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Archive for October, 2015

Jo 12It is a known fact in our family how much I dislike food shopping. To me, it seems such a waste of time to trail around the supermarket, trying to think of something as mundane as what to cook for dinner! So the other day, there I was, heading home from the shops yet again, feeling frustrated I had wasted so much time and eager to get back to writing, when my whole perspective was changed in an instant.

As I coasted down our street, I saw something that took my breath away. Nice and evenly spaced across the road in a little line, were a mother and father duck and eight little striped ducklings! In a seemingly nonchalant fashion, they were heading straight for the park and, no doubt from there, down the slope and into the creek. I slowed down, thinking they might hightail it back to the safety of the footpath. But no—they kept waddling right along as if they owned the entire road. With no alternative, I stopped the car completely and sat there, gaping at this little family in disbelief. There was nothing I could do but take in the moment, so I sat there grinning as I admired the serene, unhurried way they went about their business.

At that point, I noticed a man and a woman on the footpath nearby—two more real estate agents, canvassing for potential clients in our street. They seemed harassed and preoccupied, but eventually I managed to attract the woman’s attention. I smiled at her and pointed at the ducks crossing the road, a sight they had missed altogether. But the woman gave them only a cursory glance and kept moving. I felt sorry for her. What a lovely experience she had missed out on!

I went to take a photo but then realised it probably wasn’t a good thing to do while sitting in my car in the middle of our normally busy road. By then, the ducks had made it the whole way across and soon disappeared into the park. I quickly turned into our yard, then yelled to my husband to come and take a photo—but we were too late. All we could see of the ducks by then was an occasional little head bobbing above the grass, then the rear end of the mother or father duck as this little family disappeared into the creek.

Much later, I was still smiling at the beautiful little event I had witnessed. To me, it was as if it had been sent directly from God. It was as if God was saying, ‘Oh Jo, here you are, so preoccupied with things and so wishing you were doing something else that you are almost oblivious the beautiful moments right in front of your nose! How about you do life in my way and at my pace for a change?’ Here I was, thinking those real estate agents were missing out, when I myself was so unwilling to live fully in that present moment with God and to be at peace as I went about my daily tasks.

May we all learn to experience God so much more in all the small and big moments of life.

Be still, and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10a

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Jo 17I wonder if you can remember what you were afraid of most as a child. Our little grandson can become quite fearful when a certain character appears in the TV show ‘Peter Rabbit’. Whenever Mr Tod the fox turns up, Zain has been known to run and hide under the table! Now we try to reassure him and remind him how Peter Rabbit always gets away from Mr Tod—and Mr McGregor, for that matter! But Zain still takes some convincing.

I wonder what things make you fearful now you have grown up a little. Perhaps it’s heights or crowds or enclosed spaces or flying. Or perhaps it’s speaking in public, which apparently is the most common phobia adults experience. To be exposed to possible embarrassment, shame and even ridicule is just too much for many people.

My husband, who has been a minister for many years, well remembers the first time he spoke in public in his late teens. It was in the days of open air preaching and, one Sunday evening, he found himself standing on a street corner about to begin. But alas, after a few words, his mind went blank. He stumbled along until, thankfully, someone rescued him. Yet he summoned the courage to try again soon after—and, over the years, he has now given hundreds of sermons and college lectures.

In recent years, I have spoken many times as well, both in local church ministry and then as an author. I love it, but this year, I gave myself a ‘semi-sabbatical’. Then, somewhat to my surprise, when asked to speak again, I found myself feeling a little fearful. Could I still do it? Would God continue to use me in this way? Would what I say be understood and well received?

Then one day, I found myself reading the account of the resurrection in Matthew 28. Here we read that when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb where Jesus’ body had been laid, an angel appeared in the midst of a violent earthquake and rolled the stone away. The guards were so freaked out that they ‘became like dead men’ (4). But the angel seems to have ignored them, instead addressing the two women:

Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Matthew 28:6-7

But that is not all. As the women hurried away to tell the disciples, suddenly Jesus met them as well and spoke to them:

Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me. Matthew 28:10

I love how, in the midst of such a cataclysmic event, the first thing both Jesus and the angel did was to reach out and reassure the women, urging them not to be afraid. And surely that is still Jesus’ heart for us today—man, woman or child? Whatever fear battle we are facing in our lives, our powerful and loving Lord is right there with us, urging us to trust him and not be afraid. And I’m so glad of that.

The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? Hebrews 13:6

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Jo 23Recently, we were at the home of some friends for a birthday celebration. There were lots of hugs all round when people arrived and gave their gifts. But every time this happened, our hosts’ dog would bark and bark, until she was told in no uncertain terms to be quiet.

What could be going on in her mind to act like this, we wondered. Apparently, it is something she has always done from when she first came to them. We decided she must feel her special place in her owners’ hearts was being usurped. And, if they themselves hugged each other, then that was a double whammy! ‘Oh no—they always cuddle me!’ we imagined her thinking. ‘I’m the special one around here. They can’t feel the same about anyone else! How dare they? I won’t put up with this. I’m going to let them know I object!’

All up, it seemed this faithful canine friend was not into sharing her owners with anyone to that extent at least—even each other. It did not sit well with her at all. Rightly or wrongly, jealousy seemed to hold sway in her doggie heart and mind at such moments.

The same day I saw this interesting event unfold, I heard a sermon based on the story of Jonah. After being asked by God to deliver a stern message to the wicked people of Nineveh, Jonah sets out in the entirely opposite direction. He survives being thrown overboard, swallowed by a big fish and vomited up on a beach, before finally heading off to share God’s message. And, just as he had thought they might, those pesky people of Nineveh repented and God forgave them.

But was Jonah happy? Not at all. He was quite miffed with God for giving them a second chance. And he was even more miffed when the vine God provided as shelter withered (Jonah 4). After all, he was entitled to special treatment from God, wasn’t he, unlike those wicked people of Nineveh who deserved everything they got?

I have to say I have often scoffed at Jonah in my heart and been amazed at his selfish attitude. As if he were the only one God could possibly love! Yet everything he had was freely given to him by God. Anyway, what right did he have to tell God how to behave? Yet I have had to ask myself that same question at times, especially in my writing journey. How easy it can be to feel jealous of other authors and their successes! Yet why should God not bless them and give them fruit for their labours, as well as deep fulfilment as they write? I do not have a monopoly on any of these things—or on God’s love and compassion. I have been given much, grace upon grace. So I need to show that same grace to others, sharing in their joys and successes and encouraging them with a generous heart in love.

And I suspect that goes for all of us, whether writers or not—don’t you think?

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 1 Corinthians 13:4-5

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Jo 17I wonder if you like the sound of your name. Perhaps it depends on who is saying it or the context in which it is being said! If it’s someone such as a cross schoolteacher singling you out for some misdemeanour, as I well remember happening to me, your name might grate on you a little. But if it’s a good friend greeting you after not seeing or hearing from you for some time, then that might be a different matter.

I look forward to hearing my name spoken whenever I call a dear older friend. ‘Hello, Jo-Anne—how lovely to hear your voice! How are you?’ she always says, with such unfeigned joy and delight that my heart feels as if it is melting. And I remember how, many years ago, a young minister at our church went to the trouble of asking me whether I preferred to be called ‘Jo’ or ‘Jo-Anne’. Now I don’t really mind being called ‘Jo’—after all, that is what my husband and almost everyone else has called me for years! But I told him I preferred ‘Jo-Anne’, because it seems just that bit softer and more feminine to me. From then on, he tried hard to remember to call me that. And when he did, I was touched and felt respected.

I thought of this again recently when I read the story of the resurrection in John 20. As I often try to do, I imagined myself right in the middle of that scene at the tomb when Mary Magdalene discovers Jesus is no longer there. She is devastated because she believes someone has taken his body and, in her distress, does not immediately recognise Jesus when he speaks to her. But what a moment that must have been when she hears him say that one word that must have said so much to her—Mary (20:16)! Can you imagine it?

I wonder what tone of voice Jesus used when he said her name. Was it soft and tender? Was it loud and commanding, concerned to make her realise who he actually was? Did it convey joy and delight that she had come, wanting to attend to his body? Did it show something of his pride in her that she was faithful to the end? Perhaps it conveyed trust as well, because as soon as Mary realises who he is, Jesus goes on to give her a message for the other disciples:

Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” John 20:17

One thing I know for sure. Jesus spoke Mary’s name with amazing love. And today, two thousand years later, Jesus continues to speak our names with that same love, calling us back into relationship with our heavenly Father and into his own family, the family of God. How privileged we are that he knows our names and that we too can hear our Shepherd’s voice, speaking to us by his Spirit, guiding and strengthening us day by day!

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. John 10:27-28

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