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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
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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...
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  • 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

 

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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)

It may be that uncertainty can lead us to trust God’s provision, and in doing so we gain crucial skills for our Christian journey.

More trust….
bread web sizeIt is the scarcity of daily essential foodstuffs over the past few months, that has led me to return to and ponder these words from the Lord’s Prayer, in Matthew 6:11 & Luke 1:3. “Give us today our daily bread” has been especially poignant, as panic buying led to shortages of essential foods. When the usually abundant supermarket shelves, stripped bare cause many to begin panic buying, we as Christians are called to trust our God for his provision. This has meant practically trusting that the week I need flour, there will be some on the shelves and the time that my neighbour is struggling to find some essential provision, that God will enable me to help. I have been constantly amazed that each week, God has provided both practical and financial provision, often from unlikely sources. I wonder if you have found the same?

More recalling what God has done…
When in doubt, we only need look to scripture to see evidence of God’s practical provision, ranging from manna for the Israelites, food delivered by ravens for Elijah, and the flour and oil that did not run out for as long as it was needed. This “God with us” shows up in the pillar of fire and cloud to lead the Israelites, the sending of rain when needed, the gift of land and the protection from and defeat of enemies for God’s people.

"So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord."  (1 Kings 17:2-16)

We are to “Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done…” (Psalm 105: 4-5)

Immanuel God shows up, in our practical everyday lives. We are to look to him for provision. He will not let us down. This does not mean to say that he will give us all we want. What we need and what we would like are two entirely separate things, but recalling characters in the Bible who have tried to provide for themselves when they thought that God was slow to act, can help me to realise that waiting faithfully is the better way, even if it is not easy.

"I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.” (Psalm 77: 11-12)

What mighty deeds and miracles help you to trust more fully in God’s provision for you?

More wonder, more grateful…
hands lifted in wonder and lpraiseMany of our lives have changed since the pandemic and I have found myself grateful for so much that has previously been taken for granted. The wonder of the complexity of our world and its interconnectedness, the simplicity of touch and a shared meal, the extraordinary everyday of our lives. We have so much at our fingertips, yet so often take this God-given generous gift for granted. I’m sure that you can name your own wonders and join me in grateful thanks to our Creator God.

"Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare." Psalm 40:5

More questions…
I’m sure like me, the uncertainty and insecurity of the current times have left you with many questions.
question marksI would not want to brush over the negatives of what has happened. Many people have lost so much- family, loved ones, income, jobs, homes… I have days of deep sadness where I just can’t get my head around all that has happened and watching the news often doesn’t help at all. However, I’m comforted that many people in Scripture were full of questions, too, and able to vent their frustration and anger towards God, questioning what was happening in their life and times. We are not promised easy, rather a reassurance that God can work through all things and despite all things. His ways are beyond my understanding. (Isaiah 55:9), but I do know that on days when my hope is thin, that I can come to a God who cares for me and rest in the safety of his arms. Our Father God wants us to come openly and honestly before him, bringing our heavy questions and lay them with him at the foot of the cross. Perhaps we can all come to lay our tearful doubts and heavy loads with him.

More important things…
Many of us, over the last few months, have found that we need so much less than we previously thought. The global crisis has served to focus our minds on life’s essentials rather than the deceit of consumerist ideals or our own misguided patterns of living. The daily bread we had come to expect so nonchalantly, whether that be literal bread, or flour, the daily connection with others or the security of employment -was stripped away, and initially, we were all left floundering. Enforced isolation has meant that many of us have begun to question what is really important in our lives, and seen perhaps for the first time the shallowness of all that the world often encourages us to see as crucial to getting on in the world.

Globally, many have had to change a lifetime of accumulated patterns, habits, and lifestyles in the space of a few weeks. Consumer habits, daily timetables, weekly interactions, alongside many other systems and processes have all had to change quickly, through grave necessity. We have had to adapt... and quickly, but I wonder what our attitude to changing has been? Perhaps we have experienced resentment, anxiety, confusion, anger or conversely embraced the opportunity to change outdated ways of living?

Through the anxiety and uncertainty, I have tried to search for ways of living better, and seek opportunities to live more creatively, I hope. It’s the only way that I could cope, immersing myself in the positives of reading more, baking, stitching, discovering amazing local walks that I am ashamed to say that in 20 years of living here, I did not know. As we gradually return to a new normal, I do not want to lose this slower, simpler way of living and find myself worrying about re-joining the world as I knew it. I no longer want to live busy, live tired, live life rushing and missing the fabulous view along the way!
Perhaps like me, the pandemic has highlighted old or recent patterns of living that you either want to change, embrace, or ditch? What important things have you discovered in the restrictions placed upon you?

More connected communities…
hands togetherDuring this time, many have found that what they miss most is physical connection with others. Whether this be a gentle touch on the shoulder, a hand held, or a hug with someone we miss, we have all had to find new ways of connecting with each other. We have embraced technology to recreate some semblance of connectivity that we long for, and in doing so realised the importance of community. Local communities have worked together to care for the vulnerable, and kindness seems to have been more prevalent as we each attempt to negotiate being apart from those we care for and love; a response that is beneficial to both the giver and receiver. Paradoxically, the restrictions of being apart appears to have created a kinder world, in general…especially at the beginning of the global crisis, when kindness and care seemed to be all that many had to offer. My prayer is that as the world returns to a new normal, we can all continue to create connected communities around us, living out our faith in daily actions that, as Henri Nouwen said “make God present in the world”.

So, in experiencing less over the last few months, what have you gained in your life that is more?
More trust? More time? Increased gratefulness? Extra patience? Or something else, entirely?

The Lord does indeed provide all we need... enough for each day. We are asked to live in the present of each day, and trust God for each need, not looking beyond that to worry about what may be next. It isn’t easy, but we have the God who sees us, with us.
Over the last strange, uncertain months what have you found to be your “daily bread”? Has it surprised you?

I would love to hear! Do let me know…Bread of Life

Textile Reflections...
Pondering on God’s practical provision for us, during the pandemic, led me to stitch this textile art. The bread and wine, grain and grapes represent both physical food that God provides, and the exploration of the verse from Scripture: 
“I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, he who believes in me will never go thirsty.”
(John 6:35)
The earth is shown at the top right, to reflect God’s sacrifice and provision for us in sending His only Son to die for the sake of the world. The water drops depict the rain needed for crops to grow, the difficulties of life and the tears of God for his people. The rainbow threads portray the hope of God’s covenant promise and the simple hope of the world in displaying rainbow images throughout the global crisis. The water jar refers to the first miracle of Jesus, in creating water from wine, an indication of God at work to often provide the best in us, when we are empty with nothing left to give and have to totally rely on him.

Time on our Hands

Tightrope WalkerI don’t know about you, but the isolation was okay at first. I am used to working on my own, and being responsible for my own timetable, so with the unexpected exceptional gift of hours, I settled easily into getting on with tasks that I had put off or abandoned a long time ago, but as weeks have turned to months, I have struggled.

I’ve completed the easier tasks, that needed little effort but some application. Now there are still tasks that I must do...plenty of them, but they need concentration and I can’t seem to settle. I’ve spent most of the week procrastinating, doing very little, except to be frustrated with myself at the end of each gloriously sunny day.

Like most of the world, I am struggling with time, no longer juggling it but learning to walk an unfamiliar tightrope that doesn’t seem to have a platform to land on at the other side. 

Maybe in these unfamiliar times, some have been struggling with how to occupy vast swathes of unexpected time, not quite knowing quite what to do with it all amidst restrictive rules. Conversely, others may be grappling with how to fit in expanded work hours amidst the chaos of the unknown, risking their lives to save others.

We never know what is just around the corner; how one small thing can change the course and predictability of our lives in an instant. But as Christians, even when we do not know the outcomes for the future, even when there seems no way back to the times we knew before, and the only way is forward into the unfamiliar and unknown- we can believe in these words...

“But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hands...” Psalm 31: 14-15a

IMG 1520 cropped enhanced web sizeRainbow Remembering
One of the advantages of having projects cancelled is that I have been able to complete several abandoned projects! One of them is a now completed design started several years ago during my “Dwell” series of artwork. Back then, it emerged unexpectedly after creating “Promises”, for which I had fashioned many different coloured knotted pieces of fabric to create the effect I wanted. 

I found that there were lots of leftover fabric knots and It seemed a shame to waste them, so I stitched them into a colourful crown of thorns, and began to use seed stitch to create symbolic representations of the many promises given to us as part of the Biblical narrative of the redemption of God’s people. It wasn’t a difficult design to complete but, oh so tedious...! I’m not particularly good at repetitive tasks, so I abandoned it for more interesting things...

Three years later, with a global pandemic creating enforced isolation and a need for something that didn’t tax my brain, I have found solace in the repetitive stitch, recalling the many promises contained within God’s word.

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