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Posts Tagged ‘Australian Christian writer’

For years now, it has been my custom to leave my tattered, old bible open on the desk beside my laptop as I dive into my writing day—or hour—or even minutes. Yet it is not there for mere show. And it is not there either as some kind of talisman to ensure God blesses my writing time. Instead, to me, it serves as a strong reminder that, whatever is happening in my life and however my writing day unfolds, God is still God. Even if everything else falls away, God will still be there, loving me and watching over me.

I wonder if you have some tangible reminder of God’s presence and faithfulness around you too, as you step into your day. I have other things as well as my bible—a special cross stitch on my wall nearby that features a large butterfly, flowers and leaves and says, ‘Let us be silent that we may hear the whisper of God’, and a candle, a gift from a lovely writer friend, that has a beautiful aroma when lit. Then outside my window, I can see God’s own creation—trees and shrubs of different shapes and sizes and hues, bright pink azaleas during this spring season and, above them all, a glimpse of wispy clouds and blue skies. Yes, everywhere I look, I am reminded of God’s presence around me, of God’s amazing creativity and of God’s desire to reach out to me in love in so many beautiful ways.

Each day, as I sit down at my desk, I am so grateful I can pick up that old bible of mine too and read some part of it slowly. Even while writing this blog, I have glanced across and noted again some wonderful, reassuring words I found recently in Psalm 91.

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”
Psalm 91:1-2

I turn the page to the next psalm and am reminded of the encouraging words I read there yesterday:

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
    they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
planted in the house of the Lord,
    they will flourish in the courts of our God.
They will still bear fruit in old age,
    they will stay fresh and green,
proclaiming, “The Lord is upright;
    he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”
Psalm 92:12-15

Yes! Thank you, Lord—I may be a little old, but I can still bear fruit! Then I come again to today’s beautiful reminder of God’s rescuing heart:

When I said, “My foot is slipping,”
    your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.
When anxiety was great within me,
    your consolation brought me joy.
Psalm 94:18-19

Yes, I think to myself again—God is there for me and always will be, loving me, supporting me, comforting me. I leave my bible open at that page and turn to light the candle on my desk. All those words I have just read reassure me I can move on into my day with complete confidence in my heavenly Father. God is trustworthy. God is my Rock—and I am indeed on firm, solid ground.

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Do you remember a time when you had to blow your own trumpet, so to speak, and convince others you could handle a particular task or fulfil a particular role well, perhaps when applying for a job you truly wanted? It can feel very awkward, can’t it—not to mention downright pushy! 

Ever since my first novel was published, I have had to promote myself in ways I would never have dreamed of doing earlier on. I thought I was becoming more used to it and beginning to see it as merely a necessary part of the writing journey. Yet, recently, I felt daunted all over again when I filled in an author submission ‘pitch’ for a potential publisher of my next non-fiction book I am currently completing. This form consisted of only five questions, but each one necessitated much thought and re-writing. And two in particular made me cringe as I tried to answer them as best I could.

The first of these asked, ‘How will new readers benefit from your book?’ Now, I am indeed passionate about this book I am writing. It deals with the many words we all speak and write throughout our lives and urges us to leave a life-giving legacy behind us when we share them with others. I believe one hundred per cent in the thoughts it contains and sincerely hope and pray they will indeed benefit and build up many of my readers. Yet, it still seems presumptuous to me to declare with certainty, in black and white, ‘My readers will benefit from this book in the following ways …’. What happened to any humility I might have gained over the years?

Another question I sighed over asked, ‘Why are you qualified to be the person to write this book?’ Hmm! I do have a couple of tertiary degrees and diplomas in the areas of language, education, theology and ministry. I have written nine other books and hundreds of blogs. I have also spoken in all sorts of meetings in recent years, had many conversations with people and written countless emails. Yet, surely in stating all this on that form, I would be loudly blowing my own trumpet?

This strange saying ‘blowing our own trumpet’ apparently refers to past days when heralds sounded trumpets to let everyone know the king was coming! Instead, Jesus, our King, set us such a perfect example of true humility and grace when he put everything aside, came to this earth in human form for us and died a criminal’s death (Philippians 2:6-8). What a contrast! And we too are called to have that same heart of humility today.

 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves … You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Philippians 2:3, 5 NLT

This is the attitude I indeed want to have in all my writing and speaking and in life in general. Yet, we are also called to use our God-given gifts to their fullest extent to bless others and draw them closer to God—and I want to be faithful in doing that too. It can be tricky, to step out in confidence yet also to remain humble—but let’s keep trusting God to show us how.

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Around four years ago, while attending a women’s event at our church, I began talking with a young mum sitting nearby. Her face and manner were so open and honest, as she shared the good things happening in her life but also the challenges of balancing all the demands of managing her young family with work and other responsibilities. As we finished talking, I felt God prompted me to bless her with one simple, little phrase. ‘Peace on your home’, I said to her—and immediately saw how moved she was.

Since then, each time I see her leading worship or notice her chatting to someone after church, I repeat quietly in my heart, ‘Peace on your home—peace on your home.’ What a joy to be able to ask God to do this for her and her little family!

Recently too, I was reminded of the lovely, gentle words of farewell my dear mentor and ‘soul friend’ Joy used to say to me when I had finished pouring out all my troubles and questions during my visits to her, especially during my years at theological college. Sometimes, it would just be a simple sentence like, ‘Go gently, dear friend, in God’s love.’ Sometimes, merely a short phrase like ‘God’s peace to you’. Or sometimes, she would quote a line from a favourite poet to me or perhaps the well-known words of Julian of Norwich, written way back in the fourteenth century:

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

Through this quote, I knew Joy was encouraging me to keep on trusting God, in the midst of all the busyness and stresses of life. Whether things turned out the way I expected them to or not, God was still there, holding me close, and always would be. Therefore, I could be at peace.

These instances of giving and receiving words of peace resurfaced for me while writing another chapter of my work-in-progress, warming my heart and encouraging me to continue. But this past week, I have been encouraged even further, as I have explored the countless references in Scripture to God’s peace —that peace God longs to give us, both on a personal and corporate level. What a privilege to reflect on such verses as those below and breathe in God’s deep comfort and peace in the process!

And as you read them now, may the Lord bless you so much and speak deep peace into your heart too.

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”’ Numbers 6:24-26

Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you. Isaiah 54:10

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

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I watched as our eight-year-old granddaughter pulled several crumpled sheets of paper from her school uniform pocket. When she smoothed them out, I saw they contained long spelling lists, starting at an easy level, but soon becoming quite difficult.

‘My friend and I were finalists in our class spelling bee and now we have to learn these words and compete against the finalists from other classes,’ she told me, obviously pleased with herself.

‘Well, how about I get you to spell some for me?’ I suggested. ‘Let’s try this middle level. What about ‘abandon’? Do you know what that means?’

Maxine not only spelt it correctly but proceeded to act out what the word meant with gusto, showing how a classmate would feel if left all by themselves. We then tried ‘dungeon’ and ‘nocturnal’, again spelt correctly, along with a graphic explanation of their meaning. A couple of harder words followed where she needed some help. I could see she was becoming a little discouraged, but then she had an idea.

‘Ask me the word “encouraged”,’ she told me. ‘I know that one!’

And she did. This time, however, we did not talk about the meaning as I was well aware she knew it. Not long before, she and her brother had wanted me to play a certain game on my phone, but I had declined.

‘Oh, I’d be no good at that!’ I had said emphatically.

But Maxine was having none of it. ‘Nanna, you have written lots of books, so you could do this,’ she informed me. ‘You’re not silly!’’

Yep, Maxine sure knows how to encourage someone.

In the end, I tried to play their game but failed abysmally, despite their expert help. Thinking back later, however, I realised I had learnt some important lessons about encouragement in the process. Firstly, I saw I needed to take smaller steps forward in choosing words for Maxine to spell rather than jump to harder ones that discouraged her. And secondly, as Maxine tried to encourage me, I saw the value of being reminded of those times when I had succeeded in doing something relatively difficult, albeit in an entirely different field from our grandchildren’s challenge to me! I am glad of both these reminders, because they are so relevant for encouraging those facing much bigger challenges than spelling bees and computer games.

I love encouraging others, seeing that smile on their faces and that flame of hope being lit inside them again. Yet this can also require much wisdom, patience and perseverance at times, can’t it? And sometimes, we may find ourselves so unsure, as we grope for the right words to say. I never want to offend or be too forceful, nor do I want merely to bolster someone’s ego or give them false hope for the future. So I am doubly glad God is always with us, empowering us and giving us insight, as we seek to spur others on to be all God purposes them to be and do the things they have been created to do. God will give us the right words, as we seek to encourage, so let’s go for it!

… Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. Ephesians 4:29 NLT

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Soon after my first novel Heléna was published in 2007, I became curious about where all those early copies would get to. I remember wishing I could install a tracking device on them so I could see who read them and what interesting adventures they had along the way. Of course, I also realised that could be discouraging. After all, some might end up unopened on dusty bookshelves somewhere or, worse still, in the recycling bin! On the other hand, some readers might love the novel and even lend it out—or buy it as a gift. Some copies might end up in libraries too and hopefully be borrowed often. The possibilities were endless!

During COVID lockdown, I had several requests for my older novels, especially All the Days of My Life, the sequel to Heléna. It seemed people had re-discovered Heléna on their bookshelves while bored at home, then decided they would like the sequel. I do not stock any of these two novels now, so asked family and friends if they would part with their old copies. Several were unearthed in this way and it was fun to give them another chance at life with new owners.

Then this past week, I received another request via email for All the Days of My Life. A lady wrote to tell me her husband had just finished reading Heléna and loved it. So … did I have any second-hand copies of the sequel available? I didn’t—but I knew a friend had one. I drove to pick it up and emailed the prospective buyers to sort out postage, only to discover this couple actually live in Canada! Apparently, they found my novel Heléna in their church library—but how did it get there? What’s more, the copy is signed by me, so I must have sold it personally to someone.

To be honest, I am amazed people anywhere are still reading my very first novel published way back in 2007—and I am certainly amazed a copy has ended up in a church library in Canada! Somehow, time and distance have been no barrier for this particular copy at least.

Yet, as I have reflected on this whole story, I have realised something even more amazing. I may not be able to install tracking devices on my books, but God knows where they have all got to—and God is quite able to carry them through time and space to wherever they can minister to someone. Those fifteen years since Heléna was published here in Australia are the mere blink of an eye to God—they are certainly no barrier to the One who was and is and always will be.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 2 Peter 3:8

I find this verse so reassuring, don’t you? Somehow, it puts everything I worry about into much better perspective. Things may take longer to unfold in life than I might have hoped—and yes, my books may also not have as wide a distribution as others. But I can be at peace about it all, because I belong to the most awesome, powerful Creator of the universe for whom no barriers are ever insurmountable.

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I often feel it would be good if we could be in two places at once. At times I would like to attend some event, yet have promised to do something else already on the same day. At times too, my heart may say yes to turning up at some gathering, yet my head tells me I need to catch up on things at home. It can be a dilemma, can’t it?

One Saturday recently, our church held a retreat day. I sensed God wanted me there, yet it was a tussle. Life had been a little hectic and I longed to be quiet somewhere by myself, rather than be with a hundred other women. And I knew that going out for a whole day would make me even busier the following week, as I caught up on everything. Yet, somewhere inside, a gentle but insistent voice urged me to put my name down to attend.

I went—and it was not long before I found out why I was supposed to be there. In the very first of our three sessions, we focussed on the theme ‘Living with a kingdom perspective’, during which the speaker read out Colossians 3:1-2 from The Message version:

So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.

At the end of that session, we were invited to jot down what we sensed the challenge or invitation from Jesus was for us so far, which I did. I wrote how I did indeed want to see my life from God’s perspective. In particular, I needed to discern whether God wanted me to write another non-fiction book at this stage or whether it was time to put the whole idea aside. I had started on a particular project already—I had even written an introduction and jotted down ideas for various chapters, as well as a possible title and sub-title for the book. Yet, my progress had been slow and discouraging. I sensed something was wrong with my whole approach—or was it that the whole idea was just a bit crazy?

As I sat trying to listen to God, something seemed to shift inside me. I felt as if a bright light had been turned on somewhere in my mind. In an instant, an idea for an entirely different way to tackle my projected book seemed to drop into my lap, complete with a title I love and a sub-title that describes exactly what I want to write about. I would never have dreamt these up myself. Instead, God simply gave me a much better perspective on it all and did so with such gentleness and grace. Of course, I still have to write the book—and that will require lots of work. But now that I sense it is God’s idea, I can tackle it with much more confidence.

It’s such a relief to be able to see things more from God’s perspective, isn’t it? Our own view may be skewed, but God’s never is.

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We sat on the back patio in the warm sun, chatting as we ate our lunch. This year, while my husband and I met with our son’s family for afternoon tea on Mothers’ Day itself, I decided I wanted to catch up with our two daughters separately on different days. This then was my opportunity to be with our older daughter and, even though our meal was relatively simple, I found our time together and the warm conversation we enjoyed priceless.

I had made egg sandwiches which our daughter then garnished with parsley and chives from her garden, thus adding wonderful aroma and taste and lifting my basic fare out of the ordinary. Then our daughter served a delicious sponge cake she had baked, complete with jam and cream in the centre and icing sugar on top. What a treat! Immediately, it brought back such comforting memories of my mother’s and grandmother’s sponges which I myself have never been able to replicate.

We topped off our special yet simple lunch with hot cups of tea—all so enjoyable on that level alone. But as we relaxed and chatted, I was reminded again of a deep truth I have noticed many times in the past and experienced myself—the truth that most of us so long to be listened to. Really listened to, that is. This day with our daughter, I felt heard, airing all my various current concerns about my writing and life in general with her. And I hope and pray she felt the same, as I tried my best to hear clearly the things she shared and empathise with her in the process.

You see, one thing she mentioned in this time was that, when talking with a particular friend, she often does not feel heard. ‘They just do not listen!’ she told me with great frustration. Have you ever experienced this yourself? This is how misunderstanding happens, isn’t it? We can feel negated and disrespected and … well, somehow plain wrong. And we can come to believe what we offer the world is worthless.

I suspect I am particularly aware of this issue because I myself tend to talk a lot when in a one-on-one setting with someone. I have so many thoughts and ideas running around in my head I want to share that I know I can easily monopolise the conversation at times and even silence the other person. Yet often I am there to listen to them, not vice versa! Instead, I need to give them space, to honour who they are and, in general, to hear them well. I need to rein in my own desires and, instead, put the other person first.

I have always found what James says about listening very challenging.

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry … James 1:19 NIV

As for the following verse from two different versions … ouch!

To answer before listening is foolish and shameful. Proverbs 18:13 NIRV

Answering before listening is both stupid and rude. Proverbs 18:13The Message

I don’t want to be stupid or rude when talking with others, do you? And I don’t want to feel ashamed either of my own self-centredness. So … let’s listen to others more. And let’s listen so well!

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Last week, I reached a milestone in my little corner of the blogging world. I did not notice until this week because of a glitch in my numbering system, so what a surprise to discover I had written 700 personal blogs since July 2009!

At first, I thought, ‘Ho hum—who cares?’ After all, I enjoy writing my blogs and hope to continue for a while yet, regardless what number blog I am up to. But then I paused … and listened. It was as if God was whispering gently to me, ‘Whoa, Jo-Anne! How about you stop right now and think about all that has happened for you over these past almost thirteen years?’

So, I stopped and reflected. What a crazy but wonderful writing and speaking journey I have had in those years! Not only did God enable me to churn out a blog each week, but also to produce five more novels and two non-fiction books to add to my two previously published novels. Who would have thought? Certainly not I. And who would have thought too that I would have the opportunity to speak at all sorts of places along the way? I have lost count of how many such events have taken place, but it would be over two hundred, many wonderful, some … well … interesting!

As I looked back, however, I realised so much else has happened during these years too that I did not expect—personally, family-wise and certainly wider afield. For example, we sold our home of 32 years for what to us was a staggering sum and came to live here in our lovely, restful unit—an unexpected blessing indeed. Family-wise, we welcomed a fourth grandchild—another lovely blessing. In that time too though, my special ‘soul friend’ Joy suffered from dementia, something I did not expect to happen to her, eventually passing away last year. And, of course, who would have thought we would all be facing a worldwide pandemic in 2020—and 2021—and 2022?

We can plan and work towards what we dream of doing and what we may also believe is what God wants for us—and, by God’s grace, these plans and dreams may be fulfilled beyond our expectations. Yet, for many of us, this does not turn out to be the case, for one reason or another. For some, the question ‘Who would have thought?’ may be a joyous exclamation, while for others, it may well be a deep cry of anguish.

Yet, however surprised or shocked we may be at the twists and turns in our lives, positive or negative, God surely is not. And perhaps that is what God wanted me to see, as I reflected on these past thirteen years. Perhaps God is challenging me to remember who truly is in control of my life. Perhaps I need to be much more thankful I belong to such a loving, powerful God. And perhaps I need to realise my role is to keep living for and trusting in God, whatever happens.

Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Proverbs 3:5-6 The Message

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I thought I had cured myself of being a ‘glass half empty’ person. I thought I had learnt to be more grateful for family and friends, for the lovely things I own and the wonderful experiences I have had. Yet now and then, I hear this peevish, little voice inside me complaining about something I have missed out on or pointing out things tantalisingly beyond my reach. ‘Yes, you have that,’ it says, ‘but … well, you could have had this instead. Look what you’ve missed out on yet again!’

Recently, I received an email announcing the results of a short story competition I entered months ago. In it, I discovered that, while I did not win, my story was among the ten best entries and that, as a result, I would receive $150. This was a pleasant surprise, especially since I had forgotten all about the competition. But then came that ‘glass half empty’ moment when I remembered that the first prize was ten times that amount—$1500. Immediately, my joy in winning my $150 was dimmed. ‘I could have done lots with that $1500,’ I grumbled. ‘The email says that choosing a winner was difficult. Probably I just missed out.’

Thankfully, God soon intervened and I began to laugh at myself—especially when I remembered that the basic story idea had emerged from something someone else told me rather than from any cleverness on my part. Yes, I embellished it and put time and effort into polishing it up, after gaining my friend’s permission. But in reality, as I believe God showed me, this story was a gift from the very beginning—and any prize I received was an added bonus.

I suspect all of us can think of things or experiences we would very much like to have, including those we may have enjoyed in a past role or setting. Recently, I attended a funeral back at the church where we spent many years and, while it was good to honour our friend who had passed away, see other old friends and be in a place we had loved so much, it was also rather painful to realise those days are well and truly gone now. For a while, I indulged in a little self-pity, but then God reminded me of lessons learnt back then and the wonderful life experiences I have had since, including my writing journey.

I may yearn for times past or for things beyond my reach, for one reason or another, yet it is unhealthy to stay in this negative, ‘glass half empty’ space, isn’t it? Instead, I am called to live fully and realistically in the present moment with God, noticing what there is for me to do right now and doing it with all my heart. And I am also called to be thankful and at peace, knowing God is with me, whatever is happening or not happening around me.

May I soon learn to see that glass not as half empty at all, but gloriously half full—indeed, constantly brimming over with God’s grace and goodness and incredible love!

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5

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I wonder if you have ever run into someone you know in a most unexpected place. When I was a teacher, I well remember encountering one of my more troublesome students in the middle of my weekly supermarket shop. ‘Mum, there’s my teacher!’ this girl blurted out in a shocked voice. I suspect she wanted to see me about as much as I wanted to see her that day!

On another occasion, however, I came across a pastor friend in a bookstore. While we chatted, several folk from her church came by, which perhaps could have disconcerted her. Instead, she seemed to enjoy the moment. ‘It’s like I’ve died and gone to heaven!’ she exclaimed, beaming at everyone.

Recently, I headed to a nearby medical facility for an injection into a troublesome shoulder. I was certainly not expecting to see anyone I knew there—or anyone who knew me. All I was thinking about was whether my scheduled injection would help alleviate the pain I was experiencing. Eventually, a young woman called my name and ushered me into a small room. We chatted together as she prepared the injection for the doctor to give. A few moments later, it was all over, and the doctor left. But then the young woman suddenly said, ‘You must be the author, are you?’

I was stunned.

‘Um … yes, I am, but … how did you know?’ I eventually managed to ask.

‘Oh, I’ve read some of your books!’ she told me then. ‘I borrowed them from my mother.’

So that was it! She must have recognised my name from the patient list—mystery solved. But I was still curious.

‘What would your mother’s name be? Perhaps I know her.’

Sure enough, I did, from two or three occasions in the past.

‘Well, it just shows we have to behave wherever we go, don’t we?’ I joked as I left. ‘You never know who you’ll meet!’

Beneath my joking, however, I was also trying to remember what sort of comments I had made to her. I was so focussed on myself that I had not put much thought at all into anything I said. Had I been polite and considerate towards her? Had I listened well? Had I honoured God throughout our conversation?

It was too late now anyway. The exchange was over.

I came away from that experience realising again that, wherever I go and whether I feel like it or not, I am God’s ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20). I never know whom I will meet. I never know who will recognise my name, even though I am not a famous author—yet! And I never know who will be listening or watching. But I’m so thankful God does. And I’m so thankful too that God’s Spirit is with me and in me, ready to give me those words of grace to share with others and the wisdom to act in a godly way. But I need to listen, to keep any unwise words in check and then to say those things that will bless and build others up.

May I remember to do that next time, because you never know …

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:6

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