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Archive for the ‘Devotions’ Category

IMG_20170609_143813167I sit at my desk, enjoying the sunshine that streams through my study window. I can see shrubs close by, then taller trees beyond. Today, their leaves are rippling in the wind—it feels somehow soothing to watch them and to note how their shapes are etched against the bright blue sky. It is cool outside, but I am warm and snug, as I try to find words to describe what I am seeing and feeling. I love writing about my beautiful surroundings, but I so much want to do justice to it all.

As I reflect, I realise I am feeling a twinge of what could only be called guilt. How did we end up here, after living in our little, wooden house for thirty-two years? How come that old house sold for such a good price, enabling us to afford our comfortable, spacious unit? Perhaps it’s all a dream, I think to myself. Perhaps I’ll wake up one morning and find myself back in our old home, instead of in this lovely, quiet place where the only sounds are the birds outside, twittering and singing to one another. I know there are people nearby, but we are on the edge of our Village, where our peace is largely undisturbed, unless we choose to venture out somewhere.

In the quietness, I try to slow my racing mind. God is here with me, I know—and I choose to stop, be still and settle into that warm, loving Presence all around me. Yet, for some reason, I feel unworthy at this point in time. God, why have you chosen to give us all this beauty and comfort, my heart cries out. What have we done to deserve so much material blessing? Could it be … maybe you meant it for someone else, God? Has it all been a big mistake?

Then I sense God’s loving arms around me and feel the Spirit’s warmth and fullness flooding my being. I open my Bible, but even before I do, I seem to hear God’s gentle, reassuring voice: This is no mistake, Jo-Anne. This is just a picture in the natural of the grace I have poured out on you in the spiritual. As you look around and enjoy what you have received, know it is my delight to give you a place where you can flourish and where you can serve me with a heart at peace and overflowing with my love for others. And as you do, may you be reminded of the abundance of my grace that called you to be part of my family forever—that grace beyond measure that you can never earn or buy.

I turn the pages then and read one of my favourite verses written by the Apostle John, then another from the Apostle Paul:

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God …. Ephesians 2:8

Then I sit back and relax. Yes, Lord, it is all gift. Everything we have, everything we are. Thank you, from the depths of my heart, for your amazing, overwhelming grace.

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Jo 12One day last week, our grandson told his dad he would like to pay Nanna a visit. At first, our lively five-year-old was content to play hide-and-seek in our new unit. Then I suggested a simple card game, but he wasn’t interested. And why would he be? After all, he recently mastered the much trickier game of Uno and now has marathon tournaments with his parents! Eventually, I found an old ‘Dora the Explorer’ version of the game ‘Trouble’ and suggested he learn how to play that.

Once our game started, I discovered our son-in-law remembered playing a similar game during his boyhood days in Ghana. Just as I had grown up playing Ludo with my sister, so Kofi had played that same old game as a child too—except he remembered those rules much better than I did.

‘We used plastic counters and dice,’ he told me. ‘If you landed on your own counter, you could put one on top of the other. Then no one could go past you!’

I recalled those double counters, although not how they stopped others from passing. But obviously, this had been a big deal for Kofi as a child because, even as he mentioned it, his eyes gleamed with glee! No wonder his son is now more than a little competitive!

We explained the rules to Zain as we went along, but I soon noticed Kofi and I were doing things a little differently. Several times, I could have landed on one of our grandson’s pieces and sent it back home, but … well, I admit I pretended I didn’t see. I didn’t have the heart to squash his enjoyment of it all—or his hopes of winning. But his dad was having nothing of that. No way! On several occasions, he sent one of Zain’s precious pieces back home with great glee! And, to my surprise, Zain simply accepted this as part of the rules of the game. So much for Nanna’s misplaced kindness!

Yes, rules have their place, don’t they? We would not enjoy those games at all, if we could each do what we liked. And, while life can hardly be called a game, we would soon be in trouble if there were no rules to govern our society. But I’m so glad that, when it comes to the things of God, it’s not all about adhering to laws or rules. Yes, we are called to live in a way that honours God and displays respect and fairness towards others. But living life with God involves so much more than playing—or living—by the rules. It’s about true relationship. It’s about receiving God’s amazing grace, that undeserved favour and kindness that is never misplaced, as my ‘grace’ to Zain was. And it’s about loving the Lord with our whole hearts in return and our neighbour as ourselves, as Jesus tells us:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Matthew 22:37-39

Those rules set a high standard, don’t you think? Yet I’m so happy to take them on board. And I hope and pray our Zain will be too one day.

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Jo 23I think I have more or less come to grips with how various things work in our new unit. The clothes dryer was no trouble—and I have at last figured out how our oven and grill function. The fridge-freezer we bought to fit the space available has lots of great bells and whistles I hope I understand now. And the same goes for our new air conditioner. I have mastered the art too of using a remote control ‘fob’ for our garage door—and another to let myself into our Village Centre on weekends or after hours. I am beginning to feel quite accomplished.

Recently, however, our two older granddaughters and I decided to try the heated pool and spa in the Centre. That day, it happened that we were the only ones in the pool area—and what fun we had, trying to work out what switch turned on what! Was that one for the lights? Which should we push for the spa? And, most important of all, which one unlocked the door so we could eventually get out?

In the end, we guessed right, although we weren’t game to press one big button in the change room, since it looked distinctly like an alarm. But when I went to swim another day, I decided to risk it. Lo and behold, no one came running—it turned out to be a much-needed heater! All up, I was quite proud of myself.

But then my husband traded in his old car during the recent end-of-financial-year sales. I drove it too at times, but I prefer our eighteen-year-old Ford Fairmont that has clocked up around 250,000 kilometres! However, the car seats for our two younger grandchildren have always been in my husband’s car, so I knew I would need to familiarise myself quickly with his wondrous new vehicle, if I were to take our grandchildren anywhere.

‘Everything’s much the same as in the old car,’ my husband told me with great assurance. ‘Oh—except there’s no hand brake. It’s a foot brake instead—there’s an extra button-type pedal just to the left of the real brake!’

Hmm. I went for a drive—and I think it will take a few more hundred times before I do not grope at all for that usual, old hand brake!

Yes, sometimes I am slower to adapt to new things. Sometimes I want to cling to the old. After all, I argue, it works okay. And, more to the point, I am familiar with it. But these recent experiences with various material possessions have made me wonder if I do the same with the things of God. How often do I ignore some new challenge from God? How often do I refuse to trust God and try a better way? How often do I choose to wallow in the old rather than move on and embrace the new?

Through faith in Jesus Christ, we are made new—we become completely new creations. And as such, we can choose to step out in the Spirit’s strength each day into all the wonderful, new things God has for us to learn and experience.

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

Are you up for the challenge?

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Jo 12I never thought I would see the day—yet, there I was, sitting in a Latin class again! And somehow, despite the inordinate number of years since I had last conjugated a Latin verb, there was a distinct familiarity about it all.

Knowing I was coming to visit from interstate, my sister had asked her U3A (University of the Third Age) Latin teacher if I could attend his class with her—and what a blast from the past it was! I was warmly welcomed as some sort of ‘expert’, simply because I had studied Latin for four years at high school, majored in modern languages at university and also survived a year of Classical Greek there. As to how much I remembered … well, that’s another story!

The teacher began by gently helping everyone revise all they had learnt up to that point and soon I felt I was in some sort of wind tunnel, being sucked inexorably back over the years. As those beautiful Latin phrases tumbled so effortlessly from his lips, I was again seated in that old classroom in Brisbane on a stifling, summer day, listening to my own teacher explain some finer point of Latin grammar. A moment later, I could hear her dry voice guiding us through a portion of Livy’s account of Hannibal’s exploits in battle. Next, I am sure I heard her sigh with exasperation, as she attempted to help us scan various lines from Virgil’s Aeneid and appreciate the finer points of Latin poetry. We were all so young and restless—and so eager to get on with our lives and leave those school days behind.

I returned to the present with a jolt, realising as I did how different my current Latin class experience was—and what a different space I was now at in my life. This time around, our male teacher was a gracious, respectful, retired university lecturer who knew exactly how to explain things well and how to remind everyone gently about what they already knew, without making them feel stupid in any way. The class members were all mature-age, experienced, lifelong learners who so valued this opportunity to unravel the intricacies of Latin and put their minds to work yet again. I went along for the ride, enjoying it all. And I did so with a truly thankful heart, as I reflected on the amazing journey I have travelled with God during all those intervening years since that last school Latin class of mine.

I have taken several interesting twists and turns in my life, as I lurched from one career to another. Some roles I undertook I thought would be forever, yet that was not to be. Instead, as I look back, I can see how God taught me things through each one that I would desperately need in the next, all the while shaping me to become more of the person I was created to be. No doubt I made some wrong decisions along the way, yet God has watched over me and gently guided me through it all. My times have indeed been in God’s hands—and I am so grateful.

But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hands … Psalm 31:14-15

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Jo 12There I was, busy unpacking the final carton from our move, when the lights in our living area went out. I heard voices outside, went to investigate—and was hailed loudly by a gentleman from upstairs.

‘Hi, my name’s Bill. You’re new, aren’t you?’

‘Yes—my name’s Jo-Anne.’

‘Good to meet you, Jo-Anne. Welcome to this wonderful place where the electricity isn’t working!’

Soon, more folk from neighbouring units appeared.

‘Why are the lights out?’ one lady asked.

‘Oh, we mustn’t have paid our bills!’ another man joked.

We all chatted for a while. Then those lights came back on and everyone disappeared inside again.

Another day, I had walked up to our Village Centre to use the wifi there. Before we moved, we arranged with a certain well-known telecommunications company to have our phone connected at our new address and also the internet. Alas, four weeks later, we are still waiting! During that time, I have realised how much I rely on touching base with author friends and others via email, Facebook and blogs. So there I was, hoping to work quickly and quietly at my laptop in the coffee shop. But soon a man and a lady sat down nearby, obviously wondering who this newcomer might be. I chatted with them for a while, then tried to return to my work. Yet, every few moments, one of them would say, ‘Excuse me, do you know …’, ‘Excuse me, have you seen …’, ‘Excuse me, are you aware …’ and so on. They simply wanted to connect with me and be helpful to someone new. So in the end, I forsook my online friends and opted for the folk seated right in front of me.

On yet another day, I met a lady slowly coming downstairs with some rubbish.

‘Do you need help?’ I asked reluctantly, a little unwilling to stop and chat.

‘No thank you, I’m fine. My name’s Marie.’

‘Oh, that’s my second name,’ I told her—and she was delighted.

Soon I discovered she is ninety and has a twin sister who lives just across the way in another unit.

‘We can wave to each other from our balconies!’ she told me—and I could see how important this connection was for her with the one she has known for all of her ninety years.

As I have reflected on all these recent connections with others and how ready each person was to chat, I sense I have been strongly reminded of God’s heart to connect with me in a meaningful way each day. Yet how often do I momentarily touch base, then scuttle away, as when that electricity came on again in our block?  How many times do I ignore God, as I tried to ignore that couple while answering my emails? How often do I refuse to acknowledge God’s presence at all, as I almost did with ninety-year-old Marie?

It’s about stopping in the midst of our busy lives. It’s about becoming aware God is with us and wants to relate to us. It’s about truly connecting—then listening and responding.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I given them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. John 10:27-29

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Jo 17I think I can understand shopaholics just that little bit more these days, after my recent forays into finding furniture and other items for our new unit. It has been quite exhilarating to catch sight of something I like in a shop window, walk in, check it out—and buy it. Now I have always been a cautious shopper. Just ask my friend who has accompanied me on these recent expeditions and who also knows me well from past times! Yet, after experiencing that thrill of purchasing something I love at first sight, I can well appreciate how addictive it could become.

Alongside this, I have also learnt a little more about interior decorating. As my friend and I explored the different stores, she pointed out things I would never have thought of—what would go with our current decor, how I could position things well and what colours would look right. All very helpful—and my own likes and dislikes soon became much clearer.

I discovered as well what styles are currently ‘in’ or ‘out’—and what has come back in again too! Everywhere, there was a retro this or that, taking me straight back to the fifties and sixties. If only we had kept some of those things, we might be so trendy—or not!  However, with apologies to my daughter who loves that era, I admit I am not a great fan of retro home decor—or of furniture that seems to be made out of old fence palings or wooden pallets. I like things that look elegant and original, even a little quirky, yet still blend in well with those old pieces of furniture we are never likely to change, like my grandparents’ old, walnut piano!

After each of these shopping expeditions, I have sensed God’s delight in the beautiful things I found to buy—things that truly reflect God’s own creativity, in my opinion. Yet my mind has also been filled for hours with even more ideas of what would suit our lovely unit and what wouldn’t. I have felt energised by it all and am eager to hit those shops again—and buy. I want everything to look good. I want … I want more stuff!

Then this week, I read 1 Peter 1:17-18:

Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For you know that is was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

Wow—‘live your lives as strangers’! Yet how easily I have found I can be sucked into putting so much more store on owning just that right material possession here and now and of spending too much time dreaming about it all. Yes, I will enjoy the lovely things God has enabled us to buy right now and is delighted to give us, I believe. But it’s good to remember too, don’t you think, as Paul reminds us in Colossians 3:2, to set our minds on things above rather than on earthly things?

I hope I have the balance right. And I hope you do too.

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Jo 12I have never been a great furniture shopper. After all, we lived in a small house for thirty-two years where there was often no room and no funds for a bigger—or better—this or that. If something worked, we tended to hang onto it, even if it looked a bit worn or old-fashioned.

Since we have moved into a beautiful, new unit, however, the picture has changed. We decided we needed several lovely, new things. As it happens, I have a friend who has a good eye for colour—plus she tells me she has such fun spending other people’s money! So we embarked on a shopping spree. Over several hours, we managed to tick five items off my list. Wanting to save a few dollars, we decided to pick up a TV unit I had bought rather than pay to have it delivered—and noted it came in a rather large flat pack. Hmm.

I knew my husband would sigh when he saw it, because he has had some interesting experiences putting together things in flat packs. One TV unit we bought years ago was supposed to take three-quarters of an hour to assemble. Three hours later, it was finally finished! With this bigger, new one, I did offer to help, but he decided to work quietly by himself, methodically checking every step. And several hours later—voila! There was our completed unit—and I must say it looks excellent. Yes, it took a while, but if I had attempted it, I would probably still be working on it!

We have both had to put not only several individual items together in this move (some without any instructions!), but whole rooms of furniture. Where would this or that fit? Where would it look or work best? Should we throw it out and buy something new? And that’s when I began to reflect on God’s amazing ability to arrange not merely rooms in a house, but our entire, very messy, complicated lives.

At various times over the years, God has managed to put the pieces of my life together in wonderful ways, rearranging things, pointing me in another direction, giving me hope, showing me the best way ahead. At one stage years ago, friends suggested I might try a different occupation, but I could see no way of doing that. Yet God managed to provide me with a job that suited my abilities so well and even gave me skills I would need years later as a writer. At another stage, when I wondered if my first novel would ever find a publisher, God managed to do just that. And now, as we have recently moved house, God has done it again and provided somewhere special that is so beautiful, quiet and comfortable—just right for us.

I’m very thankful I belong to that Master-builder who is able to put those pieces of my life together in a way that is so wise and just so right. Truly, God’s ways are vastly different from our ways—and so much better too!

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9

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