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Archive for February, 2012

Right now, I am in the middle of a lengthy task that has become quite familiar to me in the past few years. It is the task of destroying something I have been at great pains to create over many months—those wonderful, superfluous words in my latest manuscript.

Years ago, I would almost have died at the very thought. ‘No!’ I would scream. ‘These priceless pearls are all necessary to set the scene and make my meaning clear.’ Alas, I soon discovered this extra verbiage did not do anything of the sort. So I have disciplined myself since then to step back and try to see what I have written through someone else’s eyes—perhaps eyes more like my husband’s, who much prefers novels where the storyline is untrammelled by any excess baggage.

So in editing my seventh book and first non-fiction effort, I find I am relatively at ease in throwing out hundreds and even thousands of words over which I laboured long and hard. After telling a friend this recently, she commented how we may be quite content not to own this or that. But once we do own it, then it is much, much harder to consider throwing it out. It is ours. It is part of us now. How then could I possibly delete so many words I had created and now had a life out there on the page/screen?

Well, in many cases, I can see they have served their purpose. I needed them to help me shape what it was I really wanted to say. They were written in an initial burst of enthusiasm and insight, but now are either expendable or at least in line for a solid makeover. I can get rid of them without much regret then, knowing my work will be the better for it. I have learnt to be ruthless for the sake of what is to come.

But what about the rest of my life? What if some things are standing in the way of forging a better relationship with God? Yes, I can be ruthless is getting rid of material possessions, although I may cringe a little when it comes to books. And I can give away money to bless others and be used in God’s kingdom. But what about my precious time? And what about all those creative thoughts in my head I am loath to put aside in order to spend even a few reflective moments with my heavenly Father?

I suspect I need to employ a few more ruthless editing skills in my life in general in order to focus on the things that really are important—things like listening to God, reflecting on God’s Word, praying, doing what God wants me to do. Perhaps I need to have a mind like Paul’s when he writes in Philippians 4:7-8:

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him …

How are you doing at hanging onto what is really important and getting rid of the rest? How are you at being ruthless in order to gain Christ?

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One day last week, I found myself waiting with one of our daughters at a medical centre so her new baby could be immunised. We waited … and waited … and waited. Eventually, with the baby’s feed time rapidly approaching, my daughter decided to call it quits and head for home.

“I’ll come back another day,” she said in an exasperated voice. “I hate waiting, don’t you?”

Later, I thought about that question a little more. On the whole, I realised, I don’t mind any normal sort of waiting—as long as I have the time and it doesn’t inconvenience me too much! And as an author, I should be used to it. After all, even when we have finished a manuscript, we still usually have a few long waiting periods ahead—firstly, while we wait for our editor or readers to go through it; secondly, while we wait to hear back (often a very long time) after submitting it to a publisher; thirdly, while we wait for the book to be released; and finally, while we wait for it to reach the bookshelves in the stores and for people to buy it!

Right now, I am in one such waiting period—not just for one book, but for two. They are both being considered by publishers and who knows whether these publishers will take them on? In the meantime, I am left sitting here, hoping and praying—and waiting.

A few years ago, when in the middle of a different waiting period, I was complaining loudly to a dear, older friend who has been my spiritual mentor for many years. I soon discovered she had a different perspective from me on it all.

“Could you view this waiting as an active time—perhaps even an honourable activity?” she challenged me gently one day, after listening yet again  to my whinges and moans.

It was such a simple but radical change in perspective for me to see waiting as part of the whole process and accept it, refusing to let it frustrate me. I needed to keep on trusting God and wait patiently, without wavering. This was further emphasised through a passage from Isaiah I read around the same time, Isaiah 30:15-18:

In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength,but you would have none of it.

You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’ Therefore, you will flee!

You said, ‘We will ride off on swift horses.’ Therefore your pursuers will be swift!

A thousand will flee at the threat of one; at the threat of five you will all flee away

till you are left like a flagstaff on a mountaintop, like a banner on a hill.

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion.

For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!

I believe God was showing me I was not to run around, trying to make things happen in my own strength. Instead, I was to look to God to bring it about and wait patiently. I did not envisage that meant I was to sit around idle, however. I needed to keep writing and praying and doing my best to look for speaking opportunities, but I also needed to listen well, acting when God said to and not before. And somehow I suspect that’s what I have to do right now too.

How about you? Have you discovered that waiting can actually be an ‘honourable activity’?

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A few weeks ago, I decided it was high time we attacked our back ‘garden’, which for some strange reason had become an amorphous mass of weed. I dug and pulled and piled up tons of rubbish—and eventually these beds were ready again for replanting.

I decided to choose very hardy, quick growing ground cover plants that would suit a sunny rockery area and also be relatively inexpensive. I came home with some bargains—a few humble old gazania plants, a convolvulus, two varieties of portulaca, several ‘Million Bells’ plants like mini-petunias, some lobelia and a small lillipilli tree. I planted them all out straight away—just in time to receive all the rain we have had lately.

Now I was sure some of these plants would wither and die in the first few days. The soil in these beds is by and large so poor—and some areas are almost as hard as the nearby rocks. But amazingly, most have grown well and are now bearing bright, new flowers.

But here’s where I stand back in awe and ponder our amazingly creative God. Yes, all these plants are fairly common and—well—garden variety! Yet as I look closer, each one of the tiny flowers that has now appeared blows me away with its shape and colour and intricate markings. Even the widely different textures and shades of greens in their foliage are fascinating—not to mention the fact that one of my portulacas is able to produce an array of differently coloured blooms from one and the same plant! As for the flowers on the common old gazanias, while they are similar in colour, they still vary amazingly in the pretty markings on their petals. All this abundance in my own humble backyard, with minimal assistance from me.

Yet something else amazes me even more. When I complained about the terrible state of our garden, various friends told me not to worry about it. After all, almost no one else sees it. They’re right too—and even we don’t go down there all that often. But that doesn’t seem to make any difference to God. These hardy, little plants produce their bright array of flowers whether anyone sees them or not. And this is even more true when it comes to our Australian wildflowers. Years ago, during a wonderful drive over the Alpine Way in southern New South Wales one Christmas, I saw so many tiny, tiny flowers, each formed so perfectly. But how many more were tucked away in rock crevices or down beside some mountain stream where no one would ever venture?

What an amazingly diverse and liberal Creator we have, even when there is no one to admire such marvellous, natural works of art! Our God is the original, perfect Creator, from whom all our own creativity flows. I look back at the seven books I have written with gratitude, knowing I could not have woven these stories without God’s creativity at work in and through me. And even as I write this, I know I can only do so because I am made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). How much in this world and within ourselves do we take for granted, as if no master hand has designed and sustains everything? May we instead join with the words of the psalmist in Psalm 95:

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.

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I wonder if you have ever played that game in an airport arrivals area of deciding who is waiting for whom and what the reason is for the traveller’s visit? It’s fun to try to work out such things, isn’t it, from what people look like and how they are reacting?

Or perhaps, like me, you enjoy letting your imagination run riot as you concoct an entire scenario about something you know nothing about. Recently, while my husband and I were out driving, we saw two people scurrying across a main road, laden down with luggage. When my husband wondered aloud where they might be heading, I immediately came up with a long, animated, involved explanation.

‘I get the picture. This could go on forever—no wonder you write novels!’ he eventually yelled.

And it would be hard to forget the eccentric looking, older Asian gentleman we saw standing with his little dog on a small traffic island at a busy intersection on Christmas Day and waving a big sign. On one side of this sign was a wish for peace for all at Christmas—but on the other an angry message maligning some people in authority. You can imagine the fun I had, making up a veritable trilogy about this particular character!

Now I have been taught it is usually unwise to include lots of back story at the beginning of a novel. Readers don’t have to know everything at once. Much better to provide little glimpses of past history or events naturally as the story unfolds—and then only what is needed. In my earlier novels, I couldn’t resist immediately sharing all there was to know about my main characters. After all, I was trained as a teacher to take students from the known to the unknown and to make sure they understood things well, before moving on. These days, I try to let those juicy bits of back story pop out only where necessary. But it’s still a battle. You see, I love my characters and want to make sure my readers understand why they act in a certain way. My characters become like family to me—‘real’ people I have created and hopefully brought to life in my book. And I feel responsible for them.

Often as I reflect on this, however, my mind turns to my own Creator. There is no doubt God knows all about me, including my entire ‘back story’. Psalm 139:1 states simply:

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.

We see in the Gospels this is also true of Jesus. In calling his first disciples, he didn’t need Philip to tell him anything about Nathaniel (John 2:43-49).  He already knew him and could see what was in his heart. Jesus knew everything about the Samaritan woman he met at the well without her saying a word (John 4). He was also quite aware Judas was the one who would betray him (John 13:21-28). And Jesus knows everything about me too—back story, thoughts, plans, the lot. Yet, just as he did with Peter after the disciple’s drastic denial of his Lord, Jesus forgives me, loves me, accepts me, ‘reinstates’ me and promises to be with me forever.

Jesus understands perfectly this business of back story. And I’m so thankful for that.

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