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Posts Tagged ‘Australian Christian writer’

Recently while at home recovering from Covid, I decided to tackle a jigsaw puzzle belonging to our daughter. Now, I am not usually a fan of such things. After all, why put ourselves through such torture to create a picture we can already see, only to pull it all apart when we finish?

I persevered for days with those thousand little pieces—at least, there should have been a thousand! Towards the end, I began to suspect I had lost a few—and, alas, I was right. Months earlier, our youngest granddaughter had helped me find all the edge pieces but had soon given up. In haste, I had bundled the puzzle back in the box, thinking we had not dropped any. Yet, days later, I can vaguely remember finding an odd piece or two on our carpet. Perhaps our vacuum cleaner had swallowed up even more pieces?

Whatever the case, when nearing the end of the puzzle, I realised none of those remaining pieces looked anything like the three I needed. However, I decided to keep going—and I’m glad I did.  Yes, finishing with an incomplete picture was disappointing. Yet in the process, I made some interesting discoveries.

For a start, I can now admit there may be something exciting and perhaps even addictive about finding the right piece, seeing it fit perfectly and watching that picture grow! This involved using a different part of my brain from that which I need when writing—a novel and refreshing experience indeed.

Then, to my surprise, I also discovered I could actually find the patience and perseverance required to complete this puzzle. Time and time again, I thought I had found the right piece, only for my hopes to be dashed—yet I was able to keep on trying. Perhaps this has to do with all the patience and perseverance God enabled me to have in recent years as I wrote and re-wrote and edited and re-edited entire manuscripts time and time again. And as I thought about this and thanked God for it all, I was also thankful for God’s own patience and perseverance with me over so many years.

My biggest discovery, however, was to realise how much unnecessary angst my perfectionist tendencies have often caused. Normally, I would have been much more annoyed about those missing pieces but, instead, I surprised myself with how calm I was—surely a clear indication of how God has changed me. It was as if God was saying, ‘See how far you’ve come? You did you very best with what you had. Well done!’ That picture I managed to put together, even with its three missing pieces, was still excellent—not perfect, but still excellent. After all, I had managed to match up all those pesky, cat-hair pieces with the right cat—quite a feat, in my opinion, and one I thought several times might well be impossible!

We can learn from God through every circumstance in life, big or small. I hope I continue to do this as I walk through the coming year with God—and I hope you can too.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Romans 12:2a NLT

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I wonder if any of you tend to feel a little low at this time of year, despite all those lovely Christmas celebrations and gatherings with family and friends. This is something I have often experienced, especially if my year has been particularly busy or particularly draining in some way.

I remember how my special ‘soul friend’ Joy used to encourage me at such times to listen to my body and take note of what it was telling me. Perhaps I needed physical rest. Perhaps mental relaxation. Perhaps a lifting of emotional burdens—those I carried for others as well as my own. Perhaps I needed spiritual refreshment. Or perhaps it was all of the above. Some of us keep going, don’t we, always tackling that next job or seeing things we feel we should do? No wonder we can end up a little exhausted and spent as our year draws to a close.

So, each year around this time, I try to step back a little and view my year past from a distance, so to speak. Yes, there were those many things I could have done better. And yes, there were those opportunities I did not fully grasp or take up at all, for some reason. Yet there were also those times when I did listen and do what I sensed God was calling me to do. There were those many rewarding moments when I spoke somewhere and sensed God used me in the process, when I completed writing or editing a manuscript after much effort, when I wrote blogs that touched others, when I was able to bless others by serving them in some way. What a relief, however, to know God longs to reach out to me with forgiveness and compassion, despite those apparent failures of mine, and also delights to celebrate and rejoice with me in my successes and achievements!

Whatever has happened this past year then, I can be at peace. And I can stay in that place of peace too as I step into whatever God has for me in the new year. After all, God’s heart in sending Jesus Christ to us was indeed to give us deep peace, not only in our lives here and now but also concerning the life to come. In Zechariah’s song in Luke 1:76-79, we see that John the Baptist’s role was to prepare the way for Jesus through calling the people to repent and receive God’s mercy—that mercy that would culminate in sending Jesus, the ‘rising sun’ to us from heaven:

 … to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

Then there are also the angels’ wonderful words of declaration to the shepherds, speaking out hope and peace for us all:

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” Luke 2:14

As we contemplate the year that has passed then, may we each sense God’s favour and peace deep in our hearts. And in the new year to come, may our feet easily find that path of peace God has for each one of us to take.

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I have seen books meet all sorts of fates. Some fortunate ones end up on a ‘favourites’ shelf. Some are relegated to lower shelves and end up covered in dust. Some are lent out to friends and perhaps never seen again. Some are donated to op shops or second-hand bookstalls. Some may even end up in the bin. Yet there is something else interesting one can do with books too, as I discovered recently.

This year, our church held a special Christmas fair, featuring handcrafts church members had produced. Our youth group girls decided to make pretty little candles in glass holders, but it was something else on their display table that truly caught my eye. Inspired by their leader, the girls had also created Christmas tree table decorations out of old book pages, with a gold, hand-painted, scrunched-up page moulded into the shape of a star on top!

Now, being an author, I was unsure what to think. Would I really want my books to end up as Christmas tree decorations? Yet, as I chatted with the youth leader involved and joked about how I would tell my author friends about it all, I realised those old books could come to a much more ignominious end than being fashioned into a table decoration!

Later, however, I began to see even more positive aspects to this whole project. For a start, these books had been repurposed so well and in such a creative way. And in this their final format, they would continue giving joy to others, even if not in the way their author had intended. Also, I expect the girls who made them had great fun doing so. Besides, people had paid several dollars for each little tree—and this money is earmarked to go towards a great project our church supports that helps poor families and children in Uganda. Surely this is a much better outcome all round than having those pages gather dust somewhere or end up in the bin?

Sometimes, just like these books, our lives do not unfold in the way we expected. Sometimes, things happen beyond our control that change our futures forever. Yet, if we have committed our lives into God’s hands, then God will always faithfully watch over us and lead us on, bringing to us new ways we can bless others as we listen and step out in faith. And in every phase of our lives too, God seems to prepare us for what is to come.

At different stages, I have been a high school teacher, a fulltime mum, an editor, an office secretary, a church pastor and now a writer and speaker. While I always wanted to be a writer, I never thought I would end up as one, but God did it. Life can stop us in our tracks, turn us upside down and sometimes dismantle us, just like those books that ended up as table decorations. Yet these little trees are still so beautiful and useful—and we can be too as we allow God to re-purpose us and lead us along new paths.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Proverbs 3:5-6 NLT

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Recently, I spent some hours promoting my books at our closest Koorong bookstore. The time flew by, with many enjoyable, fruitful conversations. Yet at one stage, I decided to sit down at my book table for a while and have a brief break from connecting with customers. Earlier, I had eaten a hurried lunch and had also tried to buy a coffee, but the café was so busy I had given up. Now, however, more than anything else, I wanted that nice hot cup of coffee to keep me going.

Soon after, I noticed a middle-aged couple browsing nearby. For a moment, I thought of getting up and chatting with them but decided against it. I was too tired—and besides, they did not look like the sort of people who might be interested in my books. The man seemed quite serious and already had a pile of other books under his arm, while the lady appeared somewhat vague to me and … well, just a little quaint.

But then they came closer—and eventually ended up right in front of my book table. I explained a few things about my books to them as politely as I could, and then the gentleman looked straight at me and said in his rather loud voice, ‘Do you need anything? What can I get you?’

‘Oh nothing! I’m fine,’ I lied. ‘I wouldn’t want to bother you anyway, but thank you!’

‘No, no!’ the man insisted. ‘It would be our privilege to serve you. What would you like? Some water perhaps? Or a soda—or coffee?’

I could not resist at that point.

‘Well, to be honest,’ I admitted, ‘I would truly love a coffee. I’ve tried to buy some twice today, but the staff were too busy, and I had to get back here to my book table.’

‘Our pleasure! What sort of coffee? Milk? Sugar?’

Feeling so humbled and more than a little embarrassed, I gave them my order and off they went.

Not long after, they returned, coffee in hand. And I almost burst into tears.

‘Wow, you are such lifesavers!’ I told them—and I truly meant it.

We chatted for a while then—and, in the end, the man’s wife happily bought one of my novels, which humbled me even more.

Afterwards as I sat sipping my wonderful, hot coffee, I sensed God whispering gently, ‘See, Jo-Anne? They wanted to do that for you. There is no shame in acknowledging your need—and it gave them joy too. But … don’t judge so quickly next time, will you?’

As I watched this lovely couple leave the store, I saw them afresh with God’s eyes and thanked God for their soft, servant hearts. They had treated me, a complete stranger, in exactly the way Paul urges us to treat others:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:3-4

And in the process, unbeknown to them, they had taught me important, key lessons about humbly acknowledging my needs to God and others—and especially about being far less judgmental all round.

I want to be more like that couple who served me that day, don’t you?

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One recent Sunday, I was standing near the door of our church when a friend came rushing over to me.

‘I’ve got a great story to tell you that I think you’ll really like!’ she told me excitedly.

Needless to say, she had my full attention that instant.

‘I took your book Soul Friend away with me on my recent trip, but didn’t get time to finish it,’ she went on. ‘Anyway, I was reading it in a coffee shop back home here one day this week when the waiter brought my coffee to me. I saw him taking a good look at the cover, so showed it to him and told him I knew the author.’

‘What’s a “soul friend”?’ he asked.

‘Well, it’s someone who is like a mentor to you, who listens to you, supports you and helps you understand more about God.’

‘Oh, that’s interesting—I’m on a bit of a spiritual journey myself right now.’

‘Well, I’m nearly finished the book. Would you like me to lend it to you when I do?’

‘Thank you—that’s very kind of you.’

My friend was so excited about this little interchange with her pleasant, young waiter and encouraged too.

‘I’m wondering though if there’s some other suitable material I could perhaps give him to read that might help him. What do you think?’

We talked about some possibilities and I know my friend will think and pray about the wisest thing to do next. But this whole lovely story has set me thinking too. How easy was it for my friend to take her current book to a café and sit there reading it? I am sure I could do that—if I thought of it. And how natural was the conversation that ensued with the waiter? Again, I reckon I could do that too—if I was alert enough and cared enough. And how many other similar opportunities do I tend to miss out on in my normal, day-to-day life where those gentle ‘God conversations’ could flow if I watched out for them more?

We all need to be in tune with God each day as best we can, don’t we? And it helps so much in doing that if we take time each morning to read some part of God’s Word and to sit quietly for a few moments, reflecting on what we have read. Then, before getting on with all we have to do, we can commit our day and any other issues on our hearts and minds to God, asking God to bring the healing, guidance, comfort and so much else we and our world in general need. When I do this, I feel so much more aligned with God as I head into whatever my day holds. And I am hopefully able to hear and respond better too when God’s Spirit prompts me to pray for someone or email them or talk with them.

We are not on our own as we go about each day. Jesus our Shepherd is right there with us, longing for us to listen to him.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27

May we do that, even today—and may we find our own special ‘coffee conversations’ along the way too.

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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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