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Posts Tagged ‘coronavirus’

A few weeks ago, our village gardeners finally had time to renovate the garden area near our unit. It used to be our neighbour’s pride and joy, before she could no longer look after it. The men worked busily, leaving some of the old plants but also adding lots of extras. Now we have a mixture of hardier shrubs such as azaleas, gardenias and baby nandina, along with some of our neighbour’s special plants—alstroemeria, gerberas, primroses, cyclamen, some kangaroo paw and even a patch of thyme.

Now that was pretty much all we thought was left of our neighbour’s original plants—until I looked closer in one spot and saw some little green shoots almost covered over by the wood chip the gardeners had put everywhere on top to deter any weeds. As gently as I could, I flicked the pieces of wood off them and hoped those little fronds would survive.

IMG_20200727_140611536Lo and behold, when I walked past a few days ago, there they were, standing so much taller and stronger and looking as if they might burst into flower at any moment. I suspect they might be daffodils, but who knows? We will have to wait and see. As well, beside these shoots, there was a cluster of dainty snowdrops on one side and another cluster of little star-shaped daffodil-like flowers on the other. And behind them, some wider shoots had also popped through the ground, along with a beautiful, dainty blue flower—all seemingly out of nowhere.

Yes, many of the other special plants our neighbour had nurtured with such care are now gone, including her hollyhocks and irises and the precious peony she particularly loved, along with the parsley we all enjoyed picking and using! Yet now, what looked like bare patches covered in wood chip are suddenly yielding special, unexpected treasures that remind me each day of our lovely neighbour.

I suspect this little patch of garden could be a fitting image for the strange period we are all in, don’t you think? For many, this is a difficult time when jobs have gone, money is tight and the future looks bleak. For others of us, this isolation time feels more like a weird hiatus, as if the pause button has been hit on our lives and nothing is as we knew it or expected it to be.

Yet, beneath it all, there still is life—and hope. Out of this time that may seem fruitless and bare, good things will come. They may be hidden for now, but soon those fresh possibilities will burst forth, just like the green daffodil shoots did. Eventually, when this isolation time has passed, we will look back and see the new things that blossomed in these months that would never otherwise have seen the light of day.

And God is still there too, watching over us and walking with us each day, willing us to keep trusting, whatever is happening—or not happening—around us. So let’s encourage one another today as we join together in a prayer the Apostle Paul prayed long ago:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

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Jo 12During this coronavirus time, I have worked steadily on my next novel. I edited as I wrote and also edited the whole manuscript four or five times after completing it. Then I sent it off to my first manuscript reader/editor—and the next—and the next—and the next. Then I submitted it to my old publisher. And each time, there was more to edit—and more—and more. My manuscript was around 97,000 words initially, but is now around 87,000 words. And I’m still going. Is it any wonder that some nights I have gone to bed with words swimming before my eyes?

In this time too, I have written three short stories, critiqued two manuscripts and a portion of two more. And I have kept writing my blogs each week—and emailing friends and family who have felt a little isolated. I was glad I could do all this, but there comes a point where all this reading and writing can become a little tiring—especially the discouraging task of throwing thousands of words out that you have laboured long and hard to put in your manuscript in the first place!

So recently, we went away for a short break. And while driving along near the coast north of Sydney, to my surprise, I caught sight of some olive trees. Immediately, my mind went spinning back to my visits to Turkey in past years. During one trip, a friend and I travelled along the Mediterranean coast together, hopping on and off buses at various spots and taking in the mind-blowing sights and experiences of that region. Along the way, I saw many, many olive trees growing on the rocky hillsides and, to me, they were a beautiful sight, with their silvery foliage and often rounded, compact shape. I was amazed too at the way they could still flourish in such dry, barren terrain through the hottest of Turkish summers and produce those nutritious olives that are such an important part of the Mediterranean diet.

The same day I saw my olive trees here in our own country, I read the following verses in the Psalms:

But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever. I will praise you forever for what you have done; in your name I will hope, for your name is good. Psalm 52:8-9

When things coincide like that in my life, I have learnt to suspect God might want to say something to me, so I listen. And I realised I could relate to what David wrote in this psalm. I am indeed like that olive tree flourishing in God’s house. After all, God has enabled me to write all those thousands of words I have written in recent weeks—and God will sustain me as I complete the necessary editing and polishing. I don’t need to fret or complain or wonder if I will stay the distance. Instead, I know I can grow and flourish under God’s protective covering, watered and fed and cared for by our all-loving, all-powerful Creator God.

May you too be aware in this time of God’s unfailing love and nurturing hand on your life, as you grow and flourish like that olive tree.

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Jo 17Recently, the women of our church held a ‘Quarantea Party’ via Zoom. All sixty or so able to participate were mailed a teabag, along with a few questions. Then on the day, we were to be at our computers or tablets or phones with our tea, ready to connect.

It was fun to watch everyone turn up and to greet one another. One screen on my laptop filled—then two—then three! Initially, one of our pastors shared with us all and then we ‘zoomed off’ into our smaller ‘breakout’ groups which had already been organised.

But at that point, something went wrong so, then and there, our Zoom organiser needed to reallocate us all into groups, person by person. As that happened, we chatted and laughed together, but then we noticed people disappearing from our screens. One by one, little black squares were appearing where someone’s face had been a moment earlier. They had been allocated to their breakout group and had zoomed off!

As the number remaining became smaller and smaller, someone joked, ‘This is like being picked for a sports team when I was at primary school! I feel like calling out “Pick me! Pick me!’” I could identify with this and laughed along with everyone else, but my mind also headed in a different direction. In fact, I had found it quite disturbing to watch all those lovely people I had not seen for ages disappear from the screen, one after the other. One moment those vibrant faces were there, the next they were not. One moment, they were laughing and chatting—and the next, all I could see was a black square.

Soon after, those of us remaining were organised into one final group and we enjoyed a special time together. But later, I still could not get that image of those black spaces on the screen and the sense of loss as each person departed out of my mind. Was God perhaps challenging me to think about my own life and to realise that, in the big scheme of things, I too appear somewhere on that huge screen of world history for only a brief moment in time? Was God reminding me to seize the moment and do the things I have been called and gifted to do?

We are each given a life to live. We have that one opportunity to connect with others, to shine God’s light as best we can and to make an impact in this world. Then our time is over. All around us in our world at the moment, we see lives being snuffed out in such an unexpected way. And for many of us too, all our best laid plans for this year have gone awry. How much we need then to take to heart James’s warning to the early believers:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or 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

Our lives. A mist that vanishes. A zoom in and a zoom out. May we all use each moment well for God.

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Jo 17One morning this past week, I was woken by a chorus of birds chirping loudly outside our bedroom window. I went out onto our balcony to investigate, as I have discovered that this can sometimes signal the presence of a bush turkey proudly stalking along near our garden, eating whatever he (or she) likes, including our lovely roses! But no—this time, there was no bush turkey in sight. I looked up at the birds in the nearby trees. There they were, chirping their little hearts out like a well-trained choir, all lined up to perform their best for their conductor. I stood there for some time, but could not see anything that was upsetting them. And in the end, I concluded they were merely welcoming the beginning of another day with gladness.

But often at dusk as well, we can hear other beautiful birdsongs floating into our lounge, even through our thick balcony doors. The cadences are so varied and musical that I have come to see why a songwriter I once heard speak maintained that he based most of his songs on birdcalls. And a short walk away any time of day, we can hear the bellbirds loud and clear—a lovely, tinkling sound like no other.

On occasions too, I see those amazingly-coloured rainbow lorikeets feasting on the grevillea flowers nearby. And now and then, a kookaburra perches on the railing just outside my study window, much to the consternation of the resident noisy miners who sit squawking at a safe distance! Yes, even though we live in a village in busy western Sydney, we still have ample opportunity to observe nature close up and to enjoy the amazing diversity of God’s creation everywhere, including the bird life around us.

And as I stood there the other morning watching and listening to that bird chorus nearby, I believe I heard something else from God too: If I can care for each one of these birds so well and have the ability to give them such distinct songs of their own, why are you weighed down with worry about this and that? Here I was, feeling so burdened about the world during this coronavirus time and concerned in particular for our children and grandchildren. Yet here was God, waking me up in a way I could not ignore and reminding me, in no uncertain terms, of some words Jesus himself said:

Look at the ravens. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for God feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than any birds! Luke 12:24 New Living Translation

Yes, God had my attention well and truly by then. I remembered Jesus’ next words too:

Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things? Luke 12:25-26 NLT

Of course I need to help others in this difficult time, including in practical ways. And of course I need to pray for God’s provision for those near and dear to us and for our hurting world in general. But I am valuable to God. We all are. I can trust in God at this time and rest in God’s love, instead of worrying. And so can you.

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Jo 12There I was, standing as directed in the loooong queue of shoppers spaced one trolley apart in our local supermarket. It was all very orderly—although everyone looked a little glum. So I decided to chat to the lady behind me and she began telling me all sorts of things about herself.

Then I realised I should text my husband—and, as I did, a daily bible verse ‘pinged’ onto my phone. Now at first, I thought I would keep that verse to myself. After all, I had no idea where this lady behind me was coming from in matters of faith. But then I felt convicted. Here we were, with time to chat. Here we all were, down to the basics in our lives, with so much we rely on in all sorts of ways for our wellbeing no longer available. And here I was, not perfect by any means, yet secure in God and so grateful for the firm foundation I have in my life because of Jesus Christ. So I decided to risk it and share my verse with that lady.

‘Well, here’s a bible verse that might encourage you!’ I said—and proceeded to read it out.

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19

She looked a little surprised, but then laughed. ‘Hmm—but not toilet paper!’

I laughed too—after all, what else could I do? I suspect, judging from other serious things she told me, that she was masking her real feelings via humour. But I left it at that. And who knows whether she might reflect on my verse at another time?

Finally, I made it to the front of the store and saw a staff member beckon me to a checkout. But just then, another lady appeared out of nowhere and forged ahead of me to that same checkout—so all I could do was slink back to my spot!

‘Did someone push in?’ a staff member then asked me in a shocked voice.

YES!!!’ at least ten people in the queue behind me immediately yelled out.

‘It was the lady in the pink jumper!’ someone added loudly, as the staff member scuttled to find her.

At that point, I felt relieved I had been saved from accusing anyone or causing a scene—especially after sharing a bible verse with the lady behind me! In the end, I suggested to her that maybe this queue jumper truly had thought she was the one being beckoned forward. Or maybe she panicked or was unwell.

‘No, no! I’ve seen her do shonky things before in this store!’ she told me in an irate voice.

Yes, maybe I am naïve, as someone said to me later when I shared my interesting experience with her. And maybe, as I am often told, I constantly try to think of too many excuses for others’ behaviour. But I do know one thing for sure. All of us in that store that morning needed reassurance that God is still in charge. We don’t have to panic. We don’t have to push in. We don’t have to accuse. Instead, we can choose to be at peace and to trust God who has indeed promised to meet all our needs.

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Jo 17I have always loved Easter. As a child, of course it meant Easter eggs, which, for some reason in our household, were brought by the ‘Easter bird’ and put in our upturned hats on our beds on Easter Sunday morning! But in our family, Good Friday was always a very quiet, solemn day. Occasionally, we would attend the three-hour service at our local Anglican church where we would sing and pray and listen to Scripture readings, as we stood in front of various pictures on the walls depicting Jesus’ journey to the cross.

And that Good Friday solemnity stays with me to this day. Each Easter, I like to make my own solemn journey through one of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ last days. I like to read these chapters slowly and carefully, identifying with Jesus as best I can and trying to comprehend the enormity of his sacrifice for us all. But this Easter, I also decided to read 1 John again and was soon pulled up short by the following words:

Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did. 1 John 2:6

Whoa! Walk as Jesus did? What a challenge! And what should that look like for me right now, in the midst of our coronavirus measures? Immediately, my thoughts went to some of the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion that I had been reading about in Luke’s Gospel. How did Jesus walk through each day then, in the light of his impending death?

I remembered how Jesus told his disciples he had ‘eagerly desired’ to eat the Passover meal with them (Luke 22:15) and how he gave them such a powerful way of remembering him that still ministers to us today, as he shared the bread and wine with them. I remembered too how Jesus reached out and healed the high priest’s servant whose ear was cut off in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:51). And I also recalled how, even as the soldiers put Jesus on that cross, he asked his Father to forgive them because they were acting in ignorance (Luke 23:34). Then, out of perfect love for us and perfect obedience, he gave his life for us all.

What sobering reminders of how selflessly Jesus lived! But how should it all play out in my life now in this time of semi-isolation at home?

  • I can pray for God to intervene and have mercy on our desperate world. And I can pray especially for those who do not know God’s love and have no firm foundation in life.
  • I can contact family and friends in various ways to encourage them.
  • I can give financially to those in need and also support our church as our pastors continue to serve us.
  • I can watch my attitude at the shops, choosing to be generous rather than selfish. And I can live considerately at home too out of a place of peace rather than fear and turmoil.
  • As a writer, I can ask for God’s guidance and work hard at wording things well so that my readers will be blessed and encouraged.

May we all allow Jesus’ selflessness to impact us this Easter. And may we all learn to walk a little more as he would in this challenging time in our world.

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