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Posts Tagged ‘theological college’

Jo 12Isn’t it strange how we sometimes gain a perception of a role or occupation in society, then refuse to budge from there? Take ministers of religion, for instance. Over fifty years ago, when I introduced my husband, then training for ministry, to an aunt of mine, she burst out with the following comment: ‘Oh, so you are nice, after all!’ Did she expect him to look a particular way or be boring or not smile and joke, because he was at theological college? Hmm.

But only two weeks ago, I had a similar experience. I had just spoken at a particular club about my author journey and was standing at my book table, when two ladies came to chat.

‘I love your beautiful jumper,’ one of them said. ‘Where did you get it? It looks very jazzy indeed!’

‘Actually, it’s an op shop buy passed onto me by my sister!’ I told her.

But it was what the other lady said next that left me speechless.

‘Yes—and you don’t look anything at all like a minister’s wife!’

I was sorely tempted to ask her what she thought a minister’s wife looked like! However, I refrained, thinking I might embarrass her. Instead, I laughed and left it at that, yet her comment made me feel sad too. What had she meant? Did she think ministers’ wives always looked dowdy or old-fashioned or stern or colourless or such like? If so, where had she gained her perception of these poor, sad women? Of course, in old movies and even now on TV, ministers are often portrayed as weak and old-fashioned and prosy (think some Mr Bean-type character!). But what of their wives? I felt quite indignant when I thought about the many ministers’ wives I know (not to mention women ministers themselves!) who are always neatly and attractively dressed, have wonderful personalities and are interesting and able women all round.

I know God does not judge us by how we look, as Samuel tells us, and I am so thankful for that:

The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

But because I also know how I myself often judge others by their outward appearance, just like those two women had, I always try to look as good as I can, particularly when speaking somewhere. To help with that, I frequent a great second-hand clothing shop that also sells brand new ‘ends of lines’, with labels still attached! I want my money to stretch as far as it can but, much more importantly, I want to honour God even through the way I look. I do not want my appearance to be a stumbling-block for my audience or anyone I will chat to on the day who does not as yet know God—I do not want them to judge God in any negative way because of how I present myself.

I’m so thankful for my lovely, ‘third-hand’, black and gold jumper that apparently helped smash those ladies’ image of what ministers’ wives look like! But more than that, I hope and pray it might have helped them begin to see God in a more attractive light too.

Sometimes appearances do matter, don’t you think?

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I have a friend who loves photographing doors, particularly ones that look a little weatherworn. And if they are any shade of blue, that’s even better! On one trip together, it became a joke between us to find as many blue doors as we could and decide if they truly warranted being photographed. As a result, whenever I see an interesting door anywhere, I think of her. And this was the case when I recently came across the intriguing door below, about a third of the way down this beautiful, old staircase in the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney.

IMG_20181124_102331114
IMG_20181124_102226413I don’t think anyone will open this door in a hurry, do you? Yet how inviting it looks! Could it hide an escape route for those overwhelmed by the expensive clothes, shoes etc sold in the QVB, do you think? Or does it lead to a little room where those tired workers from the endless coffee shops in the building can hide for a brief respite? And what about that interesting Number 417 on it? After all, if I’m correct, that equals three times thirteen squared, so perhaps some superstitious official in the distant past may have decided to block that door right up for good!

Yet my thoughts took a serious turn too as I looked and reflected on those figurative doors barred to me at certain times in my life. When I was nineteen and studying at Queensland University, I tried to change from my Bachelor of Arts degree course to a five-year combined Arts/Divinity course. Way back then, I felt God was calling me to train for some form of ministry, but I soon discovered my Commonwealth Scholarship could not be extended to cover those extra years at university. I knew my parents could not support me through any further study—and I had no part-time job. So I reluctantly abandoned the whole idea.

Then in my middle forties, I felt God again calling me to prepare for some form of ministry, this time at theological college. I left my job and wanted to start studying straight away the following year, but that turned out to be impossible. So instead, I spent that year praying for our church, attending two schools of prayer, auditing two college subjects and reading many books—all of which turned out to be vital for what lay ahead. Then the next year, I began my college course in earnest. Three years later, at the age of forty-nine—thirty years after I first wanted to study divinity/theology—I graduated with that degree, plus a ministry diploma.

Was it a mistake that I did not undertake these studies earlier? I suspect not—because, in those intervening years, God brought so many different experiences across my path, teaching me things I would never otherwise have learnt. In the end, God answered my prayers and those doors I thought would never open for me did indeed open, just as Jesus promised.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Luke 11:9-10

May those doors that have been barred for you open in God’s time too.

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Jo 23This past week, I have found myself the recipient of some wonderful, warm, welcoming hugs. What a joy! Each time, as those arms have wrapped around me, I felt my heart kind of melt and go to mush. It was as if, in one unguarded moment, we reached out to each other in all our vulnerability and opened a window into our very souls.

Now it’s not as if we did this on a conscious level—at least, not in the case of our four-year-old grandson. I had arrived to pick him up from day care and quietly entered the room where he was busy playing. He turned around and, in an instant, I saw joyful recognition and sheer delight written all over his little, smiling face. The next moment, bits of puzzle scattered everywhere as he raced over to hug me tight. And, of course, I hugged him back. Our Zain can be very strong-minded at times and always full of energy. But he can also be warm, loving and gentle, wanting us to cuddle up close.

My other wonderful welcoming experience occurred after speaking to a seniors’ group in a church on the opposite side of town. As I chatted with people at my book table, I saw a younger man walking towards me. I recognised him immediately—I had known him years earlier when he was still at theological college but knew he was now the senior pastor of this church. How would he greet me in front of all those older members of his congregation? Would he be a little guarded? He smiled at me and, before I knew it, I was enveloped in the biggest bear hug and welcomed warmly to his church.

Then his wife arrived. For some years, I had met with her in a mentoring capacity, as she worked back then to support her husband. Now as we embraced, I could sense our hearts meeting again in a deep and moving way that went far beyond words. Later, I met up with another girl I had mentored—and again received a heartfelt hug. What a delight to see how both these women, now with families of their own, are still serving God in the most amazing ways!

As I reflected on all those wonderful, welcoming hugs, I could not help but think of the father we read about in Luke 15 who welcomes his lost son home with such joy.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. (20)

True, my recent hugs were not given because I had returned from having squandered all my inheritance, as the young man in this story had. I was merely picking up our grandson and renewing old friendships. Yet these hugs have enabled me to imagine and appreciate all over again how much that father’s warm, welcoming, forgiving embrace must have meant to his son. And right now too, as I reflect on this wonderful, healing reconnection, I can feel those warm, loving arms of my own heavenly Father, welcoming me into his presence with equal joy and delight.

I am accepted. I am forgiven. I am loved.

And once again, my heart melts.

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Jo 23A few weeks ago, I managed to achieve an almost miraculous feat. I actually threw out all those notes from my theological college days around twenty years ago! Admittedly, I didn’t have the heart to dispense with a few favourite assignments. And admittedly, it also felt as if I was somehow betraying those three very busy but precious years of study. However, it needed to be done—and the memories are still there.

But there’s something else I have even more trouble parting with—and that is my books. When one begins to pack books horizontally on top of those already squished in vertically, it’s pretty obvious something needs to be done! So I decided to begin this daunting task.

As I started, the memories came flooding back. In one section, I found many books on prayer—for nations, for cities, for our churches and their leaders, for individuals. Now I still strongly believe in the power of prayer, but I do not feel this is currently where my main focus is to be. Sometimes God calls us to different ministries at different stages of our lives, I believe. But I remember vividly those many hours spent praying at our church, alone and with others. And I soon became aware of a strange mixture of joy, sadness and gratitude within—as well as nostalgia for times past.

On other shelves, I found books on counselling, pastoral care, church leadership, women in ministry, worship and missions. Memories of those college years surfaced again, along with those spent fully involved in all areas touched on in these books. Some of these I am still passionate about, although in different ways and in different settings. I know that is okay, but those mixed emotions still surfaced.

In the middle of another shelf, I noticed my own six novels and one memoir, all published since 2007. I paused and was again overwhelmed at God’s abundant grace at work in my life in these writing and speaking years. But then my eyes ranged over the many other novels and memoir/biographies on my shelves—most of which have enjoyed much greater popularity and contain far more exciting stories than mine. I sighed, as envy and self-doubt began to flood in.

I decided to step back and ask God for a better perspective on it all. And soon I began to see the wonderful variety of reading experiences there, in the midst of which my own books truly did belong. I also saw books I currently enjoy—gems on contemplation and on experiencing God’s presence, some written by Christians centuries ago. I saw helpful books on writing and creativity. I saw new releases alongside older novels I have recently re-read and loved all over again. I saw so much richness in books both old and new on those shelves. And I gave thanks, realising they have all been part of the tapestry of my life, with no one section more important than the other.

Yes, my book culling task might still be daunting, but not depressing. God is there with me as I work and remember, whispering to me, giving me perspective, filling me with gratitude and grace.

My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare. Psalm 25:15

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Jo 23Last Saturday night, another historic moment occurred in our household. At 10.30pm, I walked out of my study and announced with a great sigh to my husband, ‘I’ve finished writing my book!’

‘I don’t know how you do it!’ he responded with feeling.

‘I don’t know how I do it either,’ I replied with even more feeling.

Now let me clarify a little. Because this is my eighth book, I know I haven’t exactly ‘finished’ yet. I know this is only the beginning of the next part of my journey with this particular volume. I finished the first draft some time back. Last night’s milestone marked the completion of a very thorough edit and rewrite. Next step is obtaining comments from my first reader/editor. Then it will be back to editing again—and on it goes.

I know all this, yet last night at 10.30, I felt great relief. This book, my second work of non-fiction, has proved difficult to write. I can’t even remember when I started it because so many things have intervened since then. I almost gave up on it once or twice. With so many interruptions, I became a little disconnected from it all and found myself having to check back often so as not to repeat myself. Yet I wanted to finish it because I felt the idea for this book was something God had given me. So I persevered. And I’m glad I did because I learnt so much yet again about God and about myself.

This book, currently titled Coming Home to Myself, has taken me on a journey through so many memories of childhood years, of years at university, of marriage and children, of university again, of returning to teaching, of other jobs, of theological college, of ministry, of writing and speaking. As I wrote and remembered, I tried to highlight how God persevered with me through it all, rescuing me, restoring me, helping me emerge and grow and learn, drawing me on to become more of the person I had been created to be. And, in the process, I have been brought face to face with my own weaknesses and shortcomings and slowness to respond to what God has been teaching me. But, once again, I have also been overwhelmed with the reality of God’s absolute faithfulness and patience and perseverance and longsuffering in so many ways.

‘I don’t know how you do it!’ I have found myself wanting to say to God so often in response.

Yet I do know. It’s right there in the pages of my bible and it’s written on my heart. In Jeremiah 31:3, God declares to the children of Israel:

I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.’

And in Ephesians 3:17-18, Paul prays:

I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ …

That’s how God does it—by loving me without end with the most amazing, pure, self-giving, accepting love. And that’s how I plan to do it too—by loving God till the end and by letting this amazing love of God inform my writing and flow onto others.

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Don’t you love it when everything fits perfectly into place – when you put that last piece of the jigsaw puzzle together with a satisfying ‘click’ and the whole picture emerges, or when you plan that overseas trip where you’ll be moving from place to place and all the transport and accommodation arrangements work out exactly right? It makes us feel good, doesn’t it? We have actually done it – we are cleverer than we thought!

In the last few weeks in particular, I have realised again how good God is at putting things perfectly in place. Nothing is ever wasted with God, I believe – and that has certainly been true in my own life.

I began my working life as a high school teacher – apart from a regular holiday job in a music store. Many years later, after staying at home looking after our three children, I returned to teaching for a while, but then obtained a job as an assistant editor of teaching material for Christian schools. I could not have obtained that job without my high school teaching experience – and I could not have managed the role I took up after my editing job as office secretary for the community ministry arm of our local church without this editing experience. I needed to be able to use a computer for my secretarial role at a time when computers were just coming into their own – and I had learnt at least the basics of computing in that editorial job.

After a few years, I went to theological college, eventually obtaining my theology degree. Then I was appointed as one of the pastors at our church, a role I could not have undertaken without the experience gained in my teaching years of speaking in front of a large group or without the experience of working in our church office. When I left that role, I began my writing journey – something I could definitely not have done without my knowledge of the English language gained through teaching foreign languages. Also, without the experience gained in my ministry role in our church, I could never have spoken in churches and other places as I do today, promoting my books in the process.

Yet in recent weeks it has dawned on me that something else I learnt and practised in my college and ministry years is now bearing fruit in my writing career. I have always loved mentoring younger Christians. I have written and conducted mentoring courses and still mentor younger women leaders today who are doing amazing work for God. Now the time has come in my writing journey for me to take up the opportunity I have been given to mentor others in aspects of writing.

What an amazing dovetailing of all my skills, knowledge and experience gained to this point! What’s more, even as I mentor others in writing, God is still very much part of the picture in what we talk about and the way I approach this mentoring. Lately too I have been able to offer writing workshops, which for me bring together so much of who I am – a teacher, a pastor, an author, an editor.

Only God could do this, don’t you think? Only God could weave the threads of our lives together in this way and enable all the pieces to fit so perfectly. Only God, the perfect, loving Shepherd, could have led and enabled me to do what I’m doing today, gently guiding me, encouraging me, showing me the way forward.

As for God, his way is perfect, Psalm 18:30 tells us – and I believe that totally. How about you?

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We currently have a dilemma in our family – and it’s all about whether to open a certain envelope or not. You see, our younger daughter and her husband are expecting their first child in January, so our daughter recently had an ultrasound. As a result, she was asked whether she would like to know the baby’s sex – but she couldn’t decide. If she found out now, she reasoned, she might be disappointed. But if she found out at the moment of birth, she would no doubt be very happy whatever it was! So the baby’s sex was written on a small card and the card placed in an envelope and given to her husband. That way, he could look at it if he wanted to – and so could our daughter, if she changed her mind.

Well, it seems our son-in-law has had a peek, but so far managed to keep it to himself. Our daughter’s boss has also, because she wanted to know what clothes to buy the baby. The envelope was then waved in front of me – I could even see the little card inside it as my daughter held it up to the light. Perhaps it wouldn’t matter if I found out – I would just have to be vigilant and not blurt it out by accident. After all, it would mean I could knit something pink or blue instead of white. In the end, however, I decided against it.

But this whole experience has caused me to reflect on other ‘envelopes’ I’m glad I have opened in my life – my husband’s request to marry him, studying at theological college, the call to serve on a church ministry team, the challenge to write my first novel and, underlying all this, the invitation to believe in Jesus Christ and follow him. What if I had ignored that particular invitation I heard one evening when I was fifteen? What if I had thought it wasn’t for me? What if I had decided it wasn’t important enough to open – or that I could leave it a bit longer?

But would God have offered me a second invitation at another time? I don’t know. And I’m so glad I didn’t decide to wait and find out, because for forty-eight years now I have enjoyed the wonderful presence of God in my life, the wonderful privilege of belonging to God’s family and the wonderful hope that I will be able to spend eternity in heaven.

Yet every day, many people turn down this invitation. Many don’t even bother to open the envelope. They might hold it up to the light for a second, see its shape and wonder about it, but then discard it. And others immediately decide it’s just rubbish and throw it in the bin.

It’s so vital to open this particular ‘envelope’, to see the reconciliation God offers in love to each one of us. In fact, it’s a matter of life and death, of being welcomed into God’s family or not.

He [Jesus] came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:11-12)

I’m so glad I accepted God’s invitation. How about you?

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