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Jo 17Sometimes it’s not so much what we say but rather how we say it that conveys our true feelings about something or someone, isn’t it? We can try hard to reign in our emotions, but, whether we are aware of it or not, those extraneous messages of ours can often shout louder than anything we say. Perhaps it’s our facial expression or some other type of body language that gives us away. Or, when on the phone, our tone of voice can also convey so much, in either a positive or a negative way.

Recently, in the space of about an hour, I had two interesting phone conversations which differed markedly, like the proverbial chalk and cheese. After the first, I felt I had been heard, understood and encouraged. After the second, I felt the exact opposite—ignored, misjudged and extremely discouraged. And this largely resulted from the tone of voice each of these ladies employed.

In the first conversation, the caller conveyed from the outset via her voice alone that she was interested in what I had to say and concerned about the issue I wanted to discuss. It began something like this:

‘Good morning. Jo-Anne, is it? My name’s Bec. I’m calling back in regard to the message we received in our office this morning. Now how can I help you?’

I like this caller, I thought instantly. Her tone was warm and caring and this continued throughout our conversation, as she questioned me more and listened patiently while I explained my dilemma. She took time to respond to my concerns, gave me the clear information I needed and, at the end, reassured me she would do all she could to help. Even more than the words she spoke, it was her kind manner that impacted me the most and still stays with me now.

The second conversation was just a tad different. It began something like this:

‘Hello. It’s Mary here. I just have this name ‘Jo-Anne’ written on a note to me. So what’s this about?’

I was taken aback from the outset at this caller’s abrupt, aggressive tone. I tried to connect with her in a friendly way before asking my questions, but to no avail. She answered in almost monosyllables, giving as little information as possible, then asked rudely if that was all. I had a further issue, however, and she grudgingly stayed online, but I could hear the increasing annoyance in her voice and sense her unwillingness to listen and help in any way. Now, sadly, all that remains with me from that conversation is frustration and resentment—and the need to forgive!

Since then, I have asked myself what my own manner and tone of voice convey in general. I know at times I too can become impatient—and I’m sure that shows. But I hope and pray I am learning to speak with much more grace and kindness, like my first caller did, and that my manner communicates something at least of the godly love and understanding we all need to experience.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 1 Corinthians 13:4-5

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This week, our younger granddaughter started school. On a day when the temperature reached 42 degrees in her area of Sydney, Olivia headed off in her brand new uniform, shoes and socks and all, to a classroom with overhead fans but no air-conditioning. Apart from a little weep in the lunch hour, she managed to make it through the day. But all did not go quite to plan.

You see, her older sister, Amy, had been commissioned by her mother to head for the canteen at lunchtime to buy an iceblock for both Olivia and her, in an attempt to cool them down. But when lunchtime arrived, Amy could not find her sister, so decided she should join the extremely long queue anyway and buy the iceblocks. Her plan was to find Olivia quickly afterwards, complete with iceblock. The helpful canteen lady cut the top off the wrappings, and Amy duly set out to look for her sister – but to no avail. She ate her iceblock – but what to do with the other one? The temptation must have been great to polish it off as well. But no – Amy carefully positioned it in her lunchbox so well, open side up, that it still hadn’t spilt by the time school finished. And then came her apology to her mother.

“Mum, I looked everywhere for Olivia, but I couldn’t find her. I still saved her iceblock for her though – I’m really sorry it melted!”

Well, Amy obviously loves her sister – and so much wanted to do the right thing. Her plan didn’t quite succeed, but at least she tried – at least she didn’t just give up and think only about herself. And that, I believe, is the kind of attitude that really gladdens God’s heart.

But I myself have also experienced love in action on a personal level this week. While I was away for a few days, my husband set to and dusted and vacuumed the house for me – a job I absolutely detest.  And he was the one who insisted I go away for some quality time by myself – a truly loving gift for me at this stage when my greatest desire is get back into that novel and write!

So often in recent days too we have seen love in action on a national level. Via our TV screens at least, we have witnessed the way so many have tried to pitch in and assist those whose homes and lives have been ravaged by the floods in various parts of Australia.  And whether these ‘good Samaritans’ know it or not, whether they even acknowledge or believe in God, surely these loving, self-giving actions are a reflection of the nature of God, who is the very essence of love?

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. (1 John 4:16b)  

Well, I’m proud of our Amy, I’m proud of my husband, and I’m proud of so many in our nation. But if the love we have for one another is a mere reflection of God’s love, then how amazing and awesome and incomprehensible must that love of God be? No wonder Paul describes it in Ephesians 3:19 as a love ‘that surpasses knowledge’! Yet despite that, he still prays that these Ephesians will ‘get it’ – that they may indeed ‘have the power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love’. (3:18-19) 

So as you too observe and experience those acts of love around you, big and small, may you too ‘get it’! May you too grasp something of that amazing love of Christ for yourself and know it is so real.

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This is the time of the year when I am most grateful for a gift I was given over forty years ago now.  I was married in January, 1969, as was my older sister – we were teachers, so both of us naturally chose the school holidays for our weddings. You can imagine our mother’s state of mind, however, as she coped with such a scenario.

But somehow, in the midst of it all, she found time to make my sister and I a very precious gift – one that cost her many, many hours of patient effort.  You see, my mother decided she would write out by hand most of her tried and true recipes for each daughter in four separate ring-bound books, so further recipes could be added.  And I still use these same books today.  My blue plastic-covered book contains good, old-fashioned recipes for cakes, slices and biscuits; my green plastic one contains dessert recipes; my black plastic one holds soup and main course recipes, along with instructions for a hotchpotch of things such as pikelets, scones, fruit punch, homemade glue and a cure for hiccups!  Then there is a smaller black book containing Mum’s wonderful coconut ice recipe, along with other sweet treats and icings.

I can only imagine her feelings as she wrote these out twice over.  I’m sure at the time I thanked her for her efforts, but to my shame, I cannot even remember noticing her sitting down painstakingly writing and writing.  In my mind I was probably quite dismissive – with my twenty years of never having really looked after myself, I would manage.  Now, however, it’s a different story.  Now, looking back, I can almost feel her pain as she sat and wrote, alongside the pride that she was creating something of value she could pass on to us.  Mum did not work outside of the home – in fact she never had the opportunity for much school education – but she knew she could cook.  Yet there must have been pain too – after all, my sister and I were her only two children and her life largely revolved around caring for our Dad and us. So our getting married must have left a yawning gap in her life that again, I never fully appreciated.

Love is costly at times, isn’t it?  My Mum loved my sister and I enough to pour her life into us and then, as we left, was determined to perform one last labour of love.  So as I turn the pages that are rather brown and dog-eared now to find Mum’s tried and true Christmas cake recipe, I think of her with love and gratitude.  But I think too of an even greater love that came to earth at Christmas – a love that is beyond imagination, a love that is priceless, a love that fills me with wonder and awe.  And I am so grateful.

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.  (Isaiah 9:6)

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Yes, I’ll admit it – I’m a big fan of Leonard Cohen’s music.  Some of the words of his songs I don’t relate to at all or even agree with, but others really make me stop and think.  Just this morning as I was listening to one of his CDs, a line from his song ‘The Future’ jumped out at me – ‘Love’s the only engine of survival’.  And I reckon he’s pretty spot on – perhaps not quite in the way he meant, but there’s a truth contained in those words, nevertheless.

What keeps you motivated to get up in the morning and face the day?  What drives you to get in and do things in your life?  What keeps you reaching out and relating to others in some way at least?

For me I can honestly say the bottom line is that I know God loves me and accepts me completely, wherever I am in my life and however I’m feeling.  That knowledge is the key thing that keeps me going when I wake up and am tempted to think this whole writing and speaking journey is just too hard.  It’s the key thing that helps me deal with disappointments along the way – times when people aren’t interested in my books or in what I say.  In the end, it’s enough for me to know that however well or otherwise I speak, or however well or otherwise my books sell, nothing – absolutely nothing – will change God’s amazing love for me.

That’s what motivates me in turn to get going and live my life for God, using my gifts as best I can to make a difference in this world.  Surely if God loves me that much, then the least I can do is love him back and do the things he’s called me to do. 

Of course there are other great loves in my life as well that motivate me to keep going.  The love of my husband and family and mine for them; the love of good, loyal friends and mine for them; the love of the beauty of nature; the love of good books and good music; the love of writing and creating interesting people and storylines; the love of speaking and communicating something at least of God’s love to others.  All of these make life rich, interesting and very worthwhile for me.  But if and when all these end, as they surely will, God will still be there.  When everything else falls away, I know that God’s love for me and mine for him will continue on into eternity.  Love will survive when nothing else does.  ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving kindness’, God says to his people in Jeremiah 31:3 – and that’s true for us too, both now and forever.

So yes, Leonard – love truly is ‘the only engine of survival’!

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