Posts Tagged ‘Australian Christian novels’

Jo 23A few weeks ago, I managed to achieve an almost miraculous feat. I actually threw out all those notes from my theological college days around twenty years ago! Admittedly, I didn’t have the heart to dispense with a few favourite assignments. And admittedly, it also felt as if I was somehow betraying those three very busy but precious years of study. However, it needed to be done—and the memories are still there.

But there’s something else I have even more trouble parting with—and that is my books. When one begins to pack books horizontally on top of those already squished in vertically, it’s pretty obvious something needs to be done! So I decided to begin this daunting task.

As I started, the memories came flooding back. In one section, I found many books on prayer—for nations, for cities, for our churches and their leaders, for individuals. Now I still strongly believe in the power of prayer, but I do not feel this is currently where my main focus is to be. Sometimes God calls us to different ministries at different stages of our lives, I believe. But I remember vividly those many hours spent praying at our church, alone and with others. And I soon became aware of a strange mixture of joy, sadness and gratitude within—as well as nostalgia for times past.

On other shelves, I found books on counselling, pastoral care, church leadership, women in ministry, worship and missions. Memories of those college years surfaced again, along with those spent fully involved in all areas touched on in these books. Some of these I am still passionate about, although in different ways and in different settings. I know that is okay, but those mixed emotions still surfaced.

In the middle of another shelf, I noticed my own six novels and one memoir, all published since 2007. I paused and was again overwhelmed at God’s abundant grace at work in my life in these writing and speaking years. But then my eyes ranged over the many other novels and memoir/biographies on my shelves—most of which have enjoyed much greater popularity and contain far more exciting stories than mine. I sighed, as envy and self-doubt began to flood in.

I decided to step back and ask God for a better perspective on it all. And soon I began to see the wonderful variety of reading experiences there, in the midst of which my own books truly did belong. I also saw books I currently enjoy—gems on contemplation and on experiencing God’s presence, some written by Christians centuries ago. I saw helpful books on writing and creativity. I saw new releases alongside older novels I have recently re-read and loved all over again. I saw so much richness in books both old and new on those shelves. And I gave thanks, realising they have all been part of the tapestry of my life, with no one section more important than the other.

Yes, my book culling task might still be daunting, but not depressing. God is there with me as I work and remember, whispering to me, giving me perspective, filling me with gratitude and grace.

My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare. Psalm 25:15


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Jo 23I knew I had an excuse to feel a little exasperated. After all, the person I had just spoken to on the phone had changed the date for a particular speaking engagement twice already. Now here she was, asking yet again for some information I had already given her several times. I sighed, then later complained loudly about her to two members of my family.

‘I don’t know what’s wrong with this lady! She seems so confused and disorganised. Let’s hope this speaking engagement goes okay.’

I duly turned up on the day and yes, everything worked out. The group of people I spoke to were very attentive and responded well. I was also welcomed warmly by the lady I had hitherto only spoken to by phone or emailed—and found her charming and interesting. Before I was introduced to speak, she gave me a personal thank you gift—her way of apologising for the inconvenience she had caused by changing the dates twice. I felt embarrassed but she insisted.

Later, she wanted to purchase one of my novels.

‘Which one should I buy?’ she asked me in her beautiful, European accent.

After discovering she was Hungarian and had travelled to Australia as a migrant via Czechoslovakia, I suggested one of my novels featuring a Czech migrant. Yet, even as I did, my embarrassment deepened. Did she really want to read it—or did she feel obliged to support me after messing up our arrangements? As we chatted further, she told me this was the first year she had volunteered to be the speaker coordinator for this particular group and how hard she had found it. My heart went out to her and I assured her truthfully I would rather speak myself any day than coordinate a whole year of other speakers.

At that point, I began to sense God was teaching me a lesson I would not forget in a hurry about perhaps being just that little bit less judgemental of others. But worse was to come. When I arrived home and unwrapped her special gift to me, I found an unusual and quite lovely card attached. Then I read what this lady had written inside in her beautiful, copperplate handwriting:

To dear Jo-Anne

Thank you for your unconditional generosity towards me. Wishing you a Blessed Christmas and a safe and happy New Year. Love …

Now I felt completely humbled and rebuked. Unconditional generosity—when, in reality, I had felt so exasperated with her and had maligned her to others! If that was unconditional generosity, I’d hate to see meanspiritedness.

What a lesson from God for my life from such an unexpected source. And what an insight into God’s unconditional generosity to me—that same unconditional generosity I needed to have in my heart for this lady rather than condemnation. How gracious God is, not only in the big scheme of things but also in those gentle messages we receive along life’s path that call us to live and respond in a better way and to show that same love and acceptance to others we have been shown!

I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. Isaiah 43:25

Love each other as I have loved you. John 15:12b

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This past week, I achieved a couple of ‘firsts’ again for me. I gave the final of ten talks I had agreed to give at various venues during May—a record number for me all in one month. And I also completed the final few edits of my next novel, The Inheritance.

Now I am so grateful for those ten speaking opportunities—I loved them all. I even look forward to more in the coming months. But it has felt at times a bit like a mini-marathon, as I have juggled preparation and editing. I completed the original version The Inheritance in May 2011, so it has been in my mind for a while—even through the writing and eventual release of my first non-fiction work, Soul Friend, last August. But now I again have a clean writing slate, so to speak. At last I am again on the brink of being able to dive in to another whole project—and that can be a heart-stopping moment, I’ve discovered.

You see, in one way, the possibilities are endless—almost overwhelmingly so. Of course, one key decision I need to make is whether to plunge into writing a second work of non-fiction or to opt for a seventh novel. Which should it be? I have ideas for both. In fact, I have the outlines or general concepts for three more novels already saved on my computer, each very different from the other. How do I decide?

And it’s at this point that, despite all those ideas running around in my head, I can hear that doubting little voice whispering away as well. What makes you think you can come up with yet another book? None of those plots you’ve already thought out are any good. Anyway, it will be such hard work—and you don’t have the time, in the midst of preparing for speaking engagements. As for another non-fiction book, what on earth would you say that hasn’t already been said? I know from past experience this is the enemy using my old self-doubt, so I close my ears to it all. But on it goes.

I turn to the Scriptures, wondering what God has to say to me today. I am excited, as I always am, when it’s time to begin reading a different book in the Bible—and today I am about to start John’s Gospel yet again. I read that first chapter and am reminded that God, ‘the Word’, created all things, that in him was life and that this life brought great light to men, overcoming and confounding the darkness. I read on and take in the mind-boggling fact that ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’ (Jn 1:14).

I remember that the Spirit of this ‘One and Only lives in me right now, inspiring me, encouraging me, dispelling the darkness of doubt and fear. I know, as I listen to that voice that is so full of grace and truth, it will become clear which of those endless possibilities I am to pursue. The Word is with me and in me, shaping my own words. And I am so blessed.

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If it wasn’t so serious, it would be funny how often what I say when speaking at the various groups or churches where I am invited applies first and foremost to me. There I am, merrily encouraging others to take heed of the things God is saying when a gentle voice somewhere inside me pulls me up short and says, ‘So Jo-Anne, where are you on this matter? What are you going to do about this?’

Last week was an almost too perfect example of one such time, to my shame. I had been invited by a particular group of women to share something of how God has guided and encouraged me in my writing journey. As I prepared my input, I kept coming back to a story from the gospels I have often spoken on in the past—the account from Matthew 14 of Peter walking on water. I love so many things about this story. First off, I love Jesus’ words in verse 27, where, as soon as he notes how terrified his disciples are when they see him walking on the water, he says to them, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ Many times in my writing journey, I have drawn on these words of Jesus in order to keep going.

I love it how Peter then finds the courage to suggest that Jesus actually should invite him to walk on that water too. And as soon as he hears that little word ‘Come’, he takes the risk of stepping out of that boat—and off he trots towards Jesus (29)! But when he notices how the wind is buffeting the waves and begins to sink, Jesus is immediately there, reaching out his hand to rescue him. Yet it is what Jesus says to Peter next that spoke to me the most this past week.

You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt? (31)

You see, I was sharing how, given the fact that I now have five novels published and one non-fiction work, there was no need for me ever to have doubted God’s call to write and the fact that God would bring it about. Likewise, I was urging these women to do all God was calling and had gifted them to do and to trust God in the process. Yet, that very day, I myself had doubted. Not believing I would sell many books at this particular venue, I had brought with me only a small number of my earlier novels in particular. Imagine my surprise then when, before my eyes, every available copy of my first two novels speedily disappeared from my book table—along with a large number of my later books! All up, I sold more than double what I had expected.

It was time to eat my words. I had doubted God big-time. I knew God had given me this speaking engagement—yet that did not translate into having the faith to pack a good number of books in the car to sell afterwards. When it came to showing my trust in a concrete way, I was definitely found wanting on this occasion.

How humbling it was to hear God’s gentle question ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ yet again in my life! Is this a question God often seems to have to ask you too?

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Being a cricket fan from way back, I couldn’t resist the above title. You see, I find it hard to comprehend, but this is the two hundredth blog I have written for this site! I began my blogging adventure in July 2009 and have kept it up every week since then. My thanks to those who have kept on faithfully reading and commenting, either on the blog itself or on Facebook. Those little words of encouragement have inspired me to keep going, even at times when I felt I had little of worth to say.

What have all those blogs and all those hours spent writing them achieved, I wonder. I will probably never know. But I can give you several reasons I have continued to persevere with the whole idea. Firstly, as someone who was previously part of the ministry team of a local church, it is like relating to and encouraging my own little ‘cyber congregation’ at times. Just as I often used to share from my heart through the spoken word in our church, I can now share from my heart via the written word—and I find that such a wonderful privilege. Yes, I still speak in various places, but here via my blog, I have my ‘regular attenders’ who always read and often comment or click the ‘Like’ button on Facebook as well! I like to hear that they are travelling okay and love it when something I write turns out to be particularly pertinent in their lives at that point.

A second reason I have persevered with my blogs is that even though they take time, I still enjoy writing them. And a third is that I think it is good discipline for me as a writer to have to craft somewhere between five hundred and six hundred words each week into a blog that hopefully says something worthwhile and that God can use in someone’s life. Being such a wordy writer, it is good for me to have to limit myself and not wax eloquent for too long!

And yes, I have to admit a fourth reason for continuing with my blogs is that I have been told they are a good way of promoting my books. I’m still not completely convinced, but they do enable me to give my readers little glimpses into my writing world, include them at times in my interesting book selling adventures and let them know when a new book of mine is due for release.

I am aware my blogs would probably be more successful if I narrowed the field and aimed my content either at other authors or at non-authors. However, I cannot seem to bring myself to do this. Each week, I pray and ask God what I should write about. Sometimes the inspiration I seem to receive revolves around writing and sometimes it is simply something I have observed in reading my Bible or in everyday life. But I trust that in it all, God can guide me to write the content someone out there needs at that time and that God can also guide the relevant person to read and receive what is needed. What an adventure to be on with God! And what a privilege!

Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honour and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” Rev 7:12

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There’s a joke in our family about my writing efforts. When my first novel was published, a certain son of ours maintained he would buy some copies when they were outside in the three dollar bargain bins at our local Christian bookstore! He did redeem himself, however, and ended up purchasing quite a few for work colleagues—at full price!

Then there is another joke about my books I suspect one of our daughters started. The conversation that began it all went something like this:

‘Would you like me to sign your copy?’

‘Oh yes! That way, when you’re really famous, after you die I can auction it on e-bay and make my fortune!’

A rather flattering sentiment on the surface—yet not when said with a wicked grin and a twinkle in the eye!

Some years back, not long after my second novel was published, I drove to a nearby suburb to check out a venue where I had been invited to speak to make sure I knew where to go. I had just crossed the busy road opposite the building when a woman on the footpath stopped dead in her tracks and stared intently at me.

‘Oh … are you Jo-Anne Berthelsen?’

‘Yes,’ I responded, somewhat disconcerted.

‘Oh, it’s so wonderful to meet you! I’m so excited—I love your books! I recognised you from your photo on the back of your novel!’

Now to be fair, it turned out this lady was the one who had invited me to speak, so she had no doubt scrutinised that tiny photo quite closely. But when I mentioned this event in an email to a friend who lives overseas, I received the following response:

Well … you’ll just have to start wearing sunnies whenever you go out so people won’t recognise you, won’t you? That’s the price of fame!

This then became another running joke about my writing career. Alas, five novels and one non-fiction book later, I have not yet felt the need to invest in a pair of designer label sunnies to remain incognito!

Any wonder then that some words in Philippians this week caught my attention. Actually, it was a heading in that chapter that I saw first—‘Shining as Stars’! I read on and came to the following:

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life … (14-16)

Now that’s the sort of star I really care about becoming. Forget the sunnies and the amazing prices for my signed books on e-bay! I haven’t arrived yet—I certainly can’t lay claim to doing everything ‘without complaining or arguing’. But I want to honour God in all I do and to continue holding out that word of life to others, not only through my writing and speaking but also through the way I live my life in general. I want to be the sort of star that really matters—the sort that reflects the pure light of God, shining brightly and making a real difference in our dark world however I can.

How about you?  Are you on your way to stardom too?

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I knew it wasn’t wise, but I did it anyway. This week, I took on board two facts about other authors and their books and promptly compared their efforts to mine. Yes, I believe I can learn from how other authors go about promoting their books. But is it a good idea to take their excellent sales figures to heart, without recognising the differences in our situations, personalities, style of books and calling from God? I don’t think so.

Comparison Number One happened in the course of a conversation with my husband about a friend’s book.

‘Oh, I think he’s sold about five thousand copies,’ I commented.

‘No, it’s about seven thousand now,’ my husband told me.

Instead of being happy for this particular author, my heart sank a little. Never mind that this person is with a large, overseas publisher. Never mind that his book is entirely different from mine. All I heard was that seven thousand number. And that was enough to cause me to feel more than a little downhearted.

Comparison Number Two occurred as I was idly flipping through Facebook. There I noted how another author is managing to sell her books by the hundreds as she travels around the country. How does she do it, I wondered grumpily. Again, instead of being pleased for her, I began to feel inadequate, wondering if my feeble efforts at selling my books and speaking here and there are enough. And again, I completely lost sight of the fact that her personality and her books are entirely different from mine.

As I sat wallowing in self-pity, I managed to think clearly enough to realise one fact at least. I am doing all I can, to the best of my ability right now, to honour God with my writing and speaking. I am continuing to promote my non-fiction book Soul Friend that was released last year and my novels as well. I have a good number of speaking engagements in the next two months and have spent hours and hours in recent weeks, preparing for these. My sixth novel is being released in September. I write my own weekly blogs and comment regularly on other blogs and on Facebook. I am trying hard. I believe I am listening to and doing what God wants me to do. I cannot do more.

Then I managed to keep thinking clearly enough to do the most sensible thing of all. I reached for my Bible, where I was up to Philippians 2. And sure enough, God had something very pertinent to say to me about the whole situation. In verses 3 and 4, I read:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Hmm. Yes, Lord, I hear you. Why focus so much on my desires and ambitions for my own books? Why not cheer my fellow authors on, rejoicing at their success? Surely this is what is meant by putting their interests above my own? How about cultivating a little more humility, just as Jesus did? It wouldn’t go astray.

I’m hoping I don’t fall into that silly trap again—for a while at least!

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