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Archive for July, 2015

Jo 17Last week, I received a rather agonised email from a writer friend. She told me how, having decided to self-publish her latest book, she checked it through many times and enlisted others to help as well. However, after all that painstaking editing, she managed to send the wrong version off to the printer! By the time she realised her mistake, it was too late. That first print run was complete.

I did not have to try too hard to put myself in her shoes and empathise. I have never self-published, but I know what it feels like to have a publisher print one of my books, having added extra mistakes of his or her own, after I had signed off on the final version and agreed everything was just as I wanted it! I felt my friend’s pain and embarrassment. She was not looking forward to being judged as ignorant or less than thorough, particularly by her writing peers.

In recent weeks, however, I have found myself challenged in an even deeper way to walk in someone else’s shoes. At a friend’s suggestion, I decided to tackle a book of daily spiritual exercises entitled The Ignatian Adventure by Kevin O’Brien. Part of this adventure involves reading the Gospels with all my senses and imagination at work and contemplating the life of Jesus in a fresh, up close and personal way. It involves letting the events of Jesus’ life be present to me right now, as best I can. And it involves allowing the Holy Spirit to touch my heart in the process, rather than merely gaining head knowledge about Jesus.

So far, I have contemplated the birth of Jesus as one of those bystanders in the stable. I have put myself in the shoes of Anna and Simeon at Jesus’ presentation in the temple and wondered what it must have been like for Joseph and Mary to flee to Egypt with their son. I have sensed their confusion when Jesus, as a young man, chooses to stay behind in the temple, asking the teachers questions. I have put myself in those scenes where Jesus calls his first disciples. I have tried to imagine how Jesus must have felt on hearing that affirming voice from heaven as he is baptised in the Jordan River and have asked my loving Father to speak those words into my own spirit. I have been deeply challenged, being with Jesus in that desert as he faces being tempted. I have listened with anger as he experiences rejection in his own home town. I put all my senses to work to picture the scene where a paralytic is lowered through the roof so Jesus can heal him. I heard the criticisms—but I also joined with others who praised God, saying ‘We have never seen anything like this!’ (Mark 2:12)

I’m up to the Sermon on the Mount now—and I can’t wait. I’m so much looking forward to journeying on with Jesus and listening to what the Spirit wants to say to me. I want my relationship with Jesus to be authentic, to be current, to be up close and personal. After all, it’s the best way to become more like him, don’t you think?

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Maxine's 1st bday 2015 016eOur three-year-old grandson discovered a whole new concept recently. He has come to believe that anyone or anything he doesn’t approve of might well disappear if he ‘magics’ them away! No doubt he saw this happen on some children’s TV show and has decided this might be quite a handy skill to acquire. So when some animals featured on a particular page of one of his favourite books do something naughty, what does he do?

‘I’m going to magic you away!’ he declares to them firmly, with a sweep of his hand.

For some reason, it doesn’t seem to deter him when those animals don’t actually disappear. He just keeps on trying. And not only on characters in books either.

One evening when we were minding him, he decided he wasn’t ready to go to sleep, despite the lateness of the hour. We had already read books and enjoyed a special treat—a big, juicy strawberry from the fridge. But one was definitely not enough—he wanted more.

‘Perhaps when Mummy comes home, you can ask her for some more,’ I stalled, hoping he would fall asleep long before then.

But our determined little grandson was not happy with my response.

‘I’m going to magic you away!’ he informed me, with a stern look and a very definite, commanding gesture.

But he still wasn’t finished.

And I’m going to magic Mummy right here!’ he announced with a flourish.

About two seconds later, we heard a sound at the front door—and there was Mummy, home from work! I laughed, knowing it was sheer coincidence. But our grandson’s face registered all sorts of emotions—shock, joy, pride, satisfaction … and yes, anticipation of more yummy strawberries to come. In fact, without even greeting his mother, he headed straight for that fridge to help himself!

This interesting experience later caused me to think about how I view God at times. How often have I prayed some frantic prayer, in the hope God will immediately step in and ‘magic’ away some disaster or difficult situation? How often have I felt I had the right to expect God to do this, even if I was responsible for bringing about the disaster or difficult situation? How often have I treated God as some sort of all-powerful magician, always ready to save the day and do exactly as I want?

Yes, God has often rescued me out of difficult situations. But God has also chosen to walk with me through them instead—and these have been the times I have grown the most. Then I learnt to rely on God more, became stronger, gained some wisdom and was equipped to empathise with others. I often did not appreciate it, but God was there through it all, holding me, helping me, comforting me, teaching me, as 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

No, God is not a big magician who is obliged to do what we say, making people we don’t like disappear or zapping us out of some tricky situation. God is soooo much more than that—don’t you agree?

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Jo 17I almost did not go to the service that Sunday. It was a cold morning and the church where my husband was to speak was some distance away. On top of that, we knew many would be absent, given it was school holiday time. Still, I should go, I decided in the end.

When we arrived, the young woman who greeted us seemed harassed, so we asked if we could do anything to help.

‘I think we’ll be right,’ she smiled. ‘I’ve organised most things—the music’s ready and someone’s rostered on to play guitar at least.’

‘Well, I haven’t played the piano for a service for years, but I probably could if you were desperate!’ I laughed.

And yes, you’ve guessed it! Just before the service was to begin, a text message came through that their one available musician could not come. I gulped. I had meant my comment as a joke—but it seemed God had other plans!

In the end, I was no match for the pleading look on our young friend’s face—or for the tempting prospect of playing on this church’s beautiful grand piano! Besides, I would have felt mean, letting the congregation flounder along without any music.

‘Um … well, I’ll do it—as long as I know the songs,’ I heard myself say.

And we made it, by God’s grace, which certainly worked overtime, given I had only the top line of music or guitar chords for most songs—and nothing for the final one! To my amazement, as I began playing, it was as if those twenty years since I had played for a service melted away. I certainly muffed a few notes and chords, but it was as if some reliable, old ‘default setting’ took over inside me—and I was back playing as I had when our children were the age our grandchildren are now.

‘It’s like riding a bike,’ my husband said later. ‘You think you can’t do it, but then you get on—and away you go!’

Later, as I reflected on my unexpected and very public Sunday morning challenge, I began to wonder about my responses in those more private spiritual challenges of life. What might my ‘default settings’ turn out to be there? In difficult situations, was my default response one of worry and fear—or calmness and trust in God? In prolonged times of disappointment, did I automatically hold onto my hope in God and persevere? Or did I moan and complain and think of giving up? In times of achievement and success, did I forget all about how God had strengthened and led me and instead, default to taking all the glory for myself? Had I truly changed enough deep down so that my default settings were God’s and not just my own?

I want my roots go down deep into God, constantly tapping into that spiritual wellspring, just as the person mentioned in Psalm 1:3 did as he meditated on God’s law:

 He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.

I want God to transform me on the inside as we spend time together so I can respond to those unexpected challenges in the best way possible. Is that your heart’s desire too?

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As I surveyed our garden this week, I was thankful for the season of winter. Many plants seem to have gone into hibernation—even some of the weeds. What a bonus! But the little, unpretentious nandina shrubs are looking delightful in this cooler weather, with their deepening red leaves. And our hardy, old camellias make a colourful display too.

I noticed a tiny chrysanthemum bush I had only recently popped into the garden near our front door. It was originally given to one of our daughters as a potted plant on Mothers’ Day. She had tried to care for it in her inner city apartment, but alas—its lovely red-gold blooms soon withered, along with the plant itself. A lack of direct sunlight did not help. Neither did the presence of two inquisitive cats who loved to nibble those green leaves! So she bequeathed it to me.

With no great hope this little plant would survive, I put it in the ground, alongside my own Mothers’ Day chrysanthemum I had replanted earlier, which seemed to be doing okay. In contrast, my daughter’s plant looked ready to cuP1040098rl up and die at a moment’s notice. But, to my surprise, within a few days, that poor little plant began to perk up. Its leaves became distinctly less yellow and wilted and soon began to approach something much nearer normality—give or take a few holes from those curious cats! Now, it is the same healthy, deep green colour as its neighbour. It might still look somewhat scruffy and nondescript—but it is obviously living and breathing again. And my hope is that, in the summer, we may even see some more flowers emerge on it.

In quite a confronting way at times, I have found myself identifying closely with the whole process of rescuing this little, ailing plant. Often as I approach our front door now, I glance to my left, notice its green leaves, and hear that gentle voice of God, whispering into my spirit:

Jo-Anne, remember how I have rescued you—yes, once way back, but many times over in different ways since. Keep looking to me, just as this little plant is responding to the warmth of the sun on its leaves. Then you will grow strong and flourish, blessing many. Then you will fully be the person I created you to be.

In a lovely, personal way, this plant has become like a little parable to me, bringing home all over again the kindness of God at work in my own journey.  Way back, God found me and brought me into the kingdom of light, breathing new life into me through the Spirit, giving me a second chance. Then, over the years, God has nurtured me with such love and understanding and persevered in giving me chance after chance to grow. In Ephesians 2, the Apostle Paul writes:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world … But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ … Eph 2:1-2, 4

I’m so glad God specialises in second chances—aren’t you?

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