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Posts Tagged ‘thankfulness’

Last week, I reached a milestone in my little corner of the blogging world. I did not notice until this week because of a glitch in my numbering system, so what a surprise to discover I had written 700 personal blogs since July 2009!

At first, I thought, ‘Ho hum—who cares?’ After all, I enjoy writing my blogs and hope to continue for a while yet, regardless what number blog I am up to. But then I paused … and listened. It was as if God was whispering gently to me, ‘Whoa, Jo-Anne! How about you stop right now and think about all that has happened for you over these past almost thirteen years?’

So, I stopped and reflected. What a crazy but wonderful writing and speaking journey I have had in those years! Not only did God enable me to churn out a blog each week, but also to produce five more novels and two non-fiction books to add to my two previously published novels. Who would have thought? Certainly not I. And who would have thought too that I would have the opportunity to speak at all sorts of places along the way? I have lost count of how many such events have taken place, but it would be over two hundred, many wonderful, some … well … interesting!

As I looked back, however, I realised so much else has happened during these years too that I did not expect—personally, family-wise and certainly wider afield. For example, we sold our home of 32 years for what to us was a staggering sum and came to live here in our lovely, restful unit—an unexpected blessing indeed. Family-wise, we welcomed a fourth grandchild—another lovely blessing. In that time too though, my special ‘soul friend’ Joy suffered from dementia, something I did not expect to happen to her, eventually passing away last year. And, of course, who would have thought we would all be facing a worldwide pandemic in 2020—and 2021—and 2022?

We can plan and work towards what we dream of doing and what we may also believe is what God wants for us—and, by God’s grace, these plans and dreams may be fulfilled beyond our expectations. Yet, for many of us, this does not turn out to be the case, for one reason or another. For some, the question ‘Who would have thought?’ may be a joyous exclamation, while for others, it may well be a deep cry of anguish.

Yet, however surprised or shocked we may be at the twists and turns in our lives, positive or negative, God surely is not. And perhaps that is what God wanted me to see, as I reflected on these past thirteen years. Perhaps God is challenging me to remember who truly is in control of my life. Perhaps I need to be much more thankful I belong to such a loving, powerful God. And perhaps I need to realise my role is to keep living for and trusting in God, whatever happens.

Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Proverbs 3:5-6 The Message

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I thought I had cured myself of being a ‘glass half empty’ person. I thought I had learnt to be more grateful for family and friends, for the lovely things I own and the wonderful experiences I have had. Yet now and then, I hear this peevish, little voice inside me complaining about something I have missed out on or pointing out things tantalisingly beyond my reach. ‘Yes, you have that,’ it says, ‘but … well, you could have had this instead. Look what you’ve missed out on yet again!’

Recently, I received an email announcing the results of a short story competition I entered months ago. In it, I discovered that, while I did not win, my story was among the ten best entries and that, as a result, I would receive $150. This was a pleasant surprise, especially since I had forgotten all about the competition. But then came that ‘glass half empty’ moment when I remembered that the first prize was ten times that amount—$1500. Immediately, my joy in winning my $150 was dimmed. ‘I could have done lots with that $1500,’ I grumbled. ‘The email says that choosing a winner was difficult. Probably I just missed out.’

Thankfully, God soon intervened and I began to laugh at myself—especially when I remembered that the basic story idea had emerged from something someone else told me rather than from any cleverness on my part. Yes, I embellished it and put time and effort into polishing it up, after gaining my friend’s permission. But in reality, as I believe God showed me, this story was a gift from the very beginning—and any prize I received was an added bonus.

I suspect all of us can think of things or experiences we would very much like to have, including those we may have enjoyed in a past role or setting. Recently, I attended a funeral back at the church where we spent many years and, while it was good to honour our friend who had passed away, see other old friends and be in a place we had loved so much, it was also rather painful to realise those days are well and truly gone now. For a while, I indulged in a little self-pity, but then God reminded me of lessons learnt back then and the wonderful life experiences I have had since, including my writing journey.

I may yearn for times past or for things beyond my reach, for one reason or another, yet it is unhealthy to stay in this negative, ‘glass half empty’ space, isn’t it? Instead, I am called to live fully and realistically in the present moment with God, noticing what there is for me to do right now and doing it with all my heart. And I am also called to be thankful and at peace, knowing God is with me, whatever is happening or not happening around me.

May I soon learn to see that glass not as half empty at all, but gloriously half full—indeed, constantly brimming over with God’s grace and goodness and incredible love!

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5

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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 12It was a beautiful, sunny day—too beautiful to spend at my desk. So from time to time, I took myself outside and pottered around in our garden, pulling out weeds near our letterbox. As I did, I reflected on how little personal mail comes for me these days. I remembered how, when our children were young, I would pounce on those letters from family members far away and relish sitting down to read them. No internet back then—and no mobile phones for those quick texts back and forth either. In fact, we did not even have a home phone at that stage. I remembered my mother’s letters, always written on both sides of small, lined sheets of thin paper, and sighed.

But what was I doing, standing there on such a beautiful day, feeling so nostalgic? Those times were long gone. At that point, I realised I had not actually checked the letterbox. I reached inside—and there was a letter, addressed to me in handwriting I did not immediately recognise. Probably someone ordering one of my books, I decided, as I tucked the letter in my pocket and continued weeding for a while.

Eventually, I went inside and opened it. It was written in gold on black paper—and it was from our son. It was, in fact, a thank you letter, putting into words various things he appreciated about our relationship and the way he had been brought up. So many lovely things, written simply and clearly in his own unique way. I re-read his words several times, allowing them to sink in and touch my heart. Yes, those tears did well up at times, but not from sadness. Instead, I was filled with joy and gratitude at such an unexpected, affirming gift.

I sit here now, perusing that letter once again. Over the years, our daughters too have expressed similar thoughts, face to face or via little messages, as they have thanked me for my ongoing support and efforts on their behalf. Of course, I would never think of doing anything less than my best for our children—yet I reflect on how heart-warming it is to be thanked anyway.

Then I glance out my window at the blue, blue sky and the trees bending in the breeze and realise how often I overlook expressing my own heartfelt thanks to my heavenly Father, not only for the beauty of this world but for everything else I have been given in my life. I know God loves me unconditionally. I know God has rescued me. I know God walks with me day by day. I have experienced all this grace and goodness from my heavenly Father—and so much more. Yet how often do I take it all for granted, as if it was somehow my right to receive, rather than all gift?

So right now today, Lord, I remember all your loving-kindness to me. My words seem trite, but my heart overflows with thankfulness. You are a great, great God, so worthy of all praise and honour and thanks—and I love you.

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving …  Psalm 95:1-2

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There are some things in life we say thank you for quite easily – it’s really nothing more than a habit or a custom. For example, with my thoughts far away, I have just said a very mechanical thank you to my husband as he brought me my morning coffee. And yesterday I blithely waved my thanks to the driver who let me into the line of traffic on a busy motorway. But more than I care to acknowledge, my mind focuses in on the difficulties in my life and the things I don’t have – and I can so easily forget to be thankful.

This past week, one of our daughters returned home safely from Ghana, having married her fiancé there in his home town. She thoroughly enjoyed her visit, meeting family members and friends and experiencing their warm hospitality, but she did miss a few things we take for granted here – hot, running water in our homes; large, air conditioned shopping centres; sealed roads; and the wide variety of foods in supermarkets and restaurants. As a beauty therapist, having to wash her face and hair in cold water and note the resultant mud running off was quite an impacting experience! Needless to say, she was SO thankful to God to be driven home on good roads to her modern, air conditioned unit and to luxuriate in a hot shower again.

I received another reminder to be thankful this past week via my sister, who works with an organisation offering emergency relief. One client recently told her his visit would hopefully be a ‘one-off’ – that he was just going through a difficult patch. Then last week, she received a note from him, written on a recycled card in an envelope made from a piece of paper and sticky-taped together. Even the stamp was recycled, having missed being franked. The note read: I just wanted to thank you all for the kindness you showed me when I was having a really difficult time last month. I really appreciated your support. This man had obviously been in genuine need and was so thankful for the assistance graciously offered him. And he did not forget to say thank you.

And this past week my husband had an experience he will remember for a long time. He wore his brand new, expensive hearing aids one day when he went to pick up our grandchildren after school. After driving them to their home, he realised he had lost one of the hearing aids. They looked everywhere in the house to no avail, so quickly headed back to the school to search the grounds there. But as my husband got out of the car, he suddenly remembered how he had bent down and picked up a ball some child had kicked over the fence. Instantly he knew this must have been when the hearing aid fell out. He looked around on the grass close to the car – and lo and behold, there it was! I leave it to you to imagine how thankful to God he was.

These three examples have forcibly reminded me of the story in Luke 17 of the ten lepers Jesus told to go and show themselves to the priests. On the way, they were healed – yet only one of them came back to thank Jesus. I want to have that same heart of thankfulness that this man had. I want to remember God’s goodness to me on a daily basis and not take it for granted. So later today, when I finally finish writing my sixth novel, the first thing I plan to do is thank God – very fervently! It has been a long road with many interruptions this time around, but I am so grateful to God for enabling me to complete it and for the rich experiences along the way. THANK YOU, LORD!

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I love Christmas for all sorts of reasons. I love the fun things like presents and great food and the company of family and friends.  I love the goodwill that flows from people, even in the midst of end-of-year tiredness and coping with summer heat.  I love the relaxing, holiday feel of this time – particularly the sound of cricket on TV!  Yes, usually there is some sadness, as I remember past Christmases and people who were important in my life but are no longer here.  But as I sit with my sadness, I can remember too in the midst of it the good things about that person and how he or she enriched my life.  I can remember past places with nostalgia where we lived and celebrated Christmas with friends we no longer see but also with thankfulness for what these people and periods in our life meant to us.  But however I’m feeling, there is one thing about Christmas that honestly brings me such comfort and joy.  And that to me is best summed up in the words of Matthew 1:23:

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and they will call him Immanuel – which means, “God with us.”

What a gift to us!  Immanuel – God with us.  God come to earth to share our pain, to show us the way, to renew us and ultimately to rescue us.  No wonder we rejoice at Christmas, although for many the reason we do this has been lost.  No wonder we want to show love to others, since we have been so greatly loved by God.  That’s the perspective I want to keep at Christmas, no matter what’s going on around me.  I want to remember with sincere thankfulness and with joy that whatever happens in my life and in this world, God hasn’t abandoned me.  In fact God has come to us in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ – Immanuel, God with us.  And that means God will never leave me or forsake me in this life or the next.

So I am looking forward this 2009 to once again celebrating Christmas with great thankfulness.  But I also want to take this opportunity to thank those who have supported me so well this past year in my writing and speaking journey: firstly my husband Lionel, who has provided essential computer and bookkeeping expertise; secondly my daughter Jane, who has helped so much with my website and blog; thirdly, the wonderful members of my email prayer team, who pray for me wherever I speak; and finally, all of you who have bought my books, read my blogs, emailed to encourage me and invited me to speak.  Thank you so much for all your love and support.

So happy Christmas to you all!  May you too remember the blessing of Immanuel – God with us.

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