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Archive for October, 2012

This week it was brought home to me again how much our lives can impact others. As a writer, I always hope my books will spread far and wide and encourage those who read them in some way. To me it is a wonderful privilege to be given this opportunity. But what about our more personal, one on one relationships? Often these can have a much deeper and far reaching impact than we realise or could ever imagine.

This past Sunday, we held the launch of my non-fiction book Soul Friend here in Sydney. Soul Friend is the story of my journey with my mentor or spiritual friend Joy, now in her eighties, and the close relationship that developed between us during our fifteen years of meeting together. I believe God brought Joy into my life just at the right time when I needed someone to walk closely with me as I returned to study, then headed into local church ministry and from there into writing. At the launch, I was able to interview Joy briefly and highlight how her input into my life has strengthened me to do what I believe God wants me to do. Joy has passed on to me so many beautiful insights from God through a variety of means—and I am grateful for them all.

But at my launch, I also interviewed a younger woman whom I myself have mentored for around fifteen years. She is based overseas, and I find it a great privilege that she still welcomes me to be part of her life in such a role. In the process of that interview, we talked briefly about how she herself mentors others in the country where she serves God and how that can be a difficult task at times in a place that is by and large hostile to the gospel.

As I went to move on with our book launch program, this same friend was suddenly impacted with an insight, I believe from God, about our respective mentoring roles and shared it with us all. She drew our attention to the fact that while Joy had walked with me and helped me grow in my faith, so I had then functioned in the same way with my friend. She in turn has now done the same with one new believer in particular where she is based, journeying with her through many struggles and helping her draw closer to Jesus. Now this same believer is learning to be a true spiritual friend with even younger believers herself, modelling what it means to be a woman of God to them, just as my friend has done for her.

And so it goes on, stretching not only across the world but also across the generations. It is a special ‘chain of grace’ I feel so privileged to be part of. How great is our God that, as we invest ourselves in others’ lives and share the wisdom and insights we have been given, our small acts of obedience are multiplied in this way?

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Eph 3:20-21

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We have just returned from a road trip to Queensland, our home state. We have driven there many, many times over the years since moving south, sometimes travelling the inland route, sometimes the coast road and sometimes a combination of the two. Each time, we seem to discover some new vista along the way, as well as enjoy familiar ones we love. And this time was no exception. On top of that, an added bonus was a guided tour around the beautiful beaches of Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, courtesy of some good friends. I was refreshed in spirit by it all, despite our busy schedule. And I think that’s because I saw again two key things about God that still blow my mind.

Firstly, God is amazingly, amazingly creative. Who could possibly stand looking out over those beautiful beaches and not be in awe of a God who has created something so vast as our blue ocean and so breathtaking as those shimmering expanses of sandy foreshore? Who could not marvel at the variety in nature to be seen at every twist and turn of the road? As I observed all this beauty, it occurred to me again that, as God’s children created in his image, we have something of that very same creativity within us. It is God-given—so any creativity I might display in my writing is not something I have produced all by myself. As a result, I need to be so thankful for the creative gifts I have and handle them with great care and humility. God is the Creator par excellence—and, by God’s grace, I have the privilege of reflecting just a teensy bit of God’s creative heart to the world.

Secondly, God is amazingly, amazingly faithful. On our way up and back this time, we drove through a particular spot just west of Byron Bay in the Northern Rivers area that holds special significance for me. From this spot, high on the crest of a hill, there is a breathtaking view of the whole hinterland area, with its green paddocks and rich soil, as it rolls on towards the beautiful coastline and the blue ocean beyond. Almost fifteen years ago, having completed my theology degree, I stopped at this very spot on my way up to Brisbane. I could not have done otherwise. I was simply overcome with the goodness of God in enabling me to complete my studies at that stage of my life. It had been a hard road, but God was there for me all the way along.

But now as I gazed at that same scene in 2012, I realised how utterly faithful God has continued to be to me. In those intervening fifteen years, I completed a very fulfilling ministry in a local church. God then called me out of that ministry into another one—that of writing and speaking. Now I have five published novels and one work of non-fiction—plus another novel due for release next year. I have also spoken many, many times in a great variety of places. And I know all this has come from the hand of my gracious, faithful and loving God.

So right now, as I look to the launch of my sixth book this week, I am so humbled and grateful. We have such a beautiful country. But we have such an incredibly beautiful, bountiful God.

Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits … Psalm 103:1-2

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I wonder how you feel when you hear or see the word ‘ambition’. Is your response positive or negative? Whichever is your answer, can you figure out why that is the case?

Recently I read an excellent blog and also a two part article that both touch on the topic of women and ambition—in particular, Christian women and ambition. I am not about to attempt to emulate or repeat the excellent material in these writings, but if you are interested in reading them, please check out the following links:

http://rachelheldevans.com/is-ambition-sin

http://www.giftedforleadership.com/2012/09/how_pride_destroys_leadership.html

http://www.giftedforleadership.com/2012/09/how_pride_destroys_leadership_1.html

Instead, I wanted to share with you something of the dilemma I myself face at times in the process of trying to promote both my novels and my newly released non-fiction book, Soul Friend. Earlier in my writing journey, I found it hard to contact places where I might be able to speak and hopefully sell my books—I still do, to some extent. To put it bluntly, at times I felt I had tickets on myself and was being far too pushy for my own comfort. Where was the humility in what I was doing? How come I thought I had the right to be heard by the people, churches or groups I was approaching?

At the same time, I felt God was with me as I wrote those emails and made those calls. I still do. Even as I write this, I can sense God’s Spirit saying, ‘It’s okay to put yourself out there, Jo-Anne! I gifted you to write and speak. I have given you things to say and write. This is part of the task I have entrusted to you—to find those places where you can pass on the things I have given you and to reach those people who need to hear what you have to say!

It stands to reason too that if I believe in my books and in the strong Christian faith themes contained in them, why would I not want to follow through and share them with the world out there? What sort of an author—and Christian—would I be if I spent months and even years writing my books, only to let them sit there because I couldn’t be bothered or couldn’t find the courage to get out there and try to promote them?

I have come to the conclusion that there are two different sorts of ambition—godly ambition and selfish ambition. If I am ambitious to live fully for God, to do the best I can to use my gifts, to write the things that honour God and to want to speak about these to people as well, then I feel I am going about things with the right attitude. But if I am doing it all to fulfil some need in me, to boost my own ego and bolster my pride, then I don’t want to be a part of it at all. This to me is indeed ambition with attitude—the wrong attitude. As John says (1 John 2:16-17 The Message version):

Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.

I have an ambition to do what God wants. Do you have that ambition too?

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I am a champion at post mortems. After engaging in any public activity that requires me to perform in some way, I have been known to spend an inordinate amount of time mulling over it all, scrutinising my part in it to the nth degree. I think back over what I said, cringing at some phrase I used or some unwise comment. And often I wish I could do it all again—but this time do it right!

This has its positive aspects, I have argued. For example, looking back over my notes for a talk I have given and realising where I could have done better helps me improve for next time. After all, who wants to keep making the same mistakes over and over again? But it also has its negative aspects, not least of which is being too hard on oneself!

Last Friday, I fronted up at Hope103.2 FM radio station, ready to be interviewed by Leigh Hatcher for his Sunday evening program ‘Open House’. Although feeling a little nervous, I was looking forward to it. After all, I knew that anything I might say that was too way off could be edited out! Leigh Hatcher greeted me warmly and suggested he take a photo for the station’s Facebook page. Then as we sat down in his studio, he told me we would be talking about mentoring, something he believes can be so valuable to people.

Now this was a very sensible suggestion, since my new book Soul Friend: The story of a shared spiritual journey, which has just been released, is about the warm, life-giving relationship that developed between my mentor and me during our fifteen years of meeting together and the great encouragement she was to me in my struggles during this time. However, I had thought Leigh might ask questions about the book itself, such as why I wrote it, what a ‘soul friend’ is, how I met my mentor, how I as a novelist came to be writing non-fiction, and other similar questions. Obviously, a quick mental back flip was required. So I put on my mentor hat and marshalled my thoughts.

Leigh’s questions were excellent and I did my best. I knew I was quite capable of talking about mentoring and enjoyed myself. But afterwards … well, you can imagine how my thoughts went! Why didn’t I say this? Why hadn’t I thought of that? Why couldn’t I remember that definition of mentoring I knew so well? Or the list of qualities of a mentor I myself had written?

I returned home and, still in my rather fazed, post-interview state, opened my computer. And there I found an email from a younger friend who is part of my little prayer team. All it had in it was the following verse:

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way … 2 Thess 3:16

As I sat smiling at the screen, I knew I needed to hand over the whole interview to God, put it behind me and receive that peace this verse talks about. I had done my best. Now I needed to rest in that and in the peace God is willing to give us at all times.

May you too know this same deep peace in your heart right now, however good you are at post mortems and whatever your situation in life.

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I wonder if you have experienced how good it is at times to turn from an extremely focused, brain intensive task to a job that requires little thought on your part. We can bemoan how these boring jobs waste our precious time—or at least, that’s what I caught myself doing one day this past week. I had much more important things to do, I grumbled, like preparing for some upcoming talks I’m giving, like cooking, like—well, like actually writing for a change. That would be good, seeing I am a writer!

Still grumbling, I spread out all the paraphernalia for my two easy rote jobs needing to be done, ready to begin my first task—sticking white labels on the back of about three hundred business cards, in order to let customers know about my new website, www.soulfriend.com.au, set up specifically for my new non-fiction book.  I didn’t want to waste the cards I have, so had decided to try this option. Over and over, I removed labels and stuck them on, getting into quite a rhythm in the process.

My second task had a few other components to it. It involved folding five different greeting cards produced by a friend, collecting one of each and placing all five together in a cellophane packet, along with five envelopes, then sealing the packet by ripping off a strip of very light plastic from the top and folding a flap down. Easy really—and again I worked out a kind of system. Except the light plastic strips had a very annoying way of clinging to my fingers and refusing to be shaken off, whatever I did!

But somewhere in the midst of all these mundane tasks, something happened inside me. I began to realise a few things. And I began to suspect they were in fact little lessons my heavenly Father might want me to take note of. Firstly, how thankful I needed to be, I realised, that I actually have a business card and something to advertise! By the grace of God, I now have five published novels and one non-fiction book, plus the ability to speak on a variety of topics. Moreover, how thankful I needed to be for my website itself! One of our daughters had carefully guided me through setting this up—a huge gift and help to me. As well, most of the information on mentoring and spiritual direction/spiritual friendship I was able to include there had come from the many different experiences and resources God has brought my way over the years. I had been given much, I realised—and I needed to share it.

As for my friend’s packs of greeting cards, I began to see again what a privilege it was to do this small task for her. She has gone overseas to a hard place to share the good news with others—what was I doing, sitting in my lounge room complaining? Besides, I have had some lovely conversations with people as I have sold these cards alongside my books in many different venues in recent years. I needed these firm reminders from God, I realised, to set my thinking straight and to gain God’s perspective once again.

Do you perhaps need similar reminders right now too?

Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and his strength, seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done … Psalm 105:1-5a

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