The Virgin Monologues

Interesting blog title huh? Well, it’s an even more interesting title for a book – and that’s precisely what it is. Towards the end of last week I had the pleasure of attending the launch for this new book, written by journalist and writing coach Carrie Lloyd. Sassy, beautiful and brilliant, Carrie has long been writing about her relationship experiences on her blog Her Glass Slipper.

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Carrie’s book sees her, as a 21st century Christian girl, honestly sharing her dating trials and considering such questions as: is purity relevant? Why does Mr Potential never reach his potential? Is the fear of singledom making you settle for second-rate? And why are so many Christians so Christ-less in their approach to dating?

Carrie also talks about how she used to have ‘the recipe’ – a list of everything she needed in ‘her man’, but how finding freedom for herself has enabled her to ditch it.

I loved editing the book, and, even though I’m an old ‘married’, I gleaned plenty of wisdom from it – Carrie certainly pulls no punches in her writing. She has the guts to write personally about what she’s learned as well directly challenge the reader. I highly recommend this title (its tactile cover is another good reason to buy it 😉 ).

Here is an eclectic selection of pithy quotes from Carrie, taken from the launch night:

“So you’re writing about purity & sexual discipline…” “Yeah. It’s a niche market.”

“If you know who you are, you don’t need a list.”

“Vulnerability is your greatest protector.”

“We have lots of books on joy but they don’t make me feel joyful. I wanted my book to be fun.”

“We need to think more carefully about what freedom really is.”

“I’ve been an atheist and I know how off-putting Christian language can be.”

The Virgin Monologues is out now on kindle and publishes in book form on 23 Jan – for a taste of what to expect see Carrie’s book teaser.

Francine Rivers on writing, faith and her new book

Bridge to haven coverFrancine Rivers has written over 20 bestselling Christian-themed novels (winning numerous awards), and regular readers eagerly anticipate each new publication. Her latest, Bridge to Haven certainly will not disappoint.

Based in 1950s Hollywood, it is the story of Abra and her journey to find true love and acceptance. Abandoned at birth and never truly finding her place in her home town of Haven, the naïve young woman is vulnerable to the charms of the fast-talking rich boy who lures her away to Hollywood.

Once there, Abra soon learns what is expected of a girl with ambitions of fame. The price she pays is huge, but Abra has burned every bridge to get exactly what she thought she wanted and feels trapped as a consequence. If she were honest with herself she’d realise all she wants is a way back home…

I had the great opportunity of being able to ask Francine about the inspiration behind her new novel – and what she hopes her readers will glean from it:

You have written about such varied subjects – a retelling of Hosea; the persecution of Christians in Roman gladiator times; the tradition of the sin-eater in 1850s Appalachia. Each one of them is written so expertly it seems that you must have immersed yourself in the subject. How do you go about researching each new topic?

“Almost every story begins with a question or issue with which I’m struggling, and each story seems to dictate the time in which it needs to be told. For example, when I was struggling with the question of how to share my faith with unsaved family and friends who didn’t want to hear anything about Jesus, I thought of the early martyrs who died in Roman arenas. The result was A Voice in the Wind.

“The Scarlet Thread came from a study of sovereignty and a cross-country trip several friends and I took, following the Oregon Trail. Local museums showed story after story of people setting off to find a better life. Hardship and tragedy followed them across the prairie – along with the question: who is in control of our lives?

“What is the difference between guilt and conviction was a question that fit the Appalachian highlands custom of sin eating, a practice brought over in the early days from Scotland and Wales. The result was The Last Sin Eater. And The Shofar Blew came out of questions on how to build a church in modern times amidst massive building projects that often destroy congregations.

“In each case, once the time and place are set, it’s a matter of immersing myself in the time period, finding good books, finding pictures, making binders with dividers between subject matter – what people wore, what their homes and daily lives were like, the political atmosphere, music, customs, etc. I even listen to music that fits the time period while I’m working. The writing process is a quest for answers and a journey with characters that become real people to me. Writing a story is my way of worshipping and praising the Lord.”

To read the rest of my interview with Francine, please click here and for a review of the book please click herepic_full_Rivers_Francine

 

International Day of the Girl

Yes, today is the UN’s International Day of the Girl. Twitter has been filled with useful links and helpful reminders. It is sobering to read some of the facts organisations such as PlanUK have on their sites:

• 66 million girls are currently denied an education – that’s one in five girls globally.
• 150 million girls under 18 have experienced rape or other forms of sexual violence.
• 140 million women and girls are living with the consequences of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
• Pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of death for girls aged 15-19 in the world’s poorest countries.

These statistics are horrific and I totally endorse campaigns that fight for the right for girls to get an education. It has been recognised that those who are educated are much more likely to give back to their own communities – see my post on International Women’s Day for more on this.

In all honesty, my first thought today when I remembered it was the Day of the Girl was about my daughter. I am so grateful to God for her. For her tenacity, intelligence, care for others and quick humour. I’m also grateful she is in a good school and surrounded by lovely friends. The problems and difficulties she may face on a daily basis seem to be on such a different level to those girls who have to fight for the right to go to school. I want to remind her of how fortunate she is when she comes home from school, and encourage her to think about some of the ways she may be able to help reach out to others less fortunate than herself.

While I know my daughter’s difficulties are on a different scale to so many millions around the world they are no less real to her. She has had bouts of bullying to deal with, is shy beyond belief at times, lacks self-confidence and is growing up in a society that tells her beauty is SO important. What the latter is doing to her self-esteem I shudder to think and am so conscious that I need to be careful about the messages I give her about being a Christian woman today.

I want my daughter to achieve everything that she wants to – and that God has for her. I want her to experience so much of life – the amazing opportunities she has living so close to London, but also want her to be aware of what other children in other countries have to deal with on a daily basis. I want her to celebrate being a girl – and be as carefree as possible, secure in the knowledge that we, as her parents, have her back. Our country, even our town, is not as safe as it used to be, but I do want our daughter to feel safe. Most of all I want her to know that she is loved.

So on this, the International Day of the Girl, I want to celebrate my daughter. What a wonderful gift she is to me. She stretches my parenting skills to breaking point on many an occasion, dealing with her insecurities often brings mine to the fore and there are moments that are frustrating beyond belief. And yet the love I feel for my child is incredible, and being her mum is an honour way more than I feel I deserve. She is an incredible mix of the good (and bad!) in both me and my husband – and she is the future. Her and other girls her age. We MUST invest our time, talents and energy in ensuring girls reach their full potential – wherever they are in the world. For me, on a day-to-day basis, that means pouring my life out for my daughter. I can’t wait to see what am amazing woman she turns out to be 🙂

Yes I AM beautiful!

Having dropped my kids off at school, done the food shop and come home to unpack it, put washing on and had a very late breakfast before sitting at my computer, I can see that I’m now running behind. There have been some great posts on last night already (see Amy Boucher Pye’s here and Jennie Pollock’s here). And yet the launch of Chine Mbubaegbu’s book Am I Beautiful? meant so much to me that I simply have to record it here. Because the issues, of body image, self-esteem, outer beauty and inner beauty etc, are so close to my heart. I, too, have suffered from low self-esteem throughout my life and never felt beautiful enough. As a pastor’s wife I also see so many women struggle against what the media tells them they should look and act like, desperately wanting to walk in the freedom in Christ they know they should be enjoying.

The other reason is because I edited the book. It felt like such a privilege to do so; Chine was the first person I started writing articles for and now I was able to serve her by being her editor – it was great (and difficult at times – but more on that later! 😉 )

As both Amy and Jennie have admitted, I too sat here at my desk yesterday morning, annoyed that I was having a bad hair day and that I was shattered from catching up on work and church responsibilities as well as helping our youngest with his transition into ‘big’ school. I looked and felt every inch the 40-year-old woman I now am. I also knew I’d be seeing people I have worked with but not met yet, as well as other ‘movers and shakers’ in the Christian publishing and media world. I wanted to look my best, but, as a shy, work-from-home mum, I find that side of the business really hard at times. So, while I was looking forward so much to celebrating with Chine, I was also worried about how I would look and how I would come across to people I chatted with. As I sat there, trying to work but all the while telling myself off for being so silly (and smiling wryly at the irony of it all – after all the book is all about the fact that we ARE beauty as we are made in the image of Beauty), I was relieved to find I was not alone. Chine, too, had struggled with what to wear that morning (see her post here).

But that’s the point isn’t it? Chine was asked last night why she thinks Christian women struggle so much with this, when we know the truth of who we are. She quiet rightly pointed out that we are literally bombarded with images of society’s perceived ‘perfect woman’ day in day out – it’s hard to keep up your resistance to it all the time! Whatever age we are we ALL have to fight against the messages we are told constantly as, let’s face it, we are all much more likely to be taking in more of society’s messages than the Bible’s each day because the images are constantly with us. We HAVE to learn to soak ourselves in the Truth, remind each other that Beauty is so much more than outward appearance and teach those lessons to the younger generation before they start coming across the issues themselves. When my daughter saw the lovely bright pink cover of my advance copy of the book she immediately picked it up to read it. I told her I definitely want her to read it when she’s a little older – perhaps about to become a teenager. But then a similar story that Amy told last night about her daughter reminded me of what my daughter has said on more than one occasion and I thought perhaps she’ll need to read it earlier. At eight years of age she is, quite literally, a beanpole. Tall, slim and striking – sometimes she takes my breath away. But I’ve caught her at least twice already pulling at her flesh, saying she’s fat. How do these messages reach such young ones? A dad asked a question last night about how he should bring up his daughters in our society to know that beauty is not skin deep and yet to truly believe that they are beautiful. Chine’s answer was great – she told him not to give up telling his daughters that they are beautiful, as some parents do, but to ensure that that isn’t the only message he is giving. To encourage them by saying that they are also kind, funny, smart, loving etc. It’s a challenge for all of us who are parents – but also for all those in church families as it is up to you too! Our kids often pick up things far more easily from the wider church family than they will from us so those positive messages need to be coming from you too! 😉

So… back to the editing process. Amy has already mentioned this but I was waiting in great anticipation and slight nervousness to read the first draft of Chine’s book. If I’m honest I’ve been jealous and a little scared of her in the past. She’s such a successful, beautiful, funny, vivacious, confident woman – and a fantastic writer. I was amazed once when we had an honest email exchange that our perceptions of each other were so different from what I expected! The grass is definitely always greener…

When I sat and read Chine’s book it was well written, and very efficiently journalistic in its approach. Apart from the little snippets where she’d let herself be vulnerable. Like the story of being five years old and being asked to draw a self-portrait at school. She drew a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl and it wasn’t until a friend leant over and told her that it wasn’t her, that she realised she was different from everyone else. Nigerian-born, she was the only black girl in her class. That, I told Chine, HAD to be the opening story of the first chapter (and read it in Chine’s own words – she tells it far better! 😉 ). The moments when she opened up hit me so hard that I realised I simply had to encourage her to open up more, to be more vulnerable and totally honest.

When I looked at how we could rework the book and passed on all my suggestions to Chine I then held my breath. Would she be crushed? Would she hate me? Would she think my ideas ridiculous? As an author I know what it is like to submit a manuscript and then wait to see what the editor thinks of it. It’s so hard! I know Chine told us the second pass of the book was a much more painful process than the first – but oh how it was worth it! As every review and comment I have heard indicate, it is the rawness, the openness and absolute integrity that has touched people. It almost gives women permission to talk about this subject in a way that perhaps we haven’t before. With a new, dogged determination not to settle for society’s values, not to allow ourselves to feel less than – and to help each other with the process. Because we ALL are beautiful… even when we have a bad hair day! 😉

How well dressed is your spirit?

I have been working a lot recently, hence my lack of postings. It has been an intense month of editing, which has been quite different as I usually edit and write in tandem. While it has been quite a struggle to fit the work round my parenting responsibilities, I have certainly been stretched and challenged by the subject matter of the books I have been editing. And my Bible study notes this morning seemed to build on a few of the issues raised – so I thought it was about time I spent some quality time thinking about them. This blog is the result of my initial ponderings on one…

Like many other women (I hate that I can generalise like that), I can struggle with my self-image. Post-kids I can feel self-conscious about what my daughter calls my ‘wobbly bits’ (!), and look wistfully at my younger friends’ figures. I can take a lot of time (okay not on school run mornings but any other morning, or if I’m going out!) choosing outfits that hide the bits I don’t want people to see, and make me look as presentable as possible. And yet I was really drawn up short this morning when I read about clothing my spirit.

The obvious passage about spiritual clothing is the one on the armour of God, found in Ephesians 6. And we certainly need to be intentional about putting that on, as we face daily battles. But I was also reminded of Colossians 3, in which we are exhorted to ‘wear’ another type of spiritual clothing. Here are verses 12–14 in two different versions:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (NIV)

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. (The Message)

Now it is quite obvious, reading the passage through, that we are being instructed to ‘clothe’ our spirits – to ensure our attitudes are godly. Imagine what the world would look like if we each spent time focusing on dressing ourselves with these virtues… I have to be honest here. I know that I can be impatient – when I’m stressed and tired (hello – welcome to the world of the working parent! 😉 ) it doesn’t take long for me to get harassed. I am also ‘blessed’ with a fiery temper, which I can often just accept rather than deal with – and am certainly not gentle that often. Embarrassingly, when I was part of my great church youth group, all those years ago, a visiting speaker asked us to each take it in turns to sit in the middle of the room, encircled by our friends and then we had to speak out words of encouragement over the one in the centre. I was asked to go first, and my friends were pretty shy about speaking up so the guy tried to start the ball rolling by saying, ‘Well, is she gentle?’ No one replied – they didn’t need to as the roars of laughter said it all. I didn’t feel that encouraged to be honest… But here, in scripture, we are being told to be ‘even-tempered’, gentle and kind. That is the ‘wardrobe God picked out for you’ – and yes, for me too. I think I fall short quite often…

So, why don’t I spend time ensuring my attitudes and actions line up with scripture each morning? I’m going to challenge myself to think about this every day when I’m getting dressed. To consciously ‘dress’ my spirit as well as my body. How about it? How well dressed is your spirit today? Or do you think you need to take up this challenge too?

Man I thought I was over this…

This week I have been struggling a little with self-pity syndrome. Silly I know – distasteful to me too, and really rather annoying because I know part of it is due to the change in my emotions that occur with the monthly shift of hormone levels too. I spend a fair amount of time with women younger than me, in a friendship capacity but also a discipleship one. And I find time and time again that it is the issue of a poor self-image that crops up. It just seems to be rife among young Christian women. I can understand why, given the way our culture and media bombard us with images that, rather than ‘doing their job’ and encouraging us to aspire to be like the women pictured, belittle us and make us feel somehow of less worth than others. I am glad that we don’t all rush out to spend money on trying to be like those photoshopped models, but nevertheless those images do take their toll. I know I have had to fight to fill my mind with the knowledge of who I am in Christ, of how he sees me, but I confess since having two children and speeding ever closer to the big 40, being around younger women, or those supermums who have managed to have kids and still retain no ounce of fat on their bodies, does make me ashamed of my physical body at times.

But it isn’t just the physical. Sometimes I feel like a waste of space. I know that may come as a surprise to some, but I am still, at heart, a pretty shy person. I have to work hard to push myself through the barrier of wanting to just hide in a corner. I have worked particularly hard at it in church – just as well really as people do not expect a pastor’s wife to hide! Having lots of useful jobs helps – behind the scenes ones are my most comfortable but I am also happy leading worship and talking up the front now. However, put me in a situation that is fairly new to me, or where I am surrounded by much louder, more confident people, and I seem to shrivel a little. My natural instinct is to close down – especially if I try to speak up but someone louder speaks over me.

The reason for this week’s struggle is the age-old playground scenario. My daughter has a lovely bunch of friends, and the mums are nice too. However I am one of the quieter ones, and I can be ignored or overlooked at times. For the second time in recent weeks my daughter was one of the few not invited back to a friend’s house (actually this week she was the only one) and I was really upset for her. On top of that I learned that while I had been away last week they had arranged a group collection for the teachers and not included me. I thought I’d make a special effort and invite them all back after the kids break up on Friday, but one by one they texted back to say they had already arranged to go to the park. I really wished I hadn’t bothered at that point. Now my sensible hat knows that one of the mums knew I had bought a little something for the teachers already, so may have thought I didn’t need to be asked about the collection. And I also realise that I don’t always do the dropping off to school as my husband works nearby, so I probably just wasn’t around when they arranged the park. I don’t know if it is my ego, or my insecurity, but my reaction inside was to think that it isn’t that hard to think about who is missing from the group and send a quick text. So I immediately began to spiral and think that they obviously don’t think that much of me. My lack of worth was further emphasised to me when I read that two other writers were in the middle of writing for a publication that doesn’t seem to want me.

I’m not in the best place today, but I have been working hard to remind myself of who I am, of who loves me – and that it really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things! Even writing it down makes it seem rather petty – a bit silly – and yet, being honest to myself – and you – shows me that it has affected me this week.

It is hard when something you thought you had worked hard to conquer comes and seems to overtake you again – but I guess it is a good reminder that I can’t do things in my own strength so need to press into God more. He is the source of my life, goodness, sense of worth etc. Yes I feel sheepishly humbled – yet again – but at least it has reminded me that without him I can do nothing!