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Archive for May, 2019

Jo 17I smiled as I watched a hide-and-seek game unfold before us in the park where our grandchildren were playing. A young woman had pressed herself flat behind a large tree, while a boy searched everywhere for her. At last he made his way towards the tree—but as he circled it, so did the woman. Eventually, the boy hurried to search elsewhere, looking slightly panicked. I felt so sorry for him, but thankfully, the young woman must have too, because she soon went after him and all was well. Phew!

This event must have inspired our grandchildren because, back home, they decided they too would hide from each other. Zain hid first, while Maxine quickly began counting to fifty.

‘I don’t know if Zain’s had time to hide yet,’ I warned her.

‘Yes, I have! You can look upstairs and downstairs!’ a voice boomed out from nearby. Little did Zain realise he had given the game away! In no time, Maxine darted in the direction his voice had come from—and there he was, curled up under the lounge.

When Maxine’s turn came, however, she fared no better. As Zain counted, she tore upstairs to find a good spot. But in her hurry to hide, she omitted to shut the door of the linen cupboard where she had squeezed into a corner—a dead giveaway, to say the least!

For me, age and size often determine how many good hiding spots I can find when trying to trick our grandkids! Yet when it comes to hiding from God, I am much more expert. I know and believe God is all-seeing—so why do I bother hiding at all? And I also know God is eternally loving and gracious and forgiving—so again, why bother hiding? But sometimes I listen to that insistent little voice inside my head that seems to hiss at me, ‘Go ahead and think mean thoughts about that person! Don’t forgive him—he doesn’t deserve it! Don’t offer to help her out—why should you? And why bother praying for those other people, even though you promised to? God won’t notice—you can keep it a secret.’ On and on it goes, until I give in and do the things I truly don’t want to do. Then, rather than coming to God and talking about it all, I try to hide.

It’s a bit like Adam and Eve in the garden, isn’t it?

Then the man and his wife … hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” Genesis 3:8-10

What if, instead of feeling ashamed and trying to hide, you and I came willingly before God, knowing that, as God’s beloved children, we will be fully accepted and understood and forgiven? What if, instead of holding onto our guilt or anger, we let it all go and truly trusted God? What if, instead of listening to the tempter’s voice, we were to listen to God’s Spirit who is always there to help and to guide?

Let’s not try to hide from God any longer. Instead, let’s allow ourselves to be found and known and loved—perfectly and completely.

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Jo 12One morning around two years ago, I spoke to a group of women at a church on the other side of town. Afterwards, I was introduced to a lady who I discovered had really come to catch up with friends before heading home to Sweden a couple of days later. However, having heard me speak, she told me she was particularly interested in my book Soul Friend and in the whole concept of mentoring or being a spiritual companion. She then shared her desire to set up a program in her church to equip people to mentor others, so I offered to send her some material on the subject.

The next day, I emailed her a basic mentoring course a friend had written and I had edited, after checking that he was happy for it to be shared in this way. Then I thought no more about it—until last week, when an email arrived from this lady. In it, she wrote:

Hi Jo-Anne,

You may not remember me but I attended a meeting at Miranda Congregational church in April 2017 where you were speaking and selling your books. I spoke to you afterwards and mentioned my interest for Christian mentoring in Sweden where I live. You very kindly emailed me your manual.

This was the encouragement I needed to start a course in Christian mentoring in my church, the Lutheran church of Sweden in my area Stockholm. I gathered a team of four people including myself and we organised a one day course for those who would like to be mentors or have a mentor … One of our team members is a skilled translator and translated your manual into clear simple Swedish. We gave each of the 18 participants a print copy of the manual at the end of the course. 

The team then matched up mentors and mentorees during the months that followed … The result was very exciting with the present number of mentors being 11 and mentorees around 15. … Our team will meet again in September to decide if we will run the course again in January 2020 and widen the participants to the three other Lutheran churches in our parish and 5 other denominations.

So, I just wanted to express my thanks to you for being so generous in sharing the manual and for your books …

Isn’t God amazing? As soon as I read this, I thought of the little parable Jesus told about the mustard seed:

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the bird of the air come and perch in its branches. Matthew 13:32.

God builds the kingdom using our faltering efforts with such grace, don’t you think? Surely, as we plant whatever little seeds we have, which are a gift from God anyway, God will step in, watch over them well and enable them to bear fruit just at the right time.

Who would have thought that brief, ‘accidental’ contact with this lady would have resulted in our little mentoring course blessing folk in faraway Sweden? But that’s just like God, isn’t it!

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My husband and I can often be found with our noses in a book. Our taste in reading matter is quite different—and it is even more different when it comes to brain teasers, puzzles and the like. While I revel in The Times Big Book of Quick Crosswords, with their almost cryptic challenges and many references to history and literature, my husband loves The Times Super Fiendish Sudoku! Neither of us is in any way tempted to tackle each other’s puzzles—and I would be a dead loss at sudoku anyway!

Twice recently and in very public settings, the different tastes we all have has been brought home to me in no uncertain terms. The first occurred while giving a talk on my writing journey and the books I read during my early years. As soon as I mentioned the Australian novel We of the Never Never by Mrs Aeneas Gunn, a lady right at the front called out loudly with great vehemence.

‘Oh, I hated that book—I absolutely despised it! It was terrible—terrible!’

For a moment, I was floored. How could I pick up momentum after that? In the end, I pointed out how well her comment demonstrated that we all have different tastes and that writers have to let go of the idea that their own wonderful book will please everyone. Even before I had begun speaking that day, I sensed this lady was somewhat antagonistic towards me. Yet now there she was, nodding enthusiastically. Phew!

IMG_20190504_102706212The second occurred during a recent tour of the beautiful, old St Saviour’s Cathedral of the Anglican Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn, considered one of colonial architect Edmund Blacket’s greatest achievements and a fine example of the decorated Gothic style. Our group listened attentively as our guide pointed out various interesting aspects about the cathedral, such as its huge, marble font, its massive pipe organ, the wonderful stained-glass windows featuring the twelve apostles, and the bishop’s chair, the tallest in the southern hemisphere, intricately carved from oak. I myself was in awe of the skills of all those craftsmen who had laboured over each beautiful piece and whose work had stood the test of time. But then I noticed some of our group frowning and whispering together.

‘It’s all lovely, but imagine what it cost to build! And imagine how much all the upkeep costs now. It’s such a waste really,’ I heard one of them say, as she shook her head.

I could see her point—after all, there is so much need everywhere in the world around us. Yet I could also appreciate how those craftsmen must have wanted to create this beautiful building and all it contains to honour God and enable others to worship.

What would your response have been?

Yes, we are all different, with different tastes, different abilities, different priorities in life and often different ways of worshipping God too. May we learn to celebrate these, as we serve God in our own unique way and faithfully do the things God has called us to do!

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. 1 Corinthians 12:4-6

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IMG_20190418_100541803Recently, I did something I have wanted to do for a long time. I bought an original painting at an art exhibition. I already own two lovely paintings—one of the Charles Bridge in Prague which featured in my very first novel and another my brother-in-law painted for my seventieth birthday of a street scene in Paris. Yet I have always dreamt of roaming around myself at an art exhibition until I found that special something that spoke to me in a deep, personal way. And that is exactly what happened.

Since the artist, Jo Sterland, was standing nearby, I decided to ask her what had inspired this particular painting. I discovered it was titled ‘The Change of Season’, with the rich purples and blues depicting the past contrasting with the bright tangerine splashes of colour in the foreground, speaking of vibrant, new life—and in between, the white, swirling cloud of change and uncertainty but also hope, so often felt in moving from one season to the next in our lives. Jo also explained that this particular painting had come into being during a time spent listening to God, alongside other artists with a similar heart for God, and endeavouring to follow those gentle promptings of the Spirit to paint in a certain way.

At that point, my eyes filled with tears. I understand the concept of listening to God as I write, so to paint in this way resonated with me. I also understand well those change of seasons in our lives, having moved from one career to another several times over and having put aside a beloved ministry role at one stage, only to have God give me the awesome privilege of becoming a published author. But I sensed God was speaking to me for the here and now too, reminding me of past blessings but also reassuring me of joys to come and future answers to prayer.

At this exhibition, it was wonderful to witness the fulfilment the artists experienced through displaying their works for us. Inwardly, I applauded them for their courage in baring their heart and soul in this way and risking rejection in the process. But if these artists had not been prepared to put their work on public display and offer it up for God to use, I for one would have missed out. And so would those vulnerable women and their families in Thailand, towards whose support and care the money raised from the sale of these artworks is going.

Each of us is creative in some way. Yes, I have met a good number who say they do not have a creative bone in their body! Yet surely, if we are all made in the image of God, the Creator of our amazing universe, that cannot be the case.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them Genesis 1:27

I wonder what creative gift you have that reflects something of God to the world in your own unique way? Did you perhaps put it aside for a season? Is it time to change that? May you find great joy and fulfilment as you dust it off, listen to God and offer it to us all again!

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