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Archive for June, 2017

Jo 12There I was, busy unpacking the final carton from our move, when the lights in our living area went out. I heard voices outside, went to investigate—and was hailed loudly by a gentleman from upstairs.

‘Hi, my name’s Bill. You’re new, aren’t you?’

‘Yes—my name’s Jo-Anne.’

‘Good to meet you, Jo-Anne. Welcome to this wonderful place where the electricity isn’t working!’

Soon, more folk from neighbouring units appeared.

‘Why are the lights out?’ one lady asked.

‘Oh, we mustn’t have paid our bills!’ another man joked.

We all chatted for a while. Then those lights came back on and everyone disappeared inside again.

Another day, I had walked up to our Village Centre to use the wifi there. Before we moved, we arranged with a certain well-known telecommunications company to have our phone connected at our new address and also the internet. Alas, four weeks later, we are still waiting! During that time, I have realised how much I rely on touching base with author friends and others via email, Facebook and blogs. So there I was, hoping to work quickly and quietly at my laptop in the coffee shop. But soon a man and a lady sat down nearby, obviously wondering who this newcomer might be. I chatted with them for a while, then tried to return to my work. Yet, every few moments, one of them would say, ‘Excuse me, do you know …’, ‘Excuse me, have you seen …’, ‘Excuse me, are you aware …’ and so on. They simply wanted to connect with me and be helpful to someone new. So in the end, I forsook my online friends and opted for the folk seated right in front of me.

On yet another day, I met a lady slowly coming downstairs with some rubbish.

‘Do you need help?’ I asked reluctantly, a little unwilling to stop and chat.

‘No thank you, I’m fine. My name’s Marie.’

‘Oh, that’s my second name,’ I told her—and she was delighted.

Soon I discovered she is ninety and has a twin sister who lives just across the way in another unit.

‘We can wave to each other from our balconies!’ she told me—and I could see how important this connection was for her with the one she has known for all of her ninety years.

As I have reflected on all these recent connections with others and how ready each person was to chat, I sense I have been strongly reminded of God’s heart to connect with me in a meaningful way each day. Yet how often do I momentarily touch base, then scuttle away, as when that electricity came on again in our block?  How many times do I ignore God, as I tried to ignore that couple while answering my emails? How often do I refuse to acknowledge God’s presence at all, as I almost did with ninety-year-old Marie?

It’s about stopping in the midst of our busy lives. It’s about becoming aware God is with us and wants to relate to us. It’s about truly connecting—then listening and responding.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I given them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. John 10:27-29

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Jo 17I think I can understand shopaholics just that little bit more these days, after my recent forays into finding furniture and other items for our new unit. It has been quite exhilarating to catch sight of something I like in a shop window, walk in, check it out—and buy it. Now I have always been a cautious shopper. Just ask my friend who has accompanied me on these recent expeditions and who also knows me well from past times! Yet, after experiencing that thrill of purchasing something I love at first sight, I can well appreciate how addictive it could become.

Alongside this, I have also learnt a little more about interior decorating. As my friend and I explored the different stores, she pointed out things I would never have thought of—what would go with our current decor, how I could position things well and what colours would look right. All very helpful—and my own likes and dislikes soon became much clearer.

I discovered as well what styles are currently ‘in’ or ‘out’—and what has come back in again too! Everywhere, there was a retro this or that, taking me straight back to the fifties and sixties. If only we had kept some of those things, we might be so trendy—or not!  However, with apologies to my daughter who loves that era, I admit I am not a great fan of retro home decor—or of furniture that seems to be made out of old fence palings or wooden pallets. I like things that look elegant and original, even a little quirky, yet still blend in well with those old pieces of furniture we are never likely to change, like my grandparents’ old, walnut piano!

After each of these shopping expeditions, I have sensed God’s delight in the beautiful things I found to buy—things that truly reflect God’s own creativity, in my opinion. Yet my mind has also been filled for hours with even more ideas of what would suit our lovely unit and what wouldn’t. I have felt energised by it all and am eager to hit those shops again—and buy. I want everything to look good. I want … I want more stuff!

Then this week, I read 1 Peter 1:17-18:

Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For you know that is was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

Wow—‘live your lives as strangers’! Yet how easily I have found I can be sucked into putting so much more store on owning just that right material possession here and now and of spending too much time dreaming about it all. Yes, I will enjoy the lovely things God has enabled us to buy right now and is delighted to give us, I believe. But it’s good to remember too, don’t you think, as Paul reminds us in Colossians 3:2, to set our minds on things above rather than on earthly things?

I hope I have the balance right. And I hope you do too.

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Jo 12I have never been a great furniture shopper. After all, we lived in a small house for thirty-two years where there was often no room and no funds for a bigger—or better—this or that. If something worked, we tended to hang onto it, even if it looked a bit worn or old-fashioned.

Since we have moved into a beautiful, new unit, however, the picture has changed. We decided we needed several lovely, new things. As it happens, I have a friend who has a good eye for colour—plus she tells me she has such fun spending other people’s money! So we embarked on a shopping spree. Over several hours, we managed to tick five items off my list. Wanting to save a few dollars, we decided to pick up a TV unit I had bought rather than pay to have it delivered—and noted it came in a rather large flat pack. Hmm.

I knew my husband would sigh when he saw it, because he has had some interesting experiences putting together things in flat packs. One TV unit we bought years ago was supposed to take three-quarters of an hour to assemble. Three hours later, it was finally finished! With this bigger, new one, I did offer to help, but he decided to work quietly by himself, methodically checking every step. And several hours later—voila! There was our completed unit—and I must say it looks excellent. Yes, it took a while, but if I had attempted it, I would probably still be working on it!

We have both had to put not only several individual items together in this move (some without any instructions!), but whole rooms of furniture. Where would this or that fit? Where would it look or work best? Should we throw it out and buy something new? And that’s when I began to reflect on God’s amazing ability to arrange not merely rooms in a house, but our entire, very messy, complicated lives.

At various times over the years, God has managed to put the pieces of my life together in wonderful ways, rearranging things, pointing me in another direction, giving me hope, showing me the best way ahead. At one stage years ago, friends suggested I might try a different occupation, but I could see no way of doing that. Yet God managed to provide me with a job that suited my abilities so well and even gave me skills I would need years later as a writer. At another stage, when I wondered if my first novel would ever find a publisher, God managed to do just that. And now, as we have recently moved house, God has done it again and provided somewhere special that is so beautiful, quiet and comfortable—just right for us.

I’m very thankful I belong to that Master-builder who is able to put those pieces of my life together in a way that is so wise and just so right. Truly, God’s ways are vastly different from our ways—and so much better too!

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

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Jo 17‘So how is the moving going?’

I looked around, trying not to drop the mountain of things I was carrying into our lovely, new unit in a village complex. Then I saw a lady eyeing me curiously as she worked in a nearby garden.

‘Oh, not bad, thanks,’ I responded, keen to keep going, yet realising I needed to introduce myself. ‘My name’s Jo-Anne. You’ve done a beautiful job in the garden here.’

We chatted on—and then my new friend came out with something that took my breath away.

‘We’ve been praying for you, ever since the man who lived in your unit left ages ago,’ she said in such a matter-of-fact manner that I wondered if I had heard her correctly. Did she really say that word ‘praying’? I decided to fish a little.

‘Er … did you know my husband has been a minister all our married life?’

‘Yes—we did hear that,’ she admitted. ‘We go to church in Auburn.’

‘Which church?’ I asked, unable to resist fishing further. ‘I know Auburn quite well.’

‘The Salvation Army,’ she responded. ‘We have so many different nationalities there. They all love us and call us “Mum and Dad” or “Aunty and Uncle”.’

I was gobsmacked—as I have been several times lately during our move from our old home into our beautiful unit. At each step of the way, God has guided us, protected us and watched over us. Now here someone was telling me she had been praying for us for months!

‘Wow—thanks so much for those prayers,’ I told her. ‘Lots of people were praying for the sale of our old home and that worked out so well. Now I find you’ve been praying for whoever would move into this unit. No wonder our move has gone so smoothly!’

The next day, I saw her again. I had decided to ask our near neighbours first, before playing my piano, but as it turned out, I had to practise briefly before I could do this. You see, just before moving into our Village, I was asked to play for the monthly church service here, to be held two days after we arrived. I usually don’t play for services anymore—so what a surprise to find myself doing such a thing again! It was as if God was saying, ‘Come on, Jo—you can do this! Let’s bless some more people with those gifts I gave you!’ Now however, I decided to ask at least this one neighbour.

‘Oh, I’ve been waiting for you to play!’ she said. ‘And I’m sure no one will mind at all.’

I was relieved. It had been a moot point whether to bring my piano with me at all, but now through this lady’s response and through being asked to play for the service, it seemed so right that I had.

Truly, God hems us in, behind and before, as David wrote, watching our backs but also smoothing the path ahead for us. And, just like David, that is the type of love I still cannot fathom. How blessed we are!

You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Psalm 139:5-6

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