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Archive for August, 2022

I watched as our eight-year-old granddaughter pulled several crumpled sheets of paper from her school uniform pocket. When she smoothed them out, I saw they contained long spelling lists, starting at an easy level, but soon becoming quite difficult.

‘My friend and I were finalists in our class spelling bee and now we have to learn these words and compete against the finalists from other classes,’ she told me, obviously pleased with herself.

‘Well, how about I get you to spell some for me?’ I suggested. ‘Let’s try this middle level. What about ‘abandon’? Do you know what that means?’

Maxine not only spelt it correctly but proceeded to act out what the word meant with gusto, showing how a classmate would feel if left all by themselves. We then tried ‘dungeon’ and ‘nocturnal’, again spelt correctly, along with a graphic explanation of their meaning. A couple of harder words followed where she needed some help. I could see she was becoming a little discouraged, but then she had an idea.

‘Ask me the word “encouraged”,’ she told me. ‘I know that one!’

And she did. This time, however, we did not talk about the meaning as I was well aware she knew it. Not long before, she and her brother had wanted me to play a certain game on my phone, but I had declined.

‘Oh, I’d be no good at that!’ I had said emphatically.

But Maxine was having none of it. ‘Nanna, you have written lots of books, so you could do this,’ she informed me. ‘You’re not silly!’’

Yep, Maxine sure knows how to encourage someone.

In the end, I tried to play their game but failed abysmally, despite their expert help. Thinking back later, however, I realised I had learnt some important lessons about encouragement in the process. Firstly, I saw I needed to take smaller steps forward in choosing words for Maxine to spell rather than jump to harder ones that discouraged her. And secondly, as Maxine tried to encourage me, I saw the value of being reminded of those times when I had succeeded in doing something relatively difficult, albeit in an entirely different field from our grandchildren’s challenge to me! I am glad of both these reminders, because they are so relevant for encouraging those facing much bigger challenges than spelling bees and computer games.

I love encouraging others, seeing that smile on their faces and that flame of hope being lit inside them again. Yet this can also require much wisdom, patience and perseverance at times, can’t it? And sometimes, we may find ourselves so unsure, as we grope for the right words to say. I never want to offend or be too forceful, nor do I want merely to bolster someone’s ego or give them false hope for the future. So I am doubly glad God is always with us, empowering us and giving us insight, as we seek to spur others on to be all God purposes them to be and do the things they have been created to do. God will give us the right words, as we seek to encourage, so let’s go for it!

… Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. Ephesians 4:29 NLT

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Years ago, a friend and I were eating breakfast in a B&B in Stratford-on-Avon during a trip to the UK. There was only one other couple in the dining-room that day—and they turned out to be from right here in Sydney, close to where we lived! But that story pales into insignificance, compared to one I heard last week. A couple I met while speaking at another secular club told me how, once when they were in Kenya, they met a man from the UK. This man mentioned the name of someone he knew who had emigrated to Australia and asked if they had met him.

‘Yep, we’ve met him,’ the husband replied. ‘In fact, right now, I’m sitting next to his sister—he’s her brother!’

The reason they told me this amazing story was that, in the talk I had given, I had included some photos from times when I had travelled with another friend of mine. My friend featured in some of these photos, although not many and not very close up either. However, this couple recognised her, so came up to me after I had finished speaking.

‘Um … we noticed those photos of your friend in your slides. Would her name perhaps be …?’ The man asked.

‘Yes, it is!’ I managed to get out.

‘Well, we know her too—she’s visited our church quite a few times over the years!’

We chatted for a while, marvelling at the amazing way God connects people at times. Then we also talked about the final slide I had used in my presentation that features some words from a psalm.

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
Psalm 139:7-10

I chose to include this slide when giving this particular input at a secular group because, to me, it is a fitting end to a talk about various travelling adventures I have had. Yet, in speaking to such groups, I am always aware I need to be careful when and how I mention anything about God and faith. I know such places are non-sectarian and I need to honour that. Yet, because faith in God is such a huge part of who I am, I go ahead, hopefully in a gentle, non-threatening way, knowing I and others have prayed God will guide. So far, I have noticed that, whenever I read these words aloud from this particular slide, a hush tends to fall in the room. And twice, I have had someone come afterwards and talk about ‘the little prayer’ or ‘that lovely little poem’ I shared with them.

We can experience some amazing, unexpected connections with others, wherever we roam on this earth. Yet how much more amazing it is to be truly connected with our God who knows where we are 24/7, who holds us fast and who guides us continually! May we each find ways to share this wonderful privilege with others with sensitivity and grace, however God guides.

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