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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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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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Jo 12I am so thankful for computers and the internet–for enabling me to email others so easily, maintain a website so people can find out about my books, write a blog each week and link it to Facebook, and also research all sorts of weird and wonderful topics—including how to deal with that pesky wasp’s nest under our back steps right now!

But last week, I came to appreciate another whole aspect of the internet, after my husband spoke at our church on Sunday. As is the custom there, his sermon was made available on the church’s website immediately after as a podcast for anyone to listen to (please click here).  Now I had not considered to any great degree how useful this might be in a church context, in this day and age when some people might be unable to get to church because of work commitments or the busyness of life or any other reason. In fact, at times, I had even wondered if anyone listened to such podcasts. How wrong I was.

You see, last Monday, a very special email was forwarded to my husband from our church office—and what an encouraging email it was! Someone had taken the time to listen to his sermon podcast and then give some wonderful feedback. Here is part of what this lady wrote:

Recently I have taken to listening to your weekly presentations on your website. Yesterday’s “When God Is Silent” was especially relevant in my life at the moment and I am so pleased I was not in church as it was being said as I would have just fallen apart. …

The writer went on to thank my husband for what he had said and the power and healing she found in it. She then continued:

Although I still have no idea why I am going through what I am going through, I now can acknowledge that it is not because I have been forsaken, but I must wait for God’s plan to be revealed to me and rejoice in all the little encouragements I receive. …

Thank you again. Just thought you would want to know.

Not all of us have our words recorded a podcast for anyone to listen to. But almost all of us talk every day—some of us quite a lot! Wherever we have an audience, even if only an audience of one, our words have power to impart hope and healing, wisdom and comfort—but also power to hurt or shame or discourage or anger.  People—especially our children and grandchildren, I have discovered—seem to remember so much of what we say and take things to heart in ways we would never have imagined. How careful we need to be with all those words that flow so easily from our mouths!

So this week, may the words you and I say in whatever context be spoken with great care. May they bring life and not death, hope and not discouragement. And may each one of them reflect our gracious, loving God, just as is needed, to those who hear.

A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. Proverbs 25:11

Words are powerful; take them seriously. Matthew 12:36 The Message

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TIL035Just over a week ago, I held my own personal launch for my latest novel The Inheritance. We decided to keep it low key and opted for a simple celebration of coffee and cake in our own home. I invited only a small number of family and friends because our house isn’t large and I knew I would see other friends wider afield when I spoke at their church or group.

I hesitated about having a launch at all this time, mainly because I was too busy preparing to head interstate to speak soon after. But as I reflected on the evening, I’m so glad I went ahead, because God used it to remind me of several things for which I need to be so thankful.

I realised, for example, that some friends present have actually attended all my launches over the years since my first novel was released in 2007. Some have tracked with me even before that, from the time I first began writing in 2003. Another friend who was there on the evening emailed later and used the term ‘champions’ about these faithful friends and supporters of mine—and that is exactly what they have been. They have wanted to see my books published and for people to enjoy reading them. And they have wanted me to be happy and fulfilled in what I believe God has called me to do at this stage of my life.

I also realised later that three women from my little prayer team of nine who pray for me whenever I am asked to speak somewhere were also among those able to be present. I value them and all the women on this team so much—it is wonderful to be able to email this group before I speak anywhere to let them know where I am going. Afterwards, I always email a little report of my latest ‘adventure’ to them too, as I am aware they like to know how it went. How blessed am I to have such excellent prayer support wherever I go!

And again I was reminded on the evening how much various family members and friends have helped me in practical ways in my writing journey, as I watched my husband and a friend washing up afterwards and our daughters, who had both baked wonderful cakes for the launch, sorting out the food. Another friend had lent us an urn for the evening, two others gave me flowers, while several more offered to bring food. Some other authors present later reported about the launch on Facebook, complete with an image of my new novel, which helps so much promotion-wise. And, of course, a good number bought a copy of The Inheritance on the night, while some who had already bought it still came to support me.

How thankful I am for God’s grace shown to me via these wonderful friends and family! May I never ever take them for granted—or God’s amazing and abundant grace to me, for that matter.

Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits … Ps 103:1-2

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Last week I wrote my hundredth blog for this site – a milestone in my blogging ‘career’! So many of my thoughts have gone ‘out there’ into cyberspace since I began my weekly words of wisdom in July 2009 – but has it all been worth the time and effort put into it? My site stats tell me well over a hundred people decide for some reason to open my blog each week, with one amazing week recently when 375 people accessed it. What I write about is just something I consider might be worth sharing – nothing special. But each week I hope and pray these words convey some aspect of God’s heart – something that will encourage or challenge any who read them.

I like to think I have learnt a few things in this blogging journey of mine. I can certainly see via my site stats that some topics are more popular than others. I notice that those aimed more at other authors tend to lose or miss the mark with those who aren’t at all interested in writing. I’ve discovered it’s worth taking time to think up a good title for my blog – plus some sort of interesting and arresting comment to write on Facebook when I put my blog link up there each Tuesday morning. I’ve had some winners and some losers – some of my blogs have fizzled and some have, for no obvious reason, sparked a great deal of interest. Obviously, I still have a way to go to make my blogs consistently readable.

So I smiled when I realised this particular blog I am writing now is listed as ‘Blog 101’ on my computer. Even now, after writing a hundred blogs, I still feel I am in the basic learning stage of ‘Blogging 101’! There are so many skills and key aspects I’m sure I have overlooked and have yet to master. I think I often forget to keep my readership in mind and tend to use both personal examples and vocabulary that may not mean much to the average reader. I am frequently far too wordy. I play it safe at times and don’t honestly write what is on my heart to say on a given subject. I occasionally write my blogs when I’m too tired, with the result that my writing becomes stodgy and uninteresting. And some days I labour far too long over a blog, pouring time and effort that should be spent on my current novel-in-progress or talk I am preparing rather than ‘second guessing’ what originally came to me to blog about.

I hope my blogs will continue to improve. I don’t want to be lazy or shoddy in the way I write or too preoccupied with other matters that I don’t give my best effort to them. I want my current readers and supporters to keep on reading what I write, whatever the subject. I want new readers to find my blogs and be interested enough to return often to my site. I want to write with integrity, from the heart, about things I know are true and will hopefully build up and encourage others. But most of all, I want God to be glorified through the words I write.

So here I am by God’s grace, launching into my second ‘century’ of blogging, praying God’s wisdom and insight will flow through my words and the gifts of writing and of encouragement I believe God has given me will bear fruit.

May it be so, Lord!

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I am sure many of you, like me, have had a very big 2010. Perhaps, like me also, you look back at times with a kind of surreal feeling and wonder how you did it all. I think at this stage of the year we can all be excused for ‘feeling our noble tiredness’, as Michael Leunig once put it.

But this is also the time of the year, I often find, when I can tend to feel a little ‘blue’, wondering if all my speaking and writing efforts have made much difference in this world. This is warped thinking, I know. I have some lovely email and Facebook messages from readers who tell me how much they have valued my books – and it was only a few days ago after speaking somewhere that several people told me how much God had challenged and encouraged them through what I said. These comments set my heart and mind and rest and inspire me to keep going. But nothing speaks peace and encouragement into my heart more than God’s word itself, which has a unique way of putting everything in perspective, I find.

Take Isaiah 26, for example. Three things in particular here impacted this week. Firstly, verse 3 reminded me I need to keep trusting steadfastly in God if I am to remain at peace as I look back over the past year:

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.

What a good antidote that is to the warped thinking of a tired brain! It is also a death knell to the distortions and accusations the enemy delights to throw at us when we are weary. As I choose to remain faithful, my mind focused on God, then I can be at peace, whatever has happened or will happen.

Secondly, verse 8 reminded me why I have put all this effort into speaking and writing this past year. It has been for God’s glory and not my own – ultimately, it’s not about what I have achieved or not achieved or how well people think of me. It’s not about me, full stop – it’s about God.

Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.

So I can be at rest and at peace, as I take my eyes off myself and instead concern myself with bringing honour to God, waiting for him to show me how that can best be done.

And finally, verse 12 put all my efforts of the past year into very clear perspective. Yes, I might have worked hard, preparing talks, writing and editing my novels, liaising with people and travelling here and there to speak. But behind and in and through all that, God was at work.

Lord, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us.

So again, it’s all about God and not about me. Yes, I needed to be willing to serve God and use my gifts, but God is the one who gave me the gifts; God is the one who called me; God is the one who empowered me; and God is ultimately responsible for what has or has not been accomplished.

I think I like God’s perspective, don’t you? So right now, I’m choosing to remain steadfast, to put God’s renown first and foremost and to remember who has enabled me to accomplish what I have this year.

And that, I believe, is how true peace comes.

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What did we do before the advent of email, Facebook, skype, blogs, and all the ways of linking us to others via the internet? Yes, we phoned, sent cards and letters – even telegrammed at times. But that was way back. Now – well, let me tell you a story about some conversations in a purple dressing-gown!

I have a good friend who lives in Turkey, with whom I communicate often via email but also by skype. At first she would skype me on our normal home phone, but then, after I also installed the program, we graduated to speaking via a small handset attached to my computer plus a webcam which didn’t seem to work, so I gave up on it. Finally, however, with the advent of my new laptop, I now simply sit at my computer talking to her – all the necessary ‘bits and pieces’ are built-in. Now, with one click of the mouse, I can even choose between a normal skype call and a video one, enabling my friend to see the top half of my body at least as I chat away.

The first few times we talked via video skype, I joked about what I was wearing. It was always the same – my warm, fluffy, purple dressing-gown! My friend tends to skype me later in the evening, by which time I am often comfortably ensconced at my computer, writing a few more precious lines of my latest novel before heading to bed. One time when I apologised for how I was dressed, my friend commented that it didn’t matter one bit to her. After all, we know each other well and have travelled around Turkey together several times, sharing a room in all sorts of B and Bs, ancient and modern!

But her response made me think. Whenever she skypes me, I want to ‘look nice’ on that screen. Almost unconsciously, I tidy my hair and straighten the collar of my purple dressing-gown – and yet, she doesn’t care! All she wants to do is connect with me and feel she is being heard and getting some response in return.

And that, I realised, is how God is with me too. God actually doesn’t care what I look like – in fact, God can see me any time at all, whether I am dressed carefully in my best or lounging around in my old jeans, jumper and ugg boots – even in a purple dressing-gown!  So why put on a ‘front’ for God? It doesn’t change anything – except perhaps make our communication just that bit more difficult.

In 1 Samuel, we read how God sent Samuel to find Jesse and anoint one of his sons as the next king of Israel. At first, Samuel went by outward appearance, as Jesse’s first son came before him. Surely, he thought, this was the one God had chosen – but no. In 1 Sam 16:7, God says:

Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

The Lord looks at the heart. God sees right inside me, past all the pretence, past all the self-justification, past all the outward trappings. God knows. God understands.

And as I sit snuggled up yet again in my purple dressing-gown, I’m so glad of that.

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