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Posts Tagged ‘Queensland’

Jo 12This past week, I actually managed to finish the first draft of my seventh novel—over ninety-eight thousand words. Woohoo! It still feels a little surreal—I have lived with my characters for so long that they feel part of me. At times, I have even found myself thinking in real life settings, ‘Oh, how would Meg (my heroine) have responded here?’ Or ‘This is what happened to Stephen.’ Or ‘Meg has just done that!’ It has been quite a journey.

I can’t remember exactly, but I think I began this novel around three and a half years ago, not long after my second non-fiction book, Becoming Me, was published. I love writing non-fiction, but felt drawn to write yet one more novel, this time inspired, a little at least, by the lives of my maternal grandparents. Yet I cringed at the thought. Only one of my past novels could truly be classed as historical (ie set prior to and during World War Two) but, after writing it, I vowed and declared I would never write an historical novel again. You see, doing so brings with it a second huge task, on top of actually writing. Everything needs to be checked to see if the characters could truly do such things in that time and place—and if they could, how long it would take them. Certain things could not be mentioned either, since they were not around then. And certain words could not be used. Yet in my heart, I still wanted to write this novel, set in Queensland in the period 1909 to 1926.

Now I am supposed to be ‘retired’ (!), but somehow I have still not quite discovered the meaning of that word. As a result, writing this current novel has been punctuated by speaking at a variety of places, supporting the pastoral team at our church for four months while our senior pastors were on sabbatical, minding grandchildren on a regular basis, accompanying the village choir, meeting with others—and so many other good and right things. I do not regret any of them. But it makes completing a full-length historical novel just that little bit more challenging.

Can you see why I still feel a little numb at this point? Yet I also feel so grateful to God and thankful for this amazing opportunity to write a story that has been in my heart and mind for many years, long before I sat down to write the novel. I am well aware it may or may not be published—that will be my next challenge, along with many edits! But whatever the outcome, I am so glad God enabled me to persevere. Yes, I chose to sit down and write—but God inspired me to keep going and gave me the strength and ability to do so. And that can be true for each of us, however we are gifted and whatever God puts on our heart to undertake.

I have long been encouraged by the words the Lord spoke to Zerubbabel, who had undertaken the task of rebuilding God’s house in Jerusalem:

Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord. Zechariah 4:6

May these words also encourage you today to keep persevering in doing what God has given you to do.

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Jo 12In this season of State of Origin Rugby League, we hear much good-humoured and not so good-humoured ribbing of Queenslanders by those from south of the border—and vice versa. It brings back memories of a comment made years ago as we drove over the border from New South Wales to see our families in Brisbane during daylight saving: ‘You are now entering Queensland. Turn your watch back ten years and one hour!’ I never quite knew whether to laugh at this or not, since I was born in Brisbane, as was my husband. And, despite having lived elsewhere for years, we still remember our home state with affection.

Recently, memories of our Queensland years returned in force when we drove to Toowoomba for me to speak at a writers’ retreat. My husband spent many of his growing-up years in Toowoomba, so what fun he had, checking out his old home, school and church, as well as catching up with friends!

Meanwhile, as I chatted with the warm and welcoming group of writers at the retreat, I wondered why I felt particularly relaxed and at home. Then I began to notice those interesting little nuances in speech that we hear only from Queenslanders—things like ‘hey’ being added either to the beginning or the end of a sentence or certain vowels being pronounced a little differently or even certain words I had not heard for a long time being used freely. For example, when had I last heard a case referred to as a ‘port’? Such a refreshing, little word to hear again! How many memories were stirred of my growing-up years when, for some time at least, I did in fact carry a ‘port’ to school each day!

From time to time, we need such clear reminders of where we came from in our lives, don’t we—if for no other reason than to be thankful for those earlier years and for the lessons we learnt back then. After all, they helped make us who we are today. But another reason it is good to remember our past is so that we can be truly thankful for the journey God has taken us on since then and how God has guided and sustained us through all the twists and turns of our lives. We can so easily forget God’s part in all that has happened for us, don’t you think? In particular, we can so easily take for granted the amazing grace shown to us in being offered a place in God’s family at all—a place where we truly belong, whatever our background.

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” … remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:11-13

So am I a Queenslander or a New South Welshman now, after all these years? I don’t know. But I do know I am part of God’s family. I remember how Jesus Christ made that all possible. I remember where I came from—and I am so grateful.

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Jo 12Last week, some long-time friends decided to drop in on their way to Canberra from Queensland.

‘We’re up the Central Coast,’ they told us. ‘We’ll be there in around a couple of hours!’

After getting a few things ready, I made a quick dash to the shops. I raced around the supermarket, then fumed as I became stuck behind a very slow-moving, elderly gentleman on my way down to the car park. Why couldn’t he move faster? What if my visitors arrived before I got home?

Still feeling frustrated, I finally hopped in my car and headed home. Just as I reached a roundabout near our Village, I noticed a motor-home approaching from the opposite direction. Oh, our friends have a motor-home, I thought to myself, but I can’t remember what theirs looks like. …  Hold on a minute! It couldn’t possibly be them, could it?

I waved, hoping that, if it was indeed them, they would follow me. And they did! I pointed them to a parking spot and we all marvelled at the absolute ‘coincidence’ of our arriving at the roundabout at exactly the same time. Had that old gentleman not slowed me down, I would have missed seeing them and helping them find our unit.

Over the next twenty-four hours, we shared many experiences from past years of how God had guided, rescued and enabled in all sorts of situations. Our friends told us about their three children, now parents and grandparents themselves. When the eldest was born many weeks premature, the nurses put him aside in a humidicrib when they saw he wasn’t breathing and focused on our friend’s wellbeing as the mother. But when she was told her baby was dead, she declared firmly, ‘He’s not dead!’‘ The next moment, nurses noticed he was breathing and scuttled to care for him.

‘I just knew in my heart he wasn’t,’ she told us, tears in her eyes, even after all these years.

As for their second son, it was discovered just prior to his birth that the cord was around his neck. Before an emergency caesarean could be organised, however, he arrived. to everyone’s amazement, the cord was not around his neck at all and the birth went perfectly smoothly! Later, our friends heard how someone they barely knew had woken up in the early morning hours and felt prompted to pray earnestly for them at the exact time of this baby’s birth.

When their third child was born, she seemed fine. But later in life, she was found to suffer from a severe congenital brain malformation involving not one aneurism, but thirteen! A brilliant surgeon happened to operate on her and managed to fix them all—a super-amazing, life-saving miracle.

As we talked, we saw again how God had indeed been present, not only in those bigger, key moments but also in the little ‘coincidences’ along the way—like arriving at roundabouts at the exact same time! What a wonderful God we serve, we decided, as our friends went on their way to continue with their amazing ministries, even in their late seventies!

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10

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I suspect I’m about to incur the wrath of some of my friends with the following statement: I am a Queenslander.

Yes, there it is—out in the open! Granted, I have lived elsewhere for over forty years. Yet something interesting happens whenever we head north and cross over that border. There is somehow a different feel about Queensland I seem to recognise from my growing up years. Perhaps it’s the warmer weather and the tropical vegetation everywhere. But it’s also a certain ‘laidbackness’ in the people, with their casual clothing, easygoing ways and warm friendliness—not to mention those occasional flattened Queensland vowel sounds so familiar to me and that ‘hey’ at the beginning of some sentences!

This visit, I had the privilege of speaking eight times, mostly in places where I knew very few people. Yet I was welcomed warmly—and God was there, often with an agenda I had not envisaged. In one smaller meeting I had almost written off as a waste of time, God arranged for two people to be present via an amazing sequence of ‘coincidences’.  One girl had looked up my website at a friend’s suggestion and found I was speaking that very week in her own suburb—and on her only day off! Someone else was invited on the spur of the moment by a mutual friend who wasn’t even sure why she was inviting her. But God used what I said and my book Soul Friend to encourage this person in a special way.

I also paid author visits to four Christian bookstores where again God had special appointments for me. In one store, a lady shared her great grief over the loss of two husbands and a son, then came to hear me speak on the 23rd Psalm at a local church the following Sunday. Such heart connections in my home state will not be forgotten in a hurry.

And of course we caught up with family members and friends as well, including one school friend I had not seen for forty-eight years. What a delight to hear how God had continued to nurture her faith throughout that time! Other friends offered us such warm hospitality where we were able to pick up just where we had left off with them.

I loved these home state experiences of mine. But they have led me to wonder about my real ‘home state’ and the reception I will receive when I reach heaven one day. Can you imagine what that will be like? One thing we do know is that Jesus himself has a place ready for us. And he will be with us there forever.

In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me … John 14:2-3

We know too that those who love and serve God will be greeted with a warm ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’ and welcomed with open arms to come in and share the Master’s happiness (Matt 25:23). How wonderful that will be!

I can’t wait—can you? Then I’ll know I’m really home.

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Are you the sort of person who thinks and plans ahead for weeks, even months, before tackling some important task or undertaking a new course of action? Or are you a little more ‘laid back’, trusting things to unfold naturally in their own good time and in just the right way?

In fiction writing circles, authors sometimes use the terms ‘plotter’ or ‘pantster’ to describe how they go about writing a new novel. Some plan out the entire novel beforehand, even using elaborate diagrams and advanced plotting techniques, while others opt for flying by the seat of their pants, preferring to let the story take its own course—hence the term ‘pantsters’! As far as writing is concerned, I am somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, perhaps even tending towards being a ‘pantster’. But in other parts of my life, it’s a different matter.

This week, we are setting off on a road trip to Queensland. Within a period of sixteen days, I will be speaking nine times—plus I also have two interviews and three author appearances at bookstores scheduled. So I have definitely needed to be in my best planning mode in recent weeks and months to ensure those nine talks are ready to go. But many other things also need to be arranged for such a trip to run smoothly. While I have been busy contacting people and preparing talks, my husband has been equally busy planning our route, arranging accommodation and working out how long it will take to get from one place to another—not to mention how he will fit all my books and other paraphernalia into our car! And of course we have to ensure things we normally do when home are taken care of, such as minding our grandchildren.

All this planning can become quite trying and exhausting. But I see another danger in it as well and that is that God can be left right out of the picture! In all the busyness of getting ready to go, unless I’m careful, I can easily lose sight of who is really in charge of the whole trip, as James 4:13-15 reminds us:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

More than that, I can lose sight of what this trip really is all about. It’s not to ‘carry on business and make money’, as James mentions. If that were the case, I’d be doing something other than writing books! Rather, it’s to do what God wants me to do and say what God wants me to say to those people to whom I’ll be speaking. And it’s to make sure I do my best to get my books out there because I want more people to be drawn closer to God in the process.

In all my planning and preparing, that’s the perspective I want to hold onto with all my heart. How about you?

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It has been brought home so shockingly to us all this past week how uncertain life is and how, while we might think we know what 2011 will hold for us, the reality might turn out to be quite different. As we have watched the TV coverage of people’s homes and livelihoods being destroyed by the floods in Queensland and elsewhere and heard of the loss of life involved, I am sure that, apart from feeling deep grief for those so badly affected, even the strongest of us must have experienced some personal inner quaking and questioning. What if this happened to me? What would I grab if I had to leave my home in a hurry? What really is important to me in life?

I also experienced uncertainty of a different kind this past week, as we farewelled our younger daughter Tina at the airport on her way to Ghana. Her fiancé, who is Ghanaian but a permanent resident here, is currently in Ghana visiting family, and Tina has travelled to join him for around a month. In that time, they plan to get married – but when she left, our Tina was still unsure if this would happen or not. Communication is difficult between Australia and her fiancé’s hometown – and besides, she knows weddings in Ghana aren’t the big, costly events they are here! Well, Tina seemed fine about it all. In fact, she was very much looking forward to all the new experiences ahead – and of course to seeing her fiancé again. It is her mother who is feeling the uncertainty!

And then there is the ongoing uncertainty I should be used to in relation to writing novels and getting them published. After working hard on a book for months, there is no guarantee anyone will want to publish your ‘baby’. Even if they eventually do, there is no guarantee people will flock to buy it! On top of that, I as the author need to do my part in promoting the book – but there is no guarantee these promotional opportunities will be easy to come by either. ‘Don’t give up your day job’ is a piece of advice authors hear very often.

Perhaps you are facing a quite different uncertainty in your life right now. Maybe you are unsure about your job situation or how some difficulty in an important relationship will be resolved. Perhaps the following words from Scripture will resonate with you as they did with me this week:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money. Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. (James 4:13-14)

We can’t ‘boast and brag’, as James goes on to say, about what is going to happen for us, as if we are in complete control of our lives. God, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, is the one who has ultimate power and authority and the one to cling to in times of uncertainty. And when our best-laid plans unravel and things fall in a heap around us, God will always be there for us, both now and on into eternity. Yes, we are called to be God’s people in this world, but the best ‘treasure’ we can have, the one that moth or dust – or floods – cannot destroy is the treasure of a rich relationship with our God in heaven, as Jesus himself points out in Matthew 6.

May God strengthen, support and comfort you in this uncertain world.

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