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Archive for April, 2016

Jo 17I stood outside the nursing home, feeling like an interloper, as I punched in the code I had been told to use, in order to find my dear older friend’s room. I could have asked at the main entrance desk, but my friend’s family had advised me to go to the rear of the home and let myself in.

It seemed to be a beautiful place. As I made my way along, carefully checking room numbers, I saw several residents asleep in bed or hunched over in a chair. The corridors, which twisted and turned, made the home feel less like an institution, yet seemed to go on forever. Eventually I found a communal lounge area, where several men and women were watching TV, most fast asleep. I knew my friend’s room could not be far away—and yes, there was the number I was seeking at last.

Soon I was sharing morning tea with her and catching up on all our news. She still remembered so much, so we chatted on for around three hours, until I could see she needed to rest. We said our goodbyes then, she not wanting to see me go and I feeling so deeply for her in her new environment.

I decided to try to retrace my steps to the same door I had used to enter the building—a feat easier said than done. And, in the process of taking several wrong turns, I noticed many more residents in their rooms. Did they mind, I wondered. Were they content to be all alone like that? What had they done in their long lives? Did they have many pleasant memories to comfort them? Did their family members and friends ever visit? It was all so quiet.

Then, as I drove home, more questions surfaced  in my mind. Where would I be at my friend’s age of eighty-six? Would I be in a nursing home like her? Or would I still be living in our own home? Would I be actively involved in our world in various ways? Or would I have already gone to be with the Lord?

If my experience at the nursing home has shown me anything, it is this. I need to use my time on this earth well right now, living for God as best I can. We think we have forever in this life and can so easily take our eyes off our final goal. But life is so short, as James 4:13-14 reminds us:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

Visiting my friend at the nursing home was certainly a reality check—and so is this verse. One day, the mist that is my life—and yours—will have vanished. Then it will be too late to make a difference in this world, to be active and involved, to do the things God has gifted us to do.

Let’s do them now, while we are able. And may God’s grace and peace fill us and flow through us as we do.

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Jo 17Sometimes we do these things, don’t we? We go above and beyond what we know is sensible in a given situation, because we love the person who needs our help or our understanding and our hearts go out to them. Now some of us, I know, are more prone to this than others, including perhaps … ahem … doting grandmothers. But … well, you know … when a grandchild wants a cuddle …

Our two-year-old granddaughter can walk and run around easily. But something happens when we get home, after picking her up from day care. She often decides she wants is to be carried everywhere I go, all the while cuddling her head into my neck. So what can I possibly do but oblige, even when I have difficulties with my back? I could say no, but … well …

Last week, I admit I picked her up just a little too much, so am now paying for it. When our granddaughter is a bit older, she will understand I can’t carry her around or rock her to sleep as I stand beside her cot and sing to her. Her older brother is very helpful in this regard. But for now, because I love our Maxine, I find it hard to say no.

This whole scenario was acted out clearly for me in a very different context one evening last week as well, when I attended a wonderful performance of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, featuring Anthony Warlow. What a joy! I resonated so much with Tevye, the poor father in the story, who is faced with having to go against tradition as his daughters decide for themselves whom they will marry. In his oldest daughter’s case, out of love for her, he manages to devise a plan to convince his wife to forget about the arranged marriage with a wealthy, older man and instead let her wed the young tailor she loves so much. With his second daughter, despite deep reservations, Tevye is overwhelmed with love for her too and gives her his blessing, as she marries the radical young teacher from the Ukraine. But when his third daughter desires to marry a non-Jew, his love is sorely tested. Later, when she returns to receive her father’s blessing, Tevye’s heartbreak in withholding it is painful to watch. He loves his daughter—but this particular break with tradition and denial of his faith is just too much for him.

Perhaps this is why I particularly noticed the words of Psalm 145:8-9 as I came upon them again this week:

The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.

In The Passion translation, these verses are put this way:

You’re so kind and tenderhearted to those who don’t deserve it and so very patient with people who fail you. Your love is like a flooding river, overflowing its banks with kindness. God, everyone sees your goodness, for your tender love is blended into everything you do.

Somehow I think God’s boundless, extravagant love for us goes far above and beyond what anyone could ever expect—and then some. How blessed we are to be able to receive and enjoy it on a daily basis!

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Jo 17I wonder how long it has been since you ate a big slice of humble pie. Sadly, the older I get, the more often I seem to sample this particular culinary delight. I decide someone is uninteresting, then find they have led an amazing life. I think some event will be boring and mediocre, only for it to turn out to be excellent. I judge someone as unable to complete a particular task, only to find he or she does it better than I ever could.

Recently, I have been making my way through a book of reflections and prayer exercises based on parts of John’s Gospel and truly benefiting from it all. But one day when I turned the page, I found my next reading was John 6:1-13—the feeding of the five thousand. For once, I was tempted to skip it. This is such a well-known story, I thought. What can I possibly learn from reflecting on it yet again?

But it did not sit well with me to waste any pages in my beautiful, rather expensive book. So, with a less than teachable spirit, I read the passage through quickly and then the comments that followed. Hmm, there were a few things to ponder in it all—perhaps I should re-read those verses and take time to truly imagine the scene. How did poor Philip feel when Jesus suggested they buy enough food for the huge crowd? His jaw must have well and truly dropped. What about the boy with the loaves and fish? Was he happy to give up his own meal? And was Andrew calm and full of trust, when Jesus asked him to get the people to sit down? Or was he puzzled and perhaps even embarrassed?

As I put myself right in those events beside the lake, this amazing miracle of Jesus blew my mind yet again. Then I went on to the prayer exercises. Here the author asked us to think about some difficult situation in our lives where the way forward is unclear. Then she suggested we draw our own five ‘loaves’ and write one word in each to describe some aspect of the situation we are facing. Next, like the boy in the story, we were asked to hand those ‘loaves’ over to God to take care of and to trust God to find a way forward for us.

How wonderful it was to do that with two particularly troublesome books of mine in progress! It felt so freeing to leave those thorny writing and publication problems with God and wait to see what would happen.

Can you imagine my amazement when, the very next day, after waiting months for feedback on one particular manuscript, the relevant person involved emailed me, suggesting a way forward with it? I think I was almost as gobsmacked as those people who saw Jesus’ miracle that day beside the lake and concluded, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ (John 6:14)

Through my arrogant assumption I knew it all, I almost missed out on what God had for me in those few well-known verses and the blessing that followed. I hope I have learnt my lesson. I hope I have realised God’s tender love never gives up.

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Jo 23It can be hard at times, don’t you find, to accept a helping hand or a gift from someone else? Of course, it depends on who and what is involved. For example, I have no problem accepting that ten dollars off my grocery shop offered by a certain supermarket! But I can still feel embarrassed when someone gives me an unexpected gift or puts themselves out to help me in some way.

Perhaps that’s why I related so easily to our two-year-old granddaughter, while minding her recently. When we picked her up from child care, she seemed fine. But, once home, our little girl decided to lie on the floor, pull a doona over her face and not move. If her granddad tickled her, she would laugh, but that cover still remained over her face. And any effort to remove it did not impress. I tried patting her, but she would brush my hand away. Talking gently to her didn’t help either. Even Peppa Pig on TV didn’t inspire her to move. Instead she simply craned her neck and watched bits of it upside down!

Now we love our granddaughter. But that day, she refused any of our loving efforts to reach out to her. Instead, she curled up in her own, grumpy little world and refused all offers of help. And, in the end, we let her.

Later, I realised our granddaughter’s actions were disturbingly familiar. No, I haven’t taken to lying on the floor and hiding from everyone (well, not yet anyway!). And I don’t think I have too many grumpy tantrums. But there have been times when I have ignored the loving comfort God has offered and, instead, chosen to wallow in my misery. I believe God loves me—yet I refuse to receive this amazing love in all its fullness.

What a strange response! Yet, sadly, I don’t think I’m alone in this. At times, I have seen others agree God loves them, yet be unable to allow this truth to touch them deep in their spirit. Perhaps it seems too good to be true to them. Or perhaps they are convinced God could never love them—that they don’t deserve God’s grace and forgiveness. Sometimes this response is the result of deep hurt experienced in the past and the resulting lack of trust this brings. At other times, it’s a conscious choice we are all capable of making, merely to ignore God and go it alone. It’s a bit like how the children of Israel acted in Isaiah’s time, when God was reaching out to them. In Isaiah 30:15, we read:

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

Instead, they chose to trust in their own strength and flee—so the Lord left them to their own devices, while still longing to have them turn and listen and obey:

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! (17)

I hope our little girl soon gets over her desire to curl up and refuse those loving words and actions. And I hope you and I do too.

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