Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Celebrating Christmas  
Australian Style

In 1957 Australia issued its first Christmas postage stamp. The image that slipped into millions of letter boxes around the world that year was one of worship and awe as the praying girl knelt in an attitude of reverence. Since then there have been many stamps depicting the Christmas season and the way Australian's celebrate.

One of my favorites is the 1986 collection of stamps which show a kindergarten class preparing to tell the story of Jesus' birth, complete with angels, shepherds and Wise Men. There is something about children telling the Nativity story which never fails to capture the heart of a grown up audience!

As the years have passed and with the shift in cultural mood there has been a spattering of Australian animals and even surfing santas, but overwhelmingly the Christmas stamp images have reflected the real reason for the holidays - the celebration of God sending His son into the world to fulfill ancient prophesies and bring to completion the work of love and sacrifice which the Lord Jesus was to carry out.

The shepherd's on the hillside near Bethlehem knew something amazing was happening as the angels filled the night sky with hosannas. The Wise Men who travelled many miles sought the baby and worshiped Jesus when they found Him. And Mary quietly pondered all that she saw and treasured it in her heart.

This Christmas, will you let the pictures on Christmas cards and stamps pass you by in the business of the season?  Or will you take a moment to consider the wonder of the Lord Jesus' birth,  as God himself came to dwell among us.

Some will sing hallelujahs, others will bow and worship with gifts only they can offer, while others will quietly treasure in their hearts the love of God through His only son Jesus.

If you have found Him, like the Wise Men long ago, you will already know there is no gift better than the Savior. If you are still looking, I pray this Christmas, God's message of love will shine into your heart through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Kindred Spirits in the Classroom
How God blessed me in 2009 - Part 3

How do you make a writing dream come alive?
I had a story idea, and wonderful historical details. I had a first draft outline (of sorts) and character charts with lots of scribbled and highlighted notes. I even had a collection of 1870s photographs of my location and its people. But where do you start and how do you know if you're heading in the right direction? In His perfect timing, God drew me to a cyber-classroom, and I gladly slipped into the back row.

Like anybody learning a craft, I needed to come alongside those who were also honing their skills in the same area. This is where the world of writers' blogs fits into my story. I began to follow and listen to what others were saying about their work and life as a writer. I was inspired and encouraged by those on the same path as me, only they were miles ahead and I had just opened the gate.

I discovered so many generous writers who take the time to share what they are learning and achieving. One pointed me to another and then another until I had a list longer than the hours in my day. Writer blogs and websites opened up a vast library of information, and one of the best was a link to the ACFW. 

My membership fee was worth every cent and then some, as I read the questions like minded people asked, and the well informed and thoughtful answers that followed.

From one link I jumped to another until I found -  a gold mine. All the lectures and seminars from last year's ACFW conference were mine to buy and download onto my iphone. Instantly!  For weeks I went around 'sitting' in on writing workshops and discussions. Every household task and car trip I made was accomplished in the company of respected writing teachers and their students. More about that here.

I signed up for an article writing course which introduced me to new friends and something I hadn't done for a while - homework. I joined mailing lists and e-loops which fed me information daily. Suddenly my inbox was bombarded by writer 'speak' from all over the world - and I loved it. With such inspiration and wisdom how could I not be motivated to grow the craft of writing?

Along the way, there were some who showered me with the affection of 'kindred spirits'. Their friendship and leadership have stood out as true gifts from God. Like the best of classroom friends, they came beside me and showed me around by offering help and motivation. They held out their hand and drew me along, cheered for me and whispered secrets they had already discovered.

I knew God had brought me to His choice school for learning. And I am honored to have these people in my life.

To honor them, I pass on this award of appreciation and gratitude, and as a reflection of my thanks to God for the writing friends He has brought into my life.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Treasures from the Sea

How God blessed me in 2009 - Part 2

When I opened my birthday card from John in May this year, I was delighted to receive the top request on my 'birthday wish list'. I had asked for 'time' and in my hand I held the promise of a week of uninterrupted writing at Mum and Dad's beach house, while John the Generous One offered to do the Mr Mom thing and keep the home fires burning.

My destination was Phillip Island,  just off the southern coast of mainland Australia, where my family has holidayed for more then 30 years, and the setting for my current writing project. Although my story takes place in the 1870s, there are still many places where 19th century island life  remains preserved for history buffs to explore and enjoy. Instead of writing, I found myself collecting information and talking to locals from the Historical Society about life during the early days of settlement on Phillip Island. I spent a day exploring the nearby Churchill Island with its original homestead built in the 1860s, and another day at Coal Creek Historical Village. My week of writing and researching flew by, but in that short time I discovered lots about my setting and the people who brought it to life in the first place.

Characters and plot began to take shape. Farm and village settings came alive in my mind as I stopped to talk to locals who were eager to share what they knew about their island. In the evenings, thanks to the absence of the internet, I read old newspapers and books detailing the daily life of the pioneers who braved the wind blasts of Westernport Bay, and made their homes on this remote volcanic outcrop. It was a birthday present unlike any other and I savored every moment, as my imagination played with the many elements of my developing story.

I had always wondered about the brave families who  turned an isolated island into a welcoming rural community. My first holiday experience at Philip Island was when I was 9 and my fascination with its history has only grown with the passing years. Now, after many months of research and writing,  I have an even deeper connection.

I came home from my retreat by the sea, with bucket loads of ideas and historical details. Some were destined to find their way into my wip. Others remain threads to be picked up at some stage for layering as my story develops.

Six months into my writing adventures, I was now armed with information and the emerging tale of two very different people, destined to meet and fall in love during this exciting time in Australia's history.

Thanks to my generous husband who pushed me to step out of my comfort zone, and 'run away' from home for a week, I was moving in the right direction. Like a diver returning from the deep, I surfaced with treasures and remnants from the past - the essentials of my story.
But how do you take all that information and imagination and turn it into a novel? This was no short story anymore. Thankfully, God had another classroom for me to join in the months to come!

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. Psalm 32:8

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

How Four Seconds Changed My Life

How Four Seconds 
Changed My Life 

How God blessed me in 2009 - Part 1

The first full week of the Summer holidays began today. Even though my children finished school last Thursday,  Friday whizzed by with many errands and commitments, followed closely by a weekend of Christmas service rehearsals and performances at church.  The pace didn't really slow down for us until this morning, when the luxury of sleeping in ushered the true meaning of school holidays. No timetables to follow or bells to obey. No lunches to make at 7am, and no school uniforms to iron. Delicious and Bliss. I could add more words but I like those two the best!
Now that we have almost come to the end of another year, it's natural to think ahead to what's 'round the corner. A dear friend was asking me today about my writing goals for next year, and that's coming up in a blog post later this week. But for now I'm looking back with thanksgiving to the steps God guided me to take, so I can stand where I am today.

This time last year, I was reading The Scarlet Thread by Francine Rivers, one of my favorite writers. Ticking away in my heart, the life long ache to actively pursue my writing dreams, was making noises too loud to ignore. Each page I turned made me want to learn more about the craft of writing.  
Enthralled by Francine's work, I wanted to discover more about her. (I think I secretly wanted to be her.)  I never expected, the four seconds it took me to google her name, would change my life and turn it upside down in the best possible way.
Francine's website is a generous showcase of the author and her work. There are photos and book announcements, as well as Francine's amazing testimony and updates on her life. Like a heat seeking missile, I honed in on the Writing Tips link, where an explosion of information lit up my world. And following Francine's advice, I made a list of recommended books to hunt down,  to get me started.

There was no shortage of Summer reading last year. Armed with library books on writing as well as a speedy package from Amazon I was more then set with beach books and by the time we got back from our holiday, I was itching to get started.
The first thing I did was join my neighborhood writing group. I also joined an online writing community, FaithWriters. Just as my children were starting back at school in February, I began my education in the craft of writing.  I practiced by producing two short stories each week. One as homework for my local class and one as my entry for the FW Writing Challenge. This meant I was writing for an audience, with a given topic, working to a deadline and keeping to a word limit.  I also started receiving positive and constructive feedback.  One of the best encouragements I received was from a fellow writer who wrote, "I was disappointed that this story could only be ...750 words. Would grab a book of this story in a heartbeat, beautiful." I think I cried happy tears that day!
My excitement intensified when I won first place in the Beginners' category and moved up to Intermediate. My husband John wanted to know when he should quit his job and look after the family so I could write full time! (Ha!!)
From Intermediate I stepped up to Advanced, by this stage happily addicted to my online writing competitions and learning so much from the many talented writers I was reading and getting to know through online forums and blogs. 
By April I had my routine set. Housework in the morning, and writing in the afternoon. Each week I worked on my stories and took small steps toward my ultimate goal of writing a novel. Bit by bit, and chuck by chunk, little portions of writing got done. 
Perhaps it's because I like baby steps, and I happen to have married a man who loves to take giant leaps,   I found myself pushed on from the comfortable tip toe routine I enjoyed, to a new and unbelievable place by the man I love the most. By May, thanks to the best birthday present I ever received, (more about that tomorrow) I had moved into a new phase of my writing adventures.

In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his 
steps. Proverbs 16:9

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

A Work In Progress

Yes, I disappeared a bit in November.  I've been writing madly. Not blog entries, but words which went towards my tally for the NaNoWriMo competition. The National Novel Writing Month has grown to become an international machine which grinds its way through the month of November, as thousands of competitors scribble their way to a writing goal of 50,000 words. Lasting the entire month of November, and not a second more, the goal of writing so many words loomed insurmountable at first. But with many friends attempting the challenge, and the encouragement of my wonderful family and those who have done it before, I soldiered on...... and finally made it to the finish line!
With 50,179 words in total, I have a better feel for where my story is going, a clearer picture of my characters and their motivations, and a stronger desire to see this project through to the end.
I know now more than ever before, how much work awaits me before I can bring my story to completion. But I have plans for my work in progress. Plans for my characters to grow and unfold as the story takes shape, plans for secrets to spill out and hearts to be broken by man and mended by God. My plans include days and days of rewriting and editing, rewriting and editing ... and rewriting some more. But even though there's lots to do, I'm excited to continue and finish what I've started.
And I am encouraged to know my creativity is a reflection of the Holy God I belong to. He is also working on a project of character development. Me. As His child I can rest on the promise that the work He has begun in me, will one day be brought to completion, according to His will and purposes for my life.

When Paul wrote his letter to encourage the people of Phillipi, he reminded them of God's hand in their growth and direction as believers.
 Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion
 until the day of Christ Jesus. Phil 1:6

This is the same promise which encourages me too. I'll have to wait and see what happens with my writing and where it will go from here... but I am sure of one thing. God's hand on my life is a given. And the spiritual work He has begun in me will reach a perfect conclusion one day. 

What about you? Are you encouraged to know you are one of God's works in progress?