“Lord – how long?”

“Lord – how long?” Moses spoke these words many years ago and you will find them in Psalm 90. I have not written a blog post for a long time. I have had no words to share – they left, leaving me wordless.

In the last two months I have attended three funerals for very little people who had died unexpectedly and without warning, leaving parents shattered and broken. Their deaths have shaken many. I know each of the mothers well as they have been in my bible study group and a friendship blossomed during the time their husbands spent studying at Moore College. So much sadness.

A few weeks ago, I read these words and am thankful that God’s Word continues to speak even when our words fail us. Such hope resides in this bleak image:

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there is no fruit on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will triumph in Yahweh;
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation!
Yahweh my Lord is my strength;
He makes my feet like those of a deer and enables me to walk on mountain heights!”
Habakkuk 3:17-19

From nothing a hope shines forth. The author of this passage has a strong confidence in God. The words from a song go round and round in my head: “Where else do I have to go? For you Lord alone have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68) One day, there will be an end to all tears and untimely deaths. One day these parents will be reunited with their children – Jesus will return!

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Christ is Risen!

Easter – it is a time to rejoice and celebrate.  I made this picture using photos I took while Keith and I were up the north coast last year – together they capture some of the themes of Easter.

I have not written for a while – I am sorry.  I had a nasty migraine that hung around for a couple of weeks and then the stuff of life filled up my time, thoughts and energy and I forgot that I even have a blog.  Keith and I have been reading Cheque Book of the Bank of Faith: Daily readings by CH Spurgeon over breakfast.  It is short and pithy and gives me something to ponder each day.  This week one of the devotions was on this verse: “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you” James 4:8.  He refers to a verse from Isaiah 58:9 “…you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.”  It is so true!

And yet, this week as we headed towards Easter, it dawned on me that there was one cry that God ignored – Jesus’ cry as he hung dying upon the cross.  I felt the enormity of that abandonment and I felt the cost Jesus paid – in that moment, Jesus was totally abandoned.   He did this so that you and I can draw near to Him and He will draw near to us.  I have been thinking on this over the last few days.

This morning I read this verse: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” – 1 Peter 1:3.  A new and living hope – yes – we do have much to be thankful for.

Easter images

To my friends and family both far and near – Christ is Risen!  He is Risen indeed!  This picture has been made for you.  Happy Easter Day.



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Thoughts to make your heart sing


I don’t know about you, but sometimes I struggle to find thoughts that make my heart sing. Sometimes events in life make me sad, discouraged, angry or frustrated – and there is no melody ringing in my heart.  I am sure it is the same for children – they have anxious thoughts, jealous thoughts, angry thoughts and they really don’t know what to do with them.

Sally Lloyd-Jones has written a new book for children that is filled with truths from the bible with simple yet profound explanations that your heart really wants to sing in response. It has been magificently illustrated by Jago. The words and illustrations work together to provide a smorgasbord of delightful thoughts to fill the reader’s mind and counter thoughts that are not so tuneful.

Sally Lloyd-Jones is a beautiful writer. Not one word is wasted and I am sure she has pondered long and hard how to capture an idea in a bible verse and bring it alive – indeed they capture the imagination and Jago’s illustrations complement her words perfectly.

Sally has given parents a golden nugget in this book. But read it for yourself too and you might find your heart singing in response to each page. I have been reading one page each night for the last couple of months and I have been moved, challenged, encouraged and soothed. On each double sided page is one bible verse with a few words from Sally that evoke the essence of its truth with a glorious illustration. I don’t have a favourite – I am loving each one.

When my children were small, I longed for a book or books that communicated some of the profounds promises of God meaningfully for them and in a format that they could take to bed alone or read when needed. I remember trying to sooth a child reluctant to fall asleep fearful of a recurring nightmare. What a deliciously beautiful book to take to bed!

I recently gave this book to my three year old god-son. Since receiving it, he has taken it to bed with him every night and has called it his “precious” book. I would recommend buying a copy to read for yourself and to share with the children in your life. It is filled to the brim with precious thoughts that will make your heart sing.  Thank you Sally and thank you Jago!

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Back to life and routine

I have been silent for many weeks but I am back.  2012 was a year of difference – seven months off work, time overseas and then a lovely holiday on the northern coast of New South Wales.  We came home with a bit of a bang and issues that took our time and attention – it was not a smooth or pleasant landing, so I think I went into hibernation and hid.

Shades of sand and sky

Shades of sand and sky

But I am back.  I returned to work this week, our house has been de-cluttered, reorganised  and I have a new diary – an electronic one which is beginning to fill.  There is much that I could say, and I am not sure where to start.

Keith and I were given a small book called Cheque Book of the Bank of Faith – Daily readings by CH Spurgeon.  It is small, thin and leather-bound and has become our breakfast devotion reading book.  Already, I love Spurgeon’s thoughts and challenges.  The language is old but he captures the imagination and I am left with something to think about during the day.  The last two days have been on this verse in Proverbs and this is his translation: “The liberal soul shall be made fat” and “He that watereth shall be watered also himself.” Proverbs 11:25.  The NIV translation is a little dull in comparison and says “A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”  For me, the challenge is to not look to my own needs and wants but to care for the souls of those around me.  I needed this encouragement – it is easy to hide away from the demands of life, particularly after an extended time of leave.  But, it is time to return to life, to routine and whatever the Lord chooses to put in my path.  Come 2013 – I am ready!

Beach landscapes

Beach landscapes

I do have many many wonderful and rich memories and photos that have captured memorable moments.  For this I am exceedingly thankful to our God.

This photo captures something of what I love about the beach – an endless horizon, water, sand, sky, space and solitude.

We walked endlessly along empty beaches, soaked up the sun, read books and swam and slept – it was bliss!

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Whoops!…I almost forgot

Recently a nightmare awakened me and I felt hot, sweaty and worried. It concerned one of my children and I lay there feeling helpless while I tried to tell myself it was only a dream.

Soon after this, I received a link to the Growing Faith weekly email. It contained links to some articles. One article written by Christine Jensen titled Loss and Grieving contained this thoughtful sentence “It was one of those times in life when as a mother, I felt helpless. There was nothing I could do to make it better.” This sentence perfectly expressed my feelings at that moment.

Our three children have been abandoned by us for a large part of this year while we have been overseas and now up the coast of NSW. Yes, they are all young adults, but they have taken much delight in reminding us that we have left them to their own devices. Over this time, they have shared with us some of their ups and some of their downs via email and Skype. We have listened, tried to encourage and prayed often – especially during their down moments. But there have been times when I have had that helpless feeling, knowing there was not much I could do to help. Deep down, I wanted to fix things for them and make them feel better – but I couldn’t. Isn’t that what all mothers want to do? Make their children feel better?

When each of our children were born, Keith and I both agreed that one of our tasks as a parent was to raise a child who would one day leave us and live life independently. In little ways, we have tried to encourage this independence but it is not as easy as it might sound. I’ve wanted to step in and rescue them, pick them up and remove them from a situation that looks a little out of their control. I have had to sit on my hands more than once and button my mouth shut. This year has been an opportunity for them to live independently from us and they have survived wonderfully well – indeed they have thrived. I am proud of each of them.

Back to Growing Faith.

There was also a link to another article titled A wise Mum trusts in God and I thought that perhaps I should read it. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I am the author of this article, and upon reading it God spoke to me. “Remember Sarah – you can trust God with your children – that is what a wise Mum does!”

These past few weeks have taught me much more about what it looks like to be a Mum who trusts in God. One of my favourite psalms, Psalm 27 has been good to ponder. Again, it is familiar to me but I am forgetful. One verse is challenging – particularly for mothers who have abandoned their children. “Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord cares for me.” These words have reminded me of something that I had forgotten. My God is also my children’s God. The care He takes of me, is the same that He takes of them. He doesn’t abandon any of His children – ever.

Psalm 27 is an amazing Psalm, written by David when he was facing enormous difficulty and trouble. Interestingly, he doesn’t ask for these difficulties to be removed. He says with great confidence “He will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble.” David knows something that we are good at overlooking – our world is a broken world. Part of living in our broken world is learning to live with the brokenness, hurts, disappointments, fears, sickness and loss. David the Psalmist has much to teach us in this Psalm about living in this world trusting in God. Somehow, we need to learn how to live in this broken world and allow our children to live in it too.

As a mother, my prayer for my children should not be so much about removing their difficulties, but that they trust God with the same trust shown by David. David is confident of what his Lord is like and asks for help in responding appropriately. While holding onto his hope in the source of his salvation, he knows he needs to wait. This the hard bit – particularly if you are like me – I like the quick fix and instant solutions. This is character building – not only for me but for my children!

“I am certain that I will see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be courageous and let your heart be strong. Wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:13-14

I have returned to “A Shelter in the time of storm” by Paul David Tripp. I read it last year and Keith is reading it now, so I thought it timely to reread this collection of thoughts and meditations on Psalm 27. Tripp’s introduction starts with a story about his own daughter – again she was facing a situation that he as her father was powerless to change. This Psalm spoke to him and it is speaking to me – again on how to trust God with my children.

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Two weeks in P’stan

It is four weeks since we arrived in P’stan. It has taken me this long to be able to write something about our two weeks there. As we flew from Bangkok to Islamabad, I looked out of my window at a brand new crescent moon. It reminded me of the bright star that the wise men followed to meet the infant Jesus. I didn’t feel too wise, but I did feel as though God was with us. “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry for help.” I had read this verse in Psalm 34 a few hours earlier and felt that He was showing me in a real way that we were not alone as we travelled to this country.

P’stan is not on the tourist road map. It is roughly the same size as New South Wales, but 165 million people live in it. There are fewer than 100 Australians living near Islamabad. It is an islamic country but there are pockets of Hindu and Christian people. The Government estimates that 5% of the population are Christian, but unofficial figures may well be higher. We arrived the day before a National Public Holiday. The Government declared Friday 21st October to be a day when the nation could peacefully protest against the making of a video in which the muslim faith was denigrated. You-tube had been shut down so that no one could see the offensive clip.

We were staying with friends and lay low on this day. All phone networks were shut down. We felt safe and under no personal threat, but I would never choose to repeat this experience. Our friends have lived in this country for eleven years and this was only the third time they felt under any threat such as we faced on this day. We are good at timing our visits.

I had heard about culture shock, but never experienced it and had no clue as to what one would feel if hit by it. Twenty-four hours after arriving in this country and we were both in extreme culture shock. It was a surreal experience and felt a bit like landing in a painting by Dali where things are not quite right or normal. All of our senses were bombarded with stimulation. It was humid, hot and we wore clothes that were not what we would normally wear. I had a scarf to cover my face and when out in public, I hid my face from view. I didn’t feel like me. Each morning we were awakened between 4.30am and 5am by the call to prayer.

The density of the population is most obvious on the roads. Sitting in traffic, car horns beep – I think it is a form of morse code understandable to the drivers but incomprehensible to my ears and there don’t appear to be any discernible road rules. I saw a road sign that said “keep your lanes” and wondered which lane was ours. We were on a road that looked like it should have three lanes with at least six lanes operating and barely an inch between vehicles. There were brightly painted trucks of all sizes, motor cycles carrying whole families – up to three adults and children and babies and no helmets. A mini van that in our country would seat six or seven was filled to the brim with people – sometimes up to fourteen and no air con. It is no wonder that there are street walking vendors selling beautiful necklaces and bracelets made of sweet scented rose petals.

We had a wonderful driver who took us everywhere but it was wisest to close my eyes and not look at how he drove. His understanding of the sign that said “maintain a safe distance” was clearly different to my western idea of a safe distance. Remember the perilous drive that Keith and I took across the hills of the Lake’s District? This was even more perilous. However, not once did we hit another vehicle. Nothing short of miraculous.

I saw a tiny truck carrying a giant block of ice. It looked like it was slowly melting and I wondered if it would reach its destination. This ice captured how I felt for two weeks. Each morning, I would awaken and feel vaguely brave and robust but by the end of the day all that remained was a puddle of water.

We spent a week in Islamabad – this is a planned city and on a clear day has glorious views to the mountains lying to its west. The streets are wide and there are parks for walking. This is not easy for women to do – it is not very safe for women to go out alone or without a male chaperone. So I didn’t get to explore any parks. In fact for two weeks, we did no walking at all and I confess, I had twitchy and restless feet. We saw groups of boys flying kites that were brightly coloured with glass covered string and games of cricket happening between men and their boys. The local markets were filled with men gathering, to talk, to share their day, to sit and watch the chaos pass them by. This is a male dominated world.

We drove to Lahore for our second week. Believe it or not the road is fantastic and leaves our Pacific Highway for dead. It has three lanes going in each direction, flat and straight. We drove through spectacular country side and through a pass taking us through the salt mountain range and down into the floodplain valley. We passed numerous tiny villages and could see men and women working in the fields – we saw fields of corn and wheat – almost ready for harvest. We also saw many brick kilns and I didn’t want to think about the villagers working there.

There were stopping stations where you could buy petrol and food and visit the toilets. Surprisingly they were clean and western. We ate food that was delicious – freshly cooked and cheap. We could feed four for under $10.

Our driver knew Islamabad and Rawalpindi like the back of his hand, but not Lahore. We got lost and swallowed into the myriad of roads – were we looking for Canal Road or Mall Road and if so, how did we find it? We couldn’t read the road signs, we had a map, but no idea of where we were on the map. Keith and I were both hit by a nasty tummy bug on this day and all I could think about was “would I make it to our next toilet stop?”

We visited the border between P’stan and India and watched the flag lowering ceremony. It was incredible. The display of national and religious pride was deafening. On the other side of the border, we could hear India attempting to outdo P’stan. The tallest soldiers are used in the ceremony.

We were kept so busy during our two weeks, that I had no time to visit the fabric malls or the clothing stores. The women of this country take much pride in what they wear and look stunning. They know how to manage their scarf, cover their face and still look beautiful. I spent my time keeping my scarf in place, whisking it onto my face – it spent more time falling off in my hands – it is definitely a skill that I failed to acquire.

In two weeks we met many people, spent time with them and shared their life and gained a small insight into life in this country. I was struck by the women’s strength of character. I never heard a complaint. Most of them worked extremely hard – in the home and out of the home and face what I a “westernised woman” would consider to be insurmountable obstacles. But they displayed a resilience that I have rarely seen. I have much to learn from them. The men we met were wise and kind and treated me with much respect and love.

A final moment happened at the airport as we awaited our flight to Hong Kong. The waiting room was filled with men preparing to go to Mecca. There were baths set up in the corner where they washed and dressed in white – towels and cloth and then rapidly disappeared to alight their plane. They were oblivious of the pounds of flesh they showed – I tried hard not to look. I noticed a young muslim woman waiting for her flight. She was alone and had a tiny baby with her. Keith and I started talking to her and helped her onto the plane. She was cheerful and chatty and I learnt a lot about her. She was returning to Lakemba after three months visiting her family and showing off her new baby. She had sat her Master’s exams during this time and was returning to her husband and continuing further studies in Australia. Education is a doorway for women and opens possibilities that would otherwise be unavailable. Fourteen year old girl Malala who is now fighting for her life is brave indeed.

If you would like to read the story behind this story and hear about what we did, I will happily send you an email version of what Keith and I did during our two weeks here. I am not going to put it on my blog. Simply email me: sarahcondie@me.com. Sorry, no photos, I am not able to upload any.

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Missing glasses

Yesterday morning I received an email from our son Johnny. As usual, it was brief and to the point: “You sure you guys should be going to Pakistan with all the violence going on?” It was a very good question and as I had not heard anything from our friends in Pakistan I was not sure how to answer it.

I sent an email out to friends asking them to pray for us and also made contact with our friends in Pakistan and asked them for more local news of the lie of the land.

We had some lovely emails back from friends filled with love, prayers and support and an encouraging message back from our friends in Pakistan. Why are we going to Pakistan? From Paris via Chiang Mai to Pakistan? It is not even in the same direction – we are definitely backtracking. It is not exactly a country where the backpackers and intrepid mountain goat climbers visit. Is it? I have to confess, I have always wanted to visit Pakistan. Don’t ask me why.

We are going to help local church leaders develop a marriage enrichment program. We will be based in two cities and spend two weeks there. Simply getting a visa was an adventure!

This morning Keith happened to be up to Psalm 23 in his bible reading. His translation reads ” The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” He shared in the car driving to the airport, how he had found this quite challenging.

We had passed through immigration and were sitting eating apples at the gate. I reached for my glasses so I could read Psalm 23 for myself but couldn’t find them anywhere. In my mind I was saying “I can’t go to Pakistan with no glasses, I won’t be able to read anything. I am definitely lacking my glasses.”

I said to Keith, I don’t even have Melinda’s phone number. He drew out his wallet and produced a tiny slip of paper I had discarded earlier in the week, with her number on it. I had a plastic bag filled with Thai coins that had been filling Keith’s pockets all week and there behind me was a public phone – that took coins!

Melinda had reached home and found my glasses – they had fallen out of the car. As they only live ten minutes drive away, she said “I’m coming”. Immigration spoke English and allowed me to leave without my passport and wait outside for her. She got every green light and arrived in amazingly good time. She greeted me with a smile and said “you just wanted to see me again”.

She then said that perhaps God was showing me in a very real way that He would be with me every step of the way over these next two weeks – He had provided everything I needed to get these glasses back. Such a little example, but oh so very powerful for me.

However, we do have other concerns that make our hearts heavy.
Keith’s father is having major back surgery this Tuesday and Keith’s Mum needs full time care – and we will be in Pakistan. This is when you are thankful that Keith is one of six children – there are others around to help carry the load. But we still feel a little powerless to help. But we can pray for them and us. And you, dear friend, can pray for us. In fact that is the best support – if you read my blog, we covet your prayers for us and our friends over these coming weeks. Thank you.

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Chiang Mai in a nutshell

We have just had a wonderful week in Chiang Mai with our dear friends Mark and Melinda and their wonderful three teenage children. Melinda and I have been friends since year 7. She came to Sydney from the US with her family for four years and we became firm friends. We have been each other’s bridesmaids and shared many times together over the years.
They have only been in Chiang Mai for five weeks and have moved about five times in the last eight years. They have been to Indonesia and China, the US and now Thailand. They have come from Vienna, Virginia and landed in a city of 1.5 million people and taken up residence in a small community close to the Grace International School. Melinda is a networker extraodinaire – I could not believe how many people she has met and could tell me so much about in five weeks. We met parents sitting watching different volleyball games at the school – they were friendly and welcoming. I hope that I am similarly welcoming when people come to our community.
We had a week of talking and catching up and exploring and discovering this beautiful city. I became a deft hand at navigating – despite the fact I know no thai. Melinda and I managed to get our haircut – a new experience for both of us in this city. She assured me that having a friend with her would be a help – now she knows how to get there on her own!

We visited an amazing garden and learnt so much about plants in Thailand – the creator of the garden is a Swede and his knowledge of all things botanical was incredible and he was a great teacher.
There are the “sticky falls” where you literally stick to the waterfall. Perfect for mountain goats who want to climb – so counter-intuitive to put your feet where the water flows fastest. It was a fun day out.
We went to one of the International churches with them – Melinda has already taken on the role of supervising the 2-3 year olds program. We also managed to catch up with Andrew and Bec who have just left our church and living in the “inner west” of Sydney to live and work in the “inner west” of Chiang Mai. You can still get good coffee here – just look for where the Aussies hang out! We saw their new home, spent time with them and their gorgeous boys, had dinner at a local restaurant and then visited the Walking Street Markets. This is quite an experience with two very blond boys who are adorable in a very Thai area. Micah was particularly adventurous and we all had to keep a sharp eye on his fast get away tactics.
We did a half day cooking course which involved visiting the local market to obtain fresh produce. We made different types of curry paste from scratch and then got to eat the fruits of our cooking – three different dishes each. One of the highlights were the other participants in the course – all young backpackers – four from Wales, one from England and then Switzerland and Italy. They reminded us acutely of our children and it was fun to share this experience with them.
Chiang Mai is a monsoonal place and it has been sunny, hot and humid and we have had sudden downpours of rain – mostly at night. However, the absolute highlight has been spending time with this family. It really would not matter what we had done – we talked and caught up on each others lives and shared thoughts about our lives and experiences.

Anything I missed – and there are many more things I could do, simply means another visit to this beautiful city. The Carlson’s are here for three years….

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Snippets of Paris

After ten wonderful days it is time to leave Paris. I have loved the different neighbourhoods, roof tops, bridges, buildings, gardens and art. I have enjoyed discovering the street art. We found out that the invader has left his mark strategically around Paris. If you marked them all on a map, they form the shape of a giant invader.
this mark is on our street in Saint Germain.
We visited the Shakespeare Bookshop that stands in the Latin Quarter overlooking the Notre Dame. This is a fabulous shop filled with “english” books. I refrained from going too far in – I kept saying to myself “Sarah, remember we don’t want to add more weight to our luggage”. While Keith browsed, I stood outside and enjoyed the scent of lavender from the nearby gardens. I could see the Notre Dame behind the trees – a beautiful place to look at this enormous cathedral.
We have had days filled with glorious sunshine and warmth.
On our last morning, we awoke to grey clouds. The trees are looking autumnal. In ten days, the season has changed. Summer is over. We are heading for Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand to stay with our dear friends the Carlsons for one week. Au revoir Paris!

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The Latin Quarter

The Latin Quarter beckoned on our last day. This is where the intellectuals and uni students hang and have done so since the 1200s. Back then, students would sit on the street and the teacher stood in a window to teach. In those days, theology was the only subject taught.
This is where the Sorbonne University was built. The students who attend here now are taught how to stand up for their rights, how to protest and classes are often shut down due some protest over something. Classes can take place in the local cafes.
John Calvin studied here. He later moved to Geneva where he taught men how to plant churches. Some of these students moved to France and under their ministry ten per cent of the population adopted the protestant Christian faith.

Sadly, in 1572 on St Bartholomew’s Day many of these Christians were martyred. Two centuries later, the French Revolution was when religion was abandoned and shunned. Paris is a secular city. It is bold, brash, beautiful and its people know how to live life to the fullest – they love beauty and pleasure.

I was struck by a painting we saw on our first day at the Musee de Montmartre in which the artist captured the Parisians seeking to enjoy life and yet was also filled with scenes of death. We listened to a commentary on an audio guide about this painting and were told that the artist was aware of how difficult and painful life can be, yet without God the only solution he saw was to pursue a life of debauchery.

Without God this is so true. No matter how hard people try to live their life without God, He is there – alive and active.20120915-091030.jpgIf you have seen Midnight in Paris, you will recognise these steps.

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