Celebrating World Book Day

My kids have gone to school today armed with their favourite book to share with their class. It got me thinking about how I can celebrate World Book Day, so I want to share with you a few of the books that I have read recently, which I have enjoyed and been impacted by. The rest of the family have joined in too – while this is a fairly long blog post I hope there’s something in here for everyone to enjoy on World Book Day 🙂

The Best Yes by Lysa Terkeurst

This was written by the president of Proverbs 31 Ministries. Its full title is The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands. As a busy working mother, pastor’s wife and worship leader my life can seem an unending ‘to do’ list. I think our culture perpetuates the myth that we always need to be doing (or at least be seen to be doing!). But God has been talking to me about that recently, nudging me gently to take stock, learn to prioritise and say no in order to spend time with Him – and find my ‘best yeses’. As soon as I opened this book it felt like it could have been written just for me – it resonated so deeply and the illustrations were of situations I could relate to directly.

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Lysa explains the idea behind the book: ‘In the Spring of 2013, I sat down with 100 women from across America ranging from early twenties to retirement. I asked them their deepest needs and desires, challenging them to name the real struggles they face in striving to live well and follow Jesus.

‘The answer that surfaced over and over: feeling overwhelmed and empty in not knowing how to make wise decisions in the midst of endless demands. As I listened to them I thought, “me too”. I knew this was the next issue I must tackle in my writing.’

There is a LOT of wisdom within the pages of this book about the reasons behind why we always feel the need to say yes, and why saying no is so important. I hope that I remember and implement as much of the advice as possible as I know it will do me – and those around me – good. I heartily recommend this book if you regularly feel overwhelmed by the pace of your life.

Forgetful Heart by Lucy Mills

A fellow member of the Association of Christian Writers, I had already come across Lucy’s writing in other forms so was intrigued to see what her first book would be like. The subject matter already had my interest as I know I have a forgetful heart (as well as mind!), and that it can be difficult to connect with God in our busy, distracted world.

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Here is Lucy on the inspiration behind the book: ‘There were three main threads that came together to inspire and form Forgetful Heart. One was a recognition of my own spiritual forgetfulness, a confession of my own weakness. Another was the result of exploration – reading through scriptures that called on the people of God to remember him, not to forget the One in whom they found their very identity. The third thread was a fascination with how our minds work, how we retain and retrieve information. Together, these wound themselves into an idea that would not let me go. The book had to be written, regardless of whether anyone else cared to read it. I needed to make that journey.’

I love the way that Lucy writes with real honesty but also allows the grace of God to shine through the book. Unpacking what our memories are, why they are important, what causes us to forget and how we can learn to remember God, she definitely takes us on a journey – through her own experiences and those of biblical people. Each chapter ends with a poem she has penned herself – a beautiful touch and a great way of helping us to make things personal too as so many read like psalms or prayers. She also provides the reader with questions to ponder. There is a real richness to this book, and I am convinced it is one that I will come back to time and time again.

And now for something completely different…

A Killer’s Countdown by Wendy Jones

Wendy is the webmaster of the Association of Christian Writers and also provides information for Christian ebook downloads on Facebook. I have gotten to know her via these forums over the past few years. When her debut novel came out towards the end of last year I was excited to read it, especially as I know it is the type of book that I enjoy but very rarely go out of my way to get hold of. For the majority of time, my reading consists of reading non-fiction Christian books ‘for a reason’ – to review, for research, to help me develop, to help me lead others, and so it was refreshing to read something purely for pleasure, which I knew I wasn’t supposed to be learning from! 😉 It is the first in a series of books about Detective Inspector Shona McKenzie. She is new to the job so has something to prove – which she does in admirable fashion.

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Wendy explains why she chose to write crime fiction: ‘I have been a lifelong reader of mysteries and also enjoy writing. So my writing a murder mystery was a natural progression from that. I wanted to write a crime book that could be read by anyone so avoided the swearing and sex which is in so many books these days. That doesn’t mean the book isn’t realistic as it is gritty and somewhat gruesome in places. Although I am a Christian the book isn’t overly Christian but written for a crossover market.’

Wendy paints a great picture of DI McKenzie’s life as a detective within the Scottish backdrop (she had obviously done her research into the subject), as well as building tension perfectly. Even once you know who the killer is, the cat and mouse game has you turning pages more and more quickly as the suspense grips you. If you like crime / detective stories I would recommend you get hold of this book, as I’m sure you’ll enjoy it immensely.

My family’s choices…

My son, age 6, loves The Book with No Pictures because it makes parents say silly stuff when they are reading it to their kids. The premise of the book is the explanation it gives of how books work: ‘Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say’. Such as: ‘my head is made of blueberry pizza’. Yes, this book brings lots of giggles to our house – thanks to their auntie who bought it for Christmas 🙂

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My daughter, age 9, loves the whole Jane Blonde series. A young girl, she becomes an agent and, along with her friends and her family, try to stop her evil uncle Copernicus. The books are about her missions.

She also loves the Topz Secret Diaries. Topz is the daily Bible reading notes produced by CWR, which she also enjoys, and the books focus on particular characters – revealing their secret thoughts about friends and God as well as details of their everyday lives in diary form.

A recommendation from my husband: The Father Heart of God by Floyd McClung. This is a well known classic, which he read again recently while preparing for our Father Heart of God preaching series. It really brought home how fundamental it is to be assured of, and secure in, the Father’s total love and acceptance.

A final word from me…

There is a wealth of reading material out there – and so much treasure to discover. For instance, drawing on books I read more than a few months ago: of the novels I love (actually I ‘devour’) CF Dunn’s ‘The Secret of the Journal’ series; I also found Sisters of Lazarus by Paula K. Parker a refreshing take on a familiar subject. I was challenged and undone by Krish and Miriam Kandiah’s book on adoption and fostering Home for Good, and spurred on and encouraged by Chine Mbubaegbu’s Am I Beautiful? (a book I edited a couple of years ago, but which is definitely staying on my shelf for my daughter to read in her tweens). I laughed and learned through Rob Parsons’ new book The Wisdom House, thoroughly agreed with Philip Yancey’s Vanishing Grace and have also gleaned so much from Jeff Lucas’ latest title, which I have had the privilege of editing recently (called There are No Ordinary People it is due out in May).

As someone who reviews books it gives me such joy to feast my eyes on the piles of books I have waiting for me to dive into – I’m thrilled to have received Cathy Madavan’s first book Digging for Diamonds this morning – I just know that’s going to be a good one 🙂 So, whether you are an avid reader or not, can I encourage you to pick up a book you’ve been meaning to read today and get stuck into it?!

Happy World Book Day x

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Advent remembering

It is my absolute pleasure to welcome writerly friend Lucy Mills for this brilliant guest blog about embracing a new kind of remembering this Advent:

advent candles by Stushie

Advent Candles image by Stushie.

 

I often forget about Advent until I’m in it. More accurately, I don’t realise how fast the time has gone and suddenly it’s mid December and – oh. I feel irritated; as if I’ve missed out on something. Is it worth it, now? Or have I missed the Advent bus?

This year I did at least notice when December began, which has helped. I had already made a note, in fact, that I needed to prepare myself for Advent. I know that sounds odd, as Advent is itself a preparation.

Yet I forget to make time and space for that preparing to take place.

I forget a lot of things.

These past 12 months or so have been quite significant for me. We’ve moved to a new area and a new church (my husband is a Baptist minister). I’ve made new friends as well as trying to nurture the old. The editing role I already had has now shifted to one with more responsibility and oversight. And – I appear to have created a book. And it appears to have been published.

How odd! How extraordinary! I’m a first-timer, poking it to check if it is real. I’m also a little shy of it now. After years of pouring myself into it, I feel a bit self-conscious. Reading it makes me squirm a little, like watching myself on screen.

I’m tempted to leave it on the shelf, to draw a line under it.

But that would make a mockery of what it is about. Because the book is a confession: of my own forgetfulness. My tendency towards distraction, every day and any day. And it’s also a reflection on the importance of remembering God in our daily lives – what this means.

I can’t draw a line under it; it’s part of my continuing journey and it’s as relevant to me now as it was when I started it.

Because my condition is chronic. I neglect my faith. I don’t open my bible. Then I feel guilty about how long it’s been since I opened it. So I don’t think about it, and the pages remain unread. I pray occasionally rather than continually. I reach a point where I feel empty, and I am blind enough to wonder why.

I’ve forgotten who I am. I’ve forgotten who I am because I’ve ceased remembering who God is. As a Christian, my identity is in Christ. Yet instead of focusing on him, my eyes drift. When I squint towards my faith, I do so through a fog of my own distractedness. I don’t allow times for rest and reflection – I fill them up with mediocre diversions. I’m a little scared to face myself and admit my forgetfulness. So I embrace the forgetfulness even more.

It takes discipline to pull myself back, and often it’s the tug of the Holy Spirit – not my own strength. God, in all patience, woos me into returning. I come understanding: whom have I but you? To whom else would I go?

The seasons of the Church are, in many ways, tools for remembering. Advent, focusing on the coming Christ, can be a great antidote for forgetfulness, if we dare to take more than a cursory sip of it. The incarnate Christ came as a fragile baby into a dark world; the resurrected Christ is still present with us now by the power of the Spirit. And the glorified Christ will come again.

Today, in spite of my busyness, in spite of the distractions, I choose to take a breath. I allow myself to remember. A mere moment, perhaps, but it births more moments as I form a habit of pausing.

This Advent, take a moment to pause. Breathe. Allow yourself to take a handful of stillness. It will help you get perspective on the rest of it – the hurly-burly, the ever-changing, the tugging cords of life.

Reflect on the light that came into the darkness, the light that cannot be put out. And ask for that light to shine on all your distractedness and disrepair.

You haven’t missed the bus. It’s not too late to start a new kind of remembering. Every morning is another chance to draw close to our God of mercy and grace. Seek the One who knows every part of you – the shallow and the deep – and who loves you.

I need to hear this, to reflect on it this Advent season.

Do you?

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Lucy Mills has written a wonderfully challenging book on how our hearts can be so forgetful. Here are the details – I will be reviewing it some time but, for now, I thoroughly recommend it. A good choice for a Christmas present 🙂

Forgetful Heart: Remembering God in a Distracted World is published by Darton, Longman and Todd (2014). You can read more about it on her website.

The Monday Blog Tour

The Monday Blog Tour has seen some great writers talk about their work and provide insights into their writing processes. Lucy Mills kindly tagged me to continue the tour (read her post here). So here are my answers to the blog tour’s questions:
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What am I working on?

I find the mix of work I have fascinating. Working mainly during the time my children are at school I manage to squeeze in editing other people’s books, writing Bible study guides, writing articles, interviews and reviews for magazines and websites as well as writing books myself. I have a regular column on Christian Today’s website and also have three books coming out this year: on May 23rd the first two of the Foundations 21 book series Jesus and Prayer come out, which are small-group discipleship and study guides that work in tandem with the Bible Reading Fellowship’s Foundation 21 website. Later on, in June, I have a book, co-written with Chris Ledger, being published by CWR: Insight into Managing Conflict.

At the moment I’m deep into an editorial job, which I’m finding challenging but hugely enjoyable. I’ve also got some books I’m in the middle of reading that I will be reviewing and then interviewing the authors, as well as some articles about new initiatives to write. Oh and a set of Bible study notes to write in the next few months. At the end of last week I got a snippet of interest from a publisher about a book idea I’ve had mulling over in my head for quite some months – so I need to do some actual work on that too! It’s the first book in which the idea has come totally from me (the others happened by editorial contacts approaching me) and so I’m really excited about developing it. Sometimes I seem to be juggling too many plates. But it means I’m never bored and I love the variety!

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How does my work differ from others in the genre?

I mainly write Christian non-fiction and, when I started doing so, I felt quite overwhelmed, and almost put off before I really began, because there are so many other writers out there doing a similar thing. But I think once you have found your particular voice then you simply have to go with it. Publishers and sites that are a good ‘fit’ for you will begin to recognise and appreciate it. I would say, for me, the most important thing is being true to who I am – and that includes the struggles and the mistakes. I feel I have to write about the everyday. I don’t know if sometimes I’m too honest – I always have to be careful about treading that line, especially as my husband is a pastor and a lot of those in our church read what I write, but I write to encourage others. I want them to be free to be who they are supposed to be – and us all to be honest with one another on a much deeper level.

Why do I write what I do?

I felt called by God to pursue writing as well as editing when I was heavily pregnant with my second child. Since then He has opened up doors I would never have dreamed of. I can still compare myself to those with endless book deals and huge speaking tours – but He hasn’t called me to walk their walk. That may come in time – but it may not. And I’ve got to learn to be content with that. I’m to be faithful in my own journey in life. And that’s mainly what I write about. The fact that it is so important not to be afraid to open up and be vulnerable. Helping people to realise that we truly should be in this life journey together – we all struggle and need each other to admit it so we can support one another fully.

The other thing I really enjoy doing is flagging up the work of incredible organisations and individuals who truly are changing the world. I’ve had the privilege of writing about the A21 Campaign and 28 Too Many, to name just a couple.

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How does my writing process work?

As I said, I focus as much of my work into the school hours as I can, which means I have to be extremely disciplined. That said, I’m often found scribbling on bits of paper or tapping notes into my phone if I’ve suddenly had a bit of inspiration.

Generally, though, I make myself a cuppa after the kids have been dropped to school, sit and pray at my desk, read my daily Bible notes (wow, I’m making myself sound too holy – often this is done in a real rush!) and then I tackle whatever job is to hand, whether a chapter for a book or a set of interview questions. I type quickly, getting all my thoughts down, and then go back and edit everything I’ve written. I have found it much harder to edit myself, although I do try to be ruthless. I have a conversational style, and I know it can get unwieldy at times, so I usually ask my husband to read everything I’ve written before sending it anywhere!

There are times when I’m in the middle of a writing or editing flow when it is time to pick up the children. Sometimes I just have to let that go or, if there is a deadline looming, spend time with the kids and then get back to work later in the day if time allows.

To continue this tour, I’d like to tag Anita Mathias and Katherine Baldwin to take part in next Monday’s Blog Tour (Katherine will be guest blogging on my site).