It’s me!

Jo 17Whenever one of our daughters phones us, her first words are always, ‘It’s me!’ Immediately, we know who it is. But as last week unfolded for me, I made the momentous discovery that God often says the same thing! It was as if God was whispering, over and over again, ‘It’s me! It’s me! Did you see my hand in that little event? Can you sense my love for you through this one? Open your eyes and ears—all around you, I’m working for your good! It’s me, reaching out to you! It’s me!’

Here are some examples:

  • Our daughter lost a big, silver ring she was wearing, as she helped me clean up after my book launch. ‘Perhaps it got caught in a plastic bag we put in the bin!’ was her anguished late night phone message. By then, the rubbish had been taken to our outside bin, so I promised to check next morning. I went out, picked up the first messy bag and carefully began examining one delightful piece of rubbish after another. And just as I had decided the task was impossible, there in the midst of crumbs and dollops of cream, I saw that silver ring, with its large, yellow stone glinting in the morning sun!
  • A writer friend phoned from another state, asking if I knew the contact details for a particular staff member at a bookstore. At that exact moment, I was halfway through an email to this staff member myself! It had taken me some time to find out how to contact this person, yet just when my friend asked, the information was right in front of me.
  • I received two lovely, encouraging emails from friends who had finished reading my newly released book, Becoming Me. Both said they were about to read it again slowly, to give them time to highlight things they needed to remember and apply to their own lives.
  • I was cross with our very tired grandson who wanted more lollies and let my feelings be known. I then noticed his little sister, looking up at me with her big, brown eyes. ‘Are you okay?’ she asked in a gentle voice, at all of two and half years of age. My heart melted.
  • I arrived to speak at a women’s breakfast at a church. As I sat down, I recognised the lady opposite me—we had met several years ago at a conference and I remembered how she loved my books. ‘I still pray for you, Jo-Anne,’ she told me quietly. ‘You are on a list of people I pray for often.’ Had I not come to speak or chosen to sit near her, I might never have discovered this.
  • I walked down our backyard. Yes, I could see lots of weeds—but there were flowers too and new growth and a refreshing breeze blowing and blue sky and birds twittering nearby. God was there, all around me and so near.

So this week, I plan to watch for more of those ‘It’s me!’ moments from God and be grateful for each one. Will you do that too?

Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see—how good God is. Blessed are you who run to him. Psalm 34:8 The Message

One would think I would know the ropes by now. After all, I have had seven other books released and have put on launches for all but one. Yet, in the lead-up to the launch of my eighth book, Becoming Me, this past weekend, I found myself inordinately nervous. Why on earth had I decided to put on yet another launch, I asked myself. After all, I am not the best at catering for such functions. Come to think of it, why had I even decided to see this particular book through to publication? Surely seven books were enough?

Then I figuratively shook myself and realised what a strange mindset I was taking on. Where was God’s perspective in it all? Hadn’t I felt God had guided me clearly to complete this new book of mine? Also, I had a good venue for the launch, as well as offers of help. And I had a lovely group of family and friends coming to support me, some of whom have tracked with me through all my previous launches.

So I decided to take a step back, listen better to God and allow that peace that passes understanding to permeate my heart and mind—even in the midst of shopping, cooking and the general tasks of getting everything together for the event. And I also decided I was not going to let the enemy rob me of the joy of this whole experience. In reality, it is such a privilege to be able to launch my eighth book, with family and friends around. So surely I needed to come to the event with a joyful heart, thanking God for this wonderful opportunity to put my thoughts out there once again for others to read and hopefully draw nearer to God themselves in the process?

As part of stepping back, I met up with a friend for coffee. Even the process of driving some distance across Sydney helped in gaining a more rounded perspective on all my launch activities. Then my friend not only insisted on shouting me, but also gave me a special gift and a beautiful card in which she had written: I’m so happy for the arrival of Becoming Me! I have no doubt it will be a great blessing and encouragement to many people, including me! Yes, God was indeed changing my perspective with a flourish and delighting in doing so, it seemed to me. And if God was enjoying this moment in my life that would never come again in quite the same way, I was determined to as well.

In The Message version of the Bible, Philippians 4:6 says:

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

This week in your own busy life, can you step back a little and try to see things more from God’s perspective? As you do, may you too rejoice and be at peace, as you hand those concerns over to God in prayer.

PS And yes, I did indeed have a lovely, encouraging, happy book launch!

Creative grace

I sit in silence, yet around me I hear the whispers of so many different creative voices, each speaking of God’s own creativity and love and grace. I sense I am on holy ground—the air seems to vibrate with God’s Spirit.

I am at our church’s Art Installation*, a reflective space filled with all kinds of creative works—paintings, drawings, collages, photographs, wood carvings, knitting, pottery, poetry, prose and more. In varying ways, these works portray the four seasons, with a tree at the centre sectioned into quarters to display different seasonal foliage. But they also depict four important ‘rhythms of grace’—gratitude (spring), hospitality (summer), fasting (autumn) and solitude (winter).

Almost all works on display have been created by our church members—some young, some much older. I read with care the notes most have written to explain the significance of their work and how God inspired them along the way. Here and there in the room, benches have been placed to enable visitors to sit and reflect. At one spot, we are encouraged to swirl the water in a beautiful, blue pottery bowl around with our hand, to notice how the water takes time to be still again, to listen to our hearts—and gradually, as we sit, to become still ourselves in God’s presence.

I continue on, praying that those who visit this creative space will delight in what they see and be drawn closer to God, but also that they will encourage the artists and writers who have risked exhibiting their work. I come to my own piece of writing, displayed alongside beautiful photographs of solitary scenes. It is an honest, revealing piece, but I am glad I have written it.

Solitude. My lifeblood. My sacred space where I can reconnect with God, with myself and with that creative part of me that is crying out for inspiration and refreshment.

I sit still for as long as it takes to become mindful once again of the presence of God all around and within. As my spirit breathes in God’s life-giving Spirit, I realise how much I have missed these times of solitude, in the midst of all my busyness, and how desperately I have short-changed both myself and God. My emotions surface—I become aware of a sadness within, a kind of desolation at losing sight of the person God created me to be under those heavy layers of worry and self-doubt and expectation.

I cry out to God then to comfort me, to reassure, to tell me again who I am, to show me my unique place in this world. The moments pass, as I am held close in those loving arms. I rest in God’s grace and forgiveness that flow over me and through me, bringing deep healing and watering those parched places within.

I know I am God’s child.

I know I am loved.

I know I have a place and a purpose in this world.

And I am at peace.  

May you too, wherever you are today, be at peace with God and know God’s amazing love for you.

*Please note:    Should you wish to visit Parramatta Baptist Church’s Art Installation, 84-94 Kleins Rd, Northmead, Sydney, it is open until this Sunday, 9th October, from 7.00-9.00 each evening, 9.00-12.00 noon on Saturday and 9.00am-1.00pm and 4.30pm-8pm on Sunday.

A continuing legacy

Jo 17It has been too long since I have seen my dear friend Joy, with whom I discussed the issues of life and the things of God for many years. She is now in a nursing home, suffering a form of dementia that leaves her a little bewildered and unsure what is happening at times. Yet at other times, she is so aware and remembers so much.

‘Of course I do!’ she says with spirit, when I ask if she knows me. ‘Oh Jo-Anne! So lovely to see you!’

I am embarrassed because three family members are also visiting, yet they assure me I am welcome. Eventually, I show Joy my new book, Becoming Me, wondering if she will recall the struggle it has been to write.

‘I’m so glad you finally have this published,’ she says. ‘It has been a long journey for you.’

I am touched and amazed she remembers—and cares even now.

Somehow, the conversation turns to poetry. The granddaughter present recalls how Joy often used to read poems aloud to her whenever she visited—especially the poetry of Mary Oliver. Together, we try to recite lines from a particular poem of hers we all love. We stumble, unsure of the exact wording. Then, to our surprise, Joy joins in and together, we remember it clearly. It is the last two lines from the poem, ‘The Summer Day’:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

We sit in quietness, reflecting on these words which have always challenged me. I then remind Joy of another poem she shared with me—this time one she herself wrote. I love it so much I included it in an earlier book, Soul Friend, my memoir about the spiritual journey Joy and I shared over many years. I have brought a copy with me, thinking Joy may have forgotten about this earlier book, and now delve into my bag to retrieve it.

‘I can’t remember what chapter it’s in,’ I say. ‘It would probably take me ages to find.’

Yet there it is, on the very first page I turn to! It’s as if the book opens by itself at the exact spot.

‘Read it to us!’ one of Joy’s daughters urges.

I hesitate, but then plunge in.

I saw the power pole break loose

               as the lurching Melbourne tram

                                rounded a corner,

bouncing here and there in frantic

                searching for connection,

                                almost joyous dancing …

I read on, as the words explore the idea of finding true freedom to live life fully, aware the poem may touch some raw places in us all.

Soon after, I need to leave.

‘I don’t want you to go!’ Joy says softly, touching my hand. It is a tender moment.

As I drive home, I reflect on the beautiful legacy she has left and is still leaving in this world in so many ways. And I decide again I want to continue touching others’ hearts with God’s love like that too, to speak of true freedom, to make a difference in this world.

If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36

What is the legacy you are leaving in this world? … What are you doing with your ‘one wild and precious life’?


Do you, like mBecomingMe-OFC-e, have any long-term projects lying around that you hope to get back to ‘one day’? For some time now, I have planned to sort through all my music, as well as our old family photos. And yes, I still have two or three book ideas on my laptop that I began some time ago, but put aside. Then there is that gardening makeover …

But I am delighted to announce there is one long-term project I have now completed. On 1st October, my second non-fiction book, Becoming Me: Finding my true self in God, will be released at last. Please check out my website here for more information, particularly about the SPECIAL DEAL now available!

I almost gave up on this particular project—several times over. I wrote most of my original version during 2014 and submitted it to my publisher in January 2015, yet one key question remained. Should it really be published? It is a very personal book, after all—it contains many honest reflections on my journey of discovering who God created me to be and of removing the layers covering my true self. Besides, I already have six novels and a memoir, Soul Friend, published. Should I call it a day? Did I have the energy to see this project through?

Then, in January this year, I was asked to remove the reflection questions at the end of each chapter, which then necessitated some further changes. I resubmitted the manuscript, but to no avail. My book was simply not the type of non-fiction my publisher now produces.

So what to do? Should I consider self-publishing? For various reasons, I had always resisted this idea. Then, one Sunday morning in early May, three things happened in quick succession.

The first was a simple, mundane event—I picked up a nail file and, for the first time in months, noticed the little Russian doll, so intrinsic to my story, on the end of it. A friend had given it to me, after hearing about the concept behind Becoming Me, as an encouragement to complete the book.

We headed to church, where a young minister preached on our identity in Christ. To my astonishment, he shared many key themes contained in my book. I sat bolt upright—it was as if an electric current was flowing through me. ‘All these themes are still so important’, I sensed God saying. ‘Put your book out there!’

I came home and discovered a friend had felt prompted to email me John 1:12 from ‘The Message’:

Whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, HE MADE TO BE THEIR TRUE SELVES, their child-of-God selves …

She had capitalised the words ‘He made to be their true selves’—without realising this is the main theme of my new book!

That week, I began the whole self-publishing process. And now at last, those printed copies have actually arrived!

So … is there a project God has challenged you to undertake that you have perhaps put aside? Sometimes we might have to for a period. But maybe, just maybe, it’s time for you to pick it up again. God is so faithful—may we be faithful too.

‘Which way should I head today?’ I ask myself, as I leave our house for my regular walk. I could head down our street, under the busy main road, past various businesses, then along a short section of bike path to the next street and home again. I could veer right along the bike path, under the railway line, along the edge of the Parramatta River, through the grounds of the nearby university, then home again. Or I could head up the hill towards our local school and shops. Which one should I choose?

Feeling a little restless, I decide to try somewhere different. I drive down to the Rydalmere ferry wharf and park my car. There before me, the lovely, flat bike path winds its way east beside the river towards the Silverwater Bridge and beyond. I set off, walking fast. For some reason, I sense I have not so much chosen this route today as it has chosen me. Could the fact that I am speaking from Psalm 23 later in the week have subconsciously influenced my choice? After all, the psalm does talk about being led beside quiet waters.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. (1-2)

The path curves around, leading past a children’s playground and a grove of tall eucalypts. I am tempted to stop and sit on a seat there in the shade, but press on. Cyclists pass me and smile, as do one or two other walkers. I begin to hear the ‘whoosh’ of traffic and realise I have almost reached the Silverwater Bridge. I img_20160909_150726048pass underneath it, then notice on my left a massive number of enormous, new apartment blocks in various stages of completion. Some seem occupied already, while others still have scaffolding around them. I can hear workmen shouting to one another on these sites and the noise of various power tools and machines.

img_20160909_150818576_hdrI then discover a brand new, shaded picnic table area nearby, right beside the river, and decide to rest there for a while. As I do, I realise I can hear loud noises coming from either side of me. On my left, there are those workmen on the building site, drilling and hammering and calling out. And on my right, there is the constant hum of that traffic as it makes its way over the Silverwater Bridge. Yet, in between, right where I am, is this peaceful place beside the deep, quietly flowing river. And, even as I sit gazing at the water, I see three pelicans land oh so gracefully on its surface and float along, undisturbed by the noise around them, as if they own the entire river.

In that instant, I sense God saying to me, ‘See, even in the midst of the hustle and bustle of your life, when things are happening all around you and press in on you, I can provide those quiet waters that will restore you deep in your spirit. Stay close to me! Keep listening to me!

I relax then, on both the outside and the inside. I am held close in my quiet place with God—and I am so grateful.

Jo 17Recently, I heard a wonderful, true story. A young man worked for a bakery and, while taking out the rubbish one evening, discovered another young man trying to steal something from the bakery premises. He hauled him inside, explained to the owner what had happened, then headed home. When he next fronted up for work, however, he discovered his employer had offered the young offender a job in that same workplace! Instead of punishing him, this employer showed mercy on him and helped him choose a better path in life.

It seems to me this young, would-be thief was given two precious gifts that day, besides that of a paying job. The first was the gift of mercy, which one dictionary defines as ‘compassion or forgiveness shown towards someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm’. And the second was the gift of trust, with the owner believing in this young man enough to offer him a job. What wonderful, life-giving, empowering gifts! The first removes that horrible burden of shame and guilt and offers a fresh start in life. And the second helps call into being that sense of self-worth and self-belief that may have been lost or missing altogether.

As I heard this story, I recalled some words from the song the elderly bishop sings to Jean Valjean in both the stage and film version of Les Misérables. Valjean repays the hospitality the bishop has shown him by stealing some valuable silverware, then tells the police the bishop gave it to him. Instead of denouncing the thief, however, the bishop picks up some silver candlesticks and sings the following:

But my friend, you left so early

Surely something slipped your mind?

You forgot I gave these also;

Would you leave the best behind?

Wow—now that is mercy par excellence, don’t you think? The bishop then urges Valjean to realise there is a purpose behind what has occurred and to use the silver ‘to become a better man’. Valjean does exactly that, ultimately changing the lives of many others.

As for the would-be thief in my first story, I wonder how his life changed as a result of the mercy and forgiveness he received. We may never know—but I have been told what a significant experience it was for the young employee who apprehended the thief. That day, he learnt a key life lesson, as he observed such kindness and forbearance in action and took it to heart.

Do you remember a time when you messed up something in your life and felt so stupid and worthless as a result? Did someone trust you enough to offer you another chance and perhaps even help you do better? Sometimes that doesn’t happen for us. Yet, with God, no one misses out. Instead, God’s amazing mercy and forgiveness is offered to each one of us through Jesus, God’s own beloved Son. And as we turn and accept that offer that shows us how much we are loved and valued, we are given a wonderful, fresh start.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17

What an amazing privilege to experience this life-changing moment that makes all the difference for us, now and forever!