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Archive for October, 2011

Recently I received a very lovely compliment. After responding to a friend’s email with a long one of my own, she emailed again and began with the words: Thanks Jo-Anne. You always put such a lot into your letters. You write generously. I was so glad she felt that way, because I do love to let people know their emails have truly been ‘heard’ and taken seriously. Yes they do take time to write, but in my opinion it is time well spent. And of course I simply love writing anyway.

Her response reminded me of another writer friend’s comment when we first began emailing each other. She so appreciated my emails, she told me – she hated ‘those two-liner things’ and always felt ripped off by them! So while some, including myself, may think my emails are far too wordy and wonder why I don’t get straight to the point, others seem happy that I write ‘generously’.

But not all of us like writing, I know. For some, it is a chore to be avoided. But there are many ways to reach out to others with generosity. Perhaps you are able to share your finances with others who need a little help, just as Jesus himself urged us to. Recently, in gathering material for my current non-fiction book, I read through my old journals and noted the way God has cared for me over the years through the financial generosity of others. I was reminded of a young single girl who was convinced God wanted her to pay for me to attend a three week prayer ministry school, costing several hundred dollars. At first I felt terrible taking advantage of her offer, but I did – and I have been grateful ever since for the insights this school gave me. She knew God was preparing me for something during this school – and she was right. And I know she felt blessed by the way God has used that gift she gave me many times over since then.

And what about our abilities and expertise? It can make such a difference if someone will walk beside us and share the knowledge they have gleaned over the years. When I was first starting out as an author, another much more experienced author very generously helped me with information and introduced me to her own contacts. I valued that so much and now try to do the same for others. What a joy it is to do this and know I have saved someone hours and hours of trying to find out the same information I was able to give them so easily!

Then there is our time too – that most precious of commodities in our busy world. How special is it when someone is prepared to sit down with us and truly hear what is happening in our lives? In writing my current book, I have thought in particular of the many, many hours my special spiritual mentor spent talking with me over the past fifteen years. How generous she was with her time – and how much I owe her for the amazing impact she has had on my life!

In 2 Corinthians 9:6, Paul writes the following:

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.

I have found this so true in my life. And I am determined to continue being as generous as possible in my email writing and with whatever other resources God has given me.

How about you? Are you living life generously?

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I wonder if you have ever had the experience of not being fully listened to, just when you really needed someone else to understand how you felt? It can be annoying, can’t it—not to mention downright disappointing. Such experiences usually make me feel quite cranky—even to the extent of wanting to shake the other person and yell “Listen to me!” But so far I’ve managed to shut my mouth in time and smile more or less sweetly. And just as well, because I have a sneaking suspicion I might have done exactly the same thing to many others in the course of my life.

In recent weeks I have been unable to get out of the house much because of lower back trouble. Family members have been wonderful, doing many things I normally do and looking after me. And two friends in particular have visited and phoned regularly. I value both these women so highly. They went out of their way to spend time with me. And they truly listened and empathised. They put their own issues aside—of which they both have quite a number—and gave of themselves to me, for which I am very grateful.

A few days ago, I decided to try my back out and make the effort to mingle again with friends and acquaintances at a particular gathering. One or two had noticed I had not been around and welcomed me back. And another began to do the same, but our conversation soon morphed into a major litany of her own back issues. After listening for some time and becoming increasingly tired and sore, I expressed my concern for her and moved off. I then noticed another lady sitting at an awkward angle and enquired if she had back trouble. Sure enough, she did—and thus began another sad litany about her health issues. I told her I had noticed her because I had a sore back too, but this hardly seemed to register. And as I headed home, I found myself wondering if we had lost the art altogether of really listening and caring for others in their troubles rather than being so caught up in our own.

But as I lay down again with relief and prepared to wallow in my self-pity, some uncomfortable thoughts occurred to me. While I had been so busy searching for sympathy, how many others in even greater need had I missed noticing? Yes, one lady had caught my eye, but did my experience with her make me blind to others in equal need of empathy? And were those ones who had shared their troubles with me in much more need of comfort and understanding than I was? Maybe they didn’t have a loving family or two caring friends as I did.

And then I remembered the words of Philippians 2:4-5 that always seem to wake me up to myself:

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus …

That pretty much takes care of my wanting to shake people because they aren’t listening to all my woes, don’t you think? Perhaps instead if I humbled myself more often and made myself nothing, just as Jesus did, things would change around me.

Perhaps if we all did it, whole communities would change and believe.

Perhaps it truly is worth learning the art of being there for others, don’t you think?

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I have some clear memories from my childhood that I’m not so proud of. I was a very strong-willed child who didn’t like very much being told what to do, when to do it, what to wear, what to … well anything, really! On those occasions when my will clashed with my mother’s, I would argue on and on until eventually she would come to the end of her patience. With a very upset, angry look on her face, she would say with some passion, ‘Well, do what you like – you will anyway!

I remember how, while at first I was happy I had got my own way, this happiness was dulled somewhat by the knowledge that I had upset my mother and was displeasing her by pressing on with whatever I wanted to do. And I think I remember giving in myself at that point in some instances at least – although perhaps that’s wishful thinking on my part or the distortion that time can bring!

I think it’s these memories of my childhood wilfulness that cause me even now to sit up and take notice when I read passages in the bible dealing with the stubborn and rebellious attitude of God’s people. It couldn’t possibly be, of course, that I am still rather strong-willed and stubborn! Whatever the reason, this week I found myself taking particular note when I came across Psalm 81. Here the Lord reminds the Israelites how he rescued them from slavery and begs them to listen to him so they will triumph over their enemies. I could clearly hear his love for his children and feel his grief as I read verses 11-12:

But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.

I heard this love even louder and stronger in the final verse of this psalm, however, which paints a beautiful picture of the Lord’s provision for his children, would they but listen.

But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.

It seems this honey the Lord promised was the best and sweetest wild honey that could be obtained then from bees that established themselves high up in the clefts of rocks. If the Israelites truly listened, the Lord would provide not only water from the rock, as happened at Meribah (see v 7), but the best honey ever and the highest quality wheat for their bread.

Now I’m a bit partial to fresh bread and honey, I must admit. And that in itself should make me long even more for such good gifts from God’s hand. In fact, in reality, I know I have tasted them over and over again as I have grown to love and trust God more and look to him for the things that truly satisfy. How sweet it is for me to remember, for example, that whatever happens with the books I have poured myself into writing during the past eight years, I am still perfectly loved and valued by God! One day, I believe, the Lord will welcome me into heaven and he and I will sit down together and write the most perfect books imaginable! And that will indeed taste to me like the best bread and the sweetest honey ever.

Is God’s wheat and honey on your menu today?

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I almost missed it. There I was, so busy feeling sorry for myself because of my continuing lower back trouble that when the doorbell rang, all I could think of was the annoying fact that I had to get up to answer it. I asked the delivery man to put the box he was holding on the floor for me and decided not to open it at first. After all, I knew what was in it.

Soon curiosity got the better of me, however, and I opened the box to find twenty brand spanking new books there, hot off the press. I took one back to my bed and flipped through it.

‘That’s nice,’ I thought – then put it aside, still determined to feel sorry for myself.

Not long after, my husband came home.

‘A present for you,’ he said cheerily, as he threw a small parcel from our letterbox onto my bed.

In it, I found three audio CDs I also knew were coming.

‘That’s nice,’ I thought – and put them aside as well.

But then a challenging thought managed to worm its way through the cloak of self-pity I had wrapped firmly around me.

‘Look at you! You prayed this morning for God to encourage you – and now you’re letting this “dog in the manger” attitude spoil everything. Open your eyes! Wake up!’

I did just that. I picked up the book and CDs again and looked carefully at them. They were complimentary gifts, sent to say ‘thank you’ to me. You see, the book was ’40 Aussie Stories’,  just released by Strand Publishing, and among those stories were two of my blogs I had written for this very site during the past year. I had not submitted them to be included in this collection. Instead, the publisher had somehow found my blogs online and written to ask if he could use two or three of them in his book. And of course I was very happy for him to do so.

As for the CDs, they were from the Christian Blind Mission International in Melbourne. Some time back I had provided them with copies of my novels to record for people with print disabilities. I knew the first three had been professionally narrated and recorded, and now my contact there had sent me copies of these. As I examined them, I noted they had been narrated by Joy Westmore, a well-known Australian actor who has starred in various TV series such as ‘Prisoner’, ‘Neighbours’ and ‘Blue Heelers’, as well as playing many stage and screen roles.

I saw then how blessed I was that my writing had been used in such interesting ways to minister to others. But on top of that, here was God arranging that these gifts would arrive within minutes of each other on the very day I most needed encouragement. This was God’s grace reaching out to me, I realised – and I had nearly missed it.

In Hebrews 12:15 we read:

See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

I had almost fallen into that trap – despite having written a novel with this specific verse as its theme! I immediately paused to thank God yet again for rescuing me and encouraging me in such amazing and timely way.

How about you? Have you missed out on seeing God’s grace at work in your own life lately?

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