ACW

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Thursday, 23 November 2017

Carpet Diem - by Helen Murray

Have you a picture of what life is like? A metaphor or an image? St Paul thought it a race; Ronan Keating a few years ago thought that life was a rollercoaster (just gotta ride it!); Forrest Gump thought it was like a box of chocolates. A friend thinks that life is a series of tests (interesting discussions there). It seems that so many of us think in metaphors. I do. 

This is my metaphor: life is like kicking a carpet.

Bear with me. 

There's this roll of carpet - only about two or three feet wide, sort of like a stair carpet, that I unroll ahead of me as I walk along. Everyone has one. There's some artistic licence here as the carpet never gets any smaller and doesn't start out that big, it sort of magically unrolls in front of me. I do have to put some effort in but it's not actually as hard as actually kicking an actual carpet, if you've ever tried to unroll one in the living room while your spouse tries to lift up the sofa. This is a metaphorical carpet, remember; the difficulty of unrolling is seems to vary from time to time. Bit like life, hey.

You're reading this with a raised eyebrow.  Still, I shall press on...

So this carpet has a pattern and everyone's pattern is different - my own is very familiar, even when the pattern changes as it regularly does.  Sometimes it's a brightly coloured, cheerful, intricate pattern, and at other times it's dull, muted, made of dark colours or plain with blocks of different shades.  Sometimes it even has strands of gold and silver in it, wonderful shining threads. Sometimes the pattern has a symmetry, sometimes it's muddled up and abstract.

Sometimes I like it, sometimes I don't.

Likewise the weave of the carpet varies - for a time it's thick, lush and rich in its pile, and then later worn, threadbare, sparse.  Smooth and then knobbly.  Silky and bristly. Sometimes my toes luxuriate in the softness and warmth and other times it hurts my feet. As I go through life the carpet changes from day to day, hour to hour, and yet I keep going, kicking it along in front of me without breaking stride.

There are times when I'm running, even dancing along, full of songs and laughter, and the carpet is unrolling effortlessly.

Other times when I'm plodding, trudging with my head down watching the way the tears make little dark marks as I walk, and those times keeping it moving in front of me is the hardest thing of all, but I carry on. What else can I do?

I can never see where I'm going; it's as if I'm unrolling my carpet through space - three dimensional space, where there are ups and downs - uphills and downhills.  Bits of the journey are brightly lit and other bits so shadowy that I can barely make out the shape of my feet taking one step at a time, one step at a time. 

The destination is unknown but I keep walking towards it. There's no stopping; there's no choice. Keep going. Got to keep going. 

It will be worth it when I get there.

The interesting thing is that I'm not alone during this walk - I can see other people unrolling their carpets, too. Everyone in the world has a carpet.

Some are in the distance - a long long way away, and they're obscured, blurry - I can't see much of their carpet so I don't know what colours or patterns they have; I just get a glimpse from time to time.

These are the people who I might encounter for a brief moment: sitting on a train whooshing past and I glimpse someone walking their dog in a field beside the track.

Driving past someone in a window of a house.

They're the people who come in to view for a second and then they're out of sight.  I see a stranger and wonder about their life - who are they? What are they worried about? Are they happy?  Their carpet comes near mine just for a moment and then they're gone and I never know.

Other people come alongside for a while - they walk alongside me for a time, or we meet and we overlap, and then they're gone in a different direction. Sometimes I see the same person back again. Sometimes I know that I've seen them before but can't place where...

Then in this journey I'm on, one or two people kick their carpets along with me. They're alongside, and they stay there.  Their carpet is so close that the edges of theirs and mine touch - sometimes they're so close that the edges wrinkle up against each other making a ridge.  But there might be a special person whose carpet fits mine perfectly. We're pretty much in step.  The weave and pattern on the carpets side by side are synchronised with each other. Sometimes I can't tell where my carpet ends and theirs starts, and sometimes they look very different. Sometimes they leave me behind and I struggle to catch up, and sometimes they're dawdling when I want to skip. But they're parallel with me.

There's a special sort of blessing in a carpet buddy.

Because their carpet looks and feels so much like mine communication is easy. There's an understanding. They look down and see what I see. We see the world from almost the same perspective. They know when the going is heavy and when I'm flying. It's as if they can reach across to me and help me with the weight of my carpet as I unroll it. They can point out the finest of bright threads in the weave when I can see only darkness. Sometimes their presence alongside me brings light to show me there's beauty in the pattern when I've been unable to see.

A carpet buddy is a very special gift. I thank God regularly for mine.

Occasionally it seems as if someone's carpet is nicer than mine.  They seem to have an easier time getting theirs to unroll. Their pattern seems brighter, prettier, more interesting. It seems thicker, nicer to walk on. Likewise, sometimes other people's carpets appear inferior to my own; I'm glad I'm on mine and not theirs! I can't swap - I can't even step off mine onto theirs - so I can never really tell what it's like on their carpet, and they can't possibly know what it feels like to be on mine, but it doesn't stop me comparing them, even though I know I shouldn't. 

Now and again I notice that someone I was used to travelling with isn't there any more. I'm so used to seeing them there but one day I realise that they're gone. Their carpet has run out. I know it has gone but I still can't tell what's at the end. I look around and crane my neck but I can never see.

I don't know what happens to the person kicking it along as I never seem to witness the exact moment it ends, I just see that it is no longer unravelling. What happened to the person whose carpet it was? Did they realise that it was going to end when it did? Maybe they noticed that the carpet was finally getting smaller?  Maybe it just vanished.  Then what?  I don't know.  Haven't got this bit figured out in my little fantasy. Neither do I know what's at the end of mine - or when it might end.  It seems to me that there's plenty of carpet left at the moment... who knows but God?

But I imagine. 

I think the end of the carpet might be quite ornate - like something fantastic and awe inspiring from a  Renaissance tapestry.  Or maybe just a bit of brocade and a tassle.  Or perhaps it slowly gets thinner and thinner until it's no longer there?  

But it's what happens when I finally step off the carpet that I want to know about. I know it's not thin air - there'll be ground beneath my feet that is more solid than it has ever been. Maybe I'll no longer walk but jump off the ground and fly like I do in a dream - maybe I'll have a grace that I've never had in my life. Maybe there'll be a pattern that is so beautiful that it defies description.   

My imagination isn't big enough.

So that's Life. It's a journey, yes.  It goes up and down like a rollercoaster, yes.  I sometimes feel I'm in a race, yes. But it's a carpet, unrolling, unrolling. Inexorably leading me somewhere. 

A beautiful, unique carpet that only I can walk on. I've got to keep it going. Can't stop, got to keep going.

Till one day it will stop.

In a heartbeat.

Done. 

But I won't stop, and neither will God. We will go on, and on, Him and me.

That's when I'll know what's beyond the carpet.  It's going to be amazing.



Anyone got a Life Metaphor to share? Tell me it's not just me....

Images:

TheFlyingCarpet.jpg by Clarita
DSC005231.jpg by dhester
motiveGuilaneNachez.jpg by Guilane Nachez

From Morguefile.com. Used with permission.






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

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

Helen has a blog: Are We Nearly There Yet? where she writes about life and faith.

You can also find her here:

Pinterest: @HelenMMurray
Twitter: @helenmurray01

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

A Gift From Dusty Houses


“It’s your fault I’m not getting any housework done!”
That’s what someone said to me yesterday. She’d heard me speak at a meeting and, as we chatted afterwards, informed me of my part in her not getting the duster out.
The blame, apparently, lies in the fact that reading my books is more enjoyable than housework. And, since she bought two more yesterday, the housework-less state of her house looks set to continue.
“Oh, I’m sorry!” is what I jokingly said in response. 
Am I really sorry?  Not a bit.
Christmas may be over a month away, but that lady gave me an early Christmas present yesterday.
She reads my books: What a gift to me.
To be honest, I sometimes forget that people do read what I write.
And then someone reminds me.
Like the person who recently told me she’d gone into a shop, looking for a book to read.  She’d considered mine, discounted it, and then something drew her back.  She bought it and, in her words, ‘once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down’.
What a gift to me.
As is all feedback I receive.
“I read your book.”
What a gift to me.
You may be wondering why I’m telling you this. 
Well, the feedback I mention above is not something I receive every day. 
I do forget that, out there somewhere, people are reading what I write.
Even enjoying it.
I’m taken by surprise (in a good way!).
And I just wondered if maybe I’m not alone in my forgetfulness?
So I thought I’d use my slot on the blog this month to encourage us to keep going in our writing.  Whatever our writing may be. 
I’m thrilled when people enjoy my books.
What a gift to me.
I’m thrilled when my sister enjoys a silly poem I wrote for her.
What a gift to me.
I’m thrilled when a child asks me to show them how to write ‘cat’.
What a gift to me.
I came across this quote:
Image result for why write

The quote struck me, because it’s not true for me.
I write because I like to communicate.
I write because I like words.
I write to write.
“I read your book.”
I write because I like being blamed for dusty houses.
What a gift to me.


*If you'd like to risk a dusty house, please feel free to take a look at my books: here.
One is my memoir and the others are devotional books.*


















Tuesday, 21 November 2017

The changes of time

Agatha Christie' desk and typewriter.
"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, 
today and forever.  
Do not be carried away by all kinds 
of strange teachings.  
It is good to have our hearts strengthened by grace...."
                                 
 Hebrews 13:8-9




A recent children’s magazine had a photo of a portable typewriter and described how it worked.  To me it seemed extraordinary that children today wouldn’t know about an invention that so changed peoples' lives. Memories were sparked of familiar names: Remington, Underwood, Olympia, Imperial, Royal used in offices and remainig the same for nearly a hundred years.   

Pitman typing classes taught us to sit properly, and why I don't suffer from the repetitive strain injuries of today. At 16 I purchased the latest Remington portable typewriter to improve my typing speed and wrote my first book. And for six months in Encyclopaedia Britannica’s typing pool I used the oldest to the most modern manual typewriters, banging those keys seven hours a day, 5 days a week.

I remembered carbon paper placed between sheets of paper, carefully rolled between two rollers on a horizontal carriage which moved when you hit the keys, and ringing a bell near the right hand margin.  Pushing the large silver handle to turn up a line to return it to the left hand margin.  Mistakes had to be rubbed out on all copies and only a few reached the top speed of 60 words per minute.

The first electric typewriters had a carriage return key, and soft touch keys making typing less strenuous.  In 1964 I saw the innovative IBM golf ball machine.  Instead of a large carriage, a golf ball of letters twisted and moved along platform housed within the casing.  Several years later I was using one, and enjoyed interchanging the golf ball to use different sized fonts.  In the 1970’s  a well named daisy wheel improved on that technology.  

I was always grateful for Tippex: white paint, or the paper that would cover up my errors.  Ink ribbon spools became cartridges, and new plastic ribbon ones were disposable. And, at the touch of a special key, small spools of Tippex or Sellotape would jump into place to cover or erase your mistakes.  

All I thought ingenious until 1982 when my husband bought the first BBC home computer.  He wrote a basic word processor, used the TV as a screen, and our daisy wheel typewriter typed by itself at about 100 wpm.   These things are now relegated to history, but one thing hasn’t changed, the original 'qwerty' keyboard designed so those metal rods in manual typewriters wouldn't become entangled.

In fifty years the Lord has accelerated man’s creative abilities. But like the ‘qwerty’ keyboard we need ensure we keep what is good in the face of progress. God’s design for our lives is for good,  His Word our keys, and pacing ourselves in stops entanglements and keeps us in His peace and love   When man believes in himself and not the creator God, he does what is right in his eyes his eyes, and today we have incredible inventions, but a spiritual famine in our land.  Yet God promises a harvest.  He’s given us a writing talent.  And as we invest that in Him, I believe He will multiply and use our words of truth to draw people back to Himself. 

Ruth Johnson

Monday, 20 November 2017

Friends by Sue Russell

Perhaps, like me, you know a lot of people. Some you may like a lot; some you may call friends. I consider myself singularly blessed when it comes to friends, and this came home to me forcibly recently when I met up with a friend met at university who subsequently went to live in Canada. Although she has been back to the UK several times it is difficult to see everyone you'd like to see when your visit is short, and although we kept in touch we hadn't actually seen one another for 28 years! Somehow, though, I had every confidence that our friendship doesn't rely on the details of life, and that we would be able to talk freely and without any awkwardness - and so it proved. I have another friend, of long standing, with whom I would literally trust my life and deepest secrets. She is the soul of loyalty. I did not expect to find any more, to be honest, as I grew older - not of such kindness and faithfulness; but God is good, and I have. She knows who she is! In addition there are those who you feel might just become very good friends, given the chance; and these don't depend on geographical proximity or even on similarity of temperament, background or experience. At some significant level you somehow seem to understand and appreciate one another - a rare and wonderful blessing.
Jesus himself valued friendship: his was a lonely path, but he surely took some comfort in his closest friends, even when they misunderstood him; even, indeed, when they denied  and deserted him. In John 15 he says to them, 'I do not call you servants any longer...Instead, I call you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.' Paul makes a startling claim in Romans 5: 'We were God's enemies, but he made us his friends through the death of his Son.' It astonishes me that God would want such creatures as us to be his friends, but apparently it is so. Again, in 2 Corinthians 5, Paul writes,'Our message is that God was making the whole human race his friends through Christ.' 
Would I be considered unforgivably 'up myself' (as I recall my children saying scornfully as teenagers) if I quoted from one of my own books on the subject?  Well, I shall risk it. One character says to another, 'Wherever you are, wherever I am, whatever is happening, we will always care for and trust one another. I feel almost as certain of this as that I will one day open my eyes in heaven.'
 There are many kinds of friendship, of course: many depths, many ways of expressing the relationship; but it seems to me that we as members of ACW have a unique privilege and opportunity. We may live far apart, have little in common in the way of interests, experience, background, age, worship styles, denomination; but we have two things in common which I assume are extremely important to us all. I have noted over the last few years an increase in mutual sharing of concerns and prayerful support. Times of getting together - at conferences, writers' days, weekends - encourage the formation of new friendships and the development of existing ones. We should celebrate this, and always realise what a precious gift it is, at the same time keeping our antennae sensitive to those who are somehow on the margins. They too are God's friends.




Sue's latest novel 'A Vision of Locusts' was published by Instant Apostle in October. 


Sunday, 19 November 2017

I was just going to say... by Veronica Zundel

Oh dear. I've just noticed the date, and it's that time of the month again (no, not that time, those finished a long time ago). The time when I have to find something meaningfully to say about writing, or God, or preferably both. Having just been away on retreat for five days, I had lost track and thought all I had to do today was unpack my case and order the food from Ocado.

A blog is a funny thing; it creeps up on you and suddenly demands that you utter oracles, or at least something mildly entertaining. I suppose I should be used to the idea by now, having been writing a monthly magazine column for 35 years, but that has a wider remit and this blog ought in general to be about something vaguely connected with our shared profession, or at least our profession of faith.

'Morgan' Forster
And there's the rub. Do we really need, does the world really need, more words about words or about The Word? EM Forster (whom I met when I was 12, but that's another story), wrote of 'poor talkative little Christianity'. I have some sympathy with his viewpoint: we followers of Christ the Word become flesh, often seem to think it necessary to multiply words about what it means to follow him, rather than just getting on and doing it. St Francis, on the other hand, is reputed to have said 'Preach the Gospel at all times; use words if you have to'.

But then again we are writers, and some of us preachers, and if we don't
Statue of St Francis
produce words, we don't put bacon or Quorn on the table (not that my work has ever contributed much Quorn to our vegetarian table, I've relied on my parents and then my husband for that). The question is, do we have to keep blurting out so many words saying essentially the same thing? Or might it be a good idea just to shut up until we have something to say that hasn't been heard a thousand times before?

Some years ago I came up with the proposal that Christians in general should have a moratorium of, say, a year, on talking about God, and simply talk (and listen) to God instead. I know, a number of us might lose our livelihood, or have to earn it in a less verbal way, but think of the gains! It would solve a number of problems: theological disputes would die down, and there would be no more debate about inclusive language, since the second person has no gender in English (in Finnish, personal pronouns have no gender either, which is probably why the Finns have such strong women).

Most of all, it would make us focus on actually living out our faith rather than just going on about it. We might need to make an exception in the case of people asking us about our motivation, but we could still have a rule restricting our answers to a single sentence unless further questions were asked. Who knows, we might even discover the value of silence in worship (and I don't mean someone talking for five minutes about how we're going to have a time of silence and then being silent for 10 seconds).

Well, it's only an idea. But since ideas are sometimes rarer than talk, I put it forward for your consideration.




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 November 2017

“A Palimpsest of Unheard Sound” by Georgie Tennant




Discovering New Words

The word ‘palimpsest’ first entered my vocabulary when I was a newly qualified teacher, guiding my almost-as-old-as-me group of A-Level students through the opening chapter of 'The Handmaid's Tale,' by Margaret Atwood. Describing the gymnasium where the women are made to sleep, Atwood writes, “Dances would have been held there; the music lingered, a palimpsest of unheard sound.”  To avoid looking like I didn't 'know my stuff,' I investigated the meaning of this unfamiliar word (appearing to glide like a swan, when you're engaging in rather more frantic, duck-like paddling, is key to surviving one's early teaching career).  According to the dictionary, a palimpsest is:

"... a manuscript or piece of writing material on which later writing has been superimposed on effaced earlier writing.

... something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form."

In the case of ‘The Handmaid's Tale,’ it evoked the left-behind lives of the women captive to the evil, futuristic regime. Even as it tried to erase their identity, superimposing a new one, their previously written stories echoed still. I was captivated.

Living with Re-Writes

I didn't understand it fully, as a sheltered 22-year-old, but it stayed with me, re-emerging later in my teaching.  When it did, it struck me afresh that it adeptly captures that inescapable feeling that the stories of our lives are never written quite how we imagine.  From small day to day scenes we wish had panned out differently, to major life events, that change us and our paths irreparably – many of us live with a sense that there would have, should have, could have been a different story, lurking under the surface of the one we are currently living.

We struggle so much, when our lives’ directions change, because we have already half-written the manuscript in our minds and imprinted it on our souls - so much so, that, when it all changes, we feel like we are living a new, unfamiliar life.  We have to come to terms with the ‘new’ story, mourn the loss of the old – even though it hadn’t actually been ‘written’ yet. The bumps and scraped-out bits of our personal palimpsests are painful reminders of what might have been. Undertones echoes beneath, of the life we thought we were getting, but didn’t. 

The full force of the word hit me hardest, when I faced the loss of our baby daughter at twenty-five weeks of pregnancy. I lost a girl and had two beautiful boys, whom I wouldn't change for the world. But even now, as I watch them as shepherds and camels in their annual, Christmas nativity plays, echoes linger of the sparkly tights I might have purchased, the angel costume I might have sewn, had the baby on the other layer of the manuscript of my life made it into being. I tried to use the word palimpsest to write about her, in a poem, as it fits so well (you can read it here, if you have the time and inclination!): 


Keys to Moving Forward

So how do we deal with it if we find our stories have changed beyond recognition, in comparison to the narrative we thought was unfolding in front of us? I think a proverb and a psalm and the story of Elijah, hold the keys.  Elijah is the ultimate, biblical example, of someone who found his story being completely re-written.  As he indignantly replied to God’s enquiry as to why he had ended up hiding out in a cave, his words burst with pained frustration that things had not gone as he imagined.  He reminded God of all he had accomplished and miserably lamented the situation in which he had found himself. God’s response?  “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” (1 Kings 19v11).  Only God’s presence, in his new chapter of the story, overwrote the echoing pain of the old one and enabled Elijah to move forward and live the next part of his story well.


Elijah lived what Proverbs 16 v 9 tells us, A man’s mind plans his way [as he journeys through life], But the Lord directs his steps and establishes them.”  We must keep in mind to hold things as lightly as we can (which is very much harder to do, than say), and accept that, somehow, when the script alters, God has everything in His hands and will ultimately work it all out for good.

Finally, Psalm 118 v 24 declares, “This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.”  Hard though it is and impossible though it seems in life’s tougher seasons, it helps to stay in the moment, focus on the day we are in.  Finding things, daily, to be thankful for, can change the direction of our gaze, lift us from gloom to rejoicing and enable us to slowly but surely re-establish trust in the One who writes the full manuscript, from the beginning to the very end. 

Instead of scraping away at our layers of palimpsest trying to read the story that might have been, let’s be people (and writers), who face our changed narratives, courageously, with God’s presence.  In doing so, we might inspire others that their life stories, too, are in the hands of an Author, who writes the very best stories; however hard the struggles and however dark the chapter we are in, His stories always - somehow, someday - end in redemption and wholeness and peace.


Georgina Tennant is a secondary school English teacher in a Norfolk Comprehensive.  She is married, with two sons, aged 9 and 6, 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! Her musings about life can be found on her blog: www.somepoemsbygeorgie.blogspot.co.uk

Friday, 17 November 2017

From the heart by Claire Musters



Last weekend was my book launch. I know many of you have seen photos and comments from the evening, so please be assured that this post is not about that! I want to focus on the morning after, during which my husband and I preached at our church.

We had decided we needed to share our story together, as it appears in the first part of my book. Many of the congregation already knew it – some had lived through it with us – but we were conscious of the fact that there were newer people who had joined in the last few years who may not. We didn’t want anyone to have a shock if they bought and read my book!

God has been taking our whole church on a journey with authenticity over the years, and, just in the last few weeks, it seems that He has increased the emphasis on encouraging people to be vulnerable with one another. We certainly wanted to build on that, and, while we did talk about the book and our story, we moved on to explore how we believed God was nudging as a church family into deeper authentic relationships with one another.

I found the morning much more emotional than I had expected, and was choked up at one point while telling how Steve’s response to my actions had revealed Jesus’ love to me in a way I had never experienced before.

As we finished, one of the elders jumped up and asked people to gather round and pray for us. It was a powerful time of recommissioning us as a couple and there were many prayers and words spoken over us.

And then it was over. It had seemed like such a positive response, but you never quite know do you? But, bit by bit, those newer to the church began to approach me and it was then that I was totally blown away.

A few new couples came up to both of us and said they hadn’t been sure whether or not our church would be their spiritual home, but our honesty really spoke to them and they are definitely going to stay. One woman in particular was completely bowled over – her eyes full of tears as she explained why.

Steve had used the book design as the backdrop to our accompanying Powerpoint, and the lady said that when she saw the strapline to the book she couldn’t believe it. Apparently God had been saying to her for a good few weeks, ‘won’t you dare to be the person I have created you to be’? He had been gently asking her to remove her mask too. How amazing is that?!

Those particular few conversations at the end of Sunday were SUCH an encouragement to me and, reflecting on them since, I have been reminded of the power of telling our stories from the heart – and allowing God to do the rest. He uses our humble words to touch those we don’t even know. What a privilege it is to be a writer!


Claire is a freelance writer, speaker and editor, mum to two gorgeous young children, pastor’s wife, worship leader and school governor. She is currently Premier Christianity magazine’s freelance news and features journalist. Claire’s desire is to help others draw closer to God through her writing, which focuses on authenticity, marriage, parenting, worship, discipleship, issues facing women today etc. Her books include Taking your Spiritual Pulse, CWR’s Insight Into Managing Conflict, Insight Into Self-acceptance, Cover to Cover: David A man after God’s own heart, Insight Into Burnout and BRF Foundations21 study guides on Prayer and Jesus. She also writes Bible study notes. She has two new books out this November: Taking off the mask: daring to be the person God created you to be, with Authentic Media, and Cover to Cover: 1–3 John Walking in the truth, with CWR. To find out more about her, please visit www.clairemusters.com and @CMusters on Twitter.