The spirituality of the 1920s

I love Fiona’s Poppy Denby Investigates series, and have interviewed her and had guest posts from her when each new book has come out. Having already asked her about how she goes about writing a series, I asked whether she would come up with an idea for a guest blog, so that I could help her celebrate the latest title: The Cairo Brief. I wasn’t expecting what she sent through, but here is a fascinating explanation as to why she decided to include a séance in the book…

“Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, you might see and hear things that have no apparent explanation. Do not… I repeat, do not… try to apply a scientific mind to them. […] There are some things you need to take on faith. The metaphysical world is one of them…” Lady Ursula at the start of a séance in The Cairo Brief, book 4 in the Poppy Denby Investigates series.

 

I spent my early Christian years in a community that treated even the slightest whiff of the occult – even comic depictions of it – with immense suspicion. I remember as a teenager walking out of the film Beatle Juice because I feared the devil would get his clutches into me. When I discovered that Arthur Conan Doyle was a leading spiritualist, I burned my treasured copy of the Complete Sherlock Holmes; something that to this day I regret.

Since those fearful times in the 1980s my faith has changed, and the paranoia about a demon behind every bush has all but gone. This does not mean that I do not believe in the reality of satanic forces in the world – and I still won’t watch a full-on horror film such as The Omen – but my views on how those satanic forces operate, and whether or not they can ‘get their clutches into you’ if you read or watch certain things, have matured.

Nonetheless, I’m aware that there is a broad spectrum of views on this in the Church and that it would be prudent, in a book from a Christian publisher, that my editor and I pause to consider whether or not the depiction of a séance would be appropriate. We both did. 

Firstly, séances were a marked cultural expression of the time. From the mid-1800s to the early 20th century, the spiritualist movement was in its heyday. For some it took the place of conventional religion with spiritualist churches (starting in the USA) soon spreading around the world. Academics and leading literary figures – like Arthur Conan Doyle – attempted to prove the existence of the paranormal, using quasi-scientific methodologies. Then there were those who didn’t take it very seriously at all, simply going along with the ‘fashion’ of playing occult parlour games.

Like my heroine Poppy – and many others of the time – Arthur Conan Doyle had lost loved ones during the war. It was as a result of that that he started trying to contact the dead, and, along with his second wife Lady Jean (an automatic writer), began leading séances. This was useful for me as one of the recurring themes of the Poppy Denby books is the dark shadow cast by the Great War and how individuals and society have been cut to the core by the horrors it unleashed.

The second reason we decided to include the séance was that the rise of alternative spiritualities in the 1920s was a result of the loosening of power of the established Church. That was something that I have been exploring through all of the Poppy Denby books. Poppy, the daughter of Methodist ministers, questions what it means to be a Christian in the new ‘modern’ world.

The post-WWI years saw the breakdown of cultural Christianity and the increasing separation of Church and State. As the State’s role as a provider of education, healthcare etc grew, the Church’s social function – as a welfare institution – began to diminish. As suffrage expanded to include the lower classes, the power they had to demand the government meet social needs meant that the Church no longer had a clearly defined role to play. People began to ask: ‘What, actually, is the point of church?’

http://www.world-war-pictures.com

Faith became an issue of personal choice. That’s why the evangelical movement did so well; because it was down to the individual and their ‘personal relationship with God’. In my Poppy books, the heroine is set adrift from Church as an institution and needs to re-align her faith. Is it a personal faith? Is it a family faith? Is it a communal faith? What role does a God of love have to play in a world blighted by horror?

The Twenties was a decade where God’s credibility was being challenged. It was no longer a matter of ‘we believe because the church tells us to’, it was: do ‘I’ believe it? People were increasingly emboldened to turn their backs on religious faith by the growing understanding of science, which some believed gave a legitimate alternative to the question of how the world came to be. People were no longer just asking ‘what’s the point of the Church?’ But: ‘what’s the point of God himself?’ In the 1920s universal suffrage put political power into the hands of individuals. The question of whether to believe in God or not was now in their hands too.

And so we have Poppy going into a séance. What will she make of it? Will the devil get his claws into her? Will she think it’s all a bit of harmless fun? Or, is something more serious, and ultimately, more sinister going on…? You’ll have to read it to see.

Fiona Veitch Smith is a writer and university lecturer, based in Newcastle upon Tyne. Her 1920s mystery novel The Jazz Files, the first in the Poppy Denby Investigates Series (Lion Fiction), was shortlisted for the CWA Historical Dagger award in 2016. The second book, The Kill Fee, was a finalist for the Foreword Review mystery novel of the year 2016/17. Book four in the series, The Cairo Brief, has been shortlisted for the People’s Book Prize, which you can vote for on the prize’s website. For more on the series visit www.poppydenby.com 

Book anniversary

There are few things more exciting for an author than to see their book baby in their hands for the first time. Today is the first anniversary of my book Taking Off the Mask, so I couldn’t let the day pass without marking it with a blog post. I had written books before this one (and some after too), but this was the one that I had had on my heart for quite a few years before it came out. It was also the one that I had the hardest time getting published! But out it came last November, and I was blown away by all the support from the team who helped produce it, those who helped launch it, other colleagues and all my family and friends. (You can still buy the book direct from me and I’d be happy to sign it for you – please click here to find out more.)

Authenticity is such a passion of mine and it is the subject of many of the talks I do. I firmly believe that church should be a place where we can be honest about our struggles. Life is tough, and we all need those close friends who we can share with openly and get support, prayer and, yes, challenge when necessary. Far too often we hide what is going on, afraid of rejection or ashamed that we are struggling at all. But that is not the way that God intended us to live.

God sometimes surprises us too: when I started my own journey with this subject I never realised I would one day write a book about it and become a regular speaker (the shy introvert in me is still taken aback by that one). And yet I absolutely LOVE all the opportunities that He has opened up. That isn’t to say that I find everything easy – often His nudges necessitate a whole lot of faith and courage on our part. But we can rest assured that He accepts, loves and holds us – He is the ultimate champion of each one of us and loves it when we step into the new things He has lovingly prepared for us!

I feel so privileged to be able to mark this one year anniversary. And I’m excited to let you know that I’m working on another book currently – this time co-written with the lovely Heather Churchill. It is Insight into Shame – something that each one of us experiences at some time in our lives. While my own story could have kept me locked in shame, I now freely share it in the hopes that it encourages others to open up. And I’m praying over this new book as I put it together, that the insights within it will help people walk free from the shame that has held them for so long.

Finding worth in Jesus

Anne le Tissier is a writer and speaker who has authored several books and has a passion to disciple Christians. Her latest book, The Mirror That Speaks Back, is centred around us finding our worth in Jesus, but is also deeply personal.

Firstly, I have known you as a regular contributor to magazines, often unpacking biblical texts, as well as a book writer. Has this always been your career, or did you have a different job? If the latter, what led you to pursue writing?

I pursued a career in investment banking after leaving school, but it was while taking a year out in my early twenties to travel the world and train with YWAM, that I first sensed God gently steering me into a new direction.

Travelling solo, my only company was a journal. I filled its pages, two lines of miniature writing to a space, sharing in intricate detail my experiences, what I felt God was teaching me, how I was feeling, etc. And that was how God ignited a desire to write. Mind you, it took another 14 years for my first book to be published.

You are extremely honest in this book: sharing personal experience of an eating disorder, abusive relationship and other difficulties. What led you to do that?

I’ve read a good number of teaching or self-help books, all of which have a part to play in helping people find healing from self-image issues. But when I was commissioned to write The Mirror That Speaks Back, I knew there was no point trying to duplicate what was already out there, not least, because I’m not qualified to.

I knew from the moment I prayed, God’s prompting to share my story. I’ll admit that wasn’t easy – I am by nature an extremely private person. So you can imagine my ‘wobbles’ while writing some of that story – I even suggested to my editor, close to publication, that a certain scene might be deleted (they quite rightly disagreed!). That said, I still left out great chunks of my story that were just too painful or inappropriate to put on the page.

The book is aimed particularly at women younger than you – why is that? Your publisher likens it to a letter written to such women – is that how you viewed the writing of it? And how differently did you approach writing this book to others you have written in the past?

I was specifically commissioned to write a book for younger women, which I admit, I didn’t find easy. It’s been a while since I was their age and it’s not my usual genre.

I developed a questionnaire to help me connect with the issues young women struggle with, and to hear their take on faith and life, from their cultural perspective. I sent it to a number of contacts who came my way, some of whom forwarded it on, and some who kindly arranged for me to visit their groups in person, where the girls/young women answered the questions face-to-face on the basis I kept them anonymous. I always went armed with a ‘thank you’ tin of homemade cake and they were all great fun as well as extremely honest with me, which I have to say, was a privilege. In fact, they even had to explain a few terms to me, like, ‘contouring’!  Other young women returned the questionnaire to me by email; again, on the basis I gave them a pseudonym. And there were a few who posted it back anonymously.

Interestingly, however, although the pressure comes through different formats (social media, for example), self-image issues today are much like those when I was young.

Consequently, my approach to writing the book was different to others I’ve written in that I tried to keep the sub-themes of each chapter as short and succinct as possible, plus, of course, I wove in young women’s responses into the text (anonymously).

But even as I was writing, I sensed the book had potential to speak into lives of older women too – and that has proved true, both from reviews and from readers who have contacted me; the eldest, age 86!

Why does body image have such a huge effect on our identity as women?

I’d like to say it’s part of today’s culture, but I looked into the history while researching Mirror, and it’s been around for centuries; longer even than when beauty was defined by a flawless white complexion, and women painted their faces with deadly poison (powdered lead). Just bring to mind images of ancient Egyptian women with their lithe figures, painted faces, stylised hair and banded gold jewellery, and you can see what a history we’ve inherited.

So here’s a short answer to a massive question. We all have an innate longing to be valued and loved, and if we can’t achieve that through some definition of success, intellectual capacity, level of income or the ability to conceive and birth children, some of us might look to our body to help us attain it. Too often, however, no matter how much we squeeze, starve, cut, nip, enlarge, reduce, paint or pierce our body, it is simply never enough: that source of worth we’ve relied on to feel good about ourselves or attractive to a man, washes off in the bath, grows septic with infection, gains weight with a holiday or long-term medication, disfigures with illness, or simply fades and wrinkles with age. And time after time we’re left feeling inadequate, unattractive, unwanted, incapable, ashamed and unworthy, all because we’re sourcing our identity from the wrong place.

You cover illness – both physical and mental – and what effect it can have on our sense of self. What did you own journey with illness teach you about your sense of self-worth, and what did you learn from the other women whose stories you include?

Some of what I learned from other women is included in the book, but as for my own sense of self with my health issues, the key thing I was reminded of was: Who is in control of my life; Who knows my first and last breath, Who determines my days, and Whose love and care for me through painful symptoms and anxious appointments, is of far greater value to me than what I can do or how I appear.

Why do you think we seem to measure success in how we compare to others? How can we combat that?

We’ve been comparing ourselves against others since the beginning of time; it must be a part of our fallen nature, instead of just comparing ourselves with God and pursuing His goals for us (remember Cain and Abel, Esau and Jacob… in fact, Satan tempted Eve to compare her wisdom with God’s, and look what that made her do!).

But making comparisons is a lose-lose conundrum. Compare and then feel better than others spawns ungodly pride and potentially feeds a brash ego; compare and then feel lesser than others and you start believing you’re worthless, a failure, unattractive… and/or you grow bitter and resentful and nurse a critical spirit.  But compare yourself only to the person God created you to be and the best of the potential He has called you to pursue, and you’ve got reason to get out of bed each day, reassurance when you fail that God is for you and will help you try again, and nothing short of immense gratitude when you hit your God-given goal.

The image used throughout the book is that of a mirror – that Jesus is the only one who offers us a mirror that reflects our true image – who we are meant to be, unlike the cultural mirrors that reflect back to us that we are not worthy. How did you come to understand the truth of Jesus’ mirror in your own life?

That happened over time as my personal relationship with God developed; as I rooted my heart and not just my head belief in His love. A fundamental key, however, was engaging with the Bible – not just reading it, but getting it right inside me where it’s living power could do its work; and then, responding to it.

Do you truly believe we can learn to be content in God in the midst of anything life throws at us? How do we do that if so?

It’s a tough one. I’m constantly challenged by the messages I put out there about God’s truth, and how a westernised view can be so different to someone who has lost home, family and work, say, in Syria. All I know is that Paul found contentment in all circumstances – and it doesn’t take much reading of the New Testament to learn just how awful and tough his life often was (shipwreck, stoning almost to death, 40 lashes, starving, homeless a lot of the time… I could go on!)

So contentment in God is a truth that needs to be taught, but also in today’s context, and I know from reading books and articles by individuals who have suffered immensely in countries where the Christian faith is persecuted, that they too learned that same spiritual contentment as Paul did, in the dire confines of prison.

I’ve certainly never suffered to those extremes, but this promise is for me too, and I’ve had to ‘learn’ it during seasons of life that I found disheartening, in times when God prompted me to make one choice when I’d have much preferred making another, when my physical health took an unexpected dive and the future was uncertain, and in periods of grief for loved ones.

As for the how, I can only pass on what I have learned from Paul:

‘I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ….I want to know Christ…’ Philippians 3:8,10

It’s that ‘knowing’ Jesus, and living out the belief that He truly is our everything, that we ‘learn to be content whatever the circumstances.’ Philippians 4:11

What are some of the real nuggets of wisdom you’ve discovered for truly reflecting Jesus rather than giving in to our vulnerabilities and inadequacies?

Self-assurance, inner poise, a quiet confidence, security, peace with oneself and with others. It’s awesome to be released from a withered way of living life, especially when you’ve endured it for many years; to be freed from a mental and emotional prison which has locked you up from Christ’s promise of ‘life to the full’ (John 10:10) in the darkness of fear and debilitation.

Dotted about the book are wonderful quotes from women celebrating the role models in their own life that have inspired them and helped them see past the shallowness of looks. How important do you think it is for us all to have those women who champion and encourage us?  

I think role models are a gift and inspiration provided we don’t idolise them ie provided we don’t set ourselves up to try to be their clone. Be inspired by characteristics you admire, but ask yourself how that might helpfully shape your own life within parameters of your own skills, experiences, opportunities, background etc.

What other writing projects do you have planned?

Aside of a set of Bible notes coming out next February (alongside yours) and a novel still looking for an agent, I am currently working on my next book, which is due out sometime next year…watch this space; too early to unveil the plot!

Anne is the author of a number of Christian books and has written a wide variety of Bible-study notes and magazine articles. She also speaks at conferences and in churches around the country, with a passion to disciple Christians in their ongoing walk with God.

Married to Neil, Anne is also Granny to her daughter’s three young boys. To relax she loves to read, grow her own vegetables, hike the hills, and, when time allows, cook special meals for close friends. But she still dreams of becoming a bee-keeper!

You can follow Anne’s musings on Twitter @AnneLeTiss, Instagram @anneletissier, or take a look at her website: www.anneletissier.com

 

Important subscription information

I am afraid this is a post that has to be done, due to the new laws coming into effect on May 25 surrounding GDPR. But, to lighten the mood a little, the photo shows some rather more exciting news – which you can read about after we’ve got the legal bit done 🙂

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And now we have all the legal business out of the way (and I do hope you will take the time to resubscribe – I know it is a hassle, but I really value being connected to you via my blog) here is my news:

I have a new study guide out, which is pictured above: Cover to Cover Ezekiel: Dry bones can live. It is available to purchase directly from the CWR website.

 

 

 

“Ouch, that hurts!”

After a break for half term, and then enforced rest due to flu, I am finally getting back to posting the usual Friday blog – Unmasked: stories of authenticity. I am delighted to welcome Annmarie Miles onto it this week. (NB Do please get in touch if you have your own story that you would like to share – the entries are slowing down so this blog series may become monthly from now on…)

I remember clearly the moment I first read that Richard Branson quote:

“If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!”

It was around the time that I started writing, and I was looking for permission to go for it. Why I looked to Mr Branson, I’m not sure. But I read those words and I went for it. I was asked to speak at seminars, teach classes, lead groups, write for writing websites, you name it – I did it. I asked questions, got advice, learned as much as I could from as many as I could and took every opportunity that came my way. A lot of the time I was in panic mode, but I did as he said, learning as I went.

FAKING IT

I never stopped feeling like an imposter though. Richard Branson’s quote, though empowering, turned out, for me, to be little more than, ‘fake it til you make it’. Problem is, I never made it. I always felt I was revving in the neutral of pretend mode. I moved from Ireland to the UK, losing all tangible contacts and opportunities (online connections are great, but it was not the same). I never really got going again. Surely if I’d made it, I’d have been snapped up, discovered, heard of even…?

On reflection (of which there has been much), I am soothed by God’s process of taking those who make themselves ‘available’ and making them ‘able’. From day one I applied the verse in Psalm 127 to my writing – unless the Lord builds the house… So when opportunities dried up I accepted it, but made the error of believing that I had dried up.

CONFESSING MY SECRET FEAR

At the Association of Christian Writers’ day in London last year, I confessed it out loud; the secret fear. What if I’m just no good at writing? What if my fears are grounded, and I just don’t cut the mustard!? I was grateful for the encouragement and the gentle slap on the wrist I got in response. In short it was basically: if you believe God has given you something to say, then go say it. When Moses complained to God in Exodus 3 that he was no good with words, God said, ‘Now go! I will be with you as you speak, and I will instruct you in what to say.’

I left the event with those words ringing in my ear and, in response to that, I spent November working on the first draft of the most painful thing I’ve ever written. An exploration of the how and why I ended up weighing nearly 24 stone. I believe it’s something God wanted me to explore in my writing, but there were no lies allowed. No little deceptions, no excuses, no plaumausing (as we say in Ireland). It had to be honest, or what would be the point.

TAKING THE RISK

So I wrote it. With many tears I raked though painful memories and regrets, I fought the urge to wallpaper over the ugly stuff and just poured it all out. By the end of it I felt like I’d been skinned. I was raw, embarrassed, ashamed, afraid and relieved. It reminded me of reading about Eustace in C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, when he had been turned into a dragon, and only Aslan could remove the tough dragon skin. Eustace describes how the pain of removal was worse than any pain he had ever felt, but that the relief and freedom from the dragon skin made it bearable. I could relate to that.

The truth is, authenticity is a huge risk. The scaly skin might be ugly and uncomfortable but taking it off hurts, a lot. And when it’s gone, all that’s left is…well…me. I’ll be honest, I’m still not sure I’m ready for that. The manuscript however will soon be in the hands of an editor. No more cover ups.

My consolation, my soothing balm, is that it is honest. It’s as real as I am. If it helps one person, it will have done its work.

I dare to wonder what it will achieve and where it might take me.

I may not make it – but I sure as heaven didn’t fake it.

Annmarie Miles is from Dublin, Ireland. She lives with her husband Richard who is a pastor in the Eastern Valley of Gwent, in South Wales. She writes short stories, magazine articles, devotional pieces for Christian radio, and blogs about her faith at www.auntyamo.com

 

How finding my authentic self transformed my writing – and my life

 

Today I welcome my good friend James Prescott to the Unmasked: stories of authenticity blog series. He is incredibly honest about his own journey, which also gives real insight into the struggle with authenticity that writers can have, especially when chasing after recognition. Thank you James for your honesty!

Authentic.

It’s a word which gets banded around a lot nowadays. Indeed, it’s been used so much that now it’s become a word associated with jargon, with anyone using it in relation to themselves, often being labelled as inauthentic.

But authenticity is needed more than ever.

LOSING INTEGRITY

As a writer, with the saturation of platform building, the urgent need for all authors to ‘brand’, and build a following, and marketing intruding into the writing world more and more, a writer I need to keep my eyes open to any lack of integrity and honesty in my work.

But there was a time when I lost my authenticity – as a writer, and as a result, as a person. And it came from this need to please, this desperation for success, for followers.

I had been writing for a while, and enjoyed blogging. I toyed with wanting more, but had never pushed for it. Then I did a writing course which challenged me to step up, be more professional, and to write an e-book, a manifesto, and make it public.

 

The promise, the guarantee which was dangled out in front of me, was lots of people subscribing to my blog, and ultimately a book contract. Given I had no followers at the time, it was beyond anything I could imagine.

And it triggered my then fragile ego, and gave it life. In time, I began to lose my soul. My writing lost focus, lost its truth. I was more focused on good graphics, comments and titles than great blog posts – and I didn’t even know what my voice really was.

I look back at that time disappointed in myself. I was more concerned with numbers, with stats, than creating great, honest work. And I’d lost myself in the process too. The whole image I was giving to the world, I knew wasn’t true. This impacted every single area of my life.

When I lost my authenticity, I almost didn’t know who I was anymore.

I was wearing a mask, not even knowing who I was underneath.

TAKING ACTION

And once good friends confirmed this to me, I had to take action. It couldn’t go on this way. So I made an ultimately life-changing decision.

I decided to stop writing publicly. For as long as it took for me to find my voice.

For as long as it took to find my integrity.

For as long as it took to find myself again.

So I wrote for myself on a private blog, every day for 15 minutes. Free-writing. No agenda, no plan, no structure, no editing. As time went on, it was something I began to look forward to. It saved me so much energy I’d used worrying about promoting work, or publishing blog posts.

Slowly, but surely, I began to notice many of these posts were all pointing to a particular direction. Similar themes were emerging. Themes around creativity, identity, calling, and being true to yourself. What it meant to be an authentic writer.

Suddenly, words were pouring out of me. I wrote about 10 ‘proper’ blog posts in a short space of time, all unpublished of course. It became the most creative, most enjoyable period I’ve had as a writer.

And I felt more alive, more myself than I’d ever felt in my life.

I felt like me again. In fact, I knew I’d connected with my true self.

RECONNECTED

When the time came to publish publicly again, I was reluctant. But I now knew I had something worthwhile to share. And I was going to share it, not for anyone else, but for me. Because it was who I was.

This material poured out into an e-book. I launched and promoted it, not expecting anything back and not even needing any major response anymore. I didn’t care. And strangely, it ended up being my most successful piece of work.

But the point of it all was – I was myself again. I’d connected with my true self. I’d taken off the mask and found who I really was.

And that’s what being authentic is all about. It’s about connecting with your truest self. Having integrity in how you live your life.

When you find that, it impacts every area of your life. Work. Faith. Relationships. Health.

So today, have the courage to take off your masks and be who you truly are. Tell the truth of your story.

From my experience, you’ll never have any cause to regret it.

James Prescott is a writer, podcaster and writing coach from Sutton, near London. He is the author of numerous books including Dance Of The Writer – The Beginners Guide To Authentic Writing, and Mosaic Of Grace. He has written for the Huffington Post and is a ‘Top Writer’ on creativity and writing on Medium, as well as hosting the weekly Poema Podcast. You can access all his work at jamesprescott.co.uk and follow him on Twitter at @JamesPrescott77

‘My journey from desertion to redemption’

I am pleased to welcome David Mike to the Unmasked: stories of authenticity blog series today. He has faced great difficulties in his life and bravely shares his mistakes, as well as what he has learned, with us. Do check out his book

DOWNFALL

In 1987, at the age of seventeen, I swore in to the U.S. Army, fulfilling a childhood dream of mine to become a soldier. Two years later, I found myself sitting in a jail cell facing thirty-eight years in prison. After going through a relationship break-up, I began to start hanging out in nightclubs with some fellow soldiers. It was in a moment of depression that I ended up taking a hit of ecstasy. After the first time, I immediately became addicted to the drug and the release from reality that it gave me. I deserted my Army unit and lived on the run for six months. My only source of income was from selling the very same drugs I was using.

After finally being captured by the Army’s Drug Suppression Team, I was court-martialed and stripped of my rank. I also received a dishonorable discharge and a five-year prison sentence at the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, KS. I had nothing left, not even my own pride.

GRACE AND REDEMPTION

During my time in prison, I had an encounter with God. I read Classic Christianity by Bob George that defined grace and forgiveness. It was all new information to me. I was raised in church but never really understood what these words meant. This book really resonated with me and I learned more about the way God sees us.

Romans 8:1:

There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus

I was not a disgrace to my creator. He no longer saw what I did in the past because he took care of the penalty for me. He nailed it to the cross.

Even though I had a dishonorable discharge, it could not define me. My identity was in Christ. To Him, I was perfect and holy. It didn’t matter that I was in prison, because:

John 8:36:

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed

Freedom.

Not the freedom I tried to take for myself.

Not the freedom that I would be eventually awarded by the Army.

Not the freedom that this current life was about to offer me.

But real freedom.

Released from the bondage of sin, my own thoughts, and the brokenness of my own flesh.

By God’s grace, I had been forgiven and I had been redeemed by my Savior.

LIFE AFTER DISHONOR

At the three-year point in my sentence, I was offered parole and was released.

As time passed, I tried to get on with my life. I did the best work I could at the at my job and stayed out of trouble. Life was not perfect or easy and I still suffered from my human identity. This meant that I made mistakes from time to time. No one ever gets it right, only one man did and He was God so there’s that. So, I tried to be a productive member of society, a role model to the students that I taught in a hair school, and a good man.

On September 11, 2001 the world changed forever. After the attacks a huge wave of patriotism swept our nation. War was imminent and everyone backed our service members no matter what branch of service or what job they held. It was amazing seeing how much love and respect was shared with anyone wearing a uniform.

GUILT AND SHAME

It was at this time I became very unsettled. My father, brother and sister were all veterans and my youngest brother had just signed up just months before the attacks. As America hailed and praised our men and women in uniform, I began to develop a deep sense of guilt and shame about the actions that led to my incarceration and dishonorable discharge.

This feeling wouldn’t go away and it cut deep into my soul. It was hard to go to work every day feeling like that. I was feeling like there really was no significance to what I was doing. That in the grand scheme of life, I was irrelevant. Men and women were going overseas to fight and die for a cause.

In no way, shape or form did I ever want to leave my family to go to war. It was in knowing that even if I did want to, I was blacklisted from serving. The time that I spent in the Army was good for nothing. The worst part was, every time someone said to me, ‘Thank you for your service’ it dug the knife in even deeper. They meant well, but I just couldn’t shake these feelings.

This same thing would happen around Veteran’s day and Memorial Day. Holidays honoring those who serve or have served and for remembering the men and women who died while serving in our country’s armed forces.

A reminder that I live in a country that was fought for with blood, sweat, tears and lives. I know that I walk around every day with the freedom that was provided for me. My heart is heavy and my head hangs low because I was discharged from the Army with dishonor. My selfish actions are to blame and I accept full responsibility. Having failed my family, my country and God miserably, I deserve the death that each military grave represents.

Yes, I know now that I am forgiven, and I know that God doesn’t look at me this way. However, it seems, the consequences of my past still haunt me year after year. The enemy likes to attack me with guilt and shame, so it rears its ugly head from time to time. Remembering the truth of who we are in Christ is the only way to dispel the lies that we tend to believe about ourselves.

SURRENDER

In an ongoing process of spiritual maturity, I came across the concept of surrender and dependency. I am very aware that I can not do things on my own. As humans we tend to mess things up when left to our own devices. So releasing the thing that we can not deal with, to God, is our only option. Being dependent on Him to do the work in us when we have hit a limit, gives us the freedom to become who He wants and designed us to be. We need to rest in the promises that God gives us in His word that He has our best interests in mind. Just, knowing that I am forgiven by God’s grace is not enough. I need to surrender my past to Him and rest in my new identity daily. My conviction does not have to define me. I have to leave my old identity and accept my new one.

1 Peter 2:9 (NLT):

For he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light

You do not have to be defined by your past, you have been forgiven and can have a new identity in Christ.

WRITING

Several years ago, I felt called to write my story. It started out as a blog at dilemmamike.com. Eventually the blog posts were compiled and turned into a book. That process released so much pain of my past, as a huge weight felt like it had been lifted off of my shoulders. What happened next, as I shared my story was unexpected. During the three years that I blogged, people started following along. I began to receive messages about how my story resonated with them.

Some mentioned that they went through a similar situation and that hearing my story made them feel like they were not alone. One woman even said that she read my blog to feel sane and to keep from using drugs. It was awesome to hear people say they were touched by God through reading about my messy past.

Others mentioned that a family member or friend struggled with addiction, incarceration or both. For them, reading my experience, gave them a better understanding of their loved one. Again, I had no idea that putting my broken past out there would help anyone. It was very humbling.

DISHONOUR BOOK

Once the book was released, a new opportunities arose. I was able to get copies of my testimony into the hands of inmates. There were many requests from people, to mail copies of my book to incarcerated loved ones. Just like the life-changing book I read in prison, God was now using my book to do the same for others. I love hearing the stories that people share with me after reading my book.

I have been able to share my book with people struggling with addiction or just trying to deal with the shame and guilt with their past.

After the release of my book, I was able to speak to several churches, schools and organizations. This whole thing has been so surreal.

If I never told my story, these things may never have happened.

Maybe you don’t think you have a story.

We have all struggled with something, are struggling right now or will struggle in the future.

Someone out there needs to know that they are not alone.

Share your experiences.

Is there something going on in your life right now or something that you have overcome?

You can share God’s love

You could be the person who leads others the light.

 

Take off the mask, you might be surprised what happens next…

 

 

David Mike is a Christ follower, husband, father, blogger, author of Dishonor: One Soldier’s Journey from Desertion to Redemption and cosmetology instructor in Omaha, NE. David is passionate about sharing the message that we do not have to be defined by our past and that God can use our kind of mess for good. You can follow David on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

The long and winding road

I am delighted to welcome Fiona Lloyd, author of the intensely honest, moving and funny The Diary of a (Trying to be Holy) Mum to my blog. I had the pleasure of proofreading it, and can thoroughly recommend it. Here, she explains how writing has always been a part of her life – and details the journey towards becoming a published author…

I was 10 when I self-published my first book: a dozen or so of my own poems (written out in my best handwriting), with pencilled illustrations and a cover purloined from an old calendar. I was immensely proud of myself.

Fast-forward a few years into my teens, and I had titles in my head for several more books. Some even made it onto paper, although I never seemed to get much beyond the first page. As I grew up, my dreams faded: I got a sensible job (in teaching), and settled down to married life followed by – at a respectable interval – three children.

It wasn’t until I was in my mid-30s that the idea of writing began to niggle at me again. I started work on a non-fiction book, aimed at helping people to grow closer to God, but my prose was stilted and formal, and relied far too heavily on quotes from other books I had read.

Then one afternoon, while doing the school run, the phrase ‘the day it all went wrong’ drifted into my head. This triggered off all sorts of questions in my mind. Who was talking? What had happened to make it such a bad day? And what were the consequences? Gradually, the character of a flustered mum, trying to do her best (but often failing) formed in my head.

WRITING FROM EXPERIENCE

As a young mum, I frequently felt overwhelmed by the responsibility of looking after three small children (much as I loved them). It appeared as if everyone else knew exactly what to do: I thought I was the only one whose toddler had tantrums in the supermarket, and whose children who refused to eat more than one variety of vegetable. If I tried to set time aside to pray, it was pretty much guaranteed that I would be snoring 30 seconds later. Worse still, there always seemed to be plenty of people around to tell me I wasn’t doing it right.

By the time I got to child number three, I was older and maybe a little wiser. I could see that other mums often struggled with similar issues, leaving them lonely and discouraged. My book started to take shape, inspired by the things I knew that I and others had wrestled with. I hoped that if it ever got to the stage of being read by other young mums it would help them feel less isolated.

GAINING CONFIDENCE IN THE WRITING PROCESS

By now, I had plenty of ideas in my head, but lacked confidence to develop them into a full narrative. I tackled other (shorter) writing projects, with varying degrees of success. I joined the Association of Christian Writers, finding valuable advice and supportive friendships. Still – after several years – my words petered out around the 5,000 mark: I found I spent more time editing the work I’d already done than adding new material.

What eventually got things moving was my decision to take part in NaNoWriMo [National Novel Writing Month] in November 2014. I knew I was unlikely to hit their proposed target of 50,000 words in a month…but I did manage 20,000. I was delighted: I was also reinvigorated. I knew I needed a more defined story-arc, so I spent my work commutes having lengthy conversations with my protagonist, Becky, about what was going on in her life. My word count crept steadily up until August 2015, when – after much reworking and tea-drinking – my first draft was completed.

SUBMITTING MY WORK TO A PUBLISHER

One of the advantages of having spent such a long time on it was that I knew (from conversations with other writers) that several rewrites would be required before it was ready to go off to a publisher. I quite enjoy a bit of nit-picking, so I spent many happy hours deleting unnecessary or over-used words – ‘just’, ‘actually’ and ‘but’ were popular culprits. Over the next year I tweaked and re-tweaked. A few kind friends read the manuscript for me, resulting in yet more amendments. Even after I’d incorporated their suggestions, I agonised about whether I’d really got it to the point where it was ready for submission.

This raised another issue: where to send it? I’d written a clearly Christian work of fiction – because I wanted to encourage Christian mums – only to discover that there are very few publishers taking on such books nowadays. I wondered about going down the self-publishing route – and I have friends who’ve done this very successfully – but I wasn’t sure I felt able to take on such a huge task.

It was through a writing friend that I found out about Instant Apostle, a small – but growing – Christian publishing company. At the time, they’d just taken on a second novel from her, and she knew that they were looking to publish some more overtly Christian books. I did some last-minute fine-tuning, dithered for a few weeks, prayed like mad, and finally sent off my first three chapters plus synopsis to Instant Apostle.

BEING ENCOURAGED

A few weeks later, an email pinged into my in-box: they liked what they’d seen – could I send the rest of the manuscript? Could I? Could I?? I’d pressed ‘send’ almost before I’d finished reading the email. This time, the wait was much shorter. On 17 May 2017, I received a phone call: Instant Apostle wanted to publish my book! I’ve been very pleased with the support they’ve given me, and I think the finished product – now entitled The Diary of a (Trying to be Holy) Mum – looks amazing. I’m trying to keep both feet on the floor, and my prayer is still very much that young mums (and others) will be encouraged by it.

So, I’ll leave the closing thoughts to another friend who has just read the book.

‘It’s so reassuring,’ she told me, ‘to know that I’m not the only one who struggles.’

I can’t ask for more than that.

Fiona Lloyd is vice-chair of the Association of Christian Writers, and is married with three grown-up children. Her first novel, The Diary of a (trying to be holy) Mum, is being published by Instant Apostle on 18 January 2018. Fiona has also had short stories published in Woman Alive and Writers’ News, and has written articles for Christian Writer and Together Magazine. Fiona works part-time as a music teacher, and is a member of the worship-leading team at her local church. You can find her on Twitter: @FionaJLloyd & @FionaLloyd16

 

Poppy Denby: the truth-seeker

I am delighted to welcome Fiona Veitch Smith to my blog today. Author of the fabulous Poppy Denby Investigates series, she talks here about her third book, The Death Beat, as well as fake news and the need for good journalism.

At the launch party of the new book in my Poppy Denby Investigates series I was interviewed by a former broadcast journalist from ITV. She referred to the central character of my novels – a reporter for a London newspaper in the 1920s – as a ‘truth-seeker’. I was delighted that that was how she perceived Poppy.

She then asked me if I was trying to say anything about journalism and whether or not I felt the profession had been discredited. I said that I was most definitely trying to say something and I hoped my books were a celebration of the best of journalism as a key component of a well-functioning democracy. The journalistic profession at its best is a seeker of truth, an exposer of falsehood and an upholder of justice.

THE TRUTH WILL SET US FREE

The host of this blog, Claire Musters, has just released a book called Taking Off the Mask, that challenges us to live authentic, truthful lives. That’s what the best journalism helps us as a society to do – it takes off the mask of institutional falsehood. I haven’t been living under a rock for the last couple of decades, and am well aware of the self-inflicted image-destruction journalism has undergone, from the death of Princess Diana, to the phone tapping of Millie Dowler, to the obsession with celebrity culture. However, that side of the profession has always been there – even in Poppy Denby’s day. But alongside it is, and always has been, a dogged determination to hold those in power to account, to expose corruption and to help live out the God-inspired teaching that truth will set us free. That is why I became a journalist. And that is why I have written Poppy Denby the way I have.

In the fourth book in the series, which I’m currently writing, the rival newspaper to the Daily Globe – the London Courier – is an example of the worst kind of journalism: printing false, distorted, sensational news. But Poppy and her colleagues seek to work to a higher standard. They don’t always get it right, and the question of whether the ends justify the means is always an open one, but their underlining ethos is that they will not stop until the truth is revealed.

THE FAKE NEWS ERA

So where does this leave me and my books in the age of ‘Fake News’? In planning The Death Beat, I decided Poppy and her boss Rollo would work on The New York Times long before Donald Trump became a presidential candidate and started spouting his politically charged ‘fake news’ accusations at every media outlet that didn’t present him in a good light. The ‘failing New York Times’ (in his words) has been one of his most vocal opponents. As a young journalism student I was raised on a steady diet of New York Times articles as prime examples of excellent reportage and design. So for me it was an honour to send my heroine there for three months.

Fake News does exist. It’s when people deliberately make up unverified and unsubstantiated stories and distribute them (mainly through social media) to undermine or stir up trouble. Writers of fake news are employed by shady propaganda farms, not mainstream media outlets. Although I realise too that the mainstream media is not squeaky clean, we must be careful not to tar all journalists with the same brush. Fake news is not the same as news with a political or social bias. Unfortunately the public struggles to tell the difference and now anything they don’t like or agree with is labelled and discredited as ‘fake news’. This is a very unhealthy place for us to be. The way forward from here is far bigger than this little blog post, but I hope that my books might at least help to remind people why we need journalists – even if we don’t like what they have to say.

Fiona Veitch Smith is the author of the Poppy Denby Investigates series. Book 1, The Jazz Files, was shortlisted for the CWA Endeavour Historical Dagger 2016. Book 2, The Kill Fee, was a finalist in the Forword Book Review mystery of the year, 2017, and book 3, The Death Beat is out now. Fiona has worked as both a practising journalist and as a lecturer in journalism. Found out more about her series at www.poppydenby.com

 

Cultivating thankfulness

My daughter took this picture to help me celebrate!

In honour of Thanksgiving, I have decided to blog about thankfulness. For those of you who have followed my blog for a while, you will know that I did a series on thankfulness a while ago so I was going to choose my favourite post from that. However, I have just been writing about new ways to connect with God for a piece in January’s Premier Christianity magazine, and I have talked about cultivating thankfulness in that – so have decided to take my own advice! In that article,  one of my suggestions is to list things to be thankful to God for each day, so here are mine (actually for the month of November, as Thanksgiving falls towards the end of it). I am thankful for:

The ongoing health and wellbeing of my beautiful family – they are such fun to be around.

The chance to do a job I love but still be around most of the time for my children.

Completing my first month in a new role at Premier Christianity – the first that has lured me back into an office for over 18 years!

Not just one but two books published this month! I know I’ve spoken rather a lot about Taking Off the Mask, but the new one, Cover to Cover: 1, 2 & 3 John: Walking in the truth can be purchased here.

An incredible set of friends, many of whom celebrated with me at my first official book launch.

A wonderful, supportive church family, who responded so well to Steve and I sharing from the heart this month.

An amazing first musical evening at my daughter’s new secondary school – the talent was incredible.