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Posts Tagged ‘Psalm 139’

Jo 12Recently, I needed to bake a cake to have on hand for visitors. I stood in our kitchen for a while, trying to decide which mixing bowl to use. I have a few to choose from—three plastic ones of varying sizes, a sturdy, metal one and a large, glass one. This last bowl is too big, I decide—yet I choose it anyway.

As I continue cooking, I wonder why I have gravitated to this particular bowl. Then, to my surprise, a memory surfaces from deep in my brain of a similar bowl my mother had. I can still see her using it as she stood at her little kitchen bench-table, whipping up delicious cakes or biscuits or scones for us during our growing up years. Could this be the unconscious reason that glass bowl appeals to me now, so many years later?

I finish baking and sit down at my desk. Not until then do I remember it is my mother’s birthday—although she passed away many years ago now. So … is all this mere coincidence? Somehow I don’t think so. How powerful those hidden memories of ours are! What depths there are to those unconscious parts of us that we will probably never fathom!

But our conscious memories can also be so powerful at times. ‘Remember when we went to …?’ I said to a friend recently. ‘Do you recall the meal we had there and what happened when we went to pay?’ We laugh together—and both of us are immediately back in that little Turkish village where the owner said he was too busy to take our money, so could we please come back the next day to pay?! I remember vividly that little, rustic courtyard restaurant with the rosemary bushes growing nearby and can almost taste and smell that beautiful meal even now.

God created us and knows us through and through, as Psalm 139 tells us. God knows the power of memory. So no wonder we are urged in Scripture to use it to remember the lessons God has taught us and the way God has led and rescued us.

Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced … 1 Chronicles 15:11-12

Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits … Psalm 103:2

This is my body, which is for you, do this in remembrance of me.”  1 Corinthians 11:24

Sometimes our memories may not always be positive. Sometimes they may remind us of things we would rather forget and threaten to overwhelm us. But through all those hard and even harrowing times, God was still there. And God can bring healing to those dark memories, I believe, softening them and enabling us to move forward with greater strength and wisdom and peace. Whatever has happened, God is still good and righteous and holy. And God delights to bring good out of our most difficult experiences, restoring and recreating us as only God can.

So I cherish the power of memory, particularly those memories of God’s amazing grace at work in my life. And as I do, I hope I also remember to praise God with all my heart.

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I had arrived early to speak to a community group and proceeded to convey my three boxes of books, briefcase, laptop and data projector up the steep stairs into the large function room. Once there, I discovered the projector screen was at one end, which would necessitate everyone turning around awkwardly. With no blank wall to use instead, I decided to ditch my power point presentation. And, since all available tables were in use, I fetched my own from the car.

I was still arranging my books when several ladies began checking them out. I explained how all of them contain strong faith themes, which did not seem to deter them. One lady bought three, just like that, then began sharing some sad snippets from her life story with me. Next, she bought me a drink. We then discovered we had some contacts in common—and I felt, for those brief moments, that our hearts had touched.

I was seated at the committee’s table for dinner, where everyone seemed curious to hear about my writing journey. These were intelligent, professional women and I enjoyed myself immensely. But then I was asked to begin my talk—at the same time as all the women headed, table by table, to the buffet to help themselves to dessert! I tried to keep going over the resultant chatter, paused once or twice, then decided to plough on regardless.

Eventually, they were all seated and listening. I relaxed and allowed the words to flow. At one stage, I found myself explaining how important it is for me as an author to see God’s creativity in nature and to be inspired by that. I went on to talk about how God has given us the gifts we have and how it’s important to do what God has called us to do in this world. But then I wondered if I should be saying such things. I had spoken at a church earlier that day—it was fine to say such things there. But at a community group?

Later, I discovered my talk had been well received, as several women chatted with me and bought books. Then the club secretary came to say goodbye.

‘I hope you were happy with my input,’ I commented. ‘Sometimes I forget where I am and think I’m at a church group …’

‘No, it was fine,’ she assured me earnestly. ‘After all, that’s who you are.’

Yes, that is who I am, I thought, as I drove home. And if others can talk about things that are important to them, then why shouldn’t I do the same? Of course I need to be sensitive in each situation and honour the wishes of those who have asked me to speak. But I still need to be me. After all, God created my inmost being and knit me together in my mother’s womb, as Psalm 139 tells us. God purposed me to be who I am, so I have a responsibility to be me. As Rob Bell states, ‘We don’t need a second anybody. We need the first you.

It was an interesting evening. And, despite the difficulties encountered, I believe it was so worth it, just being me for God.

How about you? Are you being a second somebody else—or the first you?

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I wonder if you’ve ever tried to describe a scene you have imagined but found your audience wasn’t quite catching the vision. It’s frustrating, isn’t it? It’s so clear in your own mind – surely what you mean is obvious? Yet more often than not, I find it’s my fault rather than anyone else’s when this happens. Usually, I have not taken the time to stand in the other person’s shoes or to think how best to convey that picture in my head to them.

I experienced this again recently in trying to explain to a designer what I wanted the cover of my next novel to look like. It is entitled The Inheritance and isn’t due out until next year but needs to be featured in a catalogue soon. Since the book is set largely in the English countryside, I have always pictured an old, English manor house on the cover, with a wide, curved driveway leading up to the main door. I also imagined lots of trees and green lawn as well, with gardens sloping down to a nearby lake. And over the stream leading to the lake, there would be an old, stone bridge, since one of these is featured in the story on key occasions.

Yet when the poor designer came up with his version of the cover, I felt something was lacking. There was the manor house and the driveway, just as I had asked for – but somehow it all seemed a little soulless and unromantic. I could not envisage my characters living and breathing, loving and hating in that place, as they do in the book. So back it went to the designer, along with a little more information, for him to have another go at getting inside my head.

Perhaps you have experienced this issue yourself at home, as my husband and I do on occasions. Sometimes one or the other of us may be so involved in what we are working on or thinking about that we blurt out a comment about it all, forgetting the other person is on a different tack altogether. At such times, I have been known to let out an exasperated sigh, as my husband stares blankly at me and asks for some clue as to what I’m talking about! And all the while, I’m thinking to myself, ‘He must know! It’s so obvious what I mean!’

So it’s a huge relief to me when I can turn my attention to God and rest in that all-knowing, all-powerful presence once again. I don’t have to explain myself to God. In fact, I don’t have to explain anything to God. God knows all my thoughts even before I myself am consciously aware of them, as Psalm 139 reminds us:

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.

God has no trouble understanding those 3D images and concepts in my head, as well as all my motives, dreams aspirations and intentions. In fact, God is right there with me in every part of my life, intimately involved and eternally watching over me. And that’s something I hope I will treasure forever and never take for granted.

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These past few days, we have had the privilege (?!) of minding our daughter’s cat. Now Panda (she’s the cat!) is fourteen years old and not as agile as she once was. She stalks somewhat disdainfully around our house, thinking twice before she tries to jump up anywhere. And when given the freedom of our backyard, she tentatively explores it a little but soon settles down in a favourite spot under a tree. She has always been a little choosey whom she selects as a trustworthy friend and does not seem very enamoured with either my husband or me. But from around 5.30pm on, I am her very best friend, apparently, as she brushes up against my legs and meows plaintively. Now I hate to doubt her motives, but I suspect it could have something to do with the fact it’s almost her dinnertime.

It dawned on me today, however, that Panda might actually be enacting a real life parable before my very eyes. Could it be she exhibits some of my own attitudes to God? Could it be, for starters, that just as she doesn’t seem to care much about me most of the day, but changes her mind quickly at dinnertime, she might well be mirroring my own behaviour towards God? Surely this is what I do when I turn to God only when I need something?

But then I see another even more disquieting way in which Panda might well mirror my own behaviour. She appears to be a lovely, old cat. She looks like she is just waiting for you to pat her and or to sit in your lap. But in reality she’s not so friendly at all – well, not to most strangers anyway – and has even been known in the past to hiss and lash out. Could I possibly be as deceptive at times as our Panda? How often do I pretend to be much more righteous and holy and … well … nicer than I really am? Yet I don’t fool God for one minute. God sees past it all, right into my heart.

Then there’s the certain knowledge that in a couple of days when our daughter comes to reclaim her pet, Panda will very speedily switch her allegiance from me back to our daughter!  How could my feline friend be so fickle after all I have done for her – cleaning out her litter tray, providing her favourite gourmet salmon dinners, stroking her when she deigns to let me, removing all her hairs from my best lounge chair? Yet is it possible I’m as fickle as that with God? Could it be that I regularly switch my allegiance from God to whatever else is bringing me pleasure and fulfilment at any given time?

I’m so thankful God is much more gracious and loving with me than I will ever be with our Panda! I’m so glad God cares enough to forgive my pretence and my ever-changing allegiances and helps me do better. And as I gaze at a sleeping Panda curled up under a nearby chair, I echo David’s prayer from Psalm 139:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

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There could be several answers to this question, come to think of it. Both words end in ‘ting’, for starters. And if I remember my parts of speech correctly, both are verbal nouns. As for the activities themselves, both can be accomplished much more easily, I’d say, if one is sitting down. Both also require the use of one’s hands – well usually anyway. And both, in my opinion, require much patience and perseverance.

Now I put knitting aside several years ago. I knew if I began another project, I would get ‘hooked’ and those novels I hoped to write would never be finished. Recently, however, a family member suggested I might like to start knitting again and in a weak moment, I acquiesced. I blithely chose a beautiful pattern and bought some wool, but after reading the instructions more closely, decided I should be more realistic. It would probably take me several years to complete what I had chosen, so I lowered my sights and selected a different one.

But then the fun began. I tried the first four rows several times without success – the lacy pattern was beyond me. Backwards and forwards I went, knitting a few rows, undoing them all and trying again. Eventually I worked out what the instructions actually meant and then I was off – at least for a while. But careless mistakes began occurring – and I soon lost count of the number of times I knitted several rows, only to pull them undone yet again.

And here is where the similarity between writing and knitting kicked in for me. There was something incredibly familiar about this moving forward and retreating, this creating and undoing. Six novels further down the track in my writing journey, this ebb and flow has become almost inevitable, something that is par for the course. When I first began writing, I could not handle the idea of throwing out large chunks of the masterpiece I had created and sweated over. Yet over time, I learnt it did not kill me to delete my pearls of wisdom. In fact, I came to see it often led to discovering even greater treasures than pearls.

So for me, both knitting and writing require large dollops of patience and perseverance. And last night, as I unravelled several rows of my knitting yet again, I was reminded that this is how God is constantly called on to deal with me. I forge ahead – and God is there beside me, guiding and encouraging. I mess up – and God is there, challenging me and comforting me. I go backwards, forgetting where I’m heading and losing the way – and God is there again, urging me on and strengthening me to run the race. As Psalm 103 reminds us:

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. … As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.

Yes, I will no doubt continue to make mistakes – and God, the author of all things, who knit me together even before I was born (Psalm 139), will graciously edit them out and patiently unpick them, as I allow him to.

And for that I will be forever grateful.

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Whenever I meet or hear from someone who has enjoyed reading one of my novels, I find myself quite blown away.  Each time, I feel so privileged that words I agonised over a few years back now still touch people’s hearts and hopefully even impact their lives as well.

Recently I met someone who had just finished reading my novel ‘Laura’. Her mind was obviously still full of the characters and storyline, so our conversation went something like this:

‘I found your book so encouraging, Jo-Anne. I absolutely loved your character Laura – but I loved her brother Jamie too.’

‘That’s great – so did I!’ I smile, delighted.

‘I think you could write a sequel and explore Jamie’s journey.  Margaret was doing the best she could – and I can understand why Ken acted like he did.  Then there was Elisabeth – now who was her partner?  What was his name again?’

[A moment’s silence before my new friend thankfully remembers it herself.]

Oh that’s right – Paul.  And Ian and Greg – well, they were just there, but I really loved Jamie.’

I have had such conversations before – conversations in which I valiantly try to remember who on earth this or that character actually is!  I endeavour to hide my confusion and embarrassment, however.  After all, how can I own up to forgetting someone I myself have created and fleshed out and journeyed with for months?  Yes, there are the more notable ones I loved and will always remember, but am I currently writing my sixth novel – which means I have created a cast of well over a hundred characters at this point in time.  I simply can’t store all their names in my head – and it has nothing to do with the fact that I’m getting older!

Some say novelists act like gods, in that they are in a position to create whatever characters they like to populate their own little fictitious worlds.  That may be the case – but they are nothing like the God I know.  I forget my less memorable characters at least, but I’m so glad God doesn’t forget us, however memorable or otherwise we are!  God says straight out in Isaiah 49:15: ‘I will not forget you!  And Psalm 139 tells me that God knows everything about me – when I get up, when I go out, even what I’m thinking and what I’m about to say.  I may forget those I have ‘created’ and what they did and said – but God knows me intimately and will never forget me.  And I’m so glad of that.

How about you?

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