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Posts Tagged ‘the grace of God’

Jo 17At first when the person phoning me told me her name, I thought it was someone else. But as I listened further, I was catapulted back to a time around thirty years ago when I worked as an assistant editor. Back then, this person had been one of my colleagues and we had spent many lunchtimes chatting together.

It was good to catch up with what had happened in her life, but also sad. Her husband had passed away and she herself has faced many health battles. But afterwards, as the memories swirled around in my brain, I began to feel quite sad for another reason. In that role, I learnt much about writing and editing. Back then, I had no idea I would become a writer many years later—but God knew. Yet instead of dwelling on these positives, I began to think how much better I could have done that job. Back then, I lacked confidence. Back then, I was afraid to say what I thought and unwilling at times to make good and necessary decisions. Yes, if I were given that role again, I decided, I would do things differently.

Around a week later, the phone rang again. This time, it was another work colleague from that exact same job! He had no idea our other colleague had called and we had a wonderful conversation, catching up on what had happened to us both since then. But again afterwards, I could not get the memories of that job out of my mind. While it was good to laugh along with this second caller about the mistakes I had made and how long it had taken to edit certain jobs, I found that sad feeling slowly creeping over me again. Back then, I was such a perfectionist. Back then, I did not know enough. If I had my time there again, I would work so much faster.

Eventually, as I reflected on all that regret, God enabled me to see things in a different and much healthier light. I had done my best in that role, after all, and the staff seemed sad when I left. I also grew emotionally and spiritually in that time. And God used that role to equip me not only for my next job but also for my whole writing journey. Back then, God had loved me and cared for me—mistakes and all!

And now, God is doing the exact same thing in this season of my life—and yours. It can be good to learn from the past, but God longs to pick us up and move us on too. Thousands of years ago, this is what God told the Israelites to do:

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? Isaiah 43:18-19

The Apostle Paul also writes:

but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race … Philippians 3:13-14 New Living Translation

May God strengthen us all to forget those former things and, instead, grasp hold of what God has for us to do in this new season facing us in our world right now.

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Jo 23Sometimes it’s good to stop, isn’t it, and think about why we do the things we do? Perhaps for you, this isolation time has been an opportunity to do exactly that. And once we have thought about whatever it is, we can decide whether to continue on or try something different—or perhaps simply stop and be refreshed for a while.

Take blogging, for instance. This blog happens to be Number 600 of my personal, weekly blogs, each around 550 words long—yikes! That’s more than three of my novels put together! I began blogging in July 2009 and here I am, still going strong. But when I remember each blog would have taken me at least two hours to write—and some much longer, as I reflected on what I was trying to say—I shake my head a little.

So … why am I still writing them? Is it all worth it?

I still blog for various reasons and the first is quite practical. As a wordy writer, restricting myself to around 550 words each week on a topic that has touched or challenged me is an excellent exercise! My 550 word limit is self-imposed, but I try to stick to it, as it forces me to express myself more clearly and succinctly, remove unnecessary information and focus on my main point.

Much more importantly, however, I enjoy reflecting on some event in my life or something I have observed or that God has shown me and putting it into words, so that others too may be blessed in some way. Yes, sometimes I end up taking hours to come up with those 550 words. But in the process, through trying to listen to God as I write, I internalise more of what God is saying to me and always end up the richer for it. So even if I do repeat myself and write about things I already covered years ago, I am not in the same place as I was back then. We all change over time—for better or worse! But I do believe that, when God’s Spirit is alive in us, we can change for the better, as we listen and apply the lessons God is teaching us.

I also blog because I want to continue to use the gifts God has given me to the best of my ability. We all have seasons in our lives, don’t we? In my life, I have found I have used certain gifts where God has placed me for a time, but then that time passes and I need to use other gifts and abilities. Now in this season, surely, as well as doing other things for God when the opportunity arises, I can write and share from my heart in a way that will hopefully encourage and build others up?

Each one should use whatever gift he (or she) has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:10

Yes, let’s keep asking those important ‘why’ questions. But let’s also be faithful in doing what God gives us to do. After all, what a privilege it is to be entrusted to share God’s grace with others, however we can, in our world that is hurting so much right now!

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Jo 23‘I have HOMEWORK!’ our almost six-year-old granddaughter announced ecstatically, her big brown eyes wide with anticipation, as we picked her up from school one afternoon last week. ‘I’m going to do it right now!

Then and there, in the middle of the schoolyard, Maxine wanted to set to work. But I managed to get her to the car and then home at least before she tackled this wondrous new thing called homework. Last year, she had spelling to practise at home. But now being all grown up in Year One, she finally had those magical homework sheets in her hands.

First off, she tackled her spelling list for the week. She wrote out all her words in the column marked ‘Monday’ —then the Tuesday column as well, since she might not have time the next day. The Wednesday column soon followed and the Thursday one too.

But wait, there was more. As well, we completed some little ‘Maths’ exercises to do with measuring things and deciding which things were bigger or smaller than something else.

‘This is fun!’ she declared—until her granddad tried to help her draw a map of her bedroom. But she did not want help. She did not care if things weren’t in the right place or weren’t drawn to scale. What mattered to her was making that chest of drawers she drew bigger and brighter than everything else in her room and enjoying the whole experience of doing her very own homework!

As I watched, I found myself hoping she continues to be as enamoured with the idea of doing homework for a long time to come. After all, she has plenty of it ahead of her. But I began to think too how I initially embraced some things in my own life with passion and excitement, only for it all to die down a few weeks or months later. For example, I know I should walk regularly and I do enjoy it. I used to walk every day. But things happened—and now I resent the time I need to take from my writing to go walking. Then there are some books I have started reading too with enthusiasm, even taking notes as I went. But sadly, I soon became too busy—or too lazy—and lost interest in them.

I’m so glad God has enabled me not to do the same in my Christian journey. I well remember the joy and enthusiasm with which I embraced my new-found faith in Jesus Christ in my mid-teens. Over the years, while this joy and enthusiasm may have changed in degree or shape, even becoming a little dulled at times through the pressures of life, it has never left me. Today, many years later, I still rejoice that I am God’s beloved child, through the great grace God has shown me and goes on showing me. And, through God’s strength, I am still embracing with enthusiasm the things I have been given and gifted to do right now.

May that deep joy continue to flourish in my life and yours—and may we, like Maxine, embrace all God has for us to learn and experience with enthusiasm, whatever our age!

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24

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Jo 17Recently, I did something I have never done before. Each day for one whole week, I deliberately chose to do some special activity I have wanted to do for some time but always had a reason not to. On top of that, I did not cook dinner any night that week. Instead, we ate out or bought takeaway. You see, the whole thing was a unique birthday present for me—and what fun it all was!

Originally, my husband had wanted me to enjoy a few days away somewhere by myself—to relax, recharge and spend time with God. I thought about this lovely idea and even looked up various venues online but did not feel settled about any of them. Then one night, it came to me. I did not want to go away anywhere. Instead, I wanted to enjoy different, interesting experiences within reach of our own beautiful unit, then come home and not have to cook dinner! A win-win situation, don’t you think?

In the end, we called this wondrous week ‘The Festival of Jo-Anne’ (!)—and I thoroughly enjoyed it all. I went shopping, twice over. I went to the movies. I had coffee out. I had a massage. I read. And in between, I had time simply to sit and be and reconnect with God. Yes, it was all very good indeed.

But one reason I enjoyed it even more was that, two weeks earlier, I had finally finished the first draft of my latest novel that had languished on my laptop for over three years, waiting patiently for me to unfold the rest of the story. This special week of mine then was also for me a time when I came up for air, so to speak, when I allowed my poor brain to rest, when I graced myself a little more than usual—and when I sensed God’s love and grace being showered on me from every angle. It was a lovely, hiatus period—a time to gain clearer perspective, not only on my novel, before I plunged into all that necessary editing, but on my life in general.

At one stage in writing this particular novel, I wondered if I should keep going. Should I be content with the eight books of mine that have already been published? Was that where God wanted me to stop? But one day, I sensed God saying gently to me, ‘Jo-Anne, whether you write this book or don’t write it, remember I’ll be just as delighted with you either way!’ What gracious, loving, freeing words to hear! I did not need to feel pressured to produce in any way. Instead, I had permission to write the sort of novel I have wanted to write for some time and to leave the outcome in God’s hands.

Yet I think God was saying more than that too. I think God wanted to remind me that, all the time, whether celebrating the Festival of Jo-Anne or writing or speaking or whatever, I can rest fully in this amazing love of God that accepts me, no matter what.

How precious is your unfailing love, O God! All humanity finds shelter in the shadow of your wings. Psalm 36:7 New Living Translation

Maybe you too need to hear this reminder right now?

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Jo 17I had just finished some Christmas shopping in Westfield Parramatta and, feeling tired, decided to head home. I walked to my car, started the engine and prepared to reverse slowly to vacate my spot, but instead, found myself being propelled backwards at an alarming rate. I hastily felt for the brake pedal but alas, I could not find it! In desperation, I pulled the hand brake on, to no avail. And with a jolt, I hit the bumper bar of the car opposite with a thud.

But that was not the end. As that waiting traffic watched on, I put my car into drive and tried to manoeuvre my way slowly forwards. Alas, the same thing happened again—my car seemed to have a mind of its own. It sprang forward, straight back into the car spot I had just vacated and proceeded to hit the wall there with some force before stopping. At least there I could turn the engine off and try to figure out what was happening.

‘The brakes just didn’t seem to work!’ I explained to the nice man who had got out of the car waiting to take my spot, as I stood there shaking.

‘Don’t worry! These things happen to the best of us,’ he said, as he tried unsuccessfully to reassure me.

I proceeded to leave my details on the windscreen of the car I had damaged—but what to do now? I was reluctant to try driving a car that did not seem to do what I wanted it to do.

In the end, I contacted security and, as I waited, checked inside my car. I discovered that a thick mat the auto electrician had placed in the front had apparently flipped up onto the brake pedal—and possibly got in the way of the accelerator too. I tried to explain that to the security men, but it was very obvious they suspected I was just some silly woman who had mistaken the accelerator for the brake, then panicked! After all, once one of them helpfully got in the car for me and tried out the brakes, they worked fine for him! Or perhaps I had had a medical episode. ‘Are you okay to drive?’ they kept on asking—and I can well understand their concern. But it’s a good way to learn humility, don’t you think?!

As I recovered from this interesting experience, I began to wonder if my life might sometimes resemble my poor, out-of-control car far too closely, as I career this way and that. Those onlookers in the car park must have watched heart in mouth, yet they were powerless to do anything for me. But our God is not powerless—or uncaring. Instead, God reaches out to us with love and grace, watching over us, giving us the strength to sort things out, bringing the right people alongside us and guiding us to move forward again in the right direction. And I’m so thankful for that, aren’t you?

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. … My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:24. 26

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Jo 23Of course I could never relate to the following (!), but I wonder if you are the sort of person who often tends to be just that little bit harder on yourself than God would ever consider being. Where God would choose to treat you with grace and kindness, you instead choose to drive yourself on and to berate yourself that you have not done enough or been perfect enough. You may even find it difficult to admit you are only human, after all, and not superwoman—or superman!

Yep, somehow that sounds all too familiar to me—at least at times. There are so many things I may want to do and can do. And so many things I may need to do that are merely part of life. Yet, unless I listen to God, learn to trust God’s guidance and rely on God’s enabling, I can easily run myself ragged.

Recently, I read again the very long Psalm 78, where the psalmist challenges God’s people to look back in their history and see how many times God rescued them and had mercy on them, yet how many times they chose to go their own way. As I read, I began to apply it to my own life—to remember the numerous difficult patches God has brought me through, to recall all the wonderful gifts God has given me along the way in the form of special people or amazing experiences or achievements beyond anything I ever expected. And as I did, I sensed things somehow falling into place deep in my spirit and heard God’s calming voice, reassuring me, as Julian of Norwich once wrote, that ‘all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well’.

In Psalm 78, we read how God’s people at one stage did not keep God’s covenant and refused to live by his law. They forgot what he had done, the wonders he had shown them’ (10-11). Further on in their history, they apparently ‘did not believe in God or trust in his deliverance’ (22). Things seem to look up at another later stage, however:

They remembered that God was their Rock, that God Most High was their Redeemer. (35)

Yet sadly, we find a big let-down once again in the very next two verses:

But then they would flatter him with their mouths, lying to him with them tongues; their hearts were not loyal to him, they were not faithful to his covenant. (36-37)

Wow! Am I like that at times, I had to ask myself? Hmm.

What a relief then to come to the two following verses, right in the middle of the psalm:

Yet he was merciful, he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return. (38-39)

How much we need to remember, like God’s people way back then, that God is our Rock and our Redeemer—that we, who are like that momentary, passing breeze, need to rely so much on God’s strength and love and mercy and forgiveness and grace! Then, and only then, will we be at rest deep down, living out of that place of peace each day.

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Jo 17Sometimes it’s not so much what we say but rather how we say it that conveys our true feelings about something or someone, isn’t it? We can try hard to reign in our emotions, but, whether we are aware of it or not, those extraneous messages of ours can often shout louder than anything we say. Perhaps it’s our facial expression or some other type of body language that gives us away. Or, when on the phone, our tone of voice can also convey so much, in either a positive or a negative way.

Recently, in the space of about an hour, I had two interesting phone conversations which differed markedly, like the proverbial chalk and cheese. After the first, I felt I had been heard, understood and encouraged. After the second, I felt the exact opposite—ignored, misjudged and extremely discouraged. And this largely resulted from the tone of voice each of these ladies employed.

In the first conversation, the caller conveyed from the outset via her voice alone that she was interested in what I had to say and concerned about the issue I wanted to discuss. It began something like this:

‘Good morning. Jo-Anne, is it? My name’s Bec. I’m calling back in regard to the message we received in our office this morning. Now how can I help you?’

I like this caller, I thought instantly. Her tone was warm and caring and this continued throughout our conversation, as she questioned me more and listened patiently while I explained my dilemma. She took time to respond to my concerns, gave me the clear information I needed and, at the end, reassured me she would do all she could to help. Even more than the words she spoke, it was her kind manner that impacted me the most and still stays with me now.

The second conversation was just a tad different. It began something like this:

‘Hello. It’s Mary here. I just have this name ‘Jo-Anne’ written on a note to me. So what’s this about?’

I was taken aback from the outset at this caller’s abrupt, aggressive tone. I tried to connect with her in a friendly way before asking my questions, but to no avail. She answered in almost monosyllables, giving as little information as possible, then asked rudely if that was all. I had a further issue, however, and she grudgingly stayed online, but I could hear the increasing annoyance in her voice and sense her unwillingness to listen and help in any way. Now, sadly, all that remains with me from that conversation is frustration and resentment—and the need to forgive!

Since then, I have asked myself what my own manner and tone of voice convey in general. I know at times I too can become impatient—and I’m sure that shows. But I hope and pray I am learning to speak with much more grace and kindness, like my first caller did, and that my manner communicates something at least of the godly love and understanding we all need to experience.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 1 Corinthians 13:4-5

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IMG_20190915_165700397I own an interesting, old sewing machine, a Husqvarna 3610 model I must have bought sometime in the seventies. I used it to make our younger daughter’s uniform when she began school—and now she is over forty! It sat relatively idle for some years after that, until I lent it to our older daughter who eventually returned to me. But alas, there is one slight problem with it—it is determined only to sew backwards! However much I might clean and oil and wiggle and jiggle that reverse button, it stubbornly remains stuck fast.

As I reflected on this phenomenon, I remembered how I too have at times become stuck in life, unwilling or unable to make any changes that might help me move forward. Sometimes I have not wanted to let go of the past or put aside some dream that has little chance of coming to fruition. Sometimes I have been afraid to move on or launch out in a new direction. I remember thinking at one stage I could never give up high school teaching because that was what I had studied hard to do. Yet, by the grace of God, the opportunity to move into editing school curriculum material presented itself and my working life took a whole new turn. Not only did I enjoy that job, but, unbeknown to me, God was preparing me through this editing experience to become a writer myself many years later.

But we can also become stuck in our spiritual journeys—and that to me is even sadder. Sometimes we power on, growing rapidly in our knowledge and experience of God and hungry to learn so much more about spiritual things. I can remember many exciting periods in my own Christian journey, when I felt as if I was almost bursting with all the wonderful truths I was learning about God—as a new Christian in my teenage years, later as a young mum, then even later as I understood more of the Holy Spirit’s role in my life. But then there may come times when everything seems so much harder, when we become discouraged or disillusioned with other Christians, when the busyness and pressures of life cause us to take our eyes off God and stop growing in our faith. When that happens, we may even find ourselves going backwards, like my sewing machine, perhaps doubting God, becoming critical of others, unwilling to change and even deciding we do not need God at all.

Yes, things may happen that cause us to stray into such dangerous territory. Yet, whether we feel like it or not, that’s when we need to seek help and encouragement from someone we trust whose faith is real and honest. I’m so glad God has always provided me with such people to talk to—and I hope you know such folk too. But wherever we are at, may we all continue to press on, just as the Apostle Paul chose to do, ever moving forwards rather than backwards in our spiritual journeys.

But I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. Philippians 3:13 (New Living Translation)

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Jo 23One of our daughters works at a charitable organisation and occasionally gets to deal with people who phone up to make a donation. She has had some interesting conversations as a result, but one memorable one went something like this:

‘Good morning! How can I help you?’

‘I’d like to donate a thousand dollars to the foundation.’

‘Did you say one thousand dollars?’

‘Um … is that enough?’

What a strange question! Was this gentleman honestly thinking this might be too low an amount for them to accept? My daughter suspects he had given more in previous years and felt bad he could not now do the same. Or perhaps he was actually questioning his own level of generosity. Perhaps to him, a thousand dollars was a mere pittance—he would never miss it. So was it indeed enough?

Sadly, this question is all too familiar to me. As a people-pleaser from way back, I have often asked it, either aloud or in my head. For example, if someone at our dinner table eats everything on their plate, I wonder if I gave them enough. Are they still hungry? Are they thinking what a mean hostess I am? If this happens at a family gathering, usually one of my children, just to tease me, pipes up with what they know I will say next: ‘Did you have enough? Would you like some more, love?’! In other contexts too, even when I have given my best to some task, I can still ask myself, over and over: ‘Was that enough? What did people think of it?’

People-pleasers want everyone to think well of them. They cannot bear to let anyone down or upset anyone—after all, it’s up to them to keep everyone happy. Yet how wearing that can become—and how impossible to achieve anyway!

Of course, this can affect our view of God too. When I was in my early teens, I thought that, if I went to church on any given Sunday, surely this would put me in God’s good books. Surely I would have a great week all round, because God was so pleased with me. Thankfully, a few years later, I came to experience the amazing love and grace of God in my life and to see there is no point in trying to impress God. My ‘good’ will never be enough. But Jesus, the perfect, sinless Son of God, who lives in me by his Spirit, has taken care of that for me on the cross and become all the ‘enough’ I need.

God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. Romans 5:8 New Living Translation

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT

It’s not about striving to measure up. It’s not about making sure we have done enough or given enough to get in God’s good books. Instead, it’s about doing our best to honour God because of the grace we have been shown through Jesus. And that’s an entirely different and wonderful thing, don’t you think?

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This might sound strange, but I love spending time staring at certain things. For example, I used to sit in front of our open fire when the children were little and stare into those flames for ages. I still enjoy gazing at the washing as it flaps on the clothesline. And I also love watching the leaves in the trees as they are tossed about in the wind—or even their tiny movements as a gentle breeze stirs them. On a slightly more normal note, I love looking at the various types of foliage on the shrubs and bushes outside my study window and the different shapes and colours and textures of their leaves. And of course, I love the shapes and colours of the beautiful flowers, large and small, growing in the garden right at our front door and on the nearby trees and shrubs.

Now these trees and shrubs and flowers do not say anything out loud that I can hear at least—although I have a neighbour who believes in talking to her plants to encourage them to grow, so maybe they do! Nevertheless, surely they speak volumes in their own beautiful, silent way of the heart of God for our world and for us all, don’t you think?

This past weekend, I presented a writing workshop to help others get started on a project for our church’s Art Installation to be held next month. The theme for this year’s Installation is ‘Creation Speaks His Name’—and what fun I had preparing my input! The more I thought about it all and the more I gathered bits and pieces together to inspire us on the day, the more in awe of God I became. I know there are places in our world right now that are crying out for rain, where nothing much will grow. But in general, as we look around us, creation does indeed speak God’s name, telling us something about God’s nature and personality, shouting aloud to all who listen that God is indeed the all-powerful and all-loving creator of the universe.

As I selected various nature photos taken over the years to use in my workshop, I found myself in awe of the beauty of creation depicted in them. I heard them speak loudly of God’s own beauty and glory and God’s abundant grace in surrounding us with such splendour. Some photos I included of rugged, snow-covered mountains, swiftly flowing streams and unique rock formations also spoke to my heart of God’s awesome power and strength and majesty. I noticed too, in the flowers and fruit and vegetables I gathered together to inspire our writing, the amazing variety in creation, which surely mirrors God’s boundless creativity and endless resources. And, in those tiny, perfectly formed blossoms and leaves I had collecteIMG_20190807_120901938d, I saw God’s generous, extravagant love that would bother to make even a little wildflower no one may ever see or an insignificant leaf on a common, household pot plant into a miniature work of art.

Yes, surely creation speaks God’s name, loud and clear. In response, may we join with those winged creatures Isaiah describes around the Lord’s throne and shout out our praises too!

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Isaiah 6:3

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