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Archive for May, 2011

Last week I wrote my hundredth blog for this site – a milestone in my blogging ‘career’! So many of my thoughts have gone ‘out there’ into cyberspace since I began my weekly words of wisdom in July 2009 – but has it all been worth the time and effort put into it? My site stats tell me well over a hundred people decide for some reason to open my blog each week, with one amazing week recently when 375 people accessed it. What I write about is just something I consider might be worth sharing – nothing special. But each week I hope and pray these words convey some aspect of God’s heart – something that will encourage or challenge any who read them.

I like to think I have learnt a few things in this blogging journey of mine. I can certainly see via my site stats that some topics are more popular than others. I notice that those aimed more at other authors tend to lose or miss the mark with those who aren’t at all interested in writing. I’ve discovered it’s worth taking time to think up a good title for my blog – plus some sort of interesting and arresting comment to write on Facebook when I put my blog link up there each Tuesday morning. I’ve had some winners and some losers – some of my blogs have fizzled and some have, for no obvious reason, sparked a great deal of interest. Obviously, I still have a way to go to make my blogs consistently readable.

So I smiled when I realised this particular blog I am writing now is listed as ‘Blog 101’ on my computer. Even now, after writing a hundred blogs, I still feel I am in the basic learning stage of ‘Blogging 101’! There are so many skills and key aspects I’m sure I have overlooked and have yet to master. I think I often forget to keep my readership in mind and tend to use both personal examples and vocabulary that may not mean much to the average reader. I am frequently far too wordy. I play it safe at times and don’t honestly write what is on my heart to say on a given subject. I occasionally write my blogs when I’m too tired, with the result that my writing becomes stodgy and uninteresting. And some days I labour far too long over a blog, pouring time and effort that should be spent on my current novel-in-progress or talk I am preparing rather than ‘second guessing’ what originally came to me to blog about.

I hope my blogs will continue to improve. I don’t want to be lazy or shoddy in the way I write or too preoccupied with other matters that I don’t give my best effort to them. I want my current readers and supporters to keep on reading what I write, whatever the subject. I want new readers to find my blogs and be interested enough to return often to my site. I want to write with integrity, from the heart, about things I know are true and will hopefully build up and encourage others. But most of all, I want God to be glorified through the words I write.

So here I am by God’s grace, launching into my second ‘century’ of blogging, praying God’s wisdom and insight will flow through my words and the gifts of writing and of encouragement I believe God has given me will bear fruit.

May it be so, Lord!

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I have been thinking a lot about faces recently for several reasons. Firstly, my fifth novel, ‘Heléna’s Legacy’, is due for release in about a week – and featured on the front is the face of one of the main characters in the novel. This was something I vowed and declared I would never agree to with any of my novels. I like my readers to imagine their own heroes and heroines. After all, many of us have no doubt been disappointed in how the main characters in our favourite books are depicted when seeing the movie adaptation of the stories.

Yet on this occasion, the particular image chosen by the graphic artist seems to convey something of the conflicting emotions my character, Doctor Susan Curtis, experiences in the novel. There is a kind of pensive, wistful air about her that appeals to me – and I hope to my readers as well. (For more information, please visit my website, www.jo-anneberthelsen.com).

My second reason for my focus on faces is that this past week, a rare event occurred for me. I was treated to a blissful facial at the salon where our daughter works! Such things usually come my way only by virtue of a birthday or Christmas present – but I do enjoy them. I experienced the tender, loving care our daughter took of my skin and other facial features – and I must admit I was ashamed of how little I do in this regard. After all, I am made in the image of God, as Genesis 1:27 tells me, so I need to do what I can to honour God through my appearance as well as through my life and the words I say.

But my third reason for thinking of faces – and the reason for the above facial – is that our lovely beauty therapist daughter, Tina, celebrated her wedding last Saturday evening. She was married overseas in February but this was the first opportunity she and her husband, Kofi, have had to celebrate with friends here. Someone commented recently that Tina and Kofi are a ‘shining couple’ – and they did both looked radiant on the night. Their faces clearly displayed their happiness at being together and their joy that they could celebrate with friends and family.

So these events caused me to wonder just how much my joy at being a child of God and the peace and happiness I have as a result truly show on my own face. I know outward appearances aren’t everything. They don’t seem to matter much to God, who, as 1 Samuel 16:7 says, prefers to look at our heart instead. And of course all of us go through difficult periods when it’s hard to look particularly joyful. But if my face is completely miserable most of the time, or has a hard, critical expression, surely that doesn’t convey a very positive picture of God to the world at large?

Some of us have more interesting and attractive features than others – and there’s little we can do about that. But I hope I do my best with what I have to shine forth God’s love and grace to those around me. I hope in some small measure that I mirror the face of God to them, so that no stumbling block is put in their way and that they will long to seek his face themselves with all their hearts (Psalm 27:8; 105:4).

How about you?

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I received some great gifts for Mothers’ Day, among them a fantastic Boston pocket umbrella. Sadly, my precious Liberty umbrella from Harrods in London had finally died, so I wanted one that would be equally noteworthy. And that’s exactly what I got. My new umbrella is a lovely amethyst colour and when folded up in its neat, rectangular carry-case, measures all of seventeen centimetres. I admired its special features and then opened the tiny booklet that came with it to find out more.

Congratulations on your purchase. You are obviously a person of fine judgement’, I read first off. Hmm, I would agree with that – well, at least my daughter is! I continued on. Most of the instructions were serious, but here are some I laughed aloud over:

  • Do not use in the event of storm, hurricane, typhoon or serious climatic disturbance. If you do, your Original Pocket Umbrella may break and then you will be very upset!
  • Please remember this is not a toy and you are not Mary Poppins. Do not use it to fly, float, swing, dance or other bizarre activity for which it is not designed.
  • Do not throw the case away. How would you like it if someone threw your home away?

And as for the one year guarantee, here’s what it says:

The guarantee does not include damage which results from misuse or accident. We strongly recommend that you avoid opening it in a crowded lift, using it to play ‘fetch’ with Fido the dog, or sitting in it while rowing to China. In these cases we are sorry to say your warranty is null and void!

Obviously someone at the Boston Umbrella Company has a sense of humour. But as I later reflected on these fun instructions, it occurred to me that when it comes to God’s instructions, many of us take these with a similar ‘grain of salt’ as the examples above, if not laugh at them outright. Surely Jesus was a little ‘tongue in cheek’ when he declared we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt 6:44)? Or surely he didn’t mean that being angry with our brother is just as bad as murdering him (Matt 5:21-22)? What a joke! As for lustful glances being equivalent to committing adultery (Matt 5:27) – don’t be ridiculous! And how can we not worry about what we will eat or drink or wear, as Jesus suggested (Matt 6:25)? Surely, that one’s for the birds! As to becoming great by serving others (Matt 20:25-28), that’s never going to get anyone anywhere in life.

But Jesus wasn’t joking. We can’t merely laugh off his commands as far too naive or impractical – or even unfair. One day we will all find out he meant exactly what he said. And one day we will all see clearly the wisdom and truth of his commands.

Well, I’m not about to risk my life floating to China in my new umbrella – but I am prepared to stake my life on Jesus and his teachings. And when Jesus gives a guarantee that those who believe in him will have eternal life, I know this guarantee will hold good. And I also know God delights to shelter me from the storms of this life and will watch over me forever (Isaiah 25:4; Psalm 91:1).

Now that’s some umbrella – don’t you think?

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How many things are you able to focus on at the same time? Are you expert at juggling any number of balls and not dropping a single one? Or are you a little like I was yesterday when I tried to answer a question at the same time as signing one of my books? Much to my embarrassment, I made a mistake writing my own name!

Right now, however, my writing challenge is a little bigger than spelling my own name correctly. Recently I reached that delightful stage yet again of checking through two different novels at the same time, while also planning out my next book, writing blogs and preparing talks.

So why edit two novels simultaneously? Well, it so happens that, having just handed my sixth novel over to one of my expert manuscript readers to check, I needed to consider her comments carefully and put the relevant changes in place. Then last week, my publisher emailed me the print-ready version of my fifth novel, ‘Heléna’s Legacy’, due for release next month, for one final check before going to print. My challenge then is to remember who is who in each novel and also what these characters did along the way. And all the while I will have to guard against thinking ‘No, this character wouldn’t have said this or that – it’s all wrong!’ and wanting to change things drastically, only to realise I have a different character from my more recent novel in mind.

But I’m also into planning my seventh book – this time a work of non-fiction. I know I have to get moving on this, if it is going to see the light of day within the next two or three years. Yet my weekly blogs are also important to me – and of course I always want to prepare well for each speaking engagement.

And that’s one reason I’m in awe of our amazing God, the Creator and Sustainer of the whole universe, who is all-powerful, all-knowing and present in all places – who is in fact the ultimate ‘multi-tasker’! Our God, the Alpha and Omega, was there at the beginning of all things and will still be there at the very end, as Revelation 21:6 tells us. And in those intervening millennia, God has watched over his people, and will continue to watch over us all at one and the same time. Unlike me, God does not get mixed up and forget us, his ‘characters’, or the stories of our lives. In Luke 12:6-7, we read Jesus’ own words to his disciples:

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God, Indeed the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

I’m so glad that while God is busy looking after you, the same is true for me! I’m so glad that while God is shaping the story of my life in a way that is unique and just right for me, this same God is concurrently writing yours. And I’m so glad that, in God’s perfect author hands, all of these stories will flow well, deal with all the devious twists and turns of the plot along the way and reach their desired conclusion in a most satisfactory manner. We are worth more than sparrows to God. We are not forgotten.

Now that’s some multi-tasking, don’t you think?

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I wonder if you can think of some treasured item in your parents’ or grandparents’ home that you wished would not be displayed so prominently? In my sister’s case, it was a framed set of photos my mother absolutely loved. These large photos took pride of place on her lounge room wall and depicted my sister and me at various ages and stages of our lives. There was one of each of us when we were around twelve months old. Below were photos of the two of us together, one when my sister was seven and the other at fourteen. Below them were again individual photos of us, resplendent in mortarboard and gown at our university graduation and finally, one of each of us on our wedding day. I was reasonably happy with the photos, but my sister hated the whole idea of them.

When our mother passed away, my sister ended up with the photos, still in their frame, but kept them out of sight. Then recently when I was visiting, she decided it was time to make some final decision about them. Should they remain in their frame or should we dismantle the whole thing?

We decided on the latter. With great glee she undid the back of the frame and removed the offending photos from their mountings. We then divided them up and she put the empty frame together again, wondering even as she did if it was worth keeping.

A few days later, she received an intriguing article in the mail. It turned out to be a beautiful, large cross-stitch my cousin had completed and sent to her, together with a hundred dollars for the mounting and framing.

Well, you guessed it! To my sister’s amazement, our mother’s old frame turned out to be exactly the right size for the cross-stitch! And she was even more amazed when she discovered the total cost, using the old frame, would be very close to one hundred dollars. As well, our cousin remembered vividly the photos my mother used to have on her wall for all those years and was delighted the cross-stitch would now be featured in that same frame.

As I reflected on this interesting sequence of events, it occurred to me that God is in this ‘reframing’ business too. When we come to know God, our external ‘frame’ does not change – but something definitely changes on the inside. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 Paul declares:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry or reconciliation, that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.

As my sister and I looked at our old photos, we could see how we had changed over the years. But that’s nothing compared to the radical change God brings about in our very soul and spirit. And this change continues as we allow our minds to be transformed and renewed as well and thus live in the way God wants us to (Romans 12:2).

Yet God’s ‘reframing’ cost much more than the hundred dollars my sister was given. In fact, it cost Jesus Christ, God’s Son, his very life. What an amazing, gracious gift!

I hope the ‘picture’ my life makes now draws people to God and does not repel them. I hope the likeness is there and that God is recognisable in my life ‘photo’.

How about you?  

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