Thursday, 27 June 2019

A cut too short? by Tracy Williamson

Do you ever find that you've got stuck in a rut?  I find a good way to gauge if I am in such a place is to look in the mirror.  How long have I had my hair in the same style?  Is it like that because it is the most perfect style there could ever be for me?  Or is it because it's just a bit too scary to think of changing?
I am one who finds it hard to find the right style to suit me as I have a long thin face  and a long thin neck! I would love to have long hair but it never works so generally I have gone for a moderately short cut.  Not particularly modern but easy to manage and sort of ok with the long thin features....So usually when my hairdresser comes my request is: 'just the ends off as usual please'.
I wonder if she ever sighs inwardly, thinking 'I wish Tracy would be just a bit bolder sometimes and try something different!'
I wonder too, on a more important level, if God sometimes sighs fondly when I err on the safe side yet again and stick to what I know when making decisions that affect my life and/or my faith journey? I love to read inspirational stories of how others take risks and through doing so achieve amazing things for God.  But often, reading those stories is as far as it goes for me.  I may be inspired, even challenged, but when it comes down to it, I still stick to what I know and feel safe with.  This is true for my writing too,  I am used to writing in a certain way, teaching/reflective/ is good and blesses others but suppose God wants me to take a risk and write a story or even a novel?  Will I dare to try something different? 
A few days ago I went to a different hairdresser as my usual one was ill.  I asked her to only take the very ends off but suddenly as she was snipping away, I had this mad thought, 'why not try going properly short?' 
So I said, (before I had time to think myself out of it...), 'Some people have suggested I have it cut above the ears, what do you think?' 
Well the upshot of that remark was that I ended up with much shorter hair than I'd planned on.  Far too short to gather into a mock pony tail and if it wasn't high summer (ha!) my ears would definitely catch cold.  I've dared to take a risk with my hair, will I do the same with my life choices?  And how about with the way I write? 
The thing that often holds me back from taking risks in life is, suppose I get it wrong?  I felt that with my hair...Suppose I get it wrong and it doesn't suit me?  And in life or writing....Suppose I get it wrong and it doesn't work out? 
Well, one thing I've come to realise in my Christian life is that God wants me to grow.  And what makes me grow the most is when things DON'T always work out.  Those times when I need to lean on Him to guide and enable me and trust Him to help me in unresolvable situations.  It is then that I grow and discover what an amazing friend He is.  And growing is true for my hairdo too....Hair grows and mine grows quite why not take a risk and have fun trying something new?  I can always grow it out if its not quite right for me, and in case you are wondering, I've realised that this particular short cut is NOT quite right for me.  I don't like it and don't feel it suits my face.  However, I am strangely glad that I took the risk of doing it a bit different.  I may not like it but it will GROW. And so will I.  I know I won't choose to have it that short again.  But if I hadn't tried I wouldn't have known that.  Similarly, one day I may write a great novel..  Or, I may find that writing stories does not work for me.  But if I don't take the risk and try, I will never know.  Only God knows what choices (and hairstyles) are truly right for me and will bring me more and more alive.  He just wants me to take the risk and step out.  If its right for me, great I will become a fuller person.  If it isn't right, well that's great too because in the process I will learn and I will grow and develop and yes become a fuller person. 
So here we are, the moral of this blog is, enjoy life, enjoy taking risks, enjoy trying new things.  Don't agonise how they will turn out and the likelihood of it going wrong, because God is in the wonderful business of working all things for the good of those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose..
Tracy Williamson is an author and Speaker working with Gospel singer/songwriter Marilyn Baker for MBM Trust.  Tracy's latest book a devotional called A Desert Transformed is about to be released by River Publishing  Tracy lives in Kent with Marilyn and Tracy's Hearing Dog, Goldie.

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

The Joy of New, by Nicki Copeland

Do you enjoy new things, or do you find them stressful? If you’re anything like me, it’s a bit of both. I love new clothes (when I can afford them!), and new books fill me with delight!

But when it comes to technology, I’d much rather stick with what I know. I had to replace my laptop earlier this year – cue much angst! Fortunately, I have a son who is a technological whizz, and he’s happy to bail me out when I hit the inevitable obstacles…

I was another who had the joy of attending the recent ACW Writers’ weekend in Scargill, for the first time. This was full of new experiences – travelling to a new place, meeting new people, an unknown programme of activities – and I was a little nervous. But it was a wonderful weekend, and I came away with some new friends, having deepened some existing friendships, with new inspiration for my writing, and having had a lot of fun!

But, I have to confess, there was one moment that had me wriggling uncomfortably in my seat. Something new; something unfamiliar, something way out of my comfort zone: we had to draw something!

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I certainly can’t list drawing as a skill on my CV. So I looked around for the easiest thing I could find to draw – a simple shape with lots of straight lines. And with trepidation, but determined not to be beaten, I started to sketch.

To my great surprise, this unfamiliar experience was not half as bad as I’d anticipated. And the task definitely achieved what it set out to – it made me notice what I was looking at – really see it. I paid close attention to the shape, to the proportions, to the grain of the wood. And I appreciated even more the object I had decided to draw.

New experiences often take us out of our comfort zone, don’t they? I was delighted to be invited to fill the recent vacancy here on the blog. But along with those feelings of joy and excitement at this new undertaking, I have to confess to feeling a little nervous. Will I have anything to say that will be of interest? Will I bring anything new? Will I be able to work the software?! How will it fit with my already busy schedule?

But new experiences are rich with material for our writing. New sights, sounds and smells. New observations and experiences. Even new feelings – both the positive and the more challenging. When we stop and take notice of these things, we find a depth of ideas to draw on.

So when we’re next faced with a new experience, something that takes us out of our comfort zone, let’s think about our approach. Will we resist, kicking and screaming all the way? Or will we embrace it as a challenge, even with joy and expectation, and in anticipation of the things God might want to teach us?

Nicki Copeland is a freelance writer, speaker, copy editor and proofreader - and loves anything to do with words. She is the author of Losing the Fig Leaf and Less than Ordinary? When she has the luxury of some free time, she can invariably be found with a book in one hand and some chocolate in the other.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Giving God Space – by Eileen Padmore

 What do we mean when we say we need more space?  I have been telling myself for years that I’ll write when I get more of it: when I can arrange for others to have less demand on my time, when I can settle my conscience around doing  ‘nothing’, when I can allow myself to stand, stare, reflect, feel, listen.

Susanna Wesley, mother of Charles and John, had nineteen children, ten of whom died. Beset by poverty, with a preacher husband who couldn’t manage money and even spent time in a debtor’s prison, she would signal her need for 'space' by putting her apron over her head whilst she prayed.  One result of her God attuned life was the upbringing of two sons who spearheaded a revival that changed the course of history.

So why do I persist in making excuses about finding the right conditions? 

Recently, during a time of personal reflection with my local christian community, we were given an empty red road sign triangle as an aid to considering what work God might wish to do in our lives.  Did he want to help us dig things up, smooth down bumpy surfaces, warn us of obstacles ahead, slow us down, speed us up ……?

But unexpectedly, the space of the empty triangle appealed most.  A blank page without instructions, rules, boundaries.  More than that, it was the place where I could meet with God and where – could I dare to hope – he might want to meet with me?  No preconditions, no psycho-generated feelings of holiness (he could see straight through those anyway) and no pretence.

What I longed for was what I had been at pains to avoid.  I had made an art form of cluttering that precious empty space with  busyness and distraction.  In Ignatian terms, I was facing the wrong direction – going for short term fixes that led to desolation.  In recovery from intensive elderly care duties, perhaps I was trying to avoid the painful emptiness left by not being so needed, scheduled, purposeful.  Could it be that consolation was only to be found through turning around to face the pain of loss in that empty space.

Why would I not want to do that, I asked myself?  

Could I summon the courage to step into what felt like the abyss?  Better sort yourself out first, a voice whispered. There were things about me that I might camouflage from others but not from Him. 

The classic lie of the fallen one – that it is possible to find a remedy within! I had to turn to face the suffering and pain in that black hole, trusting that God was there for me.  

Henri Nouwen, well acquainted with that place of ‘fearful solitude’, warns against the temptation to swap it for busyness. We do this in an attempt to reassure ourselves that we are ‘somebody.’  But a sense of true worth can only be found in God’s eternal love for us – not through other people’s responses.

Eileen Padmore has retired from a life spent in health care and academia, having worked in Sierra Leone, Zambia, Eire and Northern Ireland (in the troubles) as well as inner city Birmingham and Leeds.  She has had articles published in Woman Alive, Christian Writer and contributed to the popular ACW Lent Book.  Last November she claimed NaNo 2018 winner at first attempt.  Married to a professional musician, the family includes a feisty springer spaniel and a large African tortoise. 

Monday, 24 June 2019

Everybody is I

‘Everybody is I.’

Yes, I know that this is lifted from chapter 25 of Shadow Doctor: the Past Awaits, by Adrian Plass (page 241, to be pedantic about it). It’s in the Shadow Doctor’s sermon at the scruffy church:

I remember reading about a man who came across three words when he was less than ten years old that profoundly changed his life as the years went by.

‘Everybody is I.’

Those were the words. As far as he could work it out, ‘Everybody is I’ meant that every person was as important to themselves as he was to himself… He was just a bit-part in the lives of every single person he met, just as they were the support cast in his. And although he didn’t understand it at the time, that awareness was to become a crystal-clear insight into the heart of the creator. Every single person is a star in the eyes of God.

Now, many of our readers will know that the man referred to is Adrian himself. Adrian’s fictional Doctor has read one of the other books written by his own creator and been struck by this story. That paradox aside, it’s necessary to point out that the step from ‘every person is as important to themselves as I am to myself’ to ‘every single person is a star in the eyes of God’ isn’t actually a self-evident logical clincher to all readers. This is a fascinating problem which deserves philosophical and theological investigation, but not here and now.

But no, the point here is that even without the logical leap from everyone being I to everyone being priceless to God, the saying still carries a profound truth that it behoves us all to assimilate, even those who are sceptical about God. ‘Everybody is I’ stands on its own as an insight into our neighbour. It means that by an imaginative step, we can and must get inside the skin, body, mind, life of any other person presented to us in our daily encounters. It forces upon us the act of trying for an instant to be that other person. To realize that she or he is facing the same struggle that we are, in their inner spiritual being.

When you try to write this down, it all looks banal. After all, we all know that we all share the same nature, etc., etc. But the point of the saying is that it forces you to make that imaginative leap into trying to be for one second that next-door neighbour, toilet cleaner, cabinet minister, sex worker, celebrity, terrorist…

One of us once got into trouble in a polite gathering for suggesting that we should try to imagine things from the terrorist’s point of view. Apparently this was a shocking bridge too far. But this is just where being a writer comes in. I’m sure that crime writers are able to think like criminals — how else could they devise their labyrinthine plots? And every creative writer must surely think themselves into even the most obnoxious of their characters.

I would go a step further: a really good writer of fiction not only inhabits their characters, they deeply respect them. They do not rubbish them. Perhaps they encourage a gentle laugh at their foibles, but they affirm them. Because Everybody is I. One might almost say that the writing creator loves all her characters. Each is a star in her eyes.

E. & C. W.

Sunday, 23 June 2019


                                                                 Zones of Regulation


In my behaviour recovery provision, we have been using the zones of regulation to help children identify and deal with their emotions. Recently, one of the children asked if we could add another word, saying, "Can we add 'thankful'? I want to thank all the teachers for helping me." I was delighted that a) he was thankful and b) he was engaged enough to want to adapt the resource. It also got me thinking about thankfulness in my own life.

The Bible both instructs us to be thankful and gives us many good reasons to do so. In Psalm 100, it says, 'Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him and bless His name.' Then there are the many things we can thank God for, from Jesus' sacrifice to the everyday things that remind us God loves us and is looking out for us.

As writers, we have a great opportunity to show thankfulness through our characters. Most of our protagonists wouldn't achieve their ends without the help of other characters supporting them, for a start. Then there's thankfulness for provision. If we are thankful for the ways in which God meets our needs, this attitude will naturally spill over into our writing. This could be as varied as gratitude for divine intervention, as in Philip S. Davies' 'Destiny' trilogy or Wendy H. Jones' DI Shona McKenzie's being thankful for a breakthrough in a case. One of my favourite novels, The Girl with all the Gifts, by M. R. Carey, is basically a big 'thank you' to his favourite teacher.

Over the years, I've given testimony a number of times in church and I hope this has encouraged others to be thankful as well. However, I don't think sharing an attitude of thankfulness is just restricted to the big things, like a new house or an exciting job opportunity. The many things we see God do everyday are just as important. If we display thankfulness on a regular basis, so will our characters and that's just another way of witnessing.

What are you thankful for? Right now, I'm thankful for a young boy who reminded me of the importance of saying aloud what I'm often thinking.

Rebecca Seaton mostly writes fantasy but would love to write a crime novel one day if she could just pin down a coherent plot. She manages a behaviour recovery provision for primary children and is on the advisory panel for Pen to Print, a Barking and Dagenham-based initiative for supporting emerging writers.                                                                     

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Reading God's Map by Emily Owen

I like reading. Ever since my baby-days when I shared my cot with books, books have been – and are – a huge part of my life.

I guess I’m not alone in getting joy from reading words; this is a writers’ blog, after all!

What I would be less certain of guessing at, is enjoyment of a different type of reading. I’m tempted to suggest that no-one could possibly enjoy it but, since I know people who do, I can’t say that.
I’m talking about maps. I know maps are very useful things but, unlike a book of words, I would never choose to read them just for pleasure. Or I wouldn’t have done…
A few weeks ago, my three-year-old niece gave me this picture.
As she did, she said:
“This is a map that shows how to get to your house.”
The ‘map’ to get me home is, as you can see, heart shaped.
God’s map for every day of our lives is heart shaped. It’s written with love.
If ‘writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write’, I think  - as writers – we’d do well to make sure we read God’s map every day.
It’s a map that reminds us, as we travel through life to our ultimate destination – heaven – that He loves us.
As we follow His map, as we read His directions, what better teacher of how to write could we possibly have?
May our writing come from reading God’s love-filled, heart shaped map.

Friday, 21 June 2019

Back to the future...1

"Jesus replied to them, 'If you had 
faith trust and confidence in God 
even so small like a grain of mustard 
seed you could say to this mulberry
tree, be pulled up by the roots and be 
planted in the sea, and it would 
obey you.'"  (AMPC )     Luke 17:6

"'And whatever you ask in prayer,
believing, you will receive.'"
                    (AMPC)      Matt.21:22

We talk in life about taking one step forward and two back, but let’s believe for two steps forward and only one back.   Every day we gain knowledge in one form or another.  Be it daily life from trying out a new recipe to understanding the latest technology.  And hopefully we will never be too old to learn.

Several years ago I wrote a series on this blog about being in a potting shed with the Lord.  Not a natural place for me being city born and bred, but it was fascinating to meditate on that with Him over the months.  Two years ago, I posted a picture of a friend’s garden having been dug up to lay a patio. It was a hot and wet summer, and before they could begin work seeds sown years before germinated, rooted and within six weeks grew into five foot tree like bushes and took over her garden.  To me it was an encouragement that seeds sown, even in word and deed, given the right conditions, at the right time will germinate and take root.

I always ask the Lord to inspire my writing, and as I shall be away throughout August and September I asked Him for a series I could post in advance. The Lord speaks to me in a variety of ways, often in that semi-conscious state as I awake in the morning. This time it was with the film title, “Back to the Future.” As I considered those words, I saw that those who were counted righteous through their faith had an idea of the call on their life, but often felt they were going backwards instead of forward. 

At a mid-week meeting recently I was surprised, yet delighted, when we sang an adaption of the Elvis Presley song, “Take my hand, take my whole life too, For I can't help falling in love with you.”  When I became a Christian I’d sing secular love songs to the Lord, and I found singing that still fills me with overwhelming love and joy at being His. 

That reminded me of a CD which fifteen years ago had a major impact on my life.  Recorded from seven continual hours of worshipping the Lord when the band ran out of songs someone began to sing, “I want to hold your hand.”  As the musicians took up the song, a pillar of light formed on the stage its power causing them to fall on their faces.  In the silence came a wind, or breath of God picked up by the microphones.  

Next month I’ll start the series of the Biblical characters whose faith have impacted my life as they have held on to their beliefs when either things went horribly wrong, or found the years passing without any sign of what they envisioned coming to pass. The lesson I learnt was hang on, everything is part of God’s plan, purpose and preparation for a future we’ve hoped for, but as yet only glimpsed.   
                                                                                                             Ruth Johnson