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Posts Tagged ‘Jo-Anne Berthelsen’

Some years ago, a friend pointed out how I often use a particular little word when writing or speaking about family members. ‘Our Jane changed jobs’ or ‘Our Zain is doing better’ or ‘Our Amy started university’—yes, that little pronoun ‘our’ in these and other similar comments made in an email or while chatting seemed to have captured her attention.

‘It sounds so nice’, she said, although I cannot remember why she thought that. Perhaps to her it spoke of how we love and value whichever family member I was referring to. Perhaps it conveyed our concern for their welfare or joy at their successes or pride in their decisions. Perhaps it showed we truly identify with that person, believe in them and want the best for them. One day, I will ask her what she meant but, whatever the reason, that little three-letter word of mine seemed to touch her heart.

One morning recently, however, I suspect I caught a glimpse for myself of how my friend might have felt, as I started reading the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians once again. It was not long before I had to pause—in fact, I did not get past Paul’s greeting right at the beginning:

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus. To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:1-2

What could be so remarkable about these verses? Why did I stop at that point and sit staring into space? Somehow, that little word ‘our’ in the last sentence had touched my own heart. I knew Paul had written that greeting and that he was no doubt referring to the fact that Timothy and he and the believers in Philippi all belonged to the same heavenly Father. But that morning, it was as if Jesus himself was saying gently to me, ‘Grace and peace to you, Jo-Anne, from God our Father—yes, our Father. I gave you the right to be part of my Father’s family when you believed in me. We will always watch over you, so be at peace today and know you are surrounded with our love and grace.’

How could that little word ‘our’ convey so much to me that morning? Perhaps it was merely my imagination. After all, I am a writer. But something changed inside me as I sat there, reading those words over and over. I had been feeling tired and quite discouraged, yet now I sensed Jesus understood, identified fully with me and had reached out in love to remind me who I belong to. I could be rational and tell myself this is not what those verses actually say or mean—or I could choose to listen with my heart and be reminded deep in my spirit that I am included in the beautiful, warm circle of God’s family, joined to other believers but also to Jesus Christ—forever.

I remembered then too those first words Jesus himself uttered when teaching his disciples how to pray:

Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. … Matthew 6:9

There is that little word ‘our’ again. Important to Jesus then and now—and so important for us too.

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In last week’s blog, I shared an amazing, true story of how God provided a home at minimal rent here in Sydney for a couple moving from interstate. I told how, after I posted the request in our church’s Facebook group, one lady offered her granny flat at an affordable cost. Then a friend happened to mention how she had been offered a whole house for minimal rent, but had to turn it down, as she had already arranged to live elsewhere. With some trepidation, I eventually phoned and enquired about the house on this couple’s behalf—and a few hours later, it was theirs!

But wait … there’s more!

The following day, a Sunday, I started talking to a young man after church. The way God had provided for this young couple was still very much on my mind, so I shared their story with him. As soon as I finished, he said, ‘Well, I’m actually looking for somewhere to board or a place to rent too—I have to move out of home by next weekend!’

I could see how worried he was and my heart went out to him. Then a thought occurred to me. Could the granny flat the couple might have taken, had they not been offered a whole house, still be available for this young man to rent instead?

Hastily, I found the granny flat owner’s number on my phone, but then was unsure if I should pass it on. Yet, as with the couple who needed a house, I felt compelled to go ahead. However, I told the young man I would let the owner know I had done so as soon as possible, as I felt uncomfortable giving out her number without asking first.

That afternoon, I messaged her, apologised and promised not to give her number out again without asking. A few minutes later, I received a bright, friendly message back: ‘No worries—all good! The young man is coming to look at the flat later today!’

I did not hear anything further until the following Sunday when I saw this young man again.

‘Did you find somewhere to live?’ I asked him.

‘Yes—I took the granny flat you told me about! Thank you so very much. I’ve been meaning to let you know all week—I’m so grateful.’

Again, I was gobsmacked at how neatly God had provided just the right accommodation for this young man, as well as for the couple from interstate. I had done so very little in it all and my faith in both instances had been so small and tentative. Yet God did so much, graciously rescuing and providing for both parties.

Through all this, God has touched my heart so much. I am humbled—yet again. My faith has been strengthened and enlarged. I am even more in awe of our God whose ways are so much more superior than our bumbling efforts. I am trying to be more alert to God’s promptings. And I can’t wait to see the next amazing way God will provide for someone else in need of accommodation!

Just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:9 NLT

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Have you ever in a rash moment said yes to some activity or event way out of your comfort zone, then later wondered why? Perhaps you agreed to walk x number of kilometres or lead a group or sing in public … or anything else you would not normally choose to do. Such experiences can feel surreal, can’t they—as if we are there, yet not there?

Last week, I did something I have in fact done before, but not for some years—I took part in a radio interview via phone from another state. During this 20-25 minute interview, my task was to share why I had written a particular short story that won a place in a recent writing competition (‘Stories of Life’), then talk about the events that shaped me to become the writer I am today, using stories as much as I could.*

Sounds easy, right? Yet at this stage of the year, and especially after seeing my current novel through to publication, my brain is a little tired. I had a script—a few dot points I had submitted earlier to my interviewer—but still felt nervous on the day and well out of my comfort zone.

What to do? First off, I prayed—and I also asked my little email prayer team of nine women to pray, if they happened to read my email in time. How wonderful it was to hear back from three of these faithful friends almost immediately, assuring me they would be praying! But I was also touched when my interviewer prayed for us both, before flicking that switch and launching into our conversation.

At first, I stumbled a little. But as we reached that part of the interview where I needed to share my writing journey via stories, I became so involved in it all, I forgot about everything else. I was even able to laugh at myself at one stage (although not out loud!) when I realised I was holding my phone in one hand and waving the other around as if speaking to a live audience! But as the interview proceeded, I also began to feel a deep sense of awe as I shared how God has led and shaped me via all sorts of experiences during my various occupations. All over again, I was reminded of the loving hand of God on my life, shaping me, teaching me, guiding me, setting me on my feet again. And as I kept talking, my heart filled with praise and thanks to God for all God’s gracious, constant love and care through it all.

As 2020 draws to a close, may I encourage you too to look back on this year—and on your life in general—and see how faithful God has been, through the good and the bad. And as you do, may you see and sense afresh, as I did, the gentle hand of God, our awesome potter Father, shaping us, his clay, to become more and more like him.

Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Isaiah 64:8

*Should you wish to hear my radio interview, please tune into ‘The Story’ on Vision Christian Radio at 9.30am (EST) on 13th January 2021.

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Jo 23‘Nanna, why do you say ‘love’ all the time when you talk to me?’ our six-year-old granddaughter challenged me last week.

‘Pardon?’ I asked, wondering what Maxine could mean.

‘Why do you call me ‘love’ all the time?’

Before I had a chance to respond, she answered her own question.

‘Maybe it’s because you love me!’ she said in a satisfied tone.

‘Yes, I do!’ I told her, ‘so I like to tell you that.’

She went on with her day then, quite happy with herself and the world in general. But this little interlude set me thinking. Yes, I do love her—and her brother, who was also often called ‘love’ that day, as we looked after them. But I know too it has been a habit of mine for years to call lots of people ‘love’. Now the word slips out without my even realising. And now too, on those occasional ‘seniors’ moments’ when I forget someone’s name, it can be a handy substitute—as long as it’s appropriate enough!

Later, as I thought more about it all, my mind jumped back to the beautiful way my special ‘soul friend’ Joy used to greet me, each time I arrived at her door:

‘Oh, hello, Jo-Anne—dear friend! So lovely to see you!’

On the odd occasions too when she would email me, she would often begin with the words, ‘Dear friend’ or perhaps ‘My very dear Jo-Anne’. Somehow, those simple words touched and encouraged me, even before I read on. By them alone, I knew she loved me and valued our friendship. I felt treasured. I felt significant. And I also knew that, whatever her email was about, her words would have been written with much thought and care and with a heart to bless me.

The way we address each other can be so important, don’t you think? But I wonder if you have thought about how important it is to know how God addresses us—to hear and take into our hearts the words God loves to use when speaking to you and me. If others can touch our hearts and encourage us via a few loving words, how much more can God do the same for each one of us?

One evening many years ago, when I was in quite an exhausted state, I believe God gave me a picture of Jesus, holding me in his arms as a baby and looking down at me with the most amazing love and delight shining from his face. And all he kept saying was, ‘Wow—Jo-Anne! Wow!’ Through that simple yet utterly profound experience, I knew deep in my heart that Jesus saw me as his precious creation, that he was so delighted in me, that he valued me and that he would always love and care for me. I can hear his voice even now, as I write this—and that beautiful voice still has the power to speak such love and grace into my spirit.

May you too, even today, hear that gentle voice speaking clearly to you, calling you by name and letting you know you are indeed God’s much-loved child, so valued and treasured.

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! 1 John 3:1 NLT

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Jo 12During this coronavirus time, I have worked steadily on my next novel. I edited as I wrote and also edited the whole manuscript four or five times after completing it. Then I sent it off to my first manuscript reader/editor—and the next—and the next—and the next. Then I submitted it to my old publisher. And each time, there was more to edit—and more—and more. My manuscript was around 97,000 words initially, but is now around 87,000 words. And I’m still going. Is it any wonder that some nights I have gone to bed with words swimming before my eyes?

In this time too, I have written three short stories, critiqued two manuscripts and a portion of two more. And I have kept writing my blogs each week—and emailing friends and family who have felt a little isolated. I was glad I could do all this, but there comes a point where all this reading and writing can become a little tiring—especially the discouraging task of throwing thousands of words out that you have laboured long and hard to put in your manuscript in the first place!

So recently, we went away for a short break. And while driving along near the coast north of Sydney, to my surprise, I caught sight of some olive trees. Immediately, my mind went spinning back to my visits to Turkey in past years. During one trip, a friend and I travelled along the Mediterranean coast together, hopping on and off buses at various spots and taking in the mind-blowing sights and experiences of that region. Along the way, I saw many, many olive trees growing on the rocky hillsides and, to me, they were a beautiful sight, with their silvery foliage and often rounded, compact shape. I was amazed too at the way they could still flourish in such dry, barren terrain through the hottest of Turkish summers and produce those nutritious olives that are such an important part of the Mediterranean diet.

The same day I saw my olive trees here in our own country, I read the following verses in the Psalms:

But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever. I will praise you forever for what you have done; in your name I will hope, for your name is good. Psalm 52:8-9

When things coincide like that in my life, I have learnt to suspect God might want to say something to me, so I listen. And I realised I could relate to what David wrote in this psalm. I am indeed like that olive tree flourishing in God’s house. After all, God has enabled me to write all those thousands of words I have written in recent weeks—and God will sustain me as I complete the necessary editing and polishing. I don’t need to fret or complain or wonder if I will stay the distance. Instead, I know I can grow and flourish under God’s protective covering, watered and fed and cared for by our all-loving, all-powerful Creator God.

May you too be aware in this time of God’s unfailing love and nurturing hand on your life, as you grow and flourish like that olive tree.

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I wonder if you have had time lately to stop and truly look at the beauty all around us in nature, on both a small and large scale. Even as I write this, I can see from my study window a vast expanse of clear, blue sky, feel the warmth of the spring sunshine and enjoy the amazing pink blossoms on the nearby azaleas.

IMG_20190925_115106702Yet it was the tiny, almost hidden intricacies in God’s creation that recently blew me away  most—including the endless variety of sizes and shapes of leaves on the nearby shrubs and the amazing speckles and colours of the petals on the humble, little alstroemeria flowers our neighbour planted near our front door. How easily all this inspired me then to write the following poem for our church’s upcoming Art Installation (6-20 Oct, Parramatta Baptist), the theme of which is ‘Creation Speaks HIS Name’! Surely, as the psalmist says:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. Psalm 19:1-4

Silent Speech

­Did you have fun, Lord, creating such beauty

for us your children to enjoy?

It’s as if in pure delight you waved your palette high

and splashed your vibrant colours everywhere with glee,

as if you had to share each fresh design of flower

and then, in pure extravagance,

add speckles to already perfect petals.

In tender tones, you sought again

to speak your name, to show us who you are,

to swell with one more voice creation’s choir

that endlessly declares your perfect love,

that shouts your glorious grace across the earth,

that paints your name with joy on canvas vast.

Lord, in small and large, we hear your silent speech

and, in reply, we speak aloud your praise!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I was intrigued, even as I opened the lovely card that had just arrived for me in the mail. Apart from anything else, hand-written cards or letters do not pop into my mailbox often these days, what with emails and other electronic forms of communication. Who would bother to write at length to me in this way—and so neatly and carefully too?

I soon discovered thimg_20170116_123459191_hdre card was from a lady I had never met. She had just finished reading my latest book, Becoming Me, she explained, and wanted to tell me how much she had enjoyed it. But that was not all. She went on to tell me she had thoroughly enjoyed all my books and had not been able to put any of them down until she had finished. Wow—now that’s the sort of letter authors long to receive, for sure!

But it was the way she had come across my books that captured my attention even more. You see, it seems this lady has never actually bought any of them but has instead borrowed them from others. And it was who those ‘others’ turned out to be that intrigued me most. The first kind person to lend her my books turned out to be her sister-in-law, a lady we knew quite a few years ago at a church here in Sydney. Every time this lady would travel interstate to visit her, she would apparently pass on my latest book to her—something I love to hear, as to me that means my book isn’t sitting on a shelf somewhere, gathering dust, but will hopefully be enjoyed by yet another reader!

Eventually in this way, the lady who wrote to me got hold of my first five novels, one after the other. But while reading my fifth, Heléna’s Legacy, she noticed I had dedicated it to my parents, Tom and Rene Wardrop. ‘Wardrop?’ she thought. ‘I know someone of that name at my mother’s retirement village. I wonder if there’s a connection?’ She enquired further and soon discovered this person she knew is actually my cousin! And thus began this lady’s journey of borrowing books six, seven and eight of mine from my cousin, instead of having to wait until her sister-in-law visited from Sydney!

As I read about this whole sequence of events, I could not help thinking, once again, how amazingly God weaves our lives together in ways we would never have imagined. Who would have thought the lady we knew here in Sydney would bother to pass each of those books of mine onto to her sister-in-law interstate? Who would have thought her sister-in-law would notice my parent’s surname in the front of my fifth novel and make the connection with my cousin? Who would have thought my cousin would go on lending her my books? And who would have thought this lady would bother to write such a lovely, encouraging card to me, so full of ‘God-connections’?

Truly, God’s ways are so much more amazing than ours could ever be—don’t you agree?

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

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Jo 17I was disappointed, I have to admit. During the weeks leading up to our recent trip to South Australia, I had been in contact with a particular church to see if an author visit there would be possible. I did not want to intrude or upset any plans the leadership might have—after all, it had been a long time since we had lived in South Australia and been part of this church.

Eventually, I thought it was all arranged. Then, a week before we left, an email arrived: I’m sorry, but there has been some miscommunication—I have arranged for something else to happen in our morning service that day. I hope you can find another church instead.

Well, that was that—and it was too late to enquire elsewhere. We had been looking forward to visiting this church, but would it be wise to do so now? Did I even want to?

On the Saturday of that same weekend, I had scheduled an author visit at the Adelaide Koorong Bookstore. I had barely finished setting up when an older man approached my table.

‘What’s this? Something special on, is there?’

Then he noticed my name.

Jo-Anne Berthelsen! I know you from years ago at church!’

As soon as he told me who he was, I remembered him. And yes, he was from the very church where I had hoped to be interviewed the following day! We chatted for quite a while—I could not get over the fact that the first person who walked in the bookstore that morning knew me, after all those years.

Later, when I told my husband what had happened, we decided we should attend this church, for old times’ sake. And, as soon as we walked in, the gentleman I had met at the bookstore the previous day came scurrying up.

‘I tried to get onto you, but I didn’t have your mobile number. I’ve spoken to the minister—would you be able to talk about your books for a couple of minutes in the service?’

And so I did, unprepared as I was. Afterwards, I chatted with the minister with whom I had liaised and soon saw how much he had on his plate at that church. And yes, there was something extra on in the service that day, with a couple being farewelled. A special luncheon was held for them, during which we got to talk to several people we had known all those years earlier and even sell some of my books.

Later, we could not help but marvel at the way God brought all this about. I had sensed God wanted me at that church. So when it didn’t happen, I was confused. But God wasn’t—and promptly found a unique way around those obstacles that had arisen. Again I experienced, as I have many times in my life, the truth of Isaiah 55:8-9:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

May you too experience God’s unexpected ways in your life and know the real and lasting joy this brings.

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You’d think at this stage of my life I might settle down a bit. But no—I keep on having such interesting adventures! At times it’s like God is smiling at me and saying, ‘Hmmm, what little challenge can I think up for Jo-Anne next?’ These adventures seem to come in different shapes and sizes and shades of scariness as well. Some I know I will manage fine. But others … well, let’s just say I can feel a tad stre-e-e-e-tched at times!

Last week, I had the privilege of speaking to the women from a Probus Club—something I knew I could do. I always value these opportunities outside church-related groups and this group turned out to be particularly receptive. Afterwards, several women came to share their own experiences with me, some very personal. As I signed the books they bought, I asked if I could write ‘God bless’ as well. Then more interesting conversation ensued as I explained how those words represent my little prayer that God will encourage and speak to anyone who reads my book.

I know I will enjoy this week’s little adventure too. How could I not, when I will be speaking to a group called ‘The Cheerful Ladies’ Club’?! This group derives its name from the Club that features in Alexander McCall Smith’s ‘No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’ books set in Africa and is run by a good friend of mine through her church. Many of these women have heard me speak already, so what a privilege to go there, knowing already I will be warmly received.

Soon too I will be sharing with a group of women at another church where I feel very much at home. The following week, I travel across town to speak at a singles’ club. Then not long after, I head to a church in Victoria to give two sessions at a special women’s event. Finally that month, I am to present a writing workshop and seminar, thankfully much closer to home. Oh, and somewhere in the mix as well is the launch of my seventh book, The Inheritance!

A very busy month of speaking in Queensland then follows, including input at a church seniors’ group, a writing seminar, speaking in a morning service and co-presenting a mentoring conference—plus a few other events in between! What interesting adventures God has lined up for me in my home state.

I have two ways of approaching all these adventures. I can feel overwhelmed by it all and wish I could curl up in my cosy study here in Sydney and just write! Or I can take a deep breath, choose to trust God, who has been behind my schedule from the beginning anyway, pray, relax and focus on preparing my next lot of input to the best of my ability.

Yes, I’ll admit I regularly veer towards the former rather than the latter of these two options. But God always gently calls me back, reminding me he is in the midst of all my adventures, scary or otherwise, just as Psalm 139 says. No wonder it’s my favourite psalm!

Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord. You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me … (4-6)

How about you? Is God in all your adventures too?

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