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Posts Tagged ‘Melbourne’

This week, I sat down at my desk to write, my mind tired and my body likewise. I squirmed and fidgetted—my back that was operated on some weeks ago still does not take kindly to my sitting anywhere for extended periods. My first task was to write some emails in preparation for our trip to Melbourne this week for three book events. But as I thought about those events, I sighed a little. Did I have the energy to give of my best at each of them? And why was I feeling a little half-hearted about things I usually love doing?

Perhaps it was that I was thinking about our new granddaughter and how I could best help her mum with looking after her and her energetic, two-year-old brother! Perhaps it was that I have several dear friends in the midst of difficult situations in their lives who are very much in my thoughts and prayers. I feel their burdens and wish I could lift these from them. Perhaps it was that my mind preferred to continue figuring out how best to re-arrange the contents of the book I am currently writing. And perhaps, behind and beneath all these things, that old enemy was lurking, trying to dim my enthusiasm for these upcoming book events.

Then two things happened that changed my perspective and caused that joy and anticipation to start flooding back. The first came out of the blue, from a direction I would never have expected. Someone contacted me via my website, asking me to consider being the speaker at a women’s retreat for her church later this year. A few days later, I met some of the women organising this event over lunch, none of whom I had known previously. As I responded to their questions and watched their faces, I was humbled to realise how much trust they were placing in me. And again I saw what a privilege it is to share from the heart with women at events like this and to be part of enabling others to grow in God in some way.

The second came in the form of a simple email from a friend who wanted to share her joy at finally signing a publishing contract for her children’s book. After I had replied to her email and commented on what was happening in my own life, she wrote a further few lines back, including the following simple statement:

What amazing doors God has opened up for you with your books … He is amazing!

I could have easily let my eyes slide over her comment. I could have brushed it aside and not taken it in fully. But God was there beside me, I believe, tapping me on the shoulder and saying gently: Listen to that, Jo! Be thankful for these opportunities! And remember, I am the One opening up those doors for you!

Yes, I needed that broader perspective. And I needed to be reminded not to take for granted all those opportunities God has given me but receive them with an open hand and heart. If I am tired, then God will enable. If I feel discouraged, God will encourage. If I am weak, God will strengthen and empower.

And that’s true for you too!

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. 2 Cor 12:9

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At times, walking into bookstores can be a bit daunting for authors. There are just so many books out there already other than our own. Perhaps the writer of Ecclesiastes knew something way back around the tenth century BC when he declared: Of making many books there is no end … (Ecc 12:12). So why am I trying so hard to add to their number? Well, there are several answers I could give, some more noble than others. Take self-interest, for example. It is definitely gratifying to see my very own books on the shelves and to have people buy and enjoy them. But if that were all there is to it, then I suspect the novelty would soon wear off.

For me, my main motivation is that I believe God has called and gifted me to write. And as I pursue that call, I have found that writing for me is utterly liberating and fulfilling. Yes, it has its testing times and frustrating days, but it also has the power to make me feel fully alive. And just when it threatens to become that little bit too difficult, God specialises, I’ve discovered, in sending unique morsels of encouragement my way.

A few days ago, my son handed me two large boxes with the comment ‘Happy Christmas!’ Inside were two long awaited Braille copies of my third novel ‘Laura’, which tells the story of a girl who is blind. My son was simply delivering them to me from a friend who had persevered over many months in arranging the transcription of my manuscript into Braille, for which I feel so indebted. I had promised another friend who originally inspired this novel that I would try to get a Braille copy for her – and I can now fulfil that promise. And this also enables me to lend the second copy to others who have enquired – like a contact who wanted a friend who is both deaf and blind to be able to read it.

Then this very same week, I also received the news that the dedicated workers at Christian Blind Mission in Melbourne have now completed the narration and recording of each of my first three novels – ‘Heléna’, ‘All the Days of My Life’ and ‘Laura’! This means my books are now available in Daisy/MP3 format for anyone with a print disability to borrow from CBM’s audio library (see www.cbm.org.au). I am so delighted that those for whom reading books such as mine would have been a huge challenge, if not an impossibility, are now able to access and enjoy them.

In all of this, I am reminded of the words of 1 Peter 4:10:

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.

That’s what I believe I am called and privileged to do – to be faithful in allowing God’s grace to bless others through my books. That’s why I write. Yes, there may be many and much better novels out there already, but God has a plan and a purpose for mine as well, I believe. Even – or perhaps especially – for those who are visually impaired.

I am humbled by that – and so grateful.

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I love Melbourne. Perhaps it’s the writer in me, but I love its quirky, cosmopolitan, coffee culture. And the city itself always seems elegant and refined to me, with its wonderful old buildings and avant-garde shops. On a recent visit, I stayed close to the inner city – and it was there that I had my op shop experience.

You see, I have a sister who coordinates an emergency relief service in the Fitzroy area. Most weeks, on the two days it is open to the public, she and her wonderful team almost exclusively made up of volunteers look after somewhere around a hundred clients. Many are new to our country and need all sorts of help, but others have simply fallen on hard times or face other challenges that cause them to struggle to make ends meet. My sister and her workers can help with emergency food supplies, voucher assistance for some services and also in advocating with other agencies and government bodies on behalf of clients. All of this is carried out with great wisdom and compassion, whatever the clients’ backgrounds or difficulties. And alongside this, they also run a truly excellent op shop in adjoining premises.

One day I was let loose as an assistant there, sorting out bags of clothes donated by various churches and individuals and arranging these for display, as well as serving customers. And what an interesting assortment of people I met in the process! Migrants from various African nations and also from parts of Asia and the South Pacific; interestingly attired students from the nearby university, some of whom were freezing in the sudden cold snap so came seeking an extra jumper or coat; enterprising women with a keen eye for fabric they could recycle to create fashionable items for resale; and one or two down-at-heel, slightly inebriated gentlemen looking more for a listening ear than for any bargain. Word has got around across the social strata that this shop is worth visiting for a couple of reasons. Not only is it very well run, but most garments are sold for a mere one dollar or less!

So what did I glean from my ‘op shop day’? Firstly, I saw how well off our society is on the whole, in that we can dispense with so many clothes we own and still have more than enough. Admittedly, on the day I was there, we sorted through bags of children’s clothes which obviously were no longer needed, but for whatever reason, great adult clothes had also been discarded.

But secondly and much more importantly, I saw how each customer was treated with compassion and understanding. Prices were lowered further for some clients who could not afford even the dollar, while items were put aside for one or two known to my fellow-worker until such time when they would have the necessary funds. At the end of the day, I came away sensing strongly that God had been honoured in that place. Surely, as Jesus explained to his disciples on one occasion when asked about the end times, the King would say to these hard working volunteers in my sister’s organisation, as they sought to feed and clothe people:

I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me. (Matt 25:40)

So did I meet the King that day in the op shop? Just maybe I did.

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