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Posts Tagged ‘spiritual friend’

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This past month, I discovered once again how life can have a way of springing interesting surprises on us! Out of the blue, I was asked if I would accompany the small choir in our Village on the piano. And in what was perhaps a weaker moment, I agreed!

What could have possessed me? After all, it’s a long time since I accompanied a choir or singing group—possibly around … ahem … thirty-five years! Yes, I have played for congregational worship in that time—but not a great deal, as I have felt those days too are over.  Yet I could not help but say yes when our lovely conductor phoned and asked if I would help out. Besides, I soon discovered how much we had in common, with our lifelong involvement in music and also with husbands who are both retired ministers.

In no time at all, I was given the music for five items the choir will sing at two Christmas concerts. Four of these turned out to be easy enough, but the fifth one saw me scurrying to the piano to practise. So many tricky twists and turns and unexpected key changes!

Then the moment came for my big return to accompanying.  Everyone was so welcoming—and so grateful to have someone prepared to play for them. I soon felt at ease, especially when I realised the group found that challenging carol even more challenging than I did! I kept my eye on our conductor—and I also tried to help everyone along, wafting up into the melody line at times when the tricky accompaniment was leading some astray. I knew my role as an accompanist was just that—to accompany the singers and enhance their efforts rather than try to outdo them in any way.

As I strolled home that afternoon, it dawned on me that accompanying others in a musical sense is a little like the style of mentoring or spiritual companionship I have tried to give others over the years and still do. As best I can, I endeavour to walk in step with them, to listen to them, to pray for them, to provide resources that may help them somehow and yes, perhaps even to challenge at times when needed.

Then I realised too what a big part the whole idea of accompanying has played in my own journey with God—and still does. Recently when I spoke somewhere, I shared the following quote from Clement of Alexandria:

Prayer is keeping company with God

This is the privilege you and I have as children of God—to walk hand in hand with Jesus each day, listening, learning, knowing we are loved and accepted, talking with him, receiving strength, comfort and guidance. Of course, the difference is that Jesus is the perfect Shepherd, who is also to be honoured and obeyed as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Yet by grace, he chooses to accompany us day by day through all our ups and downs.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. Psalm 23:1-3

Now that’s the fine art of accompaniment at its best, don’t you think?

 

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As an author, I discovered a few books back that you can’t please everyone. Not long after my first novel was released in 2007, I remember standing with a group at church while one lady told me in a loud voice that she had been unable to get past Chapter Two! A few moments later, her daughter came up and said: ‘Oh, I loved your book so much! When is your next one coming out?’ This event armed me well for my writing days ahead.

Four novels followed. No doubt some who bought these were unable to persevere in reading them, but I am aware others have devoured them, because they bothered to write and tell me. Now quite a few authors I know are plagued by self-doubt—including me at times. It is something God has had to work on with me for a while, but I’m learning! And I must admit that positive comments about my books have helped. I don’t think it’s just because these nice, encouraging words feed my ego. I prefer to see them as little messages from God, saying to me: ‘You see—you are on the right track! Your writing is getting better and achieving what you hoped it would achieve. Keep touching people’s lives through your writing!’

But this past week has been a very interesting experience in receiving comments about my first non-fiction book Soul Friend: The story of a shared spiritual journey. I am finding I care even more about these than with my previous books, since this book is about my own journey with my spiritual friend and mentor Joy. Already I can see how careful I will need to be about taking any negative comments too much to heart. After all, didn’t I learn back in 2007 that you can’t please everyone? So when I received an email informing me that a review of Soul Friend had been taken down from a particular website because some of the ‘broader methods’ mentioned in the book could not be seen to be endorsed by the group whose website it was, I tried to laugh it off. I didn’t know I was that heretical! I wrote back, trying to be as gracious as possible. I am not sure I succeeded, since I discovered I was also quite annoyed.

But then two things happened. Firstly, I stumbled upon 2 Timothy 2:23:

Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he (she) must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.

Secondly, I began to see God’s gentle grace in action when three encouraging emails arrived from different readers in quick succession. ‘Your book, Soul Friend, is a wonderful story’, the first one began. ‘Soul Friend is everything the blurb says and more. I really congratulate you, Jo-Anne. We need books that are honest and for real and I am sure it will help many’, the second one read. Amazingly, she went on to warn me I might experience some opposition as a result of some things I had included in the book! The third email ended with the following: ‘Jo-Anne, you have such a beautiful way of articulating things. Thank you so much for being brave enough to share your story. And thank you to Joy also for your words of wisdom.’ Then and there, I endeavoured to take all this encouragement in and not let the one negative comment outweigh the positive.

May you too, writer or otherwise, find the right response to those whose opinions impact your life and may you be strengthened by God’s grace as you do.

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I am a champion at post mortems. After engaging in any public activity that requires me to perform in some way, I have been known to spend an inordinate amount of time mulling over it all, scrutinising my part in it to the nth degree. I think back over what I said, cringing at some phrase I used or some unwise comment. And often I wish I could do it all again—but this time do it right!

This has its positive aspects, I have argued. For example, looking back over my notes for a talk I have given and realising where I could have done better helps me improve for next time. After all, who wants to keep making the same mistakes over and over again? But it also has its negative aspects, not least of which is being too hard on oneself!

Last Friday, I fronted up at Hope103.2 FM radio station, ready to be interviewed by Leigh Hatcher for his Sunday evening program ‘Open House’. Although feeling a little nervous, I was looking forward to it. After all, I knew that anything I might say that was too way off could be edited out! Leigh Hatcher greeted me warmly and suggested he take a photo for the station’s Facebook page. Then as we sat down in his studio, he told me we would be talking about mentoring, something he believes can be so valuable to people.

Now this was a very sensible suggestion, since my new book Soul Friend: The story of a shared spiritual journey, which has just been released, is about the warm, life-giving relationship that developed between my mentor and me during our fifteen years of meeting together and the great encouragement she was to me in my struggles during this time. However, I had thought Leigh might ask questions about the book itself, such as why I wrote it, what a ‘soul friend’ is, how I met my mentor, how I as a novelist came to be writing non-fiction, and other similar questions. Obviously, a quick mental back flip was required. So I put on my mentor hat and marshalled my thoughts.

Leigh’s questions were excellent and I did my best. I knew I was quite capable of talking about mentoring and enjoyed myself. But afterwards … well, you can imagine how my thoughts went! Why didn’t I say this? Why hadn’t I thought of that? Why couldn’t I remember that definition of mentoring I knew so well? Or the list of qualities of a mentor I myself had written?

I returned home and, still in my rather fazed, post-interview state, opened my computer. And there I found an email from a younger friend who is part of my little prayer team. All it had in it was the following verse:

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way … 2 Thess 3:16

As I sat smiling at the screen, I knew I needed to hand over the whole interview to God, put it behind me and receive that peace this verse talks about. I had done my best. Now I needed to rest in that and in the peace God is willing to give us at all times.

May you too know this same deep peace in your heart right now, however good you are at post mortems and whatever your situation in life.

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There I was one day last week, working away happily at my computer, when I heard a few dull thuds outside. Thinking it was the neighbours doing something in their yard, I didn’t investigate. Besides, it was a windy day—perhaps a few small branches were being tossed around. Later, however, when my husband opened our front door to go out, he almost fell over seven large cartons blocking his way. On each carton was a label saying ‘Leave at door of delivery if unattended’. Well, we had definitely been home all morning—but no one had rung the doorbell. Still, I guess the contractor thought we wouldn’t miss the little presents he left us.

My heart stood still when I gazed at those boxes. You see, I knew what they contained—my first copies of my brand new non-fiction book, Soul Friend, due for release next month!

Now this is my sixth book to be published, so one would think I’d be used to the whole process. But I find this moment when new books arrive to be rather daunting, for several reasons. Firstly, I always have to steel myself to open that first box and see what my book actually looks like. Of course I have seen the proposed cover online—but will the real thing look as good? On this occasion, I find myself a little shocked at the bright orange cover, which I expected would be much closer to a deep yellow/gold colour. But I’m still pleased with how it looks and feels as I quickly check through it.

Secondly, as I gaze at these seven boxes now on my study floor, I realise I need to decide yet again where to store them in our small house! Until I complete my new Soul Friend website and am able to offer them for sale nearer my launch date, these copies need to find a home here. Having juggled boxes of books for quite a few years now, I have become adept at turning them into coffee tables, benches and the like! It’s a challenge—but not insurmountable.

Much more formidable in my mind, however, is the challenge that lies ahead of promoting this book, not only via my website but at the various venues where I hope to speak or display my books. You see, I am well aware this will involve much hard work, lots of emails and many hours preparing for speaking engagements. It will include setbacks and doors closed to me—but it will also, by God’s grace, include many open doors and times of great encouragement.

And right now, that is where I need to focus—not on the potential difficulties, but on the wonderful opportunities ahead. From the very beginning of this Soul Friend project, God has been with me—and I know this will not change now. As I stand on the brink of this new adventure, I believe that if I continue to look to God for strength and guidance, I will not fall but stand firm, whatever happens.

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. Psalm 40:1-2

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I wonder if you can remember a time when, like me, you have spoken in haste and rebuked someone harshly. Sometime we say things in the heat of the moment, don’t we, that we wish could take back – but it’s too late. Our words have done their work and pulled someone down instead of building him or her up. How much better it would be if we stopped and thought first before opening our mouths or typing that angry email or sending that curt text!

This week as I prepared to speak on a rather challenging passage of Scripture about confronting someone who has sinned against us (Matthew 18:15-20), I came across Proverbs 25:11-12 and was immediately captivated:

A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.

Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold

is a wise man’s rebuke to a listening ear.

We all need those wise, careful rebukes at times, don’t we? None of us is perfect. But it’s at such moments that my pride often kicks in and I go into defence mode, trotting out all my excuses as to why I did what I did or said what I said. Instead, we are called to have a ‘listening ear’ when someone cares enough to confront us. Otherwise, we might miss those wise words of rebuke or challenge from God that could be life-changing.

I well remember several occasions over the years when someone rebuked me in a wise and godly way – and I actually managed to listen and take heed. I knew these people had my best interests at heart. And to this day, I remember their rebukes with gratitude and not with any bitterness, because these people took a risk and spoke truth into my life. Their words were indeed ‘aptly spoken’, as Proverbs puts it – true ‘earrings of gold’ that I treasure even more than my favourite pieces of gold jewellery.

In writing my recently completed first non-fiction book, I had to come to grips with this issue all over again. You see, this book is called Soul Friend: the story of a shared spiritual journey and is an account of my relationship with my special spiritual friend and mentor, Joy, over the past fifteen years. In that time, there were of course occasions when I had difficulties with other people – and Joy helped me work through these. But now I had to decide which of these, if any, to include in my book. If I left them all out, I would be writing dishonestly. And I might also miss an opportunity to help someone going through a similar situation. But if I included them, people might be hurt. So I tried to walk carefully with God as I wrote, checking my motives and looking for ways to polish those ‘apples of gold’ I felt it necessary to include.

But how about you? Could the words of rebuke you need to speak or write at times be described as precious gold earrings or ornaments? And are you developing that listening ear to hear and value the wise words of another who might seek to help you grow in God?

I know I’m still on this journey, but I hope I am learning how better to pass on those golden words, as well as develop that listening ear. And I hope and pray that’s your heart too.

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Just over a year ago, after completing six novels, I began planning out my very first non-fiction book. I had been thinking and talking about it for some time, but in May 2011, I knew I had to act. Months of reading through my old journals and emails, marshalling my thoughts into some sort of order and of course writing ensued, before the first draft of Soul Friend: the story of a shared spiritual journey emerged. Then it was time for much revision and editing, before submitting it to a publisher. To my delight, it was accepted and is now due for release in October.

Over these months, I noted several differences between writing novels and non-fiction – I hope I have managed to tackle these well and overcome the challenge of switching genre. But next came a further new experience – that of working with a different publisher. This turned out to be an excellent and comfortable fit, but it still involved learning how to work with someone different and understand what was expected of me.

However, now that Soul Friend is complete, I can see even more new challenges looming, as I begin my whole promotion journey. In many ways, this will be similar to promoting my novels, but I think I see differences ahead as well. Non-fiction opens up some areas for me that were closed to novels, while on the other hand, I expect there to be some difficulty in promoting my non-fiction work as readily as I have my novels in secular venues. So now is the time to re-think my approach, to pray, to discuss, to plan – and to begin contacting people and organisations yet again.

At times, I cringe at the thought – it all seems too daunting. But then as I take time to regroup with God, I begin to glimpse the exciting nature of it all and the amazing privilege that is mine of being able to write and speak in this way. And I also glimpse again the truth that I am not doing this on my own. God is with me and will lead and sustain me as I step out in this new part of my journey.

This morning, as I continued my regular reading of Scripture, I reached Isaiah 42:18-20 again. Back in 2003, God used these verses to challenge me to begin writing, to show me that I was being deaf and blind to the clear call I had already been given to get on with producing my first novel I had talked about for so long. Now my eyes were drawn to verse 16 a little earlier on:

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.

So … will God not be there at every new twist and turn in this different phase of my writing experience, showing me the way forward?  I might feel I’m still groping along rather blindly in it all, still not seeing and hearing clearly what to do, but God will be there, and will even be smoothing the way ahead for me. How gracious and loving and understanding is our God?

Yes, I am challenged. But I am also blessed beyond measure. How about you?

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I’m on the home run – I think – with my first non-fiction book Soul Friend: the story of a shared spiritual journey, due for release in October by Even Before Publishing. A few days ago, the first layout version of the book arrived for me to check through and to get someone else to proofread as well. Now I know from past experience with my previous books how essential this meticulous proofreading is. But each time, I find such experiences somewhat disconcerting. As I discover this little mistake and that little oversight, I ask myself how these could ever have escaped my attention – as well as the attention of my two manuscript readers/editors – during our numerous checks prior to this. They seem so obvious now. Admittedly, some always tend to creep in during the editing process – as one thing is changed, so another is affected without noticing. And sometimes things happen as the manuscript is imported into a different program. But I know they will be there – I don’t assume anything with my work these days.

This time around, however, my experience has been even more interesting in that each day this week we have minded our five-month-old grandson. Can you picture him sitting on my lap, a little unhappy for some reason or another, reaching out his cute little hands towards my keyboard? Can you imagine my attempts to type sensible comments with one hand, while holding him firmly with the other?

Nevertheless, I have now succeeded in finishing it. Yet I am left with this weird feeling inside. Are there other mistakes I should have noticed? Are there more clumsy sentences I should have changed, even at this late stage? Have I acknowledged everything I should have acknowledged? Does the book do my lovely spiritual mentor justice? After all, this book is about the spiritual journey I have enjoyed with her over the past fifteen years – it reflects on her as well as on me.

And then as I reach for my Bible in order to sit in the sun and let God’s Word minister to me, even before I open it, I am reminded again of God’s amazing grace. God has been right beside me, through all the challenges of this week. And right now, God is saying a wonderful ‘Well done’ to me at another task completed to the best of my ability.

Yet as I let my mind relax and focus fully on God, I am reminded of another even deeper truth. Every day of my life, God sees my mistakes – my impatient words to a family member, my self-focus, my complaining about this or that, my self-doubt, my forgetting others who need my support. Yet God never gives up on me but continues to reach out in love, to forgive, to urge me on to do better. From God’s perspective, all my mistakes are gone. As Psalm 103:11-13 says:

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him …

There are no hidden mistakes with God. God sees. God knows. God loves. God forgives. I still find that so amazing and freeing – and I pray with all my heart you do too.

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