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Posts Tagged ‘forgiveness’

I received an email recently that gave me much food for thought. It was from someone who had just read my first two novels, Heléna and All the Days of My Life. This reader had found them among a pile of second-hand books a friend had been given and now wanted another novel of mine, Heléna’s Legacy, which explores the journey of a minor character in my second novel, then continues Heléna’s story.

I laughed out loud. The day before, I had found my lone, second-hand copy of this novel in my cupboard and thought, ‘No one will want that.’ Imagine my surprise when, the very next day, I discovered someone did!

My contact then told me some friends are now waiting to borrow these novels from her. This was gratifying news, yet I also found it somewhat disconcerting. You see, my first two novels were published back in 2007 and 2008—and I like to think I have learnt much more about writing since then. This reader might have enjoyed them, but would her friends?

In the end, I decided I could do nothing about that. Besides, back then, I wrote as best I could, with my whole heart and soul—and how fulfilling that was!

Then came another thought. I might have learnt much more about writing in those intervening years, but did I still write with that same heart and soul now? Back then, I wanted to write stories that would highlight themes I believed were vital for us all to grasp and experience. I wanted to write about the importance of holding onto our faith in God, whatever happens. I wanted to write about experiencing God’s amazing love and grace, about forgiveness and about becoming all God purposes us to be. Did I still feel so passionately about such themes now?

Since 2004, when I began my first novel, I have written nine books and around 650 blogs and have also spoken over 250 times at all sorts of gatherings. Through it all, I have learnt much more about God and experienced God’s amazing faithfulness and enabling in so many ways. Yes, I am still passionate about those same important themes, yet some things I held dear back in 2004 have fallen by the wayside. Some needed to be discarded—others did not. Some changes in my life and faith have been for the better, I believe, yet others have not. Looking back, I am sad about those times when I may have failed God, others and myself in different ways. But I am so thankful God is merciful and forgiving, always persevering with us and always lovingly pointing us to higher ground.

Yes, I’m still the same person I was back in 2004, yet different too. I want to change what needs to be changed. I want to grow where I need to grow. And I want to keep drawing closer to God, don’t you?

Let’s hold onto those key themes of our faith in God, but let’s keep humbly learning and growing too, as we seek to become more like Jesus each day.

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. 2 Peter 3:18

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On this particular Monday morning, I did not feel like grocery shopping. Still, it had to be done, so off I went. I scooted around the supermarket in record time and headed for the nearest checkout. Then I noticed the worker there was a lady with whom I had previously had a conversation about my books. On that occasion, she had asked me what I wrote about, but someone had interrupted and there had been no time to answer her. I had left the store that day feeling rather frustrated—would I ever get another opportunity to talk with her? Yet there she was now, about to serve me again—but I felt too tired and grumpy to connect with her. Perhaps she had forgotten all about that question she had asked me anyway.

Imagine my surprise then when the first thing she said was, ‘So … are you still writing?’

My heart sank. I did not want to talk about writing—or anything serious, for that matter. Yet I was touched she had not forgotten our previous conversation.

‘Wow, I’m amazed you remembered I’m a writer,’ I managed to say. ‘Yes, I’m still writing—and speaking. I’m speaking at a club this week, but I’ve also spoken at quite a few churches.’

‘Oh … what sort of things do you write about?’

At that point, I decided to opt for a relatively safe response.

‘Well, my novels focus on different serious issues we all face in our lives sometime or other, such as forgiveness or grief or dealing with life’s challenges … lots of things like that.’

‘Wow—I must check your books out online.’

By this time, I was wider awake—and praying hard!

‘Um, I have a card here,’ I told her, as I fished around in my purse.

She finished packing my groceries and I paid her. For a moment, it seemed she had moved onto the next customer, but she turned to me again.

‘So, where’s your card? Thanks so much. Have a good week!’

I left, feeling somewhat stunned but also a little ashamed of myself. God had given me a wonderful, unexpected, second opportunity to connect with this lady, yet I had not wanted to engage with her at all. Instead, I had wallowed in my tiredness and grumpiness and it had not even entered my head to consider what God might want me to say. Then the Apostle Peter’s words came to mind:

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. … 1 Peter 3:15

I had not been prepared. I felt I could have been much more open. I should have mentioned other themes in my novels like the love and grace of God, but now the moment was gone. Yet, in the midst of all these whirling thoughts, I sensed God’s amazing grace and acceptance pour over me. And as I drove home, I prayed. Lord, please may she look up my website and see why I write and what I write about. And please may we have an even better conversation soon.

I’m so grateful God understands. And I’m so grateful God uses us even in our weakness in ways we may least expect.

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I did not feel like baking on this particular day—and that should have been a warning to me. I know from past experience that when my mind is elsewhere, whatever I attempt in the kitchen may not turn out well. And that was definitely the case this time around.

I measured out the butter for my fruit cake carefully. Then the sugar followed—and the mixed fruit and nuts. I even congratulated myself that I had enough mixed fruit left for another fruit cake some other time. Then, after adding water, I put everything on to boil for a few minutes. But as I stirred that mixture, it did not look the same as usual. Had I put too much butter in? No—I remembered weighing it out so carefully. Perhaps I was imagining it. After all, I had not made this particular boiled fruit cake for a while.

I put the mixture aside until cool. But later, when I added the eggs, vanilla, flour and spices, it still looked different. I checked through the ingredients again. Yes, I had remembered everything. So, with a shrug, I put the cake in the oven.

Over two hours later, as I went to cut that cake, I noticed a lot less mixed fruit than usual in it. How could that be? Then in a sudden flash of insight, I realised what I had done. I had used only one cup of mixed fruit instead of three! As a result of my lack of concentration, I had left out two-thirds of the main ingredient! Yes, the cake was still edible. But it lacked its usual firm texture and lovely, rich taste my husband enjoys so much.

I slunk off to my study, feeling so disgruntled and annoyed with myself. But as I mulled over my mistake, I decided to ask God what I could learn from the whole experience. Surely something could be salvaged from this disappointing event, apart from a rather crumbly cake?

Then into my head and heart came the following thought. Yes, Jesus is Lord of my life. He died for me, has forgiven me, has brought me into God’s family, has given me fulfilment in this life and hope for the future. I love him and belong to him. Yet at times, I still manage to step into my days without giving much thought to this ‘main ingredient’ in my life. Or perhaps I spend some moments with him, but take on board only a portion of what he wants to say to me. As a result, I miss out on so much of the richness Jesus wants to pour into my days. And there is little of value within me either that I can offer to others for them to enjoy. In other words, I know the best recipe for my life—but I do not always follow it well.

I hope I take more care next time I bake. But much more importantly, I hope I have learnt that deeper lesson God had for me and ensure I am filled each day with the best main ingredient ever—that rich, tasty soul food God offers each one of us.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Psalm 34:8   

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They can slide off our lips before we know it, can’t they? Perhaps they are spoken in a flash of anger or irritation. Or perhaps they slip out in a thoughtless moment when our minds are elsewhere. Whatever the case, those reckless words we say can leave their mark for a very long time—as can those others have said to us.

Recently, I listened and watched, heart in mouth, as someone made a remark to another that was meant to be kind. Unfortunately, they had forgotten how much the other person hated such comments. A moment later, I watched the facial expressions of both parties change. One looked horrified and remorseful, as if they would give anything to take their words back, while the other looked more than a little exasperated and even angry. Immediately, I felt sorry for them both. I tried my best to smooth things over and change the topic of conversation, but was only partly successful. Those words had been said—the damage had been done.

Sometimes, however, we may speak to wound on purpose. I still remember clearly an occasion years ago when I spoke rashly in anger, unconcerned at how hurtful my words might be to the person they were aimed at. In that instant, all I wanted to do was lash out, determined to defend myself and get my point across. Later, I regretted it, although my opinion on the matter under discussion did not change. I apologised—and so did the other person. But ground was lost in the process. And, sadly, there was little opportunity afterwards for that relationship to be restored and for trust to be established again.

No wonder then that the following words resonated with me when I read them last week:

Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12:18

I long for the words that roll off my tongue to bring healing rather than piercing pain to others, don’t you? Of course, at times, we need to speak firmly and with passion, to stand up for what is right and not let things slide because we lack the courage to confront. In those instances, it will hopefully be righteous anger and the desire for God’s justice to rule that motivate us to speak out. But at all times, our end goal needs to be restoration and healing—for others and for ourselves.

Then further on in the same chapter, I came across the following:

An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up. Proverbs 12:25

We are often unaware what others are going through, aren’t we, or what is driving them to act the way they do? At times we can see anxiety written on a person’s face or obvious in how they speak and act. Yet many of us are adept at burying such emotions well below the surface where others will not notice. How important it is then to endeavour to speak kindly, because those few words from us can lighten another’s load in ways we might never know or could ever imagine.

Be kind and compassionate to one another … Ephesians 4:32

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 1 Corinthians 13:4

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‘You are one of the most loyal people I know,’ someone told me years ago. At the time, this comment puzzled me because I was sure I had never consciously chosen to live that way. Instead, I had always thought that, if anyone truly believed in someone or in what a particular group or organisation stood for, then of course he or she would remain loyal to them.

Since then, I have become a little less naïve and have realised this is not always the case. Sometimes, we become bored or perhaps disenchanted, for some reason, and want to try something different. Sometimes, we get a better offer. Sometimes, we are less than honest and trustworthy in our relationships. Yet we all need and long for those faithful, loyal friends who will stick by us, don’t we?

Recently, I have been busy promoting my latest novel, Down by the Water¸ an historical novel set in Queensland in the early 1900s. In order to let family, friends and acquaintances know the book is available, I sent out emails and also held a Facebook Live book launch. I did not know what sort of response to expect from all this, especially since I have never held a Facebook Live launch before. And I was also aware that many of my family and friends do not want more books lying around at this stage of their lives. Nevertheless, over this past week or two, I have received emails from a good number of them, ordering a copy or arranging to drop in and pick up one—or more—from me.

As well, some have even bothered to email me after finishing the book to tell me how it impacted them. When such emails arrive, I feel relieved, but also so thankful. You see, many of these people have stuck with me throughout my whole writing journey of around fifteen years now, buying a copy of each book I produce and encouraging me along the way. They have truly been such loyal, faithful supporters—and I am so grateful for each one of them.

But experiencing their generosity of heart has caused me to think about myself too and how faithful and loyal I am each day towards others—and towards God. Sometimes, I say one thing, yet do another. Sometimes, I want to be faithful and loyal, yet I lack the courage to do so. Sometimes, I choose an easier way. Sometimes am I more like the Apostle Peter than I care to admit, telling Jesus I will never disown him, then doing exactly that (Matthew 26).

Yet I love how, despite Peter’s downfall, Jesus reinstates him and commissions him to care for his sheep (John 21:15-19). And it’s such a relief to know Jesus will always welcome me back too with that same love and forgiveness, when I am less than loyal to him. But that doesn’t mean I can take such kindness and mercy for granted. Instead, I need to be as faithful as I can be, loving Jesus with my whole heart and serving him with joy—forever.  

Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Proverbs 3:3

May God enable me—and you—each day to do just that.

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I have another confession to make. I have felt more than a few twinges of fear and dismay at the prospect of releasing my latest novel, Down by the Water, later this month. Putting a book out there in public can be exciting and rewarding, but it can also feel a little like serving oneself up on a big platter for anyone to pick at or carve up or even reject altogether!

I can still remember what it was like to have to watch someone reading my very first novel, after they had purchased it from my book table at a conference. Eek! That was quite a few years ago now, yet that same trepidation at sharing something I have created and laboured over long and hard is still there.

But this time around, a much bigger challenge is how best to promote my book online in these days of COVID restrictions when larger face-to-face meetings are too uncertain to plan and rely on. While I happily write copious emails, produce this weekly blog on WordPress, use Facebook and Skype and often cruise around reading and researching online, pretty much anything beyond that is way out of my comfort zone. So … why would a technophobe like me ever decide to host a sudden death, Facebook Live Book Launch event?!

Thoughts that this might be all too hard for me did cross my mind. Yet I love this seventh novel of mine, probably more than any of my previous ones. And I want it out there because, apart from anything else, it deals with important themes such as giving and receiving forgiveness and knowing God’s love and grace. So … what to do?

Firstly, I opened my Bible and found some passages dealing with fear and dismay. Then I settled on the following verses to leave open right beside my laptop, so I could glance over at any time and read the words out loud again:

But you, O Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend. I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:8-10

Of course, these words are clearly addressed to the children of Israel way back in Old Testament times who were in a far more desperate situation than my current little scenario. But they spoke to me this week too. And strengthened me. And reassured me so much.

Then I prayed, reflecting on and using the words I had read. And later, I asked my little prayer team to pray too. Now it is up to me to keep my eyes and ears focussed on God and not fall for that undermining from the enemy, don’t you think?

So … if you too have been experiencing a touch of dismay lately, may these words encourage you to hang in there. And may the Lord our amazing God be very close to you, strengthening and upholding you, whatever challenges you are facing right now.

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At the moment, I am making my way yet again through my current novel, checking for errors and tweaking this and that to make it the best I can. It is painstaking work—and it seems to have gone on forever. But each morning, as I open my laptop and go to the relevant document, I am cheered by the polite, little greeting that awaits me there. On the right of my screen, I always see a little box that says happily:

Welcome back! Pick up where you left off.

How encouraging is that? But recently, that little message did more than cheer me up and inspire me to pick up where I left off with even more determination. It also alerted me to open my ears to hear what God might want to say to me. It was as if God highlighted that little box on my screen so that I could not miss a much more important message it contained.

Then it hit me. In an instant, I sensed God saying: ‘That’s exactly what I’ve said to you so many times over the years, Jo-Anne. Whenever you have pulled back from following me for a while and gone your own way, but then turned around and repented, I have always been there waiting for you with open arms. Time and time again, like your laptop does each day, I have said to you, “Welcome back! Pick up where you left off.” What a joy it has been to offer you forgiveness each time—and how good it is to pick you up and help you stand firm again!’

Then my mind went to the Apostle Peter’s story in the bible. I love Peter. He seems such a full-on person—always the leader, opening his mouth on behalf of the other disciples and stepping out when others might well have feared to. I love how he was brave enough to get out of that boat and walk towards Jesus on the water (Matthew 14). I love how he realised early on that Jesus was the only one worth following and the only one who could offer eternal life.

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God. John 6:68-69

I love too how he declared he would never deny Jesus, fully thinking that was true—and I always feel sad when I read how he did deny him, then wept bitterly over it (Matthew 26:75). But later, when the resurrected Jesus appears on the shore as Peter is fishing with the other disciples and proceeds to provide them with breakfast, I hold my breath at what unfolds. Three times, Jesus asked Peter if he loves him. And three times, Peter replies, Lord, you know that I love you (John 21).

Can you imagine how Peter must have felt, as Jesus treated him in such a loving way and reinstated him to be the strong shepherd and leader he had called him to be? What grace Jesus showed him that day! And what grace Jesus shows each of us today, whenever we turn back to him, as he says with such love: ‘Welcome back! Pick up where you left off.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jo 17During the school holidays in particular, I am thankful for the lovely heated pool and spa in our village. Usually, our two younger grandchildren enjoy being taken there, but one day recently, our grandson elected to play games at home with Granddad instead.

Meanwhile, his sister Maxine and I headed for the pool. Almost two hours later, as we were still bobbing around there, the cleaning lady arrived to mop out the change rooms.

‘She’s like Cinderella!’ Maxine announced after a while.

‘Pardon? … What do you mean?’

‘Well—she has to do all the work!’

Of course! Why didn’t I see that connection immediately? I laughed, then pointed out that must mean we’re the Ugly Sisters!

Later, however, I began to reflect on Maxine’s immediate response to the scene before her. She loves those old fairy tales, especially the ones featuring beautiful heroines with long, flowing hair. So far these holidays, along with the inevitable, more recent Frozen, we have watched DVDs of Snow White and Tangled (the story of Rapunzel), some more than once. We have also read different versions of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and such like together over the years. And recently, Maxine even managed to cajole her granddad and me into acting out one of these stories with her—this time, Little Red Riding Hood, including cutting that big, bad wolf open with relish, stuffing stones in him and sewing him up again with a flourish! These stories have well and truly made their way into Maxine’s imaginative little mind and continue to play out there in technicolour—for her, it’s natural to think of Cinderella immediately, when she sees a cleaning lady working hard, with no one helping!

All this caused me to reflect again on the power of story and on the fact that Jesus chose to use stories at times as he taught (see Matthew 13). I have read them often, yet how deeply have I allowed them to impact my mind and spirit? How much have they changed the way I see the world and the way I respond immediately to situations around me?

I thought back then over some of these stories Jesus told—the parable of the sower, the good Samaritan, the lost sheep, the unmerciful servant, the wedding banquet. As I see people in need, such as right now, with our bushfires and drought, have I been shaped into thinking immediately of the good Samaritan? Am I prepared to put myself out and give in a costly way—or am I more like that Pharisee who stayed at a safe distance? In my life, am I still acting like that unmerciful servant who was happy to receive the king’s forgiveness, yet did not extend that same forgiveness to another? Or have I allowed God’s mercy to transform me and flow onto those around me? Am I like that dry ground in the parable of the sower where the seeds could not take root? Or have I truly softened my heart and provided a fertile space where the things God says can flourish, bear fruit and bless others?

In 2020, may I remember Jesus’ parables and internalise them more and more. And may Jesus open my eyes too to see the ‘Cinderellas’ around me and reach out to any who need comfort, help and understanding.

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Jo 17I sat down with my cup of tea, ready to play a game of ‘Trouble’ with our five-year-old granddaughter. After deciding whether we would be mean and jump on each other’s counters this time or not, we began playing—and Maxine was very pleased with herself when she won.

Then she started getting ready for a second game.

‘This time, the rules are different!’ she announced firmly.

Apparently, we did not have to throw a six to start—that was the first change. The second was that, if we jumped on our opponent’s counter, we would not send that person home, but instead swap places with them. We did so with such frequency, I thought we’d never finish the game! But eventually, when one of us had almost made it around the board, I discovered change number three. We had to get our counters into the spots where they normally are at the start of a game, rather than into the ‘home’ section on the board—and there were certain rules about doing that which I have yet to understand fully!

Eventually, we somehow finished—but then I discovered change number four. Whoever won was actually the loser and not the winner! And, wonder of wonders, this turned out to be very convenient for Maxine, since I was the first to get all my counters into their designated spots. Now all this was quite fun, to be honest, but it left me marvelling once again at Maxine’s inventiveness. What had made her think up such an idea in general? And how did all those different ‘rules’ occur to her as we went along? So far, that remains a mystery.

As I thought about our game, it occurred to me that I am quite inventive at making up my own ‘rules’ at times too—not for any games, but rather for my life in general. At times, I might well decide I can be less than truthful about something or that I can pass on that juicy piece of gossip about someone or that I can ignore a person who is obviously in great need. I might be distinctly uncaring in the words I say to someone or the thoughts I think about them. I might decide it doesn’t really matter if I forgive fully or not—instead, I can simply pretend to. No one will ever know, after all. Yet in each of these areas, I know full well what God’s standards are and how God would love to see me respond.

Of course, being a Christian isn’t all about rule-keeping—and I’m thankful for that. Where would we be without God’s amazing grace and forgiveness? Yet, for those of us who say we follow Jesus Christ, God’s standards are pretty clear, don’t you think? For example, in Colossians 3, we read:

But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander … (8)

Do not lie to each other … (9)

… clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. (12-13)

Now those are the sorts of commands we need to listen to—and put into practice—so much more often, don’t you think, rather than inventing those rules of our own?

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