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Posts Tagged ‘Australian Christian novelist’

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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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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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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It can be interesting—and challenging—to think about the casual phrases we use at times. Recently, I received an email from a friend that ended with the following:

Thanks a bunch. You’re a legend!

Those final three words in particular made me think. Why was she calling me a legend? Yes, I had spent time doing something for her, but it will also benefit me, so I doubt I deserved the title. Even a similar statement such as ‘You’re wonderful!’ or ‘You’re amazing!’ would have been an overstatement, from my perspective. To me, a legend is someone who has done something outstanding that will be or has been remembered down through the years—or, as the Oxford Dictionary says, ‘an extremely famous or notorious person, especially in a particular field’. Nope—definitely not me!

But this term ‘legend’ can also refer to a story of someone and their feats that cannot be historically verified and perhaps has been exaggerated over time. Did King Arthur and those knights of the round table really exist, for example? Did Robin Hood do all those daring deeds we have read about? Hmm—I very much doubt anyone would ever have cause to talk about my daring exploits, however, let alone exaggerate them, so I will never reach legend status on that front either. But … what story will I leave behind me? What sort of mark will I leave on this world?

Not long after my first few novels were published, someone commented to me. ‘What a wonderful legacy to leave for others!’ At first, I laughed—I had never thought of my books in that way. After all, I know novels do not have a long shelf life in bookstores, unless they are best sellers. And no doubt many of my books have ended up buried under piles of other books in people’s homes or in a second-hand bookshop—or in the recycling bin! But then I realised that person had a point—and that I should be so thankful for the opportunity hopefully to draw others closer to God through my books. Recently, I received two emails from friends, sharing how God had spoken to them through my most recent novel Down by the Water and encouraged them. I felt so humbled and so grateful to God. What a privilege!

We don’t have to be legends or our exploits legendary to matter in God’s eyes. In fact, as the Apostle Paul reminds us:

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. 1 Corinthians 1:26-27 NLT

True, some may become legends, as God empowers and guides. Yet whether legends or plain ordinary people or absolute nobodies in the world’s eyes, we need to remember it is how God sees us that matters. God has chosen each of us and will work through us in all sorts of ways to make a difference in this world, as we in turn choose to love and serve God with all our heart.

Legends? Maybe not. Lovers of God? Yes!

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I asked myself many questions, as our grandchildren returned to school and began tertiary study this year. How will they get on in the months ahead? Will they like their teachers or lecturers? Will they overcome their uncertainties, make new friends and be happy and successful?

Yet even as I did, I found myself asking questions about my own year ahead too. When will things return to normal? Will that ever happen? And what about our families’ jobs? On and on the questions rolled, all equally unanswerable.

Recently, I launched my latest novel, Down by the Water. My personal sales so far, both face-to-face and via my website, have been encouraging. And my novel is also available at Koorong Books and on Amazon. Yet I know there will be challenges ahead in reaching my usual audiences and readers. You see, I love speaking at both Christian and secular venues, then offsetting travel costs by selling my books afterwards. But right now, it is hard for those organising groups to plan ahead, given our COVID restrictions. Some have told me they would love me to come and speak, but do not know when, so I wait and pray they will not forget me, as time goes by.

Yet these concerns of mine paled into insignificance recently when I read the story of Peter and Cornelius again in the bible. I remembered how an angel told Cornelius, a non-Jew, to send men to fetch Peter, a Jew, from Joppa (Acts 10). I remembered too how God gave Peter a vision of a large sheet, with all sorts of unclean animals in it, and told him to kill and eat. I was also aware that, when Cornelius’s men arrived, God told Peter to go with them. But I do not remember ever thinking about how many unknowns Peter faced throughout this whole event—or how huge they were.

When Peter asks the men why Cornelius wanted him, they explain:

A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say. Acts 10:22

But Jews would never associate with Gentiles. Surely Peter must have felt great trepidation as he went with the men—and again when he discovered Cornelius’s home filled with relatives and friends? Yet Peter tells Cornelius:

You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me? Acts 10:28-29

Peter went willingly, despite not quite knowing what lay ahead. And, after hearing Cornelius’s story from his own lips, Peter courageously shares God’s message of salvation with everyone. As a result, the Gentiles hear how Jesus died for them too and are filled with God’s Spirit, to the amazement of the Jews present.

I’m so grateful, as a Gentile believer today, that Peter listened to God and did not hesitate to step out into the unknown. May you and I take courage and do the same in 2021. And as we too listen and obey, who knows what God will do through us in this world?

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‘You are one of the most loyal people I know,’ someone told me years ago. At the time, this comment puzzled me because I was sure I had never consciously chosen to live that way. Instead, I had always thought that, if anyone truly believed in someone or in what a particular group or organisation stood for, then of course he or she would remain loyal to them.

Since then, I have become a little less naïve and have realised this is not always the case. Sometimes, we become bored or perhaps disenchanted, for some reason, and want to try something different. Sometimes, we get a better offer. Sometimes, we are less than honest and trustworthy in our relationships. Yet we all need and long for those faithful, loyal friends who will stick by us, don’t we?

Recently, I have been busy promoting my latest novel, Down by the Water¸ an historical novel set in Queensland in the early 1900s. In order to let family, friends and acquaintances know the book is available, I sent out emails and also held a Facebook Live book launch. I did not know what sort of response to expect from all this, especially since I have never held a Facebook Live launch before. And I was also aware that many of my family and friends do not want more books lying around at this stage of their lives. Nevertheless, over this past week or two, I have received emails from a good number of them, ordering a copy or arranging to drop in and pick up one—or more—from me.

As well, some have even bothered to email me after finishing the book to tell me how it impacted them. When such emails arrive, I feel relieved, but also so thankful. You see, many of these people have stuck with me throughout my whole writing journey of around fifteen years now, buying a copy of each book I produce and encouraging me along the way. They have truly been such loyal, faithful supporters—and I am so grateful for each one of them.

But experiencing their generosity of heart has caused me to think about myself too and how faithful and loyal I am each day towards others—and towards God. Sometimes, I say one thing, yet do another. Sometimes, I want to be faithful and loyal, yet I lack the courage to do so. Sometimes, I choose an easier way. Sometimes am I more like the Apostle Peter than I care to admit, telling Jesus I will never disown him, then doing exactly that (Matthew 26).

Yet I love how, despite Peter’s downfall, Jesus reinstates him and commissions him to care for his sheep (John 21:15-19). And it’s such a relief to know Jesus will always welcome me back too with that same love and forgiveness, when I am less than loyal to him. But that doesn’t mean I can take such kindness and mercy for granted. Instead, I need to be as faithful as I can be, loving Jesus with my whole heart and serving him with joy—forever.  

Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Proverbs 3:3

May God enable me—and you—each day to do just that.

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I have many vivid memories of my maternal grandparents, seen here with my mother and me. Often on Sundays when I was growing up, they would visit us for lunch. Afterwards, my grandfather would ask us to go for a walk with him, perhaps out towards the University of Queensland or to the Toowong cemetery, where we would look at all sorts of interesting gravestones, or even down to the Brisbane River. Then, once home again, we would enjoy a scrumptious afternoon tea of fresh scones and other treats.

Sometimes, in the early days of TV, we would drive to my grandparents’ home to watch a show with them on Friday nights. And, during the summer school holidays, I would usually stay with them for a week. Most mornings, they would allow me to play the piano in their lounge room. I so enjoyed sifting through their old Scottish and Irish ballads, sacred solos and dance music and trying to play and sing whatever I found.

My grandfather had various occupations in his lifetime, including school-teaching at Rosewood, running a fruit shop in Brisbane, then a general store in Harrisville. As a child, I heard many stories about these places, particularly from my mother, who grew up in Harrisville. So, inevitably, this information has shaped my latest novel, Down by the Water, an historical novel I am launching this coming weekend.

Yet this novel is not my grandparents’ actual story. There are many differences, including the fact that my main characters have five children, whereas my grandparents had seven. But so much else about them influenced what I wrote. I even had fun weaving some of their old music into my story, as I described the local dances in Helidon, where my main character Meg grows up—and my grandmother did too. I also had photos and family records to refer to, but it was those memories from times spent with my grandparents and the things I heard as a child that helped most.

Such childhood memories can be powerful, can’t they? And how powerful they are too in shaping our attitudes and making us the people we are today. I can still remember some of the rather stern warnings my grandfather gave me about life in general, during our Sunday afternoon walks. And I hope I never forget my grandmother’s kindness and gentleness towards me on so many occasions.

I have dedicated Down by the Water to my grandparents and am delighted I have had this opportunity to let some of those memories at least live again via my novel. But this whole experience has also challenged me to remember the way God has shaped my life and walked with me and treated me with such kindness for so many years now. Without God’s gracious, patient hand on me down through the years, I would not be here writing these words. I need to remember that—and to let such memories influence everything I write.

In the years ahead, I hope I will continue to be able to say honestly, along with King David:

I remember the days of long ago, I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done. I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Psalm 143:5-6

Is that your sincere hope too?

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I have another confession to make. I have felt more than a few twinges of fear and dismay at the prospect of releasing my latest novel, Down by the Water, later this month. Putting a book out there in public can be exciting and rewarding, but it can also feel a little like serving oneself up on a big platter for anyone to pick at or carve up or even reject altogether!

I can still remember what it was like to have to watch someone reading my very first novel, after they had purchased it from my book table at a conference. Eek! That was quite a few years ago now, yet that same trepidation at sharing something I have created and laboured over long and hard is still there.

But this time around, a much bigger challenge is how best to promote my book online in these days of COVID restrictions when larger face-to-face meetings are too uncertain to plan and rely on. While I happily write copious emails, produce this weekly blog on WordPress, use Facebook and Skype and often cruise around reading and researching online, pretty much anything beyond that is way out of my comfort zone. So … why would a technophobe like me ever decide to host a sudden death, Facebook Live Book Launch event?!

Thoughts that this might be all too hard for me did cross my mind. Yet I love this seventh novel of mine, probably more than any of my previous ones. And I want it out there because, apart from anything else, it deals with important themes such as giving and receiving forgiveness and knowing God’s love and grace. So … what to do?

Firstly, I opened my Bible and found some passages dealing with fear and dismay. Then I settled on the following verses to leave open right beside my laptop, so I could glance over at any time and read the words out loud again:

But you, O Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend. I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:8-10

Of course, these words are clearly addressed to the children of Israel way back in Old Testament times who were in a far more desperate situation than my current little scenario. But they spoke to me this week too. And strengthened me. And reassured me so much.

Then I prayed, reflecting on and using the words I had read. And later, I asked my little prayer team to pray too. Now it is up to me to keep my eyes and ears focussed on God and not fall for that undermining from the enemy, don’t you think?

So … if you too have been experiencing a touch of dismay lately, may these words encourage you to hang in there. And may the Lord our amazing God be very close to you, strengthening and upholding you, whatever challenges you are facing right now.

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