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Archive for October, 2010

Many years ago, one of our daughters who was only very little at the time was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. Her answer was a doctor or – wait for it – a shepherd! She had heard various bible stories about shepherds and must have decided they were a kind lot who helped and cared for others. The interesting thing is that while she did not take up either of these occupations, she nevertheless clearly conveys these traits in the way she has related to others throughout her life. Next year she is heading out with a volunteer organisation to spend some time working with orphans in Rumania – still the doctor and the shepherd at heart.

I think of her almost every time I read or speak on Psalm 23. This psalm is so well-known that the temptation is to gloss over the richness of its words and to read it only at funerals or memorial services. Yet I think it gives such encouragement to us as we seek to live our lives well right now, and deep comfort whenever we find ourselves in a hard place.

Right off the bat, the psalm begins with the strong assertion that ‘The LORD is my Shepherd’. What a statement! David, its author, is declaring that Yahweh, the most high God, the ‘I AM’, the one whose name was too holy and too awesome even to be spoken aloud by the ancient Hebrews, is prepared to take on the lowly role of a shepherd and, furthermore, lead and guide him personally through his life. That blows my mind and immediately takes me back to my teenage years when I realised for the first time that the mighty God of the whole universe knew me and cared about me personally – enough to send Jesus to die for me, in fact.

As the psalm continues to unfold, we read wonderful statements about the Lord that I have found so true since then:

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.

He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;

your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the present of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

The key factor in it all is that presence of the Shepherd walking closely with me, strengthening me, showing me the way forward, defending me, healing me. My task is to ensure I keep my eyes on my Shepherd, listening for his voice, trusting him when he takes me in a particular direction. In John 10:27, Jesus himself says:

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

What a privilege to have Jesus, the good shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep (John 10:14-15), intimately involved in my life journey, with all its twists and turns! In fact, he has told us this relationship will never end, that no one can snatch us out of his hand (John 10:28). So it is with a grateful heart that I agree with David as he concludes his psalm:

Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Can you hear the voice of this faithful Shepherd too? Are you listening?

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to stay motivated, largely in preparation for a writers’ workshop I’ll be taking on the topic at the Word Writers’ Fair in Brisbane on 6th November (see www.thewordwriters.com). It has been a timely journey – I never cease to be amazed how, when I am preparing input for some speaking engagement, God so often uses it to speak to me first and foremost! You see, the fact is that I have now completed seven years of solid novel writing, plus preparing for many speaking engagements over that period. Is it time then for me to have a sabbatical? Or should I forge ahead, complete Novel Number Six and fulfil those speaking engagements that are beginning to emerge for 2011?

Please don’t get me wrong. I love preparing talks – and delivering whatever God has given me to say. And I love writing with a passion. I can’t wait to complete my current novel and find out what happens to my characters! And I have several more ideas for novels sitting on my computer, almost begging me to investigate them more fully. Yet on certain days at least, it can be an effort to stay focused, to pick up the threads of my current novel and to move my characters forward in a way which is consistent with who they are and the journey they have already travelled.

I have heard what God wanted me to, I believe, as I have prepared my workshop input. I know there are vital ‘God factors’ in staying motivated – things like remembering our call from God to write, reading God’s Word, practising the presence of God, praying, and being thankful for the journey thus far. I have seen again the importance of receiving encouragement from others in the form of a mentor who understands the creative process, a wider faith community, friends who will pray for us and teachers and editors who will give us specific, helpful writing input. I have noted too the place of watching our responses to any negative feedback and of learning to say no to things that are not right to undertake. And again I have been reminded of the whole self-care aspect – getting enough exercise and sleep; finding words, objects, places that motivate me; disciplining my time; setting goals; celebrating my little writing ‘victories’; and putting past failures behind me.

But then God takes over again and drops those extra encouraging words into my spirit. This morning I read the following beautiful, simple prayer from 2 Thessalonians 3:5:

May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.

That prayer to me highlights the two key things I need to remember in my writing journey – the real direction I need to be heading in my heart. If I focus on God’s amazing love for me and remember that this love will never change, whether I write well or not so well or even whether I write at all, then I am on solid ground. And if I keep Christ’s example before me of persevering to the end and of being so determined to do his Father’s will – well, what motivation could be stronger than that?

And just now, again in God’s exquisite timing, an email has arrived, telling me my fifth manuscript has been accepted for publication! Do you think God is sitting back, smiling and enjoying this special encouraging gift along with me? I do!

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We have quite a large back garden, spread over two levels and sloping down towards a creek. I love gardening, but rarely get time to do it. On the other hand, my husband hates it! He is prepared to do any heavy work involved, such as mowing, lifting bins of rubbish etc, but has some difficulty at times telling a weed from a ‘real plant’. The difference is that I grew up with a father who was an avid gardener and worked very hard at it, so that my sister and I often got to watch him and imbibe knowledge that way. My husband, on the other hand, definitely did not.

So what’s to be done? We could put more time and effort into gardening – but then I would get even less writing done than I do now. We could let the weeds hold sway – but I find it very difficult to look at a messy garden day in and day out. Or we could bite the bullet and move into a villa or unit with no garden at all to maintain. All these are quite drastic measures, however. Is there some ‘happy medium’ we could find instead?

I think I discovered the best ‘take’ on gardening, and weeding in particular, during a recent phone conversation with an older friend who lives in the Blue Mountains. She has a very large garden, but she is almost eighty years old and is a little beyond keeping it all tidy. Yet she seemed far from depressed as she described its messy state to me.

‘Oh well … I’m having a wonderful time right now watching all the weeds rejoice! They’re so happy no one is bothering them! The vegetables have gone to seed but then that’s good – we can use the seed another season. And it’s all very colourful – there is always something to look at.’

‘Watching all the weeds rejoice’ … I hadn’t thought of it that way exactly! It’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? We can choose either to see all the negatives of a situation and dwell on those, or instead focus on the positives and see God at work even in the ‘weeds’ of our lives. And it’s a matter of acceptance as well, I believe. My friend can’t do all that much about the weeds – so she sees them in a positive light, each one enjoying the warmer spring weather, breathing in the clean mountain air and almost defiantly rejoicing in their ‘moment in the sun’ while not being interfered with in any way.

And my friend displays more than a little sense of humour about the situation too – again such a vital ingredient in moving through life in a calm, unruffled way. She is at peace with herself, with God and with the world, including nature. She is determined not to let the weeds rob her of enjoying her garden and even sees in them a unique kind of beauty.

So I continue to learn from my wise friend. She teaches me, along with Paul, to say:

I have learnt to be content, whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty, I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation … (Phil 4:11-12)

May you too learn to watch your weeds rejoice with acceptance, peace and contentment!

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Yes, I was asked this question last week – although it wasn’t worded exactly that way! It occurred during a conversation with our four-year-old granddaughter and went something like this:

Olivia:    ‘Nanna, do you work?’

Nanna: ‘Yes … I work right here at home. I sit here at my computer and write my books – that’s my work.’

Olivia:    ‘No, but do you go out to work like other people?’

Nanna: ‘Well, I don’t go out to work – but I still work!’

My answers didn’t seem to satisfy our granddaughter. Obviously in her mind her Nanna didn’t have a ‘real’ job at all. Yet she isn’t alone in her opinion, I’ve discovered. Some time back, I was asked another similarly intriguing question:

‘We know you write, but what do you do?’

And then there was the form I had to fill out recently that asked about my employment status. Am I self-employed? Well … yes. Do I work fulltime or part-time? Hmmm! Why is there never a category for more than fulltime, which is where writers who spend many long hours at the keyboard would fit?

In her book ‘Walking on Water’, American author Madeleine L’Engle describes a ‘New Yorker’ cartoon depicting a woman opening the door to welcome a friend to her house. The friend notices a man there working at a typewriter, with a large manuscript piled on the desk beside him. The friend then asks, ‘Has your husband found a job yet? Or is he still writing?’ I am left wondering exactly how the woman responded! Madeleine L’Engle also tells the story of a businesswoman who asked her about her royalties, at a time when she was at last doing quite well in that regard. When told this, the businesswoman remarked, ‘And to think most people would have had to work so hard for that!’

So where does this leave me? Well, I could sit here feeling sorry for myself, as I put all my heart and mind and soul into preparing four talks I am scheduled to give in the next four weeks and simultaneously try to write my current novel and plan out a workshop. I could nurture great resentment at the lack of understanding out there and the devaluing of the whole creative process in general. I could try to be superwoman and prove myself on all fronts, looking for a ‘real job’ to hold down while I seek to produce my next ‘great Australian novel’. Or I could simply laugh it off, knowing my granddaughter at least couldn’t be expected to understand, and develop a thicker skin about it all.

But I believe there’s an even more positive way forward. I believe I need to remind myself that God has called me to spend these long hours writing and preparing talks and that I need to be faithful in responding to that call. I need to view this vocation of author and speaker as an absolute privilege – one in which, after all, I get to be ‘me’ and feel completely fulfilled, whatever the tangible rewards or lack thereof. I need to remember to throw myself into it all with a full and grateful heart, as Paul reminds us:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:23-24)

So whether we have a ‘real job’ or not, let’s remember our ‘audience of one’ and perform our hearts out with great thankfulness!

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