Seeking Strength

Dear God,

This morning for some reason I wake feeling weary.  Perhaps it is the things that I am dreading today in the day ahead of me.  Lord, I am dreading a confrontation with Joel; dreading seeing Hamish having been intimidated in his faith.  I am looking forward to seeing Megan again at lunch time, but Father – how do I tell her that her son thinks she’s dying?  How do I tell her of the things that he had confided in Emily?  Please Lord, will you settle my mind to take one step at a time and to focus upon each moment as it passes today and help me to draw on you for strength as each one comes.

Father as Paul instructed Timothy and Timothy probably sought your help to do – I ask you to help me to be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.  May I be firm in my faith and thankful for the blessing of forgiveness that you have given.  Help me to show the way to you to others.  May I not be intimidated by people like Joel or by people who try to twist the truth.  Lord help Hamish to be strong in the grace that is in Jesus also in spite of any opposition he may come up against at home.

Thanks that you provided reliable people for Timothy to teach your gospel to – the truth that Paul taught in the presence of so many witnesses.  Thank you that this has been handed down and that you continue to provide reliable teachers.  I thank you for Bennie and Ollie and their ministry.  Thanks for Gordon who leads our Church so prayerfully and for Kathleen and the kids.  May you help them to choose reliable people to teach to be teachers also so that your word will be taught and the work will be shared.

Father, may I be dedicated when it comes to serving you.  Help me to be focused on your kingdom, on your ways – may I not get so caught up in the things of this world that I lose sight of what you have focused on.  Your eternal glory – that I might give thanks for my salvation in Jesus that I will have the honour of loving and worshipping you eternally.

Father help me see today through the lens of eternity.

Amen

Above Shame

Dear God,

Thank you for your gospel.  Your message of good news.  The message of the grace that was given us in Jesus our saviour who has destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light.  Father may I never be ashamed of your gospel about Jesus or about Paul or any others who have been taken captive and held prisoner because they have proclaimed it.

Lord, thank you for the reminder today that your Spirit doesn’t make us timid.  Thank you for the reminder that your Spirit gives power, love, and self-discipline.  May your Spirit keep me from any sense of shame as I speak with Joel no matter how he belittles your word, your followers and how he accuses your people of lies.

Father I pray for Hamish this morning.  May his faith remain anchored firmly in you.  May your Spirit be at work in him making him bold and not timid, that he will persevere and not be ashamed of your gospel.  Strengthen him with the power,  love and self-discipline that comes from you.  Lord, the burden of a ten-year old’s love for his father’s disapproval of his faith is a heavy load to carry.  Please soften Joel’s heart toward you.  For his own sake as well as Hamish’s.

Father, if Hamish is to suffer even in a small way for his faith, may you convict him of the reason for which he holds firmly to your truth.  Help him to remember that he has no cause for shame, regardless of what his father might imply about his beliefs.

Thank you Lord that I am free to follow you without opposition.  May I never take that for granted or act as though my faith were an embarrassment.

May I bring you honour all of my days.

Amen.

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.

Demanding Response

Dear God,

Today I read a letter that your servant Paul wrote to another of your servants, Timothy.  Right through.  The letter.  Not the headings in the Bible or the chapter numbers.  Not the verses or the paragraphs.  I copied it out without anything but the words themselves and read it.

Just the letter.  As a letter.

It makes such a difference to how you read things sometimes.

Thank you for preserving it – your word.  Help me to remember to read your word as more than just a text-book when I study it.

Lord, you had so much to say to Timothy through Paul – so much to pass on to others through this letter.  You ask for nothing less than my full attention, do you? Yet to understand anything at all of your character is to be transfixed by you – and it demands a response.  How do I ever get complacent about you? Your presence? Your mercy? Your holiness? The approval that you have granted me?

Father, please open my heart to you as I study your book of 2 Timothy.

Help me also to know what to do with the new knowledge of Gina.  Bennie’s Genie.  What do I do with this?  So far I’ve not had to make a decision because Gina’s not been in yet this week – but sooner or later she’ll be back and will see that there is something that I’m not saying.  She doesn’t miss much.  Lord, please grant me wisdom.

Right now I’d best be going.  Dinner with Jonah and family with Paul and the girls tonight.  Lord, please bless this evening’s conversation and open Paul’s ears and heart.  I can’t wait to spend time with these people.  They seem so lovely and I can’t wait to hear about how Hamish came to Christ!

Amen

Haunting Music

Dear God,

Thank you for a couple of days free from strange and unexpected occurrences.

I expected nothing less that to hear Gina theatricise (is that a word?) about her efforts with the computer today after yesterday’s lesson …

“…and the fingers on my right hand throbbed every time one of them hit the keyboard.  I wanted to spend the day writing things like ‘kill, kill, kill’ & ‘my polo pony’ because they only need you to use your right hand for a while …” grand sweeping gestures of the right hand working the keyboard … “but then – oh my right arm! The muscles just ached! Holding that bow just so …” again she demonstrates, “and manoeuvring it to play … Oh my ..” she stops short and looks at me, “… garden gnomes!”

And that finished me.  I laughed.

“Fine friend and teacher you are. Oh, yes – here’s the picture of sympathy!”

I keep laughing.

” You’ll live.”

But that only takes me back to yesterday ….

For the most part work was unremarkable – but then there’s always Scott.

When they were handing out patience I think Scott thought they were playing cards and decided to pass.  Seriously.  After Bible study (okay, so that was actually remarkable … but it doesn’t fit in the work box properly and I was too nervous to concentrate well) in Graham’s office Scott’s all,

“So what have you got planned for Gina for tonight?”

“A Cello lesson and dinner.”

“Yes, but, come on, an ideal situation for witnessing…”

“Scott, everyday is witnessing.  We witness by being godly and speaking when it is opportune.  But if I’m reading James correctly, if I’m not living righteously then I’m wasting my breath.”

“What’s so wrong about hitting her with the gospel while you’ve got her at your home.”

“She’s coming for a Cello lesson.  She’s invited to dinner, not an evangelistic programme.  She’s not coming for an altar call, Scott.  It’s dishonest to trick someone into a situation they don’t want – do you think it will make her open to listen?  Do you think it reflects how God wants us to come to him?  I’m not going that road.  I’m going to pray for opportunities and openings and boldness – but deception is not an option.  I’m not railroading her, Scott.  She has already said that she doesn’t want to discuss it any further than we have.”

Scott nodded and walked away looking slightly perplexed.

But it’s true.  I mean, I know that James 2 is talking about showing generosity and acting on faith in sacrifice – but its also about demonstrating by what you do that you trust God to be God and be prepared to act accordingly.

So – I will prepare myself to act, to invite, to talk, to comfort, to do whatever is needed to make her way back and be ready to make the most of opportunities, and I will continue to pray.  But I will go about doing as I have promised Gina that I would, and with God’s help I will act in a way that is godly in all I do as his witness that he is trustworthy even though she does not believe that at the moment.  To show that he is real even in the way he opens the way for the sharing of the gospel.

Gina’s lesson went well.  Her aunt’s cello is a beautiful instrument.  I can’t wait until she can play it well.  And she will – if she keeps it up, of course.  Very basic stuff today, but Gina picked up some quickly.  Apparently her Aunt was going to teach her when she was younger, but something interrupted before they got into it.  Still, she was complaining of sore fingers and having trouble holding arm in position to use the bow properly by the end.  She has a nice feel for the instrument and a good ear.  I hope she keeps it up, even if she decides to go to a different teacher after a while.

Dinner was great – as usual.  I hate cooking for just me – so I tend to pull out all stops for a visitor and enjoy myself.  There so much that’s more practical to cook for two or three than for one – even using leftovers.

Gina asked me over dinner what I’d been reading lately.  It was actually a novel that I had found among her books called  Bamboo and Lace.  Reading it now it surprised me that she’d been into that genre of book – I’d have picked her as more of a mystery lover than this book.  But then I’ve only ever met the dark, bruised Gina – not the idealist.  When I told her about the book she smiled at some memory, then let it go following it out through the window with her eyes with a distant expression on her face.

“I used to love that book.  Back when I was thinking of mission and so dedicated to Christ.  I always found the way that she was ready to give up so much of what she wanted – of what the world tells you is important – to do what she was convinced was the only righteous way to respond to her situation so inspiring.  I always hoped that I’d be able to do that if pushed.” She re-entered the room, her voice hardening, “Now look at me,” she added with a brief attempt to laugh at herself.

“Do you ever wish things were different?” I asked

She shrugs here.

“Sometimes.  I haven’t for ages.” she paused. “You can make it look real again sometimes.”

Silence.  I let her look at her own ghosts.  I’m not unsettled.  Now is a time she needs to listen to the Spirit moving moving in her – not to me.

“What?  No words of wisdom?”

“You already know anything I could say,” I grin at her. “You just want an argument so that you can talk yourself out of your thoughts.”

“You’re good.”  She smiles back at me.

“No.  God is good.  But you know that, too.  Coffee?”

Lord, please keep Gina second guessing herself.  Help her to keep questioning you again.  Father, occupy her thoughts – day and night – with your word, your truth, your gospel, your mercy, your hope.  Please bring her back to your fold.

Help me to be wise in how I act and speak, that my deeds will speak of my faith so that you may use me as your mouthpiece be it directly or indirectly.  May I bring honour to my Lord and my God in whom I pray,

Amen

Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace how sweet the sound

It saved a wretch like me

I once was lost, but now am found

Was blind but now I see.

I am so tired I can barely think or move, father

but so joyful I could overflow

There is so much that I can’t speak or say

More hope than I though I’d know

Heavenly Father,

You called my nephew, Hamish to be your child and you held his fathers heart closed.  Please open it.

You called my niece, Emily to be your child today and she sat and asked question after question.  And her father let her.  He waited with her while I played with her sister.  He let her commit her life to Christ.  And he let his remain open.  The Sunday School teacher’s husband is a friend of Lisa’s brother.  Paul has questions of his own that will go down better with a mate than me.

I can’t wait til Hamish finds out he has another Christian he’s allowed to talk to.

Lord, I’m not sure there are words adequate to thank you.  But thanks for Hamish’s witness to Emily.  I pray that she will tell him that.  Please prepare Joel and help him to respond reasonably to Paul’s interest and to Emily’s decision.

Amen

Plenty Really

Dear God,

Thanks for a day of plenty.

Went for a spot of shopping to restock my cupboards this morning – should have done it yesterday when I was shopping for spotty people, but I didn’t think of it then.

Had a phone call from an irate Joel.

“Did you say anything to my son about Jesus?”

“Did I not promise you that I would not say any thing to either of your children about God unless you were present?”

“Stop ducking the question.  I was asking about Jesus.”

“Then you were asking about God.  And no, I did not.  Joel, I cannot take responsibility for every thought your children have that has any religious ideas attached to it.  Even if I do not talk to them about God, someone will.  I am not the only person on this earth that believes that he is real or that he has an interest in our lives.”

“Okay. Okay.  You’ve made your point.  But somebody has been telling him about some gospel and saying that Jesus has saved him for eternal life and that he can talk to God any time he wants to.  And now he wants the rest of us to believe the same rot.”

Stand firm little man.  Even if your Daddy tells you to stay away from God.

“You have no idea how much I’d like to see the same thing, but I will tell you again.  Hamish speaks from his own sources – not from me.  Whether you agree with him or not Joel, he’s a brave boy, especially if you reacted anything like the way you usually do when God’s name is mentioned.”

Joel went quiet.  He spoke with calm reflection.  “Yeah.  I guess he is, isn’t he?”

I told Bennie about Hamish at Church.  She was really excited.

“Well,” she said, “the opposition will either squash him or give him a fire in his belly to press on for God.”

I thought about Hamish.  About how careful he was to guard my promise, his determination to tell his family and his tendency to seize hold of a goal and push on under pressure.  The last is probably a family trait, but the first involved more planning and insight than I’m used to seeing in a ten-year-old.  The second was all he had wanted to do from the time he entrusted himself to Christ.  I have hope.

Bennie and I prayed.

I went to leave Church bursting with energy and restlessness.  The time?  Quarter to eight.  Hmm.  I drove out to Paul’s place to find the girls getting out of the bath and changing into PJs.  Paul looked up and grinned at me, seeing what I held behind my back.

“Auntie Alciana!”

“Auntie Alcie!”

They ran towards me.

I threw a large cushion at each of them and ran for their bedroom to grab another pillow.

Just in time.  Two swirling cushions came pelting at my torso as I turned and made my escape down the hall with my nieces in pursuit.  Emily threw her cushion with surprising accuracy.  I picked it up and threw it back at her and missed as she ducked.  Then turned around and ran into Paul – armed and dangerous.

“Get her Daddy!”

And he did.  While I got in a few pathetic shots – Paul is both bigger and more agile.  He also has longer arms and can stand further away and still hit me while I can’t reach him.  Soon Jazz and Emily came to join in the fray and I’m getting it on all sides until I collapse into a ball on the floor with the girls pelting at me, giggling, and Paul bent over, standing with his weight resting on his hands on his knees – laughing between gasps for breath.

After we’d all settled down, I got to read the bed time story before being tucked into my car and sent on home.

Lord, its on nights like this that I never really want to get home to an empty house.  I want someone there who’ll call out,

“That you honey? How were Paul and the girls?”

Then laugh while I tell him all about it.  To hold me as I tell him about Joel’s phone call and pray with me for Hamish.  He might even make me a hot chocolate … if I smiled nicely enough – and I’d know just the right way.

Father, you know what you’re doing in all of this.  Thank you for the plenty that I have.  You have given me all that I need and people who love me and want me to be around for them; and people who are there to support me also.  Help me to trust you.

Amen