Wednesday, February 29, 2012
One person in the Bible who has always intrigued me is Ishmael, the son of Abraham and Hagar, Sarah's slave girl. Sometimes I think I could write a 'faction' book about him. Although scripture doesn't delve into his thought processes, I find it easy to imagine how this boy might have ticked. Lavish attention was being poured on a new baby, reminding him that he himself was merely the son of a servant. He would have caught the whispers, Isaac is the baby God intended all along and Ishmael was just a big mistake. Whatever were they thinking? Finally Sarah, his father's beloved wife, swept through and commanded, "He can't have any share in the inheritance with my son! Send them packing!" I find it easy to understand why Ishmael might have felt inclined to poke a few jibes at Isaac.
Of course it had to be this way. We must know we are accepted by God through favour and grace (which Isaac represents) and not through effort and human works (which Ishmael represents). This is the crux of the Christian message. To leave Ishmael growing up around the place along with Isaac would have made things messily complicated; even seriously undermining the Bible's message. (I wonder how he would've felt to know that he was destined to be singled out as a mistake not only in his own lifetime but for eternity!)
I think the key is to remember that Ishmael was not ignored by God. The plan in question just wasn't meant for him. He was not the son of Abraham who was destined to be the ancestor of the Israelites and ultimately Jesus; that was Isaac. I think there is an ideal plan for each of us and when we start peering over to see what's happening in the lives of others; that's when we can start letting those horribly frustrated, bitter, jealous feelings twist our insides. You see, it's none of our business.
In the life of Moses (Numbers 16 and 17), a gang of indignant rebels accused him and Aaron of over-stepping themselves by appointing Aaron High Priest of the people. I can imagine them murmuring, He gives the plummy jobs to his brother. Well, we won't take that lying down! I love the vivid proof God gave that they were out of line. He decreed that a representative from each of Israel's 12 tribes were to place a wooden staff before the altar and promised that He would cause the rod of the chosen man to bud. Aaron put his rod forward as the representative from the tribe of Levi. Not only did Aaron's staff pop out buds and blossoms but even a few almonds! Aaron's staff had been a dead twig, just like the 11 others, but the point is that God had chosen him as the man for that job; and that was it. No complaining or accusations of favouritism from the others made any difference.
Back to Ishmael's plight; God cared for him and had a perfect plan. I appreciate it that the Angel of God appeared twice to his mother, Hagar, but never once to Sarah (that was ever recorded). What a gracious bit of evidence that He cares for the downtrodden and those the world may call inferior. As Ishmael grew up, Hagar always had those promises that God would bless her son and make him the father of a great nation.
I'm sure it was for Ishmael's own good to be sent away from Abraham's household. Without Isaac always dogging his footsteps and reminding him of all that was not to be his, he could get his mind focused on the plan God did have for him, which was considerable. In spite of thinking of himself as second fiddle, I love the short verse Genesis 21:20 in The Message. It says, "God was on the boy's side as he grew up." I like to think the fact that Ishmael was able to be blessed and prospered this way is a sign to us that he escaped from the pattern of bitterness that could have entrenched him. And I like the lesson he teaches us, which is to move into our own plans, not hung-up on anyone else's, and be content.
Thursday, February 23, 2012
I've no doubt we're living in the era of the positive affirmation. A glance at the self-help section of our libraries and book shops makes this clear. Best-sellers on this topic abound, from the writings of Louise L Hay to "The Secret" by Rhonda Byrne and her team of experts. Others with similar themes, such as "Think and Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill have been around long enough to attain 'classic' status. This is the thinking climate those of my generation have grown up in and publishers are still churning them out.
For years, I'd studied these books carefully. I'd decided the theory behind them made sense. In a nutshell, if your conscious mind is bombarded with a beneficial message over and over, your subconscious mind will eventually be worn down to join the party too. Furthermore the metaphysical theory behind this tells us that we attract similar vibrations (or vibes) to those which we subconsciously give out. The world is our mirror, so to speak. If we think prosperously, prosperity will be drawn to us. Although some fellow Christians seemed to think this dodgy and new-agey, I thought it seemed harmless enough for me to give it a go.
My books are best-sellers.
My kids are clever and polite. (They'd tell you that one IS true)
We are able to travel overseas.
By dd/mm/yy I will have an extra $20 000 in my bank account.
We own a 2-storey home with a stunning view and my own study (LOL)
We never scrape the bottom of our bank account (ROFL)
So what happened? The same thing that happened whenever I tried planting seeds in my garden. I don't have a green thumb. Mostly, my plants would give a half-hearted spurt of growth and then bite the dust. People would say things like, "You should've fertilised them with blood and bones/chook manure/cow manure ... kept the harsh cook manure away from them... tried putting them in a more open/more sheltered position, planted them during the summer/winter, etc." To summarize all this, I didn't have a clue. So I assumed that the paltry returns on my affirmations meant that I was clueless there too.
I believe that was true, in a way I didn't expect. In a thought-provoking article by American pastor, Tom Brown, he remarked that our world has become like Babylon, using the messages of confession to get what it wants. People are using Biblical truth principles (I knew it was all based on truth!) in a very watered-down and limited manner. I'd been right. I spent all that time trying to plant seeds without giving them the quality of water, fertiliser and sunlight they really needed. Clueless!
His article went on to explain that the affirmations we speak must be found within the pages of our Bibles; God's Word to us. This is the only word which is still as pristine and powerful as it originally was during the creation of the world. The words spoken by men and women who are spouting the 'affirmations of the day' from these books have lost part of the original 'punch' they contained before the Fall. They are perishable and often likely to fizzle out. When we speak out our own dreams, imaginings and desires as affirmations without checking to see whether they line up with God's words, we might fail to receive what we're believing for because our words are weaker, like metal alloys whose quality can't be trusted. God's Word, on the other hand, is still like the most pure, flawless gold and silver.
It's not the mere positive confession per se, which brings results into our lives but the confession of God's words. My days of declaring and confessing just anything that sounded good and expecting it to come to pass are over. God's Word hasn't promised to give me a specific sum of money by a certain date or a house with a view or a new car. This is just getting greedy and jumping beyond what His word promises.
What He has promised is to be my healer (Exodus 15: 26), supply all my needs (Philippians 4:19), finish the good work He started in me (Philippians 1:6), surround me with favour as a shield (Psalm 5:12) and bless the work of my hands (Psalm 90: 17), among many other things. Charles H. Spurgeon said that whenever God has made a promise, we can reasonably expect Him to make it good. This has nothing to do with metaphysics, manipulating God, witchcraft, mind-over-matter or sorcery.
Thank God for giving us His Word, the imperishable seed, for when we make His words our own and declare them in faith, then our words are imperishable too. I believe that when we declare the same words about ourselves that God speaks, we'll soon see results in our lives.
PS, I walked around an outback quarry with my family in outback New South Wales in 2004, and the guy who let us in let us hold a gold ingot similar to the ones above. Wow, it was so heavy for such a small object. I thought I just had to share that piece of trivia.
Thursday, February 16, 2012
I think we're often conditioned to grow agitated by the thought of being 'in over our heads' at anything. I admit, my attempts at trying to 'wing it' have made me not merely nervous but also guilty, as if I'm cheating by trying anything new, and pretending to be something I'm not. I imagine that people who discover my basic incompetence have a right to pay me out. "This idiot doesn't know what he/she's doing!" are words we never want to hear spoken about us. It's far easier and more comfortable when we stick to doing the things we're certain we can pull off flawlessly. My problem is, there's not much that falls under that category. Then I get bored enough to want to crawl out on a limb.
Thankfully, I've come across some research on the human brain that convinces me that 'winging it' is no mistake after all. Brain scientist, Dr Caroline Leaf tells us that it's actually healthy for our brains to be stretched beyond their comfort zone. Trying things we're not certain we'll achieve makes our brain environments fertile. It stirs up the lush cells that make us smart and interesting. Effortless performance may feel comfortable but doesn't help our brains to thrive. She recommends that we choose goals just beyond our present abilities. I cry, "YES!" because I've had experience doing that very thing.
In the late 1990s, I dreamed an idea I thought would make a stunning novel. How I wished some experienced Christian author would write it, but nobody did. When it wouldn't leave my head, I decided that I would be the one. I'd get into the heads of the characters and be the girl who found herself the victim of a shocking date rape. Even more nerve-wracking, I'd also be the boy perpetrator who suffered for years with remorse and self-condemnation. I was in my twenties and never had a novel published at that stage. I wrote it by hand in the car when I dropped my pre-schooler Logan off at kindy and had baby Emma sound asleep in her capsule in the back seat. The result was Picking up the Pieces, which won an International Book Award last year for it's second printing, after it had been off the shelves for more than ten years.
Here I am in early 2012, seven books later, but once again, feeling in over my head with an idea that has gripped my imagination. I'm calling the story, Along for the Ride, at least for now. I'm getting into the mindset of a young computer programmer (far smarter than me) who has been given a medical diagnosis that shakes his world to its foundations. As he begins to uncover principles of divine health which have never been taught in his church, and learns what being a child of the New Covenant really entitles him to, I'm busy writing it all out. It all started when I was reading non-fiction books on healing by classic Christian teachers and thought, "People just don't know about all this. They don't understand their rights. I wish somebody would write these fundamental truths in a novel." Once again, 1999 is revisited, as I decided I would be the one. I like living on the edge of my brain power.
Pablo Picasso was right when he declared, "I am always doing what I cannot do in order that I may learn how to do it." He also said, "God is really only another artist. He invented the giraffe, the elephant and the cat. He has no real style. He just goes on trying other things." A bit irreverent maybe, but it makes me smile. Another wise sage, Star Wars' Master Yoda, said, "Don't try, do!" And, of course, God doesn't call the well-equipped, he well-equips the called. When God's angel greeted Gideon with the words, "God is with you, you mighty warrior!", he'd been threshing wheat in a wine vat to hide it from the Midianites. Gideon's first reaction was, "Huh, you mean me?" That was my reaction when it occurred to me that I might be the one called to write those novels and not some best-selling American author.
I'll finish off with this thought. Dr Leaf said that brains get a good gymnastic work-out when their owners are thinking deeply. Even though my brand of deep thinking is on a far inferior scale to the deep thinking of Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking, I trust it's deep enough for the grey matter that God gave me to be getting a bit of a stir. It seems a reciprocal thing is going on. I write out the ideas I believe God wants me to express, either in my novels or on this blog, and He gives me a more flourishing, better-functioning brain.
If, perchance, you'd fancy a read of the novels I've mentioned, I've made it easy. Instead of visiting shops, you can order them with the click of a button in the tool bar of this blog. They are also available in both hard copy and electronic format from Amazon. (This doesn't include Along for the Ride yet, as I'm still working on it) They are Australian novels full of romance, mystery and drama, and I'd love your feedback.
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
In 2006, my husband, Andrew, was trying out a TAFE course in electronics. I remember seeing electric cables lying around for his course work, and sliced open to see what they look like inside. Basically, the outer plastic layer surrounds a myriad of delicate cords. You could easily bite through an individual one with your teeth. Each tiny cord is not capable of carrying more than a small surge of power, but together they form something strong, robust and reliable.
At the moment, I've been doing several little promotional things on my computer. I've been approaching magazines for guest articles to be written on my books, getting reviewed or interviewed on other peoples' blogs and continually updating this blog. I've had a radio interview or two. I've also been writing reviews for fellow authors as I want to see friends promoted too and also trust the law of sowing and reaping. During December and January, I've been updating my Face Book status with these links so regularly, I've possibly saturated the receptive capacity of some friends. Now that February has started, I sat back to try to evaluate how each of these small promotional 'wires' have fared.
To be honest, some of them have seemed to yield nothing more than a small sizzle of electricity. Guest blog interviews often pass with just a tiny stirring of interest or no comment at all. I guess it would be easy to look at individual ventures and assume they were a waste of time. I think the electric cable analogy is a good one for keeping discouragement at bay. Individually, each of the little ventures are tiny, delicate wires with not much of a surge, but together they are adding to the effect of a potentially powerful cable. You can't have a cable without each of its individual wires, no matter how small an impact they seem to create.
I like to think that the 'cable' I'm creating with all these tiny wires may, in turn, become a wire in an even larger cable; the Australian Christian Book industry.
In the same way, electric cables are created in all aspects of our lives. Each game, walk, smile, laugh and genuine listening time we spend with our children and spouses are small wires in a healthy cable of relationship. Let's keep refusing to underestimate the value of the small ones, because something significant is always formed of many of these.
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
I've been reading some fascinating books about the human psyche written by scientists. They provide significant proof that what many of us sense in our hearts is actually true. Far from being 'clean slates', even unborn babies take on the feelings and unspoken vibes of others. A baby of about 18 weeks gestation was revealed to be flinching and jumping on an ultrasound image while his parents were having an argument in the doctor's office. I wrote about a situation in which an unborn baby was being traumatised by domestic violence in my novel, "The Risky Way Home." I'm not surprised this turned out to be substantiated by fact.
I'm sure we've all heard true reports about how baby orphans in war torn countries are passive and sickly, sometimes even dying through lack of touch and loving human contact. Babies who are cuddled regularly, spoken to warmly and loved are far healthier and more robust.
I always love the way great truths about the human condition are proclaimed for all the world through the medium of stories. That is one of the main reasons why I love stories. Think of Tarzan, who lived most of the first twenty-something years of his life with no human contact at all. Yet he was discovered to be a stunning, strikingly handsome example of manhood, glowing with health and vitality. He might have lacked the sophistication of human civilisation but he did have the love and care his hirsute ape parents and extended family lavished on him.
It's exciting when science books are telling us what the Bible has made clear for years. Love is not only a potent force, in fact, it's what life is all about. God IS love! Knowing that simple things are often the most important and profound, I decided to make them a priority. When the kids wake up in the morning, I act pleased to see them. (I know some families have kids who wake up at the crack of dawn before them. I definitely don't have that situation with my homeschooled teenagers. I guess the same thing applies, when you first walk out and greet them.)
Logan and Emma are now teenagers but Blake, my youngest, is still seven years old. I might be doing my writing, busy working on a blog reflection like this or having a quiet study time. Nevertheless, when he wakes up in the morning, I drop everything for those few moments. I give him a smile, hug and, "Good morning, Blake," making sure I act really pleased to see him. Broken trains of thought should surely come second to the mental and spiritual well-being of family members. I'm convinced that when a person begins the day with the sense that other people are pleased to see them, it has the potential to really set the tone for the day.
It's nice to know that even when we feel like we're floundering in our role as parents, we can believe that the most vital things are often simple to implement.