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Archive for April, 2013

P1000421A few years ago, while travelling with a friend in Central Turkey, I saw something that caused me to stop in my tracks. We had just left the ancient Hittite capital of Hattusa, an amazing UNESCO World Heritage listed site covered in ruins from around 2000 to 1000 years BC—possibly from before the time of Moses. As we walked back to the village where we were staying, we noticed a farmer in a nearby field doing something that seemed to come straight from the pages of the Bible. He was walking slowly across his ploughed ground, scattering seeds by hand from a large bag he wore across his body, just as his ancestors had no doubt done for centuries.

I thought of that Turkish man as I planted some seeds of my own a few days ago. My seeds came from a friend’s pretty, flowering plants called ‘four o’clocks’ which I was assured will grow anywhere. This sounded good to me. After all, anything would be better than the weeds currently thriving in my garden! So with great hope and optimism, I took my bag of seeds, cleared out those weeds and poked in one seed after another wherever there was a spare spot. I had no idea how deep I should plant them—but in they went anyway. Surely with so many, at least a few will make it?

Alas, I suspect some of my seeds at least will meet a similar fate to the ones Jesus talks about in Luke 8. I suspect in my awkward scrambles around our garden, a few were dropped and trodden on—maybe even to be eaten by the birds that feast on the grevilleas nearby. I also suspect some were planted too near or even on top of the rocks that line the terraces in our backyard, so will never germinate. As for some falling among thorns and weeds that will choke the life out of them—well, that’s the most likely fate of all in my garden. But … but just maybe some will land on good soil and produce a myriad of pretty bright red and yellow flowers in the cooler, late afternoon air around four o’clock each day. Then as their seed forms and drops, even more flowers will spring up and fill my garden. And I will be so delighted!

I wonder how God feels as he watches how the precious seeds of his very own words fare in our lives (Lk 8:11)? I wonder if God grieves when so many fall by the wayside and disappear or bounce off our hard hearts like some of my round seeds did off those rocks in my garden? I wonder if God longs for the weeds and mess in our lives to be cleared out so his words can take root and flourish? And I wonder if God claps his hands in delight when he sees those first small green shoots appear and flourish in our lives, to be followed by beautiful blossoms or sweet fruits that give joy to others and sustain them along the way?

How patient our God the perfect gardener is, always planting those precious seeds in our hearts, faithfully speaking to us, never giving up on us, loving us to the end!

[Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1 Cor 13:7-8

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Being a cricket fan from way back, I couldn’t resist the above title. You see, I find it hard to comprehend, but this is the two hundredth blog I have written for this site! I began my blogging adventure in July 2009 and have kept it up every week since then. My thanks to those who have kept on faithfully reading and commenting, either on the blog itself or on Facebook. Those little words of encouragement have inspired me to keep going, even at times when I felt I had little of worth to say.

What have all those blogs and all those hours spent writing them achieved, I wonder. I will probably never know. But I can give you several reasons I have continued to persevere with the whole idea. Firstly, as someone who was previously part of the ministry team of a local church, it is like relating to and encouraging my own little ‘cyber congregation’ at times. Just as I often used to share from my heart through the spoken word in our church, I can now share from my heart via the written word—and I find that such a wonderful privilege. Yes, I still speak in various places, but here via my blog, I have my ‘regular attenders’ who always read and often comment or click the ‘Like’ button on Facebook as well! I like to hear that they are travelling okay and love it when something I write turns out to be particularly pertinent in their lives at that point.

A second reason I have persevered with my blogs is that even though they take time, I still enjoy writing them. And a third is that I think it is good discipline for me as a writer to have to craft somewhere between five hundred and six hundred words each week into a blog that hopefully says something worthwhile and that God can use in someone’s life. Being such a wordy writer, it is good for me to have to limit myself and not wax eloquent for too long!

And yes, I have to admit a fourth reason for continuing with my blogs is that I have been told they are a good way of promoting my books. I’m still not completely convinced, but they do enable me to give my readers little glimpses into my writing world, include them at times in my interesting book selling adventures and let them know when a new book of mine is due for release.

I am aware my blogs would probably be more successful if I narrowed the field and aimed my content either at other authors or at non-authors. However, I cannot seem to bring myself to do this. Each week, I pray and ask God what I should write about. Sometimes the inspiration I seem to receive revolves around writing and sometimes it is simply something I have observed in reading my Bible or in everyday life. But I trust that in it all, God can guide me to write the content someone out there needs at that time and that God can also guide the relevant person to read and receive what is needed. What an adventure to be on with God! And what a privilege!

Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honour and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” Rev 7:12

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There’s a joke in our family about my writing efforts. When my first novel was published, a certain son of ours maintained he would buy some copies when they were outside in the three dollar bargain bins at our local Christian bookstore! He did redeem himself, however, and ended up purchasing quite a few for work colleagues—at full price!

Then there is another joke about my books I suspect one of our daughters started. The conversation that began it all went something like this:

‘Would you like me to sign your copy?’

‘Oh yes! That way, when you’re really famous, after you die I can auction it on e-bay and make my fortune!’

A rather flattering sentiment on the surface—yet not when said with a wicked grin and a twinkle in the eye!

Some years back, not long after my second novel was published, I drove to a nearby suburb to check out a venue where I had been invited to speak to make sure I knew where to go. I had just crossed the busy road opposite the building when a woman on the footpath stopped dead in her tracks and stared intently at me.

‘Oh … are you Jo-Anne Berthelsen?’

‘Yes,’ I responded, somewhat disconcerted.

‘Oh, it’s so wonderful to meet you! I’m so excited—I love your books! I recognised you from your photo on the back of your novel!’

Now to be fair, it turned out this lady was the one who had invited me to speak, so she had no doubt scrutinised that tiny photo quite closely. But when I mentioned this event in an email to a friend who lives overseas, I received the following response:

Well … you’ll just have to start wearing sunnies whenever you go out so people won’t recognise you, won’t you? That’s the price of fame!

This then became another running joke about my writing career. Alas, five novels and one non-fiction book later, I have not yet felt the need to invest in a pair of designer label sunnies to remain incognito!

Any wonder then that some words in Philippians this week caught my attention. Actually, it was a heading in that chapter that I saw first—‘Shining as Stars’! I read on and came to the following:

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life … (14-16)

Now that’s the sort of star I really care about becoming. Forget the sunnies and the amazing prices for my signed books on e-bay! I haven’t arrived yet—I certainly can’t lay claim to doing everything ‘without complaining or arguing’. But I want to honour God in all I do and to continue holding out that word of life to others, not only through my writing and speaking but also through the way I live my life in general. I want to be the sort of star that really matters—the sort that reflects the pure light of God, shining brightly and making a real difference in our dark world however I can.

How about you?  Are you on your way to stardom too?

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I knew it wasn’t wise, but I did it anyway. This week, I took on board two facts about other authors and their books and promptly compared their efforts to mine. Yes, I believe I can learn from how other authors go about promoting their books. But is it a good idea to take their excellent sales figures to heart, without recognising the differences in our situations, personalities, style of books and calling from God? I don’t think so.

Comparison Number One happened in the course of a conversation with my husband about a friend’s book.

‘Oh, I think he’s sold about five thousand copies,’ I commented.

‘No, it’s about seven thousand now,’ my husband told me.

Instead of being happy for this particular author, my heart sank a little. Never mind that this person is with a large, overseas publisher. Never mind that his book is entirely different from mine. All I heard was that seven thousand number. And that was enough to cause me to feel more than a little downhearted.

Comparison Number Two occurred as I was idly flipping through Facebook. There I noted how another author is managing to sell her books by the hundreds as she travels around the country. How does she do it, I wondered grumpily. Again, instead of being pleased for her, I began to feel inadequate, wondering if my feeble efforts at selling my books and speaking here and there are enough. And again, I completely lost sight of the fact that her personality and her books are entirely different from mine.

As I sat wallowing in self-pity, I managed to think clearly enough to realise one fact at least. I am doing all I can, to the best of my ability right now, to honour God with my writing and speaking. I am continuing to promote my non-fiction book Soul Friend that was released last year and my novels as well. I have a good number of speaking engagements in the next two months and have spent hours and hours in recent weeks, preparing for these. My sixth novel is being released in September. I write my own weekly blogs and comment regularly on other blogs and on Facebook. I am trying hard. I believe I am listening to and doing what God wants me to do. I cannot do more.

Then I managed to keep thinking clearly enough to do the most sensible thing of all. I reached for my Bible, where I was up to Philippians 2. And sure enough, God had something very pertinent to say to me about the whole situation. In verses 3 and 4, I read:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Hmm. Yes, Lord, I hear you. Why focus so much on my desires and ambitions for my own books? Why not cheer my fellow authors on, rejoicing at their success? Surely this is what is meant by putting their interests above my own? How about cultivating a little more humility, just as Jesus did? It wouldn’t go astray.

I’m hoping I don’t fall into that silly trap again—for a while at least!

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I almost didn’t go to the meeting that day. It was on the other side of Sydney and I was tired. Yet, I loved the women I knew would be present. They are all very committed Christian leaders from different denominations who are doing amazing things in our city and nation and even internationally. I knew I would come home inspired, so off I went.

After arriving, I chatted with several women sitting nearby and was interested to hear the main speaker, but felt too tired to engage in any deep conversation as we later mingled over lunch. I was happy to stand back and observe, until a friend noticed me and announced: ‘Oh, I was just talking about you and your books yesterday to a friend!’ However tired I was, I couldn’t let an intriguing statement like that go, so enquired further.

It turned out her friend is the librarian at a large Christian school. While chatting at a swimming carnival, my friend had mentioned she knew me. Her librarian friend had then told her they had had trouble getting copies of my books for their library.

If anything is destined to grab my attention, it is a comment like that. You see, while bookstores might run out of copies of my books or decide not to stock them, I always have adequate supplies. How frustrating it is then when I hear that potential customers can’t source them! I therefore hastily asked my friend the librarian’s name so I could contact her and let her know her quest was over.

On arriving home, I decided to email her straight away, despite my tiredness, explaining how my books are available via my website and that I would also be happy to visit her school. I prayed something would come of our contact, but admittedly not with any great confidence.

The next day, I received an urgent email from a minister’s wife from the other side of town. She had chosen to review one of my novels at a women’s breakfast that coming weekend. She had tried to get hold of twenty copies to sell there but the bookstore had sent her the wrong book and had none of the right book in stock anyway. Did I have the copies she needed, she asked.

Later that day, she phoned. I had offered to take the books to her workplace and soon discovered this was at the same school as the librarian whom I had previously emailed.

‘That’s how I knew to contact you,’ she told me. ‘I was telling the staff about my dilemma when the other librarian mentioned your email to her.’

In the end, I was invited to attend the women’s breakfast myself, talk about my own book, then sell them! And I did—nineteen copies of that particular novel, plus a few others. All this came about because I ‘happened’ to go to a meeting I almost backed out of and ‘happened’ to talk with a friend there who had ‘happened’ to speak to her librarian friend who ‘happened’ to be able to tell her colleague I had supplies of my books!

Do you think God had a hand in all this? I do! After all, in Isaiah 55:8-9, God tells us:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

I’d rather have God’s thoughts and God’s ways any day, wouldn’t you?

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