Invitations

“Please come and visit before you go to sleep.” Scrawled in old-style cursive on a torn-off strip of paper, the note lay in my cabin. On my bed.

Minutes ticked by as questions swirled around inside me. Should I go? What does he want? Surely he’s safe – isn’t he? What will he do if I don’t come?

The chill of the night seeped through my skin, setting me shivering, as my feet crunched slowly along the path to his abode. There, shrouded in darkness, strong arms wrapped around me. Warm lips pressed against my hair, my neck while words of affection were softly muttered.

“She was a black-eyed beauty, like you,” he said. “We were lovers,” he said. “I’ve missed her terribly all these years.” Long and slowly he spoke, weaving his tale of endless grief, while I sat silent, immobilised by confusion.

“You remind me so much of her.” He shifted in his seat. Horror surged through my muscles and carried me, breathless, back to my room. Alone.

He was fifty. Married. A father of four. I was fifteen.

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“Come for a walk with me.” His strong, tanned hand tugged gently on my fingers. “It’s okay. I promise I won’t hurt you. I just want to talk.”

Hours earlier, his voice had beckoned. “You are beautiful. You are elegant.” Silky smooth, his words caressed me, quietly seeking to wrap themselves around my soul.

Caution snatched at my ankles as I followed him into the arching shadows of a garden. The moon stretched its glowing fingers between the branches, urging me to dash back into the light.

I stood in the shelter of the trees, tossing carefully-chosen phrases across the void I’d placed between us. Conversation meandered like a slow-flowing river. Philosophy and religion – our similarities, our differences.

Clouds drifted in front of the moon. Voices quieted. He opened his soul and spoke of desire.

My heart raged in fury, urging me away, back into the light.

He was thirty-five. My long-time teacher. I was seventeen . Fresh out of school.

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“Come to me,” he whispered. I recognised this voice – had known it all my life. He was the one Who loved me, the preacher said. The one Who died for me.

When I was tiny, He kept me safe at night. As a teenager, He called me closer, stirring up longings to know Him more.

Then darkness had entered my soul, slowly building a wall between us.

Surely I was unfit for his presence. I was the fearful one, shrivelled up and tormented, straining endlessly to whitewash the blackness away.

Still the stains seeped through.

His eyes gazed at me with fiery intensity. “I know it all,” He said. “I love you still. I’m not like the others. My love for you is pure. Complete.”

His arms stretched wide across the span of my life, covering all of my history and every moment yet to spring to life. “I gave Myself for you.” His voice was soft. “Stop striving. Come and let Me heal you. Let go of your past, of those who’ve wounded you. Trust Me and I’ll wipe away your pain.”

I lifted my head and staggered to Him, desperate. Tears streamed as shame and longing flowed freely from within me. He gathered me tenderly into His arms and held me close to His beating heart. Weathered hands wiped away my tears.

“You are the delight of My heart,” He said. “I’ll never, ever let you go.” Grace flooded over me, washing me through, replacing despair with hope and peace.

I was twenty-one. Anorexic. He was the Good Shepherd. The restorer of my soul.

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“My darling, I love you.” His gentle hands reached out to hold mine. “Will you marry me?”

I stared into his eyes, glistening pools of blue, my heart overflowing. This was the man I knew so well– the devoted, creative, handsome one who had my admiration from the moment we met. Far beyond my reach, I thought. Yet there he sat, smiling through the darkness while waves crashed on the beach below us.

The diamond ring sparkled in the moonlight as he slipped it on my finger. He held me close, his tenderness awakening the sleeping parts of my soul.

“You are so beautiful, inside and out. Let’s walk together through the rest of our days. Everything I have is yours.” His voice was soft with emotion. “I long to know you completely – with every part of my being. But I’ll wait…until the day. Be sure of this – already you have my heart. ”

He was twenty-eight. A lavish gift from God. I was twenty-seven. Blessed beyond words.

Healed and finally free to love.

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Isaiah 61:1-3

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

Related Scriptures

Jeremiah 31:3-4

1 John 3:16

Revelation 21:4

Isaiah 40:11

Zephaniah 3:17

Deuteronomy 31:6

 

 

 

Christmas Every Day

There’s going to be a pile of presents under our tree tonight. It’s Christmas Eve. For the first time, our four children have bought a gift for each family member. That means that before Mark and I even put our gifts out, there will be twenty presents filling the floor space around our bauble-laden evergreen.

Exciting!

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I love Christmas. I love presents – giving them, getting them, seeing the surprise on each one’s face as they discover what’s inside the colourful wrapping.

But long after all the paper is stashed in the recycling and the gifts are put away, I’ll still be celebrating the One we remember in this special season.

I’ve been pondering two verses in Isaiah chapter 9 of late, words which foretell the coming of Jesus. One particular phrase in verse 7 has stuck with me.

“Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.”

Yes, Jesus came as a beautiful, perfect baby. He was a real historical figure. He was born in a stable and was worshipped by shepherds and wise men alike. Isaiah 9: 6 speaks of that child.

But that exciting time was just the beginning.

Jesus didn’t come to the world just to delight everyone with his cuteness. He grew into a man and lived and loved people from all walks of life. He demonstrated His goodness and power in countless miracles – healings, provision, even raising the dead to life. He then laid down His life, taking the punishment for all the ways we’ve blown it and opening up the way for us to walk right into God’s presence (and live there).

Finally, He rose again (was seen by many witnesses) and still lives today. Best of all – He’s at work in our world.

He is the Wonderful Counsellor – the one who understands us completely and gives the best advice;

Mighty God – able to intervene in our lives and turn things around;

Everlasting Father – the faithful Dad who will never leave;

Prince of Peace – the one who remains steady at all times and invites us to walk with Him in that peace.

Our world is trying to push Jesus out, it seems. In America, use of the word ‘Christmas’ is being replaced by a more generic term.  In our own nation, Victorian public schools will no longer sing ‘religious’ carols at Christmas time as they may offend some students. There are countries where, for centuries, followers of Jesus have been ostracised, beaten, imprisoned and slaughtered, purely because of their devotion to Him.

Yet He continues to work.

Isaiah 9:7 reminds us that Jesus’ rule is spreading, even now, across the globe. Though we don’t hear about this in the mainstream media, He is reaching into the most unlikely places, touching the most unlikely people, bringing His counsel, His power, His beautiful Fatherly love and His perfect peace right into their midst.

Jesus’ rule isn’t one of domination or violence. He hasn’t raised up a terrifying army. He doesn’t force Himself upon us at all. No. He invites us to come to Him. He offers forgiveness, renewal, healing.

When we open our lives to Him, He fills us with His presence and begins to restore us, starting with all the broken places in our hearts.

It’s been thirty two years since I accepted His invitation. There’s not a moment in that time where I’ve regretted my decision. He has changed me more than I can find words to explain, bringing a love and peace that is beyond compare.

Knowing Him is cause for celebration every day.

“For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given,

and the government will be on His shoulders.

And He will be called

Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end…”

Isaiah 9:6-7a

The Beauty of Ordinary

A two minute chat with a couple of nine year olds left me unravelled.

My daughter’s class were bush dancing for their PE session. Their knees lifted high and their heads bobbed as they heel-toe, heel-toed back and forth in front of me. It looked like so much fun that I decided to join in. (The school encourages parent involvement). Bouncing along beside them, I locked eyes with different ones and grinned as I copied their movements.

When the music ended, the PE leaders moved to the stereo to restart the song. The students clustered together, panting steadily.

I stepped close to a huddle of girls. “Phew, that was hard work.” I patted my stomach. “Especially when you’ve just finished breakfast.”

One of the girls looked at me, her lovely eyes wide. “Have you only just eaten breakfast?”

“Ye-es.” My mind raced, clutching at a good excuse. “I do that last. Today I finished eating on the way here while my son drove.” That was fifteen minutes ago.

She looked at me blankly, seemingly shocked.

I make a habit of chatting to my daughter’s classmates each morning. Somehow I’d missed this one. Until today. Right at that moment she was forming her view of me. Probably not a good one.

“I’m not an early riser.” I smiled apologetically. “Do you get up early?”

She did.

My mind flitted back to some things I’d heard about their family lifestyle. This girl would have been up for hours. Breakfast, for her, was a distant memory. Unlike me.

Another girl – one I knew well – leaned forward, tilting her head while tiny furrows formed in her brow. I could almost hear the cogs turning as her deep blue eyes questioned me. “So, do you brush your teeth before breakfast?”

I paused and took a deep breath. “No, I haven’t brushed my teeth yet.”

I could almost hear their gasp.

“I’ll do them when I get home.”

My flustered thoughts were interrupted by another question from girl number one. “Do you go out to work?”

I pictured the way I was dressed. Black track pants, joggers and an ugly red polar fleece – unattractive but warm. Perfect for a day at home. Unimpressive compared to a working mum’s stylish garments.

“No, I’m a writer.” Well, technically that wasn’t true. “I stay at home and do writing.” My voice faded as I ran out of words.

The music began and I retreated from the group to watch. My mind was in a whirl, struggling with the desire to explain all the good things I did. All the ways I fit the ‘perfect mother’ mould.

Far out God, am I really that insecure?

It took a little while to shake off the sense of failure. I’m not like the mothers of those girls. I don’t get up early and dress smartly for work. I’m not so efficient with the morning routine. Some days I don’t finish my breakfast till after everyone’s gone to school.

But I am loved.

One thing I’ve learnt in the past few years is that God’s love for me isn’t dependent on my performance. Because of His character, that love is faithful and steady. Unchanging. Regardless of my failings.

I’ve found that the more I face up to my frailty, the more I feel His boundless love.

Even better, that love lives in me. Because I’ve invited Him to flood my life, I carry His presence within me. I may be inadequate. He is more than enough. I may be ordinary. He is extraordinary.

God loves to do the unexpected. He puts treasure in jars of clay. Gives beauty for ashes; joy for mourning. Pours His overcoming strength into those who have nothing left.

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I can identify with the clay jar – an ordinary, insignificant household item in Bible times – a bit chipped around the outside and able to be broken. It’s God’s constant, loving presence that gives me worth. Because of Him, I always have something to offer those around me. Even on the most ordinary days.

My worth comes not from myself but from the treasure I carry. And it seems the more cracks I let people see, the more His goodness is able to shine through.

When God is present, ordinary becomes something beautiful.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us…Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. ” 2 Corinthians 4: 7, 16.

(Photo taken from Homeschooling Against All Odds/Homeschool411.com)