All posts by promisepainter

Liquid words

It means so much to be heard, to be understood.

Last week I took my youngest daughter to see the cinema to see the new Roald Dahl film the BFG (Big Friendly Giant). We both loved it. Katie declared that even without the 3D glasses and hatbox of popcorn it would have been brilliant. high praise indeed.

One scene from the movie really touched my heart. The little girl, Sophie, asks the Big Friendly Giant why he had chosen to rescue her from the orphanage and he replies,

“because I hears your lonely heart in all the secret whisperings of the world”

It is so wonderful to be heard and understood. How much more wonderful to know that even those echoes in your heart that have never made it into words are heard by someone, treasured by someone.

And Roald Dahl was right, someone is listening.

I had already scribbled these words in teardrops in my sketchbook when someone quoted this verse from the passion translation of Psalm 39:

Lord you know all my desires and deepest longings. My tears are liquid words and you can read them all.

The message of this postcard is simply that God hears. He is listening to the whisperings of the hearts of his people. He hears your sadness and your joy, your despair and your hope. He hears your faith and love, confusion and questions, celebrations and disappointments, your anger and your tears.

He has searched your heart thoroughly, knows you completely and loves you fiercely.

He hears.

The monster under the bed

In the half-light of my smallest child’s bedroom, lit only by a glowing IKEA nightlight, almost anything can look like a monster.

The only cure is to call for monster-fighting Mummy, who comes wielding a mightiest of monster beating weapons: The light switch

One flick of the switch and the evil monster that lurks beneath the bed is shown up for the what he really is… A pile of tennis balls, a broken doll, that long lost trainer and an abandoned sweatshirt.

I felt just like this the other day when troubled by a decision I’d made, and desperately worried it was the wrong one. I went for coffee with a friend and poured out all my concerns, all the reasons behind my decision, and my fears for the future. Then God used my friend to shine some light on my situation, to reveal that things weren’t quite as I had understood them to be, that there was hope. She turned on the lights and the monster wasn’t quite the monster I had thought it was.

One of the prayers I’ve been taught to pray a lot is to ask God to shine his light into the situations I’m facing. This picture reminds me of just what a powerful prayer that can be. So often our ‘monsters’ turn out to be less unpleasant than we feared.

Of course, not everything is a pile of shoes… there are sometimes real live terrifying monsters lurking in our lives. But God’s light switch will always show them up to be smaller than they have become in your imagination.

More importantly, it will light up the strands that cannot be seen in the darkness, that powerful hope that is anchored in Jesus:
the monsters are temporary, but the love, peace and joy of his presence will be eternal.

Doppleganger prayer

Ever meet someone who strongly reminds you of someone else? I often see a girl walking around our neighbourhood who from a distance could be my eldest daughter. Same height and build, same long curly hair, same hipster glasses and same taste in clothes.

Seeing her again this week reminded me of a teaching on prayer that I heard in my twenties. It was simply that when you saw someone familiar or a car like the one they drive, and had that moment of ‘recognition’, you should pray for whoever you were reminded of.

Simple enough. And yet God has often used this powerfully in my prayer life. I have prayed for people when meeting their double, or even hearing ‘their voice’ on the radio, and found out, sometimes weeks later, that they had been in particular need at that time.

This postcard isn’t really to promote ‘Doppelgänger prayer’ as a particular method, although it is pretty cool, but mostly to say that God has so much to say to you and not only in the ways you’re already used to hearing him.

God will often speak in whatever language we’re listening in.

Of course, it is important to weigh up whatever you think you hear against the truth of his Word. But hearing starts with listening, and God speaks to his people in many wonderful creative ways.

I’m wondering what new ways of hearing God wants me to find and delight in this summer. I hope you find some too.

I have loved

 

I’ve never liked goodbyes.  When my daughter was little she would refuse even to say the word, as if by not acknowledging someone’s departure she could somehow prevent it from happening.  There are days when I wish I could work that kind of magic myself.

But goodbyes, and the grief that accompanies them, are a part of life that we can’t avoid.

This week we’ve said goodbye to yet more good friends.  People that we have loved, laughed and shared life with, and who are now off to start a new chapter in another part of the world. It happens, all the time. For some it’s a temporary farewell, because we know that one way or another, we will see them again. But we don’t know how many years that might take, and we will miss them.  They take a part of our hearts with them.

It hurts to say goodbye. And sometimes a little voice whispers that it would safer to love less; to not invest pieces of my heart in friendships with people who will inevitably leave;  that this sadness and sense of loss is my own fault and that perhaps I should have guarded my heart better.  And I certainly won’t cry, because that would be silly.

In some cultures people know how to grieve well.  I suspect that some of us have lost touch with that a bit.  We treat grief of all kinds like an illness, something mysterious that you need to get over as quickly as you can and avoid wherever possible.

And yet grief isn’t a malfunction. It’s not a sign that something is broken and need fixing.  It’s actually the reverse. It’s a sign that you have done what you were supposed to do, a medal of honour to say that you have loved.

CS Lewis wrote this: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.”  Grief is a risk we take when we love.

I’m reminded of this from Ecclesiastes:

there is a time for everything, a season for every activity under the sun
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot
a time to kill and a time to heal
a time to pull down and a time to build up
a time to weep and a time to laugh
a time for mourning and a time for dancing

 

This is how life is. Goodbyes and grief happen. There are seasons where weeping and mourning and perhaps even anger are the appropriate emotions to feel and to express.  But I love that this piece of poetry also sparkles with hope.  There will also be seasons of healing and building, laughing and dancing to come, at the right time.

So that’s the postcard of the moment.  When you’re mourning, for whatever reason, you may not want to do it loudly, but do it without shame.

Wear it as a medal of honour – I have loved.

medal

 

 

 

You go before me

I’m back, did you miss me?

Sorry I’ve been quiet lately.

Sometimes life can be like a stage in a car rally: racing through winding country roads much faster than is comfortable.   The driver clings to the wheel as twists and turns come up on the road ahead, swerving past, over and sometimes through obstacles. All at breakneck speed.

Some of the countryside is beautiful, but it mostly just streams past the windows while you try to focus on the bit of road in front of you and wonder what’s around the next corner.

 

As I painted this picture God spoke to me about three things:

1. Life isn’t a long, straight, easy highway all the way.

Not for anyone.

There are unexpected twists and turns, hazards and dead ends, and sometimes places where you have no idea which is the way ahead.  (There is also occasionally a patch of breathtaking scenery, which you might never have seen if you’d gone an easier way.)

My momentary struggles aren’t a punishment for something I did, or even, necessarily, a result of my bad choices.  They’re normal life.  Whatever Facebook might be telling you, no-one has it completely easy all the time.  It’s tough, but it helps to admit that, to realise that you or your family aren’t the odd ones out here.

2. I’m not in this race alone

Each driver in a rally has a co-driver who has studied the course and made notes about where the turns are.  All the way through the race the co-driver calls out that it’s time to turn to the left or right.  They’ve already worked out a route past any obstacles, seen where it’s necessary to brake hard and are aware of what’s coming up around the next corner, and the next one.

The driver would do well to listen carefully.

Jesus is the one who goes before me.  He’s the one who knows the route through the field of boulders, in and out of the winding lanes  or wherever else we end up.  In fact he’s the only one who can navigate us through it.

Of course, I do have to listen.  And when you’re stressed out and under pressure listening doesn’t always come easily.  But it does seem to be possible to choose it. I’m trying.

3. There’s a roll cage

Sometimes we try to reassure ourselves that God will make sure no bad things happen to us if only we follow him and have faith in him. Perhaps the reverse is actually true?  I wonder if a deeper faith lies in a place where bad things happen and yet still we follow him.  I’ve watched faith-filled people experience the worst and yet survive with their faith mostly in tact. God is also our roll cage.

It was only as I painted this picture from one I found online that I noticed the roll cage in the car.  The worst might happen, but the team can survive it.

 

 

 

 

 

It is well with my soul… reasons to love Good Friday

Once again it’s the time of year when our thoughts are drawn to the cross, to the pain endured there, to the freedom achieved there. But, if I’m completely honest, Good Friday hasn’t always felt like good news…

I first decided to follow Jesus when I was fifteen, and somehow in those early years I picked up the idea that Good Friday was all about feeling bad and guilty.  This was a special day in the church calendar when we all took a good long time to think about how awful we were, about how much our beautiful saviour went through for us, and about how responsible we were for that terrible pain and suffering.

I don’t remember anyone teaching me that this was ‘Guilt Friday’, but that’s what I learned. This was the day to look at the cross really hard, and then to feel really, really bad.

and I did.

But a beautiful revolution happened about 15 years later…

Late one lent evening, as I sat in a prayer-space looking at a wooden cross draped with red silk,  I had one of those moments where something you’ve known in your head for a long time finally makes it into your heart. God showed me the cross as if it were an enormous power shower towering above me. I suddenly realised that as I knelt beneath the flow of Jesus blood, as it poured out over my hands, my head, my heart, it didn’t stain me with responsibility, it didn’t make me guilty – it made me clean.

So I realised that on Good Friday I couldn’t come to the cross and feel bad about myself, or about how much Jesus suffered for me. Not because I’m not a sinner, or that Jesus didn’t suffer, but because some much bigger, more glorious things were filling up my head and heart so much that there wasn’t room for anything else.

As I said to a friend at the time:

“I know I should be feeling bad, but I just can’t help myself, when I look at the cross, all I can feel is clean

Awesomely, gloriously clean.

And when I remember what Jesus was prepared to go through in order to heal my relationship to the Father, what he chose to endure so that you and I could be made clean and whole and entirely free from guilt and shame, I don’t feel bad (all that clean-ness gets in the way), but I do feel very, very grateful, and very LOVED.

Really really loved.

The words of this hymn, It is well with my soul by H. G. Spafford, explains the feeling that wells up inside me better than I can:

My sin – oh the bliss of this glorious thought! –

My sin, not in part, but the whole,

is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,

praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

With that in your head it just won’t be possible to look at the cross and feel bad.

So this Easter, as you’re celebrating the extraordinary victory of the cross and resurrection, take another look at the cross and see if you can see this power shower.  If you feel even the smallest part dirty, or guilty, or unworthy or ashamed – step in.  The cross can wash you clean.

.power shower

Ready?

Are you ready?  This is an ancient trumpet used in Bible times to communicate urgent messages to the people. A blast on this was a call to attention, an urgent warning, a sign that something was about to happen.

I found a lot of references to trumpets in the Bible today.  From the trumpet sound that announced the arrival of the Lord in Exodus to the seven trumpets of Revelation. All of them saying:

Stop, look, listen, pay attention.  Whatever it is you were waiting for is happening now!

There’s something quite scary about the idea of an unexpected trumpet call announcing something big and imminent. Like an air-raid siren or smoke alarm going off, you have to react immediately, follow a plan you already made, be ready.

Reading Nehemiah especially it strikes me how much his fellow builders were ready.  With one hand they were building up the wall, and in the other hand they held a weapon.  They knew that the moment the trumpet sounded they needed to gather together and defend themselves.  To switch instantly from building to battle. No time even to swap one implement for the other.  They hadn’t stopped doing what they were called to do- but they were ready.

For Nehemiah’s men the trumpet was a warning – a message that you need to start fighting, right now.  In the other verse that caught my attention today the trumpet sound heralds good news- the best news- that Jesus is about to return:

Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
1 Corinthians 15:52

In either case, the blast of the trumpet is not saying ‘now’s the time to get ready’.  I suspect that if you wait to get ready until you hear the trumpet, it might already be too late.

I have no idea when that final trumpet call is going to sound, and no interest in predicting when it might.  But I know I want to be ready. And I know that until then we’re not supposed to stop and do nothing and just watch… That’s the job of the guy with the trumpet.  Our job is to be ready and to get on with the task we’ve been given at the same time.  And maybe to know what we’re going to do when the trumpet sounds.

But I wonder as well if there might be moments when God blows a trumpet in our individual lives or the lives of our church communities.  Each one saying ‘pay attention- the time is now’. Sometimes a warning, sometimes a herald, but every time vitally important that we hear and respond.

Are we ready to drop everything and listen up; to discern whether it’s time to enter into a new battle, or whether God is about to arrive in our lives in a new way?

 

 

 

free to dance

Today I’m altering costumes.  It’s big show night tonight for my daughter and her outfit is too big.  If you want to dance in something, it needs to fit really well. There’s no time to get the right size, so I’m making a few adjustments.

I’m also wearing clothes that don’t fit properly.  I lost a little bit of weight recently. Not much, just enough in fact to make my jeans fall down if I try to run anywhere.  I really need to find the time to get a new pair of jeans that actually fit me. But until then I’m just getting by with the old ones and making sure I hold onto them if I need a turn of speed.

This theme of badly fitting clothes in my life at the moment reminds me of this verse from Ephesians 4: 22-24

 You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts,  and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,  and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (NRSV)

When we chose to follow Jesus and accepted his gift of a new heart and a fresh start, our old ways of living stopped fitting.    It’s as if we have become a totally different shape.  But we often keep wearing bits of our old lives out of habit.  The list in Ephesians is pretty long: malice, anger, unforgiveness, bitterness, stealing, harsh words…

Those ways just don’t fit the new you.  You need to break the habit of wearing them.

Firstly: They don’t suit you.  They’re not your colour.

Secondly:  You can’t dance in something that doesn’t fit.

Why not ask God today if you’re still wearing something that doesn’t really fit you.  Something that’s restricting your movement or stopping you from running forward.

It might be something from Paul’s list, or something more difficult to spot, like the negative things you whisper to yourself or  say about yourself, you’ll never amount to anything, you can’t do that or I’m rubbish, I’m useless. Or it might be something hidden away for fear someone will see it.

Ask God, because he has priorities. He knows which thing he wants to help you deal with today. It’s not meant to be an exercise in thinking about all the things which are awful about ourselves, but in asking God to pinpoint the one thing he’d like us to get free from first.

Whatever it is, ask God to help you to take it off. Then accept his all-covering forgiveness and pick up the new clothes that he has for you to wear:

Clothes that fit well enough to dance in.

 

P.S For those of you who’ve noticed – this is painted in acrylics instead of watercolour – a temporary departure!  It’s a favourite of mine and I wish there was a word for the-freedom-generated-by-the-dance.  If there was, that would be its title!

P.P.S Thank you to everyone who has bought a copy of Postcards from Heaven. If you have time to go and write a review on the Amazon or BRF listing that would be wonderful x

 

 

 

 

When I’m with you

It’s not so much a picture that’s captured my attention this week as a song that I keep hearing.  My car radio is broken – stuck on the local forces radio station and a DJ with a fairly limited playlist, so I keep hearing the same songs over and over.  This week’s favourite is a song written by a girl for her best friend – it has some pretty dubious lyrics, but there’s one line that sends powerful echoes through my soul every time I hear it :

“When I’m with you, I’m standing with an army”

Isn’t that awesome?  When I’m with you I’m standing with an army.  When I’m with you I can face anything because I know I’m not facing it alone.  When I’m with you I can be brave and courageous, because I know I have back-up, I know someone is covering my back.

When I’m with you, I’m standing with an army

It’s a statement of faith, a statement that slices through fear. And better than that, in Christ, it’s actually true:  One of the names of God that describes who he is and what he is like is ‘The Lord of Hosts’.  It’s used more than 200 times in the Old Testament, is sometimes translated ‘Almighty’ and means that God has ultimate power over all created things, including the mighty angelic host of heaven.

The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.  Psalm 46:1 NRSV

What a beautiful, awesome verse.  Pause with it for a moment.  Read it again, drink it in..

God is a both a refuge- somewhere you can run to and be safe- and the leader of a mighty army who will fight alongside you. He is your shield and the sword at your right hand. He will defend you and he will fight for you.  He is with you and when he is with you there is a whole host of heaven that stands with you too.

 

Are you fighting a battle?

Sometimes it feels like I’m fighting several skirmishes on several different fronts.  It’s tiring and painful and I easily forget the mighty army that stands with me and fights alongside me. I often make the mistake of thinking that I’m fighting my battles alone.

Sometimes the reality is harder to see than the deception.

And yet this is the truth:

When Jesus is with me, I’m standing with an army.

 

 

 

 

 

Pitchforks

Say pitchfork and immediately I see a scene of angry villagers.  They’re probably in a black and white movie about Dracula, each of them wielding a different harvest-tool to fight against a common enemy. Terrified and terrifying in equal measure they band together and attempt to root evil out from their community.

When I heard God say that I should paint a pitchfork in action today, I decided that the angry farmer motif wasn’t going to fly, so I did a little bit of research on what seemed to be the more peaceful use of a pitchfork – winnowing.

Wheat has to be threshed – a fairly violent process which loosens the grain from the stalks and chaff (husks and little bits of straw).  And then winnowed – separating the grain from the rest.  I grew up on grain-growing land, surrounded by fields of golden corn every summer, but I had no idea about winnowing because for a long time there have been machines that do the job very efficiently.

In Bible times, however, and in parts of the developing world still, the job is done by throwing the pile of mixed grain, straw and chaff into the air and allowing the wind to blow away the straw and chaff while the heavy grain falls to the ground.

To winnow is to separate. To remove that which is unwanted. To purify.

That made me smile: It turns out that whether it’s used by a mob against a vampire or by an individual on a windy summer’s day; a pitchfork is for separating out evil from good and removing it.

In the Bible itself winnowing as a metaphor is often about God coming and getting rid of sin; about purifying the nation; about blowing away all that is bad.

This awkward and difficult task is part of what we’re called to as his people.  It strikes me as important though that the pitchfork doesn’t poke about and separate stuff while it’s on the ground.  It has a very specific task – that of lifting the whole mess up into the wind.

The wind itself does the work.

 

winnowing2

 

Perhaps this postcard is personal.  Perhaps you are aware that the job of threshing has been done.. that sin or shame in your life has been loosened, but is still in there in the mix. Perhaps you need a time of lifting up your own soul into the wind of God, of surrendering to his work.

Or perhaps it’s about your part as a voice to your nation.

I listened to a radio programme this morning about mobile phones.  One part of the discussion was concern that we’re becoming a generation of bystanders, that rather than intervene when something isn’t right, we’re more likely to take out a phone and video it. I wonder if this pitchfork is a challenge to become more of an intervener than a watcher. Perhaps it’s time to take your voice and use it – to pray, to expose truth, to not just be a bystander. To lift up the way our society works into the wind and see which way the grain falls.

 

winnowing