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Old faithful

We have almost reached a milestone moment in our family. Very soon, our second car, which mostly I drive, will be pensioned off. I thought I wouldn’t mind saying farewell to my faithful, old chariot, yet it has become like an old friend to me, after owning it for over twenty years. In that time, it has travelled around 270,000 kilometres in Sydney and country areas, as well as interstate. And it is still eminently drivable, so much so that we recently lent it to a friend, until she could get her own car.

We bought our Ford Fairmont second-hand in 2000—it was only eighteen months old and had been well cared for. However, when we took it home, it refused to fit fully in our small garage. As a result, over the years, its lovely, shiny, maroon paint faded on the boot and nearby areas, leaving it looking more than a little battered. On top of that, my faithful, old car has recently developed some quirky characteristics. The remote key does not work anymore. The bonnet now refuses to open, except by force. The driver’s window may wind down, then refuse to wind up. Or it may even go down further—or perhaps up, when it’s good and ready. Who knows? Yet through it all, the car itself keeps purring along beautifully—and I particularly love the way it can tackle any steep inclines with ease.

In the last thirteen years, during my writing and speaking journey, my car has taken me on all sorts of adventures. Many times, I have packed my books into its roomy boot, along with my laptop and other paraphernalia, and set off for some event, wondering what lay ahead. Would many people turn up? Would my audience be interested in what I shared? Would I sell any books? At times too, I wondered if I would even find where I was to speak, but somehow, I always got there. Of course, my car does not have GPS, so I have relied on printed maps—or, in desperation, my phone. Yes, my faithful, old car holds many emotion-filled memories for me.

Yet recently, as I looked at its battered appearance and recollected its funny quirks, I sensed it also had something to teach me—and perhaps all of us. We too may have developed some funny quirks along the way. We may look a little more battered and worn that we used to—I know I do! We may even refuse to do certain things anymore, just like my old car. But we still have so much to offer. We can look back on all the years during which God has been with us and guided us and taught us. And from that experience, we can still share the love and grace of God with others, however we are gifted and whatever our age.

At the end of my life, I hope, like my car, I can be called ‘old faithful’. I hope I can still say honestly, when that day comes:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7

Is that your desire too? Let’s all stay strong in the battle. Let’s finish well. And, above all, let’s keep believing in our amazingly faithful God.

Each day, I suspect I somehow often miss those many little moments of miracle that can remind us God is still alive and active everywhere. It might be the sound of birds in the trees outside our window, as we wake in the morning. It might be the smell of something freshly baked, filling our home. It might be the sight of a rosebush covered in beautiful, fragrant blooms. Yet often, my mind is so preoccupied that I fail to see these little touches of grace in my life.

One Sunday morning during our Sydney lockdown, I decided to lie in bed for a while instead of getting up. Yes, I had things to do and a church service to watch online, but I felt quite tired and demotivated. So many thoughts ran through my mind of things I was concerned about—and soon I found myself feeling more than a little gloomy.

Eventually, however, I got up and proceeded with my day. But when I returned to our bedroom after breakfast, I stopped suddenly in the doorway. There in front of me, across the bedspread, I saw an ever-changing shadow pattern of small leaves and branches, as the trees outside our window swayed in the breeze.

At first, I thought, ‘How silly to stand here watching this mundane, everyday event!’ Yet I was mesmerised. I then walked over to our windows and gazed up at the trees, silhouetted against a beautiful, blue sky. I noticed the different shades of green in their foliage. I marvelled at the variety of shapes and sizes of their leaves. And I thanked God, not only for my little glimpse of creation in its natural state but also the added bonus of that special, ever-changing pattern on our bedspread.

Then my mind went to the events of the previous afternoon. We had driven into the city to pick up our friend from a quarantine hotel, but we had not navigated our way into this area for many years. We allowed a certain length of time to get there, but were a little nervous about it all. We did not want to arrive earlier than our friend’s allotted departure time, as we knew there was nowhere to park. And we knew too those alert security guards and hotel staff and policemen and even army personnel would not let us hang around.

We arrived a few minutes early to be told that, if our friend was there already, we could stop. Otherwise, we would have to find a park elsewhere or drive around again. Eek! Then, as we began to leave, we suddenly saw her—she had left her room a little early and was outside waiting. Almost to our bewilderment, everything went so smoothly in the end.

Now we could have congratulated ourselves on our cleverness at managing things so well. Yet surely God was there with us in that moment of reunion and had guided us all along? Surely this too was another gentle touch of grace from God’s hand?

I hope I don’t miss too many more of these moments in my life when God reminds me who is in charge and always will be.

How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:2 NLT

I have little to complain about in this current Sydney lockdown. I am so much better off than others whose jobs and businesses have been affected or whose plans have been hugely disrupted. I feel for them all—it must be extra hard to take, just when things had become more normal.  

Yet I have felt a little discouraged myself too, especially when two speaking engagements I had been looking forward to had to be cancelled. This of course also happened last year during COVID, taking away those various opportunities to speak to both small and large groups and promote my books. Yes, my books are still available in Koorong and online via my website, Amazon etc, but there is nothing like selling them in person and being able to engage one-on-one with potential readers.

Around the same time, I received some rather discouraging news to do with my writing, which made me wonder if all my effort was in fact worthwhile. Surely it would be easier to forget about writing altogether and do something else?

In the midst of my little pity party, however, I began reading the final chapter of 1 Peter. But as I did, I noticed the heading there in my bible—‘To the Elders and Young Men’. How could these verses apply to me then? Nevertheless, I read on. As Peter addresses the church overseers, he urges them to shepherd God’s flock with willingness and integrity, not lording it over others but being a good example in every way. Then he writes:

And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. 1 Peter 5:4

Wow, I found myself saying to God, I need to remember that! Whatever happens with my books, whether they are dismal failures or roaring successes, in the end, what really matters is whether I have faithfully served you and others as best I can through my writing and speaking. Any glory or honour I receive or don’t receive here is nothing compared to that crown of glory that will never fade away!

Next, I read Peter’s words to the young men, then to everyone. This part definitely included me.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

Hmm, I said to God, I need to do that. And I know I can because you love and care for me so deeply. So why I am I holding on tightly to all this anxiety then?

I kept reading, hearing God’s warning in every word.

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 1 Peter 5:8-9

Yes, Lord, I responded, I should know after all these years how the enemy loves to try to drag us down. Yet I don’t have to let this happen. Instead, I can resist—I can stand firm. especially when others are suffering so much more elsewhere, yet remaining faithful.

Stuff happens—or doesn’t. Yet God is always there and always will be.

To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 5:11

In a flash

Isn’t it amazing how some little, fleeting incident can trigger an absolute avalanche of vivid memories at times? One moment, we may be grounded firmly in the present, yet the next, our minds are hurtled back to some experience perhaps years earlier. Of course, if the original event was traumatic in any way, such flashbacks can be extremely unsettling. Yet they can also serve to remind us how faithful God has been to us in our lives.

One morning recently (before lockdown!), I was a passenger on the Rivercat, as it headed along the Parramatta River into the city. I could hear the throb of the engines and feel the ferry rocking, as it sliced its way through the wake left by another nearby ferry. The next moment, I was almost overwhelmed with memories of other boat trips taken in Turkey years ago, during several visits to a friend there. This friend was now my reason for heading into the city—she was in hotel quarantine there and I wanted to take her some goodies. No doubt that was why I was susceptible to memories of Turkey that morning, yet their strength and suddenness still took my breath away.

The first memory that surfaced was of a trip across the Bosphorus with my friend from one part of the huge city of Istanbul to another, in a ferry much larger and more crowded than my Sydney Rivercat. Everything was new and strange to me, yet it was all so colourful and interesting. On that trip, I remember how determined I was to stay glued to my friend, come what may. After all, I did not know any Turkish or understand how everything worked.

Then in a flash, I remembered another ferry trip across the Bosphorus a few years later, this time on my own. On that occasion, after a hairy taxi ride where our driver kept falling asleep, my host hurriedly waved goodbye and pointed to my ferry which was about to depart. I dashed for it—and made it. Then it dawned on me that there I was, alone on a crowded ferry, a foreigner who knew little Turkish and still with a bus to catch to the airport when we eventually docked. Time was fast ticking away—but amazingly, by God’s grace, I made it onto that plane.

Other less alarming trips in tourist boats along the Mediterranean coast came to mind too. From time to time, the crew would pull into beautiful coves and islands to enable us all to swim in that pristine, blue water or explore the fascinating sights nearby. What a privilege to enjoy such unique experiences with my friend!

I returned with a jolt to the present. Then a moment later, a huge wave of thankfulness rose up in me, as I realised how each of those memories had highlighted God’s amazing grace in my life in one way or another. Truly, God has watched over me, not only through all those rich experiences I had just relived, but throughout my whole life, even in times of challenge and confusion—and I am so grateful.

Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Who can proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord or fully declare his praise? Psalm 106:1-2

One recent cold, blustery Saturday morning, I headed out to drive to our local shops. I had not gone far, however, when I felt compelled to pull over and get out of the car. You see, I had just passed two older men trying their best to chase after piles of advertising brochures that were being blown everywhere, up and down the road. At first, I thought: ‘It’s not really my problem. Maybe they were careless and dropped them while they were supposed to be putting them neatly in people’s letterboxes.’ But I felt so sorry for them as they ran after those windswept papers that I decided I should help.

Can you picture me diving here and there to pick up those errant brochures? Hmm! A few cars slowed down, as I retrieved some that had blown right onto the road, but no one stopped to help. One can only hope all those young people in particular who decided to keep going had a pressing appointment somewhere!

Feeling decidedly windblown, I huffed and puffed my way back to where the two men were busy chasing after their own piles.

‘Are we winnin’?’ one of them yelled out with a grin.

‘I don’t know, but at least it’s good exercise!’ I laughed back.

I soon discovered the men had not been delivering the leaflets. They had merely seen them fall off a truck right in front of them and had decided they created far too much litter to be left lying on the road. This made me doubly glad I had helped them, but as I drove off, the question the man asked kept ringing in my ears: ‘Are we winnin’?’

The two men and I must have looked ridiculous as we picked up those brochures—I think I even saw some drivers laughing at us while they sped past! We did not look like we were ‘winnin’’ at all—and I for one didn’t feel like we were either. And that is how it sometimes feels with our efforts to love and serve God too, doesn’t it? Sometimes, there seems to be little impact when we seek to use the gifts God has given us. At times, after speaking at some secular event, I wonder if anyone present heard my gentle challenges about faith in God. At times too, I wonder if those conversations at my book table will bear any fruit—or if my books themselves will. Yet I know that is when I need to refocus and remember I have done my best to convey what I felt God wanted me to convey. And I need to remind myself too that I belong to the ultimate, all-powerful Victor who has conquered even death for our sakes.

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:57-58

Whether we managed to retrieve all those pesky brochures or not on that recent windy morning, I suspect we did win. I at least sensed our actions pleased and honoured God—and in the end, that’s what matters, don’t you think?  

Have you ever found yourself singing a worship song in church, then realising with a start what the words actually said? Sometimes when this has happened to me, I have stopped singing, as I felt my life did not honestly reflect the truths those words contained.

Recently, I had to pause while singing a worship song that repeated the words ‘Here’s my life, Lord’ several times over. Whoa—what a huge commitment, to offer God our lives wholeheartedly and to ask God to speak to us! I know I belong to God, that God has cleansed me and set me free and given me new life, as this song went on to remind us. Yet was I still truly willing to commit my whole life to serving God, rather than doing whatever I pleased?

This same day, I had already been challenged along these lines via a conversation at our church door.

‘Are you preaching today?’ I asked one of our pastors.

‘Yes, at all three services, but it feels like a light day to me, as I don’t have any other meetings in between, which is wonderful!’

I sat down, my mind reeling. Preaching three times in the one day? Once or twice years ago, I had to do such a thing and could still remember how exhausting it was. I would definitely think twice before doing that again. As for meetings in between, no way! Yet soon we began singing, ‘Here’s my life, Lord’—and I blithely joined in. Hmm.

My mind then went to a friend who has served overseas for more than twenty years and is soon coming home here to live. What an uprooting to leave all her special friends behind in that faraway country! And what a challenge it will be to reorientate her life here at home, after serving God elsewhere for so long! I know God gifts us differently and calls us to do different things in life, yet my friend gave up so much to do what she believed God wanted. Was I prepared to say with all my heart, as I know she will be doing again soon, ‘Here’s my life, Lord …’?

As our service continued, the preacher reminded us of a verse that was very meaningful to me at a particularly challenging stage of my life:

Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty. Zechariah 4:6

God had shown Zechariah a gold lampstand in a vision, with a bowl on the top and seven lamps or lights—and nearby, two olive trees, which would seem to indicate a good supply of oil for those lamps. Back then, God’s people needed to be reminded that they were not to rely on their own strength but rather on the Spirit’s power—and I had needed to be reminded of that too in my mid-forties when I began studying at theological college. God did enable me so much throughout those years of intense study, I reflected—and also in my ensuing ministry role, then on into my writing and speaking journey.

How grateful I am for God’s empowering thus far in my life! Yes surely, Lord, I can still worship you with a full heart. Surely, I can sing all over again, ‘Here’s my life, Lord’—and mean it.

I watched, as our salesperson went to ask a male colleague a question on our behalf. We were making an important purchase—a new car—and had several queries.

‘No, that’s wrong!’ her male colleague said loudly, frowning. ‘Don’t you remember? You take this amount off!’

I felt sorry for our salesperson and, when she returned, pretended I had not heard anything.

Soon after, she decided to doublecheck something else, this time with her senior manager. A moment later, he strode across to us and took over from her.

‘I’m not sure where she was up to,’ he told us with a disapproving expression, as he looked at the paperwork on the desk. ‘I thought she would have explained all this to you already.’

I did not warm to his slick, arrogant tone and again felt sorry for our salesperson who had done her best. As he talked, she stood in the background—although I wondered if she might have preferred to be invisible instead.

Somehow, I was sure I detected some blatant sexism in all this. Our salesperson had been doing well—and I felt her male colleagues had put her down in a very public way.

Yet the previous day, I thought I had noticed some hints of a different sort of ‘ism’ in this same salesperson’s response, when we told her we wanted to go away and think about our options.

‘That’s okay,’ she told us. ‘But don’t leave it too long, otherwise you’re likely to forget all the things I’ve told you today!’

Was I supersensitive? Quite possibly! Yet this wasn’t the only whiff of ageism I sensed while ordering our new car. When it came to paying our deposit, we were ushered into a different office.

‘Are you comfortable with transferring money online or would you prefer to pay by bank cheque?’ the girl there asked us politely, unaware how condescending she sounded.

My husband smiled and told her that transferring money online would be fine, thank you. I felt like adding something like ‘despite how elderly and decrepit we might look’, but managed to refrain just in time.

We can all tend to judge others so easily—just as I may have already done in this post! We like putting people in boxes. We so often assume all elderly people lack certain abilities. Some of us assume women are too illogical and featherbrained for this or that role. And some of us assume so much too about people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. We may not mean our comments to sound patronising or judgmental—quite the opposite, in fact. Yet, maybe taking a little more thought and care at times before blurting things out would be so much more helpful.

I keep thinking of Jesus’ own stern words too about judging others:

Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own.  Matthew 7:1-3 The Message

Hmm. I hope we can soon become blind more often to those smudges on others’ faces. After all, God has looked past the smudges on our own—and still does.

On this particular Monday morning, I did not feel like grocery shopping. Still, it had to be done, so off I went. I scooted around the supermarket in record time and headed for the nearest checkout. Then I noticed the worker there was a lady with whom I had previously had a conversation about my books. On that occasion, she had asked me what I wrote about, but someone had interrupted and there had been no time to answer her. I had left the store that day feeling rather frustrated—would I ever get another opportunity to talk with her? Yet there she was now, about to serve me again—but I felt too tired and grumpy to connect with her. Perhaps she had forgotten all about that question she had asked me anyway.

Imagine my surprise then when the first thing she said was, ‘So … are you still writing?’

My heart sank. I did not want to talk about writing—or anything serious, for that matter. Yet I was touched she had not forgotten our previous conversation.

‘Wow, I’m amazed you remembered I’m a writer,’ I managed to say. ‘Yes, I’m still writing—and speaking. I’m speaking at a club this week, but I’ve also spoken at quite a few churches.’

‘Oh … what sort of things do you write about?’

At that point, I decided to opt for a relatively safe response.

‘Well, my novels focus on different serious issues we all face in our lives sometime or other, such as forgiveness or grief or dealing with life’s challenges … lots of things like that.’

‘Wow—I must check your books out online.’

By this time, I was wider awake—and praying hard!

‘Um, I have a card here,’ I told her, as I fished around in my purse.

She finished packing my groceries and I paid her. For a moment, it seemed she had moved onto the next customer, but she turned to me again.

‘So, where’s your card? Thanks so much. Have a good week!’

I left, feeling somewhat stunned but also a little ashamed of myself. God had given me a wonderful, unexpected, second opportunity to connect with this lady, yet I had not wanted to engage with her at all. Instead, I had wallowed in my tiredness and grumpiness and it had not even entered my head to consider what God might want me to say. Then the Apostle Peter’s words came to mind:

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. … 1 Peter 3:15

I had not been prepared. I felt I could have been much more open. I should have mentioned other themes in my novels like the love and grace of God, but now the moment was gone. Yet, in the midst of all these whirling thoughts, I sensed God’s amazing grace and acceptance pour over me. And as I drove home, I prayed. Lord, please may she look up my website and see why I write and what I write about. And please may we have an even better conversation soon.

I’m so grateful God understands. And I’m so grateful God uses us even in our weakness in ways we may least expect.

One day recently, in the middle of writing, I thought of something I needed to do in the kitchen. Yet there was one slight problem. After heading there, I could not remember what that ‘something’ was! Feeling distinctly foolish, I returned to my writing, hoping enlightenment would soon come.

Not long after, my husband charged into my study to tell me two things. He remembered the first, but the second eluded him completely. Later that day, however, he informed me he had remembered what that second thing was—but had forgotten it again! Oh dear.

A day or so later, that pesky piece of information he had forgotten twice finally surfaced. This time, he remembered it long enough to relay it to me—although whether it was worth the effort is another matter, since I cannot now recall what it was!

This phenomenon of forgetting things has nothing to do with old age, of course. My personal excuse is that I have so many writing ideas in my head there is very little room for other pieces of information, particularly mundane ones. That is why I take great care in recording the various details for my speaking engagements on my laptop—and in my paper diary. After all, I do need to remember such things as what topic I have been asked to speak on, what time I need to arrive, where I am able to park and other necessary bits and pieces of information. This helps counteract the feeling of dread I occasionally experience of one day turning up at the wrong venue or at the wrong time or even on the wrong day!

I think God understands how good we are at forgetting, don’t you? In the Old Testament, God gave the Israelites various feasts and rituals which enabled them to reflect together on God’s goodness and remember how God wanted them to live. Even then, God often had to encourage them, via strong words from their leaders, to remember where they had come from and who had saved them.

Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. Deuteronomy 24:18

Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced … 1 Chronicles 16:12, Psalm 105:5

You have forgotten God your Saviour; you have not remembered the Rock, your fortress. Isaiah 17:10

We cannot judge them, however, because how quickly we too can forget what God has done for us! I for one know how easily I can slip over into thinking I am in charge of my own life and fail to remember who I belong to. No wonder Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper for his disciples—and for us—as one tangible way at least of remembering him.  

This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me. … This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 1 Corinthians j11:24-25

We may forget many things, but let’s never forget the Lord. Let’s remember his amazing love and grace and mercy towards us—and be so thankful.

Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits … Psalm 103:1-2

I wonder if you can recall a time when you felt very much on the edge of a group somewhere. Perhaps this describes your situation right now. Or perhaps, like me, your mind went to some setting years ago where you found you did not entirely belong.

At one stage, my husband returned to pastoral ministry, after some years of lecturing. Our new church welcomed us warmly, but I soon discovered the women had plans for me. You see, this church fielded a large number of netball teams in an inter-church competition, so it was assumed I would happily coach some of these players. Yet there was one small problem. I had never, ever played netball—or even basketball, which was more popular where I grew up!

‘Well—never mind,’ one lady told me, her disappointment obvious. ‘You can give out the oranges at half time instead!’

I knew this was not me, however. Instead, I taught three Scripture classes each week at the local primary school, played the piano at church and hosted various events in our home. I even spoke and sang once when the Sunday School anniversary guest speaker dropped out at the last minute! Yet none of this seemed to matter. I did not join in the business of netball, so never quite fitted in.

Perhaps this is part of the reason I have hated to see people left out in any church communities we have joined—or anywhere else either. And perhaps too this is why my heart went out to our seven-year-old granddaughter, when I heard about a recent conversation that took place at her home. Apparently, Maxine had tried to cheat a little, while playing a game with her mum.

‘If you’re going to do that, I won’t play with you again,’ her mum told her firmly—at which point, Maxine became very upset.

‘Well, Daddy’s too busy working and doing things and my brother’s always playing on his devices and … and because you’re angry at me now, I feel alienated from the whole family!’ she sobbed.

Poor Maxine—although it was her fault, partly at least! Yet where on earth had she learnt the word ‘alienated’? And how did she know exactly what it meant or how it felt?

Most of us, even introverts like me, do not want to feel alienated. We are created to connect, to support one another, to do life together. At times, our church communities may disappoint us in this regard—we are all still works in progress. And at times too, as believers, we may feel alienated from others in the wider community. After all, we are now ‘aliens and strangers in this world’ (1 Peter 2:11), marching to the beat of a different drum. Yet however alienated we might feel from others, we can find such comfort in the fact that we are no longer alienated from God. Instead, through Jesus, we who were far off have been drawn near and warmly welcomed into God’s family with loving, open arms.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! I John 3:1

We belong in God’s family. We are accepted. We are known. We are loved—deeply and forever.