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

FORGIVENESS—WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?

RECENTLY I WAS with a group of acquaintances, mainly fundamental Christians. The conversation got on to estrangement from one’s family. This was something one of the ladies had recently begun to experience, while for me it has been nine years since I saw my two daughters and their five children, my grandchildren. Immediately, one of the women in the group told me that the answer to this problem was forgiveness. I was not amused.

Firstly, that woman did not know me at all; it was the first time we had met. Secondly, she had not even heard my story—the dreadful complex challenges that had marred my life from birth and that had flowed on to my daughters turning their backs on me; and, thirdly, she did not know that forgiveness had already been a integral part of my healing journey.

I was angry with that woman. She was typical of so many people in many churches who are so swift to mete out judgment on those experiencing deep wounds from problematic families, wounds that they often have no idea what happened to cause them and from which they seek healing in the midst of a mess they did not create. Even when I challenged her belief, the woman remained adamant that all you need to do when life is tough is to forgive. I learned later that she herself was struggling with a difficult relationship with her daughter and could not understand why it was continuing, even after she had forgiven her—or at least tried to forgive her. Such situations are far more complex than simply mouthing words of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a process, an often arduous journey dependant upon the circumstances leading up to the need to forgive.

So, what is forgiveness? What’s it all about?

Perhaps we need to first understand what unforgiveness looks like. Unforgiveness is about holding grudges, becoming bitter, resentful, judgemental; holding onto the anger, hurt and desire for revenge that comes through a whole range of distressing and disturbing situations that cause us deep heartache, grief and despair.  When people are devastated by the actions of others that lead to crushing feelings of intense angst and anguish the last they need are words of judgment from the pulpit or supposed “godly” counsellors telling them that unless they forgive their abusers they themselves will not know God’s love or forgiveness. In times of such overwhelming devastation, people need to know God’s compassion, kindness and care. They need to be held in his arms of love, Bruised reedhear his promises to be with those who are bruised and broken, understand that he does not condemn them for hurting, being vulnerable, feeling foolish for being in situations that led to their distress and for which they were not responsible.

Christians, do you understand this?

Before you go preaching forgiveness, walk with the wounded in their distress. Hold their hands to help steady them in the mess of their lives. Hold your tongue—desist from mouthing words that can kill, cruel words that come from the pit of hell, not from the Word of God who is himself love.

There is a time for forgiveness. But ideally it should come in an environment where the intensity of one’s pain has eased, one’s emotions have settled, and when one can once again make lucid decisions about how best to cope with life’s difficulties.

Forgiveness is a rational response that helps us address our most painful situations. It includes the releasing of our hatred towards those who have betrayed us, our desire for revenge, and the need to know they are sorry for what they have done—none of which removes the power they still have over us if we hang onto our own bitterness and unforgiveness.

Forgiveness, the letting go of the wrong that was done to us and learning to release those who have caused our pain into the loving care of our Father who knows how best to deal with the whole situation, enables us to move on in life’s journey free from the heavy burden others have tried to place upon us.Cross

When I think of the distress others have caused me, my thoughts move towards Christ on the cross: “Father, forgive them for they have no idea what they have done.” I am reminded that not only did he speak those words to those who hurt me, but to myself who so often needs his forgiveness for the wrongs I do, both knowingly and unknowingly.

Forgiveness. It is a journey—one we all need to be on.

 

 

CAN A FOLLOWER OF CHRIST BELONG TO A DENOMINATIONAL CHURCH?

FOR MANY YEARS church has been problematic for me. I hadn’t realised why until some scary memories drifted into consciousness of my being sexually abused by a supposed “Christian” psychiatrist, a Queensland denominational church leader. I had entrusted my life to that man; he completely betrayed me. When the memories erupted my entire understanding of God, developed primarily through fundamental evangelical teachings, Shardsshattered. I had to pick through jagged shards, try to make some sense of the dreadful consequences of what that man had done, and begin the slow process of trying to rebuild my faith. It was a terrible time. Now, with the resultant early crises settled, I need to reconsider my understanding of church and where—if anywhere—I might belong.

I left the church back in the 1990s, when my life had first crashed about me and a private Welcome to churchpsychiatric hospital had become my second home. My challenges were far too complex for any church to manage, and I had to leave. Eventually, with the rubble of my life settling I tried to reconnect with a faith community. So far it has been a futile exercise, one that has brought much hurt, angst and despair. Churches of all denominational persuasions have made it so difficult for newcomers to feel welcome; the iciness of some has been distressing.  So what am I looking for in a church?

I want to be with real people who really know and relate to Jesus, as though he’s their Friend as well as Saviour and Lord. I want to be with people who are more aware of the Scriptures than they are of church doctrine, who know the difference between genuine Christianity and “churchianity”.

I want to be in a faith community that is inclusive, sincerely warm and welcoming, that understands that not everyone has the same comprehension of who God is—how we express our faith in God differsand that’s okay.

I need a place to belong, a mutually supportive faith community where I feel accepted, needed and wanted, where I can find my niche and serve God where he wants me; where I can share my understanding of God, listen to how others perceive him to be, and together grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).

I want to belong to a church where I can simply conform to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29), rather than to a particular denominational brand or church tag. I am a Christian—a follower of Christ. I am not a Baptist, fundamental evangelical, liberal, Protestant or Catholic.  I am a Christian.

Having said that—I am not looking for a perfect church. There is no such place. I just want to belong to an authentic Christian community. That’s what I’m looking for. Is there such a place? I don’t know…I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.  But I live in hope.

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IS YOUR GOD TOO SMALL?

MY GOD IS an awesome God, full of majesty, power and might, grace, mercy, kindness and care. I haven’t always known him like that. For many years he was frightening, somebody to be feared and shunned, a judge who sat upon a lofty throne glaring down at us mere mortals who, no matter how hard we tried, could never attain his standard of  perfection or righteousness. Though I was fascinated by him and wanted to know more about him, my childish comprehension kept me from ever getting to know him. I am not alone in what was my faulty, fictional understanding of who God is.

J.B. Phillips, in his book Your God is Too Small described the different perceptions God on throne 2people have about God. Many still hold the view of him that they had in Sunday School, a benevolent old man in the sky meting out blessings to those who were good and punishing those who were bad. Others see him as a “resident policeman” making sure they obey the myriad rules placed upon them, while others understand God as the “managing director” of their lives making decisions for them and taking away any responsibility for what they determine to be “God’s will”. Many others have placed God in a box that has been created by their brand of Christianity, Protestant or Catholic, or by their individual life story. None of those concepts, Phillips states, is adequate when one experiences the challenges of today’s society—and he was writing more than sixty years ago!

My understanding of God leapt out at me many years ago when I was speaking with a pastor about some persistent concerns that had nagged me since childhood. He suggested that I visualise myself as a little girl running towards God in his throne room and experiencing his loving acceptance of his daughter. I guess the pastor thought it would be rather like how JFK Junior would rush into the White House to be with his father. He had unprecedented access to the most powerful man on earth, the President of the United States of America. But for me, I was terrified and blurted out, “He says he won’t!” And my God remained even more distant than I had already known him to be. I have come a long way since then.

Where do I begin to explain who God is? So awesome, magnificent, majestic and mighty, ruler of the universe, our sovereign Deity, bursting with glory and wonder, power and might; all knowing, ever present and in supreme control of this world we live in. And yet this breathtaking Being who holds the world in his enormous hands, is so cognisant of the pinnacle of his creation, humankind. The Psalmist of old captures the dilemma we have:

LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
in the heavens.

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them? (Psalm 8:1-4)

How can we make sense of our majestic God’s desire to have a relationship with us mere mortals, particularly when for many of us our comprehension of him comes from distorted teachings flowing from the pulpit that have failed to represent the reality of our loving God?

God is love. The whole message of his creation is that of love. Despite mankind’s disobedience and rebellion, God’s message remains that of love. Throughout the ages, as he interacted with the Israelites—his chosen people—his message was that of love. And his plan of salvation, the sending into our sin-sick world of his only, dearly beloved Son to demonstrate in tangible ways the reality of God’s love for all peoples, was an unarguable message of extreme, extravagant love. The suffering and brutal crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ on that wretched cross at Calvary was the ultimate message of love for humanity and God’s creation. The resurrection brought with it the triumph of that message of love, culminating in the awesomeness of his ascension followed by the promised empowerment of the Holy Spirit upon those who chose to receive him.

God is love. And his message for all people everywhere, regardless of colour or creed, gender, race or religion, social standing or marital status, is that of love.

Jesus and lambThe message of salvation begins and ends with God. God is love. God loves me with an unconditional, welcoming love that accepts me just as I am—just as I was when I first met him and began to understand something of who he was and is. Just as I was in the mire of my life when chaos ruled, when my faith in him was as fragile as that of a lost lamb who had wandered far from her Shepherd’s care, when my anger at what others had done to me through their atrocious abuse, betrayals, lies and the distortion of God’s truth raged. God loves me. And because God loves me with that pure, unadulterated love—unconditionally and with no holds barred—I want to love him back, and love others in that same exquisitely perfect way.  I have much to learn.

Reference:  J.B. Phillips, Your God is Too Small, London: Epworth Press, 1952