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?

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.

Don’t Give Up!

20160729_092827
Beautiful Agapanthus

 

For as the earth brings forth its sprouts and as a garden causes the things sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations” – Isaiah 61:10-11

I’ve been praying and longing to see Revival in the UK for many years now.  Perhaps you’ve been praying for your nation too?  Or perhaps you’ve been praying for years to see someone come to faith.  If so, I want to encourage you today!

One morning, a few years back, I was talking to one of my daughters about how committed I am to praying for revival in this land.  Just before rushing out of the door to school, she looked at me, a little perplexed and said something along the lines of:

“Mum, this world is so awful.  I’m not sure that one person can make that much difference…”

(But more of that story later!)

When I inherited the garden in our current home, it was literally two strips of weedy,  unyielding earth.  The soil was full of stones.  The ‘garden’ had not plant nor flower, just hundreds of very deep rooted weeds.

The only thing it did have, was potential…it was a blank canvass really.

So, determined to have a garden, I began.  Digging, weeding, removing stones.  It was pain-staking, back-busting!  I tried adding sand into the heavy clay soil in order to improve the claggy, ‘stick-to-your-boots’ consistency.  I bought bags of rich compost and literally poured them into the beds, digging and turning the earth again and again, to try and provide a more habitable environment for plants and flowers.  The groundwork took time.

But eventually the condition of the soil improved.

Then came the long job of buying and trying – going to garden nurseries and coming home with car boots full of perennials and shrubs.  I remember placing the plants in the soil – and frankly, being a bit underwhelmed.  These puny little plants would just look so insignificant, so small in all that earth!  They didn’t make much impact.  They certainly didn’t look like the garden magazines I had been browsing through!

20160705_142857
Pretty depressing!

Was all this hard work ever going to be worth it?

Fortunately for me, my mum’s garden is full of flowers!  So much so, that she was able to give me clumps of Geranium and Sedum from her own beds.  Every now and then she’d pop round with a tub full of Iris or Day Lilly – and we’d dot them around as fillers.

All of this activity went on for several years.  Planting things.  Trying things.  Moving things.  If I’ve learned one thing about gardening – it’s this:  No pain, no gain.

But then suddenly…years down the line, you begin to see your garden taking shape.  Suddenly, there’s colour and form.  People start to notice: “Isn’t your garden looking lovely?”  But best of all –  you notice!  One warm summer’s evening, you sit outside,  sipping a mug of tea, realising that all your hard work is starting to pay off.  And you smile…because somehow, the fact that it took time, years even, makes it all the more rewarding.  I tended this garden!  I kept going year after year, even though – to start off with – nothing much seemed to change.

20160927_070341
Yes, it’s the same flower bed!

Looking back, all those years that I’ve spent tending my garden, have run parallel to the years that I’ve spent praying for this Nation.  Isn’t God great?  Don’t you just love the way He weaves the natural and the supernatural together to teach us things?   What a prophetic picture lies within all of this toil!

Because the thing is…whatever you sow into a garden, you’ll eventually reap.

Put in a Climbing Rose and come July, you’ll have Climbing Roses!  Plant a pot full of Daffodil and Tulip bulbs in September, and POP – there’s your first bit of early spring cheer!  Fill your low wall with Geraniums, and hey presto – Geraniums it is!

20160729_09284720160717_192914

Today I want to remind you of the wonderful principle that  God has set in motion.  Sowing and reaping.

“Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting.  He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him!” – Psalm 126:5-6

I know that if you’ve sown seeds of prayer for your nation, or your loved one’s salvation – perhaps tears at times – then no matter how long, no matter how many years it takes, some day, one day…you will see your reward.

If you’ve been praying – particularly for revival or salvation –  and you’re on the verge of giving up…please don’t!   One fine day, when you least expect it, you’ll turn around and your garden will be filled with beautiful blooms!  And what a wondrous reward it will be – the fruit of all your labours!

Can I tell you the rest of the story about my daughter?   A few days later she came downstairs in the morning and said: “Oh by the way mum, I had a dream about you last night….”

“Go on,” I said, intrigued.

“You were trying to start a fire by rubbing sticks together,” she said.  “At first nothing was happening.  But you didn’t give up.  Then all of a sudden, there was a spark, and then the whole thing just burst into flame!”

My mouth was almost agog as she added:

“And I think it’s to do with you praying!”

So today, here’s God’s message to you (and me):  Keep going!  Don’t you dare give up!