ACW

ACW

Saturday, 31 December 2016

New Year's Eve by Susan Sanderson


2016 is on its way out.  I wonder what 2017 will bring.

There are lots of traditions for New Year’s Eve.  Many campanologists will be busy ringing out the old year and ringing in the new.  In recent years fireworks at midnight have become popular with some people.  I am a lark rather than an owl and usually go to bed early even on New Year’s Eve.  Sometimes the fireworks wake me up, other times I sleep through them.
A bell tower

In my youth it was usual to go to the New Year’s Eve social at the church we attended as a family.  The ballroom and Latin-American dancing classes my sister and I had been sent to (and I had hated, probably being the oldest beginner and one of the worst dancers!) were totally irrelevant to these events.  The dances were either ‘old-time’ (which was different from modern ballroom) or country dances, which we were used to already.  We ended by singing Auld Lang Syne, although those Scottish words meant little to people in the south of England.  The song was (and still is) traditional.

Times change; they always have and they always will. What will change in the New Year, we can only guess.

These holidays mark the change in date from one month to the next and from one year to the next.  The season remains unchanged.  In the Northern Hemisphere it is still winter.  The days are lengthening, although it may become colder than before the shortest day.  In the Southern Hemisphere (or so I have been told!) the reverse is true.  I have no reason to doubt this, although I have not been across the Equator.

New Year’s Eve is a time for looking back and a time for looking forward.  Whether we make any New Year’s resolutions is a matter of choice.  Perhaps we have made unrealistic ones in the past and failed miserably to keep them.  I know there are things I had hoped to achieve in 2016, which I haven’t managed to do.  For example, I have to ask myself what it was that prevented me organising my poems and finding a way of producing my first booklet.  How long will I allow myself to be distracted by other activities?  Can I find a better balance between all the activities I spend time on?

Everyone will have different questions, which they need to consider as we move forward.  New Year is a good time for this, but it is not the only possible time.

"New every morning…" begins a well-known hymn.  Every morning is a new start.

If you happen to be catching up on reading the More than Writers blog long after the holidays, it could be that today is your day for looking back and looking forward.

A wise school teacher wrote in my autograph book: “Look back and give thanks.  Look forward and take courage.”


I pray that, whatever happens in 2017, the writers and readers of this blog will know the peace of God.

Find Susan on Twitter @suesconsideredt

Friday, 30 December 2016

Writing with Depression

For those of you that don't know, I suffer from depression. It makes life harder than it should be. Why? Almost everything becomes a chore and, if not difficult, certainly less appealing.

Getting out of a warm, comfortable bed is made more difficult becasue you ARE warm and comfortable. A situation you'll only rarely have when out of bed.

Likewise when writing. When you're in the flow, it's much easier, but getting into the flow is the hard part. For example, I'm writing this blog just after I've written another for my own blog, taking advantage of the flow. Yet I haven't written a 'blog' as such (Friday Fun doesn't count as it involves little if any writing) for over a month, even missing last months slot on the 30th. (Apologies Wendy)

Yet despite that, deadlines can be helpful for a depressive, providing they are not so far down in the pit of despair that all they see is the gloom not the light above.

It's also why I haven't progressed a short story I began last month, even though I really want to. It's a good story, but when I get round to thinking about writing, it's too late to begin as I have work, or something else is going on.

Why?

Emptiness. Depression isn't sadness gone wrong, it's an absence of feeling. Some of you may have seen the film Inside Out. Over the course of the film it shows how useful sadness can be and to block it out causes problems. For me, the most applicable part was when the control panel went grey, when Riley felt nothing. That's depression. Greyness.

When you're sad, you're feeling something. When you're depressed you fell nothing. Everything is grey. It's why I dislike November and grey days so much. The rain I don't mind, as something is happening and I know it will pass. But grey days are terrible.

I've learned not to persecute myself for not writing and have acknowledged this means I am unlikely to win any awards or even get fully published, at least for now.

The climb out of depression is long, hard and, mostly, lonely. I'm the one who has to let go of things, to make new core memories, to look at the grey and actually feel something. I'll never make it on my own, but I can climb part of the way.

Which brings me back to writing. It's a lonely calling for the most part, sitting with a computer, a pen, a piece of paper and no idea what you're doing. But it can also be a rewarding one when someone voluntarily reads something you've published either traditionally or indepentantly.

Sometimes all a depressive needs is a physical hug. Other times, they need to be rolled in a blanket, given tea, biscuits and allowed to just 'be'. A loving kiss doesn't hurt either. Other times, a word of encouragement will do nicely.

Depression is not sadness writ large, nor is it emotional or spiritual pain. It's emptiness, loneliness and greyness.

A depressive feels nothing, yet can write profoundly when the emptiness is filled, even if only partly.

If you know a depressive, give them a hug and a cup of tea....or cheesecake. Listen to their silence, be a friend, care. They'll rarely respond, but when they do, there'll be love in ther eyes.








Thursday, 29 December 2016

MAKING AN IMPRESSION

I write flash fiction.  I love the brevity of the form, its genre flexibility (I’ve written humorous pieces, crime tales etc) and it is great for using “incidents” not long enough to form a standard short story.

I think the rise in popularity in flash fiction has been the ease of reading it on tablets, mobile phones and so on.  What has that to do with More than Writers?  The impact of flash is brief.  The impact of our lives is brief (especially from God’s perspective) but should we despair? No! 

If a short story captures a moment in time, a flash tale captures half a moment.  Flash fiction reminds me of the old saying about ships that pass in the night. Meet a person here, you may never meet them again, but you can make a tremendous difference to them. 

Are there flash moments in the Nativity?  Yes!  Image via Pixabay
I remember years ago meeting a lovely Christian lady who taught me a great deal about how to lose gracefully (I needed to know!). I’ve not met her since.  I don’t know if she’s still alive but her gracious comments have stood me in good stead.

Even the Nativity has its “flash”  moments (and not just when the angels arrive!). 

We never know the innkeeper’s name.  We never know how much he helped Mary and Joseph after allowing them the use of the stable. (I think some help would have been inevitable given Mary would've been a frightened girl about to give birth for the first time).  We never know how the innkeeper and his wife helped the couple with meals.  When Herod’s men came through with murderous intent, did the innkeeper keep quiet about the strange visitors they’d had (in itself helping the Holy Family)?

Maybe the inn did look like this.  Image via Pixabay
What matters as far the Nativity is concerned is that sole mention of allowing the use of the stable.  One action but what a difference it made.  Perhaps we shouldn’t be concerned with our “legacy” then.  Perhaps our focus should be on the impact of our actions and words on others, whether we meet them once or know them for a lifetime.

I also love the innkeeper’s story since most stories of school Nativity productions, the funny moments nearly always involve him.

My favourite tale is about a school production on a remote Scottish island renowned for its hospitality (sorry, Wendy, the story didn’t mention which one!). 

The innkeeper is upset for having to tell Mary and Joseph there is no room at the inn.  The lad playing the innkeeper has also clearly been told he must keep to the script.  So manfully he does.  But the moment his official role is over he stage whispers to Mary, “Come back later and I’ll see what I can do”.

I still laugh.  That was this innkeeper’s flash moment! (Maybe the real innkeeper did tell Mary something like that!).


Strange visitors... did the innkeeper keep quiet about them?  Image via Pixabay
A typical Nativity scene but did the innkeeper (and wife) play a crucial supporting role afterwards we do not know about?  Image via Pixabay
Let’s aim for our impact to be positive, even if is only as “flash” moments.  We may never know what difference those moments make to others but Jesus does.





Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Could You Turn Your Hand to a Children’s Carol for 2017? by Trevor Thorn

Still ten of the days of Christmas to go, so here’s a challenge to turn your hand to something a bit different whilst Christmas is still with us: or at least start you thinking.



For reasons I won’t go into here, I’ve been drawn into writing some songs suitable  for primary school children - and it’s proved a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

I, therefore, fell to wondering if through various networks of Christian writers, we could generate a new collection of children’s carols for 2017. Does that appeal to you?

We’d need some simple guidelines - so here goes: let’s have
*Songs that celebrate the Bethlehem story from the Prophecies to the early childhood of Jesus
*In language accessible to children up to ten years old 
*With a score that would be usable in assemblies and all-age services
*Not more than 24 lines long (although a chorus counts only once)
* Original tunes OR tunes that are DEFINITELY out of copyright

We’ll see what happens - but they can at least be published on my blog, The Cross and The Cosmos which you can find at http://crossandcosmos.blogspot.co.uk/

You will also find the sort of carol I have in mind at http://crossandcosmos.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/angel-told-shepherds.html

We used ‘An Angels Told Shepherds’ just last week with a local primary school: you will see how simple it is, and 300 children and parents clearly thoroughly enjoyed it (sometimes you don’t need formal feedback reports!).
Oh yes, and if anyone wanted to accompany their offering with a You-Tube video, that would be great, too.

So why not have a go? Send texts in Word format and scores as a PDF to crossandcosmos@gmail.com at any time until the end of November 2017.

And do feel free to pass this to other networks of Christiamn writers, authors and songwriters.


Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Leftovers, by Lucy Mills

What do you do with your leftovers?


No, I'm not talking about Christmas leftovers (turkey curry/broth/sandwich anyone?).
What happens to your writing leftovers?

When I've finished a first draft it gets saved as a file under one name, and also saved again under another.

The first usually includes 'first draft' in the file name (what are the odds?!) and the other includes the word 'current' or 'master'.

Then I get to work on the new master copy. Some bits are cut straight away. They might be small things, not much of anything, and I simply delete them (they still exist in the first draft, remember, but nowhere else).

However, often I have sentences and paragraphs I hover over, trying to decide. Once I've made up my mind to get rid of them, I may not just delete them. I might choose to cut and paste them into a whole new document.

Sometimes this document is an assortment of all the bits I've cut out of the master copy. Recently I've begun to do this more thematically - I save a document as a subject, and put the 'leftovers' in files by theme.

At last, I have my master copy all done (it usually goes through a few more drafts, and thus more older versions are created, before the final. I usually include 'final' in the filename. Again, who would have thought it?!).

Here I am with my completed work.

And here are the leftovers. Now, as a non-fiction writer there will be different ways of using leftovers than there might be for a fiction writer - perhaps you fictioneers could suggest a few options for yourselves in the comments!

Potential ways of using leftovers...


I might put them back in.  Sometimes it becomes obvious that they do belong, after all, just in a different place. In fact sometimes I move things out and put them 'on hold' while I sort out the rest of the manuscript - then it becomes clear where they should be. However, if they really can't go back...

They might inspire me to other ideas. They can be triggers for whole other topics and so...

They become part of another project. Yes, they get saved and morph into something else entirely. Another article, even another book.

They help me promote the final piece of work. I can use that eliminated anecdote in a talk I'm giving around the book, for example. I know it's relevant, and it means I have new material I can use. Indeed, they might help me with any talk I'm giving which brushes up against the subject. Plus...

They might become a blog post.  This could be promotional (see above), this could be standalone. They might form part of Facebook posts, a good sentence would become a tweet, a thought for the day.

They might be a personal record of what I was thinking. Like a journal, they can be helpful to look back on and see what new ideas I had, what was growing inside me at that point (note to self - dating the 'leftovers' might be good for this).

They might be thrown away. If after a while I come back to them and find that some of it really is beginning to smell - it's soooo bad - I might just get rid of it. I need a bit of time and distance, sometimes, to distinguish the jewels from the junk.

Sometimes I just need to put them somewhere before I can bear to kill them off, to lose my attachment to them!

How about you? What do you do with your leftovers?




***


Lucy Mills

Lucy's first book, Forgetful Heart: remembering God in a distracted world, was published in 2014 (DLT). Undivided Heart: finding meaning and motivation in Christ will be coming in Autumn 2017. Lucy writes articles, poetry and prayers for various publications and is Editorial Co-ordinator at magnet magazine. www.lucy-mills.com

Lucy on Twitter: @lucymills
Lucy's Facebook page




More than Writer posts in 2016:


Monday, 26 December 2016

The 80% rule – putting criticism in perspective


In August I wrote a piece for this blog entitled ‘Growing a Second Skin– dealing with book reviews’. Back then, I was wondering how, as a relatively newly published author, I was going to cope with the inevitable negative reviews that would come my way. I sought advice from other authors and was disheartened to hear that many of them – even bestselling ones – actually don’t cope. It still hurts them and they simply don’t read them anymore.

That is their coping mechanism. But I don’t know if it would be right for me. I still hope to be able to engage with critical reviews without it ruining my day. Perhaps I’m being naïve, but I have taken my own words, which I wrote at the end of the previous blog, to heart. For those of you who are too full of mince pies to muster up the energy to click through, I will reprint it here (you’re welcome, don’t mention it):

“Bad reviews are good for the soul. They expose your fears, insecurities and pride. So I suppose we should be grateful for them. They help put you and writing in perspective. Don’t they …?”

So, my first coping mechanism is to consider my reaction to reviews a spiritual discipline. Now, whenever I feel really shoddy about a negative comment or less than glowing review, I try to take it to God sooner rather than later. I ask myself, and Him, what is it that makes me react this way? Is there something that God can help me change? Is there a broken part of my heart that this touches which needs to be offered to the Lord?

This is an ongoing process. With me, at the moment, it’s reviews. But at different times in my writing life it has been feedback from tutors, rejections from publishers and agents or simply the lack of progress towards my publishing dream – which was often interpreted as rejection by God. And of course, there are areas of my personal life that could do with this kind of treatment too…


Now, before I go any further, I must confess what I’m thinking: “Better not write that Fiona, you know in the comments you’ll get some people lecturing you on how well they deal with criticism / reviews etc and that if you want to be in the business you have to learn to deal with it and grow up.”

And I’m already formulating my response: “I know that! [temptation to add superfluous exclamation marks here]. But I thought by being so open about my own struggles it might help other writers realise they’re not the only ones …” Deep breaths. Now, there again, something has come up that I should take to God. Excuse me while I do it … (……………..Amen!)

Right, where was I? Oh yes, my coping mechanisms. Well recently, I’ve come up with a new one. I don’t suppose it’s anything new, and in other areas of life would simply be called ‘looking on the bright side’, but I shall offer it to you anyway. I have decided that whenever I have a negative review I remind myself that 80% of people (or at least 80% of those who bother to leave a review) don’t feel the same. In an election that would be considered a landslide victory. It’s a silly thing, but I tried it recently, and you know what? It worked! I felt far less disappointed by the criticism than I had previously, and more open to considering whether or not there was anything constructive I could take on board. I’m calling it my 80% Rule. You might want to try it yourself. But please, finish your mince pies first.
  
Fiona Veitch Smith is a writer and writing lecturer, based in Newcastle upon Tyne. She writes across all media, for children and adults. Her mystery novel The Jazz Files, the first in the Poppy Denby Investigates Series (Lion Fiction) was nominated for a CWA Historical Dagger in 2016. The second book, The Kill Fee is out now, and the third is due out next year. Her children’s books The Young David Series and the Young Joseph Series  are published by SPCK. Her novel ‘Pilate’s Daughter’  a historical love story set in Roman Palestine, will be published by Endeavour Press in March.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

What do you want for Christmas? by Fiona Lloyd


I have a rhythm game I play with my pupils at this time of year: it’s a seasonal version of Old MacDonald. Instead of the usual words, we have:


Father Christmas had a sleigh.

Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho!

And on that sleigh he had…


The children’s task is to supply ideas as to what Santa might be bringing with him, which then form the basis for rhythms they can play on their instruments. Puppies and games consoles tend to dominate the list, along with a selection of on-trend gifts I’ve never heard of. (Must be my age…) Occasionally, some more discerning child will brighten my day by saying they’re hoping for a book.



When it comes to my turn to choose, I stick to the same request every time. “When my children were little,” I tell them, “I always used to tell them I’d like a nice cup of tea.” This statement provokes a mixture of bewilderment and hilarity, as poor Miss has obviously gone completely loopy.



It’s fair to say, though, that I’m often clueless about what I’d really like for Christmas; much to the frustration of my (now adult) offspring. Time with family and friends seems increasingly important, but it’s not something you can wrap up with a shiny ribbon and tuck under the tree. And while I recognise that exchanging gifts can be a valuable expression of such friendships – I love choosing presents for others – I don’t want to get so caught up in the frenzy of acquisition that I forget to consider the millions around the world who struggle to obtain even the basic necessities of life.



It’s a delicate balance: there’s nothing wrong with wanting to bless those closest to us, but if that’s all we do, then we’re missing out on the heart of the gospel. I suspect I’m not the only one who has found the news stories – filled as they are with human suffering and acts of hatred – overwhelming this year. There is so much need in our world that it feels difficult to know how to respond, and we may wonder if our efforts will make the smallest scrap of difference.



Two thousand years ago, the Jewish people were eagerly awaiting the coming of their Messiah. They wanted a strong and brave warrior king, a biblical super-hero who would drive out their enemies and make them into a great nation once more. But God in his wisdom sent not what they wanted, but what they needed, as an insignificant teenager gave birth to a tiny baby, who one day would become the means by which we were reconciled with God.


The miracle of that first Christmas reminds me that transformation must begin in my own heart, and that it is only as I allow God to change me that I can understand how he wants to me to help others. He does not expect me to mend the world’s problems on my own, but will direct me as to where – and how – I can serve him. The greatest gift I can bring to the manger is my willingness to listen (and respond) to the Holy Spirit as he shows me the best way to reach out to those in need this Christmas.

On behalf of ACW, may I wish you a peaceful and Christ-centred Christmas.


Fiona Lloyd works part-time as a music teacher, and serves on the worship leading team at her local church. Fiona self-published a violin tutor book in 2013 and blogs at www.fjlloyd.wordpress.com. You can find her on Twitter at @FionaJLloyd. Fiona is vice-chair of ACW and is married with three grown-up children.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Festival of Light


When I think of the early 1970s I see in my mind a dirty dark brown colour, contrasting with the optimistic bright glow that memories of the 1960s give me. I remember those years as gloomy and dreary, suffused with a sense of dread about where history was heading. The Vietnam war transfixed America and led to the extraordinary outcome of a President being impeached and shamed. The vicious Arab–Israeli conflict led to a worldwide oil crisis. Violent guerrilla and terrorist movements sprang up on every continent.

And here in hitherto peaceful Britain we were taken unawares by a rapidly deepening conflict in Northern Ireland, which quickly bred shootings and bombings in both islands—a situation we were quite unprepared for. Additionally we plunged into a severe economic crisis and galloping inflation. There were crippling strikes, one of which led to the declaration of a state of emergency. Perhaps the lowest point was the notorious Three-Day Week in the winter of 1973, when power cuts became routine and we had evenings of enforced candlelight.

In 1971, just as the gloom began to descend, Christians in Britain came together to celebrate the Nationwide Festival of Light. It was supported by many churches and several famous names, including the Prince of Wales, and it culminated, on 25 September, in a rally in London attended by 100,000 people. The Festival’s purpose was to testify to the Christian standards of morality which were increasingly being disregarded. Now, I would not necessarily agree with every single issue on which the leaders campaigned. However, two things were crucial: the Church’s united testimony to overarching moral law, and, probably more important, the Church’s united prayer to God for the nation (a nationwide day of prayer was observed on 19 September).

No one would say that the time between, say, 1975 and 2015 has been trouble-free. Nor have we seen a return to higher moral standards of the kind the Festival wanted. In fact we have become inured to greater grossness than anything the Festival organizers could have envisaged (though at least formerly hidden corruption has been brought into the light). But it could be argued that we did experience forty years of relative peace and prosperity, whether or not you approve of Thatcherism or the New Labour rule that followed it. Having felt, back in 1973, as if civilization was facing collapse, I do wonder if those forty years were a sort of reprieve, granted in answer to prayer—a holding back of the dark forces which control human society.

As we head into the 2016 ‘festive season’, we face a darkness and an uncertainty that we have not experienced for four decades. What kind of festivity is appropriate at a time like this? Well, I for one find it increasingly difficult to handle even the more innocent fripperies of Christmas. At an Advent retreat at Scargill House this year, we were read Lucy and Tom’s Christmas by Shirley Hughes. For me this was quite an emotional experience, because the story portrays the kindly, innocent milieu of my childhood and my children’s, which seems to be passing away.

It’s Christmas Eve at last! Dad gets home early, and together they hang all sorts of pretty glittering things on the tree.

It is good to remember and celebrate these things. But the keynote Incarnation stories, Luke’s manger story and Matthew’s magi story, simple and powerful in themselves, have spun off multifarious detailed imagery that has been converted into concrete form and endlessly replicated, blending with the non-biblical images of Santa, snow, and holly. It begins to feel like being parcelled up in sticky tape and glitter. The cosy side of Christmas can be a cloying encumbrance instead of a liberating inspiration.

As we go into the thick of the coming conflict we can take with us only the most essential equipment. Much that is good may have to be left behind in case it encumbers us in the struggle. If you feel as I do, you’ll agree that we need imagery that is stripped down to the bare essentials. Where can we turn for a portable and powerful seasonal theme? I found one at our Advent retreat, in the Incarnation story that John the Evangelist gives:

The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

This is terribly simple. No shepherds, no magi, no tinsel, no trees. A light sabre, if you like!

It’s especially good to remember that it also means

The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood it.

The forces confronting us are powerful, but they do not understand the mind of Christ which is within us. His extraordinary strategy will outwit them in the end. But we must pray for the nation as they did in 1971. We are again on a brink.


The message of Light is a message for Advent and a message for Christmas, and Christmas, of course, is the ultimate Festival of Light.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Come and worship - by Helen Murray

I've always loved carol services. I love lots of things about Christmas, but carol services are one of the very best bits. In recent years, however, I've found myself so exhausted with December and all the Christmas preparations that by the time the carol services come round I've been tempted to skip it or trudged there with only a sense of duty. I remember with fondness the days when it was something to look forward to, not just another thing to cram into the pre-Christmas madness.

The other night I walked down the road in the rain to church and on the way I asked God if he'd please come with me. I was so weary that if I hadn't been reading one of the lessons I'd probably have run a bath and climbed into my PJs instead. It went something like this:

'Lord, I've been to countless carol services, and while they're nice and everything, I am so tired that this feels a bit like a chore. Same songs, same readings, same mince pies. I know what there is to know about the nativity - is there something new you want to say to me?'


And there was. 

You know those repetitive, hackneyed songs? This year the Christmas carols weren't just carols. They weren't the same over-familiar tunes and words that we know by heart because we dust them off every Christmas. For me, in row six, sitting next to a man who didn't sing a single word (not a single word! I felt so sad for him) it seemed fresh and new.

Hark! The herald angels sing
Glory to the new born King

Listen! We sang with the angels down through the ages. The glorious company of heaven was watching the miraculous events in a small middle eastern town way back when and they were proclaiming the wonder of it for the very first time.

Joyful, all ye nations, rise
Join the triumph of the skies

The angels of heaven were saying, 'He's there! He's come to you! Can you believe it?' There was quite the celestial party that night. God made man. The majesty of heaven in a tiny baby. 

As we sang the weariness of another fraught and stressful day melted away and I realised that I could actually locate a little bit of that joy deep inside. It's not a fluffy, light as a feather happy sort of feeling; no, it's a deep, weighty, full-bodied overwhelming thing. My eyes might have watered a little bit.

I got a glimpse of the angels awe: God with us

Light and life to all He brings
Risen with healing in His wings

Light. Life. Healing. Don't we all need those things? Oh Lord, how we need them. The world is in such a desperate state; I don't think I've known things as bleak as they are at the moment. We are in a huge mess and you came to bring healing. To bring life in all its fullness and a light that cannot be put out.
How I need those things; I am broken in so many places. And you are the balm to my hurts, the light in my darkness. 

As the candle flame in my hand flickered and people's faces were lit up and made beautiful with the soft light, the music soared and my soul reached for you. I really think it did.

Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth

Born that we might live and not die. Born to lift us to heaven to be with you rather than strike us down and leave us where we deserve to be. This dark and broken place, it's not all there is, and that's good news.

Oh, Father. What mystery is it that you came to earth and poured deity into a tiny wriggling body? How amazing that a young girl heard your voice and said 'Yes, let it be as you say', instead of 'You want me to do WHAT?' 
How wonderful that a good man full of faith stood by his young wife and raised a baby that wasn't his.  
He came down to earth from heaven
Who is God and Lord of all
and His shelter was a stable
And His cradle was a stall

And the Saviour of the world had his birth day among animals and shepherds. 


There isn't a palace in the world that man could make beautiful enough for you. There isn't a cathedral or a landscape or a crown of jewels that befits your majesty - but you chose a little known town in the back of beyond; the Saviour of the world had his birth day among animals, laid in straw by an unmarried teenager.

You had a Plan. 
God rest you merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
For Jesus Christ our Saviour
Was born upon this day
To save us all from Satan's power
When we were gone astray

Yes, let's stay merry, people! Let's not let anything dilute or diminish the amazing thing that happened that leaves all else in the shade. You came to rescue us. You loved us too much to leave us in the mess we'd created, were creating, and would go on to create (and it's quite a mess). You came to bring us home to be with you, because you loved us.

O, tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
O, tidings of comfort and joy

If that's not good news, I don't know what is. Lord, let the reality of this miracle comfort us in the middle of the despair and pain around us. There is a light that the darkness cannot overcome. That light will never be extinguished. Keep our eyes on the light, Father. 

It seems amazing to me. Emmanuel - God with us. 

Sing, choirs of angels
Sing in exultation
Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above
Glory to God
In the highest
O come, let us adore Him

Christ, the Lord. A tiny baby. 

Why exultation? Exulting? Lively, triumphant joy. Celebration of success, not just happiness. This is a triumph, and the angels knew how profound it was. Everything would be different, now. It was a game-changer. The earth was transformed that night and most people down here were completely oblivious, but the angels weren't. 

It was a big deal.
Ding dong! merrily on high
In heaven the bells are ringing
Ding dong! verily the sky
Is riven with angels singing
Gloria 
Hosanna in excelsis!

Riven! The sky was split across with the sound of the angels. Torn apart with the pealing of bells and heavenly host worshipping and celebrating. That must have been some sound.

Ye who sang creation's story
Now proclaim Messiah's birth
Come and worship
Christ the new-born King


We came and we worshipped. The choir sang in lovely harmonies. The band played music that lead us into your presence and the old songs meant something brand new.

E'en so here below, below...

Even so, here below. In my church, at Christmas 2016. 

Now to the Lord sing praises
All you within this place

And I closed my eyes (making sure that my candle was still vertical and not dripping wax or setting fire to anyone's hair) and I saw you on your throne with scenes of glory and majesty and power and gentleness and unending love playing out in your heart and I lifted my small, stained, substandard, one too you in return. 

I think maybe even if we manage to see beyond the tinsel and gifts and Christmas telly sometimes we get too wrapped up in the tiny baby in a manger and no-crying-he-makes and all that. (Who are we kidding? He was thoroughly human and of course he cried. And did all the other stuff that babies do as well. But that's not the point.) Even with the benefit of more than two thousand years we can easily miss the big picture - this baby was God. The Creator of the universe, the sustainer of life, in a bed made of straw, born to a normal girl who believed, and her bemused husband. 

Christ by highest heaven adored
Christ the everlasting Lord

The Word made flesh. God with us. 


Oh, God, thank you for my glimpse past the familiar and into the realms of worship. Thank you that I heard an echo of the angels' song and you let me add my poorly tuned but enthusiastic voice to the heavenly host. I know that you heard me.

Glorious now, behold him arise
King and God and sacrifice
Heaven sings, Alleluia!
Alleluia the earth replies

We do.

God with us. 

Jesus, our Emmanuel.

Amen and Alleluia.




Helen Murray lives in Derbyshire with her husband, two daughters and her mum.

Having spent time as a researcher, church worker and Hand Therapist, Helen is now a full time mum and writer, currently supposed to be working on her first novel. Or at least working on something.

As well as writing and reading, she drinks coffee, takes photographs, swims, breeds Aloe Vera plants and collects ceramic penguins.

Helen has two blogs: Are We Nearly There Yet? where she writes about life and faith, and Badger on the Roof where readers are treated to a blow by blow account of her novel-writing progress, or lack thereof. It's been a while since there was anything to report, but she hasn't given up. Check back when the kids have left home.

You can also find her here:

Pinterest: @HelenMMurray
Twitter: @helenmurray01


Thursday, 22 December 2016

When it's Not a Merry Christmas.

Christmas is full of cheer - that's what people say. But for some of us, Christmas is hard, and knowing that Jesus came to earth for us is not enough to raise joy in our suffering. Whilst some More Than Writers readers are enjoying mince pies, mulled wine and family, others will be feeling forgotten by God and unable to lift themselves out of the pit enough to Hark the Herald Angels or See Amid the Winter's Snow.

This time last year I was not even remotely merry - I was in the midst of an episode of severe depression which felt like it had been there forever and would never stop. So I prayed a prayer, and God spoke words into my pen (a miracle in itself). To some people it will seem overly schmaltzy (I'm no poet), and the theology might be a bit iffy, but I felt called to share it, and hope and pray that it will speak to someone.

The Prayer:

"Lord, show me why I can't grasp your love for me."

The Answer:

"You don't think you're worth it.
But love is not about worth -
Love is about desire.
Things that are worth a lot in the world don't draw my desire and love.
Things in the world are just things -
You are so much more.

You are a bundle of fibres that I knitted into a beautiful sweater, 
one that I wear and inhabit.
I don't love you despite your failings and shortcomings;
I don't love you because of them;
I don't love you with a wish to change them.
I just love you.
I love you I love you I love you.

I only yearn to change you so that you can see my love for you.
So you can experience it;
So you can know it's authentic;
So you can believe it;
So you can live it.

Love and worth are not connected.
You want to connect them because you are afraid of being loved.
Afraid you might be discovered.
Afraid of not being able to love me back.
Afraid of letting go.
Afraid of being you.

But guess what? I know all that!
I made you!
I designed you!
I live in you! Or at least in the bits you let me...

Stop trying to love, and just love.
Stop trying to be loved, just be loved.

I know you're scared.
Scared of failing, scared of falling,
Scared of not living up to a standard.

Let me in.
I won't change you until you want me to,
I won't transform you until you are ready.
I won't take away your 'you-ness' - 
I love your you-ness!
I made your you-ness!
I want to make you more you - and more you is more me...

You were made to be like me -
To love like me
To laugh like me
To grieve like me
To sacrifice like me.

Stop trying to understand.
Stop trying to believe it's possible.
Stop trying to make sense of it.
Stop trying to be something you aren't,
Stop trying to run before you can walk.
Stop trying,
Just love
And be loved.

I love you.
I love you.
I love you,
I love you,
I love you
I love you.
I love you."




Abbie has been writing ever since she could hold a pencil. She wrote a memoir, Secret Scars, (Authentic, 2007), and later, Insight Into Self-Harm (CWR, 2014). She founded and directs Adullam Ministries, an information and resource website and forum about self-harm and related issues. She blogs at Pink and Blue Mummyland and tweets as @AbbieRobson and @AdullamSelfHarm. She lives in Rugby with husband John, children Amelia and Seth, and two cats who still haven't learned that they don't run the house.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

CHRISTmas Reflections? ......................Ruth Johnson


For God so loved the world
that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him
shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16


Christmas was a time to celebrate Jesus' birth because God had sent part of Himself to show His love and desire to take away the sin of the world.  But due to a growing secular society it is becoming more the pagan festival it was linked with centuries ago.

Only two disciples wrote about Jesus birth. Matthew’s account is very short and included the visit nearly two years later of the Magi, which history shows were from the East and astrologers who read the signs in the sky.  They knew when an unusually bright star appeared the king of the Jews had been born and journeyed to worship Him and bring gifts.  Luke wrote of the shepherds invited by the angels heralding Jesus birth to leave their flocks and go to Bethlehem to worship him. 

In AD 200 the first fictional novel was written about Jesus’ birth, and we in the West have too romanticized this event.  We have Mary riding on a donkey, Joseph having not had the forethought to book them a place to stay is told by an unfeeling landlord that despite it being Mary's time to give birth there is no room at the inn. And so Mary enters a cave or stable where amongst the animals she has the baby in the straw and puts Jesus in a crib like manger.

“Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes” written by Kenneth E Bailey brings the facts and not the fiction on a variety of Biblical events. Paramount to the Middle Eastern is their culture of hospitality. Mary had relatives living in Bethlehem who would have made room for them. Joseph being of the house of David wouldn’t be refused hospitality when he returned to the village of his family origins.  In  Luke 2:7 where is it is written ‘no room at the inn’ the word for inn is ‘katalyma’ and the translation should read 'guest room'.  And the word 'room' as at the inn can also mean space so should read, ‘no space in the guest room’.

To back this the book describes a simple village house in Palestine that hasn’t changed much in 3,000 years.  The oblong structure has a stable at one end where a farmer brings in his animals at night as they provide heat in winter and are safe from theft.  Steps from there lead to a platform which is a family room where mangers are cut into the floor and filled with straw.  Some houses have a guest room on the roof or adjoining the house.  Luke 2:7 says, “when the time came (that doesn't sound unexpected) …she gave birth…and wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger.  The manger would be a warm, safe place for a new born infant in the midst of family life.

However, maybe we should be thankful for the fiction around Jesus birth that provides us with the school nativity plays, displays in churches and the Christmas carols which contain the gospel message. Without these embellishments perhaps the truth that Jesus is the reason for this season would be entirely lost.





Tuesday, 20 December 2016

WHAT CAN I DO?    by Sue Russell

Yesterday Veronica Zundel posted about the value of a retreat. I had intended to post something about the delights of Penhurst Christian Retreat Centre too, and I knew that Veronica went there a day or two after I left some weeks ago. I went with Claire Dunn, and we both planned to use the time writing and editing (our own and each other's) as well as taking a step back from normal life in this warm, welcoming place set in the rural heart of Sussex.
We were blessed with crisp winter weather: hard white frosts every morning and red skies every afternoon, and when we weren't working we were walking, encountering pheasants, rabbits and deer. The staff were as kind as ever, the other guests interesting people from varied backgrounds. We got a fair bit of work done, and enjoyed the meals we hadn't cooked, the log fire and huge sofa, and the deep peace. We attended some of the prayer sessions and I found it touching that one of the other guests prayed for our apostrophes!
I did, however, then and since, experience some pangs of conscience. I already have a comfortable life. I can go out for meals if I am fed up with cooking.  I have a dedicated writing space. I have no young children and can structure my own time to a large extent, allowing for commitments. I can afford to go on retreats. But I wondered if any of this was justified (I am speaking only for myself here.) None of us can fail to be aware of the appalling things happening in many parts of our small world, and I have noticed recently an upsurge in comments on social media by people who obviously feel as I do - horrified and helpless. Somehow it seemed wrong that I should spend a few days in undisturbed peace while others are battling for their very survival, their loved ones maimed and murdered, their homes bombed, their lives in shreds, their futures dark. Why, asked Claire, own more than one pair of shoes? Why have a dog? ( I do have a dog. And since returning from Penhurst I have bought two new pairs of shoes.)
I was pondering these things when my 25-year-old daughter expressed similar uneasiness. She is often in London, and she sees homeless people in doorways and wonders how she should respond. Her heart is battered by the conditions that some people labour under and she feels powerless to effect change. Perhaps to look at the world and acknowledge the power of evil is part of leaving childhood behind. So we chewed on this and I found myself defending the positive power of small acts of goodness, of remaining open to the suffering of others, of contributing what we can of money and time, and of using such gifts as we have to further the glory of God and the service of our fellows. Privately I wondered (not for the first time) how someone who is not a Christian (as she is not, at least not yet) can face the overwhelming reality of wickedness and suffering without quailing.
I do believe that every good act of ours can be magnified by God. As C.S. Lewis put it, 'Good and evil increase at compound interest. Little decisions are of infinite importance. The smallest good act today captures a strategic point which could lead to undreamt-of victories.' I showed my daughter this quotation and she nodded thoughtfully. Then she went away and found out how to volunteer for one of the charities helping homeless people over the Christmas period.
For us as writers, our power to promote forgiveness, truth and grace is potentially great. Not one of us can know where our words may travel or how our small acts of empathy and generosity may be used by God in his purposes of good. Unlike him, we cannot do everything - but we can do something.
While looking for an image for something else I found this photo (the beer does claim the attention, I know, but it was taken on a sweltering afternoon in Barcelona) and it made me smile. What was I saying about using our gifts? Not quite what I meant!



Sue writes as S.L.Russell and has written five contemporary novels  from a Christian point of view. They are available as paperbacks and e books in the usual places.

 The days at Penhurst were spent editing no.6, which should emerge some time next year.