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Archive for September, 2015

There are certain little members of our family who are adept at delaying tactics. At a family birthday celebration this past week, I watched as our grandson kept refusing to eat his dinner, despite the threat of no special dessert or lollies until he ate some of it at least. Eventually, he gave in and wolfed it all down in no time—we are still mystified as to what the fuss was all about.

IMG_20150702_144848558Then recently, his little sister discovered a very useful little phrase. She has started saying, ‘Not yet!’ in a definite voice to her mother when faced with having to do something she doesn’t want to do. Can you imagine a sweet little eighteen-month-old sizing you up with her big, brown eyes, then uttering those two powerful, little words?

Now how did our Zain and Maxine come to be so determined? Did they inherit this from their father, who readily admits to being very strong-willed as a child and getting into lots of trouble? Perhaps our daughter was responsible—or maybe even their Nanna! I well remember my mother saying to me as a child more than once when I would not listen to her or do what she asked: ‘I might as well speak to a post!’

Sometimes this childish wanting our own way carries on into our adult years as well. And, sadly, that was the case with me as a young mum when it came to my attitude to God—that is, until one Sunday morning over forty years ago now. I was standing in the crèche at the back of the church we attended, holding our baby son who was unwell. I had come because I wanted to hear the visiting speaker. Instead, God spoke to me so clearly through the Bible reading that preceded the sermon—the parable of the unmerciful servant from Matthew 18:21-35—that that was all I remembered afterwards.

You see, I was very involved in church activities at the time, but I knew I was neglecting my own personal relationship with God. So there I was, listening to the story of the servant who owed the king a great deal of money and couldn’t pay. And then came verse 26:

The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘And I will pay back everything.’

I did not hear the rest of the story that day—how the king forgave the servant that huge debt and how this servant did not show similar compassion to others. All I heard was God saying clearly to me, ‘This is how you’ve been treating me, Jo’. In an instant, I realised I been saying to the King of Kings: ‘Yes, I know I need to spend more time with you, but I’m too busy right now. Just wait—just be patient and I’ll get back to you when I’m good and ready!’

It was as if a knife had been plunged into my heart as I realised the enormity of saying ‘Not yet!’ to God. That day I repented—and my journey with God changed forever. Yes, our God is gracious and longsuffering and so patient with us. But let’s think twice before we turn and say ‘Not yet!’ to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

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Sometimes it seems to me God uses the most mundane experiences of life and the things right in front of our nose to speak to us. Our part is to have eyes to see and ears to hear—and a heart to follow and live in the light of what God shows us.

I noticed this on two recent occasions that seemed quite disconnected at first. One day while dusting our house, I noticed some large, plastic folders on a bookshelf and looked more closely to see what they were. I discovered some were training manuals from courses I had attended in the past, while others contained leadership material for courses I myself had helped run. They would all be outdated now for sure. Out they went—but not without some pangs of regret. It had all been so valuable at the time. And I know such input impacted people’s lives, including mine.

Then I moved on to examine some thicker plastic folders. Inside them, I found neatly packaged cassette tapes from various conferences I had attended in the early nineties. What wonderful conferences they were, where the Holy Spirit moved amongst us in an amazing way and where we learnt so much more about how to pray and listen to God’s voice! I found smaller packs of cassettes too from prayer courses I had attended and other recordings of well-known Christian leaders at the time. This material had been transformational for me and many others. Yet who would listen to cassettes now? I could have them made into a more modern format—but would it be worth it? I decided in the end it would not be. Apart from just a few I did not have the heart to throw out, into the bin they went.

At that point, I decided there was no point in sitting around thinking melancholy thoughts. There were more jobs to be done, including hanging out that washing! As I did, I noticed our old iris plants were in bloom, their white floppy heads bobbing in the breeze, and there were new white blossoms on the azaleas and may bush. A few jonquils and baby daffodils had appeared, while various ground cover plants were also flourishing. In the midst of it all, the grevillea stood proud, with its lovely apricot and orange blooms, while my Christmas bush seemed to have shot up a P1040104few more centimetres overnight. Spring had certainly arrived. A new season was upon us. I went on to the front garden—and there before me was a small shrub I was sure had died over winter, now covered in pretty pink, daisy-like flowers.

Then God seemed to say to me, ‘You know those dusty, old cassettes, Jo? Yes, they were wonderful in their time and rich in my truths. But this is a new season for you when I have equally rich things to show you and to do through you. Keep moving on with me. Keep growing. Keep giving out.’

May you too listen and hear and perceive the things God has for you in this season of your life.

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? Isaiah 43:18-19

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Maxine and glassesI had just picked up our two youngest grandchildren from day care and was making sure we had everything. Two large backpacks? Tick. Two lunch boxes? Tick. Two water bottles? Tick. Two jumpers? Tick. Two lots of shoes and socks? Well … almost. Only one pair of socks missing this time around—not too bad. Two children signed out? Tick. So off we headed to the car.

I managed to get everything in safely, children included, and drove off. A few minutes later, we were home. I proceeded to collect my own bags and get out of the car. My next task was to undo three year old Zain’s seat harness and steer him around the car onto the footpath, then inspire him to stand still while I put his bag on his back.

‘What a great help you are to Nanna!’ I told him, as he obliged.

Then it was Maxine’s turn to be extricated from her car seat. I decided she could walk the short distance to their apartment, so went to hold her hand and pick up both her bag and mine. But she was having none of it. At eighteen months, she managed to convey to me in no uncertain terms that she wanted to carry her own backpack, thank you very much! The only trouble was, it was not only about as big as she was but also rather heavy.

For a few moments, Maxine managed to stand upright, then—whoop—over she went backwards! It would have been funny if it wasn’t just that little bit cruel. Of course, I tried to take the bag off her—but she was having none of that either. She hung onto it for dear life and yelled! All I could do was walk along slowly beside her, trying to steady her and help when she fell backwards yet again.

As I thought about this later, I began to wonder how many times I have done something similar in my own adult life. How often have I tried to carry a big, pink backpack that was far too heavy for me? How often have I rejected help, wanting to do it all by myself? Have often have I turned a deaf ear to God’s gentle voice, showing me a better way ahead, offering me a much lighter load? How often have I worried and stressed too much over things when God was right there to ease my burden?

In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

I wonder if, right now, some of you might be in a place of needing to take off that heavy load that is making you struggle and stumble. Is it time for you to take Jesus’ outstretched hand and allow him to help you move forward in his strength rather than your own?

May your load soon be much lighter as you journey on with Jesus. And may you—and I—carry just what he gives us. No more and no less.

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Jo 17A few weeks ago, we enjoyed a restful break away. I had plenty of opportunities to walk on the nearby beach and to explore further afield. But I also had time to indulge myself in a feast of reading. In the process, I discovered all over again how amazing it is to become so absorbed in a novel that the real world recedes and time seems to stand still.

First, I re-read a Maeve Binchy novel, Circle of Friends, and was soon immersed in the lives of Benny and Eve and those other interesting Irish characters from Knockglen, relishing their successes and grieving for them in their failures and disappointments. From there, I gravitated to another favourite author, Kate Morton. I had not read The Distant Hours and was delighted to find it in a second hand store for all of four dollars! This story transported me far away from my beachside surroundings and deep into the English countryside, leaving me to wander around creepy Milderhurst Castle, on edge as to what scary event would happen next.

It was a relief to leave this dark, foreboding environment and return to Ireland via another Maeve Binchy novel, Firefly Summer. I wandered beside that brook near Ryan’s pub, as the young people gathered to swim and jump off the bridge and grow up. I felt Kate’s pain and fear for her family and loathed the cad Kerry. It was another great read, although I was a tad annoyed to be left wondering what happened to some of those characters after the story ended. And it was a long time before I was able to return fully to the real world again.

In the midst of all this holiday reading, however, I did not forget the best book of all. I continued my current project of journeying through parts of the Gospels. What a privilege to sit and reflect on these events, as I gazed out at God’s creation of ocean and sky and clouds and listened to those waves crashing on the nearby beach! I was well and truly grounded in reality as I read. Yet I was also far away again, this time watching as Jesus walked on water, talked with Moses and Elijah, raised the dead, rode into Jerusalem and celebrated the Passover with his disciples.

How moving to stand in the midst of two large crowds converging on the road into Nain and hear Jesus say gently to the grieving widow, ‘Don’t cry!’—then to see her son sit up (Luke 7:11-17). How heartbreaking to hear another crowd shout ‘Hosanna!’ and to see them spreading cloaks and palm branches on the road as they welcomed Jesus (Matthew 21:1-11), yet to know they would shout ‘Crucify!’ not long after. How humbling to be at that Passover meal, to hear Judas ask, ‘Surely not I?’ and to witness Jesus, in return, talk of giving his body and blood for him—and for us all (Matthew 26:17-30).

Our imaginations are a wonderful, God-given gift, don’t you think? I love using mine not only to create stories of my own but also to enter into and fully appreciate those worlds others write about—especially the world of the Gospels. After all, that’s where I meet Jesus all over again, face to face.

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Helena CoverAs I sat reading the email enquiry that had just arrived via my website, I felt more than a little surprised. You see, someone had written to ask where she could get hold of twenty-five copies of my very first novel Heléna, first published way back in 2007. She explained how she had loved it and planned to review it at her church’s women’s retreat, so needed to have copies available for their bookstall.

I suggested she check at a nearby Christian bookstore, as I had none on hand. She did this, but with no success. So I agreed to order in some copies from my previous publisher for her—and within less than a fortnight, those books had arrived. I contacted my prospective customer again and she arranged to pick them up from me. I looked forward to meeting her and to discovering where she had first come across Heléna. Had she bought it from me after I had spoken somewhere? Had she found it in a bookstore? Had someone perhaps given it to her?

When she arrived, she was in a hurry. But in those few moments together, she told me a story that blew my mind.

‘Oh, I found my copy of Heléna in a Vinnies store at Ryde!’ she told me. ‘It looked new—and when I picked it up, I realised it was a Christian book, so I bought it. I’ve read some of your other books too since then.’

At that point, I showed her one of my bookmarks that feature my most recent novel The Inheritance and my memoir Soul Friend.

‘I haven’t read The Inheritance,’ she told me, ‘but I’ve read Soul Friend. In fact, I lent it to a friend I worked with. She was unhappy in her job and I thought it might help her. I didn’t want her to leave, but when she read it, it gave her the strength to do just that and to move on in her life. And that has been the best thing for her.’

As I stood clutching the cash payment she insisted on making then and there for all twenty-five copies of Heléna, I felt so humbled. Only God could have arranged for her to buy that second hand copy in Vinnies and be moved by it, then to read more of my books. Only God could have prompted her to lend Soul Friend to her friend. And only God could have used it to inspire this person to make a wise decision and move on. I could never have dreamed up this sequence of events—but God certainly could.

As my lovely customer left, clutching her carton of books, I thanked God for her and prayed those copies would be well received at the women’s retreat. And I remembered once again some verses I love from Isaiah:

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

I could not agree more. How about you?

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