When I think I’m going under

ocean 2

 

Jenny and I were paddling, sometimes floating, hanging onto the edges of a rubber raft in  shallow water. It was an unpatrolled beach on the Gold Coast.

The warm sun lulled us into a hazy, ‘half with it’ state as we talked …

 

Suddenly Jenny interrupted. “Nettie, can you touch the bottom?” her voice curled tightly around the question mark.

I poked my toes down. Further and further. All I felt was cool water and no sand at all. What had happened to the beach?

“We’re way out!” I exclaimed, looking in dismay at the fast-receding beach. “We’re caught in a rip!”

Jenny was a good a swimmer so was less concerned then I was.

I was scared.

We were soon out in the menacing-looking ocean, surrounded by turbulent waves as deep currents swirled against one another and splashed wildly.

I felt helpless.

Were we going to be drowned?

 

“Let’s praise God,” Jenny suggested. “You know, like Paul and Silas.”

So we did. Out loud against the roar of the crashing waves. And still we clung to the rubber raft.

As I praised Him, I heard a familiar still small voice assure me we would be safe.

 

Then a HUGE wave towered above us. A mass of churning foam and wild roaring. It pushed me down, down, and down. All that water, so deep, but still no sandy floor… I flailed and spluttered my way back to the surface only to realise my rubber raft had been wrenched from my hands.

My life raft.

Not a strong swimmer, I was at the mercy of this wild, destructive ocean.

 

Jenny was metres away from me now, still swimming. Fear gripped me and my entire body felt weak – powerless to resist such force.

Father! God! My heart screamed.

 

Another roar sounded behind me and again I was pushed down and rolled over and over like a rag toy in the hands of an angry giant. Still no sand beneath my feet.

I gasped and coughed as I surfaced again. God had told me we’d be safe – but what if it wasn’t God? What if I’d heard only what I’d hoped to hear? One more wave like those would surely be the end for me.

 

My heart sank as a third wave thundered towards me. Again it pushed me down and rolled me over and around. Over and over, and then – I almost sobbed with relief – my feet and knees scraped upon wonderful, solid sand.

Still floundering, I tried to stand up.

 

A stranger was running into the water. He helped me onto shaky legs and I was thankful … but I knew God had already rescued me. Jenny was walking out of the now-shallow water too.

A bubble of joy swelled inside me at the thought of it – God had sent those huge, terrifying waves not to scare us, but to carry us back to shore.

 

 

A slightly longer version of this story won a third prize and was published in A chicken can make a difference, the Stories of Life anthology 2016.

 

Have you ever needed God to intervene to save your life? I’d love to hear about it.

The life that you gain

 

“Nettie, how come you’re walking every day lately?” Louise asked as I tied my sneakers.

“I just feel like it.”

“But you’ve been working most of the day, cleaning houses.”

“Ah well, Jeanette, it’s good for your weight,” Vince said.

“It is.”

Louise shrugged. She was slim.

I couldn’t explain to my good friends – or to anyone – why I was walking nearly every afternoon. Pacing along the footpaths, thinking my whole life through.

 

Out I went into the afternoon at Red Hill, up the steep footpath, then along the terrace at the top, barely seeing the old Queenslanders, some of them lovely and some quite dilapidated, as I ‘talked’ to God.

 

I’d felt for some time He wanted me to surrender my life more totally to Him. And I didn’t want to.

I loved life!

And I wanted to do it my way.

My whole life – well, most of it still – stretched ahead of me. All that fun to have. I didn’t want anyone else telling me what to do or how to do it. Not even God.

Up another steepish hill I strode, enjoying the late afternoon sun gleaming gold on the wooden weatherboard houses and the trees. How I loved this old suburb.

If God were the boss of my life, it might be the end of some of my involvements with film makers and other arty friends. They were such fun. There was a world of creativity to be explored out there. I wanted to be free to experiment with it however I liked.

 

The sun sank beneath the horizon, leaving a black lumpy line of hills and valleys against the brilliant orange glow in the west. A chill crept into the air. I shivered briefly, though hot from walking. Time to turn back.

 

backyard 1

 

The next morning I was cleaning for an elderly man. I was still mulling over my dilemma as I worked.

As I hung out the washing in the gentle morning sunshine, a sudden song filled my mind. ‘The life that you lose is the life that you gain’, it went.

The future seemed full of joy. Glowing.

Maud's clotheslinePhoto Margaret J Smith

And there it was: the answer.

If I said ‘yes’ to God, I’d lose the right to be Boss but He would give me another life. A whole new gleaming-with-joy life. Happiness welled up within me. This new life seemed wonderful.

I said ‘Yes’.

I crossed the line.

My new life – doing it God’s way, led by His Spirit – had begun.

Birds twittered joyfully as I finished hanging out the washing. The sunlit garden shimmered green and golden with promise.

Sometimes He Shouts

 

me aged 30 Me aged late twenties or thirty.

 

 

What are You saying, God? What do you want me to do?  Why can’t I hear You now? This was my cry most days.

After a mountain top experience in my spiritual walk, I’d been going through a time of testing. God was silent. Towards me, anyway.

 

My birthday was coming up. In those days, many of us sent one another a scripture written in a birthday card. A carefully prayed-for scripture. I wondered if God would break His silence in this way.

Anything would be good. A scripture, a ‘word’, a gentle nudge of the spirit. Any form of ‘whisper’ from God. Anything to shine light into this long tunnel of spiritual darkness.

 

I was living in an old Queenslander with two friends. They planned to cook a special dinner for my birthday and invited my sister and her husband and children to join us.

I was first home when I returned from teaching in the late afternoon. There were a few cards in the letterbox. I read the first few carefully, peering to see a hoped-for message from God. All the messages and scriptures blessed me but nothing stood out.

Then the last card had a loving message and a scripture, Isaiah 30:15 – ‘In quietness and confidence’ (these days ‘trust’) ‘shall be your strength’. It was the middle part of the verse.

 

Interesting. It was the same scripture in my daily devotional that day. It was about learning to stop striving and trust God, to rest in His love. Was God actually telling me to stop worrying about the silence and to trust Him?

 

The other two girls arrived home and after much clattering and giggling from the kitchen, they called me to dinner just as my sister and her family arrived.

The table was adorned with flowers and several dishes of delicious home-made Chinese foods.

 

After dinner, the dishes were replaced by a pile of presents. I unwrapped one lovely thing after another. Beth had given me a beautiful gift. When the table was bare, she produced yet another parcel.

“Beth!” I said. “You’ve already given me a very lovely present.”

She smiled. “I wasn’t planning to get this but I was in a Christian bookstore and it caught my eye. I felt God really wanted me to buy it for you.”

‘It’ was a pretty wooden plaque. On it were engraved the words – you guessed – ‘In quietness and confidence shall be your strength’.

I nearly burst into tears.

 

Sometimes God doesn’t whisper; He shouts.

 

Pecan Pie

While my sister Arlene and her husband Michael were working as missionaries in Tufabi, a seaside native village in equatorial New Ireland, once a fortnight they drove sixty miles to Kavieng to buy groceries and other essentials.

 

The grocery trolley was almost full. Michael spotted a delicious-looking frozen pecan pie. He knew they were on a tight budget but . . .

“Couldn’t we, just for once?” he asked Arlene. He held up the pie longingly. It looked crisp but moist, with yummy nuts, icing and custard.

“No, sorry Darl, we’ve used up our grocery money. We get plenty of lovely fruit and I can make custards and things.”

“Okay.” Michael gave a disappointed shrug. Life as a missionary was not always fun. He’d expected that.

tufabi house & driveway

 

They loaded the groceries into the truck and drove down the narrow winding road between towering green walls of jungle, to their waterfront home.

Soon they were relaxing over a cup of tea. They were tired after their journey and the various ports of call in town.

 

The next day was Tuesday, the day Peter and I (Jeanette) came to catch up on news, to discuss our journeys as young Christians, and to pray for one another. It was always a great time of fellowship for us all and we looked forward to it. For Arlene and Michael, it was a break from being isolated from other Australian or European expatriates.

Peter’s car purred along the driveway and up beside the house. I scrambled out and Peter gathered a few parcels and followed.

He held out the first package. Arlene looked in disbelief.  A pecan pie! Exactly the same as the one in the grocery store.

“I was just leaving the house,” Peter said, “when I felt God told me to take the pecan pie from my freezer for you.”

It came complete with custard so Arlene didn’t have to cook dessert at all.  We all had a helping and there was enough for my sister and her husband to have the following night.

Michael’s grin said it all.

 

Sorry about the old photos again – taken in 1973

Peter and I were both teachers at Madina High School which is the setting for much of my novel Lantern Light, under the pseudonym Barrington Place. No, Peter is not the inspiration for Dave or Craig!  Lantern Light is available from Koorong Bookstore or directly from me.   www.facebook.com/jeanette.grantthomson                                 

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Mist

this one -mist

Kenilworth. I wake early to a damp morning. I part the curtains and gaze out at the hills. Wisps of mist hang in the hills and the far mountains are veiled in soft whiteness. The river is a cotton wool smudge in the valley.

I slip out to the veranda and breathe in the moist cool air. It’s a cloudy morning and the mist is billowing across the paddocks, devouring hills, trees and fences. The distant scenery disappears. It’s a white world.

I hurry back to the warmth inside.

Soon the trees outside the window are smudged with white, then mist nudges and gropes at the windows, blotting out the view. Whiteness is all I see.

I know it’s all there waiting for the sun to rise higher, hotter, and burn away the mist, unveiling mountains and paddocks.

 

I remember driving with a friend at Maleny when everything was shrouded in deep mist.

“We can’t see the road!” I exclaimed, nervous on the steep mountain road. “We could drive off the edge.”

“It’s okay,” he assured me. He turned the headlights brighter and yellow beams of light poked out into the fog.

“We just have to go slowly. Carefully,” he said. I trusted him to drive well as he knew the area.

Like you do in a spiritual mist when God’s whispers are faint or smudgy. Slowly and carefully. Trusting.

The egg man

In 1973, while I was teaching in a school several miles away on New Ireland, my sister Arlene and her husband were missionaries living in a semi native-style house in the small village of Tufabi. Arlene was pregnant with her first child.

 

Arlene loved the house Michael and some of the villagers had built mainly from local bush materials. It looked out over the ocean to where the distant salt haze merged the sea into the sky.

Her first pregnancy was a good, healthy one. She glowed with well-being from her natural health and the enormous amounts of locally grown fruit and vegetables she ate. She also walked along the beach right beside their house, and swam in the limpid tropical water.

 

Tufabi 1

She had one concern regarding her lifestyle. She was getting very little protein in her diet. Gazing out the window at the sea, brilliant turquoise that day, she prayed, God, please provide more protein for me and this baby. Thank you for the occasional eggs the village women give me so sacrificially, but I feel I need more than they can give. She breathed in the tangy salt air.

 

One day as Arlene tidied the house, she heard a car purring in along the sandy driveway. It stopped outside the house. Who could be visiting? She hurried over to the window to see. Brown hair and a brown-bearded face peered from the car. It was Peter! He clambered out.

 

Peter was a Christian who taught in a nearby school. He had avoided them until recently and had just begun to visit. What could he want today?

 

“Hello, Peter!” she called from the window.

 

Peter reached into the car and pulled out two large trays of beautiful eggs. Dozens of them. “Hello. I’m the egg man at school and these were left over. Can you use them?”

Could she use them! All that lovely protein, waiting to be made into omelettes or boiled eggs or  . . .

Thank you, God! She breathed. And as she thanked Peter, Michael invited him in for a cup of tea. It was the first of many happy times together.

 

Sorry the photos are old. Taken in 1973.

The Potter

As I sat on my veranda in the school holidays at Kenilworth, Jim paused on his way past.

“Dry, isn’t it,” I said, looking at the wilting, brown grass and plants. Even some of the trees looked tired.

“What we need is a good flood now,” Jim told me.

“A flood?” I remembered the silver thread of water becoming a turbulent brown mass swirling down the river, bursting the crumbling banks. Destructive water.

“Yes,” he said, “it’s what the land needs.”

I shuddered.

But Jim never ceased to amaze me with his knowledge of seasons and the land.

 

I remembered that last flood again. Ominous leaden skies weighing down on us.The eerie feeling in the air as relentless muddy water crept higher and higher up the cliffs. And then the water trickling over the land. Further and further. I’d found it exhilarating but a bit frightening.

 

What if it didn’t stop before it reached our houses?

 

It did though.

 

After the flood subsided, the entire landscape was different. As it dried out, I marvelled at how God, the Great Potter, had gouged mud from cliffs and paddocks and sculpted it into beautiful shapes. How He had used the swirling water to mould, smooth and carve out patterns on the high muddy cliff that formed one of the river banks. (Jer.18:1+) The entire cliff was reshaped.

 

Grass would grow again, greener than before. Swallows and kingfishers would dart in and out of nests in the mud of the bank. The land would flourish peacefully under His mighty creative hand.

 

And people would admire the graceful sculptures carved into the muddy bank as they gazed across the river.

 

I’m still in the hands of the Potter. Still being moulded and shaped as I continue to settle in to a different living area and a semi-retired lifestyle. I’m busier than before, I suspect.

 

Are you still in the Potter’s hands? What sort of situations are shaping you?

 

Photo of Mary River rising by Elvira Meridy White