ACW

ACW

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

I can only imagine...Part 1

"And the Lord said,( to Moses) “Here is a place by Me, and you shall stand on the rock.   
So it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by.  
Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen.”

                Exodus 33.21-23




The above is a photo taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1997. It would seem to me that God, the creator of the universe, who is in everything, everywhere was giving us an opportunity to see Himself as in Jesus, bringing a fresh understanding of how awesome He is, and why we cannot see Him face to face and live.
 
I had a similar sense in 2005 when I first heard the song ‘I Can Only Imagine’.  It touched my heart, mind and soul that caused me to weep thinking of that moment when my Father God will send Jesus to welcome me.   The lyrics open you to imagine ‘What it will be like to walk by His side, What will my eyes will see when His face is before me?  And when I find myself standing in the sun, I can only imagine when all I will do is forever, forever worship you.’ The two verses are bridged by the words below: 
  
Surrounded by your glory
What will my heart feel?
Will I dance for you, Jesus,
Or in awe of you be still?
Will I stand in your Presence
Or to my knees will I fall?
Will I sing hallelujah?
Will I be able to speak at all?
I can only imagine.

Last week I went to see the film of the same name.  It tells the story of the man who wrote this anointed song, his faith in Jesus, his being part of a Christian band, and when he was finally able to forgive his abusive father how it impacted his life.  It's a moving story, should be in a cinema near you, although timings and number of showing are often limited.

I found it incredible that I heard about the film reminding me of the song just when I needed it.  In July,  I and a thousand people around the world, were contending in prayer for the life of an radiant, anointed and lovely young woman, a talented worship leader and songwriter who was battling against cancer.  

We wouldn’t be writers if we didn’t have the ability to imagine, and despite the limited capacity of our minds it’s a wonderful gift to be able to stretch our faith and get glimpses of heaven.  There is nothing I enjoy more than writing about the Lord and His love.  And with the Holy Spirit giving us the ability to connect to God, we can take His Word in Romans that  'God gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were....Against all hope...'! Jesus said, 'Ask and it shall be given to you' and we know, 'God can make all things possible'.  Yet the bottom line of our faith must always be: 'All things work together for God for those in Christ Jesus' .

Next month I shall be travelling in  Canada so have scheduled Part 2 of this.   







Monday, 20 August 2018

How's the view?


I hope you’ve had a chance for rest and relaxation over these lovely summer weeks. We’ve just come back from a fortnight’s holiday – a rail and road trip that took in London and Bradford-on-Avon. Our travels reminded me of a road trip we took around the west of Ireland, and a great story we heard as we sojourned.

We visited Co. Kerry, and a friend who lives in the area offered to give us ‘the locals’ tour’; complete with coastal road detours and short cuts. At one stage we ended up at Peig Sayers' grave. I would think only Irish adults will know of the book called, ‘Peig’. For many years it was the Irish language text book for secondary school pupils. It’s the autobiography of a woman who was a seanchaĆ­ (Irish for ‘storyteller’). In the early 1900s, she lived on one of the Blaskets; small islands off the south west coast of Ireland. I know some people long to see the grave of their idols, some visit Elvis’ grave or Jimi Hendrix’s grave. It was an unexpected treat to find myself at Peig’s grave, in a small cliffside graveyard over-looking the Blasket Islands.

The story our tour guide told was about a small boy who also lived on one of the Blaskets. He was making his first ever trip to the mainland. From his perspective on the island, he couldn’t have seen much more than the hill from the mainland shore up to the road, and the brow of a mountain beyond it.

So, this little fella got off the boat, climbed the steep hill for the very first time, and as he got to the top he could see for a few miles; the vaster mountains in the distance. He turned to his father with wide eyed excitement and said, “Isn’t Ireland huge, Daddy!”

The boy hadn’t seen much more than the island he lived on, and so he was wowed by the view from the top of the edge of the mainland; just a few miles further.

The view of the Blasket Islands from the Kerry coast
I just love that story, and I think it’s a brilliant picture of my vision of the Kingdom of God. Even with a level of spiritual insight, a lot of the time, we only see what’s in front of us. On occasion, the odd glimpse of a high hill top. Then every so often, God gives a wider view, a further perspective of his kingdom. We think – ‘wow isn’t the kingdom of God huge.’ 

1 Corinthians 2:9 reminds us that - "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him." We’ve only seen beyond the brow of our nearest hill.  

When I think again of this story, I wonder if we can apply it to our writing. Is there a horizon we have not yet seen, one we’re not even aware of? Is there some unexplored potential, genre, audience, that, if we could see just a little further, we might be wowed enough to investigate?

There are far more poems, devotions, songs and stories out there than we’ll have time on this earth to write. Let’s travel a bit further, widen our horizons, and explore with expectation the writing possibilities that lie just over the brow of the next hill.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

When writing goes off, by Veronica Zundel

Sliced too soon?
Do you ever find your writing gets stale? I don't mean writer's block, where you simply can't think of a word to say - fortunately (or some, possibly my family, might say 'unfortunately') I am never lost for words. At least not so far. But since re-starting my Writing Poetry MA in June, I have had to catch up very quickly, first by attending an intensive Summer School in Newcastle (basically a whole term crammed into five days), then writing up the poems and essay for that Summer School, and then - and here's the problem - going back to the second term assignment that I should have completed last June (but surgery and chemotherapy rather got in the way).

 The thing is, I had actually drafted most of the poems for the assignment (which demands 10-12 poems) and then I just had to stop. Apart from one tutorial to look at some my tutor hadn't seen before, I hadn't touched them for a year. And when I went back to them, I had a mixed feeling: first, that I had done everything I was ever going to be able to do with them, and second, that they felt strangely old, uninspiring and lacking the original inspiration that had created them. It was just like realizing all your bread was stale, but feeling a spell in the toaster would still not make it palatable. I just knew these poems too well, and couldn't imagine re-working them.
Back in the oven?

I partly solved the problem by going on to the essay accompanying them, which I hadn't started last year and which therefore felt fresh.  But even after being inspired by and for the essay, I still couldn't manage to go back to the poems. I'd just forgotten why I wrote them, or perhaps lost the motivation that produced them. To go back to the bread metaphor, they were already sliced and I couldn't find an alternative way to cut them.

The reality is, I will probably have to submit them as they are and hope for the best. As the poems are 70% of the mark and the essay, which I am more happy with, only 30%, I'm not expecting a high grade, though I do hope to pass. But I've just run out of time to pore over the poems again, let alone to attempt a radical restructuring.

Do you have any clever strategies for waking up old writing and giving it new life? (a bit like the literary equivalent of splashing water on stale bread and putting it in the oven for a bit?). I'd be grateful for your thoughts. It could be, of course, that the poems come over fresher to the person marking my assignment. I can only hope. In the meantime, I'm going to turn my attention to writing something new - or maybe something borrowed, or blue? (perhaps not blue...) I'd like to be  the householder who brings out of her store treasures old and new, but right now the old treasures have just lost their sparkle, and I can't find the right duster.

Veronica Zundel is a freelance writer whose latest book is Everything I know about God, I've learned from being a parent (BRF 2013). She also writes a column for Woman Alive magazine, and Bible notes for BRF's New Daylight. Veronica used to belong to what was, before it closed, the only non-conservative, English speaking Mennonite church in the UK, and is currently playing at being a high Anglican. She also blogs (rather occasionally!) at reversedstandard.com 

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Cheating? Or Adapting and Growing? By Georgie Tennant


This month has been fraught with busyness on an even greater scale than usual – a month-long in-laws’ visit from overseas, navigating the children through the labyrinth of end of term activities (“Are you sure it’s not today you’re supposed to be dressed as a pirate?!"), taking part in the emotionally charged “Race for Life,” without my sister for the first time, finishing my job and gaining another.  Writing has been pounding on the door of my schedule but has not been granted access.  The couple of things that have had to be written (external, deadline-driven) have been hastily adapted from things previously penned.

As I pondered this month’s ACW ‘More Than Writers’ Post, I decided that, as I am embroiled in ‘preparing for holiday’ chaos, it was time to ‘cheat’ again.  A moral dilemma ensued.  Surely my readers are entitled to something fresh, new and brilliant (the latter perhaps a little ambitious!). Will something I recycle feel tired and worn?  Will they be able to tell?

Once I had silenced the voices of condemnation (which sounds easy in a typed sentence, but isn’t at all), it struck me that the brilliance of writing is that it is an organic, living thing.  It can be adapted, changed and refined.  Like a dusty, old chest in an attic it can lay dormant and unopened, until the next person stumbles upon it, whips the heavy blanket from the top and releases its secrets and treasures afresh.


It is not a bad thing that our writing sleeps, waiting in the wings for the moment it can be resurrected, used and adapted for fresh purposes.  The piece I have included below has undergone several transformations.  It started life as something I wrote for pure enjoyment, after a trip to the park one afternoon with my boys and some friends.  It was edited under the constraints of a 400-word limit, as the ‘Thought for the Week,’ for the local newspaper.  It underwent a rebirth during a two-week mission in our church entitled ‘Our Story,’ used as the introduction to a magazine, given out to all visitors.  And I’ve re-worked it again now, slightly, incorporating my favourite bits of all its incarnations. 

Aside from the editing process, our own writing can take on new meaning for us in different seasons of our lives.  Deborah Jenkins wrote about it in her brilliant post here. She described how her own past writing spoke to her present self.  When I wrote this piece, it was long before my painful journey through my sister’s illness and death.  It helps me to re-read my piece and know that the truths still stand, even through landscape-altering, seismic shifts in my life’s story.

Anyway, that’s my justification for the resurrection of the piece below.  I hope you enjoy it – and forgive me for cheating - or growing and adapting…you decide!


Knowing the End from the Beginning

My youngest son hates anything sad or scary, even on television.  Through family movie afternoons, we keep asking him, “Who wins in the end?” eliciting the much-rehearsed reply, “the baddies always lose, the goodies always win.”  Watching ‘Cinderella,’ one Sunday afternoon, his usual panic set in.  The initial beauty of the film faded into the darker scenes and he announced that he wanted to watch something else.


Knowing he would cope better with the scary bits if he knew what lay beyond them, I pressed pause. After five minutes explaining about ugly sisters, wicked step mothers, magic pumpkins, glass slippers, a handsome prince and a happily ever after, he was all smiles again, eager to press on.

As we watched more, it struck me that, as adults, we can be similar in our approach to life and faith.  We meander happily through the sunnier parts of life but when troubles and trials hit, we want to pause the story and hide away from the sheer discomfort of it.  We reason that if we could just know that next week, month, year, things will look up, we could keep going.  The uncertainty makes us doubt and fear.  We long to know the end from the beginning but we don’t – we can’t.

There is, however, reassurance in knowing the One who does.  He has the perspective of a master director, knowing and orchestrating how the scenes will slot together in a bigger picture we can't see from down here.  Sometimes we yearn for God to unfold our narrative in advance, as I did for my son; we reason that it would help us to anticipate the peaks and troughs, navigate them more gracefully.  Instead God invites us to a place of surrender and trust, where all we can do is place our hand in His and trust Him to lead us safely through, giving us all the strength and hope we need for each moment.


We do not know what twists and turns will lead us through life to our story’s end, but we can count on two things.  Firstly, God will work out all things, joy-filled and excruciatingly painful, for our good.  Secondly, the final end to all of our stories will be one of rejoicing, wholeness and peace for all eternity, if we’ve put our trust in Him.  With my hand in the hand of an author who writes like that, I can confidently walk through my story, even without knowing the full script.  I can walk, trust and surrender - even stumble and trip - knowing that the One who wrote my story from the very beginning, will give me all I need to live it, right until the very end.



Georgina Tennant is a secondary school English teacher in a Norfolk Comprehensive.  She is married, with two sons, aged 10 and 7 who keep her exceptionally busy. She feels intimidated by having to provide an author-biography, when her writing only extends, currently, to attempting to blog, writing the ‘Thought for the Week’ for the local paper occasionally, and having a poem published in a book from a National Poetry Competition. She feels a bit more like a real author now the ACW Lent Book is out and she has a piece in it! Her musings about life can be found on her blog: www.somepoemsbygeorgie.blogspot.co.uk

Friday, 17 August 2018

Overwhelmed by another’s inspired creativity by Claire Musters



We have recently come back from a wonderfully relaxing family holiday in Tuscany. We were located in a tiny village, surrounded by vineyards and olive trees, with a backdrop of mountains as far as the eye could see. I spent many moments staring at the incredible scenery from our small private pool, marvelling at the opportunity we had to relax in such a place.

As a family, we love getting out and exploring too, and it was wonderful to see the different ways our children’s interest was pricked. My daughter loved visiting the hill-top towns and discovering the shops tucked away in cobbled streets. I was amazed at how much my son enjoyed finding the oldest sections of each town – particularly any dungeon-like areas! (My husband ensured we visited the gelateria in each town!)

There was one day that we all agree was the absolute highlight of our trip, and it was because of an artist that we literally just stumbled upon. We climbed up a steep street to look at the local church, and my eye was caught by the building next door as it was advertising an art exhibition – we headed over there first.

As soon as we stepped inside, we were all transfixed. The artist’s work was absolutely incredible; so intricate and detailed – and vast. But what delighted us most were the stories that accompanied each canvas. Sometimes the pictures were snapshots of particular countries, while others were completely fictional but depicting a specific theme. 

We were able to meet and chat to the artist at length, and I was totally caught up in wonder when he described how he works. He writes those stories/paragraphs first, and then simply draws a response to them with pen and ink, letting his imagination flow. 



The stories were sometimes extremely personal: one of my daughter’s favourite pictures was of hundreds of books and letters flying amongst them – with a magnifying glass you can actually read them (in a mixture of English and Italian). The piece is called “The things I’ve never told you” and the letters are all to his father – things he regrets he never said. He commented to our kids that, however they feel as they grow older, they must keep the conversation going with us…

We were all enraptured by his work – and him as he was so open and friendly. I think I was so taken with what I saw because, deep down, I knew he was doing something I’ve always wanted to. As I left, I settled in my heart that I will never take the gift of creativity for granted – and will try to keep developing it in as many ways as I can. I know that we all felt it was a real privilege to have discovered the exhibition, and we came away feeling richer for the experience.

Claire is a freelance writer, speaker and editor, mum to two gorgeous children, pastor’s wife, worship leader and school governor. Her books include Taking off the mask: daring to be the person God created you to be, Cover to Cover: Ezekiel A prophet for all times, Cover to Cover: 1–3 John Walking in the truth, Cover to Cover: David: A man after God's own heart, Insight Into Managing Conflict, Insight Into Self-acceptance and Insight Into Burnout. She also writes Bible study notes. To find out more about her, please visit www.clairemusters.com and @CMusters on Twitter. 

Thursday, 16 August 2018

The Power of Words - by Liz Carter




Last week I was at New Wine, worshipping among thousands of others in a massive Arena in the Somerset countryside. So many moments through the week spoke deeply to me, but there’s one standout moment, and it is to do with words and worship and how the two are so crucial.

Hea Woo is a Christian woman who comes from North Korea. She shared some of her story with us. When she was small, she’d caught her mother praying with a cross in her hand, and her mother had warned her not to tell anyone, for the penalty for being a Christian in North Korea is imprisonment and often execution. Later on, Hea Woo’s husband and children were converted to Christianity and managed to escape into China. Hea Woo herself also attempted escape but was caught and thrown into a prison camp.

I can hardly believe that in 2018 what she described to us is happening. The torture because of faith, the threat of execution, the sheer terror of it all. But her story from there was one of crazy courage and staggering faith. She sensed that God was asking her to share her faith, but couldn’t imagine how this could be done. There was a huge culture of reporting any wrongdoing, and she knew that speaking of Christ out loud would get her executed. So she said to God that he would have to show her the moments and the people.

She led several women in the camp to faith. But there was nowhere public they could worship together, because they were so closely watched, so they took to meeting in the (unspeakably hideous) toilets and whispering their prayers and their worship songs. Any volume would mean instant consequences. Yet their faith grew and thrived in that forsaken place. Later, she was released and managed to escape to South Korea.

The power of words hit home to me when Hea Woo was talking about her experience of worship in her small church plant in a prison toilet in North Korea. Words which were forbidden and yet deliciously liberating, words which set these women free and bonded them together in glorious hope. Their whispered words brought glimpses of light into their darkness and peace in the greatest suffering we could imagine. Hea Woo said that worship was an incredibly important part of their routine, lifting them from the shadows and always turning them to Jesus. Wow!

After this talk, we sang Amazing Grace, which is Hea Woo’s favourite hymn. We were asked to sing it in whispers for the first four verses, then louder for the final verse, and use it as an act of prayer for those ‘secret Christians’ in North Korea today. As we whispered these beautiful words, Hea Woo’s voice could be heard over the other 6,000 of us, singing loud and clear of her love for her Saviour. I don’t think there was a dry eye to be seen at this point – I can’t capture in words what a worshipful experience this was, speaking to the depths of our souls. And then the final verse – oh, that final verse – to say we raised the roof is an understatement. We blew it right off and then some:

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.

I’m sure the whole county of Somerset must have heard these 6,000 Christians belting out these words of truth and power, and somewhere in the middle a brave North Korean woman stood, her face radiant with hope and with joy.

And I imagined all those other thousands of secret Christians, in North Korea and elsewhere, screaming out that verse in their minds and in their whispers, holding to the hope of those shining thousands of years ahead, the prize of glory they are reaching for.

I was in tiny little bits.

But this is why I write. This is where it all comes from. This is who it’s for. It’s for communicating with words the power of God’s dazzling hope, for now and for eternity. I wish my words were more powerful; I wish I could do God more justice. I wish I was as brave as Hea Woo. I’m fortunate enough to live in a place where I will not be imprisoned and executed, and yet I sometimes keep the words at a whisper. I sometimes forget the privilege of freedom in the struggle to be liked.

From now, I’ll remind myself of the reality for some of my brothers and sisters around the world. I’ll appreciate the power of words and the freedom we have. And I’ll hold them before me, those whispering courageous ones, hold them to God and ask that his presence and power surround them and hold them tight.

Father
When I feel weak
May I find my strength in you.
When I lack courage
Speak your great lion-roar to my heart
And fill me with your power.
May I speak of your love
Write of your grace
Sing of your praise, in whispers and in shouts,
And may I know, most of all, the glorious hope to which you have called me.
Amen.


Liz Carter is a writer and blogger who likes to write about the more painful times of life and how God is in the midst. Her first book will be published on November 15th by IVP: Catching Contentment. 


You can pre-order it here. 




Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Confessions of a New Blogger by Lucy Le Roux



I have been on a steep but fun learning curve since I started my blog Praise through Trialsin May 2018.The posts on the More than Writersblog have been an invaluable source of wisdom and I have tried with varying degrees of success to implement a lot of the advice given. I thought I would share some of the strategies I have used and my confessions about how it has gone:

1) Write whenever I feel inspired on any device or paper handy. Overall this strategy has worked well for me except for the one time when I was inspired whilst trying to go to sleep; I ended up writing on my phone in bed for 90 minutes which unfortunately led to repetitive strain injury. In the morning my husband was a little shocked and with a raised eyebrow said that he wasn’t surprised I had hurt myself! He suggested that next time I use the computer. Good advice but I don't tend to know how long I will write for when I start and I find it easy to get carried away...

2) Create a bank of material before you put your blog online. This seemed sensible in order to try and take the pressure off myself to develop content to post regularly. I did write for several months before my blog went live but then I got overexcited and put most of my material online in the first week! Oops! Thankfully I have had some time off from my usual work this summer to keep on top of it.

3) Have a plan. I am a naturally organised person; I like to make to-do lists and plans for all areas of my life. However I have discovered that with writing my blog I can very much relate to this quote by Dwight D Eisenhower: ‘In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable.’ In other words planning my writing has helped me have direction and think about my audience and style. However the reality of life means things often don’t get done when I planned, so I’m trying to cut myself some slack!

4) Compose when your emotions are raw.I have found it is quite hard to do this depending on the emotion I am feeling, tears and typing don’t really go! But for me I find that writing is a form of therapy to help me process difficult things and to bring them to God. Therefore if I can write when emotions are raw it makes my work more authentic and relatable to my audience.

5) Seek first to glorify God.It has been good to be reminded of this as I have found it hard not to focus on blog statistics and getting my work seen. However my focus needs to be on seeking to glorify God in all that I do (1 Corinthians 10:31) and to trust him and let him guide me (Proverbs 3:5-6). His ways are higher than mine (Isaiah 55:9) and he has good plans for those who seek him (Jeremiah 29:11).

So in short I have discovered that: it is good to write at any opportunity using any medium, although I don't advise typing for a long period on a phone (duh!); it is helpful to plan ahead but not worry too much when plans become fluid; finally it can be helpful to write when emotions are raw but ultimately we need to follow God’s promptings as we write and seek to glorify him. 



Lucy le Roux is passionate about Jesus, social justice and good food. Her blog Praise through Trials explores purpose, identity and strategies when living with a chronic illness; drawing on her experiences of having Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. When she is not writing her blog, Lucy enjoys volunteering for the UK Christian social justice charity Jubilee+; getting involved in church activities and hanging out with family and friends. You can connect with her on Facebookand Twitteror through her website.