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Archive for April, 2012

We live in a designated flood zone. Now we knew that before we bought our home twenty-seven years ago but quickly decided that was fine, since we couldn’t afford anything else near where we needed to be. Besides, the water from the creek over our back fence would never reach the house itself—we could see that.

Well, in all those years, it hasn’t. But it sure is exciting stuff to stand at our kitchen windows after a massive storm like the one we experienced last week and watch our puny, little creek become a raging torrent about four metres deep in the space of about half an hour. It’s even more exciting to watch this same torrent swirl round the high bank between us and our ‘upside’ neighbour’s home into the ‘bay’ provided by our terraced backyard! But when the waters subside, the real fun begins! Then, with no rear or side vehicle access to our backyard, we have to figure out how to get rid of the mass of debris left behind—big logs, bits of wood, sticks of all sizes, masses of dead grass, tennis balls, syringes, plastic drink bottles, an exercise ball, a car battery, a toilet seat lid and many other interesting odds and ends.

The day after this latest inundation, the doorbell rang. Who should be standing there but our son, complete with shovel, fork and rake, with our two granddaughters for moral support! Not long after, our youth minister arrived, along with three young henchmen from the church youth group—also complete with shovels, a rake, a wheelbarrow and other paraphernalia. All afternoon they toiled hard, wheeling barrows filled with debris up our steep backyard, round the house and onto our footpath. I felt so embarrassed at all the effort they were putting in on our behalf and hurried to get a decent afternoon tea together for them.

And then the cavalry arrived! I heard voices outside and opened our front door to find around fifteen more young people streaming into our yard. They were from a training program run by Churches of Christ in NSW and had been enjoying a quiet, retreat afternoon together—until their leader suggested it might be good to come and help us out. Imagine my even greater embarrassment then, as I watched these guys and girls, many with good clothes on, hauling wheelbarrows, carrying muddy sticks, picking up rubbish and getting very messy—all the while smiling and joking together!

Yet along with this embarrassment came great relief and also the realisation of how privileged we are to belong to the body of Christ and have these young people serve us in this way. To me, they epitomised some words from Scripture I had spoken on only recently:

Each one should use whatever gift he [she] has received, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. … If anyone serves, he [she] should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised, through Jesus Christ. 1 Pet 4:10–11.

Just as each one of us is called to receive God’s saving grace in our lives with humility, so I knew I needed to receive this beautiful gift of grace from these young people. And as an added bonus, how wonderful it was to be able to explain to our neighbours where these young people came from and to hear their comments that this was true community in action! As Peter wrote, may God be praised in all things!

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‘Do you want the good news or the bad news?’ I asked my husband a few days ago.

‘Oh, the good news!’ he responded.

‘Well, I’ve edited fifty-six of my blogs,’ I sighed. ‘But the bad news is I have fifty-seven more to go!’

This all began quite a few weeks back. At that time I was thinking and praying about what my next writing project should be. I had completed my first non-fiction work and submitted it to a publisher. I knew I had the beginnings of three other novels on my computer—yet was it right to tackle one of these? Or should I try more non-fiction?

An author friend emailed me, strongly suggesting I should do something with the many blogs I have written. An older friend whose godly opinion I value so much urged me to do the same. Various other friends and family members to whom I mentioned the whole concept felt this was the way for me to go too. Then not long after, I read some encouraging words from Isaiah 61 that seemed to indicate that the idea had God’s blessing and that my efforts would prosper. Soon I was fully on board, ready to tackle this next challenge.

Since July 2009, I have disciplined myself to write a weekly blog that would say something about God and faith and often about writing as well, in an effort to reach out and encourage others and hopefully draw them a little closer to God. So now I had the task of wading through more than a hundred and fifty of these, deciding which would be suitable for inclusion in my proposed book. Some I immediately decided against using. They were too personal or too ‘for that moment only’ or … well, just plain not very good!

But then came the real slog. Then I had to begin to read the ones I had selected yet again, this time not only editing them but also grouping them into categories such as ‘Encouragement’, ‘Following God’s Call’, ‘Perseverance’ and other similar titles.

So now I have arrived at Number 57. Sometimes the going has been easy and delightful as I remember why I wrote this or that blog and rejoice again over some God-moment in my life. At other times, I move slowly, taking in again some deep lesson from God that I wrote about originally with a contrite heart and a spirit touched and comforted by God’s own Spirit. And I sit again in God’s presence, asking myself where I am now with that particular issue or difficulty.

Yes, it is a lot of work—and at times I wonder if I would have started at all, if I had know what I was letting myself in for. But then I realise perhaps the key thing this whole exercise has shown me yet again is the utter faithfulness of God in my life. Time after time, I read how God reached out to me, met me at my point of need, rejoiced with me, grieved with me, persevered with me, forgave me—and all of this in absolute love for me. And I remember God’s words to the Israelites so long ago:

I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” (Jer 31:3)

My blogs are indeed testimony of the truth of this in my own life—and I am humbled and oh so thankful.

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Most of us have experienced those moments in our lives when, for one reason or another, something wonderful we have looked forward to so much doesn’t eventuate. Perhaps we had false expectations all along and it was only a pipedream. Perhaps it was something we had worked hard for, but in the end it turned out to be beyond our reach. Or perhaps someone else let us down badly. Whatever the situation, the disappointment cuts deep, doesn’t it? And sometimes it takes a long time to recover. God is still there, we know. And we also know these things happen—that this is part of life and of our messed up world. But it can certainly knock the stuffing out of us.

I have seen such events occur in the lives of friends and family. I remember a wedding that was called off at the last moment. I remember a job loss that had been a large part of someone’s reason for being. I remember miscarriages and a longed for but stillborn baby. And even now in my writing world, I see authors’ hopes dashed as manuscripts they were sure would be accepted for publication are not—sometimes after several similar rejections. Yet I wonder if, despite their devastating nature, any of these rates one little bit beside the huge disappointment Jesus’ followers experienced at his death.

This Easter, I have been reading the last few chapters of John’s Gospel and trying to put myself in the very shoes of Mary Magdalene, one of the women who came to Jesus’ burial place early on the morning of that first day of the week (John 20). In this particular account, Mary finds the stone removed from the entrance of the tomb and Jesus’ body gone, then runs and gets Peter and ‘the other disciple’. These two return home, we are told, but Mary stays there, weeping.

As I try to relate to her, it’s no surprise to me she responds that way. After all, the man she believed was the Messiah, the Son of God—moreover, the one who had delivered her from demons and accepted and believed in her—had not only died a horrible death but was now even to be denied the decent burial he had been given.

And then she has a conversation with two angels in the tomb and with someone she believes to be the gardener. This man gently speaks her name—and everything changes.

Can you imagine the utter joy you might feel if that hardest moment in your life were to be reversed—if when you felt the light had gone out of your world, the very thing you had longed and worked hard for happened or the very thing you dreaded the most did not? What an amazing, amazing experience! Right now I am imagining that myself—and trying to allow that to give me insight into Mary’s deep, overwhelming joy as she races to tell the disciples she has seen the risen Lord.

It’s like in an instant, the world is put right again for her and for us. Yet not as it was—even better. In fact, everything is put right. Forever. At that moment when Mary hears her name, a hope and a future open up for her that are beyond compare and beyond anyone’s imagination.

This Easter, Jesus has spoken my name again. He has spoken yours too. Did you hear him?

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Now how could I as an author ever agree with that? Words are so important and …well, so necessary. Besides, a thousand words aren’t very many when all is said and done. Even ten thousand, which I’ve also heard used in this saying, would be only around a tenth of the number in one of my novels. No big deal.

Yet even I can’t deny a picture has the power to hold one spellbound in a moment. In fact, I experienced it myself only this past Sunday at our church. As I went to sit down and turn my mind to the service about to begin, I noticed a beautiful scene at the front of the chapel. It was very simple—but oh so powerful.

What I saw was a large, wooden cross, with one end of some heavy, deep red material draped around it and the rest left to flow down from the arms of the cross towards a wooden bench below. On the bench was a large, earthenware pot, glowing warmly in the sunlight that filtered down from a skylight above. But this pot was broken, with only half of it remaining upright on its base. The shattered pieces were still there, some half in place, others lying at crazy angles nearby. And behind one of these pieces, at the centre of that broken pot, I could see a lighted candle.

My gaze travelled down from the broken piece of pottery then to the communion table below. In the centre of the table was a shiny, silver goblet filled with red juice and beside it, a round loaf of bread.

No words were needed. Already, with Easter approaching, I had been feeling that familiar, gentle melancholy that seems to creep over me each time Good Friday approaches. Yes, the celebration of the resurrection would come, I knew—but until then, I wanted to remain in that place of remembering Jesus, the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

So I sat and reflected and became aware of great thankfulness rising up in me. Humbly, I identified with that broken pot at the base of the cross. Painfully, I remembered how Jesus’ blood flowed down from that cross straight into my heart, cleansing me and setting me free. And I rejoiced too that, like the candle flame flickering behind that shard of pottery, God’s Spirit is now alive in me, comforting, encouraging, illuminating my way.

We were invited to celebrate communion—to walk up to that table, tear off a piece of that perfect loaf and dip it in the goblet. I watched as, one by one, people came forward reverently, reached out and remembered yet again with gratitude that most amazing sacrifice of all. I soon joined them, Jesus’ own words ringing in my ears:

This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me. …

This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. (Luke 22:19–20)

This Easter, may you too see the cross with fresh eyes and be amazed, humbled and renewed all over again. Yes, the picture I saw was worth a thousand words–more than a thousand words.

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