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Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

There I was, about to enter the local supermarket when I noticed some mangoes on display nearby. I reached for a roll of plastic bags, tore one off and opened it, ready to put my mango in. Just then, a little lady much older than I am (!) asked me if I would mind passing her a bag, so I quickly handed her my own. A few moments later, this same little lady came up and handed me a tiny, square piece of cardboard, with something green pressed onto it and covered in clear plastic.

IMG_20180206_120843375‘It’s a real, four-leaf clover!’ she explained. ‘I want you to have it because you were so kind to me. I gave one to my granddaughter when she was doing an exam and she got 97%!’

Not wanting to disappoint her, I joked that I might have to sit for another exam. But later, I wished I could have thought of something a little more helpful to say.

The next day, I was back in that same supermarket. My husband had enjoyed his mango so much, I decided to buy a couple more. This time, the checkout person had trouble scanning some of my purchases and had to repeat the process. I paid my bill and headed off, but something made me look closely at my docket. Sure enough, I had not been charged for my two mangoes.

What a moral dilemma! At first, I thought, ‘It was her mistake—she was rushing too much. Probably I’ve been overcharged on other occasions anyway!’ But then my conscience got the better of me. I went back, showed her the docket and pointed out the problem.

‘Oh, thank you so much,’ she said. ‘That’s very nice of you—you’ll have good karma all day now!’

I blinked a few times, paid my money and turned away, wishing yet again I could have thought of something suitable to say in the moment.

As I reflected more on these two interesting events, I experienced various emotions. I was touched by these ladies’ responses. Both of them could have just thanked me (or not!) and said or done nothing more. I was annoyed at myself for not knowing what to say in return. But I also felt sad that these women seemed to set such store by four-leaf clovers and good karma. And probably they would represent a large percentage of the general population too, as far as such beliefs are concerned.

I don’t want to act or say anything in a graceless, judgemental way, but I’m sure there’s more that affects my life and the outcomes of my words and deeds than four-leaf clovers and good karma. I believe the Lord knows us intimately and watches over us, loving and caring for us, through all the good and bad times in our lives.

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. … You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. (Psalm 139:1, 4)

So I’ve decided it’s much better to opt for that loving, gracious hand of God on me each day, rather than trusting in good karma or four-leaf clovers. How about you?

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Jo 12It happens only once in a blue moon that I take myself off to the movies. I am very choosy about what I watch but, given my sister who was visiting from interstate was also interested in seeing The Greatest Showman, I decided to take the plunge and go. And I have to say, this one did not disappoint.

We both truly admired Hugh Jackman in the starring role of P T Barnum, showman extraordinaire. He acts wonderfully. He sings well. And he was supported by an excellent caste. The music was beautiful—and the cinematography breathtaking at times. And, as far as I noticed, there was nothing offensive in the whole movie, which was a pleasant surprise. I held my breath when Mr P T Barnum was tempted to head off in the wrong direction in life and in show business, giving in to the lure of the talented Miss Jenny Lind, but heaved a sigh of relief when he came to his senses and returned home to his wife and daughters. Phew!

As for the main theme of the movie, was it that every person, however ‘different’ he or she is, has intrinsic value and deserves to be respected? Or was it the need to hold onto our dreams and have the courage to bring them into reality? Then there was the reminder to be true to one’s partner in life and care for family members. All these are very worthwhile values to hold onto. But right at the end of the movie, we noticed an interesting quote on the screen:

The noblest art is that of making others happy. P T Barnum

I had to think about that as a theme. How about you? Would you call ‘making others happy’ the noblest art?

I definitely used to be a people-pleaser and a ‘peace at any price’ person. I wanted to keep everyone around me happy. I hated arguments and would usually acquiesce rather than stick to my guns. Yet over the years, I learnt this was not always the best response and that sometimes I needed to find the courage to stand by what I felt was right. So to me, making others happy in this sense is not ‘the noblest art’.

I’m sure, however, this is not what P T Barnum meant. I suspect he was thinking of those times when something we do for or give to others touches their hearts deeply or eases some load they are carrying in life or at least makes them laugh for a while. After all, there is some truth in the old saying, ‘Laughter is the best medicine’.

Yet even then, this kind of happiness can be so short-lived, can’t it? What we all truly need is a real, deeper, long-lasting joy that can withstand the ups and downs of life. And that for me is found in knowing Jesus Christ. As a Christian, I may not smile all the time or even be happy all the time. But beyond that, there is a deep joy and peace in my spirit that no one can take away. And that surely is the noblest thing in the world to share with others, don’t you think?

 … do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. Nehemiah 8:10

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Jo 23For a moment, I had trouble believing what I was reading in our village newsletter:

‘Nothing on TV? Come along and join the Bingo crowd each Tuesday!’

Could whoever wrote this be implying that these two activities were the only options? Did that describe their own lives—just TV and Bingo? If that was the case, then I truly felt sorry for him or her.

I know some people may have health issues and can’t participate in other activities, so possibly TV and Bingo are their best—or only—options. But from my perspective at this stage of my life, surely there are other much more interesting and life-giving pastimes available to fill my hours each day? Even within our village here there is a plethora of clubs and groups on offer—aqua aerobics (and swimming), Bible study, cards (500, Canasta, Crazy Whist), chess, choir, crafts of varying sorts, golf croquet, exercise, games (Scrabble etc), hobby workshop (woodwork, metalwork etc), indoor bowls, lawn bowls, library, line dancing, mah-jong, sketching, various snooker groups, table tennis, tai chi, good movies in the movie theatre, a ‘Voice our Views’ group and a writing group. Phew!

Then, of course, there are many other options as well. The village bus goes regularly to different shopping centres nearby, plus there are other bus tours available for different outings further afield. Or we can hop in our cars and go to these places ourselves. We can visit relatives or friends. We can walk through the beautiful bushland nearby or merely through nearby streets. We can chat to people along the way—or to others in the village. There is even a coffee shop on the premises where we can help ourselves to free coffee, while catching up with others. So, barring health issues, why would one choose TV or Bingo instead?

Now I understand the positive aspects of TV as well as anyone. This past month, I have truly enjoyed flicking from the cricket to the tennis and watching both for far too long! Sometimes there actually are worthwhile things on TV. I also love writing, speaking at places, reading and doing word puzzles. But … Bingo? I remember how, when my lovely older friend Joy first moved into a nursing home in the mountains, she was regularly taken to the activities room for Bingo, which she hated with a passion. She and her daughters called it ‘The dreaded “B” word’. I well remember how delighted my friend was when I popped in to visit her once and thus rescued her from participating!

At least that Bingo invitation in our newsletter has caused me to think carefully about how I plan to spend my time this year. Yes, I need to look after myself and relax and have fun doing what I love to do. But while I’m still able, I also want to invest my time and energy in those worthwhile things God wants me to do and connect with the people God gives me to connect with. And I’m sure I will enjoy all that too. There is more to life when we are on the journey with God, don’t you think? So much more than only TV and Bingo!

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10

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Jo 17Have you ever had the opportunity to boo someone off the stage or platform, as I did recently?  What fun it was! Never mind that most of the audience members were around sixty years younger than I am and took up decidedly less space in those City Recital Hall seats.  I was determined to make the most of this chance of a lifetime!

As you may have guessed, we were all at the pantomime ‘Puss in Boots’. What an opportunity to let our imaginations run riot and play that age-old game of ‘let’s pretend’!

The main characters’ costumes weren’t particularly fancy, except for the scary ogre’s colourful outfit. Puss in Boots merely had a furry tail attached around her middle and cat’s ears on her head, then later donned a red hat and boots when she and the miller’s son, Harry, set off on their adventures. The props were simple—just a large folding screen, with doors that rotated, allowing the characters to go through and around it. A few other devices were used, like a cut-out shape of a castle and the big sign prompting us all to boo. There was also appropriate music and stage lighting. But we the audience were the ones who filled in the gaps with our own vivid imaginations. We yelled out, ‘Hello, Harry!’ whenever the male lead asked us to. We responded gleefully with ‘Oh no you can’t!’ to his firm ‘Oh yes, I can!’ We screamed ‘Behind you!’ when Puss couldn’t find the big ogre. Yep, our imaginations had a great workout—especially our grandson’s.

Now Zain has always been quite adept at playing ‘Let’s pretend’ games. ‘Nanna, imagine if …’ he will say, with a twinkle in his eye. And off he goes on a wonderful flight of fancy. But Zain’s not the only one who does this.  I do too—although in nowhere near such a fun way. You see, my ‘let’s pretend’ games tend to happen when I want to impress others. I may want them to believe I have everything under control and am cool, calm and collected. Or I may want them to think I know more than I do.  Perhaps I may even want them to think I’m more ‘spiritual’ than I am or more prayerful or more Christlike or more … on it goes.  That game of ‘Let’s pretend’ is so helpful in hiding my real self that others may not like or approve of.

Do I fool anyone? Maybe—or maybe not. I know I certainly don’t fool myself. And I also know I don’t fool God. What a futile thing even to attempt, when God is present everywhere and knows us so intimately!

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord. Psalm 139:1-4

Just as well God is also totally loving, gracious and merciful, don’t you think?  So in 2018, I plan to remember that, keep my ‘let’s pretend’ moments to pantomimes and the like and, instead, be real with God and with others—and with myself. How about you?

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Jo 17Sometimes, forgetting things can be advantageous, don’t you think? I don’t mean that slight absentmindedness that leaves me unable to remember where I have put things in our new unit because there are so many more cupboards than there were in our old house! Can you imagine the fun I had in our first Christmas here, hunting for those bonbons I had stashed away somewhere—or even some of our grandchildren’s presents I had bought earlier and hidden who knows where? But what I do mean, for example, are those times I when I somehow made a fool of myself and felt embarrassed or ashamed as a result. I may still recall something of the incident, but can more readily laugh at myself and let it go, while appreciating the things I learnt through the whole experience.

Yet there are many more instances where it is definitely not advantageous to forget things—or people. There is a family anecdote one of our children often tells when they feel a little hard done by for one reason or another. ‘Well, I’m not surprised this has happened’ they might say, ‘because, after all, you drove home and left me playing at the Lego table in the newsagent when I was a child. And another time, you left me sitting watching TV in the electrical store in the main street!’

Fortunately, they are joking when they remind us of these events in an injured voice. Yes, these two incidents really happened—and both times, my husband was the culprit! Just to reassure you, however,  on each occasion, it wasn’t long before he realised what he had done and scuttled back to find our poor lost child, who didn’t seem concerned at all and had barely missed him!

It’s not good to forget people—or their names, as I often do. But it is even more concerning when we forget who God is and what God has done for us in our lives. Recently, I came across some very sobering verses in the Psalms:

When our fathers were in Egypt, they gave no thought to your miracles, they did not remember your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea. Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, to make his mighty power known. He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up; he led them through the depths as through a desert. He saved them from the hand of the foe; from the hand of the enemy he redeemed them. The waters covered their adversaries; not one of them survived. Then they believed his promises and sang his praise. But they soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his counsel. Psalm 106:7-13

Wow—what a challenge! As I enter this new year of 2018, have I truly remembered all the times God led and rescued me in 2017? Have I allowed all this to strengthen my faith in God? Have I turned and praised God for it all with a truly thankful heart? Or have I, like those Israelites, forgotten what God has done for me and forged ahead in my own strength?

May you and I remember those many past kindnesses of God well—and remember too to wait patiently for God’s counsel as we move into 2018!

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Jo 12I wonder if you have ever discovered you misunderstood the words of a song you heard as a child. Years ago, one of our children asked me, ‘Mummy, why does God put the kettle on a thousand hills?’ Eventually, I worked out they had kind of melded together in their mind an old Sunday School chorus ‘He owns the cattle on a thousand hills’ with a nursery rhyme song, ‘Polly put the kettle on’!

On another occasion, this same child asked me, ‘Mummy, is God a lady?’ What a profound question, I thought—I wonder where that came from?’ Then I realised they must have been listening to one of the old Scripture in Song choruses popular in the seventies, ‘God is not a man that he should lie’. Now those words are from Numbers 23:19, where ‘man’ obviously means ‘human’ rather than the opposite of ‘lady’! Certainly tricky for a child to understand.

But I too made similar mistakes when I was around that age.  I well remember listening to my mother singing the 23rd Psalm to the old ‘Crimond’ tune, where the first two lines went as follows:

The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want,

He makes me down to lie

I was unaware of that comma between ‘Shepherd’ and ‘I’ll’, however. The words were sung in one smooth line—which led me to wonder why on earth anyone would sing about a shepherd they did not want! And why would they not want the Lord as their Shepherd? Furthermore, why would he make people lie? That didn’t sound good. But eventually I realised that the Lord wasn’t about to make us tell untruths. Instead he was inviting us to lie down in those green pastures he provides and be restored deep in our spirit. Then in my teens, I discovered I did in fact very much want the Lord as my Shepherd leading and watching over me for the rest of my life.

Sadly even now, when I sometimes think I know better, I still choose to go my own way and turn a deaf ear to the Shepherd, as he urges me to stay close to him and head for a safe place where I can rest. How much these wilful choices of mine must grieve the Lord! Yet he still keeps following me and calling out to me in love, ‘Come this way, Jo-Anne! Here I am—I haven’t left you!’ How much I need to turn then, listen carefully to his voice—and do what he says.

Recently, I finished reading a wonderful novel by Charles Martin, Long Way Gone, a kind of modern-day telling of the story of the prodigal son. The son in the story walked away from his loving father, causing so much pain and heartache for all. He resented his father’s control over his life and decided to go his own way. But the father kept following him and watching over him, finally rescuing him from certain death. And that is what our Shepherd faithfully does for us his sheep too, year in and year out—forever. How amazing is that?

Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23:6

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pexels-photo-461252There we were on Christmas day, waiting for the rest of the family to arrive. I had put some cherries out for us to enjoy and offered one to our three-year-old granddaughter.

‘These are lovely, Maxine. Would you like one?’ I said.

She gazed at them for a moment, then came out with this profound statement.

‘I don’t like cherries because I’ve never had them before!’

Now that obviously made complete sense to her. After all, surely if her parents hadn’t given them to her before this, then those funny red things with stems must be yucky! I remembered too the response of one of our own children, when faced with eating something they hadn’t tasted previously. ‘I won’t like it!’ they would say, obviously fearful of what lay ahead.

Sadly, I suspect I can be like Maxine at times, or that child of ours.  Often I can be very picky—but more so with books than food.  I may find myself turned off by a cover I dislike or the quality of the paper or the size of the print. I don’t mind small print, but I do object when a large font is used and those lines are spread so far apart and the margins are so wide, making that book too insubstantial for me and not worth the money I paid for it! Yet some smaller books I own have turned out to be absolute gems, such as Henri Nouwen’s Out of Solitude or Eugene Petersen’s The Wisdom of Each Other.

Much sadder than pre-judging books, however, are the times I have pre-judged people because of their appearance or something different about them. The biggest lesson I learnt in this regard occurred around twenty-five years ago when I met a young woman at a prayer training course. At first, after discovering she was blind, I avoided her. I felt I would not know how to relate to someone who could not see. And, to my shame, I was reluctant to put myself out to help her. Yet God drew us together—and that young woman taught me so much about myself, about courage, about perseverance, about relating to those who suffer from any degree of vision impairment.

A few years later, I found myself at another course where most participants were from a different part of the Body of Christ. ‘They won’t be able to teach me anything much,’ I decided in complete arrogance. Yet their kind acceptance, attentiveness and intelligent conversation turned out to be a wonderful, healing gift from God for me.

Now I’m hoping there aren’t too many others of you out there like me who are practised pre-judgers.  I hope you taste those cherries or look carefully at those smaller books before making up your mind. I hope you listen to and accept others, however different they are. And I hope I do too more and more. But above all, if Jesus Christ is someone unfamiliar to you, I hope and pray that, in the coming year, you may not pre-judge or write him off too quickly but instead take time to get to know him, to experience his amazing love and to taste his absolute goodness for yourself.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. Psalm 34:8

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