Thursday, 26 May 2016

'They serve him best' by Eve Lockett

Milton – on his blindness
When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg'd with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”
We have probably heard the last line quoted so often it has become a proverb. But do we know the whole poem? I had to learn it at primary school, which tells you a bit about my age and my English teacher.
What is Milton saying? In fact, only the use of the word ‘light’ tells us he is talking about his own loss of sight. The title was added many decades later by someone else.
It is a poem filled with emotion, with grief, with passion. And yet Milton’s voice is a measured, thoughtful voice – ‘When I consider how…’ The whole poem combines feeling, reason and spiritual insight in a powerful balance. Milton is not ranting, he is trying to work something out.
The third line only makes sense if you know the parable of the talents. And that is the clue to his grief. He is not complaining that his quality of life has been spoilt and God is to blame for his blindness; no, his concern is that God should not judge him on the Day of Judgment as unfruitful or unproductive when he now lacks the means to be so. Again, the parable of the talents.
But Patience, the voice of wisdom and love, comes in to reason with him – reminding him God doesn’t hire us because he needs a job done that he can’t manage himself; God asks us to accept our mortal condition without turning against him. Serving him can simply be an attitude of alert, watchful, faithful love, longing for his return. It is God who gives us fruitful lives, as we serve him with our hearts. Witness the poem itself – still being read after more than three hundred years, and still speaking to us of our special relationship with our Lord.
‘Thousands at his bidding speed and post o’er land and ocean without rest… ’ I know, I’ve met them. They make me feel very small. At the same time, I know when I try to be like them I lose my identity and balance. But this poem reminds us that serving our heavenly King is more radical. He asks us to use the gifts he has given us, but working out what that means in practice might surprise us. Patience? Waiting?  Poetry? Oh yes!


Wednesday, 25 May 2016

There's a Cello on my Table, by Fiona Lloyd

There’s a cello on my kitchen table…

Well, it worked, didn’t it? A strong opening sentence that drew you in – otherwise, you wouldn’t have read this far. A good first line sparks off all sorts of questions in our heads and makes us want to find out more.

In writing terms, this is known as a hook: something that will grab the reader’s attention and motivate them to keep reading. It’s a concept that’s equally relevant to both fiction and non-fiction, and for short and long pieces. Most writing courses emphasise the importance of having a strong first line (which is probably why they’re often the hardest to get right).

A good first sentence whets our appetite for the rest of the story. It conveys information about the style of the book, but only enough to entice us further in. However, they can also be used to inspire our writing.

A few months ago, our local ACW group had a workshop on short-story writing. Being a practical bunch, we spent part of the day writing our own pieces based on one of three prompts. By far the most popular of these was the one that asked us to write in response to a given first line: Raymond had never liked Blackpool. In our feedback session, we discovered all sorts of bizarre reasons as to why the unfortunate Raymond had taken against Blackpool with such vehemence.

The best thing about this exercise was that it made us ask questions. Who was Raymond? Why did he hate Blackpool so much? Had he had a bad experience there, or was it blind prejudice? Once we started interrogating ourselves, the words flowed.

So may I make a suggestion? Next time your writing feels stuck in a rut, pick a starting sentence and see where it leads. You can make up your own opening line, or borrow one from somewhere else – try looking here for inspiration. 

And for those of you who were wondering about that cello, the answer is I brought it home from work because it needed repairing…but I’m sure you can think of a much better story!

Fiona Lloyd works part-time as a music teacher, and serves on the worship leading team at her local church. She enjoys writing short stories, and is working on her first novel. Fiona self-published a violin tutor book in 2013, and blogs at She is married with three grown-up children. Fiona is ACW's membership secretary.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Gifted Christian Apologist

I don’t suppose many ACW blog readers get to see the Journal of Inklings Studies. It’s understandably quite expensive, and rather erudite. I have just been lent a copy of the April 2016 volume, which contains a wonderful article by A. O. J. Cockshut, ‘C. S. Lewis in Post-War Oxford’. There’s only space to share a few titbits, but here we go.

After setting the scene in 1945, the author describes Lewis. ‘I have never to this day seen a man of high intellectual attainments who so little looked the part’, he says. He appeared to be dressed in gardening clothes; was thickset with very ruddy cheeks,  a heavy jaw, and dull eyes; and resembled someone you might find propping up a bar. But when he spoke ‘one heard .. a great blast of sound, rapid, eloquent, allusive, and witty’.

Describing Lewis’s teaching, Cockshut avers ‘I can say without hesitation that Lewis was the best lecturer that I ever heard.’ When he lectured on medieval authors such as Chaucer and Langland he took you to the sources of their allusions in Augustine, Boethius, Dante, and so on, and presented them as they might have appeared to their first readers. ‘One was encouraged to enter an unknown intellectual world.’ He showed what ideas medieval authors took for granted and what they did not know (Greek, for example). The great value of his teaching was to enable young minds to escape from what he called ‘the prison of the zeitgeist’ (the spirit of the age).

Skipping forward a couple of sections, we come to Lewis the Christian apologist. Cockshut begins with some tough questions. Lewis commendably insisted that he stood for the common ground among Christians and eschewed theological in-fighting. As a traditional Anglican he was averse to extremes, Anglo-Catholicism and Calvinism. But Cockshut thinks he ducked some questions. For example, the Church of England Article that insists on the lay magistrate’s control over the church’s councils was surely not in line with his beliefs, yet he nowhere seems to have discussed it. Also, in scattered places in his writings he hints at a concern about the orthodoxy of the beliefs of some Anglican clergy—

The vicar is a man who has so long been engaged in watering down the faith … that it is now he who shocks his parishioners with his unbelief (Screwtape Letters XVI, 1942)

—but again, never confronts the issue. Cockshut gives his view that as a theologian, Lewis is not in the front rank.

But Cockshut only makes these criticisms to clear the ground for a ringing assertion of Lewis’s unparalleled powers as an ‘apologist and a counsellor of the perplexed’. ‘He strips away the film of familiarity and boredom which often inhibits people’s understanding of Christian doctrine’. Cockshut gives four brief examples: I can only allude to one, that brilliant dialogue in The Great Divorce when the self-righteous soul can’t accept that the murderer of his friend has been admitted into heaven. ‘We are all inclined to read satire as addressed to the vices of other people. Few are better than Lewis at getting past our guard.’

As a finale, Cockshut rightly commends Lewis’s sermon ‘The Weight of Glory’ (from Transposition and Other Addresses, 1949),  quoting two lengthy extracts. I can only pick two snippets:

Nature is mortal; we shall outlive her. When all the suns and nebulae have passed away, each one of you will still be alive.


Remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature you would be strongly tempted to worship… Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.

But if you can, do get that sermon and read it.

Monday, 23 May 2016

In the night and in the morning - by Helen Murray

I like sleeping, and I'm good at it.

The secret to my success is practice. I practice often, and for as long as I can. I hope that when the time comes for me to depart this world the end might come while I'm asleep, and then those who know me well will wipe away a tear and say, 'Well, she died doing what she loved doing most...'

The thing is, sleep has not been going well, lately. I've lost my mojo. Most often it goes like this: I wake in the night for no obvious reason and my head is so cram-jam full of things that I can't get back to sleep again. I lie and watch the red digital numbers on my bedside clock as they flick closer and closer to the awfulness of Getting Up Time and try in vain to empty my mind of all the stuff that's clogging it up and stopping the dreams from coming.

Here's a little story from the other night.

2:26am. Desperate shrieks from Katy's room. Surely she was being stung by a thousand wasps, or the roof was falling in, or some dire nightmare was frightening her witless.

'What is it, love? What's wrong?'  (Me, breathless, having vaulted out of bed and sprinted along the landing at warp speed.)

'I woke up.'


'I don't know why I woke up.'


'So I shouted you.'

Hmm. What do you say to that?  I shared that I didn't know why she woke up, either.

The only weapon I have in circumstances like these is to write it all down so I don't forget and bring it out at some wedding speech sometime along with the chicken pox photos. Heh heh heh.

2:41am and of course the bloodcurdling yells from Katy's room had roused Lizzy, who wondered if the house was on fire. Seriously. If we do not expect the house to catch fire, why do we have so many smoke alarms? If we have smoke alarms in case the house catches fire then we cannot say with certainty that the house will not catch fire, can we? If we are taking precautions to alert us to the early signs of fire, then we allow the possibility that the house might catch fire, don't we? (Yes, she actually said that. In the middle of the night.)

Many reassurances later in one room and then the other, and then back to the first, I settled and calmed, pulled duvets up to chins and stroked hair.  I finally crawled back under the duvet (in my own bed) and closed my eyes.

2:56am. 3:10am. By 3:30am my head was a maelstrom of all the stuff that I'm doing, hoping, fearing, planning, trying not to worry about, at the moment. All distorted, pulled out of shape, exaggerated, coloured in scary colours and with creepy shadows. It all seemed too much.

Left side, right side, on my back, unclench teeth, make effort to relax shoulders. Release the frown. Unclench everything.

Eventually I sat up and started to blurt it all out in my journal. 3:38am. Usually putting the light on is the last thing I do as I'm trying to lull myself back to sleep but there was nothing for it. I unburdened myself to my Friend, who happens to be Lord God and Creator of the Universe. Put like that, it's pretty cool, isn't it?

God sat with me for half an hour as I scribbled away and had a moan and dumped it all in front of him. Then he settled me down, pulled the duvet up to my chin and stroked my hair until I was asleep.

Where God is, there's peace, if I let there be. He took the stuff I was worried about - he took it away, and in its place he gave me peace. And sleep. It was a little miracle.

If it had been daytime, I most probably would have sent a harried text to a friend detailing my anxieties, maybe with a worried-face emoticon. I might have asked them to say a prayer for me, or maybe asked if we could meet up for a coffee and a chat.

But, since it was 3am, vanilla lattes are hard to find, and the local world was fast asleep, I turned to God first.

Friends give a listening ear; coffee and toasted teacakes give a degree of emotional comfort; text messages and emails give an opportunity to vent; but only God gives all these things and peace as well. He always listens, he is endlessly patient, he understands me, he doesn't laugh at me or take offence, he doesn't hold what I say against me.

He sits down next to me, smiles gently, listens carefully, takes the heavy stuff from me and says, 'Don't worry. I'm here and I love you.'

Why on earth don't I go to him first all the time?

Head knowledge and heart knowledge. I know it is true that God is there and he answers prayers and honours his promises, but the other night I really knew it was true. God likes it when I seek him out and he soothed me that night just like I soothed my little girls who had woken with anxieties of their own. My heavenly Daddy.

I don't think any of us ever actually grow up.

I woke the next morning and wondered if it had actually happened. I read back the entry in my journal and realised that it was, yes, it was exactly that way. I had been having a panic; I was letting things get out of control and there was no wonder that I couldn't sleep, because there had been a huge volume of rubbish bouncing around in my mind.

As I was lying in bed with a smile on my face, remembering my small-hours rendezvous with God, I noticed that the light round the edge of the curtains was golden. I drew them back a little way and look what flooded the room.

I gazed at the majesty of a new day and I heard 'Peace'.
'Peace I leave you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.'
John 14:27

I climbed back into bed and lay watching the sky striped with red and orange and glittering gold leaf.

A few minutes later the sun appeared from over the church tower and dazzled me where I lay. Gold was everywhere. It was breathtakingly beautiful.

As a start to a weekday it was pretty good.

Thank you, God. For the middle of the night and for the early morning. You are my God, and you are amazing.

Walking home from dropping the girls off at school run a couple of hours later the song in my headphones was YFriday's Reign In Me. One verse in particular put the smile back on my face.

'As the song of my life unfolds
And the truth of your love takes hold
You refine me like purest gold
Bright shining as the sun.'

At 3am when my head was bursting with things that don't matter, the truth of the Father's love took hold of me indeed. And later on when his glory fell all around me propped up on my pillows, I basked in the warmth and light of it.

So that's my story today. The faithfulness of the Lord in the night and in the morning. He opened my eyes even as he gently closed them. He calmed me and comforted me and he gave me a peace that the world can't give. He smiled and told me, 'Yes, this is who I am.'

He is there, loving, in the darkness and the shadows, and he is there, majestic in the brilliance and the glory.

He cares. For me and for you.

Thankyou, Lord.

*K Riley, YFriday Great and glorious 2009 Survivor/Absolute records 

Helen Murray lives in Derbyshire with her husband, two daughters and her mum.

Having spent time as a researcher, church worker and Hand Therapist, Helen is now a full time mum and writer, currently supposed to be working on her first novel. 

As well as writing and reading, she drinks coffee, takes photographs, swims, breeds Aloe Vera plants and collects ceramic penguins.

Helen has two blogs: Are We Nearly There Yet? where she writes about life and faith, and Badger on the Roof where readers are treated to a blow by blow account of her novel-writing progress, or lack thereof. It's been a while since there was anything to report, but she hasn't given up.

You can also find her here:

Pinterest: @HelenMMurray

Twitter: @helenmurray01

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Mental Health Awareness Week

This week has been Mental Health Awareness Week, so it seems only fitting that I should write something about mental health, seeing as it’s a bit of a specialist subject of mine. Over the years I’ve had the privilege of working with people struggling with eating disorders and self harm, but I also come at it from the other side because I have bipolar disorder. I’m stable at the moment, praise God, but it’s not something I can guarantee will always be the case. 

For me, writing and my mental health have always been inextricably linked. I started out my writing career with a memoir of my own battles with self-harm, but I’ve written since before the book-seed was even geminated. I wrote about my feelings, my experiences, about life, faith and God. From a very young age writing was, first and foremost, a form of catharsis I couldn’t get from anything else. Cathartic writing is rarely for pubic reading (see my first ever ACW blog post), but writing feelings out rather than keeping them in has saved me from imploding numerous time.

Another thing I glean from writing when unwell is that it can lead to wonderful material. A section of my first book was taken verbatim from a journal, and there was one chapter I wrote in its entirety whilst severely depressed. That’s not to say that all the writing I do when unwell is good. In fact most of it isn’t. When I’m manic I think I’m a literary genius and am in danger of thinking that everything that comes out is a masterpiece. When I’m depressed it feels like any vision I once had is gone and I’ll never write well again. But, through it all, if I keep writing I will always have something of substance to work with in the end.

Thirdly, when my bipolar is causing problems, paper and pencil are the only way I can really express myself - writing it down can say to myself and others ‘this is how it feels’. I see writing about my own situation as a ministry, to explain to others what mental illness is like. I often use the words other people find difficult to say - in fact my best ever readership was of a post about suicide (which you can find here).

Lastly, it’s not just about catharsis, material or expression. Looking back over the many notebooks, journals, scarps of paper, and backs of napkins, I can see where my mood has been, and sometimes where it might be going. Often, people talk about journalling as a spiritual practice, but for me, journalling is a self-care strategy. It’s an emotional log whereby I can see what might be happening with my mood, which, alongside medication, helps keep me stable.

Through everything, writing has been my mainstay, my first port of call. Whether it’s been by journalling feelings out or having a deadline that needs me to overcome my illness for a while, writing is always there, and as long as I can hold a pencil, that’s what you’ll find me doing. 

If you want to know more about bipolar disorder or other mental health conditions, go to the Mind or ThinkTwice websites.

Abbie has been writing ever since she could hold a pencil. She wrote a memoir, Secret Scars, (Authentic, 2007), and later, Insight Into Self-Harm (CWR, 2014). She founded and directs Adullam Ministries, an information and resource website and forum about self-harm and related issues. She blogs at Pink and Blue Mummyland and tweet as @AbbieRobson and @AdullamSelfHarm. She lives in Rugby with husband John and two children.

Book cover: Insight into Self-Harm by Helena Wilkinson and Abbie RobsonCover of book: Secret Scars by Abbie Robson

Saturday, 21 May 2016

The joy of the Lord is our strength by Ruth Johnson

"You will go out with joy, 
And be led forth with peace; 
The mountains and the hills will break forth into song before you, 
And all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”   Isaiah 55:12


At this crossroads I am continuing to ask God, “What are the ancient paths we should walk in? For our land, built on Christianity, I’ve yet to see a prophetic word that believes ‘the good way’ is staying in Europe.  But, when it comes to the path our lives should take, there isn’t a signpost or a clue of which way to go.  Therefore I’m saying as Moses did in Exodus 33:15, “If you Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.” 

The above verses imbedded in song over forty years ago jumped into my head.  In thinking of trees clapping I first thought of Lord of the Rings where the trees uprooted and marched to the battle, and then on to the blind man’s answer after Jesus touched his eyes. “I see people that look like trees walking.” When Jesus touched his eyes again “he saw everything clearly”.  That prompted me to say to the Lord, “I need to see more clearly.”  For me this year began with joy, laughter and Psalm 126 so was this a reminder, or a message?  When I read Isaiah 55 the verses before those of the song were so apt! ”God’s ways are much higher than ours.”  And, “So is My Word that goes out of My mouth; It will not return to Me void, but will accomplish what I desire, and achieve the purposes for which I sent it.” 

In April we sang a worship song with the line, “I am a child of God”.  Its simple truth touched me. Others felt the same.  Several days later that line repeated itself in my head. Finally I spoke it out, each time its impact became deeper and drew from within a weeping at the enormous privilege of being my beloveds, He being mine and knowing His banner over me was love. 

This has led me to believe that the Lord wants us to break out of previous faith levels.  We haven’t recognized the value of the wood in the trees.  Isaiah writes of oaks of His righteousness, and many of us have matured over years of pruning!  Could it be that we have been planted in the forest of His righteousness so we can encourage others to walk on the paths God wants for them, and feed those who pass by with the fruit from our lives?  

What then would be the fruit of my life?  I guess for all of us it is the Lord’s love growing within us, along with lessons learned, experiences gained and the joy that is set before us. As writers’ we are inspired to put that into words be it fiction or non-fiction.  How wonderful to know that Jesus is the “the author and perfecter of our faith”.

Friday, 20 May 2016

From there to here - part 2 by Sue Russell

I concluded last month's post with the sending of a hefty paper package to America. It was a turning point - perhaps because it represented a higher level of commitment than I'd previously admitted to, even to myself, not only in terms of financial outlay but also in having to overcome that feeling of dread ( familiar I am sure to many of you!) as you send your manuscript out into what may well be a very critical world.

Donna did me a number of favours for which I shall always be thankful. She line-edited 150 pages - beyond her brief - so that I was able to see how I'd gone wrong with formatting, especially with dialogue. Then in the taped critique she sent she gave me examples of what she called 'the screen going blank,' something I was particularly guilty of: in other words page on page of dialogue where there were few, if any, anchors in the physical world. Just inserting a line or two about what the characters were doing or some small thing happening allowed the reader to keep in mind a mental picture of the scene. It was a fault easily fixed, but it made me aware of my particular weaknesses and I have tried to put these lessons into practice ever since. She also offered me encouragement among all the necessary corrections. Unfortunately Donna no longer works in this field, but because her input made such a difference to me I have been keen to recommend professional editing to other writers, especially at the beginning of their careers.

You might think that I then set enthusiastically to work on editing my manuscript. Not a bit of it! I left it for a further year, daunted by what I saw as a mountainous task. I didn't know how to begin. But more help came my way, and again I see the hand of the great Creator at work, gently and ever so patiently nudging me to press on. For four years in a row I attended the Winchester Writers' Conference. I didn't expect to find an agent or a publisher, because the sort of thing I was writing wasn't really covered, but it was a great educational experience, I met many interesting people, and a weekend of eating well and not cooking was bliss. At one of the conferences someone whose workshop I hoped to attend fell ill, and I was assigned elsewhere, to a session led by a successful writer of historical romances. I was disappointed and expected little, as this was not where I was working, but as it turned out the opportunity arose to talk about where we all were in our writing and I confessed I had a big manuscript and was shying away from editing it, partly because I despaired of anyone ever wanting to read anything I'd written (again, I'm sure I'm not alone in this.) The encouragement I received sent me home determined to crack on, and I surprised myself by how much I enjoyed the savage pruning I gave my story, reducing it my more than 10%. I could see how much better it was even though the thought that no one would want to read it still persisted.

Publication was still some while away. Agents and publishers, when I could overcome the fatalistic feelings of doom and summon up the gumption  to approach them, were still not interested. In the meantime I embarked on a sequel, and found it much easier with characters already in place and a story that needed to be finished. But something, or Someone, seemed to be telling me it was time to get my novel out in the world. By this time I'd come to realise I would have to self-publish because I was writing to a small (probably microscopic) niche, so I consulted people in a writers' group I belonged to and took the plunge.

There are many reasons why we might publish at one time and not another. Some of them may not be connected to writing or publishing at all, and that's perfectly all right. 'Leviathan with a Fish-hook' was launched in November 2009, and I'm very grateful that it was, because that party was the last public occasion my dad attended, wearing his best suit and a shirt he'd dyed pale green (we wore green to match the book cover!) He was already very unwell and died a month later. If I'd waited any longer he'd never have seen a book of mine in print. Here's a photo of that evening.

More in June, if you're not catatonic with boredom!

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Let's not hurl, by Veronica Zundel

On Ascension Day recently I attended a service based around a very impressive performance of Bach's Cantata 43,  'Gott fähret auf mit Jauchzen' (God goes up with rejoicing). The service sheet contained the original German with a parallel translation - which, however, was not as impressive as the playing and singing. When we got to the alto aria, the German had these words:

'Ich sehe schon im Geist,
 Wie er zu Gottes Rechten,
 Auf seine Feinde schmeisst'

which were translated as:

'I see already in spirit
how he hurls God's righteousness
at his enemies'.

Now those of you with any German will immediately spot that this is a total mistranslation. 'Zu Gottes Rechten' does not mean 'God's righteousness' but 'at God's right hand'. So the correct translation would be 'I see already in spirit how at God's right hand he smites his enemies'. But this translation error got me thinking. How often are we guilty in our speaking or  writing of 'hurling God's righteousness' at those we assume to be God's enemies?  Much preaching, for instance, appears to be aimed at the thick-skinned who need battering with the ram of their sinfulness. I wonder how many of those are actually present in our congregations?

Last week, for instance, I went to a church where the main import of the sermon seemed to be 'We ought to be full of thankfulness every day for the blessings God gives'. The trouble was, I was sitting next to a friend who is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder
following a horrific bereavement. She is physically incapable of feeling thankful every day. What is the use of 'hurling God's righteousness' at her? She is a Christian, she knows  God is righteous, what she doesn't know is how she is going to get through the next day.

But, you may say, the hurling (or more correctly, smiting) is directed at God's enemies, not God's wounded people. So tell me, who are those enemies?  Consider Ephesians 6:12: 'For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places'. God's enemies, and ours, are the forces that keep people bound in oppression, poverty, addiction, mental ill health. We are never to treat our fellow human beings as God's enemies. Yes, we are to witness to them, using (as St Francis said) words when necessary, but we are told in 1 Peter  3:15-16 to 'make your defence ... with gentleness and reverence'. Not a lot of scope for hurling there.

When we write of God's goodness, shouldn't we be making it attractive, rather than flinging it at people to demonstrate their sinfulness? Yes, making goodness attractive in writing is a difficult task. We all know how Milton unwittingly made Satan a more interesting character than God. Yet that task can be done: I think C S Lewis does it in Aslan, and J K Rowling, for all her faults of style (she should have had a better editor) does it in Dumbledore. Let's do more enticing and less hurling.

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 New Daylight. Veronica used to belong to the only non-conservative, English speaking Mennonite church in the UK, and is currently churchless. She also blogs at

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

When you're living in the overwhelm instead of the overflow by Joy Lenton

Emotional doesn't begin to describe how I've felt over the last few months. 

It's been a roller-coaster ride, with frequent dipping low to ground. 

During my dark season of the soul, I struggled to write, feel creative or be encouraged. Ironically, it also coincided with self-publishing my book. 

Talk about bad timing. :( It was accompanied by guilt for feeling this way as a blood-bought, born-again daughter of God.

As an encourager, I felt adrift, and anxious about how to help others when I was so discouraged myself. 

When I listened too intently to my emotions, life felt pretty grim, devoid of joy and peace. I struggled to find myself in the maelstrom, never mind see where God was in all of this.

Am I suggesting we shouldn't be in tune with our mental state? Not at all. It's how we experience the rich variety of feelings at our disposal, and a means of discerning deep desires that aid us in shaping purpose and plans. 

But we're not meant to live in a constant state of emotional lability and overwhelm, nor to be numb to all that's going on around and inside us. 

Balance is the key thing. Knowing what is 'normal' for us is useful in discerning the way ahead. Excessive grief, despair and discouragement could be warning signs of incipient depression, requiring medical care and attention. 

Positive emotions are different. We feel energised. Hope flares brighter. Love flows more smoothly and joy is a natural way of being.

I think that joy and sorrow can coexist as partners in the way they interweave and interact together, pulling us toward God, whether in praise or seeking comfort.

"Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven? ...look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy" ~ Kahlil Gibran

I've been learning that our wounds - pain, grief, sorrow - are also our deepest source of spiritual growth, if we let them teach us the lessons they bring.

The things we want to run away from could also be a means of grace, drawing us closer to Christ.

Listening to our lives is key to understanding what is happening. What are our fickle feelings and fluctuating emotions trying to tell us?

They could be indicating a state of the heart, body, mind, or a form of spiritual attack. Prayer, godly wisdom and discernment are required to help us get answers to what is eating us up on the inside.

God has the final say on our lives. His word promises and reminds us that life is full of blessings. 

Those blessings may come wrapped up in sorrow and sadness sometimes. They won't all have beautiful bright bows on them, but all offer an invitation: to open, appreciate and sense the gift hidden within - glimmers of grace shining midst life's detritus.

Our purest joy and deepest gratitude will stem from seeing God's hand in everything. We can relax in His omnipresent, omniscient care. 

Past, present and future are safe in God's hands. He alone can bring joy out of adversity and birth purpose out of pain.

Whatever painful trial we may be experiencing, we have hope of it passing. God's grace waits to be discovered in life's dark places.

Here's a little note I wrote during the hard days:

A poet pays attention to her days
Careful observation of its corners
makes for more words upon a page

Because writing will flow again. Each tiny poem or short sentence counts. Our mood will lift. Creativity will bloom and be deeply enriched by all we have gone through - and survived - with God's help.

Meanwhile, let's just let ourselves be held...

NOTE - **I hesitated so much in writing this post. It wasn't a topic I was keen to share, because I'm in a stronger place now - mentally, if not physically. But sometimes we just have to be honest about our struggles. My hope and prayer is that someone reading this will feel less alone with theirs**

Joy Lenton is a grateful grace dweller, contemplative Christian writer, poet and blogger, author of 'Seeking Solace: Discovering grace in life's hard places'

She enjoys encouraging others on their journey of life and faith at her blogs and as she seeks to discover the poetic in the prosaic and the eternal in the temporal. You can connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Celebrating the little things By Claire Musters

If you are anything like me, you will have your sights set on that end goal: finishing your book, finding a publisher, seeing your book on the shelves of bookshops…

While I know quite a few of our members have books just out or about to be out, for many of us, that process can be extremely long-winded and can get us down. Others may be writing for a different reason and so it isn’t all about chasing that elusive publisher. The end goal may be different, but we still tend to focus on whatever it is and perhaps miss what is going on around us in the here and now.

Wherever you are at today, I just want to encourage you to celebrate the little triumphs that you have along the way.

We can be such sensitive souls, taking every knock back and every struggle over scenes in our books so much to heart, and yet we gloss over the good things that happen in our writing processes such as what we learn about ourselves through the struggle, or the pure joy when we FINALLY get that sentence, which we have been fighting over for hours, absolutely as we want it...

Another bout of ill health this last week knocked me sideways for a while, but then God started gently reminding me to acknowledge and be thankful for the smaller things. For example, for those moments when I get an idea for an article due in a few days (like this one ;) ), when I finally get inspiration for a chapter that I’ve left on the shelf as I didn’t know what to do with it but felt it needed to be in my WIP.

It’s not just about my writing though; God has also reminded me to be thankful for the things I tend to gloss over in life. These can be as simple as the breath I am being given every second of every day and night; the wonderful windowseat with its view of the beautiful garden that I am able to glance at during my time with Him; the joy of seeing my children growing and learning each day. (It was pure joy to see the excitement on my daughter’s face as she recounted all she had done on a recent Guides weekend away. She had been so worked up about going but has now decided she loves kayaking – and she even got a prize for embracing camp life so much!) This last Sunday, we had some rare family time in the afternoon and it was an absolute delight to have both my kids hugging me as we played around together - see below :)

Cultivating thankfulness helps us to notice the little things. It also helps us in our relationship with God (and it is something that He tells us to do in 1 Thessalonians 5:18). Rather than focusing on the situations and circumstances we are finding hard, thankfulness reminds us to acknowledge who He is. And it’s as we begin to thank and worship Him that we get a more rounded perspective and our faith is strengthened.

So let’s celebrate those little things that happen today!

Claire is a freelance writer and editor, mum to two gorgeous young children, pastor’s wife, worship leader and school governor. Claire’s desire is to help others draw closer to God through her writing, which focuses on marriage, parenting, worship, discipleship, issues facing women today etc. Her books include Taking your Spiritual Pulse, CWR’s Insight Guide: Managing Conflict and Cover to Cover: David A man after God's own heart and BRF Foundations21 study guides on Prayer and Jesus. She also writes a regular column for Christian Today as well as Bible study notes, and her next book, Insight Guide to Self-acceptance is due out in October. She is currently standing is as editor for Families First magazine too. To find out more about her, please visit and @CMusters on Twitter.