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Posts Tagged ‘COVID’

I hate to admit it, but sometimes I can become so good at feeling sorry for myself for one reason or another that all the lovely things around me do not get a look-in. Instead of stepping back and seeing the whole picture, I focus in on only one little part—and perhaps even the darkest, most uninteresting part at that. At times too, I can be so busy airing my woes that those various gentle, encouraging words spoken or sent to me simply go unheard or ignored.

Does this scenario sound familiar to you? I hope not—but I suspect we all might fall into this trap at times.

Recently, I tried to begin arranging some more speaking engagements for the coming year, but soon gave up. It’s all too hard, I decided. What groups or organisations want to arrange anything right now, given all this COVID uncertainty? Even if some events are set up, no doubt they will need to be postponed, just like many of my speaking engagements were last year.

In the midst of this delightful bout of self-pity, an email popped into my inbox from a lady I met way back in 2013 when I spoke at an event at her church in another state and have not seen since. In it, she told me she had been looking for a book to read when she thought of me. She had enjoyed my most recent novel when it was released a year ago and wondered if I was writing another one—perhaps a sequel? Then she added a few, final, lovely words: Your inspirational writing is very needed.

In my self-pitying state, I almost missed this simple, little, closing sentence. I read it, but I did not take time to savour her words or truly allow them to encourage me—at least, not then. But thankfully, God alerted me to this state of affairs soon after via yet another encouraging email, this time from a lady I have never met. She told me she had ‘been fortunate enough’ to find my first two novels, Heléna and All the Days of My Life, in a ‘Save the Children’ op shop and wanted to enquire about another of my books. Then she concluded by thanking me for the truly Christian perspective in my novels.

At that point, I began to realise God was up to something. Yes, these women had written my two lovely, little emails, but God had surely inspired them to do so to spur me on to keep going in the coming year. What an Encourager God truly can be to us each day via the Spirit in us and via others, as we listen and take note! And how important it is to pass this encouragement on too, just as these women did for me.

Today, whatever is happening in your life, may you too hear and truly receive God’s gentle encouragement deep in your spirit. May you not miss those moments, as I almost did. And may God use us all to reach out and encourage others as often as we can.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Hebrews 10:24

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I think about words a lot. After all, I am a writer. As I weave my sentences together, even in a short blog, I am always asking myself, ‘Can I put things in a better way? Will this be relevant to my readers? Am I saying something worthwhile that may comfort or encourage or challenge?’ Beyond that, I also ask, ‘Is this something God wants me to write—or am I off course? Does it honour God? Does it line up with God’s Word?’

When it comes to novel writing, there are many more questions I need to ask. Is this part necessary? Does it move the plot forward? Is this character believable? Do I need more or less description here? With non-fiction, there are questions too. Should I expand this or that point? Do my chapters each build on what I am trying to say? Should I add more illustrations—or quotations—or Bible references? On it goes.

As COVID allows, however, I am also a speaker—and this is where I need to think even more about my many words. Here they are not tumbling out of my mind onto my computer screen where I can then edit them. Instead, they roll off my tongue so easily and, once spoken, are very hard to take back. I may have been invited to speak somewhere to inform or entertain a secular audience for an hour or so, but I want to honour God in it all too. And in a church context, I want to share a message that will enable those present to draw closer to God in some way and allow God’s Spirit to touch hearts and change lives. What a responsibility! And how careful I need to be to listen to God through it all.

Yet we all need to be so careful in our normal, everyday lives too with the words we speak and write—a quick instruction here and there, a sharp response, a friendly chat with a neighbour, an email, a Facebook comment. Sometimes it can be so hard, can’t it, to reign in that tongue of ours, as James reminds us (James 1:26), or those words that can flow out so thoughtlessly into cyberspace? Before we know it, we can either build up or tear down.

In recent weeks, I have been thinking even more about the power of words as a possible topic for yet another book project of mine, along with trying to plan my speaking schedule for the year as best I can in our COVID context. And no doubt that is why I sat up and took more notice than usual when I read the following verses in Proverbs one morning:

Wise words satisfy like a good meal; the right words bring satisfaction. The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences. Proverbs 18:20-21 NLT

Wow—gulp! What power we have at our disposal each day with those words we wield!

I want my words to be wise and satisfying, don’t you? And I definitely want to bring life and not death via what I speak or write. Words matter indeed—to God and to our listeners or readers. May we each choose them carefully. And may we always harvest good fruit from them.

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I can’t quite believe it. This week, we celebrated a special birthday in our family, albeit in different times and places, for COVID reasons. Our oldest child turned fifty. Yes—fifty! She looks nothing like that age, which makes it even more unbelievable for me. Anyway, how could I have a fifty-year-old daughter? Such a thing simply cannot be possible, at least not quite yet—could it?

Fifty years seems such a long time, in one way. Yet, in another, it feels as if those years have flown. In that time, our daughter has lived in many different places and done many different things. She has faced difficult challenges too, particularly health-wise, yet here she still is, determined to keep moving on in life, still ready to try new things and take risks, as she steps into a further phase of her journey. Yes, our daughter is a very capable, compassionate and courageous woman who tries her best at everything she does. It is a joy to honour her as we celebrate, yet this milestone has certainly caused me to reflect on my own life too.

Only weeks after our daughter was born, we moved interstate. Around two years later, a son was added to our family and we moved interstate again, this time to South Australia, where another daughter eventually joined our family. We lived near the beach at beautiful Victor Harbor, a wonderful place for our young children to grow up. A brief stint in Adelaide followed, then we were on the move again, back to Sydney to another ministry role at a local church. In this time, I decided to return to study to gain my teaching diploma and, when another move across Sydney followed, I was able to teach and thus help buy our own home. Season by season, God unfolded the next thing for me, often in such unexpected ways, and I am so grateful. Later, I took on an editing role, then a secretarial role and finally a ministry role, after gaining a theology degree. And when that concluded, my wonderful adventure of writing and speaking began.

Over the years, we can pack so much into our lives. And in the midst of it all, sometimes it’s easy to forget the bigger picture, isn’t it? In reality, our time here on earth is a mere speck when compared to eternity. Surely then, that means I need to hold onto things more lightly than I tend to do? And surely it also means I need to use my time here well and share the love of God with others however I can? I often think of Jesus’ parable about the rich man who built bigger barns to store his grain and other goods in so he could take life easy and ‘eat, drink and be merry’ (Luke 12:13-21). Of course, this doesn’t mean we don’t provide for the future or celebrate happy times together. But, as Jesus tells us, it does mean we need to be wise in the way we live.

Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God. Luke 12:21 NLT  

Let’s continue to live life to the full. But let’s treasure that rich relationship with God that lasts for eternity above everything else.

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Our nine-year-old grandson seemed happy enough when he arrived to spend the day with us, along with his seven-year-old sister. We chatted for a while and then he opened his laptop, ready to do his schoolwork online, while his sister showed me her workbook. We let them play a little longer, but then suggested they get their schoolwork out of the way so we could do other things.

However, our grandson was not impressed and objected loud and long.

‘He’s just “hangry”!’ his sister informed us in a resigned tone.

I offered him some breakfast, since he had not wanted any before leaving home, to no avail. Instead, poor Zain remained grouchy and most reluctant to do any schoolwork. But we insisted and told him we would check his work at morning tea.

When that time came, he told us he had finished, but … well, let’s just say there were one or two questions he had decided could easily be ignored! We persevered, but in the end, his efforts definitely left a little to be desired. Nevertheless, he quickly uploaded what he had done, thus making it impossible to change anything. He was so bored with it all, we realised—weeks and weeks of doing lessons at home had definitely taken its toll. 

His morning tea disappeared in record time, but poor Zain was still grouchy and did not want to go to the park. Maxine and I headed out anyway by ourselves, she so happy and chatty and I a little more silent, sensing I had not handled the situation with our grandson as well as I might have.

The next day, as I thought more about the whole scenario, I realised I may be more familiar with ‘hangriness’ than I care to admit. I don’t think I become truly ‘hangry’ when I need physical food—perhaps just a wee bit grumpy! But I suspect ‘hangry’ could also describe that rather unhappy, dissatisfied and disconnected sense I experience when I have been unable—or perhaps even unwilling—to be quiet in God’s presence for any length of time. Are you familiar with this sort of ‘hangriness’ too? For me, it may also include blaming or criticising others when, instead, I should be looking inside myself. And when I eventually do look inside myself, I can often magnify my failures and downplay or explain away those abilities God has given me and the things God has enabled me to achieve in life. No, feeling ‘hangry’ is not a pleasant experience at all.

Perhaps the best way to avoid this sort of ‘hangriness’ could lie in accepting the wonderful invitation offered to God’s people centuries ago—and to us today as well:

Is anyone thirsty?

Come and drink—even if you have no money!

Come, take your choice of wine or milk—it’s all free!

Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?

Why pay for food that does you no good?

Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food.

Come to me with your ears wide open.

Listen, and you will find life. Isaiah 55:1-3 New Living Translation

Let’s not stay ‘hangry’. Instead, let’s choose to eat what is good. Let’s choose that finest of food. Let’s listen—and truly find life!

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Have you noticed in this COVID time when there is so much bad news around how wonderful it is to hear good news? It can feel like soothing ointment on a raw wound or a cold, thirst-quenching drink on a boiling hot day, can’t it?

One Saturday recently, I received an excited text from a friend. She had just discovered she did not have to pay a certain bill she owed—and it was for a sizeable amount. Way back, I had read something online that suggested she might not have to and mentioned this to her. Then, as soon as she could, she investigated further and stated her case. Many enquiries, pleasant/unpleasant phone calls and requests for various documents followed, but my friend is determined and did not give up. And finally, her perseverance had been rewarded.

She was so relieved that she could not help sharing her good news with me straight away—and I was so glad she did. At first, I could not believe that some little idea I had suggested to her way back, without much faith, had actually borne fruit. After all, I did not know much about the matter and am no expert when it comes to understanding various financial technicalities. Yet it had happened. It was true. And the fact that God had used me, even in my ignorance, to play a small part in bringing this good news to my friend added even more to my joy.

Later, as I reflected on this whole event, I could not help thinking of Jesus’ parables of the lost sheep and lost coin, where he comments how natural it is for the owners involved to want to share their joy when their search pays off:

Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ Luke 15:6

And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin. Luke 15:9

That is exactly what my friend was doing via her text, I realised. And how wonderful it was to rejoice together and shake our heads over God’s amazing grace and provision for her!

But then I realised Jesus’ aim in telling these stories was to point out something so much more wonderful than that even:

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents … Luke 15:7

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

I marvelled again then that, when I experienced the love and grace of God in my life, repented and believed in Jesus with all my heart, joy erupted in heaven. Just as Jesus taught in his parable about the lost son, there had to be a party held in heaven to celebrate the moment:

… we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. Luke 15:32

Wow! Just as I loved sharing in my friend’s joy, so God lovingly celebrated my new birth. What an amazing reminder of how much I matter to God—and of how much you do too!

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In late June/early July, our church’s annual Art Installation was set up, ready to open to the public for two weeks. We had all worked hard to prepare paintings, drawings, sculpture, photographs, pieces of writing, and various other creative endeavours on the theme of ‘God of Wonders’. But alas, due to COVID, in the end, no one could come to view our works and take time to reflect on God as they did. Dates were changed, but still no one could come when lockdown here in Sydney became even more restrictive. Then the idea of a digital tour through the Art Installation was born. Please click here to start your own personal, virtual viewing!

This year, I submitted two photographs in connection with a brief piece of writing. I love roses and decided to feature a special variety I discovered only a few years ago—‘Just Joey’, a beautiful, apricot-coloured rose with delicate, frilled petals when fully open. I bought one and planted it. And … well, below is the piece of writing that will explain why I had to do that and what God showed me as a result. I hope you enjoy reading it and that it encourages you to continue to spread that exquisite perfume Paul writes about in 2 Corinthians quoted at the end.

Just Joey

I cannot resist buying the little rose bush. After all, its name is ‘Just Joey’—and I too was called Joey as a child.

The soil is stony where I plant it, but my little bush grows. Then one day, to my delight, a beautiful, apricot-coloured bud appears, its gentle scent wafting towards me as I cut it and place it in a vase.

The bud soon opens. It is a more old-fashioned style of rose, but I love how its layer upon layer of delicate petals are frilled at the edges and quiver at my touch. I gaze at them in awe—I have never seen petals like this before.

Then I sense God saying tenderly, ‘This rose is you, Joey. You are unique too, created with many interesting layers waiting to unfold. Some may see you as old-fashioned, but you are beautiful in my sight. May you continue to be “Just Joey” for me in all you do. And may you spread the sweet aroma of my Spirit everywhere through your writing and through the words you speak.’

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­In the Messiah, in Christ, God leads us from place to place in one perpetual victory parade. Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God… 2 Corinthians 2:14-15 The Message

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I have little to complain about in this current Sydney lockdown. I am so much better off than others whose jobs and businesses have been affected or whose plans have been hugely disrupted. I feel for them all—it must be extra hard to take, just when things had become more normal.  

Yet I have felt a little discouraged myself too, especially when two speaking engagements I had been looking forward to had to be cancelled. This of course also happened last year during COVID, taking away those various opportunities to speak to both small and large groups and promote my books. Yes, my books are still available in Koorong and online via my website, Amazon etc, but there is nothing like selling them in person and being able to engage one-on-one with potential readers.

Around the same time, I received some rather discouraging news to do with my writing, which made me wonder if all my effort was in fact worthwhile. Surely it would be easier to forget about writing altogether and do something else?

In the midst of my little pity party, however, I began reading the final chapter of 1 Peter. But as I did, I noticed the heading there in my bible—‘To the Elders and Young Men’. How could these verses apply to me then? Nevertheless, I read on. As Peter addresses the church overseers, he urges them to shepherd God’s flock with willingness and integrity, not lording it over others but being a good example in every way. Then he writes:

And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. 1 Peter 5:4

Wow, I found myself saying to God, I need to remember that! Whatever happens with my books, whether they are dismal failures or roaring successes, in the end, what really matters is whether I have faithfully served you and others as best I can through my writing and speaking. Any glory or honour I receive or don’t receive here is nothing compared to that crown of glory that will never fade away!

Next, I read Peter’s words to the young men, then to everyone. This part definitely included me.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

Hmm, I said to God, I need to do that. And I know I can because you love and care for me so deeply. So why I am I holding on tightly to all this anxiety then?

I kept reading, hearing God’s warning in every word.

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 1 Peter 5:8-9

Yes, Lord, I responded, I should know after all these years how the enemy loves to try to drag us down. Yet I don’t have to let this happen. Instead, I can resist—I can stand firm. especially when others are suffering so much more elsewhere, yet remaining faithful.

Stuff happens—or doesn’t. Yet God is always there and always will be.

To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 5:11

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