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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

One recent Sunday, I was standing near the door of our church when a friend came rushing over to me.

‘I’ve got a great story to tell you that I think you’ll really like!’ she told me excitedly.

Needless to say, she had my full attention that instant.

‘I took your book Soul Friend away with me on my recent trip, but didn’t get time to finish it,’ she went on. ‘Anyway, I was reading it in a coffee shop back home here one day this week when the waiter brought my coffee to me. I saw him taking a good look at the cover, so showed it to him and told him I knew the author.’

‘What’s a “soul friend”?’ he asked.

‘Well, it’s someone who is like a mentor to you, who listens to you, supports you and helps you understand more about God.’

‘Oh, that’s interesting—I’m on a bit of a spiritual journey myself right now.’

‘Well, I’m nearly finished the book. Would you like me to lend it to you when I do?’

‘Thank you—that’s very kind of you.’

My friend was so excited about this little interchange with her pleasant, young waiter and encouraged too.

‘I’m wondering though if there’s some other suitable material I could perhaps give him to read that might help him. What do you think?’

We talked about some possibilities and I know my friend will think and pray about the wisest thing to do next. But this whole lovely story has set me thinking too. How easy was it for my friend to take her current book to a café and sit there reading it? I am sure I could do that—if I thought of it. And how natural was the conversation that ensued with the waiter? Again, I reckon I could do that too—if I was alert enough and cared enough. And how many other similar opportunities do I tend to miss out on in my normal, day-to-day life where those gentle ‘God conversations’ could flow if I watched out for them more?

We all need to be in tune with God each day as best we can, don’t we? And it helps so much in doing that if we take time each morning to read some part of God’s Word and to sit quietly for a few moments, reflecting on what we have read. Then, before getting on with all we have to do, we can commit our day and any other issues on our hearts and minds to God, asking God to bring the healing, guidance, comfort and so much else we and our world in general need. When I do this, I feel so much more aligned with God as I head into whatever my day holds. And I am hopefully able to hear and respond better too when God’s Spirit prompts me to pray for someone or email them or talk with them.

We are not on our own as we go about each day. Jesus our Shepherd is right there with us, longing for us to listen to him.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27

May we do that, even today—and may we find our own special ‘coffee conversations’ along the way too.

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This past week, my husband and I had the privilege of conducting a brief funeral service for a friend’s mother at a nearby crematorium. We had not expected to be doing this, yet, as things unfolded and the minister conducting the larger memorial service later in the day could not manage both, we knew this was what we should do.

The whole idea of offering to help began as one of those strong nudges inside me and, when I talked about it with my husband, he immediately agreed. God was in it—and we should do it. It was as simple as that really. Besides, we could see how much this little effort on our part would greatly help our friend and her family. In the end, it did seem to—and we felt very blessed.

After the memorial service later in the day, I chatted with an acquaintance present about a mutual friend who is working overseas with a Christian aid organisation. She brought me up-to-date with the latest news about our friend and mentioned how she phones her each week—and, at that point, I remembered what this friend working overseas had told me about these same phone calls.

‘The work here is so rewarding,’ she had said, ‘and I know we’re making a huge difference in the lives of the families we care for. But I wouldn’t have stayed here as long as I have, without my friend’s weekly phone calls—I wouldn’t have been able to. At times, they were the only thing that kept me going.’

When I told this lady what my friend had said, she seemed embarrassed and played down her efforts. ‘Oh, it’s nothing really—just a weekly phone call.’ And I understood what she meant. Just a simple, little act on her part, the same as my husband and I felt about our own efforts. Yet, what a huge difference her encouraging calls have made in our friend’s life—and indirectly in the lives of so many others too who may well have starved, without the food and shelter my friend helps provide in the remote area where she is based!

Sometimes, we can all too easily be talked out of doing things we know in our heart God wants us to do. Yet, when we listen to God, step out in obedience and act, we often find God uses our little efforts in more ways than we would ever have imagined. God can do so much, even with something so little, just as Jesus points out when teaching about the Kingdom of God:

Then Jesus said, “What is the Kingdom of God like? How can I illustrate it?  It is like a tiny mustard seed that a man planted in a garden; it grows and becomes a tree, and the birds make nests in its branches.”

He also asked, “What else is the Kingdom of God like?  It is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.” Luke 13:18-21 NLT

Let’s keep being faithful with our tiny mustard seeds and grams of yeast. They may not cost us much but, in God’s hands, they can truly become invaluable.

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We were excited, as we set out on our recent road trip from Sydney to the Omega Writers’ Conference at Kingscliff in northern NSW. We headed inland from Gloucester and reached Uralla on our first night, near Armidale. Eventually, we found our Air BnB in a lovely, rural setting, with horses in a paddock nearby and quietness all around. Now we could begin to relax!

While my husband rested, I sat reading, but suddenly noticed a nearby light go off. I went to investigate and found that all the power to the house was out. It had been an overcast day and this house relied on solar energy—maybe that was the problem?

Eventually, we located the owner who soon discovered there was a power outage in the whole area. Hmm! Undeterred, we decided to drive into the town to see if any restaurants were open, to no avail, so we headed back home and opted for a dinner of leftover sandwiches from lunch and a banana each!

But what to do then? There was no hot water for a shower and it was too cold to sit anywhere, without heating, so we headed for bed—at around 7.00pm! But as we lay there, we began talking—and talking—and talking. We went from one topic to another, as we recalled different events from our respective childhoods that had impacted us in some way. And in this time, my husband told me stories I am sure I have never heard before, in all our fifty-three years of marriage, about his maternal grandmother whom he loved and the kind things she used to say and do. How had we missed talking about such things before—at least at any depth? In the end, we both found it such a memorable way to spend an evening, but it set me thinking too.

What have we lost in our world in recent years, with all the technology available to us and all sorts of entertainment on TV or YouTube or Netflix or whatever there at hand each evening? What has happened to sitting and actually talking to one another? Has coming together around the dinner table chatting while we eat disappeared forever? How do we hear each other’s hearts and enter fully into others’ lives, when we stare at a TV screen instead and allow other voices to drown out any real communication between us?

As I thought about all this, I felt quite shocked and sad. That night, our conversation was rich and deep—what a wake-up call that power outage was for us! Yet this event also impacted me in another way, as I lay in the dark after my husband eventually fell asleep. How many of us have drowned out God’s voice too in our lives, as we abandon these times of stillness and silence and true communication with our heavenly Father? How often have I opted to allow other voices to take over my mind and heart, rather than listen to what God might want to say to me?

Let’s stop and listen well, because God has so much to say to us all.

I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants—but let them not turn to folly. Psalm 85:8

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Each year, our church holds an ‘Art Installation’ to which all members and attenders are invited to contribute. We are given a theme which, this year, is ‘Transforming Love’, and are encouraged to create something that depicts this, using any medium we choose. Some produce beautiful paintings, sketches or sculptures. Some make mosaics or models from all sorts of materials. Some fashion jewellery or other handcrafted item of clothing. And some. like I myself, create with words, writing poems or reflections or short stories and occasionally adding graphics of some description.

If you live anywhere near western Sydney, you are warmly invited to visit this year’s Art Installation which is currently open each weekday this week and next (2-16 October) from 9.00am -12.00 noon and 7.00pm -9.00pm, plus Saturday 9.00-12.00 and Sunday 9.00-1.00 and 5.00 to 8.30 at Parramatta Baptist Church, 84-94 Kleins Rd, Northmead NSW.

This year, as soon as I saw our theme ‘Transforming Love’, I thought of my own journey of coming to know God’s amazing love more and how I have experienced God unfolding my own wings over the years and enabling me to fly. God knew the desires of my heart, even before I myself was fully aware of them. And, just like the forgiving father in the story of the lost son in Luke 15, God welcomed me home with open arms and set me free to be more of the person I was created to be. The old has gone and the new has come, as the verse at the end of my words below states—and I am so thankful for that.

Transforming Love

Swathed in garments of guilt and shame

Hiding hurts, fearing to fail

Begging to belong, to blossom

To find a friend, to fit

Looking for love

Reaching out

Grace of God

Open arms

Found

Free

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  2 Corinthians 5:17

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For years now, it has been my custom to leave my tattered, old bible open on the desk beside my laptop as I dive into my writing day—or hour—or even minutes. Yet it is not there for mere show. And it is not there either as some kind of talisman to ensure God blesses my writing time. Instead, to me, it serves as a strong reminder that, whatever is happening in my life and however my writing day unfolds, God is still God. Even if everything else falls away, God will still be there, loving me and watching over me.

I wonder if you have some tangible reminder of God’s presence and faithfulness around you too, as you step into your day. I have other things as well as my bible—a special cross stitch on my wall nearby that features a large butterfly, flowers and leaves and says, ‘Let us be silent that we may hear the whisper of God’, and a candle, a gift from a lovely writer friend, that has a beautiful aroma when lit. Then outside my window, I can see God’s own creation—trees and shrubs of different shapes and sizes and hues, bright pink azaleas during this spring season and, above them all, a glimpse of wispy clouds and blue skies. Yes, everywhere I look, I am reminded of God’s presence around me, of God’s amazing creativity and of God’s desire to reach out to me in love in so many beautiful ways.

Each day, as I sit down at my desk, I am so grateful I can pick up that old bible of mine too and read some part of it slowly. Even while writing this blog, I have glanced across and noted again some wonderful, reassuring words I found recently in Psalm 91.

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”
Psalm 91:1-2

I turn the page to the next psalm and am reminded of the encouraging words I read there yesterday:

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
    they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
planted in the house of the Lord,
    they will flourish in the courts of our God.
They will still bear fruit in old age,
    they will stay fresh and green,
proclaiming, “The Lord is upright;
    he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”
Psalm 92:12-15

Yes! Thank you, Lord—I may be a little old, but I can still bear fruit! Then I come again to today’s beautiful reminder of God’s rescuing heart:

When I said, “My foot is slipping,”
    your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.
When anxiety was great within me,
    your consolation brought me joy.
Psalm 94:18-19

Yes, I think to myself again—God is there for me and always will be, loving me, supporting me, comforting me. I leave my bible open at that page and turn to light the candle on my desk. All those words I have just read reassure me I can move on into my day with complete confidence in my heavenly Father. God is trustworthy. God is my Rock—and I am indeed on firm, solid ground.

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There are always new things to learn in life, aren’t there? At times, I hear or read of some author or composer or artist and realise I have never explored any of their work, despite how interesting it sounds. At other times, I see glimpses of intriguing places on TV I know little about. Then occasionally, I poke my head into the inner workings of my website and quickly retreat. How true it is that, the more we learn, the more we realise we don’t know!

I discovered this again recently when helping a granddaughter with her art assignment. Now, I am a writer—definitely not an artist. In fact, I know nothing about art. Granted, I was helping because of my writing experience, but one does need to know something about a topic before writing about it! And so began my journey of reading how the 16th century artist Titian, the 20th century artist Picasso and the present-day artist/photographer Morimura have portrayed the female form!

To my surprise, I soon became truly interested. It was fascinating to discover what certain symbols meant in their artworks and how these artists connected with issues in society. As a result, I am now keen to find out about other artists too and learn to appreciate their works more.

Then, last week, our oldest granddaughter asked my advice about her religion assignment for the Catholic teachers’ college she attends. She was simply checking she understood what she had to do, but our conversation set me thinking. This assignment involved the parable of the lost or ‘prodigal’ son—or, as some call it, the parable of the forgiving father—and one task was to explain the main theological point of this story. So, I decided to try it for myself—I was sure I could write five hundred words on the topic easily and quickly.

I turned to Luke 15—but, as I began writing, the whole profound nature of this parable Jesus told began to impact me more and more. Soon, I had to stop and reflect on it all over again. How arrogant and uncaring was that younger son, in asking his father for his inheritance then and there? Then how could he have gone off and wasted it all? In the light of all that, how could the father in the story keep watching out for him, then embrace him and welcome him home with such joy and compassion? But … I wouldn’t have been as resentful as that older son was—or would I?

As I sat there, I was overwhelmed once again with the enormity of our heavenly Father’s love for us in seeking us out, running to embrace us and welcome us into his family, as we too return home and believe in Jesus. I did nothing to deserve such compassion and forgiveness. Instead, it is all about grace—the most amazing, wonderful grace.

I did not anticipate such a profound and humbling experience that morning, as I sat thinking about our granddaughter’s assignment. Yet what a joy to be reminded in such an expected way of the incredible richness I have in God!

I too am loved. I too have come home.

… this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ Luke 15:24

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Do you remember a time when you had to blow your own trumpet, so to speak, and convince others you could handle a particular task or fulfil a particular role well, perhaps when applying for a job you truly wanted? It can feel very awkward, can’t it—not to mention downright pushy! 

Ever since my first novel was published, I have had to promote myself in ways I would never have dreamed of doing earlier on. I thought I was becoming more used to it and beginning to see it as merely a necessary part of the writing journey. Yet, recently, I felt daunted all over again when I filled in an author submission ‘pitch’ for a potential publisher of my next non-fiction book I am currently completing. This form consisted of only five questions, but each one necessitated much thought and re-writing. And two in particular made me cringe as I tried to answer them as best I could.

The first of these asked, ‘How will new readers benefit from your book?’ Now, I am indeed passionate about this book I am writing. It deals with the many words we all speak and write throughout our lives and urges us to leave a life-giving legacy behind us when we share them with others. I believe one hundred per cent in the thoughts it contains and sincerely hope and pray they will indeed benefit and build up many of my readers. Yet, it still seems presumptuous to me to declare with certainty, in black and white, ‘My readers will benefit from this book in the following ways …’. What happened to any humility I might have gained over the years?

Another question I sighed over asked, ‘Why are you qualified to be the person to write this book?’ Hmm! I do have a couple of tertiary degrees and diplomas in the areas of language, education, theology and ministry. I have written nine other books and hundreds of blogs. I have also spoken in all sorts of meetings in recent years, had many conversations with people and written countless emails. Yet, surely in stating all this on that form, I would be loudly blowing my own trumpet?

This strange saying ‘blowing our own trumpet’ apparently refers to past days when heralds sounded trumpets to let everyone know the king was coming! Instead, Jesus, our King, set us such a perfect example of true humility and grace when he put everything aside, came to this earth in human form for us and died a criminal’s death (Philippians 2:6-8). What a contrast! And we too are called to have that same heart of humility today.

 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves … You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Philippians 2:3, 5 NLT

This is the attitude I indeed want to have in all my writing and speaking and in life in general. Yet, we are also called to use our God-given gifts to their fullest extent to bless others and draw them closer to God—and I want to be faithful in doing that too. It can be tricky, to step out in confidence yet also to remain humble—but let’s keep trusting God to show us how.

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Around four years ago, while attending a women’s event at our church, I began talking with a young mum sitting nearby. Her face and manner were so open and honest, as she shared the good things happening in her life but also the challenges of balancing all the demands of managing her young family with work and other responsibilities. As we finished talking, I felt God prompted me to bless her with one simple, little phrase. ‘Peace on your home’, I said to her—and immediately saw how moved she was.

Since then, each time I see her leading worship or notice her chatting to someone after church, I repeat quietly in my heart, ‘Peace on your home—peace on your home.’ What a joy to be able to ask God to do this for her and her little family!

Recently too, I was reminded of the lovely, gentle words of farewell my dear mentor and ‘soul friend’ Joy used to say to me when I had finished pouring out all my troubles and questions during my visits to her, especially during my years at theological college. Sometimes, it would just be a simple sentence like, ‘Go gently, dear friend, in God’s love.’ Sometimes, merely a short phrase like ‘God’s peace to you’. Or sometimes, she would quote a line from a favourite poet to me or perhaps the well-known words of Julian of Norwich, written way back in the fourteenth century:

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

Through this quote, I knew Joy was encouraging me to keep on trusting God, in the midst of all the busyness and stresses of life. Whether things turned out the way I expected them to or not, God was still there, holding me close, and always would be. Therefore, I could be at peace.

These instances of giving and receiving words of peace resurfaced for me while writing another chapter of my work-in-progress, warming my heart and encouraging me to continue. But this past week, I have been encouraged even further, as I have explored the countless references in Scripture to God’s peace —that peace God longs to give us, both on a personal and corporate level. What a privilege to reflect on such verses as those below and breathe in God’s deep comfort and peace in the process!

And as you read them now, may the Lord bless you so much and speak deep peace into your heart too.

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”’ Numbers 6:24-26

Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you. Isaiah 54:10

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

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I watched as our eight-year-old granddaughter pulled several crumpled sheets of paper from her school uniform pocket. When she smoothed them out, I saw they contained long spelling lists, starting at an easy level, but soon becoming quite difficult.

‘My friend and I were finalists in our class spelling bee and now we have to learn these words and compete against the finalists from other classes,’ she told me, obviously pleased with herself.

‘Well, how about I get you to spell some for me?’ I suggested. ‘Let’s try this middle level. What about ‘abandon’? Do you know what that means?’

Maxine not only spelt it correctly but proceeded to act out what the word meant with gusto, showing how a classmate would feel if left all by themselves. We then tried ‘dungeon’ and ‘nocturnal’, again spelt correctly, along with a graphic explanation of their meaning. A couple of harder words followed where she needed some help. I could see she was becoming a little discouraged, but then she had an idea.

‘Ask me the word “encouraged”,’ she told me. ‘I know that one!’

And she did. This time, however, we did not talk about the meaning as I was well aware she knew it. Not long before, she and her brother had wanted me to play a certain game on my phone, but I had declined.

‘Oh, I’d be no good at that!’ I had said emphatically.

But Maxine was having none of it. ‘Nanna, you have written lots of books, so you could do this,’ she informed me. ‘You’re not silly!’’

Yep, Maxine sure knows how to encourage someone.

In the end, I tried to play their game but failed abysmally, despite their expert help. Thinking back later, however, I realised I had learnt some important lessons about encouragement in the process. Firstly, I saw I needed to take smaller steps forward in choosing words for Maxine to spell rather than jump to harder ones that discouraged her. And secondly, as Maxine tried to encourage me, I saw the value of being reminded of those times when I had succeeded in doing something relatively difficult, albeit in an entirely different field from our grandchildren’s challenge to me! I am glad of both these reminders, because they are so relevant for encouraging those facing much bigger challenges than spelling bees and computer games.

I love encouraging others, seeing that smile on their faces and that flame of hope being lit inside them again. Yet this can also require much wisdom, patience and perseverance at times, can’t it? And sometimes, we may find ourselves so unsure, as we grope for the right words to say. I never want to offend or be too forceful, nor do I want merely to bolster someone’s ego or give them false hope for the future. So I am doubly glad God is always with us, empowering us and giving us insight, as we seek to spur others on to be all God purposes them to be and do the things they have been created to do. God will give us the right words, as we seek to encourage, so let’s go for it!

… Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. Ephesians 4:29 NLT

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When I was a Girl Guide in my early teens, we enjoyed a variety of interesting activities, both indoor and outdoor. We also went on hikes and camps, but one thing remained constant, whatever we did. We always wore our Guide uniform, which was a navy-blue dress, with four large pockets. And in those pockets, we carried all sorts of things that might come in handy out in the bush in particular, including a compass, a notebook and pencil, some band-aids, a plastic groundsheet and even a snakebite kit back then! Also, the light-blue tie we wore was made by folding a triangular piece of material in a certain way, so it could double as an arm sling, if needs be. Our Girl Guide motto was, ‘Be Prepared’—and we certainly took that to heart.

This motto came to mind again recently, as I read in Nehemiah how, halfway through rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, the Jews became discouraged and afraid when they discovered that their enemies planned to attack them. However, Nehemiah and the other leaders prayed (4:9), then stationed the people in strategic positions, with swords, spears and bows ready, urging them to stand firm.

Don’t be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious… Nehemiah 4:14 NLT

With God’s help, the enemy’s plot was foiled, but Nehemiah remained vigilant. He organised half the men to protect the people, while the other half kept labouring to finish the wall. He also ordered the builders to work with their swords strapped on, ready to fight at a moment’s notice, and the labourers to carry all their building materials in one hand and a weapon in the other (4:17-18).

But that was not all. Because the workers were scattered, he organised a man to sound the trumpet to warn everyone, should the enemy attack (4:19-20). Yep, Nehemiah was determined to be prepared—and made sure his people were too.

As I pictured all this military activity in my mind, I realised what a powerful image it is for my life today. I may not have human invaders on all sides, plotting to bring me down. Yet I am well aware of the extremely alert, cunning enemy the Apostle Paul warns us about who constantly seeks to discourage, especially when I set out to tackle something I believe God particularly wants me to do.

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12 NLT

I don’t know about you, but, unlike Nehemiah’s men, I need both hands to work on my writing each day! Yet I can still put on the armour Paul goes on to urge the Ephesians—and us—to wear, including the sword of the Spirit, the word of God (Ephesians 6:13-17). And I can pray constantly, just as Nehemiah did and as Paul taught too (6:18). Even as I keep working, I can hold these amazing weapons in my hands, so to speak. And I can also keep trusting in our ‘great and glorious’ God who watches over us, just as Nehemiah did, and not be afraid.

Let’s stay close to God each day, but let’s be armed and prepared too—always.

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