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Archive for May, 2014

Jo 23There are down sides, I’ve discovered, to having a more reflective personality. For starters, I can wallow in introspection. I can sit for far too long, thinking about things I have done in the past and how differently I would do it all now. In short, I can be the queen of post mortems!

Depending on how tired I am when these take place, I can lose all sense of perspective and end up seeing only the negatives in whatever input I have given or writing I have done. I can even find myself overcome with feelings of embarrassment and self-pity at times. And if I do not come to my senses, these can all too easily paralyse me.

Yet there is an upside to these post mortems as well. With God’s help, I can learn from past mistakes and grow just that little bit more. I don’t want to keep committing the same old errors and be unable to communicate God’s love in the best possible way. So after I speak somewhere, I go through my input, reflecting on what worked and didn’t work, what felt laboured and what seemed to flow well. I make a mental note not to use this or that illustration again, if it seemed to puzzle or not connect with my audience. Then, when I have finished, I file that input away and try to let it fade from my mind.

This issue of post mortems is very pertinent right now as I seek to write my second non-fiction work—another memoir, with a few lines of teaching in each chapter, as well as some reflection questions. As I go to write about some of the more draining periods of my life, I find I have to safeguard my spirit and try to follow David’s example of focussing on God:

My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare. Ps 25:15

Otherwise, I could spend hours staring at my computer screen, feeling the pressure of that past season of my life, and become exhausted all over again. Instead, I try to look back with more objectivity, relying on God to give me a better perspective on it all and show me what to pass onto others. That’s the mindset Paul seems to have had when he wrote the following:

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Phil 3:13-14

It’s not that Paul never mentions his past. Even in this same chapter, he remembers how he was once a Pharisee and a persecutor of the church. By God’s grace, however, he became a changed person—a new creation, free to love and serve Christ (2 Cor 5:17-19).

That’s what I am too, I remind myself with joy, as I square my shoulders and set to work on my book again. I may well have made that unwise decision or spoken those hurtful words in the past, but, as Jer 31:34 reminds us, God has chosen not to remember them—and so should I. I can let go of it all and move on, knowing I am forgiven and am totally loved and accepted because of Jesus.

And that is such a wonderful, healing thing to be able to do, don’t you think?

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Yesterday, while filing away some talks I gave this past weekend, I decided it was high time I threw out copies of others I gave around fifteen years ago! Why keep these bulging folders any longer? I have changed so much since then. And even if I were to speak on those same topics, my content would be quite different.

As I sorted through these, I noted how much preparation had gone into them—and no doubt much prayer as well. Then I stopped for a moment and reflected on all that has happened since then. Over these past fifteen years, I have spoken in and outside of churches many times, as I still do. In a flash, I saw how invaluable that earlier experience and hours of preparation had been for what I find myself still doing today. But beyond that, I sensed again God’s overwhelming grace in my life. In all those years, God has never forgotten me for a moment. And, just as I experienced this past weekend, as I gave three sessions at a women’s retreat, God is continuing to provide me with opportunities to use the gifts of speaking and encouraging I believe I have been given and continuing to guide and strengthen me.

In Isaiah 49:15, the Lord says to the people of Zion:

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has born? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See I have engraved you on the palms of my hands …

Centuries later, I believe God is still not in the business of neglecting us. When we belong to God’s family, God takes responsibility for us—and I saw that clearly yet again this past weekend. Even before I left home, after glancing through my input once more, I decided to sit down quietly and read a few words of Scripture. Recently, I had begun reading through Psalms again and ‘happened’ to be up to Psalm 19. In the last verse there, I found the following:

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

This was exactly the prayer I sensed I needed to pray before heading up the coast to speak. I did not know the group well who had invited me and was a little nervous about how I would be received. But, above all, I wanted to please the Lord with what I had prepared. So being given this little prayer brought such reassurance as I set out into the unknown.

And once again, God did not let me down. In fact, I am sure at times God rescued me and gave me words I would not have thought of saying, just as is promised in Isaiah 51:16:

I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand—I who set the heavens in place, who laid the foundations of the earth, and who say to Zion, ‘You are my people.’

This week, as you seek to love and serve the Lord, may you too receive a fresh glimpse of God’s amazing grace and enjoy that covering of God’s own, powerful hand over you in all you do.

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Jo 23Sometimes I think I have a short memory. On occasions, I have vowed and declared I will never do something again that turned out to be particularly exhausting or costly in some way. Yet, time goes by … and I am asked to do that very same thing … and I say yes … again.

Recently, I agreed yet again to speak at a morning church service on Mothers’ Day. Now I love speaking—but not particularly on Mothers’ Day! I have found in the past how difficult that can be when one is aware there are those present who have experienced great pain and loss in this area. Perhaps their own mothers have let them down. Or perhaps they have longed to be mothers themselves and that opportunity has not come their way. Or perhaps they have lost a mother or a child recently. Or perhaps their children have brought them great grief and would not think of calling home. The list goes on. Besides, on a totally selfish note, I like relaxing a little on Mothers’ Day and not having to give out to others to any great degree!

Yet, now it’s over, I find myself feeling very humbled and grateful. You see, it ‘happened’ that, just after I agreed to speak, I came across John 14 in my own personal Scripture reading. I had already decided to focus on God’s caring, nurturing heart for us, rather than directly on a mother’s role per se when I spoke. I recalled the beautiful image in Psalm 91:4 of God—He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge … and also Matt 23:37, where Jesus says:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longer to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.

But then I noticed in John 14 how Jesus shows such nurturing love to his disciples, calming them and giving them his peace, challenging them gently to remember what he has taught them and to show their love by obeying his commands, and reassuring them that the Counsellor will be with them forever. The disciples were obviously upset and confused. Jesus had just predicted his death, then washed their feet, before sharing the Passover meal with them in a new, disturbing way, letting them know as he did that he would be betrayed and disowned. Yet Jesus continues reaching out to them in love, caring for them to the very end.

This is what I shared then on Mothers’ Day. What a privilege it was to see Jesus’ words again speaking peace into the hearts of some who needed it, challenging others, and reminding us all that he has not left us as ‘orphans’ (Jn 14:18) but has given us his Spirit, who was so present amongst us even as I spoke.

Never again?  Hmmm! I’m so glad God changed my mind. I’m so glad I got to eat humble pie—yet again—and enjoyed being part of the Spirit’s nurturing, loving ministry this Mothers’ Day. When we are weak, God is strong. When God calls, we can do it!

How about you? Has God taught you too to say ‘Never again’ never again?

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One afternoon last week, I was part of a gathering of around eighteen people who came together to watch a video podcast of a well-known Christian teacher and author speaking at a conference in the US. His material was excellent and he kept our attention most of the time, despite our having to watch him on a small computer screen rather than via the data projector, which refused to cooperate on the day. But the undoubted highlight came when he chose to finish his talk with a story about an event that had impacted him deeply only three weeks earlier. At that point, even though we had sat in the same spot for over an hour, squinting at that small screen, we were all mesmerised. And the silence afterwards was almost palpable.

As we talked together later, that personal story was clearly what everyone remembered above all else. Never mind the other fifty-five or so minutes of wisdom we heard, that no doubt had taken this gentleman hours to prepare. It was those last five minutes that had captured our attention and remained with us. Yet whether he had shared this story first or last, I am sure it would still have been the most memorable part of his input. Such is the power of story.

After that same meeting, a friend came up to me eagerly.

‘I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your book Soul Friend,’ she told me. ‘I just loved it! I really enjoy people sharing their own personal stories like you did—I think this helps other people going through similar situations. And I also loved reading about your relationship with friend Joy. It inspired me in my own journey of being a spiritual companion to others.’

I responded by explaining how vulnerable I felt in attempting a memoir such as Soul Friend. In writing my novels, I could use any number of characters to share my own experiences. I could hide behind their personas and not have to take responsibility for anything they said or did. After all, novels aren’t ‘real’, as some who never read fiction have told me over the years. But with Soul Friend, I had to own my every thought, word and action. Yes, that felt very risky at first. But I’m so glad God prodded me to take that risk.

It was interesting to watch the gentleman we heard via the podcast as he explained his reasons for sharing his recent experience with us. He was obviously a little fearful of sharing something so personal and precious. And he was also wary about making himself out to be someone special or even focussing too much on himself. Obviously, too, this kind of personal sharing was not what his particular denomination was used to. Nevertheless, he went ahead, because it was as if he simply had to share the marvellous thing God had done for him.

So … please tell your story too. Tell what God has done in your life. It will be different from everyone else’s story and may well touch others in a way nothing else can. Besides, it brings God glory—surely a wonderful thing to do.

Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me. Ps 66:16

Declare his glory among the nations, his marvellous deeds among all peoples Ps 96:3

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