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Posts Tagged ‘memoir writing’

I wonder if you can remember a time when you saw something on display somewhere and felt you just had to buy it. That happened to me almost a year ago, not long after we moved into our beautiful village unit. At the time, I was strolling around a plant nursery, trying to decide which roses to buy to put in the small garden beside our balcony. Apparently, the previous owner had had several different roses growing there, but once he was unable to care for them any longer, they had been removed. Despite this, one single rose bush had defied all odds and come back to life. So in order to balance the garden out a little, I asked if I could plant a couple more and was told that would be fine. Yet what rose should I choose, out of the many on offer?

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Just Joey

Finally, I found a deep red rose called ‘Mr Lincoln’ and decided on that one. Its blooms were not quite the shape I wanted, but they had a beautiful, strong scent and the plant seemed vigorous and hardy. Then a label on a pretty, apricot-coloured rose nearby caught my eye—‘Just Joey’. Now how could I resist? After all, my name is Jo-Anne—and the name I was often called by my family when I was growing up was ‘Joey’. So I felt I had to have that rose in my garden, as we began this new phase of our life.

Yet there was another reason the name of this rose had caught my eye too. For a long time, I had kept the idea for a kind of memoir on my computer, until I felt the time was right for me to explore it further. Eventually, I did—and gradually, it morphed into my second non-fiction book, Becoming Me, published in October 2016. But my original idea for its title? You guessed it—Just Joey.

Apparently, my rose ‘Just Joey’ was named after the wife of the head of a nursery company in the UK. But to me, it kind of symbolises my own life, as I have learnt and grown and made mistakes and grown some more and stepped out and taken risks to become more of the person I believe God created me to be. God knew all about me before I was born—and created me as a unique person, with my own personality and gifts.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:13-14

God knew every twist and turn in my journey too and has been with me all the way, even when those winds threatened to snap my fragile stem, as occasionally happens to my rose. Today, I feel so blessed to be ‘Just Joey’, to rest in who I am in God, to be less afraid to be all I was created to be and to be less jealous of those with different gifts and abilities from me who seem to have achieved more in life than I have.

My ‘Just Joey’ rose is unique, with its frilled petals and gentle perfume. And you and I are unique too—just as God created us. May you rest in that truth today and be thankful.

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Jo 17There are some great perks in selling my books at a school Mothers’ Day market each year. One definitely is watching the children try to decide what to buy their mothers and grandmothers. The youngest students tend to have only five dollars at the most to spend—although this year, I saw one girl waving a fifty dollar note around! Yet, whatever amount they have, each one comes hoping to find something they are sure their mother or grandmother will love—and it is all quite heart-warming to watch.

I couldn’t help but smile as I saw one class sitting together, waiting for the stragglers to finish making their choices. Almost all of them were pulling their prized purchases out of their bags and proudly displaying them to their friends. Some had bought special cards to write in. Others had found sweet smelling candles or soaps. Still others had decided on some jewellery or clothing item. One little girl held up what looked like a rather large, garish, bright red satin cross on a ribbon, complete with white crocheted edging. Hmm! Her face was pink with excitement, as she lovingly stroked her precious gift. In my heart, I hoped and prayed her mother would be delighted when she received it—or at least pretend to be! I could not imagine any mum wanting to wear it, but I hoped this little girl’s mum would think of some special use for it.

Now I go to these markets with other hopes as well. Yes, I hope I will sell a good number of my books. But beyond that, I hope that the books I do sell will be read and enjoyed by the mothers or grandmothers who receive them and that they will draw them closer to God in some way. Can you imagine how lovely it was then when a young girl came bounding up to my table early on with a beaming face and pointed to my latest novel, The Inheritance.

‘Oh, I bought that book last year for my grandmother and she really, really loved it! So she wants another one of your novels!’ she told me, almost breathless with excitement.

Not long after, a staff member came by and pointed to my first non-fiction book, Soul Friend.

‘I bought that as a gift for a friend in Canada last year—and she thought it was wonderful! She’s now in the middle of lending it around to all her friends there.’

How encouraging both these conversations were for me—as I know they would be for any author. We write in the hope that our books will strike a chord with people, but we never know if that will happen. After all, our readers have different tastes and needs—and that’s okay. So I have learnt to be grateful when I receive such positive feedback, but not to set my hopes on such things. Instead, I know I need to keep my eyes focussed firmly on God, the best encourager of all, and trust the One Who gives me deep and lasting hope—hope that will never disappoint.

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. Psalm 62:5-6

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Jo 17It has been too long since I have seen my dear friend Joy, with whom I discussed the issues of life and the things of God for many years. She is now in a nursing home, suffering a form of dementia that leaves her a little bewildered and unsure what is happening at times. Yet at other times, she is so aware and remembers so much.

‘Of course I do!’ she says with spirit, when I ask if she knows me. ‘Oh Jo-Anne! So lovely to see you!’

I am embarrassed because three family members are also visiting, yet they assure me I am welcome. Eventually, I show Joy my new book, Becoming Me, wondering if she will recall the struggle it has been to write.

‘I’m so glad you finally have this published,’ she says. ‘It has been a long journey for you.’

I am touched and amazed she remembers—and cares even now.

Somehow, the conversation turns to poetry. The granddaughter present recalls how Joy often used to read poems aloud to her whenever she visited—especially the poetry of Mary Oliver. Together, we try to recite lines from a particular poem of hers we all love. We stumble, unsure of the exact wording. Then, to our surprise, Joy joins in and together, we remember it clearly. It is the last two lines from the poem, ‘The Summer Day’:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

We sit in quietness, reflecting on these words which have always challenged me. I then remind Joy of another poem she shared with me—this time one she herself wrote. I love it so much I included it in an earlier book, Soul Friend, my memoir about the spiritual journey Joy and I shared over many years. I have brought a copy with me, thinking Joy may have forgotten about this earlier book, and now delve into my bag to retrieve it.

‘I can’t remember what chapter it’s in,’ I say. ‘It would probably take me ages to find.’

Yet there it is, on the very first page I turn to! It’s as if the book opens by itself at the exact spot.

‘Read it to us!’ one of Joy’s daughters urges.

I hesitate, but then plunge in.

I saw the power pole break loose

               as the lurching Melbourne tram

                                rounded a corner,

bouncing here and there in frantic

                searching for connection,

                                almost joyous dancing …

I read on, as the words explore the idea of finding true freedom to live life fully, aware the poem may touch some raw places in us all.

Soon after, I need to leave.

‘I don’t want you to go!’ Joy says softly, touching my hand. It is a tender moment.

As I drive home, I reflect on the beautiful legacy she has left and is still leaving in this world in so many ways. And I decide again I want to continue touching others’ hearts with God’s love like that too, to speak of true freedom, to make a difference in this world.

If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36

What is the legacy you are leaving in this world? … What are you doing with your ‘one wild and precious life’?

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Jo 23A few weeks ago, I managed to achieve an almost miraculous feat. I actually threw out all those notes from my theological college days around twenty years ago! Admittedly, I didn’t have the heart to dispense with a few favourite assignments. And admittedly, it also felt as if I was somehow betraying those three very busy but precious years of study. However, it needed to be done—and the memories are still there.

But there’s something else I have even more trouble parting with—and that is my books. When one begins to pack books horizontally on top of those already squished in vertically, it’s pretty obvious something needs to be done! So I decided to begin this daunting task.

As I started, the memories came flooding back. In one section, I found many books on prayer—for nations, for cities, for our churches and their leaders, for individuals. Now I still strongly believe in the power of prayer, but I do not feel this is currently where my main focus is to be. Sometimes God calls us to different ministries at different stages of our lives, I believe. But I remember vividly those many hours spent praying at our church, alone and with others. And I soon became aware of a strange mixture of joy, sadness and gratitude within—as well as nostalgia for times past.

On other shelves, I found books on counselling, pastoral care, church leadership, women in ministry, worship and missions. Memories of those college years surfaced again, along with those spent fully involved in all areas touched on in these books. Some of these I am still passionate about, although in different ways and in different settings. I know that is okay, but those mixed emotions still surfaced.

In the middle of another shelf, I noticed my own six novels and one memoir, all published since 2007. I paused and was again overwhelmed at God’s abundant grace at work in my life in these writing and speaking years. But then my eyes ranged over the many other novels and memoir/biographies on my shelves—most of which have enjoyed much greater popularity and contain far more exciting stories than mine. I sighed, as envy and self-doubt began to flood in.

I decided to step back and ask God for a better perspective on it all. And soon I began to see the wonderful variety of reading experiences there, in the midst of which my own books truly did belong. I also saw books I currently enjoy—gems on contemplation and on experiencing God’s presence, some written by Christians centuries ago. I saw helpful books on writing and creativity. I saw new releases alongside older novels I have recently re-read and loved all over again. I saw so much richness in books both old and new on those shelves. And I gave thanks, realising they have all been part of the tapestry of my life, with no one section more important than the other.

Yes, my book culling task might still be daunting, but not depressing. God is there with me as I work and remember, whispering to me, giving me perspective, filling me with gratitude and grace.

My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare. Psalm 25:15

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Jo 23After writing seven books, one would think I’d know the drill when it comes to my eighth. But no. Instead, I seem to have the knack of forgetting the painful parts of bringing a book into being and remembering only the joy of it all—a little like when having our three children!

So here I was, about a third of the way through editing and re-writing my latest book when I came to a particularly poorly written section. What was I thinking when I wrote those words? What did they add to the storyline? Why would anyone be interested in reading such rubbish anyway? So out these wondrous sentences all went, with one click of that handy delete button on my keyboard.

But that wasn’t the end of it. I began to question more than just a few sentences here and there. I began to question the whole idea of writing a second memoir. Was it worth all the effort I was exerting to polish it up? Would my publisher be interested in it anyway? Would there be a market out there for it?

I was tired. And I had other things to do, such as preparing for some upcoming writing workshops. I had also spoken somewhere the previous day where only a few people turned up. I’m sure God touched those present, but it had required effort on my part and a long drive to be there. I sat at my desk feeling somewhat hard done by, to put it mildly. Was it all worth it?

At that point, I noticed my Bible open beside me. I had not read it that day—I had been too busy editing. I glanced down at that open page and it was then that I saw the heading of the particular section I was to read next in Hebrews:

A Call to Persevere!

I literally felt a slight jolt through my body and almost laughed out loud. How like God to set my thinking straight in such an ‘in your face’ way!

I read on. Yes, I soon realised that Hebrews 10:19-25 deals with the need to hold onto our Christian faith and the hope this gives us and to encourage one another to do the same, right to the very end.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Heb 10:23-24

So essentially, this passage is not about hanging in there in writing books. But behind those words, by the Spirit’s prompting, I believe I saw and heard the heart of God for me, right where I am now—and for us all. And as my own spirit was encouraged, I began to see things from God’s perspective instead of my own warped and limited one. I began to look at my writing with fresh eyes and to see that yes, perhaps I was saying some worthwhile things after all and perhaps I could polish and fine tune this manuscript as required. I simply needed to persevere. And I know how to do that. I’ve done it before and I can do it again, in God’s strength.

How about you? Do you need a little more God-perspective too?

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Jo 23There are down sides, I’ve discovered, to having a more reflective personality. For starters, I can wallow in introspection. I can sit for far too long, thinking about things I have done in the past and how differently I would do it all now. In short, I can be the queen of post mortems!

Depending on how tired I am when these take place, I can lose all sense of perspective and end up seeing only the negatives in whatever input I have given or writing I have done. I can even find myself overcome with feelings of embarrassment and self-pity at times. And if I do not come to my senses, these can all too easily paralyse me.

Yet there is an upside to these post mortems as well. With God’s help, I can learn from past mistakes and grow just that little bit more. I don’t want to keep committing the same old errors and be unable to communicate God’s love in the best possible way. So after I speak somewhere, I go through my input, reflecting on what worked and didn’t work, what felt laboured and what seemed to flow well. I make a mental note not to use this or that illustration again, if it seemed to puzzle or not connect with my audience. Then, when I have finished, I file that input away and try to let it fade from my mind.

This issue of post mortems is very pertinent right now as I seek to write my second non-fiction work—another memoir, with a few lines of teaching in each chapter, as well as some reflection questions. As I go to write about some of the more draining periods of my life, I find I have to safeguard my spirit and try to follow David’s example of focussing on God:

My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare. Ps 25:15

Otherwise, I could spend hours staring at my computer screen, feeling the pressure of that past season of my life, and become exhausted all over again. Instead, I try to look back with more objectivity, relying on God to give me a better perspective on it all and show me what to pass onto others. That’s the mindset Paul seems to have had when he wrote the following:

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Phil 3:13-14

It’s not that Paul never mentions his past. Even in this same chapter, he remembers how he was once a Pharisee and a persecutor of the church. By God’s grace, however, he became a changed person—a new creation, free to love and serve Christ (2 Cor 5:17-19).

That’s what I am too, I remind myself with joy, as I square my shoulders and set to work on my book again. I may well have made that unwise decision or spoken those hurtful words in the past, but, as Jer 31:34 reminds us, God has chosen not to remember them—and so should I. I can let go of it all and move on, knowing I am forgiven and am totally loved and accepted because of Jesus.

And that is such a wonderful, healing thing to be able to do, don’t you think?

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