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Archive for the ‘Devotions’ Category

I truly enjoy seeing other people’s holiday photos of beautiful places they have seen overseas and exciting experiences they have had. Not only does it give me an opportunity to share in all their joy, but it’s a little like taking a vicarious, cheap and hassle-free holiday myself! And of course I also love looking back through my own photos taken during overseas trips. What great memories they stir up, often so vivid that, in an instant, I am back in the exact spot where the particular photo was taken!

This past week, I spoke at a group where the topic was left up to me, so I decided to utilise some of my travel photos and create a talk entitled ‘From the ridiculous to the sublime—true travelling tales’! I focussed on four different categories of experiences I have had overseas—funny experiences, scary experiences, wonderful experiences and ‘God’ experiences, in that order. In each section, I managed to tell three or four stories, backed up by photos on power point, then asked those present to share a story of their own.

scan0010What fun I had, looking through all those old photos as I prepared and choosing which to use! I laughed out loud again when I found some taken in a Turkish village where my friend and I stayed for a few days. One night, we went to a local restaurant for dinner. The owner cooked us a beautiful meal, but when we went to pay, he told us he was too busy to take our money and asked if we could come back the next day to pay! Can you imagine an Australian restaurant doing that?

I looked through more photos and found one of my first visit to a beach in Turkey. I had wrapped my glasses in my towel and put a small rock on top before heading off to swim, but when we returned, I found the metal frames of my glasses had been moulded around the rock into a U-shape from the heat of the sun. I proceeded to bend them straight back into the right shape, but what a scary moment that was, considering they were the only pair of glasses I had with me in Turkey!

Other photos brought back wonderful memories of my first visit to Germany and also to England, both such surreal moments for me. I was reminded too of wonderful ‘God moments’—one in St Paul’s Cathedral, London, while contemplating the Holman Hunt painting ‘The Light of the World’ and another back in Turkey when God challenged me to start my writing journey. While reflecting on this last category of experiences in particular, the words of Psalm 139:7-10 came to mind:

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.

What a gracious, almighty, loving God we have who is more than able to be here, there and everywhere at all times, watching over us in all our wanderings!

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IMG_1279Since 2012, I have visited various Koorong bookstores in different parts of Australia to promote my novels and non-fiction. This Saturday, 27th July, will be my next, at Koorong West Ryde in Sydney from 10.00am-3.00pm, in conjunction with my author friend, Steph Penny, who has written an excellent book entitled Surviving Singledom. We would both love to meet with any of you who can make it there on the day!

When I started these book signings, I soon discovered some people can be shy about walking up to authors at a book table and chatting. Perhaps they believe, as I used to when I was young, that authors could not be real people but instead, some other alien race—because, after all, how could anyone possibly write a whole book? For me, that was too wonderful to imagine—yet, in the end, that’s exactly what God enabled me to do!

I soon discovered too that some people just want to go about their own business and not be held up talking to some strange author! These customers know exactly what they came to the store for and are very careful to avoid eye contact, as they scuttle past. They have a large neon sign flashing that says to me, ‘Don’t try to sell me anything—I’m not interested in your books and I’m in a hurry!’ I understand how they feel too—I’m sure I’ve done the same to other promoters on occasions.

But thankfully, there are also those who are brave enough to come and ask questions and seem genuinely interested in our books—and that there actually are Australian Christian authors around! Usually then we describe what our books are about, which may well lead into some heartfelt discussion, in my case, on the topics of becoming who God created us to be or on having a soul friend or on the love of God—or, in the case of my friend Steph Penny, on the challenges of being single. Sometimes too, we hear, ‘Oh, I’ve always wanted to write a book!’ or even ‘I’ve written a book but don’t know where to go from here.’ Then we have the joy of sharing our knowledge with them, including telling them about Christian writers’ groups and conferences where they can learn so much more.

Then there are the ones and twos whom God seems to draw to our table—those ‘God encounters’ when something wonderful happens as we chat and some small and precious ‘kingdom moment’ occurs. On those occasions, I thank God, not only for giving me the right words to say but also for my little prayer team of eight women who specifically pray for these God encounters wherever I go to speak or promote my books.

Whoever we are and whatever our situation is in life, let’s seize the moment and embrace these God-given opportunities we all experience with joy and trust in God, who is able to do far more with our few words than we could ever imagine!

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

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IMG_20180710_143310824I glance up from my desk and notice a rather impressive visitor sitting on our balcony railing about a metre from my study window—a kookaburra, looking as if it owns everything within view! I move to take its photo through the glass and it turns its head slightly, as if to say, ‘I know you’re there, but I also know I’m safe from you out here!’ Some smaller, noisy birds do not like that larger, alert presence nearby and try to frighten it away by squawking loudly and bombarding it. Yet it remains immovable, save for a slight shuffle along the railing and a few sharp turns of its head. Its eyes are on a nearby prize—perhaps something for dinner that those other birds also want?

As I watch, I marvel at how still that kookaburra seems to be. No doubt it is extremely alert to what is happening around it—and that soon become obvious, when it suddenly flies down to ground level, then plucks a poor, unsuspecting worm from the soft soil. In a few moments, that worm is no more. All that stillness and watchfulness on the part of the kookaburra have paid off—it has found its dinner.

At that point, I begin to suspect God has an important lesson to teach me about being still. I might be physically still, as I sit gazing at that kookaburra—but I am not mentally still. Even as I watch, my mind is darting this way and that. I wonder whether what I am writing makes sense or will amount to anything in the end. And I am not still deep inside me either. Instead, I feel somewhat stressed—I am worried about someone I care about who is facing many difficulties and also about an upcoming speaking engagement, not to mention my writing project. I am aware God knows about all these issues—yet I am struggling to stay in that place of stillness and peace with God and of complete trust that God has it all in hand.

I move my hands off my keyboard and lay them in my lap. I breathe deeply, letting my body relax. I picture God’s loving arms holding me close and sink back into them, sensing God’s Spirit both in me and around me. I still my mind and my heart, knowing it is enough to be in this present moment with God. Then I hear again some words read out at church only days earlier:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea … “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:1, 10

In the stillness too, a gentle voice reminds me I am in a daily battle with an age-old enemy and need to remain so very vigilant.

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8

Yes, I need to be alert and watchful like that kookaburra—yet also deeply still, so aware my loving, almighty God is with me at all times, don’t you agree?

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Jo 17Recently, courtesy of a new DVD player and an old video converted to a DVD, I was able to view my parents’ Golden Wedding celebration in 1989 once again. My cousin who filmed it had caught snippets of conversation as she slowly panned around the room, surprising aunties, uncles, cousins and close friends in mid-sentence. What an eye-opener it all was!

First off, there was the shock of seeing our clothes and hairstyles back then—not to mention my ornate glasses I must have thought were so stylish! And my sister and I looked … well … so very young! I actually had dark brown hair back then—what could have happened?

But immediately too so many memories came flooding back, as I saw the faces of my aunties and uncles, some friendly and interested, some a little aloof, and heard the familiar tone of their voices again. One aunty was holding forth on all sorts of matters and sounding so definite, as she always had. Another beautiful, gentle aunty sat smiling and listening quietly, as she let the conversation wash over her. There was an uncle too, passionately expounding on some issue, while nobody around him seemed greatly interested. And yet another aunty sat back with an almost amused look, keeping her usual slight distance between herself and everyone else. What an important part of our lives they all were during my growing-up years! Was the extended family more important back then?

As I watched and listened, however, I was shocked to realise that, apart from one cousin, my sister, me, and those of our children who were able to be present, not one of those there that day is still with us. Of course, I should have known that was inevitable. After all, most were around the same vintage as my parents—and they were celebrating fifty years of marriage. But how are they being remembered now? What difference did they make in this world? No doubt they each left some money or possessions to family members, but what sort of lasting impact did they have on those close to them and others whose lives they touched?

My mind then turned to my own life. My husband and I have celebrated our own Golden Wedding now and, soon enough, our whole generation will no longer be here on earth either. So what sort of legacy will I leave behind? How is my life impacting those close to me and those I meet along the way in all sorts of contexts?

There is a particular verse I would like read out at my funeral that I hope and pray will be true of my life when it ends:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7

When my time comes, I hope I will be remembered as being more like that lovely, gentle aunty of mine than the one who tended to tell us what to do. I hope I leave a positive legacy behind and that family and friends have felt encouraged by me in their own journeys rather than discouraged. I hope I finish well, still engaged in that fight and still honouring God with my whole heart.

Is that your hope too?

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Jo 23Although there are only two of us in our household, I seem to spend so much time each week deciding what our main meals will be, shopping for the ingredients and finally cooking them. I also try to have a selection of things in the fridge and pantry to choose from for our lunches and often some cake or slice for my sweet-tooth husband—or any visitors who might drop by. All this takes planning and effort, doesn’t it? But I do it because, after all, we need to eat—although perhaps not quite as much or as often as we tend to!

Lately, however, it has dawned on me that, in focussing on all that physical nourishment, I may well be short-changing myself in other areas. I, like everyone else, need emotional nourishment—the love of family and friends, the fulfilment gained through writing, the enjoyment of reading or listening to music or watching an uplifting TV show or marvelling at the beauty of nature. I know the danger of ignoring such things and I know I cannot give out to others in any meaningful way if my own emotional ‘tank’ is empty. Yet when there is too much else to do, I can easily overlook such nourishment.

And what about that deepest part of us we call our soul? It too needs to be nourished, even more so than our physical bodies and our emotions. If our souls are dead, if that light has gone out inside us, if that firm connection with God is lost, then everything can become rather meaningless. We are not in a place of peace with God and with ourselves. And that is not a pleasant place to be.

Recently, I read the following beautiful invitation from Isaiah 55:1-3:

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.

Yes, I decided, I need to take time to come and enjoy that rich fare my soul needs. So, one morning, I headed for Lake Parramatta, not far from our home. I used to go there regularly to reflect, write, enjoy the beauty of nature and be with God. But somehow in the busyness of life, this had slipped from my agenda. How wonderful it was that morning to sit there quietly for a while in my car, with the sun warming me all over as I contemplated that lake again. The breeze ruffled the surface of the water so that it sparkled in the sun, while nearby, a family of ducks swam serenely along. I drank it all in, sensing God’s presence all around—and soon I could feel the peace of God deep inside me, bringing such refreshment and renewal, letting my soul live again.

May your soul too be nourished as you take time to come close to God, listen well and delight in that richest of fare only God can provide.

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Jo 17I wonder how long it is since you picked up a novel or story of some description and were totally drawn into another world. It can be a weird journey, can’t it, to feel our head and heart are somewhere else entirely in a kind of parallel universe, while we try to function as usual in our every-day lives?

During a recent interstate road-trip, we discovered a lovely, second-bookshop in one country town and decided to stop and browse there. I wanted something to read and, feeling a little tired and nostalgic, I opted for an old novel—A J Cronin’s Crusader’s Tomb, published in 1956. I remembered reading The Citadel years ago, so was looking forward to another book by this author.

I loved Cronin’s beautiful writing style and was soon completely drawn into the story. But what a sad one it was! I felt so much for the main character, who stumbled from one disaster to the next, in an attempt to become the artist he wanted to be. In the end (spoiler alert!), it was only after his death that the greatness of his art was acknowledged. At least I knew his family was provided for and those who had maligned him and his work during his lifetime were proved wrong. But how drained and depressed I felt after that final chapter! Should I perhaps have invested my emotional energy into reading something more positive and uplifting?

At that point, I remembered a period last year when our church focussed on some of the amazing events during Jesus’ ministry, as recorded in John’s Gospel. Rather than miss something because of how familiar these stories were to me, I decided to take the account of the man born blind (John 9) and write a version in the first person, trying to get right inside the man’s head and imagine what his whole experience of being healed by Jesus must have felt like. What a journey it was for me too! Here is how I began:

I cannot see, but I hear him nearby, this man they call Jesus. He says he is the light of the world and that the work of God will be displayed in my life. But who is he? What does that mean?

Now I hear him spitting and feel his hands gently putting mud on my eyes. What is this all about?

Then he orders me to go to Siloam … and I know I need to do exactly as he says.

I wash—and things begin to take shape around me! For the first time, I see people and animals

and houses and sky

and trees and earth

and food and water

and … oh so much!

I see colour and light and shade and am overwhelmed with the brightness and variety before me.

I try to adjust to it all, as my heart bursts within me. Who is this Jesus who has opened my eyes?

Have you had time lately to read some of those amazing accounts of Jesus’ ministry here on earth? These stories are powerful. These stories are true. These stories are worth investing our time in. And these stories can be life-changing, as we allow God’s Spirit to speak to us through them and impact us in a deep way.

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Jo 12In this season of State of Origin Rugby League, we hear much good-humoured and not so good-humoured ribbing of Queenslanders by those from south of the border—and vice versa. It brings back memories of a comment made years ago as we drove over the border from New South Wales to see our families in Brisbane during daylight saving: ‘You are now entering Queensland. Turn your watch back ten years and one hour!’ I never quite knew whether to laugh at this or not, since I was born in Brisbane, as was my husband. And, despite having lived elsewhere for years, we still remember our home state with affection.

Recently, memories of our Queensland years returned in force when we drove to Toowoomba for me to speak at a writers’ retreat. My husband spent many of his growing-up years in Toowoomba, so what fun he had, checking out his old home, school and church, as well as catching up with friends!

Meanwhile, as I chatted with the warm and welcoming group of writers at the retreat, I wondered why I felt particularly relaxed and at home. Then I began to notice those interesting little nuances in speech that we hear only from Queenslanders—things like ‘hey’ being added either to the beginning or the end of a sentence or certain vowels being pronounced a little differently or even certain words I had not heard for a long time being used freely. For example, when had I last heard a case referred to as a ‘port’? Such a refreshing, little word to hear again! How many memories were stirred of my growing-up years when, for some time at least, I did in fact carry a ‘port’ to school each day!

From time to time, we need such clear reminders of where we came from in our lives, don’t we—if for no other reason than to be thankful for those earlier years and for the lessons we learnt back then. After all, they helped make us who we are today. But another reason it is good to remember our past is so that we can be truly thankful for the journey God has taken us on since then and how God has guided and sustained us through all the twists and turns of our lives. We can so easily forget God’s part in all that has happened for us, don’t you think? In particular, we can so easily take for granted the amazing grace shown to us in being offered a place in God’s family at all—a place where we truly belong, whatever our background.

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” … remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:11-13

So am I a Queenslander or a New South Welshman now, after all these years? I don’t know. But I do know I am part of God’s family. I remember how Jesus Christ made that all possible. I remember where I came from—and I am so grateful.

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