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A continuing legacy

Jo 17It has been too long since I have seen my dear friend Joy, with whom I discussed the issues of life and the things of God for many years. She is now in a nursing home, suffering a form of dementia that leaves her a little bewildered and unsure what is happening at times. Yet at other times, she is so aware and remembers so much.

‘Of course I do!’ she says with spirit, when I ask if she knows me. ‘Oh Jo-Anne! So lovely to see you!’

I am embarrassed because three family members are also visiting, yet they assure me I am welcome. Eventually, I show Joy my new book, Becoming Me, wondering if she will recall the struggle it has been to write.

‘I’m so glad you finally have this published,’ she says. ‘It has been a long journey for you.’

I am touched and amazed she remembers—and cares even now.

Somehow, the conversation turns to poetry. The granddaughter present recalls how Joy often used to read poems aloud to her whenever she visited—especially the poetry of Mary Oliver. Together, we try to recite lines from a particular poem of hers we all love. We stumble, unsure of the exact wording. Then, to our surprise, Joy joins in and together, we remember it clearly. It is the last two lines from the poem, ‘The Summer Day’:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

We sit in quietness, reflecting on these words which have always challenged me. I then remind Joy of another poem she shared with me—this time one she herself wrote. I love it so much I included it in an earlier book, Soul Friend, my memoir about the spiritual journey Joy and I shared over many years. I have brought a copy with me, thinking Joy may have forgotten about this earlier book, and now delve into my bag to retrieve it.

‘I can’t remember what chapter it’s in,’ I say. ‘It would probably take me ages to find.’

Yet there it is, on the very first page I turn to! It’s as if the book opens by itself at the exact spot.

‘Read it to us!’ one of Joy’s daughters urges.

I hesitate, but then plunge in.

I saw the power pole break loose

               as the lurching Melbourne tram

                                rounded a corner,

bouncing here and there in frantic

                searching for connection,

                                almost joyous dancing …

I read on, as the words explore the idea of finding true freedom to live life fully, aware the poem may touch some raw places in us all.

Soon after, I need to leave.

‘I don’t want you to go!’ Joy says softly, touching my hand. It is a tender moment.

As I drive home, I reflect on the beautiful legacy she has left and is still leaving in this world in so many ways. And I decide again I want to continue touching others’ hearts with God’s love like that too, to speak of true freedom, to make a difference in this world.

If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36

What is the legacy you are leaving in this world? … What are you doing with your ‘one wild and precious life’?

Yay!

Do you, like mBecomingMe-OFC-e, have any long-term projects lying around that you hope to get back to ‘one day’? For some time now, I have planned to sort through all my music, as well as our old family photos. And yes, I still have two or three book ideas on my laptop that I began some time ago, but put aside. Then there is that gardening makeover …

But I am delighted to announce there is one long-term project I have now completed. On 1st October, my second non-fiction book, Becoming Me: Finding my true self in God, will be released at last. Please check out my website here for more information, particularly about the SPECIAL DEAL now available!

I almost gave up on this particular project—several times over. I wrote most of my original version during 2014 and submitted it to my publisher in January 2015, yet one key question remained. Should it really be published? It is a very personal book, after all—it contains many honest reflections on my journey of discovering who God created me to be and of removing the layers covering my true self. Besides, I already have six novels and a memoir, Soul Friend, published. Should I call it a day? Did I have the energy to see this project through?

Then, in January this year, I was asked to remove the reflection questions at the end of each chapter, which then necessitated some further changes. I resubmitted the manuscript, but to no avail. My book was simply not the type of non-fiction my publisher now produces.

So what to do? Should I consider self-publishing? For various reasons, I had always resisted this idea. Then, one Sunday morning in early May, three things happened in quick succession.

The first was a simple, mundane event—I picked up a nail file and, for the first time in months, noticed the little Russian doll, so intrinsic to my story, on the end of it. A friend had given it to me, after hearing about the concept behind Becoming Me, as an encouragement to complete the book.

We headed to church, where a young minister preached on our identity in Christ. To my astonishment, he shared many key themes contained in my book. I sat bolt upright—it was as if an electric current was flowing through me. ‘All these themes are still so important’, I sensed God saying. ‘Put your book out there!’

I came home and discovered a friend had felt prompted to email me John 1:12 from ‘The Message’:

Whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, HE MADE TO BE THEIR TRUE SELVES, their child-of-God selves …

She had capitalised the words ‘He made to be their true selves’—without realising this is the main theme of my new book!

That week, I began the whole self-publishing process. And now at last, those printed copies have actually arrived!

So … is there a project God has challenged you to undertake that you have perhaps put aside? Sometimes we might have to for a period. But maybe, just maybe, it’s time for you to pick it up again. God is so faithful—may we be faithful too.

‘Which way should I head today?’ I ask myself, as I leave our house for my regular walk. I could head down our street, under the busy main road, past various businesses, then along a short section of bike path to the next street and home again. I could veer right along the bike path, under the railway line, along the edge of the Parramatta River, through the grounds of the nearby university, then home again. Or I could head up the hill towards our local school and shops. Which one should I choose?

Feeling a little restless, I decide to try somewhere different. I drive down to the Rydalmere ferry wharf and park my car. There before me, the lovely, flat bike path winds its way east beside the river towards the Silverwater Bridge and beyond. I set off, walking fast. For some reason, I sense I have not so much chosen this route today as it has chosen me. Could the fact that I am speaking from Psalm 23 later in the week have subconsciously influenced my choice? After all, the psalm does talk about being led beside quiet waters.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. (1-2)

The path curves around, leading past a children’s playground and a grove of tall eucalypts. I am tempted to stop and sit on a seat there in the shade, but press on. Cyclists pass me and smile, as do one or two other walkers. I begin to hear the ‘whoosh’ of traffic and realise I have almost reached the Silverwater Bridge. I img_20160909_150726048pass underneath it, then notice on my left a massive number of enormous, new apartment blocks in various stages of completion. Some seem occupied already, while others still have scaffolding around them. I can hear workmen shouting to one another on these sites and the noise of various power tools and machines.

img_20160909_150818576_hdrI then discover a brand new, shaded picnic table area nearby, right beside the river, and decide to rest there for a while. As I do, I realise I can hear loud noises coming from either side of me. On my left, there are those workmen on the building site, drilling and hammering and calling out. And on my right, there is the constant hum of that traffic as it makes its way over the Silverwater Bridge. Yet, in between, right where I am, is this peaceful place beside the deep, quietly flowing river. And, even as I sit gazing at the water, I see three pelicans land oh so gracefully on its surface and float along, undisturbed by the noise around them, as if they own the entire river.

In that instant, I sense God saying to me, ‘See, even in the midst of the hustle and bustle of your life, when things are happening all around you and press in on you, I can provide those quiet waters that will restore you deep in your spirit. Stay close to me! Keep listening to me!

I relax then, on both the outside and the inside. I am held close in my quiet place with God—and I am so grateful.

Jo 17Recently, I heard a wonderful, true story. A young man worked for a bakery and, while taking out the rubbish one evening, discovered another young man trying to steal something from the bakery premises. He hauled him inside, explained to the owner what had happened, then headed home. When he next fronted up for work, however, he discovered his employer had offered the young offender a job in that same workplace! Instead of punishing him, this employer showed mercy on him and helped him choose a better path in life.

It seems to me this young, would-be thief was given two precious gifts that day, besides that of a paying job. The first was the gift of mercy, which one dictionary defines as ‘compassion or forgiveness shown towards someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm’. And the second was the gift of trust, with the owner believing in this young man enough to offer him a job. What wonderful, life-giving, empowering gifts! The first removes that horrible burden of shame and guilt and offers a fresh start in life. And the second helps call into being that sense of self-worth and self-belief that may have been lost or missing altogether.

As I heard this story, I recalled some words from the song the elderly bishop sings to Jean Valjean in both the stage and film version of Les Misérables. Valjean repays the hospitality the bishop has shown him by stealing some valuable silverware, then tells the police the bishop gave it to him. Instead of denouncing the thief, however, the bishop picks up some silver candlesticks and sings the following:

But my friend, you left so early

Surely something slipped your mind?

You forgot I gave these also;

Would you leave the best behind?

Wow—now that is mercy par excellence, don’t you think? The bishop then urges Valjean to realise there is a purpose behind what has occurred and to use the silver ‘to become a better man’. Valjean does exactly that, ultimately changing the lives of many others.

As for the would-be thief in my first story, I wonder how his life changed as a result of the mercy and forgiveness he received. We may never know—but I have been told what a significant experience it was for the young employee who apprehended the thief. That day, he learnt a key life lesson, as he observed such kindness and forbearance in action and took it to heart.

Do you remember a time when you messed up something in your life and felt so stupid and worthless as a result? Did someone trust you enough to offer you another chance and perhaps even help you do better? Sometimes that doesn’t happen for us. Yet, with God, no one misses out. Instead, God’s amazing mercy and forgiveness is offered to each one of us through Jesus, God’s own beloved Son. And as we turn and accept that offer that shows us how much we are loved and valued, we are given a wonderful, fresh start.

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

What an amazing privilege to experience this life-changing moment that makes all the difference for us, now and forever!

Shh … listen!

Jo 23In a recent writers’ group I attended, we were asked to write a few lines on something we feel passionate about or that annoys us intensely. I did not have to think for long, because, to my shame, I realised I had just done the very thing that irks me so much. Prior to this in the group, we had each shared about a book that had inspired us in our writing journeys. But, as the person before me spoke, I did not listen well at all. Instead, I was busy thinking about what scintillating piece of wisdom I myself I would share next!

Yes, one of my pet peeves is when people do not listen—perhaps because it is something I do not like in myself and am trying to rectify.

Sadly this trait may well run in our family, because our four-year-old grandson has the most wonderful knack on occasions of totally ignoring anyone who might try to get his attention! Even if we repeat his name over and over and speak louder and louder, he pretends not to hear—especially if he is doing something we don’t want him to do! He is in his own little world, looking for interesting things, testing out how this or that works, wanting to explore everywhere. Eventually, when we almost shout, he listens—but it takes patience and perseverance.

One interesting upshot of this sequence of events is that, whenever Zain himself wants to tell us something and we aren’t listening or are busy talking ourselves, he simply shouts! He is so full of what he wants to tell us that he can’t possibly wait. He wants to be heard, but he doesn’t always want to listen. Or obey!

Now one day last week when we were minding him, along with his little sister, Zain chose some books for Granddad to read to him. Among them was Mr Noisy, of all things! We had forgotten the storyline, but we soon discovered how apt it was. You see, Mr Noisy makes so much noise and shouts so loudly that he scares all his friends and neighbours and makes them shudder. So they devise a cunning plan. One day when Mr Noisy goes into a shop and shouts for something he wants, the owner pretends he can’t hear him. Others do the same—and soon Mr Noisy gets the message!

Hmm—could it be worth a try?

The next day, I came across some sobering words in Zechariah 7. I read how God’s people were scattered because they were so focussed on themselves rather than on the Lord and were dishonouring him in the way they lived. When the Lord chastised them, instructing them to administer true justice and to show mercy and compassion to one another (7:9), they hardened their hearts and refused. Then verse 13 says:

‘When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,’ says the Lord Almighty.

Wow—gulp! How sobering is that? What a risky thing not to listen to the Lord Almighty!

I hope both Zain and I soon acquire the art of closing our mouths more often and open our ears instead. Such an important thing to learn for everyone concerned, don’t you think—especially when it comes to hearing God?

So faithful

2016-08-04 11.26.04I leave my study with reluctance, my mind miles away. I am in the middle of editing my latest book, yet I know those mundane household tasks cannot wait. I reach the kitchen, then pause for a moment when I notice how four of my pot plants on our old sideboard nearby are in bloom, despite the neglect they have suffered at my hands.

As I stand admiring them, I remember who gave them to me and when. The lovely salmon pink cyclamen on the right is quite old. It was presented to me after I spoke at a women’s meeting in a church in 2007 or 2008, early on in my writing journey. A friend on the staff there had invited me—and that friend is still part of my little prayer team today. How faithful she has been—and how faithful God has been to me over those years, I realise with a grateful heart.

The pale pink cyclamen on the left has a beautiful, sweet perfume. It was given to me by an old school friend, after one of several occasions when I have spoken to a group of women at her church. Again, another faithful friend I am privileged to have, I realise.

The large peace lily with the tall, white blooms was a gift from our son and his wife and daughters for Mothers’ Day this year. How faithful my family has been too in supporting me, I reflect, as I thank God for them all. As for the little purple and gold primrose (primula acaulis) at the front, I recall how I received it only recently from another friend, after I had presented a three-hour workshop at her writing group. How faithful she too has been in supporting me—how much God has blessed me through all those responsible for giving me my special plants!

Jobs completed, I eventually return to my desk. I glance at my Bible lying beside my laptop and realise I have forgotten to take time that morning to reflect on the things God has to say to me from it. I take up from where I left off last time—Zechariah 4 in the Old Testament. I come to verse 6 and read:

 ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.

These words in themselves are so powerful, reminding me how God is the one who enables me to achieve things in my writing and speaking journey and that I am not to rely on my own strength and ability, forgetting God in the process. But they mean far more than that to me too. In an instant, I am back in our old church on the day a visiting speaker gave this verse to me in 1995, before I began studying at theological college. For years, throughout my time at college and on into ministry, I carried this verse, written on a scrap of paper, in the back of my Bible. I recall now how many times I turned to that scrap of paper and read those words and how they spurred me on, reminding me God’s Spirit was with me and in me, whatever was happening around me.

God is so faithful, I reflect with thankfulness. God is so, so faithful—and always will be!

Jo 12I find I often have mixed feelings when I watch the Olympic Games. Part of me revels in it all, rejoicing in those successes and admiring the skill of the various competitors. But another part of me feels sad when someone is beaten, often by such a small margin. Surely they are still amazing athletes, whether they came first or second or third—or nowhere?

I am no sportswoman, but I love seeing excellence in action as I watch those swimming, gymnastics, rowing, cycling and track and field events. These athletes have committed themselves to persevere and become the best they can be at their chosen sport. They have spent countless hours working hard, no doubt training when they did not feel like it, some making huge financial sacrifices to do so. No wonder they have their eye on the prize and want to win.

Yet I feel relieved when I hear one of them say they are just delighted to be part of it all, that they are stoked with their silver or bronze rather than gold, that they are happy to see others, especially their teammates, do better than they have and win. And I also feel a little annoyed when commentators focus only on the medal winners and relegate other competitors to the background. All the competitors are winners, in my books!

Perhaps I am more like a friend of mine than I think I am. She refuses to play competitive games even as harmless as Scrabble or Monopoly—because someone has to lose! Or I think of something someone in my household who hates football once said: ‘I don’t understand why they don’t give them a ball each. It’s so unseemly for both teams to fight over just one!’  And a friend told us once that, in one part of the world he visited, when a team from one village scored a goal in a football game, they would then decide it was the other team’s turn to score the next one!

I’m so glad being a follower of Jesus is not competitive in any way. In fact, in Matthew 20, Jesus describes a very upside down kind of approach to this ‘game of life’ in which we all participate. He tells a story about some men who are hired at different times throughout the day to work in the vineyards. Yet that evening, they all receive the same wages. When those who worked longer object, the landowner points out how they agreed to be paid the amount they received and that he was not being unfair to them. He asks: Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous? (20:15)

But then comes the most upside down bit of all, as Jesus makes his point:

So the last will be first, and the first will be last. (16)

Hmm. That wouldn’t go down too well in the Olympics, would it?

Yes, we are to ‘run in such a way as to get the prize’ (1 Corinthians 9:24). But that prize is awarded irrespective of when we join the race and wherever we come, as we persevere in fixing our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2).

So, let’s all cheer each other on in these upside down Olympics!