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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

I wonder if you can remember a time when you saw something on display somewhere and felt you just had to buy it. That happened to me almost a year ago, not long after we moved into our beautiful village unit. At the time, I was strolling around a plant nursery, trying to decide which roses to buy to put in the small garden beside our balcony. Apparently, the previous owner had had several different roses growing there, but once he was unable to care for them any longer, they had been removed. Despite this, one single rose bush had defied all odds and come back to life. So in order to balance the garden out a little, I asked if I could plant a couple more and was told that would be fine. Yet what rose should I choose, out of the many on offer?

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Just Joey

Finally, I found a deep red rose called ‘Mr Lincoln’ and decided on that one. Its blooms were not quite the shape I wanted, but they had a beautiful, strong scent and the plant seemed vigorous and hardy. Then a label on a pretty, apricot-coloured rose nearby caught my eye—‘Just Joey’. Now how could I resist? After all, my name is Jo-Anne—and the name I was often called by my family when I was growing up was ‘Joey’. So I felt I had to have that rose in my garden, as we began this new phase of our life.

Yet there was another reason the name of this rose had caught my eye too. For a long time, I had kept the idea for a kind of memoir on my computer, until I felt the time was right for me to explore it further. Eventually, I did—and gradually, it morphed into my second non-fiction book, Becoming Me, published in October 2016. But my original idea for its title? You guessed it—Just Joey.

Apparently, my rose ‘Just Joey’ was named after the wife of the head of a nursery company in the UK. But to me, it kind of symbolises my own life, as I have learnt and grown and made mistakes and grown some more and stepped out and taken risks to become more of the person I believe God created me to be. God knew all about me before I was born—and created me as a unique person, with my own personality and gifts.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:13-14

God knew every twist and turn in my journey too and has been with me all the way, even when those winds threatened to snap my fragile stem, as occasionally happens to my rose. Today, I feel so blessed to be ‘Just Joey’, to rest in who I am in God, to be less afraid to be all I was created to be and to be less jealous of those with different gifts and abilities from me who seem to have achieved more in life than I have.

My ‘Just Joey’ rose is unique, with its frilled petals and gentle perfume. And you and I are unique too—just as God created us. May you rest in that truth today and be thankful.

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Jo 17As an introverted writer, there is nothing I like more than sitting at my desk, typing away in perfect peace and quiet. As I do, I can look out my window at the trees and shrubs and beyond them to the sky. I hear birds chirping and the occasional bark of a dog, yet these sounds are pleasant and somehow reassuring. In these moments, I feel so blessed—and spoilt! I have peace, both inside and out—and I am so grateful for God’s gracious hand on my life.

Yes, sometimes that outer peace of mine disappears when little grandchildren arrive and run around excitedly or when we mind them at their house until mum or dad finish work. Sometimes too, we have visitors for meals or for a longer period. Sometimes I venture out to speak at various events or promote my books, which always involves much relating to others. And each week I attend church and happily mix with the family of God there. I also meet with others one-on-one for coffee and truly value these intimate conversations. Yet afterwards, I scuttle back home to my place of peace, where I sit and process everything—and thank God again for my lovely, quiet space where I can reflect and be refreshed in my spirit.

But sometimes that inner peace of mine can also disappear, which is much more alarming. Sometimes I take my eyes off God and refuse to listen to the Spirit’s voice, urging me to be still, to become aware of God’s presence in me and around me, to remember God knows all about my issues and those facing anyone near and dear to me, as well as those in the world at large. Sometimes I choose to worry so much about this and that, instead of handing it all over to God. Sometimes I fret over situations when it is way beyond my ability to sort it all out for those involved. Sometimes I foolishly ignore that peace God is holding out to me with such love and grace and instead decide to cling onto that deep turmoil within.

How important it is in these times to stop and read again Jesus’ words to his disciples—and to me:

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

And how important the Apostle Paul’s words are too:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

Whatever is happening in your life right now, may you too be able to turn to God, be still and rest in that peace only God can give.

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

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Jo 17I have embarked on a new writing project. At least, it’s not actually new—it has been hovering around on my laptop for a couple of years, patiently awaiting my attention. Whenever I find time, I open the relevant files and try to work out where I’m up to. One contains a chapter outline for the whole novel, while another is filled with notes about the characters. A third contains the beginnings of the first chapter, which has morphed several times, as I have reflected on it further.

One thing that has kept me from becoming fully launched into this novel is my concern about how best to spend my time. What does God want me to do now? Since 2007, I have had six novels and two non-fiction works published, with many resulting opportunities to speak. Could eight books perhaps be enough?

As I prayed about it, I sensed God’s green light either way, as if God were saying, ‘Jo-Anne, I will be so delighted in you if you write this novel—but equally delighted if you don’t!’ What a wonderful, gracious, freeing message to hear! I could be at peace about it all. I could write it—or not write it.

The months passed and that novel still did not grow at any great rate. Then one day, I read Isaiah 26:8 again:

Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.

These words seemed such a good, timely reminder to me to check my motives in continuing with my novel. Was I writing it merely to get my name out there again? Did I want to be known as this prolific author who keeps producing books? Did I hope this novel would bring me greater personal kudos or renown? Or did I truly desire to write it to honour God and to share God’s amazing love and grace once again in story format?

My heart said a fervent ‘yes’, in response to this last question. Furthermore, I felt a strong urge deep inside to create the sort of novel I personally want to create this time around, irrespective of current writing conventions or literary fashion or whatever! Yet I was still wary about it all. Already, my life is full—would I ever be able to find the necessary time?

I read on in Isaiah 26 and came to the following verse:

Lord, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us (12).

I know this was written in the context of Israel’s finding peace as a nation. But what a good, personal reminder to me to be at peace and allow God to shape this future novel—and its time frame! After all, it was only through God’s strength, guidance and inspiration that I was able to write my other eight books, when I initially thought it would be impossible to write even one. Truly, whatever I have accomplished has all come from God.

So I plan to trust God to guide and inspire as I write—and be at peace in the process. Surely that’s the best perspective to have in it all? And, whether you seek to serve and honour God through writing or something entirely different, I hope and pray this will be your perspective too.

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Jo 23For a moment, I had trouble believing what I was reading in our village newsletter:

‘Nothing on TV? Come along and join the Bingo crowd each Tuesday!’

Could whoever wrote this be implying that these two activities were the only options? Did that describe their own lives—just TV and Bingo? If that was the case, then I truly felt sorry for him or her.

I know some people may have health issues and can’t participate in other activities, so possibly TV and Bingo are their best—or only—options. But from my perspective at this stage of my life, surely there are other much more interesting and life-giving pastimes available to fill my hours each day? Even within our village here there is a plethora of clubs and groups on offer—aqua aerobics (and swimming), Bible study, cards (500, Canasta, Crazy Whist), chess, choir, crafts of varying sorts, golf croquet, exercise, games (Scrabble etc), hobby workshop (woodwork, metalwork etc), indoor bowls, lawn bowls, library, line dancing, mah-jong, sketching, various snooker groups, table tennis, tai chi, good movies in the movie theatre, a ‘Voice our Views’ group and a writing group. Phew!

Then, of course, there are many other options as well. The village bus goes regularly to different shopping centres nearby, plus there are other bus tours available for different outings further afield. Or we can hop in our cars and go to these places ourselves. We can visit relatives or friends. We can walk through the beautiful bushland nearby or merely through nearby streets. We can chat to people along the way—or to others in the village. There is even a coffee shop on the premises where we can help ourselves to free coffee, while catching up with others. So, barring health issues, why would one choose TV or Bingo instead?

Now I understand the positive aspects of TV as well as anyone. This past month, I have truly enjoyed flicking from the cricket to the tennis and watching both for far too long! Sometimes there actually are worthwhile things on TV. I also love writing, speaking at places, reading and doing word puzzles. But … Bingo? I remember how, when my lovely older friend Joy first moved into a nursing home in the mountains, she was regularly taken to the activities room for Bingo, which she hated with a passion. She and her daughters called it ‘The dreaded “B” word’. I well remember how delighted my friend was when I popped in to visit her once and thus rescued her from participating!

At least that Bingo invitation in our newsletter has caused me to think carefully about how I plan to spend my time this year. Yes, I need to look after myself and relax and have fun doing what I love to do. But while I’m still able, I also want to invest my time and energy in those worthwhile things God wants me to do and connect with the people God gives me to connect with. And I’m sure I will enjoy all that too. There is more to life when we are on the journey with God, don’t you think? So much more than only TV and Bingo!

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10

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Jo 23

In the recent Christmas heat, I watched some of the shrubs and plants near our unit struggle to stay alive. Even some of the hardiest ones in pots on our balcony suffered, as the hot sun scorched the leaves and shrivelled the flowers. The native trees nearby survived the best—those gum trees and grevilleas and callistemon have had to learn to be tough in our dry terrain. And it was in the midst of observing all this that I read the following:

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 92:13-15

Have you ever noticed how some folk in their sixties look and act old before their time, while others in their nineties still seem quite young and are happily engaged in life in all sorts of ways? Of course, ill health and other difficulties can make life hard for some. Yet even apart from that, some seem to shrivel up before their time, like my pot plants, and resort to sitting on the sidelines rather than fully participating, while others much older continue to lay hold of life with both hands.

Recently, I discovered that one gentleman who is a member of our Village choir is actually ninety-nine years old! I would never have guessed it. He is interesting to speak to, alert and observant, obviously highly intelligent and also a gifted artist. Someone else told me that when he didn’t turn up to choir last year for a while, they discovered he had gone to Poland for his great-grandson’s wedding!

Now while some might consider me so old already—including our youngest grandchildren—I am actually thirty years younger than this lovely gentleman! So I have been asking myself what God might have in store for me, should I too have another thirty years ahead of me. After all, I did not waste the first thirty years of my life or the second thirty—so why waste the third thirty or beyond? In my old age, which I’m sure I haven’t quite reached yet, I feel there is still so much for me to do. I have ideas for books I would still like to write. I have many more ideas for my blogs. I would love to continue speaking for a while yet. I enjoy mentoring several wonderful women leaders. Everywhere I look, I see other opportunities for ministry. And of course, beyond all that, I want to see our grandchildren grow and flourish and still be invested in their lives for many years to come.

So in 2018, and for as long as God enables, I hope and pray I can be more like the native trees and shrubs I can see from my balcony and not those sad, wilted pot plants. As I keep my feet firmly on that Rock who is the Lord, I hope I can continue to flourish, bearing good fruit and staying fresh and green, for a long time to come yet.

How about you?

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One morning recently, I heard a soft knock on our front door. And there was our neighbour, holding something out to me.

‘I wanted you to have these’ she explained. ‘They’re my “first fruits”—and I like the whole idea of that!’

green-beans-2707996_1920I glanced down and saw around eight green beans in her hand. Not only does this lady produce a beautiful array of flowers around her unit but also a few vegetables, herbs and even some fruit. Her garden gives her much joy—a joy she was now sharing with us. And because I know my neighbour is very grateful to God for all she has and can still do, I understood her gift was a thanksgiving offering as well.

While those fresh, crunchy beans did not last long in our house, my neighbour’s words stayed with me, causing me to reflect on the whole idea of ‘first fruits’ and research it for myself. And as I did, I discovered that the concept stems from the belief that everything we have originates from God, the Creator of the universe. After all, Psalm 24:1-2 says:

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it, for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.

Then, in Deuteronomy 26 in the Old Testament, we find Moses reminding God’s people, as they were at last about to enter the Promised Land, to be sure to give God the first fruits from all their future crops. They were to bring these to the priest on duty, declare out loud how God had delivered them and their forefathers from slavery in Egypt and brought them to a land ‘flowing with milk and honey’ (9), and place their offering before the Lord. Finally, we read in verse 11:

And you and the Levites and the aliens among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.

So today, deliberately giving up those first fruits of our earthly endeavours, whether things we grow or other items we produce or money we earn, may still well be a great way of thanking God for all we have received. We may not present them to a priest, as in Old Testament times, although some churches still have a harvest festival which incorporates this idea. But as my neighbour did, perhaps we too can express our thanks to God and our joy in all we have been given, by passing on our own unique version of first fruits, thus blessing someone else as well.

Hmm—now that’s a challenge for me! Yes, I do give away a few copies of any new book I write when they first arrive fresh from the printer. But I also tend to cling onto what is mine because, after all, I worked jolly hard to produce it or earn it!  Yet I know in my heart any gift or ability I have is from God—and it is only by God’s grace that I write anything or have anything published. So why be so stingy?

I think that first fruits idea has a lot going for it, don’t you? And I hope I remember my green beans lesson for a long time to come.

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I have always longed to be an artist. I would love to be able to create beautiful scenes or stunning portraits for others to appreciate. Instead, I am a writer who weaves together words and sentences, in the hope of inspiring my readers to create their own scenes in their imaginations as the story unfolds. And I have to say I love doing this. But, while I might admit to being a tad envious, I also love celebrating those with different, God-given, creative gifts—artists, sculptors, photographers, craftspeople of all sorts—and allowing their creations to speak to me in their own unique way, maybe even revealing more of God in the process.

IMG_20171001_103745359And right now, there is a unique opportunity to do just that at our church’s Art Installation, which features a variety of creative works, all centred around our church’s vision statement—Led by God’s Spirit. Compelled to share Christ. Restoring the broken. Each weekday evening from 7.00pm to 9.00pm and on weekends (Sat 9.00am to 12.00 midday; Sun 9.00am to 1.00pm, 4.30pm to 8.00pm) until Sunday 15th October, someone will be present in ‘The Basement’ at our church, Parramatta Baptist, 84-94 Kleins Rd, Northmead, Sydney, to greet visitors and invite us to wander and look or simply sit and reflect on what God might be saying to us through the various creative works on display.

I hope my piece of writing below that is included in this year’s Art Installation will bless and encourage any who pause to read it. It is more a brief meditation than a poem and came to me one morning as reflected on the beautiful, well-known words of Psalm 23, the ‘shepherd psalm’. As you too read it now, may you be reassured of the presence of God’s loving ‘Shepherd Spirit’ with you to guide, restore, comfort, strengthen and encourage.

 

Shepherd Spirit

you long to lead me in paths of peace

to provide for me,

to empower me to live and serve.

You whisper gentle words to me–

‘This is the way–walk here!’

‘Don’t be afraid–I am with you.’

‘Not yet–wait!’

                Shepherd Spirit,

at times your voice is firmer, more fervent,

impossible to ignore, urging me

to lay down the old,

to explore the new.

Even when darkness descends and loneliness engulfs,

Even when I stumble on, seeking my own path,

you rise to rescue me,

securing my steps,

attending to my needs.

              Shepherd Spirit,

as I come to my senses, I see you are there,

offering me the finest of fare,

seating me at your table,

where healing and wholeness await.

Shepherd Spirit,

I stand in strength,

inspired again to write of you,

empowered again to speak of you,

rejoicing in your love,

relishing your leading,

ready to be all you call me to be.

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