Archive for September, 2020

All those neat boxes

I watched in my rear vision mirror as the van behind me came closer and closer. The young driver looked impatient, yet I could not immediately move to the left-hand lane—and I could not go any faster because I was already on the speed limit. Eventually, however, it was safe to move over and the young man passed me. But then he pulled into my lane right in front of me and proceeded to sit there.

Perhaps I imagined this was a clear statement on his part—except I have seen it happen before. It’s as if some young drivers have a neon sign flashing on their foreheads that says loud and clear, ‘Ugh—silly old grey-haired lady driver! She’s going to slow me down, for sure. I’ll get in front her as quick as I can. And I might even teach her a lesson!’

Once years ago, as I was waiting to enter a busy, main road, an impatient driver pulled around me and squeezed into a small space between two cars in the oncoming traffic, only to run into the back of someone a short distance further on. He deserved it, I thought to myself on that occasion—hardly a loving, Christian response!

Perhaps you can tell I do not appreciate being put in a box—particularly a box that says, ‘silly old grey-haired lady’! And neither do two of my neighbours, one of whom is ninety years old and still driving.

‘Oh, I make sure I put my foot down and drive right on the 80k limit on my way home from shopping,’ she told me recently. ‘I like giving the car a good run when I can!’

‘Me too—but I don’t worry about any speed limit!’ my other slightly younger neighbour responded with spirit.

It’s easy to put people in boxes, isn’t it? I find myself making snap judgments about people all the time, according to how they look or talk. One could even say I have done this right here, as far as young male drivers are concerned, after all! I have done it as I looked around outside our grandchildren’s classrooms at the parents and other grandparents waiting there. I have done it as I gazed down at my audience, even while in full flight speaking somewhere. I have caught myself doing it here in our village, only to discover that people twenty years older than I am, whom I would perhaps have written off, are still doing amazing things—walking kilometres each day, volunteering, running groups, painting beautiful pictures. The list goes on.

Just as well God doesn’t put people in boxes according to their age or how they look or speak or act. God called Abram when he was already an old man (Genesis 12). God commanded Moses to deliver the Israelites, even though he was not eloquent (Exodus 4). God chose David over his older brothers as king, explaining to Samuel:

The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7

One day, I hope I learn not to judge by appearances. One day, I hope I learn not to put people in boxes—and I hope that young driver does too.

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There I was, congratulating myself that I had finished my shopping in record time. I settled into the driver’s seat and went to take off my facemask. But something was missing. I had lost one of my special earrings, a souvenir from our golden wedding anniversary trip to New Zealand.

While the earrings were not particularly expensive, I was determined to try to find the missing one. I felt around on the floor of the car. Nothing. I looked under the seat. Nothing. I slid my hand down the side of my seat near the handbrake. Again nothing. But then my hand stuck fast—my watch had twisted on my wrist!  I tried to undo the clasp, to no avail. Finally, with a desperate yank, I managed to pull my hand free, but then saw what I had done. The face of my watch was now at right angles to my wrist and some of the links of my watchband were bent out of shape.

What to do? I retraced my steps up to the supermarket, checking on the ground in the car park all the way. To my utter surprise, I found my earring—although the pretty paua shell that had been part of it was broken. But now my watch still had to be fixed, so I headed to our friendly watch repair man and told him the whole story.

‘Wow!’ he said. ‘I can straighten your watch up—I’ve seen others like this. But this could be a warning to you. It’s an omen. You’d better go straight home, before something worse happens!’

At first, I laughed—but then a weird sense of fear crept over me. What if he was right? What if I went and did more shopping and lost my purse? What if I caught coronavirus from someone in the centre? What if I had a car accident as I drove home? I had better get home as quickly and as carefully as I can, before anything else bad happens, just like he said.

But as I returned to my car, I came to my senses. What was I doing, letting such thoughts take hold and control my actions? Yes, fear can be a helpful warning. It can stop us doing foolhardy things like driving too fast or standing too close to the edge of a cliff or being with someone who will do us harm. At times, it is important to listen to that voice telling us to stay safe. But at other times, that voice seeks to bring us undone.

I sat there then, letting various verses from Scripture about fear surface in my mind instead.

The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1

I sought the Lord and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Psalm 34:4

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

Yes, these words bring comfort. This voice speaks freedom. And security. And peace. These words are so much more worth listening to than any weird omen warning, don’t you think?

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It is well known amongst our family and friends that I am not the world’s best caterer. Yes, I can cook. In fact, I quite enjoy baking cakes and biscuits in particular. But as for how much food to provide for any special event—well, that’s where I come to grief. You see, what I have prepared never looks quite enough to me. What if I have underestimated what we need? What if there’s nothing our guests like on the table? Perhaps I had better make another dish or some more slices—just in case. And before I know it, that table is laden.

Over the years, we have had many visitors in our home. At one stage when our children were young, a horde of bible college students used to come to our house on a Saturday night at regular intervals to relax and enjoy a home-cooked supper. Later, we often had ‘after church fellowship’ at our place on Sunday evenings, where the young people would devour everything! In more recent years, I have held many birthday parties in our home. And seven times, I have catered for my own book launches, carting my home-cooked food to the various venues where these were held. But these days, I have to say I am a little over such efforts. Catering was never my great strength—and now I feel it is even less so.

Yet, during this isolation time, I have discovered all over again the joy of providing something home-cooked and hopefully tasty for others. Each Sunday, a handful of folk from our village who normally attend our church but who cannot access our church’s online service for various reasons have been coming to our home to join in watching the service with us via our TV. We are careful to do everything in a COVID-safe way, with hand sanitiser at the door, chairs spaced one and a half metres apart, no singing etc—and the same goes for our morning tea afterwards. Everyone seems to enjoy watching and interacting with our church service. But somehow, I suspect that morning tea afterwards is almost as important to them. They chat on. They are listened to. They share from their own lives. And people’s spirits are lifted.

At times, I laugh at this turn of events in my life. And I suspect God might be smiling too. It’s as if God is saying to me, with a little wink, ‘Well, Jo-Anne, I know this is out of your comfort zone a little and that I’ve turned the clock way back on you, but … will you do this just now for these folk who need others around them? Will you love me and serve me in this way, as if I was one of those guests at your table?

I wonder what God has challenged or is challenging you to do in this isolation time that is a little out of your comfort zone. Whatever it is, in God’s strength, we can do it, don’t you think?

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Colossians 3:23-24

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