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In an instant

Jo 17I wonder if you can recall a time when you watched something disastrous unfold in front of you that you were powerless to stop. Such moments can feel quite surreal—as if we and those involved are momentarily suspended somewhere outside of time in another world.

A few weeks ago, I decided to drive to our nearby Bunnings store one morning, just after the school rush. I was almost there—I could see the entrance on my right as I sat behind another car that was also waiting to turn into the car park. A small, white van was approaching from the opposite direction, so of course we had to wait for it to pass. And that was when the most bizarre thing happened. Instead of driving on down the road, that white van veered slightly, headed straight for a big concrete post outside Bunnings and ended up a crumpled mess!

I exclaimed out loud, as I watched this disaster unfold—and there we all sat for what seemed like an eternity. No one got out of that wrecked car that was now firmly wrapped around the cement post—and the driver in front of me did not move either. After a while, I began to wonder if I should edge around this other car, find a park and see if the driver in the accident needed help. Then, just as the car in front of me finally moved, a man emerged from the wrecked van. But I was worried—this man was holding his chest as he leant on his car and looked at his wrecked vehicle.

I had no choice but to get off the road and park—but what to do next? I have no great medical knowledge, so I decided to run and tell a Bunnings staff member what had happened. She immediately called the store manager, who headed to the accident scene. So, still feeling concerned but also redundant, I proceeded on with my shopping.

When I had finished, I discovered the ambulance, police and fire brigade had arrived—but they could not find the driver anywhere! Had he taken himself off home or to a nearby house? Perhaps he did not have a licence—or perhaps he was too dazed and had wandered off. The only thing I could be sure of was that when this man had set out that morning, he would never have expected to end up wrapped around a post.

Later, I realised that, if that car had have swerved the other way, either I or the driver in front of me could have been injured or worse. We do not know, do we, as we wake up each day, what will actually happen? As James writes:

Now listen, you who say, “Tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. James 4:13-14

Let’s not live each day in fear, afraid to step out and do what God has for us to do. But let’s also be ready for that moment when we will meet our Lord face to face, wherever and however it comes.

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Awesome!

During our recent holiday in the South Island of New Zealand, we stayed in Air Bnbs, all of which worked well for us. Afterwards, we were asked to rate our stay at each place, but one question that puzzled us was this: ‘Did this Air Bnb meet your expectations?’ Don’t you think this is a strange question? After all, our expectations could have been outrageously high, yet the Bnb could still have been excellent. Alternately, they could have been low, so that even a mediocre Bnb would receive a positive response!

Before we set out on our trip, I had high expectations of the beautiful scenery and unique places we hoped to see. Often, my imagination leads me to conjure up images that are far from reality, but this time, reality truly far exceeded my expectations. At every turn, there seemed to be some amazing gem of nature to admire, with so many different facets, each displaying some aspect of God’s awesome creativity. At times, it seemed a sacrilege to try to take a photo of the scene before me—I felt no photo of mine could ever do it all justice. And as I saw other tourists rushing around, trying to get this shot and that, without seeming to stop for a moment to take it all in, I wondered if they were short-changing themselves.

P1040517It was not only the beautiful vistas but also the amazing variety all around us in nature that often blew my mind. On our way down to Milford Sound, at one moment we were rolling through green, restful, pastoral land, with sheep and deer grazing nearby. But soon we came to high mountains, some still snow-capped, with clear streams flowing from theP1040533 valleys in between. Sometimes we stopped to take short walks through the rainforests alongside these, in awe of the fact that, in one 360 degree turn, we could feast our eyes on so much natural variety within such a relatively small area. It was as if God had condensedP1040520 everything into one huge, single, mind-blowing experience that almost reached overload at times.

But when we came to the glacier country on the west coast, I was amazed yet again. There we were, standing in the car park on a humidP1040577 day, wearing light, summer clothes. Yet, before us, etched against the blue sky, were snow-capped peaks and an icy glacier, as well as those misty, brooding clouds that seemed to roll in with such speed from the nearby ocean. What a reminder these rugged mountains and wide riverbeds filled with slate-like rock were to me of the power and might of our awesome Creator God, who alone could bring such a diverse, magnificent world into being!

Later, I remembered and reflected on the words of Romans 1:20:

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

So Lord, how can I not praise your name for your awesome power and majesty and endless creativity I saw at every turn? Open my eyes to see more and more of you in this amazing world you have created—and may I never take you for granted or forget you, my awesome God!

Jo 12It was the second last day of our wonderful holiday in the South Island of New Zealand. We had arrived at the wharf in Picton for our ferry trip to Wellington, only to discover the ferry was cancelled. So … what to do during those extra hours until the afternoon ferry arrived? At that point, I admit I felt a little miffed that our plans for our afternoon in Wellington were foiled.

In the end, we visited a museum and enjoyed a delicious morning tea. Then I noticed a jewellery store I had not previously explored.

‘I’ll read my book in the car,’ my husband speedily volunteered. ‘But make sure you buy something for yourself!’

After wandering around the shop for ages, I chose an inexpensive pair of paua shell earrings.

‘This is all part of our Golden Wedding anniversary celebrations,’ I told the young girl serving me. ‘They’ll always remind me of our beautiful time here.’

‘You don’t look old enough to have a Golden Wedding anniversary!’ the store manager/owner who had joined us by then commented.

‘I’m seventy-one,’ I told her, all the while thinking what a good salesperson she was.

No!’ she responded, shocked. ‘Your skin’s so smooth. You look about fifty-eight to me! What’s your secret?’

I laughed and was about to give some flippant answer, but felt a clear check in my spirit. In that moment, I saw my opportunity to say something of much more lasting value instead.

‘Well,’ I began, ‘my husband has been a minister all our married life. Both of us have a firm faith in God and are connected closely with a church community—so I think when you are at peace inside you, then that makes a big difference overall.’

The older lady nodded, her eyes big.

‘But what have you yourself done in your life?’ she asked then.

I told her briefly about my various occupations, that I myself had trained for ministry in my late forties and also had become a writer in my late fifties. We talked then about how important it is to keep learning and growing in our lives, to which she strongly agreed.

‘And what books do you write? Do you have a card or something, so we can look you up?’ the younger girl burst out then.

I explained how my books have a lot of ‘faith content’, then fished in my bag and found two business cards, hoping and praying both women would indeed look me up and read what I write the books I do write. After chatting for a while longer, I eventually left, in awe of how God had managed to use this little window of time in my life when I was feeling quite miffed to share something at least with these women of the difference faith in our loving God can make in our lives. My words were no doubt inadequate, yet I was sure God could still use them in some way.

We have a wonderful ‘secret’ to share, don’t you think? So let’s endeavour, in all gentleness and grace, to do just that.

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect … 1 Peter 3:15

In a nutshell

Jo 17I love the Psalms. Time and time again, I come back to them—particularly when I am busy. In my old Bible that I am reluctant to pension off because I know where everything is in it, there are many verses in the Psalms I have highlighted via a wiggly line drawn beside them. And many of these are now etched in my mind, so that they feel like old friends when I come across them again.

Yet I often still find surprises along the way. One morning recently, we needed leave home earlier than usual, in order to mind our grandchildren for the day. I rushed around, organising this and that, but then found myself with a few minutes spare before we actually had to walk out our door. So I decided I could read at least a few verses of the psalm I was up to and thus have it in my mind as we drove to our daughter’s house. I opened my Bible to Psalm 116—yes, I had read that yesterday. I turned the page and there before me was Psalm 117—all two verses of it!

Praise the Lord, all your nations; extol him, all you peoples. For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.

That was it! I was sure I had never seen this tiny psalm before, yet I must have. Despite its brevity, I decided it packed quite a punch. And it was just the right length for me to remember, as we hurried out to begin a day full of interesting activities with our two young grandchildren.

Later that evening, as I sat down to re-read my huge psalm of the day and ponder on it some more, I decided it pretty much sums up in a nutshell what our amazing God is like and how we are called to respond to him.

Great is his love toward us’—that to me surely gets straight to the heart of the gospel. In my own life, it was God’s love that first drew me to him as a fifteen-year-old. Even after all these years, I can still remember thinking, ‘Wow! God knows me! And God loves me!’ Then many years later in my life, I believe God gave me a glimpse of his amazing love for me all over again one New Year’s Eve. I saw in my mind a picture of someone whom I knew was Jesus holding me as a baby and looking down at me with the most incredible love shining from his face. He was speaking tenderly and saying over and over again, ‘Wow—Jo-Anne!’—and I knew I would remain loved and secure in his arms forever, just as this psalm goes on to say. Whatever happened in my life, the Lord would remain faithful.

And, after more than fifty-five years, that is still my testimony. God has rescued me so many times, picked me up and held me close until I was strong enough to stand again. So what can I do but praise the Lord from my heart, as The Message version of this psalm encourages us all to do?

Praise God, everybody! Applaud God, all people! His love has taken over our lives; God’s faithful ways are eternal. Hallelujah!

True compassion

Jo 12I am an expert at feeling sorry for people. Just ask my husband, who simply sighs and shakes his head at me, after fifty years of marriage. Last year, during a road trip interstate when we passed through various little country towns where everything looked more than a little down-at-heel, he knew what I would be likely to say next.

‘Oh, this all looks so quiet—and everything seems so old! How do the shops here survive? I feel so sorry for them. Even the pub looks deserted! Oh dear!’

Sometimes too when I spy a small, corner store right here in Sydney somewhere, I can easily feel sorry for its owner, who must find it so hard to compete with the bigger shopping centres. And when I see shop after shop all crammed together in close proximity to its competitors in one of our more heavily populated suburbs, I can manage to feel sorry for those owners too.

‘How do they all make a bean?’ I ask in a worried voice. ‘They must have to work such long hours seven days a week to survive!’

Yes, I am a champion at feeling sorry for all sorts of people—probably unnecessarily, most of the time! That is one reason I do not watch those current affairs shows that often feature some poor person who is being picked on by a neighbour or who has been duped by some dodgy, unscrupulous builder or tree-lopper or who is at odds with a hard-hearted insurance company who refuses to pay up. I cannot bear to see their need—and to be unable to do anything about it. All I can do is hope and pray the story has a good ending and that someone else who can do something about it takes action.

There is a sensible limit, I suspect, in how much energy we should expend in feeling sorry for others in this unproductive way. And there is a difference too, I think, in feeling sorry for someone and having true empathy or compassion for them. So perhaps those of us who can so easily feel sorry for others would do better if we realised this and modelled ourselves more on our great God of compassion, who not only empathises perfectly, but can actually do something about our situation.

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. Psalm 103:8

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. Psalm 103:13-14

The Lord did not simply wring his hands and say, ‘Oh dear—what a mess my children are in!’ Instead, because of his great compassion for us, he sent his Son Jesus to rescue us. And we see that same compassion in Jesus himself in the way he reached out to those around him, healing so many and preaching the good news of the kingdom.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:36

What a wonderful, powerful, compassionate God we have who does not simply feel sorry for us but reaches out in love, rescuing us, restoring us and drawing us ever closer to himself!

Jo 23I wonder what traditions have emerged in your family or among your friends over the years. Perhaps they involve doing something together at a particular time each year or celebrating birthdays or some other special event in a particular way. And if or when these traditions are overlooked or cannot be continued for some reason, we feel their loss keenly.

Almost every school holidays, my husband takes our two older granddaughters out separately for dinner. They are free to choose where they want to go and what they will eat—but, would you believe, most times, they choose the same restaurant and exactly the same meal they chose the previous time? So …  is it still really their favourite restaurant and favourite meal? Or is it that the power of tradition is so strong that it wouldn’t feel right if they chose something different when out with Granddad?

Recently when my husband came home from taking our thirteen-year-old granddaughter out, I asked him how it had gone.

‘Oh, lovely, as usual! We chatted about all sorts of things!’

I left it at that. Obviously, he had enjoyed their time together—and I trust our granddaughter did too. Yes, the day might well come soon when our granddaughters may have other interests and be less willing to accept such invitations. And no doubt one day, my husband will no longer be able to do such things with them. But when those times come, I hope they remember how much he enjoyed listening to them, providing for them and treating them as young ladies.

As I reflected further, I began to wonder how many times I myself have been less than willing to accept a dinner invitation with the most perfect and gracious host of all. How often have I acted like those ungrateful Israelites who forgot how the Lord had set them free and ignored his pleas to submit to him so that he could rescue them from their enemies and fill their mouths with good food?

If my people would but listen to me, if Israel would follow my ways, how quickly would I subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes! … But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you. Psalm 81:13-16

The beautiful words of Psalm 23 came to mind too, where David writes how the Lord our Shepherd delights to provide a wonderful spread for us, anointing our heads as a host would anoint an honoured guest, and providing us with more than enough food and drink, as well as the space and time to enjoy it, even in the face of our enemies:

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows. Psalm 23:5

I hope and pray in this coming year, I will value those precious times of being in the Lord’s presence and sharing my life with him each day so that they become a tradition I cannot do without.  And I hope and pray you can too.

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:20

Fifty years!

scan0007This Friday 18th January 2019 is our Golden Wedding anniversary. Fifty years ago, we became husband and wife on a warm, summer’s morning at Annerley Church of Christ in Brisbane! Nine days later, I turned twenty-one—and that afternoon, my sister and her husband were married at Stephen’s Anglican Church, Coorparoo in Brisbane. Our parents must have had quite a time, preparing (and paying for!) two weddings so close together, for sure.

In October, when my sister and her husband wereIMG_20181027_131430316 visiting from Victoria, we took each other out for a meal to celebrate our two Golden Weddings. What fun we had, checking out menus and deciding which two restaurants we would choose! We figured we had a good excuse to spend a little more on our meals this time because, after all, not every couple gets to celebrate such a milestone event—especially two sisters.

IMG_20181025_190738185Something else my sister and I have in common is that we both married ministers! Our journeys have been varied and interesting, with many twists and turns—some of our own choosing and some not. But here we are, fifty years later, still loving and serving God as we are gifted and via the opportunities that come our way—and still great friends with each other too.

Does fifty years sound a loooong time to you? In our village where we live, one couple who are our neighbours have been married for sixty-four years and another couple for even longer— over seventy-five years! As someone jokingly said to us, ‘You’d get a lot less than that for murder!’ At least … I hope they were joking! But whether we think fifty or sixty or seventy something years is a long time depends on our perspective, doesn’t it? Right here and now in our lives, that seems quite an innings. But if we step back and think about all the centuries that have gone by in this world, it does not seem long at all. And when we step back even further and try to see things from the perspective of our eternal God, then fifty or sixty or even seventy years is nothing more than the blink of an eye.

For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. Psalm 90:4

In Psalm 103:15-18, David also highlights this different perspective:

As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children—with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.

How important it is for us to use whatever time God gives us on this earth well, both as individuals and, if married, as a couple! We have this one brief opportunity, whether single or married, widowed or divorced, to use our God-given gifts in whatever way God asks us to. So as we step into 2019, let’s all resolve to live in a way that honours our loving and patient Lord–and also one another–because that is the essence of good relationships, marriage or otherwise, don’t you think?