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Posts Tagged ‘Sydney’

Let me tell you a wonderful, true story.

Recently, a writer friend in country NSW messaged me via Facebook to ask if I knew of any accommodation available near us in Sydney for a Christian couple planning to move here from Melbourne. They needed somewhere long-term, as the husband will be studying at Bible college, but would be happy initially to board with someone for two weeks or rent.

I could not think of anyone and, to be honest, was a little reluctant to spend time on the matter, but posted the request on our church’s Facebook page anyway. Lo and behold, two lovely ladies responded. One offered their unit while they themselves were on holidays, but the dates did not match up. And the other offered her basically furnished granny flat at reasonable cost for either short or long term.

I let the couple know about the granny flat and they tentatively asked for more information, as well as a contact number. But around the same time, another friend of mine who has recently returned from serving God overseas happened to mention she had been offered a house in our area for minimal rent but had to turn it down, as she already has somewhere to live.

Even as I continued pursuing more information about the granny flat, I kept thinking of this house my friend had mentioned. Could I be bold enough to try to find out if it was still available? And would the person managing it on behalf of his mother consider letting this couple have it? I had known the contact person years ago, but had lost touch after he moved to a country town.

In the end, feeling rather pushy, I asked my friend for this man’s number, took a deep breath and phoned. He greeted me warmly—and yes, the house was still available at minimal rent!

‘Give these folk my number,’ he told me. ‘I’ll consult with my family, but I know my mother would like someone serving God to have it.’

Straight away, I passed on both lots of contact details to the couple. And that very afternoon, I received an excited phone call from the husband.

‘It’s 95% sure we’ll be able to have the house!’ he told me. ‘They’ve checked with our referees and that’s all fine. It’s all so amazing! We would much prefer a house, as we’re expecting our first child in February. God bless you so, so much, sister.’

Then the next day, a text arrived that simply said, ‘We got the house—praise Father God!’

I am still gobsmacked at how God arranged everything so perfectly for this couple. Who else but God could manage to connect such disparate people living so far apart and enable us all to help them—my writer friend in a country town, the contact person for the house in yet another country town, the couple themselves in Melbourne and I and others in Sydney? Truly, God’s ways are so much higher and more amazing than anything we could ever devise.

My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. Isaiah 55:8 NLT

I’m so glad of that, aren’t you? And so is that lovely couple from Melbourne I hope to meet soon!

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This week, one of our daughters is moving house. She will have more room where she is going, so already she has bought more pieces of furniture to fill this space and that. She is looking forward to making her new place feel like home and to tidying up the messy garden that was neglected by previous tenants. Soon this house will feel warm and welcoming to her. And soon, no doubt, she will truly enjoy have guests over to visit and possibly even to stay for a while.

It has been some time since those of us in Sydney have been able to have guests come and stay, especially from interstate. It can be a lovely experience, can’t it, having visitors in our home? But it can also become irksome, if that sharing of our home goes on for a little too long. Some time ago, I heard of someone whose adult child needed a home, ostensibly just for a few weeks. But those weeks turned into months and months until, one joyous day, she finally moved out to a place of her own. What a challenge, especially for introverts like me, to share our personal space with others for that length of time!

I love our home—a spacious, ground floor unit that is comfortable in every way—and the quietness here that enables me to write without distractions. But I also do enjoy sharing our home with others and making them comfortable while they are with us. Yet I wonder if this extended period of COVID restrictions has made me less able or perhaps even less willing to do so. I suspect in some ways in this time, I have come to guard this personal space of mine too strongly, to see my home as a place of safety where I can hole up from the outside world and wait out this crazy time in splendid isolation. And I suspect there may be times too when I try to do the same thing with God.

Recently, I read some words of Jesus where he tries to comfort his disciples before leaving them. In reply to a question from one of them, Jesus says:

If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. John 14:23

At first, these words almost shocked me. Wow, I thought, do I really want God the Father and Jesus around all the time? What about when I want to have some space to do my own thing? But then I realised how silly such thinking is! Years and years ago, I gladly and freely invited them into my heart and life, to be with me forever. And what a joy that was—and still is. More than that, what an amazing privilege it is to have God, the Creator of the universe, willing to move into my life and take up residence in me, to live in me and through me each day! And what loving patience God must have to stay on, even when things get messy!

I’m so grateful God moved in all those years ago. May my wonderful House Guest always feel welcome and at home here, until that day when we actually meet face to face.

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I can’t quite believe it. This week, we celebrated a special birthday in our family, albeit in different times and places, for COVID reasons. Our oldest child turned fifty. Yes—fifty! She looks nothing like that age, which makes it even more unbelievable for me. Anyway, how could I have a fifty-year-old daughter? Such a thing simply cannot be possible, at least not quite yet—could it?

Fifty years seems such a long time, in one way. Yet, in another, it feels as if those years have flown. In that time, our daughter has lived in many different places and done many different things. She has faced difficult challenges too, particularly health-wise, yet here she still is, determined to keep moving on in life, still ready to try new things and take risks, as she steps into a further phase of her journey. Yes, our daughter is a very capable, compassionate and courageous woman who tries her best at everything she does. It is a joy to honour her as we celebrate, yet this milestone has certainly caused me to reflect on my own life too.

Only weeks after our daughter was born, we moved interstate. Around two years later, a son was added to our family and we moved interstate again, this time to South Australia, where another daughter eventually joined our family. We lived near the beach at beautiful Victor Harbor, a wonderful place for our young children to grow up. A brief stint in Adelaide followed, then we were on the move again, back to Sydney to another ministry role at a local church. In this time, I decided to return to study to gain my teaching diploma and, when another move across Sydney followed, I was able to teach and thus help buy our own home. Season by season, God unfolded the next thing for me, often in such unexpected ways, and I am so grateful. Later, I took on an editing role, then a secretarial role and finally a ministry role, after gaining a theology degree. And when that concluded, my wonderful adventure of writing and speaking began.

Over the years, we can pack so much into our lives. And in the midst of it all, sometimes it’s easy to forget the bigger picture, isn’t it? In reality, our time here on earth is a mere speck when compared to eternity. Surely then, that means I need to hold onto things more lightly than I tend to do? And surely it also means I need to use my time here well and share the love of God with others however I can? I often think of Jesus’ parable about the rich man who built bigger barns to store his grain and other goods in so he could take life easy and ‘eat, drink and be merry’ (Luke 12:13-21). Of course, this doesn’t mean we don’t provide for the future or celebrate happy times together. But, as Jesus tells us, it does mean we need to be wise in the way we live.

Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God. Luke 12:21 NLT  

Let’s continue to live life to the full. But let’s treasure that rich relationship with God that lasts for eternity above everything else.

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It’s amazing how so much conversation, uplifting or otherwise, can fly around the world so quickly on the internet via such platforms as Facebook and Twitter, isn’t it? In a trice, someone can respond to a post with a pleasant or unpleasant comment—and a whole interesting ‘discussion’ can ensue. Just a few little words, yet they can quickly become a stream or river—or even a torrent.

Sometimes, an undignified and even vicious spat may erupt. Yet at other times, people are kind and courteous, wanting to build others up rather than tear down—and I am convinced God can use such online exchanges at times in ways we would never imagine. In fact, I think God might have even smiled at one I became involved in recently and enjoyed how it unfolded.

It began when our son shared the words of Proverbs 16:24 on Facebook from his home in Sydney, together with a graphic of honey dripping from a piece of honeycomb.

Kind words are like honey—
    sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.

These words are well worth pondering, I thought—and that’s exactly what one of our daughters did. But then she had an honest question, which she shared on her brother’s post from her home on the other side of Sydney: How can kind words actually be healthy for our bodies?

Our son then responded online that he didn’t quite know, but hoped someone out there would. And as I thought about our daughter’s question, several ideas came to me. Kind words certainly make us feel good, just like that burst of sweetness we experience when we taste honey does. We seem to relax inside when we realise someone appreciates us, don’t we? And we feel connected to them too, heart to heart or soul to soul.

Then I vaguely remembered how honey was used in times past as a kind of antiseptic on an open wound. And didn’t some people drink hot honey and lemon juice for their health? After checking online, I soon discovered that a honey and lemon drink can apparently help our digestion, flush out toxins from the body and even stop us putting on weight! So … can kind words actually have a similar healthy effect?  

Delving further online, I read that, as we experience someone’s kindness, our bodies apparently produce the hormone oxytocin. This then stimulates production of nitric oxide which, in turn, dilates our arteries and reduces blood pressure. As well, this oxytocin can act as an anti-inflammatory in our cardiovascular system, thus protecting our whole bodies. Wow—amazing! Apparently then, there really is a scientific reason for those lovely, warm fuzzies we can feel throughout our bodies when we receive a kind word from someone.

From yet another part of Sydney then, I decided to share some brief comments about this on our son’s post, in an attempt to answer his sister’s question. Soon others followed with more comments, resulting in a flow of excellent and uplifting thoughts on the subject. From one little post online of a verse from Proverbs then, a whole group of people across Sydney and beyond were connected and built up in a unique way. Those kind words flowed on—and in the process, I suspect God’s heart was gladdened too.

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Isn’t it amazing how some little, fleeting incident can trigger an absolute avalanche of vivid memories at times? One moment, we may be grounded firmly in the present, yet the next, our minds are hurtled back to some experience perhaps years earlier. Of course, if the original event was traumatic in any way, such flashbacks can be extremely unsettling. Yet they can also serve to remind us how faithful God has been to us in our lives.

One morning recently (before lockdown!), I was a passenger on the Rivercat, as it headed along the Parramatta River into the city. I could hear the throb of the engines and feel the ferry rocking, as it sliced its way through the wake left by another nearby ferry. The next moment, I was almost overwhelmed with memories of other boat trips taken in Turkey years ago, during several visits to a friend there. This friend was now my reason for heading into the city—she was in hotel quarantine there and I wanted to take her some goodies. No doubt that was why I was susceptible to memories of Turkey that morning, yet their strength and suddenness still took my breath away.

The first memory that surfaced was of a trip across the Bosphorus with my friend from one part of the huge city of Istanbul to another, in a ferry much larger and more crowded than my Sydney Rivercat. Everything was new and strange to me, yet it was all so colourful and interesting. On that trip, I remember how determined I was to stay glued to my friend, come what may. After all, I did not know any Turkish or understand how everything worked.

Then in a flash, I remembered another ferry trip across the Bosphorus a few years later, this time on my own. On that occasion, after a hairy taxi ride where our driver kept falling asleep, my host hurriedly waved goodbye and pointed to my ferry which was about to depart. I dashed for it—and made it. Then it dawned on me that there I was, alone on a crowded ferry, a foreigner who knew little Turkish and still with a bus to catch to the airport when we eventually docked. Time was fast ticking away—but amazingly, by God’s grace, I made it onto that plane.

Other less alarming trips in tourist boats along the Mediterranean coast came to mind too. From time to time, the crew would pull into beautiful coves and islands to enable us all to swim in that pristine, blue water or explore the fascinating sights nearby. What a privilege to enjoy such unique experiences with my friend!

I returned with a jolt to the present. Then a moment later, a huge wave of thankfulness rose up in me, as I realised how each of those memories had highlighted God’s amazing grace in my life in one way or another. Truly, God has watched over me, not only through all those rich experiences I had just relived, but throughout my whole life, even in times of challenge and confusion—and I am so grateful.

Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Who can proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord or fully declare his praise? Psalm 106:1-2

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Jo 23Things have changed a little on the communication front since our children were young. Back then, we did not even have a home phone—or a TV until our oldest child was eight. And there were certainly no mobile phones or computers around. Instead, we read, enjoyed music and played games. And I also wrote many long letters, particularly to the grandparents interstate.

But the other day, within the space of a few hours, I accessed several means of communication that are now commonplace. I began by emailing on my laptop. Then I checked my Facebook posts. Next, I wrote and scheduled my weekly online blog. Soon after, my mobile rang—and it was a friend who lives in another town wanting to talk, as her husband is ill. Later, she put me on speaker phone so her husband could also hear, as I prayed for them both.

That afternoon, I sat at my laptop and ‘attended’ a friend’s funeral, livestreamed from a chapel in a cemetery on the other side of Sydney. No, it was not the same as being present, but at least I could join in to some degree as those close to him said goodbye to our friend.

Not long after, I managed to turn up at a family birthday party via Zoom—that day, our oldest granddaughter turned seventeen. This was a new experience for me, but how amazing to be able to see all our family members in their respective homes and to chat to one another! We  tried, with mixed success, to sing Happy Birthday together, as the candles were lit, then watched longingly as our granddaughters consumed that enticing looking ice cream cake right before our eyes!

Two days later, we ‘attended’ our church’s online service, pre-recorded and available on YouTube, which we watched on our TV in the comfort of our lounge. Then I accessed another service being livestreamed from a friend’s church. This past week too, I talked with another friend whose son’s recent wedding was livestreamed to all the wedding guests elsewhere, including interstate and overseas, then later enjoyed seeing the wedding photos sent to my mobile.

I am so glad we have all these wonderful means of communication in this time of isolation in particular. But some do take a bit of getting used to—and not everyone has a tech-savvy husband nearby like I do who can rescue me! Yet however much knowledge we have, sometimes those connections just do not work, do they? Sometimes, the mobile phone or Skype or Zoom reception can be poor in our area. Or sometimes, the person we wish to contact is simply unavailable.

And that’s why, as I sit quietly reading my Bible and talking with God, I am so grateful God is always there and always accessible, always listening and always ready to respond in love. No technical devices are needed. Instead, we can communicate heart to heart and spirit to Spirit with our loving Lord, wherever we are and whatever is happening around us. Surely, nothing can be more amazing than that?

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfils the desires of those who fear him. He hears their cry and saves them. Psalm 145:18-19

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Jo 17I had always thought I was not judgmental—until one night over twenty years ago when someone challenged me in a way I have never forgotten. I have written about this before but, at the risk of repeating myself, this is what happened.

For many years, we were part of a church in an area of Sydney where quite a number of marginalised people lived. As I walked out of the church office late one Sunday night, I glanced across at a youngish man seated nearby whom I knew from the area. He would often wander into our services in a half-drunk state and sit somewhere at the back. On one famous occasion, he even interrupted the sermon with the pithy statement ‘Pigs might fly!’!

On this particular night, however, he must have decided once again not to beat around the bush.

‘You don’t like me, do you?’ he challenged me out of the blue.

I denied it, but he simply sat there staring at me and grinning.

I could feel shame mounting inside me as I walked off. You see, what he had said was true. I did not like him—or, at least, I did not like his behaviour. Yet I had never bothered to find out anything about him as a person. Admittedly, he was often drunk and past communicating well with anyone most nights, but I had never cared about who he really was or why he had ended up living the way he did.

This salutary lesson has stayed with me ever since and, hopefully, prevented me from being too judgmental of others like this man. But in the past few months, I have learnt a lesson about a different kind of judgmentalism. I have learnt that not all children who look like they are behaving badly and being disobedient to their parents or teachers or carers may deliberately choose to do so. They may have ADHD or something similar. They may be overwhelmed by noise and unable to think clearly or respond well. They may not understand exactly what they were asked to do and be afraid of failing. The list goes on.

Recently, a phrase written by a leading expert in this area of childhood behaviour caught my attention. He talked about approaching such children with curiosity rather than judgmentalism—about taking time to explore their personalities and how their brains are wired rather than confronting their behaviour head-on in a legalistic way. Then it occurred to me how helpful it could be if we also showed a little grace and love and patience, along with that curiosity he mentions. Of course these children need to learn what is acceptable behaviour and what isn’t. But I see now there may well be better ways of helping them achieve this than my old, critical, judgmental approach.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had some straight words to say about judging others:

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Matthew 7:1-2

Wow! I hope I can remember this warning well and be open to more changes in perspective, as God continues to help me grow in grace towards others.

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Jo 23From time to time, I meet people who make me sit up and take notice. Somehow, they seem to march to the beat of a different drum—and I want to find out what that drum sounds like and how they keep in step with it.

Many years ago, after moving across Sydney, we met some people whose Christian commitment and experience of God seemed so much more real and vital than mine was at the time. One day, I decided I couldn’t wait any longer to find out more.

‘What is it you’ve got that I haven’t got?’ I asked them point blank.

They looked at each other, as if unsure how to answer me. In the end, all they said was ‘Just wait. Just wait. God will show you when the time is right!’

Now I found their response frustrating, if not plain annoying, but they were right. Not long after, God broke into my life in a fresh and sovereign way, overwhelming me with such deep love and opening up a whole new journey of being led by the Spirit in my life and ministry.

I was reminded of this recently when farewelling a friend at the airport. The person at the check-in counter thought she had found an issue with my friend’s visa, so went to check it out with her boss. When she returned, she told my friend it ‘should all be okay’, which didn’t sound so reassuring to me. But my friend stayed calm and seemed to take everything in her stride.

‘You’re so calm about it all!’ this lady finally blurted out, as if she couldn’t help it. ‘It makes me want to say “I’ll have what she’s having!”’

My friend and I looked at each other and laughed. You see, we had prayed for God’s peace to fill her as she said goodbye to family and friends. And here was this staff member wondering why my friend was so calm! I mumbled something about how we had prayed for peace, but there was no time to explain further, with that queue lengthening behind us.

Recently too, I met someone who decided to attend church again one Sunday, after an absence of many years because of having all sorts of doubts about the Christian faith. As the service ended, the pastors announced they would be delighted for anyone with questions about God and Jesus to come and spend time chatting with them about it all.

‘What church ever does anything like that?’ this person thought, amazed—and promptly took them up on the offer.

But the best example of amazement I have ever seen or heard is one I read recently in John 7. Here, the people of Jerusalem are trying to work out who Jesus is and how he could do the things he did. Some want to seize him, but ‘no one laid a hand on him’ (5:44). Finally, the temple guards return to those in authority, who ask why they haven’t arrested Jesus. Then comes this amazing statement:

No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards declared. John 7:46

How could this be? Could Jesus truly be the Messiah, the Son of God? Should we sit up and take notice of him?

I think we should—don’t you?

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Jo 12Last week, some long-time friends decided to drop in on their way to Canberra from Queensland.

‘We’re up the Central Coast,’ they told us. ‘We’ll be there in around a couple of hours!’

After getting a few things ready, I made a quick dash to the shops. I raced around the supermarket, then fumed as I became stuck behind a very slow-moving, elderly gentleman on my way down to the car park. Why couldn’t he move faster? What if my visitors arrived before I got home?

Still feeling frustrated, I finally hopped in my car and headed home. Just as I reached a roundabout near our Village, I noticed a motor-home approaching from the opposite direction. Oh, our friends have a motor-home, I thought to myself, but I can’t remember what theirs looks like. …  Hold on a minute! It couldn’t possibly be them, could it?

I waved, hoping that, if it was indeed them, they would follow me. And they did! I pointed them to a parking spot and we all marvelled at the absolute ‘coincidence’ of our arriving at the roundabout at exactly the same time. Had that old gentleman not slowed me down, I would have missed seeing them and helping them find our unit.

Over the next twenty-four hours, we shared many experiences from past years of how God had guided, rescued and enabled in all sorts of situations. Our friends told us about their three children, now parents and grandparents themselves. When the eldest was born many weeks premature, the nurses put him aside in a humidicrib when they saw he wasn’t breathing and focused on our friend’s wellbeing as the mother. But when she was told her baby was dead, she declared firmly, ‘He’s not dead!’‘ The next moment, nurses noticed he was breathing and scuttled to care for him.

‘I just knew in my heart he wasn’t,’ she told us, tears in her eyes, even after all these years.

As for their second son, it was discovered just prior to his birth that the cord was around his neck. Before an emergency caesarean could be organised, however, he arrived. to everyone’s amazement, the cord was not around his neck at all and the birth went perfectly smoothly! Later, our friends heard how someone they barely knew had woken up in the early morning hours and felt prompted to pray earnestly for them at the exact time of this baby’s birth.

When their third child was born, she seemed fine. But later in life, she was found to suffer from a severe congenital brain malformation involving not one aneurism, but thirteen! A brilliant surgeon happened to operate on her and managed to fix them all—a super-amazing, life-saving miracle.

As we talked, we saw again how God had indeed been present, not only in those bigger, key moments but also in the little ‘coincidences’ along the way—like arriving at roundabouts at the exact same time! What a wonderful God we serve, we decided, as our friends went on their way to continue with their amazing ministries, even in their late seventies!

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10

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There is nothing quite like finding people out there who think the same as you, is there? I experienced this a few days ago when a group of Christian authors got together in Sydney. Previously, most of us had met only online—but now we were able to share face to face and hear about each other’s writing journey.

What impressed me most was each person’s desire to honour God through her writing. We were a mixed lot in many ways. Some of us were novelists of varying descriptions, one wrote children’s books, one wrote non-fiction and another, poetry. Some were published and some not. And some had been writing for many years, while others were just beginning. But we were all determined to keep God first in our writing journey.

I was impressed. Here were six other women prepared to spend long hours alone, working hard to create and refine thousands of words, crafting them into a shape people will hopefully read. They have no guarantee of this and they have no guarantee any publisher will ever offer them a contract. But God has put a dream in their hearts—and they are determined to fulfil that dream.

God can also see their hearts—and mine. God doesn’t need those words printed on paper and bound into a book to read what is deep in our spirits. God can see my motivation as I sit writing and I believe is cheering me and my friends on, as we persevere. And that’s true for each one of you, whether you are an author or not. You may slave away patiently for hours at something quite different, believing you are doing exactly what you have been called to do. God sees that—and God knows.

In 1 Samuel 16:7, Samuel says the following to David’s father, Jesse:

Man looks at the outwards appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

So while others might not think we are doing anything significant, God sees. While we might not have that book released yet that is the tangible representation of those hours spent pouring words onto a page, God knows every single one of them anyway.

For those of us who do end up being published, we may well receive words of praise from readers. And for some, there may even be accolades or awards from those with the expertise to judge our books against others. Yet God’s heart is to reward us for our efforts anyway, even if—and especially if—no one else sees how we have put our heart and soul into it all. In Matthew 6, we read about those who loved to let the world know how pious they were and made sure people were watching when they gave money or prayed or fasted. Of course, I don’t mean that those of us who have had books published or won awards are showing off! But this is what Jesus says about those who care much more for the praise of men than the praise of God:

… I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. (v 2,5,16)

your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (v 4,18)

So be encouraged, all of you, writers or otherwise, who may feel you are labouring away, with no one noticing your efforts. God sees your heart. God knows. And one day, you will hear those most wonderful words of all spoken with such joy, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

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