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Archive for December, 2009

For the past six years, I’ve spent a lot of time writing novels.  I’ve completed five and am part way through my sixth.  So far, my first three have been published and I’m hoping that trend continues, because I truly believe in the power of a good story to impact people’s lives.  Novels can change us and the way we think, as we engage with the main characters and enter into the tragedies and triumphs they experience, agonising along with them over the choices and decisions they make along the way.  Good stories stir our emotions, moving us to reflect on our own lives and our responses to situations, I believe. 

And you know, I reckon I’m in good company in believing this.  After all, even Jesus told stories – quite a few of them, in fact.  I’m sure his stories captured his listeners’ interest, much more than a long lecture such as the other rabbis of the day may have given.  I reckon the crowds remembered his stories too – and that they made them think.  And somehow to me, stories respect the reader or the listener, taking them on a journey and giving them the opportunity to decide where they themselves ‘fit’ in it all.  For example, in Jesus’ story of the lost son of Luke 15, am I perhaps that lost son, selfishly bent on doing my own ‘thing’?  Am I the older brother, unwilling to rejoice that my kid brother has come home at last?  Could I honestly forgive like the father in the story did?  And is that how God forgives me?

Recently someone told me that for her, if a story has been imagined by the writer, then somehow it seems more possible that she could actually do the noble things she sees a character doing or choose the better path he or she might take.  A ‘true’ story might well inspire, but it’s not her story.  Do you agree with her, I wonder?

Or do you agree with the lady who some weeks ago, after hearing I was a published author, asked me sweetly what sort of books I wrote?  When I told her I wrote novels, she looked at me with an almost horrified expression and blurted out:  ‘Novels!  Did you say novels?  You mean … fiction?’

It was obvious I had succeeded in truly shocking her.  Was she perhaps among those who classify fiction as far too frivolous or escapist – as not actually … well, true?  Did she feel it’s all a bit ‘suspect’ because the characters aren’t ‘real’ people and didn’t ‘really’ do the things they are made out to do?

I’ll probably never know.  But I’ll keep on writing novels, because I believe that’s what God has called and gifted me to do.  And I’ll keep on hoping and praying that what I write will not only be enjoyable, but also make a difference in the lives of my readers.  Besides, if Jesus told stories, then that’s good enough for me.

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I love Christmas for all sorts of reasons. I love the fun things like presents and great food and the company of family and friends.  I love the goodwill that flows from people, even in the midst of end-of-year tiredness and coping with summer heat.  I love the relaxing, holiday feel of this time – particularly the sound of cricket on TV!  Yes, usually there is some sadness, as I remember past Christmases and people who were important in my life but are no longer here.  But as I sit with my sadness, I can remember too in the midst of it the good things about that person and how he or she enriched my life.  I can remember past places with nostalgia where we lived and celebrated Christmas with friends we no longer see but also with thankfulness for what these people and periods in our life meant to us.  But however I’m feeling, there is one thing about Christmas that honestly brings me such comfort and joy.  And that to me is best summed up in the words of Matthew 1:23:

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and they will call him Immanuel – which means, “God with us.”

What a gift to us!  Immanuel – God with us.  God come to earth to share our pain, to show us the way, to renew us and ultimately to rescue us.  No wonder we rejoice at Christmas, although for many the reason we do this has been lost.  No wonder we want to show love to others, since we have been so greatly loved by God.  That’s the perspective I want to keep at Christmas, no matter what’s going on around me.  I want to remember with sincere thankfulness and with joy that whatever happens in my life and in this world, God hasn’t abandoned me.  In fact God has come to us in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ – Immanuel, God with us.  And that means God will never leave me or forsake me in this life or the next.

So I am looking forward this 2009 to once again celebrating Christmas with great thankfulness.  But I also want to take this opportunity to thank those who have supported me so well this past year in my writing and speaking journey: firstly my husband Lionel, who has provided essential computer and bookkeeping expertise; secondly my daughter Jane, who has helped so much with my website and blog; thirdly, the wonderful members of my email prayer team, who pray for me wherever I speak; and finally, all of you who have bought my books, read my blogs, emailed to encourage me and invited me to speak.  Thank you so much for all your love and support.

So happy Christmas to you all!  May you too remember the blessing of Immanuel – God with us.

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This is the time of the year when I am most grateful for a gift I was given over forty years ago now.  I was married in January, 1969, as was my older sister – we were teachers, so both of us naturally chose the school holidays for our weddings. You can imagine our mother’s state of mind, however, as she coped with such a scenario.

But somehow, in the midst of it all, she found time to make my sister and I a very precious gift – one that cost her many, many hours of patient effort.  You see, my mother decided she would write out by hand most of her tried and true recipes for each daughter in four separate ring-bound books, so further recipes could be added.  And I still use these same books today.  My blue plastic-covered book contains good, old-fashioned recipes for cakes, slices and biscuits; my green plastic one contains dessert recipes; my black plastic one holds soup and main course recipes, along with instructions for a hotchpotch of things such as pikelets, scones, fruit punch, homemade glue and a cure for hiccups!  Then there is a smaller black book containing Mum’s wonderful coconut ice recipe, along with other sweet treats and icings.

I can only imagine her feelings as she wrote these out twice over.  I’m sure at the time I thanked her for her efforts, but to my shame, I cannot even remember noticing her sitting down painstakingly writing and writing.  In my mind I was probably quite dismissive – with my twenty years of never having really looked after myself, I would manage.  Now, however, it’s a different story.  Now, looking back, I can almost feel her pain as she sat and wrote, alongside the pride that she was creating something of value she could pass on to us.  Mum did not work outside of the home – in fact she never had the opportunity for much school education – but she knew she could cook.  Yet there must have been pain too – after all, my sister and I were her only two children and her life largely revolved around caring for our Dad and us. So our getting married must have left a yawning gap in her life that again, I never fully appreciated.

Love is costly at times, isn’t it?  My Mum loved my sister and I enough to pour her life into us and then, as we left, was determined to perform one last labour of love.  So as I turn the pages that are rather brown and dog-eared now to find Mum’s tried and true Christmas cake recipe, I think of her with love and gratitude.  But I think too of an even greater love that came to earth at Christmas – a love that is beyond imagination, a love that is priceless, a love that fills me with wonder and awe.  And I am so grateful.

To us a child is born, to us a Son is given

And the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor,

Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  (Isaiah 9:6)

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I wonder if you’ve ever turned your hand to creating your own unique Christmas gingerbread house?  Last Saturday I witnessed around eighty adults and children do just that – and I have to admit I’ve never in my life seen so much icing and so many lollies in the one place at the one time, nor such an incredible diversity of style, technique and creative ability!  As the afternoon began, the first task was to work out which bits went where in building the basic house and then actually assemble it all.  And judging by the intense looks on the faces of both adults and children, this was serious business.

But then there was the obligatory waiting period to allow the icing joining the walls and roof together to dry – and that’s where I came in.  You see, I had been invited to speak during this time – and believe me, it turned out to be quite a challenge!  I suspect that listening to anyone at this strategic point was not high on the agenda of most children present – not to mention quite a few adults!  Their minds (understandably) were on lollies and how they would attach what where and how many they could fit on (and in) their creation, when the moment came.  Well, I did my best to talk over all the noise and focus on those who were listening – and I hope what I said honoured God.  Yet I could hardly be a match for all those gingerbread houses waiting to be decorated.

But after I finished speaking and mentally picked myself up, I soon noticed something that truly touched me.  I watched with interest as quite a few mums shared a special afternoon with their young daughters, helping them create the gingerbread house of their dreams, at times letting go of their own neat decorating concepts in favour of allowing their children free rein to be their own creative selves.  Some brave grandmothers were there too (and one Granddad), patiently helping grandsons and granddaughters with their creations.  It was quite moving to see them leave together later, proudly carrying their cellophane-wrapped masterpieces.

And whether all these mums and grandmums knew it or not, they were in fact modelling something of the heart of God I had tried to share with them as I spoke – that loving, gracious heart that has reached out to each one of us in sending Jesus into the world, that heart that wants to relate so intimately with each one of us, leading and encouraging us in our journey through life.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  (1 John 4:9)

May we all hear God’s heart this Christmas, beating with love for each one of us.  May we not be so distracted with celebrating Christmas that we forget the Christ, the Reason for it all.

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Is there one overriding quality in a person you find essential for any deep and lasting relationship?  There definitely is for me.  And that quality is honesty or, if you like, integrity.  I like to know that you are undivided, that you say what you mean and mean what you say, that there is no duplicity going on.

So you can imagine how, when I first saw the plant lunaria or, as it is more commonly called, honesty, growing in a friend’s garden a few years ago, I desperately wanted it for my own garden.  I was duly given a few seedlings and, to my surprise, they survived, eventually developing into quite tall plants with large, dark green leaves and beautiful purple flowers.  I loved watching my honesty grow and flourish and burst into bloom – truly a challenging parable unfolding before my eyes.  But it was what happened subsequently that I loved even more.  As the plant began to die off, the dry stems and the oval shaped seedpods were left behind.  And I soon discovered how to remove the outer skin of these seedpods so as to leave the translucent, pearly inner membrane attached to the stems, which I then placed in a large vase in our lounge as a special, home-grown dried arrangement.  And it is still there to this day, reminding me of the value of integrity in my life.

It’s so easy, isn’t it, to opt for half-truths in order to get ourselves out of a sticky situation or to embellish the truth to make ourselves look better than others.  Some time back, in a phone conversation with a business associate, I was left wondering whether to trust his word about anything, as he asserted he would do this and that and tried to explain away various broken promises from our past dealings.  That is disquieting to me – particularly when this person claims to be a Christian.  But I know within myself it is very tempting at times to claim more holiness or more wisdom or even more integrity than I actually possess.  As Jesus pointed out once, it’s very easy to judge others without honestly taking a look at oneself:

You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:5)

Jesus certainly didn’t mince words when it came to hypocrisy or pretence.  On other occasion he said:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything uncleanIn the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.  (Matthew 23: 27-28)

So I get the picture that God values honesty and integrity – that it’s really important for what we say to match up with how we live and act.

Is that what you figure too?  Is that how you live?

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