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Archive for May, 2012

If there’s one thing I have a slight reputation for, it is being a bit of a workaholic. Now I don’t always see that, but I must admit that when I get my teeth into a job, I do like to finish it. Why leave things half done? Why not have the satisfaction of seeing a job completed and knowing you have done your best? Not that I’m a perfectionist or anything – but that’s another label altogether!

I’ve discovered in my writing journey in particular, that being a workaholic can come in very handy at times. In the past few weeks, I have been working on re-editing not one but two of my manuscripts. A potential publisher suggested both needed quite extensive revision, which caused my heart to sink at first. But then my fighting spirit cut in – for a while at least – and I decided I would do it, come what may! I managed to knock over one revision, but not far into the next, I received various forms from the publisher to complete, which took me many hours all up. Now I knew this information was needed, yet I found I wasn’t quite in the right headspace for such tasks. My mind was still in my novel, trying to work out how to put the required changes in place. By this time, I had again become well and truly embroiled in the lives of my characters, wanting to do justice to them and not mess around too much with their thoughts or words or emotions. So I began grumbling. Were these changes really necessary? Would my potential readers care – or even notice – if I left things as they were?

Right at that point, an even worse thought snuck up on me. What if I do all this work and one of these manuscripts or – horror of horrors – maybe even both are rejected by my potential publisher? What about all the hours I will have wasted, not to mention the emotional energy expended, trying to work out how to put things better?

And then I read Colossians 3:23-24:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord and not for men, since you know that you will receive and inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Straight away, this made a big difference to my attitude. You see, these words caused me to step back and remind myself of the bigger picture. I believe God called me to write – and I believe God can touch people’s lives through my books. In essence, I am not working for any particular potential publisher or any editor. I am working for the Lord. And that changes my perspective entirely.

But these words and the timing of my reading them also reminded me that God knows about all this editing and is right in it with me. And one special, delicious little touch that shows me this is that the novel I am editing is entitled – wait for it – The Inheritance! Now I know Paul is talking in this verse about our heavenly inheritance. Nevertheless, I like to think these words are a lovely, gentle, humorous promise from God about my own novel as well.

What do you think? Do these words of Paul’s change your attitude to work?

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We all know how powerful stories are. Many of us spend hours glued to TV screens as we watch plots unfold, mysteries solved, the ‘baddies’ brought to justice, the ‘goodies’ almost mess things up but then win through in the end. But there is nothing like hearing a real life story told from the heart. And when God is involved, there is even more power in those words we hear or read.

This past Sunday at our church, the usual sermon took the form of interviews with four different people. Three of these interviews had been filmed previously and interwoven at different points as the stories unfolded, while a fourth happened live in the service. All illustrated a journey through a very difficult situation in the lives of those involved and God’s eventual deliverance. One story involved business difficulties and financial loss; another, the struggle to conceive a child. A third dealt with loss of a partner’s faith in the context of ministry, while the fourth grappled with holding onto God in the midst of enormous physical pain and suffering. I had never been in any of these situations, but my heart was touched and my faith in God strengthened as I saw the pain of those who shared but also their faith in a loving God remain firm, even in the most desperate of situations when there seemed to be no miracles or easy answers.

Afterwards, our minister reminded us of Paul’s story in 2 Corinthians 1 about the hardships he and Timothy suffered as they journeyed through Asia:

We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (2 Cor 1:8-9)

Paul shares his story honestly with us, here and elsewhere in Scripture, so that his words still encourage and inspire us today.

But Jesus himself clearly believed in the power of story too. Many times in the Gospels we see how he used parables to get his message across in simple, powerful ways. In the middle of Luke’s Gospel, for example, we have parable after parable recorded that Jesus told—the Good Samaritan (10), the rich fool (12), the great banquet (14), the lost sheep, lost coin and lost son (15), the shrewd manager (16), the persistent widow; the Pharisee and the tax collector (18), to name a few. Yes, Jesus’ culture was different from ours today, but the power of story does not change. Surely in endeavouring to share the good news about Jesus today, we would be foolish to ignore the power of story?

Which brings me to the second reason I was so encouraged by hearing these stories of difficulty and deliverance. I write stories. That’s what I do. Even the work of non-fiction I have just completed is a story of my own experience of a beautiful, spiritual mentoring relationship. So how encouraging it was to be reminded of the power of story to minister to others and to convict!

But what about you? Do you have a story to tell of God’s grace in your life? It may not seem earth-shattering to you, but God can use it, whether written or spoken. So keep looking for those opportunities to share it. And keep telling it truthfully and with love.

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I wonder if you can remember a time when you expected God’s guidance to come in a particular way, only to discover it snuck up on you in quite another. Did you perhaps discount it at first? Did you, like me, not ‘get’ it until a little later?

Recently I found myself having to choose between two options, each of which I felt would be useful for different areas of my life. One was a short editing course at the NSW Writers’ Centre and the other a three day Christian Mentoring Forum. I felt the editing course would be a good refresher for me, but I wanted to hear the main speaker at the Mentoring Forum and also take time to reflect on where I am at in my writing. And because I mentor a small number of women, I also wanted to ensure I was giving them the best possible help.

In the end, I chose the Mentoring Forum. I thought that would give God maximum opportunity to speak to me through the input of others, both formal and informal, and through time alone in a beautiful setting. As it turned out, I did value the input and the interaction with those present. And I enjoyed my moments of solitude as well. Yet God did not speak so much through them as through little whispered ‘asides’ that reached into my spirit and brought quite shattering insight at times.

I was not prepared, for instance, for the impact that my own words ‘I am a writer’ would have on me as we introduced ourselves in our very first session together. It was as if God were saying somewhat urgently to me, ‘Listen to that, Jo! Remember it!’ Then in a brief reflective time during a session on ‘Soul Care’, I felt God almost pleading, ‘Get back to writing with me!’ This made perfect sense from my perspective. Many times when writing my novels, I have stopped to sense God’s presence around me. I have even been known to ask God questions out loud like ‘Is this how you want me to write this? Is this the way you want the story to go?’!

But I find myself still rather easily swayed by self-doubt at times, especially when I hear the other wonderful things Christian leaders are doing in their ministries. As I listen, I ask myself yet again if I should be undertaking a more ‘conventional’ type of ministry—if I should put aside my writing and engage in mentoring and caring for others in a more structured way. Yet even as these thoughts course through my brain, I hear the speaker sharing from her own story how she realised she was not to be running a race marked out for somebody else. And like a sharp arrow, her words pierce my soul. I am not to be overawed by the achievements of others. I am definitely not to turn back the clock and hanker after past ministry roles. God has shown me my path for this stage of my life—and my role is to walk it well, in company with the Author of all things.

So as I write this, I am filled again with love for and awe of our God who knows us so intimately and loves us with such a fierce, all-encompassing love—who says to each of us the same as to Israel so long ago:

I have loved you with an everlasting love: I have drawn you with loving-kindness. (Jer 31:3b)

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One of the handiest qualities any aspiring writer needs to have, in my opinion, is a good dose of humility. In the very uncertain book publishing world, an author may well have to survive endless assessments and editing of his or her precious manuscript, not to mention possible multiple rejections from potential publishers. Then comes the reader feedback, encouraging or otherwise, along with favourable or unfavourable reviews. And of course there are the times when others’ books are released while yours is still waiting for that publishing contract or when friends’ books win awards and yours doesn’t or when your books do not sell nearly as well as someone else’s.

In my writing journey thus far, I have experienced all of the above at one point or another. I think I have learnt a little more humility in the process—although perhaps that could be too proud a claim to make! And I hope I have sincerely rejoiced with those who rejoice when their books have been released and when they have achieved some sort of success. But I must admit my abilities in this area have been tried a little of late.

Recently, the publishers who earlier this year accepted my sixth and latest novel for publication let me know they had changed their minds! In contrast, three of my friends were enjoying varying degrees of publishing success. For one, her first book was launched after a long wait and many edits—a wonderful achievement. For another, a secular publisher has shown interest in her manuscript—an encouragement for both of us, since I have had some input into this her first work. I hope and pray it is published—my friend deserves it and has written a great, true story. Then another friend I have tried to encourage on her writing journey succeeded in having a story included in a very professional compilation released by a big publishing house. I was genuinely excited for them all. But … what about my own writing journey? Where is it heading?

Then I read John 13—the account of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet—and things began to fall into perspective again. I love verses 3-4 where John writes:

 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing and wrapped a towel around his waist.

Jesus knew who he was. He knew he had all power and authority. He knew where he came from and where he was going. And on the strength of that knowledge and out of his great love for his disciples, Jesus proceeds to wash their feet.

Now I don’t have all power and authority—especially when it comes to publishers! But I do know I am a child of God. And I do know where I came from and where I am going. So I can choose to walk my writing journey with humility and in the strength of God’s Spirit, whatever is happening or not happening. And out of love for my friends, I can choose to support them well in their writing journeys and sincerely celebrate their successes.

How about you? Is humility a challenge for you too?

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I have never liked the saying ‘It’s not what you know—it’s who you know!’ Somehow it doesn’t seem fair that anyone can get ahead by taking shortcuts like that and avoiding having to work hard to achieve something. Surely we should all be on a level playing field. Yet this week, I saw the truth of this statement played out before my very eyes.

Recently our backyard was inundated when a nearby creek overflowed. A team of young people from our church and beyond came to our rescue and helped move all the resultant rubbish from way down our yard up onto our front footpath. At the same time, my husband phoned our local council and talked to someone who turned out to be rather unimpressed about our rubbish being on the footpath and told us an inspector would come and assess the situation.

We waited a few days, but still no inspector. We did not want to be fined for having our rubbish out on the footpath and were becoming a little concerned. Then one day when my husband was chatting to his dentist, he told him about the rubbish and how we had contacted the local council, but nothing had happened so far. The dentist commented that if we wanted something done about it quickly, we should contact a particular person high up in the council.

My husband came home and phoned this person. After a good conversation with him, we were asked to put the facts in an email. Later that same evening, we received a reply from this gentleman stating that he had requested an emergency clean-up crew be sent around to see to our rubbish and also that he wanted the contact details for all the young people who had helped us out so he could send them a thank you note!

The very next morning, on hearing some noise outside, we discovered half a dozen council workers gathered on our footpath and within about half an hour, a large front end loader was scooping up all our debris and depositing it in a nearby truck.

Yes, it is definitely not what you know but who you know, I decided.

But then I began to think a little more about this. Surely this is true as far as my faith in God is concerned too? I can know a lot about God and the Bible. I can study theology and various areas of ministry and know how to do these and why. I can talk the right talk. I can even teach others about the things of God. But unless I truly know God up close and personal and believe God can make a difference in my life and in others’—and unless I pray and listen to God and stay in close contact with the one who has all power and all authority—then nothing of lasting value will happen. The rubbish will still be there—in my life and in the lives of others around me.

The good thing is that the Lord is accessible to anyone of us who chooses to believe and not just to the privileged few or those ‘in the know’.  As David writes in Psalm 145:18:

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfils the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them.

Is it time you got to know the one who really matters a little better?

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