Saturday, 17 December 2011

SFFS 17/12/2011

I thought I'd join in the last SFFS round for 2011! Thank you to each of you who come by today and read this post.

This is the end of Layni's scene with the Helpie - or is it? - from The Contract. Enjoy!
Layni dreaded to contemplate the type of fun, except little was being left to her imagination. Already the two tentacles at her waist were working to loosen the ties that bound her clothing to her, and one stray was leaving no illusions as to its desired destination. She clamped her knees together.

‘Oh no, my pretty. We can’t have that.’ That one was Ner.

A tentacle heretofore unoccupied grabbed her hair and pulled her head backwards. The stray one, working together with the ones around her knees and ankles ...
You can view snippets from the other authors in the SFFS ring here.

Merry Christmas to each of you, and a wonderful New Year!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

God's Name is to be Praised

Over the years that one lives, one meets many types of people. Some are similar (hopefully not "the same"), while others are different. Surely, if we were all the same, life would be boring?

Having said that, the one oil that helps the world go around is respect. Namely, respecting other's beliefs and the fact that they may differ from one's own. We all have our own pasts, our own futures, and our own reasons for being who and what we are, and none of those makes any of us a lesser person than the next.

There are those out there (and sometimes closer to home) who believe that if one believes in (has faith in, trusts in) God, then one is somehow failing in the logic department. I completely disagree. It is the discipline of science, for example, that taught me how awesome my God is. How immense is that universe beyond the borders of this Earth? How minute can the marvels of organisms and cells be? And how beautiful is ALL of it?! These are a few of my reasons for believing in God - or at least, that reinforce my conviction that God exists - for starters.

I appreciate every one of my friends who does not believe what I do. And I also appreciate those who believe the same.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Life's priorities

My husband and I were listening to the radio while driving home from Northampton on Saturday evening, and we heard this story. Now we've heard this story many times over the years, but not quite like this version.

When things in your lives seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the two cups of coffee.

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began , he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sandfilled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with an unanimous 'yes.'

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

'Now,' said the professor as the laughter subsided, 'I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things--God, your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions--and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

'The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car.

The sand is everything else--the small stuff. If you put the sand into the jar first,' he continued, 'there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

'Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first--the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.'

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled. 'I'm glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.'

Saturday, 5 November 2011

SFFS 05/11/2011

Oh bother it, I'm late with just everything today! Here's the next snippet from The Contract. Thank you very much to all of you who come by and read each week!
Layni squirmed beneath the tentacles as she felt more wrap themselves around her ankles and knees below the table. Was that another one ... two? ... feeling by her waist? If they so much as ... she sighed, helpless beneath the assault.
‘Now look what you’ve done, Con. This is no fun. She’s ac-qui-esss-ing.’
‘Oh, we can make this a lot more fun, can’t we, Layni?’ Con whispered in her ear.
To read snippets from the rest of the ring, go to the SFFS blog.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

SFFS 29/10/2011

In this week's excerpt from The Contract, Layni's struggling (not very effectively) with the talkative Helpie. Enjoy!

‘Oooh, look Con, she’s an heir.’ The tentacle had turned her hand over, exposing her tattoo. ‘And a pretty one at that. What do you think?’ Another tentacle wrapped around her right hand, the tip sliding up her forearm suggestively.

‘I’ll thank you to leave right now, or else I’ll ...’ a flattened tentacle clapped over her mouth.

‘Or else you’ll what?’ The menace in Con’s voice was unmistakable. ‘I think now’s a good time for you to keep very quiet, or else we may do more than just handle you.’
You can read other SFFS contributions here.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Finding Orion

We were recently in South Africa, and while there I had an obsession with finding the Southern Cross. I'm no astronomer, but I do know some of my constellations, and I couldn't pass up the opportunity. For the first couple of weeks I only managed to spot the pointers, which was really frustrating, as I didn't know where the Cross was.

Well, on the second week, I had a shock. We were staying on a bush campsite next to a river at the bottom of a rather deep (and steep) valley with my family, far away from any city lights. It was cloudy and wet at the start of the week, but it eventually dried up and cleared up. I think that it was the Wednesday or Thursday night when I needed to head to the ablutions block in the middle of the night. For some reason I looked up at the sky as I left the block to head back to our room.

The sight that met my eyes was one that I've most assuredly seen before, but nevertheless it took my breath away. I immediately spotted Orion - yet I was having trouble. It is a constellation that I know very well, and yet I couldn't make out all the stars. I had no problems finding the belt and the sword but, surrounding the four corner stars were SO MANY stars that I couldn't figure out which ones were the corners of the constellation!

How incredible is our universe? Even when we think that we know something, there's always more!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Wind-scweepers

On a dark and rainy night, we leave the house and climb into the car.

Me: Brrrr, it's wet.

Hubby: It isn't wet at all?

Me (observing the windscreen-wipers going): So what's with the wind-scweepers?

Hubby: They're clearing bug juice.

Me: Hey, did you notice? I just invented a new word!

And so a new word is born ..... out of laziness (or would that be baby-mush?)!

Saturday, 22 October 2011

SFFS 22/10/2011

Hi everyone! Although I'm tired (Friday night, long day), I need to keep my promise (the fact that I signed up) and give you a snippet to read.

First, though, some personal news for those who don't yet know. About seven weeks ago I began to suspect that I may be pregnant, and a few days later it was confirmed. So I am now 12 weeks pregnant with a little one.

Ok, back to topic then. I thought you may like to get to know the Helpie a little better. So, here's another snippet from The Contract.

‘Get out of my booth, or I’ll get the Barque to come and kick you out.’ A knot of fear tightened deep down.

‘That won’t be necessary ...’ – Con

‘... because we’re becoming friends.’ - Ner

‘We are Con-’

‘-Ner. What’s your name?’ A tentacle reached over the table and wrapped itself around her left hand.

‘That is for me to know and for you to scram...’ Layni gritted her teeth. Where were the waiters? They were supposed to monitor the booths.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

SFFS 17/09/2011

So, I thought that I'd tantalise you with a glimpse of the Helpie this week.  Sadly, tho, you'll need to wait till nearly the end of October for any more, as we head overseas next Saturday for three weeks. Enjoy.

A tentacle was pointing at the seat on the opposite side of the table. ‘Yes, that seat’s taken. This is a private booth. Now get out.’

‘Oh, well, that’s a pity,’ commented head left.

‘I’ll just take this one instead,’ chirped head right, and to her aggravation, the Helpie sat down next to her.

She scooted around the booth to get away from its tentacles.

‘Oooh, this is a feisty one, Con,’ said left.

‘Yeah, Ner. They don’t come any better.’

Saturday, 10 September 2011

SFFS Week 15

Good morning, and welcome to my SFFS tidbit for this week! I decided to give you something different to read this week. I haven't shared much from this story, but this is the start of one of my favourite scenes of anything I've ever written.

The working title of this WIP is The Contract, and it will be a novella (maybe) set in the Tahl Jighn Universe. More on that another time. Layni is mourning the death of her parents, and has taken refuge from an unwanted resident in her cabin. However, peace is a little hard to find .... 

She sipped at her Zentang; the tart, icy-cold liquid snaked its delicious way down into her gut. AH, now this was a remedy for sore minds and wounded hearts. She closed her eyes and leant her head back against the back of the seat. This booth had been the only curtained, private one available and she’d leapt at it, not even pausing to order at the counter. A waiter had had to attend her.

‘Is this seat taken?’

Layni sat up erect, eyes flashing in annoyance at the intrusion. She looked straight into the twin faces of a Helpie.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

SFFS Week 14

Greetings! Welcome to this week's snippet. It continues on from where I left off last week in The Cabin on the Lake WIP.
The relaxation heaviness that pervaded her body was a clear indicator of the depth of her slumbers, for the first time in what? months? years? She had almost become accustomed to the caffeine-induced vibrancy that had been propping her into the upright postures required of everyday life. Not that she was addicted to it; she had never craved it. But it had been necessary, in the absence of any other solutions to her insomnia, to her continued functioning in the dearth of stress-free time off.
Please do go to the SFFS blog to view the snippets that have been submitted by other writers. You can even have a look around and join in!

Saturday, 27 August 2011

SFFS Week 13

I'm really excited this week. I have a new idea to introduce to you, one that I'm playing with at the moment. It will eventually be a story, but for now only a few sentences have been written. I would love to hear what you all think about it. For now, I'm calling it The Cabin on the Lake.
The pungent smell of the pines drifted up her nostrils, arousing her from sleep. Through the haze of not-quite-awake-yet, and puzzled by the unfamiliar scent, she prised her heavy eyelids open a slit to get her bearings. An ocean of too-bright white linen assaulted her just-roused senses, at odds with the golden background of bare pine slats that rose as a wall beyond. Her eyelids drifted closed again, weighed down by safer thoughts than what lay beyond.
Slowly snapshots of the night before wended their way through the miasma of her half-asleep consciousness to surface jubilant, demanding her attention. An after-work dash up the Interstate as night drew in; a sprint through a convenience store to gather supplies; a bumpy, muscle-abusing ride down a dark forest track, damp branches smacking into her windscreen and scraping their sodden trail down the length of her car; and finally that heady reek of wet pines as she unloaded her life-for-the-next-three-months into the log cabin that was her haven.
She inhaled deeply, savouring the aroma as it filled her lungs. No longer wet, but spicey, sun-kissed by the new dawn. If this wasn't pure luxury, then she didn't know what could ever be.

Please do go here to give my fellow writers support in their writing.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Problems Have a Purpose

Taken from an email I received from Max Lucado.

Trust me in your times of trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give me glory.
Psalm 50:15 NLT

God will use whatever he wants to display his glory. Heavens and stars. History and nations. People and problems. My dying dad in West Texas.

The last three years of his life were scarred by ALS. The disease took him from a healthy mechanic to a bedbound paralytic. He lost his voice and his muscles, but he never lost his faith. Visitors noticed. Not so much in what he said but more in what he didn’t say. Never outwardly angry or bitter, Jack Lucado suffered stately.

His faith led one man to seek a like faith. After the funeral this man sought me out and told me. Because of my dad’s example, he became a Jesus follower.

Did God orchestrate my father’s illness for that very reason? Knowing the value he places on one soul, I wouldn’t be surprised. And imagining the splendor of heaven, I know my father’s not complaining.

A season of suffering is a small assignment when compared to the reward.
Rather than begrudge your problem, explore it. Ponder it. And most of all, use it. Use it to the glory of God. . . .

Your pain has a purpose. Your problems, struggles, heartaches, and hassles cooperate toward one end—the glory of God.
—from It’s Not About Me

Heavenly Father, when problems and pain come my way, help me to remember that nothing comes into my life without your approval. Rather than complain and cry about the challenges I face, help me consider them as opportunities to bring glory to you. Give me the strength and patience to bear my burdens in a way that will honor you. I will lift my eyes off the trials and keep them fixed firmly on you, amen.

Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us.
Daniel 3:17

Not a word failed of any good thing which the Lord had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass.
Joshua 21:45

Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.
Psalm 34:19

From Live Loved: Experiencing God’s Presence in Every Day Life
Copyright (Thomas Nelson, 2011) Max Lucado

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

A Blessing and a Curse

34Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Luke 2:34–35

Saturday, 20 August 2011

SFFS Week 12

My contribution this week is a poem that I wrote early last year, on a day when I was very frustrated with my inability to be creative. I hope you like ...

Had I but the Words ...

Had I but the words to write a sweeping epic,
To craft an elegant poem, to knit the fabric of history;

Had I but the words to describe the dazzling stars,
To delve the depths of earth, to paint the majesty of mountains;

But I have only these poor words, and this aching heart.

Please go here to see the other pieces of writing that the other authors in the SFFSat ring have contributed this week (will only be available after 12pm British Summer Time today).

Thursday, 18 August 2011

What a wonderful world ....

I captured this image two days ago - the tail-end of a rose-tinted, multicoloured sunset over Witney, where I live.


For some reason, I've been very conscious of the sunrises and sunsets this week. We've had three fabulous sunsets (perhaps it's all the clouds hanging about?), and this morning there was a beige sunrise that drew my attention. So I just thought I'd share one with you.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Help for Prevailing Problems

From a mailing I received from Max Lucado, and appropriate to me as I read it.

“We use God’s mighty weapons, not mere worldly weapons, to knock down the Devil’s strongholds.”
2 Corinthians 10:4 NLT

Does one prevailing problem leech your life?

Some are prone to cheat. Others quick to doubt. Maybe you worry. Yes, everyone worries some, but you own the national distributorship of anxiety. Perhaps you are judgmental. Sure, everybody can be critical, but you pass more judgments than a federal judge.

What is that one weakness, bad habit, rotten attitude? Where does Satan have a stronghold within you? Ahh, there is the fitting word—stronghold: a fortress, citadel, thick walls, tall gates. It’s as if the devil staked a claim on one weakness and constructed a rampart around it.

Strongholds: old, difficult, discouraging challenges.

That’s what David faced when he looked at Jerusalem. . . .

Nevertheless.

“Nevertheless David took the stronghold . . .” (2 Sam. 5:9).

Granted, the city was old. The walls were difficult. The voices were discouraging . . . Nevertheless David took the stronghold.

Wouldn’t you love God to write a nevertheless in your biography? Born to alcoholics, nevertheless she led a sober life. Never went to college, nevertheless he mastered a trade. Didn’t read the Bible until retirement age, nevertheless he came to a deep and abiding faith.

We all need a nevertheless. And God has plenty to go around. Strongholds mean nothing to him. Remember Paul’s words? “We use God’s mighty weapons, not mere worldly weapons, to knock down the Devil’s strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4 NLT).

You and I fight with toothpicks; God comes with battering rams and cannons. What he did for David, he can do for us.

—from Facing Your Giants

Blessed Father, as you helped David conquer a stronghold so you can help us conquer the strongholds in our lives. You have promised freedom and victory. Father, will you break these strongholds with your mighty power? You steady us with your love, amen.

My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
Psalm 121:2

Call upon Me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.

Psalm 50:15

“Your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.”
Matthew 6:8

From Lived Love: Experiencing God’s Presence in Every Day Life
Copyright (Thomas Nelson, 2011) Max Lucado

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Repentance

"Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.
2After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence.
3Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth."

Hosea 6:1-3

Monday, 15 August 2011

A new name for ME!?

WOW! I've just understood why we will receive new names when God comes to fetch us (His followers, worshippers and friends) and we join Him in Heaven.

God has a name, and at the same time He has many names. Firstly, He has a name by which we call Him. We use this name to speak of Him and to speak TO Him. However, the second aspect is that God's names describe Him. They denote His attributes.

Sure, our names have meanings, but can anyone truly say that their given name COMPLETELY describes them? I'm sure I wouldn't be the only one to say 'Nope!' But when God meets with us finally, we will get names that will not only be those by which we will be called, but ones that describe us.

How awesome is that!?

Saturday, 13 August 2011

SFFS Week 11

Welcome to my posting for this week. For those who are first-time readers, SFFS is a ring of authors who share snippets of their speculative fiction writing. You can find out who the rest of the tribe are here. Please do go there and read (and perhaps comment) on their pieces once you're done here, as they are each fabulous!

My snippet this week follows on from Week 10's extract from The Thalladium, my WIP. It is in first draft form, so please bear with any "bad" writing.

--------------------------------------

With the other children following, I waded into the sea, still carrying Petay, and when I was in knee-deep I put Petay down to stand in the water and I sat down in the water next to him, careless of my clothes. Resting his ankle on my knee just below the surface of the water, I proceeded to wash the leg as gently as I could. It took a while, but eventually the wound came was clean. Not once had Petay complained of pain, when I was sure it must have stung quite a lot; even when some blood had gently flowed as abrasion had cleaned dried blood away.

Finally I carried Petay from the sea, returning to the rock we had been sitting earlier. The other children gathered around to see what I was going to do next.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Are Burdens Heavy?

In this blog post I discussed burdens and yokes. I've just come across some encouraging verses in the Bible that one all-to-frequently forgets about.

11Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.
Deuteronomy 30:11

“… 29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:29-30

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Where does my peace come from?

For the last year or so I’ve been trying to 'find' my identity. At times this has been a rather frantic search; especially when I came across others whose identities appeared to be pretty secure. Those who have followed me closely over this time will have seen me doing many things, such as:>


Starting new projects that fizzled to nothing pretty quickly;
Investigating the concept of identity;
Trying to define creativity.
Chopping and changing my Facebook profile and Pages;
Writing my bio;


The list probably goes on, and may even include things that I’m blind to.

At one of the church services on the 31st July, however, it came to my attention that I’ve been wandering around in the dark searching for meaning, searching for purpose. I say 'in the dark' because, in my newly-educated opinion, I was looking in all the wrong places. The right place to look, not even place to look, but person to trust by faith, is God Himself. It is He from whom I derive my meaning and my purpose.

I cannot say that I have all the answers. I do not know the meaning of everything, and my purpose is also hidden to me, but my relief, and my peace, comes from knowing that I don’t need to search any further. I am happy to trust in the one who I know will give my life meaning and purpose one day.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Burdens, or burdens?

(Warning: this is a long post - tho I'll try to keep it short)

So, I uncovered a bit of a dilemma last night - and I believe that God showed me the unquestionable solution.

The verse that gave me trouble was Jeremiah 2:20. I first read it in the NIV, as follows:


"Long ago you broke off your yoke and tore off your bonds; you said, 'I will not serve you!' Indeed, on every high hill and under every spreading tree you lay down as a prostitute."

My problem was that the context in which I was reading it (outside of the Bible) indicated that the Israelites, who God was speaking to in this verse, had found God's sovereignty a burden, and yet this verse did not appear to be saying this. For several years now I have made use of Matthew Henry's Commentary, as it can be trusted to provide new perspective. So I turned to it, and found this:

20 For of old time I have broken thy yoke, and burst thy bands; and thou saidst, I will not transgress; when upon every high hill and under every green tree thou wanderest, playing the harlot.

Now, one has to be blind if one does not presume, initially, that these two appear to be saying the complete opposite!! I mean, really now. There are two differences just in the first half of the verse.

  1. On the one hand, the Israelites break their yoke and remove their bonds; on the other hand, it is God who does these for the Israelites.
  2. On the one hand, the Israelites say to God "I will not serve you!", while on the other hand, they say to God "I will not transgress."
Needless to say, I began to get bogged down, thinking that God's righteousness is a burden and a yoke - that there is no freedom in following God. That was before I understood that perhaps the Israelites did feel that God's Law was a burden, because it prevented them from being like the people around them.

I did eventually realise that either way, these two translations may appear to mean different things, but ultimately neither of them are wrong. They indicate that there was a breakdown in the relationship between the Israelites and their God.

What I ultimately saw, however, is that God's law is a yoke and a bond that binds us. It certainly does not bring freedom or righteousness. As Paul says in Romans 3,

20Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

No. Rather, it is through the new covenant that God made with Man - the blood of Jesus Christ that was shed on the cross for our sins - that we are set free from the bonds of the law and sin. As it is further said in Romans 3:

22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

This is compounded in Romans 8 -

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.

Essentially, all I realised was that, if I am under the new covenant - the law of the Spirit of life - then I do not need to be worried about the burdens and yokes of the Law, because that is the old covenant, and the new covenant brings freedom.

    Monday, 8 August 2011

    There is a Time for Editing!

    Hokay, so I realised yet another thing tonight (it's Thursday the 4th August as I write this - I'll post it at a later date). It's funny how these things keep hitting me over the head. Maybe I'm going insane, slowly ... but hey, I'm ok with that if this is what it means!

    I had just started to work on my current editing project - a rather large and, to date, tough one. I've really been slogging through the mud on this one, thinking that it was very tough (and saying this to anyone who would listen!), and yet, since before I even received the first document to scan over I was arguing to work on this project! And challenging isn't the word. The work itself is a challenge, but so is the content. It has been causing me to be very introspective, but in a good way. It, step by step, takes me to task on my relationship (virtually non-existant) with God, and discusses the reasons why this is the case - why there is no relationship. It is brilliant stuff, and when it is finally published, I will recommend it to any thinking Christian - or to anyone who dares to call themselves 'Christian'.

    That aside, a friend came online. This friend is a publisher who has read a little of my work and wishes me to write more. The problem: I cannot write (work for myself) while I have editing (work for others) on my plate. Suddenly I realised that what I am doing right now (the editing) is what I'm meant to be doing right now. This is, in fact, what I said:

    Unfortunately I believe that there is a time for everything, and at the moment, for me, it is the time to be editing. This is stuff that I need to be reading right now. Questions that I need to consider and decisions that I need to make. I am at peace with the fact that I do not write at the moment. I have been writing blog posts about my thinking at the moment. For me, this is where I need to be at the moment.

    I do still muse about my stories, and occasionally I get a new part worked out. i then make notes about it, and then I continue with the editing.


    And the funny thing was, I wasn't lying. What is even stranger is that, just as suddenly, the editing isn't so difficult any more. I'm now starting to enjoy it. Sure, it hasn't changed at all - I'm still making around about the same number of corrections per page, but it is no longer such a daunting task. It is now something that I can handle.

    Anyways, I'm heading off to bed (on the day I write this), so I'll bid you adieu with this:

    There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under heaven:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

    Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 NIV

    Saturday, 6 August 2011

    SFFS Week 10

    Welcome to my entry for this week's round of SFFS. I have jumped a few sentences to get to this week's submission.

    When we join the story, Kate has been outlining to Petay what she is planning to do, and mentioned bandages. He has asked her what they are.



    “Strips of material. They will stop the wounds from getting dirty again, and in a couple of days we can maybe take them off so that it heals up properly in the air. Skin needs air to get better.”

    “Okay, let’s do it.” The brown eyes now held mine, the trust in them evident. I stood up, wondering anew at the primitive state of this world, the callousness that allowed little orphans to die from a simple dog bite.

    You can read the other entries from my fellow writers here.

    Thursday, 4 August 2011

    The Birds and Flowers

    I'm starting to realise just how much the birds and the flowers of the field rely on God for His provision. Their lives are more fleeting than ours, yet how much does he care for them? He gives them food, he gives shelter, he gives sun and rain.

    And how much more does he care for us? Us who can choose to go our own ways. Us who are obstinate and selfish.

    And from what I can see, the clincher is that we build for ourselves a society that relies on ability to do work. We do work in order to earn money, in order that we can purchase food and other supplies - including things we want but do not need. We do not keep in mind that every penny or cent that we earn ultimately comes from God.

    What would happen if we lost our ability to work, or our ability to function in society? The Bible tells that a time will come when the followers of Jesus will be unable to purchase food or supplies from the powers-that-be of this world. What will we do then? That is when the true believers, those who trust completely and utterly on God for EVERYTHING will stand up to be counted. Would that I were one of those - even now as I work.

    If I'm brave enough to let go and let God.

    Wednesday, 3 August 2011

    God invites

    I received the below posting in an email from Max Lucado, and I thought that I would share it with you all. I hope that it touches you and makes you think, as it did me.

    An Inviting God


    Posted: 18 Jul 2011 11:01 PM PDT

    “Jesus said, ‘Come.’” Matthew 14:29

    You can’t read anything about God without finding him issuing invitations. He invited Eve to marry Adam, the animals to enter the ark, David to be king, Israel to leave bondage, Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem. God is an inviting God. He invited Mary to birth his son, the disciples to fish for men, the adulterous woman to start over, and Thomas to touch his wounds. God is the King who prepares the palace, sets the table, and invites his subjects to come in.

    Saturday, 30 July 2011

    SFFS Week 9

    Good morning! Thanks for coming to read this week's snippet from The Thalladium, one of my WIPs. Will Petay let Kate help him?

    “Petay,” I started gently, “I want to take you into the sea with me. We aren’t going to go for a swim. I want to use the salt that is in the water to clean your leg. You can see that it’s very dirty, and we can wash it and make it clean. It will hurt, but I think that if we clean it, it will heal, and then you can get better. Shall we do that?”

    You can find other snippets from some of my fellow writers here.

    Saturday, 23 July 2011

    SFFS Week 8

    Welcome to another SFFS posting. There are several other authors who take part in SFFS, and you can read the six sentences that they have posted here. We do this primarily to share some of our writing, and occassionally to receive critical (constructive) feedback. If you are new to this, are a writer, and would like to take part, it is open to all and any comers, provided that the rules of the "game" are adhered to.
    My six sentences this week follow on from last week's, so we again meet Kate and Petay in The Thalladium, one of my current WIPs.


    “Petay, can I look at the bite? I’ll try not to hurt you more.”


    Again I got a whispered yes in reply, so I began to take a careful look at the leg. It was clear that nothing had been done to clean the wounds, and the little leg was very mucky, with blood, pus and dirt, and pale. It would seem that my first idea – of getting it washed in the sea in the absence of any other treatment – was going to be the solution. At least it would give little Petay a fighting chance.

    Saturday, 16 July 2011

    SFFS #7

    Welcome to my snippet this week. I'm going to be continuing from my previous sentences from The Thalladium. I am skipping a few sentences to a paragraph that makes a bit more sense. At this point of the story Kate, who is holding Petay, has found that he has a fever. She has asked him if she can help him to get better so that he can play with his friends again - he agreed (who wouldn't?). However, she then hit a snag in asking James to get some water for Petay to drink, as her explanation was that he had a fever. She has had to explain to James what a fever is, and how to help someone who has a fever (give them liquids to drink, perferably cool, to help bring the temperature down). I hope that you enjoy it :-)

    James nodded, although I could see that he still didn’t quite understand. Kneeling down in front of Petay and I, he took Petay’s little hand. “I’ll be back just now, ok? I’ll have some water for you to drink, and we’ll work together to help you get better. Ok?” Petay nodded his acceptance and James left, taking a couple of the youngest children with him.

    Tuesday, 12 July 2011

    The Bridge of Friendship

    Received in a daily posting from Max Lucado, this gels totally with my thinking of late. Words such as "liars" and "selfish" definitely fit the package ... :-(

    “Unfriendly people are selfish.” Proverbs 18:1

    We’re in a fast-moving, fast-paced society. We need to build bridges between our hearts and those of people who need a friend—and allow Jesus to cross that bridge of friendship and walk into their lives . . .

    Whether or not you are friendly could determine whether or not someone hears about Jesus.

    Monday, 11 July 2011

    I am a Princess

    Ok, now that I have your attention ...

    Actually, I'm being serious, although I cannot be sure where this is really going. I've just had a wonderful weekend with friends at th church I used to attend when I lived in Northampton. It was a respite in the storm, a safe harbour. But now the storm is setting back in, trying to steal that peace and joy away.

    Funny thing is, I'm not sure it's quite succeeding. You see, I've been asking a few ... ok, quite a lot of ... questions of God, and these are questions that need answers. I'm getting tired of battling, tired of being depressed, tired of ... well, I can go on. And it's strange: I seem to be getting answers. Answers that will take some convincing me of in some instances, but they are still answers. But how did I get to the title of this blog post, I can hear you asking? Well, here you go.

    As many will know, Will and Kate - the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, have just completed their tour of North America. It ran through my mind that they don't live in Cambridge - they live in Anglesy - but if they wanted to move there, there likely wouldn't be any barriers because, as members of the Royal Family, they more likely than not have sufficient funds at their disposal to do what they please, go where they would like to go, and so on.

    It was roughly at this point in my musing that the thought popped into my mind, "I am a princess!" And it is true. Yesterday I heard of a man who calls himself an Ambassador, a diplomat for Heaven. And this is true of every confessing Christian, as we are God's representatives here on Earth - when people see us, they see the Father (we trust). I believe and trust in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour, and for this reason the Bible calls me God's adopted child, having all the rights of the Son. Therefore, seeing that God is the King of Heaven, I am a princess.

    If you trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour, then you, too, are a Prince or Princess of Heaven. Just how amazing is that?

    Saturday, 9 July 2011

    SFFS #6

    This week's extract continues the story of Petay from The Thalladium, one of my WIPs. Enjoy.

    I brushed the hair away from his forehead, which burned to the touch. Dismayed, I tried to keep the threads of my composure woven together. Fraying wouldn’t help anyone.

    “Petay?” The beautiful brown eyes focussed on my face. “Can I look at the bite? ..."

    Saturday, 2 July 2011

    SFFS #5

    To my usual blog readers, I apologise that all you get these days is snippets of my creative writing. I'm just so busy at the moment with things, and life caught up with us this last month such that there was simply no energy left for stuff like blogging.

    In the meantime, I hope that you enjoy reading these six sentences from a work-in-progress, The Thalladium, and do go here to read some similar snippets of writing from some of my fellow writers. If you look through my blog list, you can catch up the story to where this week's snippet starts.

    Then, getting one of the children to help me, we took the bandages into the ocean – which was as salty as that back on Earth – and washed them in the salt water. Then we took them to one of the shrubs that grew along the border of the beach, and laid them out to dry in the warmth of the sun.

    As we finished, James arrived at the beach, carrying little Petay. The orphan looked pale, but otherwise, he seemed to be fine. James brought him to me, and I took him in my arms, sitting down on an accommodating rock.

    Looking down at Petay’s face, I could see that he was in some pain.

    Saturday, 25 June 2011

    SFFS #4

    This week's six comes from The Thalladium, one of my WIPs. It continues on from the previous sixes. I hope that you enjoy.


    When we got to the beach, I sat down on one of the rocks. A dog bite could be nasty, I was under no illusions as to that, but I wanted to do what I could. The children gathered around me, expectation and curiosity written all over their faces: what WAS I going to do?

    I picked up a sharp rock. Pulling my overrobe up to my knees, I used the rock to tear the underrobe a bit. Then I tore it all around the base to get two strips of cloth that could be used as bandages.

    Wednesday, 22 June 2011

    Today I Will Make a Difference - by Max Lucado

    Today I will make a difference. I will begin by controlling my thoughts. A person is the product of his thoughts. I want to be happy and hopeful. Therefore, I will have thoughts that are happy and hopeful. I refuse to be victimized by my circumstances. I will not let petty inconveniences such as stoplights, long lines, and traffic jams be my masters. I will avoid negativism and gossip. Optimism will be my companion, and victory will be my hallmark. Today I will make a difference.

    I will be grateful for the twenty-four hours that are before me. Time is a precious commodity. I refuse to allow what little time I have to be contaminated by self-pity, anxiety, or boredom. I will face this day with the joy of a child and the courage of a giant. I will drink each minute as though it is my last. When tomorrow comes, today will be gone forever. While it is here, I will use it for loving and giving. Today I will make a difference.

    I will not let past failures haunt me. Even though my life is scarred with mistakes, I refuse to rummage through my trash heap of failures. I will admit them. I will correct them. I will press on. Victoriously. No failure is fatal. It’s OK to stumble… . I will get up. It’s OK to fail… . I will rise again. Today I will make a difference.

    I will spend time with those I love. My spouse, my children, my family. A man can own the world but be poor for the lack of love. A man can own nothing and yet be wealthy in relationships. Today I will spend at least five minutes with the significant people in my world. Five quality minutes of talking or hugging or thanking or listening. Five undiluted minutes with my mate, children, and friends.

    Today I will make a difference.

    From Shaped by God (original title: On the Anvil)

    Copyright (Tyndale House, 1985, 2002) Max Lucado

    Saturday, 18 June 2011

    SFFS Week #3

    Here's another snippet from The Thalladium, my WIP set in the Anders Universe. This continues directly on from the previous snippet, which you can find here.

    I looked around at the group. Now I could see that there were some tear tracks running down the grubby faces of the littlest ones. I didn’t want to give them false hope, but I was so sure that I could help Petay. I turned back to James. “I realise that this is how things happen here, but where I am from, things are different. I honestly believe that I can help Petay – and if I do, and he survives, I will teach all of you how to do the same – and more."

    Sunday, 12 June 2011

    "Excuse me, I'm going now ..."

    I had a good giggle at work the other day. For those who don't know, I work on a farm. But not your ordinary farm. This farm is attached to a college, and we teach courses like horticulture and animal care on the campus.

    So if I start talking about snakes, don't fall off your chairs - please! See, I'm a scaredy-cat when it comes to snakes. I respect them, but please let me know where they are in the cage before you thrust me in front of the cage. So it's been quite interesting having two carpet pythons (called Thelma and Louise, I kid you not) staring at me whenever I walk into work over the last month or so. They were put into an enclosure in our entrance lobby, you see.

    But that's the background. Here's the giggle. See, the one day, these two pythons were huddled together on a branch in their cage. It was rather difficult to determine which was which, and which part belonged to which. And then the thought ran through my mind: what would happen if one of them decided to de-huddle itself? If it moved off, would the other one collapse, dangling over the branches like a flung rope thinking "What the flip?"?

    Or, as someone suggested to me, would it say "Excuse me, I'm going now ..."

    Sunday, 5 June 2011

    He is Kind

    by Max Lucado

    “God has . . . all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us.” Ephesians 2:7, The Message

    God knows everything about you, yet he doesn’t hold back his kindness toward you. Has he, knowing all your secrets, retracted one promise or reclaimed one gift?

    No, he is kind to you. Why don’t you be kind to yourself? He forgives your faults. Why don’t you do the same? . . . He believes in you enough to call you his ambassador, his follower, even his child. Why not take his cue and believe in yourself?

    Saturday, 4 June 2011

    SFFS Week #2

    This week's snippet continues on from the one I posted last week, so is also from The Thalladium. And so, without further ado:


    I looked straight at James. “Please can you fetch Petay and bring him to me down by the beach – near the outcrop of rocks at the top end.”

    James put his hand on my shoulder. “Kate, I know you love the little guy – I do to – but you’ve got to let him go. We have. Don’t make it worse for all of us.”

    If you want to read more speculative fiction snippets, follow this link.

    Saturday, 28 May 2011

    SFFS Week #1

    Welcome to the first posting of SFFS. I'm going to share some snippets of my writing most weeks, and posting them under the SFFS tag. To take a look at other writers' snippets, follow this link to the SFFS blog.

    So here goes - my six sentences for this week. They come from first draft of a short story that is currently titled The Thalladium. A six-year old child has been bitten by a zimran - a creature similar to the fox of Earth origin. The narrator is a stranger to the world she is in, having being mysteriously transported there from present-day Earth, and finds herself in what appears to be a harsh, primitive society, reminiscent to the Middle Ages on Earth in some respects. I hope you enjoy.



    My heartstrings tore in two, at the thought of losing that cheerful little boy. To never see his tanned, elfin face, smiling up at me so endearingly ... I shook my head at the thought. My heart just couldn’t accept it. There was no way that this little boy was going to die if I could do anything about it. “Oh, I wouldn’t be so sure about that. It’s time that things started changing around here.”

    Tuesday, 24 May 2011

    Review: Fallen Embers, by Lauri J. Owen

    In Fallen Embers, Lauri Owen has crafted a magnificent tale of romance and political intrigue, tightly interwoven through the visions of grandeur and depravity that are her alternate Alaska. From the first page one is gripped by the story as one meets Kiera and Alex, living out a pretty ordinary existence in present day Alaska. The pace changes in a shocking initiation to a realm of magic, where the pair must survive or be destroyed. The scale of this story is as majestic as its setting, and I can guarantee that any reader will fall in love with the characters.

    The pages of this book turn of their own accord as one devours the images that flow from them, eager to seek out the mysteries that lie hidden within and, of course, to follow the ultimate conclusion of the romance that is the river of hope wending its way through the book.




    Author Bio
    Lauri J Owen is a civil rights lawyer who grew up in Idaho's Treasure Valley and worked for more than a decade in law enforcement. In 2003, her passion for social justice led her to law school. After completing her Juris Doctorate at U.C., Berkeley, she moved to Bethel, a village in the Alaska Bush, where she fell in love with the the people, the magic, and the majesty of her new home state. Lauri was selected in 2006 for inclusion in the “Who’s Who of American Women” directory in part for her commitment to civil rights, and she currently lives in metro Alaska with her elementary-school-aged son and rescued cat companions. Lauri is currently hard at work on the third novel in The Embers Series, Rising Embers, which will likely be out in early 2012.

    Author Contact Information
    Facebook: Fallen Embers - The Embers Series
    Twitter: laurijowen
    Blog: Embers

    Blowing Embers, chapter two in The Embers Series, is due out July 2011. Check out it's cover below, and go here to see the book video.




















    Cover image used with permission from Lauri J Owen, received at the time of posting.

    Monday, 23 May 2011

    Meditation Mondays

    Revelations 21:2-4 (NIV)

    2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

    Wednesday, 18 May 2011

    Review: The Bones of the Sea, by Pippa Jay

    A quick read, and very well-written, I thoroughly enjoyed this short story. In The Bones of the Sea, we get a brief glimpse of Ulto Marinos, a mysterious world on which stranger things exist - namely, the Bones of the Sea. We discover, along with Myasi, the hidden secrets of this strange structure - but will they actually be unlocked?

    It is refreshing to meet a new talent in the scifi industry, and I look forward to seeing what other ideas Pippa Jay will bring to the world of reading.

    Author Bio:
    A stay-at-home mum who spent twelve years working as an Analytical Chemist in a Metals and Minerals laboratory, Pippa Jay bases her stories on a lifetime addiction to science fiction books and films. Now happily settled in historic Colchester, she continues to roam the rest of the Universe in her head.

    Author Contact Information:
    Email: pippajaygreen@gmail.com
    Blog: Pippa Jay - Adventures in Sci-fi
    Twitter: happarose197
    Facebook: Keir - Beyond Redemption
    Smashwords: happarose

    Cover image used with permission from Philippa J Green, received at the time of posting.

    Monday, 16 May 2011

    Meditation Mondays

    Proverbs 24:1-2 (NIV)

    1 Do not envy the wicked,
    do not desire their company;
    2 for their hearts plot violence,
    and their lips talk about making trouble.

    Wednesday, 11 May 2011

    Guest Blogging over at Amy's

    Good day all!

    I just thought I'd unpack some of what's gone on in the last two days. Weird doesn't quite fit the requirements of word-demand.

    All I can really say is, I was reading a book, and suddenly it was like a blinding white light hit me, and I discovered how to do something I've been talking about for months, but have been unable to do with my writing. That mystery is "relaxing" my writing. Along with it came the revelation - provided by a friend - of understanding HOW I write. I'm a plot writer. There's no doubt about it. I have to work much harder than others to build up my characters and my story-settings than I do at my plots. This just makes my life so much easier, it really does!

    Do - if you're interested - go and read my guest post Relax your Writing, at Amy Rose Davis's blog, Modicum of Talent, Flashes of Brilliance. I wouldn't say that I'm an expert on writing, or that my story-telling is now perfect. All I'm saying is, "I learnt something."

    Monday, 9 May 2011

    Meditation Monday

    Philippians 2:1-2 (NIV)

    1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.

    Tuesday, 3 May 2011

    Review: Silver Thaw, by Amy Rose Davis

    From the pen of Amy Rose Davis, a self-published (indie) author, comes this wonderful dark fantasy. When I was introduced to Amy by a friend, I bought this book, intending to read it 'sometime'. I am now very glad that I did, and more so now that I have read it.

    The story does not take long to read, being a novella, and the vivid imagery makes it a true pleasure. The words create the setting and the characters in such an unobtrusive way that one simply absorbs them as one follows the events depicted by them. I needed to put the book down several times – life intervenes – but each section drew me on to read more, until I had read the story through to its conclusion. What amazed me most was that the present is skilfully interwoven with the past to create a rich tapestry that consists of the many lives, seasons and emotions that run through the story. This is one tale that is very well-written – in terms of language and grammar as well as creativity and imagery – and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it as an outstanding work of fiction.

    Like the song of the siren, this book will keep you turning the pages until the very end.

    Author Bio


    Amy Rose Davis is an independent epic fantasy author. She lives in Oregon with her husband, Bryce, and their four children. Bryce provides comic relief, editing, and inspiration, and regularly talks her off the various ledges she climbs onto.

    Amy is an unapologetic coffee addict, but her other vices include chocolate, margaritas, and whiskey. She prefers cats to dogs (but houses both), loves the color green, and enjoys the smell of new pencils and crayons. She has eclectic tastes in friends, music, and books, and is as likely to watch 300 as Becoming Jane.

    Amy’s books are available in all major e-bookstores.

    Author contact information

    E-mail: amy@amyrosedavis.com
    Author Website: www.ravenmarked.com
    Blog: www.modicumoftalent.com
    Facebook: www.facebook.com/amyrosedaviswriter
    Twitter: www.twitter.com/amyjrosedavis

    Books

    Ravenmarked
    Silver Thaw
    Servant of Dreams
    Bloodbonded (forthcoming late in 2011)

    Cover image and writer logo used with permission from Amy J Rose Davis, received at the time of posting.

    Monday, 2 May 2011

    Meditation Monday

    Proverbs 11:12-14 (NIV)

     12 Whoever derides their neighbor has no sense,
       but the one who has understanding holds their tongue.
     13 A gossip betrays a confidence,
       but a trustworthy person keeps a secret.
     14 For lack of guidance a nation falls,
       but victory is won through many advisers.

    Wednesday, 27 April 2011

    Worship Wednesday

    These are the words to the song as I remember them, so may not be completely correct. Originally written by the Penguins in Africa band in the early-mid 1990's.




    Red River

    From Genesis to Revelation
    The people of God face no condemnation;
    'Cause there's a river that flows,
    The red river of blood from God's own Son.
    When I walked through that river,
    My chains fell off, my heart was set free,
    I rose, went forth, and followed Thee,
    Yes, I was in bondage, but now I am free
    Yes I was in the river, but now
    I'm in the wide open sea
    Taken from the tunnel, onto the highway;
    I was in debt, but now I have no more to pay.
    They cast the nails through His feet and His hands
    They raised up the cross, and dropped it in its stand.
    The river flowed for you and I,
    Curtain split between land and sky.
    Live like me is His only request,
    Make your lifestyle worth my death.
    Or did Jesus die in vain,
    Are you gonna stay the same?
    I can only speak for myself when I say,
    I've been washed in the blood of Jesus Christ,
    Hanging there, Jesus paid the price.

    From Genesis to Revelation,
    The people of God face no condemnation.

    Monday, 25 April 2011

    Meditation Mondays

    I'm introducing a new series called Meditation Monday. Before everyone starts gathering images of emptying their heads to gain inner peace, STOP!

    What I have in mind, instead, is filling our minds with thoughts of God. Getting to know God's word better. Chewing it over, digesting it and living what we've learned.

    That is my definition of meditation.

    Sunday, 24 April 2011

    AN EASTER PRAYER

    Christmas is glorious
    Of its Holy gift we sing
    Of a manger and baby
    Our blessed newborn king

    Thanksgiving is so grand
    Our thanks to God we give
    For His unending bounty
    Gracing each day we live

    Valentines Day is romantic
    A day we are filled with love
    Love from spouse and family
    Love from the Great One above

    But there is one holiday
    That rises above them all
    Rewarding each one of us
    Whether strong, meek or small

    Of all of God's gifts
    Easter shows us our fate
    Forgiven we will rise
    And pass through Heaven's gate

    This Easter remember
    The sacrifice of a Son
    And through His resurrection
    Eternal life we have won

    This Easter I pray
    That the love of God
    Is resurrected
    Reborn, renewed
    Inside your heart

    -- Author Unknown

    Wednesday, 20 April 2011

    Worship Wednesday

    I know that I only posted this song last month, but with Easter coming up, there's always a time to remind ourselves of its true meaning.


    How Deep the Father's Love

    How deep the Father's love for us,
    How vast beyond all measure
    That He should give His only Son
    To make a wretch His treasure
    How great the pain of searing loss,
    The Father turns His face away
    As wounds which mar the chosen One,
    Bring many sons to glory

    Behold the Man upon a cross,
    My sin upon His shoulders
    Ashamed I hear my mocking voice,
    Call out among the scoffers.
    It was my sin that held Him there
    Until it was accomplished
    His dying breath has brought me life
    I know that it is finished.

    I will not boast in anything
    No gifts, no power, no wisdom
    But I will boast in Jesus Christ
    His death and resurrection.
    Why should I gain from His reward?
    I cannot give an answer
    But this I know with all my heart
    His wounds have paid my ransom.

    Lyrics by Stuart Townend

    Thursday, 14 April 2011

    Understanding? HUH!???

    “The Spirit produces the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience.”  Galatians 5:22

    Over the last few weeks, I have repeatedly read that one should ask God for understanding. I can just hear everyone saying "HUH??? That's not in my Bible?! That isn't one of the fruit of the Spirit!"

    No. It isn't one of the fruit of the Spirit, but it is in the Bible. Incidentally, Proverbs provides the answer: "Whoever is patient has great understanding"- Proverbs 14:29.

    There isn't much excuse for being judgemental (in fact, God, through the Bible, explicitly tells us NOT to judge others), or for having a lack of understanding. However, from experience, I have learnt that both of these require time. Time to listen to people, time to REALLY listen. To hold back that judgemental voice and realise that just because someone's on a different path to you doesn't mean that it isn't the right path for them. We are, after all, each living our own lives, with our own backgrounds, experiences and challenges.

    Take time to get to know those God brings across your path; take time to really understand them.

    Sunday, 10 April 2011

    "We still pick the turn-offs"

    The Christian life is often described as a road, a path through life. Similarly, one hears of "the road to hell". A story frequently used to describe redemption is that a person is on the road to hell, and at any stage along that road, they can do a U-turn, choose God, and they will directly be on the road to heaven, to life.

    Several years ago now, a friend of mine said that "we still pick the turn-offs". Apparently I had been having a discussion with a different friend about this scenario at the time, so noted this statement down. I just came across it this morning, and it still offers pause for thought.

    -------

    The four-lane highway stretches off into the distance. Few people are on this side of the highway; in fact, there isn't another car in sight, either before or behind. The opposite direction, in contrast, is queued up beyond the horizon, with angry people gesticulating, honking horns and generally shouting abuse at one another.

    If only there was a rest-stop soon, somewhere to get away of the stifling heat and glare of the road. Unsurprisingly, no sooner the thought, than there is a sign indicating a rest stop, two miles down the road. The relief in the cabin is immediate. A break is in sight.

    We get to the exit, and the turn-off is taken. Anticipation climbs ever higher as desire is followed. But no. Signs to the rest-stop are absent; instead, a maze of roads, leading who knows where, becomes the order of the day. Spirits sink as we realise there never was a rest-stop.

    Saturday, 9 April 2011

    Writer Interview: Ian Peaston, author of Who is Kai?

    And here we found our place as prescient Firsts
    Eluciaë preparing signs in verse
    And sculpting symbols hidden in the skies
    Awaiting One so Ephaïl may rise
    At last reborn in thew to clash divine
    With Déhath ere His darkness vanquish time

    Extract from The Elucian Epic, Ian Peaston

    Just over a year ago I was privileged to be introduced to the science fiction work Who is Kai? by a fellow writing friend I had just met on Facebook. As the story, which is posted online once a week, was already quite a few chapters in, I was determined to read through what had already been posted in order to catch up with the story, since the merest glimpse at a few sentences convinced me that it was going to be worth it. At the same time, I was getting to know the author, as he enjoys interacting with his readers (aka followers) on his Facebook page.

    My overall impression of this fantastic writer is that he can only be given one title: Master Wordsmith. He is brilliant at his craft, conjuring images upon images in a gentle yet determined manner, constantly drawing one onwards through a scene to a greater one beyond.

    I digress. It is an honour to introduce you to Ian Peaston, the author of Who is Kai? and a wonderful musician. He styles himself

    Eclectic violinist and writer @ http://elucian.com. Author of impressionistic SciFi @ http://whoiskai.com. Frequent refuter of coffee dependence.

    Ian, please tell us a bit about yourself.

    I’m a musician. I played violin for many years in orchestras before I realised that I don’t like playing violin in orchestras. I think my writing, like my electric violin projects, has been about finding a new way to express what I don’t get to express through the traditional channels of orchestral playing. It’s a very “developed-world” problem, I know.

    Your “Who is Kai?” story is a science fiction work. What attracts you to science fiction?

    I grew up with science fiction – mainly movies and TV, such as Star Wars and Star Trek, etc. I think it was the sense of wonder that I loved – amazing characters, places and adventures. Later on I started to realise how you could tell “real” stories using science fiction (or any genre) as a backdrop.

    Why do you write science fiction?

    As above. Also, when I read Tolkien as a teenager, I remember thinking, “I want to write something like that!” (There seems to be a big crossover between fantasy and science fiction – perhaps it’s that limitless, otherworldly sense of wonder again.)

    How did you first meet Kai?

    Kai’s story actually began with the plot rather than the character, and that plot began with the ending (which I probably won’t get to actually write in prose until about 4 years from now). I first used it in a really rather terrible Star Trek movie script I tried to write. It was about 500 pages long, so I realised it was never going to get made, and would probably fill out a trilogy. After that I started jotting down some notes for another story for a Han Solo/Indiana Jones-type character. It was going to be an out-and-out action movie. Over time, however, the action alone lost my interest, and it combined itself with the science fiction plot.

    You have a very interesting style of writing. How would you describe it?

    I once called it “stream of visual consciousness”. But even just plain-old “poetic prose” will make enough people laugh to make me happy.

    What influenced the decision to adopt this particular style?

    It grew naturally out of my poetry, which had been a completely separate part of my writing before I decided to write Kai in prose, and my visual style, which I’m pretty sure came naturally from me thinking in terms of film.

    I've seen that you like to use images or real-life people that relate to characters or scenes described in your writing. Which comes first, the images (or people), or the ideas?

    The ideas come first. I think characterisation and dialogue are the least-developed parts of my writing, so I imagine actors or other real people as I write the characters in Kai’s story to ground them to some kind of reality.

    To publish or not to publish, that is the question?

    The answer is yes, but I’m not sure which way yet. I have various ideas, but I’ll probably wait until I have a complete manuscript. I think it might be a hard sell, though, so another story entirely might actually become my first novel.

    What advice would you give to other writers?

    Don’t think too much about what you are meant to write, or what will be accepted. If you write that way, you may well be accepted and published, but you probably won’t be saying anything worth reading.

    Any upcoming news or plans?

    Musically, yes -- I’ll have my new electric violin performance ready by this summer, which I’m really excited about, as well as electric violin lessons and workshops. In terms of writing, I’m continuing as I have for the past year or so, releasing one chapter every week. When I have the full book, that’ll be the time to work out what to do next.

    If you didn't play the violin, would you still play music? If so, what instrument?
    No doubt. Maybe piano, or electric guitar in a band. Or I’d be an electronica “laptopist”.

    Would you go into Space, given the chance?
    Whoever offered me wouldn’t need to finish the sentence.

    What's your favourite place in the world, and why?
    Still looking for it.

    Coffee or Hot Chocolate?
    Who said coffee? WHO?!

    Summer or Winter?
    Summer. Winter should be banned.

    Black and White, or Colour?
    Colour.

    Favourite Food?
    Pasta. Or shrimp. Or pasta and shrimp.

    Car or Motorbike?
    Car. I love cycling, but I’d be too scared for my violin hands to ride a motorbike every day, as everyone – everyone – falls off at some point.

    Ian, thank you very much for taking time out of your hectic schedule to answer these questions. It is a privilege to have got to know you over the last year, and an honour to have you “resident” on my blog.

    Well, now that you’ve met Ian, I urge you to read Who is Kai? to get to know Kai. Even if science fiction isn’t your “thing”, I can assure you that you will be mesmerised, as I was, by the sheer power of words. You can rest assured, you will never have read anything quite like it, or have seen such scenes as Ian builds in your mind.


    Please feel free to ask Ian any more questions that you may have – he has carte blanche on this post!

    Links for Ian and several of his projects can be found here.


    Permission to use the images in this post obtained from Ian Peaston at the time of planning this interview.

    Wednesday, 6 April 2011

    Worship Wednesday

    Because of You

    There’s a place where the streets shine
    with the glory of the Lamb
    There’s a way we can go there
    we can live there beyond time

    No more pain no more sadness
    no more suffeing no more tears
    no more sin no more sickness
    no injustice no more death


    There is joy everlasting,
    There is gladness, there is peace
    There is wine ever flowing,
    There’s a wedding, there’s a feast

    All our sins are washed away and we can live forever
    Now we have this hope because of you
    Oh we’ll see you face to face and we will dance together
    In the city of our God because of You

    Because of You because of you
    Because of your love Because of your blood

    Lyrics by Paul Oakley, 1996

    Tuesday, 5 April 2011

    Being a Good Steward

    I received this devotional in the mail today, and am I so glad that I did. Tithing is often a touchy subject in churches today. People prefer to hold on to their money, especially if circumstances are tight, rather than to give back to God what is really His in the first place. There is a fairly strong argument for giving the money to the church family that one is specifically a part of, but for me, that has never sat very well. When I was growing up, my Mom gave money to various mission organisations as well as to the church that we were members of. So what do I do in turn?


    This reading has just given me such a sense of peace, that one must give one's money to where God wants it, and not always according to tradition. God does provide for those who are obedient.

    “Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.” – Proverbs 3:9-10

    Dr. Brian Kluth was the Senior Pastor at the First Evangelical Free Church of Colorado Springs from 1999-2009.  In the fall of 2009 the church commissioned Brian to a newly created full-time staff position as a Generosity Minister-at-large to the body of Christ across the country and around the world.  This new role allows Brian to serve through writing, guest preaching and seminars at churches, conference/seminar speaking, and the development of video and online training and generosity resources.
    Brian wrote the following: “While ministering in Africa, I met a Christian worker who raised his 6 children on $10 a month. He told me the story of how children in his village were going blind because of a disease that could be prevented with medicine that only cost 50 cents. He began to pray and ask God to send a rich person to their village to help give the money for the medicine, but no one ever came. As he kept praying, the Lord told him he should give the money to buy the medicine. But with 6 children and only a $10 a month salary, he couldn’t see how he could do this. But he and his family prayed and decided that every month they would buy the medicine to help one child. When I last spoke with him, he'd been doing this for 7 years and had saved 84 children from going blind. And his family saw God meet all of their needs.”

    The Lord asks us to be a good steward of the money and goods we have. Today in prayer, thank the Lord for all that He has given you and seek to bless others with what you have been given.

    “Feel for others - in your pocket.” - Charles H. Spurgeon

    God’s Word: “"Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. "But you ask, 'How do we rob you?' "In tithes and offerings.” – Malachi 3:8

    By Peter Kennedy, Copyright 2011, Devotional E-Mail
    DEVOTIONS IN PROVERBS

    Friday, 1 April 2011

    It's all very artificial ...

    I've spoken about this before, but it's only in the last week that my thoughts have coalesced into something that made me stop and think.

    We all know the current economic climate in the world. Credit crunches; redundancies; cost cutting; austerity measures; bail-outs; these terms almost manage to fill the everyday conversations around the country, and around the world.

    So what made me stop and think? I realised that it's all very artificial .... and more so, JUST how artificial it is. You see, what many people don't know about me is that I studied economics for four years. This means that I have a better handle than most on just how artificial economies are. Monetary policies (that's the interest rates and exchange rates), fiscal policies (that's the tax stuff) ... they're all based on theories - theories on how the masses will react to the policies that governments and central banks decide to enforce. And as with all theories, there is a basic assumption that people will react in a particular way, and that their behaviour will follow predefined patterns.

    If all that just went completely over your head, just take one thing away from this post: never forget that it's artificial. There is a real world beyond the money and policies that govern our lives!

    Wednesday, 16 March 2011

    Worship Wednesday

    Today I want to focus on words written by a great man of God. These words are a prayer, although more recently they have been set to music. In these days, being a person who prays these words and becomes these characteristics is ever more important, in my view.

    Prayer of St Francis of Assisi

    Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
    Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
    where there is injury, pardon;
    where there is doubt, faith;
    where there is despair, hope;
    where there is darkness, light;
    where there is sadness, joy;

    O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
    to be understood as to understand;
    to be loved as to love.

    For it is in giving that we receive;
    it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
    and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

    Monday, 14 March 2011

    He Meets Your Needs

     “Don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will have its own worries.” Matthew 6:34

    God liberated his children from slavery and created a path through the sea. He gave them a cloud to follow in the day and fire to see at night. And he gave them food . . .

    Each morning the manna came. Each evening the quail appeared. “Trust me. Trust me and I will give you what you need.” The people were told to take just enough for one day. Their needs would be met, one day at a time.

    By Max Lucado

    Sunday, 13 March 2011

    Love is Patient (1 Corinthians 13:4)

    This week must be Max Lucado week, as there have been so many posts from this wonderful man of God. But if ever there was a lesson that I needed to learn one day, this is it, and I am pleased to be able to share it! 


    Patience is the red carpet upon which God’s grace approaches us.
    The Greek word used here for patience is a descriptive one. It figuratively means “taking a long time to boil.” Think about a pot of boiling water. What factors determine the speed at which it boils? The size of the stove? No. The pot? The utensil may have an influence, but the primary factor is the intensity of the flame. Water boils quickly when the flame is high. It boils slowly when the flame is low. Patience “keeps the burner down.”
    Helpful clarification, don’t you think? Patience isn’t naive. It doesn’t ignore misbehavior. It just keeps the flame low. It waits. It listens. It’s slow to boil. This is how God treats us. And, according to Jesus, this is how we should treat others.
    He once told a parable about a king who decides to settle his accounts with his debtors. His bookkeeper surfaces a fellow who owes not thousands or hundreds of thousands but millions of dollars. The king summarily declares that the man and his wife and kids are to be sold to pay the debt. Because of his inability to pay, the man is about to lose everything and everyone dear to him. No wonder “the man fell down before the king and begged him, “Oh, sir, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.” (Matt. 18:26–27 NLT, emphasis mine)
    The word patience makes a surprise appearance here. The debtor does not plead for mercy or forgiveness; he pleads for patience. Equally curious is this singular appearance of the word. Jesus uses it twice in this story and never again. Jesus reserves the word for one occasion to make one point. Patience is more than a virtue for long lines and slow waiters. Patience is the red carpet upon which God’s grace approaches us.
    Had there been no patience, there would have been no mercy. But the king was patient, and the man with the multimillion-dollar debt was forgiven. But then the story takes a left turn. The freshly forgiven fellow makes a beeline from the courthouse to the suburbs. There he searches out a guy who owes him some money.
    “But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment. His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. “Be patient and I will pay it,” he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and jailed until the debt could be paid in full.” (vv. 28–30 NLT, emphasis mine)
    The king is stunned. How could the man be so impatient? How dare the man be so impatient! The ink of the CANCELED stamp is still moist on the man’s bills. Wouldn’t you expect a little Mother Teresa–ness out of him? You’d think that a person who’d been forgiven so much would love much. But he didn’t. And his lack of love led to a costly mistake. The unforgiving servant is called back to the castle. “Then the angry king sent the man to prison until he had paid every penny” (Matt. 18:34 NLT).
    Whew! we sigh. Glad that story is a parable. It’s a good thing God doesn’t imprison the impatient in real life. Don’t be so sure he doesn’t. Self-absorption and ingratitude make for thick walls and lonely jails.
    Impatience still imprisons the soul. For that reason, our God is quick to help us avoid it. He does more than demand patience from us; he offers it to us. Patience is a fruit of his Spirit. It hangs from the tree of Galatians 5:22: “The Spirit produces the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience.” Have you asked God to give you some fruit? Well I did once, but … But what? Did you, h’m, grow impatient? Ask him again and again and again. He won’t grow impatient with your pleading, and you will receive patience in your praying.
    A Love Worth GivingAnd while you’re praying, ask for understanding. “Patient people have great understanding” (Prov. 14:29). Why? Because patience always hitches a ride with understanding. The wise man says, “A man of understanding holds his tongue” (Prov. 11:12 NIV). He also says, “A man of understanding is even-tempered” (Prov. 17:27 NIV). Don’t miss the connection between understanding and patience. Before you blow up, listen up. Before you strike out, tune in.
    “God is being patient with you” (2 Pet. 3:9). And if God is being patient with you, can’t you pass on some patience to others?



    From
    A Love Worth Giving:
    Living in the Overflow of God’s Love

    Copyright (Thomas Nelson, 2002) Max Lucado

    Saturday, 12 March 2011

    It’s Not What You Do

     “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ.”  Romans 8:1 NIV

    There is never a point at which you are any less saved than you were the first moment Christ saved you. Just because you were grumpy at breakfast doesn’t mean you were condemned at breakfast. When you lost your temper yesterday, you didn’t lose your salvation. Your name doesn’t disappear and reappear in the book of life according to your moods and actions . . .

    You are saved, not because of what you do, but because of what Christ did.

    By Max Lucado

    Friday, 11 March 2011

    What's Heaven Like?

    I received this story in the mail yesterday, and thought I'd share it. What an awesome illustration of such a wonderful truth!

    A sick man turned to his doctor as he was preparing to leave the examination room and said, 'Doctor, I am afraid to die. Tell me what lies on the other side.'

    Very quietly, the doctor said, 'I don't know.'

    'You don't know? You're, a Christian man, and don't know what's on the other side?'

    The doctor was holding the handle of the door; on the other side came a sound of scratching and whining, and as he opened the door, a dog sprang into the room and leaped on him with an eager show of gladness.

    Turning to the patient, the doctor said, 'Did you notice my dog? He's never been in this room before. He didn't know what was inside. He knew nothing except that his master was here, and when the door opened, he sprang in without fear. I know little of what is on the other side of death, but I do know one thing ... I know my Master is there and that is enough.'

    Thursday, 10 March 2011

    Hope

    Visible View of Pillar and Jets HH 901/902
    Source: Hubblesite.org

    On Sunday we watched the first episode of Wonders of the Universe. What a great documentary! I absolutely loved all of the graphics, the images, the history, the future history, everything. BUT - and yes, it's a big but - I have one problem: I can't swallow the theory.

    It was stated at one point that "we are the cosmos made conscious" (paraphrased) - and furthermore, that life in the cosmos only exists for a very short window in time. Now, while the argument for this is relatively sound, it quite frankly depresses me. To be quite honest, I would probably commit suicide if I believed that this were true. Because to me, this means that our lives are worthless, and that there's no point in being alive. More than that, the mess that us human beings have made of this planet is bad enough without it being completely pointless (which it is anyway, even if, as a Christian, one believes that there is a reason behind the destruction) - which it would be if there was no point in being alive in the first place.

    And finally, this still doesn't answer, for me, the question of "Why?" the cosmos exists in the first place, nevermind "How?". Also, why do we, each person on this "pale blue dot", have an inborn sense of right and wrong? I still have those questions running around my head unanswered if I am to believe the theory of the big bang and the final 'cold' of the Universe.

    No. I prefer to have hope, placed solely on the person of Jesus Christ, as described in the revelatory Word of God, the Bible. This, in contrast to scientific theory, gives me a reason for living, and a reason for my life. It also answers the "Why?" and the "How?" questions to my satisfaction. And it also tells me why I know right from wrong.

    I don't know about you, but I'd rather have hope than depression.

    Wednesday, 9 March 2011

    Worship Wednesday

    This song is one of my favourites from the current generation of songwriters. How deep is the Father's love for us?

    How Deep the Father's Love

    How deep the Father's love for us,
    How vast beyond all measure
    That He should give His only Son
    To make a wretch His treasure
    How great the pain of searing loss,
    The Father turns His face away
    As wounds which mar the chosen One,
    Bring many sons to glory

    Behold the Man upon a cross,
    My sin upon His shoulders
    Ashamed I hear my mocking voice,
    Call out among the scoffers.
    It was my sin that held Him there
    Until it was accomplished
    His dying breath has brought me life
    I know that it is finished.

    I will not boast in anything
    No gifts, no power, no wisdom
    But I will boast in Jesus Christ
    His death and resurrection.
    Why should I gain from His reward?
    I cannot give an answer
    But this I know with all my heart
    His wounds have paid my ransom.

    Lyrics by Stuart Townend

    Monday, 7 March 2011

    God Leads Us

    “You cannot add any time to your life by worrying about it.” Matthew 6:27

    Anxiety is an expensive habit. Of course, it might be worth the cost if it worked. But it doesn’t. Our frets are futile.

    Worry has never brightened a day, solved a problem, or cured a disease.

    God leads us. God will do the right thing at the right time. And what a difference that makes.

    by Max Lucado

    Sunday, 6 March 2011

    When You Are Low on Hope

    by Max Lucado
    Water. All Noah can see is water. The evening sun sinks into it. The clouds are reflected in it. His boat is surrounded by it. Water. Water to the north. Water to the south. Water to the east. Water to the west. Water.
    He sent a raven on a scouting mission; it never returned. He sent a dove. It came back shivering and spent, having found no place to roost. Then, just this morning, he tried again. With a prayer he let it go and watched until the bird was no bigger than a speck on a window.
    All day he looked for the dove’s return.
    Now the sun is setting, and the sky is darkening, and he has come to look one final time, but all he sees is water. Water to the north. Water to the south. Water to the east. Water to the …
    You know the feeling. You have stood where Noah stood. You’ve known your share of floods. Flooded by sorrow at the cemetery, stress at the office, anger at the disability in your body or the inability of your spouse. You’ve seen the floodwater rise, and you’ve likely seen the sun set on your hopes as well. You’ve been on Noah’s boat.
    And you’ve needed what Noah needed; you’ve needed some hope. You’re not asking for a helicopter rescue, but the sound of one would be nice. Hope doesn’t promise an instant solution but rather the possibility of an eventual one. Sometimes all we need is a little hope.
    That’s all Noah needed. And that’s all Noah received.
    Here is how the Bible describes the moment: “When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf!” (Gen. 8:11 NIV).
    An olive leaf. Noah would have been happy to have the bird but to have the leaf! This leaf was more than foliage; this was promise. The bird brought more than a piece of a tree; it brought hope. For isn’t that what hope is? Hope is an olive leaf—evidence of dry land after a flood. Proof to the dreamer that dreaming is worth the risk.
    To all the Noahs of the world, to all who search the horizon for a fleck of hope, Jesus proclaims, “Yes!” And he comes. He comes as a dove. He comes bearing fruit from a distant land, from our future home. He comes with a leaf of hope.
    Have you received yours? Don’t think your ark is too isolated. Don’t think your flood is too wide. Receive his hope, won’t you? Receive it because you need it. Receive it so you can share it. Receive his hope, won’t you? Receive it because you need it. Receive it so you can share it.
    What do you suppose Noah did with his? What do you think he did with the leaf? Did he throw it overboard and forget about it? Do you suppose he stuck it in his pocket and saved it for a scrapbook? Or do you think he let out a whoop and assembled the troops and passed it around like the Hope Diamond it was?
    Certainly he whooped. That’s what you do with hope. What do you do with olive leaves? You pass them around. You don’t stick them in your pocket. You give them to the ones you love. Love always hopes. “Love … bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:4–7 NKJV, emphasis mine).
    Love has hope in you.
    The aspiring young author was in need of hope. More than one person had told him to give up. “Getting published is impossible,” one mentor said. “Unless you are a national celebrity, publishers won’t talk to you.” Another warned, “Writing takes too much time. Besides, you don’t want all your thoughts on paper.”
    Initially he listened. He agreed that writing was a waste of effort and turned his attention to other projects. But somehow the pen and pad were bourbon and Coke to the wordaholic. He’d rather write than read. So he wrote. How many nights did he pass on that couch in the corner of the apartment reshuffling his deck of verbs and nouns? And how many hours did his wife sit with him? He wordsmithing. She cross-stitching. Finally a manuscript was finished. Crude and laden with mistakes but finished.
    She gave him the shove. “Send it out. What’s the harm?”
    So out it went. Mailed to fifteen different publishers. While the couple waited, he wrote. While he wrote, she stitched. Neither expecting much, both hoping everything. Responses began to fill the mailbox. “I’m sorry, but we don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts.” “We must return your work. Best of luck.” “Our catalog doesn’t have room for unpublished authors.”
    I still have those letters. Somewhere in a file. Finding them would take some time. Finding Denalyn’s cross-stitch, however, would take none. To see it, all I do is lift my eyes from this monitor and look on the wall. “Of all those arts in which the wise excel, nature’s chief masterpiece is writing well.”
    She gave it to me about the time the fifteenth letter arrived. A publisher had said yes. That letter is also framed. Which of the two is more meaningful? The gift from my wife or the letter from the publisher? The gift, hands down. For in giving the gift, Denalyn gave hope.
    A Love Worth GivingLove does that. Love extends an olive leaf to the loved one and says, “I have hope in you.”
    Love is just as quick to say, “I have hope for you.”
    You can say those words. You are a flood survivor. By God’s grace you have found your way to dry land. You know what it’s like to see the waters subside. And since you do, since you passed through a flood and lived to tell about it, you are qualified to give hope to someone else.


    From
    A Love Worth Giving:
    Living in the Overflow of God’s Love

    Copyright (Thomas Nelson, 2002) Max Lucado