Writing Wednesday: My Stroke of Inspiration

My Stroke of Inspiration cover_thumb

In May 2010 I had a stroke at my desk in work. It came out of the blue and turned my life upside down. It left my body paralysed down the right side, but luckily didn’t affect my mind. I was in hospital for seven and a half weeks, and sleeping downstairs in the living room until August, when I could finally climb the stairs. There’s a page here about my recovery.

The hours are long in hospital, especially as I suffered pain and muscle spasms which made it difficult to sleep, so I started writing poetry, laboriously, one letter at a time, on my mobile phone. To take more time, I punctuated it too! I had written poetry since I was a child, but only occasionally. Now, it poured out of me, 22 poems in all. I wrote verse, doggerel, and blank verse, whatever suited the topic.

I wrote about my stroke, my treatment, my faith, and totally random things like the rain outside my window. I needed to learn to write left-handed, so I copied them out into a notebook to get the practice and keep them safe. I gave copies to the nurses and the therapists.

The poems talk about suffering and patience, therapy and faith. When I came home, I typed them into my computer and formatted them into a booklet with a commentary, which I had printed. Many people have found them a comfort, an encouragement and an inspiration, so I have finally made them into an ebook.

It’s called My Stroke of Inspiration and it’s available on Amazon UK for £1.99 and Amazon US for $2.99. From today until Sunday the book is FREE. I hope you will download it and enjoy it, and would be very grateful if you would leave a review.

You will enjoy them if you like simple poetry, but if you are a stroke survivor or know someone who is, these poems will comfort, encourage and inspire you.

And don’t forget, if you sign up to my mailing list you will get four free gifts, one of which is A Poetry Sampler.

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Thinking Thursday: The Way Through the Labyrinth

Labyrinth_at_Chartres_Cathedral

In the nave of many medieval cathedrals a two-dimensional labyrinth is laid out in the paving. Within a small amount of space a ‘journey’ of amazing length is possible. The one in Chartres Cathedral (above) has a diameter of only 12.85m but the path is 261.5m long. These labyrinths are how the Church ‘Christianised’ an ancient pagan myth, the concept of which was the possibility that the traveller would be consumed by some evil force within, no help being available from the outside.

The Christian labyrinth represents the road towards the heavenly city or the path of spiritual growth. It may seem at times that we are going back on ourselves, even almost back where we started, such are the trials and, at times, failures of our Christian walk. But you always get out of Christian labyrinths.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3-9)

Help is available from the Spirit of Christ who travels with us and no matter how convoluted the path, God’s road leads home. It is our part to co-operate with His Spirit, guided by His Word, as pilgrims together on the journey.

If you feel anxious about what lies around the next corner of your life, place your trust in God.

[Taken from Inspiring Women Every Day]

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Thinking Thursday: The House with the Shining Windows

The house with the shining windows

Once upon a time there was a man who lived on a hillside above a broad valley. Every morning he looked out of the window across the valley. On the hillside on the other side of the valley was a house whose windows shone brightly.

“How wonderful it must be,” he said to himself, “to live in that house. It must be a very happy house to live in. Look how the windows shine.”

He looked at his drab little house and his worries seemed to press in on him.

One morning when he looked at the house with the shining windows he decided to go there. He wanted to meet the people who lived in such a wonderful house. He set off in high spirits to walk down the hill and across the valley.

He had been down to the valley before to buy provisions, but he had never walked all the way across. He found it was further than he thought. By midday he was only halfway across and stopped in a village for food and rest. But he soon set off again as he was eager to reach the house with the shining windows.

When he started climbing the hill on the other side of the valley, the house was hidden by the trees. The hill was steep, but he pressed on. Eventually he came out into a clearing, and there was the house. But the windows weren’t shining. His heart sank in disappointment.

He didn’t understand it. He was certain it was the right house. Up close it didn’t look any different to his own house. He turned and looked back across the valley at his own house, and gasped in wonder. The windows on his house were shining brightly!

“How can this be?” he asked himself. “There is nothing wonderful in my house to make the windows shine.”

He looked around and saw the shadows lengthening as the sun began to go down, and then he realised – it was the sun! In the morning when the sun rose it shone on the windows of the house across the valley. In the evening when the sun set it shone in the windows of his house.

“How foolish I am,” he said. “All this time I have wanted shining windows, and they were there all along!”

And he resolved to go home and make the best of the life that he had and stop envying other people.

Elsewhere perhaps

The soil is softer,
The tasks less stubborn,
The laughter quicker,
The hearts less worn,
The grass greener…
Elsewhere perhaps.

But the grass is not greener
Elsewhere perhaps.
The grass grows greener
Where you water it.
Now, on this day,
Here, on this task,
On these hearts and mine,
Let the heavens open
And your reign shine.

[LICC]

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Writing Wednesday: Seize the Day

Dead Poets SocietyIn the 1989 Robin Williams film Dead Poets Society, he plays an unconventional teacher who encourages his students with the Latin phrase Carpe diem – seize the day. This has become a well-known saying, to encourage people not to dream of the future but take action today.

This applies especially to writers. It’s what you do today that will make your future. Don’t just seize the day, seize the inspiration, seize the opportunity.

Carpe inspirationem (Seize the inspiration)

InspirationInspiration can strike at any moment. It may be the idea for a new piece of fiction, a new place to market your book, or the solution to a problem you’ve been wrestling with. When inspiration strikes, don’t let it go.

That’s why writers are told to always have a notebook with them, though these days you can make notes on your phone. But do take notes – you won’t remember later.

One day I was standing in front of Swansea Castle ruins, which are in the town centre. I wondered what the castle was like when it was lived in, and whether there was scope for a fantasy story about going back in time. I Googled it as soon as I got home, found out some fascinating stuff and a few days later went to the library. I asked for help, telling the librarian I didn’t know where to start or how to go about researching. She was happy to help and showed me around. The result was my first book – Alina, the White Lady of Oystermouth. Not a fantasy story but a local history book. The success of that book led to a second – Broken Reed: The Lords of Gower and King John. Now I’ve published a book on Magna Carta for non-historians – The Magna Carta Story.

Carpe commodum (Seize the opportunity)

What to sayYou should always be prepared for any opportunity to talk about your work, your business or your writing.

Suppose you are waiting in a queue and get chatting to the person next to you. Suppose he turns out to be involved in a group that meets regularly to listen to speakers on a topic similar to yours. Will you be able to tell him about yourself and give him details to pass on to the booking secretary? What about being out one day and finding a bookshop that stocks your sort of books? Will you miss the chance to go in and introduce yourself? What will you have to leave with them?

Both these scenarios have happened to me. I carry business cards, promotional flyers, and a copy of each of my books (which are slim and light) in my handbag everywhere I go. I got the business cards from Vista Print and designed the flyers myself. Nothing fancy, but it looks more professional than scribbling your details on a scrap of paper. Also, I’m really scared of marketing, but if I can wave a piece of paper under their nose it really helps my confidence.

And have you perfected your 30-second pitch yet? If you have a chance to tell someone about your book, do you know what to say to get the message over in 30 seconds? Also called an elevator pitch, you have to say it before the person gets out of the elevator (lift). Practice on your friends.

Carpe diem (Seize the day)

Do you bumble through your day without a plan? Do you plan your day but still never have time to write? If you’re a writer, you need to make time to write, but when you really can’t you can still be writing in your head. Always have something in mind to think about while you’re doing something else.

While you wait in a queue, sit on a bus, or eat your lunch you can be inventing new blog post titles, resolving a plot point, or thinking up a new short story. Of course, you will take notes, won’t you?

I don’t get writer’s block because I wrestle with it while I’m busy doing other things. By the time I get to write, I’ve already decided what to say. Or I’ve thought of something else to write while my subconscious continues mulling it over.

You may not know Latin, but just remember two words: Carpe diem. Here’s a picture for you to put up by your desk or stick to your notebook.

Carpe Diem

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Thinking Thursday: Feel the Heat

2014-09-15 12.57.31

In Malta in 29 degree heat and high humidity, I couldn’t get away from the heat. Before you go out in it you have to prepare with sun cream, water and a hat. While you’re out in it you’re looking for shade. When you’re in the shade or indoors you’re thinking about the next time you go out. It’s all-pervading.

It occurred to me that it’s like God in the life of a Christian. Not that I’m looking for shade, but he should be all-pervading. Sometimes you’re basking in his glory, but most of the time you’re doing other things. I find it easy to forget him and get absorbed in the other things.

You can’t ignore the heat – it intrudes into everything. It should be the same with God. The heat, the presence, needs to be in the back of my mind always, in everything I do.

This reminds me of the wonderful book The Practice of the Presence of God, about Brother Lawrence. I quoted from it a long time ago, but it’s worth reading again. You can find it here.

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Writing Wednesday: Review of Writer’s Doubt

Writer’s Doubt: How You Can Overcome Doubt and Create Work That Matters

by Bryan Hutchinson

Writers Doubt

Blurb

Doubt doesn’t have to define your writing future.
Do you have what it takes to write a book? Can you be an author even if you don’t think you’re a great writer?
In this part-memoir, part kick-in-the-pants, Bryan Hutchinson will show you how to live out your passion, write a book, and become an author, no matter if the so-called “experts” tell you that you can’t.

Bryan was told by teachers he would never be a writer. As a child, he had to take a remedial reading and writing class because he could barely write a full sentence. One editor told him his book would never be published.

And yet Bryan is now a bestselling author whose books have been read by over 100,000 people and the book the editor said would never be published has been praised publicly by the foremost experts in the field.

All writers doubt their ability. But Bryan’s story shows doubt doesn’t have to define your writing future.

Quotes from Writer’s Doubt

“To be a good writer, an honest writer, and a writer who actually writes, it’s important to reevaluate one’s inhibitions. If writing about certain situations disturbs you or makes you cringe, then by all means write about them.”

“Understandably, they didn’t really appreciate that I shared all of my negative childhood experiences with the world. Families, in general, tend to believe certain things should remain private. However, that’s the thing about a life filled with extreme difficulties-if we keep our stories, our feelings and our experiences hidden inside of us, it is much more difficult to heal and find answers.”

My Review 5*
Recommended.

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Thinking Thursday: Living as a Christian in a Pagan Society

This post is reblogged from Mikes4tea. I recommend it as a site for al thinking Christians.
Wisdom from 1 Thessalonians 4

Cristo_e_gli_apostoli by Sergio BramanteThe word ‘disciple’ occurs over 250 times in the New Testament so it seems important enough for us to understand it. Jesus invites us to a new way of life, a life we can only fully know if we follow him. Those who follow him are called disciples. A disciple is is a learner, a pupil, an apprentice. ‘The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch’ (Acts 11:26). A Christian, then, is a disciple of Jesus.

The chapter we are looking at is best summed up in verse one, ‘How to live in order to please God.’ A disciple is one who strives to do just that. If you want to live in order to please God you need to know what it will cost you. The context is very important if we are to appreciate its application today. Paul was writing to a church living in what was a hostile environment for Christians and we are beginning to experience this today in what is traditionally a broadly Christian country.

We are living in a time when principles established over thousands of years are overturned as easily it seems as a row of dominoes. Marriage is being radically redefined, and in ways that are not pleasing to God; what one actor describes as serial monogamy is being seen as a virtue; celebrity is celebrated over gifting, sacrifice, and service; gambling is part of our tax system; Christians are being sacked for sharing their faith at work, and street preachers are being arrested for simply quoting the Bible.

As Christians, what are we to make of the world’s frantic flight from all that is Godly? It seems so sudden, when only a generation or two ago, such things were simply unthinkable. How are we to live in this world to please God?

Being Holy

This has been a major theme throughout the Bible. When man’s sin was ripe God called Abraham out of Babylon, where he had been living as a Pagan, and set him apart. God called Abraham to live differently to those people around him, to be holy. Holy means, set apart for a special purpose, set apart for God. Abraham was told that nations would come from him, that through him salvation would come to the whole world. This was God’s purpose in calling him.

So Abraham’s family were different, lived differently, and looked for the day when God would fulfil his promises. Christians are in that place today, living differently, waiting for God to fulfil his promises.

When God brought the children of Abraham, the children of Israel, out of Egypt, he brought them to the foot of the mountain, gave them the law, and told them to live differently, faithfully to the God who saved them:

Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst.

You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim

(for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and when they whore after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and you are invited, you eat of his sacrifice, and you take of their daughters for your sons, and their daughters whore after their gods and make your sons whore after their gods. (Exodus 34:11-16)

When God’s people renewed the covenant at Shechem Joshua challenged Israel:

‘Choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the river, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.’ (Joshua 24:15)

The gods of Egypt, the gods of Canaan, or the LORD; choose!

The Wrong Choice

When the people of God demanded of Samuel a king to rule them, they didn’t simply say, ‘we want a king.’ They said, ‘Now appoint us a king to lead us, such as all the nations have.’ (1 Samuel 8:5) God called them to be holy, but they insisted on being base, like other nations.

Their sin could not have been worse and God comforts a shocked Samuel, ‘It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing now.’ (1 Samuel 8:7-8)

Their sin was not simply demanding a king, their sin was rejecting the King! It is a sorry tale and it continues into the New Testament. It is a theme we find in the New Testament community of God’s people, the church. Paul’s letters frequently address the issue; how do we live in order to please God? It puzzles me when I come across Christians who seem to believe they can live the way of the world and still please God.

Thessalonica

We can learn a lot from Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica. In Paul’s day, the divisions between church and society were extreme and often dangerously so. He reminds his readers:

‘It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honourable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him…For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.’ (1 Thess.4:3-7)

Paul even goes so far as to echo God’s words to Samuel, writing, ‘He who rejects this instruction [to live holy lives] does not reject man but God, who gives you the Holy Spirit.’ Once again God’s people must choose: the gods of this unholy society, or the Lord!

Thessalonica had much in common with Swansea:

Like Swansea, it had a population of about 200,000; like Swansea, it was a sea port and so was quite cosmopolitan; like Swansea, it sat on the main road through the province; like Swansea, it was a regional capital.

It was Greek, with a small Jewish population, and so converts came mostly from a pagan background. Everything Paul said and taught was opposed to popular thinking, and his purpose was to encourage Christians as they lived in a society hostile to Christian thinking and practice. Let me draw some parallels for you.

In the Greco/Roman world female infanticide was rife across all classes. Female infants, and deformed male infants, were regularly and legally exposed on mountains because they were not wanted. One letter from a Roman to his pregnant wife bluntly instructs, ‘If you are delivered of a child [while I am away], if it is a boy keep it, if a girl discard.’ Perhaps we think this kind of thing couldn’t happen today.

That is what the world tells itself. We are civilised, we don’t do such things. In the past 40 years over 8 million babies were aborted in the UK, the great majority because of lifestyle choices. One lion gets shot in Africa and people take to the streets, there is a lynch mob and there is talk of extradition. We need to understand that the values of the world are not the values of the kingdom.

Christian women back then enjoyed significantly higher status than their pagan counterparts. Married women were honoured and able to hold property, women held office in the church, and widows were looked after. Infant girls were valued and, where society married off girls at scandalously young ages, in Christian society the norm was marrying older, sometimes as late as 18. In a society with an epidemic of single mothers and irresponsible and absent fathers Christians must stand out again.

Public baths were to be found in such great numbers that one writer of the time wrote, ‘Smyrna has so many baths that you would be at a loss to know where to bathe.’ (Aelius Aristedes) Mixed nude bathing was not uncommon and, whatever your sexual orientation, sexual activity was the norm in and around these places. A society every bit as promiscuous as that is becoming a fact in our day, and we are to holy.

Three things might be drawn from this chapter of Paul’s letter to help us today:

1. Whatever the world says and does, we are to live in order to please God. Like ancient Israel, we are to be a holy people. Paul says it in his letter, ‘God did not call us to be impure, but to live holy lives.’ (v7) We face that same choice today that they faced. The gods of this world, or the God of the Bible? This means that, on any question regarding our life choices, it is God we consult, and not public opinion.

Our values are to be God’s values. Which means, as the people of God, we are to value life, every life. As did that first Christian community, building on established Jewish practice, we are to see life as precious. All mankind is made in the image of God and so we are to have high moral values that reflect that fact, controlling our own bodies, not giving in to lusts. We are to love one another, as Paul urges, ‘Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you…Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.’ (vv 9-10)

How does this work out in our daily lives? Paul gives us sound advice, writing, ‘Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anyone.’ (vv 11-12)

2. The witness of our daily lives is vital to the work of the kingdom, much more so than any arguments, or controversies we may get into. The ‘God-fearers’ of the Jewish community, those who were not Jews but who adopted many Jewish ideals and practices, were attracted by the lives of Jews they met, worked with, and saw every day. The same is true of those attracted to the Christian community. They are not won simply by arguments, but with love and a good example.

3. Finally, how we live can ultimately prove dangerous. The major theme in Paul’s letter is the second coming of Jesus as Lord and King. He reassures believers that their dead loved ones, those who have ‘fallen asleep,’ as he put it, will not miss out but will share joy with us at the second coming. He continues, ‘For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.’ vv16-17)

This is so comforting, reassuring, but it is a promise made against the backdrop of what is called the Imperial Cult. If I were to refer to, ‘The God manifest…the common saviour of humankind,’ you might think of Jesus. But this title was borne by the Emperor. Inscriptions abounded to, ‘…Caesar Augustus, Saviour of the whole human race…ruler of oceans and continents, the divine father among men, who bears the same name as his heavenly father…Liberator, the marvellous star of the Greek world, shining with the brilliance of the great heavenly Saviour.’

The word Paul used to speak of Christ’s second advent is parousia, a word that was used to describe the visit of an emperor. The Emperor Caesar Augustus was hailed as, ‘the Son of God.’ Where we cry, ‘Jesus is Lord!’ Romans cried, ‘Caesar is Lord!’

In Acts 17 Paul and Silas had trouble in Thessalonica when jealous Jews accused, ‘These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here…defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.’ (Acts 17:7)

The people said of Caesar, ‘With Caesar in charge, peace will not be driven out by civic madness or violence, or the anger that beats swords.’The Emperor bore the titles, Pax (peace) Securitas (Safety, security) Constantia (stability) Felicitas (fortune, happiness). It was against this backdrop of sycophatic flattery that Paul wrote later in this letter:

‘The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly…and they will not escape.’ (5:3)

Just as was Paul’s, our witness is at odds with the world and, like Paul, we may yet pay dear for it. Yet The Lord will come, when least expected, when the world cries peace. Will he find us living to please him? Will he find a holy people, leading quiet but faithful lives, loving one another before a watching world? Because that is what it means to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.

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