Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘the love of God’

There are always new things to learn in life, aren’t there? At times, I hear or read of some author or composer or artist and realise I have never explored any of their work, despite how interesting it sounds. At other times, I see glimpses of intriguing places on TV I know little about. Then occasionally, I poke my head into the inner workings of my website and quickly retreat. How true it is that, the more we learn, the more we realise we don’t know!

I discovered this again recently when helping a granddaughter with her art assignment. Now, I am a writer—definitely not an artist. In fact, I know nothing about art. Granted, I was helping because of my writing experience, but one does need to know something about a topic before writing about it! And so began my journey of reading how the 16th century artist Titian, the 20th century artist Picasso and the present-day artist/photographer Morimura have portrayed the female form!

To my surprise, I soon became truly interested. It was fascinating to discover what certain symbols meant in their artworks and how these artists connected with issues in society. As a result, I am now keen to find out about other artists too and learn to appreciate their works more.

Then, last week, our oldest granddaughter asked my advice about her religion assignment for the Catholic teachers’ college she attends. She was simply checking she understood what she had to do, but our conversation set me thinking. This assignment involved the parable of the lost or ‘prodigal’ son—or, as some call it, the parable of the forgiving father—and one task was to explain the main theological point of this story. So, I decided to try it for myself—I was sure I could write five hundred words on the topic easily and quickly.

I turned to Luke 15—but, as I began writing, the whole profound nature of this parable Jesus told began to impact me more and more. Soon, I had to stop and reflect on it all over again. How arrogant and uncaring was that younger son, in asking his father for his inheritance then and there? Then how could he have gone off and wasted it all? In the light of all that, how could the father in the story keep watching out for him, then embrace him and welcome him home with such joy and compassion? But … I wouldn’t have been as resentful as that older son was—or would I?

As I sat there, I was overwhelmed once again with the enormity of our heavenly Father’s love for us in seeking us out, running to embrace us and welcome us into his family, as we too return home and believe in Jesus. I did nothing to deserve such compassion and forgiveness. Instead, it is all about grace—the most amazing, wonderful grace.

I did not anticipate such a profound and humbling experience that morning, as I sat thinking about our granddaughter’s assignment. Yet what a joy to be reminded in such an expected way of the incredible richness I have in God!

I too am loved. I too have come home.

… this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ Luke 15:24

Read Full Post »

Some mornings can go smoothly, as we set out to conquer whatever the day may hold for us, can’t they? Then there are other mornings when we may think we have plenty of time to get ready and be wherever we need to be or take children wherever we need to take them, yet, at the last minute, everything unravels.

This happened to our daughter recently, as she hurried to take the children to school on her way to work. She knows our grandson hates the sound of the kitchen blender—he has ADHD and finds it hard to cope with such a noise at that time in the morning. Usually, she makes sure he is somewhere else before she uses it, but this time, she was in a hurry and a huge meltdown ensued.

When they finally arrived at the school gates, our grandson was still very unhappy and angry, but apparently calmed down and made it through the day. And that night, he apologised to his mum, without even having to be prompted. But I loved how our daughter then talked more about it all with him in a calm, reasoned way. She asked him what he thought she should do to help him calm down and not be so angry, next time something like this happened. Would there be a code word she could use that would remind him she is on his side? He soon thought of one and, hopefully, this will indeed help next time! Yet, whatever happens, I believe she gave our grandson the most important gift ever through the wonderful, merciful, forgiving message contained in those four simple, little words she said to him, ‘I’m on your side!’

Our grandson knows his mother loves him unreservedly. He knows she has advocated for him so much through the years at school, where judgments and misunderstandings of his behaviour have abounded at times. He knows she will always be there for him and believe in him. And he loves her deeply in return. But sometimes, when his impulses get the better of him, he forgets all that in an instant, loses control and fights her. And so, time and time again, she asks him how she can help him better and reminds him, with such love and grace, ‘I’m on your side.’

And that, to me, is exactly what God has said and still says to us all each day. In sending Jesus Christ to live amongst us and die for us, God declared in no uncertain terms, ‘I’m on your side! I love you. I am for you, not against you! Yes, your wrongdoing matters so much—it has separated you from me and spoilt our relationship. But come, believe in my son, receive my love and forgiveness and let me welcome you with open arms into my family—forever!’

Every day, it fills me with such joy and relief to know God is watching over me, strengthening me and restoring me when I fail. I may forget and fight that love, just as our grandson does at times, yet God is still there for me and on my side—forever.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1

Read Full Post »

One recent afternoon, we heard a loud ‘rat-a-tat-tat’ at our front door and found our lovely friend there, holding a small, glass vase in her hand that contained a beautiful, pink camelia and some dainty, little blue flowers.

‘This is for you,’ she told me. ‘Someone gave me this camelia and it’s so perfect, I thought you would enjoy it too. The little blue flowers are forget-me-nots.’

After she left, I sat gazing at those beautiful flowers for a long time. The camelia was indeed exquisite, almost salmon pink in colour, with each petal overlapping the next in such an orderly, perfect way and changing to a lighter shade as the petals spiralled out from the centre. But the forget-me-nots captured my attention too, the dainty, baby-blue flowers in each cluster absolutely perfect in themselves, with their bright yellow centres and white, starlike markings on the tiny petals. How could so much beauty exist in such minuscule form? Surely only the hand of a loving, overwhelmingly creative God could produce something amazing like this?

I remembered then the first few lines of a poem I wrote some years ago on this same theme:

Did you have fun, Lord, creating such beauty

for us your children to enjoy?

It’s as if in pure delight you waved your palette high

and splashed your vibrant colours everywhere with glee,

as if you had to share each fresh design of flower

and then, in pure extravagance,

add speckles to already perfect petals.

Truly, the natural world around us brims with wonderful extravagances of colour and design and intricacy. And it has always blown my mind that many of the tiny flowers and plants and animals and insects created by God will never even be seen by human beings. Perhaps their habitat is some hidden corner in a jungle or some isolated spot in a dry, desert area, far from any sort of civilisation—yet still they flourish. Thomas Gray expressed this same thought in his poem ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’ which I remember being drawn to in my early teens when we studied it in our English class:

Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,           

  And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

But, above all, as I sat gazing at my little posy, I remembered some words Jesus once said that encourage us not to worry:

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?” Matthew 6:28-30

I continued sitting there for some time, sensing God’s presence around me and taking in the lesson I was doubtless being taught through my special flowers. Yes, I could indeed trust God to provide for me and those close to me in every way. I need not worry, because I belong to a loving, creative God who is more than able to care for me—and for you. Surely a lesson worth learning all over again, don’t you think?

Read Full Post »

One recent crisp, sunny morning, my husband happened to chat briefly with our elderly neighbour.

‘It’s a lovely day,’ our neighbour commented. ‘I wouldn’t be dead for quids!’

Now this man is in his mid-nineties, would you believe. So, there is no doubt that, one day soon, he will indeed be dead, whether he likes it or not. Does he have a faith in God? It’s hard to tell from the conversations we have had with him. I hope he indeed is ready to meet God, but that day will surely come soon for him, whatever he believes and however many quids he would be willing to wager to stay here.

Last week, with three funerals to attend in the one week, we were clearly reminded of the need to be ready for that day when our own lives will end. At one of these, that of another lovely neighbour, Ruth, the minister told everyone how he visited her not long before she passed away. While he was there, Ruth apparently managed to say three very important words to him, despite being so weak and ill. And these three words were ‘I love Jesus!’

I cannot think of any better statement to make so close to the end of my life, can you? It’s as simple as that, really, when all is said and done. When we experience the love Jesus has for us and truly believe as a result, then our spirits come alive and we are able to love him in return—and others—as we are called to do.

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 NLT

We love each other because he loved us first. 1 John 4:19 NLT

Out of our love for Jesus who showed us what perfect love is by dying for us, we are empowered to live in a way that honours him and be the faithful servants he has called us to be. Then, having loved and lived for him, we will be ready and waiting when he returns or when our time on earth is over. In fact, while we may not want to leave our loved ones behind here, just as Ruth may not have wanted to, we can look forward with anticipation to that day when we will meet Jesus face to face at last.

And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. 1 John 4:17 NLT

What a privilege to know and love Jesus! And what a privilege to love and serve him and others each day, as we live our lives here to the full! I understand what our neighbour meant when he stated he would so much rather be alive than dead. Our life here has much to offer indeed. Yet I’m so grateful I know death is not the end too—that, one day, I will go to be with Jesus, the one I love the most, who lives and reigns forever.

It’s as simple as that really—and as wonderful.

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

Recently, I could not resist buying a non-fiction book by one of my favourite fiction authors, Charles Martin. I wanted to see how he went about writing non-fiction and how the book compared with his novels. But as well, for some reason, its title simply caught my attention.

The book is What If It’s True? and is sub-titled A Storyteller’s journey with Jesus.

At first, I silently scoffed at using a question like this for a title. Of course it’s true, I thought—I’ve believed that for ages! Yet as I reflected further, I realised it is not only a good, honest question for anyone new to understanding who Jesus is to grapple with, but also a good, honest question for those of us who have believed for years to consider—because, over time, we can become almost blasé about it all, can’t we? Over time, we can even become immune to such deep truths, like that frog who starts off in cold water but, as the water gets hotter and hotter, simply stays there, oblivious to the fact that it is slowly being boiled to death.

My memory of Good Friday in our household during my growing-up years is that it was a day of sadness and reverence. Somehow, it didn’t seem quite right to have fun or make too many loud noises. For a time in my early teens, I would head to our local Anglican church for the special three-hour service from midday. Then on Easter Sunday, we would usually make it to Sunday School or church—and I remember the relief I felt that Jesus had won, that death was not the end for him, even though I did not understand the significance of it all back then.

Thankfully, in my mid-teenage years, I came to understand the love and grace of God so much more. One night, after hearing the good news of Jesus clearly proclaimed, I welcomed it with open arms. I was overwhelmed to realise Jesus Christ knew me and loved me and died for me—and my life changed from that moment on. Today, by God’s grace, I still know these truths deep in my heart, but … well … have I somehow allowed the significance of the events we remember at Easter to become blunted in my life?

In his introduction, Charles Martin writes:

What if the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ is the singular most important event in the history of mankind, and what if one drop of His blood is the most powerful thing in this universe or any other? What if dead and crucified Jesus came back to life by the power of the Holy Spirit and He is alive today? …

What if His story is true?

What if this Jesus, the One who walked out of the tomb shining like the sun, holding the keys of death and hades, is alive—in you? In me? I write fiction for a living, and that’s either the craziest thing I’ve ever heard or it’s the most important word ever spoken.

It is indeed true—all of it. May we never forget that—and may it change our lives forever.

I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies… John 11:25

Read Full Post »

I had arrived bright and early at a nearby bookstore to promote my books. As I settled in, I wondered what adventures awaited me. From past experience—and also because I and others had prayed—I knew there would be at least one special ‘God appointment’ with someone that day. And that is exactly what happened. Four or five times as I chatted with various customers, I sensed God connecting our spirits in a way that is hard to describe. It might have been for only a fleeting moment, but I knew something was happening outside of or beyond the words I was saying.

At one stage, I began talking with a young woman who was a little hard to understand at first. Her voice was soft and she wore a mask, but English was obviously quite a challenge for her too. I explained about my books, but could see she was still mystified. Eventually, she picked up a copy of Becoming Me and we talked about receiving God’s love and about understanding who God created us to be. She opened up a little more then, telling me in her faltering English about her husband who suffered from depression but was now doing better. Then she took the book to a spot where she could sit down and glance through it.

Later, however, she returned it, telling me she wanted something that would explain things more or teach her about it all. But then, as she went to leave, she thanked me sincerely in her soft, gentle voice for listening to her—for simply listening! Even though her eyes just peeked over her mask, I could see such gratitude in them and also that she was trying hard not to cry. I will never forget those pleading eyes and my heart went out to her yet again, as I silently prayed for God’s love and grace to fill her and meet her needs.

We can’t all be in bookstores, promoting our books, but most of us at least connect with others during our weeks, however fleetingly, either in person or by phone or some other way. I certainly do, not only in my own home but also in the village where we live, as well as wider afield. So… how do I act then when talking with others? How well do I show respect for them by truly listening? How carefully do I take note of their tone of voice, their manner, their facial expression—and particularly their eyes? How often do I put their needs first, instead of thinking of my own or of what clever comment I myself might make next?

This week, I came across the following blunt proverb in my Bible:

 He who answers before listening—that is his folly and his shame. Proverbs 18:13

What an important warning—to me and to us all! How much better if we were to be ‘quick to listen and slow to speak’ instead (James 1:19). And how much better too if we were to listen more to the voice of Jesus our Shepherd as we engage with others and follow the leading of the one who knows us all so well (John 10:27). Perhaps then we would remember to give that gift of listening more often, don’t you think?

Read Full Post »

We are complex beings, aren’t we? Sometimes we think we know why we do the things we do, but then we may discover other reasons lurking beneath the surface. We may try to help someone, yet find in the end our actions are more to make us feel good about ourselves. Or we may give that help in the hope that, when we need help, they will perhaps return the favour. We like to think our motives are pure, but sometimes they can be more mixed than we care to believe, as I myself discovered recently.

Sometime last year, a gentleman invited me to speak at a secular venue and told me I would receive a monetary gift towards my travel costs. I thought that was quite generous as, often in the past, I have received instead either a bottle of wine, which I usually give away, or some chocolates, which I don’t eat! I thanked him, but then enquired whether I could also display my books. This seemed to shock him, however.

‘Well, either we give you the money or you sell your books!’ he told me in a rather incensed tone. ‘But if you want to bring a few, I’ll look the other way.’

I felt like some mercenary criminal. Why he would need to look the other way? I have sold my books at such meetings many times before and still received some sort of gift at least. Besides, any author will tell you writing books is not a good way to get rich quickly—unless one’s book is a bestseller!

This particular meeting was cancelled because of Covid but, when we made a new date, I discovered this man would not be there then. So, I decided to display my books after all and see what happened as far as any monetary gift was concerned.

Nothing did. I sold two books, which of course did not cover travel costs, and returned home more than a little disgruntled.

As I reflected on this experience, however, I began to feel more ashamed than disgruntled. Hands down, if I had to choose, I would prefer to sell my books rather than receive money to cover travel costs. After all, I want readers to enjoy my books and also hopefully be drawn closer to God in some way. Besides, many times I have happily spoken at different places, well aware there will be no monetary gift afterwards. Yet this day, I sensed my motives had shifted a little.

In the end, I decided to sit down and remember who gave me the gifts of writing and speaking and who has enabled me to do both for years now. I might not have made a great deal—but I am not in debt either. And I have met many interesting people along the way and learnt so much. Soon I began to feel thankful again for my wonderful, God-given, unexpected, later-in-life journey. And I remembered too the verse featured on my website, reminding me to glorify God, rather than seek glory and gain for myself.

Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness. Psalm 115:1

I hope I keep that wonderful, pure motive in mind more often in future.

Read Full Post »

Some years ago, a friend pointed out how I often use a particular little word when writing or speaking about family members. ‘Our Jane changed jobs’ or ‘Our Zain is doing better’ or ‘Our Amy started university’—yes, that little pronoun ‘our’ in these and other similar comments made in an email or while chatting seemed to have captured her attention.

‘It sounds so nice’, she said, although I cannot remember why she thought that. Perhaps to her it spoke of how we love and value whichever family member I was referring to. Perhaps it conveyed our concern for their welfare or joy at their successes or pride in their decisions. Perhaps it showed we truly identify with that person, believe in them and want the best for them. One day, I will ask her what she meant but, whatever the reason, that little three-letter word of mine seemed to touch her heart.

One morning recently, however, I suspect I caught a glimpse for myself of how my friend might have felt, as I started reading the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians once again. It was not long before I had to pause—in fact, I did not get past Paul’s greeting right at the beginning:

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus. To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:1-2

What could be so remarkable about these verses? Why did I stop at that point and sit staring into space? Somehow, that little word ‘our’ in the last sentence had touched my own heart. I knew Paul had written that greeting and that he was no doubt referring to the fact that Timothy and he and the believers in Philippi all belonged to the same heavenly Father. But that morning, it was as if Jesus himself was saying gently to me, ‘Grace and peace to you, Jo-Anne, from God our Father—yes, our Father. I gave you the right to be part of my Father’s family when you believed in me. We will always watch over you, so be at peace today and know you are surrounded with our love and grace.’

How could that little word ‘our’ convey so much to me that morning? Perhaps it was merely my imagination. After all, I am a writer. But something changed inside me as I sat there, reading those words over and over. I had been feeling tired and quite discouraged, yet now I sensed Jesus understood, identified fully with me and had reached out in love to remind me who I belong to. I could be rational and tell myself this is not what those verses actually say or mean—or I could choose to listen with my heart and be reminded deep in my spirit that I am included in the beautiful, warm circle of God’s family, joined to other believers but also to Jesus Christ—forever.

I remembered then too those first words Jesus himself uttered when teaching his disciples how to pray:

Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. … Matthew 6:9

There is that little word ‘our’ again. Important to Jesus then and now—and so important for us too.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »