Robert Kennedy, fighting into positive territory, letter to daughter

Fighting back into positive territory

Fighting back into positive territory is a cliche associated, most commonly, with the share market where it describes stocks, or indeed the whole market, moving from loss into gain.

Of course shares and markets are not personal beings that can fight back into anything and so it is a pity this phrase is so often wasted on the endless statistical variations of markets.

Where it is truly significant is in the story of human beings all over our planet who, against the odds, deliberatley and intentionally, fight back into positive territory.

An example I heard tonight was Senator Robert Kennedy, who shortly after the assassination of his brother, President John F Kennedy, wrote to his 12-year-old daughter:

‘Dear Kathleen, You seem to understand that Jack died and was buried today. As the oldest of the grandchildren, you have a special responsibility. Be kind to others and work hard for our country. Love, Daddy.’

‘Be kind to others and work hard for our country…’ – fighting back into positive territory.

This is one example among millions where people – confronted with loss, disability, disaster, sickness, suffering and tragedy – doggedly fight back into positive territory in their lives by choosing well on what to focus, on the words they speak, and the memories they entertain, or the perspective they maintain.

These are courageous, redemptive acts, all of them, and follow the great Redemeer at work in the world.

Keep fighting.

Hope against all hope in the midst of change

It has been a year of unprecedented change for our family, some if it chosen, some of it not – and it’s not over yet.

Change, whether initiated or imposed, is often challenging – especially when it affects the deep things of your heart and your future.

In the midst of some difficult moments this month, I had a speaking engagement where my theme was to be hope. Having been planned long before, it almost seemed laughable that I would contemplate hope when I was more prone to panic.

Of course, God has a sense of humour and that is good reason to be hopeful – it helps not to take yourself too seriously.

There is something unique about the Bible that when you turn to it to prepare some thoughts for others, it has an amazing power to instead prepare you.

And so, for all those pondering their future, wondering their past and wandering right now, let there be hope:Read More »

Faith shines, undaunted by broken bodies

I have witnessed holy moments this week, acts of faith largely unseen but shining brightly in an invisible kingdom. They have left me humbled and undone. The first I witnessed personally, the second through the eyes of others.

Standing in a rehabilitation hospital I am surrounded by septuagenarians and find myself playing the role of the younger generation, nice for a change.

The first stood, fire in his voice, to pray for his friend sitting in a wheelchair. The pray-er has this year come through life-threatening emergency surgery to remove a massive tumour that was destroying his spine. Remaining full of faith throughout, he feels more qualified to pray for healing, not less.

He wags his finger lovingly at his friend who finds herself in a wheelchair after tumbling down a cliff, breaking her neck and bruising her spinal column.  

‘Don’t ever think that God wouldn’t want to heal you just because you are old. He loves you unconditionally and wants you to have life to the full,’ he says. Read More »

Jeffry leaves us far too quickly

One of the boys lingers after morning devotionsOne of the last times I saw Jeffry alive was as we gathered around a single candle flickering on the white tiled floor of the children’s home in Bali.

It was the first time that I had stayed overnight at the home and, although the home-parents had set me up in my own room with a fan, a blackout had left me too hot to sleep.

As I listened to the noises of the night – geckos, frogs, dogs, babies – it seemed only moments before I heard the sound of children and adults rising to share devotions.

As the children began to sing, I shuffled bleary eyed from my room and sat on the floor among them. We sang to Jesus, candle shining, and the tiles providing at least some coolness.

Jeffry was there, nurturing the candle as boys love to do, singing with the others his love for God.

Later that morning – it was still only about 7am – I enjoyed a specially procured breakfast of fried bananas and took photos of some of the kids as they headed off to school. Four other boys travelled on the back of motor bikes, but Jeffry rode his bicycle.

I had ridden his bike myself a day or two before. It was just before church at the children’s home and I was wearing my preacherly best, but caught up in the playfulness of children, hopped on the bike, riding up the lane, much to the amusement of the kids and arriving churchgoers.

Jeffry loved to call my daughter (Rebekah) bebek which means duck. She would ask for the names of animals to say back, and her attempts left Jeffry and the children rolling with laughter.  

A couple of days later I flew home but that little corner of Bali, down a back lane in Denpasar, is never far from my heart, or my family’s.

There was no candle, no white tiles, no smothering humidity when I got up yesterday morning, heading to make coffee and breakfast.

I noticed a text had arrived on my mobile. I opened it and read: ‘P please pray 4 Novi, motor bike accident young Jeffry died Novi in coma we r at hospital.’ Later we learned a drunk rider had collided with the two children.

My own sadness at this news cannot be compared with my daughter’s who has used almost every available holiday in the past few years to visit these children. We can only imagine the aching grief of those whose lives entwined with Jeffry every day.

It was many years ago when I sat in the room of a small boy as he died of AIDS, contracted from his mother. He had spoken of visions of Jesus coming to his room to speak with him. These memories tell me that Jesus is never outdone by tragedy.

Experiences like that, like this, remind us that every child is beautifully special and that somehow God, in his great love, makes provision even in the darkest hours. Our prayers and our presence are part of that provision, the reason we care, that we go.

One of Jeffry’s  ‘sisters’ at the home wrote, ‘everyone very sad , and also still not believe that Jeffry must go quickly…’

It is true, he has gone far too quickly for us, but he finds himself in a place where time, or tears, will never bother him again. Till we meet again…

Flourishing grace blooms despite grey skies

While the sun shines today, the past two weeks in Sydney have seen almost constant rain, clouds and cold with the occasional blustery wind to ensure we all got wet more than once.

The plants around our courtyards, while at first welcoming the moisture, after a week or so seem to be putting their hands up and saying, ‘we’ve had enough’.

Not so one humble plant, stoically located in a pot near our front door. Just as the weather reports began to be filled with news of east coast lows and torrential rains, our welcome plant was, for the first time, putting forth flower buds.

And as the grey skies took over and the constant rain fell, it broke out in a lavish display of petulant pink, protesting against the bleakness, bowing down under its load of large flowers. Guests even stopped to take photos, umbrellas close at hand.

Now the plant’s inaugural show of joy and colour has won out, the rain has given up but the pink flowers live on, welcoming the sun back with barely a ‘I told you so’.

The words ‘bloom where you are planted’ crossed my mind more than once as I regularly dashed past the floral version of a pink flamingo. How inspiring that you would defy the grey and bloom anyway, I thought.

The Creator’s hand was evident, not just in the flowers, but in the timing and the message. Am I willing to be what God has made me to be despite the grey clouds and gloomy outlook? Am I so convinced of his goodness that I will by all means display it regardless of the outlook?

Do I realise the awful power of a loving rightness carried forward by God’s Spirit and alive within me, unquenched by circumstance? Will I allow the flourishing grace of God to choose the time and place for colour and new life? PH

Get the jump on hairy panic

It used to be the respectfully named Umbrella Grass that rolled in on a westerly wind and stacked up against farm houses like a dusty, dry dump of snow.

But a new wispy villain is covering the land, and it’s a grass aptly known as Hairy Panic. While there is some evidence that its seeds were collected and ground for food by the Wemba Wemba people of the Murray River, today it is better known for covering houses and highways and giving over-indulgent sheep the often fatal Yellow Bighead disease – no further details necessary!

Enjoying the west of NSW for a few days, scenes such as the one pictured above are commonplace. And while rural NSW has experienced the best start to a growing season for years, it has now been some time since the refreshing rains earlier in the year and perhaps there is just the first itching of the old hairy panic creeping in for some farmers.

When a big part of the success of what you do is completely outside your control, panic can quite easily roll over your life, cover familiar landmarks and stow away in hidden corners.

Of course, city folk are just as prone to the hairiness of panic and all of us often respond by strictly controlling what we can to help us cope with what we can’t.

Another option is a spiritual and emotional trampoline to put our feet above the panic and provide the joy and freedom of trampling on our hairy foe.

Faith in God is many things and it may just be the trampoline we need to jump-start an overcoming of panic, anxiety and worry, making it small and opening up the sky to hope and possibility. PH

God help us: Bali Nine pray

Having sat on the floor in the steamy visiting room of Kerobokan Prison with Andrew Chan and others of the Bali 9, any news of their faith and well-being holds a special interest. While the media rarely comprehends their faith, or the nature of their ordeal, today’ s report in the Sydney Morning Herald gives some insight.

Christians in Bali (including workers from our own church) work hard to support the Bali 9 and Schapelle Corby. Please continue to pray for them. Check out today’s report: God help us: Bali Nine pray.

Between our worst and his best…

Between the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ there was an agonising pause for his disciples.

Faint memories of a promised return battled with abject shame, guilt, confusion sorrow and fear.

This pattern is often repeated in life. The despair of our worst is tested by time – the wait, the replays, the not knowing, the what-ifs, the wondering if God might still intervene.

If only we knew that amidst the dark soil of our worst is the good seed of God’s best. Like all seeds, it is a few days before the first inkling of new life, new hope, is evident.

Somehow stay in reach of his resurrection. Be a Mary Magdalene approaching the tomb; be a Peter or John grieving together; be a Thomas, wanting but doubting; be an Emmaus pair walking and talking, if not understanding.

Between our worst and his best is a wait. God never said it would be pleasant, only that it would end well. PH

Go and see The Blind Side

“A project for the projects,” jokes one of Leigh Anne Tuohy’s well-to do friends about her taking a poor, black American teenager into her home.

“Count me in”, she says. But want she doesn’t realise is that it isn’t a project, it’s personal.

When one human heart is moved by God and broken for another human being, projects, politics and political correctness go out the window.

As Shane Claiborne said in the Irresistible Revolution, it’s not that Christians don’t care for the poor, it’s that they don’t know the poor.

What  this true story shows is a wealthy middle American mum stepping out of her charity mentality and putting herself in another person’s world and allowing them into hers.

This will always create miracles, regardless of your politics, and your colour.

At the end, Sandra Bullock playing Leigh Anne Tuohy thanks God for the privilege of being able to share her life with Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron).

Well she might. Afterall, it was God who sent His Son to share his life not only with us, but as one of us, that we might live. 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

Be exhausted for God

The word exhaust literally means to empty or drain completely of resources. We use it to mean we are very tired but it goes deeper than weariness, and includes an emptying out of any capacity we have to give.

Sounds like something to avoid but Oswald Chambers has this to say today in My Utmost for His Highest:

“He saved and sanctified you in order to exhaust you. Be exhausted for God, but remember that your supply comes from Him.”

If we think of exhaustion as being tired, this doesn’t sound very useful. But if we consider that we have been gripped by God to be poured our for His purposes and filled endlessly by His grace, we find more hope.

This is why Chambers asks us to consider: “Where did you start the service from? From your own sympathy or from the basis of the Redemption of Jesus Christ.”

Sympathy is easily exhausted and rarely replenished. The Redemption of Christ is a high vantage from which to view and ceaseless well of refreshing. Live there and exhaustion or anything else will not beat you. PH

Pouring water into the ocean

There's more than one way to warn motorists that a vehicle is being towed. In Bali, a strategically placed palm branch does the job nicely...

Why do we travel to other countries to share our lives? Is it because we think our way is better than theirs? Or because we are driven by guilt or obligation?

In fact relationship is the key. God works through relationship and in today’s world, relationships can take us anywhere on the planet.

The beauty of a relationship with people and communities in other countries, particular where there is a crossover from developed to developing, is that we learn that our way of life is not the only one, that material benefits are over-rated but yet a privilege, and that putting ourselves in another person’s world is often a pre-requisite for sincere love.

While waiting for a friend on a Bali street, a driver came and chatted with me, hoping I needed his services. When I explained I didn’t, he accepted this politely and we continued to talk.

He pointed out his little blue van, slightly battered, that was his source of livelihood. As a taxi stopped and picked up some Europeans (“Dutch”, my Balinese acquaintance informed me), he pointed to the car which was part of a very large taxi company.

“If you spend money with a big business like that it’s like pouring water into the ocean. If you spend money with a family business like mine, it means we can cook tomorrow.”

We shook hands and parted company. Who assisted who?

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?

Heaven is particular

“There isn’t a soul in the world whom Heaven doesn’t regard in a particular fashion. There isn’t a sigh or a word that Heaven fails to hear.” The angel Malchiah speaking in Anne Rice’s novel, Angel Time.

We are personal beings despite relentless forces to de-personalise us. We are ‘particular’ and are known by God in a particular (unique, personal, individual) way.

This gives us hope that our particular life and this particular day are known to an infinite God, intimately. PH