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Archive for May, 2018

Jo 17I have discovered that, unless I am vigilant, I can sometimes become a lot more self-focussed and self-serving than I like to think I am. I may gladly agree to do something, but soon those selfish questions I am loath to acknowledge resound in my brain. What will I get out of this? How can I impress others as I complete this task? What if nobody sees all my effort?

Hmm!

One recent Saturday morning, I was ahead of schedule to get to a speaking engagement some distance away, so sat down to check over my input and read my Bible before leaving. I found I was up to the story in John 5 of how Jesus heals a man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. This takes place on the Sabbath, so the Jews begin to persecute Jesus—and even more so after Jesus refers to God as his Father (5:17). Yet Jesus still proceeds to explain how he does only what he sees the Father doing and how he has received authority as the Son of  God to give life and to judge others (5:19ff).

Then the following words caught my eye:

By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me. John 5:30

Okay, I found myself thinking—Jesus chose to listen to his Father and not step out in his own strength. And he chose to please his Father rather than think only about his own wellbeing. What a challenge! If Jesus had that attitude in his life and ministry, then surely I should aim to do likewise—especially as I set out to speak somewhere.

I read on, admiring Jesus’ boldness as he addressed those Jews seeking to kill him: ‘But I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts.’ (5:42) Wow—how confronting that must have been for them to hear! Yet I personally found his next statement even more challenging:

How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God? John 5:44

As I drove to my speaking engagement, I found myself hoping I had heard my Father God well and prepared the message God wanted me to give. But then I asked myself: What are my real motives in it all? Is it just to receive praise from others—or is it to hear that ‘Well done!’ from God deep in my spirit and to know that is enough? Usually after I speak, someone will come and say something positive about my input—and I hope I have learnt to accept this with grace and not let it add to my pride. But if I begin to care more about that than about whether I have pleased God in it all, then something is sadly out of balance in my whole approach.

Sometimes our real motives for doing what we do can be well hidden, don’t you think? Let’s bring them into the light of day and check them out with our loving, caring, gracious God, who does not want to see us go astray.

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I wonder if you can remember a time when you saw something on display somewhere and felt you just had to buy it. That happened to me almost a year ago, not long after we moved into our beautiful village unit. At the time, I was strolling around a plant nursery, trying to decide which roses to buy to put in the small garden beside our balcony. Apparently, the previous owner had had several different roses growing there, but once he was unable to care for them any longer, they had been removed. Despite this, one single rose bush had defied all odds and come back to life. So in order to balance the garden out a little, I asked if I could plant a couple more and was told that would be fine. Yet what rose should I choose, out of the many on offer?

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Just Joey

Finally, I found a deep red rose called ‘Mr Lincoln’ and decided on that one. Its blooms were not quite the shape I wanted, but they had a beautiful, strong scent and the plant seemed vigorous and hardy. Then a label on a pretty, apricot-coloured rose nearby caught my eye—‘Just Joey’. Now how could I resist? After all, my name is Jo-Anne—and the name I was often called by my family when I was growing up was ‘Joey’. So I felt I had to have that rose in my garden, as we began this new phase of our life.

Yet there was another reason the name of this rose had caught my eye too. For a long time, I had kept the idea for a kind of memoir on my computer, until I felt the time was right for me to explore it further. Eventually, I did—and gradually, it morphed into my second non-fiction book, Becoming Me, published in October 2016. But my original idea for its title? You guessed it—Just Joey.

Apparently, my rose ‘Just Joey’ was named after the wife of the head of a nursery company in the UK. But to me, it kind of symbolises my own life, as I have learnt and grown and made mistakes and grown some more and stepped out and taken risks to become more of the person I believe God created me to be. God knew all about me before I was born—and created me as a unique person, with my own personality and gifts.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:13-14

God knew every twist and turn in my journey too and has been with me all the way, even when those winds threatened to snap my fragile stem, as occasionally happens to my rose. Today, I feel so blessed to be ‘Just Joey’, to rest in who I am in God, to be less afraid to be all I was created to be and to be less jealous of those with different gifts and abilities from me who seem to have achieved more in life than I have.

My ‘Just Joey’ rose is unique, with its frilled petals and gentle perfume. And you and I are unique too—just as God created us. May you rest in that truth today and be thankful.

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Jo 12Recently, I needed to bake a cake to have on hand for visitors. I stood in our kitchen for a while, trying to decide which mixing bowl to use. I have a few to choose from—three plastic ones of varying sizes, a sturdy, metal one and a large, glass one. This last bowl is too big, I decide—yet I choose it anyway.

As I continue cooking, I wonder why I have gravitated to this particular bowl. Then, to my surprise, a memory surfaces from deep in my brain of a similar bowl my mother had. I can still see her using it as she stood at her little kitchen bench-table, whipping up delicious cakes or biscuits or scones for us during our growing up years. Could this be the unconscious reason that glass bowl appeals to me now, so many years later?

I finish baking and sit down at my desk. Not until then do I remember it is my mother’s birthday—although she passed away many years ago now. So … is all this mere coincidence? Somehow I don’t think so. How powerful those hidden memories of ours are! What depths there are to those unconscious parts of us that we will probably never fathom!

But our conscious memories can also be so powerful at times. ‘Remember when we went to …?’ I said to a friend recently. ‘Do you recall the meal we had there and what happened when we went to pay?’ We laugh together—and both of us are immediately back in that little Turkish village where the owner said he was too busy to take our money, so could we please come back the next day to pay?! I remember vividly that little, rustic courtyard restaurant with the rosemary bushes growing nearby and can almost taste and smell that beautiful meal even now.

God created us and knows us through and through, as Psalm 139 tells us. God knows the power of memory. So no wonder we are urged in Scripture to use it to remember the lessons God has taught us and the way God has led and rescued us.

Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced … 1 Chronicles 15:11-12

Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits … Psalm 103:2

This is my body, which is for you, do this in remembrance of me.”  1 Corinthians 11:24

Sometimes our memories may not always be positive. Sometimes they may remind us of things we would rather forget and threaten to overwhelm us. But through all those hard and even harrowing times, God was still there. And God can bring healing to those dark memories, I believe, softening them and enabling us to move forward with greater strength and wisdom and peace. Whatever has happened, God is still good and righteous and holy. And God delights to bring good out of our most difficult experiences, restoring and recreating us as only God can.

So I cherish the power of memory, particularly those memories of God’s amazing grace at work in my life. And as I do, I hope I also remember to praise God with all my heart.

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Jo 17As an introverted writer, there is nothing I like more than sitting at my desk, typing away in perfect peace and quiet. As I do, I can look out my window at the trees and shrubs and beyond them to the sky. I hear birds chirping and the occasional bark of a dog, yet these sounds are pleasant and somehow reassuring. In these moments, I feel so blessed—and spoilt! I have peace, both inside and out—and I am so grateful for God’s gracious hand on my life.

Yes, sometimes that outer peace of mine disappears when little grandchildren arrive and run around excitedly or when we mind them at their house until mum or dad finish work. Sometimes too, we have visitors for meals or for a longer period. Sometimes I venture out to speak at various events or promote my books, which always involves much relating to others. And each week I attend church and happily mix with the family of God there. I also meet with others one-on-one for coffee and truly value these intimate conversations. Yet afterwards, I scuttle back home to my place of peace, where I sit and process everything—and thank God again for my lovely, quiet space where I can reflect and be refreshed in my spirit.

But sometimes that inner peace of mine can also disappear, which is much more alarming. Sometimes I take my eyes off God and refuse to listen to the Spirit’s voice, urging me to be still, to become aware of God’s presence in me and around me, to remember God knows all about my issues and those facing anyone near and dear to me, as well as those in the world at large. Sometimes I choose to worry so much about this and that, instead of handing it all over to God. Sometimes I fret over situations when it is way beyond my ability to sort it all out for those involved. Sometimes I foolishly ignore that peace God is holding out to me with such love and grace and instead decide to cling onto that deep turmoil within.

How important it is in these times to stop and read again Jesus’ words to his disciples—and to me:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  John 14:27

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

And how important the Apostle Paul’s words are too:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

Whatever is happening in your life right now, may you too be able to turn to God, be still and rest in that peace only God can give.

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you, the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. Numbers 6:24-26

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IMG_20180410_101220307One morning recently, I drove across town to speak at a women’s event. When I arrived, I saw at once how much work the organisers had done. Everything looked perfect—all the tables were beautifully decorated and there was a mound of food ready for the women to enjoy. Later, I was told one lady had made all those scrumptious delicacies herself—her labour of love and gift to others.

Then I noticed one table that looked a little out of place. It was piled high in a kind of haphazard way with balls of wool, ribbons, pieces of lace and containers of buttons of all shapes and sizes, plus a few other decorative odds and ends. Had the ladies organising everything forgotten about it?

After the meeting began, someone explained to everyone why that unusual table was there. This group has undertaken the project of knitting ‘mitts’—thick  hand warmers, sometimes called ‘twiddle mitts’ or ‘fidget muffs’ made of different textured yarns, with all sorts of beads, buttons, ribbons, lace and other interesting objects sewn onto them which dementia sufferers can ‘twiddle’. These mitts often help sufferers stay calm and overcome restlessness, which are common symptoms of dementia. They may also prevent some from pulling their clothes or scratching their skin and can help trigger memories too.

What a lovely idea, I thought—such a good way for ‘crafty’ people to use their gifts to benefit others! And such a good way to use up those odds and ends of wool, ribbons, lace and other bits and pieces too.

Then it was my turn to speak. At one stage, I showed a photo of my lovely ‘soul friend’ Joy and mentioned the fact that she now sadly suffers from dementia. The point I was making was just one among quite a few—but someone was listening carefully with a caring heart and came up to me later.

‘Please choose one of our knitted mitts for your “soul friend”,’ she said quietly. ‘We wouldIMG_20180422_173401196 love you to take one to her.’

I was touched by this lady’s thoughtfulness—not to mention the hours of knitting and sewing on of buttons, beads, ribbons and laces someone had spent making the lovely mitt I chose. What a wonderful treasure to be able to give my friend!

As I drove home, the following verses came to mind:

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 4:10-11

While I used what I believe is my God-given gift of speaking, others had served via baking, decorating the tables beautifully, making cards and gifts for each person attending and of course knitting those calming mitts. In short, we had each in our own way enjoyed the amazing privilege of being ‘faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms’, of enabling that grace to flow through us to others.

How wonderful to be involved in such labours of love and hopefully to bring God praise in the process!

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