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Archive for July, 2014

Jo 23There I was, working in my study and only vaguely conscious of the sound of the TV in our lounge, when one particular sentence jolted me alert. It was as if the words I heard were louder than all the others, demanding my attention.

‘She doesn’t have to worry—she’s got nothing left to prove.’

I soon realised the sports commentator was talking about a particular sportswoman at the Commonwealth Games who has won every medal and accolade there is in her chosen field. At this stage, she can simply enjoy the satisfaction of winning and not have to worry anymore about whether she can make it and be the best in the world. It’s what we often say when people have succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations and achieved great feats in their lives.

Why did this statement impact me the way it did? Because I had just read the following sentence in my latest book I am in the process of editing:

I was my own worst enemy in many ways, so prone to taking things too personally, so wanting to prove myself, so easily forgetting who I was in God and so often allowing others’ opinions of me to pull me down.

Yes, in former years, I was very much into proving myself. I wanted to come top of that class in primary school. I wanted to be among those prize winners at our high school speech night. I wanted to excel at uni. This was all good, but I did not realise then that trying to prove myself would not give me that deep sense of worth I craved inside.

I remember well a question someone asked me when I was about to head to theological college in my late forties.

‘So … what are you trying to prove?’

I was dumbfounded—I could not believe anyone would ask me such a rude question. Yes, I planned to put my heart and soul into all my assignments to get the maximum benefit from this wonderful opportunity to study once again—but not merely to prove myself. So I tried to muster up some grace and forbearance and told this person I was doing it first and foremost because I believed God had called me to, which was the truth.

No doubt at times I did fall back into my old ways of trying to prove myself at college. But, these days, I can honestly say that, just like that Commonwealth Games athlete the commentator was talking about, there is nothing left for me to prove either. Not that I have written that best seller or hit the highest peaks of achievement in ministry, by any means! But I know who I am in God. And I know deep inside I don’t have to earn God’s approval—because Jesus has made me totally acceptable, whatever I achieve or don’t achieve in this life. This has given me such a deep sense of security as I continue to write and speak and put myself and my books out there. I don’t have to prove myself—there’s nothing left to prove. All I can do is my best and leave the rest to God.

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. 1 Cor 15:10a

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Jo 23Some of my friends find winter quite a depressing time, especially on dull, rainy days. I grew up in Queensland, so maybe my affinity for winter stems from that. After all, it was much more bearable in winter to handle wearing those obligatory gloves and black stockings as well as a hat and a tie to high school each day!

Or perhaps this affinity for winter rests on the fact that I can curl up in my warm study, with the sun coming through a nearby window, and enjoy writing those things that are on my heart to write. Even if the weather is dull, the sound of rain on the iron roof next door merely adds to the ambience. And even when my writing is proving difficult, I still find myself blessed to be where I am.

Right now, my husband is in New Zealand. I could have been there with him, but I turned it down. Granted, there were a few things I would have had to reorganise to do that. But, in my heart of hearts, I did not want to go anyway. Now I love my husband. And I love New Zealand. What’s more, I have never seen the northern part of the South Island, where he began his trip. But I am in the throes of editing my eighth book—and I knew if I allowed my mind to be diverted elsewhere, however beautiful that place might be, it would be difficult to regain that momentum.

Right now too, one of our daughters is in Hawaii for a cousin’s wedding. I could have gone there too, but I turned it down. ‘Hawaii? You turned down a visit to Hawaii? In the middle of winter?’ some have asked incredulously. Yep—that’s me! Admittedly, I felt a twinge of jealousy when I saw those photos of that beautiful wedding right beside a beach and read about the other interesting places our daughter has visited. But no, I’m happy to be home, curled up here in my study, pressing on with my editing.

Yes, I can see many things around me that need my attention. At the moment, I can write my name in the dust on my desk or on the piano in our lounge, courtesy not only of my neglect but also of the dusty building site opposite. I daren’t venture too far down our backyard in case I see all those weeds. I need to cook something so there is food to eat tomorrow when our daughter arrives to pick up her two cats I have been minding. I need to attend to those two said cats. But I am here at my desk right now. I am happy to be here. I have a meaningful editing job ahead. And God is with me—so very much with me.

Yesterday, despite its not being Christmas, I read about the birth of Jesus.

The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” Matt 1:23

Immanuel. God with us. God … with … us. Right now, whatever we are doing. Right here, wherever we are. So very present, in the midst of the ordinary.

May you find that as overwhelming and as comforting as I do.

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Life is full of new experiences—and this past week has brought its fair share of these. Our daughter has currently bequeathed her two cats to us to mind while she is overseas. And I must say I have learnt so much already as I have observed them trying to come to terms with their new environment, not to mention the two weird people minding them who aren’t used to cats!

P1030941

Miss Lexxi

It is obvious from the beginning that Lexxi is a little more adventurous than her sister. After the initial shock has worn off, she is prepared to emerge from hiding and explore. Soon she becomes daring enough to nuzzle our legs. Then she graduates to prowling around my desk, settling on my lap and nudging my hand when I stop stroking her in order to type. Coaxing her over to the nearby bed instead works occasionally—but only when she deigns it to be so.

Miss Lexxi again

Miss Lexxi again

Eventually, she finds an empty book box of mine and—voila! She is in heaven for a while! But then that paper bin under my desk looks very interesting too …

Meanwhile, on arrival, poor Tesla (yes, that’s her name!) bolts for a spot in the far corner underneath our sideboard—and stays there, refusing to budge. When we look for her there on the second day, however, she is nowhere to be seen.

Now picture this, if you can—two mature adults with worried looks, hunting high and low in every nook and cranny of the house for said cat, moving beds, fridges, freezers, clothes driers, crawling on  hands and knees under desks, peeking in boxes, behind curtains, in cupboards that have always been closed anyway. You name it, we did it!

For many hours, we keep up the hunt. And then we find her—curled up on a tiny ledge way at the back of an old desk in my husband’s study where we thought no cat would ever fit. We let her be, taking her food and water to her. And eventually, she braves it enough to gravitate during the night to a spot behind the settee in the lounge, where she remains silent and still—at least while we are around.

What have I learnt so far from this experience? Apart from some practical tips on caring for cats, it has inspired me to reflect on how often we try to hide from God. At times, we find ourselves reverting to that behaviour exhibited by that first man and woman in the Garden of Eden when they heard the Lord looking for them and hid in fear. Yet God knows where we are all the time—just like right now, I know where timid Tesla is hiding because those curtains pulled to one side in the lounge are a dead giveaway! And God longs for us to experience so much more of that warm, loving relationship on offer for anyone willing to emerge from that hiding place, trust the Owner of the house and explore the freedom the Kingdom has to offer.

So where are you? Are you hiding too? Is there more of God’s amazing love and grace out there for you to explore?

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

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I never cease to be amazed at the neat things God does in my life. Just when I least expect it, I am surprised yet again with some kind act or some special insight that leaves me gobsmacked.

This past weekend, I found myself trying to round off that final chapter of my current work in progress—a non-fiction book, entitled Coming Home to Myself. Should be simple, right? Hmm—wrong! Instead, I found myself writing several paragraphs, then deleting them—over and over again. I swapped them around. I shortened them. I split them up. But nothing seemed to flow well.

As you might imagine, I became somewhat frustrated. I have struck difficult patches in my writing before, but this time, it all seemed particularly confusing. Eventually, I stood up and declared out loud, in a firm voice, ‘This is enough!’ I then prayed, still out loud, asking God to show me the way forward. Almost immediately, the thought came to go to our china cabinet and get out my set of five wooden Russian ‘babushka’ dolls I bought at a market stall in London years ago, simply because I loved them. I had always envisaged these dolls featuring on the cover of my book. In fact, I mention them in my introduction, since, to me, they depict my own journey over the years, as God has gently removed various self-protective layers from my life and enabled me to become who I believe I was created to be. But I had never thought of mentioning them again, to conclude my book.

P1030938I took them back to my desk and lined them up. The words began to flow, almost carrying me along with them. Then, as I wrote, out of the blue, I remembered how I had once dropped the smallest doll of the set and how I had been unable to find it for years. Then one day when we moved the whole china cabinet, there it was, right at the back underneath it. I had forgotten that whole experience, but saw immediately how it fitted in so well with the theme of my final two paragraphs, which stresses the importance of not losing sight of who we are at the very centre of our being—that person made in the image of God, created to show something of God to the world in our own unique way.

I almost laughed with joy as I wrote. How freeing it was, as those words flowed out! I could feel the lightness in my spirit and such a sense of the fullness of God in me. Surely God had prompted me to stand firm against that overwhelming confusion, to get out those Russian dolls and to remember, as I did, my experience of losing—and finding—that littlest doll all those years ago. Again, I knew I had been privileged to experience another touch of God’s amazing love and grace in my life, just when I least expected it and in a way I could never have envisaged.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  Isaiah 55:8-9

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We have a dilemma in our household. I am the archetypal, introverted, rather reclusive author, who is happy to sit alone at her computer all day and write. Now don’t get me wrong. I love popping up to speak and to promote my books from time to time. And I really enjoy good conversations with family and friends—including our beautiful grandchildren. But mostly, I am content with my own company—and God’s!

My husband also spends many hours at his computer, but he’s definitely more extroverted than I am. He becomes restless much more quickly than I ever would and, at times, heads off to our local shopping centre merely for a change of scene—and for that milk shake or cup of coffee!

Lately, however, he has found another reason to get out of the house. You see, we have a very active two year old grandson, Zain, who loves his granddad. Recently, his mum caught Zain singing a song he had made up for Granddad—using a little vase he found somewhere as his microphone! So one day last week, my husband decided to call our daughter:

‘Mummy, can Zain please come out to play with me?’(!!!)

IMG_20140614_152530Sometimes they go to a nearby park and have all sorts of adventures, chasing each other or sitting down wherever Zain chooses or picking up interesting things. And sometimes, that route home just happens to take them past a certain fast food chain where they can buy an ice cream and enjoy eating it together.

But my husband’s enjoyment of his grandkids doesn’t stop at Zain or his baby sister, Maxine, who is too little yet to interact much with Granddad, except to smile at him. This past week, even though we did not need to pick up our two older granddaughters, Amy and Olivia, as usual on a Friday after school because their father was able to instead, their doting granddad chose to drive across town to meet them anyway. His excuse?

‘I’d like to get out of the house—and it would be a surprise for the girls.’

Oh, and they just happened to swing by another of those certain fast food chains on their way home, in order to have a sundae each ‘to celebrate the end of term’!

I love to see my husband’s kind heart in it all and the good relationships he has with our grandkids. But as I think about it, this reflects so much of God’s heart for each one of us too. How often does our loving Father invite us to ‘come out and play’—to spend time with him, talking about all that’s happening in our lives and simply enjoying each other’s company? How often does God want to surprise us with such grace and blessing, yet we don’t show up to receive it? We are too busy, shut away in our own little lives, trying to hide from our loving Father, who longs to give us such joy and fulfilment.

I want to have that innocent heart of a child who is so happy and at home in God’s company—don’t you?

I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  Matt 18:3-4

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