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Archive for November, 2011

In my life, I’ve had three real babies and five ‘book babies’. Even now, I can remember the challenges of deciding on names for our real children. And I can certainly remember the dilemmas of what to call my ‘book babies’ too. With three of them, I opted for the names of their main characters. For another, I chose a phrase from Psalm 23, All the Days of My Life. And for my most recent novel, I decided on the name Heléna’s Legacy¸ since this summed up the main thrust of the plot. Besides, it has a nice rhythm to it – plus a bit of alliteration and assonance thrown in!

There’s a lot to think about, isn’t there, in choosing a name? Just this week I witnessed firsthand two people’s struggles with choosing names for their babies. In the first instance, our daughter Tina is struggling to find just the right name for their first child. She likes a certain girl’s name, but her husband thinks it’s a little old-fashioned. And as for a boy’s name, they are tossing up between two options. To complicate matters, her husband is Ghanaian—and it’s common practice amongst Ghanaians to choose the day of the week on which a child is born as one of the names for that child. Hence our son-in-law’s name is Kofi, which means Friday.

The second instance involves an author whose book I have just finished editing. I thought the current title of the manuscript was not the best and he agreed. It was a friend’s suggestion, but he himself had always had something different in mind. The only trouble with his ‘something different’ is that, while many of his potential readers will relate to this title, a good proportion, in my opinion, won’t. In fact, they might even be somewhat offended by it. So what to do? Will this author go with his initial idea?  Or will he play it safe for the sake of possibly gaining more book sales?

While thinking about these dilemmas this week, I noticed a manger scene featured in a large shopping centre. Yes, with Christmas approaching, these sometimes still do pop up, despite some people apparently feeling that mentioning the real meaning of Christmas spoils it all for everyone! Later I reflected on the fact that Mary and Joseph were left in no doubt what their baby was to be called. In Matthew 1:20-21, we read how the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and made it clear:

She [Mary] will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.

Jesus, we are told, is the Greek form of Joshua, which means ‘The Lord saves’. But in the same chapter, we read that Jesus will also be called ‘Immanuel’, which means ‘God with us’ (1:23)—a name given to the Son of God hundreds of years earlier by God himself through the prophet Isaiah (Is 7:14). Well, they are both wonderful names, don’t you think? Yet many people at the time rejected this man called Jesus, their Messiah, the one anointed by God to be their Saviour. Some acknowledged the truth of the name ‘Immanuel’—but others refused to believe God was indeed amongst them.

I hear such love in both these names – Jesus and Immanuel. They epitomise God’s heart for us—God reaching out to us, knowing full well these beautiful names might be ridiculed and even used as curses. But God chose the best names ever, from my perspective. I need a Saviour. I need God with me.  Those names for me are so full of meaning—and I think they’re absolutely perfect.

How about you?

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It’s fun, isn’t it, waiting to meet someone you’ve met only via email? Will they look anything like you thought they would? Will they be younger or older? Will the personalities you suspect they have from the way they write be reflected in their faces?

Recently, I had the privilege of reading fifty pages written by three female authors before we met at a Writers’ Fair. They wrote in vastly different styles, which soon had me trying to picture what each of them might be like. Their personal emails gave me a bit more of a clue, but there was still plenty of scope for my imagination.

When we finally met, however, none of them was quite like I had imagined. One was very quiet and shy. Another was much more friendly and outgoing than I had expected. And the third seemed an interesting mixture of nervousness and self-confidence, but again nothing like I had imagined.

On the same weekend, I also met various other authors I had previously ‘known’ only via Facebook or blogs. What fun it was to be able to recognise them by their photos! Yet even then some tricked us. Some had changed their hairstyle, while others looked much younger than I had anticipated. And some were warm and outgoing, while others were a little more reticent.

With the authors whose writing had previously been sent to me, I did have some opportunity to get to know them as we worked together for one whole day. Yet despite that, I still knew so little about them and what they really felt about the various changes I had suggested for their work. As for my Facebook and blog ‘friends’, while we did work out who was who, we had little time to get to know them better. There is more substance to those photos I now see again on the net, but still so much to learn about each of them.

As I reflected on these experiences, I was reminded of a verse I had recently read in 1 Corinthians:

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (13:12)

Right now, there is so much we fail to understand about this world and in particular about God. Yes, now we can know God through the Scriptures, through listening prayer, through our experiences, through other people, through observing nature – but all of this is still merely a mirror that is able to reflect only a part of the whole glory of who God is. One day, however, we will see the real thing. One day we will see God face to face – and be totally overwhelmed in the process.

Yet while we see only ‘through a glass darkly’, even now God knows us fully, Paul tells us. God does not have to wonder what we will look like or what our personalities will be like. God already knows us perfectly through and through, as Psalm 139:1 says. How wonderfully liberating and life-giving that is! I don’t have to pretend anything to God. I know I am loved and accepted and totally understood. God will not be surprised at anything about me or anything I do – it is all already known.

I loved meeting my author friends in the flesh for the very first time. But what a day it will be when I meet God face to face at last! Then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

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Don’t you love it when everything fits perfectly into place – when you put that last piece of the jigsaw puzzle together with a satisfying ‘click’ and the whole picture emerges, or when you plan that overseas trip where you’ll be moving from place to place and all the transport and accommodation arrangements work out exactly right? It makes us feel good, doesn’t it? We have actually done it – we are cleverer than we thought!

In the last few weeks in particular, I have realised again how good God is at putting things perfectly in place. Nothing is ever wasted with God, I believe – and that has certainly been true in my own life.

I began my working life as a high school teacher – apart from a regular holiday job in a music store. Many years later, after staying at home looking after our three children, I returned to teaching for a while, but then obtained a job as an assistant editor of teaching material for Christian schools. I could not have obtained that job without my high school teaching experience – and I could not have managed the role I took up after my editing job as office secretary for the community ministry arm of our local church without this editing experience. I needed to be able to use a computer for my secretarial role at a time when computers were just coming into their own – and I had learnt at least the basics of computing in that editorial job.

After a few years, I went to theological college, eventually obtaining my theology degree. Then I was appointed as one of the pastors at our church, a role I could not have undertaken without the experience gained in my teaching years of speaking in front of a large group or without the experience of working in our church office. When I left that role, I began my writing journey – something I could definitely not have done without my knowledge of the English language gained through teaching foreign languages. Also, without the experience gained in my ministry role in our church, I could never have spoken in churches and other places as I do today, promoting my books in the process.

Yet in recent weeks it has dawned on me that something else I learnt and practised in my college and ministry years is now bearing fruit in my writing career. I have always loved mentoring younger Christians. I have written and conducted mentoring courses and still mentor younger women leaders today who are doing amazing work for God. Now the time has come in my writing journey for me to take up the opportunity I have been given to mentor others in aspects of writing.

What an amazing dovetailing of all my skills, knowledge and experience gained to this point! What’s more, even as I mentor others in writing, God is still very much part of the picture in what we talk about and the way I approach this mentoring. Lately too I have been able to offer writing workshops, which for me bring together so much of who I am – a teacher, a pastor, an author, an editor.

Only God could do this, don’t you think? Only God could weave the threads of our lives together in this way and enable all the pieces to fit so perfectly. Only God, the perfect, loving Shepherd, could have led and enabled me to do what I’m doing today, gently guiding me, encouraging me, showing me the way forward.

As for God, his way is perfect, Psalm 18:30 tells us – and I believe that totally. How about you?

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Right now, I am surrounded by a sea of words. I’m swimming in them – everywhere I look! Even if I close my eyes, they are there, bobbing around and running into one another. You see, I’m deep in editing territory. Somehow I have acquired not one but two comprehensive non-fiction works by other authors to edit – and soon my own non-fiction work will return to me from my manuscript readers/editors, no doubt with many a red mark on it. On top of that, I have just finished critiquing the first fifty pages of three other manuscripts for a writing intensive day coming up.

Now I absolutely love writing. But I have to say I also enjoy editing – even editing my own work. There is nothing like throwing out by the bucket load the very words one has laboured over for hours. When I began my writing journey around eight years ago, I was horrified at the slightest suggestion I might need to dispense with some of those precious words I had so lovingly crafted. Now, six novels and a non-fiction work down the track, I find I don’t think twice about it – well, not usually, anyway. I’ve come to realise, you see, that if I created them all in the first place, I can probably do it again, with a bit of effort.

But what about editing others’ work? Now that’s quite a different matter. I tread very carefully indeed in this territory for several reasons. Firstly, I feel honoured when other authors choose make themselves vulnerable and trust me with their ‘baby’. I value that and want to respect the faith they have shown in me.

Secondly, I tread carefully because I want to appreciate who these authors are and what has gone on in their heads as they have crafted their novel or non-fiction work. I don’t want to come blundering in, trampling their ideas underfoot and failing to appreciate where they’re coming from and what has motivated them to write. They are children of God just as much as I am, with gifts to share with this world – and my task is essentially to help them use these gifts to the best of their ability.

Finally, I tread very carefully because I can so easily make snap decisions about the writing style of others – or even the topic they have chosen to write about – simply because it is not what or how I would write. I need to be impartial and not let my own likes and dislikes get in the way. After all, readers have widely differing tastes in books and in writing styles – no author can please everyone.

So I try to move forward with grace through my sea of words, treating other authors as God would treat them. Yes, I need to tell them the truth about their writing as I see it, which may be hard to hear at times – but I need to do it in love, and with kindness and compassion, as Paul urges us to do in Ephesians 4:15 and 32. I am only one voice. And I don’t have all the answers – I need to become a better author myself. But I believe they can too and I want to give of my best so they can give of their best.

And that’s one of the greatest privileges around, I believe.

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These past few days, we have had the privilege (?!) of minding our daughter’s cat. Now Panda (she’s the cat!) is fourteen years old and not as agile as she once was. She stalks somewhat disdainfully around our house, thinking twice before she tries to jump up anywhere. And when given the freedom of our backyard, she tentatively explores it a little but soon settles down in a favourite spot under a tree. She has always been a little choosey whom she selects as a trustworthy friend and does not seem very enamoured with either my husband or me. But from around 5.30pm on, I am her very best friend, apparently, as she brushes up against my legs and meows plaintively. Now I hate to doubt her motives, but I suspect it could have something to do with the fact it’s almost her dinnertime.

It dawned on me today, however, that Panda might actually be enacting a real life parable before my very eyes. Could it be she exhibits some of my own attitudes to God? Could it be, for starters, that just as she doesn’t seem to care much about me most of the day, but changes her mind quickly at dinnertime, she might well be mirroring my own behaviour towards God? Surely this is what I do when I turn to God only when I need something?

But then I see another even more disquieting way in which Panda might well mirror my own behaviour. She appears to be a lovely, old cat. She looks like she is just waiting for you to pat her and or to sit in your lap. But in reality she’s not so friendly at all – well, not to most strangers anyway – and has even been known in the past to hiss and lash out. Could I possibly be as deceptive at times as our Panda? How often do I pretend to be much more righteous and holy and … well … nicer than I really am? Yet I don’t fool God for one minute. God sees past it all, right into my heart.

Then there’s the certain knowledge that in a couple of days when our daughter comes to reclaim her pet, Panda will very speedily switch her allegiance from me back to our daughter!  How could my feline friend be so fickle after all I have done for her – cleaning out her litter tray, providing her favourite gourmet salmon dinners, stroking her when she deigns to let me, removing all her hairs from my best lounge chair? Yet is it possible I’m as fickle as that with God? Could it be that I regularly switch my allegiance from God to whatever else is bringing me pleasure and fulfilment at any given time?

I’m so thankful God is much more gracious and loving with me than I will ever be with our Panda! I’m so glad God cares enough to forgive my pretence and my ever-changing allegiances and helps me do better. And as I gaze at a sleeping Panda curled up under a nearby chair, I echo David’s prayer from Psalm 139:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

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