Friday, June 29, 2012

That I'm living my future

Okay, all you 80s movie fans, we are living in the very time, almost to the exact day, in which Marty McFly was supposed to have zoomed to the future in Part Two of "Back to the Future." I can clearly remember watching those movies as a teenager when Michael J Fox was my pin-up boy. My ambition was to be a fiction author. 2012 sounded very far away, I remember thinking, By then, I'll be a middle-aged person with a family and career and had a giggle because seemed really weird. With this clearly in my memory, it was quite a surreal feeling last night, when I sat at my computer checking Face Book. I thought, Here I am, living in the future the old me was wondering about. I have got the hubby and kids and I've written books too. I've done what I set out to do and I now tend to think of early 40s as still quite youngish rather than 'middle aged' which is a deplorable term some young whipper snapper came up with years ago.

I'm fascinated with time because I love to know how things are going to end. I remember waiting for the next Harry Potter book to released, and then the next, and sometimes they took years. On the morning when the seventh was due to be released, I made it my top priority to drive straight to K-Mart to buy my copy. I didn't listen to well-intentioned people who would say, "Wait for a few months and then it will be cheaper." Good heavens, I always watch my pennies but this is Harry Potter! So I brought it home and took turns devouring it as quickly as possible with Logan, who was then about 12.

Recently, I've been watching episodes of the sitcom, "How I met your mother" and the same thing is happening. I want to find out the identity of the elusive girl Ted ends up marrying and there is stil at least one more season to be filmed before they'll reveal it, even though I really want to know if the hints I think I've been picking up turn out to be true.

Most of all, it'd be interesting to have a few more glimpses of my own future. Who will my kids end up marrying? Where will they work and live? What other books will I write? I have to be patient and let it unfold as it will.

Looking back through history, I find the technology advances from 1900 to 2000 phenomenal. The twentieth century was really the start of the fulfillment of that time predicted by the prophet Daniel when he said there will be vast increases of knowledge and men and women will rush here and there. I'd love to witness the threshold of 2100 and reflect on all that's happened in the twenty-first century too but I'm pretty sure I won't be there for that one unless they discover some health tonic that will help people eke out their age to 130. Even Blake, my youngest child, will be 96 if he makes it. How frustrating because I REALLY WANT TO KNOW! I echo the sentiments of the guys who are calling out, "We want a time machine?" When? "That's irrelevant."

I guess one of the things that suits me about writing fiction is that I can control, to some extent, how other people's stories are going to unfold. I've been taken on soap opera roller-coasters in the past, drawn into TV drama until I realise, to my disgust, that the writing has to be based around the plans actors make for their own lives. If they decide to leave the show, their beloved characters tend to have their lives brutally cut short. Enough already! I want to be responsible for having my hand in the destiny of at least somebody I can be reasonably kind to when I arrange their circumstances.

Last night I started wondering whether I have any secrets of time I can share. As a 15-year-old in 1985 when Marty was meant to have left his present world, I thought I was pretty smart and assumed my 42-year-old self would have founts of wisdom. Not wanting to let my teenage self down, I thought of a few observations I've picked up over the last twenty-seven years. They aren't from books but things I've learned honestly through living my life.

1) When you make plans and pin your hopes on their fulfillment, your deepest longings have a way of flittering off as if they're frightened away by the strength of your desire. Yet God has a way of bringing awesome surprises when you least expect them. I've shared a few of mine during the time I've been working on this blog. Going to live in the Adelaide Hills, being introduced to my future husband, having a third baby when I thought our pigeon-paired family must be complete, getting publishing contracts, winning an award for a contest I'd forgotten entering, having a comfy, spacious home suddenly become available. So we mustn't pin any hopes on specific demands being fulfilled but expect the unexpected.

2) Longings for fame, fortune and anything to do with human praise and positive feedback is a dangerous narcotic. I was already hooked on it back in 1985 and stayed that way for many of the intervening years. A little bit of what you crave is never enough and being addicted to anything brings misery. Praise addiction leaves a bitter aftertaste after the initial intoxicating ego rush has subsided. You've succeeded in making yourself feel 'different' and 'special' for a fleeting bit of time and it eventually dissipates leaving a bigger hole for self-pity and dissatisfaction to fill. A good way of knowing whether you're addicted to any specific demand is asking yourself whether you could still be happy without it.

Have you any wisdom or personal principles you've learned through your years of living? I'd love to hear them. I feel as if I've only scraped the surface on all I want to say about time but this blog post is long enough.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

To Just keep working away

The Virgin Mary has long been one of my heroes of faith and I keep discovering fresh reasons why.  Here are some I had already.
1) She believed God and kept hold of His promise.
2) However, she was just like the rest of us, in that she didn't always 'get' everything and her mental limitations and faux pas' were recorded for posterity.

Now here's another reason which should make every person with a creative bent nod. I want to make it clear from the start that I'd hate to offend anyone who may believe that comparing ourselves to someone like the Virgin Mary is a presumptuous and unacceptable thing to do. I'm coming from the point of view that God may give some people (like her) gifts like tsunamis and others (like us) gifts like tiny water drops, but it's the same Spirit who gives the gifts and cracked and humble pots may still have noble purposes.

Mary was approached by the Angel Gabriel who told her that God had a tremendous plan He wanted to unleash through her if only she would agree to cooperate with it. It was, incredibly, to send His own Son in human flesh to die for humanity and redeem many people. It would have been evident to Mary at the outset that this would involve a heavy cost to her. Her circle of friends and acquaintances would surely make the wrong assumptions and regard her in the most unflattering light. She'd be shunned and ignored at best and vilified and stoned at worst. Taking all of this into account, she still said, "Yes, yet it be done to me as you have said."

Now, although artists, writers, musicians and other creative people are poles apart from Mary, we do share the privilege of birthing new things which we like to consider our gifts to our world. I get ideas for books which are based on dreams and sudden thoughts. Although they aren't literary masterpieces, the characters all seem real to me and writing their stories seems like a great thing to do. I can't help hoping others will like them as much as I do. Some of the ideas I've worked on have caught hold of my imagination from the very outset. A young couple who are involved in a date rape end up with feelings for each other, an amnesia victim is hero, detective and possibly victim of his own story, a young man with an apparently fatal disease is prepared to believe something radically different. (These thing don't all happen within the one book). Do people jump on board and enjoy my books the way I hope they will? Answer: Some do but many more don't bother.

The bottom line here is that just because we think some idea of ours is awesome, it doesn't mean it will be to others. Just because we're told we have a 'gift', it may not be a 'gift' others are necessarily interested in.

How nice it would've been for Mary if Gabriel had gone around her town and let everyone in on the good news instead of just her and later, Joseph. She was only young and it would've made her life far easier if he'd been sent to announce the news to her parents, relatives and the other villagers. But he didn't. Her cousin, Elizabeth was clued up enough to latch on but not many others. As God didn't organise a big, general announcement on Mary's behalf for news as momentous as hers, it's setting ourselves up for disappointment to hope that He'll spread the word for us for the teeny-tiny ideas he's given us. The world, of course, is based on free will. He doesn't tend to force the hearts and minds of others to think, "This guy does brilliant art and I have to buy some," or "This musician's work is awesome so let's sell heaps of concert tickets for him," or in my case, "You might enjoy these stories." A lot of time, we get the feeling our world is mostly just us and whatever medium we use: canvas, saxophone, computer or whatever. We might even get the idea that people think we're pretty silly and have tickets on ourselves.

BUT that doesn't mean that we don't have gifts or that what we have is any less healing or nourishing for those who do respond to what we have to offer. Gauging our significance by how many people are giving us positive feedback or how many sales we're making has the potential to make us miserable since God's priority always seems to be obedience and steady work on quality, instead of getting all worked-up over quantity of visible results. In other words, He wants us to put everything into our passions for their own sakes. So I'm working flat out on what I believe to be my calling (because I enjoy it a lot) and my books are there for those who care to read them. That's all I need to concern myself with.

How about you?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

To get rid of the Reproach of Egypt

Exodus 6:9 says, 'When Moses delivered this message to the Israelites (that they would be delivered into the Promised Land) they didn't even hear him, they were that beaten down in spirit by the harsh slave conditions.'

This had me nodding in complete understanding when I remembered that at this stage of Israel's history, they'd been slaves for longer than Australia has been settled by the British and Europeans. Think how long that is! My identity as an Aussie runs deep. Yet Exodus 12:40 tells us, "The length of time the Isralite people lived in Egypt was 430 years." Generations of feedback were behind these Jewish slaves, reinforcing the fact that slavery was their lot in life.

Almost every individual must have had the concept of himself as a hard-done-by slave, a second-rate citizen in Egypt, worn to the bone with the possibility of a flogging always on the horizon. They weren't about to think of themselves as mighty warriors, cherished by God with hopeful futures just because some stuttering positive-thinker comes and tells them that. It is quite easy to understand why the words Moses and Aaron brought sounded like foolish raving to them.

I'm sure self-concepts can be passed down from one generation to the next just like the physical features in your DNA. Here's the next interesting observation. In Joshua 5:9, when the people had crossed the Jordan and were on the verge of taking Jericho, God said to Joshua, "Today I have taken away the reproach of Egypt." Wow, that reproach must have been very sticky because Joshua was talking to a generation who had never experienced the hardships and humiliation of life in Egypt first hand. Their parents had all died during the wandering in the wilderness. These people were the babies who'd been born during that nomadic period, all grown up and apparently still as beaten down with the slave mentality as their parents had been.

A lady told me a few months ago, "I have a sense that God really delights in you. You make Him smile because you're going obediently along, doing exactly as He plans you should be."

That really touched me because I had to admit to myself, my self-concept wasn't up there with those words. I've always thought of myself as someone regarded with general disapproval who has to work my butt off to earn a few measly words of commendation here and there. Someone who's deluding herself laboring in a field that's not going to bear fruit, for whom falling short is a way of life. Someone who the Lord delights in and smiles at? That's new.

I realised I needed the reproach of Hendon Primary School and Seaton High School washed off me. At those places, I was a dweeb, nerd, butt of mean jokes and other horrible things which people can get legal action for these days but not back in the 70s and 80s. Even though it was around 25 years ago now, I was so beaten down with negative feedback that was shoveled on me day after day, the concept of myself as someone who gets whispered about, shunned and criticised has stuck like teflon.

Abraham's name had to be changed to Abram to Abraham, which means "Father of many." This was while he was still just father of one, which was the result of a desperate human plan. He had to stop thinking of himself as an infertile old guy before any of God's plans for him could happen. We have an idea that God can drop any enormous blessing into our lives out of the sky whenever He pleases, but no, our thoughts and self-concepts have to be big enough for us to take them. That's why fresh, wonderful new wine can't be poured into old wine skins. It's not that God doesn't want to give it to us, but He knows that with our old concepts intact, we'll split and spill it everywhere.

Those Israelites' self-concept kept them from moving into their destiny for years. "They are like giants, we are like grasshoppers and that's it!" Here's another saying that really rang true with me and deserves to be highlighted. Although God got Israel out of Egypt, He had a harder time getting Egypt out of Israel!

Does it apply to your life as it does to mine? My name "Paula" has always been said to mean small in the name books, and I've been playing small. I must build up a totally new concept, only focusing on positives in my past and present, of which there are many. I need to stop being the person who doesn't catch someone's eye because I don't know what I'll say beyond, "Hello." Time for a new wineskin and an alternative meaning for my name.

Can anybody else relate to all this?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

To filter the food for my spiritual tastebuds

I'd been interested in the claims people were making about the benefits of drinking A2 milk. At first I thought the main difference was that it came from Jersey cows instead of Friesians but a bit of research revealed that it contains different proteins and enzymes. Apparently many families found that various annoying medical conditions have been dramatically improved by simply discarding regular milk in favour of A2. As my eldest son, Logan, has a history of allergies and atopic eczema, I decided to give this simple change a try. However, he declared he hated the flavour.

That irritated me as I honestly couldn't tell the difference. My tastebuds are always pretty accurate at distinguishing filtered water from normal Adelaide tap water, so I wondered whether this aversion was all in his head. To test it, I bought a secret bottle of A2 milk long after returning to the normal brands. I slid off its label, replaced it with a Coles Home Brand one and put it in the fridge.

A little later, Logan went to fix himself up a milkshake and took a mouthful. I was grinning to myself for pulling one over on him, when his brow furrowed as he took a few more sips. Then he stared at his cup and said, "This tastes very A2-ish."

I had to conclude his claim was true. It has been a wonder milk for many but not for Mr Super-Tastebuds. I think Logan was born fairly discerning in many ways. He senses if there's anything a bit 'sus' about other things than food and drink, such as stories in the media, excerpts from books and whether people are lying. There are all sorts of philosophies bouncing around in the big wide world, touted by self-appointed gurus and experts, and some are separated by only a hair's width. I think we can all sharpen our perceptiveness with reflection and study. Logan seems to be one of those people who are endowed with a head-start. A visiting pastor with a prophetic ministry once called him extremely sensitive and fine-tuned after merely setting eyes on him. Perhaps the taste bud side-effect is just part of this.

Many years ago, a naturopath wrote on my case-study notes, "She's scattered and un-focused because she takes anything on board without any filtering." This was during a phase when I was madly scouring the internet for anything I find about a particular issue. I didn't want those words to describe me. I needed to remember to choose one very trustworthy source as a filter. For awhile, I'd forgotten this. For me, the ancient words of the world's number one bestseller fit the bill.

The Bible tells me knowledge of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. It's coherence and unity soothe my restless soul. I've found it to be full of reliable principles for guidance and direction, even in areas it's not specific about. When we study it seriously, we cannot help having the hidden motives of our hearts revealed. Then we find it easier to sense the innate truth in any other literature that tries to convince us of its rightness. Some may say, "The Bible makes you rigid and gives you black and white thinking, blinding you to the grey areas of life." I can't help thinking that people this description seems to fit are not really studying the Bible with an open, truth-seeking heart.

I've found its principles to be water-tight and sound; the evidence of its prophetic voices coming to pass in mind-blowing ways years after they were made. It's as trustworthy as pure gold and silver for genuine seekers. As a side-effect, we can't help developing a discerning palette when it comes to other voices which may strike us as a wee bit 'A2-ish.' And when we come across new sources that contain goodness and truth, something inside of us recognises it instantly. In a society that craves the fresh and new, it's good to remember that principles with ancient roots that have stood the test of time for thousands of years and are still changing people's lives are not worth turning our noses up at.

Even though history is full of misguided people who claim to be following its principles, genuine readers with earnest hearts won't be duped.

Logan continues to be his usual sensitive, discerning self. Last night, he and his cousin who now lives with us, were both wincing because Andrew had added some finely chopped celery to the toasted sandwiches he was making. "The meat, cheese and salsa lull us into a false sense of blissful security and then we get sudden crunchy bursts of over-powering flavour that give us a horrible jolt." Some things won't change but at least the rest of us get a laugh.  

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