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Posts Tagged ‘the grace of God’

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

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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.

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‘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

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Have you ever in a rash moment said yes to some activity or event way out of your comfort zone, then later wondered why? Perhaps you agreed to walk x number of kilometres or lead a group or sing in public … or anything else you would not normally choose to do. Such experiences can feel surreal, can’t they—as if we are there, yet not there?

Last week, I did something I have in fact done before, but not for some years—I took part in a radio interview via phone from another state. During this 20-25 minute interview, my task was to share why I had written a particular short story that won a place in a recent writing competition (‘Stories of Life’), then talk about the events that shaped me to become the writer I am today, using stories as much as I could.*

Sounds easy, right? Yet at this stage of the year, and especially after seeing my current novel through to publication, my brain is a little tired. I had a script—a few dot points I had submitted earlier to my interviewer—but still felt nervous on the day and well out of my comfort zone.

What to do? First off, I prayed—and I also asked my little email prayer team of nine women to pray, if they happened to read my email in time. How wonderful it was to hear back from three of these faithful friends almost immediately, assuring me they would be praying! But I was also touched when my interviewer prayed for us both, before flicking that switch and launching into our conversation.

At first, I stumbled a little. But as we reached that part of the interview where I needed to share my writing journey via stories, I became so involved in it all, I forgot about everything else. I was even able to laugh at myself at one stage (although not out loud!) when I realised I was holding my phone in one hand and waving the other around as if speaking to a live audience! But as the interview proceeded, I also began to feel a deep sense of awe as I shared how God has led and shaped me via all sorts of experiences during my various occupations. All over again, I was reminded of the loving hand of God on my life, shaping me, teaching me, guiding me, setting me on my feet again. And as I kept talking, my heart filled with praise and thanks to God for all God’s gracious, constant love and care through it all.

As 2020 draws to a close, may I encourage you too to look back on this year—and on your life in general—and see how faithful God has been, through the good and the bad. And as you do, may you see and sense afresh, as I did, the gentle hand of God, our awesome potter Father, shaping us, his clay, to become more and more like him.

Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Isaiah 64:8

*Should you wish to hear my radio interview, please tune into ‘The Story’ on Vision Christian Radio at 9.30am (EST) on 13th January 2021.

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Can you think of a time when you put off beginning some big, new project because the whole thing looked far too daunting? That was how I felt earlier this year when I decided to open that cupboard where all our old photo albums were stashed and do something about them. And that was how I felt too, when I began writing my current novel, Down by the Water, around four years ago. I had already written six novels and two non-fiction books—surely that was enough? To make things more difficult, this novel needed to be set in Queensland in the early 1900s—and hadn’t I vowed and declared I would never write another historical novel? I knew what a time-consuming task that could be, with so many facts needing to be checked.

Yet soon those ideas for the opening chapter began to emerge. Yes, since then, those first few pages have changed many times over, as I realised what needed to be revealed early on and what did not. But I knew I had to keep working on them, because those early pages are vital in winning or losing potential readers.

Beginnings can be hard, can’t they? Yet so can endings. And that is where I am now, tying off those final details of my novel before it is published. The actual writing is finished—and I have lost count how many times that manuscript has been checked through at various levels, not only by me but also by seven other people. I even have a lovely cover for my book. Yet, while I have heaved a sigh of relief that this whole, huge task is almost complete, I also feel quite tentative about releasing this novel out into the big world. What if all that work turns out to be for nothing? What if no one else thinks the story worthwhile? What if …?

Yes, this year, I have been very clearly reminded how challenging both beginnings and endings can be. And perhaps that is why, while reading Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians recently, I noticed in particular how he began and ended these.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:3 and also 2 Corinthians 1:2

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. 1 Corinthians 16:23

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. 2 Corinthians 13:14

Curious, I then discovered similar greetings in Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians and also Timothy. In the midst of all the challenging situations those early believers faced, Paul obviously sees God’s grace as key—that overwhelming kindness of God shown in particular in sending Jesus into our world. And as we too choose to rest in that same grace that accepts us and loves us unconditionally and forever, we can know that same peace Paul prayed for those early believers, right here in 2020.

However difficult you and I have found those beginnings and endings this year, God’s grace and peace are always there for us. So Let’s truly hear Paul’s words and take them to heart. Let’s reach out and receive these amazing gifts and be strengthened and comforted as we do.

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At the moment, I am making my way yet again through my current novel, checking for errors and tweaking this and that to make it the best I can. It is painstaking work—and it seems to have gone on forever. But each morning, as I open my laptop and go to the relevant document, I am cheered by the polite, little greeting that awaits me there. On the right of my screen, I always see a little box that says happily:

Welcome back! Pick up where you left off.

How encouraging is that? But recently, that little message did more than cheer me up and inspire me to pick up where I left off with even more determination. It also alerted me to open my ears to hear what God might want to say to me. It was as if God highlighted that little box on my screen so that I could not miss a much more important message it contained.

Then it hit me. In an instant, I sensed God saying: ‘That’s exactly what I’ve said to you so many times over the years, Jo-Anne. Whenever you have pulled back from following me for a while and gone your own way, but then turned around and repented, I have always been there waiting for you with open arms. Time and time again, like your laptop does each day, I have said to you, “Welcome back! Pick up where you left off.” What a joy it has been to offer you forgiveness each time—and how good it is to pick you up and help you stand firm again!’

Then my mind went to the Apostle Peter’s story in the bible. I love Peter. He seems such a full-on person—always the leader, opening his mouth on behalf of the other disciples and stepping out when others might well have feared to. I love how he was brave enough to get out of that boat and walk towards Jesus on the water (Matthew 14). I love how he realised early on that Jesus was the only one worth following and the only one who could offer eternal life.

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God. John 6:68-69

I love too how he declared he would never deny Jesus, fully thinking that was true—and I always feel sad when I read how he did deny him, then wept bitterly over it (Matthew 26:75). But later, when the resurrected Jesus appears on the shore as Peter is fishing with the other disciples and proceeds to provide them with breakfast, I hold my breath at what unfolds. Three times, Jesus asked Peter if he loves him. And three times, Peter replies, Lord, you know that I love you (John 21).

Can you imagine how Peter must have felt, as Jesus treated him in such a loving way and reinstated him to be the strong shepherd and leader he had called him to be? What grace Jesus showed him that day! And what grace Jesus shows each of us today, whenever we turn back to him, as he says with such love: ‘Welcome back! Pick up where you left off.’

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Jo 17At first when the person phoning me told me her name, I thought it was someone else. But as I listened further, I was catapulted back to a time around thirty years ago when I worked as an assistant editor. Back then, this person had been one of my colleagues and we had spent many lunchtimes chatting together.

It was good to catch up with what had happened in her life, but also sad. Her husband had passed away and she herself has faced many health battles. But afterwards, as the memories swirled around in my brain, I began to feel quite sad for another reason. In that role, I learnt much about writing and editing. Back then, I had no idea I would become a writer many years later—but God knew. Yet instead of dwelling on these positives, I began to think how much better I could have done that job. Back then, I lacked confidence. Back then, I was afraid to say what I thought and unwilling at times to make good and necessary decisions. Yes, if I were given that role again, I decided, I would do things differently.

Around a week later, the phone rang again. This time, it was another work colleague from that exact same job! He had no idea our other colleague had called and we had a wonderful conversation, catching up on what had happened to us both since then. But again afterwards, I could not get the memories of that job out of my mind. While it was good to laugh along with this second caller about the mistakes I had made and how long it had taken to edit certain jobs, I found that sad feeling slowly creeping over me again. Back then, I was such a perfectionist. Back then, I did not know enough. If I had my time there again, I would work so much faster.

Eventually, as I reflected on all that regret, God enabled me to see things in a different and much healthier light. I had done my best in that role, after all, and the staff seemed sad when I left. I also grew emotionally and spiritually in that time. And God used that role to equip me not only for my next job but also for my whole writing journey. Back then, God had loved me and cared for me—mistakes and all!

And now, God is doing the exact same thing in this season of my life—and yours. It can be good to learn from the past, but God longs to pick us up and move us on too. Thousands of years ago, this is what God told the Israelites to do:

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? Isaiah 43:18-19

The Apostle Paul also writes:

but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race … Philippians 3:13-14 New Living Translation

May God strengthen us all to forget those former things and, instead, grasp hold of what God has for us to do in this new season facing us in our world right now.

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Jo 23Sometimes it’s good to stop, isn’t it, and think about why we do the things we do? Perhaps for you, this isolation time has been an opportunity to do exactly that. And once we have thought about whatever it is, we can decide whether to continue on or try something different—or perhaps simply stop and be refreshed for a while.

Take blogging, for instance. This blog happens to be Number 600 of my personal, weekly blogs, each around 550 words long—yikes! That’s more than three of my novels put together! I began blogging in July 2009 and here I am, still going strong. But when I remember each blog would have taken me at least two hours to write—and some much longer, as I reflected on what I was trying to say—I shake my head a little.

So … why am I still writing them? Is it all worth it?

I still blog for various reasons and the first is quite practical. As a wordy writer, restricting myself to around 550 words each week on a topic that has touched or challenged me is an excellent exercise! My 550 word limit is self-imposed, but I try to stick to it, as it forces me to express myself more clearly and succinctly, remove unnecessary information and focus on my main point.

Much more importantly, however, I enjoy reflecting on some event in my life or something I have observed or that God has shown me and putting it into words, so that others too may be blessed in some way. Yes, sometimes I end up taking hours to come up with those 550 words. But in the process, through trying to listen to God as I write, I internalise more of what God is saying to me and always end up the richer for it. So even if I do repeat myself and write about things I already covered years ago, I am not in the same place as I was back then. We all change over time—for better or worse! But I do believe that, when God’s Spirit is alive in us, we can change for the better, as we listen and apply the lessons God is teaching us.

I also blog because I want to continue to use the gifts God has given me to the best of my ability. We all have seasons in our lives, don’t we? In my life, I have found I have used certain gifts where God has placed me for a time, but then that time passes and I need to use other gifts and abilities. Now in this season, surely, as well as doing other things for God when the opportunity arises, I can write and share from my heart in a way that will hopefully encourage and build others up?

Each one should use whatever gift he (or she) has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:10

Yes, let’s keep asking those important ‘why’ questions. But let’s also be faithful in doing what God gives us to do. After all, what a privilege it is to be entrusted to share God’s grace with others, however we can, in our world that is hurting so much right now!

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Jo 23‘I have HOMEWORK!’ our almost six-year-old granddaughter announced ecstatically, her big brown eyes wide with anticipation, as we picked her up from school one afternoon last week. ‘I’m going to do it right now!

Then and there, in the middle of the schoolyard, Maxine wanted to set to work. But I managed to get her to the car and then home at least before she tackled this wondrous new thing called homework. Last year, she had spelling to practise at home. But now being all grown up in Year One, she finally had those magical homework sheets in her hands.

First off, she tackled her spelling list for the week. She wrote out all her words in the column marked ‘Monday’ —then the Tuesday column as well, since she might not have time the next day. The Wednesday column soon followed and the Thursday one too.

But wait, there was more. As well, we completed some little ‘Maths’ exercises to do with measuring things and deciding which things were bigger or smaller than something else.

‘This is fun!’ she declared—until her granddad tried to help her draw a map of her bedroom. But she did not want help. She did not care if things weren’t in the right place or weren’t drawn to scale. What mattered to her was making that chest of drawers she drew bigger and brighter than everything else in her room and enjoying the whole experience of doing her very own homework!

As I watched, I found myself hoping she continues to be as enamoured with the idea of doing homework for a long time to come. After all, she has plenty of it ahead of her. But I began to think too how I initially embraced some things in my own life with passion and excitement, only for it all to die down a few weeks or months later. For example, I know I should walk regularly and I do enjoy it. I used to walk every day. But things happened—and now I resent the time I need to take from my writing to go walking. Then there are some books I have started reading too with enthusiasm, even taking notes as I went. But sadly, I soon became too busy—or too lazy—and lost interest in them.

I’m so glad God has enabled me not to do the same in my Christian journey. I well remember the joy and enthusiasm with which I embraced my new-found faith in Jesus Christ in my mid-teens. Over the years, while this joy and enthusiasm may have changed in degree or shape, even becoming a little dulled at times through the pressures of life, it has never left me. Today, many years later, I still rejoice that I am God’s beloved child, through the great grace God has shown me and goes on showing me. And, through God’s strength, I am still embracing with enthusiasm the things I have been given and gifted to do right now.

May that deep joy continue to flourish in my life and yours—and may we, like Maxine, embrace all God has for us to learn and experience with enthusiasm, whatever our age!

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24

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Jo 17Recently, I did something I have never done before. Each day for one whole week, I deliberately chose to do some special activity I have wanted to do for some time but always had a reason not to. On top of that, I did not cook dinner any night that week. Instead, we ate out or bought takeaway. You see, the whole thing was a unique birthday present for me—and what fun it all was!

Originally, my husband had wanted me to enjoy a few days away somewhere by myself—to relax, recharge and spend time with God. I thought about this lovely idea and even looked up various venues online but did not feel settled about any of them. Then one night, it came to me. I did not want to go away anywhere. Instead, I wanted to enjoy different, interesting experiences within reach of our own beautiful unit, then come home and not have to cook dinner! A win-win situation, don’t you think?

In the end, we called this wondrous week ‘The Festival of Jo-Anne’ (!)—and I thoroughly enjoyed it all. I went shopping, twice over. I went to the movies. I had coffee out. I had a massage. I read. And in between, I had time simply to sit and be and reconnect with God. Yes, it was all very good indeed.

But one reason I enjoyed it even more was that, two weeks earlier, I had finally finished the first draft of my latest novel that had languished on my laptop for over three years, waiting patiently for me to unfold the rest of the story. This special week of mine then was also for me a time when I came up for air, so to speak, when I allowed my poor brain to rest, when I graced myself a little more than usual—and when I sensed God’s love and grace being showered on me from every angle. It was a lovely, hiatus period—a time to gain clearer perspective, not only on my novel, before I plunged into all that necessary editing, but on my life in general.

At one stage in writing this particular novel, I wondered if I should keep going. Should I be content with the eight books of mine that have already been published? Was that where God wanted me to stop? But one day, I sensed God saying gently to me, ‘Jo-Anne, whether you write this book or don’t write it, remember I’ll be just as delighted with you either way!’ What gracious, loving, freeing words to hear! I did not need to feel pressured to produce in any way. Instead, I had permission to write the sort of novel I have wanted to write for some time and to leave the outcome in God’s hands.

Yet I think God was saying more than that too. I think God wanted to remind me that, all the time, whether celebrating the Festival of Jo-Anne or writing or speaking or whatever, I can rest fully in this amazing love of God that accepts me, no matter what.

How precious is your unfailing love, O God! All humanity finds shelter in the shadow of your wings. Psalm 36:7 New Living Translation

Maybe you too need to hear this reminder right now?

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