessed Jesus in action in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast when he cleared the traders and moneychangers out of the temple and also performed miracles (John 2; 4:45). Yet, whether this is true or not, to me, this official’s firm belief in Jesus’ promise that his son will be healed speaks volumes. Would I have been as ready to trust Jesus as he was? Would I have perhaps still begged him to come and actually lay hands on my son? Or would I have headed home heart-in-mouth, half-filled with hope and half with huge doubts?

He does not get far, however, before his servants meet him with the news that his son is now better. Then he also discovers that the boy became well at the exact time Jesus had said his son would live.

And this is the point in the story where I received my second simple yet huge challenge that morning. All John writes in the next sentence is the following:

So he and his whole household believed. John 4:53b

Just like that, this official and his family believe in Jesus. Would that have been my response? Or would I have perhaps been tempted to rationalise things and not be too hasty about it all?

Somehow, I think this whole event has jolted me into remembering how powerful and trustworthy Jesus truly is and how much more I need to take him at his word. If he says something will happen, it will happen. He does not lie or break his promise. If he tells us to do something, we had better do it—because Jesus, after all, is the Son of God. If Jesus says it, that settles it!

And when he answers our requests today for healing or provision or whatever else, as he always does, it surely is up to us to believe and give him our love and full allegiance, all over again, don’t you think?

Years ago, I was given a poem written by South American Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero that begins with the following lines:

It helps now and then to step back

               And take the long view

Romero goes on to reflect on the fact that what we do for God is just one part of a larger endeavour—we cannot do everything ourselves. Nevertheless, we plant the seed and water the seed others before us have planted too and thus play our part in building God’s kingdom. All he said is indeed true, yet these two lines have stuck in my mind for another reason as well. They have always served to remind me that this life is not all there is, that I need to step back and look at my own life in the light of eternity. And as I do, this changes everything.

When putting my blogs together each week, I always include some sort of photo which may start out very large but, with one click, ends up being shrunk to a much smaller ‘thumbnail’ size. This is the feeling I have had at times as I do indeed step back and take that longer view of my life—the feeling that I am suddenly and rapidly being shrunk down to size. Yet this is not unpleasant at all, because I know God is graciously reminding me that my life here on earth is actually an infinitesimal part of a much, much bigger picture. Or, to use a different metaphor, my life here is like the first one or two tiny millimetres only of a long, long journey to some extreme, far-flung part of the world.

We need to be reminded of this truth often, not only when experiencing hard times in life, but also when things are going well. In hard times, it is so comforting to know this life is not all there is and that, one day, all our struggles and troubles will be over.

He (God) will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” Revelation 21:4 NLT

Yet it is equally important to be reminded of the brevity of life when things are going well too. I know I can become so focused on my own plans and so engrossed in some endeavour or other that I can easily forget how fleeting these are in the big scheme of things. Or I can worry far too much about my own and others’ issues rather than loving and trusting God. I think of the story Jesus told called ‘The Parable of the Rich Fool’ about a man who tore down his barns to build bigger ones where he could store all his grain and goods, then decided to take it easy, eat, drink and be merry—yet, that night, he died (Luke 12:13-21). The parable ends with the following words:

Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” Luke 12:21 NLT

Let’s remember our lives here are only a few short millimetres of a much, much longer journey. In the light of that, let’s walk hand and hand with God through each day—and right on into eternity.

This past week, my husband and I had the privilege of conducting a brief funeral service for a friend’s mother at a nearby crematorium. We had not expected to be doing this, yet, as things unfolded and the minister conducting the larger memorial service later in the day could not manage both, we knew this was what we should do.

The whole idea of offering to help began as one of those strong nudges inside me and, when I talked about it with my husband, he immediately agreed. God was in it—and we should do it. It was as simple as that really. Besides, we could see how much this little effort on our part would greatly help our friend and her family. In the end, it did seem to—and we felt very blessed.

After the memorial service later in the day, I chatted with an acquaintance present about a mutual friend who is working overseas with a Christian aid organisation. She brought me up-to-date with the latest news about our friend and mentioned how she phones her each week—and, at that point, I remembered what this friend working overseas had told me about these same phone calls.

‘The work here is so rewarding,’ she had said, ‘and I know we’re making a huge difference in the lives of the families we care for. But I wouldn’t have stayed here as long as I have, without my friend’s weekly phone calls—I wouldn’t have been able to. At times, they were the only thing that kept me going.’

When I told this lady what my friend had said, she seemed embarrassed and played down her efforts. ‘Oh, it’s nothing really—just a weekly phone call.’ And I understood what she meant. Just a simple, little act on her part, the same as my husband and I felt about our own efforts. Yet, what a huge difference her encouraging calls have made in our friend’s life—and indirectly in the lives of so many others too who may well have starved, without the food and shelter my friend helps provide in the remote area where she is based!

Sometimes, we can all too easily be talked out of doing things we know in our heart God wants us to do. Yet, when we listen to God, step out in obedience and act, we often find God uses our little efforts in more ways than we would ever have imagined. God can do so much, even with something so little, just as Jesus points out when teaching about the Kingdom of God:

Then Jesus said, “What is the Kingdom of God like? How can I illustrate it?  It is like a tiny mustard seed that a man planted in a garden; it grows and becomes a tree, and the birds make nests in its branches.”

He also asked, “What else is the Kingdom of God like?  It is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.” Luke 13:18-21 NLT

Let’s keep being faithful with our tiny mustard seeds and grams of yeast. They may not cost us much but, in God’s hands, they can truly become invaluable.

There I was, sitting happily reading in our car in a lovely picnic area right on Shelly Beach at Port Macquarie. The scene before me was so ‘Aussie’—golden beach nearby, waves crashing on rocks, a lone swimmer in the water, blue/grey sky above, birds twittering, coffee available not far away. I felt so privileged to have the time to sit reading, having just attended a busy writers’ conference where we talked often about what we are currently writing. Many present hoped to get their books out there in 2023—but would it all be worth it?

I looked then at the book I had just begun reading again—an old Ellis Peters ‘mediaeval whodunnit’, The Hermit of Eyton Forest, published back in 1987 and just the sort of novel I enjoy for light reading. Then came one of those wonderful light-bulb moments that seem to pop up from nowhere, as I saw again the power of story to entertain over and over again, to inform, to generate understanding, to endure down through the generations. My Ellis Peters book was published 35 years ago. Yet here I was in 2022, enjoying reading it for a second time. But then as I glanced again at the first page of the book, I saw the story was actually set in western England in the year 1142—only a mere 1080 years ago! Yet this story is still entertaining and intriguing today for this reader at least, sitting in such an Aussie setting so many years later.

Not long after, my husband returned from a walk to tell me about some people he had met. They had told him a story about someone called Harry Thompson, an artist who had lived in a van there beside the beach for forty years, until 2000. They pointed to various plaques erected nearby that tell Harry’s story—how he and his wife set out to travel around Australia but never got any further than Shelly Beach, Port Macquarie, because they loved it so much. Harry became a local celebrity, and a wooden statue has been erected there in his honour (see photo). What a story—and one, I sensed, that could well tend to grow over the years in the telling.

Yes, I realised again, stories are powerful. Who knows where or how long they will circulate and how often people will retell or reread them? Perhaps that is one reason Jesus himself chose to tell parables, which are simply stories that teach a deeper moral or spiritual lesson. In fact, Jesus once explained to his disciples why he did this:

“You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward a welcome awakening. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. Matthew 13:11-15 The Message

Stories can be so powerful and life-giving—especially those God-stories. May we tell and re-tell our own often and with great joy.

Time to talk

We were excited, as we set out on our recent road trip from Sydney to the Omega Writers’ Conference at Kingscliff in northern NSW. We headed inland from Gloucester and reached Uralla on our first night, near Armidale. Eventually, we found our Air BnB in a lovely, rural setting, with horses in a paddock nearby and quietness all around. Now we could begin to relax!

While my husband rested, I sat reading, but suddenly noticed a nearby light go off. I went to investigate and found that all the power to the house was out. It had been an overcast day and this house relied on solar energy—maybe that was the problem?

Eventually, we located the owner who soon discovered there was a power outage in the whole area. Hmm! Undeterred, we decided to drive into the town to see if any restaurants were open, to no avail, so we headed back home and opted for a dinner of leftover sandwiches from lunch and a banana each!

But what to do then? There was no hot water for a shower and it was too cold to sit anywhere, without heating, so we headed for bed—at around 7.00pm! But as we lay there, we began talking—and talking—and talking. We went from one topic to another, as we recalled different events from our respective childhoods that had impacted us in some way. And in this time, my husband told me stories I am sure I have never heard before, in all our fifty-three years of marriage, about his maternal grandmother whom he loved and the kind things she used to say and do. How had we missed talking about such things before—at least at any depth? In the end, we both found it such a memorable way to spend an evening, but it set me thinking too.

What have we lost in our world in recent years, with all the technology available to us and all sorts of entertainment on TV or YouTube or Netflix or whatever there at hand each evening? What has happened to sitting and actually talking to one another? Has coming together around the dinner table chatting while we eat disappeared forever? How do we hear each other’s hearts and enter fully into others’ lives, when we stare at a TV screen instead and allow other voices to drown out any real communication between us?

As I thought about all this, I felt quite shocked and sad. That night, our conversation was rich and deep—what a wake-up call that power outage was for us! Yet this event also impacted me in another way, as I lay in the dark after my husband eventually fell asleep. How many of us have drowned out God’s voice too in our lives, as we abandon these times of stillness and silence and true communication with our heavenly Father? How often have I opted to allow other voices to take over my mind and heart, rather than listen to what God might want to say to me?

Let’s stop and listen well, because God has so much to say to us all.

I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants—but let them not turn to folly. Psalm 85:8

It is amazing what interesting experiences can surface in our memories, isn’t it? Recently, our children who had gathered at our place for a family birthday party regaled my husband and me with stories of the things we used to let them do—or refuse to—when they were children. Some we could not remember at all—surely they must have made them up? Yet they vowed they were true!

Recently, however, I experienced my own set of much more precious memories from years ago, while wending my way through Psalms again. There I was, happily reading along, when the following words transported me to another time and place in an instant:

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;
    let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before him with thanksgiving
    and extol him with music and song. Psalm 95:1-2

Even though these words are from a more modern Bible translation than what was used when I was young, in my mind, I heard them exactly as they had sounded in some of the Sunday morning services at the Anglican church I attended then. I could even hear the minister’s voice and the sound of the pipe organ. And, for a moment, I was back in that old church, with its gleaming brass cross and candlesticks on the altar and its colourful, stained-glass windows, as we sang together:

O come, let us sing unto the Lord, let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation.

Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving: and shew ourselves glad in him with psalms. (KJV)

After emerging from this memory, I read on, only to stop again at the next psalm:

Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name…
Psalm 96:7-8

In this instance, a much later memory from the nineties surfaced of a worship song written by one of our gifted musicians at the church we attended at that time. I remembered how this man would often look over his spectacles at me as I led worship, smiling and encouraging me, while he played the piano. What rich times we all had back then, as we praised God from our hearts!

After a while, I read on through the next few psalms, where so many snippets of sentences took me back even earlier than the nineties to the old Scripture choruses we used to sing with such joy and fervour in the eighties. Again, these were wonderful times of learning and growing in God.

I am so grateful for all these sung words of Scripture that have stayed in my mind, ready to be unearthed, as some small prompt stirs them to life. Music is powerful, in and of itself. But, once combined with the power and authority of Scripture, such songs of praise can pierce our hearts and lift our spirits in an amazing way.

So … let’s keep on singing God’s Word, day after day, with all our heart, soul, mind and strength!

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Psalm 100:1-2

Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Psalm 105:2

Transformation

Each year, our church holds an ‘Art Installation’ to which all members and attenders are invited to contribute. We are given a theme which, this year, is ‘Transforming Love’, and are encouraged to create something that depicts this, using any medium we choose. Some produce beautiful paintings, sketches or sculptures. Some make mosaics or models from all sorts of materials. Some fashion jewellery or other handcrafted item of clothing. And some. like I myself, create with words, writing poems or reflections or short stories and occasionally adding graphics of some description.

If you live anywhere near western Sydney, you are warmly invited to visit this year’s Art Installation which is currently open each weekday this week and next (2-16 October) from 9.00am -12.00 noon and 7.00pm -9.00pm, plus Saturday 9.00-12.00 and Sunday 9.00-1.00 and 5.00 to 8.30 at Parramatta Baptist Church, 84-94 Kleins Rd, Northmead NSW.

This year, as soon as I saw our theme ‘Transforming Love’, I thought of my own journey of coming to know God’s amazing love more and how I have experienced God unfolding my own wings over the years and enabling me to fly. God knew the desires of my heart, even before I myself was fully aware of them. And, just like the forgiving father in the story of the lost son in Luke 15, God welcomed me home with open arms and set me free to be more of the person I was created to be. The old has gone and the new has come, as the verse at the end of my words below states—and I am so thankful for that.

Transforming Love

Swathed in garments of guilt and shame

Hiding hurts, fearing to fail

Begging to belong, to blossom

To find a friend, to fit

Looking for love

Reaching out

Grace of God

Open arms

Found

Free

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

On solid ground

For years now, it has been my custom to leave my tattered, old bible open on the desk beside my laptop as I dive into my writing day—or hour—or even minutes. Yet it is not there for mere show. And it is not there either as some kind of talisman to ensure God blesses my writing time. Instead, to me, it serves as a strong reminder that, whatever is happening in my life and however my writing day unfolds, God is still God. Even if everything else falls away, God will still be there, loving me and watching over me.

I wonder if you have some tangible reminder of God’s presence and faithfulness around you too, as you step into your day. I have other things as well as my bible—a special cross stitch on my wall nearby that features a large butterfly, flowers and leaves and says, ‘Let us be silent that we may hear the whisper of God’, and a candle, a gift from a lovely writer friend, that has a beautiful aroma when lit. Then outside my window, I can see God’s own creation—trees and shrubs of different shapes and sizes and hues, bright pink azaleas during this spring season and, above them all, a glimpse of wispy clouds and blue skies. Yes, everywhere I look, I am reminded of God’s presence around me, of God’s amazing creativity and of God’s desire to reach out to me in love in so many beautiful ways.

Each day, as I sit down at my desk, I am so grateful I can pick up that old bible of mine too and read some part of it slowly. Even while writing this blog, I have glanced across and noted again some wonderful, reassuring words I found recently in Psalm 91.

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”
Psalm 91:1-2

I turn the page to the next psalm and am reminded of the encouraging words I read there yesterday:

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
    they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
planted in the house of the Lord,
    they will flourish in the courts of our God.
They will still bear fruit in old age,
    they will stay fresh and green,
proclaiming, “The Lord is upright;
    he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”
Psalm 92:12-15

Yes! Thank you, Lord—I may be a little old, but I can still bear fruit! Then I come again to today’s beautiful reminder of God’s rescuing heart:

When I said, “My foot is slipping,”
    your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.
When anxiety was great within me,
    your consolation brought me joy.
Psalm 94:18-19

Yes, I think to myself again—God is there for me and always will be, loving me, supporting me, comforting me. I leave my bible open at that page and turn to light the candle on my desk. All those words I have just read reassure me I can move on into my day with complete confidence in my heavenly Father. God is trustworthy. God is my Rock—and I am indeed on firm, solid ground.