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Archive for July, 2009

Who would not want to be a novelist?  Why would anyone ever want to be anything else?

Most days, I have the privilege of sitting down at my computer in my own little ‘novel kingdom’, revisiting what I have previously written, catching up on what my characters have done and then hatching further plans for their futures.  I can even change their names, if I decide their current ones don’t suit after all.  With one or two flicks of my finger, the ‘find and replace’ function of my computer is activated – and Steve is no longer Steve but Josh, or Sue has now miraculously become Jan and has a whole new identity.  Perhaps they have even moved cities as well – perhaps they have acquired a new partner or even an entire new family.

Writing can be fun.  It can be life-giving and oh so satisfying.  I have power – power to make characters do and say certain things, to react in certain ways, to experience wonderful, happy times as well as go through great valleys of grief.  But be warned – characters can sometimes take on a life of their own!  At least, my characters have.  Sometimes they have surprised me no end or shocked me or even made me so proud of them and the choices they have made.

And I have to own up.  It is a fact that one day, when out enjoying coffee with my husband, I urged him to drive home quickly, so that I could see what my characters had been up to while I had been out!  Sad – but very true.

It helps to be crazy to be writer, I have often maintained – especially since the episode I have just described.  It helps me handle the unexpected insurrections of my characters when they rise up in revolt or attempt to sort out their own lives, without even so much as a by-your-leave.  It helps me come back day after day and stick at it, sometimes deleting everything I wrote the previous day in disgust before beginning again, at other times losing track of reality and writing for hours without a break.  It helps me deal with the fact that, barring the dream that one of my novels might become a bestseller, I will make very little money out of writing.

But I will keep on persevering.  After all, not everyone has been given this same privilege as I have to write, to create, to share my heart and hopefully God’s heart with others.  I know God is with me on this crazy writing journey.  And that’s all that matters.

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There’s something heart warming about Peter, I reckon.  Of all Jesus’ followers, he seems to be the one most prepared to stick his neck out and have a go, whether by word or action.

In the story of how Jesus walked on water in Chapter 14 of Matthew’s Gospel, we read that the disciples were terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost.  Yet as soon as Peter heard Jesus’ voice telling them not to be afraid, he decides to ‘take the plunge’ – literally!  ‘Lord, if it’s you,” he says, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’  And when Jesus says to him one simple word – ‘Come’, Peter does exactly that.  Sure, he freaks out after a while and begins to sink, but Jesus is there for him, when he yells for help.  At least he had the courage to try.  At least he showed he trusted Jesus that much.

A couple of chapters further on, Jesus asks his disciples a simple question: ‘Who do you say I am?’  Peter is the one who answers unequivocally, with great faith and insight:  ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’   Yet in the same chapter, we read how Peter rebukes Jesus, refusing to believe the Son of God has to suffer and die.  Jesus in turn gives him an even sterner rebuke: ’Get behind me, Satan!’  Ouch!

And what about Peter’s firm assertion in John 13 to Jesus: ‘I will lay now my life for you’?  Yet we know that when Jesus was arrested and taken away to be crucified, Peter denied even knowing him.

But that’s not the end of the story.  In John 21, we read how Jesus, having risen from the dead, reinstates Peter, how he gives him a second chance to be the leader he was called to be.  And again, like that simple ‘Come!’ that got Peter climbing out of that boat, Jesus gives him another simple but profound instruction: ‘Follow me!’  And that is exactly what Peter did – even giving his own life in the process, just as he had said he would.

Stepping out of the boat might seem risky, but Jesus is there to walk towards, to give me a hand up, to follow forever – and I’m so glad of that.

How about you?  How are you at stepping out of boats?

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This past week, I have been forcibly reminded of the fact that in this world, people get hurt.  People disappoint other people.  People speak out of their own wounded places and either deliberately or inadvertently inflict further pain on others.  This seems to happen even in places we might least expect – even, dare I say it, amongst Christian people, amongst people in the church who should, one would think, be able to do better.

Just yesterday I received an anguished email from a friend who had tried her best to be hospitable, to invite those from within her circle of ‘church friends’ and those from without into her home.  Yet from her perspective, it was a dismal failure.  One friend from ‘without’ went home apparently the worse for the experience, left out of the conversation for a large part of the afternoon and in fact, totally alienated by it.  Others present had not been sensitive to where she might be coming from and – even worse – had not seemed to care.  Instead, they were too focussed on their own issues, achievements and needs, too keen to steal the limelight, to be heard and appreciated.

Well, the church is essentially people, after all – a bunch of sinners saved by grace.  Jesus loved us enough to die in our place, to rescue us and bring us back into relationship with God.  I – and probably you – will never be completely ‘perfect’, in this life at least.  We are all ‘a work in progress’.  But is it too much to expect that we might ‘progress’ a little more thoughtfully and graciously, treating our neighbour with love and respect, putting others’ needs before our own?  One of my favourite chapters of the bible is Philippians 2, where we read in verses 3 and 4:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Maybe if we all took these words to heart a little more, we would fare better.  Maybe fewer people would get hurt and, in particular, be alienated from the church and perhaps from God.  Maybe my friend would not have to write any more anguished emails to me.  Maybe God’s heart would not be so grieved at the way we treat one another.  Is that too much to hope for?

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Recently I came across some timely, sobering reminders for me from different parts of the bible.  Firstly, I read some wise words written by Paul in 2 Corinthians 10:18:

[For] it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.

Then I happened across Psalm 118:8-9:

It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.

It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.

Both in their own way highlighted for me the fact that in the end, it’s what God says about me that matters – not what others say they believe about me or even what I believe about myself.  God knows my heart.  God sees and understands my motives in everything I do.  Yet, however pure they are or however mixed, God will still be there for me.  I can always, always ‘take refuge in the Lord’, fully knowing I will be protected and sheltered, but also strengthened to move on and pursue the things God has given me to do in my life.

Knowing God can be trusted and is ‘for’ me kind of gets rid of the whole idea of having to ‘commend’ myself to others, of always wondering what people think of me and what I am doing and of somehow having to convince them that I am ‘worthwhile’ and that what I produce is too.  Instead I need to put my efforts into living as God wants me to, into listening to that loving ‘Well done!’ that the Lord speaks into my spirit, into truly believing these words, whether I myself believe I have ‘done well’, either by my own standards or those of others around me.

So I don’t have to justify myself.  I don’t have to make sure everyone knows how good I am or how clever or how faithful I am.  Instead, I can relax, be at peace and leave all that up to God, who will never betray my trust.  And that’s all pretty empowering and freeing, don’t you agree?

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