Jo 17I could not believe it. Early one morning, I went to check out our little garden just beyond our balcony. At least, it isn’t really ‘our’ garden, because the village gardeners look after it and have planted shrubs there. But I recently added some small, purple lobelia plants a neighbour gave me when some of her garden was dug up to allow for plumbing repairs nearby. I felt sorry for her and wanted those little plants to flourish, for her sake. But this particular morning, I discovered three of them had been dug up and were lying on top of the ground looking extremely forlorn, their roots dangling in mid-air.

How could this happen? I knew it hadn’t been our grandchildren—or the gardeners—or any of our neighbours. Then I noticed our big, local water dragon nearby, scratching the ground with its sharp claws. Could he (or she) be the culprit? Perhaps it was my imagination, but I suspected that cheeky lizard looked a tad guilty as I glared at it! Or could the real culprit be that even cheekier brush turkey who occasionally struts along the bushland corridor beside our unit? One day, my husband even saw it head upstairs to the units above ours, as if it owned the place!

Whoever the culprit might have been, those little plants needed rescuing. I stuck them back in the ground, held up their limp leaves and watered them carefully. And as I watched their progress (or lack thereof) in the ensuing days, I was reminded forcibly of the parable Jesus told about the farmer who went out one day to sow seed (Luke 8:1-15). Some fell along the path and was trampled or eaten by birds. Some fell on rocks, but the resulting plants soon withered because there was no water. Some fell among thorns, which also grew and choked those new plants. But some fell on good soil and yielded an amazing crop.

Jesus explains to his disciples that the seed along the path represents those who hear the word of God, yet never truly believe, because the enemy quickly tramples on their faith or snatches it away. The seed on the rock represents those who receive the word with joy, yet their faith soon withers, like my plants did when their roots were exposed. The seed that falls among thorns represents those whose faith does not mature because their worries, along with the riches and pleasures of life, choke it. Then Jesus says:

But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. (15)

How quickly that new life drained out of my little plants, as they lay in that hot sun! One day they were happily growing—and the next, they were not. What a stark reminder to me how easily we can die spiritually when, for one reason or another, our roots do not go down deep into God, so that we can withstand any attempts to trample on or snatch away or dry up or crowd out our faith!

May we not only hear the word, but retain it well—and may we persevere, ever maturing and producing the most abundant harvest possible, as God enables.


Jo 23It was only a small difference of opinion—at first. I was sure I had mentioned some simple thing I had done, but it soon became obvious the other person present had not heard all I had said. Or perhaps it was that I thought I had added my initial explanatory sentence, but it had remained just that in my head—a thought and no more. Who knows? I was tired and cross, however—and I did not want to entertain that quite reasonable possibility. So, casting caution to the wind, I stuck to my guns and maintained I had in fact explained everything. I argued my case with vehemence. With great fervour, I maintained I was right. In my anger and frustration at being accused unjustly, I might even have raised my voice significantly! And all in order to defend myself over something that did not matter too much in the bigger scheme of things.

Later that day, shame at my response kicked in, but my anger at being wrongfully accused still hung on too. Why did I have to apologise when I knew I had been right? Better just to let it all die down—it would probably be forgotten by tomorrow anyway. Yet something nagged at my conscience. And some verses that I knew from past experience make complete sense kept coming to mind:

 … Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Ephesians 4:26-27

So at last I apologised—and my apology was accepted with grace. We talked a little more about how much better it is to let differences of opinion over trivial issues go rather than try to justify ourselves, then left it at that.

But I soon discovered God wasn’t finished with me. Still feeling a little disgruntled, I sat down at my desk and picked up a book of devotionals someone had given me a few days earlier. I turned to the relevant page for the day—and almost laughed out loud, despite my negative feelings. Right at the top, standing out in bold, red letters, was James 1:19-20:

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

I don’t know about you, but these words have always been a strong challenge to me. Somehow, that order of ‘quick … slow … slow’ can so easily be reversed—often, I am much more likely to be slow to listen, quick to speak and quick to become angry, as I rush to defend myself and my actions! In fact, I may not even hear exactly what the other person is trying to tell me before I crank up the volume and start talking—sometimes over the top of them.

Hopefully, I am slowly learning not to do this, to hold back more, take a deep breath and give the other person a chance to say what is troubling them. And hopefully one day, I will improve, as I model myself more closely on how God has treated me and still does on a daily basis:

But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. Psalm 88:15

Being family

Jo 17Recently, the funeral an elderly gentleman who had never married and whose closest relative was a sister living in the USA was held at our church. He was a quiet, unassuming man who had worked with a Christian organisation in various parts of the world. Each Sunday, he would catch two buses to get to our church from his home a few suburbs away. But one Sunday a few weeks ago, he apparently fell over at home while getting ready and it was two or three days before friends or neighbours realised something must be wrong. The police broke in—and he was taken to hospital.

As soon as our church heard about his plight, various people started visiting him. Some helped by getting things he needed from home. Others washed his clothes. Still others prayed for and with him. Our pastors liaised with medical staff and kept his sister informed. And when the difficult decision had to be made to turn off his life support system, his Christian friends gathered around his bed, surrounded him in prayer and farewelled him in the most godly, dignified way possible.

At one stage, a nurse commented how sad it was that no family members could be with him at the end of his life.

‘But we are his family—we’re his church family!’ one of those present exclaimed.

Perhaps most moving of all, however, were the words of the head ICU doctor, after noting the love, care and respect shown to his patient by those who visited.

‘I’ve never seen anything like it!’ he said with feeling.

Now that was both a wonderful but sad comment, don’t you think? It was wonderful that the loving, sincere, Christlike care given to this elderly man seemed to amaze this doctor, but sad too that he had never before experienced people who were not biological family acting in this deeply caring way. Perhaps he may have come from a culture where such tasks are shouldered by family members only. Who knows? Yet what a reminder to us of the importance of caring for those alone and in need, not only for their sakes but also for any who might be watching and wondering!

For me, it was also a sobering reminder of Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 about gathering the nations together, putting the ‘sheep’ on the right and the ‘goats’ on the left, then welcoming those on the right to take their kingdom inheritance, on the basis of having helped him when he was hungry or thirsty, in need of clothes or shelter, ill or in prison. He goes on to explain how the ‘righteous’ hypocrites will argue that they never saw him in such situations—and then adds some words that always cut me to the heart:

The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ (40)

How thankful I am that that elderly gentleman, who surely qualifies as one of those whom Jesus called ‘brothers of mine’, with no biological family close by to help, had his church family around him who treated him in a way that honoured both Jesus and him! May I have the grace to follow their example, show the same love and be true family to others.

I wonder if you have ever re-discovered something you once loved or used a lot or thought was wonderful, perhaps after many years have elapsed. It’s a bit like finding an old friend, isn’t it? There it is—just as you remembered it. And in a flash, the memories come flooding back.

IMG_20180216_101532547_BURST001Recently, my sister and brother-in-law arrived from interstate for a visit and brought with them my faithful, old, bright yellow shopping trolley I purchased around thirty-eight years ago! At that time, we lived on the other side of Sydney, just a few doors from very busy King Georges Road. And across that busy road was our local supermarket. It was far too close to drive to, yet too far away to carry all those bags of groceries back home. So that bright yellow shopping trolley came in very handy during the time we lived there.

Then we moved—and that trolley languished in a cupboard near our front door for years. Eventually, my sister relocated to Melbourne where she used to frequent the markets. So during one visit we made to her, we took that trolley along and bequeathed it to her. A few years later, she moved to Bendigo, where she too no longer needed that yellow trolley. So from then on, it languished in her garage—until her recent visit to us. You see, because we now live in a village environment, that yellow trolley is perfect for stashing all those groceries in from the boot of my car and trundling them down a nearby walkway to our front door!

In our family too, toys, games and little girls’ clothes also come around and around again. Recently, our daughter-in-law brought a few tubs of such items to us and, as I checked through them all, I found beautiful, sturdy jigsaw puzzles I remember completing with our now fifteen-year-old granddaughter when we used to mind her as a young child, along with her twelve-year-old sister. What memories those puzzles brought back! There were also some board and card games we played together that I know our younger grandchildren will enjoy now. As for those numerous Barbie dolls and accessories, what a treasure trove for our three-year-old Maxine—and her older brother! And those recycled little girls’ clothes too are still beautiful, many of them top name brands and hardly worn. Maxine is surely the best dressed little girl in Blacktown!

All this has caused me to reflect on my own life and wonder again at how God seems to use our gifts in fresh ways at different stages of our lives. It can be unwise to keep hanging onto things we have done in the past or roles we have filled, can’t it? But it seems to me God often surprises us with new twists and turns in our journeys that require a dusting off and reshaping of the old to be useful all over again. Only God could arrange things in such unique ways, don’t you think? So I hope and pray I can follow God’s leading and recycling and remain faithful and useful to the end—and I hope you can too.

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

There I was, about to enter the local supermarket when I noticed some mangoes on display nearby. I reached for a roll of plastic bags, tore one off and opened it, ready to put my mango in. Just then, a little lady much older than I am (!) asked me if I would mind passing her a bag, so I quickly handed her my own. A few moments later, this same little lady came up and handed me a tiny, square piece of cardboard, with something green pressed onto it and covered in clear plastic.

IMG_20180206_120843375‘It’s a real, four-leaf clover!’ she explained. ‘I want you to have it because you were so kind to me. I gave one to my granddaughter when she was doing an exam and she got 97%!’

Not wanting to disappoint her, I joked that I might have to sit for another exam. But later, I wished I could have thought of something a little more helpful to say.

The next day, I was back in that same supermarket. My husband had enjoyed his mango so much, I decided to buy a couple more. This time, the checkout person had trouble scanning some of my purchases and had to repeat the process. I paid my bill and headed off, but something made me look closely at my docket. Sure enough, I had not been charged for my two mangoes.

What a moral dilemma! At first, I thought, ‘It was her mistake—she was rushing too much. Probably I’ve been overcharged on other occasions anyway!’ But then my conscience got the better of me. I went back, showed her the docket and pointed out the problem.

‘Oh, thank you so much,’ she said. ‘That’s very nice of you—you’ll have good karma all day now!’

I blinked a few times, paid my money and turned away, wishing yet again I could have thought of something suitable to say in the moment.

As I reflected more on these two interesting events, I experienced various emotions. I was touched by these ladies’ responses. Both of them could have just thanked me (or not!) and said or done nothing more. I was annoyed at myself for not knowing what to say in return. But I also felt sad that these women seemed to set such store by four-leaf clovers and good karma. And probably they would represent a large percentage of the general population too, as far as such beliefs are concerned.

I don’t want to act or say anything in a graceless, judgemental way, but I’m sure there’s more that affects my life and the outcomes of my words and deeds than four-leaf clovers and good karma. I believe the Lord knows us intimately and watches over us, loving and caring for us, through all the good and bad times in our lives.

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 hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. (Psalm 139:1, 4)

So I’ve decided it’s much better to opt for that loving, gracious hand of God on me each day, rather than trusting in good karma or four-leaf clovers. How about you?

Jo 12It happens only once in a blue moon that I take myself off to the movies. I am very choosy about what I watch but, given my sister who was visiting from interstate was also interested in seeing The Greatest Showman, I decided to take the plunge and go. And I have to say, this one did not disappoint.

We both truly admired Hugh Jackman in the starring role of P T Barnum, showman extraordinaire. He acts wonderfully. He sings well. And he was supported by an excellent caste. The music was beautiful—and the cinematography breathtaking at times. And, as far as I noticed, there was nothing offensive in the whole movie, which was a pleasant surprise. I held my breath when Mr P T Barnum was tempted to head off in the wrong direction in life and in show business, giving in to the lure of the talented Miss Jenny Lind, but heaved a sigh of relief when he came to his senses and returned home to his wife and daughters. Phew!

As for the main theme of the movie, was it that every person, however ‘different’ he or she is, has intrinsic value and deserves to be respected? Or was it the need to hold onto our dreams and have the courage to bring them into reality? Then there was the reminder to be true to one’s partner in life and care for family members. All these are very worthwhile values to hold onto. But right at the end of the movie, we noticed an interesting quote on the screen:

The noblest art is that of making others happy. P T Barnum

I had to think about that as a theme. How about you? Would you call ‘making others happy’ the noblest art?

I definitely used to be a people-pleaser and a ‘peace at any price’ person. I wanted to keep everyone around me happy. I hated arguments and would usually acquiesce rather than stick to my guns. Yet over the years, I learnt this was not always the best response and that sometimes I needed to find the courage to stand by what I felt was right. So to me, making others happy in this sense is not ‘the noblest art’.

I’m sure, however, this is not what P T Barnum meant. I suspect he was thinking of those times when something we do for or give to others touches their hearts deeply or eases some load they are carrying in life or at least makes them laugh for a while. After all, there is some truth in the old saying, ‘Laughter is the best medicine’.

Yet even then, this kind of happiness can be so short-lived, can’t it? What we all truly need is a real, deeper, long-lasting joy that can withstand the ups and downs of life. And that for me is found in knowing Jesus Christ. As a Christian, I may not smile all the time or even be happy all the time. But beyond that, there is a deep joy and peace in my spirit that no one can take away. And that surely is the noblest thing in the world to share with others, don’t you think?

 … do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. Nehemiah 8:10

Jo 23For a moment, I had trouble believing what I was reading in our village newsletter:

‘Nothing on TV? Come along and join the Bingo crowd each Tuesday!’

Could whoever wrote this be implying that these two activities were the only options? Did that describe their own lives—just TV and Bingo? If that was the case, then I truly felt sorry for him or her.

I know some people may have health issues and can’t participate in other activities, so possibly TV and Bingo are their best—or only—options. But from my perspective at this stage of my life, surely there are other much more interesting and life-giving pastimes available to fill my hours each day? Even within our village here there is a plethora of clubs and groups on offer—aqua aerobics (and swimming), Bible study, cards (500, Canasta, Crazy Whist), chess, choir, crafts of varying sorts, golf croquet, exercise, games (Scrabble etc), hobby workshop (woodwork, metalwork etc), indoor bowls, lawn bowls, library, line dancing, mah-jong, sketching, various snooker groups, table tennis, tai chi, good movies in the movie theatre, a ‘Voice our Views’ group and a writing group. Phew!

Then, of course, there are many other options as well. The village bus goes regularly to different shopping centres nearby, plus there are other bus tours available for different outings further afield. Or we can hop in our cars and go to these places ourselves. We can visit relatives or friends. We can walk through the beautiful bushland nearby or merely through nearby streets. We can chat to people along the way—or to others in the village. There is even a coffee shop on the premises where we can help ourselves to free coffee, while catching up with others. So, barring health issues, why would one choose TV or Bingo instead?

Now I understand the positive aspects of TV as well as anyone. This past month, I have truly enjoyed flicking from the cricket to the tennis and watching both for far too long! Sometimes there actually are worthwhile things on TV. I also love writing, speaking at places, reading and doing word puzzles. But … Bingo? I remember how, when my lovely older friend Joy first moved into a nursing home in the mountains, she was regularly taken to the activities room for Bingo, which she hated with a passion. She and her daughters called it ‘The dreaded “B” word’. I well remember how delighted my friend was when I popped in to visit her once and thus rescued her from participating!

At least that Bingo invitation in our newsletter has caused me to think carefully about how I plan to spend my time this year. Yes, I need to look after myself and relax and have fun doing what I love to do. But while I’m still able, I also want to invest my time and energy in those worthwhile things God wants me to do and connect with the people God gives me to connect with. And I’m sure I will enjoy all that too. There is more to life when we are on the journey with God, don’t you think? So much more than only TV and Bingo!

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10