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Archive for July, 2010

I write novels, with hopefully inspiring heroes and heroines in them.  But I have decided I don’t need to look very far at all to find the real heroes and heroines of this world.  Mostly, they see themselves as ordinary people not doing anything special other than getting on with their lives as best they can.  Yet their courage and determination in the face of great difficulty make me feel very humble indeed.

A few weeks ago, I talked with one such person – a friend from years ago.  Back then, both our families had great hopes and plans for the future, yet my friend’s journey unfolded in a way she – and we – would never ever have envisaged or hoped for.  You see, after some years, certain actions of her husband tore the family apart, causing them untold pain and grief.

Eventually the husband married someone else and my friend was left to care for her children and somehow get over her own grief in the process.  She had always been a hard worker, but now she redoubled her efforts to care for the family.  She managed to put a deposit down on an older cottage and continued working at whatever job she could get, often packing two or three into one day.  Eventually both children left home, although one would return from time to time needing constant support from past emotional trauma.  At one stage, my friend took in a refugee family, helping to get them on their feet.  Then just as she thought she might slow down a little, she had to pay for expensive repairs to her house, almost losing it to the bank in the process.  And soon after, she found herself sheltering her adult child and grandchild again, after a relationship breakdown.

Now, nearing retirement age, she is desperately tired but needs to continue working. As we talked, I found myself wishing I had a few thousand dollars spare – anything to lift my friend’s burden.  Yet she wasn’t complaining – in fact, quite the opposite.  I tried to tell her she deserved not just one medal but many – yet she wouldn’t hear of it.  ‘Well, what else can you do?’ she said in a matter-of-fact voice. ‘You just get on with it.’ She went on to talk about how thankful she is and how hard it is for so many others right now.  We mentioned the homeless people sleeping on the streets – and it was then that her words touched me most.

“You know, when I see these people, I really wish I could help.  I often say to Jesus, ‘But I have two coats!’ And yet he knows I do need them for my work.”

Two coats, I think to myself – I have so much more than my friend, but yet she feels greedy having two coats!  She has learnt to go on loving, despite the knocks that life has dealt her and to continue having that soft, merciful heart towards others that so delights God’s own heart.  Her attitude challenges me deeply, as do some words the apostle John wrote:

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?  Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:17-18)

So how about you?  Do you have two coats?

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A few Saturday evenings ago, I had to pick my husband up from the airport here in Sydney.  When I arrived, I discovered he had a gentleman with him who wanted a lift.  Apparently this man lived in an outlying suburb, but was content to be dropped at a station not far from us, so that he could catch a train home from there. I noticed the enormous amount of luggage this gentleman had, however, and briefly wondered how he would manage on the train later.

We had not gone far before our new friend said he would actually like to be driven all the way home!  We hesitated, but he then offered to pay us twenty dollars if we would do so!  We had to make up our minds quickly, since taking him right home would involve heading through the M5 tunnel rather than driving home via our usual route.  My husband and I glanced ruefully at each other – we were tired and hungry and just wanted to get home.  But what could we do?  This man would not take kindly, I felt, to being turned down.  After all, he was big and burly, and was wearing a jumper that had ‘Security Guard’ printed on it in bold letters!

So we acquiesced – and then proceeded to try to chat with him, a task that was made quite difficult, owing to his rather poor grasp of the English language.  He tried hard, however.  I smiled at how much he talked about pleasing God and praising him, after he discovered my husband is a church pastor!  But I listened carefully when he began to talk about his own Pacific culture, which he told us was ‘one big family’ where everyone helps everyone else.

After that, I was determined not to take a cent of the twenty dollars he had promised us.  What kind of impression would it give him about the ‘family of God’ if we weren’t prepared to help him out as his own community would?  We eventually pulled up outside his home, where he obviously wanted us to be quiet, since he was going to surprise his wife and children.  He had been away from them for six months, working in another city.  And when he did try to give us the twenty dollars, my husband refused it, telling him we just wanted to bless him.

Had we been ‘set up’, I wondered?  And shouldn’t this man have been up front with us in the first place?  But then it occurred to me that probably he had acted just as his culture dictated – a culture in which the ‘rules of engagement’ were understood by everyone.  In his books, there was probably nothing unusual in what he had asked of us and how he had gone about it – that was what you did for people.  So I couldn’t help feeling ashamed at my reluctance to help.  And after all, what had it cost us?  Just a bit of a detour and a few extra dollars.

Well, what would Jesus have done?  I think he would have taken the man home without hesitation, don’t you?  I think he would have gone the second – or the third – or the fourth mile, just to show that man what God’s grace is like.  I think he would have been more ‘pro-active’ himself in talking about God, instead of judging what this man said.  And I think he would have prayed for this man, for a wonderful time with his family.  How do I know this?  Because that’s how he treats me on a daily basis – and you – with such patience, grace and love!

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I have to say I am feeling a mixture of both excitement and slight trepidation as the release date for my fourth and latest novel ‘Jenna’ approaches. You see, this novel is a lot closer to home than my three previous novels.  It is not my story – and yet there are more than a few situations in it that either I or friends close to me have experienced.  And the local church featured in it is not the church I was part of for many years – and yet at least one or two events described in the book actually happened there.  For those who have not heard already, here is a brief synopsis of ‘Jenna’:

Jenna Ramsey believes God is calling her to fulltime ministry training, so steps out in faith, determined to overcome her self-doubt and to grow in her gifts of leadership, teaching and encouragement.  But some disapprove – are theological studies and ministry truly something women should undertake?  And while Jenna grows in confidence and many come to value highly what she has to offer her church and community, some, including close colleagues, are not so supportive. Will she be able to stand firm and continue serving God as she desires? Will she find true fulfilment in both her ministry role and her personal life?

Who can say exactly where the novelist gets his or her ideas from?  They are a mixture of so many things – experience, hearsay, research, observation of the world around us, long held beliefs, sheer imagination, and even perhaps inspiration from God at times. All that has gone into the writing of ‘Jenna’.  And I hope my readers will hear my heart in the ‘mix’ they find on its pages and follow Jenna’s journey with empathy, thoughtfulness and grace. 

Should you wish to join in the release of ‘Jenna’, I will be speaking during the morning service on Sunday 1st August at Telopea Christian Centre, 16 Shortland St Telopea here in Sydney at 9.30am and also be interviewed.  Signed copies of ‘Jenna’ will be available afterwards, or you may wish to take up one (or both!) of the following options:

  • SPECIAL DEAL:  Up until the official release date of 1 August, ‘Jenna’ will be available from my website for the special price of AU$20 including postage (within Australia) – that’s a saving of $5.00. Please visit www.jo-anneberthelsen.com for more information and to place your order. 
  • You can invite me to speak or be interviewed at your church or group! For further information, please visit www.jo-anneberthelsen.com/speaking. You will find there some suggestions for possible speaking topics, a list of my current speaking engagements and also a few testimonials.

 

Thanks so much to those of you who have continued to buy my novels and encourage me in my writing and speaking journey. My three previous novels are still available in Christian bookstores such as Koorong across Australia and NZ and my fourth will soon join them.  My fifth novel, ‘Heléna’s Legacy’, is now complete and I am approximately half way through my sixth, ‘The Inheritance’, although progress on this has been slow, largely because of preparing for speaking engagements. Finding the correct balance in all of this is a challenge, but I am very grateful for the amazing opportunities that have come my way to speak in a variety of settings. I feel very privileged right now – as well as excited and a little nervous!

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Between his shoulders

I love it when I discover some new pearl of wisdom in something I am reading – some truth that really resonates with me or makes me sit up and take notice.  I keep a journal where I jot down such things – and what a feast it is when I look back after several months and read them all in one go!  As I glance now through some recent entries, I notice quotes from many different sources – novels I am reading; the writings of fascinating authors such as Frederick Buechner, Annie Dillard, Thomas Merton; occasional lines of poetry from Mary Oliver and T S Eliot; snippets about writing from ‘The Soul Tells A Story’ by Vinita Hampton Wright and ‘Bird by Bird’ by Anne Lamott; and of course many, many verses of Scripture that have impacted me in some way.

One would think that after all these years, I would have found and noted every verse of the Bible that particularly touches or encourages me.  Yet somehow God never ceases to surprise me with little gems that literally seem to jump out at me from the pages of my Bible, even though I know I have read these particular sections before.

One such verse in that category comes from Deuteronomy 33, where Moses is blessing the Israelite tribes before his impending death.  In verse 12, he says the following to the tribe of Benjamin:

Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders.

Now that conjures up some wonderful imagery in my mind.  How about you?  It seems, from what I could find out, that this verse might be referring to the way shepherds used to carry a favourite or perhaps injured lamb slung across their shoulders – which is certainly apt enough.  But the picture that came to my mind is of a tall, broad, brave defender using his body to shield someone a lot smaller and weaker than he is from the advancing enemy. The intended victim is clinging on tightly, arms around his (or her) rescuer’s waist, head turned to the side and pressed firmly into the spot between the rescuer’s shoulder blades.  No one can touch him (or her) while this strong, courageous defender remains in place – he acts as a human shield who will do anything to protect the one holding on so firmly to him.

And then another favourite verse of mine comes to mind, this time from Psalm 32:7:

You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.

I feel very comforted and secure in my ‘hiding place’ who is the Lord, protected and at rest ‘between his shoulders’.  I might be in the middle of a battle, but I can ‘rest secure’ as I lean against him.  After all, I know that he has my enemy’s measure, that he is much more powerful than anyone or anything that might come against me, and that because I am his ‘beloved’, he will never to grow tired of being my shield and protector, until he manages to bring me home safe at last.

May you too know that place of deep security, as you ‘rest between his shoulders’.

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