Sweet and Sour Pudding

What an evening!

Megan is amazing.  She says that she hopes that we can keep in touch – and she’s the kind of person you just believe when she says that.  We just sort of clicked.  It was nice.  I hope we can be friends.  I haven’t had a good Christian friend my own age in so long.  I mean, I’m not setting her up to be my best friend and all that – but I think I could feel connected to her.  The closest I’ve come to that with anyone but Bennie since Kylie went to Scotland and Lisa died is Gina.  I want to be her friend. And for some reason I think she wants to be mine.

The kids had a great time I think for the afternoon, although they were pretty serious after tea and Emily looked pretty rattled by something for a moment.  Not that it was there for all to see for longer than that … but she is so like Lisa it’s hard not to read her sometimes.  I was going to ask her if she wanted to talk on the way home, but – well we were all a little distracted by then …

Carlos is studying full-time this year thanks to some supporters who had put aside his tuition fees.  He’s been working towards developing some further training programmes that can be run for local believers where they are serving.  He also wants to start work on some ongoing work that will help the small team that they work with to remain heartened as the work is often hard and slow to bear fruit despite the fact that the people are kind to them.  It doesn’t help that the government is closed to the gospel.  They tell of tremendous lessons in the value of a prayerful heart and the lessons that they have learned about praying.  I am no longer surprised that the first thing that the first thing that Hamish learned about from Jonah was prayer, nor that this seems to be one of the things that seems most natural for him to do.

I think that Jazzy enjoyed the company of the big kids.  They were pretty good about including her.  There was a little while while they were talking by themselves, but she was quite happily sitting with Paul by then.  I think that he liked them too.  This is good.  It means he can be comfortable talking with Carlos.

Overall the night went well until Joel came to get Hamish.

I hadn’t thought anything of it, but of course – to Joel it was strange that Paul and I were here also.  He threw up his guard immediately.

“What are you doing here?”

“Oh,” says Megan, looking around and picking up on the tension, but not aware of the larger picture. “You must be Joel.  Karen said that you’d be picking Hamish up.  It didn’t click then that you’re all family.  We met Alciana and Paul and the girls on Sunday at church and invited them around to get to know them better.  It’s nice to get to meet you too.”

I grimaced.  I did.  Joel didn’t see it.  Paul did.  I don’t know about the girls – but I saw the equally horrified look on Hamish’s face and knew the truth.  Hamish was scared.  Not just worried.  Scared.  Thankfully, Megan, puzzled by my grimace, had not seen it.  Emily grasped his hand.  She had.  Hamish shuffled his feet and shoulders and everything in between but accepted the support. And the clock only ticked once.

“You people are all the same.  You take an intelligent person and try to brainwash them into the fold.  I’ve seen it before.  Well no more.  No thank you.  You will not do that to my son.”

Megan and Carlos stood aghast at Joel’s accusations.  Carlos went to take a step forward.  I shook my head and said quietly,

“Not today.” and nodded at Hamish.

Hamish stood ashen face, but with a kind of defiance in every muscle of his body.

Emily’s knuckles were white, but she didn’t seem to notice.  She had tears in her eyes, looking at her Uncle Joel with a resigned disbelief.

And Jonah looked sad.  Like he’d seen it all before.  Felt it all before.  Praying the prayers he’d prayed before.  And I realised, given his parents’ account of their ministry that he probably had.

“Hamish.” Joel summoned his son.

Hamish started walking only to be held back by his cousin’s grasp.  Realising that she was still holding his hand, Emily let go and Hamish walked obediently out of the house, thanking his friend’s parents for their hospitality.

When Hamish had gone, Joel turned briskly and left the house, wiping his feet on the doormat as he left.

Trust Joel for that little bit of drama.

Megan had tears in her eyes – for Hamish, I think – and perhaps Joel.  Carl’s voice was raspy.  Paul and I were embarrassed and both started to apologise for the scene at once.

Carlos interrupted and reassured us.

“We all know that the word of God is not welcome among unbelievers.  It should be no surprise to us that Joel was hostile to Megan or myself that he didn’t like his son being with believers.  We’re just not used to such strong reactions at home.  This is a part of everyday where we are normally.”

Which is all very well but Joel was still horribly rude.  And his son, despite his lack of fear for his faith was terrified of his father.

Suddenly then Megan got up and hurried from the room with Carlos behind her.

There must have been some kind of routine to this because Jonah frowned, stood and with Emily by his side went purposely from the room in a different direction.  Jazzy – somehow after Joel’s soap opera scene had fallen asleep in a bean bag.

Paul and I just looked at each other.

“She’s out like a light.  We should go soon.”

“Yeah.  Wait ’til Megan comes back and we can find Emily then.”

“Nice people.”

“Yeah.  I hope I get to see more of Megan.  She says she doesn’t really know a lot of people around here.  She could make a good friend.”

“You haven’t really had that for a while – what with Kylie overseas and Lisa gone … ”

“No.  What did you think of Carlos?”

“Seems like a good bloke.  He said he’d come and help Andy and I sort out a couple of the questions I’m having that he can’t answer.”

“That’s great.”

“Yeah.  I’m beginning to think so.”

Megan and Carlos come back in.

“Where are the kids.”

“Went walkabout.”

“Ah. Sorry.  People tell you about morning sickness – mine comes at night.  Half Irish, you see.”

“Oh. Congratulations.  Does Jonah know?”

“No.  We won’t tell him ’til we’re reasonably sure this one’s going to make it.  The last couple haven’t and before that I carried one to term and she died a day after she was born.  That nearly broke his heart.”

“Oh Megan.”

“Megan gets pretty sick when she’s pregnant too.  We nearly lost her with the last miscarriage.  That’s another reason why we came home when we found out she was pregnant again.”

“We haven’t told many people.  But – I wanted to tell you.  I want us to be friends, and you seem to too.  But please don’t tell anyone else about the baby.”

“Of course I won’t tell anybody and if Paul does, I’ll box his ears – but you can trust him with a secret forever.  Lisa used to say the only thing you had to worry about is if he’d remember it… ” I grinned at him.  He grinned back at the memory.

“If you’re not careful I’ll start …”

“Then we’d better say our thank yous and goodbyes and go”

Lord, please soften Joel’s heart.  Strengthen Hamish for whatever is in the days ahead.  I have a feeling that they’re not going to be easy.  Help Jonah to be a support for his friend no matter how creative he has to be.  And Lord please help him with whatever that worried look was for.  Help me to find a moment to talk to Emily also.  Thanks for the work you’re doing in Paul.  May he continue to ask questions about you and come to trust you.

And Father, thank you for a friend.  Please keep her safe.

Amen.

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Going Dotty

Dear God,

Back to work today.  Out of the castle.  No more castle-fever.

I had Chicken Pox when I was 16.  I got in my car and waved good bye to the three faces that were now becoming well enough to care that one of could leave while they remained imprisoned in the castle.

But, Father, I walked from one building full of spots into another.  There were spots on my desk.  There were spots on my chair.  There were spots on my floor, my stationary, my computer, my clock, my phone – you name it … there were spots.  I opened the desk drawer and there were spots in there too.  And somebody just plain gross had added pus leaking from the ones on the filing cabinet (Gina? no she’s more subtle than that – she did the drawer.  Scott).

My office space has Chicken Pox!

Someone – or someones had obviously brought in a tonne of target bags and catalogues and had a go at them with the scissors – in their breaks, of course …

One of the fun things about office life is that life goes on without you.  The problem is, that people still need things when you’re not there.  So – over the past three days there have been people ratting through my stuff looking for reports or files or equipment that I may or may not have in an attempt to locate it.  There have been people borrowing things and people borrowing things and then there has been Rodney.  Rodney has the equivalent position to myself (and to Kelly), but in yet another department.  This week he was hauled in to cover my spot on Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning to complete something that needed to be sent off by Tuesday afternoon.  However, he needed access to stuff managed under a password that I hold to do it, so arrangements were made with IT to get him access which meant changing the password.  So Rodney goes on holidays to Scotland without telling a soul what the password is now rendering the computer largely inaccessible to me.  I offered to go to Scotland to get it from him, but they sent for IT at 3pm as I was leaving instead.

“Oh, excellent!  You’re here to fix up the computer so I can use it?  Just leave the information in sealed envelope with the Department Manager when you’re done and I’ll get it in the morning.”

“Sorry.  You’ll need to wait.  You need to sign for the password or I’ll have to come back at another time.  It won’t take long.”

So I wait.

And wait.

And wait.

“Look, I’m really sorry, but are you almost done?  I really have to go.”

“Just a couple more minutes, ma’am.  The password is in but I have a couple of minor adjustments that need to be made for security and then I can shut up shop and you’re right to go.”

“Again, I’m sorry to rush you, but I have kids waiting at home who are sick with Chicken Pox.  If you give me the password now, I will sign … ”

“But … ”

“Please … password – or I sneeze in your general direction and you take the risk that I have Chicken Pox a second time … ”

I got the password.

I finally got home to find that the household had gone mad.  Well, not mad.  Dotty.

“Auntie Alciana,” Jazzie runs up to me, “we’re having a dotty day.”

I would never have guessed by what I see around me … everywhere … dots.

Emily joins us.

“You’re only allowed to do things where there are dots in them.  We played Twister this morning, and dominoes …”

“We did join the dots and coloured them in with dots with colouring pencils and we had fairy bread for lunch!”

“And raw carrot cut in circles.”

“An’ Daddy found the twirly apple cutter so he made apple twirlies and they’re round with a big empty spot in the middle where the core was.  Isn’t that right, Daddy?”

“It is,” grins Paul, looking tired.  “Then, after lunch we all had a spot of sleep.”

“We played dot scotch!” piped in Jazz again.

“That’s like hopscotch, but with dots like the dominoes instead of numbers in the squares,” Emily explained.

“And now we’re building domino houses.  Lots of them”

“That’s right,” nods Paul.  “Because domino houses fall down with a great big crash every now and then, don’t they?”

The girls nod at me while Paul pulls a face that says he’s had enough domino houses for today, please? over their heads.

“Are they places where dotty people live?” I grin as I ask them.

The girls giggle.

Then Emily looks over her shoulder at her father, receives a nod, then turns back to me.

“Auntie Alci … ” she looks like the child that she is, disappointed not to be able to bring me a surprise. “We don’t know what we should do for dinner … ”

A thought comes just in time.  I smile.

“How about spaghetti and meatballs?  Spaghetti is long and round, and meatballs are just big round dots!  And … while you’re clearing up the dominoes and today’s games, I’ll go to the shops and get a surprise for dessert!”

Before setting out to make dinner I set them up with one last – probably the messiest – activity of the day.  I set them up with old magazines and coloured paper, a hole punch, scissors, glue, scrapbooks and a pencil each and introduced them to the ‘Dotty Mosaic’.  The idea:  draw a picture (try for one that has circles or dots included in it like wheels or wrapping paper), then instead of colouring in with pencils or paint, stick on coloured circles of paper the colour that you want things to be … “like this…” and made a tree.

Off they went.  Very content in a very spotty mess.  Hands sticky and too busy to be scratching …

I made dinner which went down very well.

Doughnut holes were a hit for desert – hooray!

I’m going home tomorrow.  If Paul can manage a “Dotty day”, visits will do from here-on-in.

Lord, I finished the last of James 1 today.  What a challenge to lay down.  Yet again and again, you challenge me to take up and show my faith by action.  Lord my control over my tongue is generally an ongoing and mutinous war.  Time and time again it brings me to my knees before you in humility as the only place to go.  I struggle endlessly to filter the pollution from the good while living in this world so spoiled by sin.  But Father, thanks for the chance to look after a widower and his two daughters in their time of need this week.

Amen.

Going Places

Dear God,

Whoever made up that song that goes “The Wheels on the Bus go round and round” obviously never travelled in peak hour traffic.  The trip home tonight took forever.  The morning trips seem to move faster these days.  Please notice, with your perfect all-hearing ears that I said “morning trips” and “seem”, not “bus” and “do”.  Probably because of this funny little lady that’s been sitting next to me the last few days.

This morning I was thinking about how great it was to know Christians at work.  I was so over-joyed a tear trickled down my cheek.  Then, suddenly – out of nowhere came a voice,

“Excuse me, are you alright? You look upset.  Do you need a tissue?”

So I thank her and take one.

Then she goes, “Is there something bothering you, anything you’d like to talk to me about? I know you don’t know me, but I will listen if you want to talk.”

I smile.  She continues.

“Yesterday you said that even when some people know the story of Jesus, they don’t realise that they still need his forgiveness.  What did you mean by that?”

“Okay then. You said everybody knows about Jesus, yes?”

“Yes.”

“What is it that everybody knows about him?  Because some know more than others…”

“That he came to save us from our sins.  For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

“Okay.” I nodded, “but was everybody taught how?”

“Well you ask forgiveness for your sins.”

“As simple as that?” I ask.

“As simple as that.” she nods.

“Have you?” I asked her.

“Have I what?” she looked confused.

“Have you asked forgiveness?”

“Of course not.  Only sinners need to do that.”

“Are you telling me that you don’t sin?”

“I’m pretty good.  Are you telling me that God doesn’t forgive good people?”

“Different people say different things about good and bad people.  The thing is that’s not what its really all about.  It all revolves around Jesus…”

And at this point she hops up and mutters over her shoulder something like “This is my stop.  Maybe I’ll catch you tomorrow.”

Funny lady.  Think she’s lonely and wants someone to talk to more than anything.  Be great if she did get to know you, come to think of it.  She asks a new question every day.  Help me to listen carefully.

Getting Gina to go to lunch was a flop.

“Not you too!  Kelly’s been trying to get me to go there.  That’s that funny little place where the buskers can play a song and get a meal for free.”

“Yeah – off peak times or John would go mad, of course.”

“Broke more like it, given the way some of ’em sound.”

“Fair go,” Scott interrupts, “they need a licence.

“Hmm.  Or no fixed address from what I understand or the guy working his way through humming what he calls Handel’s “Messiah” would starve.

“I’m told the food’s great.” I say, trusting Scott.

“That may be,” says Gina, “but I’d rather go to the pub for lunch.”

“You’re kidding right?”

“Nope.  I prefer the pub meals to any others around here and its alright in the beer garden.”

Father, she was asking me to agree to sit with her and eat in an area where everybody smokes.  Thank you for helping me not to show my disgust.  Thanks for the ability to put my own preferences and concerns aside and agree to go where she wanted to.  I know I surprised Scott.  I don’t usually put aside my preferences that easily.

When he raised his concern with me about how sitting amidst all that smoke might cause me trouble for the rest of the day because smoke does always knock me around.  I reassured him that this was what I felt was right.  It would mean having the conversation somewhere where Gina was comfortable.  If it was for the sake of the gospel then her interests could come above my own and I felt that this meant trusting God with my health on Gina’s turf.

Thanks that Scott put up no more argument and that he and the others will be ready and praying.

Father, What am I going to do at the pub? I’m going to feel like I’m the pink elephant with the purple polka dots and orange stripes.  How’s it going to affect me for the afternoon with all that smoke?  I’d better go in early.  I might be as useful as the elephant by the afternoon.  Please protect me.

Amen.

Riding Elephants

Dear God

My alarm clock screeches and I wake to a sense of comfort this morning that wasn’t there before.  There are other Christians at work.  You have given me encouragers.   I’m  not alone there anymore (I mean I was never really alone with you with me … but … ).  Maybe I’ll get to meet Scott’s wife one day and can ask her how she copes with the “Hel-looo everybody!” to the contents of the fridge … and if he’s named their coffee machine … 🙂

Reading Philippians – your word Lord … through Paul here you bring one head spin after another.  First he’s able to rejoice in prison in chains and he considers it a privilege to suffer for Jesus – all so that the gospel can be preached.  He upholds humility, where others should be considered better than oneself and serving others interests as well as your own.  He pushes people to be bold and stand up for the gospel and live worthily of it – like Jesus – against opposition.  And he says do all of the is in awe that God is working through you and in you to do his will and purpose.  That’s scary stuff, Lord.

And his champions, yours – if they’re in your word – are the ones who’s primary interests are those of Jesus and the work of his gospel.

Lord, Paul is so sure and confident in Jesus.  No wonder he can say with such certainty to rejoice in him – although I’m not sure how I’d go in the face of such opposition.

The difference in the amount of confidence he has in the old way of the law, where righteousness was seen to need to come from the person cannot possibly stand in comparison to your grace and mercy, Lord where your righteousness is what we have been given through faith, and that also from you.

It blows me away how intimately Paul wants to know Jesus and the example he sets up for us.  To share his resurrection must have already happened – or at least in the now but not yet sense if he’s a Christian, but to share in his sufferings – following Jesus mission that closely that he cops that … I guess he is getting some of that by being in prison here, isn’t he? … And to become like him in his death – Father, this is a committed follower.  I’m not sure what it means to become like him in his death – is this part of the next bit or something different?  Please help me remember to find someone to ask on Sunday at Church.

Lord what an amazing thing it will be the day that I get to take hold of the resurrection you called me to.  How I long for that day, that perfection.  Father, its so easy to lose sight of that goal.  Help every day be an impatient push towards it.  Help me always remember to conduct myself in a manner worthy of the life you called me to and make this my priority.

Even if I feel like the pink elephant with the purple spots and orange stripes.  Thanks that there are no prisons and chains for preaching the gospel in Australia.

Amen.

Ostriches, Elephants and Pigs

Dear God,

You have a funny habit of bringing people back again for strange reasons that I really don’t get.  Take the nice lady on the bus from the other day.  I finished up seated next to her again today, thinking again about how to get Gina talking about the gospel and I was about to start praying about it when the lady leans over and says to me, “Excuse me, dear.  Are you alright? You look dreadfully worried about something.  I know you don’t know me, but I will listen if you want to talk.”

I thought.  Well, why not.  What if she’s my encourager?

So I told her that I wasn’t sure that my friend at work knew about Jesus.

“Doesn’t everybody?”

Okay we’re not the encourager.

“No.  Besides,” I added, “even when some people know the story of Jesus, they don’t realise that they still need his forgiveness.”

“Why does she?” asks the lady, then looks up and back at me and says, “this is my stop today, maybe I’ll see you tomorrow.”

She’s an ostrich.  Head in the sand.  No idea about any relevance at all of anything she knows about you.

Right.  Then work.  Lunchtime comes.  Tea room with Gina chatting away, looking for an in –

“Hel-looo Everybody!”

And Scott sits down with his sandwich and coffee across the table from us.

Silence.

An Elephant – a pink elephant with purple spots and orange stripes stands in the middle of the room.

Gina makes some lame excuse and goes back to her work.

“I keep interrupting something, don’t I?” says Scott. “It’s hard in the tea room to have an uninterrupted conversation.  I sometimes organise to head out for lunch if I want to have a serious conversation with someone.”

So I ask him where.  I mean everywhere around here is too noisy or has nowhere to sit.

“Benny’s Bakehouse is not too bad,” he tells me.  “I take people there sometimes to talk when they have questions about God.”

Pause.  The elephant is poised eagerly on a ball in the corner of the room, trunk lifted high …

I ask him straight out – I want to be S – U – R – E sure, “Scott, are you a Christian?”

“Yes.”

The trumpet sounds!

So, Lord, I was able to share with him about trying to find a way to share the Gospel with Gina, but how hard it had been to find an opening.  He was really excited.  He told me how he and Kelly and Graham had been praying for her a lot lately.  He told me how they’ve been meeting in Graham’s office every Monday at lunchtime to encourage each other from the Bible and to pray for each other and others in the workplace.

Father, I ask for one and you provide three in the same day – one in the same department and I’ve always thought that Kelly would make a nice friend  – maybe here’s a chance for that too.

I’m as happy as a pig in mud!

Praise be the the God of Heaven and Earth.

Amen.

Honourable Friends

Dear God,

Please send me a Timothy.  I think I’d want to get married if I met a Timothy.  No.  I know I’d fall for a Timothy.  Or an Epaphroditus – as long as we don’t have to name kids after their father …

Imagine someone who looks out first for the interests of Jesus; who works to see the spread of the gospel above his own interests – and looks after his friend in prison while he does it.  And then Epaphroditus who almost died when he got sick when he went to see to Paul’s needs in prison … someone who almost died for the work of Christ.  No wonder Paul speaks of them as men worth honouring.

Priorities are a funny thing.  On a list I can write: “Priority 1: honouring God”, but what does that look like?  Please show me.

What might need to give up in the course of doing your will?  Health? Certainty of my future here?  They’re both gone anyway.  Marriage?  Kids?  Done.  Dignity?  Work?  Sleep-ins?  Coffee?  Comfort? Do you really have to ask them of me?  But not freedom.  Surely never that.   Please never my freedom.

Am I going to be ready?  Please, please,  please make me ready before you ask it of me?  Is there going to be anything I need to give up anyway?

How do I put you first before all things if I can’t walk away from something without letting go if I must?

Help me God, I’m drowning.  The only thing that holds my head together through all of this stuff is the knowledge that you finish what you start.  Perhaps you could send me an encourager.

Today is a day that I might just ask for one at home – one that I would call “hot”, you know. (Even better if he doesn’t care if he doesn’t get much of the doona).  But it would be also be awesome to have someone to be an encourager at work. (I don’t care what they do with their doona).  Would you help me to find one?

Amen

Wanting Patience

I asked you to help me keep my temper this morning.  I wanted patience.  I didn’t ask for a public transport strike.  I didn’t ask for the printer/copier machine at work to break down when I had so much paperwork to get done before mid afternoon.  I didn’t ask for the office coffee machine pool to run out of coffee, nor for it to be my turn today – when it is pouring with rain – to the bunny that has to rush out and get a new stockpile before lunch.  I asked you for concentration so that I would not do stupid things like buy decaf to win the utter scorn of everyone in the office!

That temper thing.  Your work it interrupted!  What do you expect when you allow Scott to come bellowing into the tea room (“Hel-looo everybody” …. ) while I was trying to push Gina off her whinging about her problems with that idiot she’s been seeing on and off since she broke up with her partner and move her onto gospel – while I had a raging headache from lack of caffeine and lack of sleep, might I add…

So – I say – with all that extra patience you have given me to control my temper today – “Oh, Shut up Scott!”

Then Gina turns on me and gets snitchy and impatient too and says something like, “I don’t know what’s gotten into you today …” and storms out.

I could hardly say, “Well last night I hardly slept because there was a tribe of angels violently shaking my bed all night and I kept waking up wanting to puke!”, could I?

Anyway with all the dignity left in the world I just stared at the door.  I vaguely remember Scott apologising and handing me a box of tissues as he commented, “You look tired.” and left.

The next thing I know I woke up with my head on the tea room table with my head in a puddle of drool.  Thanks for the rest, God – I think.  I don’t want to know how many people saw me there because just as I was thinking about the fact that I had to go and change over the decaf for proper coffee, I saw an open packet of real coffee.

Lord, after all that, you really know how to make a girl feel guilty, don’t you?  If I hadn’t asked, Scott wouldn’t have said he’d looked after the coffee.  Nobody really cared where it came from as long as it was there.  They just absorb coffee like oxygen.

Lord, why can’t you just give out patience like oxygen?

Okay.  Maybe I should have stopped to ask occasionally.  Maybe there’s more to it than inhaling it like coffee.  Please forgive me for being so impossible and for not speaking to you like you deserve to be spoken to just now.  This star didn’t twinkle very brightly today, did it?

I’m not sure that I’ll be starting the day asking you to help me to control my temper again in a hurry.

Amen