Sunday, September 27, 2009

    Waiting For God’s Perfect Timing

Maybe one day I will get to the
American Christian Fiction Writers conference.
This year’s conference finished last weekend in Denver Colorado, and many generous bloggers have shared their experiences of what sounds like an amazing and memorable (and possibly even terrifying) few days. Fortunately for those who are not able to attend, each session is made available to download or buy as CDs. Well, I couldn’t wait for this year’s to be available, so two weeks ago I downloaded the 2008 conference. I have had a real education listening to the workshops and seminars. I guess it has been my own mini conference for one. I have been to Characterization by the Clothesline, Plot Development with Mop and Bucket, and Themes with Seams, (that’s me ironing) as I have listened while doing housework and other chores. All the while dreaming that I might really be in attendance one day!
Although the door was closed this year, God may open the door in the future.
We shall have to wait and see!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Essence Of Lilacs

Early this morning a visitor crept up our garden path and hung a surprise package on the front door handle. The thoughtful creeper was my mum, and, assuming we were all asleep during these blissful school holiday mornings, tiptoed in and out unseen and unheard.

Her little gift was a spray of lilacs, which quickly found a happy home in my study. The perfume is heady and enticing, and after a cold winter they are the promise of sunshine and warmer days.

For generations lilacs have been the symbol of early love. But the color has also been associated with mourning. Widows in the late 1880s dressed in lilac and lavender when their official mourning periods were over, and their writing stationery was bordered with lilac trim.Traditionally the wood of the lilac tree has been used for engraving, musical instruments and knife handles. Amazingly, it is also known to retain the blossoms’ aroma, so that even when it’s burned it produces the lilac scent.

Today lilacs sit in a vase on my desk in the sun. Somewhere else lilac twigs may be thrown onto a consuming fire. But the fragrance is always present. And even when the flowers have been stripped away, the bouquet remains embedded in the wood, and is intensified by the heat.

Isn’t this the journey of life? How easy it is to be a sweet balm in the splendor of the sun. How much harder to do the same in the furnace of life’s trials. What we allow to be infused in us, is what we will offer to those around us, in every circumstance.

We know the Lord Jesus reflected the love of the Father.
Eph 5:2 ... Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

As I work on my writing, I am learning to not be afraid of the fire. Some days I need the sun to draw my thoughts out gently. Other days I need a fire storm. Either way, I desire the fragrance of God to be there. Can I be like the lilacs?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Girls In White Dresses

I was sharing some of my writing dreams with a friend earlier this year, in particular my desire to write in the historical romance genre. My friend, obviously not the biggest fan of historical fiction (yet), made this comment.

"Do you mean those books with the ladies in long dresses on the cover?"

Ah yep. Those ones.

I must admit there are a lot of book covers right now that look alike. Corseted ladies abound, in their bustles and bodices, beckoning from the shelves to readers who might be tempted to, "judge a book by its cover."

But what about the inside?

Christy award winner 
Deeanne Gist's latest novel,
A Bride in the Bargain
(Bethany House) takes the reader to Seattle in the 1860s, where frills and frocks were as insufficient in number as the women who wore them. Joe Denton, the poster boy for lumberjacks, is watching his land and livelihood slip away from him in a legal tangle. The only solution to his problems is to find a wife and comply with the laws regarding land ownership. It seems the purchase and delivery of a bride is the simplest answer.

When Anna Ivey arrives on a ship of brides-to-be, Joe's troubles intensify. Believing she has been hired as his cook, Anna is stunned to discover Joe has other plans for her. But the task of convincing a reluctant bride to wed becomes an undertaking more challenging than the tree felling Joe normally breezes through. Can he persuade Anna in time to secure his land? Will Anna agree to marry without love?

Deeanne Gist writes about this dilemma so well. The dialogue and romantic energy are delicious in both humor and drama. There are layers to this story which peel back to reveal the false notions under which people labor and struggle. Blame, guilt and punishment are strong motivators and Gist tells the tale of yesterday's mistakes, standing in the way of freedom and peace.

I loved A Bride in the Bargain. I could've read it in one greedy sitting. Instead I made my way through it slowly with the eyes of a reader and those of a writer as well. I re-read passages which painted scenes in beautiful detail with the greatest of word economies. I became lost in the story as well as mesmerized by the craft of writing.

This was my first Deeanne Gist novel and I am sorry it ended when it did. Good thing there are more books with tea gowns on the covers and Deeanne Gist's name on them. And this one came with the generous admission, that the 'cover-girl' is none other then Deeanne's daughter!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Basket Of Trouble

During the Father’s Day service at church last week, you would’ve thought a poisonous snake had slipped out of its basket and was escaping into our midst. Instantly, there was a shift in the church. Those who were terrified shrunk in their seats to hide behind the people sitting in front of them. Others quickly hid their gaze and refused to make eye contact with the service leader. 

There was no snake, but the impact was quite similar. So what menace made the room cower in fear? 

Invited to share a tribute about our fathers, a microphone was being passed around the congregation, and like a venomous snake, it was being avoided at all costs.

When volunteers were slow in coming, unsuspecting ‘victims’ were chosen and the sharing began. Every brave soul who spoke did so with great love for their dad. Some spoke for a few minutes while others only a few seconds. There were tears of love and gratitude for dads who had impacted the lives of their children, young and old.

When the microphone returned to its rightful place, a sigh of relief settled over the room. Whoever was going to speak into it next would probably be the preacher or someone who knew what they were doing, right?  Everyone else relaxed into comfortable positions again.

This made me wonder why so many people avoid public speaking as if it were a cobra, while others embrace it like a competent snake charmer.

I discovered the answers to this and many other public speaking questions, when I attended a Confident Communicators course run by Caleb Leadership Ministries. ( this weekend at Edge Church in East Doncaster. 
Run as a 12 hour interactive seminar, the fears of public speaking were addressed by qualified and passionate trainers, who are evidence the right skills and experience can equip anyone to give a small talk, or even longer speech.

Learning and practicing with others in a friendly environment, was the key to the course’s success and this was the direct result of the leaders’ genuine affirmation and encouragement. Within an hour we were lined up behind the podium, sharing our stories, and using the framework of the Confident Communicators method. 

We began to look at the task of deconstructing a simple short talk, and the formula used to refashion it for our own use. The next day, the secrets to confident public speaking were further unlocked as we learnt to take the building blocks of a good talk or devotion and make it as long as we needed.  

As a writer, I particularly enjoyed discussing the element of storytelling as a vital component in communication. Just like the Lord Jesus, who used short parables to illustrate His message, I desire my words to point to the Heavenly Father, whether spoken or written. What a blessing it was to be in the company of ‘kindred spirits’ who have gone ahead and laid out a joyful path to follow! 

For me the experience was another example of how important the right training is for the development of confidence. In the words of the course description, “Learning the skills to speak in public brings confidence in other areas of life.” 
The lesson I learned was that there is no need to be afraid after all.
There is no snake, but there is a friendly microphone! 

Psalm 19: 14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heartbe pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

An Appetite for Food and Words

When I was 4 years old, my European immigrant parents enrolled me in our local primary school. At that time I only knew a handful of English words and only one English phrase. My clever Greek mother had equipped me with the words she thought would best get me through the day. Most necessary of all was “toilet please” and whilst I don’t have a memory of using it, I am sure it came in handy! I also knew the word “lunch”,  suitably schooled by mum to get my lunch box out when I heard this cue. Not having attended kindergarten, neither of us knew there would be ‘morning playtime’ or ‘recess’ where small snacks made their appearance, often referred to in my primary school as ‘play-lunch’. 

At the appointed time, when I heard “blah blah blah...lunch” I pulled out my parcel of food and like my happy neighbors, sat down to eat. I must have used up a lot of energy that morning, because I gobbled it ALL down, and went off to play. It wasn’t until lunchtime, that I realized something was not as it should be. Why was everyone eating again? Why didn’t I fit into this group anymore? I didn’t know where I’d gone wrong, and I don’t know how many days it took me to realize how things worked round the lunch box. Somehow it got sorted for me eventually, and I learnt to ration my supplies. And although it’s not a particularly sad or bad memory it is nevertheless the strongest memory of my first day of school. 

The year of my 9th birthday found me in grade 4, and by then the English language was my own. Unlike Greek, it had become the language I spoke most fluently. Reading was my favorite pastime, and when our teacher Mr MacRoan announced there would be a story writing competition, I was all ears. 

In honor of his son’s first birthday, we were commissioned to write a story, celebrating the little tot’s special day. The winner’s prize was to be a piece of the birthday cake itself. Memory is a selective creature. It has left me with little knowledge of my entry but I do remember writing from the point of view of the cake as it stood like a trophy on the party table. I also remember winning the competition, and Mr MacRoan handing me my prize - a slice of cake wrapped in a paper serviette. 

There was a shift of gears for me that day. Apart from the natural swelling of my girly head, I think a tiny engine of desire started to chug. Smokey curls of appetite began to wind their way round me, as I contemplated writing as something to be enjoyed just as much as reading. There were rewards here I had never tasted before, and they weren’t of the cream cake variety. I had entertained an audience, impressed my teacher and peers, and made my parents proud. How soon could I do it again? The writing locomotive was starting to steam and Mr MacCrowan had just thrown the first shovelful of coal.

Little did I know then, how many times I would look back on that day as the significant first milestone in my writing adventures.

Job 34:3 For the ear tests words
       as the tongue tastes food.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Where did it come from?

Ever wondered where a particular everyday phrase originated? Commonly heard sayings like

No strings attached,

Not enough room to swing a cat 
Red letter day are all used often enough and we get the gist, as most people use them properly. But they all have a story and a place of origin. History can sometimes tell us about the events which drew people to use certain words in combinations we have come to accept as a part of today’s language.

Has someone got you ‘over a barrel’?
If they have chances are you are in an unhappy predicament, or helpless. Simply put, you are not in control. 
When I was a little girl I though it was someone had me ‘in’ a barrel, trapped like a prisoner. And while I had my mistaken version to misquote, the essence wasn’t so wrong.

Early explanations of this phrase link it to 19th century techniques used on unfortunate drowning victims. If a limp body were bent over a barrel, it was thought the rolling motion would work to clear waterlogged lungs.  Sadly, it’s been suggested this would have killed anyone misfortunate enough to have almost drowned in the first place! 

Another more credible explanation dates to an 1886 college prank where students were rolled face down over a barrel as a public punishment. Shackled and toyed with for fun, this experience would surely have been one of complete embarrassment and helplessness. 

No one wants to be at the mercy of anyone else - to be bound and trapped in miserable circumstances. We avoid finding ourselves in a situation where we admit that someone has us “over a barrel” at all costs.

That’s why the rescue plan of God is so vital.  Who can do anything for themselves when they are tied hand and foot? When we consider sin’s hopeless entrapment we can only cry out to God for help. He has put into place a way of escape from sin and death through His son Jesus. We only need to call out to Him and He will smash that dirty prank into smithereens - barrel, ropes and all. 

Psalm 118:5 In my anguish I cried to the LORD,
       and he answered by setting me free.

                            Now THAT is a red letter day.........

 World Wide Words

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Spring Chicken

For nearly 2 months now I have been watching five little girls play in my back yard. Well, they’re hens actually, little more than chicks when they first arrived, and with very few ‘chicken’ skills to speak of. They were scared to death of me in the early days, constantly fell off the ladder leading to their roost (they still do this) and as for laying eggs.....forget it!

But in the last few weeks, I have seen some developments. The chooks are happy to see me when I arrive with food. They trust me now, and know when I open the door of my house, I am on my way to theirs. Knowing there is something yummy in hand they gather at the hen house door in anticipation. They’re also getting better at climbing the ladder now, although they still fall off like toddlers at the playground.

Best of all, one of my girls started making herself comfortable in the laying box this morning. She pulled at the straw bed and adjusted it this way and that, until finally satisfied and comfortable, she sat down. I left her there with great hopes, did the school run, and returned to what I have been waiting for all winter ...... my first egg. (Ok HER first egg!)

And what a fine day she picked to bless us with this gift. The first day of Spring!
It was not much of a surprise, given it was her first egg, that it was a smaller version of what I know she will be producing in the future. But the celebration in our home today was not for the size, but the gift itself. Our chicken did what she was designed to do. She fulfilled her God given purpose in life, in the appointed season. 
She went where she was meant to go, and did what she was meant to do. And she will get better at it each day. Naturally her ‘mama’ is thrilled. She may not have it in her to lay again tomorrow. She may need a rest, to gather her resources for the next egg, but she's on the road now, and there is no turning back. 

As a child of God I want to be like this little chicken. Drawn to where He wants me to be, and completing the tasks He has set aside for me. For his praise and glory.

1 Peter 4:10 & 11 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Just like my spring chickens, I hope through this blog, I will be able to ‘deliver a little egg’ each day or two. As the days go by, there may get bigger. Hopefully better. 
And I want the Lord to rejoice, just as I did this morning when I discovered one marvelous egg in the nest!