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Archive for January, 2010

It happens to be my birthday this week – and yes, that definitely indicates I’m getting older!  Now I can let that mournful truth affect me in either of two ways.  I can be discouraged, decide I’ve done enough and slow down a little in my writing and speaking endeavours – or I can be encouraged, redouble my efforts and forge ahead, knowing I have even less time to complete all those novels in my mind that are waiting to burst onto the page.

I’ve decided I’m choosing the latter.  In 2010, I will put my best foot forward once again to speak wherever I’m invited about God and about writing in whatever ‘mix’ seems appropriate.  And I’m also aiming to complete my sixth novel, which has patiently waited in the wings these past few months when I have been too busy with other things.  Not that I know myself yet exactly how my characters are going to develop and what they actually will want to do in the end.  I think I know – but I might be wrong.  And I can’t wait to find out!

But how about you?  What unique contribution does God have for you to make to the lives of those around you this year?  Because each of us has something to offer, however little we believe that.  Just today I received a very apt birthday card in the mail, featuring a quote from Max Lucado that says:

Your life has a plot; your years have a theme. You can do something in a manner that no one else can.

I didn’t always believe that, particularly the last part.  I think that many years of my life were spent trying to be like someone else or trying to be the sort of person I thought God wanted me to be, without ever realising it was okay to relax and fully be the person I had been made to be in the first place.  Some time back I read some interesting words written by psychologist and spiritual retreat leader David Benner in his book ‘The Gift of Being Yourself’:

(Our true self) is the image of God that you are – the unique face of God that has been set aside from eternity for you.

That’s a sobering but amazing thought, isn’t it?  Each one of us, created uniquely in the image of God, as Genesis 1:27 talks about, is given the ability to mirror God to the world in a completely unique way as a result.  No one else is going to write my books.  No one else is going to speak exactly as I do and will.  No one else will relate to others or work or care for people or simply live the exact same way as you do.  Each of us has the opportunity to show the world something of God in a unique way.

Are you up for the challenge in 2010?  Whatever your age – go for it!

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Whenever I meet or hear from someone who has enjoyed reading one of my novels, I find myself quite blown away.  Each time, I feel so privileged that words I agonised over a few years back now still touch people’s hearts and hopefully even impact their lives as well.

Recently I met someone who had just finished reading my novel ‘Laura’. Her mind was obviously still full of the characters and storyline, so our conversation went something like this:

‘I found your book so encouraging, Jo-Anne. I absolutely loved your character Laura – but I loved her brother Jamie too.’

‘That’s great – so did I!’ I smile, delighted.

‘I think you could write a sequel and explore Jamie’s journey.  Margaret was doing the best she could – and I can understand why Ken acted like he did.  Then there was Elisabeth – now who was her partner?  What was his name again?’

[A moment’s silence before my new friend thankfully remembers it herself.]

Oh that’s right – Paul.  And Ian and Greg – well, they were just there, but I really loved Jamie.’

I have had such conversations before – conversations in which I valiantly try to remember who on earth this or that character actually is!  I endeavour to hide my confusion and embarrassment, however.  After all, how can I own up to forgetting someone I myself have created and fleshed out and journeyed with for months?  Yes, there are the more notable ones I loved and will always remember, but am I currently writing my sixth novel – which means I have created a cast of well over a hundred characters at this point in time.  I simply can’t store all their names in my head – and it has nothing to do with the fact that I’m getting older!

Some say novelists act like gods, in that they are in a position to create whatever characters they like to populate their own little fictitious worlds.  That may be the case – but they are nothing like the God I know.  I forget my less memorable characters at least, but I’m so glad God doesn’t forget us, however memorable or otherwise we are!  God says straight out in Isaiah 49:15: ‘I will not forget you!  And Psalm 139 tells me that God knows everything about me – when I get up, when I go out, even what I’m thinking and what I’m about to say.  I may forget those I have ‘created’ and what they did and said – but God knows me intimately and will never forget me.  And I’m so glad of that.

How about you?

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I often think that in this crazy writing journey I’m on, one of the main attributes required to keep going is plain old courage.  In the past few weeks, I have spent hours investigating more online sites and social networks where my novels could perhaps be promoted – and in my opinion, such a task isn’t for the fainthearted!  Many times I found myself tempted to give up on the whole idea – particularly when, after painstakingly entering bits and pieces of information on one occasion, I managed to lose the lot!  And after all, who would bother to give more than a cursory glance to the information and images on any ‘author page’ I might put together – particularly those subscribers living in the US, from where most of these sites emanate?

Then in the midst of all this frustrated effort, a phrase I heard over twenty-five years ago popped into my mind.  It was from another time in my life when I was embarking on something quite challenging for me.  I was returning to study after a long break looking after our three children – and this necessitated my ‘resurrecting’ any German and Japanese I had known from around thirteen years earlier but had hardly touched in those intervening years.  Eventually, I found myself in a class with eight other students, one of whom was a native German speaker, having to introduce myself in German and speak for a few minutes about my life.  I remember shaking in my boots, as I tried to dredge up that hidden cache of German words somewhere in the depths of my brain, and hoping against hope the lecturer would excuse me from such an ordeal.

But he didn’t.  Instead, he smiled patiently at me and said softly: ‘Sie brauchen Mut!’  (‘You need courage!’).  And he was right.  Taking a deep breath, I stumbled on and somehow made it out the other side.

So how about you?  As you face the new year, do you need to hear those gently challenging words too – ‘Sie brauchen Mut’?  Do you too need to take a deep breath and plunge on, despite all the misgivings churning around inside you?

Isn’t it wonderful though that we’re not left to do it all alone?  Yes, we have to take courage and act – but God has promised to be with us every step of the way.  We have God’s Holy Spirit, the Comforter and Encourager – the one whose very name means ‘the one called alongside’, the one sent for the purpose of helping.

And I find that more than a little encouraging, don’t you?

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Recently, as I was saying goodbye to a friend at her door, she let out a small scream and stared down at a something near where we were standing.  At first, I thought she must have seen some fearsome insect or reptile, but I soon realised her scream had actually been a cry of joy.  I looked where she was pointing excitedly and saw two tiny, tiny shoots poking through the earth in a large pot, each with two miniscule leaves.  Nothing much to get so excited about, I thought.  But then she explained how, when she had looked just three or four hours earlier, they had not been there at all – and that the seeds planted there were actually sunflower seeds, a gift from a young friend soon to be married.  This friend had given such seeds to various people to plant, in the hope that, come her wedding day, enough of them would have survived and bloomed in time to be carried as bouquets at her wedding!

A beautiful idea, I thought to myself.  And then another thought came, that these two tiny, vulnerable plants that have pushed their way to the surface towards the sun are a little like our own lives, as we face another year.  There may be all sorts of things ahead that will nurture us and help us grow and flourish, yet there may also be others that will batter us and perhaps even threaten to destroy.  So I know I need assurance that, whatever happens, I am safe and secure in God’s loving care and protection.  Then I can step out into this new year with much more courage and joy, ready to tackle any challenge that may come, ready to truly live and use my gifts fully to bless and encourage others.

I have a childhood memory of a plaque my mother used to keep on our dining room sideboard, featuring the following poem by M L Haskins:

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:

‘Give me a light, that I might tread safely into the unknown!’

And he replied: ‘Go out into the darkness

and put your hand into the hand of God!

This shall be to you better than light

and safer than a known way.’

I thought that was all there was to this poem, until I recently discovered two more lines:

So I went forth, and finding the hand of God

trod gladly into the night.

May we all find that hand of God lovingly held out to us, as we enter the new year.  May we all tread gladly into whatever 2010 will hold for us, knowing that we need not fear the night, since God is with us.

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