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Archive for December, 2022

I wonder if any of you tend to feel a little low at this time of year, despite all those lovely Christmas celebrations and gatherings with family and friends. This is something I have often experienced, especially if my year has been particularly busy or particularly draining in some way.

I remember how my special ‘soul friend’ Joy used to encourage me at such times to listen to my body and take note of what it was telling me. Perhaps I needed physical rest. Perhaps mental relaxation. Perhaps a lifting of emotional burdens—those I carried for others as well as my own. Perhaps I needed spiritual refreshment. Or perhaps it was all of the above. Some of us keep going, don’t we, always tackling that next job or seeing things we feel we should do? No wonder we can end up a little exhausted and spent as our year draws to a close.

So, each year around this time, I try to step back a little and view my year past from a distance, so to speak. Yes, there were those many things I could have done better. And yes, there were those opportunities I did not fully grasp or take up at all, for some reason. Yet there were also those times when I did listen and do what I sensed God was calling me to do. There were those many rewarding moments when I spoke somewhere and sensed God used me in the process, when I completed writing or editing a manuscript after much effort, when I wrote blogs that touched others, when I was able to bless others by serving them in some way. What a relief, however, to know God longs to reach out to me with forgiveness and compassion, despite those apparent failures of mine, and also delights to celebrate and rejoice with me in my successes and achievements!

Whatever has happened this past year then, I can be at peace. And I can stay in that place of peace too as I step into whatever God has for me in the new year. After all, God’s heart in sending Jesus Christ to us was indeed to give us deep peace, not only in our lives here and now but also concerning the life to come. In Zechariah’s song in Luke 1:76-79, we see that John the Baptist’s role was to prepare the way for Jesus through calling the people to repent and receive God’s mercy—that mercy that would culminate in sending Jesus, the ‘rising sun’ to us from heaven:

 … to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

Then there are also the angels’ wonderful words of declaration to the shepherds, speaking out hope and peace for us all:

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” Luke 2:14

As we contemplate the year that has passed then, may we each sense God’s favour and peace deep in our hearts. And in the new year to come, may our feet easily find that path of peace God has for each one of us to take.

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A few weeks ago, someone pointed out to me how the immediate response many of us seem to give these days when asked how we are is not, ‘Good, thanks!’ or ‘I’m fine!’ Instead, what we often say is ‘Oh, I’ve been so busy!’ or ‘I’m actually so tired—I’ve had so much to do!’ or some other phrase that indicates life is currently a little too full or perhaps even overwhelming for us.

It seems to be a badge of honour, in some circles at least, to be able to point out how many tasks and activities we manage to pack into our lives. Yet, in the midst of it all, how are we ourselves truly surviving? What is happening deep down inside us—to our soul or our spirit? Have we perhaps lost sight a little of who we are, apart from all that we manage to do and achieve? Have we forgotten how to sit and simply be? And, beyond that, have we perhaps allowed our faith to recede into the background somewhere, as if there is no room for God in our heads and our hearts, in all the busyness of life?

No room. Those words have such a sad, empty ring, don’t you think? Centuries ago, it seems to me, I used to sing a Christmas solo occasionally by John Peterson that began with the words:

No room, only a manger of hay,
No room, He is a stranger today,
No room, here in His world turned away,
No room, no room.

Perhaps nothing has changed really since that time over two thousand years ago when Jesus came as a baby to live among us. And perhaps nothing has changed since those days when Jesus, despite the many amazing miracles he performed and despite his wise teaching, was rejected as an adult either. Recently, I read some strong words Jesus spoke as he challenged the Jewish leaders to honestly believe in him in their hearts.

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32

Yet, they kept arguing with him, which resulted in Jesus speaking even more strongly to them.

I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word.  John 8:37

Wow—there are those sad words ‘no room’ once again. These people back then seem to have been so proud of their heritage and position in society and so bent on disproving Jesus’ claims that they would not even let Jesus’ words truly enter their hearts and minds at all.

But what about us right here and now? To my shame and regret, I know there are times when I say a rude and disrespectful, ‘No room!’ to Jesus—times when I am just too busy to bother to leave any space for him in my life. How much wiser it would be to let Jesus order my days and lead me through them, as I listen to him and make room in my heart for his loving words!

No room. Let’s not say that to Jesus this Christmas—or at any time, for that matter.

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I have seen books meet all sorts of fates. Some fortunate ones end up on a ‘favourites’ shelf. Some are relegated to lower shelves and end up covered in dust. Some are lent out to friends and perhaps never seen again. Some are donated to op shops or second-hand bookstalls. Some may even end up in the bin. Yet there is something else interesting one can do with books too, as I discovered recently.

This year, our church held a special Christmas fair, featuring handcrafts church members had produced. Our youth group girls decided to make pretty little candles in glass holders, but it was something else on their display table that truly caught my eye. Inspired by their leader, the girls had also created Christmas tree table decorations out of old book pages, with a gold, hand-painted, scrunched-up page moulded into the shape of a star on top!

Now, being an author, I was unsure what to think. Would I really want my books to end up as Christmas tree decorations? Yet, as I chatted with the youth leader involved and joked about how I would tell my author friends about it all, I realised those old books could come to a much more ignominious end than being fashioned into a table decoration!

Later, however, I began to see even more positive aspects to this whole project. For a start, these books had been repurposed so well and in such a creative way. And in this their final format, they would continue giving joy to others, even if not in the way their author had intended. Also, I expect the girls who made them had great fun doing so. Besides, people had paid several dollars for each little tree—and this money is earmarked to go towards a great project our church supports that helps poor families and children in Uganda. Surely this is a much better outcome all round than having those pages gather dust somewhere or end up in the bin?

Sometimes, just like these books, our lives do not unfold in the way we expected. Sometimes, things happen beyond our control that change our futures forever. Yet, if we have committed our lives into God’s hands, then God will always faithfully watch over us and lead us on, bringing to us new ways we can bless others as we listen and step out in faith. And in every phase of our lives too, God seems to prepare us for what is to come.

At different stages, I have been a high school teacher, a fulltime mum, an editor, an office secretary, a church pastor and now a writer and speaker. While I always wanted to be a writer, I never thought I would end up as one, but God did it. Life can stop us in our tracks, turn us upside down and sometimes dismantle us, just like those books that ended up as table decorations. Yet these little trees are still so beautiful and useful—and we can be too as we allow God to re-purpose us and lead us along new paths.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Proverbs 3:5-6 NLT

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Recently, I spent some hours promoting my books at our closest Koorong bookstore. The time flew by, with many enjoyable, fruitful conversations. Yet at one stage, I decided to sit down at my book table for a while and have a brief break from connecting with customers. Earlier, I had eaten a hurried lunch and had also tried to buy a coffee, but the café was so busy I had given up. Now, however, more than anything else, I wanted that nice hot cup of coffee to keep me going.

Soon after, I noticed a middle-aged couple browsing nearby. For a moment, I thought of getting up and chatting with them but decided against it. I was too tired—and besides, they did not look like the sort of people who might be interested in my books. The man seemed quite serious and already had a pile of other books under his arm, while the lady appeared somewhat vague to me and … well, just a little quaint.

But then they came closer—and eventually ended up right in front of my book table. I explained a few things about my books to them as politely as I could, and then the gentleman looked straight at me and said in his rather loud voice, ‘Do you need anything? What can I get you?’

‘Oh nothing! I’m fine,’ I lied. ‘I wouldn’t want to bother you anyway, but thank you!’

‘No, no!’ the man insisted. ‘It would be our privilege to serve you. What would you like? Some water perhaps? Or a soda—or coffee?’

I could not resist at that point.

‘Well, to be honest,’ I admitted, ‘I would truly love a coffee. I’ve tried to buy some twice today, but the staff were too busy, and I had to get back here to my book table.’

‘Our pleasure! What sort of coffee? Milk? Sugar?’

Feeling so humbled and more than a little embarrassed, I gave them my order and off they went.

Not long after, they returned, coffee in hand. And I almost burst into tears.

‘Wow, you are such lifesavers!’ I told them—and I truly meant it.

We chatted for a while then—and, in the end, the man’s wife happily bought one of my novels, which humbled me even more.

Afterwards as I sat sipping my wonderful, hot coffee, I sensed God whispering gently, ‘See, Jo-Anne? They wanted to do that for you. There is no shame in acknowledging your need—and it gave them joy too. But … don’t judge so quickly next time, will you?’

As I watched this lovely couple leave the store, I saw them afresh with God’s eyes and thanked God for their soft, servant hearts. They had treated me, a complete stranger, in exactly the way Paul urges us to treat others:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:3-4

And in the process, unbeknown to them, they had taught me important, key lessons about humbly acknowledging my needs to God and others—and especially about being far less judgmental all round.

I want to be more like that couple who served me that day, don’t you?

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