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Archive for October, 2022

The power of story

There I was, sitting happily reading in our car in a lovely picnic area right on Shelly Beach at Port Macquarie. The scene before me was so ‘Aussie’—golden beach nearby, waves crashing on rocks, a lone swimmer in the water, blue/grey sky above, birds twittering, coffee available not far away. I felt so privileged to have the time to sit reading, having just attended a busy writers’ conference where we talked often about what we are currently writing. Many present hoped to get their books out there in 2023—but would it all be worth it?

I looked then at the book I had just begun reading again—an old Ellis Peters ‘mediaeval whodunnit’, The Hermit of Eyton Forest, published back in 1987 and just the sort of novel I enjoy for light reading. Then came one of those wonderful light-bulb moments that seem to pop up from nowhere, as I saw again the power of story to entertain over and over again, to inform, to generate understanding, to endure down through the generations. My Ellis Peters book was published 35 years ago. Yet here I was in 2022, enjoying reading it for a second time. But then as I glanced again at the first page of the book, I saw the story was actually set in western England in the year 1142—only a mere 1080 years ago! Yet this story is still entertaining and intriguing today for this reader at least, sitting in such an Aussie setting so many years later.

Not long after, my husband returned from a walk to tell me about some people he had met. They had told him a story about someone called Harry Thompson, an artist who had lived in a van there beside the beach for forty years, until 2000. They pointed to various plaques erected nearby that tell Harry’s story—how he and his wife set out to travel around Australia but never got any further than Shelly Beach, Port Macquarie, because they loved it so much. Harry became a local celebrity, and a wooden statue has been erected there in his honour (see photo). What a story—and one, I sensed, that could well tend to grow over the years in the telling.

Yes, I realised again, stories are powerful. Who knows where or how long they will circulate and how often people will retell or reread them? Perhaps that is one reason Jesus himself chose to tell parables, which are simply stories that teach a deeper moral or spiritual lesson. In fact, Jesus once explained to his disciples why he did this:

“You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward a welcome awakening. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. Matthew 13:11-15 The Message

Stories can be so powerful and life-giving—especially those God-stories. May we tell and re-tell our own often and with great joy.

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We were excited, as we set out on our recent road trip from Sydney to the Omega Writers’ Conference at Kingscliff in northern NSW. We headed inland from Gloucester and reached Uralla on our first night, near Armidale. Eventually, we found our Air BnB in a lovely, rural setting, with horses in a paddock nearby and quietness all around. Now we could begin to relax!

While my husband rested, I sat reading, but suddenly noticed a nearby light go off. I went to investigate and found that all the power to the house was out. It had been an overcast day and this house relied on solar energy—maybe that was the problem?

Eventually, we located the owner who soon discovered there was a power outage in the whole area. Hmm! Undeterred, we decided to drive into the town to see if any restaurants were open, to no avail, so we headed back home and opted for a dinner of leftover sandwiches from lunch and a banana each!

But what to do then? There was no hot water for a shower and it was too cold to sit anywhere, without heating, so we headed for bed—at around 7.00pm! But as we lay there, we began talking—and talking—and talking. We went from one topic to another, as we recalled different events from our respective childhoods that had impacted us in some way. And in this time, my husband told me stories I am sure I have never heard before, in all our fifty-three years of marriage, about his maternal grandmother whom he loved and the kind things she used to say and do. How had we missed talking about such things before—at least at any depth? In the end, we both found it such a memorable way to spend an evening, but it set me thinking too.

What have we lost in our world in recent years, with all the technology available to us and all sorts of entertainment on TV or YouTube or Netflix or whatever there at hand each evening? What has happened to sitting and actually talking to one another? Has coming together around the dinner table chatting while we eat disappeared forever? How do we hear each other’s hearts and enter fully into others’ lives, when we stare at a TV screen instead and allow other voices to drown out any real communication between us?

As I thought about all this, I felt quite shocked and sad. That night, our conversation was rich and deep—what a wake-up call that power outage was for us! Yet this event also impacted me in another way, as I lay in the dark after my husband eventually fell asleep. How many of us have drowned out God’s voice too in our lives, as we abandon these times of stillness and silence and true communication with our heavenly Father? How often have I opted to allow other voices to take over my mind and heart, rather than listen to what God might want to say to me?

Let’s stop and listen well, because God has so much to say to us all.

I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants—but let them not turn to folly. Psalm 85:8

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It is amazing what interesting experiences can surface in our memories, isn’t it? Recently, our children who had gathered at our place for a family birthday party regaled my husband and me with stories of the things we used to let them do—or refuse to—when they were children. Some we could not remember at all—surely they must have made them up? Yet they vowed they were true!

Recently, however, I experienced my own set of much more precious memories from years ago, while wending my way through Psalms again. There I was, happily reading along, when the following words transported me to another time and place in an instant:

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;
    let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before him with thanksgiving
    and extol him with music and song. Psalm 95:1-2

Even though these words are from a more modern Bible translation than what was used when I was young, in my mind, I heard them exactly as they had sounded in some of the Sunday morning services at the Anglican church I attended then. I could even hear the minister’s voice and the sound of the pipe organ. And, for a moment, I was back in that old church, with its gleaming brass cross and candlesticks on the altar and its colourful, stained-glass windows, as we sang together:

O come, let us sing unto the Lord, let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation.

Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving: and shew ourselves glad in him with psalms. (KJV)

After emerging from this memory, I read on, only to stop again at the next psalm:

Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name…
Psalm 96:7-8

In this instance, a much later memory from the nineties surfaced of a worship song written by one of our gifted musicians at the church we attended at that time. I remembered how this man would often look over his spectacles at me as I led worship, smiling and encouraging me, while he played the piano. What rich times we all had back then, as we praised God from our hearts!

After a while, I read on through the next few psalms, where so many snippets of sentences took me back even earlier than the nineties to the old Scripture choruses we used to sing with such joy and fervour in the eighties. Again, these were wonderful times of learning and growing in God.

I am so grateful for all these sung words of Scripture that have stayed in my mind, ready to be unearthed, as some small prompt stirs them to life. Music is powerful, in and of itself. But, once combined with the power and authority of Scripture, such songs of praise can pierce our hearts and lift our spirits in an amazing way.

So … let’s keep on singing God’s Word, day after day, with all our heart, soul, mind and strength!

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Psalm 100:1-2

Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Psalm 105:2

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Each year, our church holds an ‘Art Installation’ to which all members and attenders are invited to contribute. We are given a theme which, this year, is ‘Transforming Love’, and are encouraged to create something that depicts this, using any medium we choose. Some produce beautiful paintings, sketches or sculptures. Some make mosaics or models from all sorts of materials. Some fashion jewellery or other handcrafted item of clothing. And some. like I myself, create with words, writing poems or reflections or short stories and occasionally adding graphics of some description.

If you live anywhere near western Sydney, you are warmly invited to visit this year’s Art Installation which is currently open each weekday this week and next (2-16 October) from 9.00am -12.00 noon and 7.00pm -9.00pm, plus Saturday 9.00-12.00 and Sunday 9.00-1.00 and 5.00 to 8.30 at Parramatta Baptist Church, 84-94 Kleins Rd, Northmead NSW.

This year, as soon as I saw our theme ‘Transforming Love’, I thought of my own journey of coming to know God’s amazing love more and how I have experienced God unfolding my own wings over the years and enabling me to fly. God knew the desires of my heart, even before I myself was fully aware of them. And, just like the forgiving father in the story of the lost son in Luke 15, God welcomed me home with open arms and set me free to be more of the person I was created to be. The old has gone and the new has come, as the verse at the end of my words below states—and I am so thankful for that.

Transforming Love

Swathed in garments of guilt and shame

Hiding hurts, fearing to fail

Begging to belong, to blossom

To find a friend, to fit

Looking for love

Reaching out

Grace of God

Open arms

Found

Free

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  2 Corinthians 5:17

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