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Archive for November, 2015

Jo 23I suspect I am something of a loner, which can be a definite strength for an author. After all, no one else is going to write that book for me—and that, of course, involves many hours at my computer, lost in my own little world.

Yet I know I also need others around me in this writing journey of mine. Where would I be without my manuscript readers or publisher or editor? Where would I be without those who invite me to speak somewhere? Where would I be without my faithful team of women who pray for me—or my husband who looks after my finances and my computer? Without such support, I would be floundering.

Last week, another author and I were invited to take part in a school Christmas Market where all sorts of interesting gifts were on display for the children, staff, parents and grandparents to buy. In no time at all, I began to see how helpful it was to have my author friend alongside me. Our novels targeted different age groups and, while we had both written a memoir, their focus was quite different. As well, my friend had some colouring books, cards and bookmarks for sale. I had cards too from Turkey, but offered them for sale only in packs of five. What fun it was to be able to help prospective customers find what they wanted!

‘Do you have any books for early teens?’

‘Not really—but my friend does. Perhaps you could check out her books?’

‘Do you have any single cards?’

‘No—but my friend has some here. You can even colour hers in before you send them, if you want.’

My author friend ran out of change at one stage and I was able to help her out. In return, she offered me use of her paper bags and also explained about her Paypal phone app. As well, we talked about all sorts of things, an experience we both enjoyed and found encouraging.

Then, when it was time for the kindergarten children to select their gifts, I noticed some older student ‘buddies’ helping them. One tall boy carefully held the hands of two very little boys as they wandered around.

‘Would you like these cards—or perhaps a bookmark? Yes? Good. Now, that will cost three dollars (holding up three fingers), so you each have two dollars left.’

And how could I not notice the lovely, colourful skirts, aprons and bags on a nearby table? They were being sold on behalf of a community organisation in Uganda, providing the women with a viable cottage industry. There were other stalls too where any profits made were to be given to groups such as World Vision or TEAR Fund. Even the small cost each stallholder paid to be at this Christmas Market was donated to The Voice of the Martyrs organisation.

So much support for others on so many levels and in so many different ways, but all highlighting the truth of those words written so long ago:

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labour: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

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Jo 17I was disappointed, I have to admit. During the weeks leading up to our recent trip to South Australia, I had been in contact with a particular church to see if an author visit there would be possible. I did not want to intrude or upset any plans the leadership might have—after all, it had been a long time since we had lived in South Australia and been part of this church.

Eventually, I thought it was all arranged. Then, a week before we left, an email arrived: I’m sorry, but there has been some miscommunication—I have arranged for something else to happen in our morning service that day. I hope you can find another church instead.

Well, that was that—and it was too late to enquire elsewhere. We had been looking forward to visiting this church, but would it be wise to do so now? Did I even want to?

On the Saturday of that same weekend, I had scheduled an author visit at the Adelaide Koorong Bookstore. I had barely finished setting up when an older man approached my table.

‘What’s this? Something special on, is there?’

Then he noticed my name.

Jo-Anne Berthelsen! I know you from years ago at church!’

As soon as he told me who he was, I remembered him. And yes, he was from the very church where I had hoped to be interviewed the following day! We chatted for quite a while—I could not get over the fact that the first person who walked in the bookstore that morning knew me, after all those years.

Later, when I told my husband what had happened, we decided we should attend this church, for old times’ sake. And, as soon as we walked in, the gentleman I had met at the bookstore the previous day came scurrying up.

‘I tried to get onto you, but I didn’t have your mobile number. I’ve spoken to the minister—would you be able to talk about your books for a couple of minutes in the service?’

And so I did, unprepared as I was. Afterwards, I chatted with the minister with whom I had liaised and soon saw how much he had on his plate at that church. And yes, there was something extra on in the service that day, with a couple being farewelled. A special luncheon was held for them, during which we got to talk to several people we had known all those years earlier and even sell some of my books.

Later, we could not help but marvel at the way God brought all this about. I had sensed God wanted me at that church. So when it didn’t happen, I was confused. But God wasn’t—and promptly found a unique way around those obstacles that had arisen. Again I experienced, as I have many times in my life, the truth of Isaiah 55:8-9:

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.

May you too experience God’s unexpected ways in your life and know the real and lasting joy this brings.

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Right now, I can hear rain falling on our neighbour’s galvanised iron roof. It is steady and soaking, penetrating deep into the soil, as I discovered yesterday when pulling out the many weeds that had emerged during our recent time away. Yes, this rain will cause them to grow more—but it will also refresh the plants and shrubs, giving them a wonderful new lease on life.

This was not the case in my sister’s garden in Bendigo, however, when we visited her a fortnight ago. There, they were longing for rain. The ground was dry and parched, with even the small native plants and shrubs struggling to survive. Each time those clouds appeared in the sky, all bets were on as to whether they would provide that much needed refreshment for the land and that top-up for their tanks.

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Snowy Mts, Australia

On our way home, we decided to travel via the Alpine Way through Thredbo and Jindabyne. At one point, we saw something white and gleaming in the distance. Eventually, we discovered it was not snow we had glimpsed but huge water pipes, part of the Snowy Mountains Scheme. As well as providing around ten per cent of all electricity needs for New South Wales, this scheme supplies vital water to the farming industries of both inland New South Wales and Victoria. What a huge undertaking, to harness all that water and power on such a massive scale! Yet how important this venture has been, not only in providing that much-needed energy but also in bringing refreshment and life to our land.

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Snowy Mts, Australia

Then in a spot not far away from these huge pipes, I discovered how those Snowy Mountain waterways can also provide another form of refreshment. As I stood on the banks of a beautiful, clear stream, listening as it tumbled and gurgled along over smooth stones, I could not help but relax inside and be so thankful for the beauty before me. God seemed so close, as if desiring to speak to me through it all. Then I remembered some favourite yet challenging verses from Psalm 42:

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

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Nth-east Turkey

Over the years, whenever we sang a popular worship song based on that verse, I often felt I should stay silent. I would ask myself how much I honestly did pant and thirst for God, as the writers of this psalm did. Yet now when I put time aside to seek God, to listen to those streams of living water and to truly receive them in my spirit, how refreshing and life-giving it is!  And perhaps it is that longing to be close to God that draws me to those beautiful streams in our Snowy Mountains—and elsewhere too. During a visit to Turkey some years ago, I can well remember sitting with a friend by the mountain stream pictured here and placing our peaches we planned to eat for lunch in the water to cool them. Then we simply sat and prayed together, enjoying God’s presence and receiving deep refreshment to our souls.

May you too remember to sit beside that stream of God’s living water often and harness all the refreshment God longs to give you in your life.

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Jo 12Have you heard of of those loyalty card deals where, if you spend a certain amount for a certain period of time in a certain supermarket chain, you get even more to spend? A few weeks ago, my husband was offered one we felt we could not pass up. It involved receiving a hundred dollars off our grocery bill, if we spent that amount in-store first—as well as spending fifty dollars each week for four weeks in a row prior to this. I was sure I could find enough to buy, so we decided to take part.

What fun it was, buying a hundred dollars worth of goodies! I easily made it to that total—and beyond. In the process, I met some friends who were doing something similar. We congratulated one another—it was as if we were in a conspiracy to wring every last cent out of our windfall. After all, the supermarket chain had done well out of us over the years, so we were entitled to do this.

Later, I reflected further on this experience of getting something for nothing. At least, it wasn’t really for nothing. We still had to spend to get that bonus—we still had to stay loyal to that supermarket chain. Then I remembered how, after speaking somewhere, I have sometimes been given a monetary gift. After one particular women’s event, I received an amount far beyond what I felt I was worth. I was shocked—I actually wondered whether an extra ‘0’ had been added to the amount by mistake! Yes, I had spent hours preparing my input and had put my heart and soul into my message, but I had enjoyed doing it all. They did not need to give me so much—or anything, really. In fact, I felt quite ashamed they had been so generous on my behalf.

These two responses to receiving a gift could not be more different, could they? With the supermarket bonus, we had a sense of entitlement. After all, we had earned it by shopping at that particular store. But with the gift I received for speaking, I felt as if I didn’t deserve it at all. I wonder if these two responses give us a picture of how we can tend to treat the grace and forgiveness God offers us. I have known some people who feel entitled to ending up in heaven with God. After all, haven’t they been to church often enough or lived good lives and not hurt anyone too much? But I have met others too who have great difficulty believing God could love them enough to forgive them and offer them the free gift of eternal life. They don’t deserve it—they feel too unworthy and insignificant—and are unable to accept it.

Both responses are sad, don’t you think? One is full of entitlement, while the other is full of shame. Yes, God has given us something for nothing, something we didn’t deserve, something made possible only through Jesus’ death. We can’t earn this gift of grace. All we can do is come in humility and receive it, then live for God in return, with a heart filled with gratitude.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

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