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Archive for November, 2012

I did not know quite what to expect with my first bookstore appearance a few weeks ago. Despite having five published novels already, I had not previously done in-store book signings. But for my new non-fiction book Soul Friend, I felt it was time for me to taste such an experience.

It was a week day and there were no great crowds around. But then I noticed my table was positioned right next to the children’s section—surely a trap for any doting grandmother! On top of that, I was slap bang on the edge of the store’s coffee shop—another equally serious temptation! Soon, however, I began to focus on the job in hand. How could I engage the attention of those young mums talking nearby? How could I encourage the few customers who passed by my table to stop and take a look?

After a few moments of thought and prayer, I decided the only way was to step out of my comfort zone and instigate some conversations myself. So I gave out my business cards, explained about my books and chatted with anyone who was willing to stop and talk. And how interesting that turned out to be! One couple even invited me to join them for lunch as they told me about the challenges they were facing. I discovered in that bookstore that, however many books I signed or didn’t sign, God had some special appointments for me along the way.

And that is the attitude I took with me into my second and third in-store book signings. At the second store, I was situated right opposite the front door—a wonderful opportunity to engage with people as soon as they entered. Again, I gave out lots of my cards and had some moving conversations with a variety of people, from those new to Australia to a cancer sufferer to some would-be authors. And in it all, I sensed the grace of God at work in my life, irrespective of how many books I signed.

My third in-store book signing was the most diverse and challenging of all, however. This time, I was in a much bigger store and soon found that many people simply walked past my table, eyes down, intent on where they were heading and too busy to stop and talk. A few times I was mistaken for a store worker, despite my ‘author’ badge, and was asked for assistance. I pointed the way to the coffee shop and the toilets. I gave my opinion about the right cards to choose and the right books to buy. I gave an old lady my chair. I even helped lost spouses find each other and children their parents. And in between, I did sign some books. But more than that, again I had some significant conversations with people—those I believe God had for me to meet that day in that bookstore.

Yes, these three events were rather tiring and challenging. And yes, I would have liked to sign more books in the process. But I did my best and tried to engage with those I sensed God had for me to engage with. And that’s all any of us can do, I believe.

May you, like me, be content with stepping out in trust and leaving the outcome of our efforts to God.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

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‘We all have to go through change—that’s what life’s about,’ a friend told me this week. Her comment arose from dealing with someone who complained when things were done differently in a certain area of their church life. Yes, change can be hard—but it is inevitable. And right now, many people are experiencing it. For some, it is loss of a job while for others it’s the end of a period of study and the necessity of finding employment.

I reflected on my friend’s words later that same day, as I removed an old lavender bush from our front yard. It had well and truly had its day, yet I had been reluctant to pull it out for sentimental reasons. It was the first gift I received for speaking to a group outside our own church a very long time ago now. But with deliberation, I reached down and pulled that old thing out of the ground. It was time for a change.

I reflected further as I prepared for two speaking engagements this week. One is at a community group where I am speaking about my writing journey and the challenges and rewards of the writing life. I plan to talk about how I had always wanted to write and how a change in my job situation, not to mention that huge tug in my heart, caused me to take that step of beginning my first novel. My other talk will be given to a women’s group in a large church. There I’ll be speaking more overtly about God’s leading in my writing journey and about learning to trust, just as the apostle Peter had to when he walked on the water towards Jesus (Matt 14).

Both these talks have reminded me of the changes in my own life over the years and the widely different roles God has given me. I can remember leaving some jobs with reluctance to move onto the next. I remember not wanting to put aside my editing role that I took up after teaching. Here was a job where, as I told my boss one day, I could not believe I was being paid to do something I loved so much! Later, I remember leaving my office job at our church with mixed feelings, including excitement at my theological studies ahead. But above all, I remember the sadness with which I left my ministry role on our church staff, still sure God had wanted me there but equally certain God was saying it was time to move on. Now, after almost nine years of writing and seven books later, I am horrified at the thought that I might have missed out on such a wonderful privilege, had I insisted on staying where I was.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven’, the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us (Ecc 3:1). Times change—and we change too. I have seen how God taught me many things in one season of my life, then gave me a role where those skills and the experience gained were so much needed. And as we continue to listen and to trust, our God walks with us through each twist and turn of our lives, constant and faithful. ‘I the Lord do not change’ is the simple, unequivocal statement we find in Malachi 3:6—and I find that so reassuring.

Are you in the midst of a time of change? May you find your strength and comfort in our God who sees everything, who with faithfully lead you and who is the same, yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13:8).

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As an author, I discovered a few books back that you can’t please everyone. Not long after my first novel was released in 2007, I remember standing with a group at church while one lady told me in a loud voice that she had been unable to get past Chapter Two! A few moments later, her daughter came up and said: ‘Oh, I loved your book so much! When is your next one coming out?’ This event armed me well for my writing days ahead.

Four novels followed. No doubt some who bought these were unable to persevere in reading them, but I am aware others have devoured them, because they bothered to write and tell me. Now quite a few authors I know are plagued by self-doubt—including me at times. It is something God has had to work on with me for a while, but I’m learning! And I must admit that positive comments about my books have helped. I don’t think it’s just because these nice, encouraging words feed my ego. I prefer to see them as little messages from God, saying to me: ‘You see—you are on the right track! Your writing is getting better and achieving what you hoped it would achieve. Keep touching people’s lives through your writing!’

But this past week has been a very interesting experience in receiving comments about my first non-fiction book Soul Friend: The story of a shared spiritual journey. I am finding I care even more about these than with my previous books, since this book is about my own journey with my spiritual friend and mentor Joy. Already I can see how careful I will need to be about taking any negative comments too much to heart. After all, didn’t I learn back in 2007 that you can’t please everyone? So when I received an email informing me that a review of Soul Friend had been taken down from a particular website because some of the ‘broader methods’ mentioned in the book could not be seen to be endorsed by the group whose website it was, I tried to laugh it off. I didn’t know I was that heretical! I wrote back, trying to be as gracious as possible. I am not sure I succeeded, since I discovered I was also quite annoyed.

But then two things happened. Firstly, I stumbled upon 2 Timothy 2:23:

Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he (she) must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.

Secondly, I began to see God’s gentle grace in action when three encouraging emails arrived from different readers in quick succession. ‘Your book, Soul Friend, is a wonderful story’, the first one began. ‘Soul Friend is everything the blurb says and more. I really congratulate you, Jo-Anne. We need books that are honest and for real and I am sure it will help many’, the second one read. Amazingly, she went on to warn me I might experience some opposition as a result of some things I had included in the book! The third email ended with the following: ‘Jo-Anne, you have such a beautiful way of articulating things. Thank you so much for being brave enough to share your story. And thank you to Joy also for your words of wisdom.’ Then and there, I endeavoured to take all this encouragement in and not let the one negative comment outweigh the positive.

May you too, writer or otherwise, find the right response to those whose opinions impact your life and may you be strengthened by God’s grace as you do.

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I could have gone away on a short trip with my husband these past few days, but, much as I love him, I was not interested in going. For starters, we have only recently returned from a busy time interstate, followed in quick succession by the launch of my non-fiction book Soul Friend. But secondly, I knew I needed some space—just a few quieter days when I could get my bearings again. Have you ever felt like that?

At times when I have been too much ‘with people’ for my introverted self to manage well, an old poem I studied at high school pops into my head. It is by Wordsworth and begins like this:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

Now in these past few weeks, I have been very happy that ‘the world’ has been with me! I have been part of events that were very necessary and with people whose company I enjoyed. I have given input at a writers’ getaway. I have sat signing my books in a bookstore. I have spoken at three meetings in widely differing settings. And I have held my own book launch—a wonderful time when friends came together to celebrate the release of my very first work of non-fiction. I loved relating to people in all these contexts. But there comes a time, even after the most rewarding run of public events, when the world definitely seems too much with me.

I doubt Wordsworth meant exactly what I mean by this phrase. It seems he was writing about the materialism he saw in the world around him—how people had lost touch with nature and with the whole spiritual dimension of life. It is hardly too materialistic for me to care about speaking at meetings where I hope to point people to God and encourage them to use their gifts to bless this world in whatever way they can. And it is very necessary for me to promote my new book via a launch or any other way. After all, I believe in it and want people to read it. Besides, even if all my books sold at every event I spoke at, I would not be raking in my millions!

But after such busyness, I feel I need to give myself time to find myself once more, to let the fragments of my spirit come together again, as it were, to sense God’s close presence around me and to be realigned with God’s purposes for the next thing I am to do. Not that I jump into preparing for that straight away. For a while, it is as if my spirit needs to be healed, replenished and strengthened by God’s Spirit. And for me, that means quietness and space by myself—a little retreat from that place where the world is too much with me.

Just now, I found myself longing for some encouraging verses from Scripture. I picked up my bible and the page opened at Psalm 46:

Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. (10-11)

That says it all, don’t you think?

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