If at first you don’t succeed….

The story of Bruce and the spider is a familiar one to every child growing up in Scotland.

The determination of a little spider attempting to swing out on her line from one side of a cave to the other.  Six times she met with defeat but on the seventh attempt she triumphed much to the amazement of her onlooker, the beliguered leader of the scottish rebellion, Robert the Bruce.  Her tiny act of determination spurred him on to try one more time to rally his troops against the english army, against whom they had fallen six times.  The seventh attempt was the resounding victory at the Battle of Bannockburn afterwhich Scotland gained it’s independence with Bruce as king.

It’s a great story and a perfect example of, ‘if at first you don’t succeed try, try again’.  Like Bruce, we all meet with times of discouragement and need to see or hear something that will rouse the hero within and encourage us to carry on….but is that always the thing to do?  Are we to hang on with dog eared determination every time, or are there times when we have to accept defeat, to put something down that was held on to so tightly, to move on and do something new rather than willing oursleves to, ‘never, never, never give up.’

I have another image in my mind, this time not of a spider swinging on a thin thread but of a couple called Tarzan and Jane….yes, you know the ones I mean, swinging out from one jungle vine to the next!  Their forward motion is a process of holding on and then letting go at the right moment to grab hold of the next vine that is going to take them further.  The previous vine that brought them this far, if held onto for too long would only swing them backwards and hinder them in their journey.  Their letting go is not a negative but a positive.  Not defeat but progress.

So, sometimes we have to fight and hold on with every bit of strength and determination we find within us and other times we need to let go to make progress. The challenge is knowing which one is called for this time…

Of course, there is no formula, but two pieces of advice we have received over the years have made some things easier.

The first one is, ‘whatever you do, do it as if you are going to do it for the rest of your life.’ Or put differently, ‘wherever you are, be all there’…that’s holding on and giving something your best as long as you have to.  This helps you to make quality decisions and when the time comes to move on you can be satisfied that you gave it all you’ve got.

The second one is, ‘hold everything lightly in your hand’ so that when the time comes to let go you don’t have to struggle with a clenched fist. That may sound limp and non-commital to some but if you are holding an open hand before a loving Father who knows what is best for you, it is a case of confident trust.  This is the joy of the Christian who can commit their way to the Lord, knowing that they can trust His judgement.

So whether you’re like the determined spider or Tarzan and Jane you can swing out into the irresistable future believing that the best  is yet to come.

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Small things.

Big things are made of small things.  That is worth remembering if you are feeling troubled over the immensity of the situations surrounding you. There are refugees flooding into Europe, natural disasters in many parts of the world, friends with families falling apart and the needs of children growing up in a crazy fast speed world where all they want is your time and attention.  What big thing can I do? Well the truth is, I can’t ‘do big’ but I can ‘do small’.

Small things matter.  It is what the world is made of.  Just look at how are bodies are made up of billions and billions of microscopic cells fullfilling their own small, microscopic part.  When one or more of those cells decides to abandon it’s own specialised role and go it alone in some other part of the body it reaks havoc on a large scale known as cancer.  That’s enough to tell us that small things matter.

I can look back and find some very small things that happened in a moment in my life that helped me when I needed it most and shaped the way I felt and thought.
I was down, really down, feeling very alone as a foreign woman in a foreign country without a friend or so it seemed.  There was a day when I pushed my pram with a small two year old running ahead of me when an elderly passer by looked me in the eye with a look of tenderness and touched my shoulder as she passed by.  It was a touch from above that I needed at just that moment.  She’ll never know it but I still remember that comfort to this day…such a small act of kindness.

I was probably no more than twelve years old when an uncle and aunt visited our home from overseas.  Their visit probably only lasted a week or so.  What I remember most is a conversation in the back of  a car that probably only lasted twenty minutes in total.  In that time I was captivated by true life stories of people who loved God and experienced His power in miraculous ways and who overcame their fears, even of dying.  I was gripped and spurred on to believe in the same way they did.  It shaped my faith for years to come.  Just an aunt taking the time to talk to a twelve year old about the things that really mattered.

I can think of when I didn’t do the small thing that could have meant so much.  Another aunt was ageing and I had felt an inner prompting for several days to call her just to say, ‘I love you’ not realising how near the end she was.  When I finally went to make that call she had gone.  I wonder what difference it would have made to her had I set aside my business and followed that prompt.

There are so many things we could say about small things but the most important thing is to remember that they are not without significance and shouldn’t be left undone.

As Mother Teresa said, ‘not all of us can do great things but we can do small things with great love’

Bloom where you are planted

Sometimes a picture says more than any of your own words ever could, and this for me is one of them…

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Perhaps like this plant, you find yourself between a rock and a hard place and would gladly transplant yourself to somewhere that looks more like this, where the soil is good, where you are surrounded by others like you, where the sun shines bright and everything comes easy….

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Oh wouldn’t that be nice!? Perhaps life just hasn’t turned out that way and for one reason or another the Master Gardener has found it best to put you in the circumstances where you find yourself now, in that job, that house that ‘whatever is difficult’ for you situation. Well if that’s the case, you might be encouraged by what I discovered about rock plants.

These little plants grow in hard places and their roots, though incredibly fragile looking, are able to penetrate down in between the cracks in the rock and find it’s source of strength. Over time, those little roots can start to change the surface of the rock and that hard impenetrable place can be broken.

Incredibly as that plant dies in the place where it is put, nature does it’s amazing work and turns that plant into soil which in turn gives opportunity for other seeds, more numerous and stronger than it ever was to take root and grow in it’s place.  That brave little plant was a forerunner for others to come in the next generation….in it’s death and sacrifice it gives life to others.

So if you feel like a lone little rock plant, take courage and lift your head to the ‘Sun’.  No one else may notice you or see your significance but the Father sees and smiles as He looks down and sees you being true and faithful, giving praise to Him in the place where you are planted.

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Keeping it simple.

Noise, hurry and crowds…it almost seems impossible in this modern, high speed world to keep life simple while staying on top of eveything. If you are anything like me, you sometimes have a sinking feeling, as though everything you are meant to be on top of is on top of you instead! There are some things however, that I am finding quite helpful in keeping me from that ‘overwhelmed’ feeling, which range from the physical to the spiritual. So here are my random reflections on ‘keeping it simple’…

First up… Walking.  It doesn’t get more simple than that.  I have to admit to having had a life long aversion to the subjects of diet and exercise.  Counting calories takes all the pleasure out of the meal in front of me and the idea of enjoying a run was totally lost on me….but I can walk!  I was thrilled when a fitness instructor friend told Simon and I that an hour long, brisk walk is one of the most effective fat burning exercises that doesn’t damage joints, is completely free and doesn’t even necessitate dieting. Whoop whoop!!!… An all round winner!  And guess what…it’s working!  We try as much as possible to start the day with an hours ‘power walk’ and I feel great.  I have loads more energy (which was seriously lacking) and am eating  (a bit)  less than usual just because I feel better and have shed some pounds. Even the dog is calmer now that she is getting enough exercise! I wish we had done this years ago.

So what is next on my list of ‘how to keep things simple’?

A couple of years ago we were starting to feel, as most people do at times, the ‘financial squeeze’. While looking at our options of how to plug the gaps, some interesting possibilities came our way.  One involved starting up a business requiring a rather hefty loan.  The thought was quite exciting to begin with but in reality would have taken all our time and energy and quite possibly failed, leaving us in a worse position than before. So we scrapped that rather complicated plan and instead opted for something much simpler, ‘Start where you are, use what you have and do what you can’. It also involved that special ingredient that transforms the ordinary into something extra-ordinary…Faith.  So, in obedience to what I believed to be the prompting of the Holy Spirit, I started at home, using what I had, which was a few old T-shirts, and did what I could ….and it looked like this:

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Now, don’t fall off your chair in amazement!  I mean, I know it is astounding!!! 😉

But, hey, that is how our Etsy shop started. It has moved on a lot since then and morphed in a hundred ways that I couldn’t have imagined but how much pleasure I have had in doing it.  It will help with the finances, leaves us with time for the real reasons for being here and can all be done from home which allows me to be here for the kids. It’s pretty simple and yet I could never have come up with the idea myself. It started with, the word of God, faith and a headband.

Now, going back to the subject of walking, I watched for the umpteenth time a DVD called ‘The Cross’ about the life of a man called Arthur Blessit.  This man has walked on foot through every country and island group in the world carrying a large wooden cross, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. I am not here to discuss the life and ministry of this man but the facts of what he has done are pretty astounding.  So what does a man that has taken approximately 76 million steps, met every nationality under the sun, walked through war zones and jungles, over mountains and through wildernesses, meeting the most powerful leaders in the world and the poorest of all, have to tell us about keeping life simple while fulfilling a huge vision.  Here are a couple of his astounding insights ….

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‘Take one step at a time’….hardly earth shattering is it!? Yet coming to think of it, that was the way the walls of Jericho came tumbling to the ground. A million feet in unison taking one step at a time, persistently, day in day out until the earth shook under their feet and the previously unthinkable happened. So keep going forward one step at a time, one day at a time, in faith, being obedient to the word of God…do the next thing. Amazing things can happen if we persist.

well if that didn’t do it for you, try this one from Arthur….

‘Let your vision be no bigger than the next person you meet.’

So simple…and yet so difficult when all I want to do is rush past that person and ‘get on with the job in hand.’ Yet, that person is important and I might never have a chance to share the love of God with them again. Every smile, every thank you, every hello and goodbye counts, especially how it’s done…I am talking to myself here. It is certainly food for thought.

So these are the beginnings of my thoughts on keeping it simple and I could say a lot more but I guess I had better stop here before it gets too long and complicated.

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getting creative

I never considered myself as being a particularly creative person.  My sister is the artist in the family doing everything from making gorgeous handbags to painting and photography, able to make the most dull object look like a masterpiece through the lens of her camera.  I on the other hand have always been the plain, scientific one, focusing all my attention at school on biology, chemistry and physics.  I have, however, had a minor revolution in my life in the last few years of living in Estonia…

When I grew up in the UK, crochet, knitting and gardening were definitely relegated to the retired and elderly.  It may be that I have aged a little but I am definitely not in that department yet!  I am however, surrounded by incredibly down to earth and gifted people to whom knitting and gardening are life skills needed for getting through harsh winters.  Their skills are passed on to their children and grandchildren as a matter of course and are still taught in school.  I know plenty of young mums who crochet and knit with such skill that I have often been asked if their items are machine made as they are so consistent.

I never thought I would be party to this kind of activity but then two things happened,

1) I miraculously produced a daughter who is incredibly creative and loves working with her hands! When I first realised her skill I have to admit to being dismayed that I was simply not,  ‘that kind of mum’ and wouldn’t be able to help or inspire her.  She has been so desperate to learn…. so I have had to learn too!  We have both been learning to crochet side by side and have been experimenting with knitting looms and sewing machines. It has been quite fun learning how to recycle old t- shirts and jeans to make all sorts of useful accessories. The possibilities are endless! She was so delighted when for her ninth birthday she received her very own pink polka dot sewing machine and made her very own cath Kidston hand bag! (See the photo below)

2) secondly, during the sad time of my mum’s passing away I discovered that working with my hands and with yarn was incredibly therapeutic.  It uses a different part of your brain to that used for critical thought and it definitely worked for me, bringing a moment of soothing and calm during a stressful and sad time. Funnily enough my mum was an incredibley gifted and creative person, able to sew beautifully, knit, crochet, create beautiful flower arrangements as well as create a beautiful garden from nothing. It seems my daughter has inherited her skill.

Whether anyone is from a particularly creative family or not, I believe there is something inherently creative in every one of us. You might not think so, but maybe you haven’t found, ‘your thing’ and need to try something new, whether it be baking, gardening, painting, woodwork or writing a book…there are so many forms of creativity.

My sister and daughter have inherited their skills from various creative lines in our family tree but ultimately you can trace these things back to the very one who created us — in who’s image every one of us is made. As I am writing this, my son is absorbed together with his dad, in a nature programme displaying the most wonderful images of the natural world. The variety and imagination used in creating these is beyond our comprehension….From the majestic eagle soaring in the skies to the whales of the deepest parts of the ocean feeding on tiny krill. Man’s creativity and imagination can be impressive — but God’s is awesome! I look at a star lit sky and think how twinkly and tiny they are, only to find that they are hundreds and thousands of times bigger than our planet with incredible individual beauty….and then I look through the lens of a microscope to discover a world of beauty that I wouldn’t know existed with my naked eye….speechless.

We are creative because He is. It is the genetic blue print of our Father written into our being.

I am going to leave you with a beautiful video clip from the BBC. Oddly enough the man who narrates it, who’s voice we all know and love, has failed to see the signature of The Creator on every masterpiece, but I still think it is pretty neat
what a wonderful world…enjoy 🙂

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The singing revolution

Singing is not the first thing that springs to mind when you think of revolution. Revolutions are usually marked by bloodshed, hate, hungerstrikes and other gruesome images. Yet for the Estonians, in their fight against the soviet occupation that began in the 1940’s, singing became a choice weapon that marked the events taking place in the late 80’s, early 90’s, when Estonia, along with Latvia and Lithuania, won back their freedom.

Estonia has a long held tradition of singing with thousands of estonians gathering in the capital’s festival ground every five years for the song festival, with lots of smaller festivals in between. It is a mark of ‘estonianness’. During the years of occupation the festivals continued but the traditional estonian songs were replaced by songs about Marx, Lenin and Communism. On the 100th anniversary of the festival in 1969, the official soviet programme ended but the choir refused to leave the stage and spontaneously started to sing traditional estonian songs, including the most beautiful of all, ‘Land of my fathers, land that I love’. It was a mark of protest, a stating of their identity. Of course the soviets were not impressed. What do you do when a choir of 20,000 voices start singing the most forbidden song and won’t stop!? The soviets told the brass band to drown them out, but they couldn’t and the people just kept singing. Those who were there recount it with tears in their eyes as it was such a heartfelt moment of defiance.

In the 80’s, with Gorbachev in power allowing greater freedom of speech, the move towards freedom gathered pace with protests being held by different political groups. One summer festival in the centre of Tallinn erupted and resulted in 100,000 estonians gathering at the song ground singing their forbidden national songs. These gatherings grew in numbers and frequencey until 300,000 estonians gathered and….sang! Of course there were many other things happening besides singing but it is this one aspect that makes the estonian revolution different to the other revolutions happening at the same time, hence why it was dubbed ‘the singing revolution’. It is interesting that Estonia, with it’s non confrontational attitude, was the only country that avoided bloodshed during the four years of revolution, unlike the neigbouring baltic states. At the bottom of the page you can find the link to the trailer from the movie that depicts these times, with original video footage.

Thinking about the singing revolution has prompted me to think about the role of singing in our own lives. There is something about singing that is the expression of a soul, more than even the playing of an instrument. The Estonians expressed their identity through song. Football and rugby fans express their identity and hopes, encouraging their team to victory whilst belting out the simplest of tunes. What is my song? What are the words of that song that I identify with and sing with all my soul? What is my weapon against outside forces that weigh in on my life? Do I have a song that defies them?

Well. Yes I do. I think singing is one of the most powerful weapons when you feel down. As a follower of Jesus I can choose to look up and sing a song of thankfulness and faith in the midst of trouble and find myself empowered to go forward rather than downwards. ‘My lips shall praise You!’

For those of you, who like me have been to many many churches and are involved in leadership; don’t you think it would make a change if for once, in church, we made the band take second place to the congregation and let the people sing…really sing, choosing songs that are actually singable with words that are full of truth. The estonians displayed courage, defiance and hope when the people sang as one voice, not just one person on a microphone with a big band and everyone listening in as though it didn’t involve them. Praise and worship cannot be and never will be something passive. It can and should be a means of stirring faith in the heart and setting people free.

The singing revolution trailer

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…

Well it’s that time of year again. The apple trees are heavy laden with fruit and the beets are ready to be boiled, roasted, pickled and anything else you can think of. It’s all hands on deck, especially with the apple juicing…apples have to be washed, crushed and pressed until the liquid pours out, ready to be pasteurised and put in sterile jars. It’s a lot of work but the results are worth it, a years supply of 100% organic apple juice…

This is just the beginning…

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UK health and safety would have a fit with this equipment! Only safe to be touched using a wooden stick, prodded intermitently and willed to work using a few encouraging words!

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Press until the juices start to flow….

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Pasteurise and then enjoy…pure liquid nectar!

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Only three more trees to go!