Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Tag: family

NaNoWriMo: What I Learned

What an exciting (but exhausting) adventure was NaNoWriMo last month! I had a fantastic time writing my 50,000 words in less than 30 days, and learned a lot during the process.

Getting to Know My Characters

There were surprises in getting to know my characters. This story (orphans Jay, Poppy, Robyn and Blu stand only a few inches high and live in a tree; when their home is threatened with demolition they become refugees overnight) was one I have carried in my head since I was a child.

In my head, Robyn was always my main character and very lovable.

On paper, Jay – in his quiet, unobtrusive way – took centre stage early on and stayed there. And I was okay with that, if surprised. Robyn turned out to be quite selfish and lazy though she had good qualities too.

In my head, Poppy was very much a bossy big sister, a bit stressed, rather controlling.

On paper, I found Poppy intriguing. Like Shrek, she has layers, and I enjoyed the process of her allowing me to peel them back and find the real person beneath. Actually, I think she was quite a lonely and misunderstood character, often taken for granted by her siblings. She also took me completely by surprise with her archery skills when a fox raided their camp late one night. I didn’t see that one coming!

getting-to-know-characters

Just Go With It

A big part of doing NaNoWriMo for me was having fun getting to know my characters and letting them take over the story. For the first few thousand words, I wrote and they did whatever I told them.

But what a thrill for me when they suddenly started to think for themselves and do what they wanted.

The showdown came when they were fleeing the destruction of their tree home. I wanted them to hike through the woods. They thought escaping down river was best. We argued on and off all night. They won. And I’m sure the story is the better for it. From that moment onward, I let them take charge and simply followed where they led.

Leave and Start Mid-Scene

More experienced writers recommend leaving mid-scene when finishing writing for the day so that you have something exciting to come back to. I found this very useful. Initially, I switched off my laptop at the end of a scene, but found it much harder to get going the next day.

When you leave mid-scene, it’s easier to get started and keep going because your imagination is quickly stimulated.

Writers’ Block

A writer-friend recommended giving your characters emergencies and issues to handle when you’re stuck for where to go next with the story. I did this a lot. My poor little fictional family! But it was fascinating to see what they did with the various problems I threw at them and how well they coped.

Thankfully, this prevented me from getting writers’ block and from feeling like the story was flopping in the middle of the month.

Writing Buddies

With all my fine resolutions, I may not have started NaNoWriMo if not for my writing-buddies who spurred me on. On Day One, I wrote nothing. It was pretty daunting being faced with a mountain of 50,000 words in a month. But my friends emailed to ask how the word count was going and encourage me to get started. On Day Two, I began to write.

Thank you Janey, Wendy, Fiona and Angela 🙂

 

Celebrate

Day five’s word prompt for blogging through Lent is CELEBRATE.

I’m celebrating my Father’s love. It makes me jump and sing and dance and twirl and shout. I am loved!

His love for me is overwhelming. It’s a Niagara Falls of a relentless outpouring of love. He pursues me to show me His love. It’s important to Him that I grasp it, that I know how precious I am.

He deals with my mess, He guides me, sometimes He disciplines me: He always loves me.

His love is outrageous. It’s never-ending. He’s committed to me.

I didn’t always see the Father this way. I used to think He was angry and didn’t like me very much, that I had to strive to please Him. How wrong I was!

John BentonOne of the ways the Father revealed to me who He is and what He’s really like was through my friend John. He and his wife Elizabeth announced a couple of years ago that they had decided to ‘adopt’ Adi and me. I laughed and went with it.

I nicknamed him ‘Father John’, partly because of his endearing habit of placing a hand on my head and with a chuckle saying, ‘Bless you my child.’

He brings us back sticks of rock from Skegness and is always ready with big squidgy hugs. Adi and I are welcome at their house (Elizabeth’s Sunday dinners are delicious). They have even installed a bed in their spare room so that I don’t need to drive home late at night when I visit.

Gradually, ‘Father John’ has given way to the more familiar ‘Daddy John’.

The Father has used our friendship with John (and Elizabeth) to show me the Father’s heart. The more I grasp the Father’s deep, unconditional, never-ending love, the more I love the God who pursues me relentlessly to reveal more of Himself. I love Him because He first loved me and showed me what love is.

Love looks like the Father’s beloved Son dying on the cross to take all my rubbish, rebellion and mess on Himself so that He could give me His rightness with God and bring me into His family.

Father God has become Daddy God, and so today I’m celebrating His awesome love for me.

 

Gather

Rethinkchurch has suggested a photo challenge for each day of Lent, using set words as prompts. Some of my Facebook friends and I thought it would be fun to adapt this and use the word prompts to write reflective posts. The first word prompt is GATHER.

Last summer, my friend Elizabeth and I planned a holiday together. We were excited at the prospect of having a few days without home and work commitments to talk non-stop, chill out and pray. The times we share with God are vibrant and thrilling, and we were giddy at the prospect of unhurried time with Him.

We thought we had planned that holiday and we were the ones inviting Jesus to join us.

Right.

Think again.

Sea ThistlesAlmost before we’d finished breakfast on the first morning, the presence of God fell in the room and we had to race to the loo so as to be ready for whatever He wanted to do. We realised that Jesus was the one who’d planned that holiday and He was the One inviting us to join Him.

When Jesus died, He did so willingly because of the joyful outcome He was anticipating. He is a God who gathers people to Himself and makes us His friends. A tiny part of that joy He was looking forward to was being able to invite Elizabeth and me to gather to Him for a few days in a chalet on the Norfolk coast.

 

The Lord builds up and raises us high above our status;
He gathers the outcasts –
the ones picked last for netball and hockey,
the lonely and invisible,
those addicted to social media or alcohol or drugs,
the prostitutes and trafficked,
the pimps, brothel-owners and traffickers –
Daddy God heals the broken-hearted
and bandages their wounds.
He calls us by name and brings the outcasts into His family.

My adaptation based on Psalm 147:2-6

One Of Us

‘The Word became flesh and lived among us’ – what does that actually mean?

Jesus became human and moved onto the estate.

Jesus was once the single cell of a fertilised egg – fully God and fully human.

As an embryo, Jesus didn’t just take up space in Mary’s womb, He was her Son.

Jesus was a real baby, born into the human race, with grandparents and a family tree. Just like me.

But Jesus is 100% God. Not like me.

Imagine God breathing air with lungs He had created….

One of His most precious names is Emmanuel – God with us. This is what we celebrate at Christmas, it’s all about Jesus and the wonder of God becoming man and walking among us. Jesus had friends and people who didn’t like Him; He was a son, a big brother, a cousin, an uncle.

Christmas can be so stressful – squeezing in time to write cards, buy and wrap presents, going out for Christmas dinners and drinks with work colleagues, friends and family, trying to keep an eye on the budget and seeing how far you can stretch your finances – by the time you get to the day itself you can end up feeling a bit frazzled. For many people, it’s fun to spend time with family. For others, there are family tensions to contend with, or loneliness, or worse.

Jesus knew all about family life. He was part of Mary and Joseph’s family. He had siblings. And it wasn’t all plain sailing. His family disbelieved and rejected Him, they thought He had mental issues, and they tried to manipulate and control Him.

But Jesus knew who He was. He was more than Mary’s son. He was more than the brother of James, Joses, Judas and Simon.

Jesus was the Son of God. And He had a purpose in life. He was headed for the cross so that He could defeat death and set us free from the fear of death. Jesus knew who He was and so He was able to be Himself and do what He was meant to do.

He offers that same assurance to us if we trust Him. For me, knowing who I am in Christ has literally changed my life. I am secure in knowing that I am loved and accepted. I love that Jesus was born into a human family so that I could be adopted into His Family. Amazing! There is confidence, peace and joy in knowing who you are.

When life kicks off, as it does from time-to-time, and I have a wobble, feeling rejected and worthless, I now repeat these five truths aloud to myself:

I believe that God is who He says He is.
I believe that God can do what He says He can do.
I believe that I am who God says I am.
I believe that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
I believe that God’s Word is alive and active in me.

Let’s celebrate JESUS this Christmas – He is so much more exciting than Santa and reindeer and tinsel and turkey and smellies. He is Son of God and Son of Man, willing to be our Emmanuel.

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