Welcome!

This is the website of Claire Musters, freelance writer and editor. Please feel free to look around – check out ‘About’ for more details of Claire’s publishing career.

Watch this space for some personal blogs from Claire on subjects ranging from juggling a writing career with young children to what life is like now her record-producing husband has become a full-time pastor!

Thanks for visiting the site – hope you enjoy it.

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What I have been reading: winter 2015/16

As well as a few titles that I have kept returning to week after week, I saved up some of the books that I’d been sent in the latter part of 2015 to enjoy over the Christmas period, and during my recuperation from a minor op. Here’s my thoughts on the selection:

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Out of Sorts By Sarah Bessey

This was a book that I read in order to interview Sarah for an author profile in a magazine. I knew she was a great writer, but I wasn’t prepared for how much the book was going to resonate with where I was at, or how much it would challenge me. I love the way that Sarah gives us permission to feel out of sorts – as a pastor’s wife I often feel I need to hide my struggles for the benefit of those around me – but at the same time have a conviction that sharing those same struggles would help others. She talks of how a period of growth often includes feeling out of sorts as we re-navigate our assumptions about our faith. I didn’t agree with absolutely everything, but I think Sarah would be okay with that – after all she indicates that her desire in writing the book is not so others will go on the same journey that she has, but will find their own way deeper with God. Amen to that.

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Resilient By Sheridan Voysey

This book was born out of Sheridan’s own experiment: to spend a month in the Sermon on the Mount. Written as a devotional, I really took my time with this one as I found the bite-size chapters were packed with challenges and insights. Sheridan doesn’t just stick with a verse by verse walk through the Sermon – each section has a chunk of the Sermon at the start but then he includes other scriptures that have resonated with him on the particular subject in question. I found this a very honest and enriching devotional, which has given me much to ponder and work through for myself.

 

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Finding myself in Britain By Amy Boucher Pye

I was really excited to delve into the pages of this one: I have known Amy and worked for her for a few years in our editorial capacities, so I was intrigued to find out what Amy’s book would be like. And I wasn’t disappointed. Charming, witty, honest and with an openness that only an American would have, Amy introduces the British year to the reader, describing each season and event in the calendar though her American eyes. As an American married to a British vicar she has lived here for many years so has great insight. She also introduces us to some of her childhood delights and other native joys – as a Brit who grew up in America it was lovely to go down memory lane as I recognised so much of what she described from ‘back home’. This is a perfect book to give as a gift to a friend.

 

the scent of waterThe Scent of Water By Elizabeth Goudge

I saved this book to take into hospital with me, and I have to say it was the perfect choice. Gentle, tender, poetic and beautifully descriptive, the book is about a middle-aged woman from London who is left a house in the country when her father’s cousin dies. She decides to leave the city and move there, and, in doing so, embarks on a journey of discovery – about herself, her distant relative, her lost love and the people she lives near in the country. The pace is slow and meandering – at another time I may have got impatient with that but it was just what I needed. I enjoyed the moments of spiritual insights too, jotting down many of them.

 

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Two Steps Forward By Sharon Garlough Brown

This is the sequel to Sensible Shoes. Again a title I had had for ages, I saved it for the Christmas break. The first book introduced us to four women who met during a spiritual formation journey at a retreat centre. They are all very different, but strike up a friendship that lasts beyond the retreat. With sequels I am always concerned that I won’t get as caught up in the story, or won’t care as much about the characters as I did first time round, but Sharon did a brilliant job of moving their stories on and I was gripped. I loved reading about how the characters were learning to use the things they discovered on retreat back in their everyday lives, with all the difficulties and struggles they contain.

As she did in the first book, Sharon also includes great spiritual insights, many of which are highlighted ready to be transferred into my journal as they spoke to me personally. I love it when a novel is more than a mere escape – although that is obviously a big role novels play in our lives. This book left me challenged, with new spiritual disciplines and exercises to try. I heartily recommend it – and the whole series if you haven’t read the first book. I’m excited to learn that Sharon is already working on the fourth book in the series…

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A man after God’s own heart

David cover

I just wanted to let you know about my latest book, shown above. I believe the series it is a part of is a great way to get into reading the Bible more, which may well be something you’ve determined to do this year. If so, why not see if a few friends would like to purchase the book too so that you can work through it as a group study together?

Each chapter of the book looks at a different part of the life of David. There are scripture references to look up and read, a small commentary on the passages and then questions and application to work through – as well as comments on how David pointed towards the life and ministry of Jesus.

You can buy the book here, and below are extracts from the personal application sections in two chapters:

Fear and passivity can cause us to conform to the opinions, preferences and expectations of those around us. It can lead to situations like the one we find the Israelites in at the start of this chapter – all afraid, hiding from their enemy, no one with courage enough to stand up and out of the crowd. How wonderful, but also challenging, to read how David refused to be put in such a box by those around him (and even the king). How often do we stand up to opposition, even from those in our own friendship groups, in the same way that David did – or is our more usual response like that of the Israelites? David’s perspective was very much in line with God’s David showed almost childlike trust in God, but also in the training God had given him during his years as a shepherd. From which perspective are you seeing the challenges that lay before you?

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Have you learned to call out to God for help, especially to keep you faithful to Him, as David did so often? We have a huge array of his psalms to help us understand how to do this. Have you also taught those under your care (whether your own children or those you guide and nurture spiritually) how to do the same? It is so important that we lead by example, but also help nourish the faith of those we have influence over. What sort of legacy do you hope to leave behind you that will impact the generations to come?

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Slowing down during Advent

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I love Christmas. I love the preparations, the waiting, the build up of excitement, the putting up of decorations, the time spent devising menus. I love being involved in the music for carol services, watching our children’s excitement as they prepare for the nativity play. But, if I’m honest, I also struggle with the stress.

I see the start of Advent, and know that it’s a time of reflection – and I long to have the time and space to really enjoy it. However, I’m sad to say, the busyness of life so often crowds in as I rush to finish deadlines before the kids break up from school.

At this point in our calendar I’m focused most on getting our son’s birthday party celebrations organised, with the ever-growing list of jobs to do for Christmas weighing on my mind.

Even among all the activity, though, I can sense a longing in my soul. I am desperate to connect, to find the deeper meaning in this season. And I am desperate for our family’s experience of Advent to go beyond chocolate and calendars.

I am drawn to rediscover the meaning of waiting this Advent. Drawn to the character of Mary, and what this time meant for her. When we first meet her in the gospels she seems like a vulnerable young woman; betrothed to a respectable man in her neighbourhood. But one visit from an angel changes everything.

Mary’s response to that angel, after a few somewhat understandable questions, is simply ‘I am the Lord’s servant… May your words to me be fulfilled.’ (Luke 1:38) Incredible. I could never be that calm.

After visiting Elizabeth, Mary creates what is often referred to as the Magnificat, her song of praise (Luke 1:46-55). Through it she reveals she understands the way that God has blessed her for a special purpose. Mary recognises that God is a champion for the poor and oppressed too, and that God is fulfilling His promises to Abraham (and Israel) through what is to take place.

Whenever I look at those verses I am always taken aback. Granted, Mary has had a visitation from an angel, who has taken the time to explain things to her. Elizabeth has also recognised that the baby inside of Mary is the Lord so Mary has someone she can talk freely with. But still…

While Mary herself recognises she is highly favoured, she’s also in a time of waiting that is filled with so many unknowns. Will Joseph stand by her? If he does, will their society cast them out? And then, once the census was decreed, how will she cope with the long journey to Bethlehem and where will she give birth? (I’m sure that the idea of a stable never once entered her head!) What would her son be like? How would He make Himself known as the Messiah?

So many questions, yet the biblical account doesn’t reveal much about Mary’s state of mind. There seems to be a peace amongst the anticipation while the reality must have been messy, and deeply painful, at times. What surrounds this part of the Christmas story for me is stillness and patience; the atmosphere thick with pregnant hope.

While I pause for a moment to reflect and write this, I pray that I too can find that stillness and patience. That I too can look forward to the coming celebrations with hope, not allowing the stress and busyness that can so easily accompany this season to rob me of the precious gift behind it all.

This blog was originally published on Christian Today.

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The Jazz Files

 

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I was delighted to be asked to be a part of  Fiona Veitch Smith’s blog tour for her latest book, The Jazz Files, and agreed to post up my interview with her again. Here it is in its entirety – long but fascinating ;)

Congratulations on an intriguing, fast-moving novel. This is the first book in a series – could you explain how your publishing deal came about?

I hope you’ve got a cup of tea in hand, this is a bit of a long story … I was hired by Monarch (Lion Hudson) around four years ago to ghostwrite a biography. They took me on because a few years before that I submitted a non-fiction idea to them which they turned down. Although they didn’t want the book, they liked my writing style and kept me in mind for the ghostwriting project. However, after nine months working on it I came to the conclusion that the man who the book was about had made up much of his story. I told Monarch and they cancelled the contract.

Lion Hudson – and, in particular, Tony Collins, one of the commissioning editors there – felt awful that the contract was cancelled and asked if I had anything else they could look at because they really wanted to work with me. The only other thing I had in the pipeline at the time was a historical novel set in the 1st century against the background of the early church. At the time the Lion Fiction imprint was being launched and they asked to look at it.

It took them eighteen months – and two rewrites from me – to decide that although they liked the book, they felt it was too ‘Christian’ for their market. Again they asked me if I had anything else. Well I didn’t; nothing written anyway. But I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth so I started mulling over some new ideas.

My research of what Lion Fiction was already publishing told me that crime mystery series were something they were interested in. So I came up with the idea of a reporter sleuth set in the 1920s and submitted the idea to them. They liked the idea and the outline but weren’t prepared to go to contract without seeing the whole book.

So I had to write it. It took me six months. I submitted it – plus some ideas for the rest of the series – and they finally offered me a contract. Phew! So the moral of the story is … don’t give up. These things can take a looooooong time to come to fruition. I’m so grateful they stuck with me and I thank Tony Collins for believing in me as a writer for so many years.

Do you have all the ideas for the whole series already set out, or is it an evolving process?

It’s an evolving process. I deliberately started the series in 1920 so I had ten years for my heroine to have adventures before it became a series set in the 1930s – whether she, the publisher or I are game for another decade, is a decision for the future. However, I had it in mind from the beginning to set the book against real historical events as they unfold through the decade. Which events still have to be decided, but I do have a basic structure in mind.

About halfway through writing the first book I knew that I wanted to set the next one – which has now been written – against the diaspora of White Russian refugees in the wake of the Russian Revolution. I know too where the third book will be set and am starting my background reading on that now. I have an inkling of Book 4, but have not made any firm decisions yet. The story and background of Book 2 were decided because one of the characters of Book 1 was a Russian and it gave me scope to delve a bit more into his back story. Also, I found a faux Fabergé Egg in a charity shop, which gave me the idea for the main plotline.

The same with Book 3 – it’s linked to the back story of another character. So a tip for writers considering writing series: have a broad dramatis personae of colourful characters. They may only play a bit part in the first book but could be developed down the line.

The Suffragette movement is still at the forefront of your characters’ minds. Your main character, Poppy, is one of the young women who were forging their own careers in traditionally male-dominated worlds. Why did you choose to set the series in that era?

After my first self-published novel, The Peace Garden, I discovered I was attracted to the mystery genre. The book started as a literary novel but soon drifted towards mystery. And as I have a degree in history and I love reading historical mysteries, it seemed to be a natural fit. But why the 1920s? Well I originally conceived of it set in 1912. The day before I received the rejection for my 1st century historical and the request for another proposal, I had been to visit the grave of the suffragette Emily Wilding Davison in Morpeth. It was the centenary of her death and I had just used her as an example of women acting out their faith (she was a Christian) in a talk I gave to my church’s women’s ministry. The pastor’s wife suggested we visit Emily’s grave and lay flowers. There is a picture of me at her grave on www.poppydenby.com under the ‘Suffragette’ link.

The next day I received news that Lion had rejected my 1st century novel. I was naturally very upset after all the work I’d put into it, but heartened that they wanted more. As I was praying and asking God to guide me as to what to write next, my eye was drawn to a book on my bookshelf called Unshackled by Christabel Pankhurst. It’s a first-hand account of the women’s suffrage movement.

It suddenly dawned on me that I should write about a suffragette reporter sleuth. (Why a reporter? Well I was formerly a journalist … but that’s another story). So I started planning the novel. However, the period just didn’t seem to fit. The clothes were boring, the music was boring and frankly, my character might have been feisty but she was downright dowdy. I felt the same writing her as I did playing Sheila Birling in an am-dram production of An Inspector Calls. But what I wanted to feel was like I felt when I played the delightful Maisie in Ken Russell’s The Boyfriend (a high school production – pic again on www.poppydenby.com). I had also just started learning to play jazz clarinet and was listening to music from the 1920s. I began to conceive of shifting my story to the 1920s and having my main character an inheritor of the legacy of the Suffragettes.

Just like Poppy I worked as a journalist in the 1990s and inherited the freedoms won by the brave women of the 1960s and 70s. Once I made this shift I immediately felt an emotional connection with the character and the period. And the rest, as they say, is history.

How did you research the historical content of your novel? 

I read a number of non-fiction books about the period, which are listed at the back of The Jazz Files and also on the www.poppydenby.com website. In addition to this I went down to London for a few days and walked up and down Fleet Street and King’s Road – key locations in the novel – to get a feel for the place and travelled the same routes that Poppy would travel on bus and train. I spent two days in the British Library reading newspapers from 1920 – particularly the Daily Mail and The Times. Some of the news stories that appear in the book were genuine articles from the time. I also went to the Suffragette exhibition and fashion exhibition at the London Museum. Some of the outfits that Poppy and Delilah wear in The Jazz Files were exact replicas of outfits I saw there. In addition I researched what was playing on the theatre scene in 1920 as well as cinema and music. The songs played in chapter 3 of the book were all actually played in 1920. These are small details that most people won’t notice but it gives me great pleasure to get these things right. I also like to think it adds a touch of authenticity that readers will feel if not know.

Fiona in her 1920s guise :)

You write in various genres, including children’s books, stage plays and screenplays. Where do you get your inspiration for each genre, and do you find writing for one of them easier than the others?

I didn’t set out to write for all genre and media. I set out to be a full-time writer and simply pursued whatever opportunities came my way. I would push at a door to see how far it would open and if it stopped, try another. The net result is that I am published and produced across the media but with varying success in each. I am first and foremost a storyteller. I come up with story ideas and then see which media would be the best vehicle to tell that story. So I rarely look at a genre then come up with an idea; it works the other way. Occasionally though I will be commissioned to write something for a specific medium and then I delve into my ideas bank and see which story would best suit the technicalities of the medium. Some stories are more visual (film) others require immediacy and audience interaction (stage) still others are simple stories with deeper truths (children) then others more epic with extensive back story (novel). Short stories and poems are better suited to a single image or concept. I wrote a poem this morning about an ageing apple tree. The concept would have been overstretched if I’d tried to write it into a film or novel. It could have been a children’s story, however, but I wanted to get across a deep spiritual truth which required the reader to have a bit of life experience to relate to – so a poem for adults it became. Each medium has its strengths and weakness. It’s like trying to choose your favourite child. At the moment though I am focusing on writing picture books for children with SPCK and novels with Lion Fiction.

For all those aspiring writers out there: how do you manage your time between being a lecturer in writing and writing itself? Are you working towards writing full-time or do you feel you have the balance as you want it?

I started lecturing by accident. A friend’s husband died suddenly and she asked me to take over her adult ed writing class. I’d never taught before, but I felt unable to say no. It turned out to be a very fulfilling experience. It also provided income to buy me time to write. Since then, now 11 years ago, I have continued to teach and lecture part time. I now lecture at two universities but I wouldn’t say it’s my day job – I only lecture a day or two a week between September and April. My day job is still writing. I think I’m beginning to find the balance. A couple of years ago I said yes to taking on more lecturing work because I needed the money but then my writing suffered. In the last two years I have tried to keep April to August completely free to write. It’s tough, because I only get paid for what’s called ‘contact time’ and I end up living off my credit card for a couple of months every year. Should other writers do it? That’s up to you. I gave up a full-time, well-paid job as a journalist to pursue creative writing, but my family’s income took a massive hit as a result. It’s not for everyone. I make sure I take on enough paid work to keep the wolf from the door. And that’s the reality for most writers. Very few people manage to do it full time without an additional income stream.

You also speak at conferences and offer creative writing workshops for both children and adults alike. Would you say that writers need to learn to diversify, or have those other avenues simply developed naturally for you?

I do that because a) I enjoy it; b) I have a natural gift for public speaking and teaching; and c) it helps to pay the bills (although some of the appearances barely pay enough to cover expenses – if anything at all!). This is something that suits me and my skill-set, but will not necessarily suit everyone. Yes it has increased my profile and hence gives me and my books a bit of a ‘platform’ but that’s not the primary reason I do it. I would advise writers to connect with their audiences in whatever way suits their personality and skill-set. But readers do like to meet authors ‘in the flesh’.

In 2011 you started your own ‘indie’ publishing company. How did that come about, and what was behind the decision to fold it in 2015? 

Crafty Publishing was started when my husband was made redundant (and then got a bit of spare cash when he got a new job fairly quickly). I had written a series of children’s books called the Young David Books, which I had unsuccessfully tried to get published. After they went down so well at my church my husband and I decided to use some of his redundancy money to self-publish. It was hard work but ultimately a successful little enterprise. Within four years of self-publishing we were approached by three different publishers to buy us out – two in the UK and one in America. By this time we felt we had plateaued with the books and couldn’t take them to the next level. We decided to sell the books to SPCK who are doing a brilliant job with them now and are getting them the international distribution that we were unable to do.

As things were going so well with my own books I thought I would try to give some other writers a chance – as I know how hard it is to get published – and also to try a different genre. I brought out my own adult novel and then signed another writer. We had four other writers in the pipeline (one children and three adult) when we decided to stop publishing earlier this year. The reasons were financial. My children’s books were the only things that made any money (not much, but we were approaching break-even point) yet we struggled to find sufficient distribution for the adult books to make it a viable commercial concern. We were at the point where we would have to have started siphoning off our family’s savings to fund it and we weren’t prepared to do that. So sadly, particularly for the authors involved, we had to call it a day.

You have quite a presence online: an old website, your new author website, a Poppy Denby website plus your Crafty Writers website. How do you have time to keep all the content refreshed? What advice would you give to writers wanting to make more of a presence online?

The truth is I don’t. My many websites reflect different aspects of my career over a 12-year period. One of the sites was more active when I was making my living primarily as a freelance feature writer, journalist and blogger. Another when I was earning more from giving writing advice and freelance editing and copywriting. As my career has developed so my web presence has changed. The problem is the sites are linked in to other sites and it is not that easy to take them down. As my writing career is becoming more streamlined into me being a novelist with Lion Fiction and a children’s writer with SPCK I am trying to streamline my online presence – but this takes time. So my advice: don’t take on more than you can chew!

It’s the same with social media: I am on Linked In, Goodreads, Twitter and FB but really only focus on Twitter and FB. They suit me and my relational personality more. I might give Goodreads another go but there are only a few hours in the day that I can (or should!) devote to social media. I would advise writers trying to build their online presence to choose one or two outlets and do them well. That being said, these days, having an online presence and being active in social media is one of the things publishers take into consideration when deciding whether or not to take your book. So do it, but do it wisely (ain’t hindsight a wonderful thing?).

What now for Poppy Denby and future writing projects?

I’m very excited that Poppy 2 has now been sent off to my publisher. I will be focusing mainly on lecturing over the Autumn plus promoting The Jazz Files. In between I will start research for Poppy 3. In the New Year I am looking forward to working on a new children’s series with SPCK. Beyond that, I’m very tempted to start pitching Poppy Denby Investigates as a television series. I would like to do the adaptation myself. A girl can dream, can’t she? And sometimes, just sometimes, those dreams come true.

You can buy a copy of The Jazz Files here.

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The poison of comparison

Stressed-Woman

We’ve all done it haven’t we (well, I certainly hope it isn’t just me!)? Taken side-long glances at someone at church and wished we were more like them: more ‘spiritual’ (like we assume they are), more confident, perhaps even more beautiful? But what does the habit of comparison do to us?

Such moments of comparison inevitably create feelings of inferiority and condemnation and can cause us to cover up our own inadequacies. One of the main reasons for going to church is to encourage and build up one another:

‘And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another’ (Hebrews 10:24–25).

Sadly the poison of comparison infects this process and so the encouragement we can receive from meeting with one another is cut off. I’ve had instances in which I’ve struggled severely with feelings of inadequacy within a few minutes of entering a church building. My response is to turn inwards – it feels like my personality is literally curling in on itself – and then I either find a means of escaping conversations or I put on a big, ‘happy’ smile and pretend all is okay, confidently speaking out while all the while I’m withering inside.

It took me a long time to understand that by comparing myself to whichever person it was, I was comparing all my week’s baggage with their present image – and often I did it without even speaking to them!

God gently began to talk to me and remind me that what I was seeing on the outside was just a snapshot of their life. I couldn’t possibly know what their week had been like, and how they were emotionally, physically and spiritually, without asking them – and without them choosing to give me an honest answer.

They could have shouted at their kids on the way to church, sworn at their partner in an argument in the week and gossiped about their boss because they were fed up with them. They could be wrestling with God about unanswered questions or prayers or be carrying some really deep hurt that is causing them a huge amount of pain… So to base my response to people on such an enormous amount of assumptions was really unhealthy and unhelpful.

Often our conversations remain on a superficial level because we are protecting ourselves. We are uncomfortable and unsure of our footing with those around us precisely because of the assumptions and comparisons we’ve made. By doing this, we’ve allowed the poison of comparison to infect our relationships.

The truth is, many of us are longing to know that we are not alone in our struggles. One of the wonderful things about church is that we can meet like-minded people and learn to support one another. We can be honest and share what difficulties we are facing and receive support – through prayer and practical help – as well as encouragement to worship God through the suffering. I wonder if we can stop the comparisons long enough to get a bit deeper and give ourselves the chance to experience that…

I explore this issue further in my forthcoming book: Authentic Church: learning to live mask-free.

This article first appeared on Christian Today.

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True beauty

girl looking in mirrorI have a ten-year-old daughter who is beginning to be obsessed with fashion, make-up and yes, dare I say it, her figure.

I love the growing opportunities for girly shopping days together, as we have a huge amount of fun and the one-on-one time is priceless. But I am alarmed at the preoccupations that are already surfacing. She is thin, but apparently not as thin as one of her friends. She has some fantastic outfits (mainly from her older cousins, which is such a blessing), but is apparently not as ‘fashionable’ as that same friend (outfits are ‘judged’ at school discos).

Right from an early age, I have been teaching her that inner beauty is more important than outer beauty, but as she is growing ever closer to teenage-hood I can see the message ‘you must be thin and beautiful to be worth anything’ beginning to penetrate her mind. Alarmed, I have started to ask myself: Am I perpetuating the acceptance of that silent message somehow?

Yes, as I’ve hit and passed the ripe old age of forty, I’ve uttered the words ‘Oh no! I’ve put on weight!’ as I’ve tried to squeeze into a pair of skinny jeans, and have also asked ‘Does this outfit make me look fat?’ And guys this isn’t just a female-only problem: the message of the media is that you need to be toned and beautiful to be successful. The male grooming industry has exploded in recent years, so I know it is not just we women who obsess about such things.

I recently read a tweet from Stylish, quoting Helen Mirram: ‘I hate the word beautiful, I wish there were another word for it’.

That got me thinking about what true beauty is, and what I want my daughter to think about when she asks herself: Am I beautiful?

I do believe that the media’s constant use of glamorous models, whatever it is they are advertising, drip feeds us with the idea that we need to try to attain what, for some, is an unattainable goal. Here’s some of the ideas I’ve been using to combat the unhelpful messages we find all around us:

• Ask yourself: Am I happy in my skin?

When we remember that God has knitted us together in our mothers’ wombs (Psalm 139:13–14), and that each one of us is totally unique, it is time to accept ourselves for who we are. We can each strive for acceptance and affirmation from others (yes, my spirit is lifted when someone says ‘you look nice today’!), and yet God has a never-ending supply of both, if we would just look to Him.

Here’s an excerpt of the verses from psalms, taken from The Message. If you find it hard to accept your body shape, why not spend some time meditating on this, speaking it over yourself, because you are a marvellous creation:

‘Body and soul, I am marvelously made!

I worship in adoration—what a creation!’

Learn to be positive, and celebrate you for the person God made you to be; the real you.

• Stop obsessing about what you wear.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to look good, or enjoying the process of dressing smartly (and putting on make-up if you like wearing it), but allowing it to take over your focus isn’t healthy.

I have written previously about dressing our spirits; we can spend so long choosing what to wear but do we daily make a conscious decision to put on those garments that God has laid out for us?:

‘So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.’ (Colossians 3:12–14, The Message)

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• Change your idea of what beauty truly is.

As part of my daily reflections I am working through Rachel Gardner’s great book Beloved. Just today I got to her chapter on beauty, and loved the way she turned the definition of beauty on its head. She explains how our society has reduced beauty to glamour (outside, superficial, skin-deep beauty), and has some great, quotable lines on the difference between the two:

‘If glamour is the blusher painted onto your face, beauty is the inner radiance that lights you up from the inside.’

‘If glamour is the outfit that helps you make an entrance, beauty is your generous heart that makes your presence change the atmosphere.’

‘If glamour is the perfume clinging to your clothes, beauty is the fragrance of your life that lingers long after you’ve left the room.’

It is interesting to see how the Bible speaks directly about the importance of inner, rather than surface, beauty:

‘Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. This is how the holy women of old made themselves beautiful.’ (I Peter 3:3–5, NLT)

Taking the time to cultivate that gentle spirit has, so far, been a lifelong journey for me, so I’m taking these verses as an encouragement to keep on going!

It is this overall message that I hope to convey to my daughter, and it has also challenged me to think about the way that I live. Later on in her beauty chapter Rachel also says: ‘The goal of glamour is to make everyone feel envious. The goal of beauty is to make everyone feel loved.’ Isn’t that so true? We can get a fleeting feeling of contentment (or smugness – let’s call it by its true name!) when we know people are looking at us enviously. But those we look up to, those we describe as having a ‘beautiful spirit’, are those people who go out of their way to make others feel loved and accepted. They are the true successes; and the true world-changers.

• Remember your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.

I am certainly not saying that we should let our bodies go to wrack and ruin. They are a gift, and we have a responsibility to look after them and keep them healthy, which often takes more work as we get older. I know the following verses from 1 Corinthians are in a passage about refraining from sexual immorality, but I think they are a good checkpoint for us to see what our attitudes to our bodies are:

‘Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies.’ (1 Corinthians 6:19–20, NIVUK).

The Holy Spirit is in us; is our attitude towards our bodies and the way we behave towards those we are in contact during the day honouring to Him?

This article first appeared on the Christian Today website.

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Filed under Being a woman, Discipleship, On parenting, Worship as a lifestyle

Suffragette – and sacrifice

SUFFRAGETTEOfficialUKPosterI was so excited to see the new film Suffragette last night. It was everything I was hoping it would be – challenging, inspiring, uncomfortable in (lots of) places, beautifully shot, well acted. When I take the time to ponder what those women went through I still can’t quite believe that it was such a relatively short time ago. Our generation of women owe a huge debt of gratitude to the women of that era who refused to be silenced. (But yes I do acknowledge there is still much to be done…)

I have to say, I’m not sure that I would have condoned the violent methods that were employed by the WSPU. But watching the film last night, having the bits of history literally brought to life in front of me, did make me think again. How would I have felt if I had been led to believe that there were men in government that supported votes for women, who spent time listening to women’s testimonies, only to be told in a quick announcement that nothing was changing? As Meryl Streep said in her speech as Emmeline Pankhurst, for fifty years they had tried peaceful methods. How much pent-up frustration must there have been amongst the crowd of women at that point?

suffragette film pic

I know, if I’m truly honest, how frustrated I get if my voice isn’t heard. So while I can’t say I agree with all I saw and have read about their methods, and it’s a shame the film didn’t include the more peaceful ways the suffragists, for example, protested, I don’t feel that I can sit in judgement. I can’t get the thought of the women being expected to simply accept the decision out of my mind, and the way the police dispersed the crowd using violence – and even physical abuse (ripping clothes and groping).

The film’s action is propelled by the story of a young mother, Maud. It is hugely emotive at times – she seems to be pushed into becoming a suffragette by others and I found myself finding that rather uncomfortable. But, trying not to give too much away, she gets to a point where standing up for the rights of women could cost her everything – including her family. I was really challenged by that. Is there a cause that I’m that passionate about?

Then I thought to myself: what would I do if there comes a point in my life when following Jesus could cost me my family? It’s such a painful thing to consider – and yet the Bible talks about us losing our lives for Jesus (Matthew 10:39), and there are many around the world doing just that right now.

What I was reading as part of my daily devotion today, Rachel Gardner’s wonderful book Beloved, has a line that really jumped out at me: ‘Nothing life can offer, including life itself, can compare to knowing Jesus’. Wow. I know I know that, but just reading it afresh made that truth hit me again. Wow.

Watching Suffragette made me truly grateful for those who stood up for what they believed in, and also made me question whether I ever do the same. But this morning I’ve been challenged once again to consider how much I am willing to give up for Jesus…

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Filed under Being a woman, Leadership, Suffering