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Archive for March, 2014

This week, I sat down at my desk to write, my mind tired and my body likewise. I squirmed and fidgetted—my back that was operated on some weeks ago still does not take kindly to my sitting anywhere for extended periods. My first task was to write some emails in preparation for our trip to Melbourne this week for three book events. But as I thought about those events, I sighed a little. Did I have the energy to give of my best at each of them? And why was I feeling a little half-hearted about things I usually love doing?

Perhaps it was that I was thinking about our new granddaughter and how I could best help her mum with looking after her and her energetic, two-year-old brother! Perhaps it was that I have several dear friends in the midst of difficult situations in their lives who are very much in my thoughts and prayers. I feel their burdens and wish I could lift these from them. Perhaps it was that my mind preferred to continue figuring out how best to re-arrange the contents of the book I am currently writing. And perhaps, behind and beneath all these things, that old enemy was lurking, trying to dim my enthusiasm for these upcoming book events.

Then two things happened that changed my perspective and caused that joy and anticipation to start flooding back. The first came out of the blue, from a direction I would never have expected. Someone contacted me via my website, asking me to consider being the speaker at a women’s retreat for her church later this year. A few days later, I met some of the women organising this event over lunch, none of whom I had known previously. As I responded to their questions and watched their faces, I was humbled to realise how much trust they were placing in me. And again I saw what a privilege it is to share from the heart with women at events like this and to be part of enabling others to grow in God in some way.

The second came in the form of a simple email from a friend who wanted to share her joy at finally signing a publishing contract for her children’s book. After I had replied to her email and commented on what was happening in my own life, she wrote a further few lines back, including the following simple statement:

What amazing doors God has opened up for you with your books … He is amazing!

I could have easily let my eyes slide over her comment. I could have brushed it aside and not taken it in fully. But God was there beside me, I believe, tapping me on the shoulder and saying gently: Listen to that, Jo! Be thankful for these opportunities! And remember, I am the One opening up those doors for you!

Yes, I needed that broader perspective. And I needed to be reminded not to take for granted all those opportunities God has given me but receive them with an open hand and heart. If I am tired, then God will enable. If I feel discouraged, God will encourage. If I am weak, God will strengthen and empower.

And that’s true for you too!

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. 2 Cor 12:9

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I don’t regard myself as a hoarder at all. In the earlier years of our marriage, we moved several times and were careful with each move to throw out things we felt we didn’t need to hold onto. Then when we finally bought our own home, we had to pare things down even more, since we had three children to fit into a very small house.

Now, thirty years on, we still live in that same house, although the children have moved out. Yet I continue to be careful not to hold onto unnecessary clutter. After all, we have to make room now for such items as strollers and car seats for the grandchildren! But what of all those books everywhere? And what of that chest of drawers in our bedroom, bulging with a crazy mix of old jewellery, overseas coins, school and music certificates, cards with precious greetings or encouraging words inside them, grandchildren’s drawings and other intriguing objects?

Recently, I lent more of those precious books on my shelves to some friends. Yes, I do keep a record of such things, but in the process of adding to this list, I noticed some books have been out there for quite a while. Then I remembered one from past years that has long gone, never to return. It was quite expensive—and I began to feel a little resentful. How dare someone lose track of something that is mine? I loved that book. I want it back! But then I began to laugh at myself. I know the person to whom I lent it well and respect him. I would gladly give him the monetary value of that book any time. So why am I so bothered by losing something that is just a thing, after all?

But last week, I faced an even bigger test. Having cleaned out one of those bedroom drawers, I decided to sell two old brooches I discovered there that I think belonged to my grandmother. I knew no family members wanted them and I myself had never worn them. I headed to an antiques dealer—somehow that seemed more palatable than selling the items for their gold value alone, which I knew was not high. The dealer named his price, but when it came to the crunch, I found myself reluctant to part with one brooch in particular. Something in its pretty design reminded me of my grandmother, whom I loved very much.

I went away and thought about it for a while, but then made up my mind. I still have wonderful memories of my grandmother. I can see her now, with her beautiful, wavy, white hair and gentle, loving ways. Yes, the brooch was pretty, but I don’t need it to remind me of her. After all, it’s just a thing—those memories are far more valuable and will never be lost or fade from my mind.

I loved my grandmother. And I love my books and my jewellery. But I know I need to hold onto them lightly—because there’s something, or rather, Someone I love even more. You know, when all is said and done, what Jesus said about the things we treasure is so true, don’t you think?

But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matt 6::20-21

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We had been waiting for that text message for a couple of hours by the time we finally heard. There had been some delay in our son-in-law’s being able to use his phone. ‘It’s a girl!’ the text told us—and the next minute we were off to the hospital, along with the new baby’s two-year-old brother.

I walked into the Special Care Unit and there was our daughter, still looking somewhat dazed after her caesarean but proudly holding her new baby. We later learnt the baby had been wedged up under her ribs in a perpendicular position, so had needed some firm extricating. But there our daughter was, so grateful this little bundle of joy was now outside rather than inside her still! I walked up to the bed and gazed at our new little granddaughter—our fourth grandchild. At first, I found myself merely thinking Oh that’s lovely—the baby’s well and it’s a girl. But as I stood there, I realised I was looking down at another unique and absolutely amazing example of God’s incomparable handiwork. Here was a brand new little person, created in the image of God to live and do and be in a way no one else on this planet ever could.

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Maxine Marie Antwi Konadu

This past week, I have been able to cuddle little Maxine quite a few times and examine her more closely. Her little fingers attract me first—lovely long ones with beautifully shaped fingernails. Her toes too, so minuscule. I love her sweet, button mouth—such a pretty shape—and her cute little ears, tinged on the top with darker skin. Her father is from Ghana and has beautiful, deep black skin and we have been told that the colour on Maxine’s ears is the colour she will end up. We found this to be true with her brother Zain, whose skin is now a lovely, milk chocolate colour. I gently stroke her mop of black, straight hair and cup her head in my hand. I know much of this hair will soon go or change to a lighter colour. Then eventually, those gorgeous tight curls, just like her brother’s, will hopefully appear and her mother will be delighted!

For a moment, little Maxine opens her eyes and seems to want to work out who is holding her and where she is. A puzzled look appears on her face and then her eyelids droop closed again, as if it is all too much effort. I stand looking down at her, smiling and rocking her gently. And all the while, I marvel. How amazing that our God can create such an exquisite little creature, down to the minutest detail of exact skin colour and curl of hair! How wonderful that right now, God is doing this same thing all over the world for all sorts of families this very moment!

I love Psalm 139 in any shape or form, but here are verses 13-14 from The Message version of the bible:

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother’s womb. I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvellously made! I worship in adoration—what a creation!

May these be Maxine’s own words of praise from her heart too in the years to come, by God’s grace!

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I must admit to feeling a little nervous these past few days. You see, our younger daughter is due to have her second child, a breech baby, by caesarean this week. The date is set, but because her first child was born very quickly—in fact, while she was trying to walk from the bathroom to her bed in the hospital birthing unit—she is a little on tenterhooks with this one. She is sure the baby will not wait for that due date. So we wait and wonder. Will she make it to that planned caesarean? Or will the baby make up its own mind and opt for an earlier entry into the world?

‘I can’t wait till the new baby to be born!’ our granddaughter and the baby’s cousin told her parents recently. But, like all of us, she has to curb her impatience, hold onto that excitement and just plain wait—never easy for a seven year old.

I was reminded of another kind of waiting this past weekend when, despite the rain and a painful back, I decided to plant two seedlings I obtained for free from our local council. You see, the ground was so soft, making it easier to clear enough weeds away to enable me to dig those small holes and plant my callistemon and nandina. And the moist ground and humid weather will help my new little shrubs to survive and hopefully flourish. But it will all take time—years, in fact, before those shrubs are the size I would like them to be.

So many things in our lives require waiting, don’t they? As an author, I am well acquainted with this whole process—waiting for manuscript readers to comment, waiting for months to hear back from publishers to whom you have submitted your precious first few chapters, waiting for the whole editing process to be completed, waiting for that release date, waiting until the those copies arrive on the bookshelves in stores, waiting for reviews, waiting for those promotional opportunities … on it goes. Along with developing a thick skin, I think any author needs to work at acquiring a hefty dose of patience if he or she is going to survive in the writing world.

And what of our journey with God? As a result of working on my next non-fiction book that reflects on my own life story, I have seen how much I grew during those times of waiting on God—when I stopped to listen and learn, to observe what was happening in the now and to look to God for wisdom and insight. This ‘active waiting’, as it is sometimes described, is a skill I am still learning even now—that precious, God-given art of being ‘present fully to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening where you are’, as Henri Nouwen puts it. God has things to teach me right now, even as I wait for the birth of this new grandchild.

So let’s welcome those waiting periods rather than rush on. God may well be preparing us for what lies ahead. And God may even have deep and wonderful things to reveal to us as we hold our hearts open before him.

Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:14

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