Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Golden Sandals – a True Christmas Story

It was six years since I’d seen my parents, and nine years since I’d been back to Africa, but the first thing I noticed was my mother’s sandals. They were tired-looking, colour peeling from the uppers, soles worn. As the days rolled past, I noticed she wore these shoes all the time and eventually she apologised for their condition and told me why. “I got them in New Zealand when we last visited you and I keep wearing them because they’re comfortable. The only other pair I have hurt my feet.”

The niggle at the back of my mind developed into a fully formed thought. “Give her a pair of your sandals.” I sat in my room that night and looked at the shoes I’d brought with me: black leather sandals that were okay but old, white leather sandals with flowers and thin straps, and my gold sandals. The gold ones were almost new, a $29 special from K-Mart, with soft synthetic uppers, cushioned soles, Velcro fastening, and good support. Perfect for 80 year old feet in fact. They weren’t fuddy duddy by any means but didn’t fit the designer bracket either. I need them, I rationalised to myself. I spend hours on my feet and need comfortable shoes, besides, they were cheap and they’re not even leather. They might not last well. I can’t give them to her. I ignored the fact that I had a cupboard full of shoes at home.

The next day, the niggle was stronger and I decided I would try and find Mom a pair of Gold Sandals when I got home. First of all though, I needed to see what size she would need. In past years, she’d always worn a size bigger than I did. I took the sandals off, explaining my idea, and she eagerly slipped her feet into them.

It was like Cinderella trying on the glass slippers: they fitted perfectly.

“I’ll send Chantelle (my daughter) a message and get her to look for some,” I said, fastening them back onto my feet. The problem was, I knew the Christchurch stores did not have the sandals in stock, and I had bought mine in Nelson, a five hour drive from home.

That night, when I returned to my room on the other side of retirement complex, my heart hung heavy in my chest. I knew I was being selfish but as I sat on the bed, God spoke clearly into the silence. “You do know they weren’t yours to begin with.”

“What weren't?” I said.

“The shoes. I had them in mind for my daughter, your mother. I used you as a messenger to find them, get the right size and deliver them.”

Oh the shame I felt. I realised it wasn’t about the money, but rather the fact that I thought they were irreplaceable. That I wouldn’t be able to get another pair. The issue wasn’t the sandals. It was my heart. It was almost Christmas, the time when we remember how much God gave us, and yet I was too mean to give my own mother a pair of sandals.  

The next morning I put my old shoes on and carried the gold ones across to my parents’ home. “They’re yours,” I said, laying them on the carpet in front of her.

It was as though a light had turned on inside of her. “For me? Are you sure? I’ll pay you for them.”

“No, they’re a gift,” I replied, and they were. I was no longer attached to them. I’d realised that God was at work and that His ways were and are so much better than ours.

Her smile grew even wider. “Can I wear them to church?”

“Of course you can!” I replied.

Mom wore those sandals every day for the rest of my visit and remarked frequently how comfortable they were and how nice they looked on her feet. I knew it was because the Creator of the Universe had chosen them for her and He had organised the size, colour, style and fit.

But the story doesn’t end there. It turned out that I had to travel to Nelson a few days after my return to New Zealand and one of the clients I visited, was in Richmond Mall. The K-Mart I bought the gold sandals from was across the car park from the mall and I had a few minutes to spare. I looked at the shop, wondering if it would be acceptable to my Heavenly Father to go and have a look. “Are you happy for me to go to K-Mart?” I asked Him? Peace welled up inside, so I hurried over and headed to the shoe department.

I saw them straight away, a pair of gold sandals, size seven, hanging on a hook. What was more, they had been marked down to $12. I slipped them onto my feet, relishing the familiar feel and cushioned support. And then I saw they were available in black as well. I walked out with two pairs of shoes and a heart full of joy.

What a fine example of God’s grace. God doesn’t take away from us to hurt us. He teaches us to hold things loosely and then He is free to bless us in greater measure. I treasure my gold sandals as they’re more than just a pair of shoes to me. Each time I fasten them on I’m reminded of God’s grace and love, and that He’s interested in every aspect of our lives. Even in cheap gold sandals with synthetic uppers, cushioned soles, Velcro fastening, and good support.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Follow your Dreams

In January 2016 it will be ten years since we moved to New Zealand. As I look back, I'm awed at all God has done and the opportunities He's put in our paths. In the midst of moving country for the second time - and to a land far across the ocean, I had a dream to become an author. The desire had been there since early childhood and I'd had some success in South Africa - children's stories and short fiction published in magazines - but I wanted more. There were stories buried deep in my heart that longed to spread themselves across pages for people to read.

I made a firm decision that in this new land, I was going to become a writer. I backed this up by doing a freelance journalism course and signing up to a number of writing groups - both in Christchurch and online. The most significant of these was I started entering their weekly challenge and sent my words out week after week, gladly receiving the comments and advice posted by other writers. Within a couple of months my stories were placing in the weekly contest and my confidence grew.

Ten years on, I can say that God has honoured my desire and efforts and with a number of significant writing competition wins to my name and eight published books, my dreams have come to pass. Just this week, I heard that the first chapter of my work in progress - Twisted Ribbons - had placed first in the Faithwriters Page Turner Contest.

The release of Broken Shells in November 2015 has been one of the highlights of my writing career. Set mostly in the Marlborough region of New Zealand, the story dropped into my heart on the way home from a trip to the area. Think azure seas, grey volcanic  beaches, white driftwood, and vineyards that follow the swell of gentle hills. In this beautiful setting, Taylor looks at the broken shell of her life and with the support of Logan and Greer, allows God to restore and heal. Broken Shells won the Rose & Crown New Novels Competition in 2012. If you'd like to read a sample or purchase the book, you will find it here.

To celebrate the release of Broken Shells, a new edition of Embracing Change is available on Kindle for a special promotional price of 99 cents. Embracing Change won the Rose & Crown New Novels Competition in 2012.