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Archive for November, 2014

Jo 23There I was, half listening to the news on the car radio as I tried to think of simple Christmas presents for the grandchildren and work out my plan of attack once I reached the shopping centre. Yet, for one moment, I managed to register what the female politician on the radio was saying.

‘We need to stop this—we need an alternate narrative to offer these young people who are turning to terrorism,’ she was saying to those at some high level political assembly.

As I hunted for a car park, that intriguing phrase, ‘an alternate narrative’, kept echoing inside my head. What did it really mean? Would a simpler way of putting it be ‘a different story’ or ‘a different way of doing life’ or perhaps even ‘a better way of looking at things’?

I entered the huge shopping centre and was soon confronted with Christmas bargains and gifts suggestions everywhere. Christmas songs could be heard all over the centre. Christmas T-shirts bearing silly slogans with no connection to the real meaning of Christmas were on prominent display in one large store. I looked around in the centre of the shopping complex, thinking I might see a big nativity scene featured—but no. Only Santa on his throne in a large area set aside where children could be photographed with him. The previous day, I had been pleasantly surprised to find a manger scene set up in one unobtrusive spot, albeit in a rather toned down way, at a smaller shopping centre. But not here at this bigger centre situated in a more multicultural area.

Then it came to me. We already have an ‘alternate narrative’ to offer the young people this politician mentioned. We already have a different story to tell, a different way to offer of doing life. The very reason Jesus came to this earth and lived amongst us was to show us this and provide us with the way to find that life in God. This is the story of Christmas that we are about to celebrate. Yet so often it is nowhere to be heard or seen—or, if it is, it is present or shared in a way that will have very little impact, in order not to offend.

Yes, we have our Christmas carol events, but even with these, that ‘alternate narrative’ so often sounds somehow irrelevant and not quite true. We have our Christmas church services, but who of those young people that politician was talking about will be there? Instead, it seems to me it is up to each one of us who claims to live by that ‘alternate narrative’ to make a difference in this world throughout the whole year as often as we can and in whatever ways God has gifted us and given us the opportunity do so.

Yes, our world desperately needs this ‘alternate narrative’. It is already there and available. But it is so often ignored or not even heard. So I ask myself, am I prepared to write and speak about and live out that different story each day—that ‘alternate narrative’ of peace with God and through God, that old story of Jesus and his love? Are you?

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10b

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Jo 23I did not have a good attitude as I headed off to catch the train to the city. I was tired. I had writing to do at home and this meeting would take up most of my day. Why waste my time in this way?

I wondered that even more when only six people turned up for our meeting. Usually there were more than twice as many. I stifled a sigh and felt embarrassed for one person who was present for the first time. Surely she’d be disappointed to find the group was so small.

This new person introduced herself and shared about the challenges facing her. Others shared as well, including one lady who had only recently left hospital and was still far from well. When the new person had to leave early, I wondered again if she had felt it was worthwhile. The rest of us then prayed for the lady who had been ill—and straight away it was obvious how important this prayer was for her. We could almost see the weight being lifted off her shoulders as we gathered round her.

The next day, I received a call from the new person who had been present. She wanted to buy two of my books and was also recommending me as a speaker to friends she knew. I thanked her but also told her how sorry I was there had been so few people at our meeting.

‘Oh, that was fine,’ she told me. ‘I was just blown away by the group—it was amazing! I wouldn’t have shared all I did if the group had been any bigger. There’s no one else I can talk to about the things I told the group yesterday.’

How humbling it was to discover I had completely misjudged the situation. Then I realised that, had there been more people present, the lady who had been ill would also probably not have shared as much and we would have been unable to pray for her as we did. It would all have been worth it just for her—let alone for the new person as well. It was as if God had arranged it all just for them.

Yet that was not quite true, because we had all received prayer in the group. The others had prayed for me about completing my current manuscript, although, in my tiredness, I could not remember exactly what they had prayed. That night, I found myself able to get through much more editing than I would have expected—and the following day as well. I felt alert and empowered and more hopeful about this particular manuscript. Could this have happened as a result of those prayers the group had prayed? Hmm.

In my great wisdom, I had thought my trip into town was a waste of time. Yet God had it all in hand, went before us and brought great comfort and healing to us all that day. Who are we to outthink and criticise God? As Isaiah reminds us:

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

I’m so glad that’s the case—aren’t you?

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Many years ago, in a far, far away land called my childhood, one of my favourite books was The House That Jack Built. Our copy had windows in each page that gave the reader enticing views of what was to come—plus the whole book was shaped like a house. But, above all, we loved the rhythm and the repetition contained in this story:

This is the house that Jack built

This is the malt that lay in the house that Jack built

This is the rat that ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built …

And on it went.

P1030988I thought of that book again last week when we arrived home from an interstate trip to discover how large the house under construction opposite ours had become in our absence. It seems to be growing taller and grander by the minute. Admittedly, it is on the ‘up’ side of our narrow street while we are on the lower ‘down’ side. But it is still an imposing edifice—or will be. Another neighbour on our side has christened it ‘the Palace of H … (insert owner’s name here!)’.

Now our neighbour across the road has worked very hard as the owner-builder. When not at his other responsible job, he can be found onsite here, supervising the construction of his ‘Palace’. Several times, he has taken my husband on ‘the grand tour’, explaining what rooms are what and how hard he has worked on it and how well he has planned it all. Hopefully, the time will come when he can relax and enjoy his wonderful, new home. Hopefully, his wife and children are surviving without him around most of the time. Hopefully, it is not the be-all and end-all to him.

Whenever I catch sight of our neighbourhood ‘palace’, however, I am reminded of the story Jesus told about the rich man who decided to tear down his old barns and build bigger ones to store all his  crops (Luke 12:13-21). But that very night, he died and was not around to enjoy all the fruits of his labours. As Jesus warns us:

… a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. Luke 12:15b

Now don’t get me wrong—I love beautiful homes. And I have seen those who own very large ones use them in a wonderful way to bless many. In the end, however, these homes are only bricks and mortar. In the end, they will end up as a pile of rubble, just as the original, neat house opposite us was demolished in order to build the new ‘palace’. In the end, any material things we put before God with be worth nothing—including those books and computers we set such store by in our own humble home! What we all need to ensure, as Jesus also point out, is that we become ‘rich toward God’ (Luke 12:21), rather than setting our hearts on any riches this world can provide.

I hope our neighbour across the road and his little family enjoy their new ‘palace’ for many years to come. But I hope and pray that one day they will be rich in the things of God too. Because that’s what really matters, don’t you think?

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Jo 23This week, I managed to do something I have never done before in the eight years I have been signing my own books. In one brief moment of inattention while talking with a customer, I wrote my maiden name instead of the one I have had for almost forty-six years now! For a moment, I could not believe it. Feeling very embarrassed, I owned up to my silly mistake, hastily reached for a second copy and tried again. And this time, I managed to write my name correctly!

How did I do such a thing? What could have caused my mind to flip back through all those years? One would think forty-six years would be long enough for a change of surname to sink into anyone’s brain. Perhaps my momentary lapse had been due to tiredness, I decided. After all, I had just finished speaking at a women’s breakfast. On top of that, there were those four one-hour long creative writing workshops I had given one after the other the previous day to high school students from four different year levels. Many moons ago, I used to be a high school teacher, but had barely set foot in a classroom since. So these workshops had not only required much effort on my part but had also sent my mind reeling back to past years.

As I later told my husband what I had done, however, I began to see a profound personal lesson emerging from it all. Throughout all those years since I had changed my name from Wardrop to Berthelsen in 1969, God had never left me. God had been with me even through that turbulent teaching period of my life, strengthening me and enabling me to keep going. The previous day, as I had stood in front of those students, I had felt almost a different person from the one I had been all those years earlier. Back then, I was so insecure, struggling to survive in a sea of noisy students. Now I felt so much more confident and at home in myself. Now I was delighted to be able to share my heart for God and my passion for writing with the students in front of me.

These days, it seems I am quite able to forget my own name in certain circumstances. That book with my maiden name in it now resides on a shelf here in my study as a permanent reminded of this fact. But I know one thing for sure. God will never, ever forget my name. And God will continue to watch over me with great love and faithfulness until that day when we meet face to face. The words God spoke to the Israelites so many years ago are also true for me today—and for you:

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands … Isaiah 49:15

How blessed we are to belong to the God who knows all things, including our past, our present and our future, and who will never ever forget our name!

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