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Posts Tagged ‘Australian Christian author’

I received an email recently that gave me much food for thought. It was from someone who had just read my first two novels, Heléna and All the Days of My Life. This reader had found them among a pile of second-hand books a friend had been given and now wanted another novel of mine, Heléna’s Legacy, which explores the journey of a minor character in my second novel, then continues Heléna’s story.

I laughed out loud. The day before, I had found my lone, second-hand copy of this novel in my cupboard and thought, ‘No one will want that.’ Imagine my surprise when, the very next day, I discovered someone did!

My contact then told me some friends are now waiting to borrow these novels from her. This was gratifying news, yet I also found it somewhat disconcerting. You see, my first two novels were published back in 2007 and 2008—and I like to think I have learnt much more about writing since then. This reader might have enjoyed them, but would her friends?

In the end, I decided I could do nothing about that. Besides, back then, I wrote as best I could, with my whole heart and soul—and how fulfilling that was!

Then came another thought. I might have learnt much more about writing in those intervening years, but did I still write with that same heart and soul now? Back then, I wanted to write stories that would highlight themes I believed were vital for us all to grasp and experience. I wanted to write about the importance of holding onto our faith in God, whatever happens. I wanted to write about experiencing God’s amazing love and grace, about forgiveness and about becoming all God purposes us to be. Did I still feel so passionately about such themes now?

Since 2004, when I began my first novel, I have written nine books and around 650 blogs and have also spoken over 250 times at all sorts of gatherings. Through it all, I have learnt much more about God and experienced God’s amazing faithfulness and enabling in so many ways. Yes, I am still passionate about those same important themes, yet some things I held dear back in 2004 have fallen by the wayside. Some needed to be discarded—others did not. Some changes in my life and faith have been for the better, I believe, yet others have not. Looking back, I am sad about those times when I may have failed God, others and myself in different ways. But I am so thankful God is merciful and forgiving, always persevering with us and always lovingly pointing us to higher ground.

Yes, I’m still the same person I was back in 2004, yet different too. I want to change what needs to be changed. I want to grow where I need to grow. And I want to keep drawing closer to God, don’t you?

Let’s hold onto those key themes of our faith in God, but let’s keep humbly learning and growing too, as we seek to become more like Jesus each day.

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. 2 Peter 3:18

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In late June/early July, our church’s annual Art Installation was set up, ready to open to the public for two weeks. We had all worked hard to prepare paintings, drawings, sculpture, photographs, pieces of writing, and various other creative endeavours on the theme of ‘God of Wonders’. But alas, due to COVID, in the end, no one could come to view our works and take time to reflect on God as they did. Dates were changed, but still no one could come when lockdown here in Sydney became even more restrictive. Then the idea of a digital tour through the Art Installation was born. Please click here to start your own personal, virtual viewing!

This year, I submitted two photographs in connection with a brief piece of writing. I love roses and decided to feature a special variety I discovered only a few years ago—‘Just Joey’, a beautiful, apricot-coloured rose with delicate, frilled petals when fully open. I bought one and planted it. And … well, below is the piece of writing that will explain why I had to do that and what God showed me as a result. I hope you enjoy reading it and that it encourages you to continue to spread that exquisite perfume Paul writes about in 2 Corinthians quoted at the end.

Just Joey

I cannot resist buying the little rose bush. After all, its name is ‘Just Joey’—and I too was called Joey as a child.

The soil is stony where I plant it, but my little bush grows. Then one day, to my delight, a beautiful, apricot-coloured bud appears, its gentle scent wafting towards me as I cut it and place it in a vase.

The bud soon opens. It is a more old-fashioned style of rose, but I love how its layer upon layer of delicate petals are frilled at the edges and quiver at my touch. I gaze at them in awe—I have never seen petals like this before.

Then I sense God saying tenderly, ‘This rose is you, Joey. You are unique too, created with many interesting layers waiting to unfold. Some may see you as old-fashioned, but you are beautiful in my sight. May you continue to be “Just Joey” for me in all you do. And may you spread the sweet aroma of my Spirit everywhere through your writing and through the words you speak.’

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­In the Messiah, in Christ, God leads us from place to place in one perpetual victory parade. Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God… 2 Corinthians 2:14-15 The Message

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We have almost reached a milestone moment in our family. Very soon, our second car, which mostly I drive, will be pensioned off. I thought I wouldn’t mind saying farewell to my faithful, old chariot, yet it has become like an old friend to me, after owning it for over twenty years. In that time, it has travelled around 270,000 kilometres in Sydney and country areas, as well as interstate. And it is still eminently drivable, so much so that we recently lent it to a friend, until she could get her own car.

We bought our Ford Fairmont second-hand in 2000—it was only eighteen months old and had been well cared for. However, when we took it home, it refused to fit fully in our small garage. As a result, over the years, its lovely, shiny, maroon paint faded on the boot and nearby areas, leaving it looking more than a little battered. On top of that, my faithful, old car has recently developed some quirky characteristics. The remote key does not work anymore. The bonnet now refuses to open, except by force. The driver’s window may wind down, then refuse to wind up. Or it may even go down further—or perhaps up, when it’s good and ready. Who knows? Yet through it all, the car itself keeps purring along beautifully—and I particularly love the way it can tackle any steep inclines with ease.

In the last thirteen years, during my writing and speaking journey, my car has taken me on all sorts of adventures. Many times, I have packed my books into its roomy boot, along with my laptop and other paraphernalia, and set off for some event, wondering what lay ahead. Would many people turn up? Would my audience be interested in what I shared? Would I sell any books? At times too, I wondered if I would even find where I was to speak, but somehow, I always got there. Of course, my car does not have GPS, so I have relied on printed maps—or, in desperation, my phone. Yes, my faithful, old car holds many emotion-filled memories for me.

Yet recently, as I looked at its battered appearance and recollected its funny quirks, I sensed it also had something to teach me—and perhaps all of us. We too may have developed some funny quirks along the way. We may look a little more battered and worn that we used to—I know I do! We may even refuse to do certain things anymore, just like my old car. But we still have so much to offer. We can look back on all the years during which God has been with us and guided us and taught us. And from that experience, we can still share the love and grace of God with others, however we are gifted and whatever our age.

At the end of my life, I hope, like my car, I can be called ‘old faithful’. I hope I can still say honestly, when that day comes:

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

Is that your desire too? Let’s all stay strong in the battle. Let’s finish well. And, above all, let’s keep believing in our amazingly faithful God.

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I have little to complain about in this current Sydney lockdown. I am so much better off than others whose jobs and businesses have been affected or whose plans have been hugely disrupted. I feel for them all—it must be extra hard to take, just when things had become more normal.  

Yet I have felt a little discouraged myself too, especially when two speaking engagements I had been looking forward to had to be cancelled. This of course also happened last year during COVID, taking away those various opportunities to speak to both small and large groups and promote my books. Yes, my books are still available in Koorong and online via my website, Amazon etc, but there is nothing like selling them in person and being able to engage one-on-one with potential readers.

Around the same time, I received some rather discouraging news to do with my writing, which made me wonder if all my effort was in fact worthwhile. Surely it would be easier to forget about writing altogether and do something else?

In the midst of my little pity party, however, I began reading the final chapter of 1 Peter. But as I did, I noticed the heading there in my bible—‘To the Elders and Young Men’. How could these verses apply to me then? Nevertheless, I read on. As Peter addresses the church overseers, he urges them to shepherd God’s flock with willingness and integrity, not lording it over others but being a good example in every way. Then he writes:

And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. 1 Peter 5:4

Wow, I found myself saying to God, I need to remember that! Whatever happens with my books, whether they are dismal failures or roaring successes, in the end, what really matters is whether I have faithfully served you and others as best I can through my writing and speaking. Any glory or honour I receive or don’t receive here is nothing compared to that crown of glory that will never fade away!

Next, I read Peter’s words to the young men, then to everyone. This part definitely included me.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

Hmm, I said to God, I need to do that. And I know I can because you love and care for me so deeply. So why I am I holding on tightly to all this anxiety then?

I kept reading, hearing God’s warning in every word.

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 1 Peter 5:8-9

Yes, Lord, I responded, I should know after all these years how the enemy loves to try to drag us down. Yet I don’t have to let this happen. Instead, I can resist—I can stand firm. especially when others are suffering so much more elsewhere, yet remaining faithful.

Stuff happens—or doesn’t. Yet God is always there and always will be.

To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 5:11

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One recent cold, blustery Saturday morning, I headed out to drive to our local shops. I had not gone far, however, when I felt compelled to pull over and get out of the car. You see, I had just passed two older men trying their best to chase after piles of advertising brochures that were being blown everywhere, up and down the road. At first, I thought: ‘It’s not really my problem. Maybe they were careless and dropped them while they were supposed to be putting them neatly in people’s letterboxes.’ But I felt so sorry for them as they ran after those windswept papers that I decided I should help.

Can you picture me diving here and there to pick up those errant brochures? Hmm! A few cars slowed down, as I retrieved some that had blown right onto the road, but no one stopped to help. One can only hope all those young people in particular who decided to keep going had a pressing appointment somewhere!

Feeling decidedly windblown, I huffed and puffed my way back to where the two men were busy chasing after their own piles.

‘Are we winnin’?’ one of them yelled out with a grin.

‘I don’t know, but at least it’s good exercise!’ I laughed back.

I soon discovered the men had not been delivering the leaflets. They had merely seen them fall off a truck right in front of them and had decided they created far too much litter to be left lying on the road. This made me doubly glad I had helped them, but as I drove off, the question the man asked kept ringing in my ears: ‘Are we winnin’?’

The two men and I must have looked ridiculous as we picked up those brochures—I think I even saw some drivers laughing at us while they sped past! We did not look like we were ‘winnin’’ at all—and I for one didn’t feel like we were either. And that is how it sometimes feels with our efforts to love and serve God too, doesn’t it? Sometimes, there seems to be little impact when we seek to use the gifts God has given us. At times, after speaking at some secular event, I wonder if anyone present heard my gentle challenges about faith in God. At times too, I wonder if those conversations at my book table will bear any fruit—or if my books themselves will. Yet I know that is when I need to refocus and remember I have done my best to convey what I felt God wanted me to convey. And I need to remind myself too that I belong to the ultimate, all-powerful Victor who has conquered even death for our sakes.

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:57-58

Whether we managed to retrieve all those pesky brochures or not on that recent windy morning, I suspect we did win. I at least sensed our actions pleased and honoured God—and in the end, that’s what matters, don’t you think?  

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Have you ever found yourself singing a worship song in church, then realising with a start what the words actually said? Sometimes when this has happened to me, I have stopped singing, as I felt my life did not honestly reflect the truths those words contained.

Recently, I had to pause while singing a worship song that repeated the words ‘Here’s my life, Lord’ several times over. Whoa—what a huge commitment, to offer God our lives wholeheartedly and to ask God to speak to us! I know I belong to God, that God has cleansed me and set me free and given me new life, as this song went on to remind us. Yet was I still truly willing to commit my whole life to serving God, rather than doing whatever I pleased?

This same day, I had already been challenged along these lines via a conversation at our church door.

‘Are you preaching today?’ I asked one of our pastors.

‘Yes, at all three services, but it feels like a light day to me, as I don’t have any other meetings in between, which is wonderful!’

I sat down, my mind reeling. Preaching three times in the one day? Once or twice years ago, I had to do such a thing and could still remember how exhausting it was. I would definitely think twice before doing that again. As for meetings in between, no way! Yet soon we began singing, ‘Here’s my life, Lord’—and I blithely joined in. Hmm.

My mind then went to a friend who has served overseas for more than twenty years and is soon coming home here to live. What an uprooting to leave all her special friends behind in that faraway country! And what a challenge it will be to reorientate her life here at home, after serving God elsewhere for so long! I know God gifts us differently and calls us to do different things in life, yet my friend gave up so much to do what she believed God wanted. Was I prepared to say with all my heart, as I know she will be doing again soon, ‘Here’s my life, Lord …’?

As our service continued, the preacher reminded us of a verse that was very meaningful to me at a particularly challenging stage of my life:

Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty. Zechariah 4:6

God had shown Zechariah a gold lampstand in a vision, with a bowl on the top and seven lamps or lights—and nearby, two olive trees, which would seem to indicate a good supply of oil for those lamps. Back then, God’s people needed to be reminded that they were not to rely on their own strength but rather on the Spirit’s power—and I had needed to be reminded of that too in my mid-forties when I began studying at theological college. God did enable me so much throughout those years of intense study, I reflected—and also in my ensuing ministry role, then on into my writing and speaking journey.

How grateful I am for God’s empowering thus far in my life! Yes surely, Lord, I can still worship you with a full heart. Surely, I can sing all over again, ‘Here’s my life, Lord’—and mean it.

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On this particular Monday morning, I did not feel like grocery shopping. Still, it had to be done, so off I went. I scooted around the supermarket in record time and headed for the nearest checkout. Then I noticed the worker there was a lady with whom I had previously had a conversation about my books. On that occasion, she had asked me what I wrote about, but someone had interrupted and there had been no time to answer her. I had left the store that day feeling rather frustrated—would I ever get another opportunity to talk with her? Yet there she was now, about to serve me again—but I felt too tired and grumpy to connect with her. Perhaps she had forgotten all about that question she had asked me anyway.

Imagine my surprise then when the first thing she said was, ‘So … are you still writing?’

My heart sank. I did not want to talk about writing—or anything serious, for that matter. Yet I was touched she had not forgotten our previous conversation.

‘Wow, I’m amazed you remembered I’m a writer,’ I managed to say. ‘Yes, I’m still writing—and speaking. I’m speaking at a club this week, but I’ve also spoken at quite a few churches.’

‘Oh … what sort of things do you write about?’

At that point, I decided to opt for a relatively safe response.

‘Well, my novels focus on different serious issues we all face in our lives sometime or other, such as forgiveness or grief or dealing with life’s challenges … lots of things like that.’

‘Wow—I must check your books out online.’

By this time, I was wider awake—and praying hard!

‘Um, I have a card here,’ I told her, as I fished around in my purse.

She finished packing my groceries and I paid her. For a moment, it seemed she had moved onto the next customer, but she turned to me again.

‘So, where’s your card? Thanks so much. Have a good week!’

I left, feeling somewhat stunned but also a little ashamed of myself. God had given me a wonderful, unexpected, second opportunity to connect with this lady, yet I had not wanted to engage with her at all. Instead, I had wallowed in my tiredness and grumpiness and it had not even entered my head to consider what God might want me to say. Then the Apostle Peter’s words came to mind:

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. … 1 Peter 3:15

I had not been prepared. I felt I could have been much more open. I should have mentioned other themes in my novels like the love and grace of God, but now the moment was gone. Yet, in the midst of all these whirling thoughts, I sensed God’s amazing grace and acceptance pour over me. And as I drove home, I prayed. Lord, please may she look up my website and see why I write and what I write about. And please may we have an even better conversation soon.

I’m so grateful God understands. And I’m so grateful God uses us even in our weakness in ways we may least expect.

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One day recently, in the middle of writing, I thought of something I needed to do in the kitchen. Yet there was one slight problem. After heading there, I could not remember what that ‘something’ was! Feeling distinctly foolish, I returned to my writing, hoping enlightenment would soon come.

Not long after, my husband charged into my study to tell me two things. He remembered the first, but the second eluded him completely. Later that day, however, he informed me he had remembered what that second thing was—but had forgotten it again! Oh dear.

A day or so later, that pesky piece of information he had forgotten twice finally surfaced. This time, he remembered it long enough to relay it to me—although whether it was worth the effort is another matter, since I cannot now recall what it was!

This phenomenon of forgetting things has nothing to do with old age, of course. My personal excuse is that I have so many writing ideas in my head there is very little room for other pieces of information, particularly mundane ones. That is why I take great care in recording the various details for my speaking engagements on my laptop—and in my paper diary. After all, I do need to remember such things as what topic I have been asked to speak on, what time I need to arrive, where I am able to park and other necessary bits and pieces of information. This helps counteract the feeling of dread I occasionally experience of one day turning up at the wrong venue or at the wrong time or even on the wrong day!

I think God understands how good we are at forgetting, don’t you? In the Old Testament, God gave the Israelites various feasts and rituals which enabled them to reflect together on God’s goodness and remember how God wanted them to live. Even then, God often had to encourage them, via strong words from their leaders, to remember where they had come from and who had saved them.

Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. Deuteronomy 24:18

Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced … 1 Chronicles 16:12, Psalm 105:5

You have forgotten God your Saviour; you have not remembered the Rock, your fortress. Isaiah 17:10

We cannot judge them, however, because how quickly we too can forget what God has done for us! I for one know how easily I can slip over into thinking I am in charge of my own life and fail to remember who I belong to. No wonder Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper for his disciples—and for us—as one tangible way at least of remembering him.  

This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me. … This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 1 Corinthians j11:24-25

We may forget many things, but let’s never forget the Lord. Let’s remember his amazing love and grace and mercy towards us—and be so thankful.

Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits … Psalm 103:1-2

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I was standing in our local Koorong bookstore, promoting my latest novel, when I noticed a lovely young couple nearby. Initially, I thought they might not be interested in talking or looking at my books, but how wrong I was! I cannot remember now whether they approached me first or vice versa, but I do remember their smiling, relaxed manner and how intently they listened as I explained why I was there. Soon we were deep in conversation about writing and about my books. Then after buying two, they said goodbye and moved on.

Not long after, however, the girl came back.

‘Tell me, how did you actually start writing?’ she asked me. ‘How did you know that was what you should do?’

I explained how I had always loved writing, but never considered becoming a writer and opted for teaching instead. I told her too how, twenty years before writing my first novel, I had declared to my husband I would write a book ‘one day’, never truly thinking I ever would. Then I began sharing how, when I was in my fifties, God used some words from Isaiah 42 to challenge me to start writing while visiting a friend in Turkey—at which point she stopped me in mid-sentence.

‘Um … this might be a weird question, but … were you on the radio recently?’

For a moment, I was dumbfounded, but then remembered my Vision Christian radio interview in January about a short story I had written and about my writing in general.

‘Well, yes I was earlier this year, although I understand the interview was re-broadcast a few weeks ago too.’

She was stunned, but eventually managed to tell me how, as soon as I mentioned Turkey and Isaiah 42, she remembered hearing someone share this story on the radio. She had sensed even then that God was nudging her to start her own writing journey—and now she was overwhelmed that she had ‘randomly’ met me in person and was standing there hearing that same story again.

We stared at each other, both blown away at what had happened and how surreal it all felt. Yet it soon became clear too that we both knew we were on holy ground. Now she could not ignore that nudge God had given her already to start writing—now, through our ‘random’ conversation, she was not left in any doubt that this is what God wants her to do.

What an amazing God we have—a God who continues to love us and reach out to us and challenge us to step out in trust and do the things God has put in our hearts to do! When I think how I almost missed talking to this couple because I felt they would not be interested, I cringe. Yet God overruled—and I am so grateful.

It’s about listening to God well, rather than those negative, discouraging voices in our heads, and recognising God’s hand in those ‘random’ encounters, don’t you think? And when we do, God will surely will make the way forward so clear for us.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

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I wonder if you’re like me and can at least occasionally catch a glimpse of how absurd some of our attitudes and actions are. When this happened to me recently, I shook my head at my own foolishness and began laughing out loud at myself—it was just as well I was driving along with the windows up.

You see, the previous day, I had received an order from a library supplier for nineteen copies of my latest novel, Down by the Water. I put these books in a box and went to tape it up, but then remembered the company had stipulated that our invoice needed to be inside the box, along with the books. And on that invoice, we needed to include a charge for freight. So, what to do? Our own scales were a little too unreliable to use, so I realised I would need to carry that rather heavy box out to my car, make a special trip down to our local post office, find out the exact weight and postage charge and bring the box back home again. Then I could put the completed invoice in with the books, tape the box up and head back to the post office.

I sighed. I complained to my husband. I wondered aloud if using our scales would be good enough after all. But when he shook his head, I gave in, let him carry the box to the car for me and drove off in a distinctly disgruntled mood. What a waste of time and effort!

Soon, however, I sensed God saying gently, ‘Come on, Jo-Anne—how about looking at all this from a different perspective?’ And a few moments later, as my crankiness lifted and light dawned, I began laughing aloud at myself.

Yes, there was indeed a different perspective to discover in it all. For a start, we have a car—and I can drive. The post office is nearby and the staff there are very helpful. It was a beautiful day and good to be outside. But apart from that, I actually have another book to do something with! I have always felt God strengthened and sustained me to finish this particular novel—and I am well aware not every author gets to complete his or her book. What’s more, the libraries seem interested in it—enough at least for this particular library supplier to order nineteen copies. When all these blessings were considered, how little my momentary inconvenience mattered!

Of course, sometimes it’s much harder to find that different perspective when huge things are happening in our lives and the going is tough. Yet even then, God is there for us, in the midst of all the turmoil and uncertainty. And God, who is all-knowing and all-powerful and ever-present, longs to hold us close and help us see things from an eternal perspective. In Isaiah 55:9, we read:

As the heavens are higher than the earth so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

We cannot see the whole picture, can we? So, let’s stop, take time to pray, listen to those higher thoughts of God and be willing to let go of our much more limited perspective on things—and also to laugh at ourselves more often too!

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