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Jo 17Sometimes we need a gentle reminder of what life is all about, don’t we? I know I can become so focussed on what I am doing from week to week that I can easily forget the bigger picture. And that bigger picture is important because it helps me sort out my priorities in the best possible way and reminds me why I am doing what I am doing in my life. In short, it shows me my life from God’s perspective—and that always gives me much food for thought.

Last week held one of those big picture moments for me. One day, I decided to drive up to the Blue Mountains to see my lovely, older friend Joy, who is now in a nursing home. I crept into the room she shares with another older lady and found both of them sound asleep. So what to do? I did not want to wake my friend and perhaps disorientate her, so I decided to sit and wait—and reflect.

It was peaceful in that room. At one stage, a kind staff member came in and we chatted for a few moments, but apart from that, all was quiet, except for my friend’s gentle breathing and that of the other occupant. Joy looked so small and fragile and somehow defenceless as she lay there, yet she also seemed at peace. Around her in the room, her beautiful family had placed photos of themselves and pictures of the flowers Joy loves, as well as other items she can enjoy touching or looking at. As I sat there, I remembered how much she had enriched my life and the lives of so many others too, over the years. And that is the sort of richness that really counts, isn’t it—the richness of drawing others into a closer connection with God, of passing on the utterly gracious, forgiving love of God to others?

I know that, when the time comes, Joy will be filled with delight that she is finally in God’s presence, just as I believe God will be to welcome her home. She does not have great earthly riches, but her soul is so rich in God—and that richness has been shared with so many others along the way.

That very morning before leaving home, I read the following:

Do not be overawed when a man grows rich, when the splendour of his house increases; for he will take nothing with him when he dies, his splendour will not descend with him. Psalm 49:16-17

… But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 1 Timothy 6:6-7

My friend Joy, and all of us, came into the world as defenceless, little babies, bringing nothing with us except ourselves. And all of us, including Joy, will leave this world equally defenceless, through age or illness or injury, taking nothing with us except ourselves. How important it is then for us to be rich in the things of God, to know deep within ourselves that we are God’s beloved children and to be content with loving and serving God and others! That indeed is ‘great gain’—the only sort of gain that really matters, when all is said and done.

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BecomingMe-OFC-I will always be grateful I was able to find publishers for my six novels and my first non-fiction book, Soul Friend. Without these publishers, my writing journey would have been severely hampered. But I am also grateful I was able to produce my second non-fiction book, Becoming Me: Finding my true self in God, myself via Ingram Spark in 2016. This gave me freedom to include everything I wanted to include and also to set my own publishing time frame. Now, two years later, I still receive regular reports from Ingram Spark, detailing e-book and hard copy sales.

I love this company’s efficiency, but I often smile when I receive that professional-looking, emailed monthly report for e-book sales in particular. You see, as time has passed since the release of Becoming Me, I usually discover that just one person, someone somewhere in the world, someone I will probably never meet, has bought an e-book version of Becoming Me. Yes, that means a whole USD$2.40 my little book has earned for me as the publisher—what a fortune!

Yet I never feel disappointed with these reports. In fact, this one sale always touches me, as I try to visualise who this reader might be. I pray for them too. I pray that something in my little book might speak to their hearts and provide the word from God for them that they need. After all, I’m sure this one person matters to God.

But occasionally I receive a different sort of email about Becoming Me—one from a reader I often do not know, commenting on some aspect of the book that has been meaningful to them. Recently, a lady wrote how, while she related to so much of what I wrote, the thing that touched her most was one small paragraph where I describe how, for many years, I wrote weekly letters home to my parents interstate, keeping them up-to-date with all our family events. This lady shared how, for over fifty years, she had done the same, even when her mother became a dementia patient in a nursing home. She told me how some people thought she was strange to keep writing these letters. Yet, as she read my book, she felt she had found a companion, someone who understood. How blessed I felt that God had somehow comforted her through my book, even in this small way!

These people whose lives we touch, the ones and twos, do matter to God, don’t you think? Surely we see this in how Jesus often went out of his way to minister to just one person. Examples that come to mind readily are the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak (Matthew 9), Zacchaeus (Luke 19), the woman at the well (John 4), the man born blind (John 9), Lazarus (John 11) and Mary Magdalene outside the tomb (John 20).

People matter to God. You and I matter to God. In fact, God seeks each of us out, like that one lost sheep, and, once found, will never let us go. And that comforts me more than any words I may ever write.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand, John 10:27-28

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IMG_20180410_101220307One morning recently, I drove across town to speak at a women’s event. When I arrived, I saw at once how much work the organisers had done. Everything looked perfect—all the tables were beautifully decorated and there was a mound of food ready for the women to enjoy. Later, I was told one lady had made all those scrumptious delicacies herself—her labour of love and gift to others.

Then I noticed one table that looked a little out of place. It was piled high in a kind of haphazard way with balls of wool, ribbons, pieces of lace and containers of buttons of all shapes and sizes, plus a few other decorative odds and ends. Had the ladies organising everything forgotten about it?

After the meeting began, someone explained to everyone why that unusual table was there. This group has undertaken the project of knitting ‘mitts’—thick  hand warmers, sometimes called ‘twiddle mitts’ or ‘fidget muffs’ made of different textured yarns, with all sorts of beads, buttons, ribbons, lace and other interesting objects sewn onto them which dementia sufferers can ‘twiddle’. These mitts often help sufferers stay calm and overcome restlessness, which are common symptoms of dementia. They may also prevent some from pulling their clothes or scratching their skin and can help trigger memories too.

What a lovely idea, I thought—such a good way for ‘crafty’ people to use their gifts to benefit others! And such a good way to use up those odds and ends of wool, ribbons, lace and other bits and pieces too.

Then it was my turn to speak. At one stage, I showed a photo of my lovely ‘soul friend’ Joy and mentioned the fact that she now sadly suffers from dementia. The point I was making was just one among quite a few—but someone was listening carefully with a caring heart and came up to me later.

‘Please choose one of our knitted mitts for your “soul friend”,’ she said quietly. ‘We wouldIMG_20180422_173401196 love you to take one to her.’

I was touched by this lady’s thoughtfulness—not to mention the hours of knitting and sewing on of buttons, beads, ribbons and laces someone had spent making the lovely mitt I chose. What a wonderful treasure to be able to give my friend!

As I drove home, the following verses came to mind:

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 4:10-11

While I used what I believe is my God-given gift of speaking, others had served via baking, decorating the tables beautifully, making cards and gifts for each person attending and of course knitting those calming mitts. In short, we had each in our own way enjoyed the amazing privilege of being ‘faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms’, of enabling that grace to flow through us to others.

How wonderful to be involved in such labours of love and hopefully to bring God praise in the process!

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Jo 17It is some months since I have been able to visit my friend in the nursing home where she now lives. As I make my way to her room, I hope and pray she will recognise me. At the door, I see the nurses have just settled Joy in her special, comfortable wheelchair. She turns towards me—and her whole face lights up.

‘Oh! What a … what a … sur … oh!’

I reach out and grasp her hand, while Joy continues to look at my face in wonderment.

‘I’ll take her to the sunroom,’ a lovely nurse tells me—and soon we are settled there.

Joy continues to search my face with loving eyes. I resist the urge to tell her my name. I suspect it has slipped her mind, but it doesn’t matter—I know she knows who I am. I remind her of our book Soul Friend that I wrote about our journey together during my time at theological college, then on into ministry and writing.

‘Yes, Soul Friend,’ she says softly—and I know she remembers.

I talk to her about her family and mine. I share some little Turkish cookies I used to make often and take to her whenever we met and she remembers those too. It is a little hard for her to hold them now, as they tend to break easily. I see that the crumbs they leave on her clothes concern her a little, so I try to help her brush them off. We look at each other and laugh—a laugh that is beautiful music to my ears because it reminds me so vividly of other shared moments of joy. She has not changed—she is still the same precious person deep inside. Yes, she may now have trouble completing sentences. Yes, she may grope for the words she is trying to say. Yes, she may not remember names so easily. But she is still my lovely ‘soul friend’ Joy, out of whose face the love of God shines.

Eventually, I see she is getting tired. A nurse comes to wheel her to a lounge area and I prepare to say goodbye. I hold her hand and give her a kiss.

‘Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you—there’s nothing like a kiss!’ she says, closing her eyes in ecstasy.

‘Then I’ll give you another one!’ I tell her, dropping a light kiss on her forehead.  Her face is suffused with pure joy.

And as I hold her hand one last time, then turn to leave, I hear her familiar, beautiful words that have always felt like a blessing to me—‘Dear friend!’

As I drive away, the thought comes clearly to me that these two beautiful, little words are what God desires to speak into our hearts each day. I am not in my friend’s situation, but so often, I too become confused. So often, I let life overwhelm me. So often, I forget God. Yet each day, God reaches out to me and talks to me as with a dear friend. Each day, God is there to help me on my journey—and I am so blessed.

So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. Romans 5:11 New Living Translation

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Jo 23As a small child, I hated being told off. If my mother ever scolded me, I would assert, in no uncertain terms and with many tears, ‘I’m not a naughty girl!’ My pride was injured beyond repair—and besides, I could not bear the thought that I had disappointed her.

All through my growing-up years—and well beyond—I continued to dislike being corrected or rebuked. My fragile self-esteem did not handle such things well and I was always ready with a defensive response. After all, I had to keep that pride of mine intact.

On one occasion around twenty years ago, however, I learnt a valuable lesson in this regard. A minister at our church invited me to take on a task he felt I would do well. At first, I told him I might not be good enough and suggested others who could do a far better job. But, instead of reassuring me, he looked me in the eye and said, ‘That’s not humility, Jo—that’s self-protection!’

Hmm!

Because I respected this minister, I went away and thought about his words—and eventually concluded he was right. I did what he had asked and thoroughly enjoyed it. Through this experience, I learnt to take such correction, given in love and for my ultimate benefit, on board much better than I previously had.

Recently, I was reminded of this lesson when a friend and I visited a dear, mutual friend who is suffering from some degree of dementia. At one point, our friend seemed a bit confused and told us she had once stolen a white hat, so I tried to help her out.

‘Oh, did you? Where did you take it from?’ I asked her gently.

I could hardly believe her quick, clever response.

‘I’m trying to resist correcting you,’ she said with some spirit and a touch of hauteur. ‘It should be “From where did you take it!”’

After a stunned moment, I burst out laughing. With inhibitions gone, our dear friend had simply blurted out her true thoughts—yet I was not offended at all. You see, I know this beautiful, older woman of God. I respect her even now, in her declining years, just as I respected my minister friend who told me the truth all those years ago. And I know her heart of love for me.

This amusing exchange soon set me thinking about my response to God’s corrections and challenges, whether through Scripture, through the words of others or through the Spirit’s whisper deep in my heart. How often do I still bristle a little, become defensive, perhaps pretend I don’t hear anything and decide I can easily justify my words or actions—even to God?

Yes, that old pride of mine still rears its ugly head at times. Yet why do I let this happen? After all, I know God loves and accepts me. I know God is good and kind. I know God has my best interests at heart. And I know God does not make mistakes.

So … next time I hear God’s loving correction, I hope I remember past lessons, swallow my pride—and respond with both alacrity and humility.

He who heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray. Proverbs 10:17

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