Dear CheapBranded, thanks for your caring email…

My computer makes a doorbell sound, ‘ding-dong’, that used to be associated with Avon calling but is now better known as Windows default for a new email.

A shadowy preview of the new message appears in the lower right of my laptop screen and tells me it is from someone called ‘CheapBrandedViagra’.

(Just mentioning the word Viagra in my blog will send the spam protection software for this site into overdrive, such is the inter-connectedness – euphemism for lack of privacy – on the internet.)

A train of thought begins, thanks to my new friend CheapBranded, and I wonder if many of us realise how often we turn to the latest email, Facebook status, Twitter tweet or blog comment to fill deep emotional needs and stave of dreariness.

If our dearest friends are those who connect with us electronically, I have an amazing friend in CheapBranded as he has shown incredible determination to bypass not only my own spam protection, but that of my internet provider.

(I thought you should know I have worked with great commitment to avoid any unfortunate Viagra puns in this posting…)

But wait, perhaps CheapBranded is just that, not a caring friend who searched me out today with a loving email as my life faces precipitous change, but a cheap charlatan hoping to profit by pushing his brand at some perceived need.

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On getting off drink and closer to God

Walking away from the small community centre, past the sitting smokers, down the path in the warm sunshine, he stops and calls me Pete.

‘Pete, there are a lot of people on the streets who could get up if they wanted to but they don’t want to.’

I nod in agreement, ‘None of us make any changes in our life unless we really want to, so I guess that applies to people on the street too.’

‘I was homeless you know Pete,’ he says. ‘But I got myself up. Drugs are the real problem. Drugs and alcohol. I’ve never used drugs but alcohol was my problem.

‘But after I did 15 years straight of a 20 year sentence, the last thing the parole officer said to me was, “Are you going to give up drinking?” and I said, “Yes.”‘

And I haven’t drunk for 34 years.

‘That’s an inspirational story, you’re a great example,’ I say.

He chuckles, and fixes his ebony eyes on me and I feel privileged that this elderly man who carries a remarkable sense of wisdom and dignity, chooses to tell me his stories, week after week.

‘There was one time when I was drinking that I got picked up on the street by three policemen and put into a police van with three deros. When we pulled up at the station we all got out of the van and the police each took one of the deros into the police station and I walked straight across the road and into the Oxford Hotel,’ he says with a chuckle.

He talks about people in prison who ‘became’ Christians to get out of the big house. ‘I’m not a Christian, never will be, but I wouldn’t do that, just put it on.’

He recalled the advice of his mother. ‘She told me that God keeps way off in the distance and always has his eye on us. He’ll get them…’

Might not be great theology but I can feel the faith in this man, I can feel that he has a closeness to God that is born of respect, honour and honesty. One day I might just get to help him see it. I am encouraged. PH

Recognise your enemy, especially if it’s a crocodile

Christian speaker Lynn Tobin of Western Australia tells an amazing story from the rugged north of her state in which a work crew, camped out in the wilderness one night, suddenly hear some raucous singing in the distance.

Being miles from anywhere and anyone, they were stunned to hear any sounds of human origin and so quickly checked around their camp to see where it was coming from.

To their amazement, they saw a man, drunk out of his brain, walking through the marshy countryside, and attached to his leg was a crocodile! The man carried on singing, clearly unaware that the crocodile was trying to drag him off as a meal.

They rushed to their ute to grab tools with which to scare off the beast and had to beat it on the snout before eventually being able to pull the still singing and oblivious man free.

If that was not surprising enough, as soon as they had him free he quickly dashed off into the darkened landscape and out of sight.

The moral to this apparently true story – you can’t deal with an enemy you can’t recognise.

In life we encounter many enemies to our wellbeing, of spiritual or other origin, and too often we fail to let God help us see the true source of our affliction, or even that we are afflicted and could be rescued by his grace. We walk through life singing, with a crocodile on our leg.

As an aside, Lynn also mentioned that when people report having seen or been attacked by a crocodile, the average length is 30 feet when in fact the average size of crocodiles in 12-15 feet. Apparently, the opposite problem to the one above is just as likely – over-estimating our enemy. PH

Red castanets and other amazing things

Yesterday my father lay in intensive care having come through a long and delicate operation to remove a tumour on his spine and to repair the damaged vertebrae. With wires and tubes protruding everywhere, and a neck brace surrounding his head, he raised his eyes and in his post-surgery  voice said, “He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities… and by His stripes we are healed. Thank you, Father. You know its amazing that this God of ours is called Father.” And tears came to his eyes as he contemplated the love of God. Faith well in tact I’d say…

Today as I walked through Leichhardt I came across an old man, grey hair and beard, skinny legs protruding from crumpled shorts, walking with stilted step. He gazed around with a slightly bewildered look and with each step he shook a bright red castanet. As I continued down Leichhardt St, I could hear the regular shake of the castanet as he slowly followed my path. Strange? Perhaps. But give me a red castanet over the hammer and knife wielded on the same streets just days before.

On King St south Newtown we followed a golden Honda Jazz with its back windscreen covered by an intriguing web address – Now there’s a thought….

And the most unbelievable thing of the week – I took my father’s car to the Kmart Auto in Annandale to investigate possible problems with the brakes and some strange noises. After a thorough inspection, Peter told me the car was perfectly safe and although some work was required in the future, “it would be a waste of money to do it now”. Bring it back in a couple of months was his suggestion, “And, there’ s no charge today. I hope your old man is ok.” A mechanic choosing not to do some work now but send you home with no charge. That’s mighty unusual… but beautiful! PH

Hardware handshake

There are two competing hardware stores on opposite corners of Booth St, Annandale and I’ve always wondered how they survive in such a small shopping area and how they get along.

Both stores appear fiercely competitive for the passing trade and it would not have surprised me if their was animosity between the two. Afterall, hardware is serious business…

On January 2 as a I drove up Booth St, I saw salesmen from the opposing stores standing on their respective corners staring at each other.

Were they about to draw nail guns at 30 paces? Had one of them tipped over the other’s ladder display?

As I watched in the rear view mirror for hand gestures or ‘f’ words, I saw one of the men, clad in his shop colours, pace across the road, and, to my surprise, enjoy a hearty handshake with his counterpart, with not a flashing screwdriver in sight.

Good old Aussie mateship, in a small way like leaving the trenches in WWI to celebrate Christmas with the enemy.

Who said there’s no hope in the world?