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Archive for November, 2010

I have discovered that our granddaughter Olivia is becoming very wise in her old age. After all, she turns five this week! Recently when minding her and her sister Amy at their home, I suggested we tidy things up a little before Mummy came home. This comment was greeted very airily by Olivia, however, who announced with a wave of her hand in a somewhat exasperated tone:  Oh, don’t worry! It doesn’t matter!

I am sure she has heard older family members say this many times – including her grandmother! And yes, she’s probably right that some things don’t matter and aren’t worth ‘worrying’ about. I come from a line of great worriers, actually. My mother, bless her heart, spent a lifetime worrying about so many things that never eventuated. I used to think of her often when reading the final page of the Mr Men book ‘Mr Worry’ to our children. The author declares there that Mr Worry, having got rid of all his worries, is now worried again. And why is that? Because now he no longer has anything to worry about!

Well, I definitely don’t want to be like Mr Worry. Yet sometimes I do find myself tending that way a little – particularly when it comes to decisions about my novels and future directions with my writing. Thankfully, however, God steps in then, reminding me of certain Scripture passages on the topic. This happened in church just last Sunday, when one of our ministers preached from Philippians 2:6-7:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

In Matthew 6, we find that Jesus also had some things to say on the matter. Why worry all the time about food and clothing? Since we are so valuable to God, these will be provided. And can we add a single hour to our lives through worrying? No, of course not, he implies. I love how Eugene Peterson puts verses 31-33 of this chapter in ‘The Message’:

What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

It’s all about perspective, isn’t it? It’s about looking to God first and foremost, then seeing the world and living our lives from that place of deep security in our loving God – from that place of ‘rest’, as I heard last Sunday. Yes, these everyday things are important – but keeping our focus on God and not fussing over this and that or getting lost in it all is how we need to live.

Well, Olivia probably should have helped tidy up when I suggested it – but then again, I suspect the salutary reminder she gave me about not worrying was of much more lasting value! I hope and pray both our granddaughters will go through life functioning from that place of rest in God. And I hope and pray that, whatever concerns you may have right now, you too will know God’s deep peace in your heart in the midst of it all.

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Around six years ago, I finished writing the first draft of my very first novel. It had been a dream of mine to write for so long that when I completed that very last sentence, I could not believe I had actually done it! It was a surreal moment – one which I had to share with a dear friend of mine who had supported me throughout my college and ministry years and now my writing journey. I remember even now picking up the phone with a hand that shook and announcing to her in a breathless voice, ‘Guess what? I’ve finished my novel!’

Two days later, a card arrived in the mail from my friend. I still have it to this day – and this is what it says: The Book! Well done, dear Jo-Anne! Congratulations – and my prayers and love for the next phase.

My friend knows how to share unreservedly in another’s joy – how to savour that most precious of moments with someone when that is exactly what is needed. Her response made me feel loved and respected – and yes, empowered. I knew she believed in me and in what I could also go on to do in the future.

Earlier this week, I recollected this experience when our younger daughter Tina announced her engagement. She walked in with a decidedly pleased expression on her face and a very large white gold ring adorning her left hand – so needless to say, we were impressed! We warmly congratulated her, but later I felt we could have been more joyful and enthusiastic for her. The truth is, I have had two very busy, exhausting years of writing, releasing novels and speaking on more than sixty occasions. Right now, I am looking forward to winding down a little over the Christmas break, but that is no excuse for short-changing another and not sharing fully in their joy. So since then, I have put my mind to it a little more – and yes, we do plan to celebrate and truly enter into the moment with our daughter and her fiancé in the next few days.

I am aware too that Tina has been very touched by the well wishes of so many of her friends and family members. An older church friend sent her a card the very next day, as did an aunty, and I know she was moved by the speed at which they congratulated her. Text messages have flowed every which way – Tina has waited quite a while for this moment and I am both delighted to see others sharing in her joy and also challenged to do better myself.

In Romans 12:15, we are encouraged to ‘rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn’ – to truly enter into the depths of another’s feelings and to walk the journey with them, whether it be one of joy or sadness. Paul also writes about those in the body of Christ in particular that ‘if one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. (1 Cor 12:25-26) So that’s how I want to respond to those around me. I want to get past my own self-centredness, however tired and busy I am, and have a much more generous and loving heart towards others.

How are you doing at ‘rejoicing with those who rejoice’?

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This past week, I had the joy of visiting a school friend from around forty-five years ago! As we reminisced, I was amazed at the memories that came flooding back – some quite funny, but others much more poignant. My friend remembered, of all things, the yummy ham sandwiches my mother made for us to eat during a train trip to my friend’s home in a country town one school holidays! I, on the other hand, remembered being part my friend’s large family for that holiday week and especially the family devotions around the breakfast table, which would end when they all scraped their chairs back and knelt to pray for various family members and missionaries.

My friend went on to remind me how I had sung at her wedding a few years later. Initially, I had no memory of doing so, yet as she talked, I dimly recollected standing outside her minister father’s church and thinking how lovely my friend looked. The memory was there, but it needed some prodding. But then my friend truly managed to shock me when she showed me a collection of favourite recipes I had painstakingly typed out for her as a special wedding present and put in a green ring binder, all in the days before home computers! I had absolutely no memory of doing that for her, but the evidence was there, clear before my eyes – even to the point of their being a handwritten note from me tucked inside the cover!

Well, my memory is definitely not as good as it used to be. But quite often when writing my novels, some image or experience from years ago will surface so vividly in my mind that I am at once back there in the moment and my fingers can scarcely fly fast enough across my keyboard. It is as if God’s Spirit stirs inside me and says: ‘Remember that, Jo-Anne? Yes, go ahead and describe that exactly as it happened! Look at all the riches and resources you have tucked away in your mind, ripe for the picking!’ I thank God for so many memories from the varied occupations I have had, from the travel I have done, from my happy childhood and school years, from the people who have enriched my life – and yes, from the difficult times too that have caused me to face my grief and pain and move on with God, strengthened for the journey ahead.

It mightn’t matter if I don’t remember some things in my life. My friend wasn’t offended when I forgot the gift I had made for her – or at least I hope she wasn’t! But it does matter if I forget what God has done for me. It matters a lot – for all of us. In several places in Scripture we are encouraged to remember. In 1 Chronicles 16:11-12, David writes:

Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.

Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced …

We are to remember who God is and his goodness to us – and we are never to forget God’s Son, Jesus, and what he has done.  Jesus himself pleads with us to remember him each time we share in the Lord’s Supper:

This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me. (Luke 22:19)

So how are you doing at this kind of remembering?

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These days, I get to do quite a lot of bookselling. Soon after my first novel was published, I discovered that authors not only have to write their books, but they also have to be reasonably adept at marketing them. Publishers can do a certain amount – but most authors have to play their part too. So I had to learn a lot very quickly – and in the process, discovered I had to guard my heart closely. I still do.

You see, I think we can easily get sidetracked in this world and lose sight of our original goals. In the pressure to succeed, our priorities can become a little skewed and we can begin to take on a kind of striving spirit that only leads to frustration and discontent. From the very beginning, my main priority in writing my novels has been to draw my readers closer to God as they relate to my characters and are carried along by their story. That is still true – but I also see the danger of becoming more focussed on the success of my novels as an end in itself. How many copies of my latest novel have I sold, I wonder? Is it doing better than the previous one? Are they all in stock in my local Christian bookstore? What other ways can I promote my novels?  Should I explore more avenues for speaking engagements? And so it goes on.

Of course it’s important to try to ensure I reach as many people as possible with my novels for the sake of drawing them closer to God. But it’s so easy to lapse into self-interest, to have much less pure motives, to want to be the ‘successful’ author over and above the kind of author God wants me to be. That may, by God’s grace, include the ‘success’ – but then again, it may not. And if it doesn’t, then am I content simply to do my best and to keep on persevering in the hope that my books and my speaking will make some sort of difference for God in this world?

Recently I read some challenging words written by Paul to Timothy:

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. … For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. (1 Tim 6:6-10)

Paul is writing about financial gain – something most authors I have met don’t experience too often! But wanting to gain success for its own sake, wanting to see one’s name on that book cover at all costs – wanting, if you like, the fame, if not the fortune – is something I know I need to guard against. Paul then continues:

But you, man (woman!) of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.

That’s what I want to do. I want to keep it all in perspective and pursue the right sort of gain in my life and through my books. I want to be like my son in this regard, who, having recently been given a pay rise, was sharing with me how he could probably now afford some long overdue home renovations. Yet he doesn’t really care what sort of house he lives in, he told me – it’s okay by him if it looks a bit old and worn. I like his attitude – I think it has something at least of that godliness with contentment about it that Paul mentions.

But how about you? What gains in life are important to you? Where is your focus right now?

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I’m very privileged. Every week, I get to play quite a few games with our granddaughter – always an interesting experience. First off this week it was an old card game called ‘Donkey’. In fact, our particular pack has my maiden name on it in my mother’s handwriting – my sister and I used to play with this very same pack as children. The cards themselves are quite thick and worn around the edges. Some have dirty fingerprints on them – and one in particular is quite creased. Yes, you guessed it – it’s the card with the donkey on it!

Now my granddaughter might be only four years old, but she isn’t silly. She has worked out that firstly, if only two of us are playing and she herself doesn’t have the donkey, then chances are her nanna does! Secondly, she’s beginning to know the back of that donkey card and now studiously avoids plucking that particular one out of my hand. So needless to say, I am often left with it at the end, much to Olivia’s delight! This week, she proudly told her father: ‘Nanna’s always the donkey!’

Sometimes, however, Nanna has to put a bit of creative effort into achieving this result. Just as Olivia is good at avoiding the donkey card, I am equally skilled at doing the opposite! I have become adept at groaning in mock horror when I see what card I have chosen, while Olivia grins and looks very pleased with herself! I don’t always ‘let’ her win games – but with this particular one, I figure she enjoys it so much I can afford to pretend to be a little sillier than I really am. It doesn’t matter – I think my ego can handle it.

Yet on other occasions, I cringe at the possibility of making a fool of myself. After all, the stakes are so much higher in real life. What if no one likes my latest novel? What if it dies a lingering death on the bookstore shelves – or more likely on the bargain ‘throw-out’ table? What if when I present that writing workshop, someone there knows so much more than I do and challenges my assertions? What if I speak somewhere and misquote Scripture or just don’t hit the mark?

Well, I am slowly learning it’s not going to kill me to walk the humble road, to be the ‘donkey’ and say or write something that may well be laughed at. God knows my heart, after all. And then I remember how Jesus endured so much more scorn and derision than I ever will, even to the point of death – and all for our sake. Matthew 27 describes how he was ‘set up’ by a whole company of soldiers, stripped, dressed up as a king, complete with crown of thorns, then mockingly ‘worshipped’. Worse still, they spat on him, took the staff they had given him and hit him with it, time and time again. This shameful saga ends with one simple, chilling sentence: Then they led him away to crucify him. (Matt 27:31b)

I want to learn to live my life with that sort of humility. I want to get rid of my pride and not be so concerned about what people think. So perhaps ending up with the donkey as I play with my granddaughter is all part of preparing me for the bigger challenges of life, of showing me that in the end, nothing really matters except what God says about me.

What do you think? Could God speak through old card games?

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