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scan0007This Friday 18th January 2019 is our Golden Wedding anniversary. Fifty years ago, we became husband and wife on a warm, summer’s morning at Annerley Church of Christ in Brisbane! Nine days later, I turned twenty-one—and that afternoon, my sister and her husband were married at Stephen’s Anglican Church, Coorparoo in Brisbane. Our parents must have had quite a time, preparing (and paying for!) two weddings so close together, for sure.

In October, when my sister and her husband wereIMG_20181027_131430316 visiting from Victoria, we took each other out for a meal to celebrate our two Golden Weddings. What fun we had, checking out menus and deciding which two restaurants we would choose! We figured we had a good excuse to spend a little more on our meals this time because, after all, not every couple gets to celebrate such a milestone event—especially two sisters.

IMG_20181025_190738185Something else my sister and I have in common is that we both married ministers! Our journeys have been varied and interesting, with many twists and turns—some of our own choosing and some not. But here we are, fifty years later, still loving and serving God as we are gifted and via the opportunities that come our way—and still great friends with each other too.

Does fifty years sound a loooong time to you? In our village where we live, one couple who are our neighbours have been married for sixty-four years and another couple for even longer— over seventy-five years! As someone jokingly said to us, ‘You’d get a lot less than that for murder!’ At least … I hope they were joking! But whether we think fifty or sixty or seventy something years is a long time depends on our perspective, doesn’t it? Right here and now in our lives, that seems quite an innings. But if we step back and think about all the centuries that have gone by in this world, it does not seem long at all. And when we step back even further and try to see things from the perspective of our eternal God, then fifty or sixty or even seventy years is nothing more than the blink of an eye.

For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. Psalm 90:4

In Psalm 103:15-18, David also highlights this different perspective:

As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children—with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.

How important it is for us to use whatever time God gives us on this earth well, both as individuals and, if married, as a couple! We have this one brief opportunity, whether single or married, widowed or divorced, to use our God-given gifts in whatever way God asks us to. So as we step into 2019, let’s all resolve to live in a way that honours our loving and patient Lord–and also one another–because that is the essence of good relationships, marriage or otherwise, don’t you think?

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Jo 17Recently, our youngest granddaughter arrived for the day, complete with swimming gear galore—enough for half a dozen children! I had promised to take her to the heated pool and spa in our village complex and she was more than a little excited at the prospect.

At top speed, she changed into her cute, little swimming costume, squeezed herself into her brightly-coloured, plastic, inflatable donut ring, strapped a little foam floating device to her back and perched her pink goggles on her head. So, thus attired, off we marched to the pool! While we adults are not allowed to walk through our complex in our swimming costumes, I figured four-year-old Maxine could get away with it. And she did, in the process bringing delighted smiles to the faces of so many who stopped to say hello to her.

‘Guess where we’re going?’ I said, laughing, to each one of them!

We arrived at the pool to find one or two others already there—but they informed us that, while the spa was hot, the water in the main pool was too cold for them. Something had gone wrong with the heating—but that was no deterrent for Maxine.  In a trice, she was bobbing around in that water, while her poor nanna stood waist-deep beside her, feeling a little sorry for herself and wishing she was back home getting those various Christmas jobs done!

We stayed for two hours in the end, chatting away and playing all sorts of games I had to try hard not to win. And from time to time, Maxine would decide to climb out into the much warmer spa, closely followed by her nanna. While I did not mind doing this, it was the reverse that was much harder to take, moving from hot to cold in two seconds flat!

Once or twice, I hinted it might be time for us to head home, but Maxine was definite she had not had enough. So I continued chatting and playing, all the while still feeling a little hard done by. But then, just as I was holding Maxine while she floated on her back and pretended to fall asleep, I sensed God pointing out that this exact moment would never come again. Next year, Maxine will start school. And, while she will visit us these summer holidays, her brother will also be with her, which will change the dynamics considerably. What I needed to focus on at that point was the lovely memories we were making together and the deepening of a bond that will, I pray, last forever.

I’m so glad I heard that little prompt from God. It would have been easy to insist on doing what I wanted to do and cut short our pool time together. And it is sadly so easy, I find, to ignore God’s gentle voice at other times in my life as well, choosing instead to forge ahead and do life in my own way.

Is that the case for you too? As this new year begins, may each of us resolve to choose to listen to those promptings from God more often and follow our Shepherd with our whole heart.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27

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Jo 12For quite a few Christmases, I have worked hard at perfecting a certain little trick with my mind—the art of deliberately forgetting. Now I can already forget many things without much effort. For instance, this Christmas, when the time came to put our grandchildren’s presents under the tree, I discovered I had forgotten where I had hidden several of them. Then after finally locating them, I found I had no idea what was in those carefully wrapped parcels!

The older I get too, I find I am improving at forgetting people’s names. How embarrassing it can be, when I find myself unable to introduce someone whose name I was told only moments earlier! Then recently, while reading the Psalms again, I was a little shocked to discover some key verses I had almost forgotten hidden away there. How could I do that? How could I forget Psalm 52:8, for example:

But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.

Or Psalm 55:22:

Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.

Or Psalm 56: 4:

In God whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?

So why would I want to fine hone this skill of forgetting things any further? Well, the reason I do this each Christmas is to help out my husband, who is often stumped for gift ideas for me. So if I see something I would like for myself for Christmas, I buy it—providing it’s not too expensive, that is! Usually it is a book—perhaps a new one by a favourite author or one a friend whose opinion I trust has recommended. But once the checkout person puts that book in its carry bag, my little forgetting trick comes into play. There is a way, I have discovered, of not letting my mind dwell on that purchase anymore, of choosing to delete it from my memory—perhaps not completely, but close enough to it. If I tried, I’m sure I could recall the author of the book, although the title might escape me. But … why would I want to? After all, why spoil the lovely surprise on Christmas morning when I am presented with my gift and discover it is just the sort of excellent book I love to read?!

There are much more important things, however, than Christmas presents bought for oneself that God challenges us to forget or not hold onto—past failures, past regrets, past sins already forgiven as we have come to God in repentance. How wonderful that, by God’s grace, we can let go of them instead and move on with a light, joyous step, looking forward rather than back, as the prophet Isaiah challenged the Israelites to do:

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? Isaiah 43:18-19

So as you step into 2019, what is God challenging you to remember that will strengthen you and give you much needed wisdom and peace? But also … what things might be better to forget?

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Jo 17It can be disconcerting at times to discover certain literary ‘masterpieces’ on my laptop that I wrote over ten years ago now! My style has changed markedly since I began my writing journey in earnest in 2004, as has the style of novels publishers and bookstores want. So when two people asked me recently about my earlier novels that are no longer available for purchase, I almost baulked at lending them my own copies, because I find it hard to open them without wanting to change things and edit out more than a few words! I also own recorded versions of these novels produced by CBM Australia and narrated by well-known Australian actors, yet I cannot bear to listen to them because I know I would want to change far too much.

In the end, I went ahead and lent these friends the novels they wanted. After all, they understand they are my earlier novels—but they still wanted to read them. So far, one friend has returned her copy, telling me in the process how much she enjoyed it, to my great relief! Yet I know there was so much more for me to learn back then about the art of novel-writing—and there still is.

In the light of all this then, you can imagine my feelings when I recently found the following poem of mine, written way back in 1985! I am not a poet, but that year, many things were stirring in me that I felt I needed to express somehow. So, having been inspired by Isaiah’s amazing prophecy about the coming Messiah (Isaiah 9:6), I wrote the following—and I have sensed God challenging me to share it once again with you all:

 

Wonderful Counsellor, surround me with your wisdom.

My mind is tired, with indecision torn.

Where is the path prepared for me to follow?

I need you, Lord, to watch, to guide, to warn.

 

Almighty God, defend me with your power.

My weakness wins, my courage ebbs away.

O Holy One, great Lord of all creation,

For strength to stand secure I humbly pray.

 

Everlasting Father, how you love me!

I am your child, forgiven, forever free!

O hold me fast, transform me to your likeness,

Till men in me your face more clearly see.

 

Prince of Peace, bestow your calm assurance.

My heart is troubled, turmoil takes control.

O send your soothing Spirit to surround me.

Speak, Lord, till I am still within my soul!

 

Perhaps this Christmas, you too are at a crossroads in your life, as I was then. Or perhaps you feel plain weary and spent, after a year in which you have given of yourself in so many ways. If that is the case, I pray that, this Christmas, you can truly welcome the Prince of Peace into your heart afresh and receive those life-giving words I know the Wonderful Counsellor has for you. And may each of us, however we feel this Christmas, stop and give heartfelt thanks for the amazing gift of Jesus Christ, the King of Kings.

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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IMG_20181206_130821659I have decided I am a little technically challenged. First off, it was my almost failed recent effort at putting some train tracks together for our youngest granddaughter. But then came the challenge of assembling those free little cardboard cut-out Christmas images from a well-known supermarket chain for her! Somehow, I managed to put the snowman and the gingerbread house together. Then I tackled the tiny Santa sleigh, complete with its little striped cardboard gifts and strange-looking Christmas stocking. Hopefully the checkout person will have run out of such things next time I shop!

Maxine then decided these works of art would look good on our window ledge, so our neighbours could admire them. She arranged them neatly in a row, but then disappeared. I wondered where she was, but then spied her hiding under our lounge and holding something in her hand.

‘Oh, there you are!’ I said to her. ‘Are you okay?’

‘Yes, but I broke this!’

She held up the little sleigh I had created, now slightly squished—and minus the little cardboard gifts we had positioned in it.

‘Oh, don’t worry!’ I told her. ‘I can fix it. But where are the little gifts?’

I thought they were probably lost somewhere, but Maxine immediately pointed to the manger scene we had placed on a nearby table together on another day. On that occasion, when I had asked her to help me, she had clapped her hands and responded:

‘Oh yes—I love the baby Jesus!’

Now I saw she had carefully put that little cardboard cut-out stocking right in the baby Jesus’ hands and strategically placed the two striped gift boxes near Joseph and Mary, along with the snowman’s little pencil and Christmas gift wish list! My first instinct was to move them and put them back on the window ledge. After all, they did not really belong in our manger scene. But then I noticed Maxine’s trusting look and her matter-of-fact manner, which seemed to say to me, ‘Of course the gifts should be near the baby Jesus! It’s the natural place for them to be, isn’t it?’ So who was I to argue?

Later, as I gazed at our manger scene again, complete with Maxine’s additions, I sensed God pointing out to me what a simple yet profound thing Maxine had done. She had wanted to bring gifts to the baby Jesus—it was her own little way of honouring him. So this Christmas, how was I planning to honour Jesus? In the midst of buying for others, what gifts was I intending to offer him? Should it be more giving to those in real need, both here in our own country and overseas? Should it take the form of extra financial support for friends sharing Jesus with others? Should it be offering more of my time to help others? Or should it be something as simple as giving Jesus more space in my life each day to listen to him—and do what he says?

What will your gift to Jesus be this Christmas?

Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:11-12

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Jo 12We sat on the Manly Ferry together—two couples who have known one another for around fifty years. Our friends were down in Sydney from Brisbane for the weekend, so we joined them in the city and headed for Circular Quay. It’s wonderful, isn’t it, how conversations between old friends can flow on seamlessly from where we left them whenever we last met up!

Our day unfolded beautifully, with a great trip across the harbour and a stroll through the Manly Plaza, with much laughter along the way. We decided to have lunch early to avoid the crowds, so my job was to ‘bag’ a table on the beachfront while the others went to buy lunch. Now we had planned to pay for our friends’ meal, but when they all arrived back with that obligatory fish and chips, I discovered they had got in first. We protested, but in the end, had to accept defeat.

Afterwards, we strolled through nearby market stalls until we saw a coffee shop. This time, we managed to shout our visitors—phew! But not long after, they spied an ice cream shop. Now one cannot go to Manly, we decided, without having an ice cream, so there we were, all in our seventies and even eighties, standing on the footpath, licking our huge ice creams like kids! And you guessed it—our visitors paid again.

Soon after, we headed back on the ferry to Circular Quay and caught the train to near our friends’ hotel. But we could not part without yet another cup of coffee, now could we? When our friends managed to get in first again to pay, we protested, but then gave up, as our friends explained how they had put money aside for this particular weekend and this was how they wanted to spend it. Then the husband made an interesting comment:

‘Don’t worry about it, Jo-Anne!’ he said, his voice kind but a little exasperated. ‘It’s only silly old money! In a couple of years, we won’t even need it anymore!’

I was shocked at first, but then realised the truth of what he was saying. When our time here on earth is over, we can’t take anything with us, as the Apostle Paul reminds us:

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 1 Timothy 6:6-7

I know for many in great need in our world right now, it is not ‘only silly old money’. For many, those dollars could well mean the difference between life and death, between putting food on the table or not, between paying the bills or bankruptcy, between meeting the monthly mortgage bill or losing the family home. Yet what our friend said is still true and so important to remember. And he himself has taken heed of what Paul goes on to say:

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. 1 Timothy 6:10

Our friends might have accrued some money through much hard work and wise investing, but they do not love it and hang onto it. Instead, they are so generous and use it so well to bless others in all sorts of ways—because, after all, ‘it’s only silly old money’!

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I have a friend who loves photographing doors, particularly ones that look a little weatherworn. And if they are any shade of blue, that’s even better! On one trip together, it became a joke between us to find as many blue doors as we could and decide if they truly warranted being photographed. As a result, whenever I see an interesting door anywhere, I think of her. And this was the case when I recently came across the intriguing door below, about a third of the way down this beautiful, old staircase in the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney.

IMG_20181124_102331114
IMG_20181124_102226413I don’t think anyone will open this door in a hurry, do you? Yet how inviting it looks! Could it hide an escape route for those overwhelmed by the expensive clothes, shoes etc sold in the QVB, do you think? Or does it lead to a little room where those tired workers from the endless coffee shops in the building can hide for a brief respite? And what about that interesting Number 417 on it? After all, if I’m correct, that equals three times thirteen squared, so perhaps some superstitious official in the distant past may have decided to block that door right up for good!

Yet my thoughts took a serious turn too as I looked and reflected on those figurative doors barred to me at certain times in my life. When I was nineteen and studying at Queensland University, I tried to change from my Bachelor of Arts degree course to a five-year combined Arts/Divinity course. Way back then, I felt God was calling me to train for some form of ministry, but I soon discovered my Commonwealth Scholarship could not be extended to cover those extra years at university. I knew my parents could not support me through any further study—and I had no part-time job. So I reluctantly abandoned the whole idea.

Then in my middle forties, I felt God again calling me to prepare for some form of ministry, this time at theological college. I left my job and wanted to start studying straight away the following year, but that turned out to be impossible. So instead, I spent that year praying for our church, attending two schools of prayer, auditing two college subjects and reading many books—all of which turned out to be vital for what lay ahead. Then the next year, I began my college course in earnest. Three years later, at the age of forty-nine—thirty years after I first wanted to study divinity/theology—I graduated with that degree, plus a ministry diploma.

Was it a mistake that I did not undertake these studies earlier? I suspect not—because, in those intervening years, God brought so many different experiences across my path, teaching me things I would never otherwise have learnt. In the end, God answered my prayers and those doors I thought would never open for me did indeed open, just as Jesus promised.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Luke 11:9-10

May those doors that have been barred for you open in God’s time too.

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