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I can still remember a terrifying ride called ‘Space Mountain’ I went on almost forty years ago while visiting Disneyland. Time and again, our carriage would teeter at some high point, then plunge headlong into the darkness below, suddenly veering this way, then that. I remember holding onto my glasses for dear life, in case they flew in one direction as I flew in the other!

I would never want to repeat the experience—yet, this past week, I realised this is exactly what happens in my faith journey at times. One minute, I can be standing firm, full of trust in God—yet the next, I am tossed around, worrying about everything and wondering whether God can indeed help.

This realisation came while reading again the account of how Jesus—and Peter—walked on water (Matthew 14). At first, the disciples are all terrified, not only because of the huge buffeting their boat is experiencing on the lake, but also because they think Jesus is a ghost (25). Straight away, however, Jesus lovingly reassures them:

But Jesus immediately said to them, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” (27)

Peter boldly speaks up then, even though he doesn’t seem completely sure it is indeed Jesus.

Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said. (28-29)

Peter does just that—yet soon fear takes over and he cries out for Jesus to save him, which Jesus immediately does. One minute, Peter is brave and bold, the next so doubtful and afraid, as he flounders around and begins to sink (30-31).

Yet Peter’s whole journey of faith in Jesus was a similarly huge rollercoaster at times too.  Not long after his walking on water effort, we read how he boldly declares that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God—at which point Jesus commends him for his faith.

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church … Matthew 16:18

A few verses later, however, we read how Peter is rebuked for expressing his horror that Jesus will die.

Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me …” Matthew 16:23

On it goes for Peter, up and down. Not long before Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter declares he will never fall away from Jesus, even if everyone else does (Matthew 26:33). But, just as Jesus predicts, that very night, he disowns Jesus three times—and is utterly devastated. I always feel so relieved, however, when I read how Jesus appears to Peter and the other disciples after his resurrection and fully reinstates him (John 21). Despite Peter’s denials, Jesus shows complete trust in him and lovingly commissions him to take care of his sheep, which Peter then does with great courage, as we see throughout the early chapters of Acts.

I wonder if you, like me, can relate all too easily to Peter and his rollercoaster ride. Yet I am so encouraged that Jesus persevered with him and continued to show faith in him. And I am so grateful we too can experience that same undeserved love and grace today and feel that firm grip of Jesus’ hand as he reaches out and rescues us time and time again, aren’t you?

There I was, waiting in my car for the lights to change at a busy intersection, when our daughter suddenly started muttering out loud in the passenger seat beside me.

‘Red light. In right hand turn lane. Right indicator on.’

At first, I thought she was telling me I had missed something. I knew she was learning to drive—she has not really had the opportunity to do so until now. But … was she trying to tell me what I should be doing, when I have been driving for well over forty years?

A moment later, however, she explained what was happening.

‘My great driving instructor has me say everything out loud, so she can check I’ve noticed all the things I need to see and do.’

I was impressed. What an excellent idea, I thought—it would probably reinforce everything for our daughter too, even as she spoke those words out loud.

This little scenario at the traffic lights came back to me the next morning, as I sat reading my bible. I had decided to start delving into the Psalms again, my ‘go to’ place when things get a little hectic in my life. I was up to Psalm 18, but paused when I reached verses 28-33:

You, Lord, keep my lamp burning;
    my God turns my darkness into light.
With your help I can advance against a troop;
    with my God I can scale a wall.

As for God, his way is perfect:
    The Lord’s word is flawless;
    he shields all who take refuge in him.
For who is God besides the Lord?
    And who is the Rock except our God?

It is God who arms me with strength
    and keeps my way secure.
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
    he causes me to stand on the heights.

After a while, I began to read on, but then felt I needed to return to these same verses. It seemed almost a sacrilege to read them only once—they were too strong to be skimmed over in any way. Then it came to me that, like our daughter, I needed to speak the words out loud—not to let any instructor sitting beside me know I had noticed everything I was supposed to notice in these words, but rather to allow them to impact me even more and stay with me longer, on into my day and beyond.

So I did just that. I sat there, looking out at the grey skies beyond my window, and read each line out loud, with as much emphasis as I could muster. And as I listened to myself do this, I began thinking somewhere else in my mind, ‘Yes, this is so true! Our God is so strong and perfect and wonderful! And yes, this is what God has done for me in the past, so many times. God will rescue and strengthen me again, I’m sure of it.’ It then seemed so natural to continue on, praising God out loud and praying for all the people and situations I was concerned about, as well as for myself.

What a powerful experience listening to myself reading God’s Word and praying out loud turned out to be! I think I should plan to do it much more often, don’t you?

When I was a Girl Guide in my early teens, we enjoyed a variety of interesting activities, both indoor and outdoor. We also went on hikes and camps, but one thing remained constant, whatever we did. We always wore our Guide uniform, which was a navy-blue dress, with four large pockets. And in those pockets, we carried all sorts of things that might come in handy out in the bush in particular, including a compass, a notebook and pencil, some band-aids, a plastic groundsheet and even a snakebite kit back then! Also, the light-blue tie we wore was made by folding a triangular piece of material in a certain way, so it could double as an arm sling, if needs be. Our Girl Guide motto was, ‘Be Prepared’—and we certainly took that to heart.

This motto came to mind again recently, as I read in Nehemiah how, halfway through rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, the Jews became discouraged and afraid when they discovered that their enemies planned to attack them. However, Nehemiah and the other leaders prayed (4:9), then stationed the people in strategic positions, with swords, spears and bows ready, urging them to stand firm.

Don’t be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious… Nehemiah 4:14 NLT

With God’s help, the enemy’s plot was foiled, but Nehemiah remained vigilant. He organised half the men to protect the people, while the other half kept labouring to finish the wall. He also ordered the builders to work with their swords strapped on, ready to fight at a moment’s notice, and the labourers to carry all their building materials in one hand and a weapon in the other (4:17-18).

But that was not all. Because the workers were scattered, he organised a man to sound the trumpet to warn everyone, should the enemy attack (4:19-20). Yep, Nehemiah was determined to be prepared—and made sure his people were too.

As I pictured all this military activity in my mind, I realised what a powerful image it is for my life today. I may not have human invaders on all sides, plotting to bring me down. Yet I am well aware of the extremely alert, cunning enemy the Apostle Paul warns us about who constantly seeks to discourage, especially when I set out to tackle something I believe God particularly wants me to do.

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12 NLT

I don’t know about you, but, unlike Nehemiah’s men, I need both hands to work on my writing each day! Yet I can still put on the armour Paul goes on to urge the Ephesians—and us—to wear, including the sword of the Spirit, the word of God (Ephesians 6:13-17). And I can pray constantly, just as Nehemiah did and as Paul taught too (6:18). Even as I keep working, I can hold these amazing weapons in my hands, so to speak. And I can also keep trusting in our ‘great and glorious’ God who watches over us, just as Nehemiah did, and not be afraid.

Let’s stay close to God each day, but let’s be armed and prepared too—always.

One recent crisp, sunny morning, my husband happened to chat briefly with our elderly neighbour.

‘It’s a lovely day,’ our neighbour commented. ‘I wouldn’t be dead for quids!’

Now this man is in his mid-nineties, would you believe. So, there is no doubt that, one day soon, he will indeed be dead, whether he likes it or not. Does he have a faith in God? It’s hard to tell from the conversations we have had with him. I hope he indeed is ready to meet God, but that day will surely come soon for him, whatever he believes and however many quids he would be willing to wager to stay here.

Last week, with three funerals to attend in the one week, we were clearly reminded of the need to be ready for that day when our own lives will end. At one of these, that of another lovely neighbour, Ruth, the minister told everyone how he visited her not long before she passed away. While he was there, Ruth apparently managed to say three very important words to him, despite being so weak and ill. And these three words were ‘I love Jesus!’

I cannot think of any better statement to make so close to the end of my life, can you? It’s as simple as that, really, when all is said and done. When we experience the love Jesus has for us and truly believe as a result, then our spirits come alive and we are able to love him in return—and others—as we are called to do.

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 NLT

We love each other because he loved us first. 1 John 4:19 NLT

Out of our love for Jesus who showed us what perfect love is by dying for us, we are empowered to live in a way that honours him and be the faithful servants he has called us to be. Then, having loved and lived for him, we will be ready and waiting when he returns or when our time on earth is over. In fact, while we may not want to leave our loved ones behind here, just as Ruth may not have wanted to, we can look forward with anticipation to that day when we will meet Jesus face to face at last.

And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. 1 John 4:17 NLT

What a privilege to know and love Jesus! And what a privilege to love and serve him and others each day, as we live our lives here to the full! I understand what our neighbour meant when he stated he would so much rather be alive than dead. Our life here has much to offer indeed. Yet I’m so grateful I know death is not the end too—that, one day, I will go to be with Jesus, the one I love the most, who lives and reigns forever.

It’s as simple as that really—and as wonderful.

I sometimes seem to live my life as if those around me are going to be here forever, even if they are not young anymore. Of course they will be there to talk to, I think. Of course we can do this or that together. Then the day comes when they are not there any longer and I am shocked. How can this be?

In my more rational moments, I know this is not how things work. Our time on earth is finite, however much we may try to stave off that day. People become ill and cannot be cured. Terrible disasters occur, ending even young lives, while those of us who are left become older and frailer. Yet it can still be hard to accept another’s death, whatever age they are. They were here. They were real. They were alive—and now they are no longer.

This past week, we heard of the deaths of two older friends. The first was a gentleman in his nineties who always impressed us with his zest for life and his deep commitment to God and his church. Even until the last year or two, he would bake trays of cakes for youth and outreach events at church or for the spring fair in the village where we live. He also loved writing and art and singing—he was an all-round creative person. Right now, I believe he will be rejoicing in heaven in the perfect presence of his Creator God, which is wonderful. Yet it seemed to us as if this larger-than-life person would always be here.

The second person was our lovely neighbour, Ruth, who used to live in the unit opposite us, until moving into aged care. She was in her eighties and had been unwell for some years, yet each day when she could, she would sit on her little stool, digging in her garden and caring for each plant and flower. She was a writer too—such an intelligent, interesting person. But above all, she loved God wholeheartedly and served in the Salvation Army all her life. We were still in the process of moving into our unit when she told me she had been praying for us for some time. And, on occasions, she would come to our door, holding some beans or tomatoes or other produce from her garden, and tell me they were a gift to us as ‘first fruits’ from her harvest. It is wonderful to think that, right now, she too is completely whole again in God’s presence. She was a faithful soldier all her life—and now she has marched right on into heaven.

This news of the passing of these two faithful soldiers has made me look at my own life again. There is no doubt both loved God with all their hearts. They served God and others their whole lives and were ready to meet their Lord. In my mind, I can hear each of them saying, along with the Apostle Paul, not in any boasting way but as mere statements of fact:

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

Whenever my turn comes, I want to be able to say that too, with humility but also with deep certainty, don’t you?

In recent days, as I have begun writing another non-fiction book, I have been thinking about various words or phrases spoken to me that have had a lasting impact in my life. Sometimes, these have been negative, sowing doubts in my mind about my ability to do something or undermining my self-worth. Yet thankfully, I can remember many positive ones too. These gave me hope for the future and reassurance that I could do the things I sensed God wanted me to do and, as I have reflected on them, I have felt so grateful all over again for them.

I wonder if there are some that immediately spring to mind for you from your own experience. Perhaps you remember some things your parents or your teachers said when you were growing up. Perhaps a friend has spoken words of encouragement into your life just when you needed them. How did you feel when you heard those words? And how did you feel afterwards, as they still rang inside your head?

I can remember my father teasing me at times when I was young by saying, ‘Oh Jo—she should have been a boy!’ I knew he was only joking and that he said it just to see my reaction. And I admit I was quite an untidy tomboy at times. Yet these words caused me to doubt myself too. Was I somehow wrong? Was I a disappointment to him?

Much later, in my forties, I remember excitedly sharing with someone that I was heading to theological college. Instead of the positive response I had expected, her words were withering and scornful. ‘What would you want to do that for? I don’t have to prove myself!’ she almost sneered. I was shocked and began questioning my motives—but also wondered why my decision had aroused such anger in her.    

Thankfully, I can remember so many more wonderful, positive words that have encouraged me over the years. I think of a time early on in my writing journey when I was so unsure about my whole approach to creating a novel.

‘Do you think this is all okay?’ I asked my lovely soul friend Joy one day.

‘Oh, I think it’s wonderful!’ she said, so delighted to be part of this new thing I was attempting.

Just a little comment, yet it encouraged me so much to keep going and keep holding onto my dream.

Or I think of an email I received only recently from a lovely new contact I have made overseas. My dear new friend, she had written—and those few, simple words stirred my heart. Yes, I thought, this person values me already as a friend. And, even at my age, I find that so encouraging and reassuring.

I wonder if I have said—or written—any unforgettable words to others lately. If I have, I hope and pray they have been of the encouraging kind, not only because they are the sort I like to receive myself but because these are the sort God wants us to say to one another. So, let’s do it—and may your heart be encouraged too in the process.

… Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. Ephesians 4:29 NLT

Soon after my first novel Heléna was published in 2007, I became curious about where all those early copies would get to. I remember wishing I could install a tracking device on them so I could see who read them and what interesting adventures they had along the way. Of course, I also realised that could be discouraging. After all, some might end up unopened on dusty bookshelves somewhere or, worse still, in the recycling bin! On the other hand, some readers might love the novel and even lend it out—or buy it as a gift. Some copies might end up in libraries too and hopefully be borrowed often. The possibilities were endless!

During COVID lockdown, I had several requests for my older novels, especially All the Days of My Life, the sequel to Heléna. It seemed people had re-discovered Heléna on their bookshelves while bored at home, then decided they would like the sequel. I do not stock any of these two novels now, so asked family and friends if they would part with their old copies. Several were unearthed in this way and it was fun to give them another chance at life with new owners.

Then this past week, I received another request via email for All the Days of My Life. A lady wrote to tell me her husband had just finished reading Heléna and loved it. So … did I have any second-hand copies of the sequel available? I didn’t—but I knew a friend had one. I drove to pick it up and emailed the prospective buyers to sort out postage, only to discover this couple actually live in Canada! Apparently, they found my novel Heléna in their church library—but how did it get there? What’s more, the copy is signed by me, so I must have sold it personally to someone.

To be honest, I am amazed people anywhere are still reading my very first novel published way back in 2007—and I am certainly amazed a copy has ended up in a church library in Canada! Somehow, time and distance have been no barrier for this particular copy at least.

Yet, as I have reflected on this whole story, I have realised something even more amazing. I may not be able to install tracking devices on my books, but God knows where they have all got to—and God is quite able to carry them through time and space to wherever they can minister to someone. Those fifteen years since Heléna was published here in Australia are the mere blink of an eye to God—they are certainly no barrier to the One who was and is and always will be.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 2 Peter 3:8

I find this verse so reassuring, don’t you? Somehow, it puts everything I worry about into much better perspective. Things may take longer to unfold in life than I might have hoped—and yes, my books may also not have as wide a distribution as others. But I can be at peace about it all, because I belong to the most awesome, powerful Creator of the universe for whom no barriers are ever insurmountable.

I usually enjoy myself wherever I am invited to speak. I have given all sorts of talks at all sorts of venues to all sorts of audiences—I still do. I am so thankful for these opportunities and for the many lovely people I have met along the way. But occasionally, these experiences can leave a little to be desired. And on those days, I can come away feeling quite frustrated and disappointed.

After a time of reflection, however, I usually become a little more balanced and can see the positive elements in the whole experience too. Also, I try to ask God how I could have responded better and what I need to learn through it. There is always room for growth, isn’t there?

This was the process I went through again only last week, after speaking at two different secular groups on consecutive days. The first day, I came away more than a little cranky. The group leaders were quite disorganised and, as a result, I had to shorten my input and zip through it all so the meeting would not run overtime. I kept a careful eye on the clock, yet, just as I was finishing, someone called out rudely that my time was almost up. I suspect a good portion of my audience felt as embarrassed as I did, judging by the sympathetic looks several of them gave me as they specially came to thank me afterwards and take my card!

That night, I tried to give it all to God, hoping and praying my speaking engagement the next day would be more pleasant. This time, I got to speak first off and, because I could see I had a few minutes to spare, I even managed to read out the words I had put on my final power point slide:

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. Psalm 139:7-10

The rest of the meeting was very well organised and finished early, so at the end, I had time to chat at my book table with the lady who had invited me to speak. Then another lady joined us.

‘What was that poem you read out at the end of your talk, dear?’ she asked me. ‘It was so lovely!’

I told her it was from Psalm 139 in the Bible and gave her the page of my notes where I had printed the verse out.

‘Thank you so much,’ she responded a little tearily. ‘I’ve been to two funerals this week and… well… those words are just so… ’

As we talked, I silently prayed and thanked God for this lady. Yes, God comforted and encouraged her so lovingly through the words of this psalm. But God also ministered to me by giving me this precious moment with a complete stranger—a moment that far outweighed all that had happened the previous day and has served to encourage me to keep speaking wherever I am invited.

I often feel it would be good if we could be in two places at once. At times I would like to attend some event, yet have promised to do something else already on the same day. At times too, my heart may say yes to turning up at some gathering, yet my head tells me I need to catch up on things at home. It can be a dilemma, can’t it?

One Saturday recently, our church held a retreat day. I sensed God wanted me there, yet it was a tussle. Life had been a little hectic and I longed to be quiet somewhere by myself, rather than be with a hundred other women. And I knew that going out for a whole day would make me even busier the following week, as I caught up on everything. Yet, somewhere inside, a gentle but insistent voice urged me to put my name down to attend.

I went—and it was not long before I found out why I was supposed to be there. In the very first of our three sessions, we focussed on the theme ‘Living with a kingdom perspective’, during which the speaker read out Colossians 3:1-2 from The Message version:

So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.

At the end of that session, we were invited to jot down what we sensed the challenge or invitation from Jesus was for us so far, which I did. I wrote how I did indeed want to see my life from God’s perspective. In particular, I needed to discern whether God wanted me to write another non-fiction book at this stage or whether it was time to put the whole idea aside. I had started on a particular project already—I had even written an introduction and jotted down ideas for various chapters, as well as a possible title and sub-title for the book. Yet, my progress had been slow and discouraging. I sensed something was wrong with my whole approach—or was it that the whole idea was just a bit crazy?

As I sat trying to listen to God, something seemed to shift inside me. I felt as if a bright light had been turned on somewhere in my mind. In an instant, an idea for an entirely different way to tackle my projected book seemed to drop into my lap, complete with a title I love and a sub-title that describes exactly what I want to write about. I would never have dreamt these up myself. Instead, God simply gave me a much better perspective on it all and did so with such gentleness and grace. Of course, I still have to write the book—and that will require lots of work. But now that I sense it is God’s idea, I can tackle it with much more confidence.

It’s such a relief to be able to see things more from God’s perspective, isn’t it? Our own view may be skewed, but God’s never is.

We sat on the back patio in the warm sun, chatting as we ate our lunch. This year, while my husband and I met with our son’s family for afternoon tea on Mothers’ Day itself, I decided I wanted to catch up with our two daughters separately on different days. This then was my opportunity to be with our older daughter and, even though our meal was relatively simple, I found our time together and the warm conversation we enjoyed priceless.

I had made egg sandwiches which our daughter then garnished with parsley and chives from her garden, thus adding wonderful aroma and taste and lifting my basic fare out of the ordinary. Then our daughter served a delicious sponge cake she had baked, complete with jam and cream in the centre and icing sugar on top. What a treat! Immediately, it brought back such comforting memories of my mother’s and grandmother’s sponges which I myself have never been able to replicate.

We topped off our special yet simple lunch with hot cups of tea—all so enjoyable on that level alone. But as we relaxed and chatted, I was reminded again of a deep truth I have noticed many times in the past and experienced myself—the truth that most of us so long to be listened to. Really listened to, that is. This day with our daughter, I felt heard, airing all my various current concerns about my writing and life in general with her. And I hope and pray she felt the same, as I tried my best to hear clearly the things she shared and empathise with her in the process.

You see, one thing she mentioned in this time was that, when talking with a particular friend, she often does not feel heard. ‘They just do not listen!’ she told me with great frustration. Have you ever experienced this yourself? This is how misunderstanding happens, isn’t it? We can feel negated and disrespected and … well, somehow plain wrong. And we can come to believe what we offer the world is worthless.

I suspect I am particularly aware of this issue because I myself tend to talk a lot when in a one-on-one setting with someone. I have so many thoughts and ideas running around in my head I want to share that I know I can easily monopolise the conversation at times and even silence the other person. Yet often I am there to listen to them, not vice versa! Instead, I need to give them space, to honour who they are and, in general, to hear them well. I need to rein in my own desires and, instead, put the other person first.

I have always found what James says about listening very challenging.

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry … James 1:19 NIV

As for the following verse from two different versions … ouch!

To answer before listening is foolish and shameful. Proverbs 18:13 NIRV

Answering before listening is both stupid and rude. Proverbs 18:13The Message

I don’t want to be stupid or rude when talking with others, do you? And I don’t want to feel ashamed either of my own self-centredness. So … let’s listen to others more. And let’s listen so well!