Writing a novel is like having an assignment with no deadline. So when I arrived in Sydney six years ago one of the first things I did was join the NSW Writers Centre and a writing group.
A new country, a fresh start: this was my chance to get serious about the novel I had been struggling over for the past ten years.
I arranged to meet a prospective writing group and arrived with a sample of the 20,000 words I had so far written clutched in my hand. Would they like it? Would they like me?
My heart sank as I read my piece and had a chat to the two women, not because they didn’t like my writing but because they did. They were as different from me as I could imagine; I could not possibly be in their writing group. I reassured myself that my Christian themed novel would definitely put them off.
A few days later they contacted me to say they would love to have me join their group and I fell to my knees in prayer.
'Surely you don't want me to be with a group of atheists?' I told God. 'It's a Christian book. Wouldn't it be better to be with other Christians?'
The only answer I got was 'Join the group.' Reluctantly I obeyed.
I have so often found that the Lord's plans are very different from my logical reasoning, and sometimes pleading debates, over why my way would be better. It has happened enough times that I would not dare trust my logic over the Lord's guidance. I can look back and see what blessings came out of obedience, and how I would have missed them by insisting on my own way.
So for the past six years I have spent every Tuesday afternoon with a group of encouraging, ruthlessly honest, and talented writers. Sometimes they read out graphic bedroom descriptions with far too much anatomical detail. Often they expound their political and world views which are so opposite to mine. Sometimes they ridicule the church and Christians, and I wonder if they have forgotten that I am one. But none of it bothers me. This group has taught me to write so much better. When something is wrong, they tell me. When the writing is good, they tell me, and it silences that insecure inner critic.
They are in my mind as I write my Christian messages and themes - What will they say about this? How can I write this so they will not recoil? It is the ultimate testing ground for a book targeted at the general public. Often they have raved over a sentence or phrase, proclaiming it as so peaceful, so beautiful, and I smile to myself that it has ministered to their hearts without them realising it is from the very God they say they don’t believe in.
For the past three years my writing group has journeyed with me telling the story of Leah, a Samaritan woman who had five husbands. This week they heard of her encounter with the Messiah at Jacob’s Well. The atheists were dismayed at the Christian turn of the story while another, who is culturally Jewish, wondered who this Jewish Messiah was. I could have become defensive, thinking that surely they should expect a story from the Bible where a woman meets Jesus to have some Christian concepts. But their comments were valid: they needed to be led up to this point more clearly than I thought I had done. My assumptions as a Christian are different to theirs and for that insight, I am grateful.
As a child growing up in a culturally rich part of New Zealand Cindy enjoyed writing, not copious screeds, but short intense pieces that brought tears to her eyes and made people think.
Then she became a dietitian – all science and seriously researched facts. She completed a Master of Public Health and a Graduate Diploma in Communication and spent many years as a corporate nutrition consultant encouraging and inspiring people to live a healthy life.
She writes a nutrition blog and was short listed for the 2016 Caleb Prize for her debut novel ‘The Pounamu Prophecy’.
Cindy lives in Sydney with her husband and teenage son.