ACW

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Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Do I make myself clear?


 One of my favourite radio programmes growing up was My Word! The chairman of the panel game introduced the teams each week with the phrase ‘whose business is words’. I wondered how they had managed to make words their business. I wanted to do the same.

Not having a television I sometimes had spare time in the evening. One of the ways I filled it was by doing a sort of treasure hunt through a dictionary. If I didn’t know the meaning of a word in the definition of another word, I’d look that up, and the next. I still turn to a book rather than an on-line dictionary (and some of my friends ask me the meaning of words!)

The English language has many words, which are made to serve in more than one capacity. I was reminded of this recently when a newsreader on the radio said the police are calling it, 'a shed-load of…'

…I think someone was picturing a wooden out-building full of whatever it was. I realised that the police had been describing the load the lorry had shed. A shed load. The ambiguity remained with me, but not the detail of what had been shed.
One interpretation of leaves shed

Another word with more than one meaning is clinic. When a consultant holds a clinic, he or she does not pick up a building where health professionals see patients.

Misunderstandings frequently arise through the use of sarcasm, irony and euphemisms. I was taught that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit and to avoid euphemisms. This sometimes means that I miss the point or am rather slow at picking up that someone is joking. Puns and wordplay were our family’s favourites. But I was warned that people don’t like witty women. Ahem!

Literalism brings its own problems. Common sense (a concept I found very difficult as a child) is needed too. 

A friend recently complained about people sending emails without thinking about the effect they might have on the sender. It is too easy to press send, without checking the tone of the email and whether it might be misunderstood. The same applies to social media and to everyday conversation. It is so easy to say the wrong thing! (On a more positive note, I am beginning to use the polite phrases I have learned from social media in conversation.)

I remember coming across a second meaning for a word in everyday use. I was a student, when I found out that obtain could be an intransitive verb, that is, one which doesn’t have an object. Object itself can be a noun or a verb and is pronounced differently to differentiate between the two. Have other people noticed how the subtle differences in pronunciation when a word is used as a verb or a noun are being lost? Does it matter?

Did the title of my post take you back to schooldays with an angry teacher’s words at the end of a long telling off and warning against reoffending?


Monday, 30 October 2017

Searchin'


Looking for information? What do you use? Google no doubt. How would you like to go direct to the source?

I may just have the blog for you in that case as I'm going to list a few sites that give some interesting, useful and occasionally downright silly information.

1. The British Library

Access their online catalogue, the newspaper archive, and lots more besides, including some books dating back to the time of Jesus Christ. The site also let's you know what exhibitions they have coming up.

2. Improbable Research

Looking to see what the cutting edge of science is doing? Look no further. On this site you can find out what the latest strange research is. Are chocolate and tea better than flouride for our teeth? Can you train crows to pick up and collect dog ends? This is also the site that awards the ignobels every year. In short, research that makes you go 'ungh?', then makes you think.

3. The National Archives

Wills, military records, the domesday book, parish records. There's a lot of this online, but the site will also help you find what you want and then tell you where it's located.

4. World Digital Library

Books and records from around the world. Maps, photos and other information (not all of it in English), a treasure trove that might keep you from writing for hours...or days if you're lucky.

5. Sacred Texts

Want to know more about Hinduism or Native American religion? Look no further. Virtually all religions and faiths are covered plus Nostradamus and UFOs.

6. Bible

Search the bible online via Bible Gateway, or use the online version of Strong's Concordance for any in depth research.

7. Star Trek

Want to know which actors appeared in your favourite episode? Look no further.

8. Household

Get your kids (or husband) to do things the easy way by pointing them at some websites that'll show them how to clean: 10 uses for baking soda, laundry hacks, housecleaning hacks and oven cleaning.

9. European Union

Information direct from the horses mouth. Find out how the law is made and the difference between a law and a directive.

10. The Law

UK law that is. Get up to date information. Site is provided by the National Archives.

11. National Statistics

Does what it says on the tin. Good site for insomniacs. Allied to this site is the local statistics page from the ONS.

12. Crime Map

FInd out how many people have done what in any area you choose to research.

13. Creative Commons License

Want to keep copyright but allow people to share? Then this is for you.

14. Arts Council Grants

Just in case you want to apply.

15. Online Etymology Dictionary

The history of English words in one easy place.


If you want to know how I got this list, the answer's simple. I collect the links. Don't ask why unless you want me to bore you with my search parameters and what I used to do with my spare time.

Enjoy.

Martin.











Sunday, 29 October 2017

Bring Me Sunshine

This title, as well as linking nicely to the recent ACW comedy writing competition, may recall happy memories of Morecambe and Wise for several of you.

My favourite sketch of arguably Britain’s best comedy double act is from the 1971 Christmas Show featuring Mr “Andre Preview” and the “boys from the band” (better known as world famous conductor, Andre Previn and the BBC Orchestra. Even now when Previn is in London, he is still greeted as Mr Preview.). 

For anyone who hasn’t seen this, please look it up on YouTube. I think it’s the funniest thing ever seen on television.

Morecambe and Wise used theatrical curtains as part of their TV shows.  Image via Pixabay.
So what has this got to do with ACW?  I asked myself what it was I loved about M&W and this sketch especially. 

Firstly, their timing and delivery were spot on. 

Morecambe and Wise had their timing spot on - always.  Image via Pixabay
Secondly, they were noted for their professionalism with continual rehearsals (and kept this up for decades).

Thirdly, all parties played their part to perfection.  The frozen horror on Andre Previn’s face at Eric Morecambe’s piano playing is wonderful.  How Andre Previn never laughed I don’t know.  (The YouTube clip reveals “the boys from the band” couldn’t manage it!).


The kind of TV I used to watch Morecambe and Wise on in the 1970s.  Image via Pixabay

God’s Timing
As Christians, we need to trust that God will get His timing for our lives spot on, though often the means of delivery will not be to our liking.  Nobody deliberately goes through painful times even if those same times bring us on in our faith.

Haven’t we all wanted God to bring us sunshine, permanently?  What would happen if He did?  Unremitting sunshine leads to drought and, ultimately, to deserts given enough time.  Do we want that for ourselves? 

It is through the hard times we learn most.  I don’t know if this is just a quirk of our human nature.  I do know I wish it wasn’t the case but I also think it is a question of accepting this and trusting that God does know best.  There are things I’ve been so glad I didn’t know about in advance and so had to face them with support from God and my family when they happened.  This also meant I had less time to worry, which helped enormously.

We are all haunted by time.  Image via Pixabay
God's timing does not equal ours.  Image via Pixabay.
Rehearsals/Playing Our Part
As writers, we are used to rewrites (or should be!) so God continually rewriting us shouldn’t come as a surprise given we are works in progress.  It often does though! 

Just as our rewrites cannot take five minutes (alas!), God’s rewrites of us take time.  When children or pets are  young, it seems as if they grow overnight.  To a certain extent they are growing overnight, of coulong-termthe long term, mature growth takes far longer.  It takes us at least 18 years to reach adulthood after all. 

So how long will it take God to get us to where He wants us to be?  That is in His hands but our daily challenge to ourselves is to ask ourselves if we are open to what He wants to do.


Saturday, 28 October 2017

Pilgrimage to Iona by Trevor Thorn.




The interpretative board in the Abbey 
grounfdsreferred to below

My wife is bolder than me! At a reunion of a retreat weekend, Iona was mentioned, and our long history of visits with groups ‘emerged’.  One of the group suggested that we should all go, and our week on Iona was ‘born’. As it happens, only 3 of that original group were able to come, so Pam made it known through her Facebook page that the week was happening. In the event, 18 months later, twenty one of us set out by various routes to the island at the end of September. Pam was the only person who knew everyone in the group and I had considerable anxiety that would place more responsibility on Pam than ideal if we, too, wanted some quiet time during our week on the island.

I need not have worried. The group members all arrived, delighted to be part of a ‘new’ community and the welcome at Bishops House, the retreat centre, added significantly to our collective pleasure at arriving, although that was not without its complications. Most of us arrived on the same ferry but the wind blew up and some of the party were obliged to find overnight accommodation on Mull. We had also had a complication of one of our pilgrims passing out in Oban and needing to be checked over at Oban hospital.  Pam was the only one of us who knew her well enough to stay with her. Thus, we arrived at various times during the space of 24 hours. It was good when we were finally all together, and this somehow added to the sense of pilgrimage.

Then the gentle rhythm of the House took over: Communion each morning, Night prayer to finish the day, our own morning prayer, and occasional worship in the medieval abbey organized by a small number of Iona Community members who will stay on the island throughout the winter.

We were quickly a community! 21 people, with very disparate stories, very different Christian journeys, melded together in a quite extraordinary way. Old friendships were renewed, new friendships forged. Anxieties shared (one of our group is having cancer surgery as I write). A new story of community gently emerged, which included knitting patterns exchanged, elephants (woolen) purchased (a story too long to share here), walks taken, cliffs scaled! Laughter, tears, shared meals, the odd ‘wee dram’!

In the beautiful abbey grounds there is an interpretation board which imagines the scene around the abbey in medieval times which apparently needed crowd control measures at busy times! It struck me most forcefully to see a number of sick people being helped into the abbey, one woman on the back of a man: suddenly the importance of such a shrine down through the ages made sense. And it is in the footsteps of all those earlier pilgrims that we chose to make the slightly complicated journey to the island. For us, three trains, a ferry from Oban to Mull, a coach ride across Mull and the final ten-minute ferry to the island itself. Of course, we had stories of how our transports fitted together, whereas earlier generations would probably have arrived by sea; so much safer in those days.

The island has been described as a thin place where heaven and earth brush against each other. The island does feel imbued with the holiness of Columba and his companions, the ambience of the restored abbey and the fine ruin of the nunnery – all places to provoke thinking about the God whose followers who made this place so special. And we are caught for our short time there into that specialness.


If you haven’t made a pilgrimage to a holy place, I can strongly recommend it and you will find further thoughts in my collection of Iona poems at http://crossandcosmos.blogspot.co.uk/p/my-iona-poems.html

Friday, 27 October 2017

Deep Motivation, by Lucy Mills

Writers have a common denominator – we write. (At least, we hope so!) But the way we write, the hows and the whens, can vary greatly. There will be many of us who, on getting together, find ourselves in understanding company – where we keep saying, ‘Really? You too? That makes me feel so much better!’ But equally we can come across those who make us feel somewhat ‘lesser’, or a little bit odd, perhaps not a ‘proper’ writer because we don’t do things a certain way.

Writer, know thyself. (And by the way, thyself is allowed to be different from that lot over there.)

One writer, chatting to me at the recent ACW writers’ day, expressed her anxiety over those who implied that there is a ‘best way of doing things’ – a ‘right way to write’, as it were – those who swear by writing a certain amount each day, keeping to a very specific routine. I said to her, as I have come to believe – we are all different; we all work in different ways; what releases one into productivity can imprison another into the stalemate of feeling guilty that they just can’t do that. I also mentioned that thinking time still counts as writing time. I read somewhere not long ago something which said something about ‘staring out the window’ meaning that a writer is working – it annoys me I can’t recall who said it, but I quite agree. I brew, I percolate. There has to be a thought which leads to the word.

(As well as the stage of writing and the personality of the writer, the method also depends, I think, on the genre you’re writing. Fiction or non-fiction? I would approach them differently.)

Of course, for those of us who have deadlines, commissions, contracts, there does need to be that ‘push-on-through-even-when-it-hurts’ on occasion – or, perhaps, even most occasions. That’s true for me – I do have moments of delight, elation, when the words fall off my fingers giggling at their own appropriateness – but there’s an awful lot of dragging them out, grumbling at their inadequacy. And then there is the long, wearisome job of trying to shape them into something a wee bit more adequate by that particular date on the calendar.

Why? I could ask. Why do I do this? Because I love it? (When I’m groaning aloud, desperate to do anything but this?) Because I was made for this? (A delightful thought, but does it sound pompous? And again, ow, this is so hard it hurts.)

And yet – at my depths I do love it, in the more realistic, gritty way of loving which requires commitment, is less starry-eyed and can be prone to grumble on occasion. And it has felt important that I do this, even if right now I feel idiotic and useless at it. In some subtle but profound way, God speaks to me when I write. The writing itself may not be for public consumption, nor particularly beautiful, but the act of doing it puts me in a place of listening; it opens me to new possibilities.

Motivation matters. The nature of it matters. When things feel at their most dull, when it all feels like drudgery, we need something deeper than surface stuff. We need a meaningful reason, a spark underneath it all. A strong root to help the tree grow well.

And that leads me onto the topic of my new book, Undivided Heart, which is out this week. This week! Now!

Yikes.

As my More Than Writers slot falls naturally into the period of the Undivided Heart blog tour, forgive me for dwelling on it for a moment. Undivided Heart explores what makes us who we are and where we find our identity, why we do what we do, where we find meaning and motivation. As usual, rather than skipping in the shallows I plunge right into the depths of questions of existence, meaning, suffering and hope.

I’m not claiming to be able to answer them, just respond and reflect on them. Words are limited. They won’t be adequate, but I hope that God, who was kind enough to whisper to me as I wrote, might whisper to my readers, too.

There are things I try to say that may not come across; my writing art is not quite up to scratch yet. There will be thoughts I hold out to my readers and ask, ‘do you understand?’. Some will say ‘YES!’ Equally there will be others who pull frowny, puzzled faces and say, ‘I don’t get it. What’s her point?’ They may criticise, patronise, try to turn my words into something quite alien to my meaning.

We writers have to take that risk, don’t we? And I now have to untether myself from this book, to somehow learn to love it and carry it with me as a separate entity, a testament to my recent journey. All the angst I felt in writing it – I need to detach myself from that a little, for this next stage.

I need to remember the reason, the purpose, the motivation for my journey.

What was it? A longing for God.

That, for me, is deep motivation.

***



Lucy Mills
Lucy's first book, Forgetful Heart: remembering God in a distracted world, was published in 2014 (DLT). Undivided Heart: finding meaning and motivation in Christ is OUT NOW!

Lucy writes articles, poetry and prayers for various publications and is Editorial Co-ordinator at magnet magazine. www.lucy-mills.com

Lucy on Twitter: @lucymills
Lucy's Facebook page
Lucy on Instagram: @lucymillswriter


More than Writer posts in 2017:

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

The busy mum's prayer time, by Fiona Lloyd


For anyone who has ever felt distracted while trying to pray . . .



Hello God, it’s me.

Well – obviously, you know it’s me, but I confess I’ve been a bit busy recently, so I thought I ought to check in with you again.

So: here I am. You have my full attention – well, for the next quarter of an hour or so, anyway. If I don’t get this card in the post tonight, it won’t get there in time for Aunt Maud’s birthday, and we all know what she’s like when she’s in a bad mood. Actually . . . why is she so grumpy? I feel like she still hasn’t forgiven me for the time I accidentally trod mud into her new carpet 15 years ago. At this rate, her grudge will outlast the carpet.

Sorry, not a good start. What’s that thing the psalmist says about entering your courts with thanksgiving? Clearly, you’ve given me lots of things to be grateful for, so here we go:

Thank you for loving me: that’s an easy one.

No, no, that sounds big-headed. What I meant was, it’s clear that I should be giving thanks for your love. Although – if I’m honest – some days I don’t feel very loved. Or lovable, come to that. I can understand why you love people like that woman who led the Bible study the other day: she’s always smiling, and her children are adorable.

Ah, children. Yes, I know they’re a gift from you, but I sometimes wish you’d kept the receipt.

Sorry, just my idea of a joke: I know I shouldn’t make comparisons.

Okay, thank you for my children. Thank you that the little one only had two tantrums in Sunday school this week, and thank you that the eldest has at long last decided that vegetables aren’t poisonous. It would be nice if she’d learn to eat others besides carrots and roast potatoes, but I suppose it’s a start.

Hmm, how about some intercessions? (I think that’s the spiritual word – I don’t want it to sound like a shopping list.)


So . . . please could you help me with the children, and could you make sure that work goes alright tomorrow? I didn’t mean to get on the wrong side of that customer yesterday, and I certainly didn’t deliberately spill coffee in her handbag, whatever she said. (Although I’m tempted to say she deserved it.)

What else was there I wanted to ask you? Oh yes, please be with whoever’s leading the service on Sunday: that first song we had last week was way too high, and I’m sure the drummer doesn’t need to be quite so loud.

Well, I think that’s everything. It’s been good to have this time with you – makes me feel like I’m not a complete disaster, faith-wise. We must . . .

Sorry? You had some things to say, too?

Yeah, I suppose listening is an important part of prayer. It’s just that I really do need to get to the post office, pronto.

Maybe tomorrow?


Fiona Lloyd works part-time as a music teacher, and serves on the worship leading team at her local church. Fiona blogs at www.fjlloyd.wordpress.com and at http://thejesusonthebus.blogspot.co.uk. You can find her on Twitter at @FionaJLloyd. Her first novel, The Diary of a (trying to be holy) Mum, will be published by Instant Apostle in January 2018. Fiona is vice-chair of ACW and is married with three grown-up children.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Hidden Stories 3—Moth and Rust

I’m fascinated by the way the teaching of James’s Letter can be brought to life when the story hidden within it is brought out. Here’s a third story about Sophron, based on part of chapters 4 and 5.


Sophron, the assistant pastor at the breakaway Jerusalem synagogue—one of those where they worship Mashiach Yeshua—is on his way to the market. He has decided to make a surprise visit to the modest business he owns there to see that everything is in order. As he turns down the street where the shop is, he notices a couple of men standing together just across the road. Nothing unusual about that, except that they are exceptionally well dressed, and as one of them lifts his arm to make a point, Sophron catches the flash of several rings on his hand. With a surge of pleasure, Sophron recognizes him: the man who came to prayers in the synagogue a couple of weeks back, whom he placed in one of the best seats. Sophron was unable to speak to him then, because he was grabbed by Elder Yakob and given a telling-off for making the poor man Elazar bar Adam sit on the floor. Now is his chance. Remarkably, as he moves with due hesitation towards the two men, the one with the rings on turns towards him with a smile.


Embed from Getty Images


‘Peace to you, Sophron bar Zakkai. Delighted to see you. You may recall that I had the pleasure of attending prayers in your synagogue recently. I am Yohanan bar Yehuda, and may I introduce my brother Yoel bar Yehuda.’
‘Peace to you both. May I be of service to you?’
‘That is what we are hoping, my friend. We have reason to believe that you, unlike some of those belonging to the Way of Mashiach, did not place all your property at the feet of the Apostles.’
‘You are right, my friend. At the time of the lamentable affair of our late brother Hananyah and his wife Sappirah, our Apostle Kepha made it quite clear that it was not an obligation to do so. He told them: “Didn’t the land belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?”’
‘A wise ruling, Master Sophron.’
‘Certainly. By making over all their property, some of the brothers have become very poor and now depend on the daily distribution. I did not want to become a burden on the Assembly, but rather a present and future benefactor, so I have kept my modest business—which you see across the street—in operation.’
‘You were prudent. And, yes, we understood that this excellent house of trade is yours and came especially to look over it. It seems a well-run business.’
Sophron is relieved that the shop has passed the scrutiny of men so obviously versed in the ways of trade. He murmurs gratefully. Yohanan bar Yehuda continues: ‘And furthermore we have a business proposition to make to you. We feel sure that you could bring value in and bring profit out.’


There follows an exciting discussion. The Yehuda brothers want Sophron to come in on a trade venture outside the land of Israel! What an opportunity, especially if Sophron can encourage Yohanan, and perhaps Yoel too, to come to prayers again. He wonders what word of instruction he might put together for them. While his mind is wandering off topic, he notices a small black-clad figure at the far end of the street, moving rapidly towards them with a sense of purpose that can be felt, even at this distance. Oh, it’s Elder Yakob. Well, at least he can introduce him to his prospective partners and cement their relationship with his synagogue.


Sophron hastens to get his greeting in first. ‘Brother Yakob, peace be with you. You have arrived at an auspicious moment.’ He introduces the bar Yehuda brothers to Yakob.
‘Peace to you all and blessed be the Lord of Glory,’ says Yakob. ‘Brother Sophron, what are you doing with these men?’
‘They have invited me to join them in an important business initiative.’
‘How do you mean?’
Yohanan intervenes. ‘Allow me to explain, Elder Yakob. Today or tomorrow we are going to Damascus or possibly Sidon; we will spend a year there, carry on business and make a modest profit. Our friend Sophron here will handle the Jerusalem end of the enterprise.’
Yakob’s face takes on a look that Sophron knows and fears: knitted brow, flashing eyes, and jutting chin.
‘Today? Tomorrow? why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life, or his, or mine for that matter? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.’
‘Brother Yakob,’ says Sophron, ‘There’s no need to be so negative—’ But Yakob is in full flight.
‘Instead of talking like this, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.’
Sophron is shocked that Yakob can speak so aggressively in front of men he scarcely knows. How dare Yakob behave like this? What if the deal falls through? He looks fearfully at Yohanan to see if he is offended.
Yohanan looks as calm and collected as ever. ‘My dear Elder Yakob, there’s really no need to entertain doubt about our plans. We have many poor people in Israel. It is a poor country. Taxation is high and the Romans, how shall I put it, don’t make life any easier. We must bring trade and wealth here. It’s the only way to lift our nation out of its depression.’


There’s a short silence. Sophron is relieved that Yohanan has responded so generously and put up a convincing argument. Perhaps Yakob will see sense.


Yakob takes a step forward and points a very long finger directly at the two brothers.
‘Now listen, you rich people! You may as well weep and wail! Why? Because of the misery that is coming on you. Let me remind you how Mashiach Yeshua put it. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your fine clothes. Your gold and silver—those rings—are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire.’
Sophron, now sweating, attempts to intervene. ‘Brother Yakob—’
‘Wealth, my friends! You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! Did you not, Master Yohanan bar Yehuda, encounter a very poor shabby man at our prayers when you attended—sitting on the floor, in fact?’ Sophron groans inwardly.
‘Indeed, there was such a man.’
‘One Elazar bar Adam. A labourer forced off his fields by his landlord—perhaps your brother Yoel bar Yehuda here, or one like him. Yes, the wages you people failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you! The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty, blessed be he.’
‘Brother Yakob, you can’t tar all rich people with the same—’ Sophron tries. It’s no good.
Yakob is shaking his finger.
‘You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You speak of the Romans: well, you have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter that they are going to bring. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you. Yes, the Innocent One from above, the Mashiach, the Lord of Glory!’
Yakob, slightly out of breath, turns to Sophron.
‘Brother Sophron, are you seriously going to take this yoke upon you?’
‘Well, I thought it would be a good idea…’
‘Just remind me of what is written, brother: if anyone knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, what is it for them?’
‘It is...sin, brother.’
‘Come then, brother.’


Here are the two previous stories in the saga: Rich Man, Poor Man, and Words and Deeds. If you enjoy (or can stomach) my unorthodox orthodox thoughts, you can read more of them at Ecclos.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Butterfly wings and big jumpers

The other day I was surfing aimlessly - I mean, writing something profound - and I was distracted  by a ping from my inbox. As every writer knows, a ping from the inbox requires immediate attention, so I answered the call.

It was an alert to say that there had been a message from the child we sponsor in Uganda.

His name is Brian, he's ten years old and he likes football and animals. He's doing well in school, and passed his exam last year. He wants to be 'an army man' when he leaves school. Or maybe a doctor. 

I don't write to Brian anywhere near as often as I should. For someone who likes words and uses more than her fair share most days, I don't give enough to my little boy over the sea. 

Today I sent him a card since it's his birthday in November. I sent it early as it takes a while for everything to be translated and sent over to Africa to find him in the tiny one-room mud and corrugated iron hut that he shares with his mother and grandmother in the dusty little village in rural Uganda. I chose an online card with silhouettes of footballing children and had the opportunity to write 1000 words to greet him. 

A thousand words. With a thousand words I am usually only just getting started. I am not known for my brevity and quite often like to say something, then say it again in a different way, perhaps even a third time, just to get the message across. But these thousand words were hard to find, like all the others I've sent since we were first introduced to Brian a few years ago.

How can it be so difficult?  Well, it might be because Brian is a boy, and I am used to daughters. It might be that the culture difference is so great that I am unsure what kind of references to our life he would understand, or whether they'd be appropriate. It could be that I am aware that he won't get my letter for two to three months after I write it, and so perhaps I should be sending Christmas greetings soon, even as I lament the ridiculously early appearance of a mince pie stand in Morrisons? 

It's all three of these, and something else. Although I have photographs of Brian on the kitchen wall and I see him many times a day, I find it hard to grasp that we have a relationship. An energetic, vibrant little soul learning about the world and his place in it; a world that looks so different from mine. He works hard at school because where he lives it is a blessing and a privilege to be educated, not a burden or a hardship, as you might believe if you followed my children, trudging off in a morning. He eats a repetitive diet of maize and beans and steamed plantain. (This information is all available on the website. Brian doesn't talk about food very much). 

In the last letter he sent to me, Brian asked me to pray that he and his family would be healthy and have enough to eat. 

I sit here telling you about Brian in Uganda with a coffee and a Hobnob right next to me, casserole in the slow cooker, and breakfast pots in the dishwasher. 

How to write to my little boy across the sea? I find it difficult.

Someone once told me that if a butterfly flaps its wings on one side of the world, there's a gale that blows on the other side. I have no idea what that means, or what physics principle it illustrates, but as I sit here and contemplate my little boy with the big smile and bare feet, I find myself asking God to take the sparse, ill-informed, well-intentioned but inadequate words that I put together and make them into the thing that Brian needs to hear.

I want him to grasp somehow that there's a family thousands of miles away that think of him often. (More often than we put pen to paper).  This family have his photo on their wall and have sent him theirs; we took a very squashed selfie of the four of us just for him. I often wonder if he still has it, what he thought as he looked at our faces. There's a middle-aged mummy of girls who looks out of the picture and contemplates the little boy she never had. We wonder at how different his life is from ours. We don't know what to say.

I tell him about the weather. I send him drawings that the children have done, if I badger them to draw something. We tell him about sports and family birthdays and favourite animals. 

I tell him he is loved, remembered, prayed for. I tell him he has done well; he has a good brain for passing that exam. That he should work hard and dream dreams. I tell him that he is growing up to be a fine man and the world needs people like him. I tell him that he can make a difference, whether he's an army man or a doctor or something else. I tell him to be kind and brave and thoughtful and determined. I tell him he's never alone because he has Jesus. I try to find different ways to tell him these things. 

What if the butterfly wings of our hesitant letters create a wind that makes Brian stand up a little straighter? What if knowing that some strange well-fed family on the other side of the world looks at his picture and says a prayer for him helps him to feel less lonely? What if he is indeed encouraged to work hard and become an army man, and leads his troops with justice and compassion? What if he becomes a doctor and brings healing in his remote community? What if he tells other people about Jesus because it was in His name that a family from England sent blessings? 

What if Brian's prayers in his halting, mixed up English, were answered and we are blessed beyond measure because a little boy in Uganda asked the Lord to bless us? 

What if we learn more from him about patience and perseverance and truth than he learns from us? 

What if he has much more to teach us about the true nature of wealth and joy than we have to share with him? 

I must learn about Uganda so that I understand Brian's life a little more. I must stop telling him that it's cold over here and we have big jumpers. I must stop focusing on the gulf between us in terms of culture and material wealth and look instead at what brings us together. 

He is my child, yes. He signs his letters, 'Your child, Brian'. How amazing is that? My little boy. Not so little - he's growing up tall and strong. He'll be eleven soon and his shoulders are definitely getting broader. 

He's my brother too. My brother in Christ, with his own struggles and triumphs. I have no words other than those that Jesus gives me. May he give me the words Brian needs to help him in whatever way we can. I want to encourage, inspire, support, affirm. I want him to know that he has touched my life too - that our connection with him is the blessing he asks Lord Jesus for at the end of his letters. 

'Love from your child', from a mud hut in a remote village in Uganda. That takes my words away.

Look at his smile. 

More words, Lord. I need more words.


Check out Compassion UK to find out about kids like Brian. Consider sponsoring someone, if you can, but in any case, have a look at their little faces and say a prayer for them. Say what you'd like to say to them to God, and I reckon He'll pass it on. 


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




Sunday, 22 October 2017

Not Mutually Exclusive by Emily Owen


I came to write this blog and my mind was an absolute blank. Sometimes I can chivvy it out of blankness, but not today. So I did all the usual distraction things; make a cup of tea, check my emails, read the paper, make another cup of tea, have a look on Facebook.  The tea was very tea-like, the emails stimulating, the paper interesting, and Facebook?  Facebook had a memory for me.

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote my first blog for ACW: https://morethanwriters.blogspot.co.uk/2016/10/i-have-confession.html

I wrote about my goddaughter’s spelling mistakes in a card she sent me.  I know; how mean is that.

The memory popping up on Facebook prompted me to have another look at the card (more distraction?!) and I realised that, in pointing out the mistakes on the inside, I’d bypassed the front.



She was saying “I love you” and yet I’d chosen to focus on the mistake inside. 

How often do we do similarly with God?  As we look at our lives, our work, our writing (in my case today, literally a blank screen), it can be so easy to home straight in on our mistakes.  Zoom in on things we could have done better. Scrutinise our failings. Criticise ourselves. Examine everything we can’t do.

Yes, of course we need to be aware of things that go wrong but, in doing so, perhaps we forget that those mistakes are still covered by God’s love.

Awareness of mistakes and awareness of God’s love are not mutually exclusive.

But perhaps we forget.

Perhaps we allow the mistakes to exclude the love.

Or to stop us from receiving that love.

And perhaps it’s good to be reminded that we don’t need to do that, ever.

One day last week, my two year old niece came to me to say goodnight.

Me: I love you.

Her: Ok.



Acceptance.  It’s as simple as that.



When Jesus says, ‘I love you,’

He means it.

And he means you.

Not your next-door neighbour,

or the girl who works in Tesco,

or the man who fixes your car.

You.



When Jesus says, ‘I love you,’

He means now.

Not yesterday,

not tomorrow,

not next month.

Now.



When Jesus says, ‘I love you,’

He means always.

Not only when you’re good,

or happy,

or successful,

or serving.

Always.



When Jesus says, ‘I love you,’

He means he understands.

The struggle,

the pain,

the feeling of failure.

He understands.



When Jesus says, ‘I love you,’

He means ‘don’t let me go.’

Let me care for you,

be there for you -

‘don’t let me go.’



When Jesus says, ‘I love you,’

It’s all you need to hear.

To get through the day,

to face the future,

to live with the past.

It’s all you need to hear.



When Jesus says, ‘I love you,’

He’s there through thick or thin.

The sad times,

the happy times,

the lonely times,

despairing times.

Through thick or thin.



‘Can anything separate us from the love of Christ?

No, in everything we are more than conquerors…

…neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’

(Romans 8 v 35-39)



When Jesus says, ‘I love you,’

He says, ‘you’re precious in my sight’.

I made you.

I could have made anything I wanted,

so I did.

I made you.



Emily Owen 2017