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Archive for June, 2014

Jo 23One day, I think I might write a book about all those funny experiences I have had in my writing journey. A good sense of humour is something every author needs to have, I’ve decided, so we can simply laugh and continue on our merry way, writing from a full and free heart.

I remember the first time someone told me they had found one of my novels in a second-hand bookshop. As a relatively new author, I was a little offended. How could someone throw away my precious book I had laboured long and hard to write? What an ignominious end for it! I remember too how I felt the first time I saw one of my early novels for sale on e-bay for some paltry amount. To rub it in, the accompanying description said: ‘First edition—signed by author!’

As I thought about it more, however, I realised there could be all manner of reasons why my books were being re-sold in these ways. With that inventive author’s mind, I could think up all sorts of interesting scenarios. Their owner had died and the relatives needed to clear out all those books so the family home could be sold. Someone had ended up with two copies. Someone had no more room on their bookshelves. Someone had loved it and just wanted to share it with others. Someone had hated it so decided at least to try to make a little money on a bad deal!

Last year, I received the following email via my website:

Just wanted to say I found ‘Jenna’ in a second-hand shop and have just finished it. Thoroughly enjoyed it—a ‘couldn’t put it down’ kind of book. I’ve mostly read Amish fiction for the last couple of years, and it was so nice to read an Aussie book. I live in the Barossa in SA and could identify with the towns you mentioned. That was fun. Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful gift. I’m off to the library now to see if I can find any of your other books. Cheers and God bless

Now how did Jenna find her way into that second-hand shop in South Australia? I’ve no idea. And did poor Jenna get read before she ended up there? Who knows? Whatever her journey, I’m so glad my cyber friend found her and enjoyed her.

Then only last week, I received a lovely postcard from a lady in southern New South Wales, along with a cheque to purchase my second novel. She wrote:

Could you please send me a copy of ‘All the Days of My Life’, the sequel to ‘Heléna’, which I enjoyed very much. Bought it at our church’s book fair!’

How did my lovely Heléna find her way into those second-hand books at that book fair? Again, who knows? But how encouraging to receive that feedback—and make another sale!

You know, I don’t really mind whether my books are read first-hand or second-hand—or third-hand! Now I rejoice in it all, exercise that sense of humour and praise God that somehow my writing that has definitely come first-hand from my heart is reaching others and hopefully blessing them in the process.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Phil 4:4

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Jo 23One morning it was there. By night time, it was gone. We had been warned this was about to happen, but it was still a shock. How could they do such a thing?

For around thirty years, we had become used to the sight of the neat, red-brick home opposite our house. Several years ago, the quiet, elderly lady who owned it passed away and the house was sold. Then one day last year, the new owners told us they now planned to demolish the house and build a new two storey one in its place.

Last week, the wire fences went up around that old red-brick house. Soon the brick veneer and building material containing asbestos were carefully removed, leaving the bones of the old house exposed for all to see. A huge excavator took up residence in the front yard and sat there idle for a few days.

Finally, early one morning, trucks began arriving and that excavator went into action in a big way. By night time, that old home was levelled. The following day, more and more trucks arrived to take away the debris—and now nothing remains of what was once such a comfortable, old home.

I watched all this happen with some sadness. I understand the owners need a bigger house, now that they have three small children. But to me it seemed that with every brick that was removed from that old home, part of the life of the elderly lady who used to live there went with it. I remember her gentle husband as well and how they seemed so devoted to each other. They had no children, they told us once—they would leave the home to a disabled nephew to provide for his future care. Yet now, all trace of this lovely couple has been obliterated.

As well as bringing some sadness, however, this event also served as a sober reminder to me that one day, those material things we cling to so tightly in this world will all disappear. In the end, whatever house we live in, whether it be a mansion or a tumbledown shack, will crumble and disappear. And who can tell what will happen to any of the other material possessions we leave behind?

Even as I was thinking about this, I began reading the next psalm I was up to in my bible. Imagine my surprise when I came to verses 4-6 of Psalm 39:

Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath. Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: He bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it.

I don’t really care what happens to our little house after we are gone. But I do care whether the things I am pouring my energies into right now will make an impact that will last for eternity. I want my treasure to be in heaven, where it cannot be destroyed, rather than here where those excavators can demolish it in a day.

How about you? How long will your treasure last? Are you building for heaven or for here?

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Jo 23You have to hand it to King David. So many times in the psalms, he doesn’t use any softly, softly approach when it comes to asking God for help. I have to say that’s a bit different from many of the prayers I’ve prayed over the years—and from some I’ve heard prayed aloud in public meetings at times.

‘Lord, we just ask you to heal her now, if that’s your will. But if it isn’t, please just show her what she needs to do to get better.’

‘Dear God, we invite you to be with us today. We welcome you to this place. We know you are here anyway, but please just be close to each one of us.’

Now I’ve discovered God is truly gracious and does hear and answer such prayers. Despite our slightly weird theology at times, God sees our hearts and knows what we need before we even ask (Matt 6:8). God isn’t confused by the words we use when we pray in public either. And David knew that, since in Psalm 139:4 we read: Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.

But how refreshing it is to read those honest, gut-wrenching cries from David’s heart! Recently, I came across Psalm 35 again which begins:

Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me. Take up shield and buckler; arise and come to my aid. Brandish spear and javelin against those who pursue me.

There I was, cheering David on as I read and thinking about how this prayer could apply to the challenges in my own life, when I was stopped dead by his words at the end of verse 3:

Say to my soul, “I am your salvation.”

Hmmm … could David actually be telling God what to tell him in return? It’s as if he’s saying to God: ‘I think you said you’d save me. I was convinced of that—but now I’m not so sure. I want to know that deep down inside me, so please tell me it’s true.’ In The Message version, Peterson puts it this way:

Reassure me: let me hear you say, “I’ll save you.”

But I think there might be a bit more to it too, given David’s bold approach in the rest of the psalm. It’s as if David is calling God to account—as if he’s saying something like: ‘God, this is what you told me you’d do for me, but it doesn’t look like that’s happening. So if you tell me you’re my salvation, you’d better make good on your promise—because if you don’t, then you won’t have lived up to your name!’

What a challenge David is to me in the way he talks with God! And God doesn’t seem to have been offended, but rather sees David as ‘a man after his own heart’ (1 Sam 12:14). Surely it is that David understood God’s heart very well and, because of that, knew he could be completely honest and that God would not turn him away.

I want to pray big, fat, bold prayers like David did. I want to be a person after God’s own heart. Don’t you?

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Jo 23It is a great source of fascination to me how I get to speak at some places. I’ve decided God has a sense of humour and sometimes just seems to want to surprise me with interesting experiences and to enjoy my delight in the journey.

One day last week, I found myself in the gracious, 1920s heritage listed Castlereagh Boutique Hotel in the centre of Sydney, having been invited to speak at a women’s social club that meets there. I had travelled in by train, and, after walking in a massive, unnecessary loop from Town Hall Station, carrying my heavy bags of books, finally found the hotel and tottered inside, feeling like some decrepit, old bag lady.

Instantly, I was in another much grander world that seemed to belong in an Agatha Christie movie. I was soon whisked upstairs to Cello’s Restaurant in the beautifully restored main dining room and invited to set out my books on an expensive looking mahogany table. I was so glad I had brought my special Turkish tablecloth and a good number of books—a shoddy display in such surroundings would have been sacrilege.

When the necessary business meeting concluded, I was invited to come forward. How would my input be received? These women all spoke in a very polished manner and seemed expensively dressed. Taking a deep breath, I launched into my talk. Yes, they seemed to be responding well—I could see some smiles as I shared about my journey of becoming a published author. Encouraged, I risked a few more comments about my faith in God and reasons for writing.

Afterwards, I enjoyed a truly fine dining experience at the club’s expense. A few books were sold and then it was time to pack up. I trundled back to Town Hall station, carrying my now slightly lighter bags of books. Had all my time and effort been worth it?

Then I remembered my conversation with a lady over lunch, an artist and writer so interested in my writing journey, and how others at our table had also joined in. I suspect none of them had met anyone quite like me from Christian ministry circles. I then remembered sensing the longing in another lady who had had some church contact in the past as I later signed a copy of my book Soul Friend for her. And I reflected too on how many women showed such curiosity about my church connections. Had I perhaps given them a more positive image of what it means to be a committed Christian woman and author? I hoped so.

The following day, I received an email from my contact at that club:

We all enjoyed your talk—very inspiring. …  We did appreciate your efforts of carrying books and displaying them so beautifully, especially on your lovely cloth. I have had much feedback and would like to thank you once again for coming along.

Yes, it was a different world. But God had gone before me, even inspiring me, I believe, to take some effort with that book display. God was there, in the beauty of that building and the warmth of the women. And I pray God’s Spirit will continue to work in the lives of those who heard me speak and bought my books.

What a privilege to step into that different world with God—even for a brief time!

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