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Jo 12Recently, I needed to bake a cake to have on hand for visitors. I stood in our kitchen for a while, trying to decide which mixing bowl to use. I have a few to choose from—three plastic ones of varying sizes, a sturdy, metal one and a large, glass one. This last bowl is too big, I decide—yet I choose it anyway.

As I continue cooking, I wonder why I have gravitated to this particular bowl. Then, to my surprise, a memory surfaces from deep in my brain of a similar bowl my mother had. I can still see her using it as she stood at her little kitchen bench-table, whipping up delicious cakes or biscuits or scones for us during our growing up years. Could this be the unconscious reason that glass bowl appeals to me now, so many years later?

I finish baking and sit down at my desk. Not until then do I remember it is my mother’s birthday—although she passed away many years ago now. So … is all this mere coincidence? Somehow I don’t think so. How powerful those hidden memories of ours are! What depths there are to those unconscious parts of us that we will probably never fathom!

But our conscious memories can also be so powerful at times. ‘Remember when we went to …?’ I said to a friend recently. ‘Do you recall the meal we had there and what happened when we went to pay?’ We laugh together—and both of us are immediately back in that little Turkish village where the owner said he was too busy to take our money, so could we please come back the next day to pay?! I remember vividly that little, rustic courtyard restaurant with the rosemary bushes growing nearby and can almost taste and smell that beautiful meal even now.

God created us and knows us through and through, as Psalm 139 tells us. God knows the power of memory. So no wonder we are urged in Scripture to use it to remember the lessons God has taught us and the way God has led and rescued us.

Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced … 1 Chronicles 15:11-12

Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits … Psalm 103:2

This is my body, which is for you, do this in remembrance of me.”  1 Corinthians 11:24

Sometimes our memories may not always be positive. Sometimes they may remind us of things we would rather forget and threaten to overwhelm us. But through all those hard and even harrowing times, God was still there. And God can bring healing to those dark memories, I believe, softening them and enabling us to move forward with greater strength and wisdom and peace. Whatever has happened, God is still good and righteous and holy. And God delights to bring good out of our most difficult experiences, restoring and recreating us as only God can.

So I cherish the power of memory, particularly those memories of God’s amazing grace at work in my life. And as I do, I hope I also remember to praise God with all my heart.

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Jo 17

I always look forward to Easter, not because of all those chocolate eggs and bunnies I don’t eat but enjoy giving our grand-kids—and not even because of those hot cross buns I do eat but shouldn’t! Instead, I look forward to Easter because I know it will bring me face to face again with the absolute beauty of Jesus and his love for us in a way I can’t ignore. I know his amazing sacrifice will shake me to the core again—just as I need to be shaken. And each Easter, I try to stop and reflect on what for me is the bottom line in my life, which is this: Jesus loved you and me enough to give his life for us, in order to save us and bring us back into close relationship with our Father God—forever.

I cannot get my mind around that—but I know it’s true.

I cannot get my mind around so much about Jesus. But I know he rose from the dead and is alive today—and that he knows me and loves me.

I am so moved as I read again the account in Matthew’s Gospel of the events leading up Jesus’ crucifixion. As Jesus celebrates the Passover meal with his disciples, he says, with a voice that must have been filled with pain:

I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.”(21)

One by one, they ask him: “Surely not I?”—even Judas. But Judas doesn’t fool Jesus—and Jesus makes it clear to him that he knows. (22-25)

Jesus knows his disciples so well, yet goes on loving them, pouring out his very life for them—and for us.

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (26-28)

He then predicts how they will all fall away and describes in chilling detail how even Peter will disown him three times before the rooster crows. (31-34)

I read on, wondering how Jesus feels as he hears each one passionately refute this:

Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same. (35)

I sense Jesus’ utter desolation and loneliness at Gethsemane, when he finds Peter and James and John asleep and asks them the simple, poignant question:

Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” (40)

The soldiers arrive and Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss. But then comes what I find the saddest little sentence ever:

Then all the disciples deserted him and fled. (56)

All these words cut me to the heart. Would I too have disowned Jesus? Would I have fallen asleep? Would I have fled? Where am I right now in following him? Is that bottom line in my life still firm and strong?

This Easter, may you too find time to stop and reflect on that bottom line in your life and reconnect in a fresh way with our wonderful Saviour and Lord.

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Jo 12There I was, busy unpacking the final carton from our move, when the lights in our living area went out. I heard voices outside, went to investigate—and was hailed loudly by a gentleman from upstairs.

‘Hi, my name’s Bill. You’re new, aren’t you?’

‘Yes—my name’s Jo-Anne.’

‘Good to meet you, Jo-Anne. Welcome to this wonderful place where the electricity isn’t working!’

Soon, more folk from neighbouring units appeared.

‘Why are the lights out?’ one lady asked.

‘Oh, we mustn’t have paid our bills!’ another man joked.

We all chatted for a while. Then those lights came back on and everyone disappeared inside again.

Another day, I had walked up to our Village Centre to use the wifi there. Before we moved, we arranged with a certain well-known telecommunications company to have our phone connected at our new address and also the internet. Alas, four weeks later, we are still waiting! During that time, I have realised how much I rely on touching base with author friends and others via email, Facebook and blogs. So there I was, hoping to work quickly and quietly at my laptop in the coffee shop. But soon a man and a lady sat down nearby, obviously wondering who this newcomer might be. I chatted with them for a while, then tried to return to my work. Yet, every few moments, one of them would say, ‘Excuse me, do you know …’, ‘Excuse me, have you seen …’, ‘Excuse me, are you aware …’ and so on. They simply wanted to connect with me and be helpful to someone new. So in the end, I forsook my online friends and opted for the folk seated right in front of me.

On yet another day, I met a lady slowly coming downstairs with some rubbish.

‘Do you need help?’ I asked reluctantly, a little unwilling to stop and chat.

‘No thank you, I’m fine. My name’s Marie.’

‘Oh, that’s my second name,’ I told her—and she was delighted.

Soon I discovered she is ninety and has a twin sister who lives just across the way in another unit.

‘We can wave to each other from our balconies!’ she told me—and I could see how important this connection was for her with the one she has known for all of her ninety years.

As I have reflected on all these recent connections with others and how ready each person was to chat, I sense I have been strongly reminded of God’s heart to connect with me in a meaningful way each day. Yet how often do I momentarily touch base, then scuttle away, as when that electricity came on again in our block?  How many times do I ignore God, as I tried to ignore that couple while answering my emails? How often do I refuse to acknowledge God’s presence at all, as I almost did with ninety-year-old Marie?

It’s about stopping in the midst of our busy lives. It’s about becoming aware God is with us and wants to relate to us. It’s about truly connecting—then listening and responding.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I given them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. John 10:27-29

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IMG_20170404_142602648Last week, I discovered a new calling in life! Someone lent us one of those water pressure cleaners that make concrete, bricks and stones look as good as new. Over a couple of days, I had such fun finding that nice, white concrete all around our yard and the lovely golden and brown rocks that form the terraces and borders everywhere. We had forgotten what it was meant to look like. All that moss on the rocks and that greying of the concrete paths and barbecue area had kind of crept up on us, just as it had on the rocks and paths themselves.

Inside our house too, I recently unearthed quite a few possessions I had forgotten about, as we have cleaned and tidied everywhere, in preparation for putting our home of thirty-two years on the market. Some of these brought joy to my heart—books I remember our children loving, videos our grandkids liked to watch over and over again, jewellery that is not precious but has sentimental value. But there were also some I could not believe I had kept all these years—pictures I had cut from old Christmas cards for our granddaughters to create something with, material for covering our own children’s school books, instructions for long-gone kitchen appliances.

These two experiences, both inside and out, have given me much food for thought, especially in the lead-up to Easter. What a stark reminder it was, as I unearthed those lovely, clean surfaces outside again, of the ease in which we forget how we ourselves have been made pure and clean through the death of Jesus! Once we were lost. Once the unique image of God we were created to be was hidden under layers of mess and wrong thinking and wrong choices. But then Jesus came, washing it all away, giving us a way to be made new through him. How easily we forget the huge, huge difference this brought about—for all of us!

But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:11 NLT

And as I tidied inside and unearthed those hidden things, I reflected on how easily we forget the wonderful treasures God has given us through Jesus Christ and how readily we replace them with our many material things. Yes, we do need those material things in our lives—for shelter, for covering and warmth, for sustenance in various ways. But that is not where our true wealth is. That is not where our deepest security lies. What a reminder, especially as Easter approaches, that my focus in life needs to be firmly on Jesus! As Jesus himself told us:

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.  Matthew 6:19-21 NLT

As you remember Jesus’ sacrifice and celebrate Easter this week, may you too rejoice in the renewal this brings us and those riches in God that will last forever.

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Jo 12Drum roll, please … today marks the posting of my 400th personal blog! Thank you so much to those readers who have travelled this whole journey faithfully with me and for your special words of encouragement that have kept me going at times.

I began my blog back in July 2009, although it doesn’t seem so long ago to me. Did I envisage then I would still be going strong in March 2017? I don’t think so. Yet here I am, still producing those little pieces of writing that I hope have encouraged or challenged some of you along the way.

I am often asked how I can think up a new blog each week. Sometimes it is easier than others. Sometimes I struggle to hear clearly what it is God wants me to write about. Sometimes I no doubt get it wrong. But at other times, I seem to hear God whispering to me, almost in an excited voice, ‘Yes, that’s it, Jo! Share those words of mine you just read with others! Put that insight I gave you out there! Let others join in that experience you had with me!’

My WordPress stats tell me that some weeks, more people visit my blog than in other weeks. While whatever blog topic I choose plays a part in this, I have discovered certain natural reasons as well. Any time near Christmas or Easter or even school holidays is not the best, if I am aiming for maximum readership. Weekends are not always good either. Even posting at certain times of the day can change those readership statistics. But I have stuck to Tuesday mornings, not only because it works best for me but also because some of my faithful readers expect that new blog to arrive then, right on cue, whatever time of year. I remember one occasion when I inadvertently scheduled my blog to post on a Monday instead of a Tuesday—which caused a couple of my faithful readers to wonder if they had somehow lost a day out of their week!

What motivates me to spend time blogging, when I could be writing my next novel? Firstly, I enjoy it—well, mostly anyway! Secondly, challenging myself to write something worthwhile each week in only around 550 words has I think helped me become less of a wordy writer. But thirdly and most importantly, I want with all my heart to share those words and insights I believe are from God with you all. And I love reading that feedback, either via Facebook or blog comments, as to how God has spoken to you through them.

I know my words are only a few among so many others, as I launch them into cyberspace each week. I know they will soon be lost to sight. I know that, however hard I try, my words may not always be right or perhaps even wise. But I also know that God’s words are different. They are flawless and will remain true forever—and that is why I choose to include some at least in each of my blogs, including my 400th!

God bless you all!

 As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless. 2 Samuel 22:31

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. Matthew 24:35

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Being a cricket fan from way back, I couldn’t resist the above title. You see, I find it hard to comprehend, but this is the two hundredth blog I have written for this site! I began my blogging adventure in July 2009 and have kept it up every week since then. My thanks to those who have kept on faithfully reading and commenting, either on the blog itself or on Facebook. Those little words of encouragement have inspired me to keep going, even at times when I felt I had little of worth to say.

What have all those blogs and all those hours spent writing them achieved, I wonder. I will probably never know. But I can give you several reasons I have continued to persevere with the whole idea. Firstly, as someone who was previously part of the ministry team of a local church, it is like relating to and encouraging my own little ‘cyber congregation’ at times. Just as I often used to share from my heart through the spoken word in our church, I can now share from my heart via the written word—and I find that such a wonderful privilege. Yes, I still speak in various places, but here via my blog, I have my ‘regular attenders’ who always read and often comment or click the ‘Like’ button on Facebook as well! I like to hear that they are travelling okay and love it when something I write turns out to be particularly pertinent in their lives at that point.

A second reason I have persevered with my blogs is that even though they take time, I still enjoy writing them. And a third is that I think it is good discipline for me as a writer to have to craft somewhere between five hundred and six hundred words each week into a blog that hopefully says something worthwhile and that God can use in someone’s life. Being such a wordy writer, it is good for me to have to limit myself and not wax eloquent for too long!

And yes, I have to admit a fourth reason for continuing with my blogs is that I have been told they are a good way of promoting my books. I’m still not completely convinced, but they do enable me to give my readers little glimpses into my writing world, include them at times in my interesting book selling adventures and let them know when a new book of mine is due for release.

I am aware my blogs would probably be more successful if I narrowed the field and aimed my content either at other authors or at non-authors. However, I cannot seem to bring myself to do this. Each week, I pray and ask God what I should write about. Sometimes the inspiration I seem to receive revolves around writing and sometimes it is simply something I have observed in reading my Bible or in everyday life. But I trust that in it all, God can guide me to write the content someone out there needs at that time and that God can also guide the relevant person to read and receive what is needed. What an adventure to be on with God! And what a privilege!

Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honour and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” Rev 7:12

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‘Do you want the good news or the bad news?’ I asked my husband a few days ago.

‘Oh, the good news!’ he responded.

‘Well, I’ve edited fifty-six of my blogs,’ I sighed. ‘But the bad news is I have fifty-seven more to go!’

This all began quite a few weeks back. At that time I was thinking and praying about what my next writing project should be. I had completed my first non-fiction work and submitted it to a publisher. I knew I had the beginnings of three other novels on my computer—yet was it right to tackle one of these? Or should I try more non-fiction?

An author friend emailed me, strongly suggesting I should do something with the many blogs I have written. An older friend whose godly opinion I value so much urged me to do the same. Various other friends and family members to whom I mentioned the whole concept felt this was the way for me to go too. Then not long after, I read some encouraging words from Isaiah 61 that seemed to indicate that the idea had God’s blessing and that my efforts would prosper. Soon I was fully on board, ready to tackle this next challenge.

Since July 2009, I have disciplined myself to write a weekly blog that would say something about God and faith and often about writing as well, in an effort to reach out and encourage others and hopefully draw them a little closer to God. So now I had the task of wading through more than a hundred and fifty of these, deciding which would be suitable for inclusion in my proposed book. Some I immediately decided against using. They were too personal or too ‘for that moment only’ or … well, just plain not very good!

But then came the real slog. Then I had to begin to read the ones I had selected yet again, this time not only editing them but also grouping them into categories such as ‘Encouragement’, ‘Following God’s Call’, ‘Perseverance’ and other similar titles.

So now I have arrived at Number 57. Sometimes the going has been easy and delightful as I remember why I wrote this or that blog and rejoice again over some God-moment in my life. At other times, I move slowly, taking in again some deep lesson from God that I wrote about originally with a contrite heart and a spirit touched and comforted by God’s own Spirit. And I sit again in God’s presence, asking myself where I am now with that particular issue or difficulty.

Yes, it is a lot of work—and at times I wonder if I would have started at all, if I had know what I was letting myself in for. But then I realise perhaps the key thing this whole exercise has shown me yet again is the utter faithfulness of God in my life. Time after time, I read how God reached out to me, met me at my point of need, rejoiced with me, grieved with me, persevered with me, forgave me—and all of this in absolute love for me. And I remember God’s words to the Israelites so long ago:

I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” (Jer 31:3)

My blogs are indeed testimony of the truth of this in my own life—and I am humbled and oh so thankful.

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