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Archive for July, 2012

I wonder if you’ve ever tried to describe a scene you have imagined but found your audience wasn’t quite catching the vision. It’s frustrating, isn’t it? It’s so clear in your own mind – surely what you mean is obvious? Yet more often than not, I find it’s my fault rather than anyone else’s when this happens. Usually, I have not taken the time to stand in the other person’s shoes or to think how best to convey that picture in my head to them.

I experienced this again recently in trying to explain to a designer what I wanted the cover of my next novel to look like. It is entitled The Inheritance and isn’t due out until next year but needs to be featured in a catalogue soon. Since the book is set largely in the English countryside, I have always pictured an old, English manor house on the cover, with a wide, curved driveway leading up to the main door. I also imagined lots of trees and green lawn as well, with gardens sloping down to a nearby lake. And over the stream leading to the lake, there would be an old, stone bridge, since one of these is featured in the story on key occasions.

Yet when the poor designer came up with his version of the cover, I felt something was lacking. There was the manor house and the driveway, just as I had asked for – but somehow it all seemed a little soulless and unromantic. I could not envisage my characters living and breathing, loving and hating in that place, as they do in the book. So back it went to the designer, along with a little more information, for him to have another go at getting inside my head.

Perhaps you have experienced this issue yourself at home, as my husband and I do on occasions. Sometimes one or the other of us may be so involved in what we are working on or thinking about that we blurt out a comment about it all, forgetting the other person is on a different tack altogether. At such times, I have been known to let out an exasperated sigh, as my husband stares blankly at me and asks for some clue as to what I’m talking about! And all the while, I’m thinking to myself, ‘He must know! It’s so obvious what I mean!’

So it’s a huge relief to me when I can turn my attention to God and rest in that all-knowing, all-powerful presence once again. I don’t have to explain myself to God. In fact, I don’t have to explain anything to God. God knows all my thoughts even before I myself am consciously aware of them, as Psalm 139 reminds us:

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

You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.

God has no trouble understanding those 3D images and concepts in my head, as well as all my motives, dreams aspirations and intentions. In fact, God is right there with me in every part of my life, intimately involved and eternally watching over me. And that’s something I hope I will treasure forever and never take for granted.

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I wonder if you can remember a time when, like me, you have spoken in haste and rebuked someone harshly. Sometime we say things in the heat of the moment, don’t we, that we wish could take back – but it’s too late. Our words have done their work and pulled someone down instead of building him or her up. How much better it would be if we stopped and thought first before opening our mouths or typing that angry email or sending that curt text!

This week as I prepared to speak on a rather challenging passage of Scripture about confronting someone who has sinned against us (Matthew 18:15-20), I came across Proverbs 25:11-12 and was immediately captivated:

A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.

Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold

is a wise man’s rebuke to a listening ear.

We all need those wise, careful rebukes at times, don’t we? None of us is perfect. But it’s at such moments that my pride often kicks in and I go into defence mode, trotting out all my excuses as to why I did what I did or said what I said. Instead, we are called to have a ‘listening ear’ when someone cares enough to confront us. Otherwise, we might miss those wise words of rebuke or challenge from God that could be life-changing.

I well remember several occasions over the years when someone rebuked me in a wise and godly way – and I actually managed to listen and take heed. I knew these people had my best interests at heart. And to this day, I remember their rebukes with gratitude and not with any bitterness, because these people took a risk and spoke truth into my life. Their words were indeed ‘aptly spoken’, as Proverbs puts it – true ‘earrings of gold’ that I treasure even more than my favourite pieces of gold jewellery.

In writing my recently completed first non-fiction book, I had to come to grips with this issue all over again. You see, this book is called Soul Friend: the story of a shared spiritual journey and is an account of my relationship with my special spiritual friend and mentor, Joy, over the past fifteen years. In that time, there were of course occasions when I had difficulties with other people – and Joy helped me work through these. But now I had to decide which of these, if any, to include in my book. If I left them all out, I would be writing dishonestly. And I might also miss an opportunity to help someone going through a similar situation. But if I included them, people might be hurt. So I tried to walk carefully with God as I wrote, checking my motives and looking for ways to polish those ‘apples of gold’ I felt it necessary to include.

But how about you? Could the words of rebuke you need to speak or write at times be described as precious gold earrings or ornaments? And are you developing that listening ear to hear and value the wise words of another who might seek to help you grow in God?

I know I’m still on this journey, but I hope I am learning how better to pass on those golden words, as well as develop that listening ear. And I hope and pray that’s your heart too.

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Just over a year ago, after completing six novels, I began planning out my very first non-fiction book. I had been thinking and talking about it for some time, but in May 2011, I knew I had to act. Months of reading through my old journals and emails, marshalling my thoughts into some sort of order and of course writing ensued, before the first draft of Soul Friend: the story of a shared spiritual journey emerged. Then it was time for much revision and editing, before submitting it to a publisher. To my delight, it was accepted and is now due for release in October.

Over these months, I noted several differences between writing novels and non-fiction – I hope I have managed to tackle these well and overcome the challenge of switching genre. But next came a further new experience – that of working with a different publisher. This turned out to be an excellent and comfortable fit, but it still involved learning how to work with someone different and understand what was expected of me.

However, now that Soul Friend is complete, I can see even more new challenges looming, as I begin my whole promotion journey. In many ways, this will be similar to promoting my novels, but I think I see differences ahead as well. Non-fiction opens up some areas for me that were closed to novels, while on the other hand, I expect there to be some difficulty in promoting my non-fiction work as readily as I have my novels in secular venues. So now is the time to re-think my approach, to pray, to discuss, to plan – and to begin contacting people and organisations yet again.

At times, I cringe at the thought – it all seems too daunting. But then as I take time to regroup with God, I begin to glimpse the exciting nature of it all and the amazing privilege that is mine of being able to write and speak in this way. And I also glimpse again the truth that I am not doing this on my own. God is with me and will lead and sustain me as I step out in this new part of my journey.

This morning, as I continued my regular reading of Scripture, I reached Isaiah 42:18-20 again. Back in 2003, God used these verses to challenge me to begin writing, to show me that I was being deaf and blind to the clear call I had already been given to get on with producing my first novel I had talked about for so long. Now my eyes were drawn to verse 16 a little earlier on:

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.

So … will God not be there at every new twist and turn in this different phase of my writing experience, showing me the way forward?  I might feel I’m still groping along rather blindly in it all, still not seeing and hearing clearly what to do, but God will be there, and will even be smoothing the way ahead for me. How gracious and loving and understanding is our God?

Yes, I am challenged. But I am also blessed beyond measure. How about you?

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This past weekend, I attended the Sydney book launch of My China Mystery, written by my friend Marion Andrews, about her father’s experiences as a missionary in China and also as part of a British Gurkha regiment during the war. Marion and I have known each other since high school days – I have many fond memories of travelling across Brisbane together to our old high school, wearing hats, gloves and black stockings as the rules stated we must, even on the hottest and stickiest summer days! So I enjoyed being able to provide some of the food for the afternoon tea and helping out in general. Besides, Marion’s home is in Tamworth and since she needed to be in Sydney for the previous week, she had no opportunity to bake anything for the occasion.

Yet as I thought about it, I realised there was something else driving me to help in this way. You see, I myself have five published novels, so have held a variety of book launches of my own over the past five years. And for at least three of these, I was so grateful for the help my friends gave me, freeing me up to speak and then to sell and sign my books. I remember clearly how they prepared food, arrived early to set up, helped me decorate the venue and set out the food in a much nicer way than I would ever have thought of – not to mention cleaning up afterwards.

So now I was passing on the blessing – ‘paying it forward’, as the movie of that title showed people doing. This is what we are encouraged to do in Scripture, time and time again, in different ways. For starters, Jesus tells us in Luke 6:31: Do to others as you would have them do to you. My friends had already ‘done’ it for me – so now I was to ‘do’ the same for others. And Paul writes in Ephesians 4:4: Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. At my launches, my friends looked after my interests – so now it was my opportunity to look after my friend’s interests in a small way at least.

But more than that, Jesus shows us clearly what our attitude needs to be when he instructed his twelve disciples how to act, before sending them out to minister (Matt 10:8) – ‘Freely you have received, freely give. And Jesus himself gave up everything, even his very life, for us. So what excuse do we have not to give to others as we are called on to do? Years ago, I was greatly challenged by Jesus’ parable about the unmerciful servant who was forgiven a huge debt he owed to the king but was not prepared to forgive another who owed him only some pitiful amount in comparison (Matt 18:21-35). Just as we are to forgive others as we have been forgiven, so I believe, in all our relationships with others, we are to treat them with the same grace we have received.

This week, I pray you too will have an opportunity to experience yet again the grace of passing it on, of ‘paying it forward’ in some way. And when you do, I’m sure you will discover, as I did yet again, how true it is that ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive. (Acts 20:35)

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Now and then, I believe God gives us gentle nudges to tell us it’s time to care for ourselves, to replenish what has been depleted within us, either by giving out too much for too long in one way or another or by plain neglect. As a writer, I have discovered I can keep on writing and writing and editing and editing for a very long time, along with popping up to speak on occasions, before I listen to that voice telling me I need to take time out to reorientate myself to that strong, loving presence of God in me, around me, above me and beneath me.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to do just that. I took myself off to a retreat centre not far away from where I live, where around thirty other men and women had gathered for much the same purpose. Most were strangers to me, but as we were told that first evening together, ‘there can be no strangers among us – only friends we have not yet met.’ And God was very present among us.

The weekend focused on the ancient Celtic Christian ways of worship and of connecting with God and one another. We received input from our warm, gentle speakers. We had inspired poetry read to us. We listened to beautiful music played by a world-renowned ‘harper’ (not ‘harpist’, we discovered) on her Celtic harp. We heard the stories behind the music. We even joined hands in a large circle and danced together – slow, ancient dances that enabled us to intercede for the world and the church and to express our unity. We prayed together aloud in words – ancient, simple but profound prayers of the heart. We were nourished by the beauty of a creative arrangement of swirling cloth, candles of varying sizes and interesting items gathered from nature as we sat together. We were given opportunities to be creative ourselves, with coloured pencils and pastels and paper. We ate excellent food, chatting around small tables in a lovely dining room – and once without speaking at all. We sat eating chocolates and drinking mulled wine together one evening (!), as we listened to the music of the Celtic harp. But best of all, we were given opportunity for periods of silence, which we could spend either sitting somewhere in the beautiful, extensive grounds of the retreat centre, in one of the cosy corners of the building, in the chapel or in our own warm rooms.

Our souls were nourished by God in so many ways. At the end, we each shared words that for us encapsulated our time together –  words such as ‘loved’, ‘homecoming’, ‘child of God’, ‘restful landing’, ‘cherished’, ‘peace’, ‘acceptance’. For me, the weekend encapsulated all of these and more. And it showed me yet again the importance of spending time in solitude and silence to hear those words God wants to speak into our spirits, of caring for ourselves so we can best live for God in this world, of opening our hearts to see and be thankful that we belong to an amazingly loving, creative, caring, all-powerful God.

So this day, may you know the loving presence of God within you, around you, above you, beneath you. And, in the words of a traditional Gaelic blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face;

the rains fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

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