forever loved: eve’s story – a review and a GIVEAWAY (yes, another one!)

Yep, you read that right! No sooner after giving away a copy of the wonderful ‘Sexuality, Faith and the Art of Conversation‘ to the equally wonderful (presumably – although I’ve never met her so I couldn’t be certain*) Su, I’m waxing lyrical about yet another brilliant book, whose author has very generously offered a signed copy to whichever Desertmum reader wins this giveaway.

(* In case it’s not obvious, this is a JOKE.)
3D-COVER-WITH-DEVICE-cropped-267x300.pngI enjoyed this book so much. For one, it is short – and, before you dismiss this as an irrelevant point from a literary lightweight, remember that many people don’t have lots of time to read. If God’s word is to go out as widely as possible – and author Joanna May Chee certainly feels that the message of God’s love for Eve is one which needs to be heard by women across the world – then length is importantNot all of us have the time for theological tomes on Genesis, thank you very much.

Secondly, it is highly thought-provoking. As I read it, I was confronted with aspects of Eve’s story I’d never noticed before. I don’t want to give spoilers, but highly recommend you get a copy and start delving into this rich narrative for yourself.

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Thirdly, it is different from any other Christian book I’ve read. The chapters do not contain the author’s commentary on the story of Eve, each headed with a different application point. There would be nothing wrong with this. But this book is different: the majority of words are dedicated purely to the creative retelling of Eve’s story, and so it reads like a novel, but a punchy one. There is an opening section of Joanna May Chee’s own story, and the final section applies the story to our lives, but the bulk of the book is simply the story of Eve.

And there is power in this narrative – power in the Biblical story, with nothing added except details which help you pull out even more from the tale. Honestly, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing afresh about Eve’s life! If you always thought Eve’s story was a sad, discouraging one, this book will make you think again.

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This book would make a fabulous Mothers’ Day gift. Or maybe you can think of a friend in your church or small group who needs encouraging – why not surprise them with this? Buy a few copies and save them up to give your girlfriends on their birthdays. It’s that good.

Forever Loved: Eve’s Story is released TODAY and you can buy it from Eden, Waterstone’s, Wordery and Amazon. AND…as a special first-week offer…the book is being sold £2 cheaper this week than it will after Sunday.

But if you want to get your hands on a free, signed copy – please leave a comment (here, not on social media) before 11pm this Friday, 2nd March, at which point I’ll pick a name using one of those online number generator doo-dahs. Look out on Facebook and Twitter to see if you’ve won!

The giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to BrK who won!

Disclaimer: I received a free eBook to review. However, writing a positive review was not a condition of the deal. I don’t write or publish reviews of things I don’t like – I simply don’t have time. And I never, EVER recommend things unless I really like them. So there.

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in search of a flatter stomach? the mixed motivations behind fasting

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Image credit: Pixabay

It is becoming customary, at the start of January, for our church to take some time out, corporately and individually, to pray and fast for the coming year.

Coincidentally, January is also the time I’m keen to lose a few pounds. With Christmas out of the way, I can start planning our summer holiday – and, despite the fact we can’t yet bring ourselves to fly somewhere exotic and warm with our 8-6-3-3 combination of kiddoes, I feel like I need to have a bikini-ready body.

The fact that we will probably end up in Anglesey is beside the point.

If, at some unknown point in the future, I might wish to expose my midriff on a crowded beach, fasting is going to be helpful.

And therein lies the problem. Perhaps the reason that many of us don’t fast is that we’re a little bit scared of doing it for the wrong reasons.

Perhaps we have a complicated relationship with food, and fear that withholding it from our bodies will be more about controlling ourselves rather than allowing God to have control.

Perhaps we are desperate for God to respond to our prayers in a particular way, and fear that fasting will feel like bribing our ‘cosmic Santa’ God to give us what we most desire.

Or perhaps fasting simply feels like ‘work’ within a faith-based salvation. Surely our grace-filled God can’t demand that we carry out such an ancient religious ritual?

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Image credit: Pixabay

I misunderstood fasting for years. I did it – occasionally – because I thought it was a helpful practice, but I didn’t really know why. Nowadays, however, it’s becoming an important spiritual discipline in my life.

On the eve of Ash Wednesday, when many of us might be planning to fast something for Lent, perhaps it’s helpful for me to share what God has taught me as I’ve plodded along:

  1. Fasting is expected (see Matthew 6:16-17). Like prayer, it is not an empty trapping of our religion, but something Jesus upheld which brings us closer to God. Unlike prayer, it doesn’t need to be part of our daily routine (Jesus didn’t fast every day as far as it is possible to tell), but should be a regular part of our lives.
  2. Fasting doesn’t have to be food! Anything which we love, crave, spend a lot of time on, or claim to be addicted to, can be withdrawn as the spiritual discipline of fasting. Social media, alcohol, screentime, a particular TV show…this is particularly helpful when a food fast is not recommended (e.g. in pregnancy, while breastfeeding or where particular health issues are present).
  3. Fasting doesn’t have to be as extreme as 40 days in the desert. It could mean certain times of day (e.g. not snacking between meals, or not eating until the evening), for a few consecutive days (e.g. no social media during a particular week), one day a week (e.g. no TV on Sundays), or for a specified period (e.g. giving up chocolate for Lent).
  4.  Fasting reminds us how much we have. And we have a lot, especially here in the UK. If we never fast, we run the risk of taking what we have for granted, assuming it to be an unchallengeable fact of the modern Western Christian’s life that we are ‘entitled’ to these possessions or that luxury. But God may have other ideas.
  5. Fasting helps us to relinquish our idols. It says to God that we are more serious about him than about food, alcohol, sex, social media, TV, or anything else we may feel is becoming an idol. But I think it says more to ourselves. Fasting reminds me that God is worth more than these things – and that, much as I believe I ‘need’ chocolate to get through each day, what I really need is God’s word. (Matthew 4:4)
  6. Fasting creates long-term habits of holiness. If we are serious about allowing God to develop a more Christ-like character in us, then I think fasting will be involved somewhere along the line. Several years ago, I gave up my favourite soap opera for Lent, using the time to read Isaiah instead. I’d been addicted for nearly 20 years, and was gripping on tightly. But the six weeks without it made me realise I didn’t even want to return to it. The grip was gone, the addiction was gone, and I was free to pursue God a little more than I had before.
  7. Fasting realigns our priorities. It keeps us focussed on God in this distraction-riddled life. I pray more when I’m fasting – because every time I feel a pang of hunger, or desperation for whatever it is that I’ve given up, it’s a reminder to pray. So if there are big needs in my life, or the lives of those close to me, fasting is a great way to prioritise spending time with God, offering Him these prayer requests, over any of the other ‘loves’ of my life.

I often picture the Christian journey as a pair of closed fists, holding tightly onto life and independence. As we mature, these fists gradually release, as God gently works in us to loosen our grip on the things which hold us back from loving Him completely.

Fasting, for me, has become a way of submitting my fists to God, asking that He will open whichever fingers necessary in order to let go of what is holding me back, and make more space for that which He would want to develop in me.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Phillipians 3:12-14)

I would like to encourage you that, even if your motivation to fast is mixed or complex, please allow God to work in you through this important discipline. God doesn’t need our  fasting – but we probably do.

And, despite what images come to mind when you hear the word ‘fasting’, the Bible assures us that a life lived for God is more joyous, more full and more exciting than any alternative. Go for it!

being a writer: one month in

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Last month, I shared with you my exciting but rather daunting sense of needing to pursue freelance writing during 2018. Since many of you seem to believe this is my calling more than I actually do, I thought you might be interested in an update.

I began the year with a day-and-a-half per week of child-free time. Not much, if you include all the other jobs which mount up with a large family, not to mention commitments at church and school. I determined to ‘protect’ my half-day for writing – but who was I kidding? That would never be enough. That half day has quickly become the full day-and-a-half, and housework and other stuff just gets fitted in whenever. (Or left entirely.)

Even in the first month, I’ve been busy. Of course most of this work isn’t earning me anything, but it’s giving me valuable writing practice in a variety of contexts, an insight into how different publications operate, helping me to find appropriate writing networks and avenues for future writing, and (much as I hate to say it) getting my name out there.

I’ve had to be disciplined. I’m working for myself. No one is going to call me in for a disciplinary if I don’t show up or meet deadlines. If I want to do this, I have to actually do this. I have to write even when I’m not ‘in the mood’, I have to utilise the time when my boys are at preschool, and I have to set myself deadlines in order to get anything done. The collaborative blog or writers’ magazine won’t notice if I don’t submit anything in time for them to consider it for publication – but I will.

That said, I enjoy the freedom. It’s great being able to justify working in coffee shops (no distractions like being at home!) and be there to collect my kids from school. How many jobs are like that? And of course I do sometimes use the child-free time to meet up with friends, catching up with writing in the evening, so all this is good.

I’ve been reminded, in various ways from various sources, that money or fame are not my goals. I’m writing because I’m called to write. In fact, at this stage, I wouldn’t even call it a ‘calling’ – I’m writing to test out what God might be calling me to do. It’s hard not to dream of writing bestselling books, or becoming a well-respected Christian social commentator – but I feel that this season of my life is about God shaping me and working in me as I draw close to Him (and write).

But I’ve also enjoyed writing my first paid piece! It was such a joy to write, although I can’t yet share much about it here. When it’s published, you’ll be the first to know! It’s wonderful to be paid for something you love to do.

And I’ve realised how I need to do some self-promotion. Which is hard. I mean – who actually enjoys selling themselves? Approximately no one. (Except maybe Donald Trump.) It feels so unnatural to be pushing myself forward – especially when I’m often plagued with feelings of self-doubt or inadequacy. But, for all the advantages of working for yourself, this one disadvantage is necessary and worth it. Perhaps one day I’ll even get good at it.

I also submitted my first book proposal! I’m really not sure I’ve sent it to the right person – although I love this publisher, I don’t think that what I’ve written is up their street. But I had to try! And I’m totally convinced by the idea, so if they say ‘no’ then I’ll be knocking on other publishers’ doors until I find someone who agrees with me!

I’m getting more confident about talking of myself being ‘at work’. It’s hard when I’m not dressed in heels or a suit, or dropping my kids at breakfast club, or going out to work – or even getting paid for most of what I’m currently doing. It’s just not a very obvious kind of work. But it is still work, and I’m becoming braver at dropping it into conversation when necessary. (“Sorry – I’m working then.”)

How can you help?

It feels wrong to ask, because you – as my faithful blog readers – are the foundation for everything I’m doing now, and the reason why opportunities are starting to come about. I am so grateful to you all for every encouragement you’ve ever sent. But there are three very quick ways you could help me to build my online platform, helping to raise the profile of my writing and gain opportunities with other publications:

  • Please follow me by email if you don’t already! There should be a place you can do this in the right-hand column of this blog. The advantage for you is that you don’t have to keep checking back on the blog or social media for new posts – they will automatically be pinged into your Inbox when they’re published. (Of course you don’t need to read them all!)
  • Please like me on Facebook if you don’t already!
  • Please follow me on Twitter if you don’t already!

Thank you so, SO much! And, as always, your feedback on this blog is so much appreciated. (Also don’t forget to enter the giveaway before 11pm tomorrow!)

 

sexuality, faith and the art of conversation (review – and a GIVEAWAY!!)

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It’s been on my mind for a while now that, whilst there is a place for debate and argument when it comes to the ‘grey’ areas of Christianity, we would do better to find ways of living alongside those who take a different stance to us, rather than relentlessly trying to persuade others to adopt our own viewpoint.

After all, Jesus said, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

Call me a crazy fundamentalist, but I think Jesus had a point. We gain nothing by arguing people into submission. We gain much, however, from conversing with our brothers and sisters, listening to their views and sharing ours. The deep love which can be experienced through relationships where there are differences can be highly attractive to those who observe it.

So I was delighted when I discovered, last year, that Stephen Elmes had written a book which was encouraging just this sort of open conversation on a subject close to my heart – sexuality.

Quite simply, this book is wonderful. The friend who lent it to me offered the proviso, “It won’t give you any answers – just more questions”, but I’m grateful for this.

For eight months of 2014, Baptist pastor Stephen Elmes led a working party in his church to discuss the issue of sexuality, with the aim of ‘considering how a local Baptist church might respond to those who live with same-sex desires and seek to follow Christ’. The results formed the main research vehicle for a dissertation Elmes submitted for a Masters degree in 2015.

This book alternates four strands, woven together to make a whole: summaries of the working party’s discussion, pieces of theological writing by Elmes, true life stories (names changed), and fictional conversations with a non-Christian protagonist ‘Alex’, whose role is to question Elmes’ research methods, and make sure no stone has been left unturned.

I loved a lot of things about this book. The gracious, gentle tone of its author. The compassion and love which flood every chapter. The engaging, ‘storyteller’ style at which Elmes is adept; the book prompts and challenges its readers, but feels easy to read. However, most of all, I liked hearing the reasoning behind those views which are different to my own on this issue. It gave me more understanding, and I hope it will give me more humility and openness when discussing this issue with others in the future. It’s a book all Christians should read.

A slight niggle of mine was that we never got to see the response which Elmes’ working party fed back to their church. Perhaps this was because such a response outside of its proper context could have been easily misinterpreted – and, with such a sensitive subject, this could have far-reaching consequences.

Whatever the reason, it would have been helpful to include some ideas of what a church’s response to those with same-sex attraction could look like. The book ends with ‘to be continued…’ – so perhaps this gives hope that we’ll be reading more from Stephen Elmes in the future! (In fact, I only just noticed that the book’s title bears the heading ‘Part One’, so I would think that a sequel was happily inevitable!)

Yes, perhaps this book won’t give you ‘answers’. But perhaps answers aren’t what we need. Perhaps a deeper awareness of the questions can help to formulate a response which is compassionate, God-centred and Christ-exalting. This book leads you to believe that such a response is possible. I thoroughly recommend it.

If you’d like to get your hands on a copy, simply comment here on the blog (Facebook/Twitter comments won’t be entered) by 11pm this Thursday, 8th February. I’ll use a random generator to pick a name, and put a copy in the post a.s.a.p. Good luck!

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Disclaimer: All views are my own. I did not receive a free copy of the book in return for this review, and haven’t been bribed in any other way. But if enough people buy this book upon my recommendation, maybe Stephen Elmes will buy me a glass of wine if we ever meet 😉