Tag Archives: featured

Walking in the shade

It’s June and, after a few unseasonably cool weeks, summer has finally arrived in Nicosia.  (Weather.com tells me it’s 38 degrees C out there today- I am hiding inside!)

Once again, as the temperatures rise, I notice that we are beginning to live differently. We walk more slowly,  get up earlier, stay up later, nap in the afternoons.  School closes, we wear hats, close the shutters at 9am – ‘to keep the cool in’,  drink a lot of water and count down the days to when we can escape to chilly, wet England for the holidays.

Last week, as I walked lazily through the old city with visiting friends (in search of ice-cold frappé); one of those friends  pointed out another new habit I seem to have gained:  I cross the road a lot.   It took me while to work out what they meant, but it turns out that like many Nicosians at this time of year, I’m forever crossing over to the other side of the street as I subconsciously choose to walk or stand in patches of shade.

This week’s postcard is ‘walking in the shade’ because I’m aware that life can sometimes be ‘superheated’.

A hot season could be fired by pain, grief, fear, anxiety or uncertainty, or any number of other things, but a major culprit that turns the heat up under many of us are IHE’s: Impossibly High Expectations.

IHE’s -Supercareerguy/girl, superpastor, supermodel, superparent, superfriend, superspouse,  superchristian, superblogpostwriter  (pick your poison) fanned and fueled by family expectations, the media, church, facebook, pinterest, etc. put us (or make us put ourselves) under enormous pressure.  There is always another standard for us to measure our ‘success’ against, always another job that needs to be done yesterday.  That can make things pretty hot.

Whatever the cause; if you’re living in a hot place – you need to learn to walk in the shade.

The Bible tells me that the Lord my God is ‘the shade at [my] right hand’ (Psalm 121:5).  In a hot season you have to hunt out the shade.  If that means crossing the road every time you turn a corner or walking a longer way around then so be it …  If you’re in a hot place right now, it might be taking all you’ve got to keep going, and there may not be much time or energy to invest in your relationship with Jesus.    Please find some.    I’ve noticed that when the sun is at its highest and hottest if you want to get shade from something you have to walk very close to it.  And the closer you get, the deeper the shade.

So, if you’re in a hot season, walk close to Jesus.  Don’t let anger or disappointment, or tiredness or bewilderment make you decide to walk out in the heat of the sun.   Choose the shade.  And then keep on choosing it.

Of course, I know that not everyone who reads this will be living in a hot season… Some of you will be in a cold one.  Perhaps God feels a long way away right now; or maybe you feel as though your heart has somehow grown cold.  I was praying about this today and I felt God remind me that in the winter, everyone in my city chooses to walk in the sunshine…

That’s our beautiful God my friends: In the blast of the hot season he is the shade at your right hand, in the chill of the cold season he is the gentle sunlight that brings warmth to your soul.    Wherever you are living right now, draw near to him… he is what you need.

 

shadefeat

 

 

 

reflect greens

 

For your Journal:

Think about what this postcard says to you.  What kind of season are you in right now?  How would you describe it?  What reasons do you have for pressing in close to God, for listening for his voice, for walking the path he asks you to walk?

 

What do you think it means to walk close to God?  What does it take to get there?

I’m going to think some more about those IHE’s… expect more next week 🙂

 

 

time for a cup of something?

Yesterday morning, at about 11:30, I got a text message from my 12 year old:

Exam finished, pick me up, Got time for a cup of something?

As ever, my first thought was “no time”.

But then I thought, “how often does my little girl ask me out for a coffee?  Wouldn’t it be lovely to say yes and to do this thing which will make her feel loved and special?”

So we stopped by at coffee shop on the way home and drank iced coffee in the sunshine while we talked about the test she’d taken.  I’m so glad I took that time. It was great coffee, great rest and great to be together. As I was enjoying that moment of togetherness and sharing with her I remembered this picture that I painted during worship on Sunday…

It’s a tray of plastic cups from the ubiquitous Swedish furniture store. We must have at least a hundred of these at our church for the kids to have water in, and it feels like nearly that many at home!  Anyone else out there prepared to admit to having bought three sets in order to avoid the argument about who gets the pink one?

I’ve only painted a few, but in the picture God showed me, there were many, many different coloured cups, all with something slightly different in them. And one of those cups is for you.

I don’t know what is in the cup God has for you today

It’s a cup of blessing, and sometimes blessing comes with laughter, sometimes with tears.  It might be comfort for your pain, it might be a lesson learned, it might be uncontrollable joy bubbling up from underneath the stone floor you’ve carefully laid in place. It might be any number of awesome, beautiful, wonderful, precious things.  I don’t know.  But I do know that it will be good.

I don’t know whether you will choose to drink the cup God is offering you today

It might not be the same as yesterday’s; it might not be what he has promised for tomorrow. It might not be what you think you need right now; it might not look like an easy cup to drink.  It might look so good that you think it can’t be for you, that he can’t possibly want to pour out blessing for you after everything you’ve done.

I don’t know whether, like me, you will just think “No time”, and never make it to take the cup he is offering.

Don’t be too tired or too busy.  Don’t be so caught up in the urgent that you miss the important.  Whatever reason you have for not taking the cup God has for you today, don’t let it be “I just didn’t get around to it”.

But what I do know, beyond doubt, is that he has a cup for you.

Whether or not you call yourself a Christian: a son or daughter of the king; there is a cup of blessing from the Father with your name on it.  You can’t put in an order for the particular kind of blessing you want, and you can’t exchange it for another one.  But if you want it, it’s there. Waiting.

As I write these sentences, I’m listening to an instrumental version of the hymn ‘I surrender all’.  Sometimes… often… accepting my cup for today is an act of surrender.  I’d rather have someone else’s… A little girl inside me is still yelling “I want the pink one!” 🙂  And often I get the pink one, and sometimes I look back and realise I got something better.

If you can make time today, even a few minutes, ask the Father what cup he has for you today.  Then take time to recieve whatever he has to give you.

Make time, come, surrender, and drink… it will be good.

ikeacups feat

 

For your journal/ To think about:

How about if this week, every time you see a coloured plastic IKEA cup, you asked God “What cup do you have for me today” and then took a moment to listen to and respond to his answer?

 

 

 

An invitation

“This picture is an invitation.”

I lost count of how many times I said that over this last weekend.  I was sharing postcards – pictures with a message – with the many lovely seekers-after-truth-and-comfort who visited our booth at the local Mind Body Spirit Fair.  And as I shared the pictures I’d painted, I kept hearing myself say that phrase: “this picture is an invitation”.

And I suppose that many of the pictures I paint are just that: An invitation to trust; an invitation to step out; an invitation to surrender; an invitation to love and be loved;  an invitation to ask for more…

This one is an invitation to come and ‘be’

A bench sits in a shady part of the garden.  It’s a place of peace, rest and friendship.  It’s a place of quiet and of conversation.  It’s a place for you to meet with Jesus.

Have you been there lately?

Sometimes I get so busy with life that I forget to retreat into this place of quiet with Jesus, forget to do the one thing that restores my soul and enables me to keep up the busyness.

Sometimes I’m so ashamed that the garden that is my life has become overgrown and messy that I put off inviting Jesus into it until I’ve had a chance to tidy it up a bit.

How foolish am I, that I am so busy trying to make my garden look pretty that I forget to take the time to sit down and have a cup of tea with the master gardener that is waiting for me?  How crazy is it that I stand alone, fighting to hack back the weeds with my bare hands, while Jesus stands behind me holding a scythe?

 “I’ll be with you in a minute Jesus, just let me deal with this first”

 

Here’s the news:   Once you’ve invited God into the garden that is your life  he is always there.  He is always ready to sit with you on this bench, to listen to what is on your heart -however ugly it might be- and to speak and to pour out forgiveness, restoration and love into your heart.  He is waiting.   And he already knows about the mess, the corners of brambles and weeds; he even brought a spade.  But his priority, his heart, is to take time to be with you.

 

So you don’t have to invite him in, and I suspect you can’t keep him out, but you can refuse to listen to his invitation to join him in this quiet corner.  You can be too busy, too distracted, too tired or too ashamed.  There might be a hundred and one things you think you need to get done first.

But hear the invitation he is speaking to you now:

 

come to me

 

I wonder if it would be even better to not wait until I am aware of how weary and burdened I am, but to come today anyway….

… and when you come and make time to sit on that bench,  I think he says something like this…

come in poem

 

bench

 

 

reflect greens

 

If you’re reading this post, and thinking that you’ve never invited Jesus to be a part of your life, never known the closeness of a friendship with him that is like sitting on this bench in a garden with him, please find someone who knows him and ask them how.  They will be so happy to talk to you about their friendship with him.  And if you don’t know anyone to ask, drop me a line – I would LOVE to tell you more…

 

For your Journal:  (it’s great to process things with God on paper – I can heartily recommend it)

How does this picture of a bench and the idea of sitting on it with Jesus make you feel?

What things in your life distract you or hold you back from spending time alone with Jesus?

What do you find hard about making time with Jesus and what things could you do/ put in place to make it easier?

 

More than you can Handle?

“God will never give you more than you can handle”

This well-meant little piece of not-actually-scripture is, I’ll admit, one of my ‘pet peeves’.  It annoys me because it seems to be saying that whatever difficult or awful circumstance you might be walking through you ought to be able to stoically bear it alone.  It also suggests that strength is to be rewarded with pain, more strength with more pain – Rubbish!

Pain and suffering is a part of life.  Jesus never said that it wouldn’t be (rather the opposite).  But I know many people who, even as I’m writing this are in the middle of circumstances: financial, physical, emotional that no-one should be expected to be able to ‘handle’.   I know that some of them desperately need to have permission to ‘not handle it’ alone so that they can be free to cry, shout, rest, lean on others and above all lean on the God who loves them.

 

Here’s what I think is true:

Sometimes it’s OK to say to God your Father “I can’t handle this – I need you to step in with a miracle here”   And this picture of a falling doll being caught is meant to show something of what I think our Father replies to us…

handlewords

I pray that today you will receive permission from God to lean into him.  To fall, and be caught.

reflect white

For your journal:

What things are there in your life that are hard to handle?  What keeps you from letting go of your need to handle them alone?

 


 

 

Faith and the Flying Fox

I don’t often feel faith, it’s much more likely in any given situation that I’ll be feeling terror.  But to my great relief I’ve finally concluded that faith isn’t something you feel, it’s something you do.  And in some ways that’s much easier!

faith

I’ve come to believe that ‘faith is being certain of what we do not see’ can also be read ‘faith is hearing God, and then acting like you believe what He says is true.  For example:  Father God says that I am his precious child, that I am beautiful, that I am valuable.  Honestly, a lot of the time I struggle to feel like these things are true.  But I know they are, so I try to behave like they are.  I’m not pretending, – I’m lining my behaviour up with what I know to be true.

My kids went on a really high flying fox once… It was as much as I could take to stand on the ground watching them…  They were 40 ft or so up in the air and had to step off the platform and put their entire trust in the harness that strapped them to the wire.

That’s a great picture of faith – Standing on the edge of what feels safe, gripped by fear, but trusting that God has said this is the right thing to do and stepping off anyway.  Much, much easier to write down than to do!   On the flying fox, even when you have just seen your brother fly down in front of you and you know it is safe, it’s really hard to step off.  And sometimes it’s like that when God asks you to do something ….  

But the faith isn’t in the feeling. – It’s in the jumping.

The other thing I remember clearly about watching this zip line in action was the pep-talk on how to land safely:

“What you must do” insisted the instructor, “is start running while you are still in the air,  a long time before you hit the ground, or you will just wipe out”  And he wasn’t kidding!  As I watched people fly down the wire at great speed,  it was clear that those who began the action of running before their feet hit the ground managed to stay on their feet; and those who forgot were dragged unceremoniously through the mud.

Faith is being certain about the things that God has promised but you are not actually experiencing yet.  On the flying fox, the ground is coming, and you have to start acting like the ground is there before you actually get to it.

If God has said you’re going to have a ministry with young people, start talking to young people in your church.  If God has said He wants you to lead worship one day, learn an instrument.  If God has said to you that you are going to see people healed when you pray for them, start praying for the sick (and keep going until people start being healed).

I have a friend who dreamed one night that she was on a stage in a huge auditorium, talking about Jesus to thousands of people.  In her dream she was terrified – she could never stand up in front of so many people and yet she felt that this was a dream from God calling her to be prepared to preach.   Her response wasn’t to say “I could never do that” or to sit around waiting for it to happen.  She went out the following week and joined a public speaking club!  Isn’t that great?  Even if the reality of the dream is still a long way off, she’s getting ready for it.  That’s faith.

I don’t know what God has called you to do.  I do know that for many of you, you’re also not quite ‘there’ yet.  You’re still in the time of waiting.  But faith begins to act like you’re there a bit before you are. It  stretches out; it gets trained and equipped; it looks stupid; it cries out to God for help; but it starts running

Live in faith.  Then, when your feet hit the reality of what God has promised… you will be ready.

flyingfoxfeature

 Things to think or journal about:

Come before God today and ask Him to remind you of things He has promised you.  The many beautiful promises of scripture, or promises He has spoken to you personally.  What would it look like if you were to live as though that promise is a reality?  Is there a small step you could take this week into living in the light of that promise? If there is, then take it!  Jump!

Changing Key: On choosing the uncomfortable

Turns out I spend a lot of my life avoiding being uncomfortable. You?

This week, Jesus has called me on that with a picture of piano keys…

I’m learning to play the piano… Not real piano, but just enough to be able to accompany songs I like, using the chords written for guitar. I’ve got really good at songs written in the keys of C and D. I know the chords that usually pop up in those keys (the easy ones), and they’re mostly in what I suppose is my muscle memory… I’m practiced enough that when I see those chords, my hands can find them without me really having to think about it. The upshot is: I mostly play songs in those keys. If I’m just messing around for my own pleasure I’ll pick C or D and if there’s any danger that someone might hear me, I definitely stick to where I know I’m safe!

And this morning, as I was singing to Him, God said to me, “you try to live your life in C and D”

Ouch

He’s saying that I tend to live my life inside the boundaries of what I find comfortable. I’m guessing that I’m not the only one. So this week’s postcard is piano keys, and it’s an invitation to walk differently.

I don’t much like learning to play in a new key… There are new chords which are awkward, stretching my fingers and requiring counting and working out. It’s slow and frustrating; it makes my hands ache and I have to keep thinking about what I’m trying to do. The draw to go back to where I’m comfortable is so strong.

“What does it matter” I ask myself, “if I only ever learn to play in D?” And the answer is:

“Not much, but there’ll just be a whole load of great music that you’re never going to get to play”

Read that last line again. I wonder if it does to your heart what it does to mine… Our Heavenly Father doesn’t want us to live in limited places, within narrow boundaries. He wants us to be willing to persevere with the uncomfortable until it becomes natural. And then… well, He’ll probably challenge us to get uncomfortable again. Why? … Because all the time we are stretching out; covering more ground; becoming more available; we are pushing deeper into faith and the adventure with Him.

There is a beautiful piece of music that God wants to play with your life. It’s a duet – written by the great Creator of all things to play alongside you, His precious child. He will adapt it to what you’re prepared to learn to play, and it will still be beautiful. But there is some awe-inspiring, extraordinary music which he would love to play with you, and that duet will only work if you’re prepared to follow the key changes. You might have to trust and follow him into stretching, uncomfortable places. You might have to work hard to keep up with Him and you might long for your comfortable easy place. But then I didn’t ever hear Jesus say,

“Come, follow me, and I will give you an easy, comfortable and unchallenging life”

Please know how hard it is for me to write this down, to confirm that I hear Jesus saying this to me today. I’m not a risk-taker. My husband describes me as ‘risk-averse’ and I tend to take it as a compliment. I like predictable, and have been known to view ‘adventure’ as a word for a badly-planned expedition.

But I want to be on this adventure with Jesus and to move out into the spacious places that he’s promised me, not limited by my fear or my need to be comfortable. So I’m going to follow the call and to let him stretch me: in ministry, in faith and in what I believe about Him and about myself. I’m going to choose to be uncomfortable until it gets comfortable, and then I’m going to choose to be uncomfortable again.

How about you?

Jesus

You are the one who goes ahead of me

And calls me out into new places

give me the courage to say

“today,

Yes. I will follow you”

piano

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Not Alone – the art of firewalking

Sooner or later, we all come to a part of our life that feels like walking through a fire: bereavement, losing a job, miscarriage, illness, or  many other painful, difficult and stressful circumstances. Probably you’ve done some firewalking in your time. Perhaps you’re in the middle of a fire season right now.

It’s not so long since I came through a furnace of my own:  Moving from a secure life in England to a new, much less predictable one overseas, dealing with my kids’ reactions to leaving and losing friends, coping with their angry heartache as well as my own. It’s been a fire-walk: intense, painful, and sometimes terrifying.  But, (and it amazes me that I can write this) like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, thrown into a furnace because of their faithfulness to God, I have looked for, and found, the presence of God in it all.  I’ve been able to stand and walk around, even when I feared that I’d be consumed by the intensity of the flames. I have been ‘Not alone’.

And it is not that I’ve discovered that the fire was not so hot after all.

In the story we’re told that this furnace was seven times hotter than usual.    The miracle was not that the fire turned out not to be so hot after all. And moving country didn’t turn out to be easier than I expected… if anything it’s been much harder…

And it’s not that I was instantly rescued out of it.

These guys spent a while in the fire, and so did I, and so, probably, will you.  But, like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, I did walk out the other side eventually and when I did I discovered that I wasn’t singed. Changed by the experience certainly, but not scarred… not defeated…not destroyed.

And, like them, I now notice that the only things that have actually been burned away and destroyed are ties that had bound me up: false beliefs and ways of living that had limited me – constraints that had stopped me from being all that God wanted me to be.  Now that’s a miracle!

Not that I believe that my heavenly Father caused that fire in my life, or intended it for me, I don’t.  But instead, I’ve learned that there are fire times in life, and that the enemy will use them to try to destroy, but that when we choose to trust God and look for Him among the flames,  our wonderful, redemptive, creative Father can use them to bring us into new places of freedom.

So this week’s postcard is a fire.   And the message on the back is simple:

notalone

 

fire 1

As I write this, I am painfully aware of friends who live their lives in a fire from which they expect no release until they stand in heaven itself, held in the arms of their Saviour. I think especially of those I know who have experienced, and are experiencing every day, the death of a loved one, particularly of a child.  Friends, I cannot begin to understand your fire. I could only say that for you, every day that you stand and walk around in that fire is a victory, and I honour you for it. And whether or not you are able to stand, I am confident of this, Jesus will stand, sit, kneel, weep, be alongside you every day, every minute that you are there. You are not alone.

Lord, be close,

when I walk into the fire

hold me

when all I see is flames

let me turn and see your face.

and on days when I cannot cry out to you.

call out to me,

shout loud, whisper quietly,

and I will try to lean into you.

Until the day that you lead me out into open space again

Let me know

that I am not alone.

 If you want to travel with this a little more, read Isaiah 43: 1-2

Rooted – on surviving the dry season

I really like to read the Bible aloud, and last week I was reading from Ephesians when this phrase caught in my mind.  And it’s been sitting there ever since…

roots

I keep coming back to wondering what it must be like, and how(!)  to send roots down deep into God’s love.   I really want to be like the tree described in Jeremiah 17 that’s fruitful in all circumstances.  Its root system goes deep into the water table, so even when there’s no water to be seen on the surface, it’s able to draw refreshment and life up from deep places.

Spiritual life seems to run in seasons. One day I’m flying, Jesus has never seemed so close, miracles are happening around me, I’m undone in the presence of God and every page of the Bible comes alive.  A few months later everything can suddenly seem much more difficult.  Faith might not waver, but enthusiasm and energy certainly do.

For a long while I thought this was a kind of malfunction.  That I should be able to maintain a level of passion and fervency and intimacy with God all the time.  Truthfully – I can’t.  But I’m starting to believe that it might not be so abnormal.  All around us seasons come and go, plants grow vigorously and are then pruned back, people are active and then sleep.  It seems to be the way of the world our Father has created that things have a rhythm to them.

The picture of being rooted says to me that perhaps it’s OK for spiritual life to be seasonal-  That an ebb and flow of feelings and experiences is natural – but that it is possible to be rooted in God’s love in such a way that no matter what season you are in, living water can always be drawn up from the deep.

Are you in an easy season or a dry one?  Are storm winds catching your branches or are you resting in a time of peace?  Either way the advice is the same – send your roots down deeper into the river of life.  Joseph advised Pharaoh to store up food during the times of plenty in order to be able to survive times of famine.   If you’re in a plenty time – enjoy it – store up food for the future,  practice trust.  And if you’re in a drought – look deep, the water of life is still present, seek and you will find.

Plant me Lord

on the bank of a river

Show me how to send roots deep into you.

So that in good years

in bad years

in wet times and in dry

There will be fruit to feed the hungry

There will be leaves to give shelter to the weary

There will be the promise of water nearby for the thirsty

And when the storm comes

Though I bend in the force of the wind

My heart will remain – anchored to yours.

like a tree planted by the water

rivertree

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I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you can do to drive roots down deep into the love of God. Please leave a comment -either here or on Facebook- Ellie

On Resting…

This week’s postcard is this violin.

This instrument is completely beautiful, a piece of art in its own right.

Craftsman made; carefully designed and created with a specific task in mind.  A piece of art and a piece of engineering. Each part is doing a job and the whole is tuned and ready.

And yet, until it is resting on the shoulder of the master musician, and surrendering to the tune that he chooses to play, it cannot achieve its full potential.

So often we fight back, unable to trust and rest, unwilling to surrender to the tune the master wants to play with our lives.  While we are wrestling we are still beautiful, still the work of a master craftsman, still treasured by him; but when we rest on his shoulder, and he turns his face to us and lifts his bow- then we become what we were always intended to be.

 
I rest here
on your shoulder
confident in you
my maker, my friend
 
I rest here
on your shoulder
laying down my right
to wield the bow
or write the tune
 
I rest here
confident, assured
knowing that the song
you have in mind for me
will be the one my heart
was made to sing

On Resting...