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Posts Tagged ‘Paul’

Right now, I am in the middle of a lengthy task that has become quite familiar to me in the past few years. It is the task of destroying something I have been at great pains to create over many months—those wonderful, superfluous words in my latest manuscript.

Years ago, I would almost have died at the very thought. ‘No!’ I would scream. ‘These priceless pearls are all necessary to set the scene and make my meaning clear.’ Alas, I soon discovered this extra verbiage did not do anything of the sort. So I have disciplined myself since then to step back and try to see what I have written through someone else’s eyes—perhaps eyes more like my husband’s, who much prefers novels where the storyline is untrammelled by any excess baggage.

So in editing my seventh book and first non-fiction effort, I find I am relatively at ease in throwing out hundreds and even thousands of words over which I laboured long and hard. After telling a friend this recently, she commented how we may be quite content not to own this or that. But once we do own it, then it is much, much harder to consider throwing it out. It is ours. It is part of us now. How then could I possibly delete so many words I had created and now had a life out there on the page/screen?

Well, in many cases, I can see they have served their purpose. I needed them to help me shape what it was I really wanted to say. They were written in an initial burst of enthusiasm and insight, but now are either expendable or at least in line for a solid makeover. I can get rid of them without much regret then, knowing my work will be the better for it. I have learnt to be ruthless for the sake of what is to come.

But what about the rest of my life? What if some things are standing in the way of forging a better relationship with God? Yes, I can be ruthless is getting rid of material possessions, although I may cringe a little when it comes to books. And I can give away money to bless others and be used in God’s kingdom. But what about my precious time? And what about all those creative thoughts in my head I am loath to put aside in order to spend even a few reflective moments with my heavenly Father?

I suspect I need to employ a few more ruthless editing skills in my life in general in order to focus on the things that really are important—things like listening to God, reflecting on God’s Word, praying, doing what God wants me to do. Perhaps I need to have a mind like Paul’s when he writes in Philippians 4:7-8:

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him …

How are you doing at hanging onto what is really important and getting rid of the rest? How are you at being ruthless in order to gain Christ?

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I wonder if you can think of some treasured item in your parents’ or grandparents’ home that you wished would not be displayed so prominently? In my sister’s case, it was a framed set of photos my mother absolutely loved. These large photos took pride of place on her lounge room wall and depicted my sister and me at various ages and stages of our lives. There was one of each of us when we were around twelve months old. Below were photos of the two of us together, one when my sister was seven and the other at fourteen. Below them were again individual photos of us, resplendent in mortarboard and gown at our university graduation and finally, one of each of us on our wedding day. I was reasonably happy with the photos, but my sister hated the whole idea of them.

When our mother passed away, my sister ended up with the photos, still in their frame, but kept them out of sight. Then recently when I was visiting, she decided it was time to make some final decision about them. Should they remain in their frame or should we dismantle the whole thing?

We decided on the latter. With great glee she undid the back of the frame and removed the offending photos from their mountings. We then divided them up and she put the empty frame together again, wondering even as she did if it was worth keeping.

A few days later, she received an intriguing article in the mail. It turned out to be a beautiful, large cross-stitch my cousin had completed and sent to her, together with a hundred dollars for the mounting and framing.

Well, you guessed it! To my sister’s amazement, our mother’s old frame turned out to be exactly the right size for the cross-stitch! And she was even more amazed when she discovered the total cost, using the old frame, would be very close to one hundred dollars. As well, our cousin remembered vividly the photos my mother used to have on her wall for all those years and was delighted the cross-stitch would now be featured in that same frame.

As I reflected on this interesting sequence of events, it occurred to me that God is in this ‘reframing’ business too. When we come to know God, our external ‘frame’ does not change – but something definitely changes on the inside. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 Paul declares:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry or reconciliation, that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.

As my sister and I looked at our old photos, we could see how we had changed over the years. But that’s nothing compared to the radical change God brings about in our very soul and spirit. And this change continues as we allow our minds to be transformed and renewed as well and thus live in the way God wants us to (Romans 12:2).

Yet God’s ‘reframing’ cost much more than the hundred dollars my sister was given. In fact, it cost Jesus Christ, God’s Son, his very life. What an amazing, gracious gift!

I hope the ‘picture’ my life makes now draws people to God and does not repel them. I hope the likeness is there and that God is recognisable in my life ‘photo’.

How about you?  

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One Sunday recently, I found myself part of an interesting lunch-time conversation. We had just consumed the most amazing meal, which our friend, a mother of five young children, had somehow managed to serve us, despite having been at church most of the morning. In complimenting her on her fantastic effort, we mentioned how she is following in the footsteps of her mother, also a wonderful cook.

‘Yes,’ her husband said then. ‘It’s always important to take a good look at your girlfriend’s mother before proposing.’

Now on the surface, his words could have been taken as a compliment. But it was the rolling of his eyes, the resignation on his face and his doleful tone that conveyed something quite different. And the muffled chuckles of other family members reinforced his opinion. You see, our friend’s mother is a great person, but is also known to talk – quite a lot!

I felt sorry for our friend. The comment seemed quite a ‘put down’ to me. Had her husband merely been trying to lighten the moment with his particular sense of humour or perhaps shift the focus onto himself, I wondered? But no, I suspect he was at least partly serious.

‘It’s strange, isn’t it,’ I therefore responded sweetly, ‘how men make these comments about their wives. Have you ever considered that a woman might be well advised to look carefully at her prospective partner’s father before deciding to spend the rest of her life with him?’

My words were greeted with stunned silence and also some surprise. Obviously the males present had not thought about this possibility. Hopefully without being too judgmental, dare I say sexism was still alive and well around that table?

Yet our friend’s comment made me think – and this time along much more spiritual lines! Certainly, his wife resembles her mother, yet, knowing both her parents, I could also see glimpses of her father in her. And I was glad she reflected them both in ways that honoured them and their influence on her life. But she also reflected something of God to me, I felt, with her warm, friendly smile and the gracious, caring way she welcomed us after not having seen her for so many years.

Now I know I too am like my parents in various ways, both positive and negative, but how much do I reflect my heavenly Father in my daily life in a way that honours him? Do people see God in me in the words I write and speak? I am created in God’s image, Genesis 1:27 tells us, but just how clear is that image and ‘family likeness’ to those around me?

In 2 Corinthians 3: 18, after commenting how we reflect the Lord’s glory as we gaze on him, Paul maintains we ‘are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.’ Yes, we were all created in God’s image, both male and female – but something happened. Sin entered the world and that image became marred and blurred. Yet as we choose to become part of God’s family again, keeping our eyes on the Lord, his Spirit will transform us more and more into his likeness. So God’s image is slowly being restored in me as I cooperate with his Spirit.

Now that sounds pretty amazing and wonderful to me. How about you?

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In recent days, I have been involved in finalising the cover of my fifth novel, ‘Heléna’s Legacy’, due for release in June. I was asked by my publisher, Ark House, for suggestions and in the process, told them one thing I don’t like on a cover – a front view of the hero or heroine! I like my readers to imagine these characters themselves. And as the author, no image ever seems to do justice to this ‘real’ person I have walked beside for months who has persevered and struggled and triumphed and lived through so many different experiences.

When the cover was returned for approval, however, I found a front view of the main character on it! And yet … well, she looked lovely, with a rather pensive, sad expression that exactly suits the storyline. So I rapidly had to revise my own mental concept, step back a little and try to appreciate what the graphic artist had come up with. Now I’m very happy with the result – and I hope my readers will be too.

It’s sad but true that we do tend to judge a book by its cover. For this reason, I’m very glad all my novels have excellent covers. In this day of economic downturn and questions about the future of books and bookstores, we authors need all the help we can get! But all of this has led me to wonder how I myself come across to people – how the ‘cover’ I present to the world expresses what is inside me. What do people see when I get up to speak somewhere? What do people notice about the way I live my daily life?

Well, I know they see a grey-haired woman who is definitely not slim and perhaps make judgments about that! It is amazing how people are put in ‘boxes’ simply on the strength of having grey hair, I’ve discovered. Perhaps we would be suitable to speak to Seniors’ Groups, it is suggested nicely – when I absolutely love speaking to young mums or people of any age, including Seniors! But much more importantly, I hope I carry with me in what I do and say – and yes, even in my appearance – something of who God is. After all, each of us is created in God’s image, as Genesis 1:27 tells us. And as the psychologist David Benner puts it in ‘The Gift of Being Yourself’, each of us, when we are prepared to be our true selves, actually is a ‘unique face of God to the world’! What a privilege – but what a responsibility as well.

So I hope both in my life and through my novels, by God’s grace, I reflect that grace and love clearly in a way that points people to God. ‘Let you light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven’, Jesus tells his disciples (Matt 5:16). I hope as I speak, that my words carry something of the ‘fragrance of life’ that Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 2:16. And I hope and pray that the ‘cover’ of the book of my life will attract people to God and not turn them away.

But I’m so relieved that when God looks at me, the inside matters much more than the outside! In 1 Samuel 16:7, when Samuel is sizing up Jesse’s sons as potential future kings, the Lord reminds him:

Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

How about you? What does your ‘cover’ convey? And what does God see in your heart?

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This week, our younger granddaughter started school. On a day when the temperature reached 42 degrees in her area of Sydney, Olivia headed off in her brand new uniform, shoes and socks and all, to a classroom with overhead fans but no air-conditioning. Apart from a little weep in the lunch hour, she managed to make it through the day. But all did not go quite to plan.

You see, her older sister, Amy, had been commissioned by her mother to head for the canteen at lunchtime to buy an iceblock for both Olivia and her, in an attempt to cool them down. But when lunchtime arrived, Amy could not find her sister, so decided she should join the extremely long queue anyway and buy the iceblocks. Her plan was to find Olivia quickly afterwards, complete with iceblock. The helpful canteen lady cut the top off the wrappings, and Amy duly set out to look for her sister – but to no avail. She ate her iceblock – but what to do with the other one? The temptation must have been great to polish it off as well. But no – Amy carefully positioned it in her lunchbox so well, open side up, that it still hadn’t spilt by the time school finished. And then came her apology to her mother.

“Mum, I looked everywhere for Olivia, but I couldn’t find her. I still saved her iceblock for her though – I’m really sorry it melted!”

Well, Amy obviously loves her sister – and so much wanted to do the right thing. Her plan didn’t quite succeed, but at least she tried – at least she didn’t just give up and think only about herself. And that, I believe, is the kind of attitude that really gladdens God’s heart.

But I myself have also experienced love in action on a personal level this week. While I was away for a few days, my husband set to and dusted and vacuumed the house for me – a job I absolutely detest.  And he was the one who insisted I go away for some quality time by myself – a truly loving gift for me at this stage when my greatest desire is get back into that novel and write!

So often in recent days too we have seen love in action on a national level. Via our TV screens at least, we have witnessed the way so many have tried to pitch in and assist those whose homes and lives have been ravaged by the floods in various parts of Australia.  And whether these ‘good Samaritans’ know it or not, whether they even acknowledge or believe in God, surely these loving, self-giving actions are a reflection of the nature of God, who is the very essence of love?

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. (1 John 4:16b)  

Well, I’m proud of our Amy, I’m proud of my husband, and I’m proud of so many in our nation. But if the love we have for one another is a mere reflection of God’s love, then how amazing and awesome and incomprehensible must that love of God be? No wonder Paul describes it in Ephesians 3:19 as a love ‘that surpasses knowledge’! Yet despite that, he still prays that these Ephesians will ‘get it’ – that they may indeed ‘have the power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love’. (3:18-19) 

So as you too observe and experience those acts of love around you, big and small, may you too ‘get it’! May you too grasp something of that amazing love of Christ for yourself and know it is so real.

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Well, I’ll admit it. One of the delights of the summer season for me is watching the tennis and cricket on TV. Some days both are on – and then I am faced with the excruciating dilemma of which to watch! Sometimes that’s an easy decision, according to who or which side is winning. Of course we all like to see our favourites or our home team win. But as I watch sportsmen and sportswomen expend their energies hour after hour on a hot playing field or tennis court, the sweat dripping off them, I find myself challenged by the effort they put into their game right to the bitter end. They might well know they don’t have a great chance of winning – but they keep trying, still determined to give of their best. And who knows? The tide might turn in their favour at any time and they might be able to fight back.

This determination to keep slogging it out challenges me in my own writing journey. I am halfway through writing my sixth novel. But largely because of a very busy past few months, I am only a chapter or two further advanced than I was around a year ago. Part of me can’t wait to get back to it and find out what my characters will end up doing and saying – but another part of me is definitely daunted by all the ‘blood, sweat and tears’ needed to complete the novel. You see, having written five novels already, I sense there is too much still to happen for this novel to fit into the word count usually required for books like mine. My main characters have grown and become more complex, with each needing space to resolve their personal and relational issues in a satisfactory way. So when I have finished the first draft, I know I will have to be brutal and throw out thousands of my precious words that I have slaved over these past months.

Yet I’m not planning to give up on this current novel. I’m in it too far to pull back. After all, my characters are real, so can’t possibly be left hanging in mid air! Besides, there are things I want to say through this novel, ways I want the storyline and the characters to impact my readers. And I am remembering too the words of Paul in Colossians 3:23-24:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

I have believed God has had a purpose for each of my novels and I believe this is true of the current one too. So in faithfulness I will keep writing away, endeavouring to make my runs, hit my boundaries and slog those aces! And however much I complain about the difficulties, I have to admit it is so enjoyable and fulfilling as well – and I am sure many of the elite sportsmen and women I watch so avidly would say the same.

But how about you? What is God calling you to work at with all your heart this year? Whatever it is, may God enable you to press on with passion and determination – and may you find great joy and fulfilment as you hit those aces and make those runs in the process!  

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These days, I get to do quite a lot of bookselling. Soon after my first novel was published, I discovered that authors not only have to write their books, but they also have to be reasonably adept at marketing them. Publishers can do a certain amount – but most authors have to play their part too. So I had to learn a lot very quickly – and in the process, discovered I had to guard my heart closely. I still do.

You see, I think we can easily get sidetracked in this world and lose sight of our original goals. In the pressure to succeed, our priorities can become a little skewed and we can begin to take on a kind of striving spirit that only leads to frustration and discontent. From the very beginning, my main priority in writing my novels has been to draw my readers closer to God as they relate to my characters and are carried along by their story. That is still true – but I also see the danger of becoming more focussed on the success of my novels as an end in itself. How many copies of my latest novel have I sold, I wonder? Is it doing better than the previous one? Are they all in stock in my local Christian bookstore? What other ways can I promote my novels?  Should I explore more avenues for speaking engagements? And so it goes on.

Of course it’s important to try to ensure I reach as many people as possible with my novels for the sake of drawing them closer to God. But it’s so easy to lapse into self-interest, to have much less pure motives, to want to be the ‘successful’ author over and above the kind of author God wants me to be. That may, by God’s grace, include the ‘success’ – but then again, it may not. And if it doesn’t, then am I content simply to do my best and to keep on persevering in the hope that my books and my speaking will make some sort of difference for God in this world?

Recently I read some challenging words written by Paul to Timothy:

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. … For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. (1 Tim 6:6-10)

Paul is writing about financial gain – something most authors I have met don’t experience too often! But wanting to gain success for its own sake, wanting to see one’s name on that book cover at all costs – wanting, if you like, the fame, if not the fortune – is something I know I need to guard against. Paul then continues:

But you, man (woman!) of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.

That’s what I want to do. I want to keep it all in perspective and pursue the right sort of gain in my life and through my books. I want to be like my son in this regard, who, having recently been given a pay rise, was sharing with me how he could probably now afford some long overdue home renovations. Yet he doesn’t really care what sort of house he lives in, he told me – it’s okay by him if it looks a bit old and worn. I like his attitude – I think it has something at least of that godliness with contentment about it that Paul mentions.

But how about you? What gains in life are important to you? Where is your focus right now?

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We have quite a large back garden, spread over two levels and sloping down towards a creek. I love gardening, but rarely get time to do it. On the other hand, my husband hates it! He is prepared to do any heavy work involved, such as mowing, lifting bins of rubbish etc, but has some difficulty at times telling a weed from a ‘real plant’. The difference is that I grew up with a father who was an avid gardener and worked very hard at it, so that my sister and I often got to watch him and imbibe knowledge that way. My husband, on the other hand, definitely did not.

So what’s to be done? We could put more time and effort into gardening – but then I would get even less writing done than I do now. We could let the weeds hold sway – but I find it very difficult to look at a messy garden day in and day out. Or we could bite the bullet and move into a villa or unit with no garden at all to maintain. All these are quite drastic measures, however. Is there some ‘happy medium’ we could find instead?

I think I discovered the best ‘take’ on gardening, and weeding in particular, during a recent phone conversation with an older friend who lives in the Blue Mountains. She has a very large garden, but she is almost eighty years old and is a little beyond keeping it all tidy. Yet she seemed far from depressed as she described its messy state to me.

‘Oh well … I’m having a wonderful time right now watching all the weeds rejoice! They’re so happy no one is bothering them! The vegetables have gone to seed but then that’s good – we can use the seed another season. And it’s all very colourful – there is always something to look at.’

‘Watching all the weeds rejoice’ … I hadn’t thought of it that way exactly! It’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? We can choose either to see all the negatives of a situation and dwell on those, or instead focus on the positives and see God at work even in the ‘weeds’ of our lives. And it’s a matter of acceptance as well, I believe. My friend can’t do all that much about the weeds – so she sees them in a positive light, each one enjoying the warmer spring weather, breathing in the clean mountain air and almost defiantly rejoicing in their ‘moment in the sun’ while not being interfered with in any way.

And my friend displays more than a little sense of humour about the situation too – again such a vital ingredient in moving through life in a calm, unruffled way. She is at peace with herself, with God and with the world, including nature. She is determined not to let the weeds rob her of enjoying her garden and even sees in them a unique kind of beauty.

So I continue to learn from my wise friend. She teaches me, along with Paul, to say:

I have learnt to be content, whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty, I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation … (Phil 4:11-12)

May you too learn to watch your weeds rejoice with acceptance, peace and contentment!

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Yes, I was asked this question last week – although it wasn’t worded exactly that way! It occurred during a conversation with our four-year-old granddaughter and went something like this:

Olivia:    ‘Nanna, do you work?’

Nanna: ‘Yes … I work right here at home. I sit here at my computer and write my books – that’s my work.’

Olivia:    ‘No, but do you go out to work like other people?’

Nanna: ‘Well, I don’t go out to work – but I still work!’

My answers didn’t seem to satisfy our granddaughter. Obviously in her mind her Nanna didn’t have a ‘real’ job at all. Yet she isn’t alone in her opinion, I’ve discovered. Some time back, I was asked another similarly intriguing question:

‘We know you write, but what do you do?’

And then there was the form I had to fill out recently that asked about my employment status. Am I self-employed? Well … yes. Do I work fulltime or part-time? Hmmm! Why is there never a category for more than fulltime, which is where writers who spend many long hours at the keyboard would fit?

In her book ‘Walking on Water’, American author Madeleine L’Engle describes a ‘New Yorker’ cartoon depicting a woman opening the door to welcome a friend to her house. The friend notices a man there working at a typewriter, with a large manuscript piled on the desk beside him. The friend then asks, ‘Has your husband found a job yet? Or is he still writing?’ I am left wondering exactly how the woman responded! Madeleine L’Engle also tells the story of a businesswoman who asked her about her royalties, at a time when she was at last doing quite well in that regard. When told this, the businesswoman remarked, ‘And to think most people would have had to work so hard for that!’

So where does this leave me? Well, I could sit here feeling sorry for myself, as I put all my heart and mind and soul into preparing four talks I am scheduled to give in the next four weeks and simultaneously try to write my current novel and plan out a workshop. I could nurture great resentment at the lack of understanding out there and the devaluing of the whole creative process in general. I could try to be superwoman and prove myself on all fronts, looking for a ‘real job’ to hold down while I seek to produce my next ‘great Australian novel’. Or I could simply laugh it off, knowing my granddaughter at least couldn’t be expected to understand, and develop a thicker skin about it all.

But I believe there’s an even more positive way forward. I believe I need to remind myself that God has called me to spend these long hours writing and preparing talks and that I need to be faithful in responding to that call. I need to view this vocation of author and speaker as an absolute privilege – one in which, after all, I get to be ‘me’ and feel completely fulfilled, whatever the tangible rewards or lack thereof. I need to remember to throw myself into it all with a full and grateful heart, as Paul reminds us:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:23-24)

So whether we have a ‘real job’ or not, let’s remember our ‘audience of one’ and perform our hearts out with great thankfulness!

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