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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Jo 12Recently, while strolling through our local shopping centre filled with glitzy Christmas decorations, I noticed a large, boxlike structure in the middle of the main walkway. What could it be? It seemed that whatever was in it was facing shoppers coming from the opposite direction. I went to look—and found a beautiful, big manger scene there, with Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men all grouped around the baby Jesus. Imagine that! Fancy seeing such a clear reminder of the true meaning of Christmas, right in the middle of all the commercialism the season brings with it!

Yet as I stood there, feeling thankful for such a reminder and grateful to those who had put it there (I think a group of local churches), I also realised this was not my initial response. Instead, I had felt deeply surprised—perhaps even shocked and fearful—that this nativity scene could be where it was. Was anyone really allowed to do such things these days? Who had given permission for this to go ahead? Would people be offended to be reminded about the religious aspect of Christmas?

Wow! As I stopped and reflected a little more, I was shocked all over again at these thoughts that had immediately popped unbidden into my mind. How could someone like me who has been a follower of Jesus for over fifty-five years end up being so easily be influenced by the culture around me and the prevailing anti-Christian stance in our society in general? How had I allowed fear and misgiving to be my first response in this instance, rather than joy and thankfulness?

What a challenge, right there in the middle of the shopping centre! At that point, I felt a determination rise up in me to honour that baby in the manger and to grasp every opportunity to share the true meaning of Christmas with others. I can write about God’s love via this blog and my Christmas letter. I can look for openings in everyday conversations to do that. I can pray for God’s love and grace to touch those around me. I can invite others to our special Christmas church services. I can be generous in my giving, not only to family and friends, but also to those in need—the homeless in nearby Parramatta via the gift bags our church arranges, others doing it tough in our community via our Christmas hampers, those affected by drought and fire, those with barely nothing in other parts of the world. I am allowed to do this! I can do this! I must do this!

This Christmas, whatever our society tells us, let’s all be determined, in God’s strength, to do what we can to share the love of God with others—that amazing love shown so clearly in the fact that God’s Son, Jesus Christ, humbled himself and became a man for us.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

Let’s celebrate this Christmas with hope and joy in our hearts. And let’s be at peace too, as we pray for that peace to permeate our world more and more.

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IMG_20171202_160825689I could not believe it. I had just finished carefully parcelling up two books of mine a customer had purchased through my website. I checked my laptop to find out her address and wrote it clearly on the front of the parcel. I started writing my own address on the back—then stopped, horrified. Without thinking, I had begun to write our old home address. Oops!

To put a positive spin on this sad event, we have been at our new address for only around five months—which isn’t long, compared with the thirty-two years we spent at our old address! Obviously, five months is not long enough for such key pieces of information to embed themselves in my brain, ready for automatic recall.

Now I had a dilemma. Should I tear up all that good wrapping paper I had used and start over? Or should I simply cross out my silly mistake, eat humble pie, risk my new customer’s raised eyebrows and write the correct address underneath?

In the end, I chose the latter, after ruefully telling my husband what I had done.

‘Ah well,’ he said, ‘the other day, for the first time since we moved, I headed home to our old house after I finished shopping, instead of our new one!’

Hmm. I wonder what would have happened if he had tried to put his key in the door?

Yet when we still lived at our old house, I too did something similar once. As I drove home late one night along Victoria Road, thinking about all sorts of things, I suddenly realised I had gone straight past our street and was heading for Parramatta! Eventually, I managed to get back on track, but all the while, I found myself thinking, ‘How could have done that? How could I have forgotten where I was heading after all these years?’

In the natural, it’s not ideal to forget where I live or drive right past my own street. But it’s a much more serious matter when I begin to do the same in the spiritual. How often, in the busyness of life, have I failed to remember where my real home is? How often do I wander around, looking for peace and comfort in the wrong places? How often have I lost sight of who I am and where I truly belong? How often do I head in the wrong direction, oblivious to those promptings of the Spirit and so preoccupied with my own thoughts and ideas rather than God’s? Yet God is always there, arms open wide, offering us the most wonderful homecoming of all, just as Jesus showed us in the story of the lost son (Luke 15). Each day, God longs to provide the rest, peace, shelter, safety, strengthening and restoration we need—yet all too often I seem to have lost God’s address.

I wonder if, this Christmas, we all need to make it a priority to find our way back home to God, to that place where we truly belong?

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:28-29

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Jo 23Some of my friends find winter quite a depressing time, especially on dull, rainy days. I grew up in Queensland, so maybe my affinity for winter stems from that. After all, it was much more bearable in winter to handle wearing those obligatory gloves and black stockings as well as a hat and a tie to high school each day!

Or perhaps this affinity for winter rests on the fact that I can curl up in my warm study, with the sun coming through a nearby window, and enjoy writing those things that are on my heart to write. Even if the weather is dull, the sound of rain on the iron roof next door merely adds to the ambience. And even when my writing is proving difficult, I still find myself blessed to be where I am.

Right now, my husband is in New Zealand. I could have been there with him, but I turned it down. Granted, there were a few things I would have had to reorganise to do that. But, in my heart of hearts, I did not want to go anyway. Now I love my husband. And I love New Zealand. What’s more, I have never seen the northern part of the South Island, where he began his trip. But I am in the throes of editing my eighth book—and I knew if I allowed my mind to be diverted elsewhere, however beautiful that place might be, it would be difficult to regain that momentum.

Right now too, one of our daughters is in Hawaii for a cousin’s wedding. I could have gone there too, but I turned it down. ‘Hawaii? You turned down a visit to Hawaii? In the middle of winter?’ some have asked incredulously. Yep—that’s me! Admittedly, I felt a twinge of jealousy when I saw those photos of that beautiful wedding right beside a beach and read about the other interesting places our daughter has visited. But no, I’m happy to be home, curled up here in my study, pressing on with my editing.

Yes, I can see many things around me that need my attention. At the moment, I can write my name in the dust on my desk or on the piano in our lounge, courtesy not only of my neglect but also of the dusty building site opposite. I daren’t venture too far down our backyard in case I see all those weeds. I need to cook something so there is food to eat tomorrow when our daughter arrives to pick up her two cats I have been minding. I need to attend to those two said cats. But I am here at my desk right now. I am happy to be here. I have a meaningful editing job ahead. And God is with me—so very much with me.

Yesterday, despite its not being Christmas, I read about the birth of Jesus.

The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” Matt 1:23

Immanuel. God with us. God … with … us. Right now, whatever we are doing. Right here, wherever we are. So very present, in the midst of the ordinary.

May you find that as overwhelming and as comforting as I do.

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I wonder if you’re like me and have a drawer or a box or a folder where you put all sorts of precious things you can’t quite bring yourself to throw away? My drawer of treasures is almost overflowing. It currently contains old certificates, cards of appreciation from the various places I have worked, funny little messages my children or grandchildren have written, various orders of service from weddings and funerals we have attended, newspaper and magazine cuttings about people I knew—and so the list goes on. But in one folder I unearthed there recently, I found some of my writing from over twenty-five years ago. I didn’t even remember clearly that I was doing any writing at that stage of my life, but there was the evidence before my eyes. As I sorted through it, I found an old church newsletter from 1985—and on the front was a poem I had written.

Now I don’t pretend to be a poet. I have enough trouble being a novelist! But I immediately remembered the emotions and frustrations I was feeling at that time in my life as I read my poem again—emotions that stirred me enough to work hard to express them on paper. Thankfully, by the grace of God, I came through that time, but it occurred to me that there may be some people out there who are going through similar frustrations in their lives right now, particularly in their writing journeys. So last week, I chose to share my poem in a blog I wrote for the International Christian Fiction Writers blog (http://internationalchristianfictionwriters.blogspot.com/).  And lo and behold, already two people I have never met have contacted me from the other side of the world, expressing how much the poem had meant to them and asking for permission to reproduce it. One lives in the Adirondack Mountains in the north of New York State – I don’t even know where that is!

If God could use a simple, little poem to bless someone else so far away, I figured that maybe he also wants to bless someone closer to home. So I decided to share my poem again, in case any of you identify too with what I wrote. The poem really is a prayer—a cry from my heart at the time—and is based on Isaiah 9:6:  For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Wonderful Counsellor, surround me with your wisdom.

My mind is tired, with indecision torn.

Where is the path prepared for me to follow?

I need you, Lord, to watch, to guide, to warn.

 

Almighty God, defend me with your power.

My weakness wins, my courage ebbs away.

O Holy One, great Lord of all creation,

For strength to stand secure I humbly pray.

 

Everlasting Father, how you love me!

I am your child, forgiven, forever free!

O hold me fast, transform me to your likeness,

Till men in me your face more clearly see.

 

Prince of Peace, bestow your calm assurance.

My heart is troubled, turmoil takes control.

O send your soothing Spirit to surround me.

Speak, Lord, till I am still within my soul!

 

Is that your heart cry right now? May you have listening ears to hear what God is saying to you. And may you know the loving presence of the Prince of Peace close by you and around you this Christmas, giving you all the wisdom and assurance you need.

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I have a friend who is very good at losing things. I had thought of basing my next novel on my friend’s exciting exploits but figure people would probably not believe the half of it!

It all started when my friend was seven. She was given a gold signet ring as a special Christmas gift—something she had long set her heart on. However, it was a little too big and one day not long after, while she was playing at the beach, it slipped off and was lost in the sand. She and others searched in vain, praying they would find it, but it was impossible. The next morning, my friend went back to the beach, no doubt a little disconsolately. She began building a sandcastle, letting the dry sand run through her fingers over the top of the castle, when lo and behold, the ring appeared! It had lain in the sand there for a whole day, even when the tide flowed in and out over it.

Years later, my friend lost a beautiful, little butterfly brooch she cherished, given to her by an older relative. More years passed, until one day when she visited a second-hand shop with a friend, she happened to see a brooch exactly the same as the one she lost. Needless to say, she bought it then and there, redeeming ‘her’ brooch for some relatively small amount. Was it perhaps the very one she lost? We will never know.

Then more recently, while my friend was moving into a new home that is situated at the top of a long, steep driveway, a ring she was wearing came off and rolled down … and down … and down … quickly disappearing from sight. Certain she would never see it again but desperate to find it, my friend slowly walked down her driveway late that night with a torch to look one more time. And then she saw it, lying right at the bottom between two rubbish bins on the footpath, gleaming in the light of her small torch! It could have disappeared in the grass anywhere along the way, rolled into two large drains nearby or bounced right across the road. Instead, it apparently rolled in a perfectly straight line as it went on its merry way down to the road below.

And then there were the gold earrings my friend’s daughter gave her. She had no idea where she could have lost them, so eventually her daughter gave her another pair. Then one day when my friend was tidying some linen in a cupboard, she found a folded over placemat. Wondering why it was folded the way it was, she investigated—and yes, there were the earrings, neatly lying just where she must have left them.

My friend well knows the meaning of rejoicing when something she has lost is found and relates very easily to the woman Jesus tells us about in Luke 15 who loses a coin. But I am sure she understands God’s heart well too for his lost children and shares in the wonderful rejoicing in heaven when one of them turns back to the Father.

… I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:10).

This Christmas, let’s rejoice in our ‘found’ state as we remember our Saviour’s birth. And for those of you who still feel lost, may you too find peace and joy this Christmas as you welcome the Christ Child into your heart.

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Our granddaughters seem to own lots of things that need batteries to keep going. Just before Christmas, our Olivia lined up an interesting array of Santa and Rudolf toys they own and began to demonstrate to me how these only half worked because they ostensibly needed new batteries. They looked a sorry lot, with glowing noses that didn’t quite glow, heads and hands that kind of half moved and voices that sounded very strange and tended to peter out miserably. Then there are the toys that don’t run across the floor anymore because they need new batteries or the cute puppy that no longer wags its tail or the fluffy kitten that has forgotten how to purr – not to mention the camera that won’t click or the keyboard that won’t play. And so the list goes on.

Well, I think I know how these toys feel! I related very well to that poor, tired Santa my granddaughter showed me who just couldn’t sing and dance around. But that was a few weeks ago now. Here I am today on the ‘other side’ of Christmas and heading through much quieter territory, momentarily at least. I have discovered, as I have let myself relax a lot more than normal, the joy of doing nothing for once – of putting aside speaking engagements, book promotion and yes, even writing, and letting those batteries run down completely. And again, I have been reminded that life is not a matter of always having to be productive – and certainly not a matter of ‘doing’ things to impress God or anyone else. God loves us completely and utterly. God understands and in fact has made us so that we need to rest at regular intervals and be renewed. In fact, I suspect God is delighted when we take time out to sit or lie back and just ‘be’, for a change. And as we put everything aside and choose to live ‘in the moment’, simply letting God hold us and ‘be’ with us, then that is when we can best hear not only God’s heart for us but our own hearts as well.

And that’s exactly what happened to me this morning as I took time to read Isaiah 40, forgetting at first that this is the chapter that talks about weariness and renewal! So it was a joy to find and read again what God has said on the subject:

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31)

What an encouragement as we prepare to step into 2011! As we take time to focus on God, who never grows weary, and continue to ‘hope in the Lord’, then we will be strengthened and empowered to do the things God has put in our hearts to do.

Now that’s what I call a total battery recharge – don’t you?

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I love Christmas for all sorts of reasons. I love the fun things like presents and great food and the company of family and friends.  I love the goodwill that flows from people, even in the midst of end-of-year tiredness and coping with summer heat.  I love the relaxing, holiday feel of this time – particularly the sound of cricket on TV!  Yes, usually there is some sadness, as I remember past Christmases and people who were important in my life but are no longer here.  But as I sit with my sadness, I can remember too in the midst of it the good things about that person and how he or she enriched my life.  I can remember past places with nostalgia where we lived and celebrated Christmas with friends we no longer see but also with thankfulness for what these people and periods in our life meant to us.  But however I’m feeling, there is one thing about Christmas that honestly brings me such comfort and joy.  And that to me is best summed up in the words of Matthew 1:23:

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and they will call him Immanuel – which means, “God with us.”

What a gift to us!  Immanuel – God with us.  God come to earth to share our pain, to show us the way, to renew us and ultimately to rescue us.  No wonder we rejoice at Christmas, although for many the reason we do this has been lost.  No wonder we want to show love to others, since we have been so greatly loved by God.  That’s the perspective I want to keep at Christmas, no matter what’s going on around me.  I want to remember with sincere thankfulness and with joy that whatever happens in my life and in this world, God hasn’t abandoned me.  In fact God has come to us in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ – Immanuel, God with us.  And that means God will never leave me or forsake me in this life or the next.

So I am looking forward this 2009 to once again celebrating Christmas with great thankfulness.  But I also want to take this opportunity to thank those who have supported me so well this past year in my writing and speaking journey: firstly my husband Lionel, who has provided essential computer and bookkeeping expertise; secondly my daughter Jane, who has helped so much with my website and blog; thirdly, the wonderful members of my email prayer team, who pray for me wherever I speak; and finally, all of you who have bought my books, read my blogs, emailed to encourage me and invited me to speak.  Thank you so much for all your love and support.

So happy Christmas to you all!  May you too remember the blessing of Immanuel – God with us.

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