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Posts Tagged ‘Australian Christian non-fiction’

There’s something about the Christmas season, isn’t there, that makes us want to catch up with friends over coffee or a meal. In some cases, it’s about finding out how each other has travelled during the past year. At other times, I find it’s more about letting that person know I value their friendship and am grateful for their presence in my life.

Recently I thought about this a lot as I prepared for my final speaking engagement of the year. In keeping with the theme of my new non-fiction book Soul Friend: The story of a shared spiritual journey, I decided to look at the Apostle Paul’s relationship with Timothy. And all over again, I discovered how many good reminders there are in 2 Timothy 1 alone about what is involved in a strong mentoring relationship or spiritual friendship.

Firstly, it’s obvious how much sincere love and concern Paul has for Timothy. Straight up, he calls him his ‘dear son’ and goes on to declare: Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy (1:4). There needs to be love and mutual respect in any good friendship, don’t you agree?

Secondly, Paul prays for Timothy with all his heart. I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers (1:3). What a gift to give to someone else—to pray for him or her constantly, night and day!

Thirdly, Paul obviously believes in Timothy and affirms him for the strengths he sees in him. He affirms his sincere faith and the gift of God at work in his young friend (1:5-6), urging him to keep fanning these into flame and not let the good that has been deposited in his life be wasted. What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you …  (1:13) In my own life, I know how important it has been to hear positive affirmation at times, particularly in my writing journey. It still is.

Fourthly, Paul is not backward in challenging Timothy to hang in there till the end, as he himself is doing. He urges him on, at times perhaps sounding as if he is telling him what to do. Yet it is coming from a heart full of love for Timothy, a heart that knows God will enable and will strengthen him to finish the race.

Finally, Paul writes all this to Timothy with complete honesty and integrity. There is no pretence—his conscience is clear before God and men (1:3).  In 1 Cor 4:16-17, Paul is bold enough to write to them: Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church. With Paul, there is no discord between what he says and how he lives—and that’s how I want to live too.

So as you catch up with friends and family this Christmas, remember to show them you value them and to thank God for their input into your life. After all, it could mean the difference between someone achieving all God has for them to achieve or letting those sparks and embers die out altogether.

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There I was, sitting quietly as I waited for the meeting to start at which I was to speak. I chatted to a friend nearby, then glanced around to make sure all my books set out on a nearby table for sale later looked neat and inviting. And in that moment, it was like the scales were lifted from my eyes.

In an instant, I saw more clearly than I ever have how gracious God has been to me over these past nine years since I began writing and how thankful I need to be for this. It was as if God had taken a beautiful colour photo of my book table, with its display of my five novels and one non-fiction book, enlarged it and held it before my eyes for a moment so that I could not ignore it. And as I looked, the many opportunities I have been given in these years to speak at different places also flashed into my mind. What rich experiences had come my way in all sorts of shapes and sizes! And what a privilege each one of them had been!

As the enormity of this moment sunk in, I felt almost overwhelmed—and very humbled. Apart from the grace of God at work in my life, none of this would have happened. I would not have written one book in this time, let alone six, with a seventh due out next year! Apart from the absolute faithfulness of God in encouraging me, both directly and through others, I would not have begun my writing journey or persevered through all sorts of discouragement and lasted the distance.

I sat there, wondering how I would be able to get up and speak after such a revelation. But then I decided the best way was to be honest and share what God had shown me—so that’s where I began. And I hope and pray something of the awe I was feeling at God’s grace and faithfulness to me touched those present, causing them to praise God too and to realise that without God, we are nothing.

How much we all need to remember the grace and faithfulness of God to us! King David challenges us to do exactly that in 1 Chron 16:8-13:

Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done.

Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.

Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.

Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.

Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced, O descendants of Israel his servant, O sons of Jacob, his chosen ones.

So … thank you, Lord God, for all you have done for me. As I speak and write of your love and grace to us your children, may I do so with great joy and gladness. Where would I be without you? Help me to stay close to you and to rely on your strength in everything I do. I remember you, Lord, with a heart full of gratitude. I remember what you have done for me. I remember how awesome you are and I honour you—now and forever. Amen

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I did not know quite what to expect with my first bookstore appearance a few weeks ago. Despite having five published novels already, I had not previously done in-store book signings. But for my new non-fiction book Soul Friend, I felt it was time for me to taste such an experience.

It was a week day and there were no great crowds around. But then I noticed my table was positioned right next to the children’s section—surely a trap for any doting grandmother! On top of that, I was slap bang on the edge of the store’s coffee shop—another equally serious temptation! Soon, however, I began to focus on the job in hand. How could I engage the attention of those young mums talking nearby? How could I encourage the few customers who passed by my table to stop and take a look?

After a few moments of thought and prayer, I decided the only way was to step out of my comfort zone and instigate some conversations myself. So I gave out my business cards, explained about my books and chatted with anyone who was willing to stop and talk. And how interesting that turned out to be! One couple even invited me to join them for lunch as they told me about the challenges they were facing. I discovered in that bookstore that, however many books I signed or didn’t sign, God had some special appointments for me along the way.

And that is the attitude I took with me into my second and third in-store book signings. At the second store, I was situated right opposite the front door—a wonderful opportunity to engage with people as soon as they entered. Again, I gave out lots of my cards and had some moving conversations with a variety of people, from those new to Australia to a cancer sufferer to some would-be authors. And in it all, I sensed the grace of God at work in my life, irrespective of how many books I signed.

My third in-store book signing was the most diverse and challenging of all, however. This time, I was in a much bigger store and soon found that many people simply walked past my table, eyes down, intent on where they were heading and too busy to stop and talk. A few times I was mistaken for a store worker, despite my ‘author’ badge, and was asked for assistance. I pointed the way to the coffee shop and the toilets. I gave my opinion about the right cards to choose and the right books to buy. I gave an old lady my chair. I even helped lost spouses find each other and children their parents. And in between, I did sign some books. But more than that, again I had some significant conversations with people—those I believe God had for me to meet that day in that bookstore.

Yes, these three events were rather tiring and challenging. And yes, I would have liked to sign more books in the process. But I did my best and tried to engage with those I sensed God had for me to engage with. And that’s all any of us can do, I believe.

May you, like me, be content with stepping out in trust and leaving the outcome of our efforts to God.

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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As an author, I discovered a few books back that you can’t please everyone. Not long after my first novel was released in 2007, I remember standing with a group at church while one lady told me in a loud voice that she had been unable to get past Chapter Two! A few moments later, her daughter came up and said: ‘Oh, I loved your book so much! When is your next one coming out?’ This event armed me well for my writing days ahead.

Four novels followed. No doubt some who bought these were unable to persevere in reading them, but I am aware others have devoured them, because they bothered to write and tell me. Now quite a few authors I know are plagued by self-doubt—including me at times. It is something God has had to work on with me for a while, but I’m learning! And I must admit that positive comments about my books have helped. I don’t think it’s just because these nice, encouraging words feed my ego. I prefer to see them as little messages from God, saying to me: ‘You see—you are on the right track! Your writing is getting better and achieving what you hoped it would achieve. Keep touching people’s lives through your writing!’

But this past week has been a very interesting experience in receiving comments about my first non-fiction book Soul Friend: The story of a shared spiritual journey. I am finding I care even more about these than with my previous books, since this book is about my own journey with my spiritual friend and mentor Joy. Already I can see how careful I will need to be about taking any negative comments too much to heart. After all, didn’t I learn back in 2007 that you can’t please everyone? So when I received an email informing me that a review of Soul Friend had been taken down from a particular website because some of the ‘broader methods’ mentioned in the book could not be seen to be endorsed by the group whose website it was, I tried to laugh it off. I didn’t know I was that heretical! I wrote back, trying to be as gracious as possible. I am not sure I succeeded, since I discovered I was also quite annoyed.

But then two things happened. Firstly, I stumbled upon 2 Timothy 2:23:

Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he (she) must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.

Secondly, I began to see God’s gentle grace in action when three encouraging emails arrived from different readers in quick succession. ‘Your book, Soul Friend, is a wonderful story’, the first one began. ‘Soul Friend is everything the blurb says and more. I really congratulate you, Jo-Anne. We need books that are honest and for real and I am sure it will help many’, the second one read. Amazingly, she went on to warn me I might experience some opposition as a result of some things I had included in the book! The third email ended with the following: ‘Jo-Anne, you have such a beautiful way of articulating things. Thank you so much for being brave enough to share your story. And thank you to Joy also for your words of wisdom.’ Then and there, I endeavoured to take all this encouragement in and not let the one negative comment outweigh the positive.

May you too, writer or otherwise, find the right response to those whose opinions impact your life and may you be strengthened by God’s grace as you do.

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I could have gone away on a short trip with my husband these past few days, but, much as I love him, I was not interested in going. For starters, we have only recently returned from a busy time interstate, followed in quick succession by the launch of my non-fiction book Soul Friend. But secondly, I knew I needed some space—just a few quieter days when I could get my bearings again. Have you ever felt like that?

At times when I have been too much ‘with people’ for my introverted self to manage well, an old poem I studied at high school pops into my head. It is by Wordsworth and begins like this:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

Now in these past few weeks, I have been very happy that ‘the world’ has been with me! I have been part of events that were very necessary and with people whose company I enjoyed. I have given input at a writers’ getaway. I have sat signing my books in a bookstore. I have spoken at three meetings in widely differing settings. And I have held my own book launch—a wonderful time when friends came together to celebrate the release of my very first work of non-fiction. I loved relating to people in all these contexts. But there comes a time, even after the most rewarding run of public events, when the world definitely seems too much with me.

I doubt Wordsworth meant exactly what I mean by this phrase. It seems he was writing about the materialism he saw in the world around him—how people had lost touch with nature and with the whole spiritual dimension of life. It is hardly too materialistic for me to care about speaking at meetings where I hope to point people to God and encourage them to use their gifts to bless this world in whatever way they can. And it is very necessary for me to promote my new book via a launch or any other way. After all, I believe in it and want people to read it. Besides, even if all my books sold at every event I spoke at, I would not be raking in my millions!

But after such busyness, I feel I need to give myself time to find myself once more, to let the fragments of my spirit come together again, as it were, to sense God’s close presence around me and to be realigned with God’s purposes for the next thing I am to do. Not that I jump into preparing for that straight away. For a while, it is as if my spirit needs to be healed, replenished and strengthened by God’s Spirit. And for me, that means quietness and space by myself—a little retreat from that place where the world is too much with me.

Just now, I found myself longing for some encouraging verses from Scripture. I picked up my bible and the page opened at Psalm 46:

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. (10-11)

That says it all, don’t you think?

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This week it was brought home to me again how much our lives can impact others. As a writer, I always hope my books will spread far and wide and encourage those who read them in some way. To me it is a wonderful privilege to be given this opportunity. But what about our more personal, one on one relationships? Often these can have a much deeper and far reaching impact than we realise or could ever imagine.

This past Sunday, we held the launch of my non-fiction book Soul Friend here in Sydney. Soul Friend is the story of my journey with my mentor or spiritual friend Joy, now in her eighties, and the close relationship that developed between us during our fifteen years of meeting together. I believe God brought Joy into my life just at the right time when I needed someone to walk closely with me as I returned to study, then headed into local church ministry and from there into writing. At the launch, I was able to interview Joy briefly and highlight how her input into my life has strengthened me to do what I believe God wants me to do. Joy has passed on to me so many beautiful insights from God through a variety of means—and I am grateful for them all.

But at my launch, I also interviewed a younger woman whom I myself have mentored for around fifteen years. She is based overseas, and I find it a great privilege that she still welcomes me to be part of her life in such a role. In the process of that interview, we talked briefly about how she herself mentors others in the country where she serves God and how that can be a difficult task at times in a place that is by and large hostile to the gospel.

As I went to move on with our book launch program, this same friend was suddenly impacted with an insight, I believe from God, about our respective mentoring roles and shared it with us all. She drew our attention to the fact that while Joy had walked with me and helped me grow in my faith, so I had then functioned in the same way with my friend. She in turn has now done the same with one new believer in particular where she is based, journeying with her through many struggles and helping her draw closer to Jesus. Now this same believer is learning to be a true spiritual friend with even younger believers herself, modelling what it means to be a woman of God to them, just as my friend has done for her.

And so it goes on, stretching not only across the world but also across the generations. It is a special ‘chain of grace’ I feel so privileged to be part of. How great is our God that, as we invest ourselves in others’ lives and share the wisdom and insights we have been given, our small acts of obedience are multiplied in this way?

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Eph 3:20-21

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I am a champion at post mortems. After engaging in any public activity that requires me to perform in some way, I have been known to spend an inordinate amount of time mulling over it all, scrutinising my part in it to the nth degree. I think back over what I said, cringing at some phrase I used or some unwise comment. And often I wish I could do it all again—but this time do it right!

This has its positive aspects, I have argued. For example, looking back over my notes for a talk I have given and realising where I could have done better helps me improve for next time. After all, who wants to keep making the same mistakes over and over again? But it also has its negative aspects, not least of which is being too hard on oneself!

Last Friday, I fronted up at Hope103.2 FM radio station, ready to be interviewed by Leigh Hatcher for his Sunday evening program ‘Open House’. Although feeling a little nervous, I was looking forward to it. After all, I knew that anything I might say that was too way off could be edited out! Leigh Hatcher greeted me warmly and suggested he take a photo for the station’s Facebook page. Then as we sat down in his studio, he told me we would be talking about mentoring, something he believes can be so valuable to people.

Now this was a very sensible suggestion, since my new book Soul Friend: The story of a shared spiritual journey, which has just been released, is about the warm, life-giving relationship that developed between my mentor and me during our fifteen years of meeting together and the great encouragement she was to me in my struggles during this time. However, I had thought Leigh might ask questions about the book itself, such as why I wrote it, what a ‘soul friend’ is, how I met my mentor, how I as a novelist came to be writing non-fiction, and other similar questions. Obviously, a quick mental back flip was required. So I put on my mentor hat and marshalled my thoughts.

Leigh’s questions were excellent and I did my best. I knew I was quite capable of talking about mentoring and enjoyed myself. But afterwards … well, you can imagine how my thoughts went! Why didn’t I say this? Why hadn’t I thought of that? Why couldn’t I remember that definition of mentoring I knew so well? Or the list of qualities of a mentor I myself had written?

I returned home and, still in my rather fazed, post-interview state, opened my computer. And there I found an email from a younger friend who is part of my little prayer team. All it had in it was the following verse:

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way … 2 Thess 3:16

As I sat smiling at the screen, I knew I needed to hand over the whole interview to God, put it behind me and receive that peace this verse talks about. I had done my best. Now I needed to rest in that and in the peace God is willing to give us at all times.

May you too know this same deep peace in your heart right now, however good you are at post mortems and whatever your situation in life.

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