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Posts Tagged ‘Turkey’

I truly enjoy seeing other people’s holiday photos of beautiful places they have seen overseas and exciting experiences they have had. Not only does it give me an opportunity to share in all their joy, but it’s a little like taking a vicarious, cheap and hassle-free holiday myself! And of course I also love looking back through my own photos taken during overseas trips. What great memories they stir up, often so vivid that, in an instant, I am back in the exact spot where the particular photo was taken!

This past week, I spoke at a group where the topic was left up to me, so I decided to utilise some of my travel photos and create a talk entitled ‘From the ridiculous to the sublime—true travelling tales’! I focussed on four different categories of experiences I have had overseas—funny experiences, scary experiences, wonderful experiences and ‘God’ experiences, in that order. In each section, I managed to tell three or four stories, backed up by photos on power point, then asked those present to share a story of their own.

scan0010What fun I had, looking through all those old photos as I prepared and choosing which to use! I laughed out loud again when I found some taken in a Turkish village where my friend and I stayed for a few days. One night, we went to a local restaurant for dinner. The owner cooked us a beautiful meal, but when we went to pay, he told us he was too busy to take our money and asked if we could come back the next day to pay! Can you imagine an Australian restaurant doing that?

I looked through more photos and found one of my first visit to a beach in Turkey. I had wrapped my glasses in my towel and put a small rock on top before heading off to swim, but when we returned, I found the metal frames of my glasses had been moulded around the rock into a U-shape from the heat of the sun. I proceeded to bend them straight back into the right shape, but what a scary moment that was, considering they were the only pair of glasses I had with me in Turkey!

Other photos brought back wonderful memories of my first visit to Germany and also to England, both such surreal moments for me. I was reminded too of wonderful ‘God moments’—one in St Paul’s Cathedral, London, while contemplating the Holman Hunt painting ‘The Light of the World’ and another back in Turkey when God challenged me to start my writing journey. While reflecting on this last category of experiences in particular, the words of Psalm 139:7-10 came to mind:

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.

What a gracious, almighty, loving God we have who is more than able to be here, there and everywhere at all times, watching over us in all our wanderings!

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Jo 17It’s so easy to become consumed with all the things happening in our lives from week to week, isn’t it? Sometimes, we may feel we are only just managing to stay afloat in our own particular fast-flowing, almost overwhelming river of demands and commitments and responsibilities. No wonder then that, in the midst of it all, we so often lose sight of that bigger picture.

Recently, my husband conducted a funeral, during which he reminded us that our life here on earth, when compared with eternity, is like the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface of the water, there is so much more. Then he used a second analogy of the distance covered in a long, overseas trip, as opposed to merely the first centimetre of that trip—and this resonated with me even more. After all, I have gone on quite a few long, overseas trips and can well remember my last flight home from Turkey—a distance of around fifteen thousand kilometres. So what is one centimetre when compared with that? Nothing really. Yet that is how long our life on earth is when compared with eternity.

Perhaps that sort of finite analogy is as close as we will get to understanding the vast difference between the life span we have here on earth and eternity. It’s so hard to imagine something that goes on forever, isn’t it? But whether we can get our heads around it or not, it’s vital we remember eternity—and God—do exist.

The bottom line I need to remind myself about constantly is that nothing I have or am experiencing in this world lasts forever. That applies equally to the people and things that bring me happiness and fulfilment as well as to those situations that cause me pain and difficulty. At times, I know I am in danger of forgetting about God, as I love and care for those close to me. Of course it’s important to love and care for them well. But one day, I won’t be here—and neither will they. At times too, I have put such store by the books I have written and continue to write, that I forget all those words I produce are so temporal. Hopefully, what I write says something of value to others and delights God in the process. But one day, those books will be forgotten, even by those who enjoyed them. Already, many are no doubt hidden away on some dusty shelf or residing in an op shop or perhaps gone long ago into the recycling bin!

As for those difficult things in our lives, how wonderful to remember they too will not last forever! One day, we will have new heavenly bodies, with no sickness or malfunctions. One day we will be whole in every way. One day, ‘God will wipe away every tear from our eyes’ (Revelation 7:17).

Whatever is happening in your life right now, whether joyous or challenging or a mixture of both, can I encourage you to remember the bigger picture and keep the same perspective as Paul and his fellow-workers did?

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  2 Corinthians 4:18

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I wonder if you have ever been in the situation of trying to make yourself understood to someone who does not speak the same language as you. It can be fun but also frustrating, can’t it? We can get so far with sign language and facial expressions, but there is a limit, after which we are stuck. Once when I was in Turkey, visiting a friend, I offered to go and buy some sugar for her, as she was in the middle of cooking and had run out. I knew the basic Turkish word for sugar (şeker), but what fun I had, trying to make myself understood, as the helpful shopkeeper showed me raw sugar, brown sugar, icing sugar, cube sugar, even lollies (also called şeker in Turkish), and eventually what I wanted—plain old white sugar!

Our two year old grandson Zain now has a beautiful little sister Maxine, who is all of seven weeks old. Now Zain has a special puzzle at home that helps children learn counting and also teaches what the numbers look like. A few days ago, according to Zain’s mum, he recognised the number four and wanted Maxine to appreciate this momentous event.

‘Maxine! Maxine! Look, Maxine—four! Dat’s four, Maxine!’ he told her earnestly, showing her the relevant puzzle piece and trying to help her understand. I doubt that he was duly impressed with her response! But at least he tried.

In John’s Gospel, there is a lovely, honest account of an interaction between Jesus and his disciples that I have often smiled over. In Chapter 16, just after Jesus has explained as clearly as he can that he is leaving the world and going back to his Father in heaven, his disciples respond:

Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have everyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.” (30)

We can almost hear the relief in Jesus’ voice as he responds simply: “You believe at last!” (31) Finally, after being with Jesus for many months, hearing him teach and watching him perform many miracles, it all seems to click with them. Finally, they seem to understand what he was on about.

Yes, we often strike limitations of some description when it comes to understanding others. Thankfully, however, God has no such limitation. In 1 Chron 28:9, David points out to his son Solomon that God understands not only what we say but what we think, before we even say anything:

And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts.

Then in Psalm 147:5, we find the following simple but profound and all-encompassing statement:

Great is the Lord and might in power; his understanding has no limit.

This means that, wherever we are at, however confused and frustrated we might feel, God sees through it all and understands straight away—in fact, even before that. God speaks our language, wherever we are from and however young or old we are. While others might look blankly at us and misunderstand us and our motives at times, God never does. Everything is transparent with God—and I’m so glad of that, aren’t you?

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P1030746To celebrate the launch of my first non-fiction book in October, a friend gave me the very thoughtful gift of a new journal. Now this isn’t any old journal, I hasten to add. It is from Turkey and is handmade, with a wonderfully ornate blue cloth cover, decorated with gold thread and patterns of green, red and white, and the word ‘Türkiye’ (the name the Turkish people call their country) on the front and back. As well, there are small, metal triangular pieces attached to each corner, so the whole thing does not get worn or tattered. And inside are lots and lots of lovely blank, white pages!

Now when I was in Turkey once, I saw a similar one with a deep red cover in a shop in Istanbul and could not resist buying it. I was so looking forward to using it, but some time later, when another good friend celebrated an important birthday, I realised I needed to give this journal to her. It just seemed right in so many ways—and I know she truly appreciated it. Not long after, I mentioned this to my friend who was still in Turkey and asked her to buy me another one if she was ever in the vicinity of the shop where I had bought it. Time went on and I forgot about it—but obviously, my friend didn’t. So what a special surprise it was to receive such a precious and moving gift from her when I least expected it!

And this week, I decided to begin writing on those pristine pages it contains. Despite having a few unused ones in my old journal, I wanted to commemorate the start of my writing year in some significant way. But what should I write first? My thoughts about my writing at this point? Perhaps my own personal prayer for the year ahead? Or maybe a quote from one of several good books I am currently reading?

In the end, I believe I made the best choice. On the first page of my new journal, I copied out the words of Psalm 33:20-22 as neatly as I could:

We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.

In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.

May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you.

Can you think of a better statement or better prayer with which to begin a new year? I know I can’t. This world really is an uncertain place, isn’t it? No one can say with complete confidence that they know what 2013 will hold for any of us. This past week, parts of our country have been in the grip of catastrophic bushfires, which can turn and race this way or that, according to which way the wind is blowing. One moment, those living in these areas had homes and property and businesses and livestock and pets—and the next, it was all gone. But for any of us, there is no real certainty in life. Yes, there are those who love us deeply, but they may not be able to be there for us forever. Only God is eternal.

So may you too face the year ahead with hope and trust in the Lord, fully aware of the Lord’s unfailing love resting upon you, whatever happens!

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My family will tell you I am not the world’s best patient. There is too much to do to lie still for long – after all, I have my latest novel to edit and speaking engagements to prepare for. And yet I know the severe sciatica in my right leg has a much greater chance of improving if I look after myself, apply heat to the affected area and stay off my feet as much as I can. I know too that pain and anti-inflammatory tablets will help – and yet I am reluctant to take them. I try to remain stoic – and not too grouchy and grumpy!

So what’s to be done? Well, eventually I do rest and take medication – but I also pray. And when I pray, I have two things in mind. Firstly, I ask God to bring healing and relief from the pain – at least enough to enable me to speak where I’m supposed to speak.  I know God can do this, because I have experienced it before. Several years ago, I was about to head to Turkey to visit a friend, when I ended up with excruciating lower back pain. We had planned a holiday together in the mountains near the Black Sea, which I knew would involve carrying a heavy backpack, climbing on and off buses, sleeping in hard beds – plus lots of walking. How would I ever manage? I couldn’t let me friend down – and besides, I really wanted to go. So I finally asked someone to pray for me at church one day for healing. At first, nothing seemed to happen – and I must admit I was slightly sceptical about it all. But later that afternoon, the pain lessened and finally lifted altogether. And during my time in Turkey, I had absolutely no problem doing all the things we had planned to do – praise God!

But the second thing I ask God as I pray is what I can learn through this time of pain. Is it perhaps that I have become a little too self-reliant, thinking I can do everything in my own strength? Is it that I need to learn to empathise more with others who are going through painful times? Or is it merely to develop more patience and perseverance in me? After all, writing novels does need both these qualities in vast measures – especially when it comes to that painstaking editing and re-writing process I have just begun.

And while I wait for God to answer both aspects of my prayer, I try to relax, knowing God is listening and will never forsake me. I am held in God’s loving arms, now and forever. I don’t know how or when God will answer, but I will keep praying and not give up, just as Jesus taught his disciples to do when he told them the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18). Jesus ends this story with some words I always find quite sad and challenging:

However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:8)

I want to be among those who are found to be full of faith. I want to learn to trust God more, whatever the circumstances. And right now, I pray for you too, if you are persevering through pain in any way. May God bring healing to you, just as you need, and the strength to stand firm until the end.

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I am so grateful for all the wonderfully convenient means of communication available to us these days. I can be sitting at my desk at home writing away when suddenly I might hear a little tune emanating from my computer and see a message screen appear. It is my friend in Turkey trying to contact me via skype. I go to answer her call – and then I am confronted with a dilemma. Should I click on the mere ‘Call’ button – or should I opt for ‘Video call’? After all, I have just showered and am dressed ready for bed! But then, remembering how she and I have travelled around Turkey together several times, I realise she has seen me in all sorts of strange garb! So I blithely opt for a video call – and soon we are laughing and talking together, despite the geographical distance between us.

We chat for some time – skype is free, after all. But then I hear my friend’s mobile phone ringing. She moves away to answer it and I hear her thanking someone in Turkish and arranging to see them later. But then I hear another phone ring – it must be my friend’s landline this time! I discover I am right, as her face reappears momentarily on my screen to tell me she has to answer her other phone and won’t be a moment. I sit and stare at my friend’s bedroom in far away Turkey and reflect on how different things are from many years ago when we used to contact our overseas friends via letter only. Then, just as my friend comes back, I hear her doorbell ring – and this time she is gone for a while, since she has to run down several flights of stairs to retrieve a parcel from the postman!

As I wait again, the thought comes to me: Could God be trying to get my attention? Could this be a kind of parable of how God sees me in my life in general? Could it be that God often waits for me in the same way I am waiting for my friend to return, watching me as I rush from one activity to the next, from meeting with people to shopping to housework to minding grandchildren to writing to preparing talks to gardening to ….? Could it be that even when I am sitting quietly all alone at my desk, God is patiently waiting to have my full attention, as my mind jumps from the various entries in my diary to the tasks awaiting me on my computer to the books I’m half through reading?

Yes, it is quite possible, I realise. I want to spend time with such a gracious, loving God, just as I know my friend really wants to talk with me via skype. My friend’s calls had to be answered – but most times, I reflect with some sadness, I have a choice whether I turn my computer on and become immersed in all that writing and all those emails yet again, or whether I sit back, open my Bible, and spend some quality time with God. And I know from experience that when I make that choice, God is always there waiting, ready to listen and speak, always patient with me, always understanding me, always loving me.

What is it that causes God to have to wait for you? What does God have to do to get your attention? God is calling. God has things to say to us. So let’s listen – and listen well!

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27)

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What did we do before the advent of email, Facebook, skype, blogs, and all the ways of linking us to others via the internet? Yes, we phoned, sent cards and letters – even telegrammed at times. But that was way back. Now – well, let me tell you a story about some conversations in a purple dressing-gown!

I have a good friend who lives in Turkey, with whom I communicate often via email but also by skype. At first she would skype me on our normal home phone, but then, after I also installed the program, we graduated to speaking via a small handset attached to my computer plus a webcam which didn’t seem to work, so I gave up on it. Finally, however, with the advent of my new laptop, I now simply sit at my computer talking to her – all the necessary ‘bits and pieces’ are built-in. Now, with one click of the mouse, I can even choose between a normal skype call and a video one, enabling my friend to see the top half of my body at least as I chat away.

The first few times we talked via video skype, I joked about what I was wearing. It was always the same – my warm, fluffy, purple dressing-gown! My friend tends to skype me later in the evening, by which time I am often comfortably ensconced at my computer, writing a few more precious lines of my latest novel before heading to bed. One time when I apologised for how I was dressed, my friend commented that it didn’t matter one bit to her. After all, we know each other well and have travelled around Turkey together several times, sharing a room in all sorts of B and Bs, ancient and modern!

But her response made me think. Whenever she skypes me, I want to ‘look nice’ on that screen. Almost unconsciously, I tidy my hair and straighten the collar of my purple dressing-gown – and yet, she doesn’t care! All she wants to do is connect with me and feel she is being heard and getting some response in return.

And that, I realised, is how God is with me too. God actually doesn’t care what I look like – in fact, God can see me any time at all, whether I am dressed carefully in my best or lounging around in my old jeans, jumper and ugg boots – even in a purple dressing-gown!  So why put on a ‘front’ for God? It doesn’t change anything – except perhaps make our communication just that bit more difficult.

In 1 Samuel, we read how God sent Samuel to find Jesse and anoint one of his sons as the next king of Israel. At first, Samuel went by outward appearance, as Jesse’s first son came before him. Surely, he thought, this was the one God had chosen – but no. In 1 Sam 16:7, God says:

Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

The Lord looks at the heart. God sees right inside me, past all the pretence, past all the self-justification, past all the outward trappings. God knows. God understands.

And as I sit snuggled up yet again in my purple dressing-gown, I’m so glad of that.

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A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of driving a good friend to the airport.  She was returning to Turkey to work that she loves, and the strong possibility is that her friends and family will not see her for another two years or more.  It was a bittersweet moment when the time came for all of us who had gathered there to say goodbye – our friend’s heart is in Turkey, but it is also here with family and friends.

As soon as she disappeared through the entrance to the customs check area, our by now slightly teary group dispersed.  However, a few of us decided to stay on and move to a spot alongside a glass wall where passengers can be seen as they pass through a walkway leading to their respective departure gates.  And almost before we had settled ourselves, there she was again, smiling at us and waving, then turning for one final backward glance before disappearing from view.  We tried to communicate with her in various ways, blowing kisses and gesticulating wildly. I noticed too how other passengers were coming right up to the glass and placing their hands on it in an effort to reach out to those on the other side one more time.  We were glad we had stayed for this final farewell – but it wasn’t the same as being able to communicate freely, to speak and touch unhindered by the barrier between us.

As I thought about this experience later, I realised that sometimes this is how it is between God and me.  God is always there, wanting to communicate and have a close relationship with me, but sometimes these barriers spring up between us – barriers that I either deliberately put in place or just allow over time to grow bigger and bigger.  I want to talk things over with God heart to heart – and I truly want God to speak to me ‘face to face, as a man speaks with his friend’, as occurred with Moses (Exodus 33:11).  I want God to be intimately involved with all areas of my life – but for some crazy reason I distance myself behind some barrier or another. It might be that I don’t want to let go of something I know is spoiling that communication – perhaps anger or unforgiveness or even lack of trust. Or it might be that I just allow myself to become too busy or too tired or too focused on my writing or too concerned about preparing for speaking engagements, until that loving voice gets more and more indistinct and that wonderful light of God’s presence dims.  I know God is there as surely as my friend was there smiling at us from behind that glass wall – but I can’t hear what is being said or feel that restoring, encouraging, comforting touch that I know I need.

I don’t want to live like that. I don’t want to be alienated behind an impenetrable glass wall from the very one who breathes life and creativity and courage and strength into my spirit. There is a door in that wall, I believe – and Jesus is standing there.  He knocks on it, waiting for each one of us to open it and invite him in so we can relate deeply with him (Rev 3:20).

Is he there with you now, enjoying your company?

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Anyone out there of an inventive frame of mind?  I would love to get hold of an inexpensive tracking device to attach to my three published novels, so I can see where they end up!  Of course, it could be a little demoralising if they were tracked to a rubbish bin somewhere or face down half-read and covered in dust under a bed or – worse still – unopened and long forgotten in some dark corner of a bookshelf.  But I have heard some interesting stories about where my books have got to and can only hope and pray there are more I know nothing about.

For instance, recently a friend told me he bought my second novel ‘All the Days of My Life’ at a conference around two years ago.  He was reading it on the plane home to Tasmania when he got into conversation with the passenger next to him.  Now this passenger had a very interesting ‘fellow passenger’ on his far side – a cello!  Apparently this gentleman had booked a seat especially for it – he was a member of an orchestra and wanted to keep his cello in sight.  On discovering this man had nothing to read, my friend promptly gave him my book, since a cello features quite prominently in it!   An interesting story – but it has left me wondering.  Did this man like it – or did it end up in an airport bin somewhere?

I know for sure the very first copy of my second novel found its way by plane to Iraq.  A friend was returning to her community work with Kurdish widows and wanted something to read on the way.  After she finished with it, it was lent around to fellow workers and eventually given to an American girl who loved it.  Again I wonder though – did it end up being taken back to America with her?  Or is it destined to wander around in Iraq forever?

Another friend also recently told me a story involving a plane trip.  She had grabbed up my first novel ‘Heléna’ in a hurry as she left home to attend a funeral in Coffs Harbour.  On the return flight, she noticed the young girl next to her looking curiously at the book.  Eventually this girl commented that her name was actually Heléna and wanted to know where she could get a copy.  My friend had a wonderful conversation with her, told her all about the book and gave her the details of where to buy it.  Another lovely story – but again I am left wondering.  Did this girl eventually get hold of her own copy?  Who knows?

I am aware of others who have bought my novels to read on planes and then left them in various countries with the family or friends they were visiting.  I currently know of copies in England, the US, Canada, Turkey, South Africa and the Netherlands.  But I also heard recently that one of my novels was seen in a second-hand bookshop here in Australia, while another was for sale on ebay, labelled ‘first edition – signed by author’!

I am just curious.  I don’t really need to know where my books have gone.  After all, God sees them and I pray will bless those who read them, whoever and wherever they are.  My role is to put my heart and soul into the writing of them and try my best to get them out there – then leave the results in God’s hands.

But a tracking device would still be neat – don’t you agree?

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I wish I could tell you the number of times people have shyly come up to me after I have spoken somewhere to tell me they would like to write a book too.  Some have a clear idea of what sort of book they hope to create.  Others, however, are much more vague.  Some, I suspect, like the idea of being published, but not all the hard work needed to get there.  But for the majority, it’s more that they can’t seem to allow themselves to actually name their dream, to commit to a goal they believe in their heart of hearts they will never attain.  So it would be foolish – a waste of time really – even to try.  Better to forget about it and go and do something useful.

My heart goes out to these people, because I felt like that myself once.  Before I began writing seven years ago, I had wanted to write for at least twenty years and often talked about it with my family.  At one stage, in desperation, one of our daughters gave me a pile of books on how to write, accompanied by a homemade bookmark, bearing the inscription ‘Write your own!’  However, it took the ending of a ministry I loved, followed by six months’ break, before I finally realised that the moment had come in my life when the dream to write and the call of God were in fact one.

It happened like this.  I was holidaying in Turkey and was sitting reading Isaiah 42 in my bible one morning.  I had read verse 9 – See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare – and noted in my journal that I knew my old role had gone but now I truly wanted to hear the ‘ new things’ God had for me.  Then I read on – and stopped in my tracks at verses 18-20:

Hear, you deaf, look, you blind, and see!  Who is blind but my servant, and deaf like the messenger I send?  Who is blind like the one committed to me, blind like the servant of the Lord?  You have seen many things, but have paid no attention; your ears are open, but you hear nothing.

Yes, it was a strong challenge – a rebuke even – but so patient and kind too.  It was as if God were saying with a big sigh: ‘Come on, Jo!  How many times do I have to show you?  Go home and start writing the book!

Well – I did! That was what it took for God to get through to me that yes, it was okay to write – that this, in fact, was what I was being called to do at this stage of my life.

So what is God calling you to do?  Is it perhaps the very thing you’ve been dreaming of doing all your life?  Could God in fact be giving you permission to bring your dream to reality?  …  Could you possibly have a book in you too?

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