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Archive for September, 2011

Last night, I had the pleasure of playing a game of ‘I spy’ with our two granddaughters when they decided to keep me company in my study. Amy is eight, but Olivia is only five, so I wondered how she would go with working out which letters started some of the words. Much to my amazement, they both did brilliantly. And whenever I was allowed to have a turn at ‘spying’, in most cases I had no sooner said my letter than one or other of them would immediately pounce and guess it correctly.

As our game wore on, I found it increasingly harder to ‘spy’ something different in the room. Yet time after time, Amy and Olivia managed to come up with new ideas – objects I would never have thought of or that had completely escaped my notice, despite my spending hours each day writing in this same study. How did Amy think of ‘b’ for ‘building’ in a picture on my wall I had not looked closely at for ages, for example? And how did it occur to Olivia to try using ‘w’ for ‘words’ she had noticed typed on a sheet of paper and placed in a frame in one corner of the room? It was an amazing experience to see my study afresh through my granddaughters’ eyes. But even more amazing were the excellent observation skills they exhibited. They searched the whole room for something tricky – not one nook or cranny seemed to escape their notice.

Later as I reflected on this experience, it occurred to me that while my granddaughters’ ability to see so much truly amazed me, God’s powers of observation are so much more amazing still. There is not one thing I do, one place I go, one word I write that God does not notice. Nothing escapes God’s eyes. No corner of my heart is ever hidden from God. And nothing that befalls me escapes the one who sees all things. Yet this is by no means a scary thing for me. Instead, I find it so comforting that God can see at all times exactly what I am going through. And just as Hagar called the Lord ‘the God who sees me’ so long ago (see Genesis 16:13), so I am blessed to be able to give God that same title still today.

Jesus himself clearly showed us this all-seeing aspect of his Father in heaven. He notices Nathanael under the fig tree and knows all about him before Phillip calls him (John 1:48). He sees the man who was born blind sitting beside the roadside and heals him (John 9:1-7). He does not miss Zacchaeus way up in that sycamore tree and speedily invites himself for a visit (Luke 19:5). And even on the cross, he is aware of his mother nearby and makes sure she will be looked after (John 19:26-27).

I’m so glad I’m just as visible to God today as these people were to Jesus. I can be at peace, knowing God’s big, all-seeing eye is on me every moment of the day, watching over my welfare with loving concern. Right now, God is smiling at me and saying ‘I spy with my big eye, someone beginning with J’. And I know for sure that ‘J’ stands for Jo-Anne.

How about you? Can you hear God lovingly saying your initial too?

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Recently, I discovered that my fourth novel Jenna has been shortlisted in a competition for Christian authors. Now I’m very happy about that, of course. Even if I don’t make the finals list, at least I’ve succeeded in getting this far. Yet as I read the names of the other authors whose novels are on the shortlist, I began to have second thoughts about the whole idea. You see, I discovered I know some of the other authors personally – and that raises some issues for me. I expect each of them entered this competition in the hope they would at least be shortlisted. And I also expect that they, like me, are now waiting rather nervously to see if they have made that finals list. But if my novel makes it and theirs doesn’t, how will I feel then? I’m not sure I want to be involved in bringing such disappointment and perhaps even discouragement to a fellow author.

On the other hand, however, no one forced me to be part of the competition in the first place. Rightly or wrongly, I was the one who filled out that form and sent my books off. Perhaps I should have put more thought into it then and emulated a good friend of mine who does not even like to play board games because of their competitive nature. She became quite distressed on the one occasion I suggested we play a game of Scrabble together and simply could not find it within herself to try to trounce me – something I suspect she could easily have done. Perhaps her strong dislike of such competition is rooted in the heated arguments she and her siblings had over such games in the past, but whatever the cause, she finds it very hard to think of gaining any satisfaction from winning over someone else.

There were several reasons I decided to enter this competition. I believe in my novels – I feel they contain good stories, interesting characters many people can relate to and also clear messages about God and faith and related matters. I would not spend a large part of my time writing them if I did not feel they were worthwhile. Secondly, there is the publicity aspect to be considered, as mentioned. And last but not least, like any Christian author I know, I would be very grateful for any monetary prize this competition offers!

So what’s to be done? Perhaps the best way forward in it all is to trust God with the results, whoever makes that finals list and ultimately wins, and leave it at that. But also, I suspect this might be a good opportunity for me to take on board a little more of that humility Jesus showed in making himself nothing, coming to this earth for our sake and giving his very life for us that Paul writes about in Philippians 2. Come to think of it, Paul’s earlier instructions wouldn’t go astray either:

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. (Phil 2:3-4)

So however competitive or non-competitive we might be in life, let’s make sure we have the heart attitude God would want us to have. Let’s be glad when others succeed and gracious in defeat. And above all, win or lose, let’s learn to be completely humble, just as Jesus was.

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It’s probably safe to say that most of us try to avoid pain as much as we can. It’s not pleasant. It can restrict our activities. It can dull our enjoyment of life. And … well, it just hurts!

This week, a friend sent me a beautiful card. Inside, she had written how she hoped I would soon be rid of the severe lower back and leg pain I have had for several weeks and urged me to let her know if there was any way she could help me. I was moved by her kind words – and I knew she meant them. My friend is always very sensitive to the needs of others, often reaching out to help them in all sorts of ways.

One reason she does this, I suspect, is that she herself knows what pain is like. In recent years, she has experienced the death of two close family members. She is often in physical and emotional pain herself. And right now another family member has severe ongoing health issues. Naturally speaking, she would be the last person one would expect to have the physical and emotional resources to care so sacrificially for others. Yet from God’s perspective, she has exactly what it takes. To me, she epitomises Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

Unlike my friend, I have not been faced with such terribly sad events and debilitating illnesses in my life. Yes, I have had back trouble and bad sciatica before, but these have eventually passed. Yet this time, the pain seems more severe and less like wanting to go away quickly. I am on medication. I use hot packs on my back. I do exercises and see my physio. I pray for healing and others do too. But still the pain persists.

So … what am I learning through it all? What good is God bringing out of this for me and hopefully others? I believe it has given me a small glimpse at least into what life must be like for those who suffer all the time from chronic physical pain. My heart now goes out to them so much more. I can see how this could colour their whole experience of life and cause them to feel somewhat alienated and removed from those around them. And I can appreciate much more what an effort it must be for them to participate in the normal, everyday activities we often take for granted.

It is too late now for me to empathise with my father, who himself suffered from extremely severe and chronic sciatica for as long as I can remember. And I believe I understand now at least one of the reasons he was often so short-tempered and withdrawn, unable to enjoy life to the full. But I can do better with others – it is not too late for that.

What lessons have you learnt through the hard things of life? Is God using your pain to bring comfort to others?

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We currently have a dilemma in our family – and it’s all about whether to open a certain envelope or not. You see, our younger daughter and her husband are expecting their first child in January, so our daughter recently had an ultrasound. As a result, she was asked whether she would like to know the baby’s sex – but she couldn’t decide. If she found out now, she reasoned, she might be disappointed. But if she found out at the moment of birth, she would no doubt be very happy whatever it was! So the baby’s sex was written on a small card and the card placed in an envelope and given to her husband. That way, he could look at it if he wanted to – and so could our daughter, if she changed her mind.

Well, it seems our son-in-law has had a peek, but so far managed to keep it to himself. Our daughter’s boss has also, because she wanted to know what clothes to buy the baby. The envelope was then waved in front of me – I could even see the little card inside it as my daughter held it up to the light. Perhaps it wouldn’t matter if I found out – I would just have to be vigilant and not blurt it out by accident. After all, it would mean I could knit something pink or blue instead of white. In the end, however, I decided against it.

But this whole experience has caused me to reflect on other ‘envelopes’ I’m glad I have opened in my life – my husband’s request to marry him, studying at theological college, the call to serve on a church ministry team, the challenge to write my first novel and, underlying all this, the invitation to believe in Jesus Christ and follow him. What if I had ignored that particular invitation I heard one evening when I was fifteen? What if I had thought it wasn’t for me? What if I had decided it wasn’t important enough to open – or that I could leave it a bit longer?

But would God have offered me a second invitation at another time? I don’t know. And I’m so glad I didn’t decide to wait and find out, because for forty-eight years now I have enjoyed the wonderful presence of God in my life, the wonderful privilege of belonging to God’s family and the wonderful hope that I will be able to spend eternity in heaven.

Yet every day, many people turn down this invitation. Many don’t even bother to open the envelope. They might hold it up to the light for a second, see its shape and wonder about it, but then discard it. And others immediately decide it’s just rubbish and throw it in the bin.

It’s so vital to open this particular ‘envelope’, to see the reconciliation God offers in love to each one of us. In fact, it’s a matter of life and death, of being welcomed into God’s family or not.

He [Jesus] came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:11-12)

I’m so glad I accepted God’s invitation. How about you?

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