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Archive for September, 2009

Someone once said that novelists are like bowerbirds, continually collecting glistening treasures or colourful scraps of material wherever they can and storing them away in a safe place, ready to weave into that next wonderful, creative piece of writing. Yet this isn’t something they necessarily do on purpose, I believe.  More often than not, it’s as if these treasures force their way unbidden into the writer’s mind and imagination and remain there, ready for the picking when the moment comes.

Two weeks ago, my third novel ‘Laura’ was launched.  ‘Laura’ was inspired by the life of a friend who happens to be blind.  Many early events in the novel grew out of snippets of information she shared with me about her own growing up years as someone with a perceived ‘disability’ – times when she learnt to be strong and to live life the same as her sighted brothers and sisters did.  But these facts are woven together with others gleaned from research, along with people, places and events that I created from my own imagination.  Now, three years after completing the novel, at times I find it hard to remember what came from where and to tell the difference between fact and fiction myself.

On the other hand, I’ll never forget where the ideas for some specific events later in the novel originated – for example, the moment when Laura first hears the words of the old hymn ‘Be Thou My Vision’.  You see, I was there when my friend did just that.  Then there’s the occasion when Laura helps a friend choose her wedding dress – and again, that is very close to the truth.  Let me tell you what really happened, as I remember it.

While visiting my friend where she now lives in the States, I needed to find a dress to wear to our son’s wedding.  One day at a huge clothing store, I tried on outfit after outfit, becoming more and more frustrated and embarrassed in the process.  Then my friend, who cannot see at all, held out a dress with matching jacket she had chosen from one of the racks and suggested I try it on.

It was not quite the kind of outfit I had in mind, yet, reluctant to offend her, I put it on – and immediately loved it!  I wore it proudly to the wedding and have kept it as a reminder of God’s grace to me ever since.  You see, while I know my friend chose the outfit by feeling the lovely soft fabric of the dress itself and the trimmings and pattern of the matching brocade jacket, I know too that all the time she was praying for just the right dress for me.  And God heard her prayers – and mine.

So yes, novelists are indeed like bowerbirds – but with good reason.  That’s how God made them to be, I reckon.  And if that’s the case, then I’m happy to join their ranks and admit to being a ‘bowerbird’ any day!

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It’s great, isn’t it, when we meet up again with old friends we haven’t seen for ages and the connection is just as warm and close as it ever was.  It’s like everything else falls away and we are once again appreciated essentially for who we are, irrespective of anything we have achieved in life.  The friendship is real, reaching across time and distance.  We feel valued, loved – and our hearts melt.

Last week I held the book launch for my third novel ‘Laura’.  One friend who attended has known me for around forty-five years.  We were at high school together, but lost track of each other for over forty years.  Then around three years ago, she managed to find me again – and our friendship has become even stronger, as we mutually support each other in our various endeavours.  In fact, she was the one who originally invited me to a holiday camp as a teenager where I discovered for myself how Jesus Christ loved me so much and gave himself for me.  At that camp, the best friendship of all began for me, as I came to understand what it really means to be a child of God and to be welcomed back with open arms into his family.  Just like the lost son in Luke 15 in the bible, I knew I had come home to where I belonged.

Many of my other friends who celebrated the release of ‘Laura’ with me have attended all three of my book launches in recent years.  They have hung in there with me, faithfully supporting me as I pursue my literary endeavours, cheering me on as I seek to bring my dreams into reality and do what I believe God has called me to do at this stage of my life.  They have stuck with me – and I am so grateful.  And whether my faithful friends know it or not, they mirror God’s own faithfulness and love to me – a love that will never come to an end and will see me through all the ups and downs, all the disappointments and successes of my life.  That is exactly what God promised thousands of years ago to Joshua:

As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.  (Joshua 1:5)

Whatever happens, it is so reassuring to know that God is in it all with me for the long haul.  I will never be forsaken – and in turn, I don’t plan to forsake God.  I’m in it for the long haul too.  I truly want to be ‘God’s friend’, as Abraham was called, to the very end (Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23).

How about you?

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Fighting God’s battles

Recently one of our daughters went through a very testing time.  She stood to lose quite a bit of money in a real estate deal if she could not get a loan in time.  As the deadline drew closer, panic began to set in, not only for her, but also her parents.  Disaster was looming.  What would we do?

Well, we tried to remain calm.  And we arranged a back-up plan with another mortgage broker.  And yes, we did pray – but a little weakly, I have to admit.  We definitely fitted into the ‘O you of little faith’ category in this instance.

Then I happened to attend a conference where I heard again the story of King Jehoshaphat from 2 Chronicles 20 in the Old Testament.  Yes, there really was a king with that name!  He seems to have been a pretty godly and sensible guy – as soon as he discovers that a ‘vast army’ is about to attack Judah, he calls everyone together, proclaims a fast and begins to seek help from the Lord.  After uttering an impassioned prayer in front of his people, Jehoshaphat concludes with this simple yet profound statement to God:

We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.

Then another guy with an equally unpronounceable name, Jahaziel, gets up and tells the king and his people what God’s Spirit is saying about their situation:

Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army.  For the battle is not yours, but God’s.

Fortunately, Jehoshaphat believes him.  He encourages his army to have faith and sends them out to battle praising God.  And here’s where the story takes an interesting – and rather ironic – twist.  In the end, the army of Judah don’t even have to fight.  Instead, the enemy factions turn on one another so that when Jehoshaphat’s men arrive for the battle, all they see are dead bodies everywhere!  No wonder they return joyfully to Jerusalem!

Well, I have to say this story challenged me greatly about how I was handling our daughter’s situation.  I very speedily decided I had better take my eyes off the problem and focus them directly on God.  And I repented of my lack of faith in trying to fight this ‘battle’ in my own strength.  After all, the battle was not ours, but God’s.

And yes, she did receive the loan in time, praise God!

So whose battle are you fighting?  Which battle are you fighting?  Whatever it is, hand it over to God.

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I have to admit I’m quite a fan of Michael Leunig’s writings.  To my mind, he has a quirky gift of getting to the heart of issues and showing the absurdity of some of our ways of thinking and acting.  I particularly love his observation, via the pen of Mr Curly to Vasco Pyjama in ‘The Curly-Pyjama Letters’, about rest – or the lack of it:

It is worth doing nothing and having a rest; in spite of all the difficulty it may cause, you must rest, Vasco – otherwise you will become RESTLESS! I believe the world is sick with exhaustion and dying of restlessness.

Here Leunig highlights for us the real meaning of this word ‘restless’, which is literally to be ‘without rest’.  How often is it, however, that when we feel restless, we look for new things to do or new places to visit, thinking this will satisfy us?  Of course this may – for a while.  But usually we soon tire of these new experiences and again the old restlessness creeps up on us.  Perhaps, as Leunig suggests, we need to do nothing for a while other than rest – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

I know that for me to write and work well, I need to be at my most rested.  Yes, eight hours sleep at night helps, but I mean more than that.  I know I need to be quiet right down deep inside me, to be aware that God is there in me, beside me, all around me, holding me and loving me.  I need to still that clamour inside me that reminds me of how much I have to do, of how what I have done could be so much improved, of how inferior my writing is when compared with others’.  In other words, I need the true rest that only God can give me, the rest Jesus was talking about when he said these words:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.  (Matthew 11:28-29)

Now that, to my mind, is true rest – the sort that will never be disturbed or stolen or found to be inadequate.  With that real ‘soul rest’, I know I can face the world, ready to handle whatever comes my way.

How are you feeling right now?  ‘Rested’ – or ‘restless’?

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‘Bothering’ God

The other day I heard a radio announcer talking and laughing about a particular group of politicians in our federal parliament he derisively called ‘God-botherers’.  It wasn’t so much what he said, but the tone in which he said it that ‘bothered’ me.  These people were dangerous, he seemed to be implying.  These people should not be allowed to gain the upper hand.  This was some kind of ‘plot’ to force their ideologies on others and to take the majority of Australians in a direction they do not necessarily want to go.

This announcer did not seem to be talking about an actual Christian minority party, but rather politicians across the board who happen to have a genuine faith in God, who want to govern with integrity and in a way that they believe honours God, who actually spend time praying, meeting with other Christians in and outside parliament when they can and even reading the bible.  And there are quite a few of them, apparently – enough to ‘bother’ this announcer anyway.

It isn’t the politics of the matter I’d like to comment on, however.  It’s more the implied criticism of the whole idea that people seriously think they can ‘bother’ God.  Is it that this announcer feels it’s ludicrous to believe in a God who isn’t even there, or for some other reason is unable to listen to our piffling problems?  Or is it that this God might really be out there somewhere, but is obviously uncaring about the world and what goes on in our little lives?

Strange, but this isn’t what I glean from the bible.  In Matthew 6, we see how Jesus himself showed his disciples how to pray by giving them Lord’s prayer.  In Philippians 4:6 we read:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.  Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

Then in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 we are told simply to ‘keep on praying’.  Just as succinctly, James 4:2 tells us: ‘You do not have, because you do not ask God’.  And even way back in the Old Testament, God seemed pretty keen on being ‘bothered’.  ‘If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land’, 2 Chronicles 7:14 says.

So I’m into ‘bothering’ God in a big way.  How about you?

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