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Posts Tagged ‘Henri Nouwen’

pexels-photo-461252There we were on Christmas day, waiting for the rest of the family to arrive. I had put some cherries out for us to enjoy and offered one to our three-year-old granddaughter.

‘These are lovely, Maxine. Would you like one?’ I said.

She gazed at them for a moment, then came out with this profound statement.

‘I don’t like cherries because I’ve never had them before!’

Now that obviously made complete sense to her. After all, surely if her parents hadn’t given them to her before this, then those funny red things with stems must be yucky! I remembered too the response of one of our own children, when faced with eating something they hadn’t tasted previously. ‘I won’t like it!’ they would say, obviously fearful of what lay ahead.

Sadly, I suspect I can be like Maxine at times, or that child of ours.  Often I can be very picky—but more so with books than food.  I may find myself turned off by a cover I dislike or the quality of the paper or the size of the print. I don’t mind small print, but I do object when a large font is used and those lines are spread so far apart and the margins are so wide, making that book too insubstantial for me and not worth the money I paid for it! Yet some smaller books I own have turned out to be absolute gems, such as Henri Nouwen’s Out of Solitude or Eugene Petersen’s The Wisdom of Each Other.

Much sadder than pre-judging books, however, are the times I have pre-judged people because of their appearance or something different about them. The biggest lesson I learnt in this regard occurred around twenty-five years ago when I met a young woman at a prayer training course. At first, after discovering she was blind, I avoided her. I felt I would not know how to relate to someone who could not see. And, to my shame, I was reluctant to put myself out to help her. Yet God drew us together—and that young woman taught me so much about myself, about courage, about perseverance, about relating to those who suffer from any degree of vision impairment.

A few years later, I found myself at another course where most participants were from a different part of the Body of Christ. ‘They won’t be able to teach me anything much,’ I decided in complete arrogance. Yet their kind acceptance, attentiveness and intelligent conversation turned out to be a wonderful, healing gift from God for me.

Now I’m hoping there aren’t too many others of you out there like me who are practised pre-judgers.  I hope you taste those cherries or look carefully at those smaller books before making up your mind. I hope you listen to and accept others, however different they are. And I hope I do too more and more. But above all, if Jesus Christ is someone unfamiliar to you, I hope and pray that, in the coming year, you may not pre-judge or write him off too quickly but instead take time to get to know him, to experience his amazing love and to taste his absolute goodness for yourself.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. Psalm 34:8

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I wonder if you remember Madame Defarge, the infamous character created by Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities. I studied this novel at high school and still feel chilled at the image of this woman weaving the names of those French aristocrats condemned to death by the republicans into her knitting and watching with satisfaction as that guillotine comes crashing down on each of them in turn.

Thankfully, I am no Madam Defarge, with her deep-seated desire for revenge against those who had caused her family such grief. Besides, weaving anyone’s names into my knitting would be way beyond my ability! However, from time to time, I do love to sit and knit little garments for our grandchildren. Mostly, this is a pleasant, relaxing pursuit for me—unless I am up to a patterned section. Then I am obliged to count carefully and focus or disaster will strike—at which point I may well moan and wail with some vehemence.

When all is going smoothly knitting-wise, I find there is something very fulfilling about watching a little garment grow beneath my fingers. Eventually, the moment arrives when I knit that last stitch and cut through the wool with a satisfying snip. Yay, I’ve finished! But then I realise I still need to sew this part to that part and complete other jobs like adding buttons—tedious tasks which seem to take so long.

Recently, P1040088however, while completing a little cardigan for our youngest granddaughter, I decided to do something much more positive than griping when I made a mistake or complaining about those final, tedious tasks. No, I did not attempt to weave her name into it. Instead, I decided put my energy into praying for our precious little Maxine as I backstitched those final seams together. Then, as I attached the buttons, pushing my needle through the four holes of each one to form an ‘x’ shape, I pictured that ‘x’ standing not only for my love for Maxine but also for God’s amazing love for her. I prayed she would come to know that love of God for herself and that we would faithfully mirror this to her through all our words and actions. And I prayed she would step into all God has for her in her life and fulfil her unique place in this world with great joy.

It’s so important, don’t you think, to grasp these opportunities to pray in the course of our everyday life? Whether in a quiet, private place or surrounded by people and noise and activity in a very public setting, we can reach out to God in our hearts and minds, even if only for a few conscious moments. Recently, I read a simple but lovely description of prayer in Henri Nouwen’s book, Reaching Out. According to him, prayer is ‘a creative contact with the source of all life’ (p 91). What a privilege to be connected to the Source of All Life every moment of the day!

In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul urges us to ‘pray continually’, or to ‘pray all the time’, as Peterson puts it in The Message. May we never forget our loving, Creator God is present, ready and willing to listen, to communicate and to do life with us, wherever we are and whatever we are doing.

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I must admit to feeling a little nervous these past few days. You see, our younger daughter is due to have her second child, a breech baby, by caesarean this week. The date is set, but because her first child was born very quickly—in fact, while she was trying to walk from the bathroom to her bed in the hospital birthing unit—she is a little on tenterhooks with this one. She is sure the baby will not wait for that due date. So we wait and wonder. Will she make it to that planned caesarean? Or will the baby make up its own mind and opt for an earlier entry into the world?

‘I can’t wait till the new baby to be born!’ our granddaughter and the baby’s cousin told her parents recently. But, like all of us, she has to curb her impatience, hold onto that excitement and just plain wait—never easy for a seven year old.

I was reminded of another kind of waiting this past weekend when, despite the rain and a painful back, I decided to plant two seedlings I obtained for free from our local council. You see, the ground was so soft, making it easier to clear enough weeds away to enable me to dig those small holes and plant my callistemon and nandina. And the moist ground and humid weather will help my new little shrubs to survive and hopefully flourish. But it will all take time—years, in fact, before those shrubs are the size I would like them to be.

So many things in our lives require waiting, don’t they? As an author, I am well acquainted with this whole process—waiting for manuscript readers to comment, waiting for months to hear back from publishers to whom you have submitted your precious first few chapters, waiting for the whole editing process to be completed, waiting for that release date, waiting until the those copies arrive on the bookshelves in stores, waiting for reviews, waiting for those promotional opportunities … on it goes. Along with developing a thick skin, I think any author needs to work at acquiring a hefty dose of patience if he or she is going to survive in the writing world.

And what of our journey with God? As a result of working on my next non-fiction book that reflects on my own life story, I have seen how much I grew during those times of waiting on God—when I stopped to listen and learn, to observe what was happening in the now and to look to God for wisdom and insight. This ‘active waiting’, as it is sometimes described, is a skill I am still learning even now—that precious, God-given art of being ‘present fully to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening where you are’, as Henri Nouwen puts it. God has things to teach me right now, even as I wait for the birth of this new grandchild.

So let’s welcome those waiting periods rather than rush on. God may well be preparing us for what lies ahead. And God may even have deep and wonderful things to reveal to us as we hold our hearts open before him.

Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:14

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As an author, I get to do some interesting things, not least of which are in-store book signings. Last Saturday, at my fourth such event, I discovered again how neat it is when those little ‘God moments’ pop up.

It was still early in the day when the first of my special conversations took place. A customer who recognised me from an event where I had spoken told me with some trepidation how she had resigned her job and was about to start nursing training—at the age of fifty-nine! Would she cope, she wondered, going back to study? At once I knew why God had brought her to my book table.

‘I was fifty-nine when my first novel was released,’ I told her. ‘Now I have six books published and a seventh due out this year! I hope that encourages you.’

Her eyes filled with tears as she picked up my non-fiction book Soul Friend.

‘Please sign this and write in it what you just said, as a reminder of how God has shown me I can do it!’ she told me.

A couple came by next who also decided to buy Soul Friend because they had begun mentoring some younger leaders.

‘We’ve been reading a book called Mentoring Matters,’ they told me.

‘Oh yes, I know the author. See, he endorsed my own book here,’ I responded, pointing to Rick Lewis’s name on the cover. ‘He spoke at my book launch—his book is excellent!’

A little later, I noticed a young woman standing nearby, holding a little girl by the hand. We chatted about my books and about writing in general, and then she told me she had come to find where her own book was displayed. I asked her what her book was about.

‘It’s about miscarriage—it’s called Losing Sammy,’ she told me. ‘It’s some letters I wrote to encourage other women going through the same ordeal as I did.’

She broke off then, as just at that moment, she caught sight of her book on a nearby shelf. I watched the emotion on her face and went to stand beside her.

‘It’s a special moment when we see our own book in a bookstore, isn’t it?’ I said, as she put her arm around me.

‘Yes—and you’re sharing it with me,’ she whispered.

What a privilege!

Later, an older woman came by. She asked my opinion about the suitability of some books of short stories she had chosen as gifts and I was able to tell her that they contained two stories I myself had written. She then looked at my novel, Heléna’s Legacy, which features a young woman left to bring up her son alone.

‘Oh, that’s me,’ she said, as she put the book in her basket. ‘That’s what I did.’

We went on to talk about so many interesting things, including the writings of Catholic authors Henri Nouwen and Thomas Merton.

‘I mention them in my Soul Friend book here,’ I told her.

Immediately, she picked up a copy and added it to her basket too.

‘I go to a Catholic church,’ she told me. ‘I know I will enjoy this.’

I came home convinced that my various conversations had not happened by chance that day. It was as if God had lined up appointments for me—and all I needed to do was show up.

Encourage one another daily’, we are told in Heb 10:13. May you too keep finding those God appointments in your own lives each day and experience the joy of encouraging those whom God brings across your path!

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