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Archive for August, 2011

Life often has some interesting twists and turns, doesn’t it? Just when we think we have the future all worked out, we may find ourselves needing to move in an entirely different direction. Is it just the way things pan out? Is it that we made some wrong decisions along the way? Or is it that God sometimes intervenes and allows things to happen in our lives, perhaps giving us challenges to overcome?

I believe God has clearly had a hand in the many changes and challenges in my life, taking me out of places that were not helpful for me or conducive to my growth and leading me on to explore new horizons. Sometimes the journey was painful, but God was always there, strengthening me and moulding me into more of the person I was created to be.

In recent weeks I have been reminded forcefully of this as I have had to read through my journals that I kept on and off during the last eighteen years. Believing it is what God wants, I have embarked on writing a work of non-fiction that involves my own personal spiritual journey and the strategic part my wonderful mentor or spiritual companion, as she prefers to be called, has played in that. At times, I turned the pages of these journals very slowly, stopping here and there to remember well and to allow myself space to feel the emotions described there. I had been through some huge changes in those years – I had left a job I enjoyed, studied fulltime at theological college, undertaken a busy ministry role in our church and then closed the door on that, knowing God was calling me out. I had floundered a little for a year – and then God clearly led me to begin my writing journey.

Some things I read in those journals were wonderful. I had written out many great verses of Scripture that had encouraged and comforted me. I had copied out significant sections of some excellent books that now impacted me again as I read. There were moments recorded too that were very significant milestones for me – happy and fulfilling occasions such as my college graduation or times when God gave me fresh insights or moved powerfully in my life.

But I noticed many challenging and sad occasions there too – times when I was overcome by the pressures of life or filled with grief or angry and confused. It was emotionally draining even to read about some of these, despite the intervening years. In many instances I saw a person crying out to God, yet at the same time wondering where God was and why such things were happening to her.

And that’s just it. Now I could see myself back then almost as another person altogether, someone whose pain I felt and whose joy I entered into – but someone else nevertheless. You see, God has moved me on since then, strengthening me, healing me, maturing me and hopefully growing me to be more Christ-like. I see now how those things have made me into the writer I am today – and I can honestly say I am thankful for them all, despite the pain and grief they brought at times.

So now my task is to press on, allowing these life experiences to bear fruit in what I write, so that others too can be drawn closer to God and know God’s presence with them in their own journeys.

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:13-14)

Let’s hand our past over to God, enjoy God’s presence today and trust God with our future. One day in heaven we will see the whole picture – and then it won’t matter anymore!

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There’s something very precious about finding friends who will hang in there with us through thick and thin, isn’t there? They know we have imperfections and we know they do too, but they are still our friends – and that’s the bottom line.

It’s wonderful too, isn’t it, when, after having lost touch with good friends over the years, we meet up with them again only to find they are just as warm and welcoming as they always were? It’s like we pick up the conversation where we left off all those years ago, as if we had seen them only yesterday.

Recently I was reminded of how wonderful true friendship is through three events that happened in quick succession. The first was the wedding of a girl I have known for about twenty years. Some time back, she went through a very difficult patch in her life which she would not have survived without the love and care of genuine friends around her, who went the second and third mile for her sake. While I had lost touch with her a little, these friends had not and were still standing with her and around her at her marriage ceremony, helping out with the various tasks involved with such an occasion.

The second event was a church service back at the church I attended for thirteen years and then served as one of the pastors for a further five years. Here I experienced, as always, a warm and loving welcome from the people there, and a sense that nothing had changed between us, despite nine years having passed since I was part of that fellowship.

And the third was a simple time of catching up with an old friend over coffee. This friend is about to head overseas and will be spending some time with a mutual friend of ours, so offered to take some gifts to her on my behalf. We are all at different churches now and all separated geographically, but our friendship is still as warm and as caring as it ever was.

These three recent experiences have highlighted again for me the truth of Proverbs 18:24:

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

And they also served to cause me to reflect on what sort of friend I am myself to those around me. We can get so wrapped up in our own affairs and overwhelmed with life at times that it’s easy to overlook our friends’ needs. We mean to contact them to see how they’re going or to remember their birthdays or to include them in some event in our lives, but somehow we don’t attend to it. Yet I am so aware how much even a brief email from a friend means to me and encourages me in my rather lone writer’s life. Paul’s words in Philippians 2: 4 are always a challenge to me in this regard:

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Paul goes on to remind us that our attitude should be the same as that of Jesus Christ, who ‘made himself nothing’ and gave his very life for us to bring us back to God. What a friend we have in Jesus, as the old hymn says! And Jesus calls us his friends too, as we follow him and listen to him and do what he commands (John 15:14).

Now there’s a friendship that makes all the difference, don’t you agree?

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It helps to have a sense of humour, I’ve discovered, when you’re an author. Being able to laugh at ourselves and the dilemmas we find ourselves in at times somehow helps to connect us to the ‘real world’ – at least for a moment. And it also helps us not to take ourselves too seriously.

Authors can have a unique, rather strange way of thinking. And an example of such thinking from my own life led to my first ‘author joke’ that I often tell others. One day quite early in my writing journey, my husband thought I needed a break from the computer and suggested we go out for coffee. I reluctantly agreed – after all, I had just reached an interesting part of the plot in my current work in progress. We duly had our coffee, but on our way home, I felt my husband was driving a little too slowly, for once.

‘Hurry up!’ I told him. ‘I want to get home and find out what my characters have been up to while I’ve been out!’

Needless to say, my husband shot me a slightly strange look. Was I really joking – or had I finally lost it altogether?

On another occasion, I was talking with a group of friends, when one of them shared something they had done recently. I opened my mouth to respond by saying ‘Oh, Jenna just did that too!’ but thankfully caught myself in time. You see, Jenna was – and is – a character in one of my novels! She’s not a real person at all – or is she?

My third ‘author’ joke is on a slightly different tack. Yesterday I was explaining to a friend how I need to mention a few books by other authors in the non-fiction book I am currently writing. I would like to quote some of their exact words, but understand I would need to get permission from the copyright owner.

“It’s a lot easier when I can quote things I’ve written myself,” I told my friend. “I’ve just included some thoughts of mine from a journal I kept years ago. … Maybe I should charge for the privilege!”

“Yes,” my friend replied. “You could write to yourself to ask permission and then send yourself the bill! Perhaps you could even write something about how to make money out of writing by paying yourself to quote yourself! At least that way you might make some money out of writing!”

We were talking nonsense, I agree. But later, our conversation set me thinking along much more sober lines. I would never pay to use something I myself had created – that is, if I still owned the copyright for it. I would never buy something I already own. But that’s what God did for us. God created us in the first place in his image, as Genesis 1:27 tells us. He certainly owns the copyright for us all. But we chose to walk away from God and run our own lives. Yet God loved us enough to do something about it – God bought us back.

It cost God plenty to get you out of that dead-end, empty-headed life you grew up in. He paid with Christ’s sacred blood, you know. He died like an unblemished, sacrificial lamb. And this was no afterthought. (1 Peter 1:18-20 – The Message)

We were God’s children once, created in our Father’s image. Now through faith in Jesus we can be God’s children again, part of God’s family – forever. Now that’s the greatest story ever told!

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Lately, God seemed to have fallen into the habit of getting my attention in unexpected and very interesting ways.  Last week, I shared how a friend sent me an encouraging poem just for me about resting in God’s love at exactly the same time as I was putting similar thoughts into words in the book I am currently writing. I had hardly had time to get over that when God snuck up on me again and caught me by surprise. I guess some might say these were happy coincidences, but from my perspective, they sure have a lot of the hallmarks of God about them.

It’s my habit to read a psalm each day as well as some other part of Scripture. Whenever I get through all one hundred and fifty of them, I start all over again. It’s never boring – there is always something to encourage or challenge me in each one of them. Recently, I started my psalm journey yet again, just at a point in writing my current book when I was feeling particularly vulnerable. This book deals with some aspects of my own spiritual journey and thus involves checking back in my journals I have kept over many years now. I was up to a spot where I had written some rather doleful entries at a difficult and draining time of my life. It brought back many memories – I could feel those dark emotions I was reading about stirring in me all over again and beginning to take over, just as they had then.

This was not good, I realised. I knew I needed to identify with how I was feeling then in order to write about it well – but not to the extent of taking it all on board again. So I picked up my bible and quickly turned to the Psalms. I found I was up to Psalm Three – and straight away, verse three caught my attention:

But you are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.

Yes, I said to myself – God was my shield at that time and did ‘lift up my head’! And God will do that again for me now as I write this book and protect me from getting too ‘bogged down’ in it all.

Then I resolutely turned to my old journal again. Here were some entries from 2002 when I was on leave for four weeks. I had written out a prayer, part of which read: Lord, I feel like I have been in a ‘far country’, away from the enjoyment of your presence. But I’m on the way home now. … I feel you know my great weakness and understand.  …Turn me around – show me the way forward from here.

I continued reading. The next journal entry was two days later. All I had written was – Psalm 3:3!

 But you are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.

I gasped out loud. God spoke to me then through these words. And now God has spoken to me again – about the very same thing through the very same words.

Anyone would think God knows what is happening in my life at any given point – even what I’m writing about! Anyone would think God is loving and faithful and mighty and comforting and encouraging!

Are you anyone?

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Sometimes writing can be a hazardous occupation. Yes, authors often suffer physically from sore backs, arms and eyes from sitting in front of that computer screen for too long, typing away without a break. But it’s a great occupation for doing ourselves in emotionally as well, if we’re not careful. Of course, the likelihood of this happening can wax and wane with what we are trying to write, how well our ideas are flowing and also how our already published books might be doing out there in the market. But when we’re stuck or when we’re unsure if what we’re writing is rubbish or not or when we’re discouraged about those book sales or lack of speaking opportunities out there, then that can be a dark and lonely place.

I’ve been there. In fact, it’s threatening me right now again. But it’s exactly at times like this I’m so thankful I’m a Christian author who, by God’s grace, still has a strong faith. I’m not alone in this crazy writing journey. I know God is with me. And I know God will show me the way forward.

Recently I began writing another book – my seventh. This time, however, it is non-fiction. I truly believe it’s what God wants me to write at this stage, but that doesn’t mean the project is without its challenges. Right now, one big challenge is how to walk a fine line between saying too much about something and not saying enough – and also between how much of myself I reveal and how much is best left unsaid!

This book has also forced me to look back on a period of my life that held some grief and pain for me. So as I write, I’m often back in the moment, feeling the emotion of it all again and almost aghast at what I know will happen next. I know I’ll pass through this period and soon be on safer ground. But it’s definitely an emotionally hazardous journey at the moment.

Yet I know for sure God understands where I’m at right now and still delights to surprise and encourage me in unique and wonderful ways. On opening my computer just this morning, I found that a college friend I have not seen for years but who contacted me again recently had written something especially for me. She thought of me last night and wrote quite a long poem she felt God wanted me to have ‘without delay’. Among other things, it talks about resting in God, letting God love me and spending time just ‘being’ in that loving Presence.

I quickly checked back to the last sentences I had written in my book before heading for bed last night. And there I found the following: … But above all, it reminded me all over again that God loved me completely, however perfect or imperfect I was. And I knew the best thing I could do was to rest in that love more fully and approach the challenges of ministry with confidence from that solid place of security in God.

 It’s not the first time God has ‘tricked’ me into writing things that speak to me first and foremost. But it is the first time it’s happened at exactly the same time someone else has been inspired to write a poem for me saying similar things!

Somehow I think God wants me to sit up and take note. Do you agree? Should you sit up and take note too?

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