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The inner landscape of my heart has been feeling bleak for a while, even though the physical view from the outside might look healthily picturesque.

How about you? How does your heart feel at the moment?

Half Hearted textile artHalf Hearted
I’ve taken myself off grid for the last couple of months, unable to multitask any longer with deadlines looming for commissions. Social media became too noisy; too demanding, too distracting for my anxious soul so I shut myself off, put on the familiar blinkers, gearing up and turning inwards to survival mode whilst Iooking forward to the pleasure of finishing outstanding work.

The thing is...everything has been completed for a fortnight now, yet I’ve still been finding it difficult to find that satisfaction of finishing or negotiate the lack of motivation to move forward, partly exacerbated by the fact that for the first time in over a year, there is no work, so no obvious direction.

I have felt numb, half-hearted; unable to see further than the day ahead, wondering why with the privilege of for once, having all the time in the world to dream and do whatever I would like, I am unable to motivate myself to actually do anything.

Exhausted Heart
“Why do you have to do anything?” a good friend asked.

Guilt at wasting time; not seizing the day; not achieving anything; not earning money, not contributing to community, I think privately to myself...

“The trouble is that you are trying to work out what’s next, before stopping and resting -after working mostly without stopping for a year, through a pandemic...”

Mmmm........ he may have a point, here.
We all need someone to gently point out the obvious every now and then!

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Matthew 11:28-29

Resting Heart
I stop to think for a while and realise that I’m trying to carry on- running on empty, without resting.
I recall the following verse:

Signpost and pathway“Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.
But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ Jeremiah 6:16

I realise I haven’t taken time to stop at this small crossroads, pausing to linger with the Lord and discover the next step on my journey. In trying to blunder on, exhausted, I have been trying to walk my own way not the Lord’s. Instead of enjoying a welcome pause and waiting for the next part of the map to be delivered in God’s time, I have carried on in my own strength, leaving me sapped and drained again.
“There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42, NLT

Only one thing… Mary stopped, sat at Jesus’ feet, waited and listened. She wasn’t distracted by anything else. Only one thing. If only it was that easy…
Creative Materials How easy do you find waiting and listening for the next step?

 

Creative Heart
Two days ago, I decided to go back into the studio and stitch how I felt. With no purpose other than expression, I searched for colours that spoke my story... and struggled to find the range of choice I’m used to. For those who know my work, I rarely use grey or black except to highlight the colour, so it took a while to create the bleak landscape I wanted to depict. As I intuitively layered over red and white threads, the image appearing began to speak to my heart.

What colours might reflect the landscape of your heart right now?

This is what I reflected on...

Light-hearted
The journey of life is not always easy. We know this, yet I’m still surprised how sometimes the bleak times catch me unaware as I lumber through the landscape, my backpack heavy with things I have collected on my travels. I reach an anticipated summit, my eyes peeled for the next cairn and suddenly, with my eyes not on my current grid reference the terrain changes, and I’m floundering, wading through a bog with the heavy rucksack weighing me down.

Jesus asks us to travel light, yet too often we gather unnecessary baggage on the way, without considering the weight of the load. Just one more thing, individually insignificant with the illusion of being inconsequential to carry- added to all that we already bear, inexorably creates an increasing weight, under which we eventually buckle.
Jesus asks us to give our burdens to him, but too often we struggle along with the weight of the world on our shoulders and then wonder why we are weary...

“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” 1 Peter 5:7

There are things I need to take out of the rucksack of my life, to move on efficiently, and lay them sacrificially at the foot of the cross.
I wonder if you can name some of the things that weigh you down, and offer them at the foot of the cross, too?

Companions of the Heart
Sometimes we are asked to travel alone, but mostly we are given companions for the journey. Whether it is a friend who offers good advice, someone who encourages us along the way, carries us when we can walk no further, cares for us when we are sick, a writer whose words have aided our understanding or someone who makes us laugh along the way, God provides all we need. Sometimes, though, it’s not easy to accept the help that is offered or admit that we read the map wrongly and need a guide for part of the way.

I’m not good sometimes in admitting that I need help nor accepting it when it arrives... especially if it comes in a guise, I’m not expecting!

How about you? Who are your companions on the way?

Heart cropped 2MPMy Heart Hidden in Christ
It’s easy to forget Christ, our constant companion when our hearts are struggling through dark and difficult landscapes. Sadly, it’s often not until I reach the end of my own resources that I reach for the Redeemer, failing to remember that my heart is hidden in Christ; that He walks with me through the darkest places, that he is there throughout. I know that when the journey gets tricky, the best thing to do is to turn to the Lord, but with my eyes often elsewhere looking too far ahead, I sometimes don’t realise how deep the valley is until I’m at the bottom!

“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. “ Colossians 3:2-3

Thank God that our hearts are hidden with him.

Open Heart
Since time began, pilgrims have followed the stars to help them see the way. Stars act as directional markers but to be of any use to us, we need to have a heart to study them first and remember to look up! Finding north is futile if we neither recognise the Pole Star, nor look up, away from the immediate thing in front of us to the bigger picture.

In the same way, when I open my heart to stop and gaze at clear skies peppered with pinpricks of light, it reminds me of how small I am in a vast universe; to look away from myself to the eternal nature of our Creator God and the evidence in Creation of His love for us. For me, what peppers the dark times with hope, are the snippets of small things that I find strewn across my path. An open heart that appreciates the gift of an unexpected flower by the wayside, a moving piece of music, a smile, the gift of clean water, fresh folded laundry...each pointing the way to the hope of a journey less difficult, and to the One who has walked before me, and is constantly by my side, even when unseen.

For me, these things act like stars, glittering amidst the mundane drudgery. Yet if I am not looking for them or fail to take time to savour those small things that light the darkness of difficult days then I am missing the way markers on the map of my life, closing my heart to small wonders that the Lord scatters before me.

What are the “stars” in the vast sky of your difficult places, I wonder? How can you heart be more open to their gift?

IMG 1071 2MPWhole-hearted
Half-hearted is not a mindset I am comfortable with. I do long to live a life that has a wholehearted attitude, so much so, that “wholehearted” has been my Word of the Year.
Maybe if I take heed of my own musings to learn:

- for my exhausted heart to develop a rhythm of working from rest;
- continue to live creatively and enable others to access their own creativity, too;
- keep taking stock of the weight I am carrying so that my life can be more light-hearted;
- accept advice and help from those I travel this life journey with,
- ensuring that my heart is always hidden in Christ and
- that I continue to develop an open hearted and open handed way of living ,

then just maybe these things will go a long way to make my heart whole again…
light
“…In these days, when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me…” Jeremiah 29:13

Take Heart!
When we travel, through the landscape of our lives, the view is always changing. One moment, as on a country hike, we are trying to maintain our balance to negotiate the treacherous descent of a scree strewn mountain, the next we are ambling beside a beautiful stream. Yes, I’m here now, in a seemingly grey part of my journey, but I can take heart that when I’ve gained the strength to walk further, over the horizon the landscape of my heart will change, and then I can look back and realise how far I’ve come.

How about you? What type of landscape are you negotiating on your spiritual journey right now?

Perhaps you could set aside time to try something creative, whatever it may be- and allow it to speak to the landscape of your heart, too?

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” Colossians 3:15

IMG 1383 2Rooted and Resting

Battling the Elements
It’s been a long, hard winter that has stretched through the rhythm of four seasons, and many of us may feel as if springtime in our souls is never coming.

No-one likes to linger in winter winds that bite into our very being, our vulnerability evident by the inability to withstand the long-term effort it takes us to remain standing through the force of a gale. Head down, suitably togged up, we often begin a difficult journey with resolute fortitude, but as the elements of our circumstances continue to rage, refusing to abate, we lose energy, hunkering down into survival mode.

This is how it feels right now. I’ve lost the initial resolve I had at the start of the storm; the onset of the pandemic, to cope. The new projects and patterns of living I devised to address the new normal are losing their allure.

I feel increasingly exhausted, vulnerable, and exposed, often finding it difficult to think straight or effectively make use of the vast amount of time I am privileged to have. I think that I’m in survival mode, my mind unable to process much more.

We are not designed to constantly battle the elements but to accept and work with them.

Surrendering to the Seasons

IMG 1386I’ve been gaining strength from the seasonal lessons of nature again, watching the tall trees from my window swaying ferociously back and forth in the strong winter winds, and realising that I feel in a similar position. I considered what keeps it upright and realised that a tree does not resist the wind. It leans into the gale, submitting to the elements and allowing the storm to flow freely through its branches and around its trunk, whilst it relies on deep, strong, hidden roots that anchor it securely to the ground.

I’ve never been good at embracing whatever comes, and often tend towards resisting- attempting to avoid the inevitable. Rather than accepting change gracefully, I waste time and energy riling against it, becoming increasingly tense and anxious as I realise my need to change rather than squandering time fighting it. It’s a pretty fruitless task, and I still have so much to learn about leaning into the wind, surrendering to the season, unafraid, with my roots quietly yet firmly grounded in the God I try to trust.

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” (Colossians 2: 6-7)

“…so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith- that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)

I wonder... Where do we each put down roots that might help us to grow stronger in spirit, deeper in faith?

Rest and Resilience
IMG 0068Whereas some relish the winter season, I have learned over the years that winter is difficult for me. So it was, with intentional hope that I planted lots of bulbs in my garden last autumn. They have given me spiritual strength throughout the dark months, and joy as I watch and wait for them to bloom.

IMG 0342 cropped square 2MP for blogThe first daffodils have bloomed this week to lift my spirit after this long winter season, but did you know that the cold, hard times of winter are essential to them flowering at all? Bulbs need to remain dormant and build up strength over 3- 4 months of cold weather to prevent their shoots emerging too soon. The harsh climate of winter actually allows the bulbs to develop resilience, grow deep roots, and ultimately initiate the transformation to shoot, flourish and bloom. Visible Spring growth is entirely dependent on the hidden awakenings that occur in the incubating darkness underground. Perhaps it is the same with us?

So, during the harsh months of our lives, how can we each learn to firstly rest in our circumstances rather than resist, but also root our lives in God, developing resilience through our vulnerability, so that we may flourish in better times?

I pray that as we look towards the onset of Spring, we might know that it is those dark and difficult days that give birth to flourishing. I doubt if we would choose this way, but this is often the path we must take, for it echoes the way of the Cross and Resurrection.

January calendarJanuary is always a difficult, dreary, grey month, I find, and this year has been harder than most.
It’s been difficult to see any light ahead any time soon, and I’m finding it all too easy to wallow in the sadness of all that is missing, wasting the gift of the days, rather than focus on all I do have.

Difficult Days
Last month wasn’t helped by the fact that we unexpectedly lost a dear aunt. She was a stalwart 89 years of age, fiercely independent and still living in her own home and I had briefly seen her at Christmas with a festive doorstep visit. She was very alert and cheerful as usual, despite the common ailments, aches, and pains of old age, genuinely grateful as usual for the simple life she led and mindful of those who visited and phoned her regularly, thankful for their care.

After the initial shock of the news of her death, it has been such a blessing to recall her life.

How is it that it is often not until someone has gone, that we are able to put into words why they have meant so much to us?
Why is it, that in their absence we recall more of what they have gifted to us of their precious lives?

Joyce led such a simple life. She did not drive, had not travelled abroad, and had lived in the same ordinary semi since she was married, but she was always grateful, expressing this verbally frequently to those she was with. She possessed the rare wisdom of knowing that she had all she needed and was content, despite her ailments, and I am the richer for knowing her and all that she unwittingly shared.

Even When…

Light of the World textile artAs we enter 2021, we all hope for an end to the dark days that 2020 has brought to so many for there is so much uncertainty right now, and perhaps our usual positivity for a year of new beginnings might be waning thin amidst the Covid crisis that wreaks havoc across nations.
Yet, as Christians, we know that there is light in the darkness, there is healing through the hurt, there is hope for the future, all encompassed in the person of Jesus…Saviour, Redeemer, Light of the World.

Ultimately, nothing can keep God’s people from knowing that Jesus is Lord of all.
Not good years, nor bad years or those that are entirely unmemorable  

“Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? ……No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.  No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord."
(Romans 8:35-39, NLT Translation)

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.

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