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Posts Tagged ‘Koorong Bookstore’

I was standing in our local Koorong bookstore, promoting my latest novel, when I noticed a lovely young couple nearby. Initially, I thought they might not be interested in talking or looking at my books, but how wrong I was! I cannot remember now whether they approached me first or vice versa, but I do remember their smiling, relaxed manner and how intently they listened as I explained why I was there. Soon we were deep in conversation about writing and about my books. Then after buying two, they said goodbye and moved on.

Not long after, however, the girl came back.

‘Tell me, how did you actually start writing?’ she asked me. ‘How did you know that was what you should do?’

I explained how I had always loved writing, but never considered becoming a writer and opted for teaching instead. I told her too how, twenty years before writing my first novel, I had declared to my husband I would write a book ‘one day’, never truly thinking I ever would. Then I began sharing how, when I was in my fifties, God used some words from Isaiah 42 to challenge me to start writing while visiting a friend in Turkey—at which point she stopped me in mid-sentence.

‘Um … this might be a weird question, but … were you on the radio recently?’

For a moment, I was dumbfounded, but then remembered my Vision Christian radio interview in January about a short story I had written and about my writing in general.

‘Well, yes I was earlier this year, although I understand the interview was re-broadcast a few weeks ago too.’

She was stunned, but eventually managed to tell me how, as soon as I mentioned Turkey and Isaiah 42, she remembered hearing someone share this story on the radio. She had sensed even then that God was nudging her to start her own writing journey—and now she was overwhelmed that she had ‘randomly’ met me in person and was standing there hearing that same story again.

We stared at each other, both blown away at what had happened and how surreal it all felt. Yet it soon became clear too that we both knew we were on holy ground. Now she could not ignore that nudge God had given her already to start writing—now, through our ‘random’ conversation, she was not left in any doubt that this is what God wants her to do.

What an amazing God we have—a God who continues to love us and reach out to us and challenge us to step out in trust and do the things God has put in our hearts to do! When I think how I almost missed talking to this couple because I felt they would not be interested, I cringe. Yet God overruled—and I am so grateful.

It’s about listening to God well, rather than those negative, discouraging voices in our heads, and recognising God’s hand in those ‘random’ encounters, don’t you think? And when we do, God will surely will make the way forward so clear for us.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

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I asked myself many questions, as our grandchildren returned to school and began tertiary study this year. How will they get on in the months ahead? Will they like their teachers or lecturers? Will they overcome their uncertainties, make new friends and be happy and successful?

Yet even as I did, I found myself asking questions about my own year ahead too. When will things return to normal? Will that ever happen? And what about our families’ jobs? On and on the questions rolled, all equally unanswerable.

Recently, I launched my latest novel, Down by the Water. My personal sales so far, both face-to-face and via my website, have been encouraging. And my novel is also available at Koorong Books and on Amazon. Yet I know there will be challenges ahead in reaching my usual audiences and readers. You see, I love speaking at both Christian and secular venues, then offsetting travel costs by selling my books afterwards. But right now, it is hard for those organising groups to plan ahead, given our COVID restrictions. Some have told me they would love me to come and speak, but do not know when, so I wait and pray they will not forget me, as time goes by.

Yet these concerns of mine paled into insignificance recently when I read the story of Peter and Cornelius again in the bible. I remembered how an angel told Cornelius, a non-Jew, to send men to fetch Peter, a Jew, from Joppa (Acts 10). I remembered too how God gave Peter a vision of a large sheet, with all sorts of unclean animals in it, and told him to kill and eat. I was also aware that, when Cornelius’s men arrived, God told Peter to go with them. But I do not remember ever thinking about how many unknowns Peter faced throughout this whole event—or how huge they were.

When Peter asks the men why Cornelius wanted him, they explain:

A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say. Acts 10:22

But Jews would never associate with Gentiles. Surely Peter must have felt great trepidation as he went with the men—and again when he discovered Cornelius’s home filled with relatives and friends? Yet Peter tells Cornelius:

You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me? Acts 10:28-29

Peter went willingly, despite not quite knowing what lay ahead. And, after hearing Cornelius’s story from his own lips, Peter courageously shares God’s message of salvation with everyone. As a result, the Gentiles hear how Jesus died for them too and are filled with God’s Spirit, to the amazement of the Jews present.

I’m so grateful, as a Gentile believer today, that Peter listened to God and did not hesitate to step out into the unknown. May you and I take courage and do the same in 2021. And as we too listen and obey, who knows what God will do through us in this world?

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Jo 17Can you remember a time when you went somewhere with a particular purpose in mind, only to find God had some surprises in store for you—or perhaps even an entirely different agenda? What was your initial response? Did you perhaps feel a little ripped off, like I have at times? After all, what could God be thinking, to mess up my lovely plans!

A couple of weekends ago, my author friend and I were promoting our books in a Koorong bookstore. Our day started off well. On arrival, I found someone had bought one of my books already and was waiting for me to sign it. He also insisted on having his photo taken with us, so, for a few seconds at least, we felt like celebrities! While things were a little slow after that, we still had some lovely conversations with customers and sold a few books. Besides, there was always hope things would improve after lunch. But we had no idea of the special experiences God had in store for us.

Our first ‘God surprise’ came via a friendly man and his severely disabled teenage son who was in a wheelchair. I chatted briefly with them, before moving away to talk with someone else. But when I returned, the man and his son were holding hands with my friend and praying for her! Later, I discovered the man’s son had felt God wanted them to pray with her about a particular health issue, so, after ascertaining that this was indeed something my friend suffers from, they had done exactly that. I silently joined in the prayer then but also felt so humbled that this young man had listened to God and was so keen to pray for others. What amazing, compassionate people, so full of the light and love of God!

Later, when it was almost time to leave, a lady came by whom I had met several months earlier when we had last signed books in the store. She and a friend had subsequently met with me for coffee and, on that occasion, I had told them about some issues our grandson Zain was having at school. Now, as she greeted me, her first words flabbergasted me.

‘Hello—so lovely to see you again! How is your little grandson Zain? My friend and I have been praying for him by name that God will provide the resources that will help him.’

This beautiful lady, with so much else going on in her life, had gone on faithfully praying for our grandson. What’s more, while I could not even recall her name at first, she had remembered his name and was so eager to hear what was happening for him. Again, what a wonderful, humbling, encouraging ‘God moment’!

Initially, I saw these experiences as interruptions. I did not want to be side-tracked from what I thought was my much more important task of engaging with new customers and promoting our books. But how wrong I was—and how much more amazing were the things God had planned for us that day!

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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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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As an author, I get to do some interesting things, not least of which are in-store book signings. Last Saturday, at my fourth such event, I discovered again how neat it is when those little ‘God moments’ pop up.

It was still early in the day when the first of my special conversations took place. A customer who recognised me from an event where I had spoken told me with some trepidation how she had resigned her job and was about to start nursing training—at the age of fifty-nine! Would she cope, she wondered, going back to study? At once I knew why God had brought her to my book table.

‘I was fifty-nine when my first novel was released,’ I told her. ‘Now I have six books published and a seventh due out this year! I hope that encourages you.’

Her eyes filled with tears as she picked up my non-fiction book Soul Friend.

‘Please sign this and write in it what you just said, as a reminder of how God has shown me I can do it!’ she told me.

A couple came by next who also decided to buy Soul Friend because they had begun mentoring some younger leaders.

‘We’ve been reading a book called Mentoring Matters,’ they told me.

‘Oh yes, I know the author. See, he endorsed my own book here,’ I responded, pointing to Rick Lewis’s name on the cover. ‘He spoke at my book launch—his book is excellent!’

A little later, I noticed a young woman standing nearby, holding a little girl by the hand. We chatted about my books and about writing in general, and then she told me she had come to find where her own book was displayed. I asked her what her book was about.

‘It’s about miscarriage—it’s called Losing Sammy,’ she told me. ‘It’s some letters I wrote to encourage other women going through the same ordeal as I did.’

She broke off then, as just at that moment, she caught sight of her book on a nearby shelf. I watched the emotion on her face and went to stand beside her.

‘It’s a special moment when we see our own book in a bookstore, isn’t it?’ I said, as she put her arm around me.

‘Yes—and you’re sharing it with me,’ she whispered.

What a privilege!

Later, an older woman came by. She asked my opinion about the suitability of some books of short stories she had chosen as gifts and I was able to tell her that they contained two stories I myself had written. She then looked at my novel, Heléna’s Legacy, which features a young woman left to bring up her son alone.

‘Oh, that’s me,’ she said, as she put the book in her basket. ‘That’s what I did.’

We went on to talk about so many interesting things, including the writings of Catholic authors Henri Nouwen and Thomas Merton.

‘I mention them in my Soul Friend book here,’ I told her.

Immediately, she picked up a copy and added it to her basket too.

‘I go to a Catholic church,’ she told me. ‘I know I will enjoy this.’

I came home convinced that my various conversations had not happened by chance that day. It was as if God had lined up appointments for me—and all I needed to do was show up.

Encourage one another daily’, we are told in Heb 10:13. May you too keep finding those God appointments in your own lives each day and experience the joy of encouraging those whom God brings across your path!

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