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Posts Tagged ‘Australian Christian writer’

IMG_20180710_143310824I glance up from my desk and notice a rather impressive visitor sitting on our balcony railing about a metre from my study window—a kookaburra, looking as if it owns everything within view! I move to take its photo through the glass and it turns its head slightly, as if to say, ‘I know you’re there, but I also know I’m safe from you out here!’ Some smaller, noisy birds do not like that larger, alert presence nearby and try to frighten it away by squawking loudly and bombarding it. Yet it remains immovable, save for a slight shuffle along the railing and a few sharp turns of its head. Its eyes are on a nearby prize—perhaps something for dinner that those other birds also want?

As I watch, I marvel at how still that kookaburra seems to be. No doubt it is extremely alert to what is happening around it—and that soon become obvious, when it suddenly flies down to ground level, then plucks a poor, unsuspecting worm from the soft soil. In a few moments, that worm is no more. All that stillness and watchfulness on the part of the kookaburra have paid off—it has found its dinner.

At that point, I begin to suspect God has an important lesson to teach me about being still. I might be physically still, as I sit gazing at that kookaburra—but I am not mentally still. Even as I watch, my mind is darting this way and that. I wonder whether what I am writing makes sense or will amount to anything in the end. And I am not still deep inside me either. Instead, I feel somewhat stressed—I am worried about someone I care about who is facing many difficulties and also about an upcoming speaking engagement, not to mention my writing project. I am aware God knows about all these issues—yet I am struggling to stay in that place of stillness and peace with God and of complete trust that God has it all in hand.

I move my hands off my keyboard and lay them in my lap. I breathe deeply, letting my body relax. I picture God’s loving arms holding me close and sink back into them, sensing God’s Spirit both in me and around me. I still my mind and my heart, knowing it is enough to be in this present moment with God. Then I hear again some words read out at church only days earlier:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea … “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:1, 10

In the stillness too, a gentle voice reminds me I am in a daily battle with an age-old enemy and need to remain so very vigilant.

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8

Yes, I need to be alert and watchful like that kookaburra—yet also deeply still, so aware my loving, almighty God is with me at all times, don’t you agree?

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Jo 23Although there are only two of us in our household, I seem to spend so much time each week deciding what our main meals will be, shopping for the ingredients and finally cooking them. I also try to have a selection of things in the fridge and pantry to choose from for our lunches and often some cake or slice for my sweet-tooth husband—or any visitors who might drop by. All this takes planning and effort, doesn’t it? But I do it because, after all, we need to eat—although perhaps not quite as much or as often as we tend to!

Lately, however, it has dawned on me that, in focussing on all that physical nourishment, I may well be short-changing myself in other areas. I, like everyone else, need emotional nourishment—the love of family and friends, the fulfilment gained through writing, the enjoyment of reading or listening to music or watching an uplifting TV show or marvelling at the beauty of nature. I know the danger of ignoring such things and I know I cannot give out to others in any meaningful way if my own emotional ‘tank’ is empty. Yet when there is too much else to do, I can easily overlook such nourishment.

And what about that deepest part of us we call our soul? It too needs to be nourished, even more so than our physical bodies and our emotions. If our souls are dead, if that light has gone out inside us, if that firm connection with God is lost, then everything can become rather meaningless. We are not in a place of peace with God and with ourselves. And that is not a pleasant place to be.

Recently, I read the following beautiful invitation from Isaiah 55:1-3:

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.

Yes, I decided, I need to take time to come and enjoy that rich fare my soul needs. So, one morning, I headed for Lake Parramatta, not far from our home. I used to go there regularly to reflect, write, enjoy the beauty of nature and be with God. But somehow in the busyness of life, this had slipped from my agenda. How wonderful it was that morning to sit there quietly for a while in my car, with the sun warming me all over as I contemplated that lake again. The breeze ruffled the surface of the water so that it sparkled in the sun, while nearby, a family of ducks swam serenely along. I drank it all in, sensing God’s presence all around—and soon I could feel the peace of God deep inside me, bringing such refreshment and renewal, letting my soul live again.

May your soul too be nourished as you take time to come close to God, listen well and delight in that richest of fare only God can provide.

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Jo 12In this season of State of Origin Rugby League, we hear much good-humoured and not so good-humoured ribbing of Queenslanders by those from south of the border—and vice versa. It brings back memories of a comment made years ago as we drove over the border from New South Wales to see our families in Brisbane during daylight saving: ‘You are now entering Queensland. Turn your watch back ten years and one hour!’ I never quite knew whether to laugh at this or not, since I was born in Brisbane, as was my husband. And, despite having lived elsewhere for years, we still remember our home state with affection.

Recently, memories of our Queensland years returned in force when we drove to Toowoomba for me to speak at a writers’ retreat. My husband spent many of his growing-up years in Toowoomba, so what fun he had, checking out his old home, school and church, as well as catching up with friends!

Meanwhile, as I chatted with the warm and welcoming group of writers at the retreat, I wondered why I felt particularly relaxed and at home. Then I began to notice those interesting little nuances in speech that we hear only from Queenslanders—things like ‘hey’ being added either to the beginning or the end of a sentence or certain vowels being pronounced a little differently or even certain words I had not heard for a long time being used freely. For example, when had I last heard a case referred to as a ‘port’? Such a refreshing, little word to hear again! How many memories were stirred of my growing-up years when, for some time at least, I did in fact carry a ‘port’ to school each day!

From time to time, we need such clear reminders of where we came from in our lives, don’t we—if for no other reason than to be thankful for those earlier years and for the lessons we learnt back then. After all, they helped make us who we are today. But another reason it is good to remember our past is so that we can be truly thankful for the journey God has taken us on since then and how God has guided and sustained us through all the twists and turns of our lives. We can so easily forget God’s part in all that has happened for us, don’t you think? In particular, we can so easily take for granted the amazing grace shown to us in being offered a place in God’s family at all—a place where we truly belong, whatever our background.

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” … remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:11-13

So am I a Queenslander or a New South Welshman now, after all these years? I don’t know. But I do know I am part of God’s family. I remember how Jesus Christ made that all possible. I remember where I came from—and I am so grateful.

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Jo 12One morning around two years ago, I spoke to a group of women at a church on the other side of town. Afterwards, I was introduced to a lady who I discovered had really come to catch up with friends before heading home to Sweden a couple of days later. However, having heard me speak, she told me she was particularly interested in my book Soul Friend and in the whole concept of mentoring or being a spiritual companion. She then shared her desire to set up a program in her church to equip people to mentor others, so I offered to send her some material on the subject.

The next day, I emailed her a basic mentoring course a friend had written and I had edited, after checking that he was happy for it to be shared in this way. Then I thought no more about it—until last week, when an email arrived from this lady. In it, she wrote:

Hi Jo-Anne,

You may not remember me but I attended a meeting at Miranda Congregational church in April 2017 where you were speaking and selling your books. I spoke to you afterwards and mentioned my interest for Christian mentoring in Sweden where I live. You very kindly emailed me your manual.

This was the encouragement I needed to start a course in Christian mentoring in my church, the Lutheran church of Sweden in my area Stockholm. I gathered a team of four people including myself and we organised a one day course for those who would like to be mentors or have a mentor … One of our team members is a skilled translator and translated your manual into clear simple Swedish. We gave each of the 18 participants a print copy of the manual at the end of the course. 

The team then matched up mentors and mentorees during the months that followed … The result was very exciting with the present number of mentors being 11 and mentorees around 15. … Our team will meet again in September to decide if we will run the course again in January 2020 and widen the participants to the three other Lutheran churches in our parish and 5 other denominations.

So, I just wanted to express my thanks to you for being so generous in sharing the manual and for your books …

Isn’t God amazing? As soon as I read this, I thought of the little parable Jesus told about the mustard seed:

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the bird of the air come and perch in its branches. Matthew 13:32.

God builds the kingdom using our faltering efforts with such grace, don’t you think? Surely, as we plant whatever little seeds we have, which are a gift from God anyway, God will step in, watch over them well and enable them to bear fruit just at the right time.

Who would have thought that brief, ‘accidental’ contact with this lady would have resulted in our little mentoring course blessing folk in faraway Sweden? But that’s just like God, isn’t it!

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IMG_20190418_100541803Recently, I did something I have wanted to do for a long time. I bought an original painting at an art exhibition. I already own two lovely paintings—one of the Charles Bridge in Prague which featured in my very first novel and another my brother-in-law painted for my seventieth birthday of a street scene in Paris. Yet I have always dreamt of roaming around myself at an art exhibition until I found that special something that spoke to me in a deep, personal way. And that is exactly what happened.

Since the artist, Jo Sterland, was standing nearby, I decided to ask her what had inspired this particular painting. I discovered it was titled ‘The Change of Season’, with the rich purples and blues depicting the past contrasting with the bright tangerine splashes of colour in the foreground, speaking of vibrant, new life—and in between, the white, swirling cloud of change and uncertainty but also hope, so often felt in moving from one season to the next in our lives. Jo also explained that this particular painting had come into being during a time spent listening to God, alongside other artists with a similar heart for God, and endeavouring to follow those gentle promptings of the Spirit to paint in a certain way.

At that point, my eyes filled with tears. I understand the concept of listening to God as I write, so to paint in this way resonated with me. I also understand well those change of seasons in our lives, having moved from one career to another several times over and having put aside a beloved ministry role at one stage, only to have God give me the awesome privilege of becoming a published author. But I sensed God was speaking to me for the here and now too, reminding me of past blessings but also reassuring me of joys to come and future answers to prayer.

At this exhibition, it was wonderful to witness the fulfilment the artists experienced through displaying their works for us. Inwardly, I applauded them for their courage in baring their heart and soul in this way and risking rejection in the process. But if these artists had not been prepared to put their work on public display and offer it up for God to use, I for one would have missed out. And so would those vulnerable women and their families in Thailand, towards whose support and care the money raised from the sale of these artworks is going.

Each of us is creative in some way. Yes, I have met a good number who say they do not have a creative bone in their body! Yet surely, if we are all made in the image of God, the Creator of our amazing universe, that cannot be the case.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them Genesis 1:27

I wonder what creative gift you have that reflects something of God to the world in your own unique way? Did you perhaps put it aside for a season? Is it time to change that? May you find great joy and fulfilment as you dust it off, listen to God and offer it to us all again!

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Jo 12I am tempted to write a book one day about the many interesting experiences I have had during my journey of speaking at all sorts of venues as a published author or promoting my books. It could also include those occasional moments in every-day life when someone discovers I am a writer—at which point the ensuing conversation usually has to do with what sort of books I write or what their titles are. But occasionally these interesting exchanges take a little more challenging turn, as happened recently.

‘So … you’re a writer. Um … should I know you? Are you famous? What books have you written that I might have come across?’

Fortunately, I managed to laugh and answer in a light-hearted enough way. After all, I could understand the person’s confusion. Is she really a writer? … I don’t recognise her—but maybe I should. I’m sure I haven’t heard her name before though. … I wonder what she writes? Probably nothing I’ve read anyway. Mostly, they are simply blurting out the first thing that comes to mind—although sometimes I do wonder if such questions are actually an attempt to shut me up or put me in my place! But whatever the motive, I never quite know how to respond. What would you say in such a situation?

In the end, I opted for what was probably a rather lame response.

‘Well … it depends what sort of books you read! I’ve written six novels and two non-fiction books—but no, I can’t say I’m famous. Here, I’ll give you my card—then you can look up my books on my website.’

I am so thankful for those business cards I carry around. Many times, they have extricated me from similar situations where I am at a loss to know what to say about my books. If the person asking the questions is really interested, they can look me up. If not, then they are at liberty to throw my card into the nearest bin!

No, I am not famous by any means—and I’m fine with that. You see, I have done my best in both writing and promoting my books for some years now. And I have tried in each one to write the things God put on my heart to write about—the love of God, the grace of God, forgiveness, holding onto our faith in God, using our God-given gifts, encouraging others in their journey with God. Now, as I attempt to write my seventh novel, I find I still have so much to learn in an ever-changing market. However well or otherwise I have written in the past, I can hopefully improve. Besides, God is still God—and as I write, I plan to listen to that gentle whisper of the Spirit, inspiring me and urging me on. This writing journey of mine has never been my idea alone—to me, the whole thing has been an amazing gift from God. And that, above all else, should keep me humble, don’t you think?

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:2

The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Matthew 23:12

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Jo 12I wonder if you can remember a time when you felt so frustrated that you could not get on with what you truly wanted to do because of other pressing commitments in your life. Perhaps you had to work while others were enjoying holidays. Perhaps you had to be at home minding young children or caring for someone with ill-health while colleagues pursued their careers. Or perhaps you had to put study aside, in order to pay the mortgage and support a family. It can be hard, can’t it, to see others doing exactly what you yourself would like to be doing?

For the past four months, my husband and I have been supporting our church’s pastoral team while our two lead pastors (husband and wife) have been on sabbatical leave. We have felt so privileged to be able to work alongside our team and so many wonderful volunteers. Yet even though it was such a positive experience, at times I felt a little rebellious about where I found myself. I am a writer, after all, but in these months, I have not touched my current manuscript. In fact, I can barely remember my characters and what they have been up to! So why was I there ministering, instead of writing? Besides, I have missed my times of solitude, sitting at my laptop, lost in another world as I churn out those words.

Then it dawned on me that, for someone who belongs to God and is committed to doing what God wants, this is a rather silly way to think. After all, if I truly believed God called us to support our pastoral team, then surely I need not worry about what is not getting done—or written! Instead, I can be at peace and do what I have been given to do.

As I realised this, a second thought emerged. Could God possibly have had some further purpose in drawing me back into a pastoral role for a season? Through it all, what did God want to show me or teach me that could not happen any other way?

I decided to journal my responses. Firstly, I felt God wanted to point out how far I have come in those sixteen years since laying down a formal ministry role. I have grown so much, as I have gone on my writing and speaking journey—and I realised how thankful to God I need to be for that. Secondly, as a result of this growth, I believe I have approached this temporary pastoral role in an entirely different way. My trust in God has grown and I have gained greater confidence in using my God-given gifts. Thirdly, as I have ministered this time around, I have felt God’s deep love and affirmation and also a kind of healing from any regrets or sense of failure I may still have felt at leaving ministry all those years ago.

What a lesson, to realise I would have missed out on all this, if I had not helped out for these four months! God is so gracious and long-suffering with us, don’t you think?

Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God. Psalm 42:11

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