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Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

I hate to admit it, but sometimes I can become so good at feeling sorry for myself for one reason or another that all the lovely things around me do not get a look-in. Instead of stepping back and seeing the whole picture, I focus in on only one little part—and perhaps even the darkest, most uninteresting part at that. At times too, I can be so busy airing my woes that those various gentle, encouraging words spoken or sent to me simply go unheard or ignored.

Does this scenario sound familiar to you? I hope not—but I suspect we all might fall into this trap at times.

Recently, I tried to begin arranging some more speaking engagements for the coming year, but soon gave up. It’s all too hard, I decided. What groups or organisations want to arrange anything right now, given all this COVID uncertainty? Even if some events are set up, no doubt they will need to be postponed, just like many of my speaking engagements were last year.

In the midst of this delightful bout of self-pity, an email popped into my inbox from a lady I met way back in 2013 when I spoke at an event at her church in another state and have not seen since. In it, she told me she had been looking for a book to read when she thought of me. She had enjoyed my most recent novel when it was released a year ago and wondered if I was writing another one—perhaps a sequel? Then she added a few, final, lovely words: Your inspirational writing is very needed.

In my self-pitying state, I almost missed this simple, little, closing sentence. I read it, but I did not take time to savour her words or truly allow them to encourage me—at least, not then. But thankfully, God alerted me to this state of affairs soon after via yet another encouraging email, this time from a lady I have never met. She told me she had ‘been fortunate enough’ to find my first two novels, Heléna and All the Days of My Life, in a ‘Save the Children’ op shop and wanted to enquire about another of my books. Then she concluded by thanking me for the truly Christian perspective in my novels.

At that point, I began to realise God was up to something. Yes, these women had written my two lovely, little emails, but God had surely inspired them to do so to spur me on to keep going in the coming year. What an Encourager God truly can be to us each day via the Spirit in us and via others, as we listen and take note! And how important it is to pass this encouragement on too, just as these women did for me.

Today, whatever is happening in your life, may you too hear and truly receive God’s gentle encouragement deep in your spirit. May you not miss those moments, as I almost did. And may God use us all to reach out and encourage others as often as we can.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Hebrews 10:24

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I think about words a lot. After all, I am a writer. As I weave my sentences together, even in a short blog, I am always asking myself, ‘Can I put things in a better way? Will this be relevant to my readers? Am I saying something worthwhile that may comfort or encourage or challenge?’ Beyond that, I also ask, ‘Is this something God wants me to write—or am I off course? Does it honour God? Does it line up with God’s Word?’

When it comes to novel writing, there are many more questions I need to ask. Is this part necessary? Does it move the plot forward? Is this character believable? Do I need more or less description here? With non-fiction, there are questions too. Should I expand this or that point? Do my chapters each build on what I am trying to say? Should I add more illustrations—or quotations—or Bible references? On it goes.

As COVID allows, however, I am also a speaker—and this is where I need to think even more about my many words. Here they are not tumbling out of my mind onto my computer screen where I can then edit them. Instead, they roll off my tongue so easily and, once spoken, are very hard to take back. I may have been invited to speak somewhere to inform or entertain a secular audience for an hour or so, but I want to honour God in it all too. And in a church context, I want to share a message that will enable those present to draw closer to God in some way and allow God’s Spirit to touch hearts and change lives. What a responsibility! And how careful I need to be to listen to God through it all.

Yet we all need to be so careful in our normal, everyday lives too with the words we speak and write—a quick instruction here and there, a sharp response, a friendly chat with a neighbour, an email, a Facebook comment. Sometimes it can be so hard, can’t it, to reign in that tongue of ours, as James reminds us (James 1:26), or those words that can flow out so thoughtlessly into cyberspace? Before we know it, we can either build up or tear down.

In recent weeks, I have been thinking even more about the power of words as a possible topic for yet another book project of mine, along with trying to plan my speaking schedule for the year as best I can in our COVID context. And no doubt that is why I sat up and took more notice than usual when I read the following verses in Proverbs one morning:

Wise words satisfy like a good meal; the right words bring satisfaction. The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences. Proverbs 18:20-21 NLT

Wow—gulp! What power we have at our disposal each day with those words we wield!

I want my words to be wise and satisfying, don’t you? And I definitely want to bring life and not death via what I speak or write. Words matter indeed—to God and to our listeners or readers. May we each choose them carefully. And may we always harvest good fruit from them.

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I watched with interest and a little heart in mouth on Christmas Day, as our younger grandchildren opened their presents from us. I had spent a lot of time tracking down things I thought they might like, but had I made the right choices? Besides, they had already received wonderful gifts from their aunties and uncles. What were our contributions in comparison?

They opened their main presents from us first, followed by the bulging Christmas stocking we give our grandchildren each year. Yes, our almost-ten-year-old seemed to like the game we gave him and the books. But it was the much cheaper T-shirt that delighted him most—all because of one word on the pocket and a few symbols scattered elsewhere on it.

‘Oh, a Minecraft T-shirt!’ he exclaimed in an excited voice.

Yep, I had made the right choice!

I then watched our seven-year-old granddaughter open her gifts. Suddenly, joy lit up her face when she saw that pesky Mousetrap game—yay, it seemed I had again made the right choice. Then both children attacked their Christmas stockings. And how delighted they were to discover their favourite chocolatey things ever inside! Other little gifts I had included paled into insignificance when compared to those Smarties… and M and Ms… and chocolate frogs… and Cherry Ripe… and little jars of Nutella, as well as other sweet treats. Hmm.

During the course of that Christmas Day, I watched various adults too, as they opened their presents. Again, there were some delighted reactions, especially from one of our daughters when her husband surprised her with a brand-new phone. But other responses were a little more muted and restrained. In each case, the recipients might well have greatly appreciated their gifts, yet in some instances, I was left wondering. Did this person really get the gift she had wanted? Was that other person disappointed with theirs too? Had I made a big blunder with some of the presents we gave?

Then my mind turned to the reason we give and receive all these gifts. Supposedly, they serve as a symbol of our earthly love for one another that mirrors the heavenly love God showed us in sending Jesus—a kind of joyful reminder of the greatest Gift of all. But… well… how easily that reason can be lost! And how easily I myself had overlooked it, in my flurry of getting and giving! Surely, at Christmas—and at least before I step into another year—I needed to reflect so much more on the amazing God-given Gift at the core of Christmas.

We live in uncertain times, for sure. Who knows what 2022 will hold? Only God. Yet we have each been offered the wonderful privilege of stepping into this new year hand in hand with our Saviour who will always watch over us in love. May you and I not place this priceless Gift to one side, preferring other cheaper, more enticing things. May Jesus not receive any mixed reactions from us. Instead, may we welcome him into our lives with great joy and thankfulness and follow him wholeheartedly into whatever the future holds.

He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God… John 1:11-12 NLT

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I wonder how you have found the whole experience of coming out of hibernation, so to speak, now some of our COVID restrictions have lifted. It has been wonderful to re-engage with family and friends again at home and in public places after so long, hasn’t it? But I have also heard comments from others that have reassured me I am not the only one finding this re-emerging experience a little challenging at times.

A few weeks ago, I spoke at a Probus Club where over a hundred people turned up. It was their first meeting back after lockdown and everyone seemed so eager and happy to see one another again. Yet it all felt a little surreal … was it truly okay for everyone to be gathering again publicly like this? I didn’t even have to wear a mask while speaking—such liberty indeed! I enjoyed my time there, but how lovely it was too to get back in my car afterwards and head home to my own quiet haven!

A few days later, I attended my first ‘live’ church service for many months. Again, it felt surreal, as I looked around and tried to recognise everyone behind their masks. It was lovely to sing those worship songs again, albeit in a muffled way, and connect with a few people afterwards. But it was also a joy to return to the quietness of our home later.

The following week, I drove to a large shopping centre to meet a friend. As I approached the coffee shop where we were to meet, those niggling doubts surfaced again. Were we truly allowed to spend quality time in a place like this, enjoying each other’s company? When we finished talking over two hours later, it was lunchtime and the nearby food hall area was crammed with diners. What a shock to see and hear so many people eating and talking together in the one big area—where had they all come from? I quickly donned my mask and scuttled to the car park.  What a relief to head home, back to my safe cocoon!

It’s so easy for those of us who are more introverted to hide away and not connect with others, isn’t it? Yet I know when I do make the effort, there are lovely conversations and special connections with others to be had that I would otherwise miss out on. I would be the poorer as a result—and others may be too.

God has gifted each of us to serve others and touch others’ lives in some unique way. Yes, it may be through being alone for long periods as we write or compose or create some unique work of art—or even pray for the world around us. But it’s important, as we are able, to take courage and make those face-to-face connections too.

Each one should use whatever gift he (or she) has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:10

As we step into the new year, may we remember well how Jesus chose to come to earth to engage with each one of us in a deep, life-changing way. May we have that same gracious heart and freely choose to reach out in love to those around us.

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The Christmas music was playing softly in the background as I walked into our local supermarket one day this past week. The store wasn’t too crowded and the lights were dimmed, to make things more pleasant for everyone. I sighed with relief. How lovely to be able to shop in relative peace and quiet, without so much noise and hassle! And how lovely it had been too, to see the shopping centre’s large nativity scene on display again, just near the supermarket entrance! Such a special reminder of the true meaning of Christmas, in the midst of all the hustle and bustle.

But then came the rude awakening. Nearby in the fruit section, a man erupted in anger.

At first, I could not work out what was happening. He was standing all by himself, so it was not as if he was angry with another customer or a staff member. Then I caught the words he was spitting out with great venom.

‘Aagh! Stupid, b… bags! What the …?’

On and on the tirade went. Then he threw the offending plastic bag he could not manage to open onto the bananas he had been buying and stormed off, banana-less.

This scenario had nothing to do with me. Yet I found myself still thinking about it as I continued shopping. Yes, I know those silly plastic bags can be annoyingly hard to open. There is an art to it. And often patience is required—something this man obviously did not have at that point. But … what could have caused him to rant like that over such a relatively small thing? Perhaps he had huge issues happening in his life that felt overwhelming, I decided—perhaps the difficulty with the plastic bag was merely the last straw. I prayed then that he would calm down, wherever he had got to, and somehow find God’s peace.

I know in my own life I can become very stressed about little things that don’t really matter. I too can become angry and do and say things I would not normally do or say. But later, when I have calmed down and begun to feel ashamed of how I acted, I take a moment to sit and talk with God. Then I wait until I sense God’s wonderful forgiveness and grace flood over me again, that grace that lifts any shame off me and assures me I am still loved so much—and will be forever. What a privilege to experience this amazing love of God and to be at peace again, knowing God will always welcome me home with open arms!

This is the true peace God offers each of us—including that angry man in the supermarket. Yes, we will have troubles, as Jesus himself told his disciples (John 17:33). But Jesus, in coming to earth, has offered us all a way to be at peace with God again—and to live in peace with others too.

This Christmas, may you know that everlasting peace only God can give, whatever is happening in your life. And may you see in the baby in the manger, God’s deep, eternal love for you and experience that love afresh this Christmas.

And he will be called: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6b

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In last week’s blog, I shared an amazing, true story of how God provided a home at minimal rent here in Sydney for a couple moving from interstate. I told how, after I posted the request in our church’s Facebook group, one lady offered her granny flat at an affordable cost. Then a friend happened to mention how she had been offered a whole house for minimal rent, but had to turn it down, as she had already arranged to live elsewhere. With some trepidation, I eventually phoned and enquired about the house on this couple’s behalf—and a few hours later, it was theirs!

But wait … there’s more!

The following day, a Sunday, I started talking to a young man after church. The way God had provided for this young couple was still very much on my mind, so I shared their story with him. As soon as I finished, he said, ‘Well, I’m actually looking for somewhere to board or a place to rent too—I have to move out of home by next weekend!’

I could see how worried he was and my heart went out to him. Then a thought occurred to me. Could the granny flat the couple might have taken, had they not been offered a whole house, still be available for this young man to rent instead?

Hastily, I found the granny flat owner’s number on my phone, but then was unsure if I should pass it on. Yet, as with the couple who needed a house, I felt compelled to go ahead. However, I told the young man I would let the owner know I had done so as soon as possible, as I felt uncomfortable giving out her number without asking first.

That afternoon, I messaged her, apologised and promised not to give her number out again without asking. A few minutes later, I received a bright, friendly message back: ‘No worries—all good! The young man is coming to look at the flat later today!’

I did not hear anything further until the following Sunday when I saw this young man again.

‘Did you find somewhere to live?’ I asked him.

‘Yes—I took the granny flat you told me about! Thank you so very much. I’ve been meaning to let you know all week—I’m so grateful.’

Again, I was gobsmacked at how neatly God had provided just the right accommodation for this young man, as well as for the couple from interstate. I had done so very little in it all and my faith in both instances had been so small and tentative. Yet God did so much, graciously rescuing and providing for both parties.

Through all this, God has touched my heart so much. I am humbled—yet again. My faith has been strengthened and enlarged. I am even more in awe of our God whose ways are so much more superior than our bumbling efforts. I am trying to be more alert to God’s promptings. And I can’t wait to see the next amazing way God will provide for someone else in need of accommodation!

Just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:9 NLT

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Let me tell you a wonderful, true story.

Recently, a writer friend in country NSW messaged me via Facebook to ask if I knew of any accommodation available near us in Sydney for a Christian couple planning to move here from Melbourne. They needed somewhere long-term, as the husband will be studying at Bible college, but would be happy initially to board with someone for two weeks or rent.

I could not think of anyone and, to be honest, was a little reluctant to spend time on the matter, but posted the request on our church’s Facebook page anyway. Lo and behold, two lovely ladies responded. One offered their unit while they themselves were on holidays, but the dates did not match up. And the other offered her basically furnished granny flat at reasonable cost for either short or long term.

I let the couple know about the granny flat and they tentatively asked for more information, as well as a contact number. But around the same time, another friend of mine who has recently returned from serving God overseas happened to mention she had been offered a house in our area for minimal rent but had to turn it down, as she already has somewhere to live.

Even as I continued pursuing more information about the granny flat, I kept thinking of this house my friend had mentioned. Could I be bold enough to try to find out if it was still available? And would the person managing it on behalf of his mother consider letting this couple have it? I had known the contact person years ago, but had lost touch after he moved to a country town.

In the end, feeling rather pushy, I asked my friend for this man’s number, took a deep breath and phoned. He greeted me warmly—and yes, the house was still available at minimal rent!

‘Give these folk my number,’ he told me. ‘I’ll consult with my family, but I know my mother would like someone serving God to have it.’

Straight away, I passed on both lots of contact details to the couple. And that very afternoon, I received an excited phone call from the husband.

‘It’s 95% sure we’ll be able to have the house!’ he told me. ‘They’ve checked with our referees and that’s all fine. It’s all so amazing! We would much prefer a house, as we’re expecting our first child in February. God bless you so, so much, sister.’

Then the next day, a text arrived that simply said, ‘We got the house—praise Father God!’

I am still gobsmacked at how God arranged everything so perfectly for this couple. Who else but God could manage to connect such disparate people living so far apart and enable us all to help them—my writer friend in a country town, the contact person for the house in yet another country town, the couple themselves in Melbourne and I and others in Sydney? Truly, God’s ways are so much higher and more amazing than anything we could ever devise.

My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. Isaiah 55:8 NLT

I’m so glad of that, aren’t you? And so is that lovely couple from Melbourne I hope to meet soon!

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This past week, I have undertaken various shopping expeditions, while hunting for birthday and Christmas presents. I bought what I could online and, after traipsing what seemed like kilometres around shops, have now decided there is much to be said for purchasing something with the click of a button, despite those delivery costs! Yes, it was fun—to some degree. Yet throughout this process, I also found myself feeling slightly overwhelmed—even a little shocked.

So many options. So much choice. So many people. So much noise!

These feelings set in early when I visited two similar stores with an astonishing array of exotically-named perfumes and spray mists, crammed together on shelves reaching from floor to ceiling. I mean—how does one choose? Then in several other stores, I saw whole walls filled with board games of every description. Some were variations of the same game, while others seemed mere modern versions of old board games we played years ago, all now packaged expensively, of course. When I was a child, we used pencil and paper to play many of these—no big, fancy boxes for us!

No doubt suddenly being back in large shopping centres after our long COVID lockdown added to my sense of feeling overwhelmed. Yet even shopping online at times, I found the choice of products available equally overwhelming. There, I could flip from one site to another, comparing this item and that with ease. On one, it was cheaper. On another, it was dearer, but delivery was included in the price. On another, there was a bigger range. On yet another, the item looked better quality. After hours of hunting, I was utterly confused as to which was the best buy and where I had seen it!

Through all this, I have concluded that our son-in-law, who grew up in a different culture, made a very wise observation recently. Our daughter wanted to buy him a bicycle for his birthday, so asked him what sort he preferred. Did he want a road bike? Would a mountain bike be better? Perhaps an e-bike would be good. Or even a folding bike, for his trips to the city.

‘Just a plain, normal bike,’ he told her in the end, exasperated. ‘You people here have far too much choice!’

When I was in my teens, I remember being impacted by William Wordsworth’s poem ‘The World is Too Much with Us’, especially its opening lines:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

All that ‘getting and spending’ must have felt overwhelming for me even then. Somehow, I remember sensing we were made for much more than this. But in later years, a few little words the Apostle Paul wrote impacted me even more:

Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. 1 Timothy 6:6-7 NLT

Yes, those many things I have been super-busy buying are so temporary, aren’t they? How much more important to be rich in the things of God!

May I remember that this Christmas—and always.

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This past week, I received the news that my lovely ‘soul friend’ of previous years, Joy Crawford, had passed away at age ninety-one. On my last visit to the nursing home where she had been for some time, she did not stir or recognise me. Wondering what to do, I wrote her a little note which was eventually found on her bedside table by her daughter. And I sat and prayed and remembered, just as I have this week, after hearing of her death.

Joy and I met together once a month, first during my time at theological college when I needed a mentor—or spiritual companion, as Joy much preferred to be called—and then on into my years in local church ministry. After that, we kept meeting when we could, until she became too frail and unwell. Joy made a huge impact on my life, so much so that the dedication in my very first novel, Heléna, published in 2007, reads: ‘To Joy Crawford—my lifesaver’. I still also have a card Joy sent the day I finished the very first draft of that novel where she wrote: The Book! Well done, dear Jo-Anne. Congratulations—and my prayers and love for the next phase. Joy. Joy always believed in me, encouraged me and supported me in prayer and practical ways—and it was an absolute delight when, in 2012, she was able to share in the launch of what we called ‘our’ book, Soul Friend: The story of a shared spiritual journey, an account of our years of meeting together and the many ways Joy helped and encouraged me in that time.

Joy was doubtful at first about putting parts of our many conversations into print, but I think she would be delighted to know Soul Friend is still selling today and ministering to those who read it. Just last week, a friend told me how much Soul Friend had impacted her and how glad she was it had been written. I am so thankful Joy’s voice can still be heard in this way and that her gracious wisdom can go on blessing others.

On occasions, Joy would email me, although she was much more comfortable sharing face-to-face in her beautiful study at her home in the Blue Mountains. I included some of these emails in Soul Friend and have just glanced through them again. Even her greetings there speak such love and grace to me—‘Very dear Jo-Anne’; ‘Dearest Jo-Anne’; ‘Dear friend’.  What a privilege to be called a ‘dear friend’—especially by someone who we know truly means it. Joy would also use these words often as we parted at her front door. ‘Go well, dear friend!’ she would say in her gentle voice, as she gave me a warm hug—words of blessing, words of comfort, words of love.

Yes, Joy was my lifesaver, in the midst of some choppy seas in my life. But above all, she was my dear friend—a friend who truly mirrored to me the deep friendship Jesus offers each of us.

Lord, may I be such a friend to others too.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. 1 John 4:7

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. I John 4:11

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This week, one of our daughters is moving house. She will have more room where she is going, so already she has bought more pieces of furniture to fill this space and that. She is looking forward to making her new place feel like home and to tidying up the messy garden that was neglected by previous tenants. Soon this house will feel warm and welcoming to her. And soon, no doubt, she will truly enjoy have guests over to visit and possibly even to stay for a while.

It has been some time since those of us in Sydney have been able to have guests come and stay, especially from interstate. It can be a lovely experience, can’t it, having visitors in our home? But it can also become irksome, if that sharing of our home goes on for a little too long. Some time ago, I heard of someone whose adult child needed a home, ostensibly just for a few weeks. But those weeks turned into months and months until, one joyous day, she finally moved out to a place of her own. What a challenge, especially for introverts like me, to share our personal space with others for that length of time!

I love our home—a spacious, ground floor unit that is comfortable in every way—and the quietness here that enables me to write without distractions. But I also do enjoy sharing our home with others and making them comfortable while they are with us. Yet I wonder if this extended period of COVID restrictions has made me less able or perhaps even less willing to do so. I suspect in some ways in this time, I have come to guard this personal space of mine too strongly, to see my home as a place of safety where I can hole up from the outside world and wait out this crazy time in splendid isolation. And I suspect there may be times too when I try to do the same thing with God.

Recently, I read some words of Jesus where he tries to comfort his disciples before leaving them. In reply to a question from one of them, Jesus says:

If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. John 14:23

At first, these words almost shocked me. Wow, I thought, do I really want God the Father and Jesus around all the time? What about when I want to have some space to do my own thing? But then I realised how silly such thinking is! Years and years ago, I gladly and freely invited them into my heart and life, to be with me forever. And what a joy that was—and still is. More than that, what an amazing privilege it is to have God, the Creator of the universe, willing to move into my life and take up residence in me, to live in me and through me each day! And what loving patience God must have to stay on, even when things get messy!

I’m so grateful God moved in all those years ago. May my wonderful House Guest always feel welcome and at home here, until that day when we actually meet face to face.

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