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Archive for the ‘Writing’ 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 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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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 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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It can be so easy at times, can’t it, to criticise others? I would never say anything so silly or so rude, I may decide, as I listen to someone talk nonsense. Or I may watch someone act in a certain way and think, I would never do that. Yes, I am adept at such thoughts. And my pride will often not allow me to realise I may be just the same.

I had my critic’s hat well and truly on recently as I read Jesus’ words about being the good shepherd who would lay down his life for his sheep and give them eternal life (John 10:1-30). This divided those present who then tried to stone Jesus.

Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”

We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” John 10:31-33

Then I noticed I had put two little exclamation marks in the margin beside these verses on some previous occasion. Yes, I thought, I must have found these verses staggering then, just as I do now. What a weird response from those Jews! How could they possibly not believe in Jesus, after seeing his miracles firsthand? They couldn’t deny them, but, somehow, they simply ignored them and pushed on with their charges against him. How crazy is that?

The next day, I came to the account of how Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and how many Jews put their faith in Jesus as a result (11:1-45).  Yes, surely this is to be expected, I thought. But then I read how some still did not believe and indeed went to the Pharisees to tell them what Jesus had done. And what did these Pharisees do then? They called a meeting—of course! And what a dilemma they had.

What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him …” (47-48)

How ridiculous, I thought again. They could not deny Jesus’ miracles, yet they could not bring themselves to believe in him either. What a stupid and dangerous way to respond!

Then it was that I heard that gentle rebuke from God somewhere inside me. Would you have been any different, Jo-Anne? And … what about the miracles I perform each day in your own life that you miss entirely?

I sat back and reflected. Yes, there just outside my window were those trees gently swaying in the breeze and that beautiful, blue sky. Yes, this past week, we saw two of our grandchildren and marvelled at how much they had grown. Yes, this past while, God had enabled me to finish editing someone’s manuscript in time. Yes, there was this. Yes, there was that. So many miracles came to mind then—so many I had overlooked or taken for granted or explained away.

I may not have seen any resurrections or physical healings this past week—but I saw miracles, just the same. May I never miss them again. And may I always be so thankful to God for them.

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I received an email recently that gave me much food for thought. It was from someone who had just read my first two novels, Heléna and All the Days of My Life. This reader had found them among a pile of second-hand books a friend had been given and now wanted another novel of mine, Heléna’s Legacy, which explores the journey of a minor character in my second novel, then continues Heléna’s story.

I laughed out loud. The day before, I had found my lone, second-hand copy of this novel in my cupboard and thought, ‘No one will want that.’ Imagine my surprise when, the very next day, I discovered someone did!

My contact then told me some friends are now waiting to borrow these novels from her. This was gratifying news, yet I also found it somewhat disconcerting. You see, my first two novels were published back in 2007 and 2008—and I like to think I have learnt much more about writing since then. This reader might have enjoyed them, but would her friends?

In the end, I decided I could do nothing about that. Besides, back then, I wrote as best I could, with my whole heart and soul—and how fulfilling that was!

Then came another thought. I might have learnt much more about writing in those intervening years, but did I still write with that same heart and soul now? Back then, I wanted to write stories that would highlight themes I believed were vital for us all to grasp and experience. I wanted to write about the importance of holding onto our faith in God, whatever happens. I wanted to write about experiencing God’s amazing love and grace, about forgiveness and about becoming all God purposes us to be. Did I still feel so passionately about such themes now?

Since 2004, when I began my first novel, I have written nine books and around 650 blogs and have also spoken over 250 times at all sorts of gatherings. Through it all, I have learnt much more about God and experienced God’s amazing faithfulness and enabling in so many ways. Yes, I am still passionate about those same important themes, yet some things I held dear back in 2004 have fallen by the wayside. Some needed to be discarded—others did not. Some changes in my life and faith have been for the better, I believe, yet others have not. Looking back, I am sad about those times when I may have failed God, others and myself in different ways. But I am so thankful God is merciful and forgiving, always persevering with us and always lovingly pointing us to higher ground.

Yes, I’m still the same person I was back in 2004, yet different too. I want to change what needs to be changed. I want to grow where I need to grow. And I want to keep drawing closer to God, don’t you?

Let’s hold onto those key themes of our faith in God, but let’s keep humbly learning and growing too, as we seek to become more like Jesus each day.

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. 2 Peter 3:18

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In late June/early July, our church’s annual Art Installation was set up, ready to open to the public for two weeks. We had all worked hard to prepare paintings, drawings, sculpture, photographs, pieces of writing, and various other creative endeavours on the theme of ‘God of Wonders’. But alas, due to COVID, in the end, no one could come to view our works and take time to reflect on God as they did. Dates were changed, but still no one could come when lockdown here in Sydney became even more restrictive. Then the idea of a digital tour through the Art Installation was born. Please click here to start your own personal, virtual viewing!

This year, I submitted two photographs in connection with a brief piece of writing. I love roses and decided to feature a special variety I discovered only a few years ago—‘Just Joey’, a beautiful, apricot-coloured rose with delicate, frilled petals when fully open. I bought one and planted it. And … well, below is the piece of writing that will explain why I had to do that and what God showed me as a result. I hope you enjoy reading it and that it encourages you to continue to spread that exquisite perfume Paul writes about in 2 Corinthians quoted at the end.

Just Joey

I cannot resist buying the little rose bush. After all, its name is ‘Just Joey’—and I too was called Joey as a child.

The soil is stony where I plant it, but my little bush grows. Then one day, to my delight, a beautiful, apricot-coloured bud appears, its gentle scent wafting towards me as I cut it and place it in a vase.

The bud soon opens. It is a more old-fashioned style of rose, but I love how its layer upon layer of delicate petals are frilled at the edges and quiver at my touch. I gaze at them in awe—I have never seen petals like this before.

Then I sense God saying tenderly, ‘This rose is you, Joey. You are unique too, created with many interesting layers waiting to unfold. Some may see you as old-fashioned, but you are beautiful in my sight. May you continue to be “Just Joey” for me in all you do. And may you spread the sweet aroma of my Spirit everywhere through your writing and through the words you speak.’

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­In the Messiah, in Christ, God leads us from place to place in one perpetual victory parade. Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God… 2 Corinthians 2:14-15 The Message

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