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It’s been a grey wet miserable November, so I thought this month I would stitch a sunset over hills, as a reminder of the following verse from the Psalms:

IMG 0515“I lift up my eyes to the mountains-
    where does my help come from?
 My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.”
(Psalm 121:1-2)

As I have stitched, I’ve been pondering on where I choose to lift my eyes each day, to find help for the moment, as we all wait expectantly for a solution to the global crisis affecting each one of us.

Waiting doesn’t come easily to many of us, especially if we are used to being in control of things. So, how do you manage the waiting- without wasting the present moment?

Waiting Expectantly
I got to thinking that this season of Advent is also about expectant waiting, with God’s people simultaneously preparing for celebrating the wonder of the Nativity and hoping for the return of the Saviour in the Second Coming.

For me, the waiting through Covid ( or indeed, through any struggle), is made manageable by focussing on the day, trying to make the most of each moment, choosing to create a positive out of the negative situation, through simple everyday actions. I guess, it’s resonant with my “Savouring Simplicity” series, when I stitched a whole year of everyday experiences that had been pertinent to my wellbeing…

Henri Nouwen describes this as,

“active waiting in which we live the present moment to the full in order to find there the signs of the One we are waiting for.”
(from Bread for the Journey, p360)

Waiting Positively
For instance, at the beginning of the Covid crisis, and the advent of increased hand washing, I decided very early on that if I was going to be washing my hands so often, then I wanted it to be a pleasurable experience. I bought some handmade soap with a fragrance that I love and try to savour the washing process, rather than resent it. The feel of the warm water and the soap suds on my hands, the aroma of the perfume, a prayer of gratefulness for clean running water at the twist of a tap each time I clean my hands.

Another of my daily joys is eating porridge for breakfast. It’s such a simple food. A handful of oats, a measure of milk, and a spoonful of honey…nothing artificial, nothing added.

As I eat, the oats growing in the field come to mind, the cows ruminating in the field nearby, a clear bright sun in a blue sky, with bees buzzing around the summer flowers as they go about collecting pollen for the honey in the hive. Yes, it’s idyllic imaginings... but it is a way for me to recall gratefulness each day, for the food I have been given.

In the queues at the supermarket, as we wait to be admitted, I try to remember to pray for those in front and behind me, the staff outside in the cold weather, being grateful that I can shop at all when so many globally do not have that privilege.

IMG 0979 cropped etcThe simple joy of drinking tea is often underrated, too,  I think… the joy of sipping from a favourite mug, and a favourite brew whilst taking 5 minutes out from a work task can make all the difference to the next part of the day- savouring the taste and the smell, recalling the many stages of how those aromatic leaves reached my cup, and thinking of those many miles away who grew my tea on far away hillside plantations.

Like many, I am also relearning to receive the gifts of nature available so freely…the changing skies, the rain, dew on the grass, frost white over in an early morning, the complexity of a leaf, planting bulbs in expectation that Spring will come again…

Days of Despair
Don’t get me wrong, I like everyone else, have days of despair, but I try to tell myself that there is little I can do but enjoy the wonder of what I have…not bemoan what I don’t have…

Savouring Slowly
So perhaps this seasonal Advent waiting time could be approached in the same manner…savouring slowly all things with thankfulness.

Each day I am going to continue to try to positively “look to the mountains”, look to the skies…towards a Saviour who is bigger than I, and a God who holds the Universe (as broken as it is) in His hands.

I am reminded here, of this Christmas song... “Look to the skies, there’s a celebration…

Perhaps you know it?

DSC 0343 cropped enhanced“Look to The Skies, There’s A Celebration
Lift Up Your Heads, Join the Angel Song
For Our Creator Becomes Our Saviour
As A Baby Born!

…Light of Your Face, Come to Pierce Our Darkness
Joy of Your Heart Come to Chase Our Gloom
Star of The Morning, A New Day Dawning
…One Day in Power He Will Come Again
Swift Through the Skies He Will Burst with Splendour
On the Earth to Reign

…Jesus, I Bow at Your Manger Lowly
Now in My Life Let Your Will Be Done
Live in My Flesh by Your Spirit Holy
Till Your Kingdom Comes”

(words from: Look to the Skies, there’s a Celebration, by Graham Kendrick, 1984 Thankyou Music)

So, in the waiting times of Advent and beyond, I will look to the hills; look to the skies…
and ponder on all the extraordinary evidence before me in this everyday life that our God reigns over ALL things.

 

.

I wonder how often you are taken in by the beguiling words of advertisements, created deliberately to draw you into the carefully laid breadcrumbs of a sales pitch?

business pexels julia m cameron 4144923Me... I’m a sucker for spiritual and business self-improvement courses.... the saccharine sweet beguiling claims of be better/ earn more/ be better organised -draw me in to commit briefly to the hype driven claims from some self-confident, self-made high achiever. Note that my commitment is brief... lacking the commitment, the time, the...well, the work that it all entails!
I would really like to be better...I try...constantly ...using some supposedly all effective formula to solve an issue...but in the end... I realise that each supposed promise with each book, workshop or course is mostly about the work you are prepared to put in. As with most things, there’s no quick fix, no easy answers ( despite the myriads of tempting titles, such as “3 ways to organise your business effectively...five ways to make social media work for you...6 ways to be a more effective prayer warrior... 7 ways to slow down and still be effective at work...

FaceBook pexels pixabay 267371The trouble is, that the clever FaceBook algorithms know my weaknesses.. and barely a day goes by when there isn’t something to divert my attention, draw me in, and take me away from the goals I’ve already set myself...so that I end up farther behind than I would have done if I had just persisted slowly and steadily like the tortoise from Aesop’s wonderful tortoise and the hare fable...

Words can so easily deceive and lure us away from what we are meant to be doing, saccharine sweet and equally as synthetic, a substitute for the soundness of Scripture...

“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” Psalm 119:103

Sweeter than HoneyThe psalmist encourages us to savour the words that are sweeter than honey, for it is the deep word of God that satisfies, not the alluring promise of a sales and marketing pitch that briefly beguiles and flatters our desire for a quick fix, on the surface solution.

I wonder what a difference it would make if I spent as much time in the Word of God as I do on social media, or the comfort of an escapist novel? Mmm...I think I’d rather not answer that one!

So, just as God’s Word satisfies our souls, how might our spoken words be genuinely sweet to those we encounter?

Sweetening our own Words
It isn’t always easy to use words well. As with any self-improvement, it takes focus, time, patience, and self-control, when it would be so easy at times, to blurt out words that could be unhelpful or hurtful, but Scripture provides us with lots of advice as to how we can each watch our words.

Words are not Enough
Scripture has much to say about words. We are reminded that reading these wholesome words is not enough. The power of the words comes from the transformation they effect on our lives and the lives of others when we choose to implement them, acting on their age-old wisdom.

mirror pexels jessica ticozzelli 4333559“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” James 1:22-25

Words of Worship/ Praise
Scripture exhorts us to give praise where it is due. Our Creator and Redeemer deserves an abundance of words that worship Him for all that he gives us. Our words are to spill over into songs of thanksgiving.

“May my lips overflow with praise, for you teach me your decrees. May my tongue sing of your word, for all your commands are righteous.” Psalm 119:171-172

Words to Build Up
It is easy to speak before we think; so simple to grumble, to criticise, to blame- but when we take time to pause, considering the other person’s point of view, really listening to them before blurting out what we may be thinking, then we begin to build up rather than tear down.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29

Wise Words
Like many of us, I have said things I have regretted, and equally can still recall the hastily spoken words of others that have acted like shrapnel, wounding the core of my soul, only to be healed years later when I have recognised the falseness of them.

Once uttered, we cannot take our words back. We might apologise, but the sharp words will have been heard, often becoming embedded within- like a festering wound. Scripture reminds us to offer words of wisdom that endure and build up the receiver, acting as a healing salve.

“The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment.” Proverbs 12:18-19

Seasoned Words
“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
Colossians 4:6

worker bees pexels mostafa eissa 3424406Salt preserves, adds flavour, and acts as an important nutrient for our body- balancing fluids in the blood and maintaining healthy blood pressure. So, may our words too, be wholesome, sweet to the ear, seasoned with grace and balanced in their response. That’s a big ask, and we cannot do this alone, but by daily savouring God’s sweet words, and working with him, allowing him to transform not only the words from our lips but also the way of our lives.
So, I pray that we may each learn to savour God’s Word, that is sweeter than honey, but also to temper our own words, working hard to create sweetness from our own lips and lives, just as worker bees toil together to create honey.

tractor pexels freestocksorg 175389The roads this month have been busy with farm vehicles, gathering the harvest and trailing the grain from field to farm, which has led me to return to an unfinished piece of artwork from several years ago.

The already prepared hand coloured yellow background, sheer fabrics and couched threads reminded me of the fields of ripe corn, so I set to- adding more fabric layers to stitch the parable of the sower.

Now the parable of the sower is such a familiar passage in Scripture, that I often gloss over it, thinking to myself, “Oh, I know this one... nothing new here…”, as I skim over the well-known words without allowing God to open my eyes afresh to its truths. As I prepared to stitch, I knew that the focus of hand stitching would allow me to mull over the words, and perhaps allow new ideas to permeate.

In the Parable of the Sower, the words of Jesus encourage us to tend the seeds of our lives, so that we might grow fully and be nourished enough to yield a good crop to feed others.

Tending the Seed
We are to be effective farmers, tending the good seed Christ has sown within that has been entrusted to us. We are to each nourish the seed so that it grows effectively within us. Tending means nurturing, paying attention to, taking charge of, waiting for, staying with, heeding, being aware of what is happening now…
So, I wonder, can we name the good seeds that have been sown into each of our lives?
How can we each tend fully, the seeds that God has sown already into our lives?

Growing Well
IMG 4305 square enhancedNow, seeds need 6 things to grow well...

Nutrients
If we don’t allow the good seed sown within us enough nutrients to grow, then it will shrivel and die. So, how can we each provide good soil to nourish the seeds within us to grow?
What might we need to do practically, to foster healthy spiritual growth in our lives?

Sunlightsunset wheat pexels pixabay 533982
Plants need just the right amount of sunlight. Too much, and unprotected they will scorch and wither, unable to put down strong roots. Too little, means they will not flourish and mature.
How can we each ensure that we are robust enough to withstand the heat of trials and troubles, yet ensure that we turn our faces to the Son to receive enough light to grow?

Water
watering the crops pexels markus spiske 95215We have all, I am sure, been guilty of neglecting a plant by not watering it enough, or conversely, been over keen and killed it through over watering it and rotting the roots! Water is essential for seeds to grow, but too much and the seed will rot; too little and the seed will die. Jesus tells us that, “...whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14
What practical things would help us each to be nourished and well-watered in our lives right now?

Air
Without air, the seed, deprived of oxygen will die. If the roots cannot access air, then they will be unable to absorb sufficient water and nutrients. I am reminded here of one of God’s many names... Rhuah...the breath of God, and the lyrics of a song that come to mind, reflecting this: “This is the air I breathe” written by Marie Barnett, a line of which declares, “This is the air I breathe....your very presence living in me…”     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZhUesUaM98
How do we each absorb enough air; enough breath of God for our spirit to grow?

Space to Grow
space to grow pexels visionpic net 1007858All plants need sufficient space to grow well. In the parable of the seeds, Jesus tells of the thorns choking the growth of the plants. I wonder what weeds there are in our own lives that threaten to choke the good things and limit the growth that God has in mind for us?
How might we seek to weed out the things in our lives that keep us from a full and healthy spiritual life?

Tending
tending the plants pexels karolina grabowska 4207908We know that some plants can grow without being tended. We have only to look at the dandelion and nettles in amongst the vegetable patch to see this, but plants that are tended and given the best opportunities to grow, grow better. Farmers spend a lifetime learning how to tend crops, so perhaps in turn, we might learn from the characteristics of a good farmer, to help us tend the good seed in our lives.

Farmers are...

1. Hard working
They work long hours, committed to providing the best for their crops. This may mean getting up early to water before the sun gets up or working into the night to gather the harvest before the weather turns.

2. Attuned to the Land & Seasons
Farmers learn to note the patterns of the weather and seasons so they may work with the land and the seasons planting, feeding, weeding, and harvesting crops to the best of their ability. They utilise the environment as best they can, planting crops in soil that is right for individual plants.

3. AdaptableThe Sower IMG 9239 cropped square
The best farmers are adaptable, open to change the way that they have always done something, for a better way when the markets change.

4. Planners
Farming is not haphazard. It takes many years to learn how to plan the best times to sow & to harvest; to know the best land to grow the right crops. Crop rotation over several years brings better 

5. Patient & Persistant
Farming is not an easy role. It takes persistence and patience to learn, to adapt and change, waiting for each yearly cycle, different from the last to reveal the long-awaited harvest yields, and there is much to deal with apart from the actual sowing and planting.

6. Risk Takers
Every time a farmer plants, they take a risk, not fully knowing whether seeds will provide a good crop, despite the care that they invest into yielding a good harvest. There may be drought, floods, disease that hinder growth, yet still each year they sow and plant, doing all that they can, preparing and hoping for good growth.

7. Part of a Team
Lastly, farmers need others to function well. Many fields cannot be ploughed alone, nor seeds sown in number, nor crops harvested without the help of others. A good framer puts their trust in others, surrounding themself with a great team to help them do their job well.

So, I wonder if we can see evidence of these 7 characteristics in our own lives?
Is there one aspect that we feel might need some attention in our own lives?

God is the One, who sows good things into our lives. May we each learn to partner with him, to help with the harvest, not shirking from the hard work that is required. May we be attuned to all that is happening around us, adapting to change willingly, being prepared to join in with whatever God plans for us to do, waiting patiently for the right season to be fruitful and ready to take risks for the sake of God’s Kingdom. Amen

IMG 9495 cropped part

feather pexels leigh heasley 816497One small insignificant white downy feather, softly floating in the breeze has little use by itself. In my hand, an individual feather seems so delicate and soft, belying its strength and power when sprouting from the small body of a bird, and laying alongside others to enable the soaring wonder and freedom of flight.

This month, the Scripture that I have explored through stitch and reflection, has been from Psalm 91.

"Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most Hig will rest in the shadow of the Almighty...
Surely, he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. 
He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge...

As I stitched, my musings were initially about how I find safety and protection in the arms of the Lord, sheltering in Shaddai’s shadow when all around seems too much to deal with. But as I researched further into the purpose of feathers, I allowed my thoughts to fly further.This is the result of my reflections.

Birds feathers provide the ability to fly, working together to achieve aerodynamic success in all weathers. They insulate the body, providing protection from the elements, and give each bird its distinct appearance,

There is such detail and diversity even in the creation of our bird life, that graces the skies and earth.
Creation never ceases to amaze me: constant evidence of the reckless abandon and creativity of the divine Maker

There are six types of feather, each with a distinct and specific purpose.

Feathers for Flying

sunset flight pexels kunal baroth 2007660Flight Feathers are long and strong, giving a bird the ability to fly, enabling it to make use of the aerodynamics of its body shape in the wind.

So I wonder...

  • What things allow us to fly? What gives us strength amidst the gusts and gales of our lives to “soar on wings like eagles”.
  • Take time to name the elements in your life that enable you to fly
  • How can you strengthen these things?
  • What new things would help you find freedom to soar? 
  • What things might you need to leave behind that may weigh you down unnecessarily?

So often we hesitate to take off, wondering about the landing before we have even left the ground. I am reminded of this short poem by Erin Hanson

“There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask, "What if I fall?"
Oh, but my darling,
What if you fly?”

“...but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; 
they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31


Distinctive Feathers
Peacock pexels pixabay 71131
Contour Feathers give shape and colour to a bird, creating species and personality.

So, I wonder...

  • What gives our personality and spirit shape, and colour?
  • Do we revel in our identity?
  • Perhaps we draw attention to ourselves, parading our colours to all who might notice, or do we, like an owl, camouflage ourselves, blending in with our surroundings to get on with a task? Or perhaps something in between?
  • How do you perceive yourself?
  • How might others see you?
  • How does God see you?
  • Is there a particular bird that you can identify with? If so, why?

Do you ensure that you use all that God has given you to the best of your ability, faithfully singing the song you have been given on this earth?

"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." Psalm 139:13-15

“For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 18:14

“He has called us to live a holy life...Do your best to live a quiet life. Learn to do your own work well.” 1 Thessalonians 4:7-11

Insulating Feathers
Down and Semiplume Feathers are both soft and fluffy, and used for insulation against the elements, to keep warm.

So, I wonder...
hen and chicks pexels ro han 754308

  • What insulates us from the elements, both physically, emotionally, and spiritually?
  • Are there particular things that help you in difficult times?
  • Do you like to battle on in your own strength for as long as possible, before asking for shelter when you can no longer go on?
  • Perhaps you have coping strategies to enable you to manage the vagaries of everyday life and the inevitable times of crisis we face intermittently throughout our lives?

Do you run to shelter in the arms of El Shaddai, the Almighty God who longs to welcome us to find refuge under his wings?

“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge...” Psalm 91: 4

Sensory Feathers
Filoplume Feathers are extremely small, with a tuft of barbs at the end of the shaft. These feathers are sensory, attached to nerve endings so that they can send messages to the brain giving information about the placement of feathers for flight, insulation, and preening.

So, I wonder...

  • What tiny things alert us each to aspects of our own life that might need attention or acting upon?
  • How do you pay attention to the small things in your life that may enable you to negotiate the bigger things?
  • Do you spend time quietly each day in prayer to be attentive to the small things of God, or are there other ways that enable you to keep in tune with what might be going on in your life- mind, body and spirit? What are they?

 “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities."
Luke 16:10 NLT

Protecting Feathers
Bristle Feathers are very stiff and found around the mouths of some birds where they act as a funnel. They can also be found around the eyes where they work like eyelashes. They help filter and control what enters the mouth and eyes, protecting and enabling those parts to function better.

So, I wonder...
eagle eye2 pexels brett sayles 1629989

  • What do we each use to protect and enable our bodies, minds and hearts?
  • How do we filter and control what enters our body, in order to protect and enable it?
  • How do we filter what enters our mind...and our heart?

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? ” 1 Corinthians 6:19

 

IMG 9495 6cropped

Textile Reflections: 

hand stitched textile art, "Safe in the Father's Arms" (after Psalm 91)

Wilderness 2Wilderness Wellbeing
In March this year, many of us found ourselves in an unexpected wilderness, as the Covid-19 pandemic spread rapidly across the globe. It was as if everything familiar that grounded us in reality, was pulled from under our feet.

I don’t know about you, but even though things have improved I’m still struggling right now. Much of what was familiar has changed, and I’m anxious about reconnecting with this new risky world in the way I used to. Thinking through the practicalities and safe practices of what used to be simple tasks, such as shopping, depositing a cheque, visiting family, is fraught with exhausting questions and preparation, and I’m finding it’s just easier not to do them. Yet, life is risky, and I know that I cannot remain in my relatively safe bubble forever. Connectivity is key to wellbeing, and I am missing some of the old ways whilst relishing some of the new....

Wilderness Exhaustion
CalmAny crisis is exhausting, as we struggle to understand the pattern of events that brought us to this unfamiliar place and attempt to negotiate new parameters of normal. We long for calm amidst the chaos, wrestling with the lack of control and the fear of what will happen next. We question things we once held dear and, paradoxically, when things are taken away, it is then that we begin to realise what is truly important in our lives and how little we actually need to live well.
So, I wonder if you have found any calm amidst the chaos of this confusing wilderness, and if so, where your sanctuary has lain?

 

Wilderness Sanctuary:

Refuge in the Creator
With every crisis encountered in my life, as a follower of Christ my first cry is always to my Father God. Each wilderness experience brings me face to face with my own weakness and inability to cope. Yet it is in my helplessness, that I am often led to rely more on the Creator. It is amid chaos that I find sanctuary. We find God in the eye of the storm.

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.God is my refuge and strength, a very help in time of trouble (Psalm 46:1-2)

‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ ( 2 Corinthians 12:9)


Refuge in creation

Quiet PathsWith few places to go, many of us have sought sanctuary in creation, discovering local walks in parks, woods, countryside or by water. I have struggled with church online, finding it lacking in enabling me to connect with God or community, so each Sunday morning we venture out to meet with God through his Creation. It is in exploring quiet paths and trails, lingering beside water, meandering through woods and noticing the changing hedgerows that we have found connectivity with God, a deeper understanding of our local environment and access to praise and prayer that has been otherwise difficult in these wilderness days. It is through the quiet wilderness that we have found refuge for our spirits.

Refuge in creativity
Creativity has always been a place of safety for me, so during this time, it made sense to utilise this familiar place of refuge. I have stitched and baked, nurtured seeds and grown plants. I have written and read and enjoyed learning from the creativity of others. I have tried to still be involved in enabling others to be creative too, realising once more how much I am both nourished through being creative and in enabling others to be so.

Creativity Flowers of the Field

 

Refuge in Connections
We are created to be a connected people, and the lack of physical connection has been particularly hard for many over the last few months. Whether our connectivity is with family or friends, we need each other to stay well. We have all been challenged to find new ways of being connected, often grappling with creative new technology to ensure we can still connect with those we care for. Connections encourage us to have a caring heart for each other as we share our difficulties and joys. Connectivity offers opportunity to contribute, collaborate and care.

hands 5216585 1920Right now, there is no certainty of what the future will look like, and we are all anxiously adapting as far as we are able. There are going to be challenges and setbacks, but we have an Almighty God in whom I trust. We may not know the future but when all seems dark, I try to trust that God reigns and has equipped us all with all that we need for the journey ahead. Let us persevere and persist through the fog of uncertainty to confidently run the race he has set before us.

 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures for ever. (Psalm 40:8)

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