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Posts Tagged ‘Australian Christian writer and speaker’

Jo 17‘What day is it today?’ I ask my husband.

‘It’s Thursday,’ he tells me, without comment. He is used to my strange ways.

‘It can’t be!’ I say, aghast. ‘What happened to Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday? Before we know it, another week will be over!’

It seems I am not the only one in our family who is familiar with this ‘before we know it’ feeling. Recently, after picking up our three-year-old granddaughter from day care, we chatted together as we drove along.

‘I fell over at my brother’s school and hurt my knee,’ she told us at one stage.

‘Oh, that’s sad,’ her grandad said. ‘Did you cry?’

‘Yes, I did,’ she replied, ‘but before I knew it, it didn’t hurt anymore!’

This concept of time passing so quickly seemed such an adult thing for a young child to grasp—but obviously Maxine knew what it meant. One minute that pain was there and the next, it was gone. And that’s the case with so many things in life, don’t you think? We think and act as if a particular stage of our lives will last forever—but it doesn’t. At times, we cannot see beyond the now. Yet when we step back and view things with a wider perspective, we realise everything is finite.

One of my favourite movies from years ago now is Dead Poets Society. A key thought the main character, innovative teacher John Keating (played by Robin Williams), often expressed resonated strongly with me—‘Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.’ I suspect I saw this movie at a time in my life when I felt a little restless and was wondering what God had ahead for me. I wanted to make my life count, in whatever way God had gifted me to do so. But time was passing, so I needed to grasp hold of those ‘God opportunities’ that arose, however challenging they might be. And I’m so glad God enabled me to do just that. Not long after this movie was first released, I changed jobs—and this change eventually led to my being able to attend theological college fulltime in my late forties and obtain my Bachelor of Theology degree, a dream I had had ever since I was around nineteen years old.

Now at this stage of my life, I wonder again what God has for me to do. Should I persevere with my writing and speaking? Or is God leading me into a different kind of ministry? Whatever the answers to those questions might turn out to be, I know I still want to ‘seize the moment’ and make my life count, because, before I know it, I will no longer have these opportunities. Even though we live in different times from the Apostle Paul, I want to heed his commands to do just that.

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Ephesians 5:16-17

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Colossians 4:4

May God guide us all as we seize those moments we have been given and make the most of them.

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Have you ever experienced one of those moments when a truth you have almost come to take for granted hits you smack between the eyes once again? It can be just a tad humbling, in my opinion.

There I was this past weekend, speaking to a great group of women at a church breakfast. Little did I suspect God was going to remind me of a home truth in my own life. I have seen before how the things I pass onto others when speaking at such events are the very things God wants to impress on me as well. I should know this, having spoken many times in connection with my books over these past few years. But I had forgotten. And God knew that.

I reached a point in my talk where I had decided to include part of the story of how God became real in my own life, so I began sharing with the women about the three things that had impacted me most deeply back then. I told them how I was shocked when I realised that the Jesus I had heard about in Sunday School and church was actually real—and further, that he was still alive—in which case, I needed to do something about letting him be Lord of my life. I told them about the awe I felt when I realised I mattered to Jesus—that he knew all about me and loved me. And I told them too how I knew at once that, by believing in Jesus and accepting his love, I had indeed discovered the purpose for my being on this earth—to live for God and bring honour to Jesus, whatever my future career path might turn out to be.

I was right in the moment, sharing from my heart with the women. Then, through some almost joking, ‘throw away’ words of mine, God spoke to me.

‘I hate to say it,’ I laughed as I told the women, ‘but this happened to me over fifty years ago now when I was fifteen—so now you can do the Maths easily!’

No, there was no blinding flash that knocked me off my feet at that point—but I did feel the impact of the following gentle words from God deep in my spirit.

‘Yes, it has been fifty years, Jo-Anne. A long time of journeying together, through so many ups and downs.’

Straight away, I was filled with such thankfulness for that journey that I began all those years ago as a fifteen year old, so full of uncertainties and anxieties. Yes, I thought to myself, even as I stood there and kept speaking to the women, God has been so, so faithful to me through it all—so patient and so forbearing and so understanding and so forgiving and … well, just so plain caring about me. But for God, where would I be? Certainly not where I was right at that point, standing on the platform and speaking to those women present.

Yes, I have kept the faith—but only by God’s amazing love and grace through all those years. That’s all I can say.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! I John :1

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Are you the sort of person who thinks and plans ahead for weeks, even months, before tackling some important task or undertaking a new course of action? Or are you a little more ‘laid back’, trusting things to unfold naturally in their own good time and in just the right way?

In fiction writing circles, authors sometimes use the terms ‘plotter’ or ‘pantster’ to describe how they go about writing a new novel. Some plan out the entire novel beforehand, even using elaborate diagrams and advanced plotting techniques, while others opt for flying by the seat of their pants, preferring to let the story take its own course—hence the term ‘pantsters’! As far as writing is concerned, I am somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, perhaps even tending towards being a ‘pantster’. But in other parts of my life, it’s a different matter.

This week, we are setting off on a road trip to Queensland. Within a period of sixteen days, I will be speaking nine times—plus I also have two interviews and three author appearances at bookstores scheduled. So I have definitely needed to be in my best planning mode in recent weeks and months to ensure those nine talks are ready to go. But many other things also need to be arranged for such a trip to run smoothly. While I have been busy contacting people and preparing talks, my husband has been equally busy planning our route, arranging accommodation and working out how long it will take to get from one place to another—not to mention how he will fit all my books and other paraphernalia into our car! And of course we have to ensure things we normally do when home are taken care of, such as minding our grandchildren.

All this planning can become quite trying and exhausting. But I see another danger in it as well and that is that God can be left right out of the picture! In all the busyness of getting ready to go, unless I’m careful, I can easily lose sight of who is really in charge of the whole trip, as James 4:13-15 reminds us:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

More than that, I can lose sight of what this trip really is all about. It’s not to ‘carry on business and make money’, as James mentions. If that were the case, I’d be doing something other than writing books! Rather, it’s to do what God wants me to do and say what God wants me to say to those people to whom I’ll be speaking. And it’s to make sure I do my best to get my books out there because I want more people to be drawn closer to God in the process.

In all my planning and preparing, that’s the perspective I want to hold onto with all my heart. How about you?

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I’m a writer and speaker. I use and play with words day in and day out, and our English language is so rich that I’m often spoilt for choice. Yet sometimes I wonder if, in all my cleverness, I make something sound much more complex that it really is.

Over the weekend, I had the privilege of speaking at a women’s retreat. I was entrusted with the task of giving three talks, each forty-five minutes in length. I spent many hours preparing these and their accompanying reflection sheets and discussion questions. And in the end, those talks more than filled those forty-five minutes I had been allotted! Yet the women were very gracious and patiently heard me out.

But as I delivered what I had prepared, I noticed two things. The first was that the women present went very quiet and seemed to listen extra hard whenever I shared some personal experience I had had of God or some story from my own life to illustrate a point I was making. I saw again the power of a simple story or honest testimony, as the women related to what I shared. No wonder Jesus so often taught in parables.

The second thing I noticed was that, out of all I shared over the weekend, what seemed to have the most impact was the simple truth that God loves each one of us. Not just in some theoretical, matter of fact way, but deeply¸ profoundly, purely, honestly. God created us. We went our own way. But God called us back, treated us with such grace, forgave us, accepted us. God loves us with a love that is perfect and eternal.

It was when the power of God’s love and the power of story combined, however, that the Spirit seemed to touch us the most. At one stage, I shared how, at a needy time in my life, God’s love filled me again in an amazing way. I had been so busy and, in the process, lost any sense of God’s real presence with me. But God broke through one night when I was home by myself. To my vast relief, I found myself freely worshipping God again, full of joy and so conscious of God’s Spirit alive in me. But it was the two pictures I believe God gave me then that impacted me even more. The first was of Jesus holding me as a baby, smiling down at me with such pure love and delight as he whispered, ‘Wow! Jo-Anne!’. I knew he was showing me he loved me just the way I had been created, before I could achieve anything. In the second picture, I saw all my certificates I later received piled in a bunny rug and gently pushed to one side. I knew God was showing me that, while they were great, I was utterly loved even without any of them.

I pointed out to the women listening how each one of us is that baby in Jesus’ arms, so precious to him. And in the quietness, God touched us all.

When it’s all said and done, it’s as simple—and profound—as that. God loves me. Jesus loves me.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1

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I wonder how you fared in finding the refreshment you needed over the Christmas break. Perhaps you had a great holiday with family or managed to find some time on your own where you could replenish your resources. We are all different—what works for one might not work for another. While one person recovers best by staying at home, another prefers to get right away from things.

Somehow I suspect I might have missed out on that window of opportunity to be refreshed as much as needed in the past month. So here I am in February, trying to grab what days I can to relax a little. My family would no doubt say I don’t know the meaning of the word ‘relax’, however! Many times when we are having a birthday celebration here, I am told off for hopping up from the table for this and that. As for watching TV without doing anything else, recently when I was doing just that and pointed out this remarkable fact to my husband, he told me he could hardly believe his eyes!

It is a trap at times for those of us who work from home to keep on working when we should stop for a while. My computer is always waiting here on my desk, ready for whenever I want to write another blog or begin work on my next book or prepare for a speaking engagement or answer a few emails. And I enjoy all these activities, so they can’t really be classed as work—can they? At times such tasks can be frustrating, but mostly I find that pull back into my study to write is like an invisible thread, enticing me towards that next wonderful writing idea or that interesting email I absolutely have to respond to straight away!

Yet we all need time away from our work, however enjoyable it is, to recharge our batteries and gain a more rounded perspective on things. Years ago, I discovered Michael Leunig’s whimsical, little book, The Curly Pyjama Letters. The letter that spoke to me most at that point was one written by Mr Curly to Vasco Pyjama on the topic of rest. In the final paragraph, he urges Vasco to feel his ‘noble tiredness’ and repeats his belief that ‘it’s worth doing nothing and having a rest.’ Vasco maintains the world is ‘dying of restlessness’ and urges his friend not to give in to this. His words ring very true to me. How about you?

Then last week, I was sent some even more pertinent, life-giving words. After I had complained I was feeling a little tired, a friend emailed me Proverbs 11:25:

A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.

Now I’m sure this includes female writers and speakers as well! And I hope and pray others were indeed refreshed in the past year through my first non-fiction book Soul Friend in particular but also through my times of speaking. I hope, by God’s grace, that hearts were touched and spirits renewed.

So I’m off to relax now, to rest in God’s grace myself, comforted in the knowledge that God will refresh and renew, ready for all that lies ahead. And if you are feeling a little like me, may you too put aside your ‘restlessness’ and find all the refreshment you need in God.

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