This Winter Walk

This poem was inspired by a wonderful family walk in London’s Greenwich Park yesterday, after a period of isolation
I'm grateful for this winter walk,
When side by side, we stroll and talk,
When all the world is gripped with fear,
And bad report is everywhere,
To see that earth and sky still meet,
And feel the ground beneath my feet.

I'm grateful for this memory,
Of city-scape, and take-out tea,
I'm grateful for this outdoor space,
The cheery smile upon your face,
I'm grateful that you're here with me,
For momentary normalcy.

I'm grateful for this chance to be
Outside, with you, alive and free!
When all the world must lock away,
I'm grateful for this winter day,
For every blade of grass that's planted
For things I often take for granted.

I'm grateful for each leafless tree,
So stark and lifeless though they be,
Reminding me that seasons wane, 
That winter shall not long remain,
That underneath this hard, hard ground,
A thousand buds of spring abound.

A Very Home-Made Christmas!

What do you do when the government announces a London Lockdown less that a week before your Christmas shopping window runs out?

You keep calm and dig out your favourite Christmas Cook Book – and you spend a jolly few hours on Christmas Eve Morning cooking up a storm in the kitchen!

Nigella’s Christmas Morning Muffins

nigella saves the day!

Over the years, I have purchased many a cook book on a whim, only to find that I hardly ever use them. They are either too faddy, or too fussy, and although they look pretty, sadly they end up doing little more than taking up room on the shelf.

Nigella Lawson’s Christmas Cookbook was purchased for me by my lovely hubby- ooh, several years back now – and I could never bear to part with it. This cook book is a keeper! It’s not only choc full of brilliant, useable recipes, but it’s also a festive feast for the eye! In fact, I often leave it open on my recipe stand throughout advent, where it becomes a sort of Christmas decoration in itself!

Without plagiarising her book too much, here are a few images to give you an idea of how lovely it is!

And if you’re stuck for a very last minute present idea, here’s one that you might still (well, just about, if you hurry up) have time to whip up! I take no credit for the recipe, but have tried and tested it several times. It never fails to disappoint, especially when the muffins are warmed through for 5 mins in the oven before serving, either just as they are, or split open and spread with butter and marmalade!

Nigella’s Christmas Morning muffins

Dry Ingredients:

  • 250g plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate soda
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (I used Mixed Spice)
  • Grated Zest of 2 Clementines or Satsumas
  • 175g dried cranberries
  • Demerara sugar to sprinkle on the top

Wet Ingredients:

  • 75g melted butter or vegetable oil
  • Juice of 2 clementines or satsumas plus enough milk to bring you up to the 200ml mark.
  • 1 egg

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celcius (gas mark 6). Line a 12-bun muffin tin with paper cases.
  • Combine flour, caster sugar, baking powder, bicarb of soda, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl. Grate the zest of 2 clementines over the top.
  • Squeeze the juice of the clementines into a mixing jug, and then top up with milk until you reach the 200ml mark.
  • Add into the milk mixture the slightly melted butter (or vegetable oil) and 1 egg and lightly beat until just combined.
  • Combine wet and dry ingredients and fold until just combined – don’t over mix.
  • Fold in the cranberries, then dollop the batter into the muffin cases.
  • Before baking, sprinkle the demerara sugar on the top.
  • Bake for 20 mins and then remove and allow to cool.

Making these little beauties, really was one of the nicest ‘Christmassy’ things I have done this year. The smell of clementine and spices is lovely – and packaging them up was just a matter of placing them in a cello bag, adding a brown paper tag and a touch of ribbon.

I think they would make a cheery gift for any unsuspecting friend or loved one – especially this year when so many of us cannot meet.

Christmas biscuits

If you haven’t got time to rush out and buy dried cranberries and clementines, but do have some baking basics, such as flour, sugar, eggs and butter in your cupboard, then why not mix up some simple vanilla sugar biscuits? There are many good recipes on the internet – I got mine from BBC Good Food.

These are fun to make, and look great tied up in batches with bakers twine or any festive ribbon you may have to hand.

Giving gifts is such a joyous thing, and I think receiving something home made is always a double blessing.

HOME-MADE HAMPER

And if you’re really pushed to the limit for time, why not buy some edible treats and make a Home-made Christmas Hamper?

It’s pretty easy to pull off…

  • Find an old, sturdy cardboard box and cover it in brown paper (or any wrapping paper of your choice). Tie some ribbon or twine around the box.
  • Pad it out with some tissue paper, and fill it with a selection of Christmas treats – It’s a good idea to stick to a theme, or colour. This will stop you from feeling overwhelmed and making random, unrelated choices. I chose the traditional Christmas colour theme of red and green (with a bit of gold thrown in here and there).
  • Ideas for gifts are: truckles of cheese, chocolates, Christmas coffee or tea, Prosecco, jars of preserves or chutneys, sachets of hot chocolate, tubes of sweets.

I hope my family have as much fun eating this, as I had putting it together!

I wish each and every one of you a very merry Christmas. Blessings to all!

Advent Windows – Weeks 2 & 3

As promised, for those that have been following my advent windows post, I’ve finally managed to dodge the rain, and get out to take some photos of this week’s advent windows! It was particularly uplifting to walk around the block with hubby and kids this evening, and admire all the magical displays, particularly in light of today’s difficult news announcement that London has now been put into Tier 4 restrictions until further notice. Any hopes we had to see our wider family members over Christmas have now been well and truly dashed.

But despite Covid, it seems the Christmas spirit cannot be completely quashed, and people seem to be decorating like never before!

These past two weeks, we’ve seen so many amazing ideas: full on snow scenes, flurries of birds, postage stamps, and fire-side silhouettes – to name but a few! It’s truly been a joy to see each window appear with the dawning of each new day. I hope you will enjoy them as much as we have.

I love this window with its festive nutcracker and candy canes. It reminds me of an old-fashioned toy shop window.

The detail in this city scape is really impressive! I spy the London Eye, and the Gherkin building!

This window celebrates all the winter garden birds that bring us so much joy.

No. 14’s display bought a lump to our throats, as it depicts each one of the grandchildren that this couple wont get to see this year…each little stocking has a name on it! So beautifully done and very poignant.

This takes me back to making stained glass windows as a child using colourful tissue paper. So effective!

A snowy scene for window no. 16!

Slide image up and down

This window is superb – it’s a recreation of a postage stamp from Christmas 1980 and was chosen to celebrate a 40th birthday! What a brilliant idea, and so expertly done.

A very merry and bright display for window no. 19.

It’s lovely to see the energy, creativity and diversity in all of these different designs. Can’t wait to see what next week brings!

Blessings to all reading this. I hope it brings some much-needed cheer.

Shepherds, Angels and Wise Men

As many of you have heard, we’re taking part in a neighbourhood project called Living Advent Windows. Volunteers around the local area have been taking turns to set up a festive display in their front windows, throughout each day of advent.

This morning, 11th December, 2020, (on what would have been my late grandmother’s 100th birthday), it was our turn!

I decided right from the start that I wanted to capture something of the true meaning of Christmas and endeavoured to create some kind of nativity scene.

It began with this :

Next came a couple of glittery trumpet blowing angels:

Then of course, the three Wise Men, which were made out of a single piece of black card, and were quite fiddly to cut out! It was worth the effort when at last I’d finished snipping! The whole silhouette was then illuminated by adding some white tissue paper behind it, to diffuse the light.

And finally, we needed a shepherd, which I managed to complete in the nick of time at just around midnight last night! Phew.

Not only has this project been really fun to be a part of, but it’s also served as a great reminder that this good news of great joy, which was heralded by a multitude of singing angels on that first Christmas night, really was for ALL people!

The birth of Jesus was not only good news for wise and learned men who travelled from the East, bringing expensive gifts with them, but also for the humble, rough-and-ready shepherds, out on the dark hillsides of Bethlehem, keeping their nightly watch over their flocks.

And still to this day, the birth of that baby, in a borrowed stable is good news of great joy, for each and every one of us who will receive it!

It’s been so much fun to take part in this community project, which is still unfolding as I write. It’s wonderful– magical really- to see each new advent window appearing with the dawning of each day.

It’s wonderful also to witness the adundance of creativity and community spirit that still exists in our little South London community, which at times can foster an atmosphere of crime, tension and division. It’s also been lovely to rediscover the true joy of Christmas which can only really come from doing something to put a smile on someone else’s face!

Finally it’s been a great way to get to know neighbours – people living right under my nose – that otherwise I might never have met. The sense of community among all the participants is really beginning to gather momentum, with everyone coming out to look at each others windows and genuinely cheering each other on!

Last week, one of the families participating even took the time to bake and deliver these little bags of Christmas cookies to all the households involved:

What a lovely gesture!

Tomorrow, Emily and I will be going out on our weekly walk around the block to have a look at some of this week’s windows. We’ll definitely be posting some more photos!

Advent Windows – Week One

Last week, I posted about a community project that our household is involved in. It’s called ‘Living Advent Windows’ and the idea is that during each day of Advent, a different house in the local area puts up a festive-themed display in their window. (You can catch the link here, if you’d like to find out more about how it all began: Advent Windows)

Each participating household has been allocated a day of advent, and has displayed their designated number up at the window, in advance, to add to the anticipation. We have been given December, 11th, so we are busy getting ready for that!

Emily and I took a walk around the block, just as it was getting dark, this afternoon. It was great fun discovering and admiring all the Christmas joy! So, please join us for a winter walk around our South London neighbourhood….We hope you enjoy it too!

This household used ‘Elfies’ of all the participants for this funny display
Emily loved these Elves, hard at work in the toy factory! Hats off to Dave & Debbie, our friends around the corner!
This house was so pretty!

Some of the other houses in the area are looking pretty good too!

I don’t know about you, but I think Christmas truly is the most wonderful time of the year!

We’re really looking forward to seeing what pops up next week! We will definitely keep you posted!

Advent Windows

Now you know there is something exciting going on when the ultra sparkly glitter comes out of the craft cupboard on a Sunday evening!

It all started one Sunday afternoon back in late October… We were tucking into our Sunday roast, when we heard the letterbox clatter. We discovered a Christmas card lying on the doormat.

‘That’s early!’ we all remarked. ‘And hand-delivered. Whoever could have posted it?’

A COMMUNITY PROJECT

Inside was a folded, printed letter, from a neighbour we’ve never met, inviting us to be part of something called a ‘Living Advent Window’ display.

Volunteers around the neighbourhood were asked to take one day of advent, and on that designated day, to put some kind of festive display up at the window. It would be a way of bringing some extra Christmas joy to our community, at the end of a difficult year.

The lady organising it asked us to message back if we wanted to participate, and let her know our door number so that she could allocate us a day. She then set up a WhatsApp group to co-ordinate everything.

About a week or so later, she let us know that our household would be responsible for 11th December (which was a nice touch for me, as that was the date of my late Nan’s birthday).

It wasn’t long before messages began to fly – people introducing themselves, sharing their ideas – one good thing has already come from this – it’s been a great way to get to know our neighbours!

BRAINSTORMING

I’ve spent a fair amount of my spare time during November looking for inspiration on Pinterest. There are some beautiful ideas which are as simple as cutting out folded snowflakes, or drawing on the window with white marker pen.

But I must be honest, as the time has drawn closer I’ve begun to get a little bit nervous. Some of the neighbours seemed to be going all out, with amazing Christmas trees made out of wooden pallets and plans for impressive light displays.

I decided to keep things fairly simple. My main objective would be to try and capture the true reason for the season. The word JOY instantly sprang to mind, inspired by the line from the carol: Joy to the world, the Lord has come, let earth receive her King!”

Lydia and I had great fun cutting out these letters this evening, and dousing them in generous lashings of glitter. I had a picture in my mind’s eye of spelling out the word JOY on three ‘baubels’ and hanging them, perhaps with festive ribbon, in the three middle panels of our window. I might even try and suspend them within a hoop of greenery, using invisible wire. But this could be a mite too ambitious!

I also envisaged some kind of silhouetted Nativity Scene. To achieve this I ordered some black card, and some transparent coloured cellophane to try and make a stained glass effect.

Today, with advent now fast approaching, I decided to stop procrastinating, and make a start. Here is what I’ve managed so far:

I was initially quite pleased with the way this turned out, although it was a bit fiddly! But the problem came when my husband and I temporarily tacked it up at the window. It looked lovely our side, but from the street, you couldn’t really see a thing – it was too dark.

So it’s back to the drawing board for now to try and figure out a way of illuminating this somehow. I am really glad I started on this project early, as teething problems are bound to happen! Oh well, at least I still have time to come up with something new if this doesn’t work out.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and maybe been inspired to try something like this for yourself. Please check back over the next four weeks, as I plan to post updates on this story, along with pictures of the some of the other windows in our community.

Happy Advent everyone!

Immanuel

Normally, we put our Christmas decorations up over the first weekend in December. But let’s face it, 2020 has been far from normal for all of us.

With high street shops, pubs and restaurants closed for business until 2nd December, our town doesn’t have its normal November hustle and bustle. Apart from the occasional queues outside the post office, and the take-away coffee bars, everything is locked up, shutters down, lying dormant in darkness.

Many people that I’ve bumped into over the past few weeks have reacted in the same way. They’ve got this urge to dig out their Christmas decorations a mite earlier than normal – to bring a bit of Christmas cheer into this Covid winter gloom.

So when, on Friday evening, my two teenage girls suddenly said: “Mum, let’s get this party started!” and offered to put our Christmas Tree up, I decided not to argue. With countless birthday parties, youth events and social activities cancelled, these past few months have been particularly rough on them.

A little bit of Christmas fun – video put together by my daughters, Lydia & Grace

My favourite part of putting up the Christmas tree is that magical moment, when after half an hour of patient unravelling and walking round and round in circles, the lights have been carefully nestled amid the branches of the tree, and you get to flick on that switch and light up the room! I love the audible gasp of joy and wonder whenever this moment comes. It may sound obvious, but there is something so powerful, so comforting about light piercing through the darkness.

When that moment came for us this year, the words of a carol sprang to mind:

Yet in thy dark streets shineth the Everlasting Light

words from ‘O Little town of bethlehem’

Have you ever received one of those traditional Christmas cards that depicts that first Christmas, centuries ago? The crowded streets of Bethlehem, normally depicted in hues of rich dark purple and indigo, are illuminated by the contrasting glow of the bright gold star positioned directly above the stable where the baby Jesus is lying in the manger.

Those words, contained in a Christmas Carol that so many of us have sung since we were children – carry a depth of meaning that can so easily be missed.

You see, the star that shone in the east was not the Everlasting Light.

The baby was!

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight

That small child, that tiny, vulnerable newborn infant, wrapped tightly in white cloths and lying in a crude animal’s trough, was the long-awaited Messiah. The promised hope of all mankind – the Light of the World.

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend it.

John 1:4-5

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. In the fullness of time, Christ the King, tore through the curtain of space and time, was made in human likeness, and entered the gloom and despair of a world that lay waiting in darkness!

So whether it’s November or April, or December 2020, it’s never too early or too late, or too dark, or too hopeless to celebrate. for behold, we have been given good news of great joy – the light has come!

For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour which is Christ the Lord And this shall be a sign unto you, Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, goodwill toward all men.

Luke 2:11-14

I hope you will take a moment to listen to this wonderful Christmas song, written and performed by Michael W Smith.

Lessons in Watercolour

Our eldest daughter Lydia, recently completed an A Level in Art. She did brilliantly well, and we were all extremely proud of her achievements. However, in order to complete her studies, she had to put in such an inordinate amount of time and effort, that she hasn’t picked up a paintbrush since. Isn’t is funny how the pressure of performance can zap our child-like enjoyment of creative pursuits?

art day!

A few weeks ago, on a lazy Saturday morning, Emily, our youngest, concocted a brilliant eight-year-old plan. “Mummy, let’s have an art day!” she said.

Even though inwardly, I had a mental to-do list as long as my right arm, and even though I suspected she was asking the wrong person, she looked so starry-eyed with excitement, that it was hard to refuse her enthusiasm. Lydia kindly offered us the use of her watercolour paper and paints, and so we set up a work space on the kitchen table, filled jars of water, and put on some relaxing music.

Embracing rest

When was the last time you dropped your to-do list and did something just for fun? It can be hard to carve out time for leisurely pursuits. Life is hectic – a constant whirlwind of rushing here and there. We have many urgent and important things to do. We often feel guilty for pressing the pause button, and for taking time out to do something recreational. But God created us with an inbuilt need to occasionally stop and do something which replenishes energy and lifts the spirits. There’s definitely some truth in the old adage: all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Emily instinctively knows this. She spends most of her time playing! But as we grow up, we forget to do things just for fun. We forget how valuable it can be to kick through the leaves with the wind in our hair. We are all unique, and so what we find relaxing will differ. But whether it’s gardening, or baking or reading, or taking a walk in the woods, we all need times where we cease from our toil and do something which quite simply brings us joy.

Acknowledgements to the excellent video tutorials of Ellen Crimi-Trent

Go on, try something new!

Watercolour is one of those creative pursuits that I have always admired, but have never been brave enough to try. After all, it’s a notoriously difficult medium to work with. Mistakes can be difficult to rectify, especially if the colours should bleed or run in an undesirable way. Plus, it takes a great deal of practice to learn the various techniques required: how much water to apply, how to mix colours, how to use the brush to achieve different effects.

And yet, there’s a fluidity and freedom in a watercolour painting that is so soft and appealing to the eye. Whenever you watch a watercolour artist at work, it always looks so effortless!

Luckily for Emily and I, we didn’t have to search too far to find a wealth of information for beginners on the Internet, including a whole host of inspiring video tutorials to help get us started. We decided to start with some simple Christmas cards featuring snowy scenes and simple winter greenery.

And as the early autumn sunlight streamed through the kitchen windows, we spent a glorious few hours absorbed in our newfound pursuit. I hadn’t picked up a paintbrush since I was a child. I had forgotten how much fun it can be!

But, I couldn’t help but notice some fundamental differences in our approach.

Emily was free – watching the tutorials, and then doing her own thing. Dipping her brush into the paint, and confidently applying it, without any reservation or rigidity. There seemed to be no caution in her young mind. She was lost in the moment, relishing the experience of expressive creativity. She created piece after piece in quick succession.

I tried my hand at a bunch of mistletoe. The tutorial looked easy enough. After several attempts, and wasted pieces of watercolour paper, I gave up. You see, I wanted to achieve perfection. But sadly, my efforts did not match up to the one on the video tutorial. And so I decided to try a wreath instead. Thankfully, this went a little better and inspired me to keep going.

The perfection perception

As adults, we can become so afraid to try something new, in case we fail. Our performance- mentality prevents us from just enjoying the moment. We live in an age where we are bombarded with airbrushed images of unachievable perfection. And it’s not just celebrities any more. There are dozens of very ordinary self-made Instagram celebrities who appear to have it all together. Their houses are like something out of Homes and Gardens Magazine, styled to make your mouth drop. Not a dirty cup, or an odd sock, or a pile of unfiled papers in sight. Their lives are also perfect – we know this because they video their every move. They post vlogs of their perfectly executed marriage proposals, or Christmas dinners, or gender reveal moments. Our children watch this stuff all the time. I keep reminding my teenage daughters that nobody’s life is perfect. We don’t see the time the pastry went spectacularly wrong, or the dog ran through the house with muddy paws. We don’t see the time they had a blazing row on the way to church. Life is messy. Mistakes happen. But God’s grace is abundant, and love covers a multitude of sins.

CHILDLIKE FAITH

2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 18:2-4 (ESV)

The story of salvation goes totally against the grain. God gives us Christ’s righteousness as a free gift! My attempts at perfection, fall hopelessly short. And so God, sent His one and only son, into a world full of sin and darkness, to live a sinless life, and to take my filthy rags upon himself on the cross. And in exchange, He gave me a robe of righteousness to wear. All I have to do is humble myself, stop striving, and receive it as a free gift. I am justified by faith alone. What a profound and incredible truth! We have been given a gospel of grace. We so often overcomplicate things, and mistakenly believe the lie that it’s all about our performance.

These humble Christmas cards that we’ve created, are a reminder to me, that because of Jesus, we are free indeed– free to rejoice in this good news of great joy!

A people walking in darkness have seen a great light – Isaiah 9:2

Today I invite you to celebrate the freedom that has been bought with a price for us. I encourage you to receive it with open arms, like a child receives a Christmas present. I hope today that you manage to find a little space to cease your toil and frantic activity and do something that brings you joy.

And maybe, who knows, you might even be inspired to try something new?

A Writer’s Journey – The Story So Far

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

As many of my readers are also writers, I thought it might be fun to share with you a little bit about my writing journey…I hope it will prompt you to think about your own journey, and encourage some of you to share some of your own stories, or writing goals, in the comments section below.

Childhood days

I composed my first poem, entitled ‘snow’ when I was just four years old. I’m sure it wasn’t a masterpiece, but my mum eagerly jotted down my ramblings onto a scrap of paper, and for many years, kept it, folded up inside her wooden writing bureau. I’m pretty sure my love of story began even earlier than this, but because I have something tangible to look back to, I often mark this poem as the beginning of my writing journey.

How about you? When did your writing journey begin?

My love of creative writing grew steadily throughout my childhood. I didn’t think too deeply about it at the time; it was just something I loved to do. I loved writing stories, and keeping journals, and did so on a regular basis. Looking back now, it’s clear that I had all the hallmarks of an aspiring writer. I wonder if you can relate to some of these too?:

  • My favourite subject, hands-down, was always English. I managed to get straight A’s in both Literature and Language, largely because writing essays – organising my thoughts and observations on paper – was never a chore;
  • I was a voracious reader – I was the type of kid that strained my eyes, trying to read in the dark, long after my mum had tucked me in and turned out the bedside lamp;
  • I had this nerdy little notebook in which I scribbled down any unfamiliar words that I came across, and then actually enjoyed looking up their meaning in the dictionary afterwards;
  • I used to day-dream a lot, especially on car journeys with the radio on, making up romantic stories in my head;
  • Speaking up, was often a real fear of mine – but expressing my thoughts on paper came easily;
  • My friends and I started a Writing Club when we were around 13. We would brainstorm all kinds of titles, and then write poems or compositions and read them out to each other;
  • I once got a lecture, from my exasperated father, whilst on a family holiday. It went something like this: “We didn’t bring you all the way out here just to sit inside and read. Why don’t you just go out and DO something!” (Ha! I thought this was terribly unfair at the time. As far as I was concerned, I WAS doing something. But looking back, I kind of understand.)

losing the plot…

I was an 18 year old ‘junior technician’ working at an insurance firm in the City. One day, as I sat daydreaming out of the office window, it dawned on me. I was not cut out for this. I looked around at all the ambitious brokers in their suits and brogues, cutting deals on the telephone, and realised that I was a complete fish out of water. I mean, who was I trying to kid? If truth be told, I was a hopeless technician. I was far more interested in thinking up silly limericks, than trying to apply my mind to anything remotely mathematical or ‘technical.’ All of a sudden, I knew EXACTLY what I wanted to do with my life… and it certainly wasn’t this. I wanted to be creative. I wanted to write books! (If I had told my 18 year-old-self that I’d still be trying to reach that goal at the ripe old age of 45, I wonder if I would have just given up there and then?)

Soon after, I handed my notice in…and landed up working in a clothes shop! I soon discovered that you can’t just decide one day that you’re going to quit your day job to become a writer. Life doesn’t work like that. So, writing became a hobby. I was delighted to learn that many successful writers held down day jobs, and made time to write in their spare time.

I went through several more years like this, working in various admin jobs, all the while sensing that I’d never really found my niche.

I bought dozens of books on how to write, particularly on how to write for children. I spent the next few years filling notebooks, with dozens of kids poems, stories and odds and ends. I had ideas for chapter books buzzing round my head. I had countless stories and picture book ideas saved on my computer.

And then one day, I decided to take the plunge and send off my first manuscript… After all, what good were all of these poems and stories stuck away in a file somewhere?

Rejection

I took my first rejection letter with a pinch of salt. It was par for the course. Part of the deal. No biggie. But six months later, after a parry of generic similar sounding let-downs, it all began to get rather discouraging. But still, I kept going.

THE AUTHOR WHO NEARLY GOT PUBLISHED

Then one amazingly normal day, quite out of the blue, the phone rang. I was a young stay-at-home mum at the time. Lydia, my four year old daughter, who loved to answer the telephone, announced (rather nonchalantly) “mummy, a lady wants to talk to you about your book!”

Wait… What?! Mouth wide open. Are you kidding me?

I shot to the phone, quite a’quiver, and discovered that it was indeed an ACTUAL real-life editor, wanting to talk to me about my book! She said she loved it! But, she wanted me to make a ton of changes and resubmit it.

I absolutely agreed to do whatever she asked. I mean, crikey, this was my big breakthrough moment! I set to work, rewriting the story, taking on board all her suggestions and dutifully resubmitted the manuscript. And then… I nervously waited.

A week went past. No news. No sweat. I mean, Editors are busy people.

A fortnight later, I was still avidly checking my inbox a gazillion times a day, but still… Nothing. Not even an acknowledgement.

A month came and went…. Not a bean, Josephine. By this time, I had the total jitters. What should I do? Would I be seen as an annoying novice nuisance, if I chased this up?

Almost six weeks later, I finally plucked up the courage to email the publisher, to see where I stood. A few days later I finally got my answer. The editor who had been working on my submission, had suddenly left the company and the project had been dropped. I honestly felt like the bottom had fallen out of my world. This was the pits. I would be known hereafter as the author who almost got published.

I must admit, for several months, I wondered what God was doing. Rather than rejoicing at how close I’d come, I wallowed in disappointment. I concluded that God must want me to stop writing altogether. Maybe it was the wrong time. Maybe this writing thing was becoming too much of a distraction from the things that really matter. It was a very confusing and difficult time.

GIFTS ARE FOR GIVING!

A few years went by, before I picked up my pen again. Life was hectic. I had four young children. I barely had time to think, let alone write. Yet often, when I picked up a novel, or read a story book to my kids, there was this huge pang within me. I felt like I’d missed the boat. I knew I should be writing. I just felt like I’d lost my way.

I began to pray about it all. Was my writing a God-given gift, or an earthly distraction? If God wanted me to lay it all down, then why did I still want to do it so much? What if I got to heaven one day, and He asked me why I had buried my talent?

And then I thought about the verse which says: “freely you have received, freely give.”

What if I was putting so much emphasis on the final destination, i.e. getting a book published, that I’d forgotten to enjoy the journey? What if, during the waiting period, however long it might be, I tried to use my passion to bless others?

A BLOG IS BORN

And so in Jan 2016, having absolutely no blogging experience whatsoever, I set up this blog and wrote my first post. I had no grand designs. No great plan. My motto was, and still is, that if by sharing a few thoughts, I managed to encourage just one person, then it would have been worth it. And if nobody ever read my blog, well, at least it was a place to practice the craft.

the journey continues

Since starting this blog, I’ve had a small degree of success within the Christian Publication market. I’ve finally managed to break into print (albeit, the very first time I got published, they managed to spell my surname wrong!) I’ve written around 10 short devotional stories for Keys For Kids Ministries, and had an article published in Creation Illustrated Magazine.

My first published Devotional Story!

I’ve also had a ton of rejections and some pretty low moments too.

But I’m learning that perseverance and patience pay off eventually. I’m also learning that getting published is not the be all and end all of life. Writing, like all creative pursuits, is meant to be enjoyable, not an endless source of frustration. I would never tell a painter to stop painting just because they never sold any of their art. So wherever you’re at on your journey, keep going. Don’t you dare give up! Keep writing. Keep being brave and sharing your stories. Keep learning. Keep connecting with other writers. And most of all, don’t forget to enjoy the journey!

Prayers And Prodigals

A few days ago, my husband and I stood in the Home Department of TK Max, shopping for pots and pans, kitchen utensils, can openers and all manner of other kitchen paraphernalia.  It seemed a strange thing to be doing, considering our twentieth wedding anniversary takes place later this month.  Talk about de-ja-vu!  Only this time, the kitchen stuff wasn’t for us.  It was for our eighteen-year-old son, who we helped move into University yesterday.

No matter how prepared you think you are, the day your first-born moves out of home, comes around all too quickly.   Didn’t everyone tell you it would go by in the blink of an eye?  But when the time comes for your precious child to fly the nest, you’re in pieces!  Suddenly you can no longer walk past that photo of them on the bookcase without welling up. 

https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/mother-watches-as-her-son-goes-away-gm102750883-12642741

But even though our son moved out physically just yesterday, there are times when our teenage children can feel strangely absent, long before they ever leave.

The pulling away of a teenager can be so painful.  The disconnect can be subtle at first.  The rolling of their eyes every time you ask them to take their dirty cup out to the dishwasher.  The walking around the house with their headphones permanently in place.  The aloofness.  The lack of eye contact.   Warm smiles replaced with aggressive retorts.

You learn to brace yourself for the volcano that’s about to erupt any time you need to speak into an aspect of their life.  It could be the down-hill slump in their grades at school.  Or a concern you have over a relationship.  Whatever the issue, you know it won’t be an easy conversation.  You convince yourself these ugly blow-ups are just a phase.  Your child is hormonal.  This too shall pass.

But, for some of us, things only go from bad to worse.  Your teen keeps oversleeping and turning up an hour late to church.  You decide to apply grace.  After all, it’s probably best not to force the issue.  But then a year down the line, it’s resoundingly clear.  They’ve stopped attending altogether.  Now they visibly cringe every time you play worship music in the house.  And if you ever try and drop a scripture into a conversation, well, you may as well have dropped a hand-grenade.     

Some of us, sadly, may reach a place where our sons or our daughters become openly and brazenly hostile to the gospel – where their lifestyle choices begin to get rather alarming.   Drugs, alcohol, toxic relationships, sexual immorality, anxiety, depression, self-harming.  If any of these things resonate with you, dear reader, then I weep alongside you.  It’s an excruciating thing to watch unfold.  Some days you feel ashamed.  Some days you blame yourself.  Most days, everything inside you just screams out at them: “Stop!  No further!  You’re going to make a total train-wreck of your life!”  But they simply cannot see it.  Once you were the voice they trusted the most.  Now, you are the enemy – the brainwashed boundary-setter that they are determined to defy.

I wonder if the Prodigal Son just woke up one day and decided to cash-in his inheritance and leave his father’s home?  I wonder if he had designs on leaving long before he ever did?  Perhaps, in his heart, he too had begun to pull away and distance himself in the months that proceeded his departure.  Nevertheless, it still must have been quite a shock to have a child ask for his share of the family property before anyone had even died.  It must have been an absolute kick in the gut to hear that just a few days later, the son had sold his share of the property, travelled to a far-off country, where he began to squander every last penny on reckless living.  This son was lost in more ways than one.

There are times, as a parent, when we realise that ‘we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.’ (Ephesians 6:12)

There are times, as a parent, when our hearts feel close to breaking and all we can do is pray.  We’ve read all the best parenting books.  We have even applied different biblical approaches – A soft answer one day; tough love and discipline the next.  But nothing we do or say seems to bring about the breakthrough.    Only God can change the inner condition of the human soul.  Only a work of the Holy Spirit can inscribe God’s holy laws upon a person’s heart.  Sometimes, we must let our child go and fight the battle on our knees.   The Father didn’t stop his son from leaving.  But neither did he give up hoping and praying for his return. 

So, whether your teen has left the house in person, or whether they have become a stranger living under your roof, let me encourage you today to never underestimate the power of prayer.   Let’s remember together that ‘the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty in God for the pulling down of strongholds, casting down arguments, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God’– 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

Perhaps, in some cases, it’s only when our child ‘leaves’ our covering; when they ‘go to a far-off country’ and hit rock bottom – and all we can do is watch and pray – that God’s inner work can finally be done.

So if you’re a hurting parent today. hang on in there. Let’s remember that the Prodigal son eventually came to his senses and yearned once again for his Father’s House. Let’s keep hoping, watching, praying and believing, that even though weeping may endure for a night, that joy – resounding, explosive, inexpressible joy – will come in the morning,