Sunday, 29 October 2017

One for the To Read pile - 'Undivided Heart' by Lucy Mills

Today I'm delighted to let you know about a book written by my friend and fellow ACW member, Lucy Mills.  It's on my To Read pile.  Having enjoyed and been challenged by her first book, 'Forgetful Heart', I didn't hesitate to order myself a copy. 

Lucy has a wonderfully engaging style of writing and has an eye for finding little nuggets of truth that you may not have noticed in passages that you think you know well. And the best bit is that she's gentle, honest, wise - and most important, very readable.  

Here's what her publisher has to say about the book: 


Undivided Heart is a book about identity and what drives us to do the things we do. Lucy explores what motivates and inspires (and worries) us, what we really want in life, and what makes us who we are. Along the way, she discusses a wide range of topics, including fear and pain, doubt and trust, possessions and money, hope, suffering, encouragement and expectation, ideas of heaven, and the nature of love. 
She looks at helpful and unhelpful patterns of behaviour, the concept of fixed and growth mindsets, how ‘labels’ have the ability to make idols or prisons in our lives, and how the selfie culture and age of instant feedback brought about by social media can encourage us to project selective images of ourselves.

As someone who suffers from M.E. and chronic fatigue syndrome, Lucy knows the importance of pacing herself and taking life one day at a time – and realising that things don’t always turn out as you had expected or hoped. 

In this wonderfully honest and open book, she draws on her personal experience, alongside Bible passages, quotations from a wide range of writers and her own original poetry, inviting the reader to join her on the journey to ‘reassemble the far-flung pieces’ of our hearts. 


Here's a taster:


 'Undivided Heart'. 


Recognising the risen Jesus


Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher).
John 20:15-16

The risen Jesus was both familiar and unfamiliar. He revealed himself with a word to Mary Magdalene; in the speaking of her name, she recognised the rabbi she loved.

On the Emmaus road, Jesus walked with two of his disciples. They didn’t realise who was speaking to them until he gave thanks and broke bread (Luke 24:13ff). It was an action he had made to feed thousands; one he made in the upper room, mere hours before his arrest; an action he had, presumably, performed with his disciples in a myriad of mundane, marvellous moments.

Was it that Jesus in his resurrection body was changed in appearance? Or was there something different going on – a kind of deliberate hiddenness and then unveiling, a picture of a journey from limited knowledge to full understanding?

Continuing in Luke’s account, after Cleopas and his companion rushed back to Jerusalem, Jesus then appeared to his gathered disciples. They thought he was a ghost, even though he had already ‘appeared to Simon’. In their worldview, a physical body could not just materialise. Jesus responded to their fear and disbelief by saying: ‘Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ His body was corporeal – it had substance. He then ate some fish to reassure them further (Luke 24:36-41).

In John’s gospel, we’re told of Thomas – poor, heartbroken Thomas – who wanted to follow Jesus anywhere, but had missed seeing his risen Lord. How would that feel? He was already living with the fact that he who had said he would die with Jesus (see John 11:16) had, instead, fled like all the others. So deep-set was his grief and incredulity that he refused to listen to the others proclaiming they had seen the Lord: ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

These are the words of a grieving man. I dislike the term ‘doubting Thomas’ – for he was not the only disciple to display doubt in Jesus. Jesus, all grace, met him on his terms, offering his wounds for Thomas to touch – but in that moment all Thomas can do is fall at Jesus’s feet, proclaiming: ‘my Lord and my God!’[1]

Such is the worship engendered by an encounter with the risen messiah. We remember Thomas by his doubt, but he has such a stunning line in the story – my Lord and my God.

No longer just his Lord. His God.

There is another account in John, a beachside encounter where, again, the disciples do not initially realise who it is they are seeing. Jesus is recognised in the act of provision – a catch of fish, where they had previously caught nothing. ‘It is the Lord!’ Peter yells, jumping out of the boat and splashing to shore – although he does pause to put some clothes on first![2]

We may grieve, like Mary, as we search for our living Christ, then find him standing next to us, calling our names. Like those on the road to Emmaus, we can have our eyes unveiled, our hearts set aflame, Jesus revealed to us.

We may not ‘see’ as Thomas did, but we are called to a deeper belief in our resurrected Lord. We learn from Jesus’ response to Thomas: ‘You believe because you have seen. Blessed are those who believe but have not seen…’ (John 20:29, NIV)

We can splash through the waves as Peter did, delighted when we recognise our Lord. This Jesus – this crucified and risen Jesus – is the true definer and motivator of our lives, calling us from death into life.




[1] John 20:25- 28
[2] John 21:1-14

Amen to that.think this is going to be worth a read. 

*

To get your copy of 'Undivided Heart', check out Lucy's website:
You'll be able to find a copy of 'Forgetful Heart' there as well. 


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.






***

Continued over at The Association of Christian Writers' Blog, which is called 'More Than Writers' I contribute on the 23rd of each month. 

Come and say hello and have a look around. 

Friday, 29 September 2017

Dreams and dead things

I don't like autumn. I know, every time I say that (and I have mentioned it before) there's a collective groan from the autumn-lovers.  They speak of vibrant oranges and yellows and reds and the exhilaration of kicking their way through piles of gorgeousness on brisk, bright mornings and they eat pumpkin and make chutney and so on.

I don't do any of that. Today the rain keeps on coming down and it's mid-morning but still hasn't become properly light. It's dank and miserable. My world is getting darker. Death is all around me. The few leaves that weren't blasted into next week by yesterday's storms are swirling into brown drifts. The plants need cutting back to clear away the dead stalks, spent seed pods and rotting foliage, and I'm not tempted to go and do some gardening.

Autumn is a time of decay, shrinking, dying. 

I sit here with both hands round a cup of coffee and I listen to the rain on the roof and contemplate the long months until the days start to get longer. 

I know, it happens every year. You'd think I'd be used to it. Perhaps I should stare at a white screen for a while until I get my share of daylight. Alternatively perhaps I should shut up and look on the bright side. 

It'll soon be Christmas. 

Anyway, I think I'm growing up. I've realised something about autumn. 

Leaves are falling from the trees onto my flower beds. They will eventually make a blanket over all the sleeping shrubs and bulbs and the blanket will help keep moisture in and protect the ground from frosts until it slowly composts down into the soil. The drifts of fallen leaves will dissolve into leaf mould, leaving my heavy, clay-ey soil richer and conditioned. 

Underground, I imagine the roots and bulbs snuggling down for a winter sleep and taking on board the nourishment from the soil around them. Undisturbed by footballs and footsteps, the garden rests. Takes a deep breath and sighs. Relaxes before the brighter sun, warmer temperatures and longer days start to signal that it's wake-up time. Spring rise-and-shine time. 

But autumn is for snuggling down. Putting on the heating and digging out the woolly socks.

The tree lets the leaves fall to protect itself from the relative dryness of winter - it's a survival mechanism. The dead stuff that falls and decays and is so often the focus of my autumn grumpiness is essential to the cycle of the plants in the garden. 

Things fall and die. As a result of their death and decay, something new can grow.

And if that's not a life lesson, I don't know what is. 

I'm ready for the new growth, that moment in spring when you look around you as if you were seeing for the first time and suddenly there are bright, impossibly green shoots everywhere you look. I want that. 

Rapid growth, dramatic development, shoots and buds and blooms. Colour, not darkness. Not the leaf-mould, mulchy, sodden ground wait, wait... it's a slow process. 

Maybe it's all a slow process. Maybe there's a place where dreams go to die and as they fall, limp and lifeless, they start to enrich the soil around them. Perhaps God is saying that something has to die for something to be born. The dead thing isn't lost, wasted, useless; it's a catalyst for something new and beautiful. I didn't realise that my plans were the leaf-mould of the future and it has been no fun to watch them curl up and slowly turn to compost, but I believe His way is best. 

His dreams are bigger than mine. 

So the soil of my life is being forked over by the Gardener. He's digging in some of the leaf-mould as things die and decay. He's digging deep, and it's not comfortable. If I am the soil, then my instinct is to stay dense and full of clay, but things don't easily grow in soil like that. The good stuff needs to be worked in until the whole texture of the soil changes. Until it is transformed into something fertile. 

Who'd have thought that the good stuff turns out to be the stuff that gets thrown away? 

So I am soil, and I am in need of nourishment. I am claggy clay, but partially leaf-mould and I am waiting. I am changing, slowly, imperceptibly, into soil in which God will make something grow. 

All in His good time. 

It turns out that there's a reason for autumn.




This is an edited version of a post from 2014 but I was walking back from the post office a moment ago in horizontal rain and trying very hard to concentrate on the yellow and red leaves beneath my feet rather than the cold, the wet, the slippery pavement, the sluggish mornings, the dark evenings.... 

Still working on this. 

Saturday, 23 September 2017

The Me Too Moment

Earlier this month, a fellow ACW member reached into a hole, took hold of my hand and gently pulled me out. I'm quite sure she didn't know that she'd done it, and it's possible that she'll be amazed when she finds out. When God takes our words and uses them for something unforeseen his creativity quite often astonishes us.

In her post, Deborah Jenkins speaks of her desire for her writing to touch people. To offer them comfort and encouragement as they navigate the ups and downs of life; to point them to God. The day I read her words was definitely a down kind of day. I can't remember the weather but let's say it was dark and cold and rainy. I was cross and miserable, feeling defeated and overwhelmed. Through that post, Deborah noticed me in my hole, stopped and spoke to me and offered me a hand.



Friday, 23 June 2017

Unappetising sandwiches and thin places

Forrest Gump's life was famously like a box of chocolates. Mine's more like a sandwich.


All the bits of my life are like layers: family, friends, health, work, church, and so on. It's a good sandwich. A well-filled, appetising one, most of the time. It's when something is off that it all goes wrong. 

My problem is my inability to compartmentalise. When something is wrong - a sandwich component is bad or absent - whether it's a touch of blue mould on the bread or a tang of rancid butter - the whole thing is inedible. No matter that the cheese is my favourite, and there's just the right amount of pickle, or the perfect crispy bit of lettuce, I can't enjoy the sandwich because part of it is not right. 

In times of stress or confusion, it's as if I've dropped the sandwich and it's landed on the floor in a heap of component parts. In accordance with the five-second-rule I scramble to pick it up, hastily reassembling it on my plate, but it doesn't really work. Now there are bits of carpet fluff and nothing is where it should be. It's not appetising any more. (And perhaps the metaphor is stretched a bit thin).

So, I find myself reflecting on what has gone wrong with my sandwich in recent months, or even years. 


Continued over at the Association of Christian Writers' blog, More Than Writers

Come over and say hello and have a look round. We're a talented bunch and no mistake. 















Sunday, 23 April 2017

God keeps his promises

This is something I wrote nearly five years ago, and I stumbled upon it a few days ago. Well, I say that I wrote it, but reading it back after all these years I have quite another idea where those words came from. I read it again with a sense of awe and amazement. My heavenly Father was there then, and He is here now.

God keeps His promises. He does what He says He will do. If you've ever doubted it, please listen to me: I know He does. 

He keeps His promises.



Dear Helen

Did you think I didn't see? 

I gave you a glimpse of your future self and I watched as you gazed with such longing at the woman that I showed you.   It was to encourage you; to give you hope. To reassure you that we have business, you and I, and I will not let you down. There will be a day when you look back and realise how far you have come.

*****


Continued over at The Association Of Christian Writers' blog, More Than Writers, where I contribute on the 23rd of each month.  

Come and say hello? 



Friday, 14 April 2017

The weight of the world

Good Friday.

Good because we know the wonder that happened on that lonely hill outside Jerusalem, but I can't imagine there were many people there who thought that what was going on was good.  There might have been some, perhaps, who thought they'd got rid of you, solved a problem, but when it came down to it even the soldiers holding the hammer and nails looked and listened to you on the cross and concluded that you were something special.

What must you have gone through?  The agony of rejection, the agony of crucifixion, the agony of the moment that God the Father had to turn away from you. How is it possible that you went through with it at all?

Nobody has ever surpassed the Romans for devising a more excruciating manner of execution; indeed, that's where the word comes from. What a thing to be renowned for: straight roads, plumbing, torture.

Gasping for breath.  Pushing up on the nails in your feet to relieve the dislocating pressure on the shoulders and hands before sinking down again when your muscles betrayed you. Blinking blood and sweat out of your eyes, lifting your head a moment and feeling the thorns pressing into your scalp. the torn and raw skin and muscles of your back against the splintered wood of the cross.  The exhaustion and loneliness. The humiliation of nakedness in front of your mother, your friends, your enemies. And then the dark, dark emotional anguish when your isolation became complete; the Father, with whom you had always been completely in tune, was nowhere to be found. 

You had the weight of the world on your shoulders at that moment and you must have been desolate.

Everything that was bad, corrupt, evil or rotten was laid upon you when you became the perfect sacrifice; the sacrifice to end them all.

You hung there and asked forgiveness for the people that did that to you even as you suffered.

You were afraid - you were human. In Gethsemane you came before the Father and asked if there was another way, could there be another way? - and yet you went through with the Plan because you knew that there wasn't.

What can I say?  There's nothing I can do that is enough to thank you, and you know that. You did it anyway. There's no way that I can repay you - and you know that. You died for me anyway. I am forever in your debt. 

Lord Jesus Christ, thankyou for that Good Friday. 

When I see a film or read a book that tells of your passion I am moved to tears. I can't stand to watch because they are torturing and murdering someone I love. And what adds another layer of awfulness is when I realise that you allowed it to happen, for my sake. You didn't have to do it; at any time you could have called in an army of angels who would have lifted you back to your throne and struck down those who hurt you. You could have called down fire and hail and razed Jerusalem to the ground but you let them drive nails through your hands and feet before they lifted you up and mocked you. You chose to go through with it.

Lord, never let me reach a place where those scenes don't move me. I never want to feel that it is not the world-changing thing that it is. I never want it to be familiar, routine.  I want to hold this feeling of awe and wonder - and horror - in my heart forever.

I want to remember that I was responsible for what happened to you so that I can never forget the magnitude of the forgiveness that you have given me. If I no longer feel the awfulness then I can no longer feel the astonishment. If I don't perceive the depths of my need for forgiveness then I can't appreciate the vastness of your love. 

You died for me. You loved me so much that long before I even turned to you, you thought me worthwhile enough to die for.

'Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget
I will not forget you.
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands'.

(Isaiah 49:15-16)

My name is on the palms of your hands. They were pierced by nails and bled because of it.

I give you my tears and my wonder and my awe and my love. My guilt I don't have to give you because you lifted it from me on the day that you died. It was heavy, I know, but you are strong. 

My God, you did that for me. 


Thursday, 23 March 2017

Psalm (of Helen) : A mission statement

Gentle readers, may I beg your indulgence with this post; I set out to write a psalm, without first making much of a study on how the psalms were written, and I know that there are scholars among you who know and understand things like structure, metre, the little couplety thing that many of the psalms have and so on.  This will clearly fall far short.

My offering below is probably neither a psalm nor a poem, but a kind of outpouring from the heart in the rough style of the psalmists at their most raw and un-poetic. I don't think God is offended by the awkward and unskilled, and this felt important to me. It just wanted to be said.

As a writer who has - and is - struggling to understand what I am called to do, to find a niche, so stop speak, this seems the very bottom line in why I keep opening my laptop and stringing words together even when frequently I feel like giving up for good. I have tried so many different things, nothing seems to fit, and I come back time and again to this one truth: I want to write about Jesus.

I promise I won't often try to do it in verse.

This is what happened when I splurged it all out. I wanted to share it with you.




Continued over at The Association of Christian Writers' Blog, which is called More Than Writers. Please come and have a look around. There are things that are really worth reading. 





Thursday, 23 February 2017

Things you already knew

God loves you. 

You know that, don't you?  Of course you do; this is the ACW, after all. We are in the business of writing, yes, but more than that, we're Christians. At some point we've heard about and responded to God's love.

We probably know John 3:16 by heart:
' For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.'  
God loves you. He does. Jesus died to clear the way of sin and rubbish so that we could live in relationship with him, here on earth, and later on for eternity. He loved us so much that when things went badly wrong he organised a rescue plan to remove all obstacles between us. 

He wants us to be together. He enjoys spending time with us. He created us for his pleasure and he didn't want to lose us, even when we turned our back on him and told him we were not interested. 

You get that? Yes? 

Continued over at the Association of Christian Writers' blog, More than Writers, where I post on 23rd of each month. Come over and read the rest of this and then have a look around. 



Banana image courtesy of the School Photo Project. The ones in my fruit bowl were less than photogenic.
For pictures of fruit and much click here.



Monday, 23 January 2017

Unseen forces and beautiful vegetables

Our youngest daughter is doing a project on magnetism at school. This weekend she's been creeping round the house with a large magnet stabbing it at random metal items to see if they'll stick. Radiator, yes. Teaspoon, yes. Grandma's glasses, no. Thankfully.

This thing happened, and the angels were watching with a smile on their face.

My husband, PhD in physics, always delighted when the girls show an interest in something scientific (he's given up on me) got out a very sensitive set of kitchen scales. He placed a key on the scales and then slowly lowered the magnet over the key from above.

The key weighed 17g. As the magnet got closer, closer, the key weighed less and less.

14g...11g... 9.25g... 5.67g...

At 4.3g, the key jumped up to meet the magnet. Whoof. Just like that.



Continued over at the Association of Christian Writers' blog, which is More Than Writers. Please join me over there; I post on the 23rd of every month, and there's loads of wonderful stuff on all the other days, too.


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