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Posts Tagged ‘Mary Magdalene’

BecomingMe-OFC-I will always be grateful I was able to find publishers for my six novels and my first non-fiction book, Soul Friend. Without these publishers, my writing journey would have been severely hampered. But I am also grateful I was able to produce my second non-fiction book, Becoming Me: Finding my true self in God, myself via Ingram Spark in 2016. This gave me freedom to include everything I wanted to include and also to set my own publishing time frame. Now, two years later, I still receive regular reports from Ingram Spark, detailing e-book and hard copy sales.

I love this company’s efficiency, but I often smile when I receive that professional-looking, emailed monthly report for e-book sales in particular. You see, as time has passed since the release of Becoming Me, I usually discover that just one person, someone somewhere in the world, someone I will probably never meet, has bought an e-book version of Becoming Me. Yes, that means a whole USD$2.40 my little book has earned for me as the publisher—what a fortune!

Yet I never feel disappointed with these reports. In fact, this one sale always touches me, as I try to visualise who this reader might be. I pray for them too. I pray that something in my little book might speak to their hearts and provide the word from God for them that they need. After all, I’m sure this one person matters to God.

But occasionally I receive a different sort of email about Becoming Me—one from a reader I often do not know, commenting on some aspect of the book that has been meaningful to them. Recently, a lady wrote how, while she related to so much of what I wrote, the thing that touched her most was one small paragraph where I describe how, for many years, I wrote weekly letters home to my parents interstate, keeping them up-to-date with all our family events. This lady shared how, for over fifty years, she had done the same, even when her mother became a dementia patient in a nursing home. She told me how some people thought she was strange to keep writing these letters. Yet, as she read my book, she felt she had found a companion, someone who understood. How blessed I felt that God had somehow comforted her through my book, even in this small way!

These people whose lives we touch, the ones and twos, do matter to God, don’t you think? Surely we see this in how Jesus often went out of his way to minister to just one person. Examples that come to mind readily are the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak (Matthew 9), Zacchaeus (Luke 19), the woman at the well (John 4), the man born blind (John 9), Lazarus (John 11) and Mary Magdalene outside the tomb (John 20).

People matter to God. You and I matter to God. In fact, God seeks each of us out, like that one lost sheep, and, once found, will never let us go. And that comforts me more than any words I may ever write.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand, John 10:27-28

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Jo 17I wonder if you can remember what you were afraid of most as a child. Our little grandson can become quite fearful when a certain character appears in the TV show ‘Peter Rabbit’. Whenever Mr Tod the fox turns up, Zain has been known to run and hide under the table! Now we try to reassure him and remind him how Peter Rabbit always gets away from Mr Tod—and Mr McGregor, for that matter! But Zain still takes some convincing.

I wonder what things make you fearful now you have grown up a little. Perhaps it’s heights or crowds or enclosed spaces or flying. Or perhaps it’s speaking in public, which apparently is the most common phobia adults experience. To be exposed to possible embarrassment, shame and even ridicule is just too much for many people.

My husband, who has been a minister for many years, well remembers the first time he spoke in public in his late teens. It was in the days of open air preaching and, one Sunday evening, he found himself standing on a street corner about to begin. But alas, after a few words, his mind went blank. He stumbled along until, thankfully, someone rescued him. Yet he summoned the courage to try again soon after—and, over the years, he has now given hundreds of sermons and college lectures.

In recent years, I have spoken many times as well, both in local church ministry and then as an author. I love it, but this year, I gave myself a ‘semi-sabbatical’. Then, somewhat to my surprise, when asked to speak again, I found myself feeling a little fearful. Could I still do it? Would God continue to use me in this way? Would what I say be understood and well received?

Then one day, I found myself reading the account of the resurrection in Matthew 28. Here we read that when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb where Jesus’ body had been laid, an angel appeared in the midst of a violent earthquake and rolled the stone away. The guards were so freaked out that they ‘became like dead men’ (4). But the angel seems to have ignored them, instead addressing the two women:

Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Matthew 28:6-7

But that is not all. As the women hurried away to tell the disciples, suddenly Jesus met them as well and spoke to them:

Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me. Matthew 28:10

I love how, in the midst of such a cataclysmic event, the first thing both Jesus and the angel did was to reach out and reassure the women, urging them not to be afraid. And surely that is still Jesus’ heart for us today—man, woman or child? Whatever fear battle we are facing in our lives, our powerful and loving Lord is right there with us, urging us to trust him and not be afraid. And I’m so glad of that.

The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? Hebrews 13:6

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Jo 17I wonder if you like the sound of your name. Perhaps it depends on who is saying it or the context in which it is being said! If it’s someone such as a cross schoolteacher singling you out for some misdemeanour, as I well remember happening to me, your name might grate on you a little. But if it’s a good friend greeting you after not seeing or hearing from you for some time, then that might be a different matter.

I look forward to hearing my name spoken whenever I call a dear older friend. ‘Hello, Jo-Anne—how lovely to hear your voice! How are you?’ she always says, with such unfeigned joy and delight that my heart feels as if it is melting. And I remember how, many years ago, a young minister at our church went to the trouble of asking me whether I preferred to be called ‘Jo’ or ‘Jo-Anne’. Now I don’t really mind being called ‘Jo’—after all, that is what my husband and almost everyone else has called me for years! But I told him I preferred ‘Jo-Anne’, because it seems just that bit softer and more feminine to me. From then on, he tried hard to remember to call me that. And when he did, I was touched and felt respected.

I thought of this again recently when I read the story of the resurrection in John 20. As I often try to do, I imagined myself right in the middle of that scene at the tomb when Mary Magdalene discovers Jesus is no longer there. She is devastated because she believes someone has taken his body and, in her distress, does not immediately recognise Jesus when he speaks to her. But what a moment that must have been when she hears him say that one word that must have said so much to her—Mary (20:16)! Can you imagine it?

I wonder what tone of voice Jesus used when he said her name. Was it soft and tender? Was it loud and commanding, concerned to make her realise who he actually was? Did it convey joy and delight that she had come, wanting to attend to his body? Did it show something of his pride in her that she was faithful to the end? Perhaps it conveyed trust as well, because as soon as Mary realises who he is, Jesus goes on to give her a message for the other disciples:

Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” John 20:17

One thing I know for sure. Jesus spoke Mary’s name with amazing love. And today, two thousand years later, Jesus continues to speak our names with that same love, calling us back into relationship with our heavenly Father and into his own family, the family of God. How privileged we are that he knows our names and that we too can hear our Shepherd’s voice, speaking to us by his Spirit, guiding and strengthening us day by day!

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. John 10:27-28

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Most of us have experienced those moments in our lives when, for one reason or another, something wonderful we have looked forward to so much doesn’t eventuate. Perhaps we had false expectations all along and it was only a pipedream. Perhaps it was something we had worked hard for, but in the end it turned out to be beyond our reach. Or perhaps someone else let us down badly. Whatever the situation, the disappointment cuts deep, doesn’t it? And sometimes it takes a long time to recover. God is still there, we know. And we also know these things happen—that this is part of life and of our messed up world. But it can certainly knock the stuffing out of us.

I have seen such events occur in the lives of friends and family. I remember a wedding that was called off at the last moment. I remember a job loss that had been a large part of someone’s reason for being. I remember miscarriages and a longed for but stillborn baby. And even now in my writing world, I see authors’ hopes dashed as manuscripts they were sure would be accepted for publication are not—sometimes after several similar rejections. Yet I wonder if, despite their devastating nature, any of these rates one little bit beside the huge disappointment Jesus’ followers experienced at his death.

This Easter, I have been reading the last few chapters of John’s Gospel and trying to put myself in the very shoes of Mary Magdalene, one of the women who came to Jesus’ burial place early on the morning of that first day of the week (John 20). In this particular account, Mary finds the stone removed from the entrance of the tomb and Jesus’ body gone, then runs and gets Peter and ‘the other disciple’. These two return home, we are told, but Mary stays there, weeping.

As I try to relate to her, it’s no surprise to me she responds that way. After all, the man she believed was the Messiah, the Son of God—moreover, the one who had delivered her from demons and accepted and believed in her—had not only died a horrible death but was now even to be denied the decent burial he had been given.

And then she has a conversation with two angels in the tomb and with someone she believes to be the gardener. This man gently speaks her name—and everything changes.

Can you imagine the utter joy you might feel if that hardest moment in your life were to be reversed—if when you felt the light had gone out of your world, the very thing you had longed and worked hard for happened or the very thing you dreaded the most did not? What an amazing, amazing experience! Right now I am imagining that myself—and trying to allow that to give me insight into Mary’s deep, overwhelming joy as she races to tell the disciples she has seen the risen Lord.

It’s like in an instant, the world is put right again for her and for us. Yet not as it was—even better. In fact, everything is put right. Forever. At that moment when Mary hears her name, a hope and a future open up for her that are beyond compare and beyond anyone’s imagination.

This Easter, Jesus has spoken my name again. He has spoken yours too. Did you hear him?

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There are lots of ‘perks’ in writing novels, I’ve discovered. One is being able to decide the fate of my characters. I can have them live long and prosper or write them out of the picture altogether. Another is giving my characters my own and others’ experiences and having things turn out even better than they might have in real life. And yet another is actually naming my characters in the first place. Does that name really suit this character? Will he or she be confused with a previous character in one of my other novels – or perhaps even another character in the same novel? Is the name right for the particular time period in which the novel is set?

I have been known to get half way through a novel and decide a name definitely doesn’t suit one of my main characters. After all, when I started out, I didn’t expect he or she would say and do the things they now have. Characters evolve, I find. Some of them grow up and make up their own minds as to the way ahead. They might decide they want a much more exciting life than I had planned for them. So a nice, conservative, common name won’t do – they need something much more colourful and unusual. And thankfully, that can happen easily these days. I have lost track of the number of times I have been so grateful for the ‘Find and Replace’ function on my computer, where, with one click of my mouse, Andrew becomes Aidan or Angela can instantly become Amy several hundred times over!

In real life, however, I have discovered a name can be made beautiful and just right whether it’s old-fashioned or unusual or anything else, if it is spoken in a caring, respectful, loving way. Two examples from Scripture I noticed recently come to mind. In each case, Jesus speaks out someone’s name with such deep love and understanding that they must both have been shaken to the core. In John 20:15, Jesus simply says ‘Mary’ – and turns her world upside down. And in the following chapter (21:15), he speaks out Peter’s original name in a tone that must have been so full of forgiveness and grace – ‘Simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these?

I have no trouble imagining the tone of Jesus’ voice as he addressed Mary and Simon Peter – or how they must have felt. Many years ago, at a particularly needy point in my life, I believe God gave me a wonderful picture of Jesus holding me as a baby and looking down at me with the most incredible, tender love. He was smiling and almost lost for words as he gazed at my face and marvelled. And the only words I heard him say were ‘Wow – Jo-Anne!’ But that was all I needed to hear to know in the very core of my being how much Jesus loved me and how delighted he was with me – before I had ever achieved anything in my life. He loved me just the way I was created – uniquely and in his image, with my own personality and gifts that he intended from the very beginning. I was – and still am – his precious child, perfect in his eyes and completely loved.

So as you read this today, may you hear Jesus speaking your name in just the same loving, gentle way in the very depths of your spirit. Your name is important to him, whoever you are. He knows you. He cares about you. He believes in you. He loves you. And that’s all that matters.

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