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Archive for November, 2009

Have you ever had the experience of seeing something on display in a shop that you want so much you simply have to buy it?  It’s happened to me only a few times, but fortunately, in each of these cases, the particular item has turned out to be relatively inexpensive.

Take, for example, a greeting card I saw in a gift shop over fifteen years ago now.  I was with my sister and both of us groaned out loud as we identified with the words printed in bold, black brushstrokes on the front.

She who trims herself to suit everybody will soon whittle herself away.

For me, it was one of those moments when you are brought face to face with issues inside you in a way that is impossible to ignore.  I was at a time in my life when I was feeling pushed and pulled in all sorts of directions, when I was trying to meet people’s expectations on every side (or was it my own?) but losing myself in the process.  I was aware there were things deep down inside me causing me much frustration and angst, but somehow could not find the courage to speak out.  Yet, in a split second, this simple card opened my eyes to what was happening inside me and around me and empowered me to begin to approach things in a different way.

For years, I had the card on display in my workplace and later at home, but today I moved it into my new study where I can see it from my desk.  And as I did, I reflected on those words again.  They still impact me – but God has done a transforming work in me and I have definitely moved on.  Now, by God’s grace, I believe I am much more secure in who I am and much less dependent on the opinions of others.  Not that I ignore others’ needs and selfishly go through life ‘looking after Number One’ – after all, Paul warns us clearly in Philippians 2:3-4 that that isn’t the way to live:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

But that doesn’t mean trying to please everyone and fit in with what they believe or how they want us to act, at the expense of our own integrity and wellbeing.  I think now at this stage of my life, I understand much more clearly that it’s as I look to God to tell me who I am and am constantly filled with God’s Spirit that I am best able to reach out from this place of strength and truly encourage others.

So how about you?  Feeling a bit fragile – as if there’s not much left of you?  Remember, God is the one who gives you strength.  God is the one who tells you who you are.

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This week I developed a new appreciation for the humble waste paper basket.  For me it is currently one of life’s little luxuries, which, given time, I will no doubt take for granted once again.  But right now I am revelling in being able to lean back in my chair that is now positioned in front of my brand new IKEA desk and, with one deft swing, throw the discarded notes from my latest talk straight into the waste paper basket under said desk.  It is a luxury to me because, for seven years, I have not had a desk of my own.  I have learnt to be quite ‘portable’, moving my laptop and various other bits and pieces from the end of the kitchen table to a fold-up card table wherever I can find a quiet spot in the house and then back again, according to who is around and what is happening in our family at any strategic point in time.  I have written five novels in this mode.  But now everything’s changed.  Now I have my own quite large desk, where I can pile up all my paraphernalia and LEAVE IT THERE, in a corner of my daughter’s old bedroom.  I can simply reach out and pick up the various resources I use often in writing and preparing talks, instead of having to get up and hunt for them somewhere else in the house.  I can swivel around in my chair and (almost) reach books on my brand new bookshelves nearby.  And I can definitely throw my discarded pearls of wisdom in the bin beneath my desk, without having to make yet another trip to the kitchen bin.  Yes, my waste paper basket is to me a symbol of my new-found freedom – a sign that I have definitely come up in the world.

All of this buying and assembling and reorganising of furniture in our house has made me think, however.  We live in a very small house.  We don’t earn much – in fact, very little, at this stage of our lives.  But truly we have been given a lot of luxuries that I at least so easily take for granted.  How would it be if, for a change, I thanked God for all the things I do have, instead of complaining about what I don’t have?  How would that change me and make life happier for those around me as well?

And while I’m at it, perhaps I should remember that even though my new writing space and its contents are all wonderful luxuries to me, they are just material things and won’t last forever.  After all, my real treasure’s in heaven, as Jesus told his disciples:

Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:20-21)

So yes, I’m planning to enjoy my new desk and bookshelves – and waste paper basket!  I’ll be thankful for them often, but I’ll try to hold onto them lightly too.

How about you?  Where’s your treasure?

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I wish I could tell you the number of times people have shyly come up to me after I have spoken somewhere to tell me they would like to write a book too.  Some have a clear idea of what sort of book they hope to create.  Others, however, are much more vague.  Some, I suspect, like the idea of being published, but not all the hard work needed to get there.  But for the majority, it’s more that they can’t seem to allow themselves to actually name their dream, to commit to a goal they believe in their heart of hearts they will never attain.  So it would be foolish – a waste of time really – even to try.  Better to forget about it and go and do something useful.

My heart goes out to these people, because I felt like that myself once.  Before I began writing seven years ago, I had wanted to write for at least twenty years and often talked about it with my family.  At one stage, in desperation, one of our daughters gave me a pile of books on how to write, accompanied by a homemade bookmark, bearing the inscription ‘Write your own!’  However, it took the ending of a ministry I loved, followed by six months’ break, before I finally realised that the moment had come in my life when the dream to write and the call of God were in fact one.

It happened like this.  I was holidaying in Turkey and was sitting reading Isaiah 42 in my bible one morning.  I had read verse 9 – See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare – and noted in my journal that I knew my old role had gone but now I truly wanted to hear the ‘ new things’ God had for me.  Then I read on – and stopped in my tracks at verses 18-20:

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

Yes, it was a strong challenge – a rebuke even – but so patient and kind too.  It was as if God were saying with a big sigh: ‘Come on, Jo!  How many times do I have to show you?  Go home and start writing the book!

Well – I did! That was what it took for God to get through to me that yes, it was okay to write – that this, in fact, was what I was being called to do at this stage of my life.

So what is God calling you to do?  Is it perhaps the very thing you’ve been dreaming of doing all your life?  Could God in fact be giving you permission to bring your dream to reality?  …  Could you possibly have a book in you too?

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I have had some sober reminders this past little while of how uncertain life is for all of us.  Yesterday I discovered that a friend has been diagnosed with a particular form of cancer that will be very difficult and painful to treat.  I hope and pray she will pull through and that her upcoming operation will be successful – but suddenly, life has changed for her and her family.

Then two weeks ago, a friend of my son and daughter-in-law passed away, aged only thirty-five.  She had gone into hospital for a routine foot operation, but while there, a clot formed – and she died with doctors around her.

Truly, none of us knows what tomorrow will bring – and this is exactly what James, the brother of Jesus, wrote about in his very practical letter to the early believers.  This is what he says:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. (James 4:13-14)

Is that how you view your life?  As a vanishing mist – as something that is so insubstantial and fleeting?  This thought could be scary.  It could paralyse us with fear.  Or it could cause us to decide that if life’s as fleeting as that, then we should enjoy it while we can.  We should ‘eat, drink and be merry’ and do it with gusto and with little concern for anyone else except ourselves, because otherwise we might miss out.

And yet this thought could have a different effect on us.  It could spur us on to live life in a much more positive and pro-active way – to do what God wants us to do and to reach out to others in whatever way we have been gifted.  Tomorrow the opportunity might not be there.  Tomorrow the person we could have helped or encouraged in their journey might have completed it.  Tomorrow we ourselves might no longer be in a place where we can offer any more help to anyone.

James actually goes on to say that we do wrong to others and ‘miss the mark’ entirely in our lives if we choose to ignore what God is calling us to do.  He writes:

Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins. (James 4:17)

Do you know the good you ‘ought to do’?  Are you doing it?  Let’s act while we can – before the mist vanishes.

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