Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘the grace of God’

There are always new things to learn in life, aren’t there? At times, I hear or read of some author or composer or artist and realise I have never explored any of their work, despite how interesting it sounds. At other times, I see glimpses of intriguing places on TV I know little about. Then occasionally, I poke my head into the inner workings of my website and quickly retreat. How true it is that, the more we learn, the more we realise we don’t know!

I discovered this again recently when helping a granddaughter with her art assignment. Now, I am a writer—definitely not an artist. In fact, I know nothing about art. Granted, I was helping because of my writing experience, but one does need to know something about a topic before writing about it! And so began my journey of reading how the 16th century artist Titian, the 20th century artist Picasso and the present-day artist/photographer Morimura have portrayed the female form!

To my surprise, I soon became truly interested. It was fascinating to discover what certain symbols meant in their artworks and how these artists connected with issues in society. As a result, I am now keen to find out about other artists too and learn to appreciate their works more.

Then, last week, our oldest granddaughter asked my advice about her religion assignment for the Catholic teachers’ college she attends. She was simply checking she understood what she had to do, but our conversation set me thinking. This assignment involved the parable of the lost or ‘prodigal’ son—or, as some call it, the parable of the forgiving father—and one task was to explain the main theological point of this story. So, I decided to try it for myself—I was sure I could write five hundred words on the topic easily and quickly.

I turned to Luke 15—but, as I began writing, the whole profound nature of this parable Jesus told began to impact me more and more. Soon, I had to stop and reflect on it all over again. How arrogant and uncaring was that younger son, in asking his father for his inheritance then and there? Then how could he have gone off and wasted it all? In the light of all that, how could the father in the story keep watching out for him, then embrace him and welcome him home with such joy and compassion? But … I wouldn’t have been as resentful as that older son was—or would I?

As I sat there, I was overwhelmed once again with the enormity of our heavenly Father’s love for us in seeking us out, running to embrace us and welcome us into his family, as we too return home and believe in Jesus. I did nothing to deserve such compassion and forgiveness. Instead, it is all about grace—the most amazing, wonderful grace.

I did not anticipate such a profound and humbling experience that morning, as I sat thinking about our granddaughter’s assignment. Yet what a joy to be reminded in such an expected way of the incredible richness I have in God!

I too am loved. I too have come home.

… this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ Luke 15:24

Read Full Post »

Last week, I reached a milestone in my little corner of the blogging world. I did not notice until this week because of a glitch in my numbering system, so what a surprise to discover I had written 700 personal blogs since July 2009!

At first, I thought, ‘Ho hum—who cares?’ After all, I enjoy writing my blogs and hope to continue for a while yet, regardless what number blog I am up to. But then I paused … and listened. It was as if God was whispering gently to me, ‘Whoa, Jo-Anne! How about you stop right now and think about all that has happened for you over these past almost thirteen years?’

So, I stopped and reflected. What a crazy but wonderful writing and speaking journey I have had in those years! Not only did God enable me to churn out a blog each week, but also to produce five more novels and two non-fiction books to add to my two previously published novels. Who would have thought? Certainly not I. And who would have thought too that I would have the opportunity to speak at all sorts of places along the way? I have lost count of how many such events have taken place, but it would be over two hundred, many wonderful, some … well … interesting!

As I looked back, however, I realised so much else has happened during these years too that I did not expect—personally, family-wise and certainly wider afield. For example, we sold our home of 32 years for what to us was a staggering sum and came to live here in our lovely, restful unit—an unexpected blessing indeed. Family-wise, we welcomed a fourth grandchild—another lovely blessing. In that time too though, my special ‘soul friend’ Joy suffered from dementia, something I did not expect to happen to her, eventually passing away last year. And, of course, who would have thought we would all be facing a worldwide pandemic in 2020—and 2021—and 2022?

We can plan and work towards what we dream of doing and what we may also believe is what God wants for us—and, by God’s grace, these plans and dreams may be fulfilled beyond our expectations. Yet, for many of us, this does not turn out to be the case, for one reason or another. For some, the question ‘Who would have thought?’ may be a joyous exclamation, while for others, it may well be a deep cry of anguish.

Yet, however surprised or shocked we may be at the twists and turns in our lives, positive or negative, God surely is not. And perhaps that is what God wanted me to see, as I reflected on these past thirteen years. Perhaps God is challenging me to remember who truly is in control of my life. Perhaps I need to be much more thankful I belong to such a loving, powerful God. And perhaps I need to realise my role is to keep living for and trusting in God, whatever happens.

Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Proverbs 3:5-6 The Message

Read Full Post »

I thought I had cured myself of being a ‘glass half empty’ person. I thought I had learnt to be more grateful for family and friends, for the lovely things I own and the wonderful experiences I have had. Yet now and then, I hear this peevish, little voice inside me complaining about something I have missed out on or pointing out things tantalisingly beyond my reach. ‘Yes, you have that,’ it says, ‘but … well, you could have had this instead. Look what you’ve missed out on yet again!’

Recently, I received an email announcing the results of a short story competition I entered months ago. In it, I discovered that, while I did not win, my story was among the ten best entries and that, as a result, I would receive $150. This was a pleasant surprise, especially since I had forgotten all about the competition. But then came that ‘glass half empty’ moment when I remembered that the first prize was ten times that amount—$1500. Immediately, my joy in winning my $150 was dimmed. ‘I could have done lots with that $1500,’ I grumbled. ‘The email says that choosing a winner was difficult. Probably I just missed out.’

Thankfully, God soon intervened and I began to laugh at myself—especially when I remembered that the basic story idea had emerged from something someone else told me rather than from any cleverness on my part. Yes, I embellished it and put time and effort into polishing it up, after gaining my friend’s permission. But in reality, as I believe God showed me, this story was a gift from the very beginning—and any prize I received was an added bonus.

I suspect all of us can think of things or experiences we would very much like to have, including those we may have enjoyed in a past role or setting. Recently, I attended a funeral back at the church where we spent many years and, while it was good to honour our friend who had passed away, see other old friends and be in a place we had loved so much, it was also rather painful to realise those days are well and truly gone now. For a while, I indulged in a little self-pity, but then God reminded me of lessons learnt back then and the wonderful life experiences I have had since, including my writing journey.

I may yearn for times past or for things beyond my reach, for one reason or another, yet it is unhealthy to stay in this negative, ‘glass half empty’ space, isn’t it? Instead, I am called to live fully and realistically in the present moment with God, noticing what there is for me to do right now and doing it with all my heart. And I am also called to be thankful and at peace, knowing God is with me, whatever is happening or not happening around me.

May I soon learn to see that glass not as half empty at all, but gloriously half full—indeed, constantly brimming over with God’s grace and goodness and incredible love!

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5

Read Full Post »

Some years ago, a friend pointed out how I often use a particular little word when writing or speaking about family members. ‘Our Jane changed jobs’ or ‘Our Zain is doing better’ or ‘Our Amy started university’—yes, that little pronoun ‘our’ in these and other similar comments made in an email or while chatting seemed to have captured her attention.

‘It sounds so nice’, she said, although I cannot remember why she thought that. Perhaps to her it spoke of how we love and value whichever family member I was referring to. Perhaps it conveyed our concern for their welfare or joy at their successes or pride in their decisions. Perhaps it showed we truly identify with that person, believe in them and want the best for them. One day, I will ask her what she meant but, whatever the reason, that little three-letter word of mine seemed to touch her heart.

One morning recently, however, I suspect I caught a glimpse for myself of how my friend might have felt, as I started reading the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians once again. It was not long before I had to pause—in fact, I did not get past Paul’s greeting right at the beginning:

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus. To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:1-2

What could be so remarkable about these verses? Why did I stop at that point and sit staring into space? Somehow, that little word ‘our’ in the last sentence had touched my own heart. I knew Paul had written that greeting and that he was no doubt referring to the fact that Timothy and he and the believers in Philippi all belonged to the same heavenly Father. But that morning, it was as if Jesus himself was saying gently to me, ‘Grace and peace to you, Jo-Anne, from God our Father—yes, our Father. I gave you the right to be part of my Father’s family when you believed in me. We will always watch over you, so be at peace today and know you are surrounded with our love and grace.’

How could that little word ‘our’ convey so much to me that morning? Perhaps it was merely my imagination. After all, I am a writer. But something changed inside me as I sat there, reading those words over and over. I had been feeling tired and quite discouraged, yet now I sensed Jesus understood, identified fully with me and had reached out in love to remind me who I belong to. I could be rational and tell myself this is not what those verses actually say or mean—or I could choose to listen with my heart and be reminded deep in my spirit that I am included in the beautiful, warm circle of God’s family, joined to other believers but also to Jesus Christ—forever.

I remembered then too those first words Jesus himself uttered when teaching his disciples how to pray:

Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. … Matthew 6:9

There is that little word ‘our’ again. Important to Jesus then and now—and so important for us too.

Read Full Post »

‘We’ll show Mummy you can do something she says she can’t do!’ I told our two younger grandchildren blithely, before they came to spend the day with us. Now the moment had arrived. There was my sewing box, complete with needles, buttons and coloured thread. And there too was seven-year-old Maxine, needle in hand and eager to be shown how to sew a button on the piece of cloth I had given her.

After overcoming the problem of threading that pesky needle, Maxine did well at pushing her needle through the cloth, then carefully through each hole in the button and finally back down through the cloth. I tried to guide her needle close to her earlier stitches with minimal success, but we kept going. And soon she had repeated the process often enough that her button was well and truly attached to that cloth, after Nanna’s help to tie one final knot. Sure, it looked a mess on the underside, but fine on the side that really mattered! Two more buttons followed—and Maxine was soon quite chuffed with all her efforts.

I thought ten-year-old Zain might not want to join in, but when I reminded him how his dad does any mending needed in their family, he seemed more interested. Soon there he was too, carefully sewing on his first button. Despite usually having difficulty with fine motor skills, he managed to thread his own needle and also get it through the cloth and the hole in his button in one go—an impressive feat indeed. Then he chose a more challenging four-hole button and another after that, which he sewed on mostly by himself. Sure, his was a mess of dark thread on the underside too, but those buttons were indeed on there to stay.

At times as I sat frantically trying to rescue both children at once, I sensed a little niggle in my spirit that God wanted to show me something via this whole exercise, but I pushed it aside. Later, however, when I had time to reflect more, I felt I had been offered a gracious, little glimpse into my own sometimes stumbling journey with God.

As I reflected, the image in my mind of the tangled stitches beneath those buttons spoke to me of the messes in my own life at times. I might have looked good on the outside, but God has always seen beyond that to the confusion below and lovingly reached out to help. With much more patience than I could muster as I helped our grandchildren with their sewing, God has graciously rescued me from the tangles my own thoughts and actions have often created and has persevered in teaching and refining me and helping me grow. Sometimes, I have welcomed that help, like my grandchildren did—and sometimes I have not. Yet God has still persevered, weaving the threads of my life together in a much better and much more satisfying way than I ever could have.

I’m so glad we have a gracious, merciful God who is not fazed by messes, aren’t you?

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live. Psalm 116:1-2

Read Full Post »

Recently, after waiting several months, I finally took delivery of a brand-new car. Now I thought my trusty, twenty-two-year-old Ford Fairmont was luxurious enough, but my mind has been boggled by all those amazingly clever features my Toyota Corolla has. I mean, how did I ever drive before without keyless ignition? And how did I ever get by without being able to lock and unlock the car even if my key is still in my handbag?

Sometimes I suspect my new car could be smarter than I am, especially when it refuses to lock if a window is down a fraction or when it winks at me from those little lights in my outside mirror, if a car is near my blind spot. Even during school holidays, whenever I drive near a school, a bell dings and that very polite lady hidden in my car somewhere says in a state of mild panic: ‘Caution! You are approaching a school zone!’ And when she later informs me I have now left the zone, I feel I have been given an early mark for good behaviour.

However, this lady completely floored me when I discovered she can read every speed sign around. I mean, I had barely erred a few kilometres over the fifty kph limit near where we live when her voice startled me almost out of my wits. ‘Please obey all traffic regulations!’ she boomed in a highly accusatory tone. It was as if she were saying, ‘What on earth do you think you’re doing, Jo-Anne? How dare you go over the speed limit! Stop it this instant!’

I was shocked and embarrassed. I do not normally speed and, if I did, it was probably because I was distracted by all the bells and whistles in my new car. However, not wishing to upset her again, I immediately slowed down and toed the line.

This experience helped me drive more safely, which is a good thing. But, as soon as I heard that lady’s urgent, reproving voice, it somehow reminded me of my old view of God. As a young person and even on into my adult years, I used to think of God as being much more of a judge than a friend.  Often, I would picture God as frowning at me and as disappointed in me, if I failed to reach those high standards I was required to meet. If I behaved, God would love me and be pleased with me, I thought. But otherwise…

Imagine my relief then when I experienced how gracious and loving and accepting God is! Gradually I saw too that I need to love God in return with all my heart and soul and others as well (Luke 10:27-28). And that involves living in a way that pleases God and brings God honour—which includes obeying the road rules! But I do not need to fear being told off by a harsh, disapproving, heavenly judge. Instead, I can step into each day at peace with God, rejoicing that Jesus has bridged the gap between us and ready to love and serve God and others as the Spirit leads.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood… to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. Revelation 1:6

Read Full Post »

I received an email recently that gave me much food for thought. It was from someone who had just read my first two novels, Heléna and All the Days of My Life. This reader had found them among a pile of second-hand books a friend had been given and now wanted another novel of mine, Heléna’s Legacy, which explores the journey of a minor character in my second novel, then continues Heléna’s story.

I laughed out loud. The day before, I had found my lone, second-hand copy of this novel in my cupboard and thought, ‘No one will want that.’ Imagine my surprise when, the very next day, I discovered someone did!

My contact then told me some friends are now waiting to borrow these novels from her. This was gratifying news, yet I also found it somewhat disconcerting. You see, my first two novels were published back in 2007 and 2008—and I like to think I have learnt much more about writing since then. This reader might have enjoyed them, but would her friends?

In the end, I decided I could do nothing about that. Besides, back then, I wrote as best I could, with my whole heart and soul—and how fulfilling that was!

Then came another thought. I might have learnt much more about writing in those intervening years, but did I still write with that same heart and soul now? Back then, I wanted to write stories that would highlight themes I believed were vital for us all to grasp and experience. I wanted to write about the importance of holding onto our faith in God, whatever happens. I wanted to write about experiencing God’s amazing love and grace, about forgiveness and about becoming all God purposes us to be. Did I still feel so passionately about such themes now?

Since 2004, when I began my first novel, I have written nine books and around 650 blogs and have also spoken over 250 times at all sorts of gatherings. Through it all, I have learnt much more about God and experienced God’s amazing faithfulness and enabling in so many ways. Yes, I am still passionate about those same important themes, yet some things I held dear back in 2004 have fallen by the wayside. Some needed to be discarded—others did not. Some changes in my life and faith have been for the better, I believe, yet others have not. Looking back, I am sad about those times when I may have failed God, others and myself in different ways. But I am so thankful God is merciful and forgiving, always persevering with us and always lovingly pointing us to higher ground.

Yes, I’m still the same person I was back in 2004, yet different too. I want to change what needs to be changed. I want to grow where I need to grow. And I want to keep drawing closer to God, don’t you?

Let’s hold onto those key themes of our faith in God, but let’s keep humbly learning and growing too, as we seek to become more like Jesus each day.

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. 2 Peter 3:18

Read Full Post »

Each day, I suspect I somehow often miss those many little moments of miracle that can remind us God is still alive and active everywhere. It might be the sound of birds in the trees outside our window, as we wake in the morning. It might be the smell of something freshly baked, filling our home. It might be the sight of a rosebush covered in beautiful, fragrant blooms. Yet often, my mind is so preoccupied that I fail to see these little touches of grace in my life.

One Sunday morning during our Sydney lockdown, I decided to lie in bed for a while instead of getting up. Yes, I had things to do and a church service to watch online, but I felt quite tired and demotivated. So many thoughts ran through my mind of things I was concerned about—and soon I found myself feeling more than a little gloomy.

Eventually, however, I got up and proceeded with my day. But when I returned to our bedroom after breakfast, I stopped suddenly in the doorway. There in front of me, across the bedspread, I saw an ever-changing shadow pattern of small leaves and branches, as the trees outside our window swayed in the breeze.

At first, I thought, ‘How silly to stand here watching this mundane, everyday event!’ Yet I was mesmerised. I then walked over to our windows and gazed up at the trees, silhouetted against a beautiful, blue sky. I noticed the different shades of green in their foliage. I marvelled at the variety of shapes and sizes of their leaves. And I thanked God, not only for my little glimpse of creation in its natural state but also the added bonus of that special, ever-changing pattern on our bedspread.

Then my mind went to the events of the previous afternoon. We had driven into the city to pick up our friend from a quarantine hotel, but we had not navigated our way into this area for many years. We allowed a certain length of time to get there, but were a little nervous about it all. We did not want to arrive earlier than our friend’s allotted departure time, as we knew there was nowhere to park. And we knew too those alert security guards and hotel staff and policemen and even army personnel would not let us hang around.

We arrived a few minutes early to be told that, if our friend was there already, we could stop. Otherwise, we would have to find a park elsewhere or drive around again. Eek! Then, as we began to leave, we suddenly saw her—she had left her room a little early and was outside waiting. Almost to our bewilderment, everything went so smoothly in the end.

Now we could have congratulated ourselves on our cleverness at managing things so well. Yet surely God was there with us in that moment of reunion and had guided us all along? Surely this too was another gentle touch of grace from God’s hand?

I hope I don’t miss too many more of these moments in my life when God reminds me who is in charge and always will be.

How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:2 NLT

Read Full Post »

On this particular Monday morning, I did not feel like grocery shopping. Still, it had to be done, so off I went. I scooted around the supermarket in record time and headed for the nearest checkout. Then I noticed the worker there was a lady with whom I had previously had a conversation about my books. On that occasion, she had asked me what I wrote about, but someone had interrupted and there had been no time to answer her. I had left the store that day feeling rather frustrated—would I ever get another opportunity to talk with her? Yet there she was now, about to serve me again—but I felt too tired and grumpy to connect with her. Perhaps she had forgotten all about that question she had asked me anyway.

Imagine my surprise then when the first thing she said was, ‘So … are you still writing?’

My heart sank. I did not want to talk about writing—or anything serious, for that matter. Yet I was touched she had not forgotten our previous conversation.

‘Wow, I’m amazed you remembered I’m a writer,’ I managed to say. ‘Yes, I’m still writing—and speaking. I’m speaking at a club this week, but I’ve also spoken at quite a few churches.’

‘Oh … what sort of things do you write about?’

At that point, I decided to opt for a relatively safe response.

‘Well, my novels focus on different serious issues we all face in our lives sometime or other, such as forgiveness or grief or dealing with life’s challenges … lots of things like that.’

‘Wow—I must check your books out online.’

By this time, I was wider awake—and praying hard!

‘Um, I have a card here,’ I told her, as I fished around in my purse.

She finished packing my groceries and I paid her. For a moment, it seemed she had moved onto the next customer, but she turned to me again.

‘So, where’s your card? Thanks so much. Have a good week!’

I left, feeling somewhat stunned but also a little ashamed of myself. God had given me a wonderful, unexpected, second opportunity to connect with this lady, yet I had not wanted to engage with her at all. Instead, I had wallowed in my tiredness and grumpiness and it had not even entered my head to consider what God might want me to say. Then the Apostle Peter’s words came to mind:

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. … 1 Peter 3:15

I had not been prepared. I felt I could have been much more open. I should have mentioned other themes in my novels like the love and grace of God, but now the moment was gone. Yet, in the midst of all these whirling thoughts, I sensed God’s amazing grace and acceptance pour over me. And as I drove home, I prayed. Lord, please may she look up my website and see why I write and what I write about. And please may we have an even better conversation soon.

I’m so grateful God understands. And I’m so grateful God uses us even in our weakness in ways we may least expect.

Read Full Post »

‘I can’t believe I’m getting a piano!’ our daughter commented at her recent birthday celebration.

A piano of her own was something our daughter had wanted for a long time. There has always been one in our home and, as a child, she had music lessons. Then as a teenager, she had chosen to have more, this time just to enjoy learning to play certain songs she loved. Soon, however, she moved out of home and eventually married and had children, yet she still loved to sit down at our piano from time to time when she visited and play.

Then one day recently, a friend of mine put a post on Facebook, asking if anyone would be interested in having her piano, as she planned to move and could not take it with her. At first, I hesitated. I knew our daughter could not afford to pay anything for it. And surely my friend would not be prepared to give it away?

Yet that is exactly what happened.

‘I just want my piano to go to a good home,’ she explained. ‘Someone kindly left it to me in her will, so I’d like to pass it on now in the same spirit it was passed onto me.’

Eventually, a removalist was engaged and that piano wended its way to our daughter’s home, where it fitted in a corner of her living room as if it belonged. After a tuning, it will sound even better. And one day, our grandchildren will hopefully learn to play as well.

Recently too, I witnessed another happy moment in our daughter’s life when our daughter-in-law passed on several boxes of girls’ clothes to her that her own daughters had long grown out of.

‘Oh, that’s so good!’ our daughter exclaimed. ‘The other day, my friend passed on lots of excellent boys’ clothes to us too.’

As it happens, many of these have hardly been worn and are designer label clothes our daughter could not afford to buy. So, once her son and daughter have grown out of them, she passes them on in turn to other friends who are always grateful to receive them for their children.

Seeing these events unfold in our daughter’s life caused me to reflect on my own attitude towards passing on not only material possessions that may benefit others but also all those spiritual blessings I have received. Sometimes, I suspect I like to cling to things that have been and are precious to me, rather than think of others’ needs. Sometimes, I can be stingy rather than generous. In particular, sometimes I can forget how someone bothered to share the good news of Jesus with me, rather than keep it to themselves. And sometimes, I can even forget how freely God’s love and grace were poured out on me and how this love and grace needs to flow on through me to others.

May I always remember that generosity of heart I witnessed recently and pay it forward myself with joy and gratitude.

Freely you have received, freely give. Matthew 10:8

The world of the generous gets larger and larger; the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller. The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed; those who help others are helped. Proverbs 11:24-25 The Message

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »