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IMG_20180410_101220307One morning recently, I drove across town to speak at a women’s event. When I arrived, I saw at once how much work the organisers had done. Everything looked perfect—all the tables were beautifully decorated and there was a mound of food ready for the women to enjoy. Later, I was told one lady had made all those scrumptious delicacies herself—her labour of love and gift to others.

Then I noticed one table that looked a little out of place. It was piled high in a kind of haphazard way with balls of wool, ribbons, pieces of lace and containers of buttons of all shapes and sizes, plus a few other decorative odds and ends. Had the ladies organising everything forgotten about it?

After the meeting began, someone explained to everyone why that unusual table was there. This group has undertaken the project of knitting ‘mitts’—thick  hand warmers, sometimes called ‘twiddle mitts’ or ‘fidget muffs’ made of different textured yarns, with all sorts of beads, buttons, ribbons, lace and other interesting objects sewn onto them which dementia sufferers can ‘twiddle’. These mitts often help sufferers stay calm and overcome restlessness, which are common symptoms of dementia. They may also prevent some from pulling their clothes or scratching their skin and can help trigger memories too.

What a lovely idea, I thought—such a good way for ‘crafty’ people to use their gifts to benefit others! And such a good way to use up those odds and ends of wool, ribbons, lace and other bits and pieces too.

Then it was my turn to speak. At one stage, I showed a photo of my lovely ‘soul friend’ Joy and mentioned the fact that she now sadly suffers from dementia. The point I was making was just one among quite a few—but someone was listening carefully with a caring heart and came up to me later.

‘Please choose one of our knitted mitts for your “soul friend”,’ she said quietly. ‘We wouldIMG_20180422_173401196 love you to take one to her.’

I was touched by this lady’s thoughtfulness—not to mention the hours of knitting and sewing on of buttons, beads, ribbons and laces someone had spent making the lovely mitt I chose. What a wonderful treasure to be able to give my friend!

As I drove home, the following verses came to mind:

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 4:10-11

While I used what I believe is my God-given gift of speaking, others had served via baking, decorating the tables beautifully, making cards and gifts for each person attending and of course knitting those calming mitts. In short, we had each in our own way enjoyed the amazing privilege of being ‘faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms’, of enabling that grace to flow through us to others.

How wonderful to be involved in such labours of love and hopefully to bring God praise in the process!

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Jo 23


I had finished my shopping and was heading towards the shortest checkout queue when I noticed a man doing the same thing.

‘Ladies before gentlemen!’ he said with a smile.

As I thanked him and forged ahead, I bumped my trolley against the counter.

‘Oops—looks like I need to see where I’m going!’ I laughed.

‘Oh,’ he replied, ‘I’ve been trying to work that out for the past seventy years!’

My mind whirred as I stacked my groceries on that counter, but before I could say anything, he spoke again.

‘Do you know where you’re going?’

For a few moments, that question seemed to hang in the air between us. It was as if time stood still—and almost as if God was smiling at me and saying, ‘Well, Jo—what are you going to say?’

So I said the first thing that came to mind.

‘Actually, I do know where I’m going!’

‘Oh, where’s that?’ he responded.

‘Well, I belong to God—I know Jesus and I believe I’m going to heaven!’

He looked slightly taken aback, but then launched into a little poem I recognised yet now sadly cannot remember. When he had finished, I decided that, if he could quote something to me, I could perhaps quote something back.

‘Oh, I love 1 John 3:1—How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! It’s amazing we can be children of God, don’t you think?’

At that point, it was as if he dredged up a Bible verse of his own from somewhere deep in the recesses of his brain—perhaps from childhood? I could not catch it all, but nodded and smiled.

‘What’s your name?’ he demanded then.

‘I’m Jo-Anne … what’s yours?’

‘I’m Tony,’ he told me, in his lovely European accent.

‘Good to chat, Tony!’I replied, suddenly realising the girl at the checkout was smiling at me—and that the shopper she had just served was looking at me somewhat strangely!

Later, I thought of all the things I could have said instead—but at least the man hadn’t seemed too put off. In fact, I wondered if something had stirred in him as we chatted—perhaps something God had spoken into his heart long ago? And maybe our conversation would cause him to reflect a little more on his own question. I hoped so anyway.

I wondered, however, if what I had said may have come across as just that little bit too presumptuous. Even as I said what I did, I remember thinking, ‘This could sound so proud and arrogant!’ But Jesus himself tells us:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

And in 1 John 5:11-12, we read:

And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life …

I wonder how you would have answered this man’s question. Perhaps your response would have been much wiser and more sensitive than mine. Whatever the case, I hope you do know where you’re going—because that’s the main thing, isn’t it?

Jo 12This week, our oldest grandchild turns fifteen. Fifteen!  How did that happen? Surely there’s been a mistake, I think to myself—she must have skipped out a few years along the way somewhere. Surely it wasn’t fifteen years ago that we rushed to see her in that hospital, just after she was born?

I remember well those growing up years of our little blonde-haired mite with the grey-green eyes. Each Friday during her preschool days, we had many adventures when we minded her until her father picked her up in the afternoon. We became well acquainted with all the nearby parks and soon worked out which had the best play equipment for whatever age our granddaughter was at the time. And we also came to know which shopping centres provided the best spots to have our important morning tea of juice and donuts!

We enjoyed endless games at home too—card games like ‘Donkey’, where somehow Nanna, with great skill, always ended up with that tattered donkey card left in her hand! We played Snap and memory games and later, Uno. We played Snakes and Ladders and others such as Charlie and Lola’s Pink Milk or that aptly named game Trouble. We watched old videos of The Fairies and The Wiggles and Hi5. We made pretend cakes and biscuits with play dough—but we baked yummy, real ones too, always keeping some for Mummy and Daddy.

Recently, I listened as our granddaughter groaned about the many school assignments she currently has to complete. Her life is so full—she is an excellent dancer, with classes and performances consuming many of her spare hours. Right now, she cannot even think much past these school years, with all those assignments and tests. Yet soon they will be over. And soon those university years will be over too. Soon, she will be a young woman, finding her own way in the world.

Will both my husband and I still be around to see her life unfold? I hope so, with all my heart. Yet none of us knows how long we have on this earth—not even our fifteen-year-old granddaughter. We often think we have years ahead of us, but nothing in this world is truly certain, as James warns us:

Now listen you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. James 4:13-14

Even if we all live into our nineties, that is such a very, very short time, isn’t it, when compared to eternity? Of course we have to plan and ‘carry on business’ in life, but how easily we can take our eyes off God and allow things that don’t matter in the end to consume us!

When I am about to vanish like that mist, I don’t want to find myself saying, ‘Where has the time gone? How did that happen? I know there were things God had for me to do, yet I chose not to do them.’ Instead, I want to use those God-given gifts each day as best I can—and I hope you do too.

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.

IJo 23t was 1968 and I was in my busy, final year at university, but I decided I couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to be a counsellor at the upcoming Billy Graham Crusade. This involved several training sessions, then attending as many crusade meetings as we could at the Brisbane Showgrounds. I was new to it all—and in both the training and the actual meetings, I learnt some lessons I have never forgotten.

During our training, we were asked to memorise some key Bible verses in order to counsel someone better—Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, John 3:16, John 1:12, Ephesians 2:8-9 and others. Those verses remain clear in my mind, fifty years on.

But one day during our training, I learnt another key lesson. Some, it seemed, were questioning others’ fitness as counsellors because they were not baptised or not taking communion in a certain way or not following some other church practice these critics regarded as essential. I remember the gracious way our trainer handled the matter, gently warning us all against being judgmental.

Later, he asked if any of us had been able to put into practice what we had learnt the previous week about sharing Christ with someone. There was silence—until a little, old Salvation Army lady stood and, with a beaming face, told us about how she had talked about Jesus with someone on the train that day. What a profound and salutary lesson! This lady represented a group of Christians who do not usually practise baptism or take communion—yet she was apparently the only one present who had shared Christ with someone that week. Hmm.

But I was to learn an even more profound lesson in not being judgmental one Sunday afternoon at the crusade itself. I had made my way to the old ‘Machinery Hill’ section of the grounds, proudly wearing my counsellor badge, and was waiting for the meeting to begin. Two men were sitting in front of me and one of them was smoking. I could tell he was nervous—he was fidgeting around and his friend was obviously trying to put him at ease. Then a man wearing an usher’s badge approached them, red in the face.

‘Excuse me!’ he said loudly to the man smoking. ‘Would you please put your cigarette out? This is a religious meeting!’

The man seemed stunned, then apologised and did as asked.

Right then, crusade or no crusade, I wanted to get up and punch that usher! I could not believe what I had witnessed—after all, it was an open air meeting and no one else seemed to mind that the man was smoking. At least he was there! I could feel the deep embarrassment of both men seated in front of me—I was sure neither would hear a thing Billy Graham said that day because of that officious usher. Surely he could have been more discerning and prayed quietly for the man instead?

Yes, one of those verses we learnt mentions grace—and that is what we all need, don’t you think? Tons and tons of it!

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

Jo 17

I always look forward to Easter, not because of all those chocolate eggs and bunnies I don’t eat but enjoy giving our grand-kids—and not even because of those hot cross buns I do eat but shouldn’t! Instead, I look forward to Easter because I know it will bring me face to face again with the absolute beauty of Jesus and his love for us in a way I can’t ignore. I know his amazing sacrifice will shake me to the core again—just as I need to be shaken. And each Easter, I try to stop and reflect on what for me is the bottom line in my life, which is this: Jesus loved you and me enough to give his life for us, in order to save us and bring us back into close relationship with our Father God—forever.

I cannot get my mind around that—but I know it’s true.

I cannot get my mind around so much about Jesus. But I know he rose from the dead and is alive today—and that he knows me and loves me.

I am so moved as I read again the account in Matthew’s Gospel of the events leading up Jesus’ crucifixion. As Jesus celebrates the Passover meal with his disciples, he says, with a voice that must have been filled with pain:

I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.”(21)

One by one, they ask him: “Surely not I?”—even Judas. But Judas doesn’t fool Jesus—and Jesus makes it clear to him that he knows. (22-25)

Jesus knows his disciples so well, yet goes on loving them, pouring out his very life for them—and for us.

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (26-28)

He then predicts how they will all fall away and describes in chilling detail how even Peter will disown him three times before the rooster crows. (31-34)

I read on, wondering how Jesus feels as he hears each one passionately refute this:

Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same. (35)

I sense Jesus’ utter desolation and loneliness at Gethsemane, when he finds Peter and James and John asleep and asks them the simple, poignant question:

Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” (40)

The soldiers arrive and Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss. But then comes what I find the saddest little sentence ever:

Then all the disciples deserted him and fled. (56)

All these words cut me to the heart. Would I too have disowned Jesus? Would I have fallen asleep? Would I have fled? Where am I right now in following him? Is that bottom line in my life still firm and strong?

This Easter, may you too find time to stop and reflect on that bottom line in your life and reconnect in a fresh way with our wonderful Saviour and Lord.

Jo 17I could not believe it. Early one morning, I went to check out our little garden just beyond our balcony. At least, it isn’t really ‘our’ garden, because the village gardeners look after it and have planted shrubs there. But I recently added some small, purple lobelia plants a neighbour gave me when some of her garden was dug up to allow for plumbing repairs nearby. I felt sorry for her and wanted those little plants to flourish, for her sake. But this particular morning, I discovered three of them had been dug up and were lying on top of the ground looking extremely forlorn, their roots dangling in mid-air.

How could this happen? I knew it hadn’t been our grandchildren—or the gardeners—or any of our neighbours. Then I noticed our big, local water dragon nearby, scratching the ground with its sharp claws. Could he (or she) be the culprit? Perhaps it was my imagination, but I suspected that cheeky lizard looked a tad guilty as I glared at it! Or could the real culprit be that even cheekier brush turkey who occasionally struts along the bushland corridor beside our unit? One day, my husband even saw it head upstairs to the units above ours, as if it owned the place!

Whoever the culprit might have been, those little plants needed rescuing. I stuck them back in the ground, held up their limp leaves and watered them carefully. And as I watched their progress (or lack thereof) in the ensuing days, I was reminded forcibly of the parable Jesus told about the farmer who went out one day to sow seed (Luke 8:1-15). Some fell along the path and was trampled or eaten by birds. Some fell on rocks, but the resulting plants soon withered because there was no water. Some fell among thorns, which also grew and choked those new plants. But some fell on good soil and yielded an amazing crop.

Jesus explains to his disciples that the seed along the path represents those who hear the word of God, yet never truly believe, because the enemy quickly tramples on their faith or snatches it away. The seed on the rock represents those who receive the word with joy, yet their faith soon withers, like my plants did when their roots were exposed. The seed that falls among thorns represents those whose faith does not mature because their worries, along with the riches and pleasures of life, choke it. Then Jesus says:

But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. (15)

How quickly that new life drained out of my little plants, as they lay in that hot sun! One day they were happily growing—and the next, they were not. What a stark reminder to me how easily we can die spiritually when, for one reason or another, our roots do not go down deep into God, so that we can withstand any attempts to trample on or snatch away or dry up or crowd out our faith!

May we not only hear the word, but retain it well—and may we persevere, ever maturing and producing the most abundant harvest possible, as God enables.