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Posts Tagged ‘Australian Christian novelist’

Jo 12I well remember how, as a child, I was at times particularly averse to being told what to do. If my poor mother wanted me to do something I did not want to do, my response would often be ‘But why?’ I would keep asking this until my mother, in exasperation, would eventually snap, ‘Because I said so!’

Perhaps that’s why a certain phrase jumped out at me recently when I read Luke’s account of the calling of Jesus’ first disciples. After Jesus sits in Simon’s fishing boat and teaches the crowd on the shore of the lake, he tells Simon to head for deep water and let down the nets. Then Simon replies:

Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” Luke 5:5

No wonder Simon respected Jesus enough even then to do whatever Jesus told him to do. After all, Jesus had just healed many people while in Simon’s home, including Simon’s own mother-in-law. But Simon soon becomes much more astonished when his fishing nets start to break and both his and his partners’ boats begin to sink from their enormous catch. In fact, in fear, he falls at Jesus’ knees and says “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (8) It’s almost as if he is saying, ‘What have I got myself into? I can’t handle this!’ But Jesus reaches out and reassures him, so much so that he and his partners James and John end up leaving their boats and following him:

Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” (10)

Recently, I learnt how a newcomer to our country heard this story for the first time while fishing in the Parramatta River. He laughed loudly at the idea of catching men—yet now he has begun a journey just like Simon’s and we hope his mind will also soon be boggled by Jesus’ awesome power and authority. But what about my own response to Jesus’ authority? What is Jesus calling me to do in 2020? Am I going to say like Simon, ‘Because you say so, I will do this or that?’ Or will I instead curl up in fear and decide not to let down my own ‘nets’ in the coming year?

I have always felt Jesus’ gentleness and love, as well as his quiet authority, whenever he has challenged me to step out and do something. And this was particularly strong when I began my current novel. Back then, I sensed Jesus saying, ‘I’ll be so delighted if you write this book, Jo-Anne. But I’ll be just as delighted with you if you don’t!’ What wonderful freedom that gave me—simply to write as time permitted and enjoy the process, irrespective of the outcome! Yet surely this is Jesus’ heart for us all in whatever he calls us to do. Jesus has the power and authority to call us to act—and we need to listen and be obedient. Yet it seems to me he also surrounds us with such love and grace and mercy, however we respond.

‘But because you say so …’. May that be my honest response—and yours—as we embrace all God has for us in the coming year.

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Jo 23I wonder if you own one of those clever washing machines like we do that actually sends little messages to you at times. Recently, ours made a few clanging sounds, then beeped insistently. When I scurried into the laundry to see what was happening, this is the message that was illuminated on the front panel of the machine:

Help! My load is out of balance. Please redistribute and press start.

I hastily did as I was bidden. I removed the big towel that had managed to wrap itself around everything else and straightened out the heavy pair of jeans that was also causing trouble—and lo and behold, my machine then happily went on to finish its cycle. I happily returned to my desk too, but those words I had read stayed with me. Could they possibly have a wider application? Could God ever use a message on a washing machine to challenge us about our lives in general?

I suspect God does sometimes do things like that to get my attention. But what an important challenge for us all to think about, as we begin a new year!

How was this past year in your own life? Was your load ‘out of balance’ at times? Did you feel you were struggling far too often with finding time for things like simply relaxing and taking care of yourself or being quiet with God or contacting someone to see how they were going or working on a project close to your heart? The list could go on, couldn’t it? Sometimes we need to stop, take stock and make those hard decisions to bring things back into balance and enable our lives to run much more smoothly.

Sometimes our lives can end up feeling more than a little askew because of external demands placed upon us, while at other times, this can come as a result of choices we ourselves make. I know in my own life I am very good at doing all the jobs I see around, instead of allowing myself to spend time writing—something that is life-giving for me. Often too, I can overlook spending time with God, in order to complete these same jobs. Yet that is so self-defeating, because my heart is not at rest and at peace as a result and I end up feeling drained and out of kilter, like that washing machine of mine. At times, I need to listen to the warnings of those around me whose wisdom I trust and restore a better balance in my life. But above all, I need to listen to God about it, because God’s heart is to watch over me as a loving father who cares about my wellbeing and does not want to see my life so out of whack.

Before we all press that ‘Start’ button on another year then and are caught up in a whirl of activity again, let’s look to God to order our days, fulling trusting that God will show us how best to live. Then let’s be obedient in 2020 and put into practice what we hear!

Trust in the Lord will 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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Jo 17It has been an interesting experience these past few weeks to pick up my novel writing again, after completing two non-fiction books. While I love writing non-fiction, it is such a joy to feel I can let loose and create a whole new story from scratch.

Novel writing can be a slow, exhausting process, but it can also be so fulfilling, as the various characters develop and the strands of the story come together. And for me, it can easily become all-consuming too. I relate deeply with my characters. I feel their joy and pain and confusion. I immerse myself in their world. I ache for them and hold my breath at times in the hope they will make good and right decisions.

With my current novel, I felt relieved when I completed the first five chapters—always the hardest for me. The story seemed to be taking shape and gaining momentum. But because I knew I was approaching a very sad section, I baulked. I did not want my main character to endure such grief, yet I knew that was where the story needed to go. I put it aside and wrote other shorter pieces for a while, but eventually, I decided to take the plunge again.

Yet as I wrote, I became sadder and sadder. You see, without giving too much away, a little boy drowns in this novel—and his death is intrinsic to the plot. I had to describe the actual event. Then I had to portray the family’s grief and anger and lack of forgiveness too from one family member towards another. As well, I had to visualise the lasting effects of such a tragedy on my main character and begin to help her work through these in a realistic way.

At that point, I felt exhausted, as if I had struggled through those raging floodwaters myself. My earlier chapters, while being so fulfilling to write, had taken much perseverance—and now that I was on the other side of this difficult part of the plot, I wondered if I had what it took to unfold the rest in a sensitive way that would touch readers’ hearts. Had I perhaps forgotten how to write a novel, after living in the world of non-fiction for so long? Was I capable of allowing the story to develop as it needed to?

With these questions bombarding my brain, I soon descended into a morass of self-doubt and self-pity—until I remembered how helpful the Psalms had been to me during past writing struggles. I began reading them yet again and eventually came to Psalm 18:16-19:

He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. … He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.

While that dear little boy in my novel might not have been rescued from actual deep waters, I knew God would rescue me. At other times in my life when I felt things were all too hard, I have experienced that loving hand grasping me firmly and helping me stand on solid ground again. God has drawn me out of many deep waters—and I know God will delight to do that for you too.

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Jo 17Can you remember a time when you went somewhere with a particular purpose in mind, only to find God had some surprises in store for you—or perhaps even an entirely different agenda? What was your initial response? Did you perhaps feel a little ripped off, like I have at times? After all, what could God be thinking, to mess up my lovely plans!

A couple of weekends ago, my author friend and I were promoting our books in a Koorong bookstore. Our day started off well. On arrival, I found someone had bought one of my books already and was waiting for me to sign it. He also insisted on having his photo taken with us, so, for a few seconds at least, we felt like celebrities! While things were a little slow after that, we still had some lovely conversations with customers and sold a few books. Besides, there was always hope things would improve after lunch. But we had no idea of the special experiences God had in store for us.

Our first ‘God surprise’ came via a friendly man and his severely disabled teenage son who was in a wheelchair. I chatted briefly with them, before moving away to talk with someone else. But when I returned, the man and his son were holding hands with my friend and praying for her! Later, I discovered the man’s son had felt God wanted them to pray with her about a particular health issue, so, after ascertaining that this was indeed something my friend suffers from, they had done exactly that. I silently joined in the prayer then but also felt so humbled that this young man had listened to God and was so keen to pray for others. What amazing, compassionate people, so full of the light and love of God!

Later, when it was almost time to leave, a lady came by whom I had met several months earlier when we had last signed books in the store. She and a friend had subsequently met with me for coffee and, on that occasion, I had told them about some issues our grandson Zain was having at school. Now, as she greeted me, her first words flabbergasted me.

‘Hello—so lovely to see you again! How is your little grandson Zain? My friend and I have been praying for him by name that God will provide the resources that will help him.’

This beautiful lady, with so much else going on in her life, had gone on faithfully praying for our grandson. What’s more, while I could not even recall her name at first, she had remembered his name and was so eager to hear what was happening for him. Again, what a wonderful, humbling, encouraging ‘God moment’!

Initially, I saw these experiences as interruptions. I did not want to be side-tracked from what I thought was my much more important task of engaging with new customers and promoting our books. But how wrong I was—and how much more amazing were the things God had planned for us that day!

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’ Isaiah 55:8-9

 

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IMG_1279Since 2012, I have visited various Koorong bookstores in different parts of Australia to promote my novels and non-fiction. This Saturday, 27th July, will be my next, at Koorong West Ryde in Sydney from 10.00am-3.00pm, in conjunction with my author friend, Steph Penny, who has written an excellent book entitled Surviving Singledom. We would both love to meet with any of you who can make it there on the day!

When I started these book signings, I soon discovered some people can be shy about walking up to authors at a book table and chatting. Perhaps they believe, as I used to when I was young, that authors could not be real people but instead, some other alien race—because, after all, how could anyone possibly write a whole book? For me, that was too wonderful to imagine—yet, in the end, that’s exactly what God enabled me to do!

I soon discovered too that some people just want to go about their own business and not be held up talking to some strange author! These customers know exactly what they came to the store for and are very careful to avoid eye contact, as they scuttle past. They have a large neon sign flashing that says to me, ‘Don’t try to sell me anything—I’m not interested in your books and I’m in a hurry!’ I understand how they feel too—I’m sure I’ve done the same to other promoters on occasions.

But thankfully, there are also those who are brave enough to come and ask questions and seem genuinely interested in our books—and that there actually are Australian Christian authors around! Usually then we describe what our books are about, which may well lead into some heartfelt discussion, in my case, on the topics of becoming who God created us to be or on having a soul friend or on the love of God—or, in the case of my friend Steph Penny, on the challenges of being single. Sometimes too, we hear, ‘Oh, I’ve always wanted to write a book!’ or even ‘I’ve written a book but don’t know where to go from here.’ Then we have the joy of sharing our knowledge with them, including telling them about Christian writers’ groups and conferences where they can learn so much more.

Then there are the ones and twos whom God seems to draw to our table—those ‘God encounters’ when something wonderful happens as we chat and some small and precious ‘kingdom moment’ occurs. On those occasions, I thank God, not only for giving me the right words to say but also for my little prayer team of eight women who specifically pray for these God encounters wherever I go to speak or promote my books.

Whoever we are and whatever our situation is in life, let’s seize the moment and embrace these God-given opportunities we all experience with joy and trust in God, who is able to do far more with our few words than we could ever imagine!

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we could 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. Ephesians 3:20-21

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Jo 23Although there are only two of us in our household, I seem to spend so much time each week deciding what our main meals will be, shopping for the ingredients and finally cooking them. I also try to have a selection of things in the fridge and pantry to choose from for our lunches and often some cake or slice for my sweet-tooth husband—or any visitors who might drop by. All this takes planning and effort, doesn’t it? But I do it because, after all, we need to eat—although perhaps not quite as much or as often as we tend to!

Lately, however, it has dawned on me that, in focussing on all that physical nourishment, I may well be short-changing myself in other areas. I, like everyone else, need emotional nourishment—the love of family and friends, the fulfilment gained through writing, the enjoyment of reading or listening to music or watching an uplifting TV show or marvelling at the beauty of nature. I know the danger of ignoring such things and I know I cannot give out to others in any meaningful way if my own emotional ‘tank’ is empty. Yet when there is too much else to do, I can easily overlook such nourishment.

And what about that deepest part of us we call our soul? It too needs to be nourished, even more so than our physical bodies and our emotions. If our souls are dead, if that light has gone out inside us, if that firm connection with God is lost, then everything can become rather meaningless. We are not in a place of peace with God and with ourselves. And that is not a pleasant place to be.

Recently, I read the following beautiful invitation from Isaiah 55:1-3:

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.

Yes, I decided, I need to take time to come and enjoy that rich fare my soul needs. So, one morning, I headed for Lake Parramatta, not far from our home. I used to go there regularly to reflect, write, enjoy the beauty of nature and be with God. But somehow in the busyness of life, this had slipped from my agenda. How wonderful it was that morning to sit there quietly for a while in my car, with the sun warming me all over as I contemplated that lake again. The breeze ruffled the surface of the water so that it sparkled in the sun, while nearby, a family of ducks swam serenely along. I drank it all in, sensing God’s presence all around—and soon I could feel the peace of God deep inside me, bringing such refreshment and renewal, letting my soul live again.

May your soul too be nourished as you take time to come close to God, listen well and delight in that richest of fare only God can provide.

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IMG_20190418_100541803Recently, I did something I have wanted to do for a long time. I bought an original painting at an art exhibition. I already own two lovely paintings—one of the Charles Bridge in Prague which featured in my very first novel and another my brother-in-law painted for my seventieth birthday of a street scene in Paris. Yet I have always dreamt of roaming around myself at an art exhibition until I found that special something that spoke to me in a deep, personal way. And that is exactly what happened.

Since the artist, Jo Sterland, was standing nearby, I decided to ask her what had inspired this particular painting. I discovered it was titled ‘The Change of Season’, with the rich purples and blues depicting the past contrasting with the bright tangerine splashes of colour in the foreground, speaking of vibrant, new life—and in between, the white, swirling cloud of change and uncertainty but also hope, so often felt in moving from one season to the next in our lives. Jo also explained that this particular painting had come into being during a time spent listening to God, alongside other artists with a similar heart for God, and endeavouring to follow those gentle promptings of the Spirit to paint in a certain way.

At that point, my eyes filled with tears. I understand the concept of listening to God as I write, so to paint in this way resonated with me. I also understand well those change of seasons in our lives, having moved from one career to another several times over and having put aside a beloved ministry role at one stage, only to have God give me the awesome privilege of becoming a published author. But I sensed God was speaking to me for the here and now too, reminding me of past blessings but also reassuring me of joys to come and future answers to prayer.

At this exhibition, it was wonderful to witness the fulfilment the artists experienced through displaying their works for us. Inwardly, I applauded them for their courage in baring their heart and soul in this way and risking rejection in the process. But if these artists had not been prepared to put their work on public display and offer it up for God to use, I for one would have missed out. And so would those vulnerable women and their families in Thailand, towards whose support and care the money raised from the sale of these artworks is going.

Each of us is creative in some way. Yes, I have met a good number who say they do not have a creative bone in their body! Yet surely, if we are all made in the image of God, the Creator of our amazing universe, that cannot be the case.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them Genesis 1:27

I wonder what creative gift you have that reflects something of God to the world in your own unique way? Did you perhaps put it aside for a season? Is it time to change that? May you find great joy and fulfilment as you dust it off, listen to God and offer it to us all again!

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