Seasons 

Ecclesiastes 3: A Time for Everything 

There is a time for everything,

    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

2 a time to be born and a time to die,

    a time to plant and a time to uproot,

3 a time to kill and a time to heal,

    a time to tear down and a time to build,

4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,

    a time to mourn and a time to dance,

5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

6 a time to search and a time to give up,

    a time to keep and a time to throw away,

7 a time to tear and a time to mend,

    a time to be silent and a time to speak,

8 a time to love and a time to hate,

    a time for war and a time for peace.

I’ve been thinking loads lately about seasons. I’ve had this blog on my heart for a while, but perhaps with today’s #Brexit it’s been more on my mind as we enter into a new season as a country.

What is your favourite season?

Personally I like elements of them all. I love the promise of Spring with new flowers. I love Summer with the longer days. I love the fall colours and Autumn days as we head towards winter. And I adore Winter for the log fires and of course Christmas. But there’s also elements of them all that are hard and unappealing. Spring is so far from the next Christmas. Summer- hayfever and bees – need I say more. Autumn can be horrible weather and long days. Winter = being cold and catching colds. 

As the verses above say there is a season for everything. But if I had to choose I’d choose winter because even though it’s full of sickness it also has Christmas, which means 2 precious weeks with family. A hard season but a sub text of love and happiness.

These verses are often read at funerals to remind us that everything including human life is seasonal. Everything comes and goes. There’s a season for everything. But is that really reassuring when you are in the hard dark seasons of life? When it’s the times we’re dying, uprooting, killing, tearing down, weeping, mourning, giving up, throwing away, in silence, hating or at war, does it really make you feel better that it’s perhaps only a season, with a new one round the corner? For me, as with the seasons this is often changing. I find comfort in knowing that better times are to come and that I’ve had much worse seasons behind me. But it’s also worrying sometimes that the hard season could be long lasting, one another harder one ahead of me.

Look at your ‘frequently used’ emojis. What are they? Do they reflect your whole life? Just the last year? Or just a few weeks or seasons? Mine are so random. Lots of smileys and animals and the queen. And the sick face. But also a Lemon and a bee because for the last 2 days I’ve had Lemonade on repeat. My ‘frequently used’ phrase today would be Brexit but that’s certainly not the word that would sum up my year so far. I use the word lol all the time in text and tweets but I’m not always actually laughing out loud- not as much as I would want anyway.

This perhaps is more a sign of living authentically via social media but it also shows that what is true or takes precedent in one season, is not necessarily defining of me or my life as a whole.

Every January I end up blogging about my resolutions or goals. The past couple of years I’ve had certain words that are key for my in this season. This year I’m speaking the word ‘Revival’ over myself as it’s a word I need to see in my life. But even half way through this year I don’t feel I’m in a season of Revival and may not be for a few years.

Life is seasonal but even within the space of a week or 2 we can see Spring Summer Autumn and Winter.

I’ve had seasons in my life (particularly earlier years) that were really really hard. Times of weeping and mourning and giving up. At the moment I’m in a season of ill health and the trials that come with that. But I’ve also had beautiful seasons of grace, abundance, love, restoration and hope. And I know that those times could be ahead.

I see seasons around me of real pain for others. Seasons of war for our nations, fighting and killing. Seasons of fear and terrorism and pain. But I’ve also witnessed in my life time seasons of change, overcoming, revolution, progress, and hope. History is a tapestry of seasons. And I also know that ultimately in the future there will be no more tears…

For me it’s much more comforting to rest in and rely on the unchanging Lord. Today a lot of my friends have been posting Bible verses reminding us of God’s security, consistency. We have built our houses on the solid rock not the sand; which in times of trial or uncertainty is something to dwell on. Perhaps instead of worrying about the seasons; focusing on the hard ones and praying for a new one, I should set my eyes on the One who created the seasons, the One who holds it all in His hands and who tells me there is a time for everything.

“I am God. I change not”. Mal 3:5

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“When life gives you dirt- grow flowers”.

Those times, events or even years that were so filthy you couldn’t see beyond it. Perhaps you felt like you were being buried alive; unable to breathe as soil filled your lungs. I certainly know that feeling. Moments where you don’t think you can take another breath because the utter filth of the world, the circumstance, the person, the sin or the pain is crushing your chest cavity.

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Sometimes Often, life gives us dirt; a little pot of stinky mud, or a huge clump of soil thrown in your face.  A missed opportunity.  A crushing blow.  A devastating loss.  A life changing event.  A huge disappointment.  Pain, sickness, fear, debt, loneliness, loss, or death.

I feel like (without trying to engage in self-pity) that parts of my life have been full to the brim of dirt.  I’m certain that every single person reading this is thinking of their ‘dirt season’.

Those times, events or even years that were so filthy you couldn’t see beyond it.  Perhaps you felt like you were being buried alive; unable to breathe as soil filled your lungs.  I certainly know that feeling.  Moments where you don’t think you can take another breath because the utter filth of the world, the circumstance, the person, the sin or the pain is crushing your chest cavity.

Maybe for you it’s more just a thin layer of grime?  Something that has always, as long as you can remember just blurred your view and you have never been able to wash clean?

I can think of a lot of those moments.  Some from when I was very young, some more recent.  Times when I couldn’t seem to grasp the beauty of the world or see any good, grace, light or truth because all I could see was the dirt.  Times when people hurt me deeply, or life just let me down.  Times when death came calling; fear was overwhelming.  Times when loneliness was crippling.  More recently, times when sickness and weakness would not subside.

BUT, I adore the title quote.  I’m not sure who first said it, but I often cling to it, and hope you can too.  It’s a difficult and costly concept, but one that surely will bring joy?  When life gives you dirt- grow some flowers.

It’s a task that in some cases is far easier than others.  It’s one that in the past few months I’ve really been trying to put into practice.  Sickness has stripped me of some opportunities, and caused me to feel lacking.  So what do I do?  Do I drown in it?  Roll around in the dirt and know I can’t become clean again?  Or do I take that dirt and try and grow something beautiful in it?  I try to find seedlings to put in the dirt; more time to spend with God, more chances to take delight in much smaller joys, more time to relax and look to the future.  Of course some days I just wallow in it.  I can’t see how the dirt can possibly ever be anything other than darkness.  But occasionally, I really invest in trying to turn things around; I plant my seeds and in time I see buds, then flowers beginning to bloom.

Over the years I have seen flowers grown from what I could only before see as pure filth.  Life events that I once thought would be the end of me, particularly losses and a huge upheaval age 15, have blossomed into beautiful things.  My mess has become my message.  My tests have become my testimony.  I now can describe things that once brought me immediately to tears, with a real conviction that good has actually eventually come from it.

But what about the times you are deep in it.  What about ‘those things’ that you think could never be redeemed? …

… Grace

… Grace upon Grace


“To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory.” Isaiah 61:3

We can’t do this.  We can’t cause the seedlings in the dirt to flower.  We can’t pluck the seeds from thin air.  But with God’s grace things can be restored, renewed and re born.

I’m currently reading Ann Voskamp’s ‘One Thousand Gifts’.  It is full of life affirming truth.  She asks the questions I ask myself daily “What in a world of certain loss, is grace?”

“God is always good and I am always loved. All is grace only because all can transfigure.”

-Everything is grace because everything has the potential to be transformed.  Isn’t that amazing?

You may still not believe that any flowers can come from your dirt.  That the shame, loss, grief, or agony is just too much.  That if people really knew how bad it was they could never see flowers in it.  I know many times I’ve felt that way.  I don’t believe for one second that God gives us these things as a test of our faith, or that the darkness comes from Him.  But I do believe in beauty from ashes, in flowers from dirt.  I do believe in grace.  That He can take anything and turn it to a thing that can bring hope and redemption.

When you’re still stuck in the mud and you see no way out, I recommend 2 things from my reading and own experience.  When you’ve planted your seeds but there isn’t a flower in sight:

Gratitude and Worship

Being grateful for even the rubbish things or the tiny insignificant things, or the things that pass us by can open us up to so much joy.  I’ve blogged about this before, how simply the attitude of gratitude can change your heart.  If nothing else we can be grateful that we have been allowed to live another day!

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Worshipping God for who He is, and for all He has done in the past, and for nothing else than the assurance of your salvation, that one day there will be no more tears; in the midst of your darkest times, is an extremely powerful thing.

As Ann Voskamp says “…isn’t my internal circuitry wired to seek out something worthy of worship?  Every moment that I live, I live bowed to something.  And if I don’t see God, I’ll bow down before something else.”

Don’t bow to the dirt.

Any beauty, good, love, truth, and joy in the world is all a mere reflection of God.  When we cannot see that through the dirt, still it strengthens our hearts to worship and praise Him for it until we do.  Until the miracle comes.

“Even when it makes no sense to sing; louder then I’ll sing Your praise” (Even when it Hurts Hillsong United, Empires)

“That’s” What Makes You Beautiful

What is beauty? What is “that thing” that makes someone beautiful? Is beauty really in the eye of the beholder? Does a beautiful heart make a beautiful person?

For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.
– Audrey Hepburn

 

Something that’s been on my mind lately, as well as all the other random thoughts whizzing around my head, is what makes someone ‘beautiful’?  I love the above quote, and in theory try and think of beauty as far beyond skin deep.  Yet in an often superficial and shallow world, beauty as defined by the ‘perfect face’ or ‘perfect body’ can be rammed down our throats.  It’s a subject that women especially have approached again and again, and for Christian women it can be a cause of real conflict- the battle between knowing that God looks at our heart, and that ‘beauty soon fades’ but living in a society where surface beauty is all too glorified, and that God has made us in His image, just as we are.

I’m going to try and be real, and this is more a collection of thoughts than a defined stance.  I would love your thoughts, feedback and conversation on this.  What is beauty? What is “that thing” that makes someone beautiful?  Is beauty really in the eye of the beholder?  Does a beautiful heart make a beautiful person?

The UK beauty industry is worth over £17 billion.  ‘Zoella’ a British beauty blogger has 7,611,899 subscribed to her YouTube channel.  Bethany Mota her US counterpart has 8,414,326.  Now whilst both do admittedly talk about lots of subjects and tackle anxiety, bullying and many issues young women value advice on, the main focus of both vlogs are beauty and lifestyle.

What is it about outward beauty that causes millions to follow these girls for tips?  Is it more about them being approachable and relatable and the insight into their lives than the beauty tips they offer?  I don’t know? I do know that women often love fashion, beauty and magazines and especially things that give you practical advice on ‘how to look and feel great’.  I know I am drawn to beautiful things, beautiful people, have boards on Pinterest solely of lovely faces, manicures, clothing and accessories.  Yet isn’t beauty so much more than that?

So, the honest part…  For many years I really struggled with my body and really who I was.  My birth mother had anorexia for a lot of my life, and without really knowing it I think her relationship with food caused me to have issues myself.  When I was fostered age 15 it took a while to not only get out of bad habits of just being ‘fussy’ with food, but to also recognise the value in it, and really enjoy it.  The consequence being I put on quite a bit of weight, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I remember vividly in the very early days before we were about to go on a holiday to Wales, my mum knew I needed some new clothes including more summer appropriate outfits.  She took me to a shop, convincing me to try on a knee length denim skirt.  And I cried…

I cried not because I was a ‘prude’ offended by showing skin, or that I didn’t like it, but more that I was so confused and angered with my own body, that the sight of parts normally kept covered caused me distress.  I eventually got the skirt as well as 2 tops the same style one in blue and one pink, because again knowing the joy or pleasure in clothing beyond practicality was something alien to me.  For years I had slicked back my curly hair, having no clue how to tame it; now encouraged to let it fall free.  For years I had been embarrassed by my milk white skin; now showing it a little more.  For years I had hated my ski slope nose and the moles above my mouth; now a little more at ease with them.

Every woman and man I’m sure knows that feeling.  Each of us have parts of our body that are not our friends, which we sometimes even hate.  For me; my teeth, my chin, my thighs and tummy that bear stretch marks from sudden weight gain, and my old nemesis cellulite.  Oh and body hair in general.   Sometimes our discomfort makes sense, sometimes it’s totally illogical.

 

“Is ‘fat’ really the worst thing a human being can be? Is ‘fat’ worse than ‘vindictive’, ‘jealous’, ‘shallow’, ‘vain’, ‘boring’ or ‘cruel’? Not to me.”

-J.K Rowling

I know women who have young babies, for whom being clean and clothed is important, but little beyond that.  Are they not radiant?  Yet sometimes the media shoves images in our face of pregnant women in 6 inch heels, mum’s who’ve immediately lost all the ‘baby weight’, or women stepping out with their babies with the perfect outfit, perfect manicure, and perfect blow dried hair.

I know women who are battling physical and mental health problems who do well to be up and dressed, all the while bombarded with these images of ‘regular’ women strutting around like catwalk models.  Is beauty not so much more than that?

In recent years most of the time I don’t have the energy or the money to look or feel my best.  I often struggle just to get out of my pj’s and out the house, so ‘looking great’ isn’t top priority.  Yet it’s always in the back of my mind; if I could just do this, if I just changed that.

I am at my worst before social gatherings.  I recently spent hours before a friend’s wedding freaking out about my hair, makeup and clothing because I knew photos would be taken and many people would be there.  My absolute worst often comes before Church.  Hours are spent fixing my hair, applying makeup when most ‘work days’ I don’t bother, and changing several times to find the right outfit.  Why?  If I’m honest with myself the presence of guys is always a factor, but also other beautiful, confident, preened and ‘perfect’ women can be a bigger battle to face.  I find it so sad that in Church, in the company of friends or before some of my most exciting outings is when I feel most unhappy, most fat, and most ugly.  That isn’t right.

Isn’t beauty just being the best possible version of yourself?  The one who makes their world more beautiful?  The one who loves and gives, is kind and generous?  Am I not beautiful enough ‘as I am’ because of my soul, my spirit, my heart?

Now don’t get me wrong- I think we all want to look and feel our best.  It’s great if we want to live healthier, be cleanly and groomed.  But it can often spiral so far beyond this can’t it?  When does wanting to look good turn into a soul shredding obsession with ‘fixing’ all our flaws?

“Perfection is the disease of a nation, it’s the soul that needs the surgery” – Beyonce, Pretty Hurts

 

You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you. – Song of Songs 4:7

 

 

The Bible is full of amazing truth as to the true value of a person.  The ‘woman of noble character’ in Proverbs 31 is not talked about in terms of her appearance and beauty, but her character, work, wisdom and compassion for the poor.  And above all her love for God.

30: Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

1 Peter 3 (MSG)

What matters is not your outer appearance—the styling of your hair, the jewellery you wear, the cut of your clothes—but your inner disposition.

4-6 Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in. The holy women of old were beautiful before God that way

This is such a hard lesson to really live.  As I said earlier, I think there is a war waging amongst Christian women especially between the truth we are told from our loving Father; that he loves us just as we are and that he looks to our heart, our character and our love, and between what the world and sometimes even the Church perpetuates that we are loved based on our beauty, our brains or our skills.  How can we be our best, love our bodies, have confidence in ourselves and everything physical God has given us, yet not get swept into a frenzy of idolising beauty, sexy, fashion, clothing, makeup, and appearance.  It is a lesson I think we learn again new each day, and one that we may never perfect, but I for one want to strive for it.

I want to celebrate beauty and brains, smart and sexy, confidence and success but also celebrate love and compassion, generosity and kindness, introverts and hard workers, people with physical or mental disabilities being their best, innovation and change, fortitude and favour.

I want to celebrate and shine a light on those whose beauty comes from overcoming, from struggles and falling down but managing to get back up.  Those whose beauty comes from strength in times of terrible adversity, from healing scars, and pushing through.  Those whose beauty comes from their fighting for freedom, for justice, for love and equality.  Those whose beauty comes from living through the daily grind and being the best they can be.  Those whose beauty comes from putting others before themselves and using their life to help others.

I know and see so many BEAUTIFUL men and women.  You are unlikely to see their faces plastered across magazines or on TV, and you won’t see them walking the catwalks.  But their legacies will live on, their words will be passed down generations and the effects of their beautiful lives will live on long after those magazine images have faded.

Why not comment or share with someone today who is truly beautiful.

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

-Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

The Bible in 1 Year!

As one of my New Year’s resolutions I have decided to read the Bible in a year.  I have attempted this before, got to about March, missed a few days then given up.  So, what is different this time?  The difference I think is, that I don’t want to read the whole Bible just to say I have done so, or even because I want to read it all, but more because I am desperate for God’s word.  I am realising more and more that all the guidance, wisdom, and truth I need in my life, is in this book.  I know there must be so much of the Bible I haven’t given enough time or attention to, and I am genuinely excited to discover new things, and delve deeper into that which I think I already ‘know’.

I am only on day 17, and so far things are going well.  I missed a few days here and there, but caught up, and I have been journalling some of my favourite verses and things I’ve learnt.  I want to encourage you, even if you have read it all before to consider reading the Bible in 1 year. There are so many emails, texts or books you can get with daily readings.  I have the ‘One Year Bible for Women’ which contains some of the Old Testament, some of the New, part of a Psalm and part of Proverbs each day.  It is really manageable amounts to read and reflect on, and I am loving devoting the last part of my day every day to time with God.

One thing God has really spoken to me about through His word, is about being expectant of all He will do in my life.  Whether it is healing, wholeness, my heart, or my dreams; I know that God has the best plans for me.

Sometimes, especially when we really need guidance, or hope in our lives however, it can seem like God is silent.

“O Lord, why do you stand so far away?  Why do you hide when I am in trouble?” Psalm 10:1

Suddenly a fierce storm struck the lake, with waves breaking into the boat.  But Jesus was sleeping.  The disciples went and woke him up shouting, Lord, save us!  We’re going to drown.  Jesus responded- Why are you afraid?  You have so little faith”  Matthew 8:24-26

Even those closest to Jesus were often afraid and felt like he was far away.  David, who sang out praises to God every day of His mercies and grace, also cried out – ‘Lord where are you’?  Sometimes it can feel like God isn’t there, or that He just isn’t listening.  But then He calms the storm, responds somehow, hears my cries, steps in, or speaks out to show His love and presence in the best possible way.  Sometimes just through a still small voice of ‘I am here’.

In the very same Psalm that David cries ‘where are you?’ he also proclaims;

Lord, you know the hopes of the hopeless.  Surely you will hear their cries and comfort them.  You will bring justice to the orphans and the oppressed, so mere people can no longer terrify them!”  Psalm 10:17-18

God knows everything about you.  He knows all the desires of you heart, and He knows exactly what you need, and exactly what is best for you.  It doesn’t always seem that way, especially during times He feels far away.  But this truth never changes, only your perspective;

So don’t worry about these things…but your heavenly father already knows all your needs.  Seek the kingdom of God above all else…and He will give you everything you need”  Matthew 6:31

Yahweh- Yireh- The Lord will provide”  Genesis 22:14

God will meet all your needs”  Phillipins 4:19

He understands us and knows what is best for us”  Ephesians 1:8 (TLB)

But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your father knowing it.  And the very hairs on your head are all numbered.  So don’t be afraid- you are more valuable to God that a whole flock of sparrows”  Matthew 10:29-31.

When you know how valuable you are to God, and you remember all He has done for you, then even in the quiet, hard or desperate times, you can be sure that God will never leave you, and that He will give you everything that you need. As the verses above says- God knows if  a sparrow falls, so how much more is he aware of you, and your needs, and your hopes and future; when you are his precious child, and he knows how many hairs there are on your head!

I find it amazing that even just within the first few chapters of Genesis, Matthew and Psalms there is so much truth about how much God loves you, and how you are completely in His heart!  There may be times when you don’t ‘feel it’ or you face hard times and rainy seasons;

“For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and unjust alike”  Mathew 5:34

But the truth is that God doesn’t have favourites.  He doesn’t bless some and not others. All experience his sunlight, and all experience the rain.  I need to remember that if I believe in Him and follow Him, I can always rely on God to meet my needs.  This doesn’t mean He will give me everything I want immediately, but it means He knows me well enough to know what I truly need.  And in times of uncertainty both personally, and in this uncertain and turbulent word we live in, I find it extremely comforting to know that God knows me, he loves me, and he desires the best for me.  And that even when He is quiet, He is always listening.

“I believe in the sun even when it isn’t shining, I believe in love even when I am alone, I believe in God even when He is silent”. 

“Sin is broken, the lost now chosen, in the Father’s heart”    You are in God’s heart therefore he knows your needs!!