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Posts Tagged ‘Sydney’

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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I have been interviewed twice for radio in recent times. The first was for Jenny Baxter’s Sunday morning show on FM106Five in Hobart and the second for ‘Sunday Night with Kel Richards’ on 2CH in Sydney. Both were phone interviews and I was given prior warning when they would take place. All I had to do was be available, well prepared and as alert as possible.

My interviewers were wonderful. Jenny was warm and relaxed and quickly put me at my ease. And when I mixed up the date of a speaking engagement, I was reassured that would be edited out anyway. Kel Richards was equally warm and friendly, but I knew I could not mess up my answers, since I understand studio time for his popular show is at a premium and there would be minimal editing, if any. As our phone interview drew near, I spread out ‘prompt sheets’ around me with answers to questions I thought he might ask. I also had my novels nearby – just in case, in the heat of the moment, I forgot what I had written about!

Kel asked me around seven questions. I ‘um-ed’ and ‘ah-ed’ my way through the first couple a little, but there was no time even for a quick glance at my ‘prompt sheets’. This was ‘sudden death’ – and a very public death at that!!  I consoled myself, however, with the thought that at 11.10pm on a cold, wet Sunday evening, perhaps there would not be too many people wide awake enough to witness my demise.

But then I drew a deep breath and realised this was not the moment to be hesitant in any way. I knew what my novels were about. I knew why I wrote what I had and who I hoped would read my novels. I even knew how I would encourage young novelists in their writing journey. These were the sorts of questions that were unfolding as we talked. Besides, I wanted at least one person to phone in and win the copy of my latest novel ‘Helena’s Legacy’ Kel was offering as a prize for the listener who answered his bible quiz question correctly!

After our call finished, I thought about the responses I gave and how differently I would have answered the questions second time around. But in the end, I decided I had done my best – I had responded as honestly and promptly as possible. So all I had to do now was trust God with the outcome.

But the whole experience also made me think about how I need to be equally prepared on a daily basis to answer questions about my faith in God in that same eager, truthful, prompt way. In 1 Peter 3: 15-16 we read:

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

We have to be ready and willing at a moment’s notice – chances are there won’t be any prior warning or prompt sheets. But we will have God’s Spirit with us who will give us just the right words to say and all the grace and sensitivity we need.

Now that puts me much more at ease than even the best interviewer possibly could. How about you?

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Last Tuesday I was walking through Belmore Park in Sydney with a friend on our way to an important meeting, when we noticed a high school student carrying a whole basket of brightly coloured origami paper cranes. We wondered what she might be planning to do with them, but as we walked a little further, we came across a large group of students with several baskets of cranes lined up along the walkway through the park. In front of each was a box for donations and a sign explaining this was part of the ‘Cranes for Hope’ project of the young people of Sydney to make 10,000 paper cranes and in this way raise at least $10,000 for the earthquake victims of Japan.

It was a beautiful, sunny day and we were early for our meeting. So we spent some time delving through the baskets, finding different coloured cranes and ones made of pretty, patterned paper. We bought quite a few – we wanted to support this project and also encourage the friendly students. But there was more behind our interest as well – and that involves two more stories.

Many of you may already know the story of the young Japanese girl Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes and the book of that title written by Eleanor Coerr. Sadako Sasaki developed leukemia as a result of radiation from the atomic bomb that fell on Hiroshima during World War Two. While in hospital, she decided to make a thousand little paper cranes, since according to a Japanese saying, this meant any wish she made would be granted. Her wish was to live, but she died after having made only 644, so her friends and family finished the project on her behalf. Today, there is a statue of Sadako in Hiroshima Peace Park, holding a golden origami crane and on the statue are the words: ‘This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace on earth.

But my second story is just as moving, in my opinion. You see, five years ago, my friend’s daughter passed away – we were actually on our way to attend a meeting linked to this sad event. At the time, her daughter had a Japanese penfriend who, on hearing her Australian friend was ill, decided to make a thousand paper cranes and send them to her. I was present at my friend’s place the day they arrived – some time after her daughter had passed away. It was such a touching gift, conveying as it did this Japanese friend’s love through the hours she had spent making the little origami birds, not knowing her penfriend had already passed away. And to this day, the paper crane remains a symbol in my friend’s family of their beautiful daughter, for all the love they had for each other and all she stood for.

Can you imagine how blown away we were to come across these baskets of paper cranes then on our very way to our important meeting? Surely this was a gracious gift from God to encourage my friend as she prepared for the potentially traumatic meeting ahead. And for me, this reinforced some words I had read in Psalm 46 earlier that morning:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. … “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Truly, our God knows and understands our anguish and reaches out constantly to comfort and encourage us. May you find that so true in your own life this day in just the way you need.

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