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Archive for May, 2015

Jo 17There can be some scary moments in bringing up children. This past week, our one year old granddaughter began running very high temperatures and coughing in a weird way. In the end, she was diagnosed as having a chest infection, plus mild croup.

Our daughter contacted me to ask about an old remedy I used many years ago when her brother had croup as a two year old. Her question brought back vivid memories of holding our son in our steaming bathroom with the hot water turned on full, since we did not own a vaporiser. Then another memory surfaced of an elderly farmer’s wife telling me at church that our son had croup.

‘You need to get hold of an old flannel singlet, soak it in three parts water to two parts white vinegar to one part metho, then wrap it around his neck,’ she said. ‘I’ll bring some flannel around for you.’

True to her word, she did. I thanked her, not really believing what she said could ever work. Still, what did I have to lose? It was the weekend, with no doctor available back then. It seemed cruel to do this to our son when he was so unwell. Yet, to our great surprise, it worked—not only then, but at other times too when he had croup. That elderly farmer’s wife knew what she was talking about, as she passed that wisdom of generations onto me.

Eventually, I remembered the details of this old remedy and texted them to our daughter. In the end, she didn’t need them—our little Maxine bounced back and whatever the doctor had given her seemed to work. But I wondered too if our daughter had felt a little sceptical, as I had, about whether my old remedy would actually work.

Sometimes I think we respond a little like that when God shows us which way to go in our lives or how to respond in a particular situation. We know what we read in Scripture about forgiving someone is right. We sense God prompting us in our spirit to take some course of action but we decide we know better. We listen to the godly advice of someone we trust and agree that is what will work—yet we hesitate.

I have always found Isaiah 30 very challenging. Being a strong-willed person, I relate easily to those obstinate people back then who would not listen to God:

In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.  Isaiah 30:15

Instead, they tried to rescue themselves and flee, despite being told they would end up ‘like a flagstaff on a mountaintop’ (17).  Yet, all the while, God longed for them to turn to him and trust him.

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him. (18)

I think God knows the right remedy for our ailments, don’t you? After all, God’s been around a long time and knows a thing or two! May we all learn to listen to him more, to wait and trust, as we reap the benefits of his amazing grace and compassion in our lives.

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Around three years ago, I wrote a blog about a blueberry ash tree I had planted as a tiny seedling on the creek bank behind our house. By that stage, it had managed to survive several years of being attacked by our lawnmower and a total lack of care from me. Then a flood came—and my little tree, then about a metre and half in height, disappeared beneath the murky brown water. Yet, miracle of miracles, after those waters receded, it popped up again, good as new!

In the ensuing years, that blueberry ash has grown to around three metres, producing beautiful, miniature clusters of pale pink flowers and interesting little blue berries, as per its name. But during the heavy rains here in Sydney a few weeks ago, it experienced another adventure. Again, I watched from the safety of our kitchen as it disappeared one afternoon beneath a torrent of fast-flowing, brown water.

Now the deluge was not as high this time, yet somehow, my tree still ended up completely submerged. When I later went to investigate, it was lying almost horizontal and covered in all sorts of debris. For it to be in that position, I was sure its roots must have popped through the surface of the ground—but no. Instead, that tree, with its slender, pliable trunk, had managed to bend almost at right angles, without disturbing the soil around its base. Those roots held firm, somewhere way down deep in that soggy creek bank.

P1040093I hastily cleaned up my tree and propped it up, tying it to our fence for a while, in case of any further flood. It seemed to recover well, but recently, we noticed it was growing at something of an angle. We decided it needed some help to stand up straight again and tied it firmly to a long stake. And it was at that point I realised what a powerful image of our lives this tree conveyed.

In Psalm 1:3, we read how those who delight in the law of the Lord are like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. In order for us to stand firm, it’s important to ensure our roots go down deep into God as we constantly drink from the living water God provides. Yet life can still become a struggle at times and even the best of us may end up like my poor tree, needing help to weather the storms. How good it is when we are able to call on others who will support us during those times, just like that stake, and provide a shoulder to lean on until we become strong and resilient again! Surely this is one of the functions of the Body of Christ—to lift up our brothers and sisters and to bear one another’s burdens until that resilience wins through again.

Have you been feeling a little like my blueberry ash of late, overwhelmed and bent at right angles? I pray God will soon strengthen you and that others will be there to support you until you can stand up straight and tall once again. May your roots go down deep into God and may you in turn be able to strengthen and encourage many others.

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I wonder if you remember Madame Defarge, the infamous character created by Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities. I studied this novel at high school and still feel chilled at the image of this woman weaving the names of those French aristocrats condemned to death by the republicans into her knitting and watching with satisfaction as that guillotine comes crashing down on each of them in turn.

Thankfully, I am no Madam Defarge, with her deep-seated desire for revenge against those who had caused her family such grief. Besides, weaving anyone’s names into my knitting would be way beyond my ability! However, from time to time, I do love to sit and knit little garments for our grandchildren. Mostly, this is a pleasant, relaxing pursuit for me—unless I am up to a patterned section. Then I am obliged to count carefully and focus or disaster will strike—at which point I may well moan and wail with some vehemence.

When all is going smoothly knitting-wise, I find there is something very fulfilling about watching a little garment grow beneath my fingers. Eventually, the moment arrives when I knit that last stitch and cut through the wool with a satisfying snip. Yay, I’ve finished! But then I realise I still need to sew this part to that part and complete other jobs like adding buttons—tedious tasks which seem to take so long.

Recently, P1040088however, while completing a little cardigan for our youngest granddaughter, I decided to do something much more positive than griping when I made a mistake or complaining about those final, tedious tasks. No, I did not attempt to weave her name into it. Instead, I decided put my energy into praying for our precious little Maxine as I backstitched those final seams together. Then, as I attached the buttons, pushing my needle through the four holes of each one to form an ‘x’ shape, I pictured that ‘x’ standing not only for my love for Maxine but also for God’s amazing love for her. I prayed she would come to know that love of God for herself and that we would faithfully mirror this to her through all our words and actions. And I prayed she would step into all God has for her in her life and fulfil her unique place in this world with great joy.

It’s so important, don’t you think, to grasp these opportunities to pray in the course of our everyday life? Whether in a quiet, private place or surrounded by people and noise and activity in a very public setting, we can reach out to God in our hearts and minds, even if only for a few conscious moments. Recently, I read a simple but lovely description of prayer in Henri Nouwen’s book, Reaching Out. According to him, prayer is ‘a creative contact with the source of all life’ (p 91). What a privilege to be connected to the Source of All Life every moment of the day!

In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul urges us to ‘pray continually’, or to ‘pray all the time’, as Peterson puts it in The Message. May we never forget our loving, Creator God is present, ready and willing to listen, to communicate and to do life with us, wherever we are and whatever we are doing.

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Jo 23Yesterday, I noticed a small, stand-up calendar on my desk. According to the month it showed, we were still in April. As I went to flip the page over to May, I gasped. Surely only a few days had passed since I had changed this calendar from March to April? How could another month have disappeared so quickly?

It seemed to me the year was fast slipping through my fingers, with no new book completed and very little preparation for upcoming speaking engagements done either. True, I submitted another non-fiction book to my publisher in January. And true, I have at least begun a new novel. And I had prepared for a speaking event this past weekend, only to have it cancelled, due to unforeseen circumstances. But … well, I seemed to have achieved so little in the light of all those weeks and months that have now passed into oblivion.

Then in the stillness around me, I became aware of God’s gentle voice speaking into my spirit. I sat up straight and breathed deeply. Yes, in this year, I have done my best. I have tried to take more care of myself, after ten busy, busy years of writing and speaking. I have tracked with several women, listening as they have shared what is happening in their lives. I have provided many meals for visitors in our home. I have minded grandchildren. I have rearranged our garden a little. And yes, I have kept writing too. Gradually, my heart was able to receive that gentle reminder of God’s total love and acceptance of me, whether I produced anything or not, whether I was digging the garden, speaking to a large group, writing that next great Australian novel—or simply doing nothing.

‘Am I not enough for you, Jo-Anne?’ God seemed to say. ‘Don’t you trust me to watch over you and bring good out of all the various strands and events in your life? I see exactly where you are up to in your writing. I knew ahead about that cancelled speaking engagement. I’m aware of how you feel about those fleeting months. But surely your times are in my hands? And don’t you yourself matter more to me than anything you might produce?’

I turned then to a book I am using at the moment entitled The Ignatian Adventure which contains spiritual exercises for each day—Scripture readings, other reflections and personal questions to ponder. I turned to the day’s reading—Jeremiah 17:7-8:

But blessed is the man (woman) who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He (she) will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

Yes, however fast those months fly by, I know I will bear fruit as I continue to allow my roots to go down deep into God. The fruit may vary in type and in abundance—but the Lord is trustworthy and his love for me will never change, month after month, year after year, and on into eternity.

As the year slips by, are your roots going down deep into God too?

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