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Archive for March, 2012

Have you ever looked forward to having some ‘down time’ in a coffee shop by yourself, perhaps reading a favourite book or just chilling out? On a recent visit to a coffee shop, I saw someone doing exactly that—or trying to. The only trouble was he was sitting near a table where two women were talking animatedly. And I was one of those two women!

It happened like this. My friend and I had not seen each other for some time and were looking forward to catching up. She arrived at the coffee shop first and found a table in as private a spot as possible. As I joined her, I noticed a girl sitting in a nearby lounge and hoped our talking would not annoy her. I then bought our coffee and soon became immersed in the conversation with my friend.

We talked … and talked … and talked! At one stage, I remember noticing the girl near us leave and another person take her place—this time a youngish man. Again, I hoped we would not disturb him, but he soon seemed happily immersed in reading a book and drinking his coffee. So we continued talking … on and on and on … for over two hours all up!

After some time, the man stood up to leave. But as he did, he turned to us and smiled. I apologised in case we had been disturbing him but he shook his head.

‘No, no—I should be the one apologising!’ he quickly told us. ‘I probably shouldn’t have been eavesdropping. I could easily have just sat and read, but I was interested in what you were saying!’

At that point, my mind did a huge back flip. What sorts of things had we talked about? I was sure we hadn’t put anyone else down or gossiped or anything. But our conversation had ranged over a variety of subjects—from books we had read to thoughts about living the Christian life and being part of a church and many other similar topics. And I had shared quite a bit about my writing journey and the current opportunities I had to speak at different places. What could this man have possibly made of it all?

‘I just want to encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing and keep going—that’s wonderful!’ he went on then. ‘In fact, there’s a really good women’s conference starting soon near here. I’m even prepared to pay or you to go! I’ll give you my email address so you can contact me.’

We sat stunned. He duly wrote down his contact details and as he did, we checked if he meant the ‘Colour’ conference conducted by Hillsong, which he did. He then left, still showing his appreciation for what he had overheard.

I was impressed. What a gracious eavesdropper! But this event also made me think. What if our conversation hadn’t been honouring to God and others? What a disservice we would have done to the kingdom! And what if this man hadn’t bothered to take a risk and speak to us? I would have missed out on so much encouragement. How right Paul is when he says in Colossians 4:6:

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

So … when you next go out for coffee with someone …

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During the recent heavy rains, we knew it was quite likely that the creek outside our back fence would inundate our yard. After all, this creek flows down from a nearby high ridge and into the Parramatta River not far away. So when heavy rains coincide with a high tide in the river, then the water has to go somewhere.

We knew we were not in any danger as we watched the creek quickly rise. Nevertheless, we clearly remembered the mess left in our yard from previous floods and did not want to have to shovel and hose and clean up yet again.

Then I noticed a blueberry ash tree I had planted several years ago on the creek bank was now surrounded by murky water. It had been a giveaway at our local Council’s ‘free tree’ day when a tiny seedling and had managed to survive being attacked by our lawnmower and a total lack of care from me. There it was, still standing bravely upright—and I was so proud of it.

I left my post momentarily. And when I returned, my blueberry ash was nowhere to be seen. I stood staring at the spot, feeling very sad for a tree that had fought so gamely to survive. It had not cost me anything, so was no great loss. But it had taken years to get to about a metre and half in height. And now it was wiped out.

Disgusted, I walked inside.

Not long after, my husband ventured down our yard to begin cleaning up—and next time I looked, lo and behold, there was my blueberry ash again!

‘It was weighed down by a lot of debris that had caught in its leaves,’ my husband told me. “Once I removed that, it sprang back up!’

Later, I went down to inspect my tree myself. Yes, it was standing up, albeit at a slight angle. Even its little, dark blue berries were still intact. At its base, the roots had obviously been strained and tested—but they had held firm. I straightened the tree, packed some more earth around it and placed a rock at its base. Yes, it had survived and would live to grown even firmer and stronger.

Immediately, I thought of the words of Psalm 1:1-3:

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.

The roots of my blueberry ash had obviously gone down deep enough into the moist soil by the creek to withstand the fast flowing flood waters. Yes, my tree had been weighed down with debris but it had stood firm. What a parable for my own life! What a graphic reminder of how I need to close my ears to discouragement and bad advice and instead send my roots down deep into the Word of God, drinking from that living water only God can provide! Then when the difficulties of my writing journey threaten to overwhelm me, I will remain unmoved, lift my head, shake myself off and start again.

May you too be like my blueberry ash, standing firm, whatever the waters that may swirl around you!

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There I was, quietly reading away this morning when, in a trice, I found myself swept back into the past. I was a young girl again, watching my father struggle to his feet, put on his gardening hat and declare in a resigned but relatively cheerful voice, ‘Well, I’d better get going again. No rest for the wicked!’

You see, I had just read Isaiah 57:21—“There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.” A few days ago, a similar verse in Isaiah had not triggered any strong memory. Yet this morning, I was jolted back so forcefully that I could not only hear my father’s voice but see every detail of how he looked—old blue singlet, checked shirt and all. Now to Dad, these words seemed to mean he needed to keep working hard rather than that there would be no heavenly rest or peace for the wicked. At that time, Dad claimed he rejected the idea of eternal life in any form and used to say with finality, ‘When you’re dead, you’re dead.’

Well, it is many years now since he passed away. I was not present in the last weeks of his life, but it seems he may have changed his mind about God and eternal life. I hope he did—I like to think of him at rest and at peace with God. Because that is really what God is talking about in Isaiah 57. In verses 15 and 19, we read:

For this is what the high and lofty One says – he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. … Peace, peace, to those far and near,” says the Lord. “And I will heal them.”

We all need that peace, don’t we? There are often so many competing voices seeking to bring us down and make us feel anxious or hurt or frustrated or inadequate or angry. We may well find things in life that give us great peace and joy—a wonderful partner, an interesting job, a new home, success in some area, good friends. But God’s peace goes beyond all of these.

I have always loved Jesus’ words in John 14:27 as he tells his disciples about what lies ahead. I like to imagine the sound of his voice as he spoke out such comforting words—a voice I am sure was filled with authority but also with love:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Jesus’ peace is different from any we might find in this world. It is far, far deeper and more profound. It is eternal. It is not merely the absence of trouble, but rather the presence of the Prince of Peace within us in the person of his Holy Spirit, even in the midst of strife.

So let’s close our ears to the voices that would pull down our faith and call us to look elsewhere to find a peace that satisfies. Instead, let’s choose to be among those who are ‘contrite and lowly in spirit’, who listen intently to that loving voice of God and learn to recognise it as readily as we do the voices of father or mother or others close to us.

Whose voices are you hearing? Do they speak peace into your spirit?

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Now it’s not that I’m old or anything. In fact, I don’t feel that way at all. I have too many ideas in my head to risk getting old quite yet. But now and then, I do notice I have a little difficulty remembering people’s names—sometimes even the names of the characters in my own novels! It can be embarrassing when someone tells me enthusiastically how much they loved Steve or Susan or Alexander in one of my novels. I try my best on these occasions not to look blank and ask ‘Who?’ But the truth is, I may well have created another whole set or two of characters since then, so I’m bound to get mixed up at times.

So when I saw the term ‘recollection’ in a book I had begun reading, ‘Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer’ by Richard Foster (IVP 2011), I was immediately interested. I have read quite a bit about prayer and soon noticed that Foster quoted from several other authors I enjoyed, such as Francois Fenelon, Madame Guyon, Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Thomas Merton and others. Yet I could not remember having come across this term ‘recollection’ before this. Could it refer to thinking back over our lives and remembering all the ways God had rescued us and blessed us, I wondered? That was bound to be it.

But then I read on. Recollection, according to Foster, ‘involves a re-collecting of ourselves until we are unified or whole. The idea is to let go of all competing distractions until we have become truly present where we are.’ Now I know, and Foster warns, that this is not an easy thing to do. But what a wonderful, healing practice to try! In our busy lives, it is so easy for us to become fragmented and scattered, with our energies dissipating this way and that, so that we almost lose our real selves in it all. As for me, I know I’m very good at skipping ahead in my mind to things coming up in the future, wondering how I will do this or that. And I’m also very good at mulling over the past, remembering the hurts or the failures or the difficult times. But the present? Well, sometimes I need to be reminded of that.

So right now, I am endeavouring to practise this ancient discipline more often in my life. Each morning, I try to take time to quieten my mind and heart, identifying and putting gently aside those things that want to force their way into my mind or those thoughts that threaten to overwhelm me. In short, I collect—or allow God to collect—those parts of me that have been so scattered and focus on the simple truth that here I am, Jo-Anne, created and loved by God. That’s all that matters at this point. Consciously, I recognise God’s presence around me, watching over me and caring for me. And I sit for a while, allowing my spirit to cease its striving and to be at rest and at peace. Then, when I am still, my focus turns to God. And just as God declares in Psalm 46:10, I know it is time to praise him and lift him up.

Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Is it time for you to try some re-collecting in your life too?

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