Where can our children find God in the 21st century? (Interview with author Ann Clifford)

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Those of you who follow me on social media may have noticed that I’m taking part in a blog tour this week for a stunning art book, “Where is God in our 21st century world?”, recently published by Instant Apostle.

Artists entering the Chaiya Art Awards 2018 were asked to respond to this question, and the results are showcased in this beautiful coffee-table book. All faiths and none are represented, and insightful commentary is provided throughout the book by author Ann Clifford.

I’ve really enjoyed looking through this book (full review coming on Friday!), and was delighted to have the chance to catch up with Ann Clifford to find out more about the book, and especially how we can use it as parents seeking to widen our children’s faith experience.

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Welcome, Ann! Congratulations on such a beautiful, thought-provoking book. I found your words a perfect complement to the images. Tell us a bit about your background and how this book came about.

Katrina Moss (founder, Chaiya Art Awards) and I have been friends for 35 years. We have had many adventures together: the one about the ugly sisters; the Cannes Film Festival; the feature film to name a few.  

My passion to encourage Christians to be involved in the arts began many years ago. For ten years I ran an initiative which brought artists from many disciplines together. My own discipline at the time was writing plays, acting and theatre directing.  

When Kat came to me with the idea of Chaiya I wanted to do everything in my power to support her. The idea for the book evolved and of course having just had my first book published (Time to Live: The Beginners Guide to Saying Goodbye), I was wonderfully placed to help make it happen and am grateful to Instant Apostle for creating and publishing it so beautifully.

I am so proud of Kat for the vision of this initiative and feel privileged to outwork it with her.  There will be another competition and art exhibition in 2020.

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Ann and Katrina at the exhibition launch

I imagine it’s hard for you to choose a favourite piece of art from the book – but was there one section which was particularly enjoyable to look at and/or write?

My heart is so full of gratitude to the artists that are featured.  Their passion is for all to see. The spiritual content of the work is undeniable and it is thrilling. I think Suffering and Death struck a deep chord as it resonated with what I had just written and it contains one of my favourite (amongst many favourite) pictures, The Suspense of Living on the Edge by Ashar.

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‘The suspense of living on the edge’ by ashar

Ann, you’re a mother and a grandmother, and you’ve worked as a special needs teacher. In your experience with children, how do you think art can open up their understanding of the world?

Low self-worth is the killer in our children. When reading and writing are a struggle, the arts can redeem so much in them and bring success.

I directed The Wizard of Oz in a primary school with Year 6s.  As my heart is for special needs I used unexpected children in the main roles. One child found reading so difficult but he had stage presence so I cast him in a main part. Learning the role took him hours his father told me, but he was absolutely determined to do it.  He was brilliant.

I taught visual art for a year to a class. The mess was unimaginable but it was a joy. A parent came to me at the end of term and said his daughter had been captivated by my Picasso classes.

When she told him he went upstairs to his loft and brought down a dusty book on Picasso he and her mother (who had sadly died) had bought together. Father and daughter then sat together enjoying chatting about all the pictures of the painter’s work and of course talked about her mum as well.  He left and I cried.

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Detail from ‘Pathways’ by Karen Weatherbee

When I heard about this book, I was hoping that Mister (9) would be ‘old enough’ to access it.

In reality, when I first looked at it, I happened to have my Meerkat (4) and Missy (7) climbing all over me! I was amazed that they were not only engaged by the images, but had some very thoughtful comments and questions about them.

I shouldn’t have been surprised really, should I?

Art is like music.  It reaches places that other things cannot.  

When my daughter was about eight I took her to what is now the Tate Britain.  She had her sketch book and pencil in case. I thought I would start with David Hockney as his pictures are accessible.  The Splash, the figure in the shower.

She sat on the floor and drew them. We moved onto Degas and the Little Dancer but it didn’t do much for her.  

The powerful and huge Jacob wrestling with the Angel by Epstein was instantly riveting, again she dropped to the floor and drew. This is how the visit went.  

We walked past some paintings by Joan Miro and she stopped and laughed. I don’t think I’ve laughed at a painting much. I looked again and saw the fun.

If we ask children what they see I guarantee it will open our eyes.  That is the beauty of visual art. Images are part of their lives now as never before. This is why I feel it so incredibly important to allow space for faith-filled visual art to be created and exhibited.

Children are so wonderfully open and without boundaries and their world has much to give us.  There isn’t anything on the market like this book. It is a great opportunity to talk about many important things together.

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‘Left out’ by Maxwell Rushton

One image which my children found particularly provocative was Maxwell Rushton’s ‘Left Out’, in which a homeless person sitting at the side of the path is wrapped in a bin bag.

They related to this scene as, sadly, walking past a homeless person is a fairly regular event for them (and of course I get the innocent and loudly-voiced “WHY’S THAT MAN SITTING BY THE SIDE OF THE ROAD, MUMMY?” when we’re clearly within earshot of the man in question).

We were able to chat through the idea of value and rubbish, precious and worthless, wondering what makes us special or important in the first place.

What I loved about the artworks in the exhibition is that some were immediate, authentic and emotional, so we could relate to them easily.  Some were more challenging but so worth exploring.

Some of us can find art scary. We wonder what we are ‘supposed’ to think or feel. To start with we need to be ourselves and trust ourselves. It is okay to feel what we feel.

Different people will see different things. Sounds to me like your children had a fab conversation with you that will make both you and them think.  

I remember my son still in primary school noticing homeless people and having conversations with him about it. One day I found him emptying his moneybox into a plastic bag. When I asked him why, he said it was to give to the homeless man sitting on the main road of our village.

Everything in me wanted to say ‘don’t give him everything’. I shut my mouth and went with him as he gave it away.  Who says children can’t teach us things?

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‘Scarred’ by Rachel Ho

In an earlier section of the book you write:

“Many artists desire to contribute into a hurting world. They do not necessarily bring actual food. They may have little money to give, but they can bring beauty… We human beings cannot survive on ashes – the ‘things’ and ‘stuff’ of our consumer society: horror, abuse, degradation, isolation, sickness, objectification. Or social media with its poisoned ashes of language that defame and destroy the chosen offender. The murmuration of electronic clutter, while essential, overtakes and dulls. We need food that empowers, food that causes us to lift our eyes beyond the material, beyond the constant soundscape; we need beauty.”

Children, similarly, cannot contribute ‘actual food’ to a hurting world. They have few monetary resources, and their lack of independence limits what they can contribute in terms of voluntary work. But in many ways they too bring the beauty you write about. What’s your experience of this?

My grandson Judah is now twenty months old.  I have watched the untrammelled joy he brings into my husband’s life.  

My husband is the General Director of the Evangelical Alliance and there is always so much going on. Positive, wonderful things, but his head gets full and tired.

Little Judah is such a happy giving child that his very presence and gorgeous smile banishes everything except the present moment.  

We have a large painting by Dinah Roe-Kendall of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple which Judah loves. The painting is not only beautiful, it also worships God twenty four hours per day whether someone looks at it or not. I love having it in my home: the power of a faith-filled painting.

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‘God’ by Trevor Attwood

Our children are more influenced by more sources than ever before – not only friends and teachers, but books, TV, the unlimited ‘voices’ screaming at them from YouTube, and – eventually – social media. Where can they find God in all of this?

Firstly I think put as much of God in them as you can from the moment you first hold them.  Pray over them, cover them with prayer daily.

What you put into them, and their acceptance of God, will become their plumb line of choice in the future even if they could never articulate it. Many children have no deep plumb line, indeed many adults as well, but that’s another story.

The early years are crucial – give them the time you can. When most of us have to work it is difficult and demanding as the last thing you want to do is give even more.

Ask God to expand you, grow you.  Give, give and give again. Love, love and love again. No-one will see most of what you do, except that God will see everything and He is no person’s debtor.

I thought when the children went to secondary school that’s when we would be having deep discussions, but they start much younger!

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‘I keep God handy in my little box’ by Mike Fryer

That’s great advice – thank you! Finally, what is your hope for those who read this book?

I have three hopes:

  1. That artists will be encouraged in their making to express spirituality and be emboldened and encouraged to do so.  
  2. That faith is given space in the visual arts as we search for meaning, relevance and hope.
  3. That all sorts of people would look at the work and grow a fresh delight in and understanding of the importance and relevance of art in our culture.

I would like to leave a quote from the end of the book as part of my answer.

“This is about allowing ourselves the freedom to search for and
expect ‘magic’ again. It is about walking into a hidden place and
experiencing the feel of a fur coat on our face. As our eyes adjust,
the light of a lamp reveals glinting snow. We walk through the
wardrobe, our feet crunch, and before us lie stone animals, mysteries,
things to explore. Excitement mounts.

The artists featured in this book stepped through a wardrobe, they
discovered the snow, heard its crunch underfoot. They invite you
to join them.

Spring is coming.”

Look out for my review coming this Friday!

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Party, party, and then – you guessed it – another party! (What I’m Into – September 2018)

Books

Along with my Book Club, this month I read My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. I really enjoyed it, bearing some similarities to Eleanor Oliphant, which I read in June.

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The title character, like Eleanor, has had a less-than-ideal upbringing, in a dysfunctional family, and now struggles to cope with aspects of everyday life that the rest of us take for granted. Lucy doesn’t necessarily notice or verbalise these struggles, but they become implicit through Strout’s deeply incisive writing, which I enjoyed very much.

The book however, is not mainly about Lucy’s struggles (as an adopter, I tend to read everything through an ‘early life trauma’ lens even when the author hasn’t necessarily intended that!), but more about her relationship with her mother, who comes to visit for a prolonged period when Lucy finds herself in hospital. The pair haven’t spoken in years, and now Lucy is married with two daughters. The ensuing conversation sheds light on Lucy’s upbringing, the characters of the two women, and on what might be going on elsewhere in Lucy’s adult life.

I found it a fascinating read, if slightly frustrating in its ambiguity. I like a little bit of uncertainty (“it could have been this…”, “maybe she felt like this…”) but I also like to know what the actual story is, as I never trust my instincts to have got it right! But maybe that’s the point.

Anyway, it was not a long read, and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys this type of story.

Food

There has been A LOT of party food (read: cake) kicking around Casa Desert this month. ALL four of my kids had the audacity to be born in September, and I know that every time this month rolls round, God is laughing at His amazing joke of putting all four of these September-born kids into the life of a Mum who is liable to get a little too party-obsessed.

Yeah, funny. Thanks God.

Actually, the joke is working. I’m chilling out about the kids’ parties. They’re not as much of a mission as they used to be. These days I’m tending to just book a bouncy castle, open a packet of cheesy balls, and let everyone create their own fun. Imagination never hurt anyone, right?

And, to bring this back to the subheading, I don’t really do much with the food. It mainly comes from packets. This year we made some (pretty nice, if I say so myself) chocolate cupcakes from Twist (quite possibly the most helpful, foolproof and scrumptious baking book ever) – but only really for something to do with the twins, who can’t get enough kitchen time at the moment.

Then there were the Birthday Cakes. Listen, I’m hardly Bake-Off material, but I like to try, OK? A mermaid one for Missy (now 7):

Spiderman for Monkey and Meerkat (now 4 – geez, where did that go?):

And a football one for Mister (9! He’s 9! Double figures next year! Someone remind me when I’m supposed to get the hang of parenting?):

Music

George Ezra.

That’s about it really. He sits neatly in the very small overlap section of our family’s Venn diagram when it comes to musical preference. The catchy melodies and simple, repetitive words appeal to our kids, who can remember all of them (even the 4 year olds). The Orbison-esque voice and use of brass give it a vintage sound that Desert Dad and I appreciate. Perfect!

And – for those of you who are fans of George Ezra AND a cappella (as well as those of you who are not) – you absolutely have to watch this:

I love that this isn’t even a gig…they’re just warming up!

My articles

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This month’s piece for More than Writers explored one of my (many) misadventures with DIY this summer, and its application point for writing and editing.

Home for Good published my piece on What the Church needs to know about Invisible Needs. I feel a bit arrogant saying it’s an essential read for all those in church leadership – but I’m going to put myself out there, uncomfortable though it is, for the sake of all the many traumatised children who attend our churches each week and struggle in ways many of us never notice.

My Aussie friends Mike and Helen started an awesome company called XCeptional, which helps people with autism get into employment. They run training, provide software testing for clients, and work with companies who want to become more inclusive.

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I love what they do, and often wish I could support more but I’m sooooo far away – so when Mike asked me to write them a blog, I snapped him up! Take a look at ‘One Mistake Start-ups are Making – and Three Ways to put it Right’.

Here on the blog, I shared the second and third of my trilogy, reflecting on the Living Out Identity conference I attended back in June. If you’re interested in the church’s response to sexuality, give them a read. They discuss whether celibacy can equal fulfilment, and how a church can be Biblically inclusive.

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I shared five questions that adoptive parents should ask prospective schools when looking round, and asked what we’re doing wrong as parents, when only 1 in 4 girls aged 7-21 call themselves ‘happy’.

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I also went giveaway-crazy, reviewing both The Father’s Kiss and A Really Incredible Feast. And there’ll be more giveaways to come in October – stay tuned.

Articles elsewhere

Do you ever read something and get the feeling the writer has reached inside your brain, pulled together all of your incoherent thoughts and expressed them more eloquently and articulately than you would ever have done?

I love it when this happens! When my friend Laura shared this article on Facebook, I have to say I was blown away. You try reading When Kids won’t bow to your Idols and see if you don’t feel mightily challenged and entertained all at once.

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  • Parties! Three of them, to be precise. Missy had Unicorns and Mermaids, the twins had Spiderman (very loosely adhered to, I might add), and Mister had the easiest one of all: Football! (Think: kids, muddy food, a ball and some food, and that’s pretty much it.)
  • Sleep! Actually, not much of it. Pray for me in October!
  • Books! Some progress! Still nothing to report to you, but hopefully very very soon… Suffice to say, there’s been enough progress that I’m feeling pretty excited!
  • Christmas Anthology! Out soon! I have a reflection in it! If you’re on my mailing list, look out for a special subscribers-only offer in your inbox very soon. And if you’re not on the list, join now! It’s fun – I promise.

Brilliant books, BBQs, and a post that went (my version of) viral! (What I’m into – May 2018)

Books

After a couple of heavy-going titles this year, May was a good month for books.

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Our book club read The Light between Oceans which was fabulous. Lighthouse-keeper Tom and his wife Izzy are the only inhabitants of a tiny island many miles off the west coast of Australia. When a boat containing a baby and a dead man gets washed up on shore, the couple is left with an agonising decision.

I don’t want to spoil the story for you, so I’ll stop there, but needless to say the story’s main ethical dilemma, interwoven with a complex web of loss and love, death and life, made for an absolutely stonking read.

I also read Spark, the second in Alice Broadway’s brilliant trilogy (I read the first book, Ink, last year). I wish I’d made time to re-read Ink before reading Spark, as the books are set in an innovative fantasy world, and I just couldn’t remember all the details from last year. But, as the plot came back to me, I found this book gripping – maybe not as much as the first, but I think the middle book in a trilogy is always going to be harder work, without the novelty of the first and the conclusion of the second.

However, I really loved the space there was to explore all kinds of questions about what constitutes ‘truth’, how the same event can be portrayed differently by different groups of people, how hard it is to shake off what you were brought up with, and so on. I can’t wait for book three!

Food

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We had a pretty awesome barbecue over the first bank holiday weekend with lovely family. (At risk of sounding Very British – hasn’t the weather been lovely? And it’s not even June. Well, it is now – but it wasn’t in May. When the weather was fab. Did I mention this?)

Also, the kids wanted to bake bread, but we didn’t have a whole lot of time to be doing with the rising and the proving, so we cheated and made soda bread (which is actually just as nice as normal bread, but don’t tell).

Our book club met at Bistro Guy for pizza. I know I go on about this place, but it really is something. If you’re local and haven’t tried it, you really must.

The kids made some fruit sparkler skewers – very simple really, taken from The Artful Year – which I totally love as a guide to process-oriented art (as opposed to “let’s all make exactly the same thing out of exactly the same materials”-type art).

Music

Seems an age away now, but we enjoyed Eurovision. Actually, I’m not sure ‘enjoyed’ is the word – what is the correct adjective here?

We’ve had a lot more Karine Polwart in the car, and DesertDad has been making me listen to this Hans Theesink album – reasonably palatable Blues (to a non-Blues fan) – since he saw him live at the start of the month.

Stage and screen

I went with some friends to see The Play that goes Wrong after rave reviews from various members of my family. It wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea – it’s basically non-stop slapstick, and there were a few moments when my attention wandered – but there are also several genius comedy moments, which are executed brilliantly. There are still loads of places left on the tour, so if it’s coming near you, I highly recommend it.

The hubs and I have also been watching House of Cards (the British version from the early 90s). Totally absorbing, even for a non-politics person like me. The central character, Francis Urquhart, becomes more and more twisted in his relentless drive to become PM, and it does make for compelling viewing. We’ve just started the second series and I’m hooked!

And a friend invited me to watch The Holiday which is totally my kind of feel-good rom-com, with all the essential ingredients (crappy ex-boyfriends, wonderful British-American banter, and Jude Law). Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz take part in a holiday house swap, to get as far away as possible from their complicated romantic lives. Kate ends up in L.A., Cameron in Surrey. Romance (obvs) ensues. Much recommended!

Articles

Everyone has a role. So what’s mine? is a powerful, tear-jerking article by foster-carer Julie on behalf of Home for Good, outlining how we can support vulnerable children, even if we don’t do the actual adopting/fostering ourselves.

I loved these responses to Bishop Michael Curry’s Royal Wedding sermon: 9 Assorted Thoughts on That Wedding Sermon and 4 reasons people didn’t like the Royal Wedding sermon – and why they’re wrong.

And I resonated with 5 Valuable Work Lessons from Maternity Leave – so much so, in fact, that you’ll be spotting my own response to this in the next couple of weeks.

On the blog

I wrote about the challenges of parenting in The Day of Demands, the challenges of marriage (not least royal marriage) in Dysfunctional Families? There’s hope in marriage! and the challenges of adoption in my review of The A-Z of Therapeutic Parenting.

I was thrilled to interview new author Joanna May Chee on How to Chase your Dreams (and why so many of us don’t), and wrote a little blog about money, based on my first few months’ experience attempting to build a freelance writing career.

I waxed lyrical about this amazing Herbs & Essential Oils bundle (flash sale ends this Monday, 4th June so be quick if you want it!).

AND…I was slightly flabbergasted to find that my thoughts on Should children be allowed to run around in church? quickly became the second most-read blog post on Desertmum…EVER! (And I’ve been blogging six years, so this is quite an achievement!)

It clearly struck a chord with some, and I’ve enjoyed the various debates on Facebook, ranging from “No, they absolutely shouldn’t” to “We need to re-think how we do church so that no one has to stay in their seats at all”. Loved it!

(Although, had I known how much attention it would receive, I might have worked on it for a bit longer. I mean, it’s kind of like going out in jeans and a top, then realising everyone else is in a dress and, if you’d have known, you’d have smartened up a bit.)

Elsewhere

On Home for Good, I wrote Preparing Birth Children for an Adopted Sibling, which does what it says on the tin, while my ACW blog this month was titled What Led you to Writing?

Also, I started organising everything I’ve ever written about adoption in one easy-to-navigate Pinterest board: Adoption Encouragement and Honesty. Not everything is up there yet, but I hope you’ll agree it looks much more enticing than a plain old list.

Do have a look! And please follow/share with others who would be encouraged to find this free online resource library.

Other

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* We spent a beautifully sunny day enjoying Fountain’s Abbey. What a place! We just love it here. Oh, and we used the opportunity of being en famille plus one to attempt a family photo – no fewer than 18 times. The result? I think we got one where 5/6 of us look OK.

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* I got me some NEW HAIR! (And then I washed it, and it pretty much went back to normal.)

* THE ROYAL WEDDING!!! Wasn’t it immense?! I’d quite forgotten how fun these are, and felt kind of sad that there won’t be another important one for a long time.

* I put up a hanging basket ALL BY MYSELF.

* And we had a glorious couple of days away sans kiddoes – the first time this has happened in over four years! I planned it as a surprise for the hubs – he’s pretty dozy, so it wasn’t difficult to pull the wool over his eyes. But it worked – he’d had no idea, and was pleasantly happy at the thought of no responsibility for two days. Look at us, looking all happy and carefree and like we haven’t cleared up a puddle of wee in 24 hours! (In case you’re wondering where we stayed – it was Gladstone’s Library – a residential library! How cool is that?)

Linking up, as always, with the lovely Leigh Kramer’s ‘What I’m into’ blog posts. Do check them out – you may discover a fantastic new blogger!

Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links. Click through, make a purchase, and I will make a tiny bit of commission at no extra cost to yourself. Why, thank you!

A blog about money (in which I attempt to justify to myself why it’s okay to earn money from something I love)

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They say that the three topics best avoided in polite company are sex, religion and money. I’m not planning to talk about the first one any time soon, but feel that as I frequently bare my soul on the second topic, I should probably ‘fess up my recent thoughts about money – namely, the idea of earning it in return for writing.

I’m hoping that, at some stage in the future, I’ll be able to make money from writing – but I’m also having a hard time justifying this to myself. After all, I’ve been writing this blog for nearly six years with no income – and none desired. The idea of people paying me for something I love seems wrong, somehow.

For those of you who are new to this blog, in January this year I decided to push my writing up a notch. I’d been offered a little paid freelance work, so I vowed to push a few other writing doors to see whether they opened too.

I’ve been wondering why I feel I need to earn a living from this. After all, if I’d chosen to remain at home as a full-time housewife, or commit my week to my church as a volunteer, wouldn’t these be valid uses of my time? What is it about writing that I feel the need to validate it with an income?

I think that, firstly, it’s a tangible sign of whether writing is worth pursuing in the long term. The hubs and I have agreed to give this initial ‘testing’ period two years. My aim, eventually, is to earn a part-time salary from writing – and, while I’m not expecting this to happen by the end of 2019, I think we’ll have a good idea at that point as to whether it’s going in that direction or not.

Secondly, I wasn’t ever really considering significant voluntary work at this stage of life. Whilst I love volunteering for school and church, my intention was always to try and do this alongside a part-time teaching job – and this, obviously, would have been paid. Why not writing?

Thirdly, I feel that to pursue my passion without bringing anything financial into the household would be irresponsible. My husband would love to have more time to write, but as things stand at the moment, he can’t do that because his paid job (i.e. the one which supports us and the kids) takes up too many hours. So why should I have this opportunity any more than him? (And – who knows – maybe one day my income will allow him to reduce his work commitments and have some more time to write!)

I have to keep reminding myself that writing is my business. Just like any of my friends who’ve started their own businesses, I need to work hard to improve what I do, build my brand, grow my audience and learn how to market myself. And I deserve to be paid for providing a service, every bit as much as my friends are paid for their photography or cooking skills.

The other week, with my husband out at a meeting, I got down to ‘business’, forming an email to send out to my subscriber list (click here if you’re not getting the emails!). When I finally sent it, someone my husband was with got the ping on her phone, saw it was me and said to my husband, “Wow…Lucy’s very audacious!”

But, the thing is, if I’m not audacious about my business – who will be? I’ve only ever been in jobs where others provide work for me to do. Now I’m self-employed, no one is going to throw work (or payment) at me – I need to seek it out myself.

You must understand, though, that none of this feels very comfortable right now. I’ve been writing this blog unpaid for so long, that to now start to use it as a platform towards an income seems wrong – even though my logical side tells me it’s not.

I genuinely want to keep this blog as it always has been: full of adoption/parenting/family/discipleship stuff, and anything else that floats my boat. Please would you tell me if it starts to become sales-y and annoying? I really don’t want that!

So, given my commitment to retaining Desertmum’s integrity, how am I hoping to build up my salary?

Affiliate links – you’ll be familiar with these from other websites. You see a link, click on it, make a purchase, and the author of the original website makes a small commission, at no extra cost to the customer. I’ve now become an affiliate of several companies, because recommending resources is something I’ve been doing since this blog began, and many of you have told me you’ve bought things you heard about here. Promoting new or unknown authors, bringing unusual or unexpected products to your attention – that kind of thing I’ve always loved to do, and will continue doing.

Books – I have two books in the pipeline – one hopefully coming out next year, the other to be confirmed. Obviously I hope to earn royalties from sales of these books – although unless you’re Julia Donaldson or Michael Rosen, this is hardly big bucks, particularly when you take into account the many hours spent travelling the country to promote your book, petrol costs, props/food/venue hire needed for book launches and signings. But having a book or two under your belt does help to build your brand, and bring in more work (hopefully).

Articles – I’m already doing some paid work for one of my favourite charities, and I would hope that this kind of work increases. One-off articles result in one-off fees (as opposed to continuous royalties from books) but, again, it helps to get your name known as a writer and builds your audience.

Freelance writing and proof-reading – I’m hoping that, eventually, I might have time to seek out this kind of work – again, it’ll be one-offs, but hopefully fairly regular and varied.

What I’ve learnt is that being a writer usually involves a certain amount of piecing together of a lot of different types of work, all of which feed off each other in terms of getting a name out there and building an audience.

It’ll be hard work, but hopefully one day all of these things might add up to an income which justifies the amount of time I spend writing!

Stay in touch! Click here to join my email list – and I’ll send you ‘Ten Survival Tips for New Adoptive Parents’ as a thank you.

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the day of demands (and the half-dead flowers which spoke more than any bouquet)

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Today’s sultry summer weather has reminded me of a similar day a few weeks ago.

It was a day of demands.

And, being the good British mum I am, I wanted to let my children experience the glories of summer in case the season decided not to greet us again until next year. Read: I got the paddling pool out.

It’s no mean feat, this. In my head, suffering with the amnesia which comes from not having done something for a whole year, it takes around 10 minutes to inflate and fill a paddling pool. The reality? Allow half a day.

So, by the time the big kids came back from school, all four were fired up and ready to go. The clothes came off, the swimsuits came on.

And the demands flowed like honey:

“Mum – can you put the slide in the paddling pool?”

“Can you get down my other swimsuit?”

“Can I have a drink?”

“I done wee-wee in my pants.”

“Can I have a snack?”

“Mum – can you help me with the slide?”

“Can you fill up my water gun?”

“I don’t like breadsticks.”

“Mum!! Monkey’s tipped water all over me and I’m soaked!”

“Meerkat’s fallen over and he’s crying.”

“Mum! There’s a nettle growing through the trampoline!”

(Silly me, thinking I might be able to hang out the washing while my children played contentedly.)

In the middle of the demands, though, came a small and almost-missed voice. See if you can spot it.

“Mum – can you fill up my water bottle?”

“I want more snack!”

“We’ve found some snails and we’ve called them Tilly and Billy and we’ve put them in my bed to live forever.”

“Mum – I want to get changed – where’s the towel?”

“I brought you some flowers Mummy.”

“Where my snack? Me hungry.”

“I need a poo!”

“Mummy help me – can’t get my swimsuit off.”

“Mum will you tell Monkey to stop hitting me?”

“I’ve put them by your bed, Mummy.”

By the time they all went to bed, I was exhausted. And yes, somehow, we’d managed to get some food into them, cleaned their teeth and got them safely to bed, but it had zapped all my energy, and I was lying comatose on the sofa for the rest of the evening.

Eventually, I dragged myself upstairs. Walking round the bed to get to my side, I was struck by a sight which made my eyes well up and a broad smile creep across my face.

Three half-dead flowers lying on my bedside cabinet.

More precious than any fancy bouquet I’ve ever received were these three half-dead flowers, lying in their quiet generosity on my bedside table. A sign of unconditional love from my girl – that amidst my snapping and gradual loss of patience, she not only still loved me, but wanted to give me something to show it, even going to the trouble of carrying them upstairs for me, as if she knew that this small action was going to be something I wouldn’t get round to today.

And I don’t really know what else to say, except Love. Love love love love love. It’s borne in the moments of impatience and frustration, of tiredness and snapping, as much as it is in the giving and the celebrating, the laughter and the smiles.

If you’ve had a day of demands: never underestimate what you are investing in your kids each day through the miracle of your humanness. You don’t need to be perfect: you just need to be you.

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The Diary of a (trying to be holy) Mum – review and GIVEAWAY!!!

When you write a blog, it’s inevitable that people start telling you to write a book. All very well, you say, but it’s a bit harder to come up with an idea that might actually sell. After all, a book has to be more than a group of disparate thoughts all fused together. (Unless you’re a celebrity, in which case people will buy this kind of book in the thousands.)

This has been my dilemma over the last year or two, and particularly in the last few months since taking the plunge to devote more time to writing. If this blog could ever be translated to a book that people might want to read, then it would probably be a sort-of diary, perhaps halfway between Bridget Jones and Adrian Plass, recounting the pressures of parenting whilst telling the funny stories and also trying to pursue discipleship through the haze of early…

…BINGO! Fiona Lloyd has written this book, and it says EXACTLY what I would want mine to say, and she has done it A BAZILLION times better than I would have done. One thing can now be crossed off the to-do list. (Which seems to grow rather than shrink. Anyone else have this experience?)

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I’ve had a wonderful March, indulging in The Diary of a (trying to be holy) Mum. It’s honestly been my guilty pleasure, and has had me laughing out loud at times, and moved to tears at others.

The diary follows the ups and downs of Becky Hudson, mum of three and wife of one, who struggles to keep afloat in the sea of tweenager tantrums, toddler mischief, and one little boy who’s very obsessed with Formula One – not to mention a husband who’s facing Ofsted, an overly judgemental mother-in-law, and a church leader who seems to think Becky has a gift for leading whole-church prayers.

It didn’t take me long to warm to Becky, and her group of friends, as they support each other through their various parenting struggles and joys. I saw so much of myself in her, and various other characters. If the author has resorted to a couple of stereotypes (a holier-than-thou church mum, and the aforementioned MIL), she’s quickly forgiven because of such brilliantly funny, sassy writing, and a plot which develops cleverly throughout the diary entries.

I don’t usually read Christian fiction, and I found the whole experience completely wonderful. Christian non-fiction can inspire in a radical, ‘things you hadn’t thought about before’ way – but Christian fiction, like this book, can inspire you in a much more down-to-earth, ‘getting alongside you’ way.

If you’re a Mum, you’ll love this. If you’re a Dad who likes reading Mum books, you’ll love it too. (If you don’t, then buy it for a Mum you know.) I would also go a step further to say that even if your kids are all grown-up, you have grandkids or great-grandkids – you will still love this book! I’ll bet it’ll take you back to your days as a younger mum, and have you nodding away as you chuckle into your cuppa.

If you’re keen to get to know Fiona Lloyd before investing in this book, you can read this brilliant piece she wrote for the Baptist Union on why (and how) churches should welcome parents, or listen to this wise and articulate podcast she recorded for Premier Radio. If you subscribe to Woman Alive, you may also be interested to read her article in the April issue.

But before you head off to order the book…enter this giveaway! The kind folk at Instant Apostle have offered TWO FREE BOOKS to two lucky readers! All you have to do (you’ll be getting to know the drill by now) is leave a comment below by 11pm on Wednesday 4th April. I’ll use a random number generator to pick two winners, and let you know the happy news pronto.

THE GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED. CONGRATS TO HEATHER AND REBECCA!

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Disclaimery bit: I reviewed my own copy of the book. All views are my own. Instant Apostle are kindly supplying the giveaway copies. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t review books I think are no good. I don’t receive payment, and if I receive a free book myself I’ll always let you know.

Also, this blog contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I make a small commission at no extra cost to yourself. Thanks for your support.

Ballet shoes and empty chairs: can we really trust prophetic words?

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Image credit: Pixabay

I came of age in the wake of the Toronto Blessing.

It was quite common, at youth meetings I attended, for people to exercise all manner of ‘supernatural’ spiritual gifts, including prophecy. My ears pricked up when someone came to the front to share a prophetic revelation, but the person with a broken left ankle or having trouble sleeping was never me.

Fast-forward a few years, and it seemed like the church had become more cautious in its practice of the gift of prophecy. “I’ve had a picture of a desert,” someone would begin. “I think this is someone’s life. And there’s an oasis. I think that’s God wanting to refresh this person.”

Knock me out. God as an oasis? A kind of living water? I’ve never heard that one. Except in, hmmm, let me think – Psalm 42 (“as the deer pants for streams of water…”) or John 4 (the woman at the well) perhaps?

Don’t get me wrong, it was all encouraging stuff – but for this stuff to have been ‘prophetically revealed’ to someone? I was sceptical. Surely if we wanted to hear God, we just needed to read our Bibles more?

And then came January 2018. My life had just changed direction, with my youngest children doing more hours at preschool, and the hint of a calling on my life which I was attempting to pursue in my hours away from the kids.

But I was busy. So busy. Up past midnight most nights, keeping up with the tidying, planning and administrative tasks of a large family, as well as being deeply involved in the kiddoes’ school as well as our church.

I attended a women’s teaching day, and – like a child in a sweet shop just before closing – managed to grab the final ‘prophetic appointment’ slot – more by virtue of it being the last one, and therefore infinitely more desirable, than because I actually wanted it. Although something told me it could be useful.

When my slot came, I sat down in front of two women. They didn’t ask what I wanted or why I was there, they simply spent a few minutes praying for me, and listening, in silence.

And then came the prophetic pictures. One was of ballet shoes, the long ribbons being untied and the shoes coming off. The shoes were not indicating harmful things, I was told, but just things that had to be stripped away, in order for the dance to be more creative and beautiful, although perhaps not as technically brilliant.

I think that if prophetic words are to be trusted, they will first have an air of familiarity about them. I was able to easily recognise myself and my commitments in the ballerina and her shoes. And, not long after the appointment, it became so blindingly obvious that the ‘shoe’ I needed to remove was my role as a school governor. God was asking me to hand in my notice. Much as I loved this role, the revelation actually came as a relief!

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Image credit: Pixabay

The second picture was of a garden party. I was the hostess – and yet all the chairs were empty. God was telling me that, although I was usually the host, for this season I needed to sit and eat. ‘The feast is for you’, my prophetic woman insisted.

Again, this picture was very familiar to me. We have a decent-sized vicarage and garden, and it’s rare that a day goes past without someone popping in for a cuppa, a meal or an overnight stay. But prophetic pictures and words also need to be weighed. If I had ascertained from this picture that God meant me not to host or cook for anyone else for the next few months, I think I would have missed the point.

I didn’t rule out that this might be the case, but as I’ve continued to ponder, pray and read the Bible, my interpretation has been that I need to spend this season seeking God, allowing Him to shape my character and inviting Him to ‘fill me up’, so that I might have something to give to others. It was no coincidence that my small group had already made the decision to study Kevin De Young’s ‘The Hole in our Holiness’ this term, a book which concentrates on personal character and righteousness.

Another aspect of prophetic words is that they will be specific and personal. Whilst the garden party picture was not a literal prophetic word, I was able to instantly relate to what God was saying because I love parties and I love to cook and host! If God created us and knows us inside and out, we should expect that anything he wants to reveal to us through others will be specifically geared towards our personality, character and situation. This word spoke deeply to me, as I know well the role of the host and the hosted.

Prophetic words don’t provide an alternative to God’s revelation in the Bible. On the contrary, if we are to make the most of any prophetic words given to us, we need to be actively committed to the Word of God – reading, thinking, applying, praying. And it goes without saying that genuine prophetic words will not contradict Biblical teaching.

So why bother with prophecy at all, if the Bible remains the authoritative voice of God? Because God longs to have a deeply personal, intimate relationship with each one of us. He already knows us deeply; if we long to know Him better, then it is right that we learn to hear His voice, primarily in the Bible, but also through the words and pictures which can speak the specifics into our lives.

We will never be able to discern, weigh, or appropriately act upon prophetic words if we don’t first know what God has revealed to us in the Bible – but without prophetic words, we may miss some of the personal applications of the Bible’s teaching.

Prophecy is not something to be feared, but a helpful tool in drawing closer to God and seeking more of His will for our lives. My year will be different now as a result of what God spoke through two ladies. Is God impacting your future too?