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Archive for November, 2020

I’m sure it was only yesterday that our oldest granddaughter used to ask us this as a young toddler. ‘What happened?’ she would call out, as she came running to investigate, if I dropped something. From when she was only a few months old, we would mind her every Friday—and I have many memories of trips to parks, morning teas in shopping centres, cuddles as we read books and interesting conversations as we played games together.

Recently, when I saw this same granddaughter’s photos from her Year Twelve school formal, my mind catapulted back to those days with a vengeance. Around seven o’clock, Amy would arrive, still in her pyjamas, and her dad would hand her over, then rush off to his teaching job. First off, I would give her breakfast and check in her bag to find her clothes. But then the fun would begin, as I tried to brush her fine, blond hair and put it in pigtails. I would sit her in front of our TV, hoping the Wiggles or Hi5 would distract her enough so that she wouldn’t cry, as I worked as gently as I could. But no, Amy was often not impressed.

Yet there she was in those photos now, happy and smiling, with that lovely, long, blond hair of hers looking so beautiful and stylish. So … what happened? Where have those seventeen years gone? Weren’t we minding her only yesterday?

I remember too how Amy would often look up and say ‘Lovely day!’, as we stepped outside to go to the park or play in the front yard. Even now, we mimic how she used to say this, as we head out ourselves somewhere. Yes, we had many lovely days together then—and since as well. And right now, there are many lovely days in Amy’s life, as she celebrates the end of her school years. But … what lies ahead for her? What will happen in her life? What will the world be like for her in the future?

As I look back on my own high school and university years, I remember dreaming about the things I wanted to do—and feeling I had all the time in the world ahead of me to do them. Yet, while I still lead a busy life, so much is now behind me too. So … what happened? In the blink of an eye, those years all passed, just as the bible says.

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. James 4:13-14

Now I hope and pray Amy has many more ‘lovely days’ ahead in her life, as she grows in her love for God and others. But in reality, we all have such a short time on this earth, don’t we, in the light of eternity? Yet in those moments when we look back and say ‘What happened?’, what a joy to know we can also look forward to that day when we will see Jesus face to face and be with him forever!

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I thought I was seeing things, as I drove to our local shopping centre. Could that possibly be jacaranda trees blossoming everywhere? Even today, I feel nervous whenever I see them, as these were always a reminder in earlier years that exam time had come! Then I noticed some other trees nearby covered in small, smoky-red flowers. No … surely that could not be Christmas bushes in bloom already?

As I made my way into the shopping centre a few moments later, I looked up and saw Christmas decorations dangling from the ceiling everywhere. But … Christmas was months away yet—wasn’t it?

Still bemused, I went to buy a birthday card, only to discover most of the display had been given over to Christmas cards. Then I walked on further and came face to face with a large, fenced-off area where helpers were busy putting the final touches to a big throne at one end. Surely it wasn’t time for children to have their photos taken with Santa? What had happened to all those months since last Christmas?

I headed to the supermarket then—and yep, there near the bread section I saw Christmas puddings and fruit mince pies, while nearby were special shelves of Christmas chocolates. Was this just some ploy to distract or cheer everyone up during COVID19? It couldn’t be time for all that Christmas fare yet. Were we all being duped?

Feeling a little confused and dismayed, I started to head out of the shopping centre. But then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something nearby in the main thoroughfare. In the midst of all that other Christmas paraphernalia beginning to appear, could that … could that truly be a large nativity scene?

As I stood staring at it, I felt my whole body relax and found myself smiling. In a world that seemed to have gone a little mad, there in front of me was the age-old scene that depicts the true heart of Christmas and speaks of things with eternal significance. With no words at all, it was declaring the truth that the King of Kings came into this world as a humble child, born in a manger, to save us and show us God’s heart of love for this world.

Then it was as if God whispered to me, as I stood there, ‘I’m still here, in the midst of the chaos and confusion in the world right now. I haven’t changed. And I haven’t forgotten you. Don’t worry—don’t be dismayed. I am still the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. It’s time for everyone to know this and to remember it this Christmas.’

Yes, maybe we do need to start thinking about preparing for Christmas—soon at least. But as we do, let’s keep our eyes focussed on Jesus, the babe in that manger but also the Son of God, who alone can bring peace to our chaotic world and to us. This difficult and uncertain time will soon pass, but Jesus, our eternal King, will remain—and reign—forever.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

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At the moment, I am making my way yet again through my current novel, checking for errors and tweaking this and that to make it the best I can. It is painstaking work—and it seems to have gone on forever. But each morning, as I open my laptop and go to the relevant document, I am cheered by the polite, little greeting that awaits me there. On the right of my screen, I always see a little box that says happily:

Welcome back! Pick up where you left off.

How encouraging is that? But recently, that little message did more than cheer me up and inspire me to pick up where I left off with even more determination. It also alerted me to open my ears to hear what God might want to say to me. It was as if God highlighted that little box on my screen so that I could not miss a much more important message it contained.

Then it hit me. In an instant, I sensed God saying: ‘That’s exactly what I’ve said to you so many times over the years, Jo-Anne. Whenever you have pulled back from following me for a while and gone your own way, but then turned around and repented, I have always been there waiting for you with open arms. Time and time again, like your laptop does each day, I have said to you, “Welcome back! Pick up where you left off.” What a joy it has been to offer you forgiveness each time—and how good it is to pick you up and help you stand firm again!’

Then my mind went to the Apostle Peter’s story in the bible. I love Peter. He seems such a full-on person—always the leader, opening his mouth on behalf of the other disciples and stepping out when others might well have feared to. I love how he was brave enough to get out of that boat and walk towards Jesus on the water (Matthew 14). I love how he realised early on that Jesus was the only one worth following and the only one who could offer eternal life.

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God. John 6:68-69

I love too how he declared he would never deny Jesus, fully thinking that was true—and I always feel sad when I read how he did deny him, then wept bitterly over it (Matthew 26:75). But later, when the resurrected Jesus appears on the shore as Peter is fishing with the other disciples and proceeds to provide them with breakfast, I hold my breath at what unfolds. Three times, Jesus asked Peter if he loves him. And three times, Peter replies, Lord, you know that I love you (John 21).

Can you imagine how Peter must have felt, as Jesus treated him in such a loving way and reinstated him to be the strong shepherd and leader he had called him to be? What grace Jesus showed him that day! And what grace Jesus shows each of us today, whenever we turn back to him, as he says with such love: ‘Welcome back! Pick up where you left off.’

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There we were, walking past some shops while on holidays, when we saw a girl on a seat at the edge of the footpath. She was quite well-dressed and attractive, but what drew our attention to her was that she was crying loudly. She would stop for a while, then start again—it was distressing to witness.

I hesitated, unsure what to do. What could have happened to cause her so much grief? It seemed bizarre to wail and sob in such a public place—perhaps she had long-term mental and emotional issues and found it hard to stay grounded in reality. Whatever the reason, she was obviously in great need.

Yet I did not know if it was wise to approach her—and what could I offer anyway? We were strangers in the area and unfamiliar with what local help would be available to her. I hated to leave her as she was, but in the end, we decided to move on, hoping there was someone else nearby who knew her history and could assist her.

After reaching the nearby waterfront and looking around for a while, we headed back to our car along the opposite side of the road from where the distraught girl had been. As we did, I looked to see if she had moved on—but no. There she was, still wailing and still alone.

‘Perhaps I should go over and talk to her,’ I said to my husband. ‘Maybe I can offer to pray for her at least.’

He agreed, so I went to cross the road. But just as I did, I saw a salesperson come out of a nearby shop and walk towards the girl. I hesitated again, wondering if I should join them or wait until the girl was alone again. But then the saleslady sat down with the girl and stayed there for some time, trying to talk to her. Yet the girl seemed to cringe away from her, as if lost in a world of grief and pain that could not be shared.

What should I do? I did not want to be like the religious leaders in the story of the Good Samaritan who crossed over to the other side of the road and ignored the person needing help (Luke 10). But we had to keep moving, so I decided to pray for this girl right where I was. And I continued praying for her after we left. Then the story in Matthew’s Gospel came to mind where Jesus heals the centurion’s servant, even though this servant was not even present (8:5-13). Just say the word, the centurion tells Jesus, and my servant will be healed. Could Jesus do the same for this girl?

I don’t know if I should have been bolder in approaching this girl. But I do know this. God can handle it when we pray bold prayers. In fact, we are encouraged to do exactly that:

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. Hebrews 4:16 NLT

May God continue to heal this poor girl. And may I learn to be bolder in sharing God’s love and grace with others however I can.

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