Tag Archives: featured

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.

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Willow

I’m a bit willow-ish – not willowy, that’s for sure – but willow-ish.

It’s about nine years since God told me I’m like a pile of sticks.  Words from God aren’t always easy, but sometimes the most difficult ones have the most value.  I was (and still am a bit) like a pile of dry willow sticks: brittle, stubborn, prickly, awkward, broken in places and very much in need of being bent into shape.

But God, because he is gracious, also gave me a picture of how I could be…

This is a basket made out of willow.  It can both hold a harvest and carry a feast. It is strong.  It is still what it once was, but also completely transformed.

God and I have talked many times about the process of transformation that makes useless sticks into a beautiful basket. And I always end up with these two ‘keys’ to becoming:

Soaking and Surrender

Willow must be soaked, preferably overnight, to make it flexible.  Otherwise when the weaver attempts to bend it or twist and wind it between the uprights it will simply snap.

Dry willow is brittle and inflexible: soaked willow is soft and pliable.

I need soaking.

I need to immerse myself in God’s presence and in his word.  I read once that we are like pendulums, we need to swing between abiding in God and working; worship and ministry; backwards and forwards.  Not spending enough time in God’s presence will make my heart brittle again, but time soaking him in will quickly soften it up.

And as he softens my heart I become more and more ready to be transformed into the shape he wants for me. But even then I need to be willing to let him.

In my willow-ness, most of my task is to surrender. Some of my stubbornness has been soaked out, but most of my determination remains.  I have to choose to allow the weaver to create whatever shape he has in mind for me and not to insist on becoming something else.  It’s so easy to try to second-guess God, to demand to know exactly what he’s doing, or even to come up with a ‘better’ idea.   It’s a challenge to trust him, to rest in the truth that he knows what he’s doing, but it’s necessary.

Soaking and surrender.

It’s great when God gives you a picture of how you could be, especially if he then reveals the keys to becoming.  It may take a long time to get there, but we have do some ability to speed up the process.

For me, and I suspect for many of you, a continual process of soaking and surrender is the way forward.

basket

Squeezed

Ever feel like you’re being squeezed by life?  Yes. Me too.  Today I feel squeezed by little things and big things, important things and unimportant things. Things that need to be done right now, things that needed to be done yesterday and things that I have no idea how to do. All building up and squeezing away.  If you feel a bit like that this postcard might be for you too…

I’ve had the picture of an accordion in my head for a couple of days now.  It’s funny how different instruments or pieces of music can tug at a memory or make an association for us even if we’re not entirely sure why. For some reason when I picture an accordion I always hear the tune of ‘the Old Rugged Cross’ or ‘How Great thou Art‘ playing in my head.   I can probably blame my grandfather, Reg, for that as I’m told he played a concertina (similar to this) enthusiastically and rather badly for most of his adult life and apparently those hymns were in his repertoire.

I’ve found out today that this family of instruments, also called ‘squeezeboxes’, all work by compressing air with bellows and then forcing it over reeds. The reeds vibrate at different pitches creating the sound that we hear.  Depending on the combination of keys and buttons pressed by the player, the air can be forced over several reeds at once so harmonies, chords and a bass line can all be played at once.  The more pressure is created by the air, the more notes can be played loudly at the same time.

Pressure and worship.

You probably can’t avoid pressure in life, (and it probably wouldn’t be good for you if you did). But like this accordion player: you do have the choice about what you do with it.  On a squeezebox you can make an awful cacophony… or by pressing the right buttons you can turn that pressure into worship.  It still might not sound all that beautiful to listen to: but it will be worship.

My favourite example of this is Psalm 22. It begins with David under pressure and wondering why he’s been abandoned. His description of his circumstances is pretty colourful but my attention is caught today by this line: ‘My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs’ (Psalm 22:16 NLT).  I know that feeling. As though a hundred little things, and one or two really big things are snapping away at my heels. Stressful, painful, tiring, everyday pressure. And yet David seems to manage to choose to turn that pressure into worship. A few lines later he declares:  ‘All who seek the Lord will praise him, their hearts will rejoice with everlasting joy’ (22:26).

Of course you can’t just pick up an Accordion and instantly know how to use it.  You have to learn, and then you have to practise.  But it’s a challenge isn’t it?  To take whatever is causing stress, pain or pressure in your life and choose to learn how to turn that pressure it into worship.

 

accordion

 

**********************************************************************

In amongst all the everyday stresses something rather wonderful happened this week. Postcards from Heaven – The Book was published on January 22nd.  Already I’m hearing stories of God speaking life and grace into people’s hearts who have received a copy as a gift. So a huge thank you to those of you who have bought it and given it away!

If you haven’t got one yet:

If you’re in the UK I recommend getting a copy direct from the publisher here

or those of you in the US or Australia can buy a copy here

If you’ve already read the book and  it would be really helpful if you have time to find the book on Amazon or Waterstones and write a review!  Thanks

 

 

 

 

Ordinary beauty

This morning I painted a teaspoon.  Not a fancy one, or one of the cheap, bendy ones I reserve for putting in the kids’ lunchboxes,  but just an ordinary one from the kitchen drawer.

In fact that’s the word that comes to my mind when I look at this spoon – ordinary. 

Useful, certainly; ready-for-action, definitely; but resolutely ordinary.

So I’ve been reflecting today on what it means to be ordinary.   Which is, by definition, what most of us are:

or·di·nar·y    – With no special or distinctive features; normal.

It’s unfortunate that ‘ordinary’ has come to be an insult.  Our culture finds it hard to honour the everyday and tends to despise (or ignore) the ‘unexceptional’.  To be significant, the media tells us, you must be exceptionally rich, or attractive, or talented.  It’s sad to say but I wonder if the church often does the same.

And yet, in the Bible it seems that God doesn’t only use people who are exceptionally talented, or exceptionally rich, or exceptionally beautiful, or exceptionally strong or exceptionally clever.  On the contrary he mostly uses normal, faithful, obedient, available ordinary people.  Moses and Gideon, Esther and Mary, John and Peter. All unexceptional people to the untrained eye, mostly living very ordinary lives until they encountered the living God.

Like this spoon, which was surprisingly difficult to paint because of the intricacies of the ever changing reflections, light shining onto these ordinary people lifted them into the extraordinary.  Though they must receive honour for their obedience and willingness to serve, the glory of what God did with their lives belongs to him.

I also struggle sometimes with the ordinariness of life.  The snapshots I see of other people’s lives on social media look so much more interesting than mine!  Even though I know that they must also have to go to the shops, cook dinner, do the laundry, help with homework and a million other everyday things; I still get frustrated with the proportion of ordinary in my life.

But the whisper I’m hearing today through my teaspoon is : Don’t despise the ordinary.

It took me an hour of looking and sketching and painting to realise how complex and beautiful this little spoon actually was, and how its scratches and dents make it unique. I’d dismissed it in a second as ordinary and uninteresting, and yet on closer inspection found that the light dancing across its surface was so complex that it was both lovely and too difficult to capture.

I wonder if this is a good way to react to the ordinary? A good way to react to ‘ordinary’ people and to my frustratingly ordinary life?

To choose look for the light of God as it plays across the surface.

His light, his fingerprints, are all across my ordinary life if I stop to search for them.   Beauty hidden in the ordinary, blessing waiting for me to find it. I just need to take the time to look.

 

spoon

 

 

 

 

Echoes of worship

 

I’m often surprised by the things that God uses to speak to me… This week it was a science podcast which I listened to on an aeroplane in the hope it would help me to get some sleep, but which turned out to be really rather interesting.

The piece I was listening to featured a man who, having become blind as a teenager, has developed the ability to sense the space around him – walls, doors, objects – by a form of hearing called echo location.  Either by the sound of his footsteps our by making a clicking noise with his tongue he was able to sense the shape of a room, location of barriers, and a clear way forward.  It’s apparently not uncommon for people with impaired vision to be able to do this, and it can even be learned by sighted people.

A few days later I felt God whispering to me about this ‘super sense’.  Was there something in this picture about how we can learn to walk by faith and not by sight?  Could we develop a greater ability to sense the presence of God, of barriers and of safe ways ahead?

The thing that really struck me about this sense was that it involved both making a noise and also a deep form of listening, so deep in fact that the person doing it wasn’t aware of it as a sound, but as a ‘kind of change in pressure’.   I’ve spent time before thinking about the importance of stillness and listening in sensing the presence of God, but not much of the part that could be played by the sounds I make with my mind and my spirit.

I wonder if this explains something of why I find it easy to sense God’s presence when my heart is worshipping?   My worship has an echo, perhaps only barely audible – which helps me to sense his presence.

So I’m choosing to worship just a little bit more.. To take a few minutes, every now and again in the day to tell God how wonderful he is, to list through his names, to call out the praise that rises up in my heart.  I’ll let you know how it works out!

****************

If you love postcards from heaven, or you know someone else who would love it – you might be interested to know that a book of postcards will be published on Jan 22nd 2016!

You can preorder it from Amazon here

 

 

 

Superhero Socks

I don’t know about you – but this time of year really brings out my inner superhero.  It’s probably exactly the right time for this post, on the destructive power of impossibly-high-expectations, to have another airing! Enjoy x

******************

This is my sweet five-year-old, dressing up in her fifteen-year-old brother’s superhero socks. He has a wide collection, and likes to wear them mismatched as a tiny but significant (?) piece of rebellion against the oppression of school uniform…

I’ve decided that having an impossibly high expectation of myself  in any situation is like being quietly stalked by a Superhero.  This SuperSomeone tiptoes along behind me, like a malignant imaginary friend, waiting for  the moment to point out my inadequacies, show me how I could do things better, or encourage me to aim ridiculously high.  Next to her, I always feel pretty rubbish really.

Now, while it’s perfectly OK to enjoy a good superhero story, and even (in some circumstances) to wear the socks; I’m sure you’ll agree that to believe that you can be a superhero is a dangerous, possibly even life-threatening delusion.

But, we all seem to do it. We all seem to invent a ridiculous, superhuman version of the role we’re in, and then expect ourselves to be it : SuperSomeones.

My loudest and most powerful Supersomeone is ‘SuperMummy’. She stands in the background of my life, ever ready to rear her (very beautiful and perfectly made up) head at any opportunity. For some reason she is most likely to manifest the night before the children’s birthdays, or Christmas, when she ‘forces’ me to organise beautifully themed birthday parties, ice cakes until 3 in the morning and try to make everything  ‘just perfect’.

If I ever take my eyes off Jesus and let them settle on SuperMummy, I’m done… I come to a few days later, confused and exhausted, wondering (again) why on earth I thought I needed to do all that stuff.

You see SuperMummy always wears make-up, is slim, has beautiful hair, can wear scarves stylishly, bakes perfectly, has a beautiful home (she found that piece of furniture in a second-hand store and distressed it herself) and a high-powered career, is amazingly spiritual, never shouts, and can preach in high heels without falling over. SuperMummy reads bedtime stories to all of her children every day, never forgets the PE kit, or shows up with kids in uniform on Mufti day, can instantly find a protractor the night before Maths exams, runs the PTA and never misses a dentist appointment…  Gosh, she can probably service the people carrier as well.

SuperMummy does NOT exist… But do you know what? if I let myself be conned into trying to be her, I may not exist for very much longer either.  Trying to be a superhero is exhausting and dangerous… and not what Jesus has asked us to do.

Whoever you are, and whatever stage of life you are at, I bet you
have a SuperSomeone.. A SuperPastor, SuperDad, SuperFriend,
SuperDaughter, SuperWorshipLeader, SuperChristian.  Walking
quietly beside you, whispering over your shoulder, “You need to be more like me”  Do you know what? –  You need to get rid of them, right now, whatever it takes.

SuperWhatever will distract you from what God is calling you to be and to do, he or she will suck all the life out of you, exhaust you, whisper ‘try harder’ over your shoulder until you can’t manage another step and then show you all the ways you’ve failed.

Whatever you think about what he has written or said since, a few years ago Rob Bell, in a very popular book called Velvet Elvis had a moment of pure genius. Writing on this subject he said:

‘KILL YOUR SUPERWHATEVER… ACT NOW… SHOOT FIRST!’

At the moment we fell into his arms and surrendered to him, God our father gave us a gift to help us defeat the Supersomeones. An enormous endlessly supplied water cannon, filled with… grace.

There is grace enough to cover ever one of your imperfections… and mine. There is grace to not to have to be perfect, to be a superhero. In fact, Grace says “you aren’t a superhero, I didn’t make you that way”.

Of course, our kids, work colleagues, churches, friends, families, need us to try to be ‘good-enough’, but there’s a loooooong way between that and a superhero.

So there’s my challenge for you for the week: ask God to shine his light on your inner Superwhatever; ask him to show you where you have ridiculously high standards of yourself and then apply a ridiculously generous amount of grace…. Shoot first.

superherosocks feat