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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

This might sound strange, but I love spending time staring at certain things. For example, I used to sit in front of our open fire when the children were little and stare into those flames for ages. I still enjoy gazing at the washing as it flaps on the clothesline. And I also love watching the leaves in the trees as they are tossed about in the wind—or even their tiny movements as a gentle breeze stirs them. On a slightly more normal note, I love looking at the various types of foliage on the shrubs and bushes outside my study window and the different shapes and colours and textures of their leaves. And of course, I love the shapes and colours of the beautiful flowers, large and small, growing in the garden right at our front door and on the nearby trees and shrubs.

Now these trees and shrubs and flowers do not say anything out loud that I can hear at least—although I have a neighbour who believes in talking to her plants to encourage them to grow, so maybe they do! Nevertheless, surely they speak volumes in their own beautiful, silent way of the heart of God for our world and for us all, don’t you think?

This past weekend, I presented a writing workshop to help others get started on a project for our church’s Art Installation to be held next month. The theme for this year’s Installation is ‘Creation Speaks His Name’—and what fun I had preparing my input! The more I thought about it all and the more I gathered bits and pieces together to inspire us on the day, the more in awe of God I became. I know there are places in our world right now that are crying out for rain, where nothing much will grow. But in general, as we look around us, creation does indeed speak God’s name, telling us something about God’s nature and personality, shouting aloud to all who listen that God is indeed the all-powerful and all-loving creator of the universe.

As I selected various nature photos taken over the years to use in my workshop, I found myself in awe of the beauty of creation depicted in them. I heard them speak loudly of God’s own beauty and glory and God’s abundant grace in surrounding us with such splendour. Some photos I included of rugged, snow-covered mountains, swiftly flowing streams and unique rock formations also spoke to my heart of God’s awesome power and strength and majesty. I noticed too, in the flowers and fruit and vegetables I gathered together to inspire our writing, the amazing variety in creation, which surely mirrors God’s boundless creativity and endless resources. And, in those tiny, perfectly formed blossoms and leaves I had collecteIMG_20190807_120901938d, I saw God’s generous, extravagant love that would bother to make even a little wildflower no one may ever see or an insignificant leaf on a common, household pot plant into a miniature work of art.

Yes, surely creation speaks God’s name, loud and clear. In response, may we join with those winged creatures Isaiah describes around the Lord’s throne and shout out our praises too!

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Isaiah 6:3

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Jo 17Can you remember a time when you went somewhere with a particular purpose in mind, only to find God had some surprises in store for you—or perhaps even an entirely different agenda? What was your initial response? Did you perhaps feel a little ripped off, like I have at times? After all, what could God be thinking, to mess up my lovely plans!

A couple of weekends ago, my author friend and I were promoting our books in a Koorong bookstore. Our day started off well. On arrival, I found someone had bought one of my books already and was waiting for me to sign it. He also insisted on having his photo taken with us, so, for a few seconds at least, we felt like celebrities! While things were a little slow after that, we still had some lovely conversations with customers and sold a few books. Besides, there was always hope things would improve after lunch. But we had no idea of the special experiences God had in store for us.

Our first ‘God surprise’ came via a friendly man and his severely disabled teenage son who was in a wheelchair. I chatted briefly with them, before moving away to talk with someone else. But when I returned, the man and his son were holding hands with my friend and praying for her! Later, I discovered the man’s son had felt God wanted them to pray with her about a particular health issue, so, after ascertaining that this was indeed something my friend suffers from, they had done exactly that. I silently joined in the prayer then but also felt so humbled that this young man had listened to God and was so keen to pray for others. What amazing, compassionate people, so full of the light and love of God!

Later, when it was almost time to leave, a lady came by whom I had met several months earlier when we had last signed books in the store. She and a friend had subsequently met with me for coffee and, on that occasion, I had told them about some issues our grandson Zain was having at school. Now, as she greeted me, her first words flabbergasted me.

‘Hello—so lovely to see you again! How is your little grandson Zain? My friend and I have been praying for him by name that God will provide the resources that will help him.’

This beautiful lady, with so much else going on in her life, had gone on faithfully praying for our grandson. What’s more, while I could not even recall her name at first, she had remembered his name and was so eager to hear what was happening for him. Again, what a wonderful, humbling, encouraging ‘God moment’!

Initially, I saw these experiences as interruptions. I did not want to be side-tracked from what I thought was my much more important task of engaging with new customers and promoting our books. But how wrong I was—and how much more amazing were the things God had planned for us that day!

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.’ Isaiah 55:8-9

 

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IMG_1279Since 2012, I have visited various Koorong bookstores in different parts of Australia to promote my novels and non-fiction. This Saturday, 27th July, will be my next, at Koorong West Ryde in Sydney from 10.00am-3.00pm, in conjunction with my author friend, Steph Penny, who has written an excellent book entitled Surviving Singledom. We would both love to meet with any of you who can make it there on the day!

When I started these book signings, I soon discovered some people can be shy about walking up to authors at a book table and chatting. Perhaps they believe, as I used to when I was young, that authors could not be real people but instead, some other alien race—because, after all, how could anyone possibly write a whole book? For me, that was too wonderful to imagine—yet, in the end, that’s exactly what God enabled me to do!

I soon discovered too that some people just want to go about their own business and not be held up talking to some strange author! These customers know exactly what they came to the store for and are very careful to avoid eye contact, as they scuttle past. They have a large neon sign flashing that says to me, ‘Don’t try to sell me anything—I’m not interested in your books and I’m in a hurry!’ I understand how they feel too—I’m sure I’ve done the same to other promoters on occasions.

But thankfully, there are also those who are brave enough to come and ask questions and seem genuinely interested in our books—and that there actually are Australian Christian authors around! Usually then we describe what our books are about, which may well lead into some heartfelt discussion, in my case, on the topics of becoming who God created us to be or on having a soul friend or on the love of God—or, in the case of my friend Steph Penny, on the challenges of being single. Sometimes too, we hear, ‘Oh, I’ve always wanted to write a book!’ or even ‘I’ve written a book but don’t know where to go from here.’ Then we have the joy of sharing our knowledge with them, including telling them about Christian writers’ groups and conferences where they can learn so much more.

Then there are the ones and twos whom God seems to draw to our table—those ‘God encounters’ when something wonderful happens as we chat and some small and precious ‘kingdom moment’ occurs. On those occasions, I thank God, not only for giving me the right words to say but also for my little prayer team of eight women who specifically pray for these God encounters wherever I go to speak or promote my books.

Whoever we are and whatever our situation is in life, let’s seize the moment and embrace these God-given opportunities we all experience with joy and trust in God, who is able to do far more with our few words than we could ever imagine!

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

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IMG_20180710_143310824I glance up from my desk and notice a rather impressive visitor sitting on our balcony railing about a metre from my study window—a kookaburra, looking as if it owns everything within view! I move to take its photo through the glass and it turns its head slightly, as if to say, ‘I know you’re there, but I also know I’m safe from you out here!’ Some smaller, noisy birds do not like that larger, alert presence nearby and try to frighten it away by squawking loudly and bombarding it. Yet it remains immovable, save for a slight shuffle along the railing and a few sharp turns of its head. Its eyes are on a nearby prize—perhaps something for dinner that those other birds also want?

As I watch, I marvel at how still that kookaburra seems to be. No doubt it is extremely alert to what is happening around it—and that soon become obvious, when it suddenly flies down to ground level, then plucks a poor, unsuspecting worm from the soft soil. In a few moments, that worm is no more. All that stillness and watchfulness on the part of the kookaburra have paid off—it has found its dinner.

At that point, I begin to suspect God has an important lesson to teach me about being still. I might be physically still, as I sit gazing at that kookaburra—but I am not mentally still. Even as I watch, my mind is darting this way and that. I wonder whether what I am writing makes sense or will amount to anything in the end. And I am not still deep inside me either. Instead, I feel somewhat stressed—I am worried about someone I care about who is facing many difficulties and also about an upcoming speaking engagement, not to mention my writing project. I am aware God knows about all these issues—yet I am struggling to stay in that place of stillness and peace with God and of complete trust that God has it all in hand.

I move my hands off my keyboard and lay them in my lap. I breathe deeply, letting my body relax. I picture God’s loving arms holding me close and sink back into them, sensing God’s Spirit both in me and around me. I still my mind and my heart, knowing it is enough to be in this present moment with God. Then I hear again some words read out at church only days earlier:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea … “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:1, 10

In the stillness too, a gentle voice reminds me I am in a daily battle with an age-old enemy and need to remain so very vigilant.

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8

Yes, I need to be alert and watchful like that kookaburra—yet also deeply still, so aware my loving, almighty God is with me at all times, don’t you agree?

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Jo 23Although there are only two of us in our household, I seem to spend so much time each week deciding what our main meals will be, shopping for the ingredients and finally cooking them. I also try to have a selection of things in the fridge and pantry to choose from for our lunches and often some cake or slice for my sweet-tooth husband—or any visitors who might drop by. All this takes planning and effort, doesn’t it? But I do it because, after all, we need to eat—although perhaps not quite as much or as often as we tend to!

Lately, however, it has dawned on me that, in focussing on all that physical nourishment, I may well be short-changing myself in other areas. I, like everyone else, need emotional nourishment—the love of family and friends, the fulfilment gained through writing, the enjoyment of reading or listening to music or watching an uplifting TV show or marvelling at the beauty of nature. I know the danger of ignoring such things and I know I cannot give out to others in any meaningful way if my own emotional ‘tank’ is empty. Yet when there is too much else to do, I can easily overlook such nourishment.

And what about that deepest part of us we call our soul? It too needs to be nourished, even more so than our physical bodies and our emotions. If our souls are dead, if that light has gone out inside us, if that firm connection with God is lost, then everything can become rather meaningless. We are not in a place of peace with God and with ourselves. And that is not a pleasant place to be.

Recently, I read the following beautiful invitation from Isaiah 55:1-3:

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.

Yes, I decided, I need to take time to come and enjoy that rich fare my soul needs. So, one morning, I headed for Lake Parramatta, not far from our home. I used to go there regularly to reflect, write, enjoy the beauty of nature and be with God. But somehow in the busyness of life, this had slipped from my agenda. How wonderful it was that morning to sit there quietly for a while in my car, with the sun warming me all over as I contemplated that lake again. The breeze ruffled the surface of the water so that it sparkled in the sun, while nearby, a family of ducks swam serenely along. I drank it all in, sensing God’s presence all around—and soon I could feel the peace of God deep inside me, bringing such refreshment and renewal, letting my soul live again.

May your soul too be nourished as you take time to come close to God, listen well and delight in that richest of fare only God can provide.

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Jo 17I wonder how long it is since you picked up a novel or story of some description and were totally drawn into another world. It can be a weird journey, can’t it, to feel our head and heart are somewhere else entirely in a kind of parallel universe, while we try to function as usual in our every-day lives?

During a recent interstate road-trip, we discovered a lovely, second-bookshop in one country town and decided to stop and browse there. I wanted something to read and, feeling a little tired and nostalgic, I opted for an old novel—A J Cronin’s Crusader’s Tomb, published in 1956. I remembered reading The Citadel years ago, so was looking forward to another book by this author.

I loved Cronin’s beautiful writing style and was soon completely drawn into the story. But what a sad one it was! I felt so much for the main character, who stumbled from one disaster to the next, in an attempt to become the artist he wanted to be. In the end (spoiler alert!), it was only after his death that the greatness of his art was acknowledged. At least I knew his family was provided for and those who had maligned him and his work during his lifetime were proved wrong. But how drained and depressed I felt after that final chapter! Should I perhaps have invested my emotional energy into reading something more positive and uplifting?

At that point, I remembered a period last year when our church focussed on some of the amazing events during Jesus’ ministry, as recorded in John’s Gospel. Rather than miss something because of how familiar these stories were to me, I decided to take the account of the man born blind (John 9) and write a version in the first person, trying to get right inside the man’s head and imagine what his whole experience of being healed by Jesus must have felt like. What a journey it was for me too! Here is how I began:

I cannot see, but I hear him nearby, this man they call Jesus. He says he is the light of the world and that the work of God will be displayed in my life. But who is he? What does that mean?

Now I hear him spitting and feel his hands gently putting mud on my eyes. What is this all about?

Then he orders me to go to Siloam … and I know I need to do exactly as he says.

I wash—and things begin to take shape around me! For the first time, I see people and animals

and houses and sky

and trees and earth

and food and water

and … oh so much!

I see colour and light and shade and am overwhelmed with the brightness and variety before me.

I try to adjust to it all, as my heart bursts within me. Who is this Jesus who has opened my eyes?

Have you had time lately to read some of those amazing accounts of Jesus’ ministry here on earth? These stories are powerful. These stories are true. These stories are worth investing our time in. And these stories can be life-changing, as we allow God’s Spirit to speak to us through them and impact us in a deep way.

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Jo 12In this season of State of Origin Rugby League, we hear much good-humoured and not so good-humoured ribbing of Queenslanders by those from south of the border—and vice versa. It brings back memories of a comment made years ago as we drove over the border from New South Wales to see our families in Brisbane during daylight saving: ‘You are now entering Queensland. Turn your watch back ten years and one hour!’ I never quite knew whether to laugh at this or not, since I was born in Brisbane, as was my husband. And, despite having lived elsewhere for years, we still remember our home state with affection.

Recently, memories of our Queensland years returned in force when we drove to Toowoomba for me to speak at a writers’ retreat. My husband spent many of his growing-up years in Toowoomba, so what fun he had, checking out his old home, school and church, as well as catching up with friends!

Meanwhile, as I chatted with the warm and welcoming group of writers at the retreat, I wondered why I felt particularly relaxed and at home. Then I began to notice those interesting little nuances in speech that we hear only from Queenslanders—things like ‘hey’ being added either to the beginning or the end of a sentence or certain vowels being pronounced a little differently or even certain words I had not heard for a long time being used freely. For example, when had I last heard a case referred to as a ‘port’? Such a refreshing, little word to hear again! How many memories were stirred of my growing-up years when, for some time at least, I did in fact carry a ‘port’ to school each day!

From time to time, we need such clear reminders of where we came from in our lives, don’t we—if for no other reason than to be thankful for those earlier years and for the lessons we learnt back then. After all, they helped make us who we are today. But another reason it is good to remember our past is so that we can be truly thankful for the journey God has taken us on since then and how God has guided and sustained us through all the twists and turns of our lives. We can so easily forget God’s part in all that has happened for us, don’t you think? In particular, we can so easily take for granted the amazing grace shown to us in being offered a place in God’s family at all—a place where we truly belong, whatever our background.

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” … remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:11-13

So am I a Queenslander or a New South Welshman now, after all these years? I don’t know. But I do know I am part of God’s family. I remember how Jesus Christ made that all possible. I remember where I came from—and I am so grateful.

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