Through a Glass Darkly

Late last year in Queensland we had serious bush fires, mainly north of where we live.

“You can hardly see the town from the road,” my sister greets me. “The haze from the smoke is just awful.”
“It must be unbearable up north where the fires are. Straddie too, I heard. And the smoke’s in the air a lot here too,” I reply.
I look out at a blurred landscape. The once bright green trees are dim. Hazy.

For the past few days South-East Queensland has been shrouded in dust and smoke. We look sadly at the hazy landscape; it is the result of many bushfires burning ferociously, north-west of here. Fires rage day and night while firemen and others, even teams from interstate, fight the blazes. Aircraft drop water on the fires. But still they rage.

The mass of smoke and dust from our parched, drought-stricken land stings our lungs with acrid fumes. It heavies our spirits with the pain of human suffering. Television shows us sad families standing beside the ruins of houses and properties. Their faces show shock, grief, sometimes stoicism. The death of lifetimes of dreams.

Even beautiful Kenilworth is smudged out of focus with dust and smoke.

 

Photo by Elvira Meridy White

haze - Elvira

We sigh and pray for rain.
Looking at the smudgy landscape, I think of a verse in the Bible telling us we see through a glass darkly – this earthly life is like a haze hiding the intensity of God’s beauty from us.

 

 

Hazes form from all sorts of  sources. At the beach recently I noticed the long gleaming strip of beach from Coolum to Noosa showed Noosa Heads at the end.

 

 

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A few days later a thick salt haze had swallowed the headland.

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I remember once when I was about fourteen, I sat on the side veranda gazing at the huge old magnolia tree.
Suddenly it seemed a veil lifted and I was aware of a realm beyond the world of my senses, a realm I could not see or hear. But I could sense it. It was real. A haze had departed from my spiritual awareness.

What lay ahead for me? I wondered.
It was like a call. A call to what? To be a writer? A musician? I had no idea, in our godless childhood world.

The veil slipped back and I picked up my notepad and began to write a poem to capture the feeling before it faded. The galvanised iron roof creaked and crackled in the summer heat as I wrote.

Many years later I read that verse in the Bible telling us that now we see through a glass darkly (or in a dim mirror) and later we will see face to face.

Through a glass darkly.
And through a haze faintly. Trusting that beyond the smudgy distance is the glowing reality.

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Peace beyond our understanding

 

 

Rabaul –  photo Zena Grant-Thomsonrabaul zena 1.

“Bye, Robyn!” I called as she headed out to work.
“Have a good day,” she replied.

I combed my damp hair, ready for the day. I was having a relaxing holiday in Rabaul with Robyn, after my year’s teaching on New Ireland.

Suddenly I was enveloped in strong, tangible peace. I stood still to enjoy it. The tropical air was still moist and hot but I no longer noticed it. This peace was all I was aware of. This must be the peace that passes all understanding the Bible mentions, I thought.
I felt so calm. So strong. If I always felt like this, I could do anything, I thought. I could cope with anything at all.

Tyres screeched into the driveway. Footsteps clattered loudly up the steps.
“Michael!” I exclaimed. “I thought you and Arlene were in Tufabi.” (Tufabi is on a different island from Rabaul.)
“Your sister’s in hospital,” Michael said. “She’s very sick. She might be going to die.
The doctor sent her here as a medical emergency” – “life-threatening infection” – “she was green” – Michael’s voice hurried on, blurting out Arlene’s symptoms anxiously.

All through those terrible words and the quick explanation following, I remained bathed in that supernatural peace. For a moment my mind swam with horror, but I felt no fear; only normal concern.

“I’ll pick you up in ten minutes,” Michael said and drove off.

I hurried to my room and sank to my knees. “Father, is she going to – die?” I asked.
The peace grew stronger. A gentle presence like a fine silk shawl rested over me.

Clear, quiet words formed in my mind.
She will not die.
Relief flooded me.
Quickly I packed a few things she might need. I was ready when Michael drove in again.

 

Beautiful Rabaul – pic Rose Glanville- rose glanville photo of rabaul

 

The hospital ward seemed strangely dim. Was it really poorly lit – or was it ‘dimmed out’ by my emotions? I’ll never know.

Arlene lay there, her face a yellow-green colour against the white pillow case. Dark skinned nurses slipped silently around her, adjusting her drip, her sheets.
I talked to her and prayed for her, then left quietly. All the time, I felt a strong Presence holding me up, and that amazing peace sustaining me.

With good medical help Arlene gradually recovered and after a week or two was back in Tufabi.

I have always been thankful for that supernatural peace that enabled me to do all I had to during that time, calmly, with no panic of my own affecting Arlene. And that peace enabled me to pray for her with real faith.

It was a little miracle, too, that God had me there in Rabaul during Arlene’s crisis, after I’d spent a year on New Ireland.

 

Photo – Rabaul from the air – Zena Grant-Thomsonrabaul zena 2. - copy

Our miraculous New Zealand holiday

 

Our five weeks in New Zealand was one of the best holidays I’ve had. We had a wonderful time and all five of us returned safe and well. That’s probably a miracle – or the result of a series of miracles.

We came back radiantly happy, all the best of friends. Another sort of miracle, although we got on amazingly well most of the time.

The real stars of the holiday were New Zealand itself in all its beauty and Amazing Gracie, our orange 1949 Vauxhall.  One another. And God. (Not in that order!)

 

Gracie adn Mt EgmontPhoto of Mt Egmont and Amazing Gracie

 

Amazing Gracie took us faithfully all around the two islands although we had to push it on and off the car ferry, and it broke down regularly.

Luckily for us – or rather, thanks to Gods’ protection – it broke down in all the right places. We wound around dangerous narrow roads, snaking our way down to little towns. Cliffs fell away sharply right beside us.

It was scary.

Gracie remained amazing and took us safely down these roads.

At the bottom, about ten metres from the end of the horror bends, Gracie stopped. And refused to start again.

We grumbled briefly but then realised how it could have been a few minutes earlier.

Peter and Ross walked up to the nearest garage and soon a mechanic was hammering away under the bonnet. Before long the car was fixed and we were on our way again.

 

 

Gracie and usPhoto – us, Peter behind the camera

 

There are many stories involving Gracie and its amazing ability to know just when to dig in its heels (well, wheels). Stories of God rescuing us. Of God blessing us with the right weather at the right times. Some of these anecdotes appear in my blogs and even in magazines and books (see The Gecko Renewal, the Stories of Life anthology 2017 and the  Stories of Life’s Three Dummies in a Dinghy, 2018). Life on our trip was not dull, even apart from the magnificent scenery and all our fun.

Some stories can wait for another time but I must mention this little one.

We stopped for five whole days in Queenstown to have a rest and enjoy the stunning scenery. We actually rented a unit with big plate glass windows facing the Remarkable Mountains.

After two nights of gazing at the bare rocky mountains glowing orange and rose pink in the late light (it was January), one of us said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if God made it snow on the mountains!”

“Oh yes!”

 

remarkables

Photo – snow on the Remarkables, street below with Gracie parked.

 

The next morning we woke to a light flutter of snowflakes. The Remarkable Mountains had snow sprinkled across the tops of them. It continued to snow lightly and the snowline crept lower and lower.

A ray of sunlight chinked through the heavy ceiling of cloud. Everything sparkled.

The whole world glowed and shimmered white.

It was a completely different scene from yesterday.

God had answered our prayer!

 

Photos provided by Margaret J Smith, who was one of us in NZ

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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