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Posts Tagged ‘Psalm 139:1-4’

There I was, about to enter the local supermarket when I noticed some mangoes on display nearby. I reached for a roll of plastic bags, tore one off and opened it, ready to put my mango in. Just then, a little lady much older than I am (!) asked me if I would mind passing her a bag, so I quickly handed her my own. A few moments later, this same little lady came up and handed me a tiny, square piece of cardboard, with something green pressed onto it and covered in clear plastic.

IMG_20180206_120843375‘It’s a real, four-leaf clover!’ she explained. ‘I want you to have it because you were so kind to me. I gave one to my granddaughter when she was doing an exam and she got 97%!’

Not wanting to disappoint her, I joked that I might have to sit for another exam. But later, I wished I could have thought of something a little more helpful to say.

The next day, I was back in that same supermarket. My husband had enjoyed his mango so much, I decided to buy a couple more. This time, the checkout person had trouble scanning some of my purchases and had to repeat the process. I paid my bill and headed off, but something made me look closely at my docket. Sure enough, I had not been charged for my two mangoes.

What a moral dilemma! At first, I thought, ‘It was her mistake—she was rushing too much. Probably I’ve been overcharged on other occasions anyway!’ But then my conscience got the better of me. I went back, showed her the docket and pointed out the problem.

‘Oh, thank you so much,’ she said. ‘That’s very nice of you—you’ll have good karma all day now!’

I blinked a few times, paid my money and turned away, wishing yet again I could have thought of something suitable to say in the moment.

As I reflected more on these two interesting events, I experienced various emotions. I was touched by these ladies’ responses. Both of them could have just thanked me (or not!) and said or done nothing more. I was annoyed at myself for not knowing what to say in return. But I also felt sad that these women seemed to set such store by four-leaf clovers and good karma. And probably they would represent a large percentage of the general population too, as far as such beliefs are concerned.

I don’t want to act or say anything in a graceless, judgemental way, but I’m sure there’s more that affects my life and the outcomes of my words and deeds than four-leaf clovers and good karma. I believe the Lord knows us intimately and watches over us, loving and caring for us, through all the good and bad times in our lives.

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 hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. (Psalm 139:1, 4)

So I’ve decided it’s much better to opt for that loving, gracious hand of God on me each day, rather than trusting in good karma or four-leaf clovers. How about you?

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Jo 17Have you ever had the opportunity to boo someone off the stage or platform, as I did recently?  What fun it was! Never mind that most of the audience members were around sixty years younger than I am and took up decidedly less space in those City Recital Hall seats.  I was determined to make the most of this chance of a lifetime!

As you may have guessed, we were all at the pantomime ‘Puss in Boots’. What an opportunity to let our imaginations run riot and play that age-old game of ‘let’s pretend’!

The main characters’ costumes weren’t particularly fancy, except for the scary ogre’s colourful outfit. Puss in Boots merely had a furry tail attached around her middle and cat’s ears on her head, then later donned a red hat and boots when she and the miller’s son, Harry, set off on their adventures. The props were simple—just a large folding screen, with doors that rotated, allowing the characters to go through and around it. A few other devices were used, like a cut-out shape of a castle and the big sign prompting us all to boo. There was also appropriate music and stage lighting. But we the audience were the ones who filled in the gaps with our own vivid imaginations. We yelled out, ‘Hello, Harry!’ whenever the male lead asked us to. We responded gleefully with ‘Oh no you can’t!’ to his firm ‘Oh yes, I can!’ We screamed ‘Behind you!’ when Puss couldn’t find the big ogre. Yep, our imaginations had a great workout—especially our grandson’s.

Now Zain has always been quite adept at playing ‘Let’s pretend’ games. ‘Nanna, imagine if …’ he will say, with a twinkle in his eye. And off he goes on a wonderful flight of fancy. But Zain’s not the only one who does this.  I do too—although in nowhere near such a fun way. You see, my ‘let’s pretend’ games tend to happen when I want to impress others. I may want them to believe I have everything under control and am cool, calm and collected. Or I may want them to think I know more than I do.  Perhaps I may even want them to think I’m more ‘spiritual’ than I am or more prayerful or more Christlike or more … on it goes.  That game of ‘Let’s pretend’ is so helpful in hiding my real self that others may not like or approve of.

Do I fool anyone? Maybe—or maybe not. I know I certainly don’t fool myself. And I also know I don’t fool God. What a futile thing even to attempt, when God is present everywhere and knows us so intimately!

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. Psalm 139:1-4

Just as well God is also totally loving, gracious and merciful, don’t you think?  So in 2018, I plan to remember that, keep my ‘let’s pretend’ moments to pantomimes and the like and, instead, be real with God and with others—and with myself. How about you?

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Jo 12I enjoy doing crossword puzzles and was recently given a crossword book that is just the right level for my slightly addled brain. This enables me to take a break from writing now and then, yet still play with all those fascinating words in the English language. What fun!

The other day, while tackling one of those mega crosswords that completely fill a large page, however, I found myself flummoxed. There seemed to be so many clues that could be taken different ways. For example, one clue simply said ‘hide’. So … did that mean the noun ‘hide’ or the verb ‘hide’? But if it meant the noun, ‘hide’ can have at least two different meanings. Or take the clue ‘sort’. Did that refer to the verb ‘sort’ or the noun meaning ‘type’? And what about that one little word ‘dear’? Did it mean the opposite to ‘cheap’? Or did it mean ‘sweetheart’ or ‘beloved’?

But most confusing of all was the clue that simply said ‘badgers’. Now I took that to mean those animals called badgers. ‘They must have another obscure name,’ I thought. ‘I’d never know that.’ So I left the spot blank until the end. Then, when I saw that the answer had to be ‘pesters’, it finally dawned on me that my ‘badgers’ clue meant the verb ‘harasses’ or ‘nags’, rather than any animal! There I was, trying to think of a scientific name for a badger when the clue meant something quite different.

As I thought about those crossword challenges, I began to wonder how often I myself confuse or mislead others with those words that roll off my tongue so readily each day—or spill out onto my computer screen. How glibly I can say one thing yet be thinking the exact opposite! How many times I seem to opt for those pious-sounding words and phrases that sound good but lack integrity and can leave others feeling puzzled or, even worse, discouraged!

There are some verses in Psalm 139 that have always challenged me about the words I speak—or write.

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. Psalm 139:1-4

Hmm. To me, it is a very comforting thought that God sees into the depths of my heart and knows me through and through. There is no pretending with God—and that is so freeing, don’t you think? But it also challenges me deeply that God knows every word I utter, before it even leaves my mouth. I cannot fool God with my words. I cannot get away with saying one thing and meaning another with God. And it does not please God whenever I try to fool others around me either.

So Lord, this day and forever, may all the words I speak and write honour you and be as honest and unambiguous as I can make them. And, as King David also prayed:

May the words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.  Psalm 19:14

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Next week, I plan to give away something I have hung onto for over thirty years and never used in all that time. It is a Fowler’s Vacola bottling or preserving outfit, complete with large, metal boiler, thermometer, clamps and around three dozen glass jars and lids. My sister is soon to move to a large, country town and hopes to make good use of it there.

I first began bottling when we moved to Victor Harbor, South Australia, thirty-seven years ago. To our delight, we discovered several fruit trees in the backyard of our new home – an apricot tree, a huge nectarine tree and two varieties of peach trees. When summer came, we were inundated with fruit, so I decided to buy a preserving outfit and ask one of the local ladies to show me how to bottle fruit.

It was a very satisfying endeavour. I learnt how to overlap the fruit in the bottles so it would look attractive, how to achieve just the right level of sweetness in the syrup and how to seal those bottles well. It was a lot of work, but it was so wonderful to have a supply of homemade preserves on hand, especially when unexpected visitors arrived. When we moved to Adelaide and then interstate, I thought I would buy fruit and keep on bottling, but it never eventuated. The fruit was too expensive and besides, I no longer had the time. So even though I loved the idea, I gave up on it.

And now as I pack up my old bottling outfit, I see something of a parable of the Christian life in it all. Many times, it seems we taste the sweetness of a close relationship with God and reap the benefits of this in our lives. But then things happen. Our lifestyle changes or we get too busy or Christians disappoint us or we think we know it all – and God is marginalised in our lives, even perhaps packed in a box, put on a high shelf and forgotten about.

But God doesn’t forget us. We might forget God – but God is different. ‘I will never leave you or forsake you’, the Lord says to Joshua in Joshua 1:5. Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me’ David writes in Psalm 27:10. And God tells the children of Israel something similar in Isaiah 49:15:

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!

We can even try to fool ourselves and others and pretend our faith in God is still vital to us, but God sees through it all. Psalm 139:1-4 describes how the Lord knows us intimately – our thoughts, our actions, even the words we haven’t yet said. But God is so faithful to us – and so merciful.

My parable falls down, however, in that I am giving away my preserving outfit – yet I certainly don’t intend to give my faith in God away! I want to remain full of God’s sweetness and flavour until the end, just like that wonderful fruit I used to preserve. And I know God will keep me that way, as I continue to stay close to him and allow his Spirit to permeate my life.

So how about you? Have you put God up on the shelf in your life somewhere?

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Already I have lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked if my latest novel ‘Jenna’ is really my own story. Whenever I hear this question, however, I honestly don’t quite know how to answer. At one level, it is not ‘my’ story at all. For starters, my character Jenna is in her mid-twenties, has dark, curly hair and lives in Adelaide – which cuts me out on all counts! Also, when the story begins, she is a youth leader at her local church – a role I have never had. Then she gets engaged to someone who … but I don’t want to spoil the story for any of you who plan on reading it!

And yet, at another level, ‘Jenna’ is my story. It is in fact lots of different parts of my story – little snippets from here and there taken totally out of their original time frame and context and melded together to form a new and unique narrative. But it is also various other people’s stories – again snippets I have heard or read about or watched unfold. And then around and through and above and below all that are the characters and events completely from my own imagination, with the result that it is difficult even for me, the author, to tell now where fact and fiction begin and end.

It’s true too that I am the author of my novels – the creator of these characters and this storyline. I bring them to birth – I give them names. Maybe I even ‘play God’ a little at times, creating the odd one or two in my own image, or part thereof, allowing them to respond to situations as I probably would – or at least think I would. And no doubt this is a natural thing to do – after all, I’m told we write best about the things we have personally experienced. So in this regard, is my character Jenna perhaps really me?

I think the wisest thing for me as the author is to stop worrying about all this. As I wrote ‘Jenna’, I felt I was putting into words something worthwhile and something God wanted me to say. And I hope and pray that everything I have written brings God honour and glory, as well as challenging and encouraging my readers – and yes, entertaining them. Recently I read again the words of Psalm 139:1-4:

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 perceived my very thoughts as I wrote ‘Jenna’. God was aware of my motives and in fact knew every word I was going to write, even before I started. God was with me as I wrote, I am sure of that. And my task was to listen well and to ‘keep in step with the Spirit’ (Gal 5:25) as the story unfolded.

I hope I did that. And I hope and pray my readers forget about finding ‘me’ in the story and instead discover something more of God in it all.

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