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Jo 23Although there are only two of us in our household, I seem to spend so much time each week deciding what our main meals will be, shopping for the ingredients and finally cooking them. I also try to have a selection of things in the fridge and pantry to choose from for our lunches and often some cake or slice for my sweet-tooth husband—or any visitors who might drop by. All this takes planning and effort, doesn’t it? But I do it because, after all, we need to eat—although perhaps not quite as much or as often as we tend to!

Lately, however, it has dawned on me that, in focussing on all that physical nourishment, I may well be short-changing myself in other areas. I, like everyone else, need emotional nourishment—the love of family and friends, the fulfilment gained through writing, the enjoyment of reading or listening to music or watching an uplifting TV show or marvelling at the beauty of nature. I know the danger of ignoring such things and I know I cannot give out to others in any meaningful way if my own emotional ‘tank’ is empty. Yet when there is too much else to do, I can easily overlook such nourishment.

And what about that deepest part of us we call our soul? It too needs to be nourished, even more so than our physical bodies and our emotions. If our souls are dead, if that light has gone out inside us, if that firm connection with God is lost, then everything can become rather meaningless. We are not in a place of peace with God and with ourselves. And that is not a pleasant place to be.

Recently, I read the following beautiful invitation from Isaiah 55:1-3:

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.

Yes, I decided, I need to take time to come and enjoy that rich fare my soul needs. So, one morning, I headed for Lake Parramatta, not far from our home. I used to go there regularly to reflect, write, enjoy the beauty of nature and be with God. But somehow in the busyness of life, this had slipped from my agenda. How wonderful it was that morning to sit there quietly for a while in my car, with the sun warming me all over as I contemplated that lake again. The breeze ruffled the surface of the water so that it sparkled in the sun, while nearby, a family of ducks swam serenely along. I drank it all in, sensing God’s presence all around—and soon I could feel the peace of God deep inside me, bringing such refreshment and renewal, letting my soul live again.

May your soul too be nourished as you take time to come close to God, listen well and delight in that richest of fare only God can provide.

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This past week, I received an email from an old friend in which she described beginning a new year as being like looking at a huge, blank canvas and not having a clue what kind of picture will emerge on it. Do you relate to that image as you look ahead to 2012?

I certainly do—as do many of my author friends in particular, I expect. We may have spent the past year writing our novels or works of non-fiction, but what will happen to them in 2012? Will they end up being published? Or will they still be sitting there in a year’s time—along with a pile of rejection letters? Perhaps we had a book published this past year, but will it continue to sell well? Are we even with the right publisher? And what speaking engagements and promotional opportunities lie ahead for us?

In the eight years I have been writing, if nothing else, I have learnt that no one year is the same as another. I have had five novels published in that time, some of which have sold more than others. And at the beginning of each year, I have tried my best to line up as many speaking engagements as possible. Some years I have been almost overwhelmed with speaking opportunities, whereas in other years, for no apparent reason, I have suffered a dearth of them.

So as I stand on the brink of yet another year of writing and speaking, what can I do? Well, I can hope my sixth novel will be accepted for publication. And I can also hope my very first work of non-fiction will be too. I hope both these things fill part of that blank canvas for me in the coming year—but I can’t bank on it. I hope too that many speaking engagements will be scattered along the way, but I can’t be sure of these yet either. Some people are to get back to me in the new year, while others have yet to respond to my emails. And of course, I plan to keep writing—perhaps another work of non-fiction or one of those other novels I have outlined on my computer. But I’m not sure any of them will ‘work’—I’ll simply have to begin writing and see.

All this uncertainty can be very off-putting. But this past week, I was reminded clearly from Isaiah 2 that there is only one way for us to travel such an uncertain road. In verse 5, God says to the children of Israel through Isaiah, but surely to us too:

Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Then in verse 22 at the end of that same chapter, I read the following:

Stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he?

My dear friend finished her email I mentioned above with the thought that God knows already what that finished picture on the blank canvas before us for 2012 will look like. I don’t know about you, but I find that hugely reassuring. How privileged we are to know we can trust the Lord and walk in his light rather than bank on mere human beings in the year ahead! God knows. God sees. And God will undertake for me and for you.

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I have some clear memories from my childhood that I’m not so proud of. I was a very strong-willed child who didn’t like very much being told what to do, when to do it, what to wear, what to … well anything, really! On those occasions when my will clashed with my mother’s, I would argue on and on until eventually she would come to the end of her patience. With a very upset, angry look on her face, she would say with some passion, ‘Well, do what you like – you will anyway!

I remember how, while at first I was happy I had got my own way, this happiness was dulled somewhat by the knowledge that I had upset my mother and was displeasing her by pressing on with whatever I wanted to do. And I think I remember giving in myself at that point in some instances at least – although perhaps that’s wishful thinking on my part or the distortion that time can bring!

I think it’s these memories of my childhood wilfulness that cause me even now to sit up and take notice when I read passages in the bible dealing with the stubborn and rebellious attitude of God’s people. It couldn’t possibly be, of course, that I am still rather strong-willed and stubborn! Whatever the reason, this week I found myself taking particular note when I came across Psalm 81. Here the Lord reminds the Israelites how he rescued them from slavery and begs them to listen to him so they will triumph over their enemies. I could clearly hear his love for his children and feel his grief as I read verses 11-12:

But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.

I heard this love even louder and stronger in the final verse of this psalm, however, which paints a beautiful picture of the Lord’s provision for his children, would they but listen.

But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.

It seems this honey the Lord promised was the best and sweetest wild honey that could be obtained then from bees that established themselves high up in the clefts of rocks. If the Israelites truly listened, the Lord would provide not only water from the rock, as happened at Meribah (see v 7), but the best honey ever and the highest quality wheat for their bread.

Now I’m a bit partial to fresh bread and honey, I must admit. And that in itself should make me long even more for such good gifts from God’s hand. In fact, in reality, I know I have tasted them over and over again as I have grown to love and trust God more and look to him for the things that truly satisfy. How sweet it is for me to remember, for example, that whatever happens with the books I have poured myself into writing during the past eight years, I am still perfectly loved and valued by God! One day, I believe, the Lord will welcome me into heaven and he and I will sit down together and write the most perfect books imaginable! And that will indeed taste to me like the best bread and the sweetest honey ever.

Is God’s wheat and honey on your menu today?

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Sometimes writing can be a hazardous occupation. Yes, authors often suffer physically from sore backs, arms and eyes from sitting in front of that computer screen for too long, typing away without a break. But it’s a great occupation for doing ourselves in emotionally as well, if we’re not careful. Of course, the likelihood of this happening can wax and wane with what we are trying to write, how well our ideas are flowing and also how our already published books might be doing out there in the market. But when we’re stuck or when we’re unsure if what we’re writing is rubbish or not or when we’re discouraged about those book sales or lack of speaking opportunities out there, then that can be a dark and lonely place.

I’ve been there. In fact, it’s threatening me right now again. But it’s exactly at times like this I’m so thankful I’m a Christian author who, by God’s grace, still has a strong faith. I’m not alone in this crazy writing journey. I know God is with me. And I know God will show me the way forward.

Recently I began writing another book – my seventh. This time, however, it is non-fiction. I truly believe it’s what God wants me to write at this stage, but that doesn’t mean the project is without its challenges. Right now, one big challenge is how to walk a fine line between saying too much about something and not saying enough – and also between how much of myself I reveal and how much is best left unsaid!

This book has also forced me to look back on a period of my life that held some grief and pain for me. So as I write, I’m often back in the moment, feeling the emotion of it all again and almost aghast at what I know will happen next. I know I’ll pass through this period and soon be on safer ground. But it’s definitely an emotionally hazardous journey at the moment.

Yet I know for sure God understands where I’m at right now and still delights to surprise and encourage me in unique and wonderful ways. On opening my computer just this morning, I found that a college friend I have not seen for years but who contacted me again recently had written something especially for me. She thought of me last night and wrote quite a long poem she felt God wanted me to have ‘without delay’. Among other things, it talks about resting in God, letting God love me and spending time just ‘being’ in that loving Presence.

I quickly checked back to the last sentences I had written in my book before heading for bed last night. And there I found the following: … But above all, it reminded me all over again that God loved me completely, however perfect or imperfect I was. And I knew the best thing I could do was to rest in that love more fully and approach the challenges of ministry with confidence from that solid place of security in God.

 It’s not the first time God has ‘tricked’ me into writing things that speak to me first and foremost. But it is the first time it’s happened at exactly the same time someone else has been inspired to write a poem for me saying similar things!

Somehow I think God wants me to sit up and take note. Do you agree? Should you sit up and take note too?

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There could be several answers to this question, come to think of it. Both words end in ‘ting’, for starters. And if I remember my parts of speech correctly, both are verbal nouns. As for the activities themselves, both can be accomplished much more easily, I’d say, if one is sitting down. Both also require the use of one’s hands – well usually anyway. And both, in my opinion, require much patience and perseverance.

Now I put knitting aside several years ago. I knew if I began another project, I would get ‘hooked’ and those novels I hoped to write would never be finished. Recently, however, a family member suggested I might like to start knitting again and in a weak moment, I acquiesced. I blithely chose a beautiful pattern and bought some wool, but after reading the instructions more closely, decided I should be more realistic. It would probably take me several years to complete what I had chosen, so I lowered my sights and selected a different one.

But then the fun began. I tried the first four rows several times without success – the lacy pattern was beyond me. Backwards and forwards I went, knitting a few rows, undoing them all and trying again. Eventually I worked out what the instructions actually meant and then I was off – at least for a while. But careless mistakes began occurring – and I soon lost count of the number of times I knitted several rows, only to pull them undone yet again.

And here is where the similarity between writing and knitting kicked in for me. There was something incredibly familiar about this moving forward and retreating, this creating and undoing. Six novels further down the track in my writing journey, this ebb and flow has become almost inevitable, something that is par for the course. When I first began writing, I could not handle the idea of throwing out large chunks of the masterpiece I had created and sweated over. Yet over time, I learnt it did not kill me to delete my pearls of wisdom. In fact, I came to see it often led to discovering even greater treasures than pearls.

So for me, both knitting and writing require large dollops of patience and perseverance. And last night, as I unravelled several rows of my knitting yet again, I was reminded that this is how God is constantly called on to deal with me. I forge ahead – and God is there beside me, guiding and encouraging. I mess up – and God is there, challenging me and comforting me. I go backwards, forgetting where I’m heading and losing the way – and God is there again, urging me on and strengthening me to run the race. As Psalm 103 reminds us:

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. … As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.

Yes, I will no doubt continue to make mistakes – and God, the author of all things, who knit me together even before I was born (Psalm 139), will graciously edit them out and patiently unpick them, as I allow him to.

And for that I will be forever grateful.

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I wonder how many of you, authors or otherwise, struggle with this whole area of looking for praise for what we produce? I  have been thinking about this in connection with the recent release of my fifth novel Heléna’s Legacy. Of course I want people to like this book. And of course I want it to impact and encourage as many people as possible. After all, I believe in this novel – and I believe it was something God wanted me to write. So I’m happy to get out there and promote it for all it’s worth. And I’m very pleased (and relieved!) when people respond positively – when they congratulate me, when they say they love the cover, when they warm to what I’ve written.

In one sense, I have to ‘pursue’ praise. By that I mean I have to listen to my readers – there is no point in continuing to produce novels no one likes and no one buys. And that includes taking on board praise as well as criticism. But in my uncertainty as to whether my book is ‘good enough’, I find myself on occasions seeking so desperately for that reassuring praise that may never come. I look too eagerly for people’s responses. My wellbeing begins to depend on it. I analyse their words too closely and, if face to face, try to discern if they mean what they’re saying. Perhaps they’re merely trying to be nice and not hurt me. Or perhaps while they compliment me on some aspect of the novel, they’re secretly glad they can find at least something positive to say about it!

So where is the point where I begin to seek praise for praise’s sake only – to make me feel good or to boost my ego – rather than look for it to show me I have written something that will be well-received and hopefully used by God? Where do I step over into self-centredness, caring more about my own honour rather than God’s? Where is the dividing line between humbly and thankfully accepting people’s praise and letting it go to my head?

I guess the real question in my heart is this: Whose praise am I seeking the most – men’s (and women’s!) or God’s? Recently I read the account in John 5 of how Jesus heals a disabled man, telling him to pick up his mat and walk, but is persecuted for this because it is the Sabbath. The persecution then gets worse when Jesus calls God Father, yet this doesn’t deter him from confronting his opponents even more strongly. ‘I know you,’ he tells them (v 42). ‘I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts.’ Then he asks a question that pulled me up short: ‘How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?’ (v 44)

Yes, I know and am so thankful for the fact that I am fully accepted by God and saved by grace – that none of my works, written or otherwise, will ever ‘earn’ me eternal life. But here Jesus clearly shows the importance of taking God’s opinion of us into account over that of mere mortals, of living in a way that please God above all else. And I’m sure you too look forward to the day when, like the faithful servant in Matthew 25, we ourselves hear our Master’s ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’ (v 21)

Now that’s definitely some praise worth pursuing, don’t you agree?

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Last week I wrote my hundredth blog for this site – a milestone in my blogging ‘career’! So many of my thoughts have gone ‘out there’ into cyberspace since I began my weekly words of wisdom in July 2009 – but has it all been worth the time and effort put into it? My site stats tell me well over a hundred people decide for some reason to open my blog each week, with one amazing week recently when 375 people accessed it. What I write about is just something I consider might be worth sharing – nothing special. But each week I hope and pray these words convey some aspect of God’s heart – something that will encourage or challenge any who read them.

I like to think I have learnt a few things in this blogging journey of mine. I can certainly see via my site stats that some topics are more popular than others. I notice that those aimed more at other authors tend to lose or miss the mark with those who aren’t at all interested in writing. I’ve discovered it’s worth taking time to think up a good title for my blog – plus some sort of interesting and arresting comment to write on Facebook when I put my blog link up there each Tuesday morning. I’ve had some winners and some losers – some of my blogs have fizzled and some have, for no obvious reason, sparked a great deal of interest. Obviously, I still have a way to go to make my blogs consistently readable.

So I smiled when I realised this particular blog I am writing now is listed as ‘Blog 101’ on my computer. Even now, after writing a hundred blogs, I still feel I am in the basic learning stage of ‘Blogging 101’! There are so many skills and key aspects I’m sure I have overlooked and have yet to master. I think I often forget to keep my readership in mind and tend to use both personal examples and vocabulary that may not mean much to the average reader. I am frequently far too wordy. I play it safe at times and don’t honestly write what is on my heart to say on a given subject. I occasionally write my blogs when I’m too tired, with the result that my writing becomes stodgy and uninteresting. And some days I labour far too long over a blog, pouring time and effort that should be spent on my current novel-in-progress or talk I am preparing rather than ‘second guessing’ what originally came to me to blog about.

I hope my blogs will continue to improve. I don’t want to be lazy or shoddy in the way I write or too preoccupied with other matters that I don’t give my best effort to them. I want my current readers and supporters to keep on reading what I write, whatever the subject. I want new readers to find my blogs and be interested enough to return often to my site. I want to write with integrity, from the heart, about things I know are true and will hopefully build up and encourage others. But most of all, I want God to be glorified through the words I write.

So here I am by God’s grace, launching into my second ‘century’ of blogging, praying God’s wisdom and insight will flow through my words and the gifts of writing and of encouragement I believe God has given me will bear fruit.

May it be so, Lord!

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