How do I know if it’s God’s will? Sticking to your beliefs in work and creativity

Can we know the will of God when making decisions? How do I know if I’m doing God’s will? How do I know if my feet are on the right path for God’s plan for me? How can I honour God with my work? How can I honour God in my writing or my art?

I was asked this recently by a friend and I’m going to answer it here as well because I think this question fundamentally affects our decisions when we’re living out our faith.

I went to the Planetarium recently and re-discovered that we are all just specks in this giant universe – no, less than specks. We cannot be seen from the moon. Our planet cannot be seen from outside the Milky Way.

We are miniscule – but God loves each of us as individuals, and Jeremiah 29:11 says God has a great plan for our lives. I can’t claim to know the will of God. But here’s what I think about when I’m trying to live out God’s will in both my paid work and my creative projects.

My feet at the labyrinth in Sydney Centennial Park.

About to start the labyrinth in Sydney Centennial Park. Image source: My camera.

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How I chose which books to read in 2015

The long road to Fort Scratchley lighthouse at Nobby's Beach, Newcastle. Image source: My camera.

The long road to Fort Scratchley lighthouse at Nobby’s Beach, Newcastle. Image source: My camera.

The end of the year is a great time for reflecting on our habits from the year and how they changed us as a person. Here is just one snippet from my reflections on my habits in 2015: How I chose which books to read during the year.

It’s an important topic. The books you read are part of the inspiration you get, and that shapes who you become as a person over the course of a year. We’re always changing, and the input we choose for our hearts and minds is a huge part of that.

What does the Bible say about the input you should give your heart and mind?

Proverbs 4:23: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of your life and everything you do flows from it.”

Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, think about whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable. If anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about those things.”

(author’s paraphrase)

So in short, in 2015, I let God choose.

While standing at the shelves of my favourite bookshops or poring over new releases on my favourite online bookshops, or even leaning against my own bookshelves and wondering what to read next, I asked the Holy Spirit. I asked that God would reveal what book would help me the most in this season, or what book would give me encouragement, give me a laugh, show me afresh His power, or give me the key to spreading His power to others with my life.

Here’s my list of books read, how the let-God-pick method went, and the themes that emerged in what I read…

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What self-care looked like for me this winter

Some of my self-care helpers.

Some of my self-care helpers.

I’ve been reading about self-care. Here’s what it looks like for me this winter.

In the picture above, you can see some of my dedicated self-care helpers: Aloe vera tissues, cuppa tea, soy cheese crackers, inspiring documentary about miracle healers, a trip to the movies, a big, warm, fluffy blanket, and in the background, you can just make out my adorable baby CD player.

This year, I just read this post by Mrs Modern Darcy on what self-care can look like, this post on The Peaceful Wife about taking care of yourselves to love others better, and this post on Propel Women on how women in leadership can make time for self-care.

These posts are good reminders that self-care – taking care of yourself and doing a few things every day just to make yourself happy – is not just for you. It’s for everyone around you who needs your love and attention. You can’t give anyone love and attention when your needs haven’t been met and you feel out of sorts.

And the things that wear you out don’t need to be bad things. Even good things like serving, caring, and giving friendship, can all take energy. If we’re not recharging, we soon run out of love to give.

Stress from doing too many good things is not a new thing. Even Moses in the Bible got told off for trying to do too much at once without taking care of himself. His father-in-law Jethro warned him, “The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.” (Exodus 18: 17-18, NASB)

Remember how on the plane, they say to put on your own oxygen mask before you put on your kids’? They say that because if you don’t save yourself, you cannot save your kids. It’s not selfish. It’s essential.

And creativity? Forget about it! If you’re stressed, you are waaaaay less creative.

So I was inspired me to write out my own list of what helps me stay sane and productive on a daily basis, and helps me to love and work better. I hope it inspires you like it did me!

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8 writing tips for memoir and biography

A sunset I captured with my camera in Sydney.

A sunset I captured with my camera in Sydney.

I saw the most awesome documentary last week about healers all over the world. Within 2 minutes, I had tears leaking out because of what a good story a healing makes. Before, broken and hurting and helpless to do anything about it; afterwards, healed and whole and grateful to God. The best part is that the story is true.

This post – and my free ebook you can download below – is for the life writers of true stories who want some “back to basics” reminders for how to get your story on paper. Whether you’re writing memoir, autobiography, or biography, a few simple principles hold true. And most of them are fairly easy to spot in your own writing, so you can save a lot of time by referring back to these principles as you write.

Memoirs and biographies need to feel real for the reader. They need real drama.

Yes, it’s your story, but it’s still a story. Your story – or the story of the person whose life you’re chronicling – has already captured your attention and imagination and heart. It needs to be written in a way that also captures the reader’s attention and their heart.

Here’s my 8 basic tips – one for every day of the week, plus an extra.

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Book review: Devotions that start and finish my day

My life verse, decorated by me using old wrapping paper (I recycle!). Was stuck up on my wall at the office - now it's stuck on our wall at home, right next to the front door. Last thing I see when I'm heading out? God's reminder.

My life verse, decorated by me using old wrapping paper (I recycle!). Was stuck up on my wall at the office – now it’s stuck on our wall at home, right next to the front door. Last thing I see when I’m heading out? God’s reminder.

As you know, my faith is a big part of who I am. But what do I do when I am faced with a spiritual drought?

The Bible is filled with amazing stories, inspiring messages … but I don’t find it easy to read it every day. (I do read a bit of it every day, but that’s because of discipline, not because the book of Amos fills with me great joy.) But we still need to be filled with God’s truth, so where can we go to find that inspiration?

Devotional books – books filled with a Bible verse for each day followed by an observation on that verse or a practical application for it – have always been useful to me during those dry stretches.

Today I thought I’d review some of the devotionals that I’ve worked through over the past three years – especially since a bunch of them are on sale this week!

Each of these books were helpful, but definitely in different ways and for different seasons. I’ve never found a ‘one-spiritual-thought-fits-all’ devotional. I hope you see some in the list that might help you grow closer to God.

My NIV Couples' Devotional Bible and my favourite coffee mug

My NIV Couples’ Devotional Bible and my favourite coffee mug

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An ode to Terry Pratchett and the only gift a writer ever needs

Terry Pratchett.  Image source: Robin Matthews, Camera Press, via Daily Mail UK

Terry Pratchett.
Image source: Robin Matthews, Camera Press, via Daily Mail UK

One of my favourite authors of all time, prolific and gifted fantasy satire author Terry Pratchett, passed away last week. It hit me suddenly; I realised I had missed my chance. I wished I could have written to him before he moved on, to thank him for how he changed my writing, my life.

“You are a wonderful writer. Your books live in two and a half whole shelves of my largest bookcase because I enjoy rereading them so much. Thank you for your clever characters who made me think about the world differently. Thank you for your involving plots and your hilarious sense of humour, which gave me another world to live in on grey days.”

I know I’m just one fangirl of many. He’s such a famous author that I know he must get stacks of fan mail every day, from emails to postcards (“Terry, here I am at the edge of the Disc!”). By the time he died at 66 years old, he’d written 70 novels, including the 40-novel Discworld series that I loved so much.

But I still wish that I’d been able to express my gratitude to him in some small way – for me, not for him.

That day I made sure I didn’t miss out on other opportunities. I wrote two letters to authors at the publishing house where I work, whose novels are currently being copy-edited (an arduous process in which you question every word choice). I’d read the first or second drafts of their manuscripts in preparation for promoting their work and loved – simply loved – the writing and the characters. I’m not a crier, but I cried over the happy ending of one of them, sitting there at my desk in the marketing office.

So I wrote and told them, “I loved your book. It moved me greatly and I feel inspired to go out and do something about it. Your theme is one I’ve seen in real life and it thrilled me to see someone put it into words so accurately and with such real emotion.”

And I learned a big lesson.

Your encouragement is the best gift you can give a fellow writer.

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Why we should get to play jigsaw puzzles at work

Image source: WHSmith 1000 Piece Jigsaw: ‘Hidden Tigers’ by Steve Read

Image source: WHSmith 1000 Piece Jigsaw: ‘Hidden Tigers’ by Steve Read

So where I work, we share a building with a biology research lab. It sounds cool but I never get to see them apart from a shared “hello” in the hallways. But the best part is that the path to the stockroom takes me near enough to see their staff room… which is filled with jigsaw puzzles!

Every morning tea, lunch, and afternoon tea, you can spy them all in there, sitting or standing around a massive boardroom table covered in the latest masterpiece.

Tigers in the jungle.

Castles on the moors.

Uluru at sunset.

I swear I saw a Harry Potter puzzle once.

This is how they incubate their ideas, and I think it’s genius.

“Well, it sounds like we’ve hit a wall. Let’s take a break and come back after morning tea. To the puzzle room!”

But let me tell you, the puzzles have more benefits than just having a nice little break from work.

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Adorkable literary proposals to read over Valentine’s Day, part 2

The Valentine’s Nebula, a gift from God to let you know you are loved by someone much bigger than you are!  Image source: NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope

The Valentine’s Nebula, a gift from God to let you know you are loved by someone much bigger than you are!
Image source: NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope

Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you – taken, searching, or happily single alike! You all have the same value and worth in God’s eyes; you are not defined by your marital status. Has to be said.

Now on to fun things – my favourite proposal stories! Most of them are in books, some of them are in real life, but I’ll just be sharing the literary ones today. 😉

  1. Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth in Persuasion by Jane Austen – the second, successful one

Secret confession – not actually a 100% Pride and Prejudice fangirl. My secret love is the best love story of all time – Persuasion!

We don’t usually get to hear the words in Jane Austen’s successful proposals. She delights in describing the unsuccessful proposals, the ones that get rejected so eloquently. But when the answer is going to be yes, then Austen only brings the scene to the point of “they both understand each other, at last!” or at least “they both realise their affection for the other” and then moves right along to “My father happily gave his consent and we were married in spring.”

The exception is here, in Persuasion. We get to read the full proposal because she gives us one of the most romantic letters of all time, which has since featured on coffee mugs, book bags and T-shirts, etc.

Written by Frank Wentworth to his beloved Anne Elliot, it describes his feelings in a way that is still expressed today, although in different words, by men everywhere who approach the woman they love unsure whether she’ll say yes or no:

“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in
F. W.”

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Creating as an act of worship

Every act of creating is an act of worship because it is an echo of what our great creator did in making us.

This month I’ve had one migraine after another – sigh! For me that’s just the result of stress and being too busy to find true rest. One of the more painful results of that is that I’ve been unable to stay in the room when we’re worshipping together at church or the awesome camps I lead on (SU’s Ubertweak, and Gateway Youth Camp)… because the music makes me feel like a hippo’s jaws are squeezing down on my head.

Photo of fighting hippos from Animals Time

On National Geographic’s TV show ‘Dangerous Encounters with Brady Barr’, Dr Brady measured the bite force of an adult female hippo at 8,100 newtons (enough to crush a crocodile), but they had to give up trying to measure the male’s bite pressure because it was so aggressive.
Image source: Animals Time

I’ve found this time of personal silence challenging, but it’s also brought me back to an old truth – that there are so many more ways to worship God than just singing songs. The method of worship that I’ve found most powerful during this time is creating: every time I create, or write, or paint, or sew, I’m worshipping.

Me painting in 2011 during my ‘A Year on Canvas’ project.

Me painting in 2011 during my ‘A Year on Canvas’ project.

A couple of years ago I ran an activity at Youth called 1:1. The name was a reference to the beginning of the Hebrew poem that tells the creation story in Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Over the course of the night, our 150 kids painted canvasses, journalled, made encouragement cards for each other, and made and flew paper airplanes. We revelled in the act of reflecting what God did in creating us.

One of my Youth girls’ talented artist mothers, Tess Geizer, made this cross for me for my birthday. I’ve worn it every Friday night since then for leading at Youth.

One of my Youth girls’ talented artist mothers, Tess Geizer, made this cross for me for my birthday. I’ve worn it every Friday night since then for leading at Youth.

Soul Survivor church in Watford, England, experienced revival in the late 1990s when they did something similar. They cut back their music team from the now-typical rock concert style to the congregation singing with only their voices. Why would they do that when they were already one of the leading worship music creators worldwide?

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Writing the next chapter: What story will you tell in 2015?

Image source: ‘English girl riding bike’ from Riding Pretty blog

Image source: ‘English girl riding bike’ from Riding Pretty blog

My first post for 2015 is bike-themed, because Tim and I went for a bike ride this morning to kick off the new year. No need to peddle old ideas when you can pedal into the future!

There are always endless possibilities for New Year’s Resolutions. Finish your novel. Lose weight. Find The One. Change jobs. Get to Mordor and drop the ring in Mount Doom. The usual.

As Dave Beck, NaNoWriMo Technical Director, puts it: “In the end, isn’t everything—from relationships to careers to geopolitics—about the narratives we choose? The narratives we write?”

So here’s what my resolutions are all about:

Write a good story with your life. A true hero need only be a person who sets goals and overcomes conflict to achieve them.
(paraphrasing Donald Miller in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years)

Image source: Our wedding photos by Kyle and Elissa Johnson, Slade Portraits

Image source: Our wedding photos by Kyle and Elissa Johnson, Slade Portraits

Last year I wrote my story as well as I could. I had goals, and I overcame obstacles to achieve them. After the usual stresses of preparation, I married the right man for me and enjoyed decorated our new home with the artworks I made with my own hands. I left a job I didn’t enjoy and worked hard at building my editing business so I could continue to do the editing work that I love. I made time to do some of the adventures I enjoy like bushwalking and beach trips, both with friends and by myself for much-needed and much-appreciated “God dates”. Halfway through the year life got really difficult for a time as I found I had some severe struggles to work through, so I asked for help when I needed it and I trusted God to get me through. I began submitting one novel to publishers, entered as many short story competitions as I could, and completed NaNoWriMo again. And I showered as much love as I could on the people I care about.

So here are the few things that I felt went into writing a good story with my life in 2014, and what I’ll be trying to seek out again in 2015.

Image source: Sarah Killey Photography

Me and Tim holding hands at the altar.
Image source: Sarah Killey Photography

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