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We sat on the back patio in the warm sun, chatting as we ate our lunch. This year, while my husband and I met with our son’s family for afternoon tea on Mothers’ Day itself, I decided I wanted to catch up with our two daughters separately on different days. This then was my opportunity to be with our older daughter and, even though our meal was relatively simple, I found our time together and the warm conversation we enjoyed priceless.

I had made egg sandwiches which our daughter then garnished with parsley and chives from her garden, thus adding wonderful aroma and taste and lifting my basic fare out of the ordinary. Then our daughter served a delicious sponge cake she had baked, complete with jam and cream in the centre and icing sugar on top. What a treat! Immediately, it brought back such comforting memories of my mother’s and grandmother’s sponges which I myself have never been able to replicate.

We topped off our special yet simple lunch with hot cups of tea—all so enjoyable on that level alone. But as we relaxed and chatted, I was reminded again of a deep truth I have noticed many times in the past and experienced myself—the truth that most of us so long to be listened to. Really listened to, that is. This day with our daughter, I felt heard, airing all my various current concerns about my writing and life in general with her. And I hope and pray she felt the same, as I tried my best to hear clearly the things she shared and empathise with her in the process.

You see, one thing she mentioned in this time was that, when talking with a particular friend, she often does not feel heard. ‘They just do not listen!’ she told me with great frustration. Have you ever experienced this yourself? This is how misunderstanding happens, isn’t it? We can feel negated and disrespected and … well, somehow plain wrong. And we can come to believe what we offer the world is worthless.

I suspect I am particularly aware of this issue because I myself tend to talk a lot when in a one-on-one setting with someone. I have so many thoughts and ideas running around in my head I want to share that I know I can easily monopolise the conversation at times and even silence the other person. Yet often I am there to listen to them, not vice versa! Instead, I need to give them space, to honour who they are and, in general, to hear them well. I need to rein in my own desires and, instead, put the other person first.

I have always found what James says about listening very challenging.

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry … James 1:19 NIV

As for the following verse from two different versions … ouch!

To answer before listening is foolish and shameful. Proverbs 18:13 NIRV

Answering before listening is both stupid and rude. Proverbs 18:13The Message

I don’t want to be stupid or rude when talking with others, do you? And I don’t want to feel ashamed either of my own self-centredness. So … let’s listen to others more. And let’s listen so well!

One night recently, I received a phone call from a distraught friend.

‘I’m in a terrible pickle!’ she gasped. ‘We filled in a form on my computer and now I’ve been scammed. Please pray!’

The next morning, I received a text from another friend. She has been quite unwell and was facing a scary doctor’s appointment.

‘Would appreciate prayer,’ she wrote. ‘I don’t want to cough in the middle of my eye injection!’

My heart went out to these friends who both needed God’s protection—and the courage to keep trusting God in their scary situations.

I began to pray for them, yet soon found myself almost overwhelmed with fear and so doubtful God would be able to rescue them. Then I realised I was falling for one of those old traps the enemy loves to set for us. I could almost hear him sniggering at my lack of faith and, at that point, I became determined not to let him win—over me or my friends. So, I prayed again, entrusting them and their situations to our loving, all-powerful Lord.

We all need courage, not only to face life’s challenges but also to stand firm in our faith, resist the enemy and be prayerful at all times. Recently, I started reading Acts again. And again, I marvelled at the change in the disciples, particularly Peter, when the Holy Spirit comes upon them at Pentecost (Acts 2). Immediately after, Peter does not hesitate to address the crowd who have gathered and call them to repentance (2:38). Then, after the lame man at the temple gates is healed, Peter boldly preaches to a huge crowd (3). And when he and John are jailed and hauled before the rulers, elders and teachers of the law, he again does not hold back.

It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 4:10

I find the religious leaders’ baffled response so interesting too:

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realised that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. 4:17

But this is not the end. After Peter and John are commanded not to speak or teach in Jesus’ name again, they boldly declare they simply have to (4:20). They are threatened further but finally released—at which point they head back to the other believers. Then a wonderful time of prayer ensues, during which the Holy Spirit fills everyone present, enabling them to share the word of God with great boldness (4:31). And on it goes, with Peter and the apostles continuing to proclaim the good news of Jesus day after day with amazing courage (5:12-41).

I want to face life with more of this same courage and boldness, don’t you? Although we cannot be with Jesus in human form, as Peter and John were, we can still talk with him and learn from him each day. And, like those early believers, we also have God’s Spirit within us who will fill and empower us to face whatever comes our way. So … let’s trust God and go for it!

Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong.1 Corinthians 16:13 NLT

Last week, I reached a milestone in my little corner of the blogging world. I did not notice until this week because of a glitch in my numbering system, so what a surprise to discover I had written 700 personal blogs since July 2009!

At first, I thought, ‘Ho hum—who cares?’ After all, I enjoy writing my blogs and hope to continue for a while yet, regardless what number blog I am up to. But then I paused … and listened. It was as if God was whispering gently to me, ‘Whoa, Jo-Anne! How about you stop right now and think about all that has happened for you over these past almost thirteen years?’

So, I stopped and reflected. What a crazy but wonderful writing and speaking journey I have had in those years! Not only did God enable me to churn out a blog each week, but also to produce five more novels and two non-fiction books to add to my two previously published novels. Who would have thought? Certainly not I. And who would have thought too that I would have the opportunity to speak at all sorts of places along the way? I have lost count of how many such events have taken place, but it would be over two hundred, many wonderful, some … well … interesting!

As I looked back, however, I realised so much else has happened during these years too that I did not expect—personally, family-wise and certainly wider afield. For example, we sold our home of 32 years for what to us was a staggering sum and came to live here in our lovely, restful unit—an unexpected blessing indeed. Family-wise, we welcomed a fourth grandchild—another lovely blessing. In that time too though, my special ‘soul friend’ Joy suffered from dementia, something I did not expect to happen to her, eventually passing away last year. And, of course, who would have thought we would all be facing a worldwide pandemic in 2020—and 2021—and 2022?

We can plan and work towards what we dream of doing and what we may also believe is what God wants for us—and, by God’s grace, these plans and dreams may be fulfilled beyond our expectations. Yet, for many of us, this does not turn out to be the case, for one reason or another. For some, the question ‘Who would have thought?’ may be a joyous exclamation, while for others, it may well be a deep cry of anguish.

Yet, however surprised or shocked we may be at the twists and turns in our lives, positive or negative, God surely is not. And perhaps that is what God wanted me to see, as I reflected on these past thirteen years. Perhaps God is challenging me to remember who truly is in control of my life. Perhaps I need to be much more thankful I belong to such a loving, powerful God. And perhaps I need to realise my role is to keep living for and trusting in God, whatever happens.

Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Proverbs 3:5-6 The Message

I thought I had cured myself of being a ‘glass half empty’ person. I thought I had learnt to be more grateful for family and friends, for the lovely things I own and the wonderful experiences I have had. Yet now and then, I hear this peevish, little voice inside me complaining about something I have missed out on or pointing out things tantalisingly beyond my reach. ‘Yes, you have that,’ it says, ‘but … well, you could have had this instead. Look what you’ve missed out on yet again!’

Recently, I received an email announcing the results of a short story competition I entered months ago. In it, I discovered that, while I did not win, my story was among the ten best entries and that, as a result, I would receive $150. This was a pleasant surprise, especially since I had forgotten all about the competition. But then came that ‘glass half empty’ moment when I remembered that the first prize was ten times that amount—$1500. Immediately, my joy in winning my $150 was dimmed. ‘I could have done lots with that $1500,’ I grumbled. ‘The email says that choosing a winner was difficult. Probably I just missed out.’

Thankfully, God soon intervened and I began to laugh at myself—especially when I remembered that the basic story idea had emerged from something someone else told me rather than from any cleverness on my part. Yes, I embellished it and put time and effort into polishing it up, after gaining my friend’s permission. But in reality, as I believe God showed me, this story was a gift from the very beginning—and any prize I received was an added bonus.

I suspect all of us can think of things or experiences we would very much like to have, including those we may have enjoyed in a past role or setting. Recently, I attended a funeral back at the church where we spent many years and, while it was good to honour our friend who had passed away, see other old friends and be in a place we had loved so much, it was also rather painful to realise those days are well and truly gone now. For a while, I indulged in a little self-pity, but then God reminded me of lessons learnt back then and the wonderful life experiences I have had since, including my writing journey.

I may yearn for times past or for things beyond my reach, for one reason or another, yet it is unhealthy to stay in this negative, ‘glass half empty’ space, isn’t it? Instead, I am called to live fully and realistically in the present moment with God, noticing what there is for me to do right now and doing it with all my heart. And I am also called to be thankful and at peace, knowing God is with me, whatever is happening or not happening around me.

May I soon learn to see that glass not as half empty at all, but gloriously half full—indeed, constantly brimming over with God’s grace and goodness and incredible love!

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5

I wonder if you have ever run into someone you know in a most unexpected place. When I was a teacher, I well remember encountering one of my more troublesome students in the middle of my weekly supermarket shop. ‘Mum, there’s my teacher!’ this girl blurted out in a shocked voice. I suspect she wanted to see me about as much as I wanted to see her that day!

On another occasion, however, I came across a pastor friend in a bookstore. While we chatted, several folk from her church came by, which perhaps could have disconcerted her. Instead, she seemed to enjoy the moment. ‘It’s like I’ve died and gone to heaven!’ she exclaimed, beaming at everyone.

Recently, I headed to a nearby medical facility for an injection into a troublesome shoulder. I was certainly not expecting to see anyone I knew there—or anyone who knew me. All I was thinking about was whether my scheduled injection would help alleviate the pain I was experiencing. Eventually, a young woman called my name and ushered me into a small room. We chatted together as she prepared the injection for the doctor to give. A few moments later, it was all over, and the doctor left. But then the young woman suddenly said, ‘You must be the author, are you?’

I was stunned.

‘Um … yes, I am, but … how did you know?’ I eventually managed to ask.

‘Oh, I’ve read some of your books!’ she told me then. ‘I borrowed them from my mother.’

So that was it! She must have recognised my name from the patient list—mystery solved. But I was still curious.

‘What would your mother’s name be? Perhaps I know her.’

Sure enough, I did, from two or three occasions in the past.

‘Well, it just shows we have to behave wherever we go, don’t we?’ I joked as I left. ‘You never know who you’ll meet!’

Beneath my joking, however, I was also trying to remember what sort of comments I had made to her. I was so focussed on myself that I had not put much thought at all into anything I said. Had I been polite and considerate towards her? Had I listened well? Had I honoured God throughout our conversation?

It was too late now anyway. The exchange was over.

I came away from that experience realising again that, wherever I go and whether I feel like it or not, I am God’s ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20). I never know whom I will meet. I never know who will recognise my name, even though I am not a famous author—yet! And I never know who will be listening or watching. But I’m so thankful God does. And I’m so thankful too that God’s Spirit is with me and in me, ready to give me those words of grace to share with others and the wisdom to act in a godly way. But I need to listen, to keep any unwise words in check and then to say those things that will bless and build others up.

May I remember to do that next time, because you never know …

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:6

It really is!

Recently, I could not resist buying a non-fiction book by one of my favourite fiction authors, Charles Martin. I wanted to see how he went about writing non-fiction and how the book compared with his novels. But as well, for some reason, its title simply caught my attention.

The book is What If It’s True? and is sub-titled A Storyteller’s journey with Jesus.

At first, I silently scoffed at using a question like this for a title. Of course it’s true, I thought—I’ve believed that for ages! Yet as I reflected further, I realised it is not only a good, honest question for anyone new to understanding who Jesus is to grapple with, but also a good, honest question for those of us who have believed for years to consider—because, over time, we can become almost blasé about it all, can’t we? Over time, we can even become immune to such deep truths, like that frog who starts off in cold water but, as the water gets hotter and hotter, simply stays there, oblivious to the fact that it is slowly being boiled to death.

My memory of Good Friday in our household during my growing-up years is that it was a day of sadness and reverence. Somehow, it didn’t seem quite right to have fun or make too many loud noises. For a time in my early teens, I would head to our local Anglican church for the special three-hour service from midday. Then on Easter Sunday, we would usually make it to Sunday School or church—and I remember the relief I felt that Jesus had won, that death was not the end for him, even though I did not understand the significance of it all back then.

Thankfully, in my mid-teenage years, I came to understand the love and grace of God so much more. One night, after hearing the good news of Jesus clearly proclaimed, I welcomed it with open arms. I was overwhelmed to realise Jesus Christ knew me and loved me and died for me—and my life changed from that moment on. Today, by God’s grace, I still know these truths deep in my heart, but … well … have I somehow allowed the significance of the events we remember at Easter to become blunted in my life?

In his introduction, Charles Martin writes:

What if the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ is the singular most important event in the history of mankind, and what if one drop of His blood is the most powerful thing in this universe or any other? What if dead and crucified Jesus came back to life by the power of the Holy Spirit and He is alive today? …

What if His story is true?

What if this Jesus, the One who walked out of the tomb shining like the sun, holding the keys of death and hades, is alive—in you? In me? I write fiction for a living, and that’s either the craziest thing I’ve ever heard or it’s the most important word ever spoken.

It is indeed true—all of it. May we never forget that—and may it change our lives forever.

I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies… John 11:25

My husband started a certain family tradition many years ago when our three children were young. One by one, he would take them out for a special dinner date. The chosen venue was never anywhere too expensive—when we lived in Adelaide, a favourite haunt was a pancake place called ‘Bertie’s’, which the children all thought was wonderful, considering their dad’s students often called him ‘Dr Bertie’ at that time! Yet whatever the venue, whichever child whose turn it was would dress up in their best clothes and feel so important, as they headed off on their ‘date’ with Dad.

In more recent years, my husband has continued this tradition with our four grandchildren. Sometimes, the chosen venues have been truly exotic—venues such as … um … er … Maccas! But currently, our two younger grandchildren love a certain café near the Nepean River at Penrith that serves extremely tantalising drinks, donuts and desserts. And, since the meal is their choice, this is what they get!

Recently it was eight-year-old Maxine’s turn to go out with her eighty-one-year-old Granddad. When he asked her, her response was, ‘Ooh, I’m going out on a date!’ Great excitement ensued—along with the satisfying thought that her brother would be ‘sooo jealous’!

The evening duly arrived—and yes, Maxine chose that favourite café by the river and that favourite milk shake for dinner, with a big donut perched on top of the container and a straw threaded through the hole into her drink. As well, she was allowed the important task of ordering the food herself and paying for it with her granddad’s credit card, while he watched on.

In my own growing up years, my times with my grandfather definitely did not involve dining out at cafes. Instead, we would often go walking on a Sunday afternoon when he and my grandmother would come for a visit. In my mind, I can still see his white hair and his erect figure, as we strode along and chatted. One of our favourite places to walk was, believe it or not, to the Toowong Cemetery, not far from our home in Brisbane. We would comment about all sorts of things we saw on gravestones there and I’m sure he sought to impart much wisdom to me during those times.

I am not saying God is some grandfatherly figure, sitting on a throne in the sky, smiling and nodding benignly. But I would like to suggest that God’s heart is to invite each one of us on a ‘date’—that is, a time when we put other things aside in our lives and, instead, delight in simply being with our heavenly Father. When we do, we find God has a wonderful feast laid out there for us. And there is such joy too in simply being together with God, knowing we are loved and accepted completely, just as we are.

But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you. Psalm 81:16

Why would we ignore those special ‘dates’ or times with God? Why would we ever stand God up, so to speak? Instead, let’s turn up—often. Let’s accept God’s invitation. And let’s drink deeply from all the love and wisdom God showers on us as we do.

One recent rainy afternoon, we pulled up in the courtyard of a gracious, old B & B where we had booked to stay. The owner, a well-dressed, older lady, greeted us warmly and proceeded to give us a guided tour of the property. We chatted pleasantly and she then began telling us about another couple who had come to stay. Because they had booked late via an online site, she did not know they were coming, so had gone out for the day. As soon as she arrived home, however, the wife of this couple accosted her.

‘We’ve been waiting for you for five minutes!’ this lady said in an angry voice. ‘This is no way to run a business!’

According to our host, it then went downhill from there. The angry guest continued to fume and criticise, until our host had had enough and told them she did not want them to stay.

‘But I’ve paid!’ the angry lady objected.

‘Oh no you haven’t!’ our host told her firmly. ‘I have not authorised the site where you booked to accept any of my payments—my guests pay when they arrive here. This is my home and I don’t need to let your anger in here. Goodbye!’

With that, she closed the door in their face!

I immediately had visions of this couple trying vainly to find somewhere else to stay for the night, with no success. Yet I suppose our host had every right to deny them entry. Why should she let such an angry spirit affect the calm, peaceful environment she had created in her beautiful B & B?

At that point, I decided I needed to reassure her we at least were not angry guests.

‘Well, we certainly come here with joy and not anger,’ I told her. ‘And I hope we bring peace as well.’

I would have liked to say more, but our conversation ended there, as the owner had to go. However, as I relaxed in our lovely accommodation, this whole story kept buzzing in my mind. And soon I found myself wondering what kind of baggage I take into any place I enter. As a child of God, I have God’s Spirit in me, so hopefully I would carry something at least of the love and grace of God with me wherever I go, in some sort of tangible way. Hopefully too, at least some of those fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control—would also be evident in the words I say and the way I treat others. Yet… surely there have been many times when I have entered someone’s home or business with anger… or judgment… or plain old grumpiness in my heart?

It’s a sobering thought that we have been entrusted with carrying God’s peace and light into the places we go, isn’t it? We can choose to open our hearts and joyfully do this—or we can decide to close them and, in the process, only add to others’ burdens. We can bless—or we can curse. The choice is ours.

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. Numbers 6:24-26

Sometimes it’s easier to get up in the morning than other days, isn’t it? Perhaps we did not sleep well or had a late night and need those extra few minutes—or hours—in bed. Sometimes too, it depends what lies ahead of us in our day. If there is something exciting or interesting for us to do or to be at, we may well bound out of bed. But if we know we need to clean the house or do some other dreary job or go somewhere like the dentist or do something else we dread, we may indeed want to hide under those bedclothes a while longer. Or perhaps there may be even bigger challenges awaiting us in our day, such as those dealing with severe health issues may face—or those currently trying to clean up huge messes after our recent floods.

Yes, if we are being honest, some days it can take a little time for us to get to that place of feeling we can conquer what lies ahead. And, according to our personality or life situation, we may have different ways of tackling the issue. Some of us may choose to stick to a particular routine. We may like that early morning cup of tea or that shower or breakfast first off, followed by working our way through a particular regimen we have devised. Then, as my husband declared recently, on completing his meticulous morning routine, we can say with a smile, ‘Now I’m ready to face the day!’ As for me, I am much more likely to be uncommunicative first off and fumble through until I can surface and gather my wits!

Years ago, we used to mind our oldest granddaughter each Friday. Her father would arrive on our doorstep by around 7.00am and present this slightly sleepy looking bundle of little girl to us, complete with all her gear, before diving off to his teaching job. We would cuddle her for a while, give her breakfast and dress her, by which time she would be more awake. Then, when we headed outside to play or to go somewhere, she would often look up at the sky and say, ‘Lovely day!’ in such a cute way, just as her mum would no doubt say to her often.

Yet sometimes we might find it hard to see our days as ‘lovely’. Sometimes, it may well be a matter of needing to take courage and simply get on with the day ahead—because things have to be done. Yet even then, God is still there. In fact, on these days, I have found it is even more urgent to stop, to remember this, to acknowledge honestly to God how I am feeling and then to sense God’s Spirit comforting and filling me yet again. I know God is with me. I know God loves me utterly. And I know I can trust God, whatever is happening around me.

May you too know that deep certainty in your hearts, whatever the day ahead might hold for you.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” Lamentations 3:22-24

In this instant age, it can be irksome to have to wait, can’t it? We have become so used to finding instant answers on the net or buying that instant, fast food or contacting someone almost instantly. As a result, when we have to wait for something, we can feel quite put out and inconvenienced, as I did while waiting for my new car last year—and as I did again recently, while shopping at our local supermarket.

Usually, I am happy enough to wait my turn in that checkout queue, but this day, I had bought a lot of items, some of which were frozen—or had been! As I stood there, I felt for the lady before me who seemed lonely and needed to talk, yet I soon became annoyed with the person serving her. Yes, it is nice to connect personally with customers, but you don’t need to stand with your hands resting on the counter, doing nothing but talking, I fumed to myself!

The lady behind me in the queue rolled her eyes and I did the same in return. There was nothing patient or godly about my response—but I did not care at that point.

I did care that evening, however, when I saw on the news how people in flooded areas of our country had to queue for ages outside their supermarkets to get even a few basic supplies. I felt rebuked indeed—and I knew I could have done better. After all, I have been writing for many years now—and one thing authors hopefully develop throughout the whole long-term endeavour of writing, editing, publishing and marketing books is much patience.

I was reminded of this recently during a promotional visit to a nearby bookstore. At one stage, I noticed a lady near my book table who seemed a little familiar. Eventually, I introduced myself and asked if we had met somewhere before.

‘Yes,’ she said, as she mentioned a particular meeting we had both attended. ‘I remember you talked about your book Soul Friend there.’

I gaped. As she continued talking, I recalled how I had only briefly mentioned the book in passing at that meeting, as we each introduced ourselves. Then I realised this meeting had taken place ten years earlier—ten years! Yet this lady had remembered me, for some reason.

We talked on for ages, after which she bought a copy of Soul Friend.

‘I wanted to buy it back then, but knew I didn’t have time to read it. Now I do!’ she told me, smiling.

Ten years earlier, I would never have known this lady was interested in reading my book. And as she left the bookstore, it was as if God whispered to me, ‘See, Jo-Anne? These things don’t happen all at once. Yet they do happen in my perfect timing. Keep on persevering—keep on being patient.’

Somehow, I suspect God takes a much longer view of everything than I do—right on into eternity, in fact. And somehow, I think I need to cultivate that long view more too, to wait for things to unfold in God’s time—and to be patient as I do.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. Psalm 130:5