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Posts Tagged ‘women’s retreats’

Helena CoverAs I sat reading the email enquiry that had just arrived via my website, I felt more than a little surprised. You see, someone had written to ask where she could get hold of twenty-five copies of my very first novel Heléna, first published way back in 2007. She explained how she had loved it and planned to review it at her church’s women’s retreat, so needed to have copies available for their bookstall.

I suggested she check at a nearby Christian bookstore, as I had none on hand. She did this, but with no success. So I agreed to order in some copies from my previous publisher for her—and within less than a fortnight, those books had arrived. I contacted my prospective customer again and she arranged to pick them up from me. I looked forward to meeting her and to discovering where she had first come across Heléna. Had she bought it from me after I had spoken somewhere? Had she found it in a bookstore? Had someone perhaps given it to her?

When she arrived, she was in a hurry. But in those few moments together, she told me a story that blew my mind.

‘Oh, I found my copy of Heléna in a Vinnies store at Ryde!’ she told me. ‘It looked new—and when I picked it up, I realised it was a Christian book, so I bought it. I’ve read some of your other books too since then.’

At that point, I showed her one of my bookmarks that feature my most recent novel The Inheritance and my memoir Soul Friend.

‘I haven’t read The Inheritance,’ she told me, ‘but I’ve read Soul Friend. In fact, I lent it to a friend I worked with. She was unhappy in her job and I thought it might help her. I didn’t want her to leave, but when she read it, it gave her the strength to do just that and to move on in her life. And that has been the best thing for her.’

As I stood clutching the cash payment she insisted on making then and there for all twenty-five copies of Heléna, I felt so humbled. Only God could have arranged for her to buy that second hand copy in Vinnies and be moved by it, then to read more of my books. Only God could have prompted her to lend Soul Friend to her friend. And only God could have used it to inspire this person to make a wise decision and move on. I could never have dreamed up this sequence of events—but God certainly could.

As my lovely customer left, clutching her carton of books, I thanked God for her and prayed those copies would be well received at the women’s retreat. And I remembered once again some verses I love from Isaiah:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9

I could not agree more. How about you?

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Yesterday, while filing away some talks I gave this past weekend, I decided it was high time I threw out copies of others I gave around fifteen years ago! Why keep these bulging folders any longer? I have changed so much since then. And even if I were to speak on those same topics, my content would be quite different.

As I sorted through these, I noted how much preparation had gone into them—and no doubt much prayer as well. Then I stopped for a moment and reflected on all that has happened since then. Over these past fifteen years, I have spoken in and outside of churches many times, as I still do. In a flash, I saw how invaluable that earlier experience and hours of preparation had been for what I find myself still doing today. But beyond that, I sensed again God’s overwhelming grace in my life. In all those years, God has never forgotten me for a moment. And, just as I experienced this past weekend, as I gave three sessions at a women’s retreat, God is continuing to provide me with opportunities to use the gifts of speaking and encouraging I believe I have been given and continuing to guide and strengthen me.

In Isaiah 49:15, the Lord says to the people of Zion:

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has born? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See I have engraved you on the palms of my hands …

Centuries later, I believe God is still not in the business of neglecting us. When we belong to God’s family, God takes responsibility for us—and I saw that clearly yet again this past weekend. Even before I left home, after glancing through my input once more, I decided to sit down quietly and read a few words of Scripture. Recently, I had begun reading through Psalms again and ‘happened’ to be up to Psalm 19. In the last verse there, I found the following:

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

This was exactly the prayer I sensed I needed to pray before heading up the coast to speak. I did not know the group well who had invited me and was a little nervous about how I would be received. But, above all, I wanted to please the Lord with what I had prepared. So being given this little prayer brought such reassurance as I set out into the unknown.

And once again, God did not let me down. In fact, I am sure at times God rescued me and gave me words I would not have thought of saying, just as is promised in Isaiah 51:16:

I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand—I who set the heavens in place, who laid the foundations of the earth, and who say to Zion, ‘You are my people.’

This week, as you seek to love and serve the Lord, may you too receive a fresh glimpse of God’s amazing grace and enjoy that covering of God’s own, powerful hand over you in all you do.

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This week, I sat down at my desk to write, my mind tired and my body likewise. I squirmed and fidgetted—my back that was operated on some weeks ago still does not take kindly to my sitting anywhere for extended periods. My first task was to write some emails in preparation for our trip to Melbourne this week for three book events. But as I thought about those events, I sighed a little. Did I have the energy to give of my best at each of them? And why was I feeling a little half-hearted about things I usually love doing?

Perhaps it was that I was thinking about our new granddaughter and how I could best help her mum with looking after her and her energetic, two-year-old brother! Perhaps it was that I have several dear friends in the midst of difficult situations in their lives who are very much in my thoughts and prayers. I feel their burdens and wish I could lift these from them. Perhaps it was that my mind preferred to continue figuring out how best to re-arrange the contents of the book I am currently writing. And perhaps, behind and beneath all these things, that old enemy was lurking, trying to dim my enthusiasm for these upcoming book events.

Then two things happened that changed my perspective and caused that joy and anticipation to start flooding back. The first came out of the blue, from a direction I would never have expected. Someone contacted me via my website, asking me to consider being the speaker at a women’s retreat for her church later this year. A few days later, I met some of the women organising this event over lunch, none of whom I had known previously. As I responded to their questions and watched their faces, I was humbled to realise how much trust they were placing in me. And again I saw what a privilege it is to share from the heart with women at events like this and to be part of enabling others to grow in God in some way.

The second came in the form of a simple email from a friend who wanted to share her joy at finally signing a publishing contract for her children’s book. After I had replied to her email and commented on what was happening in my own life, she wrote a further few lines back, including the following simple statement:

What amazing doors God has opened up for you with your books … He is amazing!

I could have easily let my eyes slide over her comment. I could have brushed it aside and not taken it in fully. But God was there beside me, I believe, tapping me on the shoulder and saying gently: Listen to that, Jo! Be thankful for these opportunities! And remember, I am the One opening up those doors for you!

Yes, I needed that broader perspective. And I needed to be reminded not to take for granted all those opportunities God has given me but receive them with an open hand and heart. If I am tired, then God will enable. If I feel discouraged, God will encourage. If I am weak, God will strengthen and empower.

And that’s true for you too!

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. 2 Cor 12:9

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I’m a writer and speaker. I use and play with words day in and day out, and our English language is so rich that I’m often spoilt for choice. Yet sometimes I wonder if, in all my cleverness, I make something sound much more complex that it really is.

Over the weekend, I had the privilege of speaking at a women’s retreat. I was entrusted with the task of giving three talks, each forty-five minutes in length. I spent many hours preparing these and their accompanying reflection sheets and discussion questions. And in the end, those talks more than filled those forty-five minutes I had been allotted! Yet the women were very gracious and patiently heard me out.

But as I delivered what I had prepared, I noticed two things. The first was that the women present went very quiet and seemed to listen extra hard whenever I shared some personal experience I had had of God or some story from my own life to illustrate a point I was making. I saw again the power of a simple story or honest testimony, as the women related to what I shared. No wonder Jesus so often taught in parables.

The second thing I noticed was that, out of all I shared over the weekend, what seemed to have the most impact was the simple truth that God loves each one of us. Not just in some theoretical, matter of fact way, but deeply¸ profoundly, purely, honestly. God created us. We went our own way. But God called us back, treated us with such grace, forgave us, accepted us. God loves us with a love that is perfect and eternal.

It was when the power of God’s love and the power of story combined, however, that the Spirit seemed to touch us the most. At one stage, I shared how, at a needy time in my life, God’s love filled me again in an amazing way. I had been so busy and, in the process, lost any sense of God’s real presence with me. But God broke through one night when I was home by myself. To my vast relief, I found myself freely worshipping God again, full of joy and so conscious of God’s Spirit alive in me. But it was the two pictures I believe God gave me then that impacted me even more. The first was of Jesus holding me as a baby, smiling down at me with such pure love and delight as he whispered, ‘Wow! Jo-Anne!’. I knew he was showing me he loved me just the way I had been created, before I could achieve anything. In the second picture, I saw all my certificates I later received piled in a bunny rug and gently pushed to one side. I knew God was showing me that, while they were great, I was utterly loved even without any of them.

I pointed out to the women listening how each one of us is that baby in Jesus’ arms, so precious to him. And in the quietness, God touched us all.

When it’s all said and done, it’s as simple—and profound—as that. God loves me. Jesus loves me.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1

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