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Posts Tagged ‘Jo-Anne Berthelsen’

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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There’s a joke in our family about my writing efforts. When my first novel was published, a certain son of ours maintained he would buy some copies when they were outside in the three dollar bargain bins at our local Christian bookstore! He did redeem himself, however, and ended up purchasing quite a few for work colleagues—at full price!

Then there is another joke about my books I suspect one of our daughters started. The conversation that began it all went something like this:

‘Would you like me to sign your copy?’

‘Oh yes! That way, when you’re really famous, after you die I can auction it on e-bay and make my fortune!’

A rather flattering sentiment on the surface—yet not when said with a wicked grin and a twinkle in the eye!

Some years back, not long after my second novel was published, I drove to a nearby suburb to check out a venue where I had been invited to speak to make sure I knew where to go. I had just crossed the busy road opposite the building when a woman on the footpath stopped dead in her tracks and stared intently at me.

‘Oh … are you Jo-Anne Berthelsen?’

‘Yes,’ I responded, somewhat disconcerted.

‘Oh, it’s so wonderful to meet you! I’m so excited—I love your books! I recognised you from your photo on the back of your novel!’

Now to be fair, it turned out this lady was the one who had invited me to speak, so she had no doubt scrutinised that tiny photo quite closely. But when I mentioned this event in an email to a friend who lives overseas, I received the following response:

Well … you’ll just have to start wearing sunnies whenever you go out so people won’t recognise you, won’t you? That’s the price of fame!

This then became another running joke about my writing career. Alas, five novels and one non-fiction book later, I have not yet felt the need to invest in a pair of designer label sunnies to remain incognito!

Any wonder then that some words in Philippians this week caught my attention. Actually, it was a heading in that chapter that I saw first—‘Shining as Stars’! I read on and came to the following:

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life … (14-16)

Now that’s the sort of star I really care about becoming. Forget the sunnies and the amazing prices for my signed books on e-bay! I haven’t arrived yet—I certainly can’t lay claim to doing everything ‘without complaining or arguing’. But I want to honour God in all I do and to continue holding out that word of life to others, not only through my writing and speaking but also through the way I live my life in general. I want to be the sort of star that really matters—the sort that reflects the pure light of God, shining brightly and making a real difference in our dark world however I can.

How about you?  Are you on your way to stardom too?

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This past week, I enjoyed another interesting experience in this writing journey of mine. À la Kath and Kim, for a few brief moments, I became a ‘filum star’! You see, I had agreed to make a little book trailer/promotional video for my non-fiction book Soul Friend, due for release next month. I invited two of my very good friends to take part and engaged a young photographer to film us. We laughed a lot, as, one after the other, we sat in front of that camera, trying to speak as naturally as possible. But in the midst of all the fun, some deeper thoughts also surfaced for me.

As I observed my lovely spiritual mentor Joy, now over eighty years old, bravely sharing her feelings in front of that camera about my writing a book featuring her role in my spiritual journey, I felt so humbled and grateful for her support in it all. Then when my younger friend present—someone I have mentored for many years—took her turn and shared how helpful our relationship has been, these same feelings almost overwhelmed me. Again I glimpsed God’s amazing grace at work, as we have each fed into the lives of the other, through God’s leading and enabling.

But later I realised that, represented in my lounge room, were four generations of committed Christian believers—my spiritual mentor in her eighties, I in my sixties, my younger friend in her forties and our wonderful video person in his twenties. God has gifted us all in a variety of ways and each of us is endeavouring to use these gifts as best we can at this stage of our journey. The opportunities my older friend Joy now has for ministry are different from the many she had earlier. Mine too have changed over the years, as I have moved through various careers into my current writing and speaking role. My younger friend is giving herself totally by serving overseas and is home only for a visit. And our young photographer friend is poised on the brink of doing wonderful things in his field, I believe. Whatever our age, God is using each of us as we step out in faith.

Now I am sure I am not cut out to be a ‘filum star’! I have spoken publicly many, many times—but sitting in front of that camera is a different experience altogether! I knew I couldn’t ‘run off at the mouth’, as I tend to do on occasions. Our time was very limited and we had to watch our words. And that’s why I was so thankful when, as we waited for our other collaborators to arrive on the day, my friend Joy, who felt somewhat the same as I did, quoted some encouraging words from Scripture out loud and prayed for God’s wisdom and peace for both of us.

And God does not let us down, we discovered yet again. God rescues, God guides, God gives wisdom and peace—even in front of a camera.

For who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God?

It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights. (Psalm 18:31-32)

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