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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

I have little to complain about in this current Sydney lockdown. I am so much better off than others whose jobs and businesses have been affected or whose plans have been hugely disrupted. I feel for them all—it must be extra hard to take, just when things had become more normal.  

Yet I have felt a little discouraged myself too, especially when two speaking engagements I had been looking forward to had to be cancelled. This of course also happened last year during COVID, taking away those various opportunities to speak to both small and large groups and promote my books. Yes, my books are still available in Koorong and online via my website, Amazon etc, but there is nothing like selling them in person and being able to engage one-on-one with potential readers.

Around the same time, I received some rather discouraging news to do with my writing, which made me wonder if all my effort was in fact worthwhile. Surely it would be easier to forget about writing altogether and do something else?

In the midst of my little pity party, however, I began reading the final chapter of 1 Peter. But as I did, I noticed the heading there in my bible—‘To the Elders and Young Men’. How could these verses apply to me then? Nevertheless, I read on. As Peter addresses the church overseers, he urges them to shepherd God’s flock with willingness and integrity, not lording it over others but being a good example in every way. Then he writes:

And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. 1 Peter 5:4

Wow, I found myself saying to God, I need to remember that! Whatever happens with my books, whether they are dismal failures or roaring successes, in the end, what really matters is whether I have faithfully served you and others as best I can through my writing and speaking. Any glory or honour I receive or don’t receive here is nothing compared to that crown of glory that will never fade away!

Next, I read Peter’s words to the young men, then to everyone. This part definitely included me.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

Hmm, I said to God, I need to do that. And I know I can because you love and care for me so deeply. So why I am I holding on tightly to all this anxiety then?

I kept reading, hearing God’s warning in every word.

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 1 Peter 5:8-9

Yes, Lord, I responded, I should know after all these years how the enemy loves to try to drag us down. Yet I don’t have to let this happen. Instead, I can resist—I can stand firm. especially when others are suffering so much more elsewhere, yet remaining faithful.

Stuff happens—or doesn’t. Yet God is always there and always will be.

To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 5:11

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One recent cold, blustery Saturday morning, I headed out to drive to our local shops. I had not gone far, however, when I felt compelled to pull over and get out of the car. You see, I had just passed two older men trying their best to chase after piles of advertising brochures that were being blown everywhere, up and down the road. At first, I thought: ‘It’s not really my problem. Maybe they were careless and dropped them while they were supposed to be putting them neatly in people’s letterboxes.’ But I felt so sorry for them as they ran after those windswept papers that I decided I should help.

Can you picture me diving here and there to pick up those errant brochures? Hmm! A few cars slowed down, as I retrieved some that had blown right onto the road, but no one stopped to help. One can only hope all those young people in particular who decided to keep going had a pressing appointment somewhere!

Feeling decidedly windblown, I huffed and puffed my way back to where the two men were busy chasing after their own piles.

‘Are we winnin’?’ one of them yelled out with a grin.

‘I don’t know, but at least it’s good exercise!’ I laughed back.

I soon discovered the men had not been delivering the leaflets. They had merely seen them fall off a truck right in front of them and had decided they created far too much litter to be left lying on the road. This made me doubly glad I had helped them, but as I drove off, the question the man asked kept ringing in my ears: ‘Are we winnin’?’

The two men and I must have looked ridiculous as we picked up those brochures—I think I even saw some drivers laughing at us while they sped past! We did not look like we were ‘winnin’’ at all—and I for one didn’t feel like we were either. And that is how it sometimes feels with our efforts to love and serve God too, doesn’t it? Sometimes, there seems to be little impact when we seek to use the gifts God has given us. At times, after speaking at some secular event, I wonder if anyone present heard my gentle challenges about faith in God. At times too, I wonder if those conversations at my book table will bear any fruit—or if my books themselves will. Yet I know that is when I need to refocus and remember I have done my best to convey what I felt God wanted me to convey. And I need to remind myself too that I belong to the ultimate, all-powerful Victor who has conquered even death for our sakes.

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 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. 1 Corinthians 15:57-58

Whether we managed to retrieve all those pesky brochures or not on that recent windy morning, I suspect we did win. I at least sensed our actions pleased and honoured God—and in the end, that’s what matters, don’t you think?  

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On this particular Monday morning, I did not feel like grocery shopping. Still, it had to be done, so off I went. I scooted around the supermarket in record time and headed for the nearest checkout. Then I noticed the worker there was a lady with whom I had previously had a conversation about my books. On that occasion, she had asked me what I wrote about, but someone had interrupted and there had been no time to answer her. I had left the store that day feeling rather frustrated—would I ever get another opportunity to talk with her? Yet there she was now, about to serve me again—but I felt too tired and grumpy to connect with her. Perhaps she had forgotten all about that question she had asked me anyway.

Imagine my surprise then when the first thing she said was, ‘So … are you still writing?’

My heart sank. I did not want to talk about writing—or anything serious, for that matter. Yet I was touched she had not forgotten our previous conversation.

‘Wow, I’m amazed you remembered I’m a writer,’ I managed to say. ‘Yes, I’m still writing—and speaking. I’m speaking at a club this week, but I’ve also spoken at quite a few churches.’

‘Oh … what sort of things do you write about?’

At that point, I decided to opt for a relatively safe response.

‘Well, my novels focus on different serious issues we all face in our lives sometime or other, such as forgiveness or grief or dealing with life’s challenges … lots of things like that.’

‘Wow—I must check your books out online.’

By this time, I was wider awake—and praying hard!

‘Um, I have a card here,’ I told her, as I fished around in my purse.

She finished packing my groceries and I paid her. For a moment, it seemed she had moved onto the next customer, but she turned to me again.

‘So, where’s your card? Thanks so much. Have a good week!’

I left, feeling somewhat stunned but also a little ashamed of myself. God had given me a wonderful, unexpected, second opportunity to connect with this lady, yet I had not wanted to engage with her at all. Instead, I had wallowed in my tiredness and grumpiness and it had not even entered my head to consider what God might want me to say. Then the Apostle Peter’s words came to mind:

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. … 1 Peter 3:15

I had not been prepared. I felt I could have been much more open. I should have mentioned other themes in my novels like the love and grace of God, but now the moment was gone. Yet, in the midst of all these whirling thoughts, I sensed God’s amazing grace and acceptance pour over me. And as I drove home, I prayed. Lord, please may she look up my website and see why I write and what I write about. And please may we have an even better conversation soon.

I’m so grateful God understands. And I’m so grateful God uses us even in our weakness in ways we may least expect.

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One day recently, in the middle of writing, I thought of something I needed to do in the kitchen. Yet there was one slight problem. After heading there, I could not remember what that ‘something’ was! Feeling distinctly foolish, I returned to my writing, hoping enlightenment would soon come.

Not long after, my husband charged into my study to tell me two things. He remembered the first, but the second eluded him completely. Later that day, however, he informed me he had remembered what that second thing was—but had forgotten it again! Oh dear.

A day or so later, that pesky piece of information he had forgotten twice finally surfaced. This time, he remembered it long enough to relay it to me—although whether it was worth the effort is another matter, since I cannot now recall what it was!

This phenomenon of forgetting things has nothing to do with old age, of course. My personal excuse is that I have so many writing ideas in my head there is very little room for other pieces of information, particularly mundane ones. That is why I take great care in recording the various details for my speaking engagements on my laptop—and in my paper diary. After all, I do need to remember such things as what topic I have been asked to speak on, what time I need to arrive, where I am able to park and other necessary bits and pieces of information. This helps counteract the feeling of dread I occasionally experience of one day turning up at the wrong venue or at the wrong time or even on the wrong day!

I think God understands how good we are at forgetting, don’t you? In the Old Testament, God gave the Israelites various feasts and rituals which enabled them to reflect together on God’s goodness and remember how God wanted them to live. Even then, God often had to encourage them, via strong words from their leaders, to remember where they had come from and who had saved them.

Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. Deuteronomy 24:18

Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced … 1 Chronicles 16:12, Psalm 105:5

You have forgotten God your Saviour; you have not remembered the Rock, your fortress. Isaiah 17:10

We cannot judge them, however, because how quickly we too can forget what God has done for us! I for one know how easily I can slip over into thinking I am in charge of my own life and fail to remember who I belong to. No wonder Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper for his disciples—and for us—as one tangible way at least of remembering him.  

This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me. … This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 1 Corinthians j11:24-25

We may forget many things, but let’s never forget the Lord. Let’s remember his amazing love and grace and mercy towards us—and be so thankful.

Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits … Psalm 103:1-2

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I was standing in our local Koorong bookstore, promoting my latest novel, when I noticed a lovely young couple nearby. Initially, I thought they might not be interested in talking or looking at my books, but how wrong I was! I cannot remember now whether they approached me first or vice versa, but I do remember their smiling, relaxed manner and how intently they listened as I explained why I was there. Soon we were deep in conversation about writing and about my books. Then after buying two, they said goodbye and moved on.

Not long after, however, the girl came back.

‘Tell me, how did you actually start writing?’ she asked me. ‘How did you know that was what you should do?’

I explained how I had always loved writing, but never considered becoming a writer and opted for teaching instead. I told her too how, twenty years before writing my first novel, I had declared to my husband I would write a book ‘one day’, never truly thinking I ever would. Then I began sharing how, when I was in my fifties, God used some words from Isaiah 42 to challenge me to start writing while visiting a friend in Turkey—at which point she stopped me in mid-sentence.

‘Um … this might be a weird question, but … were you on the radio recently?’

For a moment, I was dumbfounded, but then remembered my Vision Christian radio interview in January about a short story I had written and about my writing in general.

‘Well, yes I was earlier this year, although I understand the interview was re-broadcast a few weeks ago too.’

She was stunned, but eventually managed to tell me how, as soon as I mentioned Turkey and Isaiah 42, she remembered hearing someone share this story on the radio. She had sensed even then that God was nudging her to start her own writing journey—and now she was overwhelmed that she had ‘randomly’ met me in person and was standing there hearing that same story again.

We stared at each other, both blown away at what had happened and how surreal it all felt. Yet it soon became clear too that we both knew we were on holy ground. Now she could not ignore that nudge God had given her already to start writing—now, through our ‘random’ conversation, she was not left in any doubt that this is what God wants her to do.

What an amazing God we have—a God who continues to love us and reach out to us and challenge us to step out in trust and do the things God has put in our hearts to do! When I think how I almost missed talking to this couple because I felt they would not be interested, I cringe. Yet God overruled—and I am so grateful.

It’s about listening to God well, rather than those negative, discouraging voices in our heads, and recognising God’s hand in those ‘random’ encounters, don’t you think? And when we do, God will surely will make the way forward so clear for us.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

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I wonder if you’re like me and can at least occasionally catch a glimpse of how absurd some of our attitudes and actions are. When this happened to me recently, I shook my head at my own foolishness and began laughing out loud at myself—it was just as well I was driving along with the windows up.

You see, the previous day, I had received an order from a library supplier for nineteen copies of my latest novel, Down by the Water. I put these books in a box and went to tape it up, but then remembered the company had stipulated that our invoice needed to be inside the box, along with the books. And on that invoice, we needed to include a charge for freight. So, what to do? Our own scales were a little too unreliable to use, so I realised I would need to carry that rather heavy box out to my car, make a special trip down to our local post office, find out the exact weight and postage charge and bring the box back home again. Then I could put the completed invoice in with the books, tape the box up and head back to the post office.

I sighed. I complained to my husband. I wondered aloud if using our scales would be good enough after all. But when he shook his head, I gave in, let him carry the box to the car for me and drove off in a distinctly disgruntled mood. What a waste of time and effort!

Soon, however, I sensed God saying gently, ‘Come on, Jo-Anne—how about looking at all this from a different perspective?’ And a few moments later, as my crankiness lifted and light dawned, I began laughing aloud at myself.

Yes, there was indeed a different perspective to discover in it all. For a start, we have a car—and I can drive. The post office is nearby and the staff there are very helpful. It was a beautiful day and good to be outside. But apart from that, I actually have another book to do something with! I have always felt God strengthened and sustained me to finish this particular novel—and I am well aware not every author gets to complete his or her book. What’s more, the libraries seem interested in it—enough at least for this particular library supplier to order nineteen copies. When all these blessings were considered, how little my momentary inconvenience mattered!

Of course, sometimes it’s much harder to find that different perspective when huge things are happening in our lives and the going is tough. Yet even then, God is there for us, in the midst of all the turmoil and uncertainty. And God, who is all-knowing and all-powerful and ever-present, longs to hold us close and help us see things from an eternal perspective. In Isaiah 55:9, we read:

As the heavens are higher than the earth so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

We cannot see the whole picture, can we? So, let’s stop, take time to pray, listen to those higher thoughts of God and be willing to let go of our much more limited perspective on things—and also to laugh at ourselves more often too!

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It can be interesting—and challenging—to think about the casual phrases we use at times. Recently, I received an email from a friend that ended with the following:

Thanks a bunch. You’re a legend!

Those final three words in particular made me think. Why was she calling me a legend? Yes, I had spent time doing something for her, but it will also benefit me, so I doubt I deserved the title. Even a similar statement such as ‘You’re wonderful!’ or ‘You’re amazing!’ would have been an overstatement, from my perspective. To me, a legend is someone who has done something outstanding that will be or has been remembered down through the years—or, as the Oxford Dictionary says, ‘an extremely famous or notorious person, especially in a particular field’. Nope—definitely not me!

But this term ‘legend’ can also refer to a story of someone and their feats that cannot be historically verified and perhaps has been exaggerated over time. Did King Arthur and those knights of the round table really exist, for example? Did Robin Hood do all those daring deeds we have read about? Hmm—I very much doubt anyone would ever have cause to talk about my daring exploits, however, let alone exaggerate them, so I will never reach legend status on that front either. But … what story will I leave behind me? What sort of mark will I leave on this world?

Not long after my first few novels were published, someone commented to me. ‘What a wonderful legacy to leave for others!’ At first, I laughed—I had never thought of my books in that way. After all, I know novels do not have a long shelf life in bookstores, unless they are best sellers. And no doubt many of my books have ended up buried under piles of other books in people’s homes or in a second-hand bookshop—or in the recycling bin! But then I realised that person had a point—and that I should be so thankful for the opportunity hopefully to draw others closer to God through my books. Recently, I received two emails from friends, sharing how God had spoken to them through my most recent novel Down by the Water and encouraged them. I felt so humbled and so grateful to God. What a privilege!

We don’t have to be legends or our exploits legendary to matter in God’s eyes. In fact, as the Apostle Paul reminds us:

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. 1 Corinthians 1:26-27 NLT

True, some may become legends, as God empowers and guides. Yet whether legends or plain ordinary people or absolute nobodies in the world’s eyes, we need to remember it is how God sees us that matters. God has chosen each of us and will work through us in all sorts of ways to make a difference in this world, as we in turn choose to love and serve God with all our heart.

Legends? Maybe not. Lovers of God? Yes!

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I sat there waiting, the talk I was about to give clutched in my hands. I had known there would be a business session first, followed by morning tea. Then, as guest speaker, I was to address everyone physically present, as well as those joining in via Zoom from home. My husband and I had arrived early to set up my book table and check in with the person in charge of technology, with whom we had already liaised via email, text and Zoom, but I was still nervous. What if I could not share all those power point slides during my talk? What if our Zoom connection via my mobile phone did not work?

As the meeting began, my heart sank. The first speaker seemed to have no idea how to use Zoom—or the microphone right in front of him. Only the top of his head was visible on the screen showing us all what those at home could see, while the microphone obscured the rest of his face. And he spoke so softly, it was hard to hear him. The technology expert seemed busy with other things and took ages to act. And as I watched, I became more and more anxious.

But worse was to come. As one particular person approached the microphone, the slide presentation he needed to show could not be found. A frustrating fifteen-minute wait ensued, until it was eventually located. But this episode did little to inspire me with confidence.

A string of people then came to promote upcoming events, but they all moved so slowly and took so long to share what needed to be shared—and much more too! I stared at my watch and saw those precious minutes ticking away, shortening the time available for me to speak.

Just then, my husband noticed my anxiety and leaned over to me.

‘Relax,’ he told me. ‘God’s in charge!’

At first, I felt angry. How could I possibly relax, when these people seemed unaware how time was slipping away? And how could I shorten my talk, yet still say what I needed to say? But then I took a deep breath and tried to focus on God. Yes, I could not deny God was right there with me and was indeed in charge. I had prayed about the morning and I had also invited my prayer team to pray for me as I spoke. In this moment, I needed to trust God and simply do my best in the time I was given to share from my heart.

At last, the moment came. All our technology worked perfectly and everyone could hear and see me. I left out certain parts and finished exactly when I was supposed to, to my great relief. And afterwards, there was even time for some book sales and several interesting conversations with people.

Yes, God was there, in the midst of the chaos and failures and anxiety. And God is right there now too for us all, whatever is happening in our lives, walking through each moment with us. God knows. God cares. Our God is sufficient—always.

And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19 NLT

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I asked myself many questions, as our grandchildren returned to school and began tertiary study this year. How will they get on in the months ahead? Will they like their teachers or lecturers? Will they overcome their uncertainties, make new friends and be happy and successful?

Yet even as I did, I found myself asking questions about my own year ahead too. When will things return to normal? Will that ever happen? And what about our families’ jobs? On and on the questions rolled, all equally unanswerable.

Recently, I launched my latest novel, Down by the Water. My personal sales so far, both face-to-face and via my website, have been encouraging. And my novel is also available at Koorong Books and on Amazon. Yet I know there will be challenges ahead in reaching my usual audiences and readers. You see, I love speaking at both Christian and secular venues, then offsetting travel costs by selling my books afterwards. But right now, it is hard for those organising groups to plan ahead, given our COVID restrictions. Some have told me they would love me to come and speak, but do not know when, so I wait and pray they will not forget me, as time goes by.

Yet these concerns of mine paled into insignificance recently when I read the story of Peter and Cornelius again in the bible. I remembered how an angel told Cornelius, a non-Jew, to send men to fetch Peter, a Jew, from Joppa (Acts 10). I remembered too how God gave Peter a vision of a large sheet, with all sorts of unclean animals in it, and told him to kill and eat. I was also aware that, when Cornelius’s men arrived, God told Peter to go with them. But I do not remember ever thinking about how many unknowns Peter faced throughout this whole event—or how huge they were.

When Peter asks the men why Cornelius wanted him, they explain:

A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say. Acts 10:22

But Jews would never associate with Gentiles. Surely Peter must have felt great trepidation as he went with the men—and again when he discovered Cornelius’s home filled with relatives and friends? Yet Peter tells Cornelius:

You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me? Acts 10:28-29

Peter went willingly, despite not quite knowing what lay ahead. And, after hearing Cornelius’s story from his own lips, Peter courageously shares God’s message of salvation with everyone. As a result, the Gentiles hear how Jesus died for them too and are filled with God’s Spirit, to the amazement of the Jews present.

I’m so grateful, as a Gentile believer today, that Peter listened to God and did not hesitate to step out into the unknown. May you and I take courage and do the same in 2021. And as we too listen and obey, who knows what God will do through us in this world?

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I knew it would be quite a long drive to get to my friend Sue’s recent book launch, but I definitely wanted to attend. After all, having just launched my own ninth book, I know full well what it feels like to put our creations out there in public for the first time. Besides, I had been involved in editing Sue’s book, Skinny Girl, in its final stages and was also present at the writers’ conference where she received her publishing contract. I remembered that joyful moment—and now I was looking forward to another equally joyful one.

Soon after lunch that Sunday then, I headed down to Wollongong, about a two-hour drive from home. All went well for a while, but then the rain came, followed by heavy fog which blanketed the surrounding bushland and road ahead, so that I could barely see the taillights of the car in front. Then I noticed a sign flashing above the road that was almost illegible in the fog. Eventually, however, I was able to make out what it said:

Use hazard lights in fog. Stay under 70kph.

I slowed down. Perhaps that would be enough and I could do without those hazard lights. But … wait! Where were they anyway? I remembered locating them on my husband’s car, but where were they in my own ancient Ford Fairmont that has done over 260,000 kilometres? After all, I have only been driving it for around twenty-one years! By that point, most other cars had their hazard lights on, so I hunted around, but could not see that red triangle anywhere. Then in a moment of inspiration, I peered behind the steering wheel and found a mysterious, red button. I pressed it—and lo and behold, those hazard lights started flashing!

I reached the launch safely and, by the time I drove home, the fog had largely lifted. But as I reflected on my rather scary experience, I began to suspect God was speaking to me through it. How often has that thick fog settled around me whenever I become over-busy, so that I cannot seem to connect with God easily? How often have I not read or perhaps noticed that big warning sign across my path, reminding me I need to draw close to God again? Indeed, how often have I even deliberately ignored it, thinking I can survive in my own strength?

It’s a dangerous place to be, isn’t it—in either a physical or a spiritual fog? We feel helpless, directionless and adrift. How much we need those hazard lights around us and that strong presence of the Saviour right beside us, strengthening us and showing us the way forward! In a physical fog, one mistake and disaster could happen. In a spiritual fog, we can forget altogether who God is and how God longs to walk with us each day, loving us, guiding us, watching over us.

However dense that fog in our lives might be right now, let’s reach out to God again. And let’s keep our eyes focussed on God’s light that can illuminate even the darkest, foggiest roads ahead.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

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