Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Noticer by Andy Andrews

Are you a ‘glass half empty’ or ‘glass half full’ kind of person? Do you notice things from their ‘Oh no’ potential or their  “Oh wow” possibilities? Last weekend at the Agape Women's Retreat I read a Thomas Nelson book, The Noticer by Andy Andrews, an award winning writer and speaker. Against a backdrop of busy quilters with their whirring machines, and those cooking or chatting by the fire, I sat in the sunroom with the other readers and took a trip to the community of Orange Beach, Alabama.
The Noticer is a book about Andy, a homeless young man, and Jones, the older stranger who sets him on a new course of life for his adult years. Jones claims to have been bypassed in the natural talents of running or singing but his gift is that of being a 'Noticer.' 
"I notice things that other people overlook... about situations and people that produce perspective. That's what most folks lack - perspective - a broader view. So I give them that broader view... and it allows them to regroup, take a breath, and begin their lives again."
When Jones passes on his perspective to Andy things begin to change and a new hope propels him to see the future with its many possibilities. He starts to consider how others view him and how this might have an impact on his relationships.
Fast forward ten years, and Jones is back in Orange Beach again. Once more, his perspective on life intersects with the people around him. Those in unhappy marriages, the arrogant, the lonely and the desperate, are all challenged to consider a new perspective. Jones is not a 'solver' of problems. He simply challenges the way people look at themselves, and gives guidance without telling them what they need to do.
The Noticer is a quick and easy read which comes with discussion questions for each chapter. Part allegory, part inspiration, it's not the sort of book I normally choose for myself but I was drawn to its unusual blend of fiction and autobiography.
The Noticer is an enjoyable read. A book you will want to share with a friend and talk about later. You may find you too begin to notice things with a new perceptive.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

God's Perfect Sequence

My GPS told me we were 40 minutes away from our destination as we barreled down the freeway towards Bacchus Marsh for the Agape Women's Retreat last Friday. Sitting beside me, my good friend Ola studied her own GPS, showing an alternate route for the same destination. So why, with 2 navigational devices did it take us more than an hour to arrive?
Choices. Let's just say Ola and I 'chose' a sequence of turns which took us the scenic route. Thinking we were smarter then the GPS, we bypassed one possible exit and kept going, sending my GPS into a frenzy as it quickly reformatted and calculated our next move.
My GPS has a name. Jane is the navigator with a British accent. She sounds like she knows what she's doing, and I trust her because there is a satellite somewhere in the sky telling her what's ahead, and then she tells me. If our 'relationship' is going to work though, I need to obey Jane's instructions. If I chose to ignore her I may end up lost. Thankfully, our little detour was not a major deviation, and we were soon back on course. We followed her directions this time to the letter, and ended up where we needed to be, Sunnystones Country Retreat. This solid rock complex set on 50 acres just outside Bacchus Marsh in Victoria was the ideal place for us to unwind and connect in ways we could never do on a Sunday morning after church. Some worked on craft projects, others read by the fire, while some simply napped in the corner. And when we came together to eat we indulged in gourmet fare cooked with love by Anthea and Ann.
When we gathered together to connect on a deeper level and look at our theme for the weekend, it was no coincidence our meditation was on "The Choices Women Make". Using Biblical examples, Laraine walked us through the lives of women who needed to trust God and make a choice to reach out to Him with their needs. We looked at Hannah, as well as the woman who touched the hem of Jesus' garment. In desperation they took their heart's cry to God and trusted Him to answer.
Later we were encouraged to consider a time when we chose to come to God with our own dilemma. How did He help? And what about today? What do I need to bring to Him now? Will I chose to do it?
There is so much to be gained by remembering the many times God has answered our prayers. His faithfulness and gifts to us are immeasurable. His directions are always perfect as is His destination. 

"Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground." Psalm 143:10

Are your choices taking you the wrong way, or are you choosing to follow God's Perfect Sequence for your life? His very own GPS for you. The road ahead is not always smooth but He promises to go before us. Are you letting Him lead the way?

Monday, October 26, 2009

"You'll hang by the neck until you be dead."

Last week I visited the Old Melbourne Gaol Education Unit with Matthew and his class. This excursion was focused on the justice system and how the courts worked in the 1860s. Matthew and his classmates were given a script and some costumes and ushered into an old magistrate's court room to re-enact the 1863 trial of 24 year old Elizabeth Scott, the first woman to be hanged in Victoria, for the murder of her husband.
In bringing this trial to life the class was able to see the way in which women were treated by the men in authority at that time. With little representation in court, no opportunity to speak in her own defense and an all male middle class jury, poor Elizabeth was doomed. While modern day historians have failed in their attempts to uncover any evidence to confirm or deny her innocence, there is some speculation Elizabeth Scott may not have been guilty of the charges brought against her. Two local men, friends of Elizabeth, were executed along side her, also guilty of the same crime. And while the truth will never be known, the record shows three people died to pay for the one crime. At the end of the 'trial' the students had the opportunity to explore the human rights, citizenship and justice issues they have been studying.

We exited the courtroom through the prisoners’ dock and passed under an ornate arch into one of old Melbourne's cobbled laneways. We briefly saw the cells where prisoners waited their turn for court behind heavy doors and locks, before the children ran outside happy to be free after an hour in the courtroom. The drama was soon forgotten in the business of playing.
But the adults on the tour, couldn't easily forget Elizabeth Scott, who at 14 married an abusive pub owner in his 40s. Her parents had given her in marriage to an older man in the hope he would be able to provide for her and ensure a better life. They could never imagine the drudgery her husband would make her endure as she labored to keep their business going and care for their young boys.
I would've liked to learn more about Elizabeth Scott and understand the isolation and fear which ruled her days. What place did the other two men have in her life for the three of them to be embroiled in such a tragedy? Was there anything good to be said about Elizabeth's villainous husband, or was he already a drunk before they married? What happened to the young brothers after they were placed in an orphanage? 
Sadly there is no romantic ending to this story. Only unanswered questions remain in this sliver of our history, a murky window to the past. 
And what about that one remaining question?
Did Elizabeth's heart turn to God in those final moments before the noose slipped around her neck?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What's in a name?

Someone recently asked me why I named this blog Ink Dots

Ink, is for the beautiful way a word appears on the page when it is written with an ink pen. One of my favorite Christmas presents ever is an elegant fountain pen which I use every day. There is something very romantic about the way the nib scrapes the paper and the purple ink flows, (yes I use purple ink) even if it's just a shopping list. The words milk and bread look so much better when they have little violet tails and swirls!

It reminds me of once upon a time when letters and diaries were scribbled by the light of the lamp. Last year as I was digging around in a thrift shop in Nappanee Indiana, I came across this old purple ink pot (above) made by Sanford's of New York and Chicago. I had to take it home to Australia with me, it was begging! How could I resist an octagonal faced charmer like this, with it's corked lid and brush? I don't know what the brush is for and I'm not sure how far back it dates. The Sanford Manufacturing Company first appeared in the Chicago Directory in 1873 but it's believed it was most likely established earlier than this. I like to imagine it's from the 1880s and in some Chicago attic there is a stack of faded purple love letters penned with it's ink. 

As for the Dots in my blog title, well that's me. Dot, Dotti, Dorothy. I go by all of these names. But you guessed that already right? Dots is also what the ink makes on its way to becoming words. Little splatters which join and blend and become the message on the page. My stories - my ink dots.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Raw Material

My daily Bible reading, historical research for my novel and writing studies collided today in one simple image. Clay.  
During the week I finished reading Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. Looking like a coloring book, there are many passages highlighted there I plan to revisit. In the section, Keep them Reading, I read about the raw material used to stretch the tension in fiction, sometimes missing in the middle of a story. "Before you can stretch anything, of course, you need the raw material. You don't fashion a clay pot without clay. The clay for a novelist it trouble."
As a visual learner this image grabbed me. From my distant school day attempts to play with clay, I know the possibilities it offers. If you're not happy with what you're making, you can change. Start again completely if you like. But if there's no clay at all, there is nothing to work with. For good writing I need trouble to create and then pull on the tension my characters are experiencing. There is a real purpose to the clay or trouble.

All this clay talk got me thinking about the different materials used in the 1800's for simple household items, such as ceramic bottles and jars. I wondered how much pottery was locally made. I knew a little about the famous Bendigo Pottery company, founded by G D Guthrie, a Scotsman who came to Australia in the 1850's hoping to strike it rich on the goldfields. What he discovered in the ground was of greater value to him than gold, when he realized the clay deposits were perfect for pot making. It didn't take him long to begin production on household items like tall ewer jugs to hold drinks, medicine and tonics, and emulsion jars for chemicals and turpentine. A more recognizable piece, the ceramic water filter, was popular in many homes during the 1880's due to the muddiness of the water supply. G D Guthire may have abandoned his potter's wheel in Scotland but he returned to it with renewed purpose when he saw the potential for a new business venture.

This morning my Bible reading text was from Jeremiah 18:1-5.
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD :  "Go down to the potter's house, and there I will give you my message." So I went down to the potter's house, and I saw him working at the wheel.  But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the LORD came to me: "O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?" declares the LORD. "Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand." 

I was blessed to remember God also uses clay to tell a story. In this one He is the master craftsman who shapes and works on His children to fashion them according to His purpose, so we can be equipped to serve. He knows what He's doing. He's in control. And just like the writer with her words or the Scotsman with his wheel, God desires the best result.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Black Saturday

When a cluster of raging firestorms exploded through large areas of the Victorian bush in February this year, it destroyed property and livestock, and claimed the lives of 173 people. The town of Marysville, known to locals as 'God's Eden' became front page news when it was wiped off the map, as the day etched itself into our history and memories as Black Saturday. With temperatures reaching a devastating 46.4°C (115.5°F) the inevitable had occurred. 

Six months later Australia’s worst natural disaster was revisited in the Weekly Times, still smoldering in the minds of witnesses in horror and disbelief.
"Locals say the flames on Back Saturday were half a kilometer high, the radiant heat so intense that even ceramics melted. Water was sucked out of creeks, trees ripped from the ground by the fire's ferocity, houses vaporized." 

For those who have chosen to stay and rebuild, a mammoth task awaits. But as new buildings and infrastructure slowly reappear, so is life in the scorched remains of the bush. Dead looking tree stumps are showing signs of life. With the welcome arrival of Spring, tufts of green appear, as leaves and saplings make their way from the source of life hidden within.
This photo, taken a few ago weeks shows the regeneration of the Victorian bush. Beauty is replacing the ashes and transforming the ugly into something life promising.


Life's lessons are often learned by watching nature. The cycle of life, death and rebirth is all around us. God displays it in so many pictures and His object lessons are worth observing. His breath of life is on the charcoal log, not dead as it appears, but transformed by the trial of the storm.

Monday, October 12, 2009

That Dude Romeo

Who is responsible for the deaths in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet? This is what my son Tom was exploring this afternoon as he contemplated an essay question for English.
As he worked away at the computer, he yelled out in frustration, "This Romeo dude makes me so mad. It's all his fault and I don't like him at all!"
Wow. My sports mad boy was actually moved to dislike a literary character and tell me why. There was much mumbled about Romeo's 'impulsive actions which lead to the deaths of many." Go Tom! 

Taking the advice of those who know things, I have been reading James Scott Bell's Plot and Structure. In it he discusses that which controls the deepest emotions of a character. He says it is obsession. 
"Create a character. Give her an obsession. Watch where she runs."
Romeo ran all over the place trying to find love. One minute he was in love with Rosaline, the next married to Juliet. Today free, tomorrow a fugitive murderer. What a mess young Romeo made in his obsession with Juliet. Of course many will say others must share the blame. And they do. 

The apostle Paul shares some similarities with Romeo. As Saul, in his zealous pursuit of Christians he  "went from one synagogue to another to have them punished." He writes, "In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them." Acts 26:11. 

While Saul's character underwent great transformation, poor Romeo didn't get a chance to grow. 
This is what my favorite English teacher called a real tragedy - unfulfilled potential. 
Today it was about an impulsive dude named Romeo, and a modern day basketballer's exploration of medieval tragedies.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The School Bell Is Ringing

After 2 1/2 weeks of sleeping in and 'pajamas 'til lunchtime', the holidays have ended and all my chickens are back at school. There is always a little grieving for me each new term, as I contemplate how quickly our children are growing up.  Last night I filled in their medical forms for 2010. I have been doing this since 1998, when Sophie started school. Yesterday when I completed her forms, I realized regretfully that those forms would be the last, as next year is her final year of high school. How did that happen so quickly? Wasn't it only yesterday the little girl in the long dress, big hat and floppy shoes started school? Thankfully she still likes to dress up and play. And hanging out with her drama gang means there is no shortage of opportunities to bring a scene to life with the greatest dramatic flair!

This is a recent photo of Sophie and her friends slipping into character with 2 other 'dramatic figures' at Sovereign Hill in Ballarat. The discovery of gold there in 1851 heralded the frenzy of mining which was to shape the town and district forever and still captures the imagination of many who visit this historical village.  Thank you Drama 5 (Nat you were there in spirit!) for letting me laugh with you and for sharing such a fun day together. Now that everyone is back at school and hard at work, it's time for me to return to the characters I have put on hold.
Psalm 78 1-4
O my people, hear my teaching; 
listen to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in parables, 
I will utter hidden things, things from of old
what we have heard and known, 
what our fathers have told us.
We will not hide them from their children; 
we will tell the next generation 
the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, 
his power, and the wonders he has done.

Friday, October 02, 2009

The Road Ahead

My wonderful new friends at the ACFW have been helping me with a writing question this week. There has been much discussion from all over the world, and emails have gone back and forth in earnest contemplation. There is a wealth of experience there and I am privileged to listen in.

I even emailed my question to an award winning author, who generously took time from her busy schedule to answer.

In a nutshell, this is what I was pondering.

Will my locally set Historical Romance capture the attention of an audience outside Australia?

This was her wise advice.

“Write what you LOVE to write.....writing a full manuscript is an education in itself. When you're just starting out, it's best not to think about marketing. Better to write a brilliant manuscript that no editor can refuse--regardless of the setting. And that's not just words, it's the truth. It's what I did.”

And then there was this last Sunday at church.
Our older congregation members were celebrated as “those saints who have been at the foot of the cross a little longer than the rest of us.”
They know things. Things about life and faith, about sorrow and hope for the future. They have journeyed to where I want to go. They have broken the ground before me and I can see them up ahead.

There are many along this road, some older and some are younger.  Thankfully, they’re happy to stop along the way and point out the tracks their journey has made. And as I follow, I hope to reach a hand out to those who will come alongside me, because a journey is ''best measured in friends rather than miles."

1 Thessalonians 5:11
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.