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Archive for February, 2017

Jo 23We have had an interesting time in our house recently. Our bedroom and bathroom needed painting, as well as various spots in the kitchen. So each morning, bright and early, our friendly painter turned up, cheeky and chirpy as ever.

Some parts of our house needed much painstaking work. We have lived here for thirty-two years, after all, and the house was in existence long before that. But other parts, especially our kitchen area, needed only a little touch-up on the ceiling—or so we thought. However, when asked his opinion, what was our erstwhile painter’s response?

‘Look, I don’t need any more work … but have you noticed at how dirty these walls are? It’d be just as easy to paint’em than to scrub them all. I could clean’em down a bit with metho and water, then give’em a quick couple of coats. That way, it’ll all look spic and span!’

I was doubtful—until he showed me the area high up he had wiped clean. In that spot, the wall was a nice, light cream colour, while elsewhere … Well, let’s just say it was noticeably a few shades darker. Hmm. Now I could see where all that kitchen grease had gone!

In the end, we decided to paint those kitchen walls. It made sense, after all—and that way, other imperfections would be covered up as well.

As I watched the whole process unfold, I began to think how much easier it is to repair our material surroundings than to repair ourselves. If we try to clean ourselves up in our own strength and make ourselves appear more presentable, we might look and feel okay for a while, but nothing has really changed. Soon we fall into those same old traps—judging others, losing our temper, being a little dishonest here and there, or whatever seems to come naturally to us and has been our weakness for so long. As Jesus himself said:

No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.” Matthew 9:16-17

What we truly need in our lives is not just a ‘touch-up job’—or even a good makeover. We need those new wineskins. We need a complete demolishing of the old, a brand new start, a deep change that begins on the inside and flows out into our words and actions.

And that is exactly what God has given us in Jesus.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17

Yes, we will still make wrong choices in our lives. But we are still God’s beloved children, part of God’s family, changed forever at the core of our being. God’s own Spirit lives in us. And God is always there for us, welcoming us home, reaching out in forgiveness. In Jesus, God has given us much more than a couple of coats of paint to cover those blemishes. And I’m so glad of that.

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Jo 17I walked towards the shopping centre escalator, only to realise it was not working.  A young male employee was obviously trying to clean those grooved steps while they were stationary, while a slight young girl stood nearby, looking worried. A lady with a pram and I went to try to find some lifts, but by the time we returned, the worried-looking girl was already climbing the stationary escalator. Others were pushing past her—she seemed to be taking forever. And only then did I notice there was something very wrong with her legs.

Now she was halfway up and clinging to the side of the escalator. The young employee stood there looking helpless, while others kept rushing past. So, in the end, I climbed up to her and offered to help. She leant on my arm and managed a few more steps, legs flailing in various directions, but the effort was agony for her. Those limbs seemed to have a mind of their own.

Eventually, she let go of my arm and hung onto the side again with both hands. She managed to haul herself up a few more steps, but then stopped.

I saw she was crying. I looked around wildly and noticed a huge line-up of people behind us, but for once, I did not care. This girl needed help—she could not stay where she was.

‘I can’t go any further!’ she whispered.

‘Yes, you can!’ I heard myself say. ‘See, we’re almost at the top! Only a few more steps!’

A resolute look came over her face. With a surge of determination, she began climbing again. A young, Muslim woman wearing a pretty headscarf was standing at the top, concern written all over her beautiful face. She reached out, and both of us helped her take those final steps.

I stood there for a while with the poor exhausted girl, arm about her waist.

‘Are you okay?’ I asked her. ‘Would you like a coffee? Or I’ll help you sit down over there.’

‘I’m okay,’ she told me, as she gasped for breath. ‘But thank you so much!’

‘What’s your name?’ I found myself asking her.

‘Lisa,’ she smiled, her eyes still moist.

By then, tears had welled up in my own eyes.

‘Lisa, I will be praying for you today,’ I told her. ‘Are you sure you’re okay?’

She nodded and we parted. Still shaking a little, I decided to buy a coffee for myself. As I sat wiping tears away that would not seem to stop, it was as if God said gently, ‘Jo-Anne, this compassion you are still feeling for that girl is only a tiny fraction of the compassion I have for her—and for you—and for everyone. Oh, how much I long for them all to experience it!’

I remembered then a description of Jesus that has always touched me:

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:36

I don’t know anything more about Lisa and will probably never see her again. But that day, I certainly sensed God’s great compassion for her—and for us all. I know it is so deep and true and wonderful—and I hope with all my heart that you do too.

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The moment had come. For some time, I had planned to clean out a particular bedroom drawer that was stuffed to the limit with precious memorabilia—cards and notes I had received over the years, old school reports, certificates for music and academic achievements, programs from concerts and shows I had attended. It all seemed far too daunting, since I knew I would not want to throw any of it out. But I could not put it off any longer.

First, I tackled all those cards. Many were beautiful thank you notes from groups where I had spoken or from readers who had appreciated my books and taken the time to let me know. Others were special birthday or Mothers’ Day cards from our granddaughters, some handmade, with lovely messages inside written in wobbly letters. After reading them all again, I decided it was pimg_20170211_103120558-2robably time to throw away most of the thank you notes at least … but surely I could keep those precious Mothers’ Day cards?

I dug deeper and found more home-made Mothers’ Day cards from our own children, including one that said: ‘You will like this … and it only cost $1.49!!’ I found some funny notes as well: ‘Dear Mum and Dad … could you please make sure that in the morning Tina does not, I repeat, NOT wake Andrew or me up and play the piano? Thank you. Warning: If Tina does do these offensive things, you will probably not live to regret it—that goes for Tina too!’ From your loving daughter, Jane.’ Still another was in distinctly grovelling mode: ‘Mummy darling dearest, if you are in a fantastic mood, PTO. If not, don’t bother!’ How could I throw such gems out?!

I kept digging and soon found many more cards written to me at key points in my life. Cards for key birthday celebrations. Cards when moving on from jobs. Cards congratulating me on my graduation from theological college. Cards on the death of my mother. Cards on leaving our church. Cards for no reason at all—except simply to encourage me. So many words written just for me. So many words expressing so much love and heartfelt thanks for things I had said or done, some of which I now have no memory of saying or doing.

As I completed my mammoth task, I felt quite sad and nostalgic. I sat still for a while, trying to let all that love and affirmation people had expressed sink in. And in the quiet, I sensed God saying, ‘Remember my words to you too and take them to heart.’ Then those precious snippets came flooding back—words I tend to forget so often:

I will never leave you nor forsake you. Joshua 1:5

I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving kindness.” Jeremiah 31:3

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. John 14:1

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. John 14:18

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. John 15:16

I love reading those heartfelt words from family and friends. But these are the best heartfelt words ever, don’t you think?

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I stood watching our five-year-old grandson digging in our front garden. I had suggested we pull out an almost dead shrub—a task he carried out with great relish! But now came the tricky part—preparing the ground for whatever I would decide to plant there next.

Our Zain can be an eimg_20170127_151716548xcellent helper. The previous week, he and I cleaned our very dirty garage door that rarely gets closed because my car cannot fit in our carport! Zain did an amazing job, scrubbing hard and hosing down everything in sight—including me! But gardening? Well, let’s just say I was a little concerned about the welfare of the other nearby plants in my garden.

However, I had promised he could help, so we forged ahead. I let him use my small trowel to form a neat hole that soon became bigger … and bigger … and bigger. I hurriedly pushed some dirt back in and suggested we didn’t need it quite that wide. So then our hole became deeper … and deeper … and deeper instead! At that point, I explained we needed to water the ground, so it would be nice and moist for the new plant. And soon my little helper had created an interesting mud puddle, complete with brown bubbles gurgling up in the middle.

Deciding distraction was the best option, I suggested we head off to buy our new shrub. Nurseries are not the best place for active grandsons, so I decided the first native plant I saw on a ‘specials’ table would do. Anyway, how could I go past a shrub called ‘Nandina Nana’? We headed home and Zain seemed determined to get our purchase into the ground as quickly as possible—even though I could see that hole was not exactly where I wanted it.

The next day, when I checked on our handiwork, I noticed the ground was still soft. img_20170203_081329095So—you guessed it—on the spur of the moment, I dug my little shrub up and moved it about twenty centimetres to the left, where I had wanted it to be all along! Hopefully, Zain will never know. And yes, my ‘Nandina Nana’ is still alive—for now at least.

As I reflected on our gardening attempt, I could not help but remember the many times God has had to exercise great patience with me, as I forged ahead willy-nilly in life, wanting to help others without stopping to listen. How many times has God mopped up messes I created as a result? Just as well the Supreme Fixer-Upper has been so ready to forgive my failures and mistakes, put my botched efforts to rights and enable me to stand tall again.

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. Psalm 103:8, 13-14

Each day as I walk past my new little shrub, may it continue to remind me to be so thankful for our patient, compassionate God. May I learn to listen more often—and then obey. And may God enable me to show something at least of that same patience and compassion towards others, including our lively grandson!

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