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Posts Tagged ‘Australian Christian novelist’

Do you remember a time when you had to blow your own trumpet, so to speak, and convince others you could handle a particular task or fulfil a particular role well, perhaps when applying for a job you truly wanted? It can feel very awkward, can’t it—not to mention downright pushy! 

Ever since my first novel was published, I have had to promote myself in ways I would never have dreamed of doing earlier on. I thought I was becoming more used to it and beginning to see it as merely a necessary part of the writing journey. Yet, recently, I felt daunted all over again when I filled in an author submission ‘pitch’ for a potential publisher of my next non-fiction book I am currently completing. This form consisted of only five questions, but each one necessitated much thought and re-writing. And two in particular made me cringe as I tried to answer them as best I could.

The first of these asked, ‘How will new readers benefit from your book?’ Now, I am indeed passionate about this book I am writing. It deals with the many words we all speak and write throughout our lives and urges us to leave a life-giving legacy behind us when we share them with others. I believe one hundred per cent in the thoughts it contains and sincerely hope and pray they will indeed benefit and build up many of my readers. Yet, it still seems presumptuous to me to declare with certainty, in black and white, ‘My readers will benefit from this book in the following ways …’. What happened to any humility I might have gained over the years?

Another question I sighed over asked, ‘Why are you qualified to be the person to write this book?’ Hmm! I do have a couple of tertiary degrees and diplomas in the areas of language, education, theology and ministry. I have written nine other books and hundreds of blogs. I have also spoken in all sorts of meetings in recent years, had many conversations with people and written countless emails. Yet, surely in stating all this on that form, I would be loudly blowing my own trumpet?

This strange saying ‘blowing our own trumpet’ apparently refers to past days when heralds sounded trumpets to let everyone know the king was coming! Instead, Jesus, our King, set us such a perfect example of true humility and grace when he put everything aside, came to this earth in human form for us and died a criminal’s death (Philippians 2:6-8). What a contrast! And we too are called to have that same heart of humility today.

 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves … You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Philippians 2:3, 5 NLT

This is the attitude I indeed want to have in all my writing and speaking and in life in general. Yet, we are also called to use our God-given gifts to their fullest extent to bless others and draw them closer to God—and I want to be faithful in doing that too. It can be tricky, to step out in confidence yet also to remain humble—but let’s keep trusting God to show us how.

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I watched as our eight-year-old granddaughter pulled several crumpled sheets of paper from her school uniform pocket. When she smoothed them out, I saw they contained long spelling lists, starting at an easy level, but soon becoming quite difficult.

‘My friend and I were finalists in our class spelling bee and now we have to learn these words and compete against the finalists from other classes,’ she told me, obviously pleased with herself.

‘Well, how about I get you to spell some for me?’ I suggested. ‘Let’s try this middle level. What about ‘abandon’? Do you know what that means?’

Maxine not only spelt it correctly but proceeded to act out what the word meant with gusto, showing how a classmate would feel if left all by themselves. We then tried ‘dungeon’ and ‘nocturnal’, again spelt correctly, along with a graphic explanation of their meaning. A couple of harder words followed where she needed some help. I could see she was becoming a little discouraged, but then she had an idea.

‘Ask me the word “encouraged”,’ she told me. ‘I know that one!’

And she did. This time, however, we did not talk about the meaning as I was well aware she knew it. Not long before, she and her brother had wanted me to play a certain game on my phone, but I had declined.

‘Oh, I’d be no good at that!’ I had said emphatically.

But Maxine was having none of it. ‘Nanna, you have written lots of books, so you could do this,’ she informed me. ‘You’re not silly!’’

Yep, Maxine sure knows how to encourage someone.

In the end, I tried to play their game but failed abysmally, despite their expert help. Thinking back later, however, I realised I had learnt some important lessons about encouragement in the process. Firstly, I saw I needed to take smaller steps forward in choosing words for Maxine to spell rather than jump to harder ones that discouraged her. And secondly, as Maxine tried to encourage me, I saw the value of being reminded of those times when I had succeeded in doing something relatively difficult, albeit in an entirely different field from our grandchildren’s challenge to me! I am glad of both these reminders, because they are so relevant for encouraging those facing much bigger challenges than spelling bees and computer games.

I love encouraging others, seeing that smile on their faces and that flame of hope being lit inside them again. Yet this can also require much wisdom, patience and perseverance at times, can’t it? And sometimes, we may find ourselves so unsure, as we grope for the right words to say. I never want to offend or be too forceful, nor do I want merely to bolster someone’s ego or give them false hope for the future. So I am doubly glad God is always with us, empowering us and giving us insight, as we seek to spur others on to be all God purposes them to be and do the things they have been created to do. God will give us the right words, as we seek to encourage, so let’s go for it!

… Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. Ephesians 4:29 NLT

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In recent days, as I have begun writing another non-fiction book, I have been thinking about various words or phrases spoken to me that have had a lasting impact in my life. Sometimes, these have been negative, sowing doubts in my mind about my ability to do something or undermining my self-worth. Yet thankfully, I can remember many positive ones too. These gave me hope for the future and reassurance that I could do the things I sensed God wanted me to do and, as I have reflected on them, I have felt so grateful all over again for them.

I wonder if there are some that immediately spring to mind for you from your own experience. Perhaps you remember some things your parents or your teachers said when you were growing up. Perhaps a friend has spoken words of encouragement into your life just when you needed them. How did you feel when you heard those words? And how did you feel afterwards, as they still rang inside your head?

I can remember my father teasing me at times when I was young by saying, ‘Oh Jo—she should have been a boy!’ I knew he was only joking and that he said it just to see my reaction. And I admit I was quite an untidy tomboy at times. Yet these words caused me to doubt myself too. Was I somehow wrong? Was I a disappointment to him?

Much later, in my forties, I remember excitedly sharing with someone that I was heading to theological college. Instead of the positive response I had expected, her words were withering and scornful. ‘What would you want to do that for? I don’t have to prove myself!’ she almost sneered. I was shocked and began questioning my motives—but also wondered why my decision had aroused such anger in her.    

Thankfully, I can remember so many more wonderful, positive words that have encouraged me over the years. I think of a time early on in my writing journey when I was so unsure about my whole approach to creating a novel.

‘Do you think this is all okay?’ I asked my lovely soul friend Joy one day.

‘Oh, I think it’s wonderful!’ she said, so delighted to be part of this new thing I was attempting.

Just a little comment, yet it encouraged me so much to keep going and keep holding onto my dream.

Or I think of an email I received only recently from a lovely new contact I have made overseas. My dear new friend, she had written—and those few, simple words stirred my heart. Yes, I thought, this person values me already as a friend. And, even at my age, I find that so encouraging and reassuring.

I wonder if I have said—or written—any unforgettable words to others lately. If I have, I hope and pray they have been of the encouraging kind, not only because they are the sort I like to receive myself but because these are the sort God wants us to say to one another. So, let’s do it—and may your heart be encouraged too in the process.

… Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. Ephesians 4:29 NLT

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Soon after my first novel Heléna was published in 2007, I became curious about where all those early copies would get to. I remember wishing I could install a tracking device on them so I could see who read them and what interesting adventures they had along the way. Of course, I also realised that could be discouraging. After all, some might end up unopened on dusty bookshelves somewhere or, worse still, in the recycling bin! On the other hand, some readers might love the novel and even lend it out—or buy it as a gift. Some copies might end up in libraries too and hopefully be borrowed often. The possibilities were endless!

During COVID lockdown, I had several requests for my older novels, especially All the Days of My Life, the sequel to Heléna. It seemed people had re-discovered Heléna on their bookshelves while bored at home, then decided they would like the sequel. I do not stock any of these two novels now, so asked family and friends if they would part with their old copies. Several were unearthed in this way and it was fun to give them another chance at life with new owners.

Then this past week, I received another request via email for All the Days of My Life. A lady wrote to tell me her husband had just finished reading Heléna and loved it. So … did I have any second-hand copies of the sequel available? I didn’t—but I knew a friend had one. I drove to pick it up and emailed the prospective buyers to sort out postage, only to discover this couple actually live in Canada! Apparently, they found my novel Heléna in their church library—but how did it get there? What’s more, the copy is signed by me, so I must have sold it personally to someone.

To be honest, I am amazed people anywhere are still reading my very first novel published way back in 2007—and I am certainly amazed a copy has ended up in a church library in Canada! Somehow, time and distance have been no barrier for this particular copy at least.

Yet, as I have reflected on this whole story, I have realised something even more amazing. I may not be able to install tracking devices on my books, but God knows where they have all got to—and God is quite able to carry them through time and space to wherever they can minister to someone. Those fifteen years since Heléna was published here in Australia are the mere blink of an eye to God—they are certainly no barrier to the One who was and is and always will be.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 2 Peter 3:8

I find this verse so reassuring, don’t you? Somehow, it puts everything I worry about into much better perspective. Things may take longer to unfold in life than I might have hoped—and yes, my books may also not have as wide a distribution as others. But I can be at peace about it all, because I belong to the most awesome, powerful Creator of the universe for whom no barriers are ever insurmountable.

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I often feel it would be good if we could be in two places at once. At times I would like to attend some event, yet have promised to do something else already on the same day. At times too, my heart may say yes to turning up at some gathering, yet my head tells me I need to catch up on things at home. It can be a dilemma, can’t it?

One Saturday recently, our church held a retreat day. I sensed God wanted me there, yet it was a tussle. Life had been a little hectic and I longed to be quiet somewhere by myself, rather than be with a hundred other women. And I knew that going out for a whole day would make me even busier the following week, as I caught up on everything. Yet, somewhere inside, a gentle but insistent voice urged me to put my name down to attend.

I went—and it was not long before I found out why I was supposed to be there. In the very first of our three sessions, we focussed on the theme ‘Living with a kingdom perspective’, during which the speaker read out Colossians 3:1-2 from The Message version:

So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.

At the end of that session, we were invited to jot down what we sensed the challenge or invitation from Jesus was for us so far, which I did. I wrote how I did indeed want to see my life from God’s perspective. In particular, I needed to discern whether God wanted me to write another non-fiction book at this stage or whether it was time to put the whole idea aside. I had started on a particular project already—I had even written an introduction and jotted down ideas for various chapters, as well as a possible title and sub-title for the book. Yet, my progress had been slow and discouraging. I sensed something was wrong with my whole approach—or was it that the whole idea was just a bit crazy?

As I sat trying to listen to God, something seemed to shift inside me. I felt as if a bright light had been turned on somewhere in my mind. In an instant, an idea for an entirely different way to tackle my projected book seemed to drop into my lap, complete with a title I love and a sub-title that describes exactly what I want to write about. I would never have dreamt these up myself. Instead, God simply gave me a much better perspective on it all and did so with such gentleness and grace. Of course, I still have to write the book—and that will require lots of work. But now that I sense it is God’s idea, I can tackle it with much more confidence.

It’s such a relief to be able to see things more from God’s perspective, isn’t it? Our own view may be skewed, but God’s never is.

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Last week, I reached a milestone in my little corner of the blogging world. I did not notice until this week because of a glitch in my numbering system, so what a surprise to discover I had written 700 personal blogs since July 2009!

At first, I thought, ‘Ho hum—who cares?’ After all, I enjoy writing my blogs and hope to continue for a while yet, regardless what number blog I am up to. But then I paused … and listened. It was as if God was whispering gently to me, ‘Whoa, Jo-Anne! How about you stop right now and think about all that has happened for you over these past almost thirteen years?’

So, I stopped and reflected. What a crazy but wonderful writing and speaking journey I have had in those years! Not only did God enable me to churn out a blog each week, but also to produce five more novels and two non-fiction books to add to my two previously published novels. Who would have thought? Certainly not I. And who would have thought too that I would have the opportunity to speak at all sorts of places along the way? I have lost count of how many such events have taken place, but it would be over two hundred, many wonderful, some … well … interesting!

As I looked back, however, I realised so much else has happened during these years too that I did not expect—personally, family-wise and certainly wider afield. For example, we sold our home of 32 years for what to us was a staggering sum and came to live here in our lovely, restful unit—an unexpected blessing indeed. Family-wise, we welcomed a fourth grandchild—another lovely blessing. In that time too though, my special ‘soul friend’ Joy suffered from dementia, something I did not expect to happen to her, eventually passing away last year. And, of course, who would have thought we would all be facing a worldwide pandemic in 2020—and 2021—and 2022?

We can plan and work towards what we dream of doing and what we may also believe is what God wants for us—and, by God’s grace, these plans and dreams may be fulfilled beyond our expectations. Yet, for many of us, this does not turn out to be the case, for one reason or another. For some, the question ‘Who would have thought?’ may be a joyous exclamation, while for others, it may well be a deep cry of anguish.

Yet, however surprised or shocked we may be at the twists and turns in our lives, positive or negative, God surely is not. And perhaps that is what God wanted me to see, as I reflected on these past thirteen years. Perhaps God is challenging me to remember who truly is in control of my life. Perhaps I need to be much more thankful I belong to such a loving, powerful God. And perhaps I need to realise my role is to keep living for and trusting in God, whatever happens.

Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Proverbs 3:5-6 The Message

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I wonder if you have ever run into someone you know in a most unexpected place. When I was a teacher, I well remember encountering one of my more troublesome students in the middle of my weekly supermarket shop. ‘Mum, there’s my teacher!’ this girl blurted out in a shocked voice. I suspect she wanted to see me about as much as I wanted to see her that day!

On another occasion, however, I came across a pastor friend in a bookstore. While we chatted, several folk from her church came by, which perhaps could have disconcerted her. Instead, she seemed to enjoy the moment. ‘It’s like I’ve died and gone to heaven!’ she exclaimed, beaming at everyone.

Recently, I headed to a nearby medical facility for an injection into a troublesome shoulder. I was certainly not expecting to see anyone I knew there—or anyone who knew me. All I was thinking about was whether my scheduled injection would help alleviate the pain I was experiencing. Eventually, a young woman called my name and ushered me into a small room. We chatted together as she prepared the injection for the doctor to give. A few moments later, it was all over, and the doctor left. But then the young woman suddenly said, ‘You must be the author, are you?’

I was stunned.

‘Um … yes, I am, but … how did you know?’ I eventually managed to ask.

‘Oh, I’ve read some of your books!’ she told me then. ‘I borrowed them from my mother.’

So that was it! She must have recognised my name from the patient list—mystery solved. But I was still curious.

‘What would your mother’s name be? Perhaps I know her.’

Sure enough, I did, from two or three occasions in the past.

‘Well, it just shows we have to behave wherever we go, don’t we?’ I joked as I left. ‘You never know who you’ll meet!’

Beneath my joking, however, I was also trying to remember what sort of comments I had made to her. I was so focussed on myself that I had not put much thought at all into anything I said. Had I been polite and considerate towards her? Had I listened well? Had I honoured God throughout our conversation?

It was too late now anyway. The exchange was over.

I came away from that experience realising again that, wherever I go and whether I feel like it or not, I am God’s ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20). I never know whom I will meet. I never know who will recognise my name, even though I am not a famous author—yet! And I never know who will be listening or watching. But I’m so thankful God does. And I’m so thankful too that God’s Spirit is with me and in me, ready to give me those words of grace to share with others and the wisdom to act in a godly way. But I need to listen, to keep any unwise words in check and then to say those things that will bless and build others up.

May I remember to do that next time, because you never know …

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:6

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I have discovered I need to be prepared for anything when heading somewhere to speak. Sometimes I arrive, only to find some promised piece of essential equipment has not materialised. Or I may turn up to find everything has been taken care of beautifully. Some helpful person has the data projector or TV screen ready and connects my laptop up so that everything works perfectly, while another offers to help with my books. I always go well-armed, however, for all situations—because you never know, do you?!

Then there are the adventures of connecting with people before or after I speak. Sometimes, I discover someone knows someone in my family—my husband or one of our children. Or sometimes, someone tells me they have heard me speak elsewhere in the past. I hold my breath a little at that, but am touched as they perhaps mention something I said back then. And I am touched too, as happened this past week, when someone bounds up to my book table to say they bought my first three novels years ago after I spoke at their church—and thankfully loved them. But each time, I never know who will be listening as I speak and what interesting encounters I may have with people.

All this has taught me some important lessons. Wherever I go, I need to go prayerfully, listening for those prompts from God. Whatever I say, I need to say carefully, with gentleness and sensitivity, but also with honesty. And whatever words I put in my books, I need to write them with much deep thought and prayer. Wherever I go, I want to be the best co-worker with God I can possibly be (1 Corinthians 3:9 NLT). And wherever my books end up, I want them to reflect something at least of the heart of God for our world.

Recently, a friend wrote to tell me how she picked up one of my older novels from near the letterboxes in her section of the retirement village where she lives, took it home to read and ‘thoroughly enjoyed it’. Residents often leave books they have read in such places in the village, so, after finishing it, she then put my novel near some letterboxes in another part of the village. The next time she went past, someone had taken it. ‘It’s so good to see the seeds being sown,’ she wrote. ‘Only eternity will reveal it all.’

Whether writers or speakers or not, we all have the privilege of being God’s co-workers however and wherever we can. And no particular person’s efforts are more important than another’s. Yes, I wrote the book, but my friend grasped the opportunity and put it out there for someone else to read. And ultimately, while we might sow the seed or water it, it is God who enables that seed to grow and flourish, as Paul tells us:

It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. 1 Corinthians 3:7 NLT

Let’s be ready, always, to plant or water or speak or share or encourage or do whatever God gives us to do. We may never know when that will be. We may never know the end result. But God does—and that’s what matters.

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I hate to admit it, but sometimes I can become so good at feeling sorry for myself for one reason or another that all the lovely things around me do not get a look-in. Instead of stepping back and seeing the whole picture, I focus in on only one little part—and perhaps even the darkest, most uninteresting part at that. At times too, I can be so busy airing my woes that those various gentle, encouraging words spoken or sent to me simply go unheard or ignored.

Does this scenario sound familiar to you? I hope not—but I suspect we all might fall into this trap at times.

Recently, I tried to begin arranging some more speaking engagements for the coming year, but soon gave up. It’s all too hard, I decided. What groups or organisations want to arrange anything right now, given all this COVID uncertainty? Even if some events are set up, no doubt they will need to be postponed, just like many of my speaking engagements were last year.

In the midst of this delightful bout of self-pity, an email popped into my inbox from a lady I met way back in 2013 when I spoke at an event at her church in another state and have not seen since. In it, she told me she had been looking for a book to read when she thought of me. She had enjoyed my most recent novel when it was released a year ago and wondered if I was writing another one—perhaps a sequel? Then she added a few, final, lovely words: Your inspirational writing is very needed.

In my self-pitying state, I almost missed this simple, little, closing sentence. I read it, but I did not take time to savour her words or truly allow them to encourage me—at least, not then. But thankfully, God alerted me to this state of affairs soon after via yet another encouraging email, this time from a lady I have never met. She told me she had ‘been fortunate enough’ to find my first two novels, Heléna and All the Days of My Life, in a ‘Save the Children’ op shop and wanted to enquire about another of my books. Then she concluded by thanking me for the truly Christian perspective in my novels.

At that point, I began to realise God was up to something. Yes, these women had written my two lovely, little emails, but God had surely inspired them to do so to spur me on to keep going in the coming year. What an Encourager God truly can be to us each day via the Spirit in us and via others, as we listen and take note! And how important it is to pass this encouragement on too, just as these women did for me.

Today, whatever is happening in your life, may you too hear and truly receive God’s gentle encouragement deep in your spirit. May you not miss those moments, as I almost did. And may God use us all to reach out and encourage others as often as we can.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Hebrews 10:24

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This past week, I received the news that my lovely ‘soul friend’ of previous years, Joy Crawford, had passed away at age ninety-one. On my last visit to the nursing home where she had been for some time, she did not stir or recognise me. Wondering what to do, I wrote her a little note which was eventually found on her bedside table by her daughter. And I sat and prayed and remembered, just as I have this week, after hearing of her death.

Joy and I met together once a month, first during my time at theological college when I needed a mentor—or spiritual companion, as Joy much preferred to be called—and then on into my years in local church ministry. After that, we kept meeting when we could, until she became too frail and unwell. Joy made a huge impact on my life, so much so that the dedication in my very first novel, Heléna, published in 2007, reads: ‘To Joy Crawford—my lifesaver’. I still also have a card Joy sent the day I finished the very first draft of that novel where she wrote: The Book! Well done, dear Jo-Anne. Congratulations—and my prayers and love for the next phase. Joy. Joy always believed in me, encouraged me and supported me in prayer and practical ways—and it was an absolute delight when, in 2012, she was able to share in the launch of what we called ‘our’ book, Soul Friend: The story of a shared spiritual journey, an account of our years of meeting together and the many ways Joy helped and encouraged me in that time.

Joy was doubtful at first about putting parts of our many conversations into print, but I think she would be delighted to know Soul Friend is still selling today and ministering to those who read it. Just last week, a friend told me how much Soul Friend had impacted her and how glad she was it had been written. I am so thankful Joy’s voice can still be heard in this way and that her gracious wisdom can go on blessing others.

On occasions, Joy would email me, although she was much more comfortable sharing face-to-face in her beautiful study at her home in the Blue Mountains. I included some of these emails in Soul Friend and have just glanced through them again. Even her greetings there speak such love and grace to me—‘Very dear Jo-Anne’; ‘Dearest Jo-Anne’; ‘Dear friend’.  What a privilege to be called a ‘dear friend’—especially by someone who we know truly means it. Joy would also use these words often as we parted at her front door. ‘Go well, dear friend!’ she would say in her gentle voice, as she gave me a warm hug—words of blessing, words of comfort, words of love.

Yes, Joy was my lifesaver, in the midst of some choppy seas in my life. But above all, she was my dear friend—a friend who truly mirrored to me the deep friendship Jesus offers each of us.

Lord, may I be such a friend to others too.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. 1 John 4:7

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. I John 4:11

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