Better Off Some Place Else

Dear God,

It’s on days like today that I know that I’m fragile.  I overslept this morning and was an hour and a half late for work.  I didn’t spend any time reading or reflecting on your word and am frankly to exhausted to focus on the print now.  Please forgive me and help me to be more with it tomorrow.

Work was tiring today.  I had planned to go out to lunch and then shopping for a new NON-COMPANY calendar with Gina who is still a bit distant – I think … or it could be me … I was pretty vague today.  But she was disappointed when I said that I couldn’t go.  I think she’d been looking forward to some time out of the office with company.  Yay me for stuffing that up.

Anyway she went and I stayed to try to catch up on some of the work from this morning, but finished up chasing my own tail.  Plus I’m still pretty tired and found it hard to concentrate.  I’d have been better off just going with Gina.  But it would have looked bad.

Graham came down looking for Gina during lunch and seemed surprised not to find her.  Apparently he’d wanted to talk to her about something and she’d told him to come down at lunch time.  Maybe she forgot we were heading out today.  When I told him that she’d gone out for lunch today Graham just sighed, nodded and left.  Weird.  Graham usually stops to chat a little with the staff.  I’m obviously looking like a jumble of joy to be around today.

About half an hour later Gina bundles back into the office.

“Hi! Did you miss me?”

“Nope.” I say – but actually I did.  Sad hey … “But Graham did.”

“oh.” she nods too absently.  “Good.”

Then she sees me looking at her and quickly adds with a cough, “I mean, I’ll find him later on.”

I look at her sideways, then add with a cough of my own,

“Bulldust!”

And she laughs.  Probably the first sign of levity I have seen in Gina since sometime last week.

I laugh back.

Scott sticks his head in the opening to our work area in the next minute,

“Hel – loooo …. ” and I’m sorry to say that we lost it.  Poor Scott triggered our two overstrung systems into fits of giggles and never did get to ask his question.  Instead he stared at us laughing like a pair of idiots, shrugged his shoulders and moved on to find someone else more sane.

Eventually, Gina and I contained our fits of giggles down to occasional snorts and the odd grin and got back to work.  By the end of the day we were able to grin at each other as we took our worried selves – yes, she was worried about something, who knows what, but something – home.

I feel like I achieved nothing today.

I’m not really sure that I did.

Actually, that’s not true.  I booked a hair appointment.

And I got home.

Lord, I’m too tired tonight to do anything more than sleep.  Please just let me sleep well.  I feel like I’m fading fast.

Amen

Oh Lord, What is Gina’s Bible doing on the shelf?

A Sunday’s Collection

What a day!

I had a phone call this morning from Scotland…. at about 4am!!!

Kylie was homesick.

Tomorrow is  her grandmother’s 60th wedding anniversary and her family will all be celebrating today.  She organised a nice surprise for her Nan through her sister and her step-brother is taking his laptop and whatever gear he needs to Skype later this morning, but it’s not like being there.  She and her Nan are close.  It was her Nan that introduced her to Jesus when she was only little.  Her Nan is so proud of her work in Scotland with the Churches over there – but I know she will be missing Kylie today too.

Just imagine.  Sixty years of being married.  I’d have to be live til a ripe old age to get there now.  I’d probably forget half of it.  What a dud.  Oh well – at least I’m not pining away now like a sad sack… most of the time anyway.  Pity about the handsome rogue that missed out on me, though.  Hmmm, if he gets his act together in the next couple of years and stops by I might condescend to get hitched so that I can celebrate forgetting half our marriage when we reach 60 years.  I think I’ll go for a younger man though.  They used to say that women lived about 7 yrs longer than men, so perhaps I should start looking at the guys about 7 years younger than me – that way I wouldn’t end up a lone widow.

Anyway, after spending time talking to Kylie, I just couldn’t get back to sleep so I got up again and dug out my sewing gear.  I’ve had patterns and fabric to make a princess dress for Emily and a fairy outfit for Jasmine.  I washed the material almost as soon as I bought it, but I’ve done nothing with it since.  This morning I cut out the patterns for both outfits and started on the fairy suit.  I’m so excited.  I can’t wait to finish it.  I think I was working right up til lunch time and would probably have kept going if Karen hadn’t appeared at my door.

Jazzy is sooo going to love this outfit.  Paul will have fits because she will want to wear it to places that he won’t think are suitable – but hey – how long are you seven for, right?

Where was I up to? Karen.  Yeah.  Right.

I was just finishing this seem and Karen knocks at my door.

Now I’m really stumped.  Karen NEVER comes to visit me.  I’ve often wondered if she even really likes me.  Like maybe she thinks I’m some kind of hypochondriac because of the Depression or something … anyway – there she is.  So I invite her in with my best manners, like she does when I visit her.  I offer her a cuppa, like she does when I visit her.  And we sit down in the lounge like we do when I visit her.  Now I’m not sure what to do next or what she expects – because I’m not her and I’m just thinking “wait a minute, just be yourself” when she bursts into tears.

Aack!

Karen doesn’t cry.

Karen doesn’t show emotion.

Help!!!

“Karen, what is it? Is there anything I can do?”

She just keeps crying.  Her tissue is fast getting shredded so I go and get my friendly box of Kleenex that I keep handy for visitors.  I seem to get lots of visitors who cry.  I think people think it’s more acceptable and less humiliating to cry in front of someone who gets officially depressed than in front of other people.  Karen thanks me and takes another tissue.

Eventually the tears slow down and she can talk.

“I’m sorry.” First thing everybody says after they’ve cried in front of anybody.  She takes a deep breath.  “I just don’t know what to do.  It’s Joel.  He’s become really ridiculous about this whole Christianity thing.  Hamish has been really good – but Joel has been at him like a …. a … a ”

“Like a Joel.  I remember what he can be like, Karen.  What’s he been doing?”

“He keeps telling asking him if he’s been talking to Jonah.  He’s been ringing the school.  He is insisting that they make sure that he doesn’t go to religious education or spend time with the children that they know have religious beliefs – which is  utterly  ridiculous and he knows it; he’s even taken to searching Hamish’s room to make sure that he hasn’t got any Bibles or religious books hidden.  He’s ridiculous.  Poor Hamish is putting up with it really patiently – which I must say surprises me because, you know, temperament-wise they have always been cut from the same cloth.  He bites his tongue, he answers politely when I want to shout at Joel.  I don’t know why Joel can’t believe him.  I do.  And I don’t know why Joel can’t see that he’s not going to shift what our son believes like he’s trying to.  Anybody can see that he’s really convinced that its true.”

Go Hamish.  You champion.  God is faithful and holds those who cling to him in the palm of his hand … he even hangs on to ones who flail.  You keep on standing in the face of opposition and be godly.  To hear that his mother is seeing changes in him already is awesome.

“This is Joel we’re talking about, here Karen.  You and I both love him – but we both know that he does absolutely nothing by halves.”

She sighs.

“But this.  This is different.  He has gone beyond reason with this.  You should see him, Alciana.  It truly is like watching him turn into a different man when he gets going.”

I sit with her in silence for a few moments and just listen.

“Alciana?”

“Yes.”

“I need you to explain something to me.”

My heart starts to beat faster.

“What do you want explained, Karen?”

“I need to know what exactly is this “gospel” that my son has taken hold of so strongly.  I need to know what my son believes and why he is holding on to it so strongly.”

My heart is in my mouth and I have tears rising towards my eyes.

“That is something that I would be glad to do for you, Karen.”

And I gulped down a huge mouthful of cold tea.

And so it was that this afternoon I got to share the gospel with Karen.  I told her what Hamish believed.  How did I do it?  I took her through a simple explanation using the 2 Ways to Live drawings and verses.

“And that’s it?” she asked.  “That’s what’s changed my son?”

“That’s what’s transformed your son.”

“But why is Joel making such a big fuss about this?  Anyone would think Hamish had joint some wild cult or something.”

“I’m not sure, Karen.  He wasn’t always, but he hasn’t been reasonable about it for so long now I can’t remember when it started.  He won’t talk to me about it.  Paul might know more.  Maybe Mum or Dad.”

“Your parents couldn’t tell me anything useful.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Do?  I don’t know.  I’d like to understand it more.  Do you think you’d be willing to show me some more about this stuff some time?  I mean, we’d need to be careful.  I don’t want Joel to know.  And I don’t want Hamish to either – he might think I’m taking sides or something, you know?”

“They don’t have to know, Karen.  You just come around when it’s a good time for you and we can talk some more.”

I am praying here at the same time that I look something like casual – because right now I am feeling like I want to take off tap dancing around the room and singing at the top of my voice.

Karen lights up.  Note – I have never ever seen Karen light up.  Maybe we have just made contact, Lord.  Please touch her heart and draw her to you.  Karen always seems like she never really trusts anyone.  Help her to trust you.  Grant her faith.

Anyway, then she asks me about what I was doing when she arrived (like a good visitor), so I got to show her what I was working on for the girls.  We had a good laugh about the idea of Jazz as a fairy and picturing Paul laundering fairy clothes.  Mind you he already does little dresses and cleans little school shoes and all sorts of little girly things.  It’s kind of sweet really.  Lisa would have loved seeing him doing these things.

I miss Lisa.

Anyway, tonight’s Church held yet another surprise.  Carlos and Megan have decided to make our church their home Church for the next while.  This was a big surprise, but apparently after talking to the doctors this week they have taken leave of absence from everything but Carlos’ study and because none of their supporting Churches are in this area where they need to be for Carlos’ study and Megan’s medical needs they’ve chosen to join us.  I’m so glad for the purely selfish reason that I’m going to love having Megan around.

I’m catching up with Megan on Wednesday after work this week.  I’m going to head over there on my way home for afternoon tea.

Father, please help me to sleep well tonight after such a busy day.  I’m tired after the early start.  Please help me to watch my sleep this week so that I don’t get all topsy-turvy on my sleep patterns.  That always ends badly.  Thanks for giving me people to connect with just as I’m reminded of those I miss.  And thanks for the chance to explain the gospel to Karen.  Please may Hamish have his mother to turn to for support in you some day.

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.

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

Lessons

Dear God,

I get so scared of things sometimes that I tie myself in knots.  But here’s the silly bit.  I forget to ask you to help untangle me and show me the way through the frightening times.  Thanks that you are an all seeing God who watches tirelessly and tends to me anyway.  Help me to learn to ask for help earlier.  Please. Please.

I think I’ve been having nightmares this week.  I am so excited for Hamish.  Yet to not be able to share this time of new faith with him more closely than planning how to rotate memory verses in my special spot that will suit him on Saturdays.  It’s hard not to feel bitter towards Joel for that.  Please don’t let Hamish be tempted to start lying so that he can do things like go to Sunday School or to the homes of Christians who Joel may not approve of or to hide his Bible.  Help him to trust you in everything and Lord, please take care of his needs.  Help Jonah to show him things with a wisdom that is yours rather than that of a ten-year-old and help his parents support him in ministering to the friend you have placed beside him.  Father, if it pleases you, may I please have a chance to meet Jonah and his family?

Lord, Hamish is still such a young Christian, but still, may his faith be reflected in his deeds.

I was at Paul’s place to visit him and the girls – and do an extra drum lesson with Emily yesterday.  She and Hamish have agreed that this week she will practice no more than she would in a normal school week since he stopped for her last week.  Both have decided that this is fair.

Emily wasn’t all that focused on her lesson – which didn’t really bother me as it was an extra and she was still pretty tired physically.  But partway through Emily stopped and asked me,

“Auntie Alciana, do you believe in God?”

I think there’s an elephant at the door about to find it’s way into the room …

“Yes, honey.  You know I believe in God.  You’ve heard me talk about him sometimes with your Mum.”

“Yeah.  She believed in God too, didn’t she?  But she used to say that you had to be pretty special for God and she wasn’t sure she was special enough – only she never knew I heard her tell you that.”

“I’m sad you heard her say that, because she was special enough alright!”

“Oh.  I know.  I remember last year when the two of you were so happy not long before she died.  She said that it was pretty awesome to think that Jesus thought she was special enough to pay for her like he did!

“You’ve got big ears, Miss Emily, don’t you?  She did say that, didn’t she?”

We both had tears in our eyes by now.  The conversation that she was referring to happened in hospital not long before Lisa had died.  After years of wishing that she could be a Christian and not believing it possible, she asked and was born again.

“I was mad at God before because she said that soon he was taking her to a new home to be with him not long after that.  I think I thought he was just taking her away because she was his now – but you are a Christian and you’re still here and now Hamish is talking about all of this stuff and I’m scared that he’s going to get taken away too or that God will decide he needs you there not here and …”

Emily finished up in my arms in tears.  I just held her and rocked her and – well you’ll remember the babble that probably would have made sense to no-one but you, Father.  Eventually I just said,

“Em, I think we should get your Dad and have a good talk about some of this, hey …?”

“Are you worried Dad will be like Uncle Joel and not let you see me if you talk about God with me?” She suddenly looks terrified.  She also doesn’t miss much that goes on around her.

“No.” she loses her look of fright, “but some of this he needs to know about, and I’m sure he’d be more comfortable knowing what you wanted to know about God too.”

“Okay”

So it was that we, hand-in-hand with blotchy red eyes and wobbly smiles we found Paul in his hammock reading a book.

What followed was an exhausting conversation where Emily – and Paul – asked a lot of questions with the end result that Paul suggested that if Emily already had questions about God, perhaps she should go to Sunday School where she could learn more and find out more about him.

I was stunned.  It must have shown because Paul looked almost hurt by my surprise.

“I am not Joel.  Lisa always believed in God and we talked a few times about getting the girls to Sunday School but never got ourselves organised enough to do it.”

“Really?” this from a very excited Emily. “I can go learn about God?  Mummy wanted me to learn about God?”

“Yep”

And the girl who was so melancholy runs off towards her drums with yells of delight punching the air.

“Wow! This is exciting. I can hardly wait.  I can be here at …”

“No – don’t worry.  I’ll take both of them.  It’s time I looked into the God my wife spent so much time thinking about.  If she was right – she was heading his way last time I saw her alive.”

“You’re ready for this, Paul?”

“Emily is.  She’ll come home talking about it anyway, ready or not.  If what you’re always saying about him being trustworthy is anywhere near right – then I’ve got to be ready whether I go or not.”

He earns a hug for that.

Lord help Paul.  Give him curiosity for the Word, not just a sense of duty to his wife.  Thanks that the girls have a chance to learn about you through Sunday School.

Father, please help me tomorrow also as Gina and I start out with her first Cello lesson on an odd night.  May I be a good teacher, a good friend and a good witness as well as good company for dinner afterwards.

Amen

 

See today an entry to Hamish Johns’ Secret Diary for an update on his journey.

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

Unexpected Encounters

Dear God,

Today started normally …

Was sitting on the bus as usual when James-the-Labrador-pup comes bounding down the bus – you can hear him before you see him – and that’s saying something because he is tall.  But today, he stops.  He tilts his head – like dogs do when they’re checking out an unfamiliar person – and get this:  he pauses.

I look slightly behind me to see a woman standing at the end of my seat holding the rail, looking at me as though she should recognise me.  But I don’t know her.  She looks at James intently also – he shuffles his feet, then somehow his whole self.  Finally, she looks at the empty seat.

Yep.  That’s where the elephant’s sitting today.  Filling the bus.  Not sure how.  But that’s how elephants work.

The woman finally finds her voice.

“Excuse me,” she looks and sounds nervous and like she feels a bit silly,  “but is there usually a lady who sits with you here …? ”

I look up at her.  What she sees obviously encourages her because she sounds more certain now …

“… asks you questions about God?”

“Yes!  Do you know her?  Is she alright?”  I ask.

“Yes.  She’s my mother.  She’s in hospital.  She’s fine now, but she broke her hip.  But she’s been refusing to rest until someone came to tell you.  She said you’d be worried.  She was right.  I can see it.”

“I’m just glad she’s okay now.  Do you think she’d mind a visit?  Which hospital is she at?”

Anyway, Grace – Mrs Hedge – it turns out has been talking with the hospital chaplain and mostly wanted to make sure that I knew that she was a believer now.  Her daughter, Carol, and I exchanged details.  I’ll visit Mrs Hedge tomorrow before the girls come to stay in the afternoon.  Carol said that she was keen to hear more about what her mother was learning too.

I wish James had a tail.  I’d have enjoyed watching it wag as he listened.

It only took me 2 buses to get back to work this time.

When I do get in there’s a box on my desk.  A big one.  Curious, I open the lid and there’s a bunch of books.  Commentaries.  Training manuals.  Gospel sharing programmes.  Sermon recordings.  Wow!  Who’s is all this stuff?  Where’d it come from?  What’s it doing on my desk?  Surely God didn’t answer last nights prayer by sending a bunch of angels down from heaven with a selection from his personal library …

I pick up an introduction to the New Testament and see inside it Gina’s name and suddenly feel like someone has grabbed hold of my stomach and tugged sharply.

Good job there’s nothing in there yet.

Gina comes in as I’m replacing the book and putting the box on the floor, trying to decide how to respond.

“You found the box? Great.  There’s another down in my car, but I remembered when I got up here that you catch the bus to work, don’t you?”

I nod dumbly and prepare to speak. Gina waves a finger in front of me.

“No! Don’t say it.  Yes I do know what you want to say and I am going to say this in reply.  I am not going to use any of this again, but I didn’t want to throw it out.  I’d rather you have it than anybody else and its been sitting in boxes at my place for the best part of three years.”

I go to speak.

“Don’t argue, please.  You don’t need to cart it on the bus.  If you like I can give you a lift home today since I’m leaving early too.”

“Can I speak now?”

She nods.

“Thank you.  I’d appreciate the lift.  Do you want to stay and hang out with some DVDs and I’ll make some dinner afterwards?”

“Sounds good.”

Movie was so-so.  Food was fantastic – even if I do say so myself (Gina agreed)

Father, its a strange world.  Here I am praying that my family will become Christians, whereas Gina grew up in a Christian family.  But her story is so sad.  Her Mum died just last year and her Dad was killed in a car accident 10 years ago.  Her brother and his family sound really great Lord, but the stories she tells about how her sisters have treated her over the last couple of years makes me want to cry.

It’s hard to believe that the Gina that I have met is the same person who made a conscious decision to pray for salvation at the age of eight and to reaffirm it publicly and be baptised at fifteen.  To think that this was someone who worked throughout their teens towards the goal of becoming a missionary, asking God to teach her to persevere all things and to help her be single minded when it came to serving and honouring him.  Someone known as a Jesus freak at school.  Someone who led groups to teach peers about you.  Someone who chose her uni studies around areas that she felt would be useful on the mission field.  Father its hard to believe that this is someone who has done twelve months short term mission to some country that I can’t even pronounce.

Lord, even the idea that Gina has been engaged to someone is strange – even after she had that live in partnership last year.  She was going to make promises in your sight at a time when that meant something to her.  Until she questioned whether she was being faithful to her calling or abandoning her priorities, and instead of being supportive – in his hurt, her fiance lashed out at her and told her that she was a double minded woman who couldn’t decide what her priorities were and that she was not good enough for either Christ or men if she was going to mess them around that way.  And rather than slowing down the freight train like pace of the wedding preparations as she’d asked, he broke off the engagement.

And then he left town and she hasn’t seen him since.

He left her behind in an incredible mess.  She’d decided that she didn’t want him anyway if he were going to act like that.  But somewhere in there she questioned if he weren’t right about her not being good enough for Christ, nor fit for his salvation and then hardened her heart and, she said, came to the conclusion that God wasn’t there.

I’m not sure that my heart didn’t break a little tonight.  The story of a hardening heart always makes mine crack a bit.

At the end of the evening I said thanks to Gina for the books etc.  I also told her that I would be giving thanks for them because I had only the night before been praying for wisdom.  I told her that I would be keeping them on a separate shelf in case she ever did decide she wanted them back – and then they would be hers again.

“Okay,” she says, “If you like.  I can’t tell you how to arrange your books.  But I can tell you now, they’ll be staying on that shelf.”

Father, thanks for the wisdom that people have shared in the books and talks and resources that Gina has given me to use.  Please bring her back to her former single minded focus for you.  Please, Lord, build me up so that in the face of opposition and trials I will turn to you and persevere.  And Lord, thank you for the freedom of singleness where I am free of complications and arguments that cause turmoil and divide relationships or hurt partners when life choices need to be made.  Help me not to be tempted by the riches of this world, but to persevere until the end in love of you.

Amen