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I wonder if you have ever experienced one of God’s gentle but firm ‘ambushes’. There you are, getting on with your life, when you read some words of Scripture or someone shares a deep thought with you and—kapow! In an instant, you know God is reaching out to you, longing for you to pay attention.

A few weeks ago, I was talking with someone about an issue she was facing.

‘Lately, I’ve sensed God is asking me, “Do you trust me? Do you really trust me?”’ she said, almost as a throw-away line.

Even as I continued listening, I felt a definite nudge in my spirit and knew God was challenging me with this same question. But inwardly, I blustered a little. Of course I trust you, God! I don’t need this reminder. This person is talking with me to glean wisdom for her own life—not vice versa!

Then we put our house on the market. Hmm … did I really trust God to find that one person who would pay a good price for it? If I did, why did I have so many ‘what if’ questions in my mind? Why did I occupy my time inventing those worst case scenarios where everyone would think the house was too small or too old and where we might not have the money to make our own next purchase?

Then came Easter—and this year, I decided to read the account of the crucifixion and resurrection from John’s Gospel. Of course, John was writing in an entirely different context about an entirely different situation, but as I read, I realised God was speaking into my own life as well.

On the evening of the first Resurrection Sunday, we are told in John 20:19, as the disciples huddle in a room with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus joins them.

Peace be with you!’ he says, as he shows them his hands and side.

In an instant, I sensed those words were for me too.

‘Yes, Lord,’ I admitted at last, ‘My situation is nothing like what the disciples had just experienced, but I know I need that same peace right now too.’

I read on and came to the account of another meeting Jesus had with his disciples a week later, when Thomas was also present.

Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you! Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”  John 20: 26-27

Hmm—‘StopIMG_20170421_145112767 doubting and believe.’ Those words speared straight into my spirit. There was no way around it. I had certainly doubted God was able to look after us in the whole process of selling our house. I felt rebuked—and rightly so. But I also felt deeply comforted. Yes, God knew our situation. Yes, God could indeed be trusted, even in the face of my unbelief. And yes, God was forgiving too!

Then last Friday, even before going to auction, our little house sold for a very good price indeed—and only twelve days after being put on the market. Thank you, Lord, for your unending faithfulness to us in so many ways!

This past weekend saw the beginning of our ‘open house’ days for potential purchasers of our home—as well as the merely curious! In preparing for this event, I found it a weird experience to walk around our house and try to see it from an outsider’s point of view. What would put them off? What personal items should I remove? What could I do easily to de-clutter our home of thirty-two years?

As I did, I began to feel quite vulnerable. We have had plenty of visitors in this house over the years—but that’s a little different from people we don’t know prying and poking everywhere!

IMG_20170414_172906326_HDRActually, I had begun to feel vulnerable the moment a huge ‘for sale’ sign was erected outside our home a few days earlier, featuring large photos of our backyard, kitchen and lounge room. There for all to stare at were key parts of our property only friends or family usually see. As well, on several websites, interested parties could take a virtual tour around our home, room after room. I felt a little unmasked, if you like—as if my precious home where I love to curl up had suddenly been peeled open and laid bare for the world to see.

Later, however, I wondered why I felt this way. After all, I am a writer, with eight books published and out there in the market. Two of these in particular—my non-fiction books, Soul Friend and Becoming Me—made me feel very vulnerable when they were released. After all, there was my life, served up on a plate for anyone to consume! Yikes! True, the publication of my earlier novels was also a vulnerable experience—yet that was different. Writers can hide in novels, giving their characters things to say we have wanted to say for years! And, in the end, they are novels, not my own personal story. Yet … what if no one liked them? What if those reviews were terrible? What if I had made a huge mistake, thinking God had led me to become a writer?

Now I realise I need to remember those lessons from my publishing journey. It is okay to put my work and what feels like my very self out there to be scrutinised. In fact, it is more than okay. After all, what does it matter if people criticise or misunderstand or disagree? Surely God has taught us things that need to be shared, that will make a difference for others—it is well worth the risk. Besides, there is a kind of sweet sense of freedom in letting others into our deepest thoughts and experiences, don’t you think? Here I am—and nothing has been wasted.

I am reminded too of the beautiful freedom and transparency that God, who knows all things, offers us and the comfort this brings. With God, it is ‘open house’ all the time—a place where nothing is hidden. So I can relax in those loving arms, knowing I am totally accepted there, just as I am. And that’s the kind of ‘open house’ where I am happy to live—forever.

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. Psalm 139:1-2

IMG_20170404_142602648Last week, I discovered a new calling in life! Someone lent us one of those water pressure cleaners that make concrete, bricks and stones look as good as new. Over a couple of days, I had such fun finding that nice, white concrete all around our yard and the lovely golden and brown rocks that form the terraces and borders everywhere. We had forgotten what it was meant to look like. All that moss on the rocks and that greying of the concrete paths and barbecue area had kind of crept up on us, just as it had on the rocks and paths themselves.

Inside our house too, I recently unearthed quite a few possessions I had forgotten about, as we have cleaned and tidied everywhere, in preparation for putting our home of thirty-two years on the market. Some of these brought joy to my heart—books I remember our children loving, videos our grandkids liked to watch over and over again, jewellery that is not precious but has sentimental value. But there were also some I could not believe I had kept all these years—pictures I had cut from old Christmas cards for our granddaughters to create something with, material for covering our own children’s school books, instructions for long-gone kitchen appliances.

These two experiences, both inside and out, have given me much food for thought, especially in the lead-up to Easter. What a stark reminder it was, as I unearthed those lovely, clean surfaces outside again, of the ease in which we forget how we ourselves have been made pure and clean through the death of Jesus! Once we were lost. Once the unique image of God we were created to be was hidden under layers of mess and wrong thinking and wrong choices. But then Jesus came, washing it all away, giving us a way to be made new through him. How easily we forget the huge, huge difference this brought about—for all of us!

But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:11 NLT

And as I tidied inside and unearthed those hidden things, I reflected on how easily we forget the wonderful treasures God has given us through Jesus Christ and how readily we replace them with our many material things. Yes, we do need those material things in our lives—for shelter, for covering and warmth, for sustenance in various ways. But that is not where our true wealth is. That is not where our deepest security lies. What a reminder, especially as Easter approaches, that my focus in life needs to be firmly on Jesus! As Jesus himself told us:

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.  Matthew 6:19-21 NLT

As you remember Jesus’ sacrifice and celebrate Easter this week, may you too rejoice in the renewal this brings us and those riches in God that will last forever.

Jo 23As a small child, I hated being told off. If my mother ever scolded me, I would assert, in no uncertain terms and with many tears, ‘I’m not a naughty girl!’ My pride was injured beyond repair—and besides, I could not bear the thought that I had disappointed her.

All through my growing-up years—and well beyond—I continued to dislike being corrected or rebuked. My fragile self-esteem did not handle such things well and I was always ready with a defensive response. After all, I had to keep that pride of mine intact.

On one occasion around twenty years ago, however, I learnt a valuable lesson in this regard. A minister at our church invited me to take on a task he felt I would do well. At first, I told him I might not be good enough and suggested others who could do a far better job. But, instead of reassuring me, he looked me in the eye and said, ‘That’s not humility, Jo—that’s self-protection!’

Hmm!

Because I respected this minister, I went away and thought about his words—and eventually concluded he was right. I did what he had asked and thoroughly enjoyed it. Through this experience, I learnt to take such correction, given in love and for my ultimate benefit, on board much better than I previously had.

Recently, I was reminded of this lesson when a friend and I visited a dear, mutual friend who is suffering from some degree of dementia. At one point, our friend seemed a bit confused and told us she had once stolen a white hat, so I tried to help her out.

‘Oh, did you? Where did you take it from?’ I asked her gently.

I could hardly believe her quick, clever response.

‘I’m trying to resist correcting you,’ she said with some spirit and a touch of hauteur. ‘It should be “From where did you take it!”’

After a stunned moment, I burst out laughing. With inhibitions gone, our dear friend had simply blurted out her true thoughts—yet I was not offended at all. You see, I know this beautiful, older woman of God. I respect her even now, in her declining years, just as I respected my minister friend who told me the truth all those years ago. And I know her heart of love for me.

This amusing exchange soon set me thinking about my response to God’s corrections and challenges, whether through Scripture, through the words of others or through the Spirit’s whisper deep in my heart. How often do I still bristle a little, become defensive, perhaps pretend I don’t hear anything and decide I can easily justify my words or actions—even to God?

Yes, that old pride of mine still rears its ugly head at times. Yet why do I let this happen? After all, I know God loves and accepts me. I know God is good and kind. I know God has my best interests at heart. And I know God does not make mistakes.

So … next time I hear God’s loving correction, I hope I remember past lessons, swallow my pride—and respond with both alacrity and humility.

He who heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray. Proverbs 10:17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord. Psalm 139:1-4

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

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

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