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Posts Tagged ‘The Inheritance’

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 17There are some great perks in selling my books at a school Mothers’ Day market each year. One definitely is watching the children try to decide what to buy their mothers and grandmothers. The youngest students tend to have only five dollars at the most to spend—although this year, I saw one girl waving a fifty dollar note around! Yet, whatever amount they have, each one comes hoping to find something they are sure their mother or grandmother will love—and it is all quite heart-warming to watch.

I couldn’t help but smile as I saw one class sitting together, waiting for the stragglers to finish making their choices. Almost all of them were pulling their prized purchases out of their bags and proudly displaying them to their friends. Some had bought special cards to write in. Others had found sweet smelling candles or soaps. Still others had decided on some jewellery or clothing item. One little girl held up what looked like a rather large, garish, bright red satin cross on a ribbon, complete with white crocheted edging. Hmm! Her face was pink with excitement, as she lovingly stroked her precious gift. In my heart, I hoped and prayed her mother would be delighted when she received it—or at least pretend to be! I could not imagine any mum wanting to wear it, but I hoped this little girl’s mum would think of some special use for it.

Now I go to these markets with other hopes as well. Yes, I hope I will sell a good number of my books. But beyond that, I hope that the books I do sell will be read and enjoyed by the mothers or grandmothers who receive them and that they will draw them closer to God in some way. Can you imagine how lovely it was then when a young girl came bounding up to my table early on with a beaming face and pointed to my latest novel, The Inheritance.

‘Oh, I bought that book last year for my grandmother and she really, really loved it! So she wants another one of your novels!’ she told me, almost breathless with excitement.

Not long after, a staff member came by and pointed to my first non-fiction book, Soul Friend.

‘I bought that as a gift for a friend in Canada last year—and she thought it was wonderful! She’s now in the middle of lending it around to all her friends there.’

How encouraging both these conversations were for me—as I know they would be for any author. We write in the hope that our books will strike a chord with people, but we never know if that will happen. After all, our readers have different tastes and needs—and that’s okay. So I have learnt to be grateful when I receive such positive feedback, but not to set my hopes on such things. Instead, I know I need to keep my eyes focussed firmly on God, the best encourager of all, and trust the One Who gives me deep and lasting hope—hope that will never disappoint.

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. Psalm 62:5-6

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Helena CoverAs I sat reading the email enquiry that had just arrived via my website, I felt more than a little surprised. You see, someone had written to ask where she could get hold of twenty-five copies of my very first novel Heléna, first published way back in 2007. She explained how she had loved it and planned to review it at her church’s women’s retreat, so needed to have copies available for their bookstall.

I suggested she check at a nearby Christian bookstore, as I had none on hand. She did this, but with no success. So I agreed to order in some copies from my previous publisher for her—and within less than a fortnight, those books had arrived. I contacted my prospective customer again and she arranged to pick them up from me. I looked forward to meeting her and to discovering where she had first come across Heléna. Had she bought it from me after I had spoken somewhere? Had she found it in a bookstore? Had someone perhaps given it to her?

When she arrived, she was in a hurry. But in those few moments together, she told me a story that blew my mind.

‘Oh, I found my copy of Heléna in a Vinnies store at Ryde!’ she told me. ‘It looked new—and when I picked it up, I realised it was a Christian book, so I bought it. I’ve read some of your other books too since then.’

At that point, I showed her one of my bookmarks that feature my most recent novel The Inheritance and my memoir Soul Friend.

‘I haven’t read The Inheritance,’ she told me, ‘but I’ve read Soul Friend. In fact, I lent it to a friend I worked with. She was unhappy in her job and I thought it might help her. I didn’t want her to leave, but when she read it, it gave her the strength to do just that and to move on in her life. And that has been the best thing for her.’

As I stood clutching the cash payment she insisted on making then and there for all twenty-five copies of Heléna, I felt so humbled. Only God could have arranged for her to buy that second hand copy in Vinnies and be moved by it, then to read more of my books. Only God could have prompted her to lend Soul Friend to her friend. And only God could have used it to inspire this person to make a wise decision and move on. I could never have dreamed up this sequence of events—but God certainly could.

As my lovely customer left, clutching her carton of books, I thanked God for her and prayed those copies would be well received at the women’s retreat. And I remembered once again some verses I love from Isaiah:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9

I could not agree more. How about you?

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Last week, while promoting my books in a Melbourne bookstore, I had some interesting encounters I could never have imagined into any of my novels. They encouraged me so much that I wondered afterwards if I might well have been entertaining one or two of those angels the writer to the Hebrews talks about in Heb 13:2!

Take the gentleman I began chatting to as he was leaving the store. He asked where I was from and, on discovering I was from Sydney, told me he wouldn’t hold that against me! After I informed him I actually grew up in Queensland, we discovered we went to the same high school and that our time there had overlapped. Then when I told him I had ended up teaching at another Brisbane school a few years later, we discovered his wife had been a student there at the time. On and on our conversation went. How lovely it was reflect on the journey God had taken us both over the years since then and to remind ourselves of God’s faithfulness!

Another wonderful encounter occurred when a lady came to the store especially to meet me. We had emailed off and on over the years in relation to recording my books for people with visual impairment. I knew my first three novels had been recorded, but imagine my delight when I discovered two more had been as well, that my non-fiction book Soul Friend was about to be recorded and that this lady planned to buy my latest novel The Inheritance so it can be also. What an encouragement! I had imagined their clients would have had enough of borrowing my books, but no, apparently they want more. I love the idea of being able to bless people in this way who are unable to see the printed word.

I was touched too when a young woman noticed Soul Friend on my display table and immediately came over to give me a warm hug. She had found the book so helpful, she told me, and was delighted to meet me. Later, a similar thing happened with someone who had read The Inheritance. Then just this past weekend, while book selling at a conference closer to home, I had another unexpected and encouraging encounter. I met a delightful lady who works in a Christian bookstore in a small, western New South Wales country town.

‘Oh, it’s so great to meet you!’ she told me. ‘We stock your books in our bookstore—our manager loves them! They’re in our local library too.’

Never would have I envisaged my books in a store in this little town, let alone in their library.

In all this, I don’t mean to be egotistical at all. I’m sure God didn’t allow these encounters for the purpose of boosting my pride! But I do believe God’s heart was to encourage me in these lovely, surprising ways—just as God desires to do for you. In John 5:17, Jesus tells the Jews: My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working. Are your eyes open to see how our loving Father is at work even now in your own life? Or, like me, are you perhaps in danger of not recognising those angels God has for us to encounter along the way?

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Do you remember those ‘Choose Your Own’ children’s adventure books from years ago? If you as the reader wanted the story to take a certain twist, then you were instructed to turn to a particular page and follow the thread of your own choosing from there on. If you wanted, you could even go back and follow a different trail to a different outcome. What fun! Multiple possibilities for a satisfactory ending at your fingertips.

But what if a book you were reading had no actual ending? What if you were reading along happily, enjoying the book so much that you couldn’t put it down, only to discover those last few pages holding that crucial final resolution to the story were missing? Imagine how annoying that would be!

This very thing happened to a friend of mine recently. In fact, this friend was reading a copy of my own latest novel, The Inheritance! Worse than that, it was a copy I myself had given her as a thank you gift for her kind hospitality during a recent interstate trip. Picture my dismay, then, when she emailed to tell me what had happened!

I hastily posted a replacement copy to my friend to ease her frustration. But I also thought of all those people who have already bought a copy. What if this wasn’t a one-off fluke? What if there were others who would discover the story ended abruptly in mid-sentence? Yet, so far, no one else has complained of any missing pages to me or my publisher. I also checked through any open boxes of my own supplies of this novel, but, in the end, decided all I could do was try to check each copy I personally sell in future. As for bookstore sales, I hope anyone who does find those last pages missing will speedily return their copy to the store.

But this whole alarming event caused me to think about other ‘ends of stories’ in our lives. We live with so much uncertainty, don’t we? We don’t know exactly how our day will unfold when we get up in the morning. We don’t know what the week or month or year ahead will contain. We may think we do, but things often have a habit of turning out differently from what we expected. Yet we know for sure who does know the end of the story—both our own personal story and that of the whole world. And our God, with great grace, has also given us glimpses in Scripture of how things will unfold. We know, for example, that one day we will see Jesus face to face (1 Cor 13:12). One day, Jesus will return and take us to live with him forever in the place he has prepared for us (Jn 3:16; 14:3) where there will be no more tears (Rev 7:16-17). And one day, having finished the race and kept the faith, we too will be welcomed into God’s presence.

Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 2 Tim 4:8

That’s one perfect story ending I’m very much looking forward to. How about you?

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Yes, there it is again—something dark brown around my laptop. I can see it in my peripheral vision as I type and it doesn’t seem right. For so long, all I have seen is a mass of white stuff, interspersed with a few coloured folders and bits and pieces. Yet now, wonder upon wonders, could it possibly be … ? Yes, it’s the top of my desk! Now don’t get me wrong. There are still a few things scattered across the surface around me as I sit writing this. My diary, a couple of notebooks, my journal, my Bible, a few cards, a pen or two, a candle, some other odds and ends. But how exciting it is to be able to see the dark wood of that desk again, after weeks and months of its being submerged in copies of various talks I had promised to give during our two recent interstate visits!

I’m not complaining, however. I felt privileged to be able to speak at all the places I was invited to do so and enjoyed it all. I met many wonderful people and watched God work in the lives of a number of them as I shared. Some have even emailed and sent cards to me since then, so our relationship is ongoing. On top of that, my books have now reached a wider audience. Already, I have received some lovely, encouraging feedback about my latest novel The Inheritance, launched in the middle of these interstate visits.

But oh, how wonderful it is to have a tidier desk—for a while at least. Yet I realise that tidy desk represents more to me than the fact that I have come through a very busy period in my life and met all my interstate speaking and bookstore appearance obligations for the moment. Somehow this paring down of stuff in my line of vision seems to have pared back something deep down inside me as well. Something seems to have shifted a little in my spirit so that once again I have space to reflect, to be still, to acknowledge God’s presence with me and in me, to be just me. What freedom that brings with it for introverts like me!

I enjoy preparing messages and talks of varying descriptions. I enjoy writing my weekly blog. I even enjoy answering emails. But what a special joy it is to allow my mind to float free for a while from all these things! Yet I am also aware of a sense of anticipation building within me that maybe, just maybe I will soon be able to get back to working on my current writing project—another work of non-fiction. Maybe, wonder of wonders, I will even have time as well to check in on those novel outlines waiting patiently on my laptop for my consideration as to whether they should be pursued further or not.

But for today at least, I know I need to take care of my mind and spirit and just be. I know I need to give God that time and space to speak, to show me the way ahead, to remind me that anything envisioned or attempted apart from him is quite useless, when all is said and done.

Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth.” The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Psalm 46:10-11

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Without a doubt, I have some interesting experiences in this writing and speaking journey of mine. And radio interviews, particularly those conducted by phone, would have to be high on that list.

Recently, the publicist at my publisher organised one such interview with Ian Andersen from 92.9 Voice FM Toowoomba. Now I quite enjoy doing interviews like these, but they always feel a little surreal. After all, how bizarre is it that I can sit at my desk here in Sydney, chatting on the phone with someone I have never met, knowing everything I say is being recorded for any number of people I will probably never meet either to hear?

Just prior to this, I was speaking with an author friend on the phone and telling her about my interview.

‘Oh, well, just make sure you look your best,’ she said in a perfectly normal voice.

I was silent for a moment. What could she mean? Surely she’d heard me say it was a phone interview?

‘You know—like Hyacinth Bucket did!’ she continued a moment later.

I was still mystified, so she went on to explain how this particular character from the BBC sitcom Keeping Up Appearances would make sure she looked as perfect as possible before ever answering the phone. Later I Googled some images of Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced ‘Bouquet’)—and there she was in all her glory, complete with make-up and jewellery, answering the phone in her best hat, which matched perfectly with the rest of her outfit!

I loved my friend’s quick sense of humour, while at the same time feeling a little embarrassed at my ignorance of Hyacinth Bucket. But more embarrassment was to come. Not long after, as I sat waiting at my desk for that phone call, I found myself straightening my clothes and tidying my hair. After all, I didn’t know this interviewer and I didn’t want to look too much like the epitome of an author working at home in her disreputable old track pants and top, with messy hair and no make-up! Then I woke up to what I was doing and laughed out loud at myself. Not even my husband was home to see me—and my phone interviewer certainly wouldn’t. Even if he could, would it really make any difference to the quality of our conversation? He probably wouldn’t notice anyway—or care—what I looked like.

As I sat there, I reflected how wonderful it is when family and friends don’t care how we look and accept us as we are. Yes, it’s pleasant to be complimented on our appearance, but it’s good to know too we are loved just as we are. Yet it’s even better, as far as I’m concerned, to know God loves me just as I am, despite the fact that he can see right into my heart and soul to the real me.

The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Sam 16:7

God loves me, warts and all, with all my funny ways. Yes, God wants me to become more like Jesus, but in the process, I am still accepted and loved where I am right now. And I’m so glad of that.

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