Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for May, 2022

I usually enjoy myself wherever I am invited to speak. I have given all sorts of talks at all sorts of venues to all sorts of audiences—I still do. I am so thankful for these opportunities and for the many lovely people I have met along the way. But occasionally, these experiences can leave a little to be desired. And on those days, I can come away feeling quite frustrated and disappointed.

After a time of reflection, however, I usually become a little more balanced and can see the positive elements in the whole experience too. Also, I try to ask God how I could have responded better and what I need to learn through it. There is always room for growth, isn’t there?

This was the process I went through again only last week, after speaking at two different secular groups on consecutive days. The first day, I came away more than a little cranky. The group leaders were quite disorganised and, as a result, I had to shorten my input and zip through it all so the meeting would not run overtime. I kept a careful eye on the clock, yet, just as I was finishing, someone called out rudely that my time was almost up. I suspect a good portion of my audience felt as embarrassed as I did, judging by the sympathetic looks several of them gave me as they specially came to thank me afterwards and take my card!

That night, I tried to give it all to God, hoping and praying my speaking engagement the next day would be more pleasant. This time, I got to speak first off and, because I could see I had a few minutes to spare, I even managed to read out the words I had put on my final power point slide:

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. Psalm 139:7-10

The rest of the meeting was very well organised and finished early, so at the end, I had time to chat at my book table with the lady who had invited me to speak. Then another lady joined us.

‘What was that poem you read out at the end of your talk, dear?’ she asked me. ‘It was so lovely!’

I told her it was from Psalm 139 in the Bible and gave her the page of my notes where I had printed the verse out.

‘Thank you so much,’ she responded a little tearily. ‘I’ve been to two funerals this week and… well… those words are just so… ’

As we talked, I silently prayed and thanked God for this lady. Yes, God comforted and encouraged her so lovingly through the words of this psalm. But God also ministered to me by giving me this precious moment with a complete stranger—a moment that far outweighed all that had happened the previous day and has served to encourage me to keep speaking wherever I am invited.

Read Full Post »

I often feel it would be good if we could be in two places at once. At times I would like to attend some event, yet have promised to do something else already on the same day. At times too, my heart may say yes to turning up at some gathering, yet my head tells me I need to catch up on things at home. It can be a dilemma, can’t it?

One Saturday recently, our church held a retreat day. I sensed God wanted me there, yet it was a tussle. Life had been a little hectic and I longed to be quiet somewhere by myself, rather than be with a hundred other women. And I knew that going out for a whole day would make me even busier the following week, as I caught up on everything. Yet, somewhere inside, a gentle but insistent voice urged me to put my name down to attend.

I went—and it was not long before I found out why I was supposed to be there. In the very first of our three sessions, we focussed on the theme ‘Living with a kingdom perspective’, during which the speaker read out Colossians 3:1-2 from The Message version:

So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.

At the end of that session, we were invited to jot down what we sensed the challenge or invitation from Jesus was for us so far, which I did. I wrote how I did indeed want to see my life from God’s perspective. In particular, I needed to discern whether God wanted me to write another non-fiction book at this stage or whether it was time to put the whole idea aside. I had started on a particular project already—I had even written an introduction and jotted down ideas for various chapters, as well as a possible title and sub-title for the book. Yet, my progress had been slow and discouraging. I sensed something was wrong with my whole approach—or was it that the whole idea was just a bit crazy?

As I sat trying to listen to God, something seemed to shift inside me. I felt as if a bright light had been turned on somewhere in my mind. In an instant, an idea for an entirely different way to tackle my projected book seemed to drop into my lap, complete with a title I love and a sub-title that describes exactly what I want to write about. I would never have dreamt these up myself. Instead, God simply gave me a much better perspective on it all and did so with such gentleness and grace. Of course, I still have to write the book—and that will require lots of work. But now that I sense it is God’s idea, I can tackle it with much more confidence.

It’s such a relief to be able to see things more from God’s perspective, isn’t it? Our own view may be skewed, but God’s never is.

Read Full Post »

We sat on the back patio in the warm sun, chatting as we ate our lunch. This year, while my husband and I met with our son’s family for afternoon tea on Mothers’ Day itself, I decided I wanted to catch up with our two daughters separately on different days. This then was my opportunity to be with our older daughter and, even though our meal was relatively simple, I found our time together and the warm conversation we enjoyed priceless.

I had made egg sandwiches which our daughter then garnished with parsley and chives from her garden, thus adding wonderful aroma and taste and lifting my basic fare out of the ordinary. Then our daughter served a delicious sponge cake she had baked, complete with jam and cream in the centre and icing sugar on top. What a treat! Immediately, it brought back such comforting memories of my mother’s and grandmother’s sponges which I myself have never been able to replicate.

We topped off our special yet simple lunch with hot cups of tea—all so enjoyable on that level alone. But as we relaxed and chatted, I was reminded again of a deep truth I have noticed many times in the past and experienced myself—the truth that most of us so long to be listened to. Really listened to, that is. This day with our daughter, I felt heard, airing all my various current concerns about my writing and life in general with her. And I hope and pray she felt the same, as I tried my best to hear clearly the things she shared and empathise with her in the process.

You see, one thing she mentioned in this time was that, when talking with a particular friend, she often does not feel heard. ‘They just do not listen!’ she told me with great frustration. Have you ever experienced this yourself? This is how misunderstanding happens, isn’t it? We can feel negated and disrespected and … well, somehow plain wrong. And we can come to believe what we offer the world is worthless.

I suspect I am particularly aware of this issue because I myself tend to talk a lot when in a one-on-one setting with someone. I have so many thoughts and ideas running around in my head I want to share that I know I can easily monopolise the conversation at times and even silence the other person. Yet often I am there to listen to them, not vice versa! Instead, I need to give them space, to honour who they are and, in general, to hear them well. I need to rein in my own desires and, instead, put the other person first.

I have always found what James says about listening very challenging.

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry … James 1:19 NIV

As for the following verse from two different versions … ouch!

To answer before listening is foolish and shameful. Proverbs 18:13 NIRV

Answering before listening is both stupid and rude. Proverbs 18:13The Message

I don’t want to be stupid or rude when talking with others, do you? And I don’t want to feel ashamed either of my own self-centredness. So … let’s listen to others more. And let’s listen so well!

Read Full Post »

One night recently, I received a phone call from a distraught friend.

‘I’m in a terrible pickle!’ she gasped. ‘We filled in a form on my computer and now I’ve been scammed. Please pray!’

The next morning, I received a text from another friend. She has been quite unwell and was facing a scary doctor’s appointment.

‘Would appreciate prayer,’ she wrote. ‘I don’t want to cough in the middle of my eye injection!’

My heart went out to these friends who both needed God’s protection—and the courage to keep trusting God in their scary situations.

I began to pray for them, yet soon found myself almost overwhelmed with fear and so doubtful God would be able to rescue them. Then I realised I was falling for one of those old traps the enemy loves to set for us. I could almost hear him sniggering at my lack of faith and, at that point, I became determined not to let him win—over me or my friends. So, I prayed again, entrusting them and their situations to our loving, all-powerful Lord.

We all need courage, not only to face life’s challenges but also to stand firm in our faith, resist the enemy and be prayerful at all times. Recently, I started reading Acts again. And again, I marvelled at the change in the disciples, particularly Peter, when the Holy Spirit comes upon them at Pentecost (Acts 2). Immediately after, Peter does not hesitate to address the crowd who have gathered and call them to repentance (2:38). Then, after the lame man at the temple gates is healed, Peter boldly preaches to a huge crowd (3). And when he and John are jailed and hauled before the rulers, elders and teachers of the law, he again does not hold back.

It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 4:10

I find the religious leaders’ baffled response so interesting too:

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realised that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. 4:17

But this is not the end. After Peter and John are commanded not to speak or teach in Jesus’ name again, they boldly declare they simply have to (4:20). They are threatened further but finally released—at which point they head back to the other believers. Then a wonderful time of prayer ensues, during which the Holy Spirit fills everyone present, enabling them to share the word of God with great boldness (4:31). And on it goes, with Peter and the apostles continuing to proclaim the good news of Jesus day after day with amazing courage (5:12-41).

I want to face life with more of this same courage and boldness, don’t you? Although we cannot be with Jesus in human form, as Peter and John were, we can still talk with him and learn from him each day. And, like those early believers, we also have God’s Spirit within us who will fill and empower us to face whatever comes our way. So … let’s trust God and go for it!

Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong.1 Corinthians 16:13 NLT

Read Full Post »

Last week, I reached a milestone in my little corner of the blogging world. I did not notice until this week because of a glitch in my numbering system, so what a surprise to discover I had written 700 personal blogs since July 2009!

At first, I thought, ‘Ho hum—who cares?’ After all, I enjoy writing my blogs and hope to continue for a while yet, regardless what number blog I am up to. But then I paused … and listened. It was as if God was whispering gently to me, ‘Whoa, Jo-Anne! How about you stop right now and think about all that has happened for you over these past almost thirteen years?’

So, I stopped and reflected. What a crazy but wonderful writing and speaking journey I have had in those years! Not only did God enable me to churn out a blog each week, but also to produce five more novels and two non-fiction books to add to my two previously published novels. Who would have thought? Certainly not I. And who would have thought too that I would have the opportunity to speak at all sorts of places along the way? I have lost count of how many such events have taken place, but it would be over two hundred, many wonderful, some … well … interesting!

As I looked back, however, I realised so much else has happened during these years too that I did not expect—personally, family-wise and certainly wider afield. For example, we sold our home of 32 years for what to us was a staggering sum and came to live here in our lovely, restful unit—an unexpected blessing indeed. Family-wise, we welcomed a fourth grandchild—another lovely blessing. In that time too though, my special ‘soul friend’ Joy suffered from dementia, something I did not expect to happen to her, eventually passing away last year. And, of course, who would have thought we would all be facing a worldwide pandemic in 2020—and 2021—and 2022?

We can plan and work towards what we dream of doing and what we may also believe is what God wants for us—and, by God’s grace, these plans and dreams may be fulfilled beyond our expectations. Yet, for many of us, this does not turn out to be the case, for one reason or another. For some, the question ‘Who would have thought?’ may be a joyous exclamation, while for others, it may well be a deep cry of anguish.

Yet, however surprised or shocked we may be at the twists and turns in our lives, positive or negative, God surely is not. And perhaps that is what God wanted me to see, as I reflected on these past thirteen years. Perhaps God is challenging me to remember who truly is in control of my life. Perhaps I need to be much more thankful I belong to such a loving, powerful God. And perhaps I need to realise my role is to keep living for and trusting in God, whatever happens.

Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Proverbs 3:5-6 The Message

Read Full Post »