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Archive for April, 2014

I wonder if you have ever been in the situation of trying to make yourself understood to someone who does not speak the same language as you. It can be fun but also frustrating, can’t it? We can get so far with sign language and facial expressions, but there is a limit, after which we are stuck. Once when I was in Turkey, visiting a friend, I offered to go and buy some sugar for her, as she was in the middle of cooking and had run out. I knew the basic Turkish word for sugar (şeker), but what fun I had, trying to make myself understood, as the helpful shopkeeper showed me raw sugar, brown sugar, icing sugar, cube sugar, even lollies (also called şeker in Turkish), and eventually what I wanted—plain old white sugar!

Our two year old grandson Zain now has a beautiful little sister Maxine, who is all of seven weeks old. Now Zain has a special puzzle at home that helps children learn counting and also teaches what the numbers look like. A few days ago, according to Zain’s mum, he recognised the number four and wanted Maxine to appreciate this momentous event.

‘Maxine! Maxine! Look, Maxine—four! Dat’s four, Maxine!’ he told her earnestly, showing her the relevant puzzle piece and trying to help her understand. I doubt that he was duly impressed with her response! But at least he tried.

In John’s Gospel, there is a lovely, honest account of an interaction between Jesus and his disciples that I have often smiled over. In Chapter 16, just after Jesus has explained as clearly as he can that he is leaving the world and going back to his Father in heaven, his disciples respond:

Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have everyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.” (30)

We can almost hear the relief in Jesus’ voice as he responds simply: “You believe at last!” (31) Finally, after being with Jesus for many months, hearing him teach and watching him perform many miracles, it all seems to click with them. Finally, they seem to understand what he was on about.

Yes, we often strike limitations of some description when it comes to understanding others. Thankfully, however, God has no such limitation. In 1 Chron 28:9, David points out to his son Solomon that God understands not only what we say but what we think, before we even say anything:

And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts.

Then in Psalm 147:5, we find the following simple but profound and all-encompassing statement:

Great is the Lord and might in power; his understanding has no limit.

This means that, wherever we are at, however confused and frustrated we might feel, God sees through it all and understands straight away—in fact, even before that. God speaks our language, wherever we are from and however young or old we are. While others might look blankly at us and misunderstand us and our motives at times, God never does. Everything is transparent with God—and I’m so glad of that, aren’t you?

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I love Easter. To me, it’s as if God is extra close all around. It’s as if Jesus is reaching down through the centuries since he hung on that cross, looking straight at me, willing me to see the love and forgiveness in his own soul as he looks deep into mine. And it’s also as if God is crying out to a world that is rushing on, heedless, ‘Listen—all of you! Remember what my Son did for you. And remember and celebrate that death could not hold him down. Remember the price that bought your freedom!

On Easter Sunday, I received an email from a friend who lives in a country where most of the population do not celebrate Easter. She shared with me how, when life is continuing as usual around her, it feels a little surreal to be celebrating events that others do not acknowledge. Yet, the true meaning of Easter is so much a part of her that she still goes ahead and celebrates it with great joy. Meanwhile, here in Australia, I was free to attend any number of church services, as well as see family members and delight in buying those Easter eggs for our grandchildren (with a few stray ones making their way into grown-up hands too!). But best of all for me are those moments of quiet reflection, alone in the presence of God.

This year, I decided to read the account of the crucifixion from John’s Gospel. I read how Judas betrayed his Lord in that olive grove, how Jesus was brought before Annas, how Peter denied him for the first time, how Jesus was bound and sent to appear before the high priest Caiaphas and how Peter then denied him twice more. I read with increasing horror how Pilate, despite believing Jesus to be innocent and wanting to set him free, had him flogged, then caved into pressure and handed him over to the people to be crucified. I read how Jesus was nailed to that cross, with a mocking sign above his head, and how he died—for you and me.

And on Good Friday night, as I went to bed, the result of all this struck me with almost overwhelming force and simplicity all over again. This means I’m saved—completely and forever! The realisation was so strong that I almost shouted the words out loud, until I realised my husband might not be impressed with this revelation as he lay there, trying to get to sleep! ‘I’m saved’ is such a hackneyed phrase—one that is even ridiculed at times. But this to me is the bottom line of our Easter celebrations—we are indeed saved from the consequences of our desire to go our own way by Jesus’ death on that cross. We have a whole new start in life and our relationship with God is restored. And one day, because Jesus conquered death and rose again, we too will rise and be with him in heaven forever.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

Now that’s a bottom line I find absolutely mind-blowing and well worth celebrating—not only at Easter but all the time. How about you?

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I love waiting at the airport to welcome someone home. As I do, I often play that game of looking around and wondering which relative or friend those around me are there to meet. Is it a parent or grandparent—or a son or daughter? Perhaps that man is waiting for his wife or his girlfriend. Some look hopefully every few seconds at that exit door. Some have whole families and children with them who are restless with excitement. Others try to act nonchalant, yet little mannerisms given them away. ‘There she is!’ we hear at last—and soon relatives or friends are rushing towards the traveller, whose face has been transformed with joy at the sight of those she loves.

Maxine and Granddad

Maxine and Granddad

It’s a delight to watch such moments of unadulterated joy. I’ve seen them in other contexts too—but this past week, one beautiful such moment caught me by complete surprise. I was sitting holding our six week old granddaughter, Maxine, and talking softly to her. As I did, I noticed how her eyes were fixed on some spot beyond my head. I turned to speak to our daughter—and when I again looked down at Maxine, she was gazing straight at me, with the widest, most delightful smile ever on her cute, little face! No, it wasn’t merely a grimace from some wind that was troubling her. It was one of those fair dinkum, first real social smiles that are just so precious.

I could not take my eyes off her. Her smile transformed her whole face. I noticed too how her eyes were shining, as if lit by some deep, inner joy. It was as if she was saying in the only way she could, ‘Hello! I’m here—and I think I’d like to connect with you.’ It was as if her little spirit was reaching out for recognition and for some sort of special, warm welcome to this world. It was as if some innate sense of joy had suddenly bubbled up inside her. And, needless to say, this grandmother was besotted all over again.

But this experience also challenged me. Years ago, in a very busy period of my life, a good Christian friend told me he didn’t see much joy in me at that point. Yes, we do go through sad and difficult times in our lives when joy may understandably absent for a while—a long while even. But I had no real excuse. I was merely ‘worried and upset about many things’, as Martha was when Jesus was visiting (Luke 10:41). I had forgotten what it was to enjoy God deep down, to allow the Spirit to bring that peace and joy back to my own spirit. After that conversation, I pinned the question Paul asks the believers in Galatians 4:15 on the wall in front of my desk: What has happened to all your joy? Not that I wanted to pretend I was joyful when I was not. But it served as a reminder to rest in God and rejoice in his love. I wanted that inner joy to shine out again and reflect God’s heart to others—and I still do.

How about you?

Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord. You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound. Ps 4:6-7

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Last week, while promoting my books in a Melbourne bookstore, I had some interesting encounters I could never have imagined into any of my novels. They encouraged me so much that I wondered afterwards if I might well have been entertaining one or two of those angels the writer to the Hebrews talks about in Heb 13:2!

Take the gentleman I began chatting to as he was leaving the store. He asked where I was from and, on discovering I was from Sydney, told me he wouldn’t hold that against me! After I informed him I actually grew up in Queensland, we discovered we went to the same high school and that our time there had overlapped. Then when I told him I had ended up teaching at another Brisbane school a few years later, we discovered his wife had been a student there at the time. On and on our conversation went. How lovely it was reflect on the journey God had taken us both over the years since then and to remind ourselves of God’s faithfulness!

Another wonderful encounter occurred when a lady came to the store especially to meet me. We had emailed off and on over the years in relation to recording my books for people with visual impairment. I knew my first three novels had been recorded, but imagine my delight when I discovered two more had been as well, that my non-fiction book Soul Friend was about to be recorded and that this lady planned to buy my latest novel The Inheritance so it can be also. What an encouragement! I had imagined their clients would have had enough of borrowing my books, but no, apparently they want more. I love the idea of being able to bless people in this way who are unable to see the printed word.

I was touched too when a young woman noticed Soul Friend on my display table and immediately came over to give me a warm hug. She had found the book so helpful, she told me, and was delighted to meet me. Later, a similar thing happened with someone who had read The Inheritance. Then just this past weekend, while book selling at a conference closer to home, I had another unexpected and encouraging encounter. I met a delightful lady who works in a Christian bookstore in a small, western New South Wales country town.

‘Oh, it’s so great to meet you!’ she told me. ‘We stock your books in our bookstore—our manager loves them! They’re in our local library too.’

Never would have I envisaged my books in a store in this little town, let alone in their library.

In all this, I don’t mean to be egotistical at all. I’m sure God didn’t allow these encounters for the purpose of boosting my pride! But I do believe God’s heart was to encourage me in these lovely, surprising ways—just as God desires to do for you. In John 5:17, Jesus tells the Jews: My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working. Are your eyes open to see how our loving Father is at work even now in your own life? Or, like me, are you perhaps in danger of not recognising those angels God has for us to encounter along the way?

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P1030888Our new granddaughter is the best dressed little lady in town right now. As well as being given so many gorgeous new clothes and cute accessories, she has inherited a veritable wardrobe of amazing outfits from her cousins. Some have never been worn—after all, how many Size 0000 suits can a girl wear before she graduates to Size 000? So … does our little Maxine really need the jumper I am knitting her? Of course she doesn’t—yet her mother still wants me to finish it. It’s nice to have some things that have been made with love, I am told. Besides, it matches the little pram blanket I have already knitted for her.

Yes, these items have been created with love—but that does not mean they are without mistakes! Having finished the blanket while lying on my back recuperating from an operation, I can see I must have still been recovering from that anaesthetic as well, judging by all those glaring mistakes! However, our daughter assures me she can’t see them and doesn’t care anyway. That is comforting—but I still know those mistakes are there.

As for the little jumper, what excuse can I give for sewing up the side seam inside out?! Could that anaesthetic still be lurking around?? And is there any need for me, with an ample supply of little white buttons at my disposal, to sew on three the same and one that is slightly different? Again, I am assured no one will notice and, if they do, will not care. But again, I will see it.

This whole experience has caused me to reflect not only on my silliness and lack of dexterity but also on my failures in general. As a child, I hated to own up to having made a mistake. I was far too proud and too much of a perfectionist for that. And this mindset was slow to leave me in my adult years—and possibly one of the reasons God, I am sure with a wry smile, called me to be a writer. Once a book has been released, an author is in such a vulnerable position. Some readers are going to love our little offering, while others will hate it. Some are going to look past those inevitable mistakes, while others will point out every single one, which can be handy so these can be rectified in the next print run but also just a tad deflating. With seven books published now, I am fast learning those two indispensable qualities for any author—a sensitive heart and the hide of an elephant! And I know God has worked miracles in my life in this regard, enabling me not to be devastated when I mess things up.

But I’m so glad God looks past my mistakes and, even more importantly, forgives me when I deliberately choose the wrong path. I’m so glad that, as far as God’s concerned, it’s not about performance but about belief in Jesus—that it’s not about law but all about grace. I’m so glad God sees and knows the real me and accepts me, flaws and all.

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. Psalm 103:13-14

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