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Archive for May, 2016

Jo 17I am not the best person I can be first thing in the morning. It takes a while—at least a cup of tea followed by breakfast followed by a cup of coffee—before I approach anything remotely resembling normal. Before that, I could be described as more than a little monosyllabic. And I can also find myself very much in complaining mode. Why do I have to go grocery shopping today? I hate shopping! And what on earth will I make for dinner tonight? I’m over all this cooking. Why do I have to attend to these silly jobs when all I want to do is write?

I open my laptop, still grumbling to myself, despite that steaming cup of coffee nearby. I notice I have a few emails to respond to and sigh. So much for getting onto my current manuscript. Some are from friends going through difficult times, I notice. Hmm, these will need a thoughtful and prayerful response. One is from my contact person at a place where I am to speak, sorting out those final arrangements. I sigh again. I know I still need to work on my talk for this event. And where is it to be held? I check Google maps, realise it will take me ages to get to this particular venue and cringe. Then there is a reminder about a blog I am supposed to have written. When on earth am I going to fit that in?

Still in grumpy mode, I decide to peruse Facebook for a while. I see a post from another author, proclaiming the publication of her new book. The cover looks great and the write-up sounds good too. I rejoice with her—but only for a short while. Soon that old jealousy rears its head. Her book sounds much more interesting than any of mine. How come I didn’t think of writing something like that? Oh, and there’s a photo of some folk I know, dining out at a lovely restaurant. Why don’t I get invited to such things? And another friend is heading overseas, I see—wouldn’t that be wonderful?

At last I begin to surface and realise such a frame of mind is not getting me anywhere. Much better to remember God is here with me, ready as always to accompany me throughout my day, whatever it might hold. I reach for my Bible and see I am up to 1 Corinthians 15:58:

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.

Hmm—those words kind of pack a punch, I decide. Why am I sitting here, wallowing in self-pity instead of getting on with what I believe God has called me to do right now? I keep on reading and come to verse 13 in the next chapter:

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.

Wow—another punch! Yes, Lord, I will guard my heart and mind from such negative thoughts and take courage, as I step into my day with you, knowing you love me and that my work will not be in vain. Please strengthen me to do just that.

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I knew it was not the best time to do what I was about to do, but my bag of potting mix had sat there for long enough. So out came my trowel and off I went to fix those pot plants of mine.

Some time back, a friend had given me three orchid plants. Somehow they had survived my ignorance and neglect, but they badly needed more soil around them. So, as gently as I could, I refilled each pot, taking care not to disturb those loose roots that had been searching for more nourishment.

2016-05-20 11.32.18Now it was onto my next project. Our son and his family had given me a beautiful peace lily for Mothers’ Day, which was still in its plastic pot inside a pretty, blue ceramic one. So, again as carefully as I could, I removed the plant and settled it in its new, bigger home, all the while adding more potting mix.

As I did both tasks, I could not help thinking of God’s loving nurture in my own life. Here I was, trying to be gentle with each plant so they would not be damaged, willing them to keep growing and hoping they would flourish—especially my lovely Mothers’ Day gift. And when I watered them, I held that hose so carefully, making sure the water only trickled into those pots and did not wash out all the new potting mix. At times, I even sensed God’s voice whispering to me: ‘This is how I tenderly care for you, Jo-Anne—and all my children! This is my heart for you, now and always.

Next, I checked on my three chrysanthemum bushes. Over a year ago, on Mothers’ Day 2015, our son had given these to his sisters and me. The chrysanthemums were then in small pots, but, after they had finished flowering, I replanted all three in my garden, since our daughters live in apartment blocks. I kept watering them and treating them2016-05-06 14.11.48 with as much care as I could until, to my great surprise, all three began to flourish. And imagine my delight when, just in time for Mothers’ Day this year, 2016, each one was covered in blooms—white, purple and golden! Now as I looked, it was as if God was whispering something else to me: ‘See how these plants blossomed all over again because you didn’t give up on them? That’s how my love works in your own life too.

I came inside then, sat down at my desk and noticed my Bible was open at 1 Corinthians 13. Verse 4 soon caught my eye:

Love is patient, love is kind.

Yes, that’s what I had sensed about God’s love for me, as I carefully tended my pot plants. And now Paul is saying I need to mirror this same love to others.

Then I came to verse 7:

(Love) always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Yes, that’s how God treats me too, as I had been reminded in my garden—always watching over me and believing in me, never giving up. Now it is up to me to treat others in the same way—protecting, trusting, hoping, persevering.

All up, such a gentle yet profound lesson on love, straight from our gracious God. I hope I have listened well.

 

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Jo 23I sit at my table at the school Mothers’ Day Market, gazing around at the students, teachers, parents and grandparents nearby. It is a beautiful, sunny day and I cannot help giving thanks for the opportunity to bring my books to such a lovely venue and for the creativity on display all around me. Handmade cards, perfumed candles, jewellery of all shapes and sizes, plants, scarves—it’s all there.

Another author friend has a table next to mine. What fun we have, chatting together, sharing ideas, encouraging each other, promoting each other’s wares! At one stage, I celebrate with her as a lady squeals with joy when she sees my friend has a new book out.

‘Oh, wow! My daughter will be so excited to see this. I’m definitely buying it for her!’

Such comments are like gold to authors, my friend and I agree. We wish we could record the moment—how encouraging it is to hear someone has been dying to read our next book! I am delighted for her, but I also sigh a little, as I reflect on the pause in my own book releases in the last couple of years. In 2015, I took a much-needed sabbatical. And this year, I have been re-editing a second non-fiction book I began in 2013. However, I am so thankful I still have my other books to display and enjoy chatting with those who come to look, selling a book here and there, along with another friend’s cards.

During the morning, different classes come to select their Mothers’ Day gifts, the younger students with their money stored safely in small, plastic bags. Some have older ‘buddy’ students alongside to help—it is all quite heart-warming. A boy of eight or nine approaches my table and we chat. I explain I am an author and point to my books. He looks impressed—then comes out with my own classic compliment of the day.

‘You’re a good book person!’

I smile and thank him. Of course, he has no idea whether I am good or not—either as an author or in general! But, to him, the fact I have written a few books is enough. I must be good, if I could manage to churn out not one or two but seven books.

What a lovely, simple, refreshing perspective to have, I muse. Can I allow his words to encourage me, just as the comment my author friend received about her new book has encouraged her?

In the end, I decide I can. But, more than that, his comment, spoken in such innocence and with such joyful sincerity, somehow reminds me of how God so often speaks to me. God is not at all innocent about who I am or the writing I produce or the way I live my life. God knows me through and through. Yet, time after time, God chooses to forgive my shortcomings and to speak sincere and joyful words of encouragement into my heart. Because of Jesus, God tells I am so loved and accepted, whether I produce anything new or not. And that’s enough for me.

How great is the love he Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1

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Jo 17I had just finished speaking to a lovely, attentive group of men and women at a church in a nearby suburb. Now it was time for questions. But instead, the first person to speak came up with a statement that almost blew me away.

Perhaps she was inspired by the fact that I had shared how much I had appreciated having people walking alongside me in my writing journey who believed in me, prayed for me and encouraged me. I had then shown the group a card I treasure, sent to me by my dear friend and mentor, Joy, soon after she heard the news that I had finished writing my first novel, back in 2004. I had phoned her with great excitement, the moment I had written the final word of my initial long, wordy draft that would later see many revisions. That same week, a card arrived from her—and this is what it said:

The Book! Well done, dear Jo-Anne. Congratulations—and my prayers and love for the next phase. Joy

I had read these words out to the group, as I wanted to show them what a difference writing just a few lines on a card and sending it can make. And I urged them to think about whether there might be someone they know—a family member or a friend—who could well be encouraged to receive such a card from them.

I then sat down in front of the group and waited for questions. Instead, a lady I had known many years ago at our church spoke up. In a clear voice, she told us all how I had apparently written her a little, encouraging note way back in 1992 that she has kept in her Bible ever since and how much that has continued to encourage her over the years. She did not say what those words were—and I have no idea myself what they might have been. In fact, I can’t even remember writing them. Yet, we could all see and hear how much this note had meant to her.

By this point, my mind was reeling and I felt perilously close to tears. Yet I knew I could not allow that to happen. After all, I was the guest speaker! But who would have thought a little note I wrote all those years ago would mean so much to this lady that she would treasure it in her Bible for such a long time?

Then it dawned on me what a wonderful, parable-like moment God had orchestrated, in front of all those present. Here, acted out before their eyes in a way that spoke far better than my mere words, was a clear example of the power of encouragement. To me, it was a hushed, sacred moment—and I suspect it was for at least some others in that group as well.

So let’s keep on encouraging one another, however we can. After all, we never know when our words and actions might make all the difference.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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Laura Cover--Front + BorderAround a month ago, I decided to check through the filtered spam messages section on my Facebook page. To my horror, I found a message written two years ago from a lady, asking if I had any copies left of my third novel, Laura. She had wanted it for three reasons. Firstly, her daughter’s name is Laura. Secondly, this book was at the top of her daughter’s birthday wish list. And thirdly, Laura is about a child who loses her sight—and this lady’s daughter is only partially sighted.

Wondering if they still wanted the book, I contacted her, telling her I had no copies left but could access one from my sister, who was visiting us from Victoria soon. Imagine my surprise when this lady immediately wrote an impassioned message back, begging for this last copy and asking how she might pay for it.

I replied—then heard nothing. But last week, after my sister arrived, bringing the required copy of Laura with her, I decided to give this lady one last chance. And straight away, I received a reply. Yes, she did still want it—she had been unable to respond earlier but would do so immediately and pay the amount I had quoted her.

As soon as I saw the Paypal email, however, telling me my funds had arrived, I realised I had made one big mistake. Contrary to what I had thought, this lady and her daughter live in the UK, not Australia! I gulped. That meant much higher postage charges than those the lady had paid. What to do? Without being prompted, she had already asked about any further costs to cover postage and handling from Australia—yet I did not feel right about taking her offer up.

In the end, I decided it was my fault I had not realised where she lived—it was clearly visible on that very first message she had sent me. So I needed to stick by my original quote to her, take the book to the post office and send it for the amount she had paid.

But as I came home, I remembered something. My sister would have already paid for this book in the first place when she had bought a few copies in bulk from me to give away, soon after the book was released in 2009. Then it dawned on me that the amount needed to cover these extra postage costs to the UK was almost exactly what she had originally paid me for the book back then anyway! She had graciously not wanted her money back—and now someone else could benefit from her generosity.

I could not ignore the hand of God in this story in so many ways. Now, as my book Laura wings its way to its new home, I am praying another Laura somewhere in the UK will be blessed so much as a result. Surely God knew way ahead of us where this book needed to be. And just as surely, God has our desires and our future in hand and, having already paid a huge price for us, and is watching over each one of us now with such love and grace.

I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness. Jeremiah 31:3

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