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Posts Tagged ‘the love of God’

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

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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

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Recently, I could not resist buying a non-fiction book by one of my favourite fiction authors, Charles Martin. I wanted to see how he went about writing non-fiction and how the book compared with his novels. But as well, for some reason, its title simply caught my attention.

The book is What If It’s True? and is sub-titled A Storyteller’s journey with Jesus.

At first, I silently scoffed at using a question like this for a title. Of course it’s true, I thought—I’ve believed that for ages! Yet as I reflected further, I realised it is not only a good, honest question for anyone new to understanding who Jesus is to grapple with, but also a good, honest question for those of us who have believed for years to consider—because, over time, we can become almost blasé about it all, can’t we? Over time, we can even become immune to such deep truths, like that frog who starts off in cold water but, as the water gets hotter and hotter, simply stays there, oblivious to the fact that it is slowly being boiled to death.

My memory of Good Friday in our household during my growing-up years is that it was a day of sadness and reverence. Somehow, it didn’t seem quite right to have fun or make too many loud noises. For a time in my early teens, I would head to our local Anglican church for the special three-hour service from midday. Then on Easter Sunday, we would usually make it to Sunday School or church—and I remember the relief I felt that Jesus had won, that death was not the end for him, even though I did not understand the significance of it all back then.

Thankfully, in my mid-teenage years, I came to understand the love and grace of God so much more. One night, after hearing the good news of Jesus clearly proclaimed, I welcomed it with open arms. I was overwhelmed to realise Jesus Christ knew me and loved me and died for me—and my life changed from that moment on. Today, by God’s grace, I still know these truths deep in my heart, but … well … have I somehow allowed the significance of the events we remember at Easter to become blunted in my life?

In his introduction, Charles Martin writes:

What if the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ is the singular most important event in the history of mankind, and what if one drop of His blood is the most powerful thing in this universe or any other? What if dead and crucified Jesus came back to life by the power of the Holy Spirit and He is alive today? …

What if His story is true?

What if this Jesus, the One who walked out of the tomb shining like the sun, holding the keys of death and hades, is alive—in you? In me? I write fiction for a living, and that’s either the craziest thing I’ve ever heard or it’s the most important word ever spoken.

It is indeed true—all of it. May we never forget that—and may it change our lives forever.

I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies… John 11:25

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I had arrived bright and early at a nearby bookstore to promote my books. As I settled in, I wondered what adventures awaited me. From past experience—and also because I and others had prayed—I knew there would be at least one special ‘God appointment’ with someone that day. And that is exactly what happened. Four or five times as I chatted with various customers, I sensed God connecting our spirits in a way that is hard to describe. It might have been for only a fleeting moment, but I knew something was happening outside of or beyond the words I was saying.

At one stage, I began talking with a young woman who was a little hard to understand at first. Her voice was soft and she wore a mask, but English was obviously quite a challenge for her too. I explained about my books, but could see she was still mystified. Eventually, she picked up a copy of Becoming Me and we talked about receiving God’s love and about understanding who God created us to be. She opened up a little more then, telling me in her faltering English about her husband who suffered from depression but was now doing better. Then she took the book to a spot where she could sit down and glance through it.

Later, however, she returned it, telling me she wanted something that would explain things more or teach her about it all. But then, as she went to leave, she thanked me sincerely in her soft, gentle voice for listening to her—for simply listening! Even though her eyes just peeked over her mask, I could see such gratitude in them and also that she was trying hard not to cry. I will never forget those pleading eyes and my heart went out to her yet again, as I silently prayed for God’s love and grace to fill her and meet her needs.

We can’t all be in bookstores, promoting our books, but most of us at least connect with others during our weeks, however fleetingly, either in person or by phone or some other way. I certainly do, not only in my own home but also in the village where we live, as well as wider afield. So… how do I act then when talking with others? How well do I show respect for them by truly listening? How carefully do I take note of their tone of voice, their manner, their facial expression—and particularly their eyes? How often do I put their needs first, instead of thinking of my own or of what clever comment I myself might make next?

This week, I came across the following blunt proverb in my Bible:

 He who answers before listening—that is his folly and his shame. Proverbs 18:13

What an important warning—to me and to us all! How much better if we were to be ‘quick to listen and slow to speak’ instead (James 1:19). And how much better too if we were to listen more to the voice of Jesus our Shepherd as we engage with others and follow the leading of the one who knows us all so well (John 10:27). Perhaps then we would remember to give that gift of listening more often, don’t you think?

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We are complex beings, aren’t we? Sometimes we think we know why we do the things we do, but then we may discover other reasons lurking beneath the surface. We may try to help someone, yet find in the end our actions are more to make us feel good about ourselves. Or we may give that help in the hope that, when we need help, they will perhaps return the favour. We like to think our motives are pure, but sometimes they can be more mixed than we care to believe, as I myself discovered recently.

Sometime last year, a gentleman invited me to speak at a secular venue and told me I would receive a monetary gift towards my travel costs. I thought that was quite generous as, often in the past, I have received instead either a bottle of wine, which I usually give away, or some chocolates, which I don’t eat! I thanked him, but then enquired whether I could also display my books. This seemed to shock him, however.

‘Well, either we give you the money or you sell your books!’ he told me in a rather incensed tone. ‘But if you want to bring a few, I’ll look the other way.’

I felt like some mercenary criminal. Why he would need to look the other way? I have sold my books at such meetings many times before and still received some sort of gift at least. Besides, any author will tell you writing books is not a good way to get rich quickly—unless one’s book is a bestseller!

This particular meeting was cancelled because of Covid but, when we made a new date, I discovered this man would not be there then. So, I decided to display my books after all and see what happened as far as any monetary gift was concerned.

Nothing did. I sold two books, which of course did not cover travel costs, and returned home more than a little disgruntled.

As I reflected on this experience, however, I began to feel more ashamed than disgruntled. Hands down, if I had to choose, I would prefer to sell my books rather than receive money to cover travel costs. After all, I want readers to enjoy my books and also hopefully be drawn closer to God in some way. Besides, many times I have happily spoken at different places, well aware there will be no monetary gift afterwards. Yet this day, I sensed my motives had shifted a little.

In the end, I decided to sit down and remember who gave me the gifts of writing and speaking and who has enabled me to do both for years now. I might not have made a great deal—but I am not in debt either. And I have met many interesting people along the way and learnt so much. Soon I began to feel thankful again for my wonderful, God-given, unexpected, later-in-life journey. And I remembered too the verse featured on my website, reminding me to glorify God, rather than seek glory and gain for myself.

Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness. Psalm 115:1

I hope I keep that wonderful, pure motive in mind more often in future.

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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.

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I am not a seasoned solver of jigsaw puzzles. I enjoy them when I have time—and I enjoyed helping my husband with the two puzzles I gave him last year, even when he did not want or need my help! But the one-thousand-piece puzzle he gave me for Christmas certainly exacted any revenge he might have wished to exact—and then some! Eventually, however, I conquered the challenge and felt quite chuffed when I did. Then I saw that extra puzzle piece lying on the table nearby. I had noticed it on and off while doing the jigsaw and wondered where it could possibly fit. It did not look quite the same as the other foliage pieces in the puzzle, so each time, I put it aside. Now there it still was, with no more spaces available where it could possibly go.

For a while, I gazed at it in disbelief. Surely a jigsaw puzzle company would not make that sort of mistake? I checked the completed puzzle again—nope, definitely no spare spots. Then my mind jumped to the possibility that, somewhere out there, some other poor person was trying to complete their own puzzle, only to find one crucial piece missing! I would certainly hate that to happen to me, after all my efforts. Someone else then suggested the puzzle creators might have put that extra piece in just to make things harder or to tease their poor victims. But again, surely not! Or… could they?

Soon I will pack my completed puzzle away, spare piece and all. And maybe sometime in the future, I will do it again, forgetting about that pesky extra piece! But there is one memory I will never forget that surfaced as I worked on my puzzle. A few times, I tried to put a piece in place that seemed right, yet I did not hear that soft, little ‘click’ that would tell me the piece was a perfect fit there. And those little ‘clicks’ brought back a memory that is almost sixty years old now.

In 1963, a friend invited me to a youth camp run by the then Methodist church. One night, after the speaker had invited us to commit our lives to Christ, I was one of the first to move quickly to the front. I was overwhelmed with the thought that God knew me and loved me—that I mattered to God. And somewhere deep inside, I felt and heard a loud, satisfying ‘click’ like the sound of the last piece of a child’s wooden jigsaw puzzle falling into place. Suddenly, the fact that Jesus Christ loved us and died for us made sense to me. It was as if a veil lifted from my eyes and I knew I had found the reason I was on this earth—to love and serve God.

One day, we will see the whole, completed picture of our lives from God’s perspective. One day, we will understand fully. But for now, let’s keep believing and trusting in the one who loves us totally and can bring all the pieces of our lives together in the best way possible.

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. 1 Corinthians 13:12 NLT

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‘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

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I can’t quite believe it. This week, we celebrated a special birthday in our family, albeit in different times and places, for COVID reasons. Our oldest child turned fifty. Yes—fifty! She looks nothing like that age, which makes it even more unbelievable for me. Anyway, how could I have a fifty-year-old daughter? Such a thing simply cannot be possible, at least not quite yet—could it?

Fifty years seems such a long time, in one way. Yet, in another, it feels as if those years have flown. In that time, our daughter has lived in many different places and done many different things. She has faced difficult challenges too, particularly health-wise, yet here she still is, determined to keep moving on in life, still ready to try new things and take risks, as she steps into a further phase of her journey. Yes, our daughter is a very capable, compassionate and courageous woman who tries her best at everything she does. It is a joy to honour her as we celebrate, yet this milestone has certainly caused me to reflect on my own life too.

Only weeks after our daughter was born, we moved interstate. Around two years later, a son was added to our family and we moved interstate again, this time to South Australia, where another daughter eventually joined our family. We lived near the beach at beautiful Victor Harbor, a wonderful place for our young children to grow up. A brief stint in Adelaide followed, then we were on the move again, back to Sydney to another ministry role at a local church. In this time, I decided to return to study to gain my teaching diploma and, when another move across Sydney followed, I was able to teach and thus help buy our own home. Season by season, God unfolded the next thing for me, often in such unexpected ways, and I am so grateful. Later, I took on an editing role, then a secretarial role and finally a ministry role, after gaining a theology degree. And when that concluded, my wonderful adventure of writing and speaking began.

Over the years, we can pack so much into our lives. And in the midst of it all, sometimes it’s easy to forget the bigger picture, isn’t it? In reality, our time here on earth is a mere speck when compared to eternity. Surely then, that means I need to hold onto things more lightly than I tend to do? And surely it also means I need to use my time here well and share the love of God with others however I can? I often think of Jesus’ parable about the rich man who built bigger barns to store his grain and other goods in so he could take life easy and ‘eat, drink and be merry’ (Luke 12:13-21). Of course, this doesn’t mean we don’t provide for the future or celebrate happy times together. But, as Jesus tells us, it does mean we need to be wise in the way we live.

Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God. Luke 12:21 NLT  

Let’s continue to live life to the full. But let’s treasure that rich relationship with God that lasts for eternity above everything else.

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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

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