The Red Dot

“I wonder what that means?”

As we walked around the exhibition I noticed that a few of the paintings were marked with a bright red sticky dot.  Small, but bright. Obvious.

I found out later that the dot marked out a painting that had been picked out by a buyer and paid for.  Ownership had been transferred but, so that it could remain hanging as part of the exhibition,  collection has been deferred to the last day of the show.

To show which paintings have been sold (and are no longer available to buy) a little red sticky dot is placed on the wall next to it.

This is the picture that popped into my head a few days ago when I was skimming through Ephesians chapter 4 and read this:

‘… the Holy Spirit, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.’ (Ephesians 4:30b, NIV)

 

Today’s postcard of hope is that the Holy Spirit in our lives is like the red dot at an art exhibition.  When we believe and trust in Jesus we are instantly marked out for redemption.  His presence shows that we are ‘already paid for’.  Ownership has been transferred, only awaiting collection on the final day.

It’s a picture brimming over with grace.  There is absolutely nothing I can do (or not do) to affect my status.  I have been bought; the required price has been paid: I belong to God.

And I wonder to myself: If I really, really believed this, if I knew it in the deep places of my heart, how would I live differently?

Perhaps, I could rest in that truth: It is done. I am sealed for the day of redemption

Perhaps, I could stop worrying what God thinks about my multiple mess-ups.  He knew… he bought me.

Perhaps, I could stop striving, working hard to earn his favour. I belong to him… I can’t change the ending.

And perhaps, I could use that confidence and freedom to serve him from my heart instead of my head. I belong to God… he will be coming back to collect me.

 

I’ve read it in scripture and I know in my head that this is true: The Holy Spirit in me is a mark showing who I belong to.  And I can always try harder, strive to live differently.

But while it may be my style to try to modify my behaviour and hope that somehow that will sort out what’s in my heart, God’s way is to transform my heart, so that what flows out of it is good.  This postcard’s truth is so obvious, so important, that it sometimes gets stuck somewhere on the journey between our heads and our hearts.  We know it to be true but struggle to live out of it.  It’s probably one to ask for help with…

 

Father, thank you that you chose me,

that you valued me,

paid the price and bought me,

that I belong to you.

Spirit of wisdom and revelation, 

unfold this truth in the deep places of my heart.

 

 

reddot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Embers

We’ve just moved into a new place.  To our great delight, as well as the necessary number of bedrooms and walls and a roof,  it has an open fireplace.  Believe it or not, winters in the med can be surprisingly chilly, and this one is definitely no exception(!)  so the past few weeks have seen something of a revival of the art of fire building and tending!

In all that, this simple picture has really found a place in my heart – Someone blowing gently on the embers of the fire and seeing them suddenly glow with light and heat.  It’s so easy, and yet almost magical to watch.  Seeing this happen over and over has stirred my heart, and a conviction has taken root that now is a time to pray over embers.

How many of you know people whose hearts have burned with passion for God in the past, but for whatever reason have gone cold?  How many of you have watched the fire of someone’s first love for Jesus settle into something steady but lukewarm?  Perhaps some of you can recognise parts of your own heart where the light and heat has gone out?   Perhaps you’ve even begun to believe that hope, joy and excitement are for new believers, and that the reality of faith is slogging it out in the cold.

Sometimes it’s about circumstances or disappointments that have caused a gradual, not even noticeable coldness, or perhaps we’ve lived life or done ministry in a way that really has ‘burned us out’.   Sometimes we’ve made mistakes (or others around us have), and instead of running to the stream of forgiveness we’ve let our guilt or unforgiveness smother the fire within us like a heavy blanket.

As always, there is so much grace here. We all live in seasons, there are times when we feel more or feel less of God’s presence, or have more or less zeal to serve him.  Sometimes faith really is about putting your head down and forcing yourself forward.  That’s kind of normal –  a pendulum swing in our walk of faith.  But maybe you look down at your own heart right now and all you see are embers.

In all of these cases, I am absolutely convinced that all God wants us to do with our embers is to surrender them to him and ask him to breathe on them again.

Where you can see embers in your own life, or in the people you care about, it’s time to pray.  It’s time to pray that God would come and breathe where the fire has almost gone out, to blow gently on the embers and to see them glow into life again.  It’s time to ask him to restore light, life and warmth to the hearts of men.

And it’s time to sit back and watch what happens.

 

embers-crop

 

 

 

 

 

The Art of Balancing Oranges

Ever played the orange-balancing game?  Players see how many oranges (or in this case mandarins) they can stack on a tea-plate, then try to stand up, turn around and sit down without dropping any.  It’s trickier than you might imagine.

Sometimes my life feels a lot like this.  There are so many oranges: so many things yelling for my urgent attention, so many people that need me to do something, or be somewhere, or find their shoes…

There are days when I think that if someone tries to balance one more orange on top of the pile (just one more) I might yell, throw the whole lot up into the air and storm away to some imaginary place of peace (maybe some arid place where no-one has ever even seen an orange).

I don’t of course, I just keep on balancing and dropping… And avoiding people who might have oranges in their pockets that they want me to carry.

I’ve slowly learned over the years that it helps to pray about things.  So I was moaning to God the other day about all the problems and worries and things to do (he called some of them blessings and opportunities, but I wasn’t in a totally positive frame of mind) and telling him how I really needed FEWER oranges thank you very much, or I couldn’t be held responsible for the mess I was going to make on the pavement, when he suddenly stilled my heart and whispered a word of great wisdom and encouragement:

 

“Get a bigger plate”

 

“There are bigger plates?” I asked incredulously, “I hadn’t thought of that

So it’s led me to a lot of thinking this week about what ‘plates’ might be made of, and how you could go about growing yours to fit your needs.  And my thoughts are, in no particular order:

  1. Take care of yourself.  Mentally, and physically, as much as you are able.  It makes a difference.  I hesitate to say this, given the shape I’m currently in, but it really is true that exercise gives you more energy. I don’t know how exactly, but I get more done on days I’ve made it to the gym. Invest time into your  mental health too, play, create things, get enough sleep, drink more water.  All of these things grow plates.
  2. Take care of yourself spiritually too. Pray! Walk as closely to Jesus as you can, not as far away as you can get away with, take time in God’s presence every day, even if it’s just a little bit.
  3. Choose wisely. Ask for wisdom so that you can make good choices and walk in them.  Don’t try to be superman, or superwoman, supermum, superdad or superpastor. If you don’t get what I mean by that please read this.
  4. Finally, grow your faith.  Faith is like water that goes granite-hard just as you step out onto it.  It gets stronger, wider and more weight-bearing the more you use it. If you never step out onto the water, maybe you’ll never get to learn that it can take your weight?

 

I pray that if you are balancing oranges, you’ll find ways to grow a bigger plate.  That your current burden would become a breeze to balance, and that you would be able to learn to let Jesus take responsibility for the weight.  I pray also for those days when oranges fall, that you would be enveloped in a grace that enables you to trust our Good Father -the ultimate expert fruit-catcher.

Hope

Hope /həʊp/:  n.  An optimistic attitude of mind, based on the expectation of positive outcomes.

It seems appropriate that at the start of thew new year I’m sitting here facing the challenge, emptiness and possibilities of a blank page.  It’s the calm before the storm of school, activities, study and work beginning again, and 2017 is still an empty blog post, a ticking cursor, waiting for me to get on and write something on it.

As you know, life isn’t all mountain tops.  Sometimes it’s deep difficult valleys, and a lot of 2016 was a struggle.  I didn’t write much.  It’s hard to write about lessons you’re still in the middle of learning and in the valley you don’t much feel like stopping to think about the view.

Actually, in the valley you mostly focus on trying to keep your face out of the rain and keep walking.  Sometimes victory is just staying upright and limping on.   But, even if you aren’t really aware of it, in the valley, truth takes root,  hope buds, new things grow.

This year God has been nudging to me to start writing postcards for people walking through valleys and wildernesses; Postcards of hope.  Not the watery hope that we often hear about: longed for, but not really expected, but solid hope. Hope which is the optimism that grows out of what we know in our hearts is coming.

Here is the first, a picture that some of you will recognise.  It’s mostly a wilderness, a blank, unexplored space.  It’s both terrifyingly empty and brimming with potential and  sometimes just what God needs in our lives.  Often he creates it, clearing the land of what has gone before to ready it for a new crop. In other times he comes and breathes new life into a space that has been created by a loss that he too wept over.

wilderness

Either way, if you’re facing a wilderness, it’s time to look for the new thing God is growing.  Whatever it is might take a while to bear fruit (and you might need some time to  rest and sit and watch it grow), although you should remember that even the dead wood of Aaron’s staff budded, blossomed and bore fruit all on the same day, so at the right time, when God does move, things might happen more quickly than you think!

I know not all of you are walking in valleys right now. Most of our lives are a patchwork of struggles and dancing, with blessing found in parts of both. But I trust that some of you on the mountains might help these postcards find their way to our sisters and brothers in the valleys and perhaps store up some of the truths for the day you do need them yourselves.


And thank you, to all of you who have encouraged me to begin again, to all of you who have shared postcards, who have bought the book and given it away, who have written to tell me how God has used my pictures to speak into your hearts, and who are still here reading in spite of the months of silence.  I wouldn’t have made it back here without you.

Ellie x

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

Words and Pictures to help you hear from God

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