AUSTRALIAN BUSHFIRES

LIKE MANY AUSTRALIANS I am finding this current bushfire emergency extremely difficult to comprehend.  Prior to the fires erupting into catastrophic conditions, we were grappling with unprecedented drought that had drained dry much of our land causing massive dust storms to obscure the countryside, and towns to truck in water for basic needs.  Our nation was in a bad way before the bushfires, but it was nothing like this.

Ours is a vast land in which what happens in the harsh and barren Outback seldom rates a mention in the highly populated coastal fringes.  The drought was “out there”.  However, as its impact moved closer to our cities where much of our food was grown, we began to wake up that this was a national crisis in which we were all involved.  And then came the fires.  Fires that do not respect where one lives; fires that have come dangerously close to our major cities; fires that stomp through field and forest destroying everything in their paths.

Fires that have ripped through tinder dry bushland that has not seen rain for years,Kookaburra and fire coupled with heat waves that have brought the highest temperatures on record.  Fire storms that have formed their own weather systems that whip up flames and embers sparking multiple unfolding catastrophes that are impossible to defend.  Whole towns have been obliterated.  Hundreds, possibly more than a thousand, homes and businesses have been decimated.  Untold livestock and wildlife have been annihilated.  An unknown number of people have lost their lives defending life and property, many are missing.  This is a disaster of unimaginable proportions.  It leaves me speechless.

As I watch on from the comfort of my lounge room, thousands of kilometres from those fires, I wonder how I should respond to this catastrophe.  I hear the description of those caught up in the fire zones; those who escaped with nothing but the clothes they were wearing; those who had lost their homes of 40 or 50 years—grateful that they were still alive; those who sheltered on small boats away from their blazing beaches; our weary fire fighters exhausted after weeks of serving our land.  Those who lived in those tiny tourist towns who have lost everything, and the holidaymakers who have literally had the “holiday from hell”.

During this chaotic catastrophe reports come through of the generosity of many people who are donating clothes, groceries, money, services to help ease the hell others are experiencing.  Volunteers from all religious persuasions are responding to this crisis—Indian Sikhs providing meals, Muslims cooking barbecues, the Salvation Army catering for others in need.  Some of those in the isolated fire zones have expressed appreciation to know they are not alone, that others care and that they are not forgotten.  But in the middle of it all is the immeasurable stress, distress and enormous anxiety that has impacted individuals, families and whole communities for the past weeks and months.  How can I respond?

I pray, but my prayers seem so futile.  When I watch the media reports, I am overwhelmed by what I see and hear.  And I know that if I dwell too much on what is happening “down south” my heart will break.  I do not know—I cannot imagine—how people can cope in such tragic circumstances, how they will manage to rebuild their lives and face the future.

I pray for those who do not know God, who have no understanding of His presence with them in such atrocious conditions, that they will know the reality of his love, compassion and care—despite what is happening to them—perhaps as shown through the kindness of a stranger, the actions of the fire fighters, the love of a neighbour.

I pray for those who do know God, that their faith will shine forth in this dreadful darkness becoming a light to those around them, a beacon of hope in a sea of hopelessness, and that they will experience the deep peace of God that is beyond comprehension as they face an uncertain future.

I pray for those of us not directly affected by this devastation that we will respond as best we can to this unfolding, unprecedented, apocalyptic-like catastrophe, reaching out to those whose lives will never be the same again.

WHY CHURCH?

AFTER MANY disappointments with churches I had decided not to darken their doors again.  I was over it.  Big time.  Over the decades I had put up with not feeling accepted or respected, feeling used and abused, feeling worthless and an abject failure, a sinner and Jesus and lepera leper.  Regardless of how much I tried to do for God in and through the church, I never felt good enough; I always felt like an outsider on the edge of the church and never ever close to God’s chosen few in his inner circle.  That was what I had experienced in churches. It was not what God had been telling me.

God is Love.  His perfect love brings his unconditional acceptance of all people regardless of whether we know him yet or not.  God loves the person in the pew as much as he loves the person in the pulpit.  We are all equal in his eyes; he has no favourites.  Regrettably, many churches have failed to exhibit this core characteristic of our awesome God.  And by not showing that love, people have turned from the church in droves.  For me, the final straw came when I was confronted with unimaginable abuse from a denominational leader, something so unspeakable that my faith was left shattered, sharp shards splintering all around me.  The thought of church sickened me and to go was no longer an option.  But that was not the end of my story.

In that frightening time I began to re-evaluate my faith by going back to foundational beliefs of who God is, reaffirming my belief in God the Father, his Son—the Lord Jesus Christ—and the Holy Spirit; what salvation meant—and did not mean—what it meant to have a personal relationship with God and knowing him as my Father, myself as his daughter.  I was drawn back to a pivotal Bible passage that over the decades had been a significant source of comfort and encouragement:

Woman at well“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.   For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

These verses had enabled me to cope with the hurt from churches and moved me on in my walk with God.  Jesus did not tell us to go to church; rather he urges us to come to him, to learn of him, to be so closely linked with him that we would experience the reality of his gentleness and his humility.  This, sadly, is often so far removed from what churches preach and practise.

Every aspect of the fundamental evangelical teachings I had imbibed over the decades that were not of God were ripped away.  I was left standing with God alone, nothing more—simply clinging to the cross of Christ, in Christ alone.  It was from there that God began to rebuild my faith, to teach me from his Word what I needed to know about being a believer, how to live for him, and how to lovingly relate to those around me.  It had been a lonely journey; I longed for authentic Christian fellowship and to share with others their experiences of living for God as a true disciple of Christ.  In short, I wanted to belong to a faith community, something akin to those mentioned in the New Testament writings.  It seemed like an impossible dream.

In mid-2019 I relocated back to Outback Queensland and began attending All Saints Anglican Church in Charleville.  I knew most of the folk there and was also pleased to see that a group of Solomon Islanders had started going there, bringing with them their vibrant faith in God.  In addition, the new minister was a breath of fresh air, passionate for God and with a clear vision for the Church in the Outback.  Having had so many of my bigoted beliefs stripped away and discovering that not only was my idea of God far too small, he was, in fact, incredibly vast and all-embracing, extravagant in his love, grace and mercy.  These were all positive components that contributed to my knowing that at last I had found my spiritual home.  In this place I could be myself, share my faith, listen to and accept others where they were at in theirs, be involved in the life of the church and the broader community, exercise my ministry gifts and encourage others in theirs.  Ours is not a perfect church.  I was never looking for a perfect church—there is no such place.

Many people associate church with Sunday attendance in a building.  That is only a smallChrist in community part of the picture.  Church relates to the gathering of people who meet there, who worship together and share their lives with each other in a significant way.  It is not merely about sitting in a church pew looking at the back of the neck of the person in front.  It is more than “sharing the peace”, then forgetting about who we have spoken to for the rest of the week.  Church is about community, about learning to live with one another despite our differences, and about experiencing God’s love, joy and peace within the body of Christ, his Church.

Now that I have found my church, I can understand its value in my walk with God, and can confidently answer the question—Why Church?  Because I need it; we all need to know the reality of a caring faith community where we can be ourselves, express our faith in God, care for, love and encourage one another and grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).

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CAN YOU HEAR THE HEARTBEAT?

THIRTY YEARS AGO Dave Andrews, a Christian community worker living in an inner Heartbeat bookBrisbane suburb, wrote a book entitled, Can You Hear The Heartbeat? It described how Jesus related to those who lived on the edge of society, the abused, the outcast, those considered to be unclean and unaccepted in their communities, and encouraged readers to meet people where they were at in life. Dave Andrews wrote of the radical lifestyle he and his wife lived in order to show God’s loving heartbeat for the forgotten people in his community, practising acceptance of people on their terms and having their home permanently open to the homeless, the abused, alcoholics and others in need. Their lifestyle was radical indeed.

Those words—Can you hear the heartbeat?—resonated deep within: I too wanted to listen to the heart of those I met, showing them God’s unconditional love and acceptance. However, to meet people where they are at, to listen intently to their stories, means that I needed to lay aside my own needs and learn to be fully present with those I am with.

I love listening to people, hearing their stories and sharing with them how much God loves them, cares for them and wants the very best for them. I count it a privilege to be with them in their life’s journey, to listen to their heartbeat—what really matters to them. It is from that place of meaningful connection that we can hold others gently in their fragility and share with them more of God’s love, grace and mercy, his joy and peace.

We need to follow the many examples of how Jesus listened to the deepest needs of those with whom he met, and learn to be effective listeners. It’s what helps us all to grow in our love for one another and in our desire to develop genuine, caring communities.

Can you hear the heartbeat? It’s a question we all need to ask—and answer.

Woman at well

 

Dave Andrews, Can You Hear the Heartbeat?  London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1989

MISSED THE BOAT?

FOR AS LONG as I can recall I have felt compelled to write. Over the decades I have responded to that compulsion in quite fragmented ways: news correspondent in the highlands of Papua New Guinea; ghost writing; co-author of several memoirs; editor of a state denominational publication; writing my autobiography; and many attempts at establishing my blog, now called Authentic Christian Living. Looking back I can see where not only have I been the mistress of procrastination, but it seemed that I had missed the boat in regards to what was God’s call on my life to “Write the vision!”

When I first heard that call as a young mother in the wild frontier town of Mount Hagen in Papua New Guinea’s Western Highlands, I believed God would immediately use me in a mighty way. Instead he took me on an incredibly agonising journey to hell and back, one that eventually—half a century later—has brought me to a place of deep peace and contentment, reminiscent of the words of the Psalmist:

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance
(Psalm 16:6).

A DIFFERENT BOAT

AS I SET about the prolonged, painful process of healing my bruised and broken being, I had to contend with the pervasive belief that I had failed God. I had missed the boat in regard to my writing, and I needed to set it aside. After all, who did I think I was that God would use me in his vast scheme of things?

I began a career in social work and allowed that to take me on a fascinating journey that was rich in experiences of walking alongside many wonderful, courageous and precious people. Some were mental health clients, some palliative care and their families; some ageing, others young; and many, with a whole gamut of challenges, lived in the Outback. I loved my work, but with my own needs pressing in upon me it was time to leave that career and return to my twice-aborted retirement. Waiting for me was my writing.

Here I am, now in my seventies, pen poised and ready to write for my God.Missed boat

Had I missed the boat?

Yes – and “NO”!

When I reflect upon my life with all its twists and turns, the challenges I have had to face including the death of my precious granddaughter, and the agonising grief of a cruelly divided family that threatened to destroy me, I know that what I believed was right, was not what God had in mind for me at the time. Instead, over the decades he has kept me in the palm of his hands, embracing me with his love, protecting me—often from my own stupidity—and bringing me into a safe harbour, one in which I have my faith and hope firmly anchored in him (Hebrews 6:19).

A boat does await me here, but it is not the one I thought it would be. It is a different boat, one that I am far more prepared to board than I have ever been in the past.

I have grown and developed so much since that first call to “Write the vision!”, so many decades ago. There would have been something seriously wrong if I hadn’t! Now, in these my latter years, I am more than ready to embark on this part of my journey. It will bring together aspects of the rich, exciting, fulfilling and rather challenging life I have had, which God will use for those who are going through similar rough times. This is a different boat—but it’s looking good. It really is.  The words of his call made to me so many years ago remain crystal clear:

Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it.

For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow; wait for it; it will surely come; It will not delay (Habakkuk 2:2-3).

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ON THE MOVE AGAIN

IT WILL PROBABLY be no surprise to anyone who knows me that I have decided to move back to Outback Queensland, to Charleville to be precise. This will be my third attempt to settle in the Outback, both other attempts ended for work, family and personal reasons. This time I hope to enjoy the experience without the pressure of work and with the freedom of simply being me in the Charleville community.

Having moved to an over-50s active lifestyle resort in 2017, and hoping for it to be my last home, I became somewhat disconcerted when the familiar feelings of unrest began to stir. They began when I returned from a short trip to the Outback in 2018, and intensified on yet another trip in May 2019.  The Outback was definitely calling.

During my May 2019 trip I decided to cut all ties with Opal Gardens so that I would be free to make more frequent visits to the Outback. I hadn’t seriously thought of selling up and moving permanently to the West. However, within a week of my most recent trip—June 2019—I knew I had to listen to my heart and make the move. I have placed my beautiful villa on the market and I’m waiting for it to sell so that I can relocate to a very comfortable unit in the South Western Districts Retirement Village in Charleville.

Once again life is taking a fascinating turn. Once again I will be on the move. And once again I am deeply aware of God’s guidance, his love, kindness and care, as I trust him to smooth the way for me in yet another relocation.

The words of the Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah, bring the assurance of God’s hand in my life, just as he is with us all:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

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OUTBACK CALLING

Much has happened since I wrote this post in May 2019:

AFTER TWO STINTS as a social worker based in Charleville and doing outreach work in the towns roundabout—Quilpie, Augathella, Morven, Cunnamulla, Eulo, Yowah and Thargomindah—I have developed a love for Outback Queensland, the place and her people.

Charleville Quilpie MapI first moved to Charleville in 2005, stayed for about two years before returning to Brisbane where I retired in 2009. Retirement did not suit me and I moved back to Charleville in 2014 where I worked for another two years before again attempting to retire. On both occasions personal circumstances prompted my return to the city. In 2018 I returned to the Outback for a month’s holiday, staying with friends in Quilpie and Charleville. I was genuinely surprised to be told by many people how much I had been missed, how much I had been appreciated in the work I had done. However, I wasn’t ready to hear what they were saying.

Now, having returned from another stay in the Outback, I’ve got it! I understand and truly believe that those wonderful people in both Quilpie and Charleville mean what they say when they tell me that I really was valued, that I had left a hole in their communities. It is very humbling to hear their words, and to know that I did make a difference. This time I also finally accepted that my heart is in the bush, and that is  where I long to be.

When I was in the Outback I felt valued, wanted, needed, accepted, loved and appreciated. I felt so alive and invigorated, happy and so very content. When people hugged me it was not just embracing me physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well–healing hugs that touched me…body, soul and spirit.  Over and over again I was wrapped up in love, and it was so precious. Out there I felt even closer to my God than I do near the city.

The people were genuine in their love and acceptance of me, just as they were in the way they lived. They are courageous, brave, resilient, generous in their hospitality. They appreciated my presence, for my simply being me, and for the genuine love, warmth and acceptance I had for them. They appreciated my support and encouragement just as I was grateful for theirs.

At last I have found where I belong; I had come home.  I did not want to leave. 

My return was not pleasant, a sharp reminder that here in my beautiful over-50s active lifestyle resort life is very superficial, very artificial and quite meaningless. One of my lovely Charleville friends told me that when she reads about such resorts they seem to be providing activities that simply fill up time, rather than provide purpose and meaning to one’s life.  She is so right.

The outcome of this time in Charleville is that, having finally accepted how much I love the Outback and how it has captivated my heart–and how much people would love me to stay–I need to return. Plans are in place with that in mind and I look forward to what lies ahead.

While I was in Charleville I asked God what he desired of me. His response was simple. On my return to Brisbane I again asked what he required of me. His response was the same:

He has shown you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).

As I work through the issues to be addressed as I plan further trips to the Micah 6Outback, I do so with the desire to follow my Lord and Master and to do as he directs: To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with my God. In the process of doing that I am also reminded of his admonition that we are to love one another, just as he has loved each one of us and has given his life for us.

I love the Lord with all my heart, soul and being. And I am grateful for yet another opportunity to live for him and to go about his business in the way he directs. What a privilege—my joy and my very great delight.

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Baldy Top, Quilpie

THE SPLENDOUR OF OUR GOD

GOD CONTINUES TO prove his immovability simply by being himself. God is good. God is love.

What more can I say?

Father and child 2My heart and soul rejoice in the wonder of who God is—his awesomeness, power and might, his love, grace and mercy.  The greatness of his vast creation, the gentleness of his individual care and concern for each of his creatures.

Awesome God, faithful Father, saving Son, empowering Holy Spirit—how great you are!

With all my being I explode with gratitude for all you are, all you are doing in my life, and in the lives of those I love and care about.  Thank you.

The heavens declare the awesomeness of your might and power—and my humble heart echoes the expression of that declaration.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer (Psalm 19:1, 14)
    SUNSET