Monday, July 18, 2011

Third in the BoB

I have been a member of Faithwriter’s since 2004. I would like to boast that I have never missed an opportunity to submit something in the weekly challenge – but I have entered a fair number. Every year all the entries that came top each week compete for the “Best of Best” title. This year I came third! I have won $75 – the first time that my writing has won any money! It is also the first time that my writing has earned me an interview! I have posted the interview below.

JOANNE:What was your reaction when you found out your piece did so well in Best of the Best?
MEL:I was in Glasgow for the weekend. I had traveled down on the Friday afternoon. I didn’t have the opportunity to log on anywhere. In the bus station on the way home there was an internet cafĂ©, with only one working computer and a queue. I paid my £1 for a twenty minute slot. The connection was painfully slow and the bus was pulling in. I saw my name and wasn’t really sure I hadn’t made it up. I checked again when I got home. I was surprised and delighted.

JOANNE: Wow. What a way to end your vacation! Tell me a little about yourself. What do you do besides enter the challenge?
MEL:I am an avid reader. I bought a Kindle earlier on in the year. The first thing I downloaded was a Bible. It was the equivalent of baptizing it.

I am very involved in my local church. I am on the preaching rota and speak at least once a month. I am involved in a midweek bible study and we are about to launch into some of the minor prophets.

Living in Scotland, just a few miles away from Loch Ness, I love walking. I don’t hike with maps and backpack – I just amble slowly.

I like visiting art galleries, but not museums.

JOANNE:You’ve been at FaithWriters, and entering the challenge, since 2004 (that’s seven years, folks!). What has moved you to be such a faithful FWer and challengeer?
MEL:I had completed a creative writing course at our local college a few years earlier. I felt so at home with words that I wanted to continue writing. I joined FW and started to enter the challenge. Left to my own devices I lack discipline, so the topic and the deadline is something that I enjoy. FW is such a positive environment to grow your writing skills.

Every so often I think about stepping down from the challenge. I have been submitting stories and poems for a few years now. But why stop doing something that you love doing? I love writing and the challenge provides the opportunity to do that.

JOANNE:For you, what is the best part of the Writing Challenge?
MEL:It is being faced with a topic and having no idea what to do, but knowing that with a bit of thought and musing something will come. I need to find my way in. I cast about for days with different ideas, and maybe write a paragraph or two. Or a whole story. Or a poem. I will play around with it, delete it even to begin again. I reach that point where I think there is nothing I can do to make it better – or want to do – or have the time to do. The challenge causes me to meditate on Scripture a lot more that I used to. I want to stir people with what I write.

JOANNE:I loved your winning piece, The Frog and The Leper. Where did you get the idea? How did it come together?
MEL:Some weeks I am so busy that I come to Wednesday night and nothing is happening so I tell myself I will pass that week. The deadline in the UK is 3.00pm Thursday. At lunchtime on Thursday the first line “Rumour has it…”came into my head. Then the frog hopped into the poem. I thought about what rumours might appeal to a frog. Being kissed by a princess and transformed seemed a good idea. Getting the frog to the park I thought of various obstacles in the way. Then of course there wasn’t a princess. Girls dress up as princesses but that doesn’t make them princesses. The second part of the poem followed the same pattern. Just as people might dismiss the frog’s thinking as foolish, they tend to think of faith in Jesus as just as foolish and I wanted them to reach a different conclusion. It was one of those things that almost wrote itself. It wanted to be written and it was an easy birth.

I wish I could say that I pray about what I write – sometimes I do, but mostly I don’t.

JOANNE:When did you start writing? What do you most like to write? What are your writing goals?
MEL:My best friend and I used to fill notebooks of stories. We were twelve or thirteen at the time. We were into science fantasy stories – all swords and sorcery. She was the better writer. She was better at most things that I was, but it just made me stretch a little.

I love to write poetry. Many years ago I bought Stephen Fry’s book “The Ode Less Travelled.” He introduced me to the world of iambic pentameter. It is basically a how-to book on writing poetry illustrated with his poems. He sets challenges at the end of each chapter. Poetry to me is like doing a crossword – only one word will fit in a certain space and I love chasing down that one word.

There are a couple of things that I think God is nudging me towards. A local Christian community centre is looking for people to run classes and there is an opportunity to start up a creative writing class. I’m a teacher anyway, so it shouldn’t be a step too far out of my comfort zone. The other goal is publishing a poetry book. I produced a photocopied and folded over chapbook of my Easter poems and handed them to friends and family over Easter. The response was positive. A book is a bigger challenge. Knowing that “The Frog and the Leper” did so well in the BoB gives me confidence.

JOANNE:Praying for God’s direction for you. Now, brag on your family a bit.
MEL:I came from a large family – three sisters and two brothers. They have families of their own – children and grandchildren. There’s a lot of birthdays to remember. Only my mum and my eldest sister have a vibrant faith in God.

I have a wonderful husband, Joseph. I found an old love letter I had written to him years ago just the other day. He would die first rather than submit his thoughts to paper! He supports and encourages me in everything I do. He is my hero and role model. I would like to be as loving as him and as gentle.

My sister, Linda, and my brother, Michael, died within months of each other a couple of years ago. It was a very distressing time. I found comfort and strength in God. I also wrote some very dark and angry poems throughout that time. Writing was therapy.

Michael was the only one in the family with the writing bug. He lived in Spain and had a regular column in a magazine for Brits living in Spain. He was compiling an A-Z commentary of life in Spain when he was diagnosed with cancer.

The rest of the family are much more practical. One of my nieces has just earned her law degree, while her sister is an apprentice plumber! I am very proud of them all.

It was so nice to get to know you better, Mel! A big congratulations for your BoB placement, and keep writing those challenge entries!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Closer and Closer, Farther and Farther

“As those out to get me come closer and closer, they go farther and farther from the truth you reveal” Psalm 119:150 The Message

I hate to admit it, but sometimes it is not always those who are out to get me that concern me. Jesus never promised that we would be without enemies but challenged us to pray for them.

I also hate to admit it, but sometimes I am one of “those” out to get another who has hurt or upset me. I rarely reach the point where I have the chance to actually get to them to do them harm, and I don’t really have it in me to cause them harm – but the desire is there for a while at least.

The inner dialogue that plays out in my head is not often godly.

God cares about that inner dialogue. It may remain just an inner dialogue, but it pollutes my spirit and there is always the possibility it may spill out in some diluted form.

He warns me that as I get closer and closer to refining my plans for some kind of revenge, I am moving further and further away from the truth that He has revealed to me.

Much rather, God would have me move closer and closer to the truth He reveals, and not just move further away from what my nature desires – but to put to death that nature.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Matthew 5:9

I best demonstrate the likeness of Christ within me when I choose the path of peace. The family likeness is marred when I seek revenge.

Never Put to Shame

It might have been a day or two before Easter Sunday that I stood outside the door of the local Christian bookshop with a carrier bag clutched in one hand and my heart clutched in the other. The carrier bag contained a dozen or so photocopied, folded over, stapled in the middle books of poems that I had written about Easter. The poems covered Passion Week and had been written over a number of years. The first couple of days of my Easter holidays had been spent choosing and editing the poems and planning the format. The end product was impressive.

I was heading down to visit the family and had plans to take a few copies with me to hand out to friends and family. I intended to be very selective about who would receive one. I know that poetry isn’t everyone’s thing and didn’t want to give anyone the opportunity to mock my efforts. So I chose not to sow the poetry books liberally and gave sparingly! My husband was less liberal with them handing them out to anyone he spoke to.

The dummy run, as it was, in Rugby, had gone down well that someone suggested that I might like to take a few copies to the local Christian bookshop and ask if they would like to sell them. The bookshop and I could split the proceeds between us. So I raided the savings to get some more books photocopied, folded over and stapled.

And then I stood outside the door of the shop with the carrier bag of books in my hand…and courage never really stirred. I didn’t open the door, but caught the next bus home, the carrier bag of books still intact.

Friday morning I walked past the bookshop – the one I stood outside of all those months ago. I was on my way to catch a bus out to Castle Stuart and the Scottish Open Golf Championship. I often think that Christian bookshops don’t do window displays well. This time, however, they had a sailing boat in the window. All connections to anything to do with the sea was in the window – books on Jonah and the Whale, Noah and the Ark and a handful of stones with bible verses written on them. What came to my mind was a poem that I had written - My Ship of Faith. The window display was the perfect setting for the jewel that was my poem.

I had a bus to catch and a golf championship to watch, but the thought of the window and the poem were not far from my mind. I told Joe about it later and the next morning, Saturday morning, dragged him to see the window. It was a good plan.

Again, I found myself outside the door of the shop with a carrier bag in my hand with one A3 photocopy and a dozen small ones just in case anyone asked for a copy. There was to be no haggling over splitting the proceeds – the poem was a gift.

There was a queue. Bad enough that I was in the shop, but to have to wait in a queue was adding moths to butterflies in my insides…but I didn’t run.

Finally it was just me and the woman behind the till.

I had pictured some kind of enthusiasm. She certainly didn’t smile or show any kind of encouragement. She didn’t read the poem. She explained that the shop manager was away on holiday and she didn’t have the authority to put the poem in the window. She agreed to keep the poems and tell the manager when he returned.

It was perhaps a little bit of an anti-climax, but I left the shop smiling anyway. I had seen the challenge through and not folded in the end. I had done my part and the rest was up to others to move forward on.

“No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame.” Psalm 25:3

I read these words this morning. We all have times when we turn from the challenge because we fear to fail. We wonder how we will deal with the embarrassment if the plan doesn’t succeed. If what we are doing is commissioned by God, and is for His Glory there is no shame – even if, at first glance, it looks like we have failed.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Disturbing the King

“…who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14.

We know the setting of this verse. The evil Haman had manipulated the king to issue a decree giving him permission to destroy all of the Jews. A time and a date had been earmarked for the deed. Mordecai took the news to Queen Esther, along with the warning that if she did not act, someone else would rescue the Jews – but she and her family would still perish. He went on to comment that maybe it was for this one event that she had been raised to the position of Queen. She had the access necessary to the one person who could make a difference – the King.

Doing nothing at all would certainly lead to her perishing. Doing something like approaching the king uninvited might also lead to her perishing. Esther chose to approach the king.

I think about those times when I have chosen to do nothing at all – and I wonder what has perished because of it.

She didn’t slap on a suit of armour and buckle on a sword. Not every warrior wears armour and wields a sword to win a battle. She made use of the skills and talents that she had been given. She dressed carefully and organised a meal. She created the perfect environment to approach the king with the petition.

The issue she raised was one of life and death. Only such a serious issue would have justified “disturbing the King”.

“I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, killed and annihilated. If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king” Esther 7:4

That phrase “disturbing the king” caught my attention. Esther would have kept silent if Haman’s intention had been to merely sell the Jews into slavery. That was not a big enough issue to involve the king.

I wonder what the reaction of the king might have been if it had been just slavery, and Esther had said nothing, and Haman had no one to stand in his way…and then the king had found out later what had happened. Would he have wanted to” be disturbed”?

We have a tendency to stick labels on things – some things are urgent life or death issues, or if not life or death then something that comes close. Other things we label as petty and trivial – and so they are compared to world peace and the starving millions in developing countries.

God says He wants us to disturb Him about those big things – those life or death issues, world peace and the starving millions. He would like to step in and be magnificent in these areas. Those are things worth disturbing Him about. If we are disturbed by them, it shows that we have a heart beat and a passion to change the world.

God says also that He wants us to disturb Him about the things we label as petty and trivial too. Sometimes they are not as petty and as trivial as we think they are. Sometimes it is the petty and trivial things that we deal with that sap our strength. They are the little foxes that destroy the vines.

What really disturbs God is that we don’t disturb him often enough about the things that disturb us, or, more seriously perhaps, that we are not disturbed enough about things that should disturb us, that provoke us to disturb Him.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Feckless and Faithless

Yesterday’s quiet time readings were there to remind me to keep my eye on the final goal – heaven. I am but a traveller and this world isn’t my home.

The opening verses of Revelation 21 paint a vivid picture of the first heaven and the first earth passing away to make way for new ones. The new Jerusalem will come down from heaven from God, radiant and beautiful. God will dwell with his people and be with them.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Rev 21:4

I think everyone longs for a time when, as the Message puts it, “Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” As I read those words I was thinking about my mum. Death has taken away two husbands, two children and all of her brothers and sisters. As she grows older and a lot less mobile, and near blind and near deaf there’s frustration about not being able to do the things she used to do. When she is frustrated there are usually tears involved. Pain isn’t just a physical thing – but the isolation of being alone much of the time is painful too.

She may be into the closing pages of her first life but a new life waits to be revealed in the next chapter – a life without death, without mourning, crying or pain is hers to inherit. We get so bogged down in the difficulties of this first life that we fail to allow the glimpses of that new life just ahead to whet our appetites and take the sting off our short-while trials.

For some verse 4 is what they need to hear and they can afford to linger there. For me, though, it was verse 8 that pulled me up.

But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulphur. Rev 2:8

I would like to think that it doesn’t apply to me. Most of it doesn’t most of the time. I have certainly never murdered anyone. It is the cowardly, unbelieving bit of it that is apt to convict. The Message calls that bit “feckless and faithless”.

Feckless and faithless – I own up to times when I have shied away from challenges out of cowardice. I lack the courage sometimes to do what I know I should do. Most often it is because of a lack of faith, not that God’s resources are not there for me to grasp hold of and wield, but that somehow I have excluded myself from the right to wield them – this “not good enough” attitude.

What came to mind last night as I was thinking about these things is that I don’t always lack courage. I am not always a coward. I don’t always lack faith. I can so often clearly remember the times when the yellow streak is visible and I am running, or hiding from the challenge given. But there are times too, far more numerous, when I take the step of faith and move forward. That happens when God is firmly at the centre of all that I do and His glory is my one desire.

One day I will get to read the book of my life that is written by God. I will dig out the book that I have written – in my mind and memory – and lay it side by side with God’s book. Sometimes the accounts will be the same. Most often His book will contain the truth of the matter. My mind and my memory will have too often been written in the shadows, where truth gets twisted just a little. I will tear out those pages and toss them away because they are not God’s truth about my life.

God says, “Why wait till that one day? I can tell you now what was written!”

Monday, July 04, 2011

The Frog and the Leper

Rumour has it
There’s a princess
Kissing frogs
In the park
So I’m hopping over
Armed with faith
That with a kiss
This frog can be transformed

I skip
Betwixt bike and bus
Squealing brakes
And strident horns
Mind the dog
And the kid with the skateboard
I think about the kiss
And how my life will change

A rumour – nothing more
Not a princess
Just a girl called Janet
In a pink sparkly dress
She has no power
To change me
A kiss perhaps but
No transformation

Rumour has it
There’s a man
Healing lepers
In Capernaum
So I’m stumbling over
Armed with faith
That with a touch
I can be transformed

I stagger
Betwixt hope and despair
Freezing fears
And promised possibilities
Mind the dog
And the kid with the stones
I think about the touch
And how my life will change

Rumour? No – but real truth
There is a man
Jesus of Nazareth
God clothed in human flesh, I think
He has the power
To change me
One touch
And I am forever transformed