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Posts Tagged ‘Australian Christian writer’

Jo 17I have always loved Easter. As a child, of course it meant Easter eggs, which, for some reason in our household, were brought by the ‘Easter bird’ and put in our upturned hats on our beds on Easter Sunday morning! But in our family, Good Friday was always a very quiet, solemn day. Occasionally, we would attend the three-hour service at our local Anglican church where we would sing and pray and listen to Scripture readings, as we stood in front of various pictures on the walls depicting Jesus’ journey to the cross.

And that Good Friday solemnity stays with me to this day. Each Easter, I like to make my own solemn journey through one of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ last days. I like to read these chapters slowly and carefully, identifying with Jesus as best I can and trying to comprehend the enormity of his sacrifice for us all. But this Easter, I also decided to read 1 John again and was soon pulled up short by the following words:

Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did. 1 John 2:6

Whoa! Walk as Jesus did? What a challenge! And what should that look like for me right now, in the midst of our coronavirus measures? Immediately, my thoughts went to some of the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion that I had been reading about in Luke’s Gospel. How did Jesus walk through each day then, in the light of his impending death?

I remembered how Jesus told his disciples he had ‘eagerly desired’ to eat the Passover meal with them (Luke 22:15) and how he gave them such a powerful way of remembering him that still ministers to us today, as he shared the bread and wine with them. I remembered too how Jesus reached out and healed the high priest’s servant whose ear was cut off in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:51). And I also recalled how, even as the soldiers put Jesus on that cross, he asked his Father to forgive them because they were acting in ignorance (Luke 23:34). Then, out of perfect love for us and perfect obedience, he gave his life for us all.

What sobering reminders of how selflessly Jesus lived! But how should it all play out in my life now in this time of semi-isolation at home?

  • I can pray for God to intervene and have mercy on our desperate world. And I can pray especially for those who do not know God’s love and have no firm foundation in life.
  • I can contact family and friends in various ways to encourage them.
  • I can give financially to those in need and also support our church as our pastors continue to serve us.
  • I can watch my attitude at the shops, choosing to be generous rather than selfish. And I can live considerately at home too out of a place of peace rather than fear and turmoil.
  • As a writer, I can ask for God’s guidance and work hard at wording things well so that my readers will be blessed and encouraged.

May we all allow Jesus’ selflessness to impact us this Easter. And may we all learn to walk a little more as he would in this challenging time in our world.

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Jo 17Recently, I did something I have never done before. Each day for one whole week, I deliberately chose to do some special activity I have wanted to do for some time but always had a reason not to. On top of that, I did not cook dinner any night that week. Instead, we ate out or bought takeaway. You see, the whole thing was a unique birthday present for me—and what fun it all was!

Originally, my husband had wanted me to enjoy a few days away somewhere by myself—to relax, recharge and spend time with God. I thought about this lovely idea and even looked up various venues online but did not feel settled about any of them. Then one night, it came to me. I did not want to go away anywhere. Instead, I wanted to enjoy different, interesting experiences within reach of our own beautiful unit, then come home and not have to cook dinner! A win-win situation, don’t you think?

In the end, we called this wondrous week ‘The Festival of Jo-Anne’ (!)—and I thoroughly enjoyed it all. I went shopping, twice over. I went to the movies. I had coffee out. I had a massage. I read. And in between, I had time simply to sit and be and reconnect with God. Yes, it was all very good indeed.

But one reason I enjoyed it even more was that, two weeks earlier, I had finally finished the first draft of my latest novel that had languished on my laptop for over three years, waiting patiently for me to unfold the rest of the story. This special week of mine then was also for me a time when I came up for air, so to speak, when I allowed my poor brain to rest, when I graced myself a little more than usual—and when I sensed God’s love and grace being showered on me from every angle. It was a lovely, hiatus period—a time to gain clearer perspective, not only on my novel, before I plunged into all that necessary editing, but on my life in general.

At one stage in writing this particular novel, I wondered if I should keep going. Should I be content with the eight books of mine that have already been published? Was that where God wanted me to stop? But one day, I sensed God saying gently to me, ‘Jo-Anne, whether you write this book or don’t write it, remember I’ll be just as delighted with you either way!’ What gracious, loving, freeing words to hear! I did not need to feel pressured to produce in any way. Instead, I had permission to write the sort of novel I have wanted to write for some time and to leave the outcome in God’s hands.

Yet I think God was saying more than that too. I think God wanted to remind me that, all the time, whether celebrating the Festival of Jo-Anne or writing or speaking or whatever, I can rest fully in this amazing love of God that accepts me, no matter what.

How precious is your unfailing love, O God! All humanity finds shelter in the shadow of your wings. Psalm 36:7 New Living Translation

Maybe you too need to hear this reminder right now?

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Jo 12This past week, I actually managed to finish the first draft of my seventh novel—over ninety-eight thousand words. Woohoo! It still feels a little surreal—I have lived with my characters for so long that they feel part of me. At times, I have even found myself thinking in real life settings, ‘Oh, how would Meg (my heroine) have responded here?’ Or ‘This is what happened to Stephen.’ Or ‘Meg has just done that!’ It has been quite a journey.

I can’t remember exactly, but I think I began this novel around three and a half years ago, not long after my second non-fiction book, Becoming Me, was published. I love writing non-fiction, but felt drawn to write yet one more novel, this time inspired, a little at least, by the lives of my maternal grandparents. Yet I cringed at the thought. Only one of my past novels could truly be classed as historical (ie set prior to and during World War Two) but, after writing it, I vowed and declared I would never write an historical novel again. You see, doing so brings with it a second huge task, on top of actually writing. Everything needs to be checked to see if the characters could truly do such things in that time and place—and if they could, how long it would take them. Certain things could not be mentioned either, since they were not around then. And certain words could not be used. Yet in my heart, I still wanted to write this novel, set in Queensland in the period 1909 to 1926.

Now I am supposed to be ‘retired’ (!), but somehow I have still not quite discovered the meaning of that word. As a result, writing this current novel has been punctuated by speaking at a variety of places, supporting the pastoral team at our church for four months while our senior pastors were on sabbatical, minding grandchildren on a regular basis, accompanying the village choir, meeting with others—and so many other good and right things. I do not regret any of them. But it makes completing a full-length historical novel just that little bit more challenging.

Can you see why I still feel a little numb at this point? Yet I also feel so grateful to God and thankful for this amazing opportunity to write a story that has been in my heart and mind for many years, long before I sat down to write the novel. I am well aware it may or may not be published—that will be my next challenge, along with many edits! But whatever the outcome, I am so glad God enabled me to persevere. Yes, I chose to sit down and write—but God inspired me to keep going and gave me the strength and ability to do so. And that can be true for each of us, however we are gifted and whatever God puts on our heart to undertake.

I have long been encouraged by the words the Lord spoke to Zerubbabel, who had undertaken the task of rebuilding God’s house in Jerusalem:

Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord. Zechariah 4:6

May these words also encourage you today to keep persevering in doing what God has given you to do.

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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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IMG_20191007_105632077This spring, I decided to plant a tomato seedling in a pot on our balcony. I hoped it would grow into a nice, rounded little bush and, in time, bear at least a few little cherry tomatoes. But, to my surprise, it has continued to shoot up, sprouting more and more leaves and yellow flowers, daily growing ever higher! Yet it was not its size that captured my attention this week, but rather the pungent scent of its leaves as I touched them gently. Immediately, I was wafted back many, many years to those lush tomato bushes my father took delight in growing in our backyard in Brisbane, where I grew up.

As a little girl, I often liked to join my father while he gardened. One day, I decided I would help him, so I gathered up my skirt to form a soft kind of pouch and made my way along our rows of tomato bushes, picking whatever fruit I saw there.

Once finished, I joyfully showed my stash to my father. But alas—he took one look, then chased me up our steep backyard, roaring with rage, as those tomatoes scattered everywhere! You see, they were all still green—my father had been patiently waiting until just the right time to harvest them. But I did not know that—and I had picked them far too early to be of use to anyone.

Perhaps one could say I was scarred for life, since I still remember this event so vividly! Yet, as someone who has also enjoyed gardening, I can well understand how devastated my father must have felt at losing his precious tomato crop—or a good portion of it at least. Besides, this whole childhood experience taught me a good lesson which, even now as a writer, I need to put into practice. Stories ripen too, like those tomatoes. A whole novel needs time to grow and develop, perhaps even to change shape from what I as the author originally envisaged. It needs gentle nurturing—and often much pruning—in order to be palatable to any future readers. So the whole process cannot be rushed, if my precious story is ever truly going to provide enjoyment and nourishment and blessing to others as God intended.

Recently, I heard two excellent sermons both based on Ecclesiastes 3, which begins:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot … (3:1-2)

What a good reminder to hear—twice over—just when I was feeling frustrated that my current novel would not be ready in time to pitch it to a potential publisher at an upcoming writers’ conference! As a result, I decided to relax about it all and to keep on faithfully writing and fine-tuning my story, trusting God for the eventual outcome and for the Spirit’s enabling throughout.

I remembered those green tomatoes. I remembered there is a time for everything. I remembered my times are in God’s hands and that those hands are so trustworthy—and I pray you will too.

But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hands …’ Psalm 31:14-15

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I wonder if you have had time lately to stop and truly look at the beauty all around us in nature, on both a small and large scale. Even as I write this, I can see from my study window a vast expanse of clear, blue sky, feel the warmth of the spring sunshine and enjoy the amazing pink blossoms on the nearby azaleas.

IMG_20190925_115106702Yet it was the tiny, almost hidden intricacies in God’s creation that recently blew me away  most—including the endless variety of sizes and shapes of leaves on the nearby shrubs and the amazing speckles and colours of the petals on the humble, little alstroemeria flowers our neighbour planted near our front door. How easily all this inspired me then to write the following poem for our church’s upcoming Art Installation (6-20 Oct, Parramatta Baptist), the theme of which is ‘Creation Speaks HIS Name’! Surely, as the psalmist says:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. Psalm 19:1-4

Silent Speech

­Did you have fun, Lord, creating such beauty

for us your children to enjoy?

It’s as if in pure delight you waved your palette high

and splashed your vibrant colours everywhere with glee,

as if you had to share each fresh design of flower

and then, in pure extravagance,

add speckles to already perfect petals.

In tender tones, you sought again

to speak your name, to show us who you are,

to swell with one more voice creation’s choir

that endlessly declares your perfect love,

that shouts your glorious grace across the earth,

that paints your name with joy on canvas vast.

Lord, in small and large, we hear your silent speech

and, in reply, we speak aloud your praise!

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