What God Has Been Teaching Me–Guest Post by Christine Eyre


Christine Eyre blog header

(Today we have our last post in the end of year series! I’m hoping to maybe get an update posted in the next day or two, before I go on hiatus, but we’ll see how that goes. In the meantime, please welcome the awesome Christine EyreChristine Eyre to the blog!

I honestly didn’t know how to write this post (and ended up procrastinating until two days before the deadline)—because for much of the year, I was discouraged, hopeless, fighting bitterness, and haven’t completely gotten over any of that.  So what did God teach me?  It wasn’t until I began writing this post that I realized that God used this year to show me how frequently my actions are held back—or prompted—by fear.

Most of these fears are grew out of my health problems.  I have a condition the doctors call “Benign Neutropenia” which is basically an abnormally low white-blood cell count.  I’ve had it since I was 13, and my family and I and countless doctors have no idea what caused it or how to cure it.  And while the condition does make me susceptible to infection, the biggest symptom is fatigue.  I often struggle to accomplish basic things like reloading the dishwasher or doing bedtime routine.  Some days are definitely better than others, but in general, I’m tired more often than not.

I also have a condition called “Restless Legs Syndrome” which means that my body cannot relax.  My legs always feel the urge to move—particularly at night when I’m trying to sleep.  If I force my legs to hold still, the whole rest of my body feels awake and jittery.  And I have asthma; to keep from wheezing during the night, I have to sleep propped up—which provides consistent back pain.  By now, I’m just exhausted from pushing myself to function as normally as possible. Continue reading

What God Has Been Teaching Me–Chelsea

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(I know that I promised this post on Sunday, but, as you’ll soon see, this past few days has been a hectic, horrible time and I honestly didn’t have the energy. However, since this post is also about Christmas, it seems appropriate to post it on Christmas Day).

“Christmas is a time of peace.”

Hands up everyone who has heard this phrase and rolled their eyes. Christmas? Peace? Those two really don’t seem to go together.

And yet, they do. If there was one thing God was teaching me this year, it was that peace is real, and that peace is promised to all those who ask for it.

Two months ago, my dad was admitted to hospital, severely ill. Several weeks—and every scan, blood test and examination imaginable—later, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Needless to say, I didn’t really feel like celebrating Christmas. Brain tumours almost infallibly manage to kill the Christmas Spirit.

As the weeks dragged on and my dad’s health grew more and more precarious, I began to dread the approaching Christmas Day.

Call me a Grinch, Scrooge or a plain old cynic, but Christmas has never been a favourite of mine. I feel like a terrible Christian admitting it, but my only reason to like Christmas is the fact that I usually get free books on December 25. Other than that, Christmas can go away, as far as I’m concerned.

And, this year, added on top of my usual dislike, there was a cancer diagnosis, stressful commutes to Sydney and back, grief, tears, anger and questions.

And I really wasn’t feeling the Christmas joy, hope, grace or peace.

It’s hard to feel peace when you’re lying in a dry creekbed, literally lamenting the fact that drought and cancer seem to be sucking your faith away.

Everything about Christmas has always rung—at least to me—a little false. I’ve always been cynical about Santa, elves and even the supposed remembrance of Jesus’ birth. But a few weeks ago, I read through sections of the Christmas story narrated in Matthew and Luke, and I realised two things.

1)      Peace does not equal tranquillity

2)      That first Christmas was not a time of tranquillity.

Tranquillity means “calm and undisturbed”. It describes a sunset on a Hawaiian beach, or a lake in the middle of a wood, or a summer evening on a veranda.

Peace is something entirely different. Peace is inconceivable, unimaginable and every other synonym of those two words that you could imagine. Peace is what was born into fruition when Jesus Christ left His rightful throne in Heaven to be born of an unmarried, virgin girl from an obscure country town.

There was no tranquillity when Jesus was born—despite what the carols tell us.

The first Christmas spans approximately three years, beginning with Gabriel’s announcement of the impending birth of John the Baptist, and finishing with Mary and Joseph’s return to Nazareth.

The middle is not fit for a feel-good Christmas movie.

First of all, the Christmas story begins with doubt—Zachariah doubts that God can perform a miracle. Then it goes onto fear. Mary is troubled by Gabriel’s appearance. From here, it goes to an unmarried woman becoming pregnant, a literal death sentence according to the Law of Moses. And her betrothed attempts to divorce her.

You know the story from here. A decree goes out to all the known world. Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem. And Mary gives birth in what many people assume was a stable, before lying her newborn baby in a feeding trough, of all things.

A few nice things happen. Angels appear to humble shepherds and they come to worship Jesus. And then Simeon, a priest, tells Mary that a sword shall pierce her heart (though, he doesn’t mean a literal sword, as far as I can tell).

Now we have another familiar story element. The “three wise men”—or unspecified number of Magi—turn up at Herod’s court, a period of time later. They ask where the new king of Israel is to be found.

The chief priests tell them that Jesus is to be found in Bethlehem, and the Magi are made to promise that they’ll return and find Herod, to confirm the location of the new king.

The Magi find Mary and her child (having moved out of the stable and into a house) and they fall down and worship him. Later on, angels appear to the Magi, warning them not to go back to Herod. So “they depart to their country by another way”.

The End.

No?

I can’t remember when I first heard the rest of the story, but it certainly isn’t included in most Nativity sets or Christmas movies.

When Herod figures out that he’s been tricked, Joseph is warned by angels to flee into Egypt. He, Mary, and Baby Jesus, do so. They become political refugees in order to preserve the life of this small child and to fulfil a prophecy “out of Egypt I called my son” (Matthew 2:15)

And now, Herod exacts his revenge. He orders all the male children under two years old to be slaughtered. This fulfils another prophecy: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children, she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

I’m sorry, but by no stretch of the imagination could this story be called tranquil, calm or particularly bright.

It’s tragic, painful, full of grief and terror, doubt and questions.

And yet, despite all this, it is full of peace.

The Peace of God is described as passing all understanding (Philippians 4:7), and few places illustrate this better than Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).

Gabriel had revealed God’s plan to Mary, telling her that she would conceive and that her child would be the Son of God, however, God’s plan was not revealed to the world at large. Everyone, including Joseph, assumed that Mary had committed adultery, for which severe penalties (death) were laid out in Leviticus 18 and 20* (*though I believe the Jews did not have the authority to sentence someone to death at the time, hence why Jesus was taken to the Romans to be executed).

Despite knowing she could be shunned and left alone and helpless—an outcast—Mary did not shy from the task God gave her. She asked questions, but she trusted in God’s ability to care for her. And her Magnificat, which she sings whilst visiting Elizabeth, is an expression of profound peace and joy.

See, that’s where peace comes from—a trust in God. When Mary exclaims, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word”, she expresses trust in God. She may not understand why God is using her, or why He is choosing such a way, but she understands that she is God’s servant and she surrenders herself to Him.

This gives me hope. When I lay at the bottom of a dry creekbed, angry, hurting, with tears streaming down my face and sobs literally shaking my body, I did not understand what God was doing. I could not understand what God was doing, I didn’t know how the suffering of so many people, those trapped in Australia’s drought, or my dad’s pain, or my family and friends’ heartbreak, could ever possibly be something used for good.

And yet, I walked away from that creek with peace in my heart.

Peace does not negate grief. Jesus is the Prince of Peace, the source of all peace, and yet his birth caused the deaths of an incalculable number of innocent babies. When I sat with my dad yesterday, holding his hand and saying goodbye, unsure of whether I would ever see him again before the Resurrection, I felt grief that I can’t even describe. But I also felt peace.

I cannot see the purpose behind the so-called “Massacre of the Innocents”. All the weeping, grieving families could see was the horrible, unimaginable, unjust deaths of their sons. But the Prince of Peace had come into the world.

And even he felt pain, grief and sorrow—Jesus wept at the news of his friend’s death, after all.

Peace is what God has taught me this year. He has taught me that peace is not tranquillity, but something wilder, stronger and more powerful. It can coexist with grief. It is comfort beyond anything we can imagine. It is all right to grieve at Christmas time. You don’t need to plaster on a smile, and exhibit some fake Christmas cheer. Christmas isn’t about tranquillity or happiness. It’s about peace and joy.

The first Christmas was raw, messy and bloody, and yet full of hope, joy, love and wild, fierce peace that passes all understanding. God has taught me peace in a world that is cruel and unfair. There is no better light than that of someone who has peace, even amongst the cruelty and sadness of this world.

(Four days ago, I learnt that—at the same time I was writing this—my dad died. I believe he is with our Lord and Saviour now, and there is no greater peace than being in the presence of God).

Has this year been a year of trial for you? In what ways has God shown you His peace? What are your favourite Bible verses dealing with the themes of peace and trust? (and next week, of course, we’ll be welcoming the wonderful Christine to the blog, to wrap this year’s posts up).

What God Has Been Teaching Me–Guest Post by Celeste

Celeste post

(We’re kicking off our guest post series today with a post from the wonderful Celeste! Definitely go check out her blog, especially if you like indepth character analysis, chatting about musicals or discussing her absolutely awesome works of historical fiction).

Hello, everyone! I hope you all are doing well, here at the end of the year. I want to say a quick but very heartfelt thank-you to Chelsea for asking me to do this post; the prompt is so wonderfully edifying to think about and I had a wonderful time writing it!

There are a few things you should know about me before we get into the post: I’m too stubborn for my own good, I’m prone to making the same mistakes over, and over, and over again, and I’m also frustratingly far from perfect.

Still, God is good, patient, and altogether so long-suffering.

Throughout 2018, God’s taught me so, so much and honestly, I’m still working on getting those lessons down right and following through; I’m sure I will have to continue working on these things for the rest of my life. The overarching theme, though, has been that I need to put all of my trust in God, without any reservations.

2018, for me, has been a pretty good year. I’ve been blessed with the freedom to worship and practice my religion freely, a good family, good friends, the ability to go to school, and a good job. Still, as with every year, there’s been tough things. What I’ve noticed, though, is that when I feel like I’m not in a good place, there’s one thing in common: I’m not keeping God as the center of my life–I’m trusting in other people and other things.

Trusting in God is something I’ve known is important since I was young. I was brought up singing the hymn:

“I am trusting Thee, Lord Jesus,

Trusting only Thee.

Trusting Thee for full salvation

Great and free”

(The Lutheran Hymnal #428, stanza 1)

Still, here I am, almost out of my teenage years, and I still slip from this continually and very often, it takes something major to knock me on the head for me to collapse and realize, I’ve done it. Again. This constant failure can be heartbreaking but thankfully, God is good and patient and so, so forgiving.

A year ago now, I got Confirmed. Since my Confirmation, I’ve been more cognizant of my falterings and failings than ever before. We all have strong points and, unfortunately, we all have our low points. The piercing truth of Paul’s words in Romans 7:19 mean more to me than they ever have: For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.” It can be so, so tough. I want to trust God completely, I want to keep him at the center of my life at all times but time and time again, I’m failing.

“I spent long years for thee

In weariness and woe

That an eternity

Of joy thou mightest know.

I spent long years for thee;

Hast thou spent one for Me?”

(TLH #405, stanza 2)

This hymn, “I Gave My Life For Thee” (TLH #405) always hits me so hard. It pounds into my head that I am a far cry from perfect and what Jesus did for me, I could never, ever, ever come close to accomplishing. And yet, in faith, I still must try. But my own human might is not enough to achieve that. I can say I want to work on living my life for God and putting him at the center of my life all I want, without God, though, I simply cannot do it. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). How true this is!

What I need more than anything in the world, is to trust in God and to have faith in Him and his goodness. “All things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28) is honestly such a comfort and it is so easy to see why it is a favorite of so many people. God’s shown me time and time again this year that I just need to trust Him–He knows what’s best for me. When I try to make those decisions, my judgment is always flawed. God’s never is.

“Cast thy burden upon the LORD, and He shall sustain thee: He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved” (Psalm 55:22) is the verse that my pastor specially selected for me last year at my Confirmation and I’ve tried desperately to cling to this verse and to live it out. It seems like such an easy thing to do, doesn’t it, to trust God completely, to hand over your burdens and let God sustain you? Still, somehow, it’s so hard. In the end, this is the main lesson I’ve learned from this year: trust in God.

Clearly, this is something for me to continue working on and work on it I will, by God’s grace. That’s the first step after all, to putting God at the center of my life and trusting Him in all aspects of this life He’s so graciously given me. I have to trust He will help me. God’s providence and goodness is so prevalent in everything going on. He watches out for His children and He answers prayers, even if that answer is a “No.” He knows what’s best, we just have to trust Him.

And so, in this upcoming year, I want to engrave in my heart the words of stanza 4 of hymn 422, “Savior, I Follow On”:

“Savior, I long to walk

Closer with Thee;

Led by Thy guiding hand,

Ever to be

Constantly near Thy side,

Quickened and purified,

Living for Him who died

Freely for me.”

Can we all give Celeste a big round of applause? I absolutely loved this post, and I hope you did too! Tell me, what’s something you struggle to trust God in? What has God been teaching  you this year?

Ten Mistakes I Made in The Stars Fill Infinity

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Hello there! Before I get started with today’s post, I just wanted to give you guy’s an update on what’s going to be happening around An Ordinary Pen in the next few months.

Life’s been crazy lately, but I’m (hopefully) going back to my posting schedule (Saturday) for the rest of December. I’m going to take a hiatus for most of January (I haven’t decided whether it will be just the first two weeks, or the whole month), and I’m thinking of using that time to do a remodel of the site. We’ll see how it goes. 

I’ve also got exciting news! Some of you, if you’ve been around for about a year, would remember the series I did last year on “What God Has Taught Me This Year”. Last year, I had a bunch of amazing young women come and do guest posts on my blog, and this year, I have the super awesome Celeste and Christine, who will be guest posting for you, starting tomorrow! I’m really looking forward to sharing their words of wisdom and honesty with you 😀

Anyhow, today’s post is a bit of a mixture of playful poking at myself, and a serious look at writing mistakes I’ve made. I wanted to particularly look at some of the mistakes I made in the first draft of The Stars Fill Infinity, just because I’ve recently compiled all my beta feedback, and so I’m currently very aware of my failings 😛 I hope this serves as a reminder that none of us are perfect, and that learning from our failures (and other people’s failures too), is extremely helpful.

1 Lack of Technology

I hadn’t really thought about this until multiple betas pointed it out. For a futuristic world, my dystopian version of Australia really lacked even basic technology that we use constantly nowadays. This is something I’ve been trying to remedy as I edit, and I’ve come up with a few cool ways of integrating technology into the plot. 

2. Too Little Worldbuilding

Part of this ties with the above mistake. There was hardly any worldbuilding in either the first or the second drafts, and again, it’s an issue I’ve been trying to correct as I wade through the third draft. It’s actually pretty exciting to do worldbuilding for this story, to help make the story come alive in an even more vibrant sort of way. I’m enjoying the challenge so far.

3. Weak Character Motivations

This is actually an interesting problem. Several of the characters, including, but not limited to, Sean Darcy, Kendall Streatfield, Jonas Oriah, Augustine Quillon and Maria Caderousse, had little to no motivations in the first draft (and even to an extent, in the second as well), and this wasn’t so much because I neglected to give them motivations, but more because the parallel characters in Les Mis often had vague motivations as well, so I swept the issue under the carpet. 

Of course, Victor Hugo’s mistakes should not translate into my mistakes, so I’ve also been working on improving the motivations of these characters by giving them more solid goals and arcs. 

4. Occasionally Preachy

Personally, I feel I did quite well in this regard. I tried to avoid those super cheesy, shallow conversations about God in this book, but yeah, I did occasionally get a bit preachy, even for my own tastes. The advice of one of my beta readers stands out the most to me, when dealing with this problem, “Show the characters living these sorts of lives, don’t tell us that they do” (paraphrasing). 

5. Letter Writing

There’s a lot of letter writing for such a futuristically advanced society. I mean, who writes letters nowadays? 

6.Lack of Description

The lack of the description stems, in many ways, from the lack of worldbuilding. Anyway, my descriptions were often vague, repetitive, or simply not there. Description has always been a point I struggle with, but hopefully I’ll be able to remedy this as I worldbuild and focus more on the aesthetic and general look of futuristic Australia.

7. Too Much Romance

If I was to write this again, I would leave out a lot of the romance that I had in the first draft. I would probably only leave the relationship between Sapphire and Sean (which is absolutely essential to the plot) and Sapphire and Quillon (which isn’t, but is so very cute). Chessy’s infatuation with Justice could easily be replaced with more of a hero-worship, and several other relationships could be left out. 

However, as it is, I won’t change any of this, because it’s become part of the characters, the plot, and me as well. It’s definitely the most romance heavy book I’ve ever written, but it’s main theme is love–friendship and platonic love, the love between a father and daughter, sister love, and also romantic love, so I think to remove the romance would somehow lessen it. 

Still, I kinda wish I hadn’t been so romantic in the first draft.

8. Vague Backstories

All of the characters had lengthy backstories plotted out in my planning notebooks, but many of these backstories never translated to the page, even though including snippets of them might have helped improve the lack of motivation I mentioned earlier. 

So in my quest to flesh out motivations, I’ve been revising these characters and their backstories, in order to make them more lifelike and three dimensional.

9. Justice’s Illness

*Spoiler alert*

The climax of the novel basically ends with Justice in a coma and refused entrance into a hospital because of his status as a revolutionary. He is then taken to his rich grandfather’s house, where he is cared for by a private doctor.

This was not actually a plot point critiqued by my betas, but it is one that now strikes me as a massive mistake. I’ve been in hospitals quite a lot lately, and there’s no way Justice would be able to survive in a coma without the help of a plethora of machines, which would likely only be found in a hospital. Also, Justice’s grandfather has enough money to do almost anything he wants, and the officials at the hospital are described as being corrupt, so surely his grandfather would have enough money to bribe them into caring for his grandson?

And finally, it takes a massive amount of emotional, mental and physical fortitude to sit day in and day out by someone’s bedside. I honestly don’t think Chessy has that fortitude, despite how romantic a notion it may be. 

10. The Ending That Wrapped Everything Up So Nicely

Story time. 

Originally, SFI was a standalone, but in the end, my dear friend (and first person to ever read the novel), thought that the ending was too farfetched (no one else has ever read the original epilogue. And yes, she was right). So she suggested I write a sequel to fill in the gap between the end of the last chapter (which is the same as it is now) and the epilogue (which is not). I did that, but I think, when I made it a trilogy, I wrapped everything up too neatly in the first draft and didn’t really change it in the second. Personally, I think it left readers just a tad too satisfied with how everything had played out, and I want them to be dying for the release date of my next book. 😛

I’ve been trying to change this by leaving a few things loose, in the anticipation of a sequel, not to answer every question, and to make sure Justice, Quillon and Chessy don’t have every answer either. This might take a little bit of work, but it should turn out well once I’ve done it.

So, there you have it! My top picks for mistakes I made when writing SFI. Hopefully, you’ve managed to avoid these sorts of things, but if you haven’t, I wouldn’t feel too bad about it 😛 What mistakes have you made? What are some areas in writing that you find difficult?