Book Review, Books, CHOOSING HOPE, Christian Writer, Dealing with Fear, Faith, God in control, God's faithfulness, Grief, Healing, Seasons of life, Thankfulness, The Word of God, words of comfort

SCENT OF WATER

Scent of Water (Words of Comfort in Times of Grief) is a beautiful, moving, and honestly real devotional for those experiencing loss. Penelope has bravely written out of her own traumatic experience of witnessing her elderly mother’s life taken violently. And out of the subsequent deep grief response that left her numb and flailing.

The moment I read the blurb for Penelope Swithinbank’s new book Scent of Water, I knew that I wanted to read it. In her own words…

‘she found nothing that reached her dark night of the soul, nothing that let her know that God was still with her… she found it very difficult to pray or to read the bible… hugs rubbed her raw and consoling well meant cliches did not ring true… she wished there was a specific daily devotional to help her connect with God in and through the grief’

I was drawn to those words because I’ve been there. This book is a book for those who grieve, and grief comes in many forms and for many reasons. When I was at my lowest point, grieving the life I had once lived and loved, I longed for something easy to read, that would plug me into a God that I had known for years, but who at the time seemed so distant. A simple, non- demanding devotional, of maybe a single line from scripture and a word that spoke into my pain, was what I longed for. I was given books to read, great books on moving on, looking up, strengthening myself in the Lord; but they were too much, too soon. I wish now that I had had Scent of Water.

“For there is hope for a tree,
If it is cut down, that it will sprout again,
And that its tender shoots will not cease.
 Though its root may grow old in the earth,
And its stump may die in the ground,
 Yet at the scent of water it will bud …

Job 14 :7 – 9 NKJV*

The book takes it’s title from this scripture, and it is about hope, but maybe only flickering hope – the merest scent of water – not the deluge, not the soaking, just enough hope to keep you holding on, barely, by your fingertips. I get that.

Penelope is a woman of deep faith, with a lifetime of following and serving Jesus. But that did not make her immune to pain, doubt and despair. She wrote Scent of Water out of her own need to just hold on through the storm. And her words in it are real, the emotions expressed raw and totally relatable, and yet hope also sings from every page. Like the Psalmists of old she has not hidden how grief has made her feel: the frustration, anger, disbelief, hollowness, confusion, and sheer exhaustion. But alongside her heart cries are the gentle words of God, the reassurances, the moments of strength for the weary soul, the thankfulness. It is just so beautifully moving to read. And to return to, over and over again.

Scent of Water comes as a small, easy to hold hardback, designed to be given as a gift. It’s design and appearance are stunning, from the front cover to the lovely colour photograph plates that mark the start of each new devotional. There are 25 of these six day devotions, enough for six months. Each has it’s own theme, some based on an extract from a bible chapter or a Psalm, others following a thought through, using different scriptures, with titles such as ‘Punched in the stomach : shock and agony’ and ‘Learning to Lean : when I need to rest’. The daily scriptures and thoughts are brief and undemanding, and end with a heartfelt prayer each day.

Penelope has also added a section at the beginning of the book with devotionals for the difficult days e.g. the day of the funeral, first birthday, first anniversary, first Christmas, as well as some additional meditations at the end of the book for people to dip into as they feel able. This book is so sensitively thought out and put together. I, for one, am going to treasure my copy and am so pleased that this book is out there. I know I will be buying it and giving it as a gift for those who need help to get through their grief, gently and slowly, but in connection with a Father who knows and loves them.

Penelope Swithinbank is a chaplain at Bath Abbey, and a vicar with twenty years of experience, specialising in spiritual counselling and therapy. She also loves both undertaking and leading others on pilgrimage, both in the UK and in Europe. You can read more about her and purchase Scent of Water via her website at https://penelopeswithinbank.com/

Scent of Water was published by Sarah Grace Publishing on 7th July 2021 and is now widely available online and in bookstores.

*New King James Version. Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission, all rights reserved

Read more about my own writing here http://www.joymargetts.com

Faith, God in control, God's faithfulness, House renovations, Lessons from life, New Author, Seasons of life, Thankfulness, Uncategorized

MILESTONE MOMENTS

The last of the new windows is coming on Monday. Hooray! Phase 1 of our building project completed. It will be a milestone moment. All the major reconstruction and external work will be done at last (except for a balcony balustrade that is still on order). It is both an exciting and ever so slightly terrifying time as our builder hands over the project management of the rest of the renovations to us. On our immediate horizon is a lot of cleaning, decorating, and the fitting of a new kitchen and bathroom – a shedload of work still to do – but it also means that the date we can move back into our home is getting really close now. So we are celebrating! And so thankful. It’s felt like it’s been a long time coming, to get to this point.

It made me think about milestones. In times past milestones were exactly that; you still see them sometimes alongside ancient roadways –  little stones bearing place names and numbers, counting down the miles. I suppose for wearied travellers of the past they were equally encouraging, or discouraging, depending on how far down the journey you were towards your destination! You could at least see that you were on the right path and making progress, either way.

The travellers of the Old Testament had a similar way of marking important moments on their journeys. They built their own ‘milestones’, often in the form of altars. Jacob built his at Bethel as he returned to the land of his inheritance; Joshua built his after the miraculous crossing of the Jordan. For both of them it marked a significant stage in a momentous journey, but not the end point. It was an opportunity to stop and thank God for His protection and provision up to that point. And to celebrate that God had kept His promises.

When God gave His people victory over the Philistines, the prophet Samuel raised a stone and placed it in a visible place. He gave that stone a name, ‘Ebenezer’, which means ‘Thus far has the Lord helped us’. I love the ‘thus far’. Even when it isn’t quite over, when perhaps you know there may be more difficulties to come, there is comfort in that. If God has helped us thus far, we can be confident that He will continue to be there for us. Mile after mile. Working miracles, winning battles, making a way for us, being at our side.

There are many moments in our lives when we have the opportunity to stop and just thank God for what He has done, and is doing. To remember and celebrate His faithfulness. They don’t have to be momentous life changing moments, and they don’t have to be at the end of the journey. We don’t have to wait until every promise of God is fulfilled in our lives to give Him our worship. In fact every day we can stop and see how far we have come, and be grateful!

Those altars the patriarchs built would have stood for years, as a reminder to all who saw them, of the goodness and faithfulness of God. I hope I can look back in years to come, perhaps even to this blog post, and remember God’s goodness, and celebrate again, seeing how it was just another milestone on an incredible journey with Him.

Joy Margetts is new to blogging, and new to being published. Her debut novel ‘The Healing‘ was published by Instant Apostle on 19 March 2021. A work of historic fiction, set in mediaeval Wales against the backdrop of Cistercian abbey life, it is also a story of faith, hope and God’s redemptive power. Joy has also self- published a short novella, ‘The Beloved‘ as both a companion to ‘The Healing‘, and as an easy to read standalone story, which is available to buy on Amazon Kindle.

More information on Joy and her writing can be found here www.joymargetts.com

CHOOSING HOPE, Christian Writer, Dealing with Fear, Faith, God in control, Lessons from life, New Author, Thankfulness

WE’VE BEEN FRAMED!

There was cause for much celebration towards the end of last week when our window frames for our new extension finally arrived. Even more excitement when they were fixed in place and the window glass fitted. We have been waiting long weeks for those windows, and their fitting signals that the end is truly in sight, when it comes to our build. Those windows look great, but what is more, they make the space into a real room. With a touch of plastering, some heating and lighting, we will soon have a warm, weatherproof, secure living space, where there was once an open void.

It’s a wonderful thought.

The view from that room is stunning. I know how blessed we are to have it. The sea and mountains are beautiful on a clear blue sky day, but equally as spectacular on the dreary wet days. It was the reason we bought the house, even in the dilapidated state it was in. It is the reason we knew we wanted to invest in this build, to make this our forever home, our forever view. The view was stunning before the windows went in, but with the framing, somehow it is even more appealing. Frames can do that. Artists know that well; the sort of frame you use can change the way you view something. A well chosen frame can enhance a picture, or a photograph, drawing you in, making you focus more on what is inside that frame. A frame can change the way you see things.

The term ‘frame of reference’ I think originates from the world of physics, but it has come to be understood as the set of views, beliefs and values we might have as individuals that inform how we interpret things, and the assumptions we might make. We can blame a frame of reference for the choices we make and even the way we behave as a result. Each of us lives and operates within unique frames of reference.

I have come to learn that there is only one frame of reference which I should use to see and interpret the things I experience. And that is that GOD IS GOOD, and I CAN TRUST HIM. That isn’t always easy, believe me, but I have found it by far the safest frame to see things through. Whatever I am facing.

So when the answers to prayer seem to be slow to arrive. When the build goes over time, and worryingly over budget. When the world is in so much confusion still in the fallout of the Covid crisis. When I prepare myself for my second jab this week, when the first left me feeling so unwell. When a close relative experiences a death threatening medical emergency out of the blue that shocks us all to the core –

THIS has to be my frame of reference for all these things – that God is Good and I can trust Him.

Maybe I need to put that in a frame…

Joy Margetts is new to blogging, and new to being published. Her debut novel ‘The Healing‘ was published by Instant Apostle on 19 March 2021. A work of historic fiction, set in mediaeval Wales against the backdrop of Cistercian abbey life, it is also a story of faith, hope and God’s redemptive power. Joy has also self- published a short novella, ‘The Beloved‘ as both a companion to ‘The Healing‘, and as an easy to read standalone story, which is available to buy on Amazon Kindle.

More information on Joy and her writing can be found here www.joymargetts.com

Christian Writer, Dorothea Quarry, Faith, God in control, Lessons from life, New Author, Seasons of life, Thankfulness, Uncategorized

A walk in the woods

Last week we had a few days off. With the house renovations, the new grandson, and family coming to visit – we couldn’t go far. We were really blessed to be offered the use of a caravan less than twenty minutes from home, but far enough to feel that we had got ‘away’. It was bliss. No TV, limited Wi-Fi, and peaceful enough to enjoy the birdsong. We took a few hours to get used to having nothing we HAD to do, but once we did, it was wonderful to just be able to read, talk, play board games, eat, sleep…

Having had a little crisis of confidence about my writing before we left I also decided not to write while we were away. Apart from one scene that was gnawing at me, that I had to get down in rough form, the laptop stayed closed. I needed to just spend time re-evaluating what my priorities and motivations were when it came to my writing, and how much time and effort I should be putting into it. It was good to breathe… and pray, and listen.

We also had time while we were away to visit places. One of these we had never visited before, even though it is less than thirty minutes from home. The site of old quarry workings, it consisted of several stunningly atmospheric steep- sided blue -green water pools, and a spattering of ruins, both of industrial buildings and what was once a fine three story Victorian house. Well marked paths led through the lush native woodland that had reclaimed the site, interspersed with sunny glades and colourful undergrowth. It was magical. And so full of inspiration for my writer’s mind that I had to consciously switch that part of my brain off to just enjoy being in the moment.

It did make me think, though, how easily we miss the beauty right on our doorsteps. We have lived here now for 25 years and never discovered the Dorothea Quarry site before. Life takes over, and busyness blinds us to what is so close to us. We stop taking the time to explore and discover. We stop stopping, just for a moment, to enjoy the things God has placed around us to bless us and feed our souls.

I realised I had also become blinded by busyness with my writing. I have been so blessed by the response to my books, and by the new writing communities I have become a part of. I have been offered the opportunity to write lots of things for different people and publications, and have loved honing my writing skills doing so. I have also tried to get on with writing that second novel but it has not come easy. What I needed to do was to stop. Breathe. Pray. Have some space to listen and hear and be inspired afresh. To just enjoy the beauty all around me and appreciate it. When I did, I could see things from a different perspective.

Unexpectedly finding a new place to explore was a lovely surprise. Having a publisher offer to publish my book had been an unexpected surprise too! Just like the way nature had beautified that harsh industrial landscape, so God had taken my roughly written words and made them into something of beauty for Him. I believe that my writing is a gift , and one that God wants me to share. It should never feel like a burden, but an absolute joy. As a good friend advised me, my writing can be, and should be, an expression of worship. And if it takes stopping to take a walk in the woods, from time to time, to remember that – then that is what I need to do.

Joy Margetts is new to blogging, and new to being published. Her debut novel ‘The Healing‘ was published by Instant Apostle on 19 March 2021. A work of historic fiction, set in mediaeval Wales against the backdrop of Cistercian abbey life, it is also a story of faith, hope and God’s redemptive power. Joy has also self published a short novella, ‘The Beloved‘ as both a companion to ‘The Healing‘, and as an easy to read standalone story, which is available to buy on Amazon Kindle.

More information on Joy and her writing can be found here www.joymargetts.com

Bearing Fruit, Books, CHOOSING HOPE, Christian Writer, Faith, God in control, Lessons from life, New Author, Rick Warren, Seasons of life, Uncategorized

GOD’S GARDEN OF GRACE

This is my how my front garden looks at the moment. I took this photo yesterday on our obligatory visit to our home/building site. The overflowing skip and wrecked sofa are especially decorative features I feel (there is a move to more hard industrial landscaping, and ‘outside room’ living in modern garden design, isn’t there?) But actually I would quite like my front garden back – the little patch of well mown grass, with it’s ornamental tubs overflowing with bright summer flowers; and a well managed shrubbery, without cement mixers and scaffolding boards hiding under the bushes. But saying all that, our bright pink Azalea is actually doing really well. We were worried for it, as it had to be moved pre-build, and they don’t like being moved, apparently. It’s lost a few leaves but the flower display is pretty spectacular nonetheless.

I also listened to an interview clip yesterday featuring Rick Warren. The well known ministry leader and author was being interviewed by a Christian television network about how he and his wife dealt with the sudden suicide of their youngest son some years ago. It was a moving interview, especially when he spoke candidly about his son’s lifelong struggle with clinical depression, and the years of seemingly unanswered prayers. But Rick also spoke about how during his too short young life his son had led people to faith in God, counselled some who were contemplating suicide, and helped others deal with their own mental pain. In describing this, the phrase he used that really stood out to me was this one,  ‘In God’s garden of grace, even broken trees bear fruit’. Now he may have said it before, but it was the first time I had heard it and it struck a chord.

There is a lovely scripture in Psalm 1 where it talks about the tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth it’s fruit in season. I love how The Passion Translation puts it,

 ‘they will be standing firm like a flourishing tree planted by God’s design. Deeply rooted by the brooks of bliss, bearing fruit in every season of their lives.’  Psalm 1:3 TPT*

 I love this, because I believe, like Rick Warren, that it is possible for our lives to bear fruit for God whatever season of life we are in, whatever we have gone through, or are going through. In fact sometimes it is even the brokenness itself which causes the most bountiful fruit to appear. My book is that – the fruit of a season of brokenness in my life. By God’s grace, I stayed planted in His garden, even when it felt that my roots weren’t quite as deeply planted as I wanted them to be. Obviously, like that Azalea, my weak, disturbed roots managed to stay held deep enough that my life continued to produce something alive and beautiful for God.

So when I look at my front garden now, I can see that actually little has changed. The cherry tree has blossomed and is in leaf, the shrubs are growing healthily, the grass (and the weeds) are flourishing, and once the build is done – once that season has passed – the garden will return to it’s former glory. But meanwhile, as long as those plants stay rooted, they will continue to bear fruit.

Joy Margetts is new to blogging, and new to being published. Her debut novel ‘The Healing‘ was published by Instant Apostle on 19 March 2021. A work of historic fiction, set in mediaeval Wales against the backdrop of Cistercian abbey life, it is also a story of faith, hope and God’s redemptive power. Joy has also self published a short novella, ‘The Beloved‘ as both a companion to ‘The Healing‘, and as an easy to read standalone story, which is available to buy on Amazon Kindle.

More information on Joy and her writing can be found here www.joymargetts.com

*The Psalms: Poetry on Fire, The Passion Translation, copyright 2012. Used by permission of 5 Fold Media, LLC, Syracuse, NY 13039, USA. All rights reserved.

Book Review, Books, Christian Writer, Faith, God in control, New Author, Uncategorized

‘ARE WE NEARLY THERE YET?’

BOOK REVIEW: NOT KNOWING BUT STILL GOING by JOCELYN-ANNE HARVEY

‘Are we nearly there yet?’ For anyone who has ever transported young children on a car journey of any length those words will be alarmingly familiar. And yet put yourself in that poor child’s place for a moment. Strapped into a moving vehicle with no idea exactly where you are going, how long it will take, and what you are going to find at the other end; that is, with no control whatsoever. A child in that situation has only one option- to trust the adult driving the car – that they know where they are going, how long it will take, and what is at the other end of the journey.

For many of us life feels a bit like that at the moment. Uncertainties surround us on every side. How long is this pandemic going to last? What are the easing of restrictions going to mean for us and our loved ones? Is everyday life coming out of this going to look very different? What about vaccines and variants, and foreign travel, and homeworking, and schooling, and exams, and church? The questions are endless.

It is into this world of uncertainty that a great new book by Jocelyn-Anne Harvey comes, with such a timely message. ‘Not Knowing But Still Going’ is an exploration of the story of Noah’s Ark, from the perspective of those who travelled in it, the women in particular. If ever a journey was uncertain and an outcome unknown, it was the voyage of the Ark.

Jocelyn- Anne does a marvellous job of getting us to imagine what life pre-flood, life on the Ark, and life post- flood might have been like, by fictionalising parts of the story, including giving those nameless wives names of their own. I love the cover of this book, it is beautifully designed, but what really caught my attention was the strategically placed washing line! I love that, because in reality the Ark was much more than a floating zoo, or an escape ship, it was those women’s domestic world, their home, for over a year. In that Ark they had to cook and prepare food, for themselves as well as the animals, they had to make comfortable places to sleep and rest, and they would have had to do the washing! Although it probably wouldn’t have been hung outside to dry! How did they cope? Not just with the enormous job of keeping them all fed and cared for (animals included), and living with the in- laws in close proximity in the most strict of lockdown bubbles! But also with the realisation of what the flood meant to mankind. How would it have felt to know that they were the only survivors, and that life, and even the earth itself was going to look very different when they emerged from the Ark? And they were going to be responsible for repopulating the earth, and with only each other to rely on? They had no control over any of this, and no real idea of what any of it was going to look like.

I love animals, but I could not imagine being shut in with a whole menagerie for all that time. In a sense Jocelyn-Anne creates a veritable menagerie of complimentary ideas with her writing. Alongside the fiction and the imaginings there is a wealth of wisdom. Her knowledge of scripture is evident and she uses it very well. She also applies things that she has learnt from her own life experiences and these add real weight to the book (I’d have liked more of these – some stories left me hanging!). It is also rich in other well researched detail about the geography of the earth pre- and post flood, the construction of the ark, changes in weather and diet after the flood. Some things take you by surprise- like getting up in the night and stepping on an escaped snake in the dark would! And others require you to examine your pre-conceived ideas and think more deeply on these things. You may find you struggle with some points of theology or supposition, but it certainly does make you question and go back to the Bible, and that is a very good thing.

The book is divided up into chapters that follow the story of the flood, tackling such subjects as: working with what you know, not pleasing people but leaning into God, being content in the waiting, sensing when new windows are opening, and the importance of family. Ultimately Jocelyn- Anne shows us how it is possible to keep going without knowing, trusting God to know what He is doing, and living the way He would want us to do, amidst the uncertainty. It is aimed primarily at women, and the author does celebrate particularly the way God sees and honours women, which I appreciated greatly. Throughout the book, the author challenges the reader to think and apply things to their own life and experience. I particularly loved that each chapter ends with a really helpful prayer, and some questions as an aid to thinking more. The book even provides blank pages for journaling, if you can bear to write on the pages of a pristine new book!

This is a great debut book from an imaginative and obviously well- read writer. If anything, I found it almost too rich. I read it through fairly quickly so that I could review it as part of Jocelyn- Anne’s blog tour, but I know I am going to have to go back to it, and re-read certain parts again. And maybe, just maybe, bring myself to write something on those empty journaling pages!

Not Knowing But Still Going by Jocelyn- Anne Harvey was published by Instant Apostle on 21st April 2021 and is available from all good bookshops or from a variety of online shops including: FoylesWaterstonesAslan EdenAmazon  Amazon US and The Book Depository (this has worldwide free shipping).

Jocelyn-Anne loves the Lord, learning and literature. She has a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Chichester, and her flash fiction has been published. Having taken the leap from her senior HR role in the UK Government, Jocelyn-Anne can identify with those walking through uncertain times, and she is passionate about supporting others through theirs and helping them develop. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her in a coffee shop with friends, exploring coastal paths or trying out recipes.

Books, Christian Writer, Faith, God in control, Lessons from life, New Author, Thankfulness, Uncategorized

WHERE DID THAT WINDOW GO?

We are in the throes of having some major renovation work done at home. This has necessitated us moving out temporarily, but not so far away that we cannot nip back home most days to check on progress, pick up post and phone messages, water the plants etc. I take photos too, lots of them; the advantage of the handy smart phone with built in camera. These photos are creating a marvellous timeline of the changes as they occur and I’m sure we will look back on them in time and wonder, when the final transformation is complete. It also means I can keep the family up to date as well, my son especially, who lives an hour away and thinks he has a vested interest (his inheritance!)  I’m sure he would be project managing it himself if he lived nearer…

One of the photos I took was this one of a blocked up window. There was something about it that really spoke to me, I think especially because of the arch at the top, that showed where the window had been. First they removed the window and then blocked it up with building blocks. Then a few days later the first layer of plaster went up; you could still see where the window had been but it was definitely looking more like a wall. And then the final plastering occurred and now there is no real trace of the window at all. It is in a room that was being used for little more than dry storage and had four windows that all needed replacing.  As this one looked out on to another wall, we took the decision to block it up, and use the resulting wall space for some much needed shelving, in what will become our new office/writing room.

You might have heard the old adage, in Christian circles at least, ‘when God closes a door, He opens a window’. In fact if you are a fan of the old musicals, like I am, then a very similar phrase occurs in The Sound of Music, where Mother Superior is trying to counsel a distraught and confused, lovesick Maria about renouncing her vocation. The open window in her case is to leave the Order and marry her Captain.

In my experience, sometimes God closes a door and then goes on and blocks up a window too! Just so that we get the message that we are completely in the wrong room!

Some years ago I was faced with a major life decision. The time had come around, as it did every three years, to pay to renew my registration to practice as a nurse. I had not nursed in practice for a while. If I paid up I would have to not only find a job where I could practice my clinical skills, but I would also have to do some refresher courses to get myself up to date. If I did not pay to renew my registration, that was it. I could no longer work as a nurse without an extensive period of retraining. I had to decide whether that would be the end of my nursing career once and for all. It was such a tough decision, but one ultimately that I had little choice in. I was not well enough to work in clinical practice any more. And all the studying and training I had done over the years was seemingly going to be wasted. The window was going to be well and truly blocked up and the door slammed shut.

But like that blocked up window, traces of my past life remain. I can still remember enough to advise friends with medical queries, keep an eye on my husband’s blood pressure, and talk my daughter through new -born baby care from a midwife’s perspective. But nursing is not a window that I am ever going to be able to re-open. And actually I’m fine with that. Because just like that room, and that (once window now a) wall, are going to have a completely different use when all is done, so my life has taken a completely different path. If you had told that nurse/midwife ten years ago, that one day she would be an author of Christian historic fiction, she would have laughed out loud!

I am actually really glad that God plans the ongoing renovation and remodelling of our lives and not us. He knows that closing certain doors, and even blocking up the odd window or two, is not the end of what He has for us. Sometimes it takes time and reflection, to look back and see just how good a building designer He is. So if you are feeling like doors and windows are closing all around you, take heart. He could be that He is leading you into stepping into a whole new room altogether.

Joy Margetts is new to blogging, and new to being published. Her debut novel ‘The Healing‘ was published by Instant Apostle on 19 March 2021. A work of historic fiction, set in mediaeval Wales against the backdrop of Cistercian abbey life, it is also a story of faith, hope and God’s redemptive power. Joy has also self published a short novella, ‘The Beloved‘ as both a companion to ‘The Healing‘, and as an easy to read standalone story, which is available to buy on Amazon Kindle.

More information on Joy and her writing can be found here www.joymargetts.com