Advent Windows

Now you know there is something exciting going on when the ultra sparkly glitter comes out of the craft cupboard on a Sunday evening!

It all started one Sunday afternoon back in late October… We were tucking into our Sunday roast, when we heard the letterbox clatter. We discovered a Christmas card lying on the doormat.

‘That’s early!’ we all remarked. ‘And hand-delivered. Whoever could have posted it?’

A COMMUNITY PROJECT

Inside was a folded, printed letter, from a neighbour we’ve never met, inviting us to be part of something called a ‘Living Advent Window’ display.

Volunteers around the neighbourhood were asked to take one day of advent, and on that designated day, to put some kind of festive display up at the window. It would be a way of bringing some extra Christmas joy to our community, at the end of a difficult year.

The lady organising it asked us to message back if we wanted to participate, and let her know our door number so that she could allocate us a day. She then set up a WhatsApp group to co-ordinate everything.

About a week or so later, she let us know that our household would be responsible for 11th December (which was a nice touch for me, as that was the date of my late Nan’s birthday).

It wasn’t long before messages began to fly – people introducing themselves, sharing their ideas – one good thing has already come from this – it’s been a great way to get to know our neighbours!

BRAINSTORMING

I’ve spent a fair amount of my spare time during November looking for inspiration on Pinterest. There are some beautiful ideas which are as simple as cutting out folded snowflakes, or drawing on the window with white marker pen.

But I must be honest, as the time has drawn closer I’ve begun to get a little bit nervous. Some of the neighbours seemed to be going all out, with amazing Christmas trees made out of wooden pallets and plans for impressive light displays.

I decided to keep things fairly simple. My main objective would be to try and capture the true reason for the season. The word JOY instantly sprang to mind, inspired by the line from the carol: Joy to the world, the Lord has come, let earth receive her King!”

Lydia and I had great fun cutting out these letters this evening, and dousing them in generous lashings of glitter. I had a picture in my mind’s eye of spelling out the word JOY on three ‘baubels’ and hanging them, perhaps with festive ribbon, in the three middle panels of our window. I might even try and suspend them within a hoop of greenery, using invisible wire. But this could be a mite too ambitious!

I also envisaged some kind of silhouetted Nativity Scene. To achieve this I ordered some black card, and some transparent coloured cellophane to try and make a stained glass effect.

Today, with advent now fast approaching, I decided to stop procrastinating, and make a start. Here is what I’ve managed so far:

I was initially quite pleased with the way this turned out, although it was a bit fiddly! But the problem came when my husband and I temporarily tacked it up at the window. It looked lovely our side, but from the street, you couldn’t really see a thing – it was too dark.

So it’s back to the drawing board for now to try and figure out a way of illuminating this somehow. I am really glad I started on this project early, as teething problems are bound to happen! Oh well, at least I still have time to come up with something new if this doesn’t work out.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and maybe been inspired to try something like this for yourself. Please check back over the next four weeks, as I plan to post updates on this story, along with pictures of the some of the other windows in our community.

Happy Advent everyone!

Immanuel

Normally, we put our Christmas decorations up over the first weekend in December. But let’s face it, 2020 has been far from normal for all of us.

With high street shops, pubs and restaurants closed for business until 2nd December, our town doesn’t have its normal November hustle and bustle. Apart from the occasional queues outside the post office, and the take-away coffee bars, everything is locked up, shutters down, lying dormant in darkness.

Many people that I’ve bumped into over the past few weeks have reacted in the same way. They’ve got this urge to dig out their Christmas decorations a mite earlier than normal – to bring a bit of Christmas cheer into this Covid winter gloom.

So when, on Friday evening, my two teenage girls suddenly said: “Mum, let’s get this party started!” and offered to put our Christmas Tree up, I decided not to argue. With countless birthday parties, youth events and social activities cancelled, these past few months have been particularly rough on them.

A little bit of Christmas fun – video put together by my daughters, Lydia & Grace

My favourite part of putting up the Christmas tree is that magical moment, when after half an hour of patient unravelling and walking round and round in circles, the lights have been carefully nestled amid the branches of the tree, and you get to flick on that switch and light up the room! I love the audible gasp of joy and wonder whenever this moment comes. It may sound obvious, but there is something so powerful, so comforting about light piercing through the darkness.

When that moment came for us this year, the words of a carol sprang to mind:

Yet in thy dark streets shineth the Everlasting Light

words from ‘O Little town of bethlehem’

Have you ever received one of those traditional Christmas cards that depicts that first Christmas, centuries ago? The crowded streets of Bethlehem, normally depicted in hues of rich dark purple and indigo, are illuminated by the contrasting glow of the bright gold star positioned directly above the stable where the baby Jesus is lying in the manger.

Those words, contained in a Christmas Carol that so many of us have sung since we were children – carry a depth of meaning that can so easily be missed.

You see, the star that shone in the east was not the Everlasting Light.

The baby was!

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight

That small child, that tiny, vulnerable newborn infant, wrapped tightly in white cloths and lying in a crude animal’s trough, was the long-awaited Messiah. The promised hope of all mankind – the Light of the World.

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend it.

John 1:4-5

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. In the fullness of time, Christ the King, tore through the curtain of space and time, was made in human likeness, and entered the gloom and despair of a world that lay waiting in darkness!

So whether it’s November or April, or December 2020, it’s never too early or too late, or too dark, or too hopeless to celebrate. for behold, we have been given good news of great joy – the light has come!

For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour which is Christ the Lord And this shall be a sign unto you, Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, goodwill toward all men.

Luke 2:11-14

I hope you will take a moment to listen to this wonderful Christmas song, written and performed by Michael W Smith.

Lessons in Watercolour

Our eldest daughter Lydia, recently completed an A Level in Art. She did brilliantly well, and we were all extremely proud of her achievements. However, in order to complete her studies, she had to put in such an inordinate amount of time and effort, that she hasn’t picked up a paintbrush since. Isn’t is funny how the pressure of performance can zap our child-like enjoyment of creative pursuits?

art day!

A few weeks ago, on a lazy Saturday morning, Emily, our youngest, concocted a brilliant eight-year-old plan. “Mummy, let’s have an art day!” she said.

Even though inwardly, I had a mental to-do list as long as my right arm, and even though I suspected she was asking the wrong person, she looked so starry-eyed with excitement, that it was hard to refuse her enthusiasm. Lydia kindly offered us the use of her watercolour paper and paints, and so we set up a work space on the kitchen table, filled jars of water, and put on some relaxing music.

Embracing rest

When was the last time you dropped your to-do list and did something just for fun? It can be hard to carve out time for leisurely pursuits. Life is hectic – a constant whirlwind of rushing here and there. We have many urgent and important things to do. We often feel guilty for pressing the pause button, and for taking time out to do something recreational. But God created us with an inbuilt need to occasionally stop and do something which replenishes energy and lifts the spirits. There’s definitely some truth in the old adage: all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Emily instinctively knows this. She spends most of her time playing! But as we grow up, we forget to do things just for fun. We forget how valuable it can be to kick through the leaves with the wind in our hair. We are all unique, and so what we find relaxing will differ. But whether it’s gardening, or baking or reading, or taking a walk in the woods, we all need times where we cease from our toil and do something which quite simply brings us joy.

Acknowledgements to the excellent video tutorials of Ellen Crimi-Trent

Go on, try something new!

Watercolour is one of those creative pursuits that I have always admired, but have never been brave enough to try. After all, it’s a notoriously difficult medium to work with. Mistakes can be difficult to rectify, especially if the colours should bleed or run in an undesirable way. Plus, it takes a great deal of practice to learn the various techniques required: how much water to apply, how to mix colours, how to use the brush to achieve different effects.

And yet, there’s a fluidity and freedom in a watercolour painting that is so soft and appealing to the eye. Whenever you watch a watercolour artist at work, it always looks so effortless!

Luckily for Emily and I, we didn’t have to search too far to find a wealth of information for beginners on the Internet, including a whole host of inspiring video tutorials to help get us started. We decided to start with some simple Christmas cards featuring snowy scenes and simple winter greenery.

And as the early autumn sunlight streamed through the kitchen windows, we spent a glorious few hours absorbed in our newfound pursuit. I hadn’t picked up a paintbrush since I was a child. I had forgotten how much fun it can be!

But, I couldn’t help but notice some fundamental differences in our approach.

Emily was free – watching the tutorials, and then doing her own thing. Dipping her brush into the paint, and confidently applying it, without any reservation or rigidity. There seemed to be no caution in her young mind. She was lost in the moment, relishing the experience of expressive creativity. She created piece after piece in quick succession.

I tried my hand at a bunch of mistletoe. The tutorial looked easy enough. After several attempts, and wasted pieces of watercolour paper, I gave up. You see, I wanted to achieve perfection. But sadly, my efforts did not match up to the one on the video tutorial. And so I decided to try a wreath instead. Thankfully, this went a little better and inspired me to keep going.

The perfection perception

As adults, we can become so afraid to try something new, in case we fail. Our performance- mentality prevents us from just enjoying the moment. We live in an age where we are bombarded with airbrushed images of unachievable perfection. And it’s not just celebrities any more. There are dozens of very ordinary self-made Instagram celebrities who appear to have it all together. Their houses are like something out of Homes and Gardens Magazine, styled to make your mouth drop. Not a dirty cup, or an odd sock, or a pile of unfiled papers in sight. Their lives are also perfect – we know this because they video their every move. They post vlogs of their perfectly executed marriage proposals, or Christmas dinners, or gender reveal moments. Our children watch this stuff all the time. I keep reminding my teenage daughters that nobody’s life is perfect. We don’t see the time the pastry went spectacularly wrong, or the dog ran through the house with muddy paws. We don’t see the time they had a blazing row on the way to church. Life is messy. Mistakes happen. But God’s grace is abundant, and love covers a multitude of sins.

CHILDLIKE FAITH

2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 18:2-4 (ESV)

The story of salvation goes totally against the grain. God gives us Christ’s righteousness as a free gift! My attempts at perfection, fall hopelessly short. And so God, sent His one and only son, into a world full of sin and darkness, to live a sinless life, and to take my filthy rags upon himself on the cross. And in exchange, He gave me a robe of righteousness to wear. All I have to do is humble myself, stop striving, and receive it as a free gift. I am justified by faith alone. What a profound and incredible truth! We have been given a gospel of grace. We so often overcomplicate things, and mistakenly believe the lie that it’s all about our performance.

These humble Christmas cards that we’ve created, are a reminder to me, that because of Jesus, we are free indeed– free to rejoice in this good news of great joy!

A people walking in darkness have seen a great light – Isaiah 9:2

Today I invite you to celebrate the freedom that has been bought with a price for us. I encourage you to receive it with open arms, like a child receives a Christmas present. I hope today that you manage to find a little space to cease your toil and frantic activity and do something that brings you joy.

And maybe, who knows, you might even be inspired to try something new?

A Writer’s Journey – The Story So Far

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

As many of my readers are also writers, I thought it might be fun to share with you a little bit about my writing journey…I hope it will prompt you to think about your own journey, and encourage some of you to share some of your own stories, or writing goals, in the comments section below.

Childhood days

I composed my first poem, entitled ‘snow’ when I was just four years old. I’m sure it wasn’t a masterpiece, but my mum eagerly jotted down my ramblings onto a scrap of paper, and for many years, kept it, folded up inside her wooden writing bureau. I’m pretty sure my love of story began even earlier than this, but because I have something tangible to look back to, I often mark this poem as the beginning of my writing journey.

How about you? When did your writing journey begin?

My love of creative writing grew steadily throughout my childhood. I didn’t think too deeply about it at the time; it was just something I loved to do. I loved writing stories, and keeping journals, and did so on a regular basis. Looking back now, it’s clear that I had all the hallmarks of an aspiring writer. I wonder if you can relate to some of these too?:

  • My favourite subject, hands-down, was always English. I managed to get straight A’s in both Literature and Language, largely because writing essays – organising my thoughts and observations on paper – was never a chore;
  • I was a voracious reader – I was the type of kid that strained my eyes, trying to read in the dark, long after my mum had tucked me in and turned out the bedside lamp;
  • I had this nerdy little notebook in which I scribbled down any unfamiliar words that I came across, and then actually enjoyed looking up their meaning in the dictionary afterwards;
  • I used to day-dream a lot, especially on car journeys with the radio on, making up romantic stories in my head;
  • Speaking up, was often a real fear of mine – but expressing my thoughts on paper came easily;
  • My friends and I started a Writing Club when we were around 13. We would brainstorm all kinds of titles, and then write poems or compositions and read them out to each other;
  • I once got a lecture, from my exasperated father, whilst on a family holiday. It went something like this: “We didn’t bring you all the way out here just to sit inside and read. Why don’t you just go out and DO something!” (Ha! I thought this was terribly unfair at the time. As far as I was concerned, I WAS doing something. But looking back, I kind of understand.)

losing the plot…

I was an 18 year old ‘junior technician’ working at an insurance firm in the City. One day, as I sat daydreaming out of the office window, it dawned on me. I was not cut out for this. I looked around at all the ambitious brokers in their suits and brogues, cutting deals on the telephone, and realised that I was a complete fish out of water. I mean, who was I trying to kid? If truth be told, I was a hopeless technician. I was far more interested in thinking up silly limericks, than trying to apply my mind to anything remotely mathematical or ‘technical.’ All of a sudden, I knew EXACTLY what I wanted to do with my life… and it certainly wasn’t this. I wanted to be creative. I wanted to write books! (If I had told my 18 year-old-self that I’d still be trying to reach that goal at the ripe old age of 45, I wonder if I would have just given up there and then?)

Soon after, I handed my notice in…and landed up working in a clothes shop! I soon discovered that you can’t just decide one day that you’re going to quit your day job to become a writer. Life doesn’t work like that. So, writing became a hobby. I was delighted to learn that many successful writers held down day jobs, and made time to write in their spare time.

I went through several more years like this, working in various admin jobs, all the while sensing that I’d never really found my niche.

I bought dozens of books on how to write, particularly on how to write for children. I spent the next few years filling notebooks, with dozens of kids poems, stories and odds and ends. I had ideas for chapter books buzzing round my head. I had countless stories and picture book ideas saved on my computer.

And then one day, I decided to take the plunge and send off my first manuscript… After all, what good were all of these poems and stories stuck away in a file somewhere?

Rejection

I took my first rejection letter with a pinch of salt. It was par for the course. Part of the deal. No biggie. But six months later, after a parry of generic similar sounding let-downs, it all began to get rather discouraging. But still, I kept going.

THE AUTHOR WHO NEARLY GOT PUBLISHED

Then one amazingly normal day, quite out of the blue, the phone rang. I was a young stay-at-home mum at the time. Lydia, my four year old daughter, who loved to answer the telephone, announced (rather nonchalantly) “mummy, a lady wants to talk to you about your book!”

Wait… What?! Mouth wide open. Are you kidding me?

I shot to the phone, quite a’quiver, and discovered that it was indeed an ACTUAL real-life editor, wanting to talk to me about my book! She said she loved it! But, she wanted me to make a ton of changes and resubmit it.

I absolutely agreed to do whatever she asked. I mean, crikey, this was my big breakthrough moment! I set to work, rewriting the story, taking on board all her suggestions and dutifully resubmitted the manuscript. And then… I nervously waited.

A week went past. No news. No sweat. I mean, Editors are busy people.

A fortnight later, I was still avidly checking my inbox a gazillion times a day, but still… Nothing. Not even an acknowledgement.

A month came and went…. Not a bean, Josephine. By this time, I had the total jitters. What should I do? Would I be seen as an annoying novice nuisance, if I chased this up?

Almost six weeks later, I finally plucked up the courage to email the publisher, to see where I stood. A few days later I finally got my answer. The editor who had been working on my submission, had suddenly left the company and the project had been dropped. I honestly felt like the bottom had fallen out of my world. This was the pits. I would be known hereafter as the author who almost got published.

I must admit, for several months, I wondered what God was doing. Rather than rejoicing at how close I’d come, I wallowed in disappointment. I concluded that God must want me to stop writing altogether. Maybe it was the wrong time. Maybe this writing thing was becoming too much of a distraction from the things that really matter. It was a very confusing and difficult time.

GIFTS ARE FOR GIVING!

A few years went by, before I picked up my pen again. Life was hectic. I had four young children. I barely had time to think, let alone write. Yet often, when I picked up a novel, or read a story book to my kids, there was this huge pang within me. I felt like I’d missed the boat. I knew I should be writing. I just felt like I’d lost my way.

I began to pray about it all. Was my writing a God-given gift, or an earthly distraction? If God wanted me to lay it all down, then why did I still want to do it so much? What if I got to heaven one day, and He asked me why I had buried my talent?

And then I thought about the verse which says: “freely you have received, freely give.”

What if I was putting so much emphasis on the final destination, i.e. getting a book published, that I’d forgotten to enjoy the journey? What if, during the waiting period, however long it might be, I tried to use my passion to bless others?

A BLOG IS BORN

And so in Jan 2016, having absolutely no blogging experience whatsoever, I set up this blog and wrote my first post. I had no grand designs. No great plan. My motto was, and still is, that if by sharing a few thoughts, I managed to encourage just one person, then it would have been worth it. And if nobody ever read my blog, well, at least it was a place to practice the craft.

the journey continues

Since starting this blog, I’ve had a small degree of success within the Christian Publication market. I’ve finally managed to break into print (albeit, the very first time I got published, they managed to spell my surname wrong!) I’ve written around 10 short devotional stories for Keys For Kids Ministries, and had an article published in Creation Illustrated Magazine.

My first published Devotional Story!

I’ve also had a ton of rejections and some pretty low moments too.

But I’m learning that perseverance and patience pay off eventually. I’m also learning that getting published is not the be all and end all of life. Writing, like all creative pursuits, is meant to be enjoyable, not an endless source of frustration. I would never tell a painter to stop painting just because they never sold any of their art. So wherever you’re at on your journey, keep going. Don’t you dare give up! Keep writing. Keep being brave and sharing your stories. Keep learning. Keep connecting with other writers. And most of all, don’t forget to enjoy the journey!

Prayers And Prodigals

A few days ago, my husband and I stood in the Home Department of TK Max, shopping for pots and pans, kitchen utensils, can openers and all manner of other kitchen paraphernalia.  It seemed a strange thing to be doing, considering our twentieth wedding anniversary takes place later this month.  Talk about de-ja-vu!  Only this time, the kitchen stuff wasn’t for us.  It was for our eighteen-year-old son, who we helped move into University yesterday.

No matter how prepared you think you are, the day your first-born moves out of home, comes around all too quickly.   Didn’t everyone tell you it would go by in the blink of an eye?  But when the time comes for your precious child to fly the nest, you’re in pieces!  Suddenly you can no longer walk past that photo of them on the bookcase without welling up. 

https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/mother-watches-as-her-son-goes-away-gm102750883-12642741

But even though our son moved out physically just yesterday, there are times when our teenage children can feel strangely absent, long before they ever leave.

The pulling away of a teenager can be so painful.  The disconnect can be subtle at first.  The rolling of their eyes every time you ask them to take their dirty cup out to the dishwasher.  The walking around the house with their headphones permanently in place.  The aloofness.  The lack of eye contact.   Warm smiles replaced with aggressive retorts.

You learn to brace yourself for the volcano that’s about to erupt any time you need to speak into an aspect of their life.  It could be the down-hill slump in their grades at school.  Or a concern you have over a relationship.  Whatever the issue, you know it won’t be an easy conversation.  You convince yourself these ugly blow-ups are just a phase.  Your child is hormonal.  This too shall pass.

But, for some of us, things only go from bad to worse.  Your teen keeps oversleeping and turning up an hour late to church.  You decide to apply grace.  After all, it’s probably best not to force the issue.  But then a year down the line, it’s resoundingly clear.  They’ve stopped attending altogether.  Now they visibly cringe every time you play worship music in the house.  And if you ever try and drop a scripture into a conversation, well, you may as well have dropped a hand-grenade.     

Some of us, sadly, may reach a place where our sons or our daughters become openly and brazenly hostile to the gospel – where their lifestyle choices begin to get rather alarming.   Drugs, alcohol, toxic relationships, sexual immorality, anxiety, depression, self-harming.  If any of these things resonate with you, dear reader, then I weep alongside you.  It’s an excruciating thing to watch unfold.  Some days you feel ashamed.  Some days you blame yourself.  Most days, everything inside you just screams out at them: “Stop!  No further!  You’re going to make a total train-wreck of your life!”  But they simply cannot see it.  Once you were the voice they trusted the most.  Now, you are the enemy – the brainwashed boundary-setter that they are determined to defy.

I wonder if the Prodigal Son just woke up one day and decided to cash-in his inheritance and leave his father’s home?  I wonder if he had designs on leaving long before he ever did?  Perhaps, in his heart, he too had begun to pull away and distance himself in the months that proceeded his departure.  Nevertheless, it still must have been quite a shock to have a child ask for his share of the family property before anyone had even died.  It must have been an absolute kick in the gut to hear that just a few days later, the son had sold his share of the property, travelled to a far-off country, where he began to squander every last penny on reckless living.  This son was lost in more ways than one.

There are times, as a parent, when we realise that ‘we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.’ (Ephesians 6:12)

There are times, as a parent, when our hearts feel close to breaking and all we can do is pray.  We’ve read all the best parenting books.  We have even applied different biblical approaches – A soft answer one day; tough love and discipline the next.  But nothing we do or say seems to bring about the breakthrough.    Only God can change the inner condition of the human soul.  Only a work of the Holy Spirit can inscribe God’s holy laws upon a person’s heart.  Sometimes, we must let our child go and fight the battle on our knees.   The Father didn’t stop his son from leaving.  But neither did he give up hoping and praying for his return. 

So, whether your teen has left the house in person, or whether they have become a stranger living under your roof, let me encourage you today to never underestimate the power of prayer.   Let’s remember together that ‘the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty in God for the pulling down of strongholds, casting down arguments, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God’– 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

Perhaps, in some cases, it’s only when our child ‘leaves’ our covering; when they ‘go to a far-off country’ and hit rock bottom – and all we can do is watch and pray – that God’s inner work can finally be done.

So if you’re a hurting parent today. hang on in there. Let’s remember that the Prodigal son eventually came to his senses and yearned once again for his Father’s House. Let’s keep hoping, watching, praying and believing, that even though weeping may endure for a night, that joy – resounding, explosive, inexpressible joy – will come in the morning,

One Thing

to-do-list

Life is so busy.  Things to do.  Places to be.  People to see.  Errands to run.  Appointments to keep.  Sometimes our to-do lists can get seriously overloaded and the week ahead can start to resemble something akin to a military training schedule – you just grit your teeth and get through it!  Take me for instance – here is a list of some of the ‘appointments’ that have been in the Jelf family diary over the last two weeks: (I bet some of you can out-“do” me!?):

One doctors appointment

One infant vaccination appointment

One birthday party

Two grocery shops

One appointment with the school nurse

One hospital appointment

One lunch date with friends

Two Dinner dates at our house

Two Toddler Group outings

Two Youth Group outings

One Swimming trip

One Ice-skating trip

One Home-schooling Group Meeting

One parent’s evening

One Prayer Meeting

One Ladies Bible Study Group

Sometimes I think I should just sell the house and live in the car.  Sound familiar?  Phew!  It’s enough to make you dizzy, isn’t it?!  This week, my husband and I actually had to schedule in time to talk to one another!  I kid you not!  So much to do…so little time.   It can be hard to find time for each other. It can be hard to find time for ourselves.  It can be harder still to find time for God.

This morning I was reading Psalm 27, written by David, who was affectionately known as a ‘man after God’s own heart’.  It says:

“One thing I have asked of the Lord, that shall I seek, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple.”

David must have had a few appointments.  After all, he was the King!  He must have had a few things on his to-do list.  He probably DID have a military training schedule to attend to!  But his single wish, his heart’s desire was to pursue a relationship with God.  There was one place he wanted to be more than any other….in the presence of God.  One thing he wanted to do more than any other…to behold the beauty of the Lord – to catch a glimpse of His glory!  Later in the Psalms David writes “Better is one day in Your House, than thousands elsewhere“.  David yearned for the presence of God as one would thirst for water in a dry and parched land.  Only one thing could truly satisfy.

As I was reading the Psalm, I felt the Lord remind me of the well known story of Martha and Mary.  Martha and Mary were two ordinary women, who lived in an ordinary village.  On one particular day however, they had a far from ordinary appointment in their diary!    You see, Jesus was coming over to their house for dinner!  When Jesus arrived, Mary went and sat at His feet, listening to his teaching.  But poor old Martha.  No.  The story tells us that “Martha was distracted with much serving”.  She was probably rushing around trying to make sure everything was tidy, and working hard to put on a good spread.  And perhaps that would have been just fine with Jesus, if she had done it with a cheerful heart.  But….it wasn’t long before Martha got a bee in her bonnet.  She went up to Jesus and said “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  Tell her to help me!”  I can just see her, hand on hip, foot tapping, finger wagging.  Sadly, I can see me too.

And then came Jesus’ response.  “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.”

There are so many things that can crowd in on us – crowding God out.  So many things shouting for our attention.  Appointments.  Chock-a-block-diaries.  Schedules.  Plans.  It’s so easy to become distracted.  Jesus’ words are still so apt today.  We can be anxious and troubled about so many things, when only one thing is necessary – a heart like Mary’s that chose to sit at Jesus’ feet and a heart like David’s that couldn’t think of anywhere on earth he’d rather be than in the courts of the King.

I know what you’re thinking.  Wait a minute.  We can’t just all sit around reading the bible all day.  Who would wash the socks?  Who would feed the children?  Not to mention the cat?  Who would do the shopping and the school run?  Martha had a point.  I mean, someone had to cook Jesus’ dinner.  But what I’m learning is,  it’s a heart thing.  Jesus wants us all to have a ‘one thing’ mentality, even during our crazy, hectic, full-on days!  It’s not about whether we’re busy or not – it’s about where our treasure is.  Our hearts desire should be firstly for Him.  Doesn’t God command us to love Him with all our heart and soul and mind?  Of course we have jobs to do.  Of course we need to pay the bills and tend to crying babies and mop dirty, sticky floors.  But I think it’s all about learning to love Him as we do.  It’s about worshipping Him in the car as we drive from A to B,  It’s about meditating on His goodness as we walk along the road to the shops.  It’s about thanking Him for His provision as we cook and eat dinner.  It’s about thanking Him morning by morning that His one single agenda was to come into our crazy, hectic world and to demonstrate His great love, by laying down His life, so that we could enjoy a relationship with Him for the rest of our days.

I have absolutely no idea why the King of glory would want a relationship with someone like me!  But He does.  He is so worthy of our devotion.  Let our prayer be like that of David: “Lord give me an undivided heart” – one that longs for you more than any other thing on earth.

Zacchaeus

How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! – Psalm 32:1

zacchaeus-1
So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a Sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way…Luke 19:4

The streets of the city were crowded that day,

The Teacher was coming – He was heading this way.

My heart leapt within at the sound of His Name,

This man who healed lepers, the blind and the lame.

But the crowds all around me were blocking my view,

And try as I might, I just couldn’t push through.

There’s not much to be said for my stature – it’s true,

So I ended up right at the back of the queue!

Then ahead of the crowds in the distance, I see,

Down the long dusty road

There’s a Sycamore Tree,

I was desperate to see Him,

It had to be done,

So I kicked up the dust and I started to run!

My robes snagged on twigs as I scrambled up high,

And I hoped, against hope, that He’d not pass me by,

Still my heart skipped a beat when He stopped by that tree,

And He peered through the leaves,

Looking right up at me!

zacchaeus

What would He say to a man such as me?

What was I doing here?

How could it be?

That this wonderful stranger should call me by name?

In that moment, I knew, I would not be the same.

The people were outraged- He was going to eat,

At the home of Zacchaeus, the swindler, the cheat!

But whenever He spoke, all my pride fell apart,

Until something was changed in the depths of my heart.

The tears started falling, my heart overflowed,

I would pay it all back, every penny I owed.

I would give it all gladly,

I would do anything,

For this wonderful Man,

For this beautiful King!

The love that He showed me,

The grace that He gave,

Swept over my being, like wave upon wave,

What joy filled my soul, and what gladness within,

When the Son of God cleansed me,

From all of my sin.

Blooms In A Barrow

One of the great things about living in South East London, is having a myriad of different grocery shops to chose from, all within walking distance.

On route to my most regular choice of shop, I have the pleasure of walking through a small public garden – a lovely hidden gem, nestled in the middle of concrete pavements and busy traffic. I also walk through a couple of quiet, residential roads, with some pretty front gardens, which seem to be particularly abundant with colour this year.

One of them, in particular, always catches my eye! Standing proudly at the entrance to the property, is this wheelbarrow:

a barrow-full of surprises

Over the past few weeks I’ve watched the blooms inside this quirky container bud and flourish into an eye-catching display. Who knew a battered old wheelbarrow could become a thing of beauty? God’s glory can show up in some surprising places!

It inspired me, to scribble down these words in my notebook this morning:

Your new life within me,

Like blooms in a barrow,

Beauty for ashes,

And joy for my sorrow.

Redemption

The bible, from beginning to end, is a story of redemption – God delights in choosing the broken, the worthless, the foolish things of this world, in order to display His glory.

2 Corinthians 4:7 puts it this way:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

If you look closely at the wheelbarrow, you’d notice signs of its previous existence – the deeply ingrained scuffs and scratches, the splatters of cement or paint. It’s not perfect, but that doesn’t make it any less lovely. What once was filled with rubbish, weighed down by its heavy load, is now brimming over with joyful beauty and vibrant colour. What a picture of God’s gracious handiwork in our lives!

THE GREAT EXCHANGE

Our wonderful God is the great exchanger:

  • Beauty for ashes
  • the oil of joy for mourning
  • a garment of praise instead of a spirit of heaviness
  • a robe of righteousness instead of filthy rags
  • glory instead of shame
  • perfect love instead of fear

The list just goes on and on. If you’re feeling worthless today, broken or weighed down with sin, then I have good news for you – you’re just the sort of person Jesus came to rescue! He doesn’t wait for you to ‘fix up’ before He adopts you into His family. The only thing you really need to be, is empty. Empty and willing to let a wise and loving Father transform your life into a testimony of redemption, all for His glory! Just like blooms in a barrow.

Transformed!

The old repro book-case in our lounge was incredibly useful. But, let’s be frank about this, it was a complete eye-sore! Its conker-colour veneer was a total anomaly, when compared with the contemporary soft whites and greys that we’d chosen for the rest of the room. Yep, that old book-case stuck out like a sore thumb!

It was one of those pieces I’d inherited from my dad, with the full intention of upcycling. Full of enthusiasm, I’d watched a ton of Annie Sloan videos, and even ordered a tin of Chalk Paint in a shade called ‘Old White.’ But sadly, I never seemed to find the time, or the energy required to remove the vast stock-pile of books from the shelves, set up a dust sheet out on the lawn, lug the great unit outside, and devote a day to painting.

And so the Annie Sloan chalk paint found its way into the dark depths of our under-stairs cupboard, where it lay forgotten for well over a year. The bookcase was doomed to be unceremoniously ‘dumped’ at the next available opportunity.

Imagine my delight, when my husband, eager for a ‘lock-down project’ to embark on, declared, one sunny afternoon: “I’m going to paint that bookcase for you tomorrow!”

Imagine my sheer surprise when my two teenage daughters, who would normally embrace ‘family projects’ with as much gusto as a cat being given a bath, piped up: “We’ll help!”

On the very next day, my dream-décor-team, got to work! Many hands make light work, and so, my painting services were not required. I was more than happy to sit and watch, and occasionally supply cups of tea, glasses of juice and sandwiches for these enthusiastic workers.

After several hours of painting, chit-chatting and listening to music, the sad old piece had been lavished with two coats of paint and was left drying in the spring sunshine. It was a real team effort – even our youngest daughter had a go at polishing up the brass drawer-furniture.

When the whole process was finished, the transformation was really quite startling! That tired old bookcase, destined only for the tip, was now absolutely splendid!

The transformation was so utterly satisfying to behold. We all stood back and marvelled. Surely, it wasn’t the same book-case?

Turns out, all it had needed was a little TLC! Hey, don’t we all?

Well, you know, that old book-case got me to thinking…

Firstly, I’m so grateful that we have a God, who chose an old wreck like me, took off my filthy rags and clothed me with robes of righteousness! He redeemed my life from the pit, and crowned me with His love and compassion. I’m so grateful.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new.

2 Corinthians 5:17

Witnessing my family working together as a team like that, was extremely heart-warming. I’m being honest here, the teenage years can be tough – for kids and parents alike! We’ve had some difficult days these past few years. Some hurtful words have been spoken. Some gut-wrenching tears have been cried. Wrong choices have hurt us all. The busy, fast pace of our lives has often caused a disconnect.

But I’m so confident, that in the midst of this Corona Virus crisis, our Redeeming God is wanting to bring about some amazing works of restoration and transformation within families! We have a God who’s in the business of doing more than we can ask or even imagine, don’t we? (Ephesians 3:20).

Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost. He loves to restore. He loves to renew. He loves to redeem. It’s what He came to do!

I believe Jesus is just waiting to be invited in – into our homes, into our lives, into our families. He wants to transform every room of the house! Every sad, flagging marriage, every broken down, ready-for-the-tip relationship, our God is able to refresh, to renew and to restore! Confess your need today, ask for forgiveness if necessary, ask for help – and be expectant – God is full of lovingkindness and abundant grace. In this season, I truly, truly believe, He is pouring out His grace over families, to renew and to restore!

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert

Isaiah 43:19

I hope this post blesses and encourages you.

A Virus, a Census and a Saviour!

This time last week, along with many other parents, I was getting ready to go and collect our seven year old, Emily, from school, for the last time in the foreseeable future.

Bit by bit, over the last few weeks, we’ve come under stricter and stricter measures, in response to the Corona Virus Outbreak.

The UK is now on ‘lock-down’, with numbers of confirmed cases multiplying at an exponential rate. Just hours ago we learned that the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has himself contracted the virus and is now self-isolating – please do pray for him and his pregnant partner. Events are changing and unfolding at an alarming rate.

A month ago, phrases such as ‘lock-down’ were spoken only by actors, starring in Apocalyptic movies. Now they are part of our every day language

Everyone is talking about these ‘unprecedented’ times. A year ago, during prayer, God gave me the phrase…”All change!” Well it’s certainly feeling that way.

But could it be…could it possibly be…that in the midst of all this chaos, all of this disruption and upheaval, that God is still bringing about His Sovereign purposes on earth?

A Prophecy Fulfilled

One of the blessings of this lock-down, for me, has been the extended opportunity to study God’s word. I’ve decided to read through the gospel of Matthew.

In Chapter 2, Matthew quotes from the OT book of Micah, foretelling the birth-place of the Messiah.

And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah, for out of you shall come forth a ruler, who will shepherd my people Israel.

Micah 2:5

In other words, roughly 700 years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Micah foresees it – he speaks of a ruler, a shepherd of Israel, who will come forth from Bethlehem.

For those of us familiar with the Nativity, we know that Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth. So how on earth did Jesus come to be born in Bethlehem?

Through a governmental decree!

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who he was engaged to and who was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.

Luke 2:1-6

A governmental decree suddenly brings a sudden halt to business as usual, bringing about disruption and upheaval. Sound familiar?

Joseph has to down-tools, take his pregnant fiancée, and make something like a 90 mile journey to Bethlehem. This would have been an 8 or 9 day hike!

But this unusual event, this governmental edict, was the very vehicle that God used to bring about His Sovereign purpose! Through the decree of a Roman ruler, Jesus came to be born in Bethlehem – not by happen-stance, but by Sovereign design – to fulfil an ancient prophecy! How wonderful.

Could it be that right now, in our day, when governments all around the world are issuing decrees, not to leave, but rather to stay in our homes, that something deeper might be going on?

Is there a possibility, that even now, in these uncertain days, God could be bringing forth His wonderful purposes on earth?

A message for these times, photographed as I walked to the shop today

We’re all hearing the stories…

  • People are slowing down, reflecting and re-evaluating.
  • Families are eating meals together.
  • Children are enjoying time with their parents and siblings.
  • People are ditching their phones and re-discovering the beauty of reading, writing, painting, playing board games or doing jigsaw puzzles.
  • People are appreciating simple daily freedoms, such as going for a walk.
  • Parents and children are learning new things together at home.
  • Bird song is being heard in cities, normally drowned out by the daily din of traffic.
  • People are being kind to their neighbours, fetching groceries, setting up WhatsApp support groups to support those who are isolated.
  • People are starting to appreciate others, especially the doctors and nurses and other critical workers out on the frontline.
  • People are faced with the brevity of life.
  • People are faced with the instability of finance.
  • People are opening up their bibles, searching for guidance.
  • People are inviting others to Online Church Services or sharing messages of hope and encouragement.
  • A shaking is taking place. A humbling of hearts. A new openness to the good news of Jesus Christ.

Yes it’s challenging. Yes, it’s tough. But let’s be in faith that through this unprecedented set of events, God is still on the throne. He is not shaken. Neither is He perplexed. He is absolutely faithful to all of His promises, and right now, I believe, He is doing something significant in the earth.

Let’s hope that we don’t miss His heartbeat, but yield to whatever lesson He is teaching us. Let’s pray that we come out of this season more conformed into His image.

Let’s be confident, that right now, even though things seem so chaotic, so out of our control, that just like the time of our Saviour’s birth, God is bringing about His Sovereign purposes on Earth. Lord, Thy will be done.