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Thursday, 27 June 2019

A cut too short? by Tracy Williamson


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

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

The Joy of New, by Nicki Copeland



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Giving God Space – by Eileen Padmore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, 24 June 2019

Everybody is I

‘Everybody is I.’


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


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

‘Everybody is I.’

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


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


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


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


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


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

E. & C. W.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Thankfulness


                                                                 Zones of Regulation

                                                     
                                                                      Thankfulness

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

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

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

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

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



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

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Reading God's Map by Emily Owen



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

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


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

Friday, 21 June 2019

Back to the future...1

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

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





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

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

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

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

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

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



Thursday, 20 June 2019

More about Scargill... by Annmarie Miles

I loved reading Georgie Tennant's post on our time in Scargill for the ACW Odyssey weekend. I had thought I might do a similar post, but she summed it up so well. I hope you've had a chance to read it.

I was so looking forward to the weekend. Meeting Adrian Plass was such a buzz. I read the Sacred Diaries as a new Christian, 25 years ago and they helped me navigate this new world I found myself in. What a joy to get triple prizes, with Bridget Plass and Nick Page also sharing wisdom and making us laugh. I was soaking it up, until... Bridget dropped her bombshell and told us about our challenge, which we would be doing in groups.

Now I love nothing more than a crowd, but when it comes to writing, I would never consider myself a good collaborator. I've only done it once, with a wonderful writer who loves silly stuff like I do. I enjoyed it, but it was difficult. I always thought the only reason it worked well was because I knew her and could push her about a bit. All the things that make collaboration difficult, I've got them in spades - pride, comparison anxiety, crushing self-doubt and an inferiority complex.

I was nervous when our group first got together. We introduced ourselves and found there was a wonderful variety of genres in the room. Eyes darted around the room and there were some nervous smiles; not only from me. Then someone started the conversation, I can't remember who it was but we were off and running. We shared ideas, took some time to each jot initial ideas down, and were able to put together a plan quite quickly. I still wasn't sure if I would fit in and if we would blend and... fifty other concerns filled my mind. But I went to work on my little bit and asked God for help.

If you read Georgie's post mentioned above, you'll see that we were encouraged by Nick Page to be humble, to pay attention, to be courageous... I applied these things to what I was writing, and to my feelings about our collaboration. When we got back to put our individual efforts into one piece, I COULD NOT believe what we had done. It was thrilling to be part of it. A ten minute piece, prepared in less than 24 hours. And we were just one of 9 different groups, all working to bring their writing together.


I learned such a lot, and am so grateful to Bridget Plass for the push, and to the 'Running Out' team for the blessing of collaboration. I'd nearly do it again... maybe :D


Annmarie Miles is from Dublin, Ireland. 
She lives with her husband Richard who is a pastor in the Eastern Valley of Gwent, in South Wales. She writes short stories, magazine articles, devotional pieces for Christian radio, and blogs about her faith at www.auntyamo.com Her first collection of short stories published in 2013, is called 'The Long & The Short of it'. Her second collection, 'A Sense of the Sea and other stories,' was published in 2018. She is currently editing a non-fiction book about being an overweight Christian called, 'Have mercy on me O Lord, a slimmer.'

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

The Distilled Wisdom of Nick Page, by Georgie Tennant

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of gathering with other ACW writers at Scargill House – a stunning setting in the Yorkshire Dales.  If you have ever attended this particular weekend, or anything similar, you will know how quickly time, at such events, races by and how more is packed into two short days than you would think plausible.

The beautiful grounds of Scargill

It takes time, afterwards, away from the intense bustle of the weekend, to think clearly, distil the messages received and ponder how they might impact our writing lives.  Nick Page, a funny, honest speaker and prolific author, shared with us his nuggets of wisdom which he hoped would aid us on our writing adventures.  As I attempt to summarise, here, the many gems shared over the weekend, I hope they will inspire you, whether you attended the weekend or not, and give you some food for thought, wherever and whatever you are writing at the moment.

Nick Page and Adrian Plass, leading one of the sessions

Over the weekend, Nick encouraged us to:

1. Pay attention.  To everything. Stop, go slowly, observe.  Notice, listen and learn – and use these things for inspiration in our writing.

2. Have honesty and courage.  Be willing to ‘stick our heads above the parapet,’ – in doing so, we may articulate what others are thinking.

3. Have curiosity and imagination.  Ask the big questions.  Probe for answers about why we do the things we do, personally and in our churches and communities.

4. Love!  We need to love the world and people and God. 1 Corinthians 13v1 – “If I [write] in the tongues of men or of angels but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or clanging symbol.” A thought-provoking word-replacement!

5. Be humble.  Recognise the gift that writing is to help us understand ourselves and God.

6. Liberate ourselves from the need to exhibit.  Focus on writing for its own sake.  Every word counts and is in there, somewhere, even if we don’t end up using it in writing that goes public.

7. Pay attention to ourselves.  We write from our own experiences.  It is of great value to use our writing as a reflective practice, to examine our lives, our stories.

8. Finally, build all of our writing on a foundation of knowing we are loved and cherished by God – a place of security, from which we can’t be shaken, whatever our failures or successes.

Nick Page, preaching at the Sunday morning service in the chapel

There was so much to take away, ponder and put into practice, all delivered with great humour, honesty and sensitivity.  If you want more from Nick, he has written a huge number of books and his podcast, ‘Mid-Faith Crisis,’ is well worth looking up.

If you were at Scargill too, what were your take-aways? If you weren’t, what would you add to Nick’s list? Let’s encourage each other with our collective wisdom!

Georgie Tennant is a secondary school English teacher in a Norfolk Comprehensive.  She is married, with two sons, aged 10 and 7 who keep her exceptionally busy. She writes for the ACW ‘Christian Writer’ magazine occasionally, and is a contributor to the ACW-Published ‘New Life: Reflections for Lent,’ and ‘Merry Christmas, Everyone: A festive feast of stories, poems and reflections.’ She writes the ‘Thought for the Week’ for the local newspaper from time to time and also muses about life and loss on her blog: www.somepoemsbygeorgie.blogspot.co.uk

Monday, 17 June 2019

Encouraging a love of writing by Claire Musters


I was fascinated to read Deborah Jenkin’s post on teaching writing, because I’ve been thinking recently about how to instil a love of writing into the younger generation.

Often we think about the responsibility we have towards our readers, but what about to those too young to be our readers currently?

I have watched my children as they have grown and noted that it is the one who is an avid reader that loves to turn her hand to writing of all forms – journalling, creative writing – even reviews for magazines and websites I work for

Yet my son is bored by reading – and hates writing more than a few sentences. While he is at the top of his class in these subjects there is a notable difference in the level of engagement, and enjoyment, my children get from reading and writing.

I have been helping my son prepare for some upcoming tests, and groaned inwardly myself as he and I were both struggling with knowing if something is an ‘ordinal’ or ‘demonstrative determiner’. 

My daughter sauntered past and commented: ‘I don’t know what those are’. Well, me neither, and yet I did the same preparation for her when she faced the same tests, and she flew through them. But did knowing what a fronted adverbial, for instance, help with her writing? No, it actually hindered it for a while, as she became so worked up about ensuring she had examples of each type of grammatical phrase they were being tested on. And now, in secondary school, none of that terminology seems to matter and she feels much freer again – and has forgotten the things she hadto learn previously.

So what is the point of the specific grammar lessons and tests being carried out in primary schools currently? As a school literacy governor I remember sitting in SPAG (spelling, punctuation and grammar) training with teachers when the new curriculum came in – and the teachers were struggling with understanding terminology they would be teaching to the children the following week! That doesn’t seem to have changed – a teacher friend commented just last week on how a lot of teachers still struggle with it.

It seems a shame to teach in this way. I know it ticks boxes and can get children through the current tests, but it does seem to drain rather than inject life into writing. That is why I love to hear about authors going in to visit children in schools – and not just children’s writers but those who budding authors more interested in writing fantasy, crime, romantic novels or being reporters, for instance, can look up to.

I realise that it can be a challenge for some of us to go into schools, but can I encourage you to think outside of the box about how you could put together a short session to share what you do? Many of us are introverts, and we enjoy the solitary nature of our work, but classrooms are full of introverts too – perhaps hiding secret readers and writers who have no idea of the wealth of careers that could be open to them. I didn’t know that the world of publishing existed until I got to university, such was the lack in our careers department!

We may have to think laterally – and be prepared for awkward questions at times. The last time I was in my son’s class, for instance, talking about my work for careers’ week, one boy sent me into a bit of a panic. He saw my book Taking Off the Mask on the table, picked it up, then said: ‘My mum has this book [she had come to my book launch and kindly bought a copy]. What’s it about? Can I read it?’

As the opening chapter is about the difficulties in my marriage I certainly didn’t want to encourage him to read the book, particularly because my kids haven’t yet, so I was caught off guard. And yet the heart of the message in that book is about learning to be real and honest with one another, rather than feeling we have to pretend to be someone we are not in order to fit in. So, after I had gathered my thoughts, I managed to share a little of that with the class, which was in fact a great opportunity to get 10 and 11 year olds to think about whether they ever feel the pressure to conform.

While children may or may not be your target readership, why not think about how you can encourage your children, grandchildren and younger people in your church and community with their writing?

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

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Souls made of Words - by Liz Carter


I sometimes think about words and get completely blown away.

It's pretty much impossible to come to an exact number of words in the English language. The Oxford Dictionary estimates that we have 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words. To this may be added around 9,500 derivative words included as subentries. But we can't know exactly how many words we have - for example, do we count 'dog' as one word or one of a few - it can be a verb as well as a noun, after all, and that's before we start with plurals and tenses.

However many, what strikes me is that we as humans are able to express ourselves in such a crazy multitude of ways. We don't just like something; we admire, we love, we adore, we cherish, we relish, we prize. (And that last isn't just a verb, either!) Our ability to convey such depths of emotion and describe our thoughts is unique to us as the human race, created for so much more than survival. We're created for beauty and awe, for relationship expressed in a million ways. I love that we have words, and that our words are more than practical tools for communication. They pull out our greatest yearnings and our deepest secrets, they fly free with the things we cannot always say aloud and yet need to say somewhere. As writers, we are so privileged to be entrusted with gifts to unlock more of these words and rivers of words; we are enthused and enlivened by drawing out truths and shadows of truths, by evoking mysteries, by plundering depths and soaring on heights. We unravel layers upon layers of meanings and build them up again in different ways. We create poems and songs, story and epistle, and in all of these things we tap into the great creativity of the One who thought it all up.

I mean, think about it. God could have made people to live their lives with no nuance or conception of more than there seems to be. We could have been less than we are, with no capacity to cry out depths or scream out mountaintops. A few words would do; enough to get by, to buy and sell, to survive and reproduce. We'd not understand much of pleasure or even pain, and our lives would be lived without shadows. But God created us with souls made of words. Souls that explode with transcendence, that create and construct and discover and shape and burst with a billion meanings. We could say things in a few words but instead we delight in metaphor, simile, hyperbole, irony, alliteration, and imagery.

Romans 1:20 says: 'For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.' We often take this to mean what can be seen in nature, and the beauty around us. But I think it's in words, too. I think God's invisible and eternal qualities are poured into language and so enable us to express - even if through a glass darkly - something of this. The majesty of words is what has placed that enticing call on us as writers and readers, a call to understand more of who God is and to lay out the deep truths of who God is.

Today, if you are feeling less than, if you are without resources, if you are feeling a lack of words, I want to encourage you to tap in once again to the source of it all. To wonder once again at the sheer genius of the human ability to spin words into more than a mundane tool for communication, and to marvel at your place in this great gift.

To thank God for your soul made of words.


Liz Carter is an author and blogger who writes about the painful times of life and how to discover God at work in the depths as well as the heights. Her first book, Catching Contentment, was published in 2018 and explores how we can find contentment in God when things are less than ideal.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Catching-Contentment-How-Holy-Satisfied/dp/1783597402/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1538664185&sr=8-1

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Saying the Unsayable



As Christians, we are often writing about things that defy trite, easy answers. The mysteries of God are manifold and our earthly languages are not really built for expressing them. So how DO we talk about spiritual matters? In prayer, the Holy Spirit may intercede for us in groans and new tongues, but that’s not going to translate well into a Microsoft Word document.

Sometimes we fall into the trap of trying to over-intellectualise things, and we end up writing theology that is perhaps a little too clever, a little too dualistic or exact. We all have that instinct that wants to tidy God up into boxes and make Him/Her/They (even our pronouns are inadequate) neatly comprehensible.

Most of my own attempts at theology are rewritten time and time again after new research appears, or new insights are revealed to me in prayer. My writing about God in this direct way is the most prone to constant edits as God leads me to be ever more inclusive and gentle, and as my own small understandings grow. Whatever we say and however we say it, we will always be just scratching the surface.

At the other end of the mystical scale we have poetry, which is perhaps the language best able to catch a glimpse of God as he passes by the cleft in the rock where we are hidden. But poetry is extremely difficult to write well, and although some poetry about faith, like that of George Herbert  or Elizabeth Barrett Browning, might inspire us to love God better, there is also rather a lot of poetry that is twee or falls flat on its literary face, as social media and my own journals bear daily witness. It’s a bit like trying to paint the Milky Way (yes that is my attempt above).

In my own work, one of the most powerful and vulnerable ways of writing about God is poetic prose about his creation. Another is story-telling. I am ever mindful that Jesus constantly chose telling stories (for which humans are hard-wired) above homiletics (which sends most of us to sleep).  Myth and allegory have always been successful ways of talking about the intangible. And the good news is that they can be incorporated into pretty much any type of written word.

Perhaps the best way to write about unwritable things is to ask the Holy Spirit’s intervention and go with the flow. We all have different abilities, different histories, different giftings, and a unique way of expressing our own ideas and experiences of God and our spiritual lives. Some of us will write about God in memoir, as testimony, whereas others may find their deepest authenticity as a spiritual writer comes out in screenplays. 

I believe the most important thing is integrity. Go with the genre/s that best suit what you genuinely have to say and how you instinctively feel you want to say it. An openness to how God wants to speak through you, and discernment about how your voice is most genuine, are probably good guiding lights for those who are not afraid to be vulnerable and speak about the ungraspable loving mercy of the great I AM.  


Keren Dibbens-Wyatt is a disabled writer and artist with a passion for poetry, mysticism, story and colour. Her writing features regularly on spiritual blogs and in literary journals. Her full-length publications include Garden of God’s Heart and Whale Song: Choosing Life with Jonah. She lives in South East England and is mainly housebound by her illness.


Friday, 14 June 2019

A LOAD OF VERNOODLE? by Liz Manning



I’m a collector of words. I make lists of old words, slang words, local words, specialist subject words. And I love discovering new ones – the aptness, the rhythm, the onomatopoeia.
The constant evolution of language is one of its glories. I wrote a poem about it on my blog which you can find here: https://thestufflifeismadeofblog.wordpress.com/2019/02/03/where-do-new-words-come-from-five-minute-friday/. 
But isn’t that one of the wonders of being a writer? We can actively echo God’s creative process in the development of language through the formation of new stories, poems, or articles but also in the construction of words themselves. Look at Lewis Carroll or Gerard Manley Hopkins.
And it can be fun.
We had a go at this at our local ACW Group writing retreat day. Each of us made a quick list of random words, defined three of them, then passed the words alone to someone else to write their own definitions. These were the results:
JOLLYMARKS:
1.       The marks that develop along the sides of your mouth if you laugh a lot
2.       A nautical term; the dried residue of slobber or dribbling running down the chin, usually of someone who has overindulged in food or drink
CRACKLEMITE:
1.       The creature that lives in crisps and makes a sound when you try to them out of the packet without anyone noticing
2.       Slang for woodlouse, indicating the damage caused in wood, especially when holes run into grooves and patterns
FENSLEET:
1.       An isolated place where two rivers part and go in different directions
2.       From Lincolnshire: particularly prolonged and thick alternating rain and snow, reducing vision to a minimum
VERNOODLE:
1.       Jargon used to impress but with no specific meaning
2.       To develop an elaborate imaginative game for a child; it should involve no toys or items; it is entirely imaginary.
PLICK:
1.       A nervous habit of removing imagined fluff from clothes; Also used metaphorically: to focus on a person’s perceived flaws
2.       The noise made by sweet pea pods when they dry and open in the sun s that peas are shot out
QUANKED:
1.       Broken to the point of exhaustion; empty of energy and motivation to move
2.       The act of leaving a top undone so that a greasy or oily substance oozes out when it is knocked or tipped
LANT:
1.       A tree that has grown in inadequate light for example among other trees or over shadowed by buildings.
2.       When you start out with good intentions at the beginning of Lent but can’t keep them up
GRITLING:
1.       The noise made by heavy boots crunching on stones or gravel
2.       A small piece of stone or grit stuck in your shoe
SAMPINE:
1.       A plant that has started to open its leaves in spring but has been struck by frost; also used of a person who usually has a strong physique but looks tired and grey due to a shock or trauma, such as bereavement.
2.       The feeling of desolation you get when you long for the next episode of your favourite TV series
Why not have a go yourself? We could even start a chain in the Comments.
Liz Manning fits writing around being an Occupational Therapist, BB captain, wife, and mum to two adult sons. Or perhaps it's the other way round. She blogs regularly at