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Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

Jo 17I had driven into Camperdown to visit our older daughter who was in the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, recovering from an operation. I had never been to this hospital before—I am much more familiar with the beautiful, old Royal Prince Alfred hospital, across the road and down a little way. So what would the Lifehouse be like, I wondered. How would it compare?

I love the Victorian architecture of RPA, particularly that grand entrance foyer, with its tiled floor and stained glass windows. But what a contrast this much newer hospital was! In only a few seconds, the super-quick, glass-sided lift whisked me directly from the underground car park up to the eighth floor. As I sped upwards, I noticed the modern decor everywhere and how shiny and light-filled each floor was.

Once on the right level, a cheerful nurse guided me to our daughter’s room—and there she was, smiling at me, despite the big operation she had just undergone. We chatted for a while, but I soon noticed her eyelids drooping.

‘Why don’t I go down to the cafe in the foyer while you rest?’ I suggested.

‘Okay,’ she responded. ‘There’s a piano down there you might like to play.’

A piano? Why would there be a piano in the foyer of a hospital? Perhaps the painkillers were playing with her mind, I decided. I tiptoed out, took that zippy lift to the ground floor—and there near the cafe, just as our daughter had said, was a grand piano with a sign nearby, inviting anyone to feel free to play! I glanced around. Hmm—only one or two people within earshot. Perhaps I would take up that invitation after I had my coffee.

I almost thought better of it, however, when a few more people entered the cafe. In fact, I had decided to walk right past that piano when something made me change my mind. But … what could I play without music?

Immediately, the chorus of a simple, old song written by Catholic priest Frank Andersen came to mind:

I have carried you on eagle’s wings

I will care for you in all your years.

I sat down and began playing. Soon I felt the wonderful, healing presence of God, along with a deep sense of awe and privilege. And as I played, I prayed God would somehow use my music to bless and encourage someone in that hospital, whether patient, relative, friend or worker.

I played just the one piece—I needed to get back to our daughter. But as I stood to leave, a lady came past.

‘Thank you very much for playing,’ she said with emotion. ‘It was so beautiful!’

As I headed up in that lift, I prayed God would indeed carry this lady—and any others who had listened—on eagle’s wings through whatever trials they were facing, closer and closer to his heart. Could God possibly do that through one simple piece of music, I wondered?

Yes, I decided, surely God could.

This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. ’ Exodus 19:3-4

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We were blowing bubbles together in the grounds of our village, our youngest granddaughter and I, when she announced she wanted to dance for me. She is only four and has never learnt ballet—but that did not deter her. With a wonderfully professional air, she slowly moved her hands and arms around her head, caressing her face and gazing up at me with such a soulful expression that I was hard-pressed not to laugh. Some interesting movements then ensued, until her carefully executed performance ended with a flourish and a creditable version of the splits.

How on earth had she learnt to dance so expressively, I asked myself. It could only have been through watching movies like Frozen or Moana or perhaps her favourite shows on YouTube. All she knows, she has learnt by imitating those beautiful heroines in her favourite shows—even down to their dreamy facial expressions!

IMG_20180919_133830660Later, back at our unit, Maxine decided to ‘play’ our piano, but then stopped abruptly.

‘Wait—I need some music!’ she declared.

So she proceeded to fish a music sheet out of our piano stool and place it carefully within her line of vision where she must have seen those real pianists place theirs. Then, with one hand tracing the notes on that piece of music, she proceeded to play gently with the other, checking often to ensure she was ‘reading’ the music correctly.

Again, I was hard-pressed not to laugh. She has no idea what all those funny-shaped notes and symbols mean—but she was determined to appear as if she did. Surely if one imitates well enough, she must think, she will at least look like she knows exactly what she’s doing.

As I thought more about this whole act of imitation, I realised it can be seen in either a good or a bad light. If a piece of jewellery contains imitation diamonds, for example, it is considered much less valuable—even a fake. If a singer sounds too much like the artist who made a particular song famous, he or she can be written off as unoriginal and boring. Young children, who learn by imitating those around them either consciously or unconsciously, can pick up undesirable behaviour from us. And sometimes we adults can decide to be nasty and mimic someone’s voice or mannerisms, in order to ridicule them.

Yet copying others can also be a positive thing. How wonderful it is when we notice children learning to act in respectful and responsible ways gleaned from their parents’ positive example—or even their grandparents’! But how much more it must delight God when we set our hearts and minds to imitating Jesus, just as the Apostle Paul did. In 1 Corinthians 4:16, Paul simply urges the believers to imitate him—a command I used to think was a little arrogant. Yet a few chapters later, we see he is only able to say this because he knows he is following Jesus’ example with his whole heart:

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1

One day, I would love to say these same words as confidently as Paul did. But right now, I think I need a little more practice in that fine art of imitating Jesus. How about you?

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Jo 23Recently, I overheard the following conversation:

‘Would you like some coffee?’

‘I usually don’t drink coffee. I’ve never liked it much, but I’m trying to get used to it.’

‘Um … why would you want to make yourself like coffee?’

‘Well … well, I want to be accepted!’

I tried to hide my smile because I would expect this type of behaviour amongst children, not grown adults, which these two definitely were! Our young grandson, for example, refuses to wear a particular beanie in his school colours anywhere—especially to school! And our youngest granddaughter, at four years of age, has very definite tastes in clothes and other attire—which usually means pink things or things that have pink in them. Recently too, she cried, covered her ears and ran and hid, after she managed to lose one of her pink earrings. When I tried to comfort her, she sobbed, ‘I can’t let anyone see me with only one earring in!’

Being accepted matters when you are four or six—and it matters even more for our two older granddaughters who are fifteen and twelve. Yet it doesn’t stop there, does it? At times, and in certain situations in particular, we all desire to be accepted by those around us. None of us wants to feel rejected, pushed to the fringes, not interesting enough or attractive enough or good enough to fit the bill. So we may choose to act differently or say what we think those around us want to hear—and close our mouths on the words we truly want to speak out but are afraid to, for fear of rejection.

Recently, I came across a situation just like this in John’s Gospel. In Chapter 9, Jesus heals a man born blind and, soon after, his parents are summoned to appear before the Jewish leaders to verify he was indeed blind and to explain how he can now see (18-23). They know that, if they say Jesus healed their son, they will be thrown out of the synagogue, so they feign ignorance. They do not want to risk acknowledging Jesus as the Christ, the coming Messiah, so leave their son to speak for himself. In that culture at that time, it would have been a fearsome thing indeed to have been thrown out of the synagogue, to be outcasts, unaccepted in their own community, so I empathise with them.

But I am aware I can also behave like them at times. I may choose to stay quiet when I know I should stand up for the things of God. Or I may decide to water down what I plan to say somewhere, in order to be more accepted. Yet in my heart, I know my worth does not come from pleasing others. Instead, it comes from God, who tells me deep down who I am, who knows everything about me, yet loves and accepts me because I belong to Jesus and believe he died for me.

He (Jesus) came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God … John 1:11-12

Now that would have to be best acceptance of all, don’t you think?

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IMG_20180918_071052560I think I must be the Queen of Lost Earring Land. I lose all shapes and sizes of them with great regularity—just ask my family! I even have a little jewellery bag where I keep the one sad, remaining earring left behind, in the hope that someday it might be reunited with its partner.

Believe it or not, I have managed to lose one of my earrings pictured here three times over! They are not valuable, but I like their colour and shape. So whenever I have lost one, a big treasure hunt has ensued. The first time, my granddaughter found it behind the driver’s seat in my car. I’m not sure who was the most excited, but she was definitely quite pleased with herself.

On another occasion, as I went to get into my car one day and head out, I realised I had lost one of these same earrings again. So back I went to our unit, looking carefully everywhere. Finally, I gave up and walked rather disconsolately to my car again. And at that point, when I was not even really looking for my earring, I spied it lying on the footpath right in front of me! What a joyful moment—I could not believe I had missed seeing it earlier.

Then recently, I managed to lose one of these earrings for the third time. I searched everywhere at home, to no avail. When the granddaughter who had previously found my earring visited soon after, I even offered her five dollars if she could find it, but in the end, she too gave up. The next day, I decided to search down at our church, with no real hope of finding my errant earring. But just as I was about to abandon my quest, I checked one last room I had briefly entered the previous day—and there it was. Someone must have picked it up and put it on a table there so I could see it clearly. What a relief!

Each time I have lost and found my earring, I have remembered with feeling the parable Jesus told about the woman who loses a silver coin:

Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me, I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. Luke 15:8-10

This coin the woman lost must have been very valuable to her, so no wonder she searches so diligently, using precious oil to light her lamp and sweeping until she finds her lost treasure. And that is exactly how God searches for us too. God sent his own Son Jesus ‘to seek and to save what was lost’ (Luke 19:10). How easily we can forget how valuable we are to God! And how lovingly God continues to seek us out, however far away we might stray, then celebrates with great joy when we are found!

It’s worth losing something, I have decided—even a favourite earring—in order to be reminded of God’s heart for us. And it’s doubly worth it when that something is found again!

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Jo 17I watched my neighbour’s eyes fill with tears as she told me a story about her great-grandson. His grandfather recently passed away and, in order to explain this sad event, his family told him his grandfather had gone to ‘the sky’.

‘I want to go and see him,’ was his natural reply.

‘But we can’t do that,’ he was told.

‘Well, you get him to come here.’

‘We can’t do that either.’

Because this little boy’s parents have separated, he is used to packing his bag and staying for a week with one parent, then the other. So he apparently decided to fetch his bag and head for the front door, ready to find his grandfather himself.

While reflecting on the image of this little boy holding his case at the door, I remembered some words the Apostle Paul wrote, as he warned Timothy about those who see godliness as a way to obtain financial gain:

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

My neighbour’s great-grandson sadly cannot visit his grandfather or take that little bag of his with him. And neither can we take anything with us, when our own time comes, whatever our particular bag might contain. What a reminder to look at the things we spend most time and effort pursuing in life!

Recently at our church, a lady told us about something that happened to her and her husband while overseas. They were in Rome and had to wait a couple of hours until their B and B accommodation was available. So they parked their hire car at a shopping centre and looked around for a while. When they returned to their car, however, it had been broken into—and everything they owned had gone. All they were left with were the clothes and money and whatever else they had with them.

That evening, the B and B owner kindly contacted the police for them to try to get some of their property back, but to no avail. Yet this lady was calm through it all, because, just that morning, she felt God had told her that, whatever happened that day, he was watching over her. In fact, she was so calm that the B and B owner became quite puzzled.

‘You seem kind of “zen-like”,’ he told her—at which point she explained what she felt God had said to her!

Eventually, this lady and her husband continued their trip, with only a couple of much smaller bags between them. And as she told us this, she commented how free it felt to travel so much lighter!

This story caused me to reflect even more on what baggage I myself am carrying right now through this world. Is it light? Is it something I can let go of without being destroyed? More importantly, am I putting my time and energy into those things that really matter and that Paul goes on to mention to Timothy?

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 1 Timothy 6:11

May our bags be packed full to overflowing with all these things when our time comes to meet God face to face!

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BecomingMe-OFC-I will always be grateful I was able to find publishers for my six novels and my first non-fiction book, Soul Friend. Without these publishers, my writing journey would have been severely hampered. But I am also grateful I was able to produce my second non-fiction book, Becoming Me: Finding my true self in God, myself via Ingram Spark in 2016. This gave me freedom to include everything I wanted to include and also to set my own publishing time frame. Now, two years later, I still receive regular reports from Ingram Spark, detailing e-book and hard copy sales.

I love this company’s efficiency, but I often smile when I receive that professional-looking, emailed monthly report for e-book sales in particular. You see, as time has passed since the release of Becoming Me, I usually discover that just one person, someone somewhere in the world, someone I will probably never meet, has bought an e-book version of Becoming Me. Yes, that means a whole USD$2.40 my little book has earned for me as the publisher—what a fortune!

Yet I never feel disappointed with these reports. In fact, this one sale always touches me, as I try to visualise who this reader might be. I pray for them too. I pray that something in my little book might speak to their hearts and provide the word from God for them that they need. After all, I’m sure this one person matters to God.

But occasionally I receive a different sort of email about Becoming Me—one from a reader I often do not know, commenting on some aspect of the book that has been meaningful to them. Recently, a lady wrote how, while she related to so much of what I wrote, the thing that touched her most was one small paragraph where I describe how, for many years, I wrote weekly letters home to my parents interstate, keeping them up-to-date with all our family events. This lady shared how, for over fifty years, she had done the same, even when her mother became a dementia patient in a nursing home. She told me how some people thought she was strange to keep writing these letters. Yet, as she read my book, she felt she had found a companion, someone who understood. How blessed I felt that God had somehow comforted her through my book, even in this small way!

These people whose lives we touch, the ones and twos, do matter to God, don’t you think? Surely we see this in how Jesus often went out of his way to minister to just one person. Examples that come to mind readily are the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak (Matthew 9), Zacchaeus (Luke 19), the woman at the well (John 4), the man born blind (John 9), Lazarus (John 11) and Mary Magdalene outside the tomb (John 20).

People matter to God. You and I matter to God. In fact, God seeks each of us out, like that one lost sheep, and, once found, will never let us go. And that comforts me more than any words I may ever write.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand, John 10:27-28

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Jo 23I wake up feeling tired, after a rather restless night. As my mind begins to clear and I work out what day it is, I realise I need to head to our church office for the morning. For four months, my husband and I are helping to support our wonderful ministry team, while our two lead pastors (husband and wife) are on sabbatical leave. It is an honour to do this—yet today, I feel decidedly less than adequate for the task.

I get ready, all the while thinking of the many jobs waiting to be done at home while I am out. So … why am I doing what I am doing? I have more than enough to occupy me, without any added responsibilities. What was I thinking, to say yes when asked? I have moved on. I left a ministry role many years ago and, since then, God has unfolded such a fulfilling writing and speaking journey for me. How could I have agreed to put my current novel aside for these months? Besides, some of my ministry gifts and skills are quite rusty. Surely there are others who could do these things so much better?

I grumble to myself as I eat breakfast and leave home, feeling so unsure about the day ahead. I plan to work on some training material for the pastoral team, preparing input I have been asked to give on a topic I myself originally suggested. Yet as I arrive and open up those documents on my laptop, I wonder how what I have already prepared will connect with our team members. I don’t know them very well yet—will they understand where I’m coming from? Will they feel that giving up their precious time in the middle of the day to sit and listen to my input is a big waste? Will they decide it is irrelevant for them in their particular area of ministry?

Eventually, I turn to a sermon I am currently working on. I thought what I have already written was what God wanted me to say. Yet, as I look at it again, I begin to wonder. Today, it seems a little trite—perhaps too simple, too fanciful even. I want to honour God in what I share on the day—and also honour the trust our leadership has shown in asking me to speak. But am I making a huge mistake with all that input I see on the screen before me?

Then I stop and reach for my Bible, turning to some verses I read earlier before heading out. In these, the Apostle Paul lists the many sufferings he has endured in his ministry, then writes:

But he (the Lord) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.   1 Corinthians 12:9-10

Yes, I may be weak—but I am also strong, because I have an amazing God whose grace and power are able to shine through my weaknesses. How wonderfully reassuring is that?

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