2019 begins

One of my favourite smells is the lemon scented gum tree. After heavy rain, you can smell the lemon – it is fresh and summery. I could smell these gums on my way to my morning swim. A beautiful way to begin a new year.

Last year I read 51 books, which surprised me. In my head, I thought that all I did was work, but somehow, I found time to read almost a book a week. There was a lot of crime in that list, a bit of romance. My favourites were The Children’s House by Alice Nelson, Bridge of Clay by Marcus Zusak and Transcription by Kate Atkinson. Two others that I found inspiring Desperate Women of the Bible by Jo Kadlecek and Sensible Shoes by Sharon Garlough Brown.

Right now I am reading two books Scrublands by Chris Hammer and Enjoying God by Tim Chester. Both books capture the essence of my life: it is messy and I seek to see God in it.

On November 1, another ridiculously hot day, I began swimming as my new exercise. It was too hot to walk, so I visited my local pool and bought goggles, ear plugs, a cap and a kickboard. This was either going to be the most expensive swim ever or the start of a new habit. After two months, I can say it is a habit I love – I swim at least three times a week and am now swimming 1km. I could barely swim one lap when I started. I am sleeping better, I feel better.

I did a little bit of sewing and no writing.

This year, I hope to do some writing and a little bit more sewing as well as read, swim and work four days and keep it to four days – that is the challenge!

Returning to lemon scented gums, or trees in general. I read Psalm 1 this morning with Tim Keller in My Rock My Refuge. It is like returning to an old friend.

“Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers.”

That is another thing that I did last year, I read God’s word regularly and it refreshed and revived my soul. I love what Keller says about this Psalm: “…to know how to mediate on and delight in the Bible is the secret to a relationship with God and to life itself….God’s Word gives us the resilience of a tree with a source of living water that will never dry up.”

When do you smell the lemon scented gum best? After it rains. Last night it poured. It deluged and this morning it shed its aroma for all to enjoy.

This year, I will also continue to meditate on God’s word and delight in it. I like the idea of being like that lemon scented gum – you know it has been watered. It is like it is saying “it is well with my soul today”. Life will continue to be messy and I will continue to seek God in it. I don’t have a photo of a lemon scented gum, but this is one of my favourite places to sit with a cup of tea.

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I have not written in a while.  At the end of March my husband, my beloved had neurosurgery to try to fix his trigeminal neuralgia – a facial nerve condition.  It was successful.  He awoke in ICU with no pain.  Well, he had a sore head, which he blamed on not having his daily coffee that morning, but no nerve pain.

After three and a half years of nerve pain, often severe and crippling facial nerve pain, affecting his ability to eat, drink and speak, he had no pain.  We are still marvelling and thanking God for this miracle of miracles three months later.  Watching someone you love in pain is hard.  During an episode of pain, it was like watching someone being tortured and completely helpless to help or make it better.  I would hold his hand, I would pray.

Since then, we are enjoying the simple delights that ordinarily we take for granted.  Eating crusty bread, a hot spicy curry, family dinners.  Talking.  We  had started sitting in front of the TV to at dinner time, so we didn’t try to talk.  I can touch his face.

We learnt about the peace of God.  In the week before surgery, our sermon series was up to this verse:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil 4:6-7

What a word of encouragement.  And then, as if we needed another reminder, our daily devotion the day before the surgery was on the same text.  Our challenge: do not be anxious and pray with thanksgiving and our hearts and minds would be guarded by the peace of God.  We experienced this peace in a profound and beautiful way.  This peace is like a stillness and a quietness in the soul.


We were surrounded by a cloud of faithful prayer warriors – family, friends, our church community.  We were both filled with thankfulness to God for being with us and for hearing our prayers and the prayers of those warriors.

I look at these photos and they capture this peace better than words. There is a stillness and a quietness.  This week, I returned to a prayer of David’s in Psalm 62. David was trying hard not to be anxious.  He felt a bit like a leaning wall or a tottering fence.  His life was chaotic and full of danger.  He begins his prayer by saying something that he knows to be true about God – that He is his rock, his salvation, his fortress and he will never be shaken.

He then repeats this truth and it is a bit like he is talking to himself:

“Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.  Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.” Psalm 62:5-6


These boats are not shaking.  The clouds are not shaking.  In the stillness and the quietness, the water is like a mirror with a near perfect reflection.  This is that peace.

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Umbrellas and a sliding door moment

I don’t know about you, but for many years, I lived in a household of the missing, disappearing umbrella. I would buy them and they would vanish.   I blamed my children and their friends.  However, we also seemed to acquire umbrellas that were broken, ripped and didn’t deserve to be called an umbrella. They turned inside out at the whisper of a breeze or created havoc when opened.   It was often a puzzle to me how I acquired a bucket of useless umbrellas.

A few years ago I bought an umbrella that no self respecting young adult would be seen dead using and told my household that this umbrella was for my use only.  It was expensive and its tag told me proudly that it was indestructible.  Somewhat miraculously, this umbrella has been my faithful companion for a few wet and windy seasons.

Last week I was sitting on the light rail traveling to a conference.  The windows were fogged up, it was drizzling and I had my umbrella ready to dash between the station and the convention centre.  I was praying for family and friends who are serving the Lord around the world.

A young woman sat next to me.  She looked a little agitated and then told the world at large that she had left her umbrella at home.  We both looked out the window and silently agreed that this was a bad mistake.

As I prayed warm and loving prayers for my neighbours in foreign lands, it occurred to me that I could love my neighbour sitting there right next to me.  I could give her my umbrella. However, an inner voice countered this idea: “no I don’t want to give her my umbrella”.  There began a mental debate in which I firmly resisted any idea of giving this umbrella away to anyone. I did not want to part with it.

On reflection, and,  I am ashamed it was no quick reflection, I thought about the gift of my friend to me of a conference ticket.  I then thought about Jesus and how he freely and lovingly gave up His life for me.

Finally, I turned to the young woman, took my umbrella and said “here, you can have my umbrella”.  Her response took me by surprise.  She burst into tears and assured me she didn’t need it as she was going to a conference right by her station.  Turned out we were going to the same place.  This woman was moved by a stranger’s kindness.  It was a small gesture, but I nearly didn’t make it.

We laughingly shared my umbrella from the light rail station to the stadium and gave each other a huge hug.  Then she disappeared into the sea of 8,000 women and a mass of umbrellas.  What a sliding door moment.  Opportunities to love are there but they are small and easy to miss.  More than this, I had no idea how much I wanted to cling to something like my umbrella.  One thing I know for sure, that umbrella is not going with me to heaven.

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A refreshed soul

February has to be my least favourite month of the year.  Why?  It’s the humidity, the heaviness and oppressiveness of the heat.  This year, I feel like we have had February through all of January and I am over it. I have mastered the “wilted” look – my eyes have those black rings under them, my hair has that crazy disheveled look, my clothes look crushed and damp even after I have just put them on.  I feel damp and clammy even after a shower.  It’s not a good look.


I found this picture of Winnie the Pooh and he wonderfully captures how I feel when he says “I don’t feel very much like Pooh, today.” I suspect I am not the only one.

I watch children excitedly dressed for their first day of school, crisp school uniforms, carrying bags almost as large as their little selves, their brand new shoes and socks and neatly done hair.  I feel sorry for them and imagine them sitting in the playground, wearing their large hats, eating soggy sandwiches.  They will return home wilted, desperate to remove their shoes and socks.

Sweaty train trips filled with sweaty bodies crushed together.  Walking along city pavements amongst the crush of crowds.  The heat rises from the bitumen and feet sink into its melting warmth.  Cups of tea are replaced with icy cold drinks – anything, as long as its cold. Hibernating in air conditioning.  Any air conditioning – even a shopping centre.  Oh, I don’t feel much like me at all.  I hate shopping centres – why would I consider going to one?  I am wilting.

I have been reading Psalm 19 and my eye was captivated by this verse: “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul.”  Refreshment.  That is what I need in February.  I long to be refreshed. A cold glass of water. Feet standing in the water at the beach.


Removing my shoes and elevating swollen ankles.  A southerly buster.  Rain – cool, deep soaking rain.  Uninterrupted sleep.  Sitting beside a cool shady pond filled with giant water lilies.  These things become things I long for in February more than at any other time of the year.These things may refresh my body, but not my soul.  What I most long for, and I long for it in February and at other times of the year is a refreshed soul.


If I want a refreshed soul, I need to turn to God’s word in all its guises – the law,  the statutes, the precepts, the commands, and the decrees for refreshment. Sit and read it, soaking up its rich truths, drinking up its wisdom.  Returning to my picture of Winnie the Pooh, I love Piglet’s response: “There, there I’ll bring you tea and honey until you do.”  Piglet knows what Winnie the Pooh needs and it’s honey.

The Psalmist liken’s God’s word to honey: ” it is more precious than gold, than much pure gold; it is sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb.” (V10)

Be like Winnie the Pooh and plunge your soul deep into the honey pot and treasure its sweetness, its golden-ness, its stickiness.  God’s word is precious. This is how God speaks to us.  Taste of its goodness and be refreshed.

Have you ever watched a wilted plant respond to water?  Those droopy stems and fading flowers revive and keep going.  This is how to flourish in this month of February.  Soak up that word, drink of its nectar.  Our bodies may wilt, but our souls will be fine.

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New beginnings

I enjoy the start of new things.  I am filled with a fresh optimism and hope that whatever I start doing, I will keep doing.  Over time I have learnt that starting is the easy part – it is keeping on going that is the tricky bit.

A lot has changed in my life – we have moved house; we have gone from a household of five adults and two cats to a household of two adults; and we have changed jobs – now I work two jobs over four days.

Moving house was a challenge.  We had lived in the same home for over seventeen years and had accumulated much stuff and not all of it would fit in our new home.  It is amazing what one can cram into cupboards, under stairs, under beds and in storage boxes.  It takes courage to downsize.

One of our joys is our new garden.  It is a lush, quiet, private space.  There is a gate in the back leading to a park filled with green space, trees and birds.


As part of my new beginning for 2017, I have begun a thankfulness journal.  I have found God’s grace in hard places over the last four months.  How does one celebrate thirty five years of marriage when one’s beloved is unable to easily eat, drink, talk or even smile for example?  We celebrated differently this anniversary,but both had hearts filled with thankfulness to God and for each other.

Mercifully, Keith’s pain has subsided over the last two weeks.  I am enjoying our conversations, his cooking and a return to some of our favourite meals!


I am filled with thankfulness to our great God for hearing our prayers, the prayers of our family, our church family, work colleagues and friends.  I am enjoying seeing Keith’s face light up with a smile.

“This I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end.”  Lamentations 3:21-22.

We have  tasted this truth in a deep and profound way.  However, I have also learnt the value of “calling to mind” what I know to be true.  Remembering can be hard.

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Chewing gum

I don’t ordinarily chew gum. The only time I ever chew gum is when I am sitting on a plane for the take off and landing. It protects my ears. Other than that, chewing gum has no appeal to me whatsoever.


I am traveling with my husband Keith at the moment and we have been away from home for over six weeks with two more to go. We have done a bit of flying, so I have chewed more gum than usual.

Keith has a peculiar and debilitating health condition called trigeminal neuralgia. If you have never heard of it, you are blessed indeed. The trigeminal nerve is a three pronged nerve in the face that goes to the eyes, the nose and the mouth. Neuralgia means nerve pain. When this particular nerve has pain, it is terrible, searing pain. It is like having an ice pick stabbed into your cheek, or like continual electric shocks. He had not had an episode for fifteen months and we were beginning to relax. He had even reduced his medication by half and we were filled with thankfulness for good health and no pain.

Suddenly, last week while staying in Washington DC, it returned, a bit like a thunderstorm. It erupted out of no where and created havoc. This episode is different to the last one. The pain is constant making eating and speaking almost impossible. I had to ask the question “Why Lord? Why now? Don’t you realize that next week we have all these meetings with people over meals? He needs to eat and speak!” We both felt overwhelmed with not knowing how we would cope so far from home. I could feel panic welling up in my insides.

I began to read Psalm 27 (one of my favorites) each day and reminded myself of deep rich truths about what God is like.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid? “

Three things I know to be true about my God – he is my light, my salvation, He is the stronghold of my life. Reminding myself of these truths is a great counter to fear – and I had much fear rumbling and tumbling around.

I was also challenged by David’s single longing – to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of his life and gaze on His beauty. My longing at that moment was for healing – complete healing for Keith. This made me stop and think about what really mattered to me.

The conclusion to this Psalm is both soothing and challenging.

“I remain 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.”

We had met with this wise and godly man earlier in the week, Curt Thompson, a Psychiatrist and a Christian who has written a couple of books. We met at a Starbucks and had an amazing conversation with him. I mentioned in passing about learning to wait for the Lord. He stopped and asked me to elaborate. Before I knew it, I had shared briefly but deeply about my personal experience of pain and difficulty. He sat and listened. Keith then shared about his health condition and how it looked like it was returning. He sat and listened. We spent an hour together, and he asked if he could pray for us and he did and then we parted with hugs. A Christian brother on the other side of the world was there for us to help us unpack “waiting for the Lord”.

We were staying with very dear Christian friends when Keith’s pain erupted spectacularly. The three of us sat and watched Keith as he valiantly and bravely attempted to eat and continue to speak normally as if nothing was wrong. Oh it was hard to watch. We joined hands and Melinda prayed.

On our last night with our friends, they invited another couple over to pray over Keith. This couple have a unique ministry of prayer. It was an amazing and incredible experience. We prayed for healing, we prayed for mercy, we were reminded of deep truths from the scriptures, we were held, we were loved.

I returned to my original question about “why now” and could see the why clearly. We were staying with friends, we were in a safe place where we were loved, and with people who walked with us. They listened to us. They prayed with us and for us. My heart was filled with thankfulness at His amazing provision and reminder that He loves us and that we have an abundance of blessings to be thankful for. I felt like I had been given a taste of gazing on the beauty of the Lord.

So why did I begin by writing about chewing gum? We left Washington DC early the next morning. As we sat on the plane, I got out the gum and offered a piece to Keith, little thinking he would accept it as chewing is like eating shards of glass. He took a piece and began to chew. After twenty minutes, he realized that the pain had eased sufficiently that he could eat.  Speaking is a different matter, however, that is why we are a team, as I can speak, I can ask the questions. I am his helper and friend.

In three days, Keith has chewed more gum than his previous lifetime. Who would have thought that the Lord would answer our prayers so creatively, by giving him a lifeline of managing his pain.

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New York – 2

To survive in New York, I found I needed to focus on tiny things. In a city that is large, brash and self-confident, it is easy to walk so fast to keep up that you fail to notice small tiny things.

I love the Impressionist artists, in particular Monet. I remember when Keith and I visited L’Orangerie in Paris, we sat in the water lily room for what seemed like hours. Monet painted his water lilies again and again and again. He never tired of them and managed to make them look different – the light, their size, their shape, their colour. It is no longer just a “water lily”.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has a wonderful collection of art, breathtaking in its breadth and beauty. It contains some Monet, including his water lilies. I could have spent hours in that place, slowly meandering from painting to painting, however, you get pulled by the crowds and need to dodge and dash and are forced to move in a perpetual loop from one gallery to the next – ah, yes there are those water lilies and then they are gone as you move onto Renoir and then Degas.

There is another artist, who lived and worked in New York  – Georgia O’Keefe, who also painted flowers. This is what she said:

“So I said to myself – I’ll paint what I see – what the flower is to me but I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it – I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.”

I can’t paint, but I love to take photographs. So I spent time taking photos of little things that gave me pleasure. I am sure that most New Yorkers don’t notice many of these things, but they are there if you look for them.

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New York – 1


I had always wanted to spend time in New York. It was one of those “must go to” places that I had stored away for one day. There are landmarks there that are familiar to me as if I had been there already: Central Park, Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the Empire State Building, Times Square and more recently Ground Zero. The idea of a week in this city appealed enormously. In my head, I had decided that I would love to stay in Brooklyn rather than Manhattan.

I have just spent a week in New York. We stayed in Brooklyn. I visited all those places and then did more – img_3419


I walked across Brooklyn Bridge, I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Frick Museum.

We queued at Times Square and went to see Jersey Boys. I went to church at Redeemer. I got to hear Tim Keller preach. We walked on the High Line that passes through Chelsea. We managed to see President Obama. I did all this with my husband Keith.

We had seven days of clear blue skies and hot temperatures. It was amazing, it was awesome but it was also overwhelming and exhausting. We were in New York when a bomb exploded in Chelsea a day after we had passed through this neighborhood. We awoke to numerous texts from family and friends asking if we were ok. We were ok, but it shook us.

This is not a city to visit if you don’t feel strong. A week earlier, I had broken my toe, making walking difficult and painful. You need to be able to walk when in New York. We had to walk and walk and walk and I didn’t feel strong at all. I craved open space, open horizons and silence. Mostly, I craved a quiet seat where I could sit and stop.

I found it crowded, busy, noisy and utterly perplexing. Traveling by subway confused us. We would emerge like scared rabbits up into Manhattan, never completely sure if we were at the right place and then struggle to find the right entrance to take us back in the right direction. Uptown, midtown, downtown are meaningless until you are familiar with this place. The C line has more than one number and if you get on the wrong number you go to the wrong place.

Walking the streets of Manhattan sounds like fun. But it takes forever to get nowhere and the island is enormous and goes on and on. There are traffic lights at every intersection, so it is stop start for cars and pedestrians and we were never confident to ignore the red stop signals like other pedestrians as the cars drove in the opposite direction. There are so many high rise buildings that it is hard to get a sense of perspective or space and I felt like I would suffocate as I walked up Fifth Avenue or Seventh Avenue hoping to reach Central Park.

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Almost every iconic building is tall, majestic and glorious. You have to look up. It is a bit like being surrounded by man-made idols that say “Look at Me! I am invincible!” 9/11 changed that and the twin towers that were supposedly indestructible fell and disintegrated into nothing. While at the Ground Zero Memorial, listening to a fireman speak about that terrible day, he recounted how he couldn’t believe that everything from both towers turned to dust – no desks, tables, computers, debris, simply a pile of dust.

I read this verse from Proverbs while in New York and found it comforting:

“Rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is the Maker of them all.” Proverbs 22:2

While in this city, it is easy to think that it is the rich, the powerful, the young and energetic who have it all. But you will also find the poor, the marginalized, the vulnerable, the homeless, the elderly in this city. You see them in Central Park. You will see them in the New York Public Library and Bryant Park. The homeless and the trader play ping pong together. The sprawl out in the sunshine on the same grass. They sit at the same long tables and read books.

Whether rich or poor, He is our Maker, He is our Lord. This prayer of praise captures this truth succinctly:

“Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the splendor and the majesty, for everything in the heavens and on earth belongs to You. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom, and You are exalted as head over all. Riches and honor come from You, and You are the ruler of everything. Power and might are in Your hand, and it is in Your hand to make great and to give strength to all. Now therefore, our God, we give You thanks and praise Your glorious name.” 1 Chronicles 29:11-13

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Making a lemon tart

Today I am making a lemon tart.  Lemons.  Ever since I met Amelia Bedelia as a child I have had a thing about lemony things.  Lemon meringue pie without the meringue.

Pastry.  I have made pastry all my life.  Sometimes it works while other times it is a disaster.  It either won’t roll, it sticks to the bench or it crumbles as I try to put it in the pie dish.  Last time I forgot to put the beans into the pastry shell while baking and then wondered why the pastry rose and filled the dish.

Ground almonds, I need to grind the almonds, I need to grind the raw sugar.  Then I add the flour, the butter and create fine breadcrumbs.  Cold water is added ever so slowly.

Today the pastry rolls perfectly, it goes into the flan dish and then I reach for the beans.  They are in a jar with a pretty lid.  I bought this jar soon after I married and have used these beans each time I have made a pie or a flan or a quiche or a tart.  They are over thirty years old and look at them. Misshapen, burnt, smelly, but they have lived in my cupboard in this jar all this time.  This time I open the jar and pour the beans into the flan.


The beans really should go out.  Memories of other pies, fruit pies, the time I added salt not sugar to the pastry time, meat pies, lemon tarts, countless lemony tarts.  Not once have these beans complained about losing their beauty. Silently they have filled empty pastry shells, gotten hot and dry in the oven and then been poured back into a jar and thrown carelessly into the back of the cupboard until next time.

“Beans, I really need to get rid of you.”

“I am going to use you one last time and then put you in the bin.”

I pour the beans onto the pastry shell, and put the dish into the oven.  One last time.  Then they are going.  I go to my shopping list and write “dried white beans” for my next shopping trip.

I put the jar into the dishwasher.  Its never been washed, not once and it is like I am about to erase its relationship with these beans as it has watched them age.  In my mind I see the lid covered with luscious fruit that is red, orange and blue with German writing around the edge. I remember the jam in the jar from thirty years ago.  It was rich and delicious.  It was the kind of jar I wanted to keep forever.  A perfect home for my blind beans.

I pick up this lid and look at it closely and see faded fruit covered with rust. It looks jaded and tired. I hold it in my hand and wonder when that happened and how it happened without me noticing.

A new jar with a new lid with new beans is too much.  A new jar will get buried and hidden in my crazy cluttered cupboard.  This jar, and this precious lid are a part of making pastry and I am not ready to replace it. When I need my baking beans, I know what I am looking for and I can find it without thinking.

While the pastry bakes blind using my beans one last time, I turn to making the lemon curd.  I juice the lemons, crack eggs, cut butter and add them to the bowl. As it cooks, I can smell the lemon and the thick buttery texture is begging to be tasted.  I get a small spoon and scoop some out of the pot, into my mouth and soak up its lemon richness. I think about Amelia Bedelia and her lemon meringue pie.  If she came for dinner tonight, I am sure she would ask for the largest piece of lemon tart, even though there is no meringue and then demand an extra large serving of ice cream.


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Going home

Well, I have still struggled to find words, so I decided that I would pick a photo and write what comes to mind as I look at it.
This week I visited a woman who had returned from two months overseas.  She had spent most of that time sitting beside her brother as he died.  She had emailed me the night before he died saying that it would not be long now.  I prayed as did other friends from our church that the Lord would be with her as she held his hand and watched and waited.
In the last month I have been to three funerals.  Two for people who had lived long full lives and lived well.  One woman leaves a remarkable legacy. They will miss their daily interactions with her.  Her departing will leave a huge unfillable hole.   The third was for a tiny baby who lived for thirty minutes lying in the arms of his loving and devoted parents.  His was a short life.  But he was loved.  Deeply loved.
I took this photo when I was in Singapore in 2013.  This city is not known for its quiet or stillness or tranquility.  You have to search hard to find these giant lily pads.  They are found in their Botanic Gardens in a giant pond. We came here on a drizzly rainy day, heavy with humidity and I longed to take giant leaps across each lily pad to the largest one and lie outstretched and soak in the coolness, the gentleness and the quiet sounds.  It is a place we have since revisited and sat and stopped.
Listen to the quiet drip drip drip. Hear tiny bird sing songs of joy unfettered.  Look at those water lilies and their vibrant splash of colour.  We sit and stop and start to breathe slowly and deeply.
I have watched dear friends weep as they watched their loved ones die.  Their tears are like the drops of rain that fall upon this pond, sometimes they are visible, but others fall softly, lightly and silently.  And yet, with each death, they have all shared a deep hope that their  loved ones are now in a  better place.  Each of my friends said to me “they have gone home”.
“How lovely is your dwelling place Lord Almighty!”
My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”  Psalm 84:1-2
Going home will be even lovelier than sitting on this lily pad.
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