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Posts Tagged ‘Australian Christian novelist’

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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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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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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