During the past few years, my son’s strong arms have helped carry my weekly groceries up our steep driveway. I’d park at the bottom and the two of us would do two or three trips up to our house, carrying a few bags each. This year, though, Asela’s working hours were extended, so he wasn’t around whenever I returned from each grocery shopping spree. I decided it was worth paying for a home delivery.
The first time I tried the service, it didn’t work out quite how I’d anticipated. I had to wait patiently for more than an hour before my phone rang. “Your front door is closed” said an unfamiliar voice. I opened my front door and stood there like an expectant little bird with her beak open, waiting to be fed. I waited. And waited. After 10 minutes, there was still no sign of the truck, so I called back. No answer. Grrr! It was a hot day and I had things to do. What a relief when the man did turn up, groceries and all. Apparently he’d been at the right house number but on the wrong street.
The next time, I asked for a 5-8 p.m. delivery and returned home by 5. I was exhausted but didn’t dare lie down even for 10 minutes in case my groceries arrived. But once again, I played the waiting game. 5 …5.30 …6.00 …6.30 … 7.00. Should I call to check, I wondered. But no—I must be patient. 7.30 … 7.45 …and my patience ran out. I called. Sorry, they said. There had been a mistake. They’d called the number I’d written for them but couldn’t connect. My squiggly handwriting had let me down.
The grocery man (and the goods) finally arrived 15 minutes later, replete with a host of apologies and two large boxes of Lindt chocolates to make up for their lapse. So was it third time lucky, you ask? Not a chance. This time, I printed out my address and phone numbers, so they would read my details correctly. I completed my shopping before 2 p.m. for a 2 – 5 delivery time but had more things to do in the village, so asked if they could deliver at 3 p.m. No problem they said. Ah! But there was a problem.
I was on my way back at 2.30 when my phone rang. I couldn’t answer it because I was driving. I guessed who it might be, of course. Would the delivery man wait? My car screeched to a halt, (not really, I’m just being dramatic) and I pounded up my driveway. “Hello” I said. A man stepped out of a truck.
“I’m sorry you had to wait” I uttered between breaths. “I did ask for a 3 p.m. delivery.”
“That doesn’t work you know. We can’t promise a time.”
“Thanks for waiting” I said, relieved that my groceries hadn’t been whisked away before I arrived.
And what of the fourth time? Believe it or not … it worked. Hooray! No more trudging up our driveway with heavy bags. I think the money’s worth it, don’t you? In this instant age, we often expect too much too soon. We demand perfection of ourselves and of others before we (or they) can deliver (please note the pun!) But growing an Oak tree takes 20 or 30 years. Growing a mature man or woman isn’t any different. Learning life skills, takes an entire lifetime, at least three score years and ten, I reckon. Very few commodities in life turn up perfect, as we snap our fingers. Besides, those times of waiting are often a God-planned part of our journey.
Even God’s answers to our prayers often operate on a different timeline to ours don’t they? I've been praying an earnest prayer for 25 long years. I'm sure God would love to respond with a resounding YES to that prayer, but ... I’m still waiting. Meanwhile, He’s growing me. He's also doing plenty of worthwhile work behind the scenes which only eternity will reveal. I’m fast learning that seasons of waiting are a natural part of God’s order for me and for His world. Who knows, I might be cultivating patience as I wait. Wouldn't that be nice?
Have you been disappointed in yourself and in blunders that you've made? Do forgive yourself. You will get there, you know. Are you impatient about people in your life and the time they're taking to "grow up"? I'm sure they will surprise you one day. So give them time. Are you waiting on God's answers to your heart's cries? God's never in a hurry, I believe. After all, eternity is at His fingertips. But be assured that His answers will arrive. Let’s turn our seasons of waiting to grow deeper roots into the rich soil of kingdom living. Let’s use the extra time to sprout wings, wings that help us fly to new lands of opportunity and freedom. And let's cultivate the fruit of patience in our souls as we wait.
“Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city.” Proverbs 16:32
“Love is patient, love is kind.” 1 Cor 13:4
“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” Psalm 37:7
On many occasions last year, the pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia were too intense to allow my evening walk. A sorry state it was. I’m happy to tell you though, that as 2016 dawned, I’ve been walking more (praise God) and have been loving it, as I contrive to bring a few contours back into my shapeless waist and to the bulging rest-of-me. One evening last week, when I approached our neighbourhood oval, the skies were singing praises to their Creator. I stopped at once to take a few pictures. Click. Click. Click went my camera. Wow Wow Wow went my wide-open-eyes. O Lord You are amazing said my heart.
A few seconds later, I trotted out into the Oval and a cheery sight greeted me. Couples sauntered by, hand in hand. Children raced by on scooters. A few folks walked their dogs. Families were out for exercise. A young man flew a kite which flapped merrily in the breeze. And all the while, the heavens proclaimed God’s handiwork in flamboyant splendour. What a flaming sunset that was—streaks of reds, yellows and bright orange splashed boldly across the sky with an expanse of grey above that contrasted beautifully against the brighter colours. On the other side of the oval, a large pink cloud resembling a giant dog leapt across an expanse of azure sky.
I've always loved watching sunsets. They usually last a short time, maybe ten minutes at most. On this particular evening, though, each time I walked around the Oval, I’d stop to take more pictures because the sunset continued to blaze. For ever it seemed. After five rounds (and 45 minutes of walking), the sky invited me—even challenged me to do one more round. “We can keep up, you know” it seemed to declare brashly. I believed its promise, but was too tired to check it out. And so I went home. Looking back at its beauty. Smiling.
You and I know that a lot of things in life don’t last. Gadgets break. Friendships dwindle. Relationships fizzle out. People die. It’s a sad old world sometimes. But that evening sky reminded me that some things do go on forever. Like God’s love. Like God Himself.
It will be 17 years tomorrow, (19th January 2016), since we arrived on the shores of this beautiful Land Down Under. We are very grateful to its friendly people for welcoming us, for blessing us with a home away from home. The years have disappeared in a flash. My son was 8 when we arrived; he’s now a mature 25. During those years we have seen lots of change. In the world. In the community we live in. In ourselves. After all, change is perhaps the only unchanging factor in our lives ... or so it seems.
But wait. As we step into a New Year, let us remember what the Word tells us: ‘Jesus is the same, yesterday, and today and forever,” (Hebrews 13:8) In a world where few things remain constant, it thrills my heart and refreshes me; a spring of sparkling water that will never run dry. So take courage my friend. Every new beginning spells fresh hope. And even better, we know the One who will never change. So walk boldly forward, remembering with joy, that though life is fleeting and good times disappear, the One who flung the stars into space, the One who created you, knows you by name. He will never change. His love lasts forever. And yes, forever means FOREVER!
Psalm 136: 1-8;25-26
1. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.
His love is eternal.
2. Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love is eternal.
3. Give give thanks to the Lord of lords.
His love is eternal.
4. He alone does great wonders.
His love is eternal.
5. He made the heavens skillfully.
His love is eternal.
6. He spread the land on the waters.
His love is eternal.
7. He made the great lights.
His love is eternal.
8. The sun to rule by day;
His love is eternal.
25. He gives food to every creature.
His love is eternal.
26. Give thanks to the God of heaven!
His love is eternal.
by Anne Abayasekara
Today, I have great pleasure in welcoming a Guest Blogger to my website – none other than my Mum, Anne Abayasekara, a journalist for over 70 years. This article was first published 55 years ago in the Sunday Times of Ceylon 1961 (and later in her book ‘Hurrah for Large Families’). It was penned when Anne was aged 35 with seven young children aged 11, 10, 9, 8, 6, 5, and 3.
And now, without further ado, I give you ...
New Year Resolutions by Anne Abayasekara - 15.01.1961.
We were having dinner in the garden and out of long habit I found myself shouting instructions to the children: “Sit properly Ranil”; “Don’t talk with your mouth full, Sarla”; “Stop arguing boys and eat”, etc. etc. Suddenly I listened to myself and felt somewhat ashamed. I looked up to find my husband smiling at me and I said,
“I must have changed a lot in fifteen years.”
“How do you mean?” he asked.
“Well, I expect I must sound quite ‘bossy’ now, after managing seven children. I must have been different when I married you at 21.”
He continued to smile, wisely making no comment.The next day, we had to attend our daughter’s school prize giving and Husband said he would meet me at the school straight from work. Almost without thinking I said: “Then you had better change your shirt at lunchtime and for goodness sake, brush your hair down before you come.” Husband chuckled. “There you have the answer to your question of last night—how you have changed.” He grinned. “You wouldn’t have spoken like that 15 years ago. You sound positively managerial.” We had a good laugh together over that, but I've felt inwardly chastened ever since. And among the New Year resolutions I have made,
No.1 is TO BE LESS ‘MANAGERIAL’ IN 1961.
It may be old fashioned to make New Year resolutions at all, but January is an appropriate time to take stock of ourselves and our families. The children are making new beginnings in new classes and new schools and parents have had a hectic time with school entrance tests, new books and helping children to unfamiliar places, faces and routine. When I finally wave the children off to school in the morning, I flop into a chair at the breakfast table (which has been left in a fine state of disarray). “Peace and quiet for the next eight hours and time to get things sorted out”, I say to myself. And sometimes as today, while I get busy picking up clothes putting out towels, airing mattresses, tidying shoes, putting away books, my mind too becomes active, dwelling less on the children’s deficiencies than on my own shortcomings!
Life is such a rush for the modern child. The day hardly seems long enough for all they have to do. Unconsciously, we urge them on all the time, from one thing to another. From the time they are woken up in the morning - we dare not let them get up when they please – it’s a case of “Do hurry up—you’ll be late.”
Children seem to have precious little time for relaxation, no time at all “to stand and stare.” And I guess I am not the only mother who in my anxiety, am guilty of nagging a good deal. Children are not left in peace even to perform their natural functions. I bang on the bathroom door with the eternal “Hurry up—you’ll be late!” Even when they come home tired from school they cannot dawdle over their tea. They must wash and change quickly and dash onto their next assignment—music, elocution, dancing or just extra tuition.
When mother starts to feel a mental wreck just to get the children off in time for everything, it is also time she paused awhile to consider whether she might not be driving them nuts eventually unless she slows down the pace. So that’s another of my good resolutions for 1961:
· TO GO SLOW WITH THE CHILDREN THIS YEAR
· TO NOT EXPECT TOO MUCH OF THEM.
· TO LET THEM ENJOY LIFE WHEN THEY ARE YOUNG.
On a Christmas visit to friends who have no children, I was happily surprised when our host and hostess both commented on our children’s good manners. “They all say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ remarked our friends in evident surprise. “That’s after years of dinning it into them”, I said. “But so few parents seem to trouble to “din it into them today” our hosts replied.
I don’t know if that is so, but I have another aspect to this matter of teaching children good manners; in their eagerness to turn out polite, well mannered citizens, many mothers are guilty of discourtesy and impoliteness themselves. I know I am.
Instead of setting my children a gentle example of courtesy in my daily dealings with them (and alas even with their father), I tend to shout precepts at them in an impatient tone. I forget to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in daily intercourse with family, I am a bad listener. I interrupt children’s conversations. I break up their games. I shout at them with scant regard for their feelings. I am often rude.
I remember once, my eldest daughter related a rambling account of something that happened at school and all the time I was thinking that her teeth looked yellow. The moment she finished, I said “You must brush your teeth properly”, and she replied in disgust: “Oh Amma, you never listen!”
I seldom conceal my irritation at their constant questions. Even husband has now become accustomed to receiving impatient answers to simple queries, though he once mildly observed that I was much more polite when we were newly married. So it is no wonder that my third New Year resolution is:
TO BE MORE POLITE.
I have one last and final resolution too, one that I sincerely mean to try to keep, even if I fail with all the others.
TO BE MORE LOVING.
It is a harsh complex world that our children face today, with conflicts and problems that are not of their own making. Today’s children are aware of racial and religious antagonisms, of class conflicts, of all kinds of issues in which their parents are involved, of the great ideological differences that divide mankind to opposing camps, of the possibility of extermination through nuclear warfare and of man’s general inhumanity to man.
If I can help it, I should like my children to grow up in a home where love is the binding force and where they see in concrete form that if there is any way to soften this human heart, to kill evil and hatred and all that goes with it, it is not through hatred and cruelty, but through charity, love and understanding.
Anne Abayasekara - Sunday Times of Ceylon, 15th Jan 1961
In conclusion, I’d like to add, 55 years on, that Mum's aspirations have been amply realised. I know I speak for my brothers and sisters as much as myself, when I say we are deeply grateful to God for Amma and Thatha, for all they have been to us over the years, mostly for the secure foundation they gave us in a very happy childhood. Our parents' unconditional love for us was the binding force in our home and the cornerstone of our lives.
And after all, love is the key to life isn't it?
We love because He first loved us." 1 John 4:19
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." 1 Corinthians 10:13:4-7
Jan 1st 2015 - Australia
An evening walk in Adelaide. The air is still. Warm. A magpie warbles. And then I see it—a thick wall of smoke beyond the trees. Is that fire? I race home and put on the TV. Yes, scary news. Bushfires are burning very close to us—far too close for comfort. We’ve lived 16 years in Australia, but this is a first … for us. The phone rings. There’s more bad news. Mum’s gravely ill in Sri Lanka. But I’m oceans away. My looked forward to New Year turns into a walk in a forest of dread. Early next day Shan braves the extreme temperatures to hose down our home. The fires gain momentum. We pack a bag in case we have to flee. Far away in Sri Lanka, Mum’s entered hospital. I long to see her, but I can't leave my family when our home is at risk. My head aches and fear grips me, a bull terrier grabbing my ankle and not letting go.
Will Mum be OK? Oh God, please take care of her. Should I go? Should I stay? My mind races in circles—and I am a mouse trapped in a maze. On Sunday, at church, a friend prays with me and I find comfort. Thank you God. Back home, I rush to check my emails but it's the news I didn’t want to hear. Mum’s dying.
My hope flickers; a lone candle in a storm, about to be snuffed out.
Fire. Mum. I remember another day … another time.
July 25th 1983 – Sri Lanka (32 years before)
We cross the road, Mum and I, furtive, hurried, holding hands. The key I clasp in my right hand cuts into my palm but I don’t feel the pain. A loud crackling noise erupts and Mum’s eyes widen in fear. I turn my head. A blaze engulfs shops on the main road—large orange flames, gigantic tongues greedily devouring everything in its wake. My heart stops; my breath escapes in shallow gasps.
Mum touches my arm. I look at her. She smiles encouragement, but worry lines paint her forehead. I breathe. I open my neighbour’s front door. We enter the flat. As I move my arm to turn on the light, Mum draws me away. Oh! I’d forgotten the curfew. Mum switches on her torch and we find the kitchen. We open the larder. Mum pulls out a sack of rice and I grab several tins of food. I open the fridge and find some tomatoes and carrots. A vehicle whizzes past. A police car? I freeze. Would they find us? Would they arrest us as looters?
My heart thuds so loud, I’m sure Mum hears it too. We get what we can and finally … we leave, our arms laden with heavy bags. The streets are deserted and an eerie silence prevails. Fear envelops me like a python wrapping itself around its prey. I’m glad of my rubber soles. One little step at a time, we make it home. I step indoors, relief flooding over me.
That black Monday in our beautiful Sri Lanka, the unthinkable happened. Race riots broke out and numerous people lost their lives. Houses were burnt to the ground. Ours was almost set alight by a mob who stampeded down our road, incensed, screaming; intent on destruction. It was a world gone mad. In our home, we sheltered 23 neighbours whose home and lives were in danger. Mum and Dad reached out as always to those in need of a safe haven. That was what they did. Feeding our guests was a huge challenge—hence our foray into their houses at dusk braving the curfew. Keeping them safe was even harder. It was surreal. Like being in a movie. I look back in wonder. Did it really happen? It was a dark time in our nation's history and I am very grateful we got through it. I'm deeply thankful that the war finally came to an end.
I’m so glad of Mum and Dad’s example all through our lives, THAT PEOPLE MATTER!
Jan 7th 2015 – Sri Lanka
The plane lands at 12.05 a.m. I reach home bleary eyed and tearful. The van zooms towards the home of my childhood. I can’t do this. I can’t see Mum in a coffin. And yet, I must. I hug my sisters, my throat catching; not daring to speak lest the dam bursts. I walk in, enter the hall where her beloved body is laid. That’s not Mum? She looks so different. I burst into tears. My sister cradles me. I go up to my beloved Mama’s body and kiss her. I stroke her precious face. It is cold.
Jan 13th 2015 – Sri Lanka
The days disappear in a blur. People are kind, sending us delicious meals, caring for us in thoughtful ways. We’ve spent bitter-sweet moments together as family, bound together by our parents’ infinite love. Smiles, tears, hugs, remembrances. Sharing together, sitting around Mum’s dining table. One final time.
On Election Day, a miracle occurs. Mum has always been a courageous journalist, one who ‘told it like it is’. And now … a new era has dawned—one Mum would have rejoiced in. In an instant, the truth grabs me. Mum’s work was done. Peace envelops me, her own sweet smile reaching down into my heart. Hers was a voice of hope for the future. And now, the future she strived for had arrived.
Hope flickers within me; a tiny candle that has overcome the darkness.
Jan 14th 2015 – Changi airport
I book into a hotel room for my 15 hour layover. After a 4 hour sleep, I am awake. I splash some water on my face, then I make myself a cup of tea. Sitting up in bed, I sip it slowly, waking from my stupor. Then, I remember . Quickly, I jump out of bed and rush to my bag. “This book is for Anusha when I am gone. 4/5/07” What a precious gift—thank you Mama! I turn its pages, careful not to spill any tea on it. I soak in Mum’s journal, filled with wisdom and humour, enjoying its poetry and prose, all copied neatly in her own dear familiar handwriting. And then … and then ... the dam bursts and tears begin to fall, soaking my nightdress. I grieve. Deeply. I miss her so.
Jan 4th 2016 - Australia
It’s one year today since Mama left this world for eternity. She was my special friend and my favourite daily email correspondent of 16 years. How can I share all the love I have for her and all the love she's given me? AAA—Annette Aurelia Abayasekara; known to most folk as Anne Abaysekara. A devoted wife to her beloved Earle. An ever present Mum to her 7 children and their 7 spouses. A beloved Mum, Grandmum and Great grandmum to all 35 in her clan. A courageous journalist for over 70 years. A friend and counsellor to many. Living life as if every moment mattered. Caring deeply as if each person mattered. With the zest of a 21 year old at the ripe age of 89. She and Dad loved our country passionately. And loved people even more. She was a light that death could not snuff out.
A light that still glows.
Her love affair with books and writing made me what I am today—a Christian writer. Her generosity of spirit enabled us, her seven children to follow our dreams. The security of her love gave us wings. I am warmed by a plethora of precious memories; wrapped soft around my heart in a mother’s sweet embrace. I know she’s still with me. I see her smile each time I think of her. I hear her voice whisper in my heart. I know I am loved and always will be. I look forward so much to our reunion. What a sure and confident hope it is for all who believe! Jesus sealed it for us through His death and resurrection bringing life and freedom and joy.
Now, as I read her countless loving emails, I feel as if she's in her study, chatting to me as of yore.
“Dearestest & Sweetestest of Anu-girls,
Thank you for yours which I have just read with pleasure, as always………
I reciprocate all your love a thousand fold. Holding you close in heart always,
Your forever friend,
The email she wrote when she became gravely ill on the 30th Dec 2014 held no clue that it would be her last letter to me.
Anu-kins, My Precious Darlint,
Don't worry about me - I'm sure I'll feel okay tomorrow. Your farmhouse sounds the ideal place for a family get-together. More tomorrow, darlintest.
All my love forever,
What a shock it was then that "that tomorrow” never arrived. But I am now at peace. Death might steal those we love for an instant. But like the glowing embers of a fire which refuse to be extinguished, or a candle that pierces thick darkness, we in Christ can rejoice, because we know that relationships endure beyond the grave.
And the love between a Mother and daughter is forever.
“Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised." Proverbs 31:29-30
I was enjoying my daily Quiet Time with God while my son was rushing around getting ready to leave for work. He emerged wearing a pair of smart black trousers and a long sleeved shirt. But when he checked the day’s weather forecast, he discovered it was going to be warmer than anticipated. So he ran back to his room to change into a short sleeved shirt. In spite of the delay he managed to leave in time to catch his bus.
I stood at the doorway seeing him off. It was a beautiful day. The air was cool and fresh. The sun beamed down in warmth and glory. A few parrots screeched in joy as they raced one another. I watched my son as he walked down our driveway, onto the road and then as he disappeared from sight. Images of my little boy filled my mind, a kaleidoscope of special moments. I felt a lump in my throat and my eyes filled with tears. I was so proud of him. I see him now as the cute chubby three year old he used to be, off to nursery school for the first time, with a small backpack and a blue drink bottle in hand, wearing his cheeky little-boy-grin. I see him next as a five year old beginning primary school, in dark blue shorts and a spotless white shirt, with a class full of 40 other boys dressed in identical attire. A big moment.
He was seven when we left for Malaysia—and spent a year in the Melaka International school in green shorts and yellow shirt, in a class of only seven children. An interesting experience. I picture him next at age eight, after we arrived in this beautiful Land Down Under. His uniform then was black shorts and maroon T shirt with a legionnaire’s hat to protect his neck from the warmth of the South Australian sun. A year 4 boy.
Asela was 12 when he entered high school—decked in grey longs and a white shirt, a green checked tie, a red jumper and a smart green blazer. It was at the Kings Baptist Grammar School that he spent the longest years of his education. They were good ones. I see him next as a lanky 19 year old with a much larger back pack than that once-upon-a time-three-year-old, off to Uni this time. Today, 6 years later, Asela is a quiet thoughtful 25 year old, out and about in the big wide working world. His father and I are very proud of him.
I breathe thanks to God for the way He has cared for my boy over the years and has blessed us immeasurably. Asela has faced plenty of challenges and jumped over numerous obstacles over the years. But he has overcome them all to reach where he is today. Hard work on a daily basis and millions of challenging moments are behind us now— minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years. They seem to have disappeared in the blink of an eye. Where has the time gone? I ponder on the way my baby has grown and my heart is filled. Thank you Lord.
When God looks at me, I know He sees through His loving Daddy-God eyes. He perceives my faltering steps; he watches my growth. He sees me when I stumble and especially if I fall. When I cry out to Him, He picks me up. He loves it when I turn to Him in repentance and start over again. I'm so thankful that He's a God of the second chance. My walk with him has been an invigorating journey over four decades. And yet, I am still an infant in arms in many ways. I glimpse the smallness of my own heart and the largeness of His and I am filled with remorse. But He is patient, He is kind. A doting Parent. Loving. Arms outstretched. Always there for me. His love has been my hiding place. My refuge. And my strength.
Another year has flown past. What thoughts grab you as you look back on it? Gratitude? Sadness? Guilt? Shame? Don’t forget that your Heavenly Father is very proud of the steps you’ve taken forward. No matter where you’ve been, it’s the future that matters. He looks at you with a Father's tender gaze. His smile is ever present, his arms are open. His heart is filled with hope for all He desires you become. He knows you better than anyone else. He smiles His approval over everything you’ve accomplished this past year, and delights in the way you've overcome all those challenges. He’s pleased at your faith and your trust in Him. And most of all, He loves the fact that you seek to honour Him through your life.
But what of your mistakes? Your sins? Your waywardness? No, He doesn’t condemn you. Instead He invites you to open yourself to the Holy Spirit for a makeover. A new start in 2016. Yes, your Father cheers you over the finish line of 2015 and welcomes you into the brand New Year, rich with possibilities in His Presence.
Are you ready? The best is yet to be.
“But one thing I do. Forgetting what is behind and straining to what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me homeward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13, 14
Dec 19th has always been one of the most significant days on my calendar, especially when I was little. It was my beloved Dad’s birthday. And what a grand affair it was! Mum took charge. She ensured that not just her seven children, but all our friends, relatives and neighbours joined in the extravaganza. For weeks preceding the event, we children would be stifling giggles in the kitchen, practising in hushed tones, (so Dad wouldn’t hear), a nativity play and other novel items for the Show of the year. Dad constructed an elaborate curtain. Mum typed up attractive programmes to hand to our guests. She even composed a new song each year. Here’s one of them, set to the tune of “Marching to Georgia”.
“Oh we are the young Abayasekara Seven, very glad to see you here today.
We may not appear to have stepped straight from heaven,
But we did, and are happy to stay...
We hope that you all will come year after year, this glad day with us children to share,
It's a Big Day for us in the season of cheer, and right now we are proud to declare,
That our Thatha has been quite the bestest of Dads,
And we wish him with love and with pride,
May his dreams all come true as his Seven grow up,
And our love hold whatever betide.”
When the big day arrived, our home would overflow with family and friends. There was joy and celebration, feasting and fellowship. At the tender age of 3, I played the part of an angel, announcing the good news to the shepherds. “Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born in the city a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.” A bachelor friend of my parents was enchanted by my performance and made a prediction about yours truly—that I’d be a ‘Florence Nightingale’ and would stay single and serve humanity. Alas, his hopes have not been realised.
After a scrumptious dinner, we'd enjoy a lively session of carol singing. An uncle and aunt, versatile players of clarinet and piano, provided the music. Those were glorious evenings, filled with the joy and wonder of Christmas. As the years passed, inevitably my older brothers and sisters grew up, got busy and left home, so the number of actors and actresses gradually diminished. I was sad—I’d have liked those concerts to last forever. There was one year when there was just two of us left. The play we chose had more than two characters. So what did we do? We kept switching roles, (wasn’t that clever)? In one scene, my brother was the king and I was a subject. In the next, I was the king and he was a shepherd. In a third, he was the king and I was a servant. The mind boggles. It must have been a totally bewildering experience for our audience!
This week we reflect afresh on the Christmas narrative. There's Mary and Joseph, travel weary but with full hearts and tear filled eyes as they gaze in wonder at their beautiful baby. A brilliant star illumines the little tableaux. The shepherds hurry in excitedly. Baby Jesus opens his eyes and the shepherds falls to their knees in adoration and worship. Wouldn’t it be fabulous if you and I could tiptoe into that stable? Which of the Nativity group would you like to be this Christmas?
Would you choose to be …
The donkey that Mary rode on—blessed by the precious load he carried?
The Inn keeper—stunned to hear who was sleeping in his stable?
The Angels, praising God and thrilled to perform their part in God’s story?
The Shepherds who viewed the glory of the Lord and heard the amazing News?
The Wise men who sought for so long ‘til they found Him?
Joseph, willing to trust God no matter that his wife had carried Another’s child?
Mary, gathering treasures of a unique kind and pondering over them in her heart?
It would be a learning experience to walk in each of their shoes, wouldn’t it? But I can't stop there. Let me don our Lord's cloak of humility; put on His Royal Crown of Love. Let me slip my feet into my Saviour’s sandals and follow Him. Let me touch the lives of the grieving, the sorrowing and the lost, those for whom He came. Will you join me?
And here’s the thing. It was the greatest show on earth, but it was the littlest of them all, only a few hours old who was the leading STAR! Over 2000 years later, He’s still the STAR! He is the One who makes our world turn on its axis. He who threw off His King’s royal cloak and changed into a a poor man’s attire. He who created the universe and all who live in it. He who flung the stars into space and breathed life into us. He who is the Light of the World, the Bread of Life, the Door to Eternal Life. He who died a cruel death on a cross so that you and I might find our way back to God. Today I'd like to offer you some good news. The best news ever. No matter how bleak your situation, the messsage of Christmas never dims. Jesus came into the world to bring you life. And joy. And hope. And peace with God. Would you like a large helping of that?
So come, let us go together to worship the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, born in a lowly stable—but the Christ, the Saviour of the World. And as we worship Him, may we be transformed, so that like the shepherds, we too will hasten away, filled with elation and wonder, to share the good news of great joy with all the world!
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:2
Some years ago, an unforeseen windfall turned up in my mail box. I opened what I thought was yet another bill but found instead a cheque for 21 dollars. That doesn’t sound much, does it—a wee drop in the ocean? But because it was unexpected, I felt rich. The Uniform shop of my son’s high school had just sold on of his shirts—FIVE years after he'd left. It was like slipping your hand into your jacket pocket and discovering a 20 dollar bill you didn't know existed. But even better. Time for celebration!
In a few weeks, you and I will be kneeling at the foot of the manger, in awe and wonder, worshipping the Saviour of the world. God’s plans for that precious little baby took 33 years to reach fulfillment. Our Lord Jesus grew up to experience terrible suffering and heartache, abandonment by those close to Him, being taunted by people He had created, enduring a cruel death on a cross before the Father’s purposes unfolded and His Kingdom was revealed. It wasn’t an easy road that He travelled.
And what about Mary, His mother? We can sugar coat it now, because we know what history has proclaimed to us. But make no mistake—hers was no trouble-free life either. Would you have believed her when she told you she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit? Would I? I wonder what that unplanned pregnancy cost Mary? And then … after Jesus was born, it became even more difficult. Mary and Joseph were forced to flee in haste to Egypt with their new born. King Herod was killing all the babies in the land, as he tried in vain to get rid of baby Jesus. What terror must have struck Mary’s doting mother heart!
The promises given virgin Mary by the Angel are easier for us to believe now, many centuries after those scriptures were fulfilled, than it was for her then. Christian scholars speculate that Mary must have been around 16 years old when she had her baby. I marvel at her maturity. She was very young—but she’d cultivated the kind of heart God looked for, to house the Lord of the Universe. Pure, humble, trusting, willing to be used by God in any way that He chose. Her chief desire was to please God.
Mary’s words in the Magnificat ring clear, sweet, melodious.
“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on, generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.’ Luke 1: 46-49
Mary would not have had a clue as to what God would accomplish through her little boy. But she surrendered fully to all God asked of her. She knew God and trusted Him. There are occasions when God's ways are hard to understand and He asks me to simply wait on Him. Being still before Him in patience is rarely easy. But His waiting room is a soft cocoon, one where He nurtures me, teaches me and grows me. A safe place where he aligns my hearts desires and dreams to His glorious plans and purposes. Mary burst into a song of praise because she believed God’s promises as if they had already been fulfilled. Dare we also trust God in the same way? Shall we then join with her? Let us sing songs of joy and adoration to our mighty God as we wait in hope and expectation for the fulfillment of His promises to us, in His way and in His time.
“I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.”
"Because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace." Luke 2:78,79
Last December, cruising through a brand new season of life, I had more time on my hands than usual. So when I heard there was an Advent Retreat on offer, my heart quickened. I knew I had to go for it. A friend and I drove off excitedly, the open road before us and the wind on our faces. I hadn’t a clue about what to expect, but was sure I’d like it. And call it an adventure, we got well and truly lost on our long ride down South. Thankfully, my phone’s GPS came to our assistance and we were able to steer my friend’s car in the right direction. We reached safely—bang on time too, so all's well that ends well. Thank you God.
Us six participants were warmly welcomed by the Director of the Retreat Centre. He explained to us how the day would work and took us on a guided tour of the place. Its rooms were tastefully decorated with simple objects that would aid our spiritual reflection. We were given printed notes to use and asked to sit anywhere we liked. I chose to sit outdoors—on the sweet smelling grass, with the sun smiling down on me and a few busy ants for company.
Lunchtime brought us together again and that was good too—as we shared our stories with each another. Afterwards we retreated once more to our private meditations. It was around 2.30 when we completed the retreat and it was time to go home. But oh dear, what a hot day it was! My friend suggested we stop at a famous Catholic church to view their unique Way of the cross in the outdoors. And so we did, but with the temperatures soaring over 40 degrees, my fibro symptoms flared up. When I reached home I was exhausted, my tongue hanging out and my body screaming in pain. Fibro symptoms and heat don’t mix—it took me days to recover. I enjoyed the experience, but oh for a new body.
“All I want for Christmas is a new body, Lord” I whispered. As I mouthed the words, I realised that I’d sung different lyrics before. For many decades, I had very painful feet which only worsened with time, so each Christmas, I'd sing to God, requesting the miracle of 'two new feet’. And guess what? Our awesome God came through for me big time. In Dec 2014, after two foot operations, I was transformed. I now possess two mostly pain-free, working feet—what a fabulous gift it’s been! Thank you Lord. Thank you.
2015 has been a bad fibro year—probably worse than last year. So yes, a working body for Christmas would be lovely. But you know, God’s been answering my prayers during the last little while and my latest treatment seems to be working. Perhaps I will have a new body for Christmas after all. I am filled with hope.
What do I really want this Christmas? Here's a starting point ...
A world where peace reigns, no terrorism, no wars, no strife.
The elimination of poverty and hunger, disease and suffering.
Every child to grow up in a safe loving nurturing environment.
Families united and rejoicing together.
Thriving relationships the world over.
That the good news of Jesus reaches the corners of the earth.
God’s will to be done in earth as it is in heaven.
As I reflect on what it would be like to have a perfect world, I am transported back to the creation story. God crafted a perfect world you know, one free of pain and anguish. A world where man and beast lived together in harmony. But then came rebellion. Man sinned, and fell short of the glory of God. Suffering entered the world.
All I want for Christmas is nothing new. It’s what God created in the first place and what Jesus came to give us. He was born in a smelly stable 2000 years ago, to bring life and hope for all mankind. One glorious day, the story begun at creation will reach its magnificent conclusion. We will behold His glory—the glory of the One begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. All I want for Christmas is to see men reconciled to God.
All I want for Christmas is Jesus, the Light and Hope of the World!
“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father like Son, Generous Inside and out, true from start to finish.” John 1:14 (MSG)
It was Saturday. A quiet relaxed peaceful Saturday when all was right with the world. We’d slept in (as one is wont to do on a holiday)—and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast. Now it was time to do something useful. My tech-expert husband said he’d add some disk space to my computer. I was delighted. The door of our family room opened and our son walked in. His eyebrows shot up when he saw Shan busy, at an opened-up computer.
“Is there a problem?”
I smiled. “No problem, son. Only opportunities.”
When I studied Computer Programming many moons ago, one of my lecturers had a favourite catchphrase. “No problems; only opportunities.’ A good way to view life, don’t you think? If only I can always see the world through that kind of lens, I’m sure my life would be much more enjoyable. The trouble is that when a certain kind of opportunity arrives on my doorstep, I often mistake it for a problem.
This year has been brimming over with opportunities, but it’s taken me months to discover it. I’ve been fighting a losing battle with my arch enemy fibromyalgia. No matter what techniques I’ve tried to quell my foe – he’d pop up uninvited and cause mayhem. I've been on the losing side and I didn’t like it. There were times the pain and discomfort have been too much—far more than I could bear. During such days, I’d cry out to God, feeling hopeless, thinking He’d abandoned me. Afterwards though, I was deeply ashamed. I should have trusted God. But … why was life so hard?
Apart from my fibro-battle, I've also been job hunting. What made it extra difficult was the urgency to regain my health in time to commence work. In faith, I’d apply for a job, and then ask God to give me the fitness I needed to do it. Not even one interview has come my way—perhaps it was a blessing because my body hasn’t cooperated. I just couldn't understand it. Why didn’t God at least make my illness bearable? I knew He heard my cries for help. I knew He could heal me in an instant if He chose to. I wanted a miracle fix and I wanted it NOW. That’s how I saw it. Until one beautiful day, my spiritual eyes were opened.
I saw then, that the only way forward was by viewing my battle through God’s eyes, not mine. It was a eureka moment. Desiring overnight success had only brought me discouragement. I invented a battle plan. I resolved to give myself time. I decided to stop applying for jobs until my health improved. That took the pressure off me. I asked a dear friend if she’d be my cheering squad when I was discouraged and she graciously agreed. I changed the name of my bad fibro days to ‘Training Days’.
Training Days? Yes, Training Days. My bad fibro days are perfect days to be trained in godliness. In sacrificial praise because praise at such times is so hard to do. It’s a good time to cultivate a joy that’s not dependent on feelings. A great opportunity to learn empathy for others who like me battle chronic illness on a daily basis. It’s a training in perseverance through life’s hard times; in trusting God when I don’t understand. A time to enjoy the Giver in spite of a lack of His gifts. To learn to love God when life is difficult.
At church the next Sunday, our Pastor repeated the words of a song we’d sung.
“God has not forsaken you’ he said. As his words wrapped themselves around me, my eyes filled with tears. I heard God’s tender whispers within and heaven's music resounded in my ears. No—He had not abandoned me. God reiterated it through a book I was reading - ‘How people grow’ by Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend.
“Don’t confuse pain and suffering with the lack of God’s presence” they said. That powerful truth reached the core of my being. Yet another moment of comfort and clarity and I finally understood.
There are times in our lives when we can’t fathom His purposes. But as we wait for Him, we learn many worthwhile lessons. An old hymn gently reminds us of how we need to live each day:
"Trust and obey, there is no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey."
Have unexpected opportunities knocked on your door dressed in problem’s working clothes?
Have you been struggling as I have?
Perhaps we could train together and cheer one another to the finish line?
What do you think?
“God disciplines us for our good that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”