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The right road

Jo 23One recent Saturday night, I set out to drive our daughter to her home in an entirely different part of Sydney. As usual, I headed for James Ruse Drive, then onto the M4 freeway. As usual too, my daughter and I were talking about all sorts of things, while I endeavoured to keep my eyes on the traffic around me. We were almost at the end of the freeway when, to my horror, I suddenly realised the road we were on looked very different from usual. Somehow I had ended up in the newly completed tunnel that speedily propels drivers towards the city rather than on Parramatta Road near my usual turnoff!

What could we do? Absolutely nothing—except keep driving until we could actually exit onto Parramatta Road, albeit at a spot way past where I wanted to be. But then I had another dilemma. Should I now try to drive our daughter home a different way through unfamiliar suburbs late on a dark night? Or should I backtrack along Parramatta Road and stick to my well-known route?

In the end, I chose the latter. But it was indeed a loooong journey that night.

When I arrived home, my helpful husband asserted that, although he had never been in the new tunnel, there must be signs everywhere that could not be missed. So we decided to take a drive in the daytime to ensure we knew which lane one needed to stick to in order to exit before that shiny, new tunnel swallowed us up again.

Perhaps you can guess what happened. There was my husband, driving along looking at all the road signs, when … poof … suddenly he too found himself careering into the tunnel rather than straight onto Parramatta Road! At least he enjoyed checking it all out. But again, how easy it had been, despite all those signs, to glide along with the other traffic on that wide freeway towards the tunnel!

Later, I thought about what these two interesting experiences where we so easily took the wrong road might teach me for my life in general. It can be so easy to go along with what others say or how others live who do not know or care about God, can’t it? It can be so easy to be seduced by all those ads urging us to do or buy this and that rather than think about what God might want. It can be so easy to drift into watching shows or playing computer games or reading books that do not honour God. But, as Jesus himself taught, this wide, easy road that many others might choose to take does not lead to real life.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matthew 7:13-14

I’m so thankful I veered off onto God’s narrow road many years ago now, rather than powering on along that obvious, wide, easy freeway, heedless to God’s voice. My road might twist and turn, but I know where I’m heading. And I have the perfect Navigator beside me forever who will never lead me astray.

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This might sound strange, but I love spending time staring at certain things. For example, I used to sit in front of our open fire when the children were little and stare into those flames for ages. I still enjoy gazing at the washing as it flaps on the clothesline. And I also love watching the leaves in the trees as they are tossed about in the wind—or even their tiny movements as a gentle breeze stirs them. On a slightly more normal note, I love looking at the various types of foliage on the shrubs and bushes outside my study window and the different shapes and colours and textures of their leaves. And of course, I love the shapes and colours of the beautiful flowers, large and small, growing in the garden right at our front door and on the nearby trees and shrubs.

Now these trees and shrubs and flowers do not say anything out loud that I can hear at least—although I have a neighbour who believes in talking to her plants to encourage them to grow, so maybe they do! Nevertheless, surely they speak volumes in their own beautiful, silent way of the heart of God for our world and for us all, don’t you think?

This past weekend, I presented a writing workshop to help others get started on a project for our church’s Art Installation to be held next month. The theme for this year’s Installation is ‘Creation Speaks His Name’—and what fun I had preparing my input! The more I thought about it all and the more I gathered bits and pieces together to inspire us on the day, the more in awe of God I became. I know there are places in our world right now that are crying out for rain, where nothing much will grow. But in general, as we look around us, creation does indeed speak God’s name, telling us something about God’s nature and personality, shouting aloud to all who listen that God is indeed the all-powerful and all-loving creator of the universe.

As I selected various nature photos taken over the years to use in my workshop, I found myself in awe of the beauty of creation depicted in them. I heard them speak loudly of God’s own beauty and glory and God’s abundant grace in surrounding us with such splendour. Some photos I included of rugged, snow-covered mountains, swiftly flowing streams and unique rock formations also spoke to my heart of God’s awesome power and strength and majesty. I noticed too, in the flowers and fruit and vegetables I gathered together to inspire our writing, the amazing variety in creation, which surely mirrors God’s boundless creativity and endless resources. And, in those tiny, perfectly formed blossoms and leaves I had collecteIMG_20190807_120901938d, I saw God’s generous, extravagant love that would bother to make even a little wildflower no one may ever see or an insignificant leaf on a common, household pot plant into a miniature work of art.

Yes, surely creation speaks God’s name, loud and clear. In response, may we join with those winged creatures Isaiah describes around the Lord’s throne and shout out our praises too!

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Isaiah 6:3

Jo 17Can you remember a time when you went somewhere with a particular purpose in mind, only to find God had some surprises in store for you—or perhaps even an entirely different agenda? What was your initial response? Did you perhaps feel a little ripped off, like I have at times? After all, what could God be thinking, to mess up my lovely plans!

A couple of weekends ago, my author friend and I were promoting our books in a Koorong bookstore. Our day started off well. On arrival, I found someone had bought one of my books already and was waiting for me to sign it. He also insisted on having his photo taken with us, so, for a few seconds at least, we felt like celebrities! While things were a little slow after that, we still had some lovely conversations with customers and sold a few books. Besides, there was always hope things would improve after lunch. But we had no idea of the special experiences God had in store for us.

Our first ‘God surprise’ came via a friendly man and his severely disabled teenage son who was in a wheelchair. I chatted briefly with them, before moving away to talk with someone else. But when I returned, the man and his son were holding hands with my friend and praying for her! Later, I discovered the man’s son had felt God wanted them to pray with her about a particular health issue, so, after ascertaining that this was indeed something my friend suffers from, they had done exactly that. I silently joined in the prayer then but also felt so humbled that this young man had listened to God and was so keen to pray for others. What amazing, compassionate people, so full of the light and love of God!

Later, when it was almost time to leave, a lady came by whom I had met several months earlier when we had last signed books in the store. She and a friend had subsequently met with me for coffee and, on that occasion, I had told them about some issues our grandson Zain was having at school. Now, as she greeted me, her first words flabbergasted me.

‘Hello—so lovely to see you again! How is your little grandson Zain? My friend and I have been praying for him by name that God will provide the resources that will help him.’

This beautiful lady, with so much else going on in her life, had gone on faithfully praying for our grandson. What’s more, while I could not even recall her name at first, she had remembered his name and was so eager to hear what was happening for him. Again, what a wonderful, humbling, encouraging ‘God moment’!

Initially, I saw these experiences as interruptions. I did not want to be side-tracked from what I thought was my much more important task of engaging with new customers and promoting our books. But how wrong I was—and how much more amazing were the things God had planned for us that day!

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’ Isaiah 55:8-9

 

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

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

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

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

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

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is that your hope too?