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Posts Tagged ‘Australian Christian novelist’

Jo 12I have never been a great furniture shopper. After all, we lived in a small house for thirty-two years where there was often no room and no funds for a bigger—or better—this or that. If something worked, we tended to hang onto it, even if it looked a bit worn or old-fashioned.

Since we have moved into a beautiful, new unit, however, the picture has changed. We decided we needed several lovely, new things. As it happens, I have a friend who has a good eye for colour—plus she tells me she has such fun spending other people’s money! So we embarked on a shopping spree. Over several hours, we managed to tick five items off my list. Wanting to save a few dollars, we decided to pick up a TV unit I had bought rather than pay to have it delivered—and noted it came in a rather large flat pack. Hmm.

I knew my husband would sigh when he saw it, because he has had some interesting experiences putting together things in flat packs. One TV unit we bought years ago was supposed to take three-quarters of an hour to assemble. Three hours later, it was finally finished! With this bigger, new one, I did offer to help, but he decided to work quietly by himself, methodically checking every step. And several hours later—voila! There was our completed unit—and I must say it looks excellent. Yes, it took a while, but if I had attempted it, I would probably still be working on it!

We have both had to put not only several individual items together in this move (some without any instructions!), but whole rooms of furniture. Where would this or that fit? Where would it look or work best? Should we throw it out and buy something new? And that’s when I began to reflect on God’s amazing ability to arrange not merely rooms in a house, but our entire, very messy, complicated lives.

At various times over the years, God has managed to put the pieces of my life together in wonderful ways, rearranging things, pointing me in another direction, giving me hope, showing me the best way ahead. At one stage years ago, friends suggested I might try a different occupation, but I could see no way of doing that. Yet God managed to provide me with a job that suited my abilities so well and even gave me skills I would need years later as a writer. At another stage, when I wondered if my first novel would ever find a publisher, God managed to do just that. And now, as we have recently moved house, God has done it again and provided somewhere special that is so beautiful, quiet and comfortable—just right for us.

I’m very thankful I belong to that Master-builder who is able to put those pieces of my life together in a way that is so wise and just so right. Truly, God’s ways are vastly different from our ways—and so much better too!

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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Jo 17There are some great perks in selling my books at a school Mothers’ Day market each year. One definitely is watching the children try to decide what to buy their mothers and grandmothers. The youngest students tend to have only five dollars at the most to spend—although this year, I saw one girl waving a fifty dollar note around! Yet, whatever amount they have, each one comes hoping to find something they are sure their mother or grandmother will love—and it is all quite heart-warming to watch.

I couldn’t help but smile as I saw one class sitting together, waiting for the stragglers to finish making their choices. Almost all of them were pulling their prized purchases out of their bags and proudly displaying them to their friends. Some had bought special cards to write in. Others had found sweet smelling candles or soaps. Still others had decided on some jewellery or clothing item. One little girl held up what looked like a rather large, garish, bright red satin cross on a ribbon, complete with white crocheted edging. Hmm! Her face was pink with excitement, as she lovingly stroked her precious gift. In my heart, I hoped and prayed her mother would be delighted when she received it—or at least pretend to be! I could not imagine any mum wanting to wear it, but I hoped this little girl’s mum would think of some special use for it.

Now I go to these markets with other hopes as well. Yes, I hope I will sell a good number of my books. But beyond that, I hope that the books I do sell will be read and enjoyed by the mothers or grandmothers who receive them and that they will draw them closer to God in some way. Can you imagine how lovely it was then when a young girl came bounding up to my table early on with a beaming face and pointed to my latest novel, The Inheritance.

‘Oh, I bought that book last year for my grandmother and she really, really loved it! So she wants another one of your novels!’ she told me, almost breathless with excitement.

Not long after, a staff member came by and pointed to my first non-fiction book, Soul Friend.

‘I bought that as a gift for a friend in Canada last year—and she thought it was wonderful! She’s now in the middle of lending it around to all her friends there.’

How encouraging both these conversations were for me—as I know they would be for any author. We write in the hope that our books will strike a chord with people, but we never know if that will happen. After all, our readers have different tastes and needs—and that’s okay. So I have learnt to be grateful when I receive such positive feedback, but not to set my hopes on such things. Instead, I know I need to keep my eyes focussed firmly on God, the best encourager of all, and trust the One Who gives me deep and lasting hope—hope that will never disappoint.

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. Psalm 62:5-6

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This past weekend saw the beginning of our ‘open house’ days for potential purchasers of our home—as well as the merely curious! In preparing for this event, I found it a weird experience to walk around our house and try to see it from an outsider’s point of view. What would put them off? What personal items should I remove? What could I do easily to de-clutter our home of thirty-two years?

As I did, I began to feel quite vulnerable. We have had plenty of visitors in this house over the years—but that’s a little different from people we don’t know prying and poking everywhere!

IMG_20170414_172906326_HDRActually, I had begun to feel vulnerable the moment a huge ‘for sale’ sign was erected outside our home a few days earlier, featuring large photos of our backyard, kitchen and lounge room. There for all to stare at were key parts of our property only friends or family usually see. As well, on several websites, interested parties could take a virtual tour around our home, room after room. I felt a little unmasked, if you like—as if my precious home where I love to curl up had suddenly been peeled open and laid bare for the world to see.

Later, however, I wondered why I felt this way. After all, I am a writer, with eight books published and out there in the market. Two of these in particular—my non-fiction books, Soul Friend and Becoming Me—made me feel very vulnerable when they were released. After all, there was my life, served up on a plate for anyone to consume! Yikes! True, the publication of my earlier novels was also a vulnerable experience—yet that was different. Writers can hide in novels, giving their characters things to say we have wanted to say for years! And, in the end, they are novels, not my own personal story. Yet … what if no one liked them? What if those reviews were terrible? What if I had made a huge mistake, thinking God had led me to become a writer?

Now I realise I need to remember those lessons from my publishing journey. It is okay to put my work and what feels like my very self out there to be scrutinised. In fact, it is more than okay. After all, what does it matter if people criticise or misunderstand or disagree? Surely God has taught us things that need to be shared, that will make a difference for others—it is well worth the risk. Besides, there is a kind of sweet sense of freedom in letting others into our deepest thoughts and experiences, don’t you think? Here I am—and nothing has been wasted.

I am reminded too of the beautiful freedom and transparency that God, who knows all things, offers us and the comfort this brings. With God, it is ‘open house’ all the time—a place where nothing is hidden. So I can relax in those loving arms, knowing I am totally accepted there, just as I am. And that’s the kind of ‘open house’ where I am happy to live—forever.

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. Psalm 139:1-2

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Jo 12Drum roll, please … today marks the posting of my 400th personal blog! Thank you so much to those readers who have travelled this whole journey faithfully with me and for your special words of encouragement that have kept me going at times.

I began my blog back in July 2009, although it doesn’t seem so long ago to me. Did I envisage then I would still be going strong in March 2017? I don’t think so. Yet here I am, still producing those little pieces of writing that I hope have encouraged or challenged some of you along the way.

I am often asked how I can think up a new blog each week. Sometimes it is easier than others. Sometimes I struggle to hear clearly what it is God wants me to write about. Sometimes I no doubt get it wrong. But at other times, I seem to hear God whispering to me, almost in an excited voice, ‘Yes, that’s it, Jo! Share those words of mine you just read with others! Put that insight I gave you out there! Let others join in that experience you had with me!’

My WordPress stats tell me that some weeks, more people visit my blog than in other weeks. While whatever blog topic I choose plays a part in this, I have discovered certain natural reasons as well. Any time near Christmas or Easter or even school holidays is not the best, if I am aiming for maximum readership. Weekends are not always good either. Even posting at certain times of the day can change those readership statistics. But I have stuck to Tuesday mornings, not only because it works best for me but also because some of my faithful readers expect that new blog to arrive then, right on cue, whatever time of year. I remember one occasion when I inadvertently scheduled my blog to post on a Monday instead of a Tuesday—which caused a couple of my faithful readers to wonder if they had somehow lost a day out of their week!

What motivates me to spend time blogging, when I could be writing my next novel? Firstly, I enjoy it—well, mostly anyway! Secondly, challenging myself to write something worthwhile each week in only around 550 words has I think helped me become less of a wordy writer. But thirdly and most importantly, I want with all my heart to share those words and insights I believe are from God with you all. And I love reading that feedback, either via Facebook or blog comments, as to how God has spoken to you through them.

I know my words are only a few among so many others, as I launch them into cyberspace each week. I know they will soon be lost to sight. I know that, however hard I try, my words may not always be right or perhaps even wise. But I also know that God’s words are different. They are flawless and will remain true forever—and that is why I choose to include some at least in each of my blogs, including my 400th!

God bless you all!

 As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless. 2 Samuel 22:31

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. Matthew 24:35

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I was intrigued, even as I opened the lovely card that had just arrived for me in the mail. Apart from anything else, hand-written cards or letters do not pop into my mailbox often these days, what with emails and other electronic forms of communication. Who would bother to write at length to me in this way—and so neatly and carefully too?

I soon discovered thimg_20170116_123459191_hdre card was from a lady I had never met. She had just finished reading my latest book, Becoming Me, she explained, and wanted to tell me how much she had enjoyed it. But that was not all. She went on to tell me she had thoroughly enjoyed all my books and had not been able to put any of them down until she had finished. Wow—now that’s the sort of letter authors long to receive, for sure!

But it was the way she had come across my books that captured my attention even more. You see, it seems this lady has never actually bought any of them but has instead borrowed them from others. And it was who those ‘others’ turned out to be that intrigued me most. The first kind person to lend her my books turned out to be her sister-in-law, a lady we knew quite a few years ago at a church here in Sydney. Every time this lady would travel interstate to visit her, she would apparently pass on my latest book to her—something I love to hear, as to me that means my book isn’t sitting on a shelf somewhere, gathering dust, but will hopefully be enjoyed by yet another reader!

Eventually in this way, the lady who wrote to me got hold of my first five novels, one after the other. But while reading my fifth, Heléna’s Legacy, she noticed I had dedicated it to my parents, Tom and Rene Wardrop. ‘Wardrop?’ she thought. ‘I know someone of that name at my mother’s retirement village. I wonder if there’s a connection?’ She enquired further and soon discovered this person she knew is actually my cousin! And thus began this lady’s journey of borrowing books six, seven and eight of mine from my cousin, instead of having to wait until her sister-in-law visited from Sydney!

As I read about this whole sequence of events, I could not help thinking, once again, how amazingly God weaves our lives together in ways we would never have imagined. Who would have thought the lady we knew here in Sydney would bother to pass each of those books of mine onto to her sister-in-law interstate? Who would have thought her sister-in-law would notice my parent’s surname in the front of my fifth novel and make the connection with my cousin? Who would have thought my cousin would go on lending her my books? And who would have thought this lady would bother to write such a lovely, encouraging card to me, so full of ‘God-connections’?

Truly, God’s ways are so much more amazing than ours could ever be—don’t you agree?

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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Helena CoverAs I sat reading the email enquiry that had just arrived via my website, I felt more than a little surprised. You see, someone had written to ask where she could get hold of twenty-five copies of my very first novel Heléna, first published way back in 2007. She explained how she had loved it and planned to review it at her church’s women’s retreat, so needed to have copies available for their bookstall.

I suggested she check at a nearby Christian bookstore, as I had none on hand. She did this, but with no success. So I agreed to order in some copies from my previous publisher for her—and within less than a fortnight, those books had arrived. I contacted my prospective customer again and she arranged to pick them up from me. I looked forward to meeting her and to discovering where she had first come across Heléna. Had she bought it from me after I had spoken somewhere? Had she found it in a bookstore? Had someone perhaps given it to her?

When she arrived, she was in a hurry. But in those few moments together, she told me a story that blew my mind.

‘Oh, I found my copy of Heléna in a Vinnies store at Ryde!’ she told me. ‘It looked new—and when I picked it up, I realised it was a Christian book, so I bought it. I’ve read some of your other books too since then.’

At that point, I showed her one of my bookmarks that feature my most recent novel The Inheritance and my memoir Soul Friend.

‘I haven’t read The Inheritance,’ she told me, ‘but I’ve read Soul Friend. In fact, I lent it to a friend I worked with. She was unhappy in her job and I thought it might help her. I didn’t want her to leave, but when she read it, it gave her the strength to do just that and to move on in her life. And that has been the best thing for her.’

As I stood clutching the cash payment she insisted on making then and there for all twenty-five copies of Heléna, I felt so humbled. Only God could have arranged for her to buy that second hand copy in Vinnies and be moved by it, then to read more of my books. Only God could have prompted her to lend Soul Friend to her friend. And only God could have used it to inspire this person to make a wise decision and move on. I could never have dreamed up this sequence of events—but God certainly could.

As my lovely customer left, clutching her carton of books, I thanked God for her and prayed those copies would be well received at the women’s retreat. And I remembered once again some verses I love from Isaiah:

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

I could not agree more. How about you?

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Jo 17I wonder what the most appealing personality trait is for you. What virtue do you most admire in others and perhaps wish you could cultivate a little more in yourself?

Mine has been the same for years now—and that is humility. Recently, I came across the following statement:

Find humility or it will find you.

I could not help but agree. And these words set me thinking about my quest for more of that rather elusive commodity in my own life.

I grew up feeling quite proud of certain things I could do, particularly in the academic area. That led to my looking down on others who did not do so well at school. Never mind that they left me for dead on the sporting field and in other ways. And it seems to me such thinking can lead to a kind of self-protection, where we feel safer and better about ourselves by judging others to be inferior in some way.

We often come to hate some trait in another person that we ourselves have, don’t you think? We may be unable to acknowledge or even recognise it in ourselves—but we can see it clearly in someone else. It’s for this reason, I believe, that I came to hate pride and arrogance in others. And perhaps it’s for this reason that I longed to be much more like those who had achieved great things in their lives yet seemed so humble about it all. I remember several amazing people I have met, some only fleetingly, whose humility both amazed and challenged me. And I am grateful for others who have shown me over longer periods in my life what it is truly like to walk that humble road.

But it has been through my writing journey that God has taught me the most about humility. I believe God has a great sense of humour. Not long after I started writing, I suspect I heard God say to me, in a loving but slightly rueful tone: ‘You want to be more humble, Jo-Anne? Right—then writing’s a sure fire way to reach your goal!’ There is nothing quite as daunting and confronting, I have discovered, than putting one’s creative efforts out there for all the world to see, to like or dislike, to criticise or to praise, to tear apart or to truly ‘get’ and appreciate. One of the most unnerving experiences I have ever had was to see a man whose opinion I respected reading one of my early novels. Was he enjoying it—or did he think it was rubbish? I could not tell. I looked the other way. I did not want to find out.

In 1 Peter 5:5-7, we read:

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

I would much rather that God extend grace to me than oppose me, wouldn’t you? And that’s one reason I plan to keep going in my quest for that elusive commodity of humility until the day when God’s hand, and not my own, lifts me up.

Is humility something you long for more of in your life too—or has it found you already?

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