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Posts Tagged ‘Australian author’

Jo 12Have you ever experienced a time when someone reminded you of something helpful you said to them once, yet you had no memory of ever saying it? You know this person is not lying—you know you must have said those words they remember. Yet you still feel something of a fraud, taking any credit for the encouragement you gave them, when it has now gone from your mind!

Recently, I heard how Jeanie Wood, whom I met around two years ago, was about to release her first novel (The Travel Club, published by Elephant House Press).That’s nice, I thought, I’m so glad she will have the joy of seeing her book in print. Now people often tell me how they would like to write a book ‘one day’—and equally often, I suspect they will never get around to it or have the self-discipline to complete such a big task. But Jeanie had actually followed through with it all and achieved her long-held dream.

Then one day she messaged me, thanking me for encouraging her to write a novel ‘just for fun’. Wow, I thought, did I really say or write that? I remembered chatting to her when we first met and offering to read a few chapters of some of her writing, which she subsequently sent me. I remembered too how one piece of non-fiction she had written was very sad and would have stirred up past memories for her of difficult times. Was that perhaps the reason I had encouraged her to write something quite different? Whatever the case, God had obviously used those three words I can’t even remember saying or writing to spur her on and help usher her into a new and extremely fulfilling part of her writing journey.

But then there are other words we say at times that do not bring joy and fulfilment. I wonder if someone has ever reminded you of something you said or wrote that hurt them, yet you were unaware that was the case—and again, may not have remembered saying or writing it.

This too happened to me once. In that instance, while I remembered what I wrote, I had no idea my words would offend. Imagine my horror then when, a few years later, this person let me know in no uncertain terms how deeply I had hurt her. I then had to write back, asking what she meant, only to be shocked all over again at the depth of her feelings as she reiterated in fine detail what I had said and done. Yet how to apologise? I did try—and I also tried to explain what I had meant, but I am unsure how successful my overtures were.

Sometimes we can be so amazed and grateful that our words have impacted others in a positive way, can’t we? At other times, we may wish we could take those words of ours back and swallow them whole! Either way, let’s continue to learn to listen well to God, to seek to tame our tongues and to share more of those positive, life-giving words rather than any that will hurt or discourage.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29

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One of the handiest qualities any aspiring writer needs to have, in my opinion, is a good dose of humility. In the very uncertain book publishing world, an author may well have to survive endless assessments and editing of his or her precious manuscript, not to mention possible multiple rejections from potential publishers. Then comes the reader feedback, encouraging or otherwise, along with favourable or unfavourable reviews. And of course there are the times when others’ books are released while yours is still waiting for that publishing contract or when friends’ books win awards and yours doesn’t or when your books do not sell nearly as well as someone else’s.

In my writing journey thus far, I have experienced all of the above at one point or another. I think I have learnt a little more humility in the process—although perhaps that could be too proud a claim to make! And I hope I have sincerely rejoiced with those who rejoice when their books have been released and when they have achieved some sort of success. But I must admit my abilities in this area have been tried a little of late.

Recently, the publishers who earlier this year accepted my sixth and latest novel for publication let me know they had changed their minds! In contrast, three of my friends were enjoying varying degrees of publishing success. For one, her first book was launched after a long wait and many edits—a wonderful achievement. For another, a secular publisher has shown interest in her manuscript—an encouragement for both of us, since I have had some input into this her first work. I hope and pray it is published—my friend deserves it and has written a great, true story. Then another friend I have tried to encourage on her writing journey succeeded in having a story included in a very professional compilation released by a big publishing house. I was genuinely excited for them all. But … what about my own writing journey? Where is it heading?

Then I read John 13—the account of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet—and things began to fall into perspective again. I love verses 3-4 where John writes:

 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing and wrapped a towel around his waist.

Jesus knew who he was. He knew he had all power and authority. He knew where he came from and where he was going. And on the strength of that knowledge and out of his great love for his disciples, Jesus proceeds to wash their feet.

Now I don’t have all power and authority—especially when it comes to publishers! But I do know I am a child of God. And I do know where I came from and where I am going. So I can choose to walk my writing journey with humility and in the strength of God’s Spirit, whatever is happening or not happening. And out of love for my friends, I can choose to support them well in their writing journeys and sincerely celebrate their successes.

How about you? Is humility a challenge for you too?

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‘Do you want the good news or the bad news?’ I asked my husband a few days ago.

‘Oh, the good news!’ he responded.

‘Well, I’ve edited fifty-six of my blogs,’ I sighed. ‘But the bad news is I have fifty-seven more to go!’

This all began quite a few weeks back. At that time I was thinking and praying about what my next writing project should be. I had completed my first non-fiction work and submitted it to a publisher. I knew I had the beginnings of three other novels on my computer—yet was it right to tackle one of these? Or should I try more non-fiction?

An author friend emailed me, strongly suggesting I should do something with the many blogs I have written. An older friend whose godly opinion I value so much urged me to do the same. Various other friends and family members to whom I mentioned the whole concept felt this was the way for me to go too. Then not long after, I read some encouraging words from Isaiah 61 that seemed to indicate that the idea had God’s blessing and that my efforts would prosper. Soon I was fully on board, ready to tackle this next challenge.

Since July 2009, I have disciplined myself to write a weekly blog that would say something about God and faith and often about writing as well, in an effort to reach out and encourage others and hopefully draw them a little closer to God. So now I had the task of wading through more than a hundred and fifty of these, deciding which would be suitable for inclusion in my proposed book. Some I immediately decided against using. They were too personal or too ‘for that moment only’ or … well, just plain not very good!

But then came the real slog. Then I had to begin to read the ones I had selected yet again, this time not only editing them but also grouping them into categories such as ‘Encouragement’, ‘Following God’s Call’, ‘Perseverance’ and other similar titles.

So now I have arrived at Number 57. Sometimes the going has been easy and delightful as I remember why I wrote this or that blog and rejoice again over some God-moment in my life. At other times, I move slowly, taking in again some deep lesson from God that I wrote about originally with a contrite heart and a spirit touched and comforted by God’s own Spirit. And I sit again in God’s presence, asking myself where I am now with that particular issue or difficulty.

Yes, it is a lot of work—and at times I wonder if I would have started at all, if I had know what I was letting myself in for. But then I realise perhaps the key thing this whole exercise has shown me yet again is the utter faithfulness of God in my life. Time after time, I read how God reached out to me, met me at my point of need, rejoiced with me, grieved with me, persevered with me, forgave me—and all of this in absolute love for me. And I remember God’s words to the Israelites so long ago:

I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” (Jer 31:3)

My blogs are indeed testimony of the truth of this in my own life—and I am humbled and oh so thankful.

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During the recent heavy rains, we knew it was quite likely that the creek outside our back fence would inundate our yard. After all, this creek flows down from a nearby high ridge and into the Parramatta River not far away. So when heavy rains coincide with a high tide in the river, then the water has to go somewhere.

We knew we were not in any danger as we watched the creek quickly rise. Nevertheless, we clearly remembered the mess left in our yard from previous floods and did not want to have to shovel and hose and clean up yet again.

Then I noticed a blueberry ash tree I had planted several years ago on the creek bank was now surrounded by murky water. It had been a giveaway at our local Council’s ‘free tree’ day when a tiny seedling and had managed to survive being attacked by our lawnmower and a total lack of care from me. There it was, still standing bravely upright—and I was so proud of it.

I left my post momentarily. And when I returned, my blueberry ash was nowhere to be seen. I stood staring at the spot, feeling very sad for a tree that had fought so gamely to survive. It had not cost me anything, so was no great loss. But it had taken years to get to about a metre and half in height. And now it was wiped out.

Disgusted, I walked inside.

Not long after, my husband ventured down our yard to begin cleaning up—and next time I looked, lo and behold, there was my blueberry ash again!

‘It was weighed down by a lot of debris that had caught in its leaves,’ my husband told me. “Once I removed that, it sprang back up!’

Later, I went down to inspect my tree myself. Yes, it was standing up, albeit at a slight angle. Even its little, dark blue berries were still intact. At its base, the roots had obviously been strained and tested—but they had held firm. I straightened the tree, packed some more earth around it and placed a rock at its base. Yes, it had survived and would live to grown even firmer and stronger.

Immediately, I thought of the words of Psalm 1:1-3:

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.

The roots of my blueberry ash had obviously gone down deep enough into the moist soil by the creek to withstand the fast flowing flood waters. Yes, my tree had been weighed down with debris but it had stood firm. What a parable for my own life! What a graphic reminder of how I need to close my ears to discouragement and bad advice and instead send my roots down deep into the Word of God, drinking from that living water only God can provide! Then when the difficulties of my writing journey threaten to overwhelm me, I will remain unmoved, lift my head, shake myself off and start again.

May you too be like my blueberry ash, standing firm, whatever the waters that may swirl around you!

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One day last week, I found myself waiting with one of our daughters at a medical centre so her new baby could be immunised. We waited … and waited … and waited. Eventually, with the baby’s feed time rapidly approaching, my daughter decided to call it quits and head for home.

“I’ll come back another day,” she said in an exasperated voice. “I hate waiting, don’t you?”

Later, I thought about that question a little more. On the whole, I realised, I don’t mind any normal sort of waiting—as long as I have the time and it doesn’t inconvenience me too much! And as an author, I should be used to it. After all, even when we have finished a manuscript, we still usually have a few long waiting periods ahead—firstly, while we wait for our editor or readers to go through it; secondly, while we wait to hear back (often a very long time) after submitting it to a publisher; thirdly, while we wait for the book to be released; and finally, while we wait for it to reach the bookshelves in the stores and for people to buy it!

Right now, I am in one such waiting period—not just for one book, but for two. They are both being considered by publishers and who knows whether these publishers will take them on? In the meantime, I am left sitting here, hoping and praying—and waiting.

A few years ago, when in the middle of a different waiting period, I was complaining loudly to a dear, older friend who has been my spiritual mentor for many years. I soon discovered she had a different perspective from me on it all.

“Could you view this waiting as an active time—perhaps even an honourable activity?” she challenged me gently one day, after listening yet again  to my whinges and moans.

It was such a simple but radical change in perspective for me to see waiting as part of the whole process and accept it, refusing to let it frustrate me. I needed to keep on trusting God and wait patiently, without wavering. This was further emphasised through a passage from Isaiah I read around the same time, Isaiah 30:15-18:

In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength,but you would have none of it.

You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’ Therefore, you will flee!

You said, ‘We will ride off on swift horses.’ Therefore your pursuers will be swift!

A thousand will flee at the threat of one; at the threat of five you will all flee away

till you are left like a flagstaff on a mountaintop, like a banner on a hill.

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!

I believe God was showing me I was not to run around, trying to make things happen in my own strength. Instead, I was to look to God to bring it about and wait patiently. I did not envisage that meant I was to sit around idle, however. I needed to keep writing and praying and doing my best to look for speaking opportunities, but I also needed to listen well, acting when God said to and not before. And somehow I suspect that’s what I have to do right now too.

How about you? Have you discovered that waiting can actually be an ‘honourable activity’?

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This past week, I received an email from an old friend in which she described beginning a new year as being like looking at a huge, blank canvas and not having a clue what kind of picture will emerge on it. Do you relate to that image as you look ahead to 2012?

I certainly do—as do many of my author friends in particular, I expect. We may have spent the past year writing our novels or works of non-fiction, but what will happen to them in 2012? Will they end up being published? Or will they still be sitting there in a year’s time—along with a pile of rejection letters? Perhaps we had a book published this past year, but will it continue to sell well? Are we even with the right publisher? And what speaking engagements and promotional opportunities lie ahead for us?

In the eight years I have been writing, if nothing else, I have learnt that no one year is the same as another. I have had five novels published in that time, some of which have sold more than others. And at the beginning of each year, I have tried my best to line up as many speaking engagements as possible. Some years I have been almost overwhelmed with speaking opportunities, whereas in other years, for no apparent reason, I have suffered a dearth of them.

So as I stand on the brink of yet another year of writing and speaking, what can I do? Well, I can hope my sixth novel will be accepted for publication. And I can also hope my very first work of non-fiction will be too. I hope both these things fill part of that blank canvas for me in the coming year—but I can’t bank on it. I hope too that many speaking engagements will be scattered along the way, but I can’t be sure of these yet either. Some people are to get back to me in the new year, while others have yet to respond to my emails. And of course, I plan to keep writing—perhaps another work of non-fiction or one of those other novels I have outlined on my computer. But I’m not sure any of them will ‘work’—I’ll simply have to begin writing and see.

All this uncertainty can be very off-putting. But this past week, I was reminded clearly from Isaiah 2 that there is only one way for us to travel such an uncertain road. In verse 5, God says to the children of Israel through Isaiah, but surely to us too:

Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Then in verse 22 at the end of that same chapter, I read the following:

Stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he?

My dear friend finished her email I mentioned above with the thought that God knows already what that finished picture on the blank canvas before us for 2012 will look like. I don’t know about you, but I find that hugely reassuring. How privileged we are to know we can trust the Lord and walk in his light rather than bank on mere human beings in the year ahead! God knows. God sees. And God will undertake for me and for you.

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What drives me to keep writing? I ask myself that question quite often these days, as do others from time to time. Surely, with five novels published and a sixth waiting for acceptance, I must have used up all the ideas I have in my head for plots?  Sometimes I look at all the effort involved, not only in writing a novel but actually getting out there and promoting it, and am tempted to think that maybe I’ve written enough. But then something happens—and I’m spurred on yet again to keep at it.

This past week saw my husband heading to Canberra for the funeral of a colleague who has spent many years in ministry. When I saw the order of service my husband brought home, I realised this gentleman was around the same age as I am. There was something quite stark and almost shocking, I quickly discovered, in seeing the same year as I was born printed on this order of service. I am mortal, I found myself thinking. There will be an end to this life I’m living and this writing and speaking and editing – perhaps even sooner than I imagined.

Now I did already have an inkling this was the case, of course. But somehow in being so focused on the tasks at hand, all needing to be done in a certain time frame, I had lost sight a little of the bigger picture. This salutary lesson was then quickly followed by another a few days later—something I find God is very good at when it’s necessary to get my attention. There I was, happily reading through 2 Corinthians 4, when I came across the following verses:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 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 (4:16-18).

Hmm—so all these books I’m spending so much time creating won’t last forever. Yet if God has called me to write them, then they are definitely important.

It seems to be a matter of balance, don’t you think? We are called to work with all our might at what God has given us to do, but at the same time, we are to remember they are not an end in themselves. While we have to deal very much with the ‘seen’ in our lives on a daily basis, we are nevertheless to focus on the ‘unseen’ through it all—even the troubles we have along the way. For me then, this means I am to live and write and speak for God to the best of my ability, knowing it’s for God’s glory and not my own, and also knowing I could step into eternity at any time. I won’t be here forever, but while I am, I am to work for the things that truly will last forever.

So I hope I’ve taken God’s gentle reminders to heart.  Right now, I reckon the gentleman whose funeral my husband attended is enjoying that eternal glory with God in heaven. And that’s where I want my focus to be too. I want to write for eternity.

How about you? Where is your focus?

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