Saturday, December 18, 2021

The year 2021


The year 2021

This time last year I commented on words such as 'unprecedented', as it applied to the COVID 19 pandemic which continues to seriously affect our world's physical and mental health, and the economy.  This year, the word that has surfaced many times in my mind is 'fatigue'.  During a long, cold winter, with restrictions on movements and activities, and unprecedented efforts by our governments to provide vaccination for all, fatigue has been evident in my little world, as well as the big world out there.  And recent changes to the 'rules' do not provide me with assurance or comfort.  We can only imagine what lies ahead.

By way of contrast, I have been encouraged by a phrase in a Christmas hymn, 'The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices' (from O Holy Night).  I encourage you, dear reader, to ponder the hope we each have in our Saviour Jesus, the message of Christmas, and the hope that our weary world will truly rejoice.

This year, as with last, I do not have a photo of all our children and grand-children.  The group photo was taken earlier this year when we met up for lunch with Paul, Emily, and Poppy, Zachy, and Abigail, and Josh and Anna, Eve and Norah. 

Having spent a lot of time at home without visitors, I have enjoyed working on some of our family's history, gathering and scanning old photographs and putting together a book about my grand parents Tom and Jessie Davidson.  With the help of cousins, some of whom I have not seen since childhood, I have prepared a book and distributed it as a digital file so that family members can print out their own copies.  I hope the younger generations will hold onto and treasure the images and stories from previous generations.

Another project has been to help my sister Marion Andrews with desktop publishing of her story, 'All the way to Bamaga'.  This is the story of Jie Jie (Mandarin Chinese for 'big sister') and 'Little me' and our younger siblings and parents, and our time in far north Queensland.  

Enough of my doings.  Noel has kept himself busy with work  in our local church, Gisborne Pres, and as convenor of the Victorian committee of Australian Presbyterian World Missions.  He also takes the lion's share of caring for the livestock in our little piece of country - ponies, chooks, Bingo the dog, and a recent addition - a hive of bees.  We are thankful for the health and strength that we have. 

This year we are planning simple gatherings for festive meals on Christmas day and Boxing day.  We are very conscious of the threat of the current strains of the covid virus, without being fearful as we know that God works in all things for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose. (Rom 8:28)

We would like to take this opportunity to send loving greetings to you and your family.

Joy and Noel

The year 2020



The year 2020 has brought unexpected and often undesired changes into our lives.  The word ‘unprecedented’ has taken on new meaning not just in our family, but in our world.  In response to the COVID 19 pandemic, we have experienced restrictions to freedoms that, previously, had been taken for granted.  Our freedom of movement was curtailed when ’stay at home’ orders appeared.  Our practice of weekly attendance at Church has been blocked for many months, and substituted with electronic broadcasts.  We have returned to Church, with masks and a sign-in ‘QR Code’ and other restrictions as reminders of the ongoing threat. Our freedom to visit our families in the greater Melbourne area was denied during the months of ’lockdown’, with a ’ring of steel’  that could not be traversed either way without a suitable permit.   Our children’s access to education has been disrupted, and replaced, with varying degrees of acceptability, by Zoom sessions and supervision of home learning by (mainly) mothers.   At the same time mothers and fathers have also been working from home. 

This year there is no ‘all-of-the-family’ photo.  We have not been together at the same time.  We are thankful for the small gatherings that we have been able to enjoy. 

We (Noel&Joy/Dad&Mum/Grandpa&Granny) continue to enjoy our ’lifestyle’, with chookies, ponies, and Bingo to look after; grass to mow; fruit trees and garden to water and tend.   We love the opportunities that we have to care for our precious grandchildren, and each day we pray that God will protect, guide, and strengthen each family. 

[picture:  our new grand daughter, Abigail.]


Monday, December 16, 2019

December 2019

Hello, dear reader!

The time has come for our customary summing up of the year that has passed, and a few thoughts about hope for the coming year, 2020.  The overwhelming sentiment that we would like to keep in the forefront of our minds is that of thankfulness, for God’s goodness to us as a family, and to Noel and me as a couple.  We spend our days in this beautiful place, and are surrounded by the diverse beauty of creation.  This year I want to share a story with you, rather than a report on what we have done.  After all, the year has passed so quickly ...!

A few days ago our 5-year old Isaac came to our home with his family.  He asked me if he could play the piano, and of course I said yes.  He headed off, but in a moment he ran back, saying to Mizz, “Mummy, Mummy, look!  It’s  THE STORY!” 

Isaac, with a look of awe on his beautiful face, showed his mother the knitted manger scene, which Emily’s mum Pat had made for us last year. 

Isaac’s kindergarten group had listened to THE STORY on the previous day at class.  The simple figures: Mary with the babe at her breast, Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men, and assorted animals: Isaac recognised THE STORY, and responded with childish faith and love.

The Gospel of John begins with “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (1:1)  John goes on to tell us that “The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us.” (1:14)  THE STORY that Isaac saw and responded to in that special moment was the Word, that John wrote about; God who came and lived for a while among us.

Having written this brief note I went to the website where I keep our annual letter.  This time last year I pondered with sadness the fact that our Lord Jesus was missing from kindergarten songs and stories and Christmas celebrations.  The trend away from matters of faith in public life is continuing.  What a joy it is to know that some in our community are happy to tell THE STORY to the children.

With love, Joy and Noel

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Christmas greetings 2018

December 2018 

Loving greetings as we celebrate the birth of our Lord, and look forward to the coming year.

Looking back on the year that is (almost) gone, I am happy to report that Noel and I continue to enjoy the fresh air and beauty of God’s creation.  The fruit on various trees, especially apricot, apple, peach, pear, and quince, as well as delicious berries, is looking good.  We use nets to keep cockatoos, corellas, and parrots out of the trees.  Gardens, Bonsai pots, cutting grass, and looking after the animals keep us exercising in a way that should be beneficial for people of our age.

We are blessed with time to spend with grand-children and their parents, as well as other community and church activities.  Noel has continued his volunteer work with Australian Presbyterian World Missions.  I have joined a consumer advisory committee of the Kyneton Health Service.  I have learnt that Kyneton hospital is the second oldest hospital in Victoria, recently having its 165th Annual General Meeting.

In early October, Emily and Paul and big sister Poppy welcomed Zachariah Benjamin.  It is a joy to see him grow in a loving family.  Josh and Anna and their girls Eve and Norah (pictured above) have recently returned from their 11 months of travel around the world.  The grand-children delight us constantly with their learning, drawings, sporting success, and thoughtfulness.  It is wonderful to have a 4-year old run up to us, hug us and tell us how much he loves us.  Similarly, when an 8-year old declares “This place just gets better and better” ...!  If only we could bottle these moments! 

With love and our best wishes, Joy and Noel

I am privileged to take a small part in the lives of our grand-children.  I find myself wondering what the world will be like for them.

This world is changing in ways that I could not have imagined 20 or 30 years ago, when our children were young.  Yes, societies change with time.  We don't need, nor do we want, to stay stagnant.

I am pondering the way we are passing on the knowledge of Christmas to our little ones. 

The kindergarten class presented their selection of songs to parents, grandparents, and others.  Beautiful children, who were dressed up in green, red, and white that is seen at this time of year.  Plastic reindeer antlers, fake fur trim on pointed hats, little bells to shake, and a bit of bling here and there.  One little girl slipped in as an angel.

They sang some very nice songs about gum trees and our animals - koalas, platypus, kangaroos ... .  They did the actions - more or less together. Then they sang the special songs.  Jingle Bells, Santa Claus is coming to town, and something else, which also totally avoided the mention of God's gift to our world, baby Jesus, or any other point of significance from the Christmas story.

In an attempt to cause no offense to anyone, kindergartens and schools and municipal councils have wiped anything that might have religious significance from their song lists.  The result is that we are celebrating the Northern hemisphere's winter in our summer, with meaningless songs and customs.

A child who has never seen a horse-drawn sleigh, or more than a dusting of snow on Mount Macedon, is singing about what fun it is to ride and sing.  They have no idea of the bright, magical wonderland that appears when fresh snow blankets everything in sight; of the exquisite quietness as a sleigh is drawn across the landscape.

A child who is five years old has probably worked out some of the facts and fallacies about Christmas gifts.  So when they sing that Santa Claus knows who's been "naughty or nice" - it makes no sense.  Christmas is bundled into the fairy stories, along with the tooth fairy and easter bunny.

But this is not new.  We Australians have sung the songs of winter festivities, and joined in the Santa game for as long as I can remember.  The thing that is different today from, say, 50 years ago, is the exclusion of the Christian story.  Christ has been taken out of Christmas.

That's not all.  While Christian celebrations are becoming increasingly rare in the public square, our little ones are encouraged to dress up as grotesque witches and ghouls, and join in parties that celebrate the pagan festival if Halloween.  Do they not notice that that's a religious celebration?

Children grow up, and they often challenge what has been presented as the norms of their society.  My hope is that the children of today will develop clear critical minds that question the customs that make no sense.  My hope is that the children of today will have minds that are open to truth and goodness.

Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life."

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Loving greetings, Christmas 2017

December 2017 

It has been three years since we moved to Kyneton.  Each day we enjoy the beauty as well as learning to deal with some of the challenges of this part of the world.  We feel very blessed being retired, and being able to invest our energy into activities that we believe are important.

From time to time we have a special and memorable opportunity that brings our family together.  Recently we have enjoyed several such gatherings—on the occasions of Paul’s marriage to Emily; Noel’s 70th birthday; and an afternoon of Christmas carols for family and friends at our home, followed by a festive supper. 

It is a wonderful blessing to be able to give and receive love and trust with young children.  We continue to enjoy opportunities to participate in the lives of our seven precious grand-children.  We are delighted to receive pictures that they have drawn, messages they have written, playing with them in a tree house or jumping on the trampoline (they jump—we don’t) , or using the digger in the sand pit.

We are also blessed in the close and trusting relationship we share with Miriam and Neville, Rebecca and Alistair, Paul and Emily, and Josh and Anna. 

As we reflect on the year 2017, we are encouraged to pursue and value gentleness, kindness, faithfulness, and other precious fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).

With love, and best wishes for a happy Christmas, and God’s continued blessing in the New Year.   

Noel and Joy Johnston

Monday, December 19, 2016

Loving greetings, Christmas 2016

Loving greetings, Christmas 2016 

The God of eternity
entered our time and space.
Put aside infinity
to join a frail race.
Glorious mystery:
babe in a lowly place,
at mother’s breast

Today I have been thinking of the points I should include in our annual letter.  I want to reflect on the wonder of the birth of Christ, the blessings we receive each day, and our hopes for the future, to name a few.  With this in mind I went to the website where the previous years’ letters and pictures have been stored, and ... it’s pretty well all there already.  I shouldn’t be surprised!

Twelve months ago we reported the drought in this region.  Rain has fallen in abundance, filling our water tanks (we have no town water supply) and our dam.  The grass and trees have grown beautifully.  Nature lessons for the children have included tadpoles, frogs and fish.

We have continued to be in awe as we witness the growth and development of the seven little ones whom God has entrusted to our family.  Our two six year olds have finished their Prep year at school, and our 12 year old is ready to begin her secondary schooling.  The rich tapestry that encompasses the Christmas story, with well loved Scripture readings, carols and songs of faith repeated each year, must stand in the children’s minds against the increasing secularisation of the holiday.

We mentioned last year that we are looking forward to establishing a Presbyterian Church in Kyneton.  There has been some progress towards that goal, with a good turnout to a special introductory worship service last month.

You might wonder how we fill our days now that we have retired.  Let me assure you, there’s no time to worry about being bored.  Each week there are usually visits from one or more children, which we thoroughly enjoy.  Noel has kept up with mowing grass and other jobs around the property.  He is a member of the Victorian committee, and delegate to the national committee of the Australian Presbyterian World Missions.  I have taken up machine knitting, and enjoy making woollen vests and cardigans and beenies for the children, and other items.  By the time we attend a couple of community and Church activities each week, and keep the house work and gardening up to date, we are able to enjoy a good sleep each night.

We are always delighted to receive cards and letters and electronic greetings from many friends, and we hope this letter finds you well.  In a day when we have many high-tech methods for communication available to us, there is nothing better than talking face to face.  If that opportunity presents, we will be very blessed.  We pray that you will know God’s blessing and guiding in the new year.

With love, Joy and Noel

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Loving greetings, Christmas 2015

Seven precious young blessings

We greet you this Christmas in the name of Jesus, the one whose birth we celebrate.

Over the years our annual letter, and those from many of our friends, have become an opportunity for reflection on the old year, and anticipation of the days and months ahead. 

It’s just one year since we moved from our home of 30+ years in suburban Melbourne, to Kyneton in Central Victoria.  It was a *big* move!  And a good move!

One of my (Joy’s) mother’s ‘sayings’ was “Count your blessings!”.  We have many blessings, and today I will mention just a few.

We have been blessed with a lovely home that’s all on one level, which may be a significant feature as we get older and our bodies need repair work.  Our home is warmed in winter from the North-facing windows and a wood-burning stove, as well as central heat when we need it.  We enjoyed our first winter.  The house is also well protected against the summer heat, and we are thankful for the central cooling on very hot days.  It has become our daily custom to step out of the living room into the fresh morning air, cup of tea in hand.  We are thankful for the wonders of sunrise and sunset, changing seasons, and every other aspect of creation.

We have been blessed to have our family around us.  We are constantly thankful for the health and growth of each of the grand-children, and for their parents.

We have been blessed to have friends and family members visit us. 

We have been blessed to have a new community, getting to know folk who have accepted us into their lives.  We have joined the Presbyterian Church in Gisborne, a picturesque old place with a warm welcome.  We are looking forward to the establishment of the Presbyterian Church here in Kyneton.

We are experiencing drought at the moment, and have a system of pumping water from our little dam, into a 1000 litre drum on a trailer, and pumping it out to water the fruit trees and gardens.  On very hot days we have been going out to do the watering before breakfast.  We have been able to keep the fruit trees and a vegetable garden looking happy, with watering twice a week.  The little Bonsai trees need to be watered every day.

We have been blessed with good health, and are thankful.  I can say now that I needed to retire from midwifery practice – I had not realised what burnout was!  We would like to thank those who pray for us.  We are seeking to be faithful in our prayer for others.

This letter is to be posted on our blog  and we hope to have a suitable photo taken when we see our young ones for Christmas lunch, to add to the blog in due course.  Thankyou for the letters, cards, and electronic messages that we have received.  We wish you a happy and safe Christmas celebration, and continued blessing in the new year.

With love, Joy and Noel