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Archive for April, 2011

Last Tuesday I was walking through Belmore Park in Sydney with a friend on our way to an important meeting, when we noticed a high school student carrying a whole basket of brightly coloured origami paper cranes. We wondered what she might be planning to do with them, but as we walked a little further, we came across a large group of students with several baskets of cranes lined up along the walkway through the park. In front of each was a box for donations and a sign explaining this was part of the ‘Cranes for Hope’ project of the young people of Sydney to make 10,000 paper cranes and in this way raise at least $10,000 for the earthquake victims of Japan.

It was a beautiful, sunny day and we were early for our meeting. So we spent some time delving through the baskets, finding different coloured cranes and ones made of pretty, patterned paper. We bought quite a few – we wanted to support this project and also encourage the friendly students. But there was more behind our interest as well – and that involves two more stories.

Many of you may already know the story of the young Japanese girl Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes and the book of that title written by Eleanor Coerr. Sadako Sasaki developed leukemia as a result of radiation from the atomic bomb that fell on Hiroshima during World War Two. While in hospital, she decided to make a thousand little paper cranes, since according to a Japanese saying, this meant any wish she made would be granted. Her wish was to live, but she died after having made only 644, so her friends and family finished the project on her behalf. Today, there is a statue of Sadako in Hiroshima Peace Park, holding a golden origami crane and on the statue are the words: ‘This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace on earth.

But my second story is just as moving, in my opinion. You see, five years ago, my friend’s daughter passed away – we were actually on our way to attend a meeting linked to this sad event. At the time, her daughter had a Japanese penfriend who, on hearing her Australian friend was ill, decided to make a thousand paper cranes and send them to her. I was present at my friend’s place the day they arrived – some time after her daughter had passed away. It was such a touching gift, conveying as it did this Japanese friend’s love through the hours she had spent making the little origami birds, not knowing her penfriend had already passed away. And to this day, the paper crane remains a symbol in my friend’s family of their beautiful daughter, for all the love they had for each other and all she stood for.

Can you imagine how blown away we were to come across these baskets of paper cranes then on our very way to our important meeting? Surely this was a gracious gift from God to encourage my friend as she prepared for the potentially traumatic meeting ahead. And for me, this reinforced some words I had read in Psalm 46 earlier that morning:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. … “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Truly, our God knows and understands our anguish and reaches out constantly to comfort and encourage us. May you find that so true in your own life this day in just the way you need.

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One Sunday recently, I found myself part of an interesting lunch-time conversation. We had just consumed the most amazing meal, which our friend, a mother of five young children, had somehow managed to serve us, despite having been at church most of the morning. In complimenting her on her fantastic effort, we mentioned how she is following in the footsteps of her mother, also a wonderful cook.

‘Yes,’ her husband said then. ‘It’s always important to take a good look at your girlfriend’s mother before proposing.’

Now on the surface, his words could have been taken as a compliment. But it was the rolling of his eyes, the resignation on his face and his doleful tone that conveyed something quite different. And the muffled chuckles of other family members reinforced his opinion. You see, our friend’s mother is a great person, but is also known to talk – quite a lot!

I felt sorry for our friend. The comment seemed quite a ‘put down’ to me. Had her husband merely been trying to lighten the moment with his particular sense of humour or perhaps shift the focus onto himself, I wondered? But no, I suspect he was at least partly serious.

‘It’s strange, isn’t it,’ I therefore responded sweetly, ‘how men make these comments about their wives. Have you ever considered that a woman might be well advised to look carefully at her prospective partner’s father before deciding to spend the rest of her life with him?’

My words were greeted with stunned silence and also some surprise. Obviously the males present had not thought about this possibility. Hopefully without being too judgmental, dare I say sexism was still alive and well around that table?

Yet our friend’s comment made me think – and this time along much more spiritual lines! Certainly, his wife resembles her mother, yet, knowing both her parents, I could also see glimpses of her father in her. And I was glad she reflected them both in ways that honoured them and their influence on her life. But she also reflected something of God to me, I felt, with her warm, friendly smile and the gracious, caring way she welcomed us after not having seen her for so many years.

Now I know I too am like my parents in various ways, both positive and negative, but how much do I reflect my heavenly Father in my daily life in a way that honours him? Do people see God in me in the words I write and speak? I am created in God’s image, Genesis 1:27 tells us, but just how clear is that image and ‘family likeness’ to those around me?

In 2 Corinthians 3: 18, after commenting how we reflect the Lord’s glory as we gaze on him, Paul maintains we ‘are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.’ Yes, we were all created in God’s image, both male and female – but something happened. Sin entered the world and that image became marred and blurred. Yet as we choose to become part of God’s family again, keeping our eyes on the Lord, his Spirit will transform us more and more into his likeness. So God’s image is slowly being restored in me as I cooperate with his Spirit.

Now that sounds pretty amazing and wonderful to me. How about you?

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We have just returned from a great time away in Tasmania. I had never been there before, so enjoyed exploring the quaint, little towns between Launceston and Hobart, sampling the delightful fare offered at chocolate and cheese factories near Devonport and apple orchards in the Huon Valley, strolling around the Salamanca Markets, and seeing the amazing views of the Derwent valley and beyond from the top of Mount Wellington. But most of all, we were blessed by the friendliness and warm hospitality of the Tassie people themselves.

We had no sooner disembarked from the Spirit of Tasmania than we were whisked away for a delicious breakfast with friends in their unique home outside Devonport, surrounded by natural bushland. A time at Worldview College followed, where we were again warmly welcomed. We then headed to old friends and their lovely, little cottage at Beauty Point beside the Tamar River. In Hobart, we stayed in a comfortable home near the city, courtesy of another friend. One evening, a couple we had never met graciously invited me to share about my writing journey at their ‘Connect group’. Then at the end of our time away we were warmly welcomed at our billet in Devonport, before returning to our friends at Beauty Point. Surely all this demonstrates not only true Tassie friendliness but also care to heed Peter’s command to ‘offer hospitality to one another without grumbling’ (1 Peter 4:9).

But what touched us even further was the kindness shown on the two occasions when something happened to our car. One rainy afternoon, our oil gauge went crazy, shooting way over into the red. We put our emergency lights on and contacted the RACT for help. As we waited, an old, battered van pulled up and a man wearing a crumpled, checked ‘flanny’ walked towards us. I was suspicious – he had long, grey hair roughly pulled back in a ponytail and looked quite dishevelled.

‘You okay, mate?’ he drawled.

We explained we had contacted the RACT, after which he simply gave us a wave and ambled back to his van in the rain. I was duly chastised. Yet again, I had judged someone by his appearance and doubted his motives. Other cars had passed us, but the most unlikely person came to our aid.

A few days later, we had a flat tyre. As we struggled to get the wheel back on, an older gentleman stopped. He couldn’t help much, but we appreciated his kind heart. Then just as we were almost done, a young man pulled over. And again, I was chastised. I had not expected such a young man to bother stopping – or the older man either, with his limited ability to help. This whole experience reminded me forcibly of Jesus’ parable about the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). Those I would have thought most likely to stop didn’t, while others I didn’t expect to did.

So … which category am I in? I’m sure I often convey to my friends that I don’t relish being disturbed and taken away from my writing. Am I perhaps among those who are quite able to offer help or hospitality but choose not to?  ‘Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ Jesus asks at the end of his parable. The expert in the law replies: ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus then says simply: ‘Go and do likewise.

I am challenged, both by Jesus’ words and the kindness and mercy shown to us. How about you?

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In recent days, I have been involved in finalising the cover of my fifth novel, ‘Heléna’s Legacy’, due for release in June. I was asked by my publisher, Ark House, for suggestions and in the process, told them one thing I don’t like on a cover – a front view of the hero or heroine! I like my readers to imagine these characters themselves. And as the author, no image ever seems to do justice to this ‘real’ person I have walked beside for months who has persevered and struggled and triumphed and lived through so many different experiences.

When the cover was returned for approval, however, I found a front view of the main character on it! And yet … well, she looked lovely, with a rather pensive, sad expression that exactly suits the storyline. So I rapidly had to revise my own mental concept, step back a little and try to appreciate what the graphic artist had come up with. Now I’m very happy with the result – and I hope my readers will be too.

It’s sad but true that we do tend to judge a book by its cover. For this reason, I’m very glad all my novels have excellent covers. In this day of economic downturn and questions about the future of books and bookstores, we authors need all the help we can get! But all of this has led me to wonder how I myself come across to people – how the ‘cover’ I present to the world expresses what is inside me. What do people see when I get up to speak somewhere? What do people notice about the way I live my daily life?

Well, I know they see a grey-haired woman who is definitely not slim and perhaps make judgments about that! It is amazing how people are put in ‘boxes’ simply on the strength of having grey hair, I’ve discovered. Perhaps we would be suitable to speak to Seniors’ Groups, it is suggested nicely – when I absolutely love speaking to young mums or people of any age, including Seniors! But much more importantly, I hope I carry with me in what I do and say – and yes, even in my appearance – something of who God is. After all, each of us is created in God’s image, as Genesis 1:27 tells us. And as the psychologist David Benner puts it in ‘The Gift of Being Yourself’, each of us, when we are prepared to be our true selves, actually is a ‘unique face of God to the world’! What a privilege – but what a responsibility as well.

So I hope both in my life and through my novels, by God’s grace, I reflect that grace and love clearly in a way that points people to God. ‘Let you light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven’, Jesus tells his disciples (Matt 5:16). I hope as I speak, that my words carry something of the ‘fragrance of life’ that Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 2:16. And I hope and pray that the ‘cover’ of the book of my life will attract people to God and not turn them away.

But I’m so relieved that when God looks at me, the inside matters much more than the outside! In 1 Samuel 16:7, when Samuel is sizing up Jesse’s sons as potential future kings, the Lord reminds him:

Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

How about you? What does your ‘cover’ convey? And what does God see in your heart?

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