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Archive for October, 2013

I suspect I’m about to incur the wrath of some of my friends with the following statement: I am a Queenslander.

Yes, there it is—out in the open! Granted, I have lived elsewhere for over forty years. Yet something interesting happens whenever we head north and cross over that border. There is somehow a different feel about Queensland I seem to recognise from my growing up years. Perhaps it’s the warmer weather and the tropical vegetation everywhere. But it’s also a certain ‘laidbackness’ in the people, with their casual clothing, easygoing ways and warm friendliness—not to mention those occasional flattened Queensland vowel sounds so familiar to me and that ‘hey’ at the beginning of some sentences!

This visit, I had the privilege of speaking eight times, mostly in places where I knew very few people. Yet I was welcomed warmly—and God was there, often with an agenda I had not envisaged. In one smaller meeting I had almost written off as a waste of time, God arranged for two people to be present via an amazing sequence of ‘coincidences’.  One girl had looked up my website at a friend’s suggestion and found I was speaking that very week in her own suburb—and on her only day off! Someone else was invited on the spur of the moment by a mutual friend who wasn’t even sure why she was inviting her. But God used what I said and my book Soul Friend to encourage this person in a special way.

I also paid author visits to four Christian bookstores where again God had special appointments for me. In one store, a lady shared her great grief over the loss of two husbands and a son, then came to hear me speak on the 23rd Psalm at a local church the following Sunday. Such heart connections in my home state will not be forgotten in a hurry.

And of course we caught up with family members and friends as well, including one school friend I had not seen for forty-eight years. What a delight to hear how God had continued to nurture her faith throughout that time! Other friends offered us such warm hospitality where we were able to pick up just where we had left off with them.

I loved these home state experiences of mine. But they have led me to wonder about my real ‘home state’ and the reception I will receive when I reach heaven one day. Can you imagine what that will be like? One thing we do know is that Jesus himself has a place ready for us. And he will be with us there forever.

In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me … John 14:2-3

We know too that those who love and serve God will be greeted with a warm ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’ and welcomed with open arms to come in and share the Master’s happiness (Matt 25:23). How wonderful that will be!

I can’t wait—can you? Then I’ll know I’m really home.

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Without a doubt, I have some interesting experiences in this writing and speaking journey of mine. And radio interviews, particularly those conducted by phone, would have to be high on that list.

Recently, the publicist at my publisher organised one such interview with Ian Andersen from 92.9 Voice FM Toowoomba. Now I quite enjoy doing interviews like these, but they always feel a little surreal. After all, how bizarre is it that I can sit at my desk here in Sydney, chatting on the phone with someone I have never met, knowing everything I say is being recorded for any number of people I will probably never meet either to hear?

Just prior to this, I was speaking with an author friend on the phone and telling her about my interview.

‘Oh, well, just make sure you look your best,’ she said in a perfectly normal voice.

I was silent for a moment. What could she mean? Surely she’d heard me say it was a phone interview?

‘You know—like Hyacinth Bucket did!’ she continued a moment later.

I was still mystified, so she went on to explain how this particular character from the BBC sitcom Keeping Up Appearances would make sure she looked as perfect as possible before ever answering the phone. Later I Googled some images of Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced ‘Bouquet’)—and there she was in all her glory, complete with make-up and jewellery, answering the phone in her best hat, which matched perfectly with the rest of her outfit!

I loved my friend’s quick sense of humour, while at the same time feeling a little embarrassed at my ignorance of Hyacinth Bucket. But more embarrassment was to come. Not long after, as I sat waiting at my desk for that phone call, I found myself straightening my clothes and tidying my hair. After all, I didn’t know this interviewer and I didn’t want to look too much like the epitome of an author working at home in her disreputable old track pants and top, with messy hair and no make-up! Then I woke up to what I was doing and laughed out loud at myself. Not even my husband was home to see me—and my phone interviewer certainly wouldn’t. Even if he could, would it really make any difference to the quality of our conversation? He probably wouldn’t notice anyway—or care—what I looked like.

As I sat there, I reflected how wonderful it is when family and friends don’t care how we look and accept us as we are. Yes, it’s pleasant to be complimented on our appearance, but it’s good to know too we are loved just as we are. Yet it’s even better, as far as I’m concerned, to know God loves me just as I am, despite the fact that he can see right into my heart and soul to the real me.

The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Sam 16:7

God loves me, warts and all, with all my funny ways. Yes, God wants me to become more like Jesus, but in the process, I am still accepted and loved where I am right now. And I’m so glad of that.

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I had just finished speaking at a meeting and was chatting with an old friend as we ate lunch. We had not seen each other for some time and were reminiscing about the years when he and his wife used to run a cafe in a very multicultural area of Sydney. I had met them in that period and was so impressed at their heart to reach out to the people who came across their path on a daily basis in that cafe. As we chatted, he told me a story from those times I had never heard before. He shared with me how one day, his wife (let’s call her Marie) was unable to come to work alongside him at the cafe as she normally did. But over time, Marie had befriended a Muslim lady (let’s call her Sara) from Somalia who, when she heard about this, offered to help them out for the day.

‘I will be Marie today!’ she declared—and she meant it.

Sara set to work and, not long after, saw an elderly lady outside the shop having difficulty walking, despite having a walking frame. Now knowing how her friend Marie, who has such a warm, caring, friendly manner, would act, she rushed out to help this older lady.

‘Are you all right? Would you like to sit down for a while? Would you like a cup of coffee? Or can I get you a taxi home?’

But the older lady, seeing her Good Samaritan was a Muslim woman, turned on her.

‘No—I don’t like Muslims!’ she replied with vigour.

Sara bit her tongue but did not retaliate. After all, she was Marie that day—she had promised to act just as Marie would. She continued graciously helping the older lady, who did at last allow herself to be helped into a taxi.

The following day, my friend who ran the cafe received a phone call.

‘Do you have a Muslim woman working in your coffee shop?’ the voice demanded.

‘Yes, I do,’ my friend replied, wondering what was to come next.

‘Well, I have something for her. I will see it gets delivered to your shop today, so if you could pass it onto her …’

The parcel duly arrived and when my friend next saw Sara, he handed it to her.

‘What is it?’ Sara asked a little fearfully.

‘I’ve no idea,’ my friend responded, ‘but you might as well open it.’

When she did, inside was a wonderful pamper pack of perfume, bath salts and skin care products, just right for her—a peace offering par excellence. And Sara accepted the gift with grace.

What a challenge this story was to me on several levels! But above all, how well it shows us that we can choose how we respond to others. We can respond with anger and defensiveness, which often worsens the situation. Or we can respond with grace and forbearance, like Sara did. As a result, barriers were broken down in an amazing way. And all because Sara chose to act as she knew her friend Marie would.

I was humbled by this story. How about you?

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Eph 4:32

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TIL035Just over a week ago, I held my own personal launch for my latest novel The Inheritance. We decided to keep it low key and opted for a simple celebration of coffee and cake in our own home. I invited only a small number of family and friends because our house isn’t large and I knew I would see other friends wider afield when I spoke at their church or group.

I hesitated about having a launch at all this time, mainly because I was too busy preparing to head interstate to speak soon after. But as I reflected on the evening, I’m so glad I went ahead, because God used it to remind me of several things for which I need to be so thankful.

I realised, for example, that some friends present have actually attended all my launches over the years since my first novel was released in 2007. Some have tracked with me even before that, from the time I first began writing in 2003. Another friend who was there on the evening emailed later and used the term ‘champions’ about these faithful friends and supporters of mine—and that is exactly what they have been. They have wanted to see my books published and for people to enjoy reading them. And they have wanted me to be happy and fulfilled in what I believe God has called me to do at this stage of my life.

I also realised later that three women from my little prayer team of nine who pray for me whenever I am asked to speak somewhere were also among those able to be present. I value them and all the women on this team so much—it is wonderful to be able to email this group before I speak anywhere to let them know where I am going. Afterwards, I always email a little report of my latest ‘adventure’ to them too, as I am aware they like to know how it went. How blessed am I to have such excellent prayer support wherever I go!

And again I was reminded on the evening how much various family members and friends have helped me in practical ways in my writing journey, as I watched my husband and a friend washing up afterwards and our daughters, who had both baked wonderful cakes for the launch, sorting out the food. Another friend had lent us an urn for the evening, two others gave me flowers, while several more offered to bring food. Some other authors present later reported about the launch on Facebook, complete with an image of my new novel, which helps so much promotion-wise. And, of course, a good number bought a copy of The Inheritance on the night, while some who had already bought it still came to support me.

How thankful I am for God’s grace shown to me via these wonderful friends and family! May I never ever take them for granted—or God’s amazing and abundant grace to me, for that matter.

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 … Ps 103:1-2

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Are you the sort of person who thinks and plans ahead for weeks, even months, before tackling some important task or undertaking a new course of action? Or are you a little more ‘laid back’, trusting things to unfold naturally in their own good time and in just the right way?

In fiction writing circles, authors sometimes use the terms ‘plotter’ or ‘pantster’ to describe how they go about writing a new novel. Some plan out the entire novel beforehand, even using elaborate diagrams and advanced plotting techniques, while others opt for flying by the seat of their pants, preferring to let the story take its own course—hence the term ‘pantsters’! As far as writing is concerned, I am somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, perhaps even tending towards being a ‘pantster’. But in other parts of my life, it’s a different matter.

This week, we are setting off on a road trip to Queensland. Within a period of sixteen days, I will be speaking nine times—plus I also have two interviews and three author appearances at bookstores scheduled. So I have definitely needed to be in my best planning mode in recent weeks and months to ensure those nine talks are ready to go. But many other things also need to be arranged for such a trip to run smoothly. While I have been busy contacting people and preparing talks, my husband has been equally busy planning our route, arranging accommodation and working out how long it will take to get from one place to another—not to mention how he will fit all my books and other paraphernalia into our car! And of course we have to ensure things we normally do when home are taken care of, such as minding our grandchildren.

All this planning can become quite trying and exhausting. But I see another danger in it as well and that is that God can be left right out of the picture! In all the busyness of getting ready to go, unless I’m careful, I can easily lose sight of who is really in charge of the whole trip, as James 4:13-15 reminds us:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

More than that, I can lose sight of what this trip really is all about. It’s not to ‘carry on business and make money’, as James mentions. If that were the case, I’d be doing something other than writing books! Rather, it’s to do what God wants me to do and say what God wants me to say to those people to whom I’ll be speaking. And it’s to make sure I do my best to get my books out there because I want more people to be drawn closer to God in the process.

In all my planning and preparing, that’s the perspective I want to hold onto with all my heart. How about you?

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