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What I’m Into (March 2016)

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I’ve long admired Tanya Marlow’s “What I’m Into” posts. She humbly points to another blogger as the originator of these monthly missives about what they are reading, writing, watching, and doing. But I don’t know the other(s) so I’m going to point to her as my inspiration. Looking back over the month just gone provides a wonderful way to remember what I’ve been thinking and experiencing, hopefully with an attitude of thanks. And to share with you some fun finds.

This is a long post – I don’t recommend as spiritually healthy this level of activity without rest – so do skim and scroll down, and if you make it to the end, I have some recipe recommendations for you. Blonde brownies, no less.

L1000078Finding Myself in Britain

Hey y’all, I’m a published author. I say that not with gloating but with wonder, for my journey to publication – book publication, that is – was a long and arduous one. (I write about the stinging words batting me down here, and my tangled writing journey here.) I could see myself as a writer, but not so much as an author.

My publishing mentor has been wonderful in helping me make the transition. When I was redesigning my website, he said I needed to lose the “editor” from my bio and go with “author and speaker.” I did so with his encouragement, feeling some of that imposter syndrome. Then recently I looked at the bio on the back of my book and realized with a jolt that “editor” was there – and now that felt odd!

I have great joy in seeing Finding Myself in Britain reviewed and purchased, some of both happened in March. I gulped early in the month when I received an email from my publisher saying that the Church Times – the Church Times I say! – had reviewed my book. Holy Toledo, my heart was pounding as I read the review. I was humbled and amazed – here’s an excerpt from the 4 March 2016 edition:

“…Full of perceptive comments about the habits we fall into and the assumptions we make. Her tone is warm and self-deprecating,… A helpful reminder of what it is like to be a stranger in a foreign land, and an effortless read that will, no doubt, bring entertainment and comfort to many who have ever lived as expats.”

Copy of File_000Some informative and fun blog posts on topics related to my book happened this month. Don’t miss my interview with visionary publisher Steve Mitchell. He has great advice for writers.

I love how I can blog about tea and it never fails to incite a response on Facebook. Here’s the post about CutiePyeGirl as she made her first cuppa, and here’s the Facebook discussion. What do you think about tea? Love it or loathe it?

I continue to adore the “There’s No Place Like Home” series. Wow; such a wealth of riches from people writing about what home means to them. Don’t miss this month’s contributions from Catherine Campbell, who writes about pondering what home means while way up in the skies, Amy Young, who writes about finding home while in transition, Claire Musters, who addresses the challenges of making a home when its in continual use for ministry matters, and Shaneen Clarke, who pens a love song for London. All of the posts in the series can be found here.

Reader Reviews

I love reading reviews and emails from readers, and was so touched when a fellow clergy spouse emailed me after reading my book. I won’t share from her email, but later she kindly posted a review online:

On reading Amy’s most enjoyable book at the beginning of this year, I came to chapter 10 and was challenged to have a party. You see, I, like Amy, have a January birthday, which can be a depressing month to celebrate in for various reasons, and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d invited friends to a tea party! I used some of the ideas Amy mentions, everything went really well, and everyone enjoyed themselves. So thank you Amy for being the trigger, through your book, to me having a very happy afternoon with my friends.
PS There are a lot of good things to read about in all the other chapters too! Eunice

teapot JPEGI was chuffed when one of the readers of the Woman Alive book club posted this review in our Facebook group:

Whilst reading this book, I felt very much as though Amy was sat in a café talking to me. I laughed at the funny moments, like when she used an ancient tea bag for her new English boyfriend. There were hurtful moments too, such as when she was made fun of at a public dinner over the way she pronounced words.

Amy has confidently written down her heartfelt emotions before moving to Britain, and after. Culture shock arrives at unexpected moments, and so she shares her experiences and explores how to deal with these times.

Amy is a journalist who likes to study the background of a subject and unexpected stories weave cleverly through the book – this includes Harvest Festival, Thanksgiving and the Pilgrim Fathers. She writes pithily about Black Friday.

Living in a different culture can be extremely difficult, however hard one tries to ‘fit in’. At the end of her tether one day, Amy said to an American visitor: “All of life is Lent.” She then goes on to explain how through the years, she and Nicholas have created a life together of ‘old’ and ‘new’ where they can grow together. Amy points out how God ‘holds our hands to let us know he is with us, and helps us turn our aches and longings into the solid hope of heaven, giving us an eternal perspective’. Deep thoughts arising from deep longings.

I like the way this book is divided into logical sections for ease of reading. If you are: planning to live in another culture, marry someone from another country or even stay in your own culture but be in Christian service where you meet and greet peoples from all walks of life, then do read this book. You will feel encouraged. Carol Bye

teacupAnd having reviews by people in the book trade humble me down to my socks. This one is from a former sales representative of STL, Tim Alban. It’s the first review he wrote after leaving STL in 2009!

Growing up near a US Air Force base, especially with a Grandmother who rented a house to service families who wanted to live off base, I’ve long had Americans as a part of my life. I have American friends, and like friends from other English speaking countries, I am fascinated by what we have in common and also what divides us.

My perception of Amy’s book was that it would be a Christian version of a Bill Bryson book but whilst there are certainly parallels there is much more to Finding Myself in Britain than that.

The first thing that struck me from Amy’s book was that even though, I have other friends who have transplanted themselves one way or another across the Atlantic, I had underestimated the practical and emotional upheaval involved; Amy writes openly and honestly about the depth of the decision making involved in her move to Great Britain, her decision to stay and her determination to make it work.

Amy is equally open about the benefits of her life as an Anglo-American – including writing about the her appreciation of our history and how she and her husband Nicholas make their respective cultures an everyday part of family life.

Another eye-opener for me was Amy’s glimpses into the demands, challenges and joys of vicarage life and the expectations sometimes placed on the spouses of the clergy.

Amy’s faith in God seasons her writing as does her do her descriptions of her church life; although I am not currently part of a church family, I appreciated reading about an Anglican church calendar I grew up with but had moved away from.

Finding Myself in Britain is a candid, entertaining, thought-provoking read and I am please to recommend it. Tim Alban

Devotional Writing

I was thrilled to have my second article published in Our Daily Bread in March – my first was published in February on one of the days I spend in Central London for my master’s. It felt surreal, as I was off social media for much of the day, to go online in the library at Heythrop College and open some lovely emails from readers around the world. Later I heard from my parents that they’d received several phone calls from people who were reading their daily devotional and were surprised to glimpse my name at the bottom – including our next door neighbors, from whom I took piano lessons for years, and my mom’s uncle in his 80s!

10915248_10152916060830673_553941224221623512_nMy second article looks at the theme from Hebrews 11 of strangers and foreigners, which I relate to my early experiences in the UK. I loved hearing from the daughter of one of my roommates when we were at Bethel University, who now is a mission partner in the Philippines. My friend’s daughter is now far from her tropical home while at Bethel, and she wrote of how one of her professors said that the Our Daily Bread reading (which I wrote) reminded him of her that day. We both thought it was amazing (“a really cool connection and awesome” in her words) that the words of her mom’s roommate while at Bethel were recommended to her by a Bethel prof!

The Living Cross: Exploring God’s Gift of Forgiveness and New Life

A sneak peek at a small part of the cover! Designed by the wonderful artist who designed Finding Myself in Britain, Vivian Hansen.

A sneak peek at a small part of the cover! Designed by the wonderful artist who designed Finding Myself in Britain, Vivian Hansen.

Writing my second book has been a big focus for me in 2016 thus far. I had to plan carefully to get the first draft finished, for time was more limited than I would have preferred. (See, writers, how using the passive tense I tried to move the responsibility right away from me?)

I’ve really enjoyed the writing, especially after a writing friend encouraged me to be present in the project. When I stepped back from the pressure, I remembered that I love writing Bible-based reflections (!). The theme of forgiveness is deep and rich, and I look forward to sharing the book with you later in the year. It’s the BRF Lent book for 2017.

By the grace of God and a lot of time writing (I even had sore wrists!), I finished the draft and sent it to the publisher on time. My editor gave me a seal of approval (thank you, Lord) as well as some changes to incorporate before I sent it off to my dozen or so early readers. I’ve heard from two so far, who have made some wonderful suggestions. And they’ve picked up some of the crazy mistakes I am prone to make, such as ‘lauded over’ instead of ‘lorded over’ and this query: ‘strife and amenity? do you mean enmity?’ Funny how I routinely get that kind of stuff wrong. Oh, and one Paul Sunday and another Cannan. Oops!

Jesus’ Last Words

I loved writing a month of Bible reading notes for Inspiring Women Every Day (CWR) for September 2016 on John 14-17, which is often known as the Last Discourse. It’s Jesus preparing his disciples for life after his death, and has some of my favorite bits in Scripture, such as him praying, “I in them and you in me.” Hearing from readers who enjoy this devotional or others makes me pleased and grateful.

Watercolor by Leo Boucher.

Watercolor by Leo Boucher.

Lenten/Easter poetry

As part of my Lenten discipline I decided, rather on the spur of the moment, to write a Bible-based poem each day based in the gospel of John. I found it such a wonderful exercise, as writing the poems made me slow down and digest the words. I was touched by this message from a friend:

I am so enjoying your Lenten poems. Poetry may be your best gift. A great tragedy that poetry has waned as a literary art. What can be done to revive it?

I skipped ahead in the gospel to the events of Good Friday, so soon will be heading back to part of the Last Discourse to continue.

Also on the blog I finished up the Pilgrim devotional series, which I had run for 11 weeks, and look forward to figuring out what to feature next.

Speaking

I led my first quiet day for BRF (the Bible Reading Fellowship, publisher of my Lent book), and although it was a lot of work, I really enjoyed the day. We held it at our church, which turned out to be a wonderful venue, especially for those people who hadn’t been able to attend quiet days in the past when the venues weren’t accessible via public transport. We have Victoria Park right across the street so people could spread out during the quiet times, or they could find a nook to enjoy in the church or the vicarage garden. As one of the participants say, the bright sunshine was the icing on the cake for the day.

Photo: Ineke Huizing, flickr

Photo: Ineke Huizing, flickr

The theme was living water, which I so enjoyed exploring from Creation to Moses to Jesus to Revelation. Putting together the prayer activities was fun too, such as people writing on a piece of acetate something they wanted to give to God, which then they’d see the water dissolve.

I penned a short poem during the day:

Water

And I loved receiving comments from the participants, some of which were hugely moving as to how God worked in their lives. Praise him! One of the participants gave me permission to share this poem, which she wrote on the day. She said, “I don’t usually write like this so it’s come as a bit of a surprise.”

Cleansed by Sue Cherry

Two days after the quiet day I went down to the New Forest to speak at a women’s breakfast at Poulner Baptist Chapel on the theme, “There’s No Place Like Home.” What a wonderful group of women; I thoroughly enjoyed myself – especially as I got to have dinner with a dear friend the night before, and another lovely friend took me to the New Forest for the breakfast. She knows how much I hate to drive.

I had forgotten how I came in touch with Anne, the woman at the church who invited me to speak. She had written in to Woman Alive after buying a book that one of our readers had recommended. The content wasn’t exactly edifying, and I felt bad that I hadn’t done a better job of vetting the reviews. I apologized by way of sending her a copy of my book. We struck up a friendship and that’s how the invitation came about – God’s redemption at work!

The lovely original chapel.

The lovely original chapel – Poulner Baptist Chapel in the New Forest.

I’m looking forward to other upcoming speaking engagements, including the silver anniversary celebrations at Books Alive in Hove in June and being the keynote speaker (wow and wow) at the BRF/Woman Alive day in June – yahoo! It’s 25 June and more details are here if you’d like to join us. Please do! We have some fabulous speakers and Jennifer Rees Larcombe is heading up the prayer ministry team.

WEB-AD-Woman-Alive-2016-500And of course I’m keenly anticipating leading the week’s retreat in Spain at El Palmeral, the place for a gorgeous retreat/holiday in Elche, near Alicante. The title is “Adventures with God,” including a trip to the beach, and some spaces are available for 25 to 29 April. Do come – it’s an amazing place for rest and renewal and fun.

The grounds include a labyrinth.

The grounds include a labyrinth.

Master’s in Christian Spirituality

I’m loving the master’s I’m doing in Christian spirituality at Heythrop College, University of London. The lecturer, Eddie Howells, has been superb. He has a way of taking people’s contributions and synthesizing them while affirming the person. Such a gift. I will miss his lectures as I’ve now finished the lecture portion of both modules I’m taking from him.

This month I’ve been reading Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and Meister Eckhart, among others. The course is “History of Christian Mysticism to the Reformation,” so it’s been a whole lot of reading, from Augustine to Origen to Bernard of Clairvaux to the Beguines. I need to take some time to try to make some more links and ponder. The so-called apophatic, or negative, theology, I found challenging in particular. Writers such as Dionysius write in this fashion, where they state a negation (what God isn’t), followed by another negation, and so on. It starts to boggle the mind.

20160401_115423For my end-of-year essay for my Intro to Spirituality course I’ve chosen to write about John Cassian from the 400s. He wrote a couple of so-called conferences on prayer that I want to explore, which he wrote for the monks in his care. He was one of the first to emphasize unceasing prayer, so could be called a precursor to Brother Lawrence.

On study methods – I found out, after I’ve enjoyed two of the four modules, that I shouldn’t take notes with a laptop. Oh dear! Back to pen and paper next year. Looks like our brains process information differently.

Recommended to me: Mystical Doctrine of John of the Cross. Nearly 40 quid though so I haven’t succumbed…

Books, books, and more books

978-1-4964-0646-0I had a hard time selecting a book to highlight for the June Woman Alive book club, trying several and tossing them aside when I wasn’t gripped by their content or structure. I won’t mention which ones they were! I landed then on The Wired Soul by Tricia McCary Rhodes, reading it and enjoying it, before I realized that it wouldn’t be published for several months and thus I couldn’t feature it in June. Back to the drawing board. Then I remembered Land of Silence by Tessa Afshar, which gripped me from the beginning. It’s fiction set in the biblical times and I really enjoyed it – review coming in the June book club, along with an interview of author Claire Dunn.

I also finished The Girl from the Train by Irma Joubert, fiction based in Poland and South Africa around the time of World War 2. I’ve posted some questions for readers to discuss in the Woman Alive book club Facebook group if you’d like to join in.

Woman Alive Book ClubAs I was writing the June book club, I started to do the math and realized that July will mark 10 years of the book club! How fun to celebrate this anniversary of books and more books. I’m publishing reader reviews of what the book club has meant to them or a favorite book they’ve read, so if you’d like to contribute please do. Also I’ll be featuring an interview with the inimitable Michele Guinness on her novel Grace.

I’m looking forward to reading An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture by Andrew M Davis, as recommended in The Wired Soul.

For my local book club we read and discussed The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriaty. I enjoyed it after I was about a third of the way through, for the novel has so many characters that I couldn’t keep them all straight at first. I thought because of the many themes in the book we’d have lots to discuss, but our discussion didn’t take off as it often can. A fun book to read but not great to discuss? When finding some discussion questions for the evening I came across one book club that takes the task of preparation so seriously that she even prepared a power point!

We love that technology can keep us connected with people who move from London. Previously one of our members was in New York City – she’d join by Skype as her kids started to arrive home from school. Now we have a friend who has moved back to Japan, and she somehow amazingly manages to get up around 4.30am to join in.

I’m excited for the next one we’re reading, All the Light We Cannot See, which has won the Pulitzer Prize and has been super highly recommended to me.

In the Kitchen

exps10578_GAC1115479C157Blonde brownies: We were seeing friends on Holy Saturday and I ran out of Ghirardelli brownie mix, and had to find something to make with the ingredients we had at home as I didn’t want to shop on Good Friday. Decided to make blonde brownies, but underestimated the time they’d need to cook. The recipe I used called for 20-25 minutes of baking; I had them in there about a half hour but later when I tried to cut them I realized they were still way underdone. I shoved them back into the oven for another 10 minutes. They were gooey but good.

I made another batch for the Easter Sunday tea party at church (that sounds so English), this time with the 4 eggs the recipe called for instead of the 3 I used the day before, and cooked them about 45-50 minutes so they were moist but not dripping. The 4 eggs made them more into a cake. Three eggs is definitely better. Here’s a similar recipe to what I used.

Homestyle Macaroni and Cheese: I had a hankering for mac-and-cheese, and didn’t want to pay the equivalent of $5 for a box of the Kraft fake stuff. So I made a batch with this recipe. I found it called for far too little pasta – the sauce was overflowing so I added almost twice as much pasta as it said. Not sure I’d make it again. Note for translation – 7 ounces is about 200 grams.

5577230119_04e6bb5e3e_oA friend made this lemon cream cake to celebrate her husband’s birthday – looks amazing.

At my local book club we enjoyed this Nigella recipe for flourless brownies. They were to die for.

A highlight from February

Having my parents visit for the half-term break was brilliant. The three of us went very early on Valentine’s Day to a self-service interview booth for me to be interviewed by BBC Radio Berkshire.

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So tell me, please. What are you reading, thinking, learning, and enjoying?

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