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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

BecomingMe-OFC-I will always be grateful I was able to find publishers for my six novels and my first non-fiction book, Soul Friend. Without these publishers, my writing journey would have been severely hampered. But I am also grateful I was able to produce my second non-fiction book, Becoming Me: Finding my true self in God, myself via Ingram Spark in 2016. This gave me freedom to include everything I wanted to include and also to set my own publishing time frame. Now, two years later, I still receive regular reports from Ingram Spark, detailing e-book and hard copy sales.

I love this company’s efficiency, but I often smile when I receive that professional-looking, emailed monthly report for e-book sales in particular. You see, as time has passed since the release of Becoming Me, I usually discover that just one person, someone somewhere in the world, someone I will probably never meet, has bought an e-book version of Becoming Me. Yes, that means a whole USD$2.40 my little book has earned for me as the publisher—what a fortune!

Yet I never feel disappointed with these reports. In fact, this one sale always touches me, as I try to visualise who this reader might be. I pray for them too. I pray that something in my little book might speak to their hearts and provide the word from God for them that they need. After all, I’m sure this one person matters to God.

But occasionally I receive a different sort of email about Becoming Me—one from a reader I often do not know, commenting on some aspect of the book that has been meaningful to them. Recently, a lady wrote how, while she related to so much of what I wrote, the thing that touched her most was one small paragraph where I describe how, for many years, I wrote weekly letters home to my parents interstate, keeping them up-to-date with all our family events. This lady shared how, for over fifty years, she had done the same, even when her mother became a dementia patient in a nursing home. She told me how some people thought she was strange to keep writing these letters. Yet, as she read my book, she felt she had found a companion, someone who understood. How blessed I felt that God had somehow comforted her through my book, even in this small way!

These people whose lives we touch, the ones and twos, do matter to God, don’t you think? Surely we see this in how Jesus often went out of his way to minister to just one person. Examples that come to mind readily are the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak (Matthew 9), Zacchaeus (Luke 19), the woman at the well (John 4), the man born blind (John 9), Lazarus (John 11) and Mary Magdalene outside the tomb (John 20).

People matter to God. You and I matter to God. In fact, God seeks each of us out, like that one lost sheep, and, once found, will never let us go. And that comforts me more than any words I may ever write.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand, John 10:27-28

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Jo 23I wake up feeling tired, after a rather restless night. As my mind begins to clear and I work out what day it is, I realise I need to head to our church office for the morning. For four months, my husband and I are helping to support our wonderful ministry team, while our two lead pastors (husband and wife) are on sabbatical leave. It is an honour to do this—yet today, I feel decidedly less than adequate for the task.

I get ready, all the while thinking of the many jobs waiting to be done at home while I am out. So … why am I doing what I am doing? I have more than enough to occupy me, without any added responsibilities. What was I thinking, to say yes when asked? I have moved on. I left a ministry role many years ago and, since then, God has unfolded such a fulfilling writing and speaking journey for me. How could I have agreed to put my current novel aside for these months? Besides, some of my ministry gifts and skills are quite rusty. Surely there are others who could do these things so much better?

I grumble to myself as I eat breakfast and leave home, feeling so unsure about the day ahead. I plan to work on some training material for the pastoral team, preparing input I have been asked to give on a topic I myself originally suggested. Yet as I arrive and open up those documents on my laptop, I wonder how what I have already prepared will connect with our team members. I don’t know them very well yet—will they understand where I’m coming from? Will they feel that giving up their precious time in the middle of the day to sit and listen to my input is a big waste? Will they decide it is irrelevant for them in their particular area of ministry?

Eventually, I turn to a sermon I am currently working on. I thought what I have already written was what God wanted me to say. Yet, as I look at it again, I begin to wonder. Today, it seems a little trite—perhaps too simple, too fanciful even. I want to honour God in what I share on the day—and also honour the trust our leadership has shown in asking me to speak. But am I making a huge mistake with all that input I see on the screen before me?

Then I stop and reach for my Bible, turning to some verses I read earlier before heading out. In these, the Apostle Paul lists the many sufferings he has endured in his ministry, then writes:

But he (the Lord) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.   1 Corinthians 12:9-10

Yes, I may be weak—but I am also strong, because I have an amazing God whose grace and power are able to shine through my weaknesses. How wonderfully reassuring is that?

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Jo 23I have discovered we own an extremely polite washing machine. On those rare occasions when I happen to be standing nearby when a wash load finishes, it sends me a sweet, little message via the control panel: ‘Finished! Have a nice day!’ But recently, I found a much more distressing message there. After hearing a little musical summons emanating from our laundry, I went to investigate and found the following: ‘Help! My load is out of balance. Please redistribute load, then press start.’

Of course I did as instructed. I hauled those wet towels around, spread them out more evenly—and my trusty washing machine went spinning on its merry way.

Yet that desperate message my washing machine had sent stayed in my mind long after. Could God perhaps be prompting me to apply this to my own life right now? After all, there have been many times when my ‘load’ has indeed been severely out of balance. Hmm …

It’s so easy, isn’t it, to throw ourselves into all those tasks and responsibilities we have, forgetting key things like rest, like self-care, like close relationships—and like close connectedness with God? Sometimes we need that moment of shuddering to a standstill, as my washing machine did, before we realise we need help to change and somehow redistribute the load in our lives.

For quite a while, I have missed nurturing that more creative side of me that is fed by losing myself for hours in writing my next novel. I know the time will come later this year when I will hopefully find those hours again. But meanwhile, I need some sort of creative outlet. So for that reason, and also to prepare something that could be displayed at our church’s upcoming Art Installation, I decided to create a piece of writing based on John 9. I then used a special bronze metallic pen to handwrite these words on black cardboard and, as I did, I could feel that peace and calm I so desperately needed enfold me once again. God was so wonderfully near, as I recreated that amazing account of how Jesus healed the man who had been born blind.

In the process, I recalled a warning in Isaiah that has often reminded me in the past to stop rushing hither and thither, relying on my own strength, and instead, to listen to God and live and minister the way God sees is best for me:

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” Isaiah 30:15

Like God’s people back then, I have to own to being obstinate at times and wanting to go my own way, so that I am danger of being left desolate, ‘like a flagstaff on mountaintop’ (30:17). Instead, I need to look to God to find the best balance in my life and to walk humbly in God’s love and grace on a daily basis.

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him! 30:18

That is God’s amazing heart of love for me—and for you too.

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Jo 17It’s so easy to become consumed with all the things happening in our lives from week to week, isn’t it? Sometimes, we may feel we are only just managing to stay afloat in our own particular fast-flowing, almost overwhelming river of demands and commitments and responsibilities. No wonder then that, in the midst of it all, we so often lose sight of that bigger picture.

Recently, my husband conducted a funeral, during which he reminded us that our life here on earth, when compared with eternity, is like the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface of the water, there is so much more. Then he used a second analogy of the distance covered in a long, overseas trip, as opposed to merely the first centimetre of that trip—and this resonated with me even more. After all, I have gone on quite a few long, overseas trips and can well remember my last flight home from Turkey—a distance of around fifteen thousand kilometres. So what is one centimetre when compared with that? Nothing really. Yet that is how long our life on earth is when compared with eternity.

Perhaps that sort of finite analogy is as close as we will get to understanding the vast difference between the life span we have here on earth and eternity. It’s so hard to imagine something that goes on forever, isn’t it? But whether we can get our heads around it or not, it’s vital we remember eternity—and God—do exist.

The bottom line I need to remind myself about constantly is that nothing I have or am experiencing in this world lasts forever. That applies equally to the people and things that bring me happiness and fulfilment as well as to those situations that cause me pain and difficulty. At times, I know I am in danger of forgetting about God, as I love and care for those close to me. Of course it’s important to love and care for them well. But one day, I won’t be here—and neither will they. At times too, I have put such store by the books I have written and continue to write, that I forget all those words I produce are so temporal. Hopefully, what I write says something of value to others and delights God in the process. But one day, those books will be forgotten, even by those who enjoyed them. Already, many are no doubt hidden away on some dusty shelf or residing in an op shop or perhaps gone long ago into the recycling bin!

As for those difficult things in our lives, how wonderful to remember they too will not last forever! One day, we will have new heavenly bodies, with no sickness or malfunctions. One day we will be whole in every way. One day, ‘God will wipe away every tear from our eyes’ (Revelation 7:17).

Whatever is happening in your life right now, whether joyous or challenging or a mixture of both, can I encourage you to remember the bigger picture and keep the same perspective as Paul and his fellow-workers did?

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  2 Corinthians 4:18

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Jo 17One day recently, feeling quite uninventive, I chose to make a good old standby again for dinner—some humble beef rissoles. Not wanting to rush, I started preparing them early. I had time to add a few more things than usual to make them a little tastier—dried mixed herbs, basil, black pepper and also some fresh parsley and thyme my neighbour is always telling me to take from her garden. I added a chopped onion, along with breadcrumbs and an egg, all the while thinking how much tastier these rissoles would be than usual.

As I cooked them, my husband commented how enticing our dinner smelt. We were both looking forward to those rissoles. But alas, even though I had gone that extra mile and added ingredients I usually don’t bother adding, I had forgotten one key item—that very necessary salt! Now I know some people don’t put any salt in their cooking, but that is certainly not what we like to do. As soon as I took that first bite, I realised my mistake. I could not believe it! I had had so much extra time, but still managed to forget that one ingredient that makes such a difference.

Eventually, I managed to laugh at myself, as I hastened to sprinkle table salt all over those poor old rissoles! But this whole episode rankled for a long time afterwards. You see, I would much rather have spent the afternoon writing or preparing for some speaking event than cooking dinner. It was a sacrifice to me to put that time aside. So for the meal not to turn out as I wanted it to was a little annoying, to say the least. However, as I sat thinking about it all, I decided to ask God what lessons I could learn from this episode.

Apart from realising I should focus more on what I am supposed to be doing rather than dream about what to write next in my current novel (!), I felt God highlighted a much more important lesson for me in general. What if I were to forget that ‘salt’ in other areas of my life as well? What if I were to leave it out of my writing and my speaking in particular, so that all those words I labour over became bland and tasteless? Worse still, what if what I thought was ‘salt’ was only some useless, powdery substance left behind after the real salt had gone, as apparently happened in Bible times? If I did, then those words of mine would be mere worthless rubbish. What if I lost sight altogether of those key things God wants me to highlight so others may ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’ (Psalm 34:8)?

In Matthew 5:13, Jesus says to his disciples:

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.’

I want God’s perfect balance and seasoning to be present in all my creative efforts. I want my words to remain punchy and flavoursome to the end, with just the right amount of salt in them. So Lord, may I never forget that valuable, key ingredient—ever again!

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Jo 17Who would have thought? Way back in July 2009, I started my personal blog journey, wondering whether I would continue to have enough things to write about. Yet here I am, five hundred blogs later, still finding something each week to share with others.  Also during this time, I have written over ninety blogs for various Christian author groups, sharing lessons from my writing journey and encouraging other authors. Phew!

Now that represents a lot of words cobbled together—around 325,000 in fact. If I had decided not to blog and instead shaped all those words into full-length books, I could have produced three and a half more novels in that time, to add to those I did manage to complete and see through to publication. No one made me choose to churn out those blogs each week, but I continued doing it for various reasons.

Firstly on a practical level, committing myself to producing a blog each week—or perhaps several ahead of time, if I planned to be away or had a busy schedule coming up—has kept me writing consistently, even if that meant less time to spend on bigger writing projects. Also, for wordy writers like me, it is good discipline to restrict myself to around 550 words, while attempting to say something worthwhile each week!

But perhaps more importantly, writing my blogs has become a little ministry that seems to suit my particular gifts and personality well and provides a way for me to connect with those I have known in past years, as well as many readers I don’t know personally at all. It is a way I can encourage others via sharing something God has done in my life or some lesson I have taken to heart from God’s Word or perhaps something God seems to highlight in the people, places or events in the world around me. And in the process, I often encourage myself all over again, as I reflect on what I feel God wants me to say and crystallise those thoughts running around in my brain.

Recently, I chatted with a friend who was preparing a eulogy for the funeral of a close relative. I shared with her how some of Jesus’ words as he prays to his heavenly Father, just prior to being arrested, had challenged me that morning:

I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. John 17:4

How wonderful it would be, we decided, if we, like Jesus, could truly say that at the end of our time here on earth! It is what we both aim for in our lives—to do the work God has given us to do, however big or small that might be. And I feel that my writing, including my little effort with my blogs, has been part of that work God has gifted and enabled me to do.

Recently when I spoke at an event, I mentioned some similar words that the Apostle Paul wrote to his young friend Timothy and that I would like at my own funeral:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7

I hope I can say that when my time comes. Is that your hope too?

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Jo 23I wonder if you’re like me and find airports fascinating. As a writer, I enjoy looking around at everyone and dreaming up all sorts of stories about who is waiting for whom and what the connection is—and even why they might perhaps look sad or glad or bored or excited as they wait.

Recently, however, I had a slightly different airport experience—in more ways than one. We were there to meet a friend who needed to return home suddenly from overseas because her father had passed away. So even though her flight was not due in until after 10.00 pm, we were happy to be there for her. We arrived a little early, so my husband suggested we buy coffee.

Now I have a reputation for being miserly at times and therefore objected.

‘The coffee’s bound to be so dear here. If it costs $5.00, let’s not have any!’

It turned out to be $4.50 per small cup, so my much more generous husband handed over that $9.00. And I admit I did enjoy that cup of coffee!

In the end, our friend did not take long getting through customs and we were soon heading to our car. My husband paid via credit card at a parking ticket machine, but it was not until we arrived home that he looked at the docket. Instead of the $19.00 he expected to see there and that he is positive flashed up on the machine, he had been charged only the half hour fee of $9.50.

At that point, we laughed as we realised that meant we had recouped that $9.00 we had paid for our coffee that I had been so concerned about!

‘And that still leaves us fifty cents better off,’ my husband added. ‘Perhaps that should be our “tithe” to God!’

Immediately, I felt we owed God so much more than that fifty cents from this whole experience. To me, it was as if God was smiling at us lovingly and saying, ‘This is a little touch of my grace to you both, so please just receive it. You have gone the extra mile to pick your friend up late on a cold winter’s night—and I’m delighted to bless you as you serve her.’

What a humbling experience! And what a wonderful, gracious God we have! We can never outdo God with our giving of ourselves to others—or with our material giving either.

Yet I think I learnt a further lesson that night too. It was no real problem for us to meet our friend at the airport. In fact, it was a privilege. We love her and were deeply concerned that she has had to make this sudden, long trip back home. We were happy to be there for her. But in a weird way, there was something about all these feelings of mine that reinforced or mirrored God’s own loving heart towards me. As we loved and cared for our friend, I experienced God’s own amazing love that is so deep and wide and will never, ever fail me. What an unexpected, ‘left-field’ lesson in love!

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever. Psalm 136:1

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. Lamentations 3:23

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