Robbing the Soil

Why did the local Council decide to plant a gum tree in the street outside our house? Imagine the worker digging the hole for its new home, carefully placing it in there, back-filling, tamping it down and watering it. Did he wonder how it might look in twenty-five years?

Yes, it would grow tall and strong, create a beautiful picture…and reach the powerlines. We all know what happens to street trees when that occurs; we’ve seen their gaunt branches uglifying the roads! And the shade it would shed on the hot pavement might have seemed a good idea at the time, but had anyone thought that it was planted on a bend and no-one would be brave enough to park beneath it’s spreading branches in the summer? And what about the nutrients this little tree would need to grow to its full potential?

Not far from the tree, a border of roses lined our driveway when we bought the house. Gangly and unkempt, they needed attention. Most are still there, redeemed by their beautiful perfume. Others have been replaced. We also planted some pretty blue pansies around the letterbox. They looked lovely, but it wasn’t long before they bowed their heads and prayed for help; the gum had robbed the soil of all they needed for growth. Maurie was going to throw them out, but I pleaded for their lives, so he dug them up and handed them over to me.

I took them to the back of the house and carefully planted them in the rich soil by the back door where I could easily water, weed and watch them. Now they’re a lovely sight! What large flowers they’ve produced and how often visitors comment on their beauty!

You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this story! Most of you might be able to find a reason for it yourselves, especially if you read this Blog regularly and feel you know me! I could write about the way God sometimes transplants us to new places. And we could remind ourselves of the malnourished soil in the parable that Jesus told about the Sower. Or I could tell myself that the pansies shouldn’t have been put by that large tree in the first place.  There are lots of truths we can glean from this tale, but it’s not really about the pansies. My problem’s with the tree!

I could ask the Council to remove it and plant something more suitable, but they’d probably say it was ‘Heritage-Listed’, or would cost too much to cut down.  Every day I could look at it and wish it were gone. I could spend valuable thinking-time on the Council’s lack of forethought, or waste breath on telling people how much it annoys me. Or write about it in here!! So what am I learning from this tree?

The reason I notice annoying things in my life is because God knows what a lot I can learn from them. They’re opportunities to grow beside a problem. Yes, that’s it for me! I’m letting it rob the soil in my life. I need to focus on the good. Here’s how the Message Bible puts it:

Summing it all up friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse… Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. – Philippians 4: 8,9

Isn’t that a beautiful solution? What a reward! God working us into his harmonies!

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Seeing Grandma at the Shopping Centre

Have you ever been in a crowded place and heard someone speak your name? You turn around, wondering if they might be addressing you, but another person is responding to the call. Disappointing, isn’t it?

One day years ago, I was in a shopping centre, absorbed in examining some books outside a store. As I was trying to decide if they were worth buying at the price, I suddenly heard an excited little voice call, ‘Grandma!’

Quick staccato questions clicked through my head. Is she mine? Another Grandma’s? Where would all my grandees be today? Here in this place? Should I check, in case? Of course you’ve guessed it, I did turn in the direction of that voice! Almost immediately!

Coming towards me was a small group of people, and out in front was a tiny blond child with shining eyes, arms outstretched. And she was beginning to run. Yes, she’s mine! And I’m hers! I scooped her up and we hugged gleefully. The books were forgotten, all the other grandmothers were ignored and I was rewarded!

Straight away she began chattering about all the things she’d been doing and everything she planned to do now we were together. Her mother soon caught up with us and I found out why they were there. The question that had been asked on the way in the car was, ‘Do you think Grandma will be at the shopping centre today?’ The reply was, ‘We’ll see when we get there’. And they did!

This incident with my grand-daughter came to mind recently as I was thinking about the promise that Jesus made to come back for us again. He’d comforted his disciples with this reassurance: Don’t let this throw you. You trust God don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. What a great promise! Certainly something wonderful to look forward to.

I began to wonder…was I really watching for him? Did I live my life as if he might turn up at any time? When he came, would he call my name? Was his return a priority for me, or was I too absorbed in my own life?

I smiled as I thought about my grand-daughter’s spontaneity all those years ago. When she saw me. she didn’t hesitate or feel embarrassed by the crowd. She knew me! I was her Grandma! And she was my grand-daughter! She knew she’d get a joyful welcome from me!

So what would people think if we suddenly saw Jesus return and yelled out, ‘Jesus!’ Some onlookers might think we were crazy. Others may remember what they’d learnt as children about Jesus saying he would come back one day. How many of us are ready?

I thought, Any wonder we’ll be lifted up to meet him. With rapturous joy we’ll leave everything we have here to be with him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Obscure yet Significant

The main characters in the Bible, such as Paul, David, Goliath, Moses, and Abraham, are well-known. That’s because we’ve heard so many sermons about them! Of course, their lives are important, but for a while now I’ve been noticing the bit players in God’s drama; the obscure people. So I’ve been making a list and it’s growing longer all the time! I’ve learnt some interesting truths in their stories too. It’s amazing how worthy these people were, so let’s look at one of them.

Farmer Kish said to his son, Saul, ‘some of our donkeys have gone missing. I want you to take a servant and go looking for them’.

The pair set off and wandered around the countryside for several days, covering a large area, but they found no sign of the missing animals. In the end, Saul wanted to give up and go home. He knew his father would be more worried about them than the donkeys.

But the servant had a better idea. ‘Not so fast’, he said. ‘There’s a prophet around these parts. Let’s go and ask him where they are’.

‘But we can’t give him any payment for his services’, Saul replied, ‘even the bread we brought is all gone now’.

This is when we hear some great words from the servant: ‘I happen to have a quarter shekel. We could offer that to him’.

While it was in his pocket, that money was his. Saul didn’t know it was there, but the servant did. Was he a rich man? Perhaps not, seeing he was a servant. Was it part of the wage that Kish had given him that week? What other way would he have spent it? Was it worth much? That’s hard to tell. It may have taken courage for him to hand it over. Would he be repaid? And another thing, he didn’t realise at the time that he was offering money to the future king of Israel!

Fortunately, Saul took up the suggestion of his servant. It’s always good to ask God about large and small problems! And he also accepted the gift offered by that man of great ideas and resources!

As I read this story again, I thought back on my life and wondered when (not if!) I’d ever been in such a situation as that un-named man. Had I risen to the occasion like him, or had I ‘kept my money in my pocket’, thinking it wouldn’t be good enough?

Unbeknown to that humble man, he was actually grasping the opportunity to be on the spot for an historic occasion. In fact, he was influential in it.

Only the day before, God had given the prophet Samuel advance knowledge about Saul’s arrival, so he was expecting him. (It was Samuel to whom the servant had been referring.) When the two men arrived, Samuel didn’t mistake the servant for God’s chosen King! He also knew why they were there, and told them that the donkeys had been found. That got their attention!

Isn’t it wonderful how God always has the right person in the right place? Maybe I think my contribution is too insignificant, but I’m asking myself this question: ‘Am I ready to be that person?’  Like Kish’s servant, when we think we’re only looking for donkeys, we might end up being present at some pretty amazing God-at-work events!

This story is in the Bible in 1 Samuel 9:1 through to 10:16. Check it out for yourself. Perhaps we can all learn something new about ourselves in this story, especially as we watch the servant.

 

 

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A Home Person

They say we should start with ourselves when we begin the search for our ancestors. The family history research site, ancestry.com, has a system where a tree owner can access it immediately by going to their Home Person. I planned to find my mother-in-law’s family, so I began with her son, my husband. He’s my Home Person.

Building up the tree was an interesting activity. I made lots of exciting, strange and even shocking discoveries. These days I’m not climbing around among the branches much, but I still occasionally feel a longing to look at my Home Person on there. You might think I’m odd, quirky or eccentric, but I do love to go in there just to look at his photo. It makes me happy to see his lovely smile, to think of him sitting there beside me and to remember… What a lot we’ve been through together. He means so much to me. How I love him!

There are plenty of his photos around our home, but somehow, the one on the tree is unique. It gives me a sense of our history together that other pictures don’t, and I feel fulfilled in a special way. You may wonder why I don’t merely speak to him or touch him. Well, I do that too!!

Several years ago an odd thing happened. Every time I logged onto my tree on the ancestry site, I noticed that I was being taken to the wrong Home Person. Somehow Maurie’s Great-Uncle George had snuck into that position and refused to be moved! I followed all the correct instructions, but every time, there was old George, sitting beside his wife, Amelia, on their way to Canada from England in the late 19th century! What if I’d accepted him and gone along with this new Home Person? Of course, Uncle George definitely wouldn’t do. I have no memories of him, no shared life, not even a photo. I’ve absolutely no scrap of yearning to see him!

But my real Home Person, now that’s another story. I know him! I share many memories with him, in fact, most of my life! If I were to put his actual photo on this post, you might say, ‘well, what about him? He doesn’t look anything special!’ But you’d only see his facial features. I see his inner value, the real person; my Home Person. I know I won’t get someone else instead of him when I need him. He’s always there for me; he prays for me and knows me. He’s at home for me. He’s my Home Person!

These thoughts about Maurie, and how his Great-Uncle George kept popping up in his place, reminded me of the second-hand way we might try to reach God. He wants to be our whole-of-life Home Person. It’s no use thinking anyone else will do in his place. Like Uncle George didn’t fit for me on ancestry, neither will anyone else be able to take God’s place in our lives. He’s always standing by, ready to be our own special one, the person we can call on at any time when we want to think about him. He’s the one we can remember because of his love for us, the one who can recall the memories we’ve made together. He’s our dear Heavenly Father.

He doesn’t need to be on a family tree on ancestry.com. He has his own family and I’m so glad he’s included me in it. He’s available to us all, at any time, in any place. We only need to ask because he wants everyone to be on his tree. There are no substitutes for him; he’s the Home Person.

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Downsizing, Reducing…Rejecting

Rubbish on an Island Beach

I was reading about a plastic-free lifestyle the other day and wondered how many people have thought about reducing more of the non-practical items in their lives. These things are usually obvious, written about frequently, and lamented by those who are affected by them. They are damaging pollutants, but I don’t suppose many people think of them as being surplus to their lives in the same way as getting rid of plastic bags!

On the one hand, some people count the articles in their wardrobes, take cloth bags to the shops, and reduce the number of times they put out their recycling bins for collection: all praiseworthy goals. But have they counted other items in their collections of unnecessary stuff? How often have I? Can you guess what kinds of things I mean?

We might say that there’s a limit to how much we can rid ourselves of ‘indispensable’ parts of our personalities. Shouldn’t we save them for an emergency? Here are some examples that come to mind, such as the ability to ‘say it like it is’ even when the recipient doesn’t want to hear our opinion. Or the body language that proclaims to everyone that I think I’m superior to others, or the pushing and shoving that some people do in a queue. You can probably think of a few more!

Should we claim that we’re allowed to keep certain traits that we’ve always had, the personality tendencies that we want to be able to use when we feel like it? Is that freedom? And should we hang onto the notion that no-one has the right to tell us how we ought to behave?

As I thought about this approach to reducing, even rejecting, these aspects of our lives, I looked back at some of my own rubbish and decided I’ve had more than a few pieces that were surplus to the needs of the world around me.

I remember being in the supermarket in a small town where we lived many years ago. Two ladies were chatting in the aisle, their trolleys blocking my way. I could have said, ‘Excuse me’, or just waited while they finished their conversation. But no, I was in a hurry!

So I pushed my trolley towards them and without any bidding from me, one of my surplus extras flew off and landed on them. In other words, I didn’t resist the temptation to be rude, and bumped my trolley into theirs! Oops!! Oh dear.

They turned from their chat and apologised, but I didn’t acknowledge them. I spent the rest of my shopping feeling bad about the impression I’d created – it was a small town, remember! I was glad their reaction wasn’t as violent as mine. I didn’t deserve their grace. I was the one who should have been allowing grace to flow towards them.

I don’t suppose any of you nice readers have any experiences like that in your background. (I write this blog to speak to myself!)

In my world of hurry and bustle, I often regret how I omit to think before I act. I should remember the proverb that wise King Solomon of Israel wrote.

A commonsense person lives good sense; fools litter the country with silliness. – Proverbs 13:16 – The Message Bible

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Dance, Drama and Song!

A little boy ran to the church platform and rushed up the steps where his friends were singing and dancing. He carefully observed their arm movements and although he didn’t know the words of the songs, he jumped up and down and waved his arms in amazing co-ordination with them! We couldn’t help noticing him, seeing he was standing close to the edge of the stage. He was so cute, with his tight African curls and eager expression!

The other worshippers went on with their dance and song, then at the end, they filed down the steps. But not our future song-leader…he intended to continue, until some of the girls took him off! What would he be like in the future, I wondered? Shy? I doubt it. I think he’s only two or three years old, but he’s learning some valuable lessons in the meantime.

Our congregation includes more than twenty nationalities. There are people from ten of the African countries, some from the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Samoa, Ireland, China, the Cook Islands, New Zealand, plus some I can’t recall right now, and Australia!

Several weeks ago we had a special African Night. It was thrilling to see the way they use song, dance and drama in their worship. In this way they also pass on the truths they’ve learnt. My heart followed them as the flow of their movements washed across the platform, their bright clothes adding to the splendour. I was in awe of their fortitude and resilience. I admired the way they lived, considering the tragic things a lot of them had experienced. Their smiles are beautiful. Now they’re here with us; many nations worshipping in unison. We all love the same good God.

I’ve become acquainted with many of these people since we moved to the city, but I have great difficulty remembering their names. They are patient with me and some of them use a spare English name to make life easier for us single-language-Aussies! In their gentle voices they spell their names while I write them in my notebook. Even then, I often get them wrong! I mostly stick to first names – the surnames are a bit much for me, especially those long ones that the Sri Lankans own! Recognising their faces each week is another challenge. When they change their hairstyles, or wear wigs, the women can look like strangers, but I’m working on it!

Now I wish I could tell you that little boy’s name. I must ask his mother. I know what she looks like; she spends quite a bit of time bringing him back from the platform during the services! Next week I’ll have my notepad ready.

I pray that he’s absorbing at least two important things: how wonderful it is to worship God in the way he’s laid out for us: uninhibited and free. The other is that all nations can praise the Lord together. God bless him.

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You Haven’t Been This Age Before

Since my last post, I’ve been thinking about the way we’re all compelled to experience new eras in our lives. The last is like the first; we’ve never dwelt there before.

From the moment of birth, a baby is unknowingly faced with challenges: breathing air, moving in a larger space, as well as learning to walk and talk. Then there’s playgroup, kindergarten and school.

Middle-age heralds the so-called halfway mark long before older years appear on the horizon. Now I’m in ‘aged’ country, I’ve realised something important: I don’t have to cope with each new era on my own. I can ask for help or advice about lifestyle changes or exercises…and pray for the strength to do them!

Every decade of my life has had new lessons to learn and decisions to make. Would I accept this foreign place, would I learn to walk in this unaccustomed way? Or would I prefer to hang onto the ‘progress’ I’d made in the previous era? What if I were like the five-year-old screaming on his first day of school, ‘I haven’t been here before, Mummy! I don’t want to go there!’ What if I refused to ask for help in my new environment. I see that the last era has an uncanny resemblance to the first!

So I wasn’t surprised when a similar theme appeared in my Bible reading one morning. I was up to Psalm 71, The Prayer of an Old Man. In The Message Bible I saw what he said to God, Don’t turn me out to pasture now I’m old. Or put me on the shelf when I can’t pull my weight. This man still longed to keep praising his God.

It reminded me of the afternoon tea I’d attended the day before with the JOY group from our church. Just Older Youth!  We sat around the table and shared how we spent our time. What busy lives these ‘old’ people have! One lady spends three days a week visiting the sick in the hospital, and doing their shopping…and she isn’t well herself. Another runs an Opportunity Shop at the church Community Support Centre, collecting clothing that needy people might be able to use…and not having her own car doesn’t stop her! One of the men does handyman jobs for those who can’t, and grows vegetables for those who don’t!

We heard from the letterbox-drop lady who delivers church advertising pamphlets to notify the community about our helping-services. Two of our number collect their grandchildren from school every day. It would take too long to tell all the stories. Our pastor has encouraged us to share our collective wisdom with the young people who haven’t walked this way yet. I wonder if they know what we all get up to between Sundays?

Before we left for home, we were given a list of mission opportunities for retired people. Would we be willing to spend up to six months contributing our computer skills, teaching, building, plumbing or painting, or perhaps giving electrical, medical, or administrative help?

I looked around the table. Had any of these people here ever thought about opting-out, taking time off, or sitting in a rocking chair? Would they have time to go far away from home to help?  They’d probably be the very ones to volunteer; they already had the habit! Certainly they weren’t asking God to put them out to pasture!

Yes, each era of life has its challenges. Surely, now we’re more experienced, we should know how much we need God to help us to choose to stay off the shelf!

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How Did Jesus’ Mother See Good Friday?

I’ve been thinking about the first Good Friday and how the mother of Jesus must have felt as he went through his trial and almost total rejection by the ones he loved. I’m fascinated by the parallels in her story, interwoven with the work of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. If I were to go backwards from the birth of the church, would I see something tremendous, something unique? And would I be able to explain it?

Fifty days after the Jewish Passover (the time of Jesus death), comes the Day of Pentecost. As Jesus had instructed his disciples, Mary was also there that day in the upper room, waiting for the gift that Jesus had promised. So she also received the Holy Spirit. She already knew him because it was through the Holy Spirit that Jesus was conceived. After the angel Gabriel had visited her as a young woman, she’d known her body was available to shelter a child who would one day give up his own body to shelter mankind.

And it was the Holy Spirit, on the Day of Pentecost, who gave birth to a wonderful, new, living entity, the church: the Body of Christ! This meant that Mary was now part of that Body, not as Jesus’ mother, but as a member of the church.

I traced Mary’s journey back through the years of Jesus’ life. As much as we can know from the Bible story, I watched as she saw him turn water into wine and perform other miracles. I thought of her anxiety when he stayed behind in Jerusalem to talk with the Jewish teachers about his heavenly Father’s plans for him.

I felt the disruption to her life when they fled to Egypt and I empathised with her as Simeon and Anna blessed her baby in the Temple. She must have rejoiced, but shuddered too, at the words of prophecy that some of Jesus’ future experiences would pierce her own heart like the thrust of a sword.

We know she ‘pondered these things in her heart’ and I guessed she’d often meditated on them over the years. Did she and Joseph have many discussions about these things? I’m sure they did. And did Jesus talk to her about the truth? I believe he did. Did she understand her role in history and in the cataclysmic events of Good Friday? How close was she following in those hours of his ordeal?

Perhaps others have studied these things and come up with answers. Here are a few of my own questions to God…and some are still questions!

How close did she follow in those hours before the trial?

When she stood before the cross, did she remember…

meeting Gabriel the angel

singing praises to God and rejoicing with her cousin?

She’d remember

giving birth and the visits by the shepherds and the wise men.

She’d recall the words of Simeon that stung her inner being

there in the Temple.

*

Clinging to John, the beloved disciple,

did she sense again the tenderness she’d felt

when she nurtured baby Jesus in the manger?

What could he give her now from his place of danger?

 What comfort could she offer through her tears?

*

In fifty days to Pentecost

his gift to her would come

all would be hers in miraculous tongues

to praise him.

What a Mystery! What a glorious wonder!

Lyn Thiele ~ 4/2017

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Decluttering?

This week I’ve been going through my old greeting cards. Engagement, wedding, Christmas and baby cards; thankyou notes, letters and Orders of Service from funerals and weddings… There must be hundreds of them and I haven’t kept them all!

Just a Few!

I’m now looking for ideas to reduce their storage space. There are dedicated sites online where people suggest recycling, scanning, throwing them away or cutting them up to reduce the thickness of the card. These blogging ladies are many years younger than I, but have they ever contemplated an old age where they might wish to read their cards? They say they’ll remember all those loving messages. Mmm…

I had a few laughs yesterday at the notes on our grandchildren’s drawings. The mother of one wrote that she’d asked him, ‘what is it?’ Her three-year-old replied, ‘Just scribble’. That comment made my day; it fitted his older personality perfectly!

And the sole letter I have from my father? One of his grandsons wants a scan of it to compare Grandad’s spidery scrawl with his own. Where else would he find such evidence? And the two letters from my husband? I’m privileged to have them! There’s definitely a need for less detritus in the world; we can’t keep everything. But what if Moses and Ezra, and the readers of Paul’s letters had been declutterers?

The part I enjoy is remembering the people: the ladies who added to the pleasure of my wedding day with a pretty card and encouraging words, or a poem that I’ve shared many times with other young brides.

Then there are my sons’ words which touch my heart. Some men don’t find it easy to speak the love they feel, but a card allows them to. I see the personality in each one. Before peeping inside, I can tell that it is from my eldest, for instance: unique. Another son signs with his own special funny face cartoon. I can see him every day if I wish, but after all these years, his cards are not only from him, he still comes with them.

And the ones from the girls: my daughters-in-law, grand-daughters and my daughter! How much tenderness, love and thought has gone into every message. I reach out to them as I read their words. Just writing about it on here moves me to tears. I also have many tiny notes that were handed to me during church services, with pictures, spiritual encouragement and words of love from my little girl.

I feel sad for the people who cheerfully dispose of the cards that dear friends and family have taken time to buy for them. I appreciate them all the more because they write loving words, and in some cases, cleverly craft them especially for me.

When I see how few Get-Well cards I’ve accumulated, I’m grateful to the Lord for his gift of health. He doesn’t send greeting cards, but he’s given us his wonderful words. Read the Psalms and feel his love and everlasting care.

King David wrote, My choice is you, God, first and only. And now I find I’m your choice! ~ Psalm 16: 5 (The Message Bible). Imagine opening a card and reading a message from our Heavenly Father saying, ‘You are My choice!’

What if my home lay in the path of a fierce North Queensland cyclone, and my cards, computer, and everything else I treasured, were blown away in a huge involuntary decluttering this very day, would those words from God be enough?

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Focus and Changing Focus

The important and the urgent. People have written reams about this subject. It’s one I relate to. How often do I miss the correct path, the right door, the most suitable task, or all of them?

I know God’s given me special signposts to follow (this blog was one), but so often I forget to look out for them. He’s shown me pictures, scripture verses and prophetic words that I can read as reminders, if only I’ll recall them, dwell on them and put them into practice. In the changed environment such as I have here now in a new church, I’ve been resolutely looking for the way he wants me to function. Dear Lord, will the old guidelines fit in this place too? I believe so.

Yes, the people are different and they want me to join them in their work, except that I’m the one who has to decide if God wants me to do every special task. Am I brave enough to say, ‘No’ when I’m sure it doesn’t fit those godly words that I’ve carried all the way down here? Over the years, my husband and I have served in most departments in all our local churches, but now our energy levels are (slightly) lower, the time available to us is less (we need to rest more often!), and we must seek the same priorities between new boundaries.

This makes me think of a furry animal that I heard of two weeks ago. A lady I know lives in the bush. Two water tanks stood in her yard, but had to be shifted. No, they weren’t in the wrong place; they were in the resident wombat’s way! Wombats have their definite, permanent track and if there’s something obstructing it, they won’t go around, they’ll go underneath! This one dug a tunnel below the tanks and they began to tip over. The same applied to the front gate: if the lady were to drive out and leave it closed for a while, she could come home and find a trench under her entrance! If only I were as focussed as a wombat! But then again, I should also be willing to change!

This year I’ve been determining my life’s priorities with family, home and new church. For me, they fall into two types: helping and responsibility. The latter is shrinking somewhat and the way I approach it has changed. My life is different. I have a certain amount of responsibility, but I can help with more tasks. I’m accountable for keeping up with family and friends; I can only assist, if necessary, with renovations! One of my own jobs is to prepare our meals, but I can help by contributing advice on what to plant in the new garden beds. I’m happy to chat with newcomers at the services every Sunday morning, but I’m better not to travel to a distant church to play the piano. Proof-reading’s my job and I do that at home. I’m finding my place, but I have to watch myself so I don’t forget why! It’s not so I can have less to do, but that I will be more focussed on what God wants me to be. As long as I obey the Lord’s voice telling me what’s a help-task and what my responsibility is, I won’t feel guilty; I’ll be at peace, knowing I’m doing God’s will.

Some things are important, others are just urgent. This is my big, overall job at the moment: learning my most important ones and asking God for his strength to do them.

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