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Archive for January, 2012

Not long after my early novels were published, someone said to me: ‘What a wonderful legacy to leave behind for others!’ Such a thought had never occurred to me—I was so focused on the moment, wondering what my current market would be like. Anyway, if my books did survive for another generation, they would probably be tucked away in some dark corner, regarded as hopelessly old-fashioned and not worth reading.

But this week, this idea of touching a generation other than our own was brought home to me in two quite different ways.

The first occurred when I was researching some authors mentioned in my current non-fiction book. There was the English woman mystic, Julian of Norwich, who lived from around 1342 to 1416. At thirty years of age, she had a series of visions or ‘showings’ which she recorded soon after. Then, having reflected on them for twenty years, she wrote an expanded version called Revelations of Divine Love, which is still available and read today, along with many of her sayings such as ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’ And there was also Teresa of Avila, a Spanish nun who lived a little later (1515 – 1582) and founded a Carmelite order. Her sayings are also often quoted, such as ‘Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you. Everything passes away except God’—or, as it is sometimes translated, ‘All things pass away; God never changes.’ Now in no way do I claim to be a Julian or a Teresa (!)—yet I was encouraged to see that all these centuries later, their words still speak to so many people.

And the second occurred on Australia Day, which was also my grandfather’s birthday. I remembered how he used to tell us grandchildren that the public holiday was really to commemorate his birthday! But I remembered other things too then—how my grandfather left each grandchild a special letter, written in his beautiful copperplate handwriting, urging us, among other things, to have faith in God. And I also remembered how I loved to sit on the floor near where he was reading and go through all the old things in a nearby cupboard on which a large bookcase rested. I was fascinated by the old hardcover books I found there—books like Tom Brown’s Schooldays, Uncle Tom’s Cabin and of course Lorna Doone. You see, R D Blackmore, the author of Lorna Doone, was my grandfather’s great-great-uncle! These books seemed so mysterious and almost other worldly—I can still remember their musty smell and how I would turn their pages almost reverently. They impacted me and no doubt fostered my love of books, even though I found them difficult to read at that age.

Yes, my books will get musty and crumble away too and no doubt end their days in some recycling bin. All things do pass away, except God, as Teresa of Avila wrote. And as Jesus himself declared:

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Matt 24:35)

Unlike mine, Jesus’ words will ring out down through eternity and will never lose their impact. But I like to think that one day some young girl will sit in front of a cupboard and find my old books there—and maybe even see in their pages something that draws her closer to her heavenly Father and touches her heart. What a privilege that would be!

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I confess I’m a ‘glass half empty’ person. Sadly, I have to admit I focus on how much more water has to be poured into that glass before it is full rather than how much it already contains. And sadly, in the process, I suspect I miss out on much of the joy and encouragement God has for me in that moment.

An almost too clear example of this occurred this week when my husband and I celebrated our wedding anniversary—our forty-third! We decided we would head to a nearby Club for dinner. As we entered, my husband showed his membership card and was given a special ticket to put in a nearby barrel. Apparently, at 7.00pm, a name was to be drawn from this barrel and some lucky person would be given the chance to win up to two hundred dollars by spinning a small ‘chocolate wheel’.

Well, we didn’t think much about it after that. We rarely enter such competitions and of course don’t tend to win anything as a result! But as we were finishing our main course, we heard someone loudly calling out my husband’s name. Lionel made his way to the wheel, spun it—and won fifty dollars!

What a neat thing to happen on our wedding anniversary! My husband quickly pocketed the fifty dollars, commenting it would almost cover the cost of our meal, including drinks. Needless to say, I was delighted. But then … well, then that ‘glass half empty’ side of my personality kicked in with a vengeance.

‘That’s great you won fifty dollars,’ I told my poor husband, ‘but it would have been even better if we’d won the two hundred dollars—or even the hundred dollars!’

My husband looked at me a little stunned but just smiled. He was still basking in the glory of winning fifty dollars. But then, as we waited for our dessert to arrive, something—or perhaps Someone—prompted me to think about my response. Instead of rejoicing over our totally unexpected fifty dollar windfall and the fact that our meal would now cost almost nothing, I had felt peeved that we had missed out on even more money!

At that point, I felt ashamed of myself and my miserly response—but I almost laughed out loud at myself too. How crazy to spoil the joy of the moment by wishing something even better had happened!

‘Well, I think I showed tonight how much of a “glass half empty” person I am,’ I commented.

My husband agreed—a little too readily for my liking! But I couldn’t argue. After all, it was our wedding anniversary.

Since then, this whole event has caused me to reflect in general on my response to God’s gracious acts of kindness in my life—and everything else I enjoy from God’s hand on a daily basis. How often do I ignore what I have and selfishly wish for more, instead of responding with a heart full of thanks? Surely my thoughts and words need to take the same line as Paul’s do in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

How about you? Are you a ‘glass half empty’ or a ‘glass half full’ person? Do you think one honours God more than the other?

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There is nothing quite like finding people out there who think the same as you, is there? I experienced this a few days ago when a group of Christian authors got together in Sydney. Previously, most of us had met only online—but now we were able to share face to face and hear about each other’s writing journey.

What impressed me most was each person’s desire to honour God through her writing. We were a mixed lot in many ways. Some of us were novelists of varying descriptions, one wrote children’s books, one wrote non-fiction and another, poetry. Some were published and some not. And some had been writing for many years, while others were just beginning. But we were all determined to keep God first in our writing journey.

I was impressed. Here were six other women prepared to spend long hours alone, working hard to create and refine thousands of words, crafting them into a shape people will hopefully read. They have no guarantee of this and they have no guarantee any publisher will ever offer them a contract. But God has put a dream in their hearts—and they are determined to fulfil that dream.

God can also see their hearts—and mine. God doesn’t need those words printed on paper and bound into a book to read what is deep in our spirits. God can see my motivation as I sit writing and I believe is cheering me and my friends on, as we persevere. And that’s true for each one of you, whether you are an author or not. You may slave away patiently for hours at something quite different, believing you are doing exactly what you have been called to do. God sees that—and God knows.

In 1 Samuel 16:7, Samuel says the following to David’s father, Jesse:

Man looks at the outwards appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

So while others might not think we are doing anything significant, God sees. While we might not have that book released yet that is the tangible representation of those hours spent pouring words onto a page, God knows every single one of them anyway.

For those of us who do end up being published, we may well receive words of praise from readers. And for some, there may even be accolades or awards from those with the expertise to judge our books against others. Yet God’s heart is to reward us for our efforts anyway, even if—and especially if—no one else sees how we have put our heart and soul into it all. In Matthew 6, we read about those who loved to let the world know how pious they were and made sure people were watching when they gave money or prayed or fasted. Of course, I don’t mean that those of us who have had books published or won awards are showing off! But this is what Jesus says about those who care much more for the praise of men than the praise of God:

… I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. (v 2,5,16)

your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (v 4,18)

So be encouraged, all of you, writers or otherwise, who may feel you are labouring away, with no one noticing your efforts. God sees your heart. God knows. And one day, you will hear those most wonderful words of all spoken with such joy, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

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Zain four days oldIt has been six years since I last held a newborn baby. In that time, I seem to have forgotten how tiny and how amazing these little people are. So imagine my awe today as I held our new little grandson, Zain, for the first time!

Now of course he is the most gorgeous baby boy there has ever been. He has the cutest little face and lovely, long fingers and toes, despite his weighing only a little over three kilo. But that’s nothing compared to his ears! You see, because Zain’s father is Ghanaian, this little one has a lovely dark tinge to his skin. So at present, each little fold of his ears is a different, dusky shade somewhere between black and white. For all the world, as our older daughter commented, it looks as if this little one can’t quite decide which colour he wants to be right now!

But as I examined our new little man more carefully, I realised the same awe was welling up inside me that I had felt when our own children were born. All those years ago, I remember looking down at each of them, overwhelmed at our God who could create such a beautiful, perfect, intricately made little human being and enable this little one to develop and grow right inside me, entering this world through my own body. What an amazing, overwhelming act of creativity from an amazingly creative God!

Yet more than that, here I was holding a new little person created in the image of God, so full of promise and with all sorts of inbuilt potential for doing amazing things in the years to come. And I was overwhelmed all over again with the incredible privilege of it all and the depth of trust God had shown in us as parents to give this new little one into our care.

So at this time, what do I pray for my daughter and her husband and their new little one? Well, I pray for them as parents that they will walk closely with God throughout their lives, modelling God’s love and grace and forgiveness to little Zain. I pray they will be filled with God’s wisdom and listen to the guidance of the Spirit within them in all the decisions ahead of them in his upbringing. And I pray for Zain, that he will grow up to be a strong man of God, living a life of compassion, creativity, honour and integrity and becoming all God purposes him to be.

But how amazing and reassuring it is to realise that our God who created him and knew him even before he was born also knows all about what the years ahead will hold for him. In Psalm 139:13-16 we read:

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

So Lord, may our Zain pray those words one day for himself. May they rise up from a heart full of reverence and love for you. May this little one who has been created in your image and likeness be conformed more and more to your image in the years ahead. And may your beautiful, gracious and creative heart flow out of him, bringing new life and new hope to many. Amen

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This past week, I received an email from an old friend in which she described beginning a new year as being like looking at a huge, blank canvas and not having a clue what kind of picture will emerge on it. Do you relate to that image as you look ahead to 2012?

I certainly do—as do many of my author friends in particular, I expect. We may have spent the past year writing our novels or works of non-fiction, but what will happen to them in 2012? Will they end up being published? Or will they still be sitting there in a year’s time—along with a pile of rejection letters? Perhaps we had a book published this past year, but will it continue to sell well? Are we even with the right publisher? And what speaking engagements and promotional opportunities lie ahead for us?

In the eight years I have been writing, if nothing else, I have learnt that no one year is the same as another. I have had five novels published in that time, some of which have sold more than others. And at the beginning of each year, I have tried my best to line up as many speaking engagements as possible. Some years I have been almost overwhelmed with speaking opportunities, whereas in other years, for no apparent reason, I have suffered a dearth of them.

So as I stand on the brink of yet another year of writing and speaking, what can I do? Well, I can hope my sixth novel will be accepted for publication. And I can also hope my very first work of non-fiction will be too. I hope both these things fill part of that blank canvas for me in the coming year—but I can’t bank on it. I hope too that many speaking engagements will be scattered along the way, but I can’t be sure of these yet either. Some people are to get back to me in the new year, while others have yet to respond to my emails. And of course, I plan to keep writing—perhaps another work of non-fiction or one of those other novels I have outlined on my computer. But I’m not sure any of them will ‘work’—I’ll simply have to begin writing and see.

All this uncertainty can be very off-putting. But this past week, I was reminded clearly from Isaiah 2 that there is only one way for us to travel such an uncertain road. In verse 5, God says to the children of Israel through Isaiah, but surely to us too:

Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Then in verse 22 at the end of that same chapter, I read the following:

Stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he?

My dear friend finished her email I mentioned above with the thought that God knows already what that finished picture on the blank canvas before us for 2012 will look like. I don’t know about you, but I find that hugely reassuring. How privileged we are to know we can trust the Lord and walk in his light rather than bank on mere human beings in the year ahead! God knows. God sees. And God will undertake for me and for you.

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