Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Light


It's that time of year for taking stock of the year that's passed and looking forward to the year to come.

Instead of New Year’s Resolutions, last year I chose One Word to guide me through the year. That word was ‘light’, and I interpreted it in the sense of light that comes from the sun, and a lightness that is not heavy.
In January I was a newlywed, learning a whole different way of life that’s shared and open, all the time. We’d had a month or so off our commitments and were about to dive back into it all. It’s a big change

I’d love to say that my whole year was characterised by light and the sweetness that accompanies it. That wasn’t the case, and I’m sure I’ve shared enough about my challenges online here that you don’t need to hear a lot more! Needless to say, I spent probably six months all but drowning under the pressure of a hectic schedule and responsibilities that were far beyond what I could handle. It was dark, and it was heavy

I had to let go of something, and over the Summer I stepped down from volunteering for a children’s charity that is very close to my heart. Somebody spoke to me over a year ago about my work in that part of the city, that I was to walk lightly on the ground, and I believe part of that was to be able to let go when the time came. Even now I’m gutted not to be a part of it, but I have to trust that others will step up to the plate and build on what I have done.

The light since that time- Wow! In both senses, I have rediscovered the joy of life and can commit to things because I want to without it being an additional burden. All of these crafts that I’ve gotten into are partly because I’ve got the time now, but they also help me to switch off and relax (except when I set myself crazy deadlines...) so that I’m in a better frame of mind for my other activities. I would expect my husband would say he appreciates me not crying on him weekly now, and I’m a much lovelier person too.

So I suppose in a roundabout way, this year has been the journey through a long and winding tunnel to the light. I’m still on my way, learning to set my own limits and prioritise where my energy can go, but there is definitely a lightness to my step that wasn’t there this time last year

Next year’s word will be announced... next year!

Did you have any new year’s resolutions in 2014? How did they go?

Monday, 29 December 2014

Festive Fun

What a month December has been.

Today has been my first chance to stop at home. I have pottered, taken some photos of all my festive creativities and cleaned the grout between every single bathroom tile with a toothbrush. I'm not really sure where to begin here, so I think I will just re-establish the blogging pattern with some follow ups of all the different things I was in the middle of before the Christmas mist descended!

First of all, this is a long-overdue picture:


FINALLY, it is framed and gifted! I had to re-arrange the text a bit as the pattern puts in a length which I didn't know, so I added the time as well. The sparkle in the fabric looks great in the frame and they loved it!

Also already gifted are my snowflakes. I starched and stretched them in batches of 5 and am so pleased with how they look, blocking them made all the difference.  Here is my little blizzard:


 And a surplus one that has made it onto my tree:


 It was a bit of a panic by the end, and for the first couple of days after they were all given out I didn't quite know what to do with my hands any time I had a free moment!

Finally, project number 3. There was no chance of me making the Christmas deadline and I'm already anxious about the March deadline for his first birthday, but here is the current structural state of Noah's Ark:


Getting there, slowly but surely! It would be no good for anybody colour-blind, just a hundred different shades of brown and yellow.

I've plenty more to write, some exciting crafty Christmas presents to show off and my "OneWord" for 2014 to review, but I think this will do for now. Just another long-overdue TUSAL to broadcast!


Monday, 1 December 2014

Totally Useless at keeping up!

Now for all the crafting. I'm beginning to feel the pressure a bit, and last Saturday I took the decision to do some crafting instead of writing about it. I'm also struggling to take pictures because the sun has been MIA for a week or two now so there's never any decent light! But hey ho, we can pretend the grainy, amber hue is some kind of vintage effect.

First things first, the "Old stitches, New tricks" competition! Thank you for the lovely feedback. Unfortunately my little basket was nowhere near the winners in terms of skill, scale or time invested. I did get a special mention on the blog though which I was pleased enough with! I hope you looked at the other entries, they were great.

I'm a week or more late on my TUSAL update, so here is my jar:

You'll see that I did cheat and put the ends from the basket in there as well (well it was kind of cross-stitch...) I can't show you the finished Doctor Who sampler as it's away being framed and I somehow neglected to take a photograph beforehand. Noah's ark is getting there (slowly) though:

That roof was a weekend's work. I'm dreading starting on the boat itself. Not going to make it by Christmas I don't think.

I've also been working on some snowflakes:

They've been quite fun to make and I feel like I'm almost getting to grips with crochet, at long last! I'm making one each for a group of friends so still quite a way to go, but they aren't slow to make. They are quite handy on the train, I can make one in a couple of days' commuting.

Finally, I made some crafty friends last Saturday! Kate of Beak Up Crafts had arranged a get-together in Leeds of people who like to make things. She wrote about it here. It was great fun; I don't think I would have been brave enough to go if it had been any further away but I'm glad I did. Everyone there was from such different backgrounds in the 'day job' but people were very open and we ended up having some quite personal discussions. I'm looking forward to joining them again for some 'crafternoons' in the new year.

Friday, 28 November 2014

On being scared of what you know

Well, hasn’t it been a busy couple of weeks?! The Christmas rush has started early it seems and it’s a long time since my last evening in. I have a TUSAL to catch up with and feedback from the &Stitches competition, but I’ve been itching to get this post out all week so I better do some reflective writing while I feel inspired. Hopefully will get another chance this weekend!

I am an optimist. I love that old non-statistic: “most people spend most of their time worrying about things that will never happen.” I’m also guilty of falling into the ‘most people’ category occasionally.

Sometimes though, I worry about things that I’m certain are just about to happen. What if you know the situation is about to turn bad? What if you’ve been there before? At church this Sunday we were looking at the story where Jesus walks on the water. He’d sent his followers across a lake and said he’d meet them on the other side. His followers were fishermen and knew that lake like the back of their hand. They were used to sailing in the dark. So you better be sure that when they were scared, it wasn’t without good reason!

As I prepare to leave a job I love for another I can only hope to be such a blessing; as I look to the first Christmas I will ever spend away from my parents’ home; I feel like I’m sliding down an old precipice to a dark valley path. It's a path I've walked many times before. My capacity shrinks to that of a tiny Lego man, and the smallest task becomes a mountain. Sometimes it turns to a stream under the volume of tears. 

This week I’ve been following along with the SheReadsTruth ladies as they look at Thankfulness in the Bible (happy Thanksgiving for yesterday!) On Monday we looked at “giving thanks in sorrow”. I can only advise you to read it whether you have a faith or not; the whole thing is so beautiful no snippet can do it justice. This stopped me in my tracks:
You’ve sized up your grief of what was lost, what should be, or what will never be, and felt the sharp pangs of this fallen world. You’ve avoided playing a thanksgiving song because it won’t sound the same as before. But by doing so, you’re withholding one of the most precious tunes the world has ever heard—the tune of Glory.
The first time I walked that path I thought my world would end. Now I sit it out, knowing that eventually it will pass. The fight is shorter, the nights just as long and the morning a welcome relief when it finally comes.

 My challenge is to keep on identifying those amazing things I have to be thankful for. It is to acknowledge the battles I've been through and sing because of it (not in spite of it). My challenge is to step out of the safety of everything I’ve tried before (that failed) onto the choppy seas of fear, keeping my eyes on Jesus and trusting that he has power to calm the storms.




What do you do when the walls fall in?

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Old Stitches, New Tricks

Well… Here it is: My &Stitches “Old Stitches, New Tricks” entry!



I’ve really enjoyed doing it and actually the possibility of a prize has spurred me on to complete a project I intended to do in the summer. 

It all started with this AMAZING bike:


My bike is a multi-purpose tool; as well as transporting me to work and back, and beating the traffic jams into town, it has also taken me on some epic rides down the length of the country and around Stage One of this year's Tour de France. I wanted a basket that would let me take a handbag when meeting friends, but that could be completely removed to lessen the weight for endurance rides up big hills.

I thought something like this might work: 


So I duly bought the appropriate basket. As my bike has a bit of a monochrome theme, I thought I would be clever and use some wire for the thread. But that didn't work out so well, it didn't loop nicely and couldn't really be seen. It would have to be yarn. 

I also struggled to decide on a pattern. I wanted something more meaningful than triangles but struggled to work out how to design onto diamond shapes. I printed some template paper from the web and tried drawing out a round design then simlpifying it into stitches, but that didn't work. I tried copying some tiny embroidered flowers from a bag I own, but that didn't work. I tried translating standard cross stitch patterns into diamond shapes but they were far too intricate.

Finally, I stumbled upon some beading patterns. "Brick stitch" became my saviour!


This is the image that opened up to me google page after page of designs that would work within the mesh, and look pretty to boot. I had initially wanted some flowers, but in the end it was the butterfly that won me over. The pattern I used can be found here; it's the "Purple Butterfly".

And that was that! I used the yarns I had available to me, and the colour scheme was mostly decided by which I had the most of. To thread the yarn through the holes I used a tiny safety pin as a needle:


And then I basically back-stitched the pattern, tying knots at the beginning and end. I experimented with turning them into cross-stitches as in the letter sorter above, but that looked quite messy on this scale (unfortunately my camera couldn't cope with focusing on a mesh at that range, but trust me it wasn't good).

I am so pleased with how the stitching came out:


And a close up of the finished item:


So there we are! I hope you like it as much as me. I've used a whole combination of crafts: yarn, cross-stitch / embroidery and beading (might have to try the real thing soon!) All of the links to the different sites I've gathered inspiration from are on this Pinterest board; that seemed more manageable (and pretty) than a long list here.

Thanks &stitches for inspiring me with such a creative competition!

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Plans Plans Plans

So I hinted that I've got a few projects I'd like to get going in the next couple of weeks... I honestly don't know where to start! The Doctor Who sampler is all but finished (will be done by Friday), Noah's ark is on its way and I've got some variety to get stuck into.

First up, I want to enter the "Old Stitches, New Tricks" competition over at &Stitches. I have a bike basket see, and I'm keen to jazz it up a little.


My inspiration has come from Greedy For Colour's incredible bike, and a simple little tutorial I found on cross-stitching onto a letter rack. The original plan was to keep with the monochrome colour scheme of the bike and use some silver wire but that has proved less than successful, so I'm hunting for some cheap tiny balls of wool that might be more effective. Watch this space!

In the light of my recent thoughts about snowflakes, I'd like to crochet some for a group of friends, each one unique. At last count I had 10 different snowflake patterns, and here is my practice run:
 (I've since located some sparkly yarn which will definitely be required for the gifts!)

I also went a bit crazy and bought some clock parts the other day, so I'm considering trying to get some button clocks made up before Christmas in case people wanted to buy them as gifts. They will be much more simple than the one I made for my  mum, but hopefully still as pretty.


Then I have a two more gift ideas to make in the next couple of weeks, more on those when they have been gifted! November will be busy...

Does anyone else have more ideas than time?

Saturday, 25 October 2014

What a difference a month makes!

A month seems to go by so fast these days, and it's time for that slightly-odd blog game where I show you how many loose ends I've cut off this month:

I'm getting there! There is LOTS of black from my Dr Who stitching this month, a bit of gold from the Dalek and some grey from the elephants in Noah's Ark. So fairly monochromatic.

BUT... *drum roll* ... I have finished the design on the Dr Who sampler! Just the words and framing to go, it is VERY exciting. Here's where I was up to by last night:


I am really quite proud of myself, to be on track for finishing an entire project within 2 months. We are house-watching for Josh and his parents this week so I'm considering whether I can get it done and framed before they get back, as a welcome home gift. Anybody got any advice on framing? This is what size the aida was that I bought so there's not much space all the way around, I think I might have to take it to a professional for it to look acceptable.

You'll also notice I've bought a needle minder- it's amazing what it turns out you can't manage without when you get into a hobby! This beautiful wooden button came from planetvonnychops on etsy. So cute!

Once the Dr Who Sampler is done I'll have time to start some new projects. Maybe I'll blog some of my ideas in the next week, now I'm off to get buying materials!


Have a look at other people's TUSAL odds and ends over here.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Unique {We are the Other}


I’m going to step into slightly unknown territory today and talk a little bit about my work. I’m linking up with the SheLoves Magazine Synchroblog on the theme “We are the other”: raising the profile of the people who are marginalised in the world. There are a lot of themes I could have picked up but I think many of them will be more than fairly represented amongst the other blog posts so the “other” people group I’m championing today is those with Learning Disabilities (that’s British terminology; I believe the accepted term stateside is Intellectual Disabilities).

I’m so aware that in writing about a group of people to which I don’t belong, I run the risk of setting them apart as “Others” even in my good intentions. So there will be as many links as possible scattered throughout, and I really encourage you to read them. Start with this lady. She speaks much more eloquently and with more authority than I ever could. Seriously, read it before going any further here. 

“He’s Unique.” I need say no more. (But I will, else there’s not much point in this post)

I listened to this discussion with Jean Vanier yesterday. Jean set up L’Arche, French for ‘The Ark’, when he invited two men with learning disabilities who had been living in an asylum, to come and live with him and share his life. There are now communities in more than 40 countries sharing that same vision of sharing life between people with and without learning disabilities.

One of the key things he talks about in the interview is the difference between admiring people and loving them. Admiring people sets them on a pedestal (He’s so brave); loving people stands alongside them. It allows them to get under your skin. One of the most empowering acts we can give to any person we normally keep behind the “Other” barrier is to let them drive you mad, make you angry.

I work in a school and residential setting for children and adults with profound and multiple learning disabilities. Many of those people also have very complex health needs. They need a lot of help with a lot of aspects of life; but they are always to be the ones in control. Sometimes that’s really inconvenient if I need to look in a person’s bag for their equipment and they say ‘no’, or I’ve asked for advice about what I should buy from the tuck shop and they recommend my least favourite item. But that in a small way is redressing the power balance that this world thrives on.

During the Summer I went to meet the leader of the L’Arche community in Manchester. I had gone because I wanted to find ways of making Christianity more accessible to people with learning disabilities; I wanted them to have the same opportunities to meet God as the rest of us. My vision was for special meetings, designed with various needs in mind, to welcome those with all kinds of additional needs.

But Kevin’s vision was something completely different. His vision is to see that people with learning disabilities are seen as no different from those without. His team’s proudest venture is the disco night they run once a month for local families, where people of all walks and ages come and some of them have learning disabilities. Nobody comes out of pity, they come because they have a good time, every one of them.

~*~

I don’t quite know how to finish today. This is something of a journey that I am still on; this is a people group that is such fun to work with and yet opens up such deep questions about the meaning and value of life. Perhaps I’ll end with this:

L'Arche is based on body and on suffering bodies. And so they are seen as useless, and so we welcome those who apparently are useless. And it's a suffering body which brings us together. And it's attention to the body. You see, when somebody comes to our community and is quite severely handicapped, what is important is to see that the body is well. Bathing, helping people dress, to eat. It's to communicate to them through the body. And then, as the body can become comfortable, then the spirit can rise up. There's a recognition. There's a contact. There's a relationship. 
We see this with some of our people, like Françoise. Françoise came to our community in 1978, very severely handicap. She couldn't speak, she could walk a bit, she couldn't dress herself, she was incontinent, and she couldn't eat by herself. And today, she is nearly 30 years older. She has become blind and a beautiful person. 
There was somebody who came to our community not too long ago who was, saw Françoise and the reaction was, 'Oh, what is the point of keeping Françoise alive?' And the leader of the little house said, 'But madam, I love her." I mean, it's as if you come in to a home and grandma is in the home and she has Alzheimer's and you say, 'What is — but she's my grandmother.' I mean, so it's based on the body, and then from the body, relationship grows. 
                                                              -Jean Vanier, OnBeing.org

EVERY life is unique. EVERY life has value.


Sunday, 12 October 2014

Like Snowflakes {Listen}

Today I'm linking up with SheLoves Magazine on their monthly theme which for October is "Listen" (Or I would be, but the link-up page seems to be broken. I thought I'd write anyway). Hop over there to see what some excellent writers have to say on the theme. Here's my take:

The 'Life Group' I'm a part of didn't come together like most of the others at our church. We wanted small groups to meet up with that would focus on reaching the area and neighbourhoods that we lived in. Very few people lived on my side of the city, so we thought outside the box. We invited all the local Christians we knew to join in, and a precious cross-congregational fellowship was formed.

Recently we've gained a few new members so this week we decided to each share a little part of our testimony, one or two events that had been turning points or played a part in shaping who we are.

Beautiful.

One by one hearts were opened, and this odd family was welcomed in. As each person shared, others were reminded of events in their own lives that had been further turning points. One shared how they met God all on their own, without another soul talking to them. Another shared how in the vast sea of people at Soul Survivor he had encountered the Holy Spirit for the first time. One shared how faith had just always made sense in life; another shared the long and winding road to discovering who God is. Each story was as valuable as the next; some more familiar than others. But for every one of us, listening to our friends was a reminder of something else God had done, another event that had played a part in moulding us into who we are.


A snowflake is formed by a water particle freezing around a tiny piece of dust, and falling to the earth. The intricate shape of each arm is determined by the atmospheric conditions experienced by the flake as it falls. Every gust of wind; each slight change in temperature or humidity causes the ice crystals to grow in a different way. Because individual snowflakes all follow slightly different paths from the sky to the ground they each encounter different conditions and therefore, each one is unique.

We are like snowflakes, and every experience, every condition, every change of direction determines who we will become. What a privilege to hear those stories and be able to say, 'Thank you for sharing'.

Can you think of events in your life, even seemingly insignificant ones, that have made you who you are today?

Snowflake image credit: Alexey Kljatov

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Hop Along

Today I’m joining in with a Blog Hop from over at Serendipitous Stitching. I’ve been paired up with The Alchemyst’s Study and my brief is to have a snoop around her blog and write a post dedicated to her, with something I’ve made that I thought she might like.

Unfortunately I don’t have a huge backlog of cross-stitched crafts to draw on, but I have tried my hand at a good few techniques in my time and it seems like Christine likes to do the same! She has a lovely little online craft store with a whole section dedicated to ‘buttons and braids’ so I thought I’d share my favourite button craft with you.

Growing up, my mum had a collection of buttons in an old milk formula tin and I used to love getting them out and playing with them, just enjoying looking at all the different designs. I’ve started my own miniature collection but it is growing slowly, mostly made up of the spare buttons that come with various items of clothing!

I got the idea for this project from a lovely tea shop we visited one winter on a Christmas walk around Bakewell. The clock was beautiful and I thought, I could make that for my mum next year!

So I did. I had a fun trip to the market where I got to pull out all those tubes of buttons and pick my favourites, then I chose the best arrangement and got stitching. Sewing the clock face onto the backing fabric was quite a challenge, and I wish I could say each blanket stitch represents a second but alas not so technical! I’m also missing photos of my Dad and I on Christmas eve with a drill trying to make a perfect sized hole for the clock mechanism to fit through the back board I’d bought without wobbling.

But here is the finished item:



I like to think the non-uniformity gives it a rugged charm! My mum likes it anyway, it occupies pride of place on the mantelpiece.

Where have you picked up some crazy craft ideas from?



Do go and visit Christine’s blog at The Alchemyst's Study, and find the rest of the blog-hoppers at Serendipitous Stitching. Nice to meet you!

Friday, 3 October 2014

New Toy

Yesterday I defied the advice of people far wiser than I and bought a new toy:



It's teeny weeny, isn't it cute?

Actually, the advice turned out to be well grounded. It only does a straight backstitch so no zigzagging to avoid frays, and it only goes in one direction. Which means to start and finish you have to stitch two, turn the whole piece around and stitch back on yourself, then turn it round again to carry on. Whilst being quite an inconvenience it also gives me 4 extra opportunities to start stitching with the foot still up each time around, eek!

It's dead easy to set up though, and I've even completed my first project already! I followed this video:



Which was so simple, I think it took me less than an hour all in all to complete! Here's a few photos of my progress:




The finished thing was quite a lot smaller than I had anticipated but just about fit in my Dr Who cross stitching, so I can stitch on the go without keeping everything in a scrappy old plastic wallet.



I hope to add an embellishment or two in time, and replace the hemming tape with ribbon for the drawstrings, but it's not bad for an evening's work and the odds and ends I had in!

What else is easy to make on a sewing machine?

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Lead {SheLoves}


Two blog posts in two days, something must be going on! How about a manic month ending with a week off just in time before I’ve completely missed the boat?! September’s SheLoves link up has been on the theme: LEAD. Somehow I’ve really struggled to connect this month. Maybe because I’ve overcommitted on cross-stitching (see previous post) maybe I’ve been a bit under the weather. More likely it’s just a tricky topic for me to relate to openly. Even now, on the last day of September there is so much buzzing around my head about leadership, but nothing that I feel comfortable putting into words. Read some other takes on it here.

Here is the truth: We are all leaders. Every single one of us. Everything we do impacts upon those around us, causes them to live in response to us. Here are some examples:

Last Christmas my car very sadly drove it’s final few miles to the scrap heap. We’ve managed almost a year as a one-car household, and as a consequence I am much fitter as my bicycle frequently carries me to work instead! I have a colleague who recently took advantage of the cycle to work scheme we are offered and over the summer she chose to cycle the 10 miles each way to work and back twice a week, even though she had a fully functional car at home. She’ll openly say she never considered that a possibility until I started to do it.

I have started taking my cross-stitch into work and managing about 10 minutes on it over lunch time, in an attempt to hurry along progress. Now there are two or three craft projects on the go around the dining table.

A friend of mine invited me to an orchestra one time and now I’m a (semi) regular attendee of play days, when previously I hadn’t picked up my violin for 8 years!

Now I am NOT one of those bubbly, always centre-of-attention people. Actually I hate being the centre of attention, that’s why I’ve struggled to write about my “official” leadership positions. But I have changed people’s lifestyles (in these cases, by accident!) But I will happily lead by my life. Just by being myself, I can give others permission to be themselves.


What can / do you do that is a little off-beat, but allows others to be themselves?

Monday, 29 September 2014

Cross Stitching Overload

So… I may have over-committed.

At the end of August so pleased was I with my “30for30crafting” exploits that I decided to take on a cross-stitch for a friend’s baby who had just been born. It was a Dr Who themed affair, quite large but with a good amount of empty space so I figured it was fairly doable.

The weekend after I’d bought the pattern and all of the threads was another friend’s baby’s christening, and we were to become God parents. It may surprise some parents to know that neither of us are from God-parenting church backgrounds, so we were somewhat underprepared for the situation in terms of gifts, and a friend staying with us that weekend persuaded me that another cross-stitch would be the perfect, thoughtful gift, and wouldn’t need to be ready before Christmas. So I scoured the internet and found a ‘Noah’s Ark’ kit (I really wanted to do this Bothy Threads one but it’s MASSIVE and very intricate… I was trying to be sensible!) which arrived shortly afterwards.
Well, this is the volume of Aida I have to fill:

Eek! Noah’s ark is about twice as big as I expected, and I’m losing the plot a little. Godson’s birthday is in March so I think he may have to wait until then. In the meantime (and in the two weeks since I started this post and never managed to finish it) I’ve made some headway with Dr Who. As a consequence I have lots of blue and black ORTS:


Maybe there is hope for me yet! No chance of using the beautiful wool my parents bought me from Scotland when they went last month though. All new projects are frozen until at least one of these is complete!
Isn’t it beautiful? That’s just what colour the sheep are, no dye has been used.

EDIT: Forgot to include the link for the TUSAL. See more jars of thread here!

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Totally Useless!!

I have enjoyed getting my craft on over the past month, both with the #30for30crafting challenge (I'm just about still keeping up to it now I'm back at work) and generally enjoying what others get up to and where they squeeze it into their lives. What's lovely is that there are a lot of different communities: 'stitch alongs' where everyone follows the same pattern at a similar pace, and 'swaps' where people from across the world make things for each other (usually along a theme) and send them. It sounds like such fun!

I've not been brave enough to join in something where I could possibly let another person down: I'm not quite confident in my own abilities yet. But I have come across the "Totally Useless Stitch-Along" which I feel I'm more than qualified for!

It's dead simple: collect up all the scraggly ends of thread as you've been stitching, and store them in a glass jar. The colours are pretty and there's less mess in the house. The jars are called ORTs for Old Ratty Threads. Then take a picture and share!



I think you're probably meant to add a bit more detail as well, about what you've been making. Most of my threads came from my lightning-speed birthday card production, and some crochet-ing (which is nearly finished and I'll broadcast it then). I'm writing as I wait FOREVER for my MND/ALS Ice Bucket Challenge video to upload, so I'm reluctant to use up much more bandwidth just now!

All the other TUSALs this month are here...

Saturday, 23 August 2014

How Beautiful

As kids, my brother and I used to love watching a VHS of "Handel's Messiah" being performed. Looking back, that's actually quite odd, but we liked it all the same. My Dad listened to classical music a lot so I guess it came from there. We used to love the affectionately nick-named 'teddy bear man' who played the jubilacious trumpet at the the end.

It makes sense then, that as I have been thinking about the content of this post, a passage from the Messiah has been floating around in my head:




How beautiful upon the mountains
     are the feet of him who brings good news
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
     who publishes salvation,
     who says to Zion, "Your God reigns."
          Isaiah 52:7

For me, bringing good news and glad tidings have been increasingly wrapped up with another verse over the past few years:

He has told you, O man, what is good;
     and what does The Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
     and to walk humbly with your God?
          Micah 6:8

My grown-up theology has come from The Message trust and Eden projects in Manchester, from 24-7 Prayer and Shane Claiborne. People who have given up everything to live in community with the broken. That verse from Micah, that is the trendy mandate in those circles.

Bringing good news has meant doing justice and loving kindness. In turn, doing justice and loving kindness has meant going out onto the streets and meeting those whom Jesus came to save; visiting them in their homes; building relationships with families; giving children and young people an opportunity to encounter God and develop a relationship with him for themselves. You should go and explore the work that Kidz Klub and Space do: they have had a massive impact in my city and continue to bring the love of Jesus to many difficult situations.

This year has been tough. That version of bringing good news doesn't pay the bills so add in a full time job, a new marriage and a small social life, and you get one exhausted Becca. After much soul-searching I have taken the decision to step back from Kidz Klub for a while. It's for the sake of my own health, and to enable me to do the things that remain, well. In the crafting world I'm happy to be 'Jack of all trades, master of none' but where I have responsibility for people's lives I don't think that's acceptable.

This summer has been long and beautiful. I've rediscovered my creative side, bought a basket for my bike, had coffee with friends, done babysitting. It's been lovely. I've joined an orchestra. And I've felt terribly middle-class. Baskets and crochet and summer play-days: they aren't the kind of thing I encounter on the estates. The questions have kept me up at night: What if that means my feet aren't beautiful any more? If I'm not living immersed in a council estate, can I really be following God?

Of course I can. I can do justice with my whole life. I can love kindness in everything I do. And I must walk humbly with my God, constantly handing my life over to him and following His agenda; not mine or anyone else's.

Sarah over at SheLoves wrote this month about how she and her sisters are learning to treat 'Lazy' as a four-letter word. That article spoke straight into my soul, as I learn to rest in God and seek him above all else. One more scripture:

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
     the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
          Hosea 6:6

This verse is not an answer. It doesn't tell us to rest; nor does it tell us to do. It tells us to know God, and follow his lead. It is not easy, and there are no one-size-fits-all answers. Here I was facing up to it a couple of weeks ago:



So today I bring you good news: Jesus loves you, and he went to the ends of the earth to save your Spirit and restore friendship between you and God. He has a good and perfect plan for your life, and that does NOT include burning out.

How beautiful...

(PS I still totally love The Message and 24-7 and Shane Claiborne. I have nothing against them, and take full responsibility for my own interpretation of their writing and teachings)

SheLoves Magazine: a global community of women who love

I'm linking up this post with the SheLoves community who are sharing posts on the theme of 'Beautiful' this month. Click here for other takes on the subject

Friday, 15 August 2014

A Week of Creativity

Well, who knew quite what I was letting myself into with the #30for30crafting challenge this month! Week One was in the build-up to Pete's birthday so I couldn't share many of my projects as I went (couldn't ruin the surprise!) so here's a quick summary:

Day 1 was to finish off a point on my spikey spikey crochet (see previous photo). Crochet doesn't quite agree with me and this project is becoming a bit of a drag to finish, but I will get there, eventually.

Day 2 was the day that I discovered the challenge, and the oh-so-inspiring blog of The Crafting Geek. A recent post gave a cute little pattern for an old NES controller. Pete quite likes retro games so I thought this would be a lovely 'little project' to get me started, and I could make it into a birthday card for him. I popped into town for some bits including the black thread I would need, so was quite restricted to just 30 minutes to get started before the Mr got home from work. I nearly completed the box outline. You can see where this is going...

Day 3 and it turned out we had slightly different definitions of a 'little project'! It was the day before Pete's birthday so I had little choice but to spend most of the day sitting and stitching, painfully slowly filling in the colours. A lot of hours (including some overnight after he'd fallen asleep...) this emerged:

Quite pleased overall, despite the lack of sleep! The squareness of the design also gives a very satisfying back:


I downloaded a 'NES' font and printed the 'Happy Birthday' as a template, then used the schoolgirl technique of colouring underneath with a pencil to make my own template. I originally planned to go over this in red but liked the effect of the pencil so left it be.


Day 4: I was shattered after the previous day's stitching exertions, but it was the birthday boy's day and there was baking to be done! I had let slip that I wanted to bake a cake, and pecan pie had been requested. There's a bit of a back-story with that and it's become a traditional Christmas gift(!) but I'm a big softie so it was to be made again. We had a barbeque planned for Friday evening so a more sociable cake would be required for that. So cue another day full of creating, first a very exciting blueberry ring cake, then lots of little pecan pies:

Day 5: You can guess what today required, cake decoration! Here is the finished product, and I am very pleased with it. The greatest praise was that those who tasted it on Friday night came back for seconds.

Day 6 I spent with a group of friends re-painting the set for a children's club I am involved with during term times. I believe some photos were taken, but not by me. It's a bit of a tenuous link to 'craft' as there was very little creative involvement beyond white- and blue-washing some big boards, but it's all preparation for this Saturday which will see the creativity re-injected!

...And since then I've returned to my crocheting. It's painstaking and slow and I have to re-start every point 3 times before I really get going but hopefully I'll have something to show for it by the end of the month. Today is my Day 12 so there is still plenty of time for me!

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Now for something completely different...

It's been quite intense over here lately, but as the summer holidays wear on there is very little intense going on in these parts. There should maybe be a bit more intensive house-cleaning... but never mind. I've discovered the world of craft blogs, and it is maybe even more dangerous than community link-ups!



I'm not sure how well I'll fare all through the year, but have decided to join in a project called #30for30crafting, where you simply do something crafty for 30 minutes a day, for 30 days! The idea is to run through August so I'm a little late starting, but did spend a good hour doing some crochet yesterday so I reckon that puts me on Day 2.

I'm quite an ambitious person, and tend to dive straight into a massive project, rather than starting small. The real challenge is to finish. So I think I'll be taking this opportunity to finish some of the big projects I've started, but also try and limit myself to some smaller ones that can be completed in just a couple of days.

It's fun, creating.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Christmas Day in the Trenches {Authentic}

This month, I've been reading lots of stories from people encouraging me to be authentic. Not to put on a face, not to struggle on through, but to let it all hang out. Some of those stories came from people who have learned that lesson, faced up to their demons and now appear to live in a glorious post-authentic world and the freedom that brings. Others are sending dispatches from right in the trenches, putting their words together between battles.

Me? I think I'm at Christmas Day.



The year was 1914, and British and German soldiers had been living, fighting and dying in close proximity to each other for months. However, on the 25th December an unofficial truce was called, and men from both sides came out onto no-mans-land to exchange greetings and have a game of football. A brief respite before the battle raged on.


This is where I am. I've been battling; but now the summer holidays have come and all is quiet. That doesn't mean I don't know that come 26th August the battle will commence again, only I will be a bit more refreshed for the first couple of weeks at least. 


How to answer when people ask how I'm doing? They didn't hear my masked pleas for help in the heat of the battle, when all raged around me and the best answer I could give to that teasing 'how are you?' question was: 'I'm managing.' To say any better would be a bare-faced lie; to go into more detail would risk dissolving into tears, and there's no time for that when the battle's on and there's managing to be done. Now when they ask it's not lying to say 'fine' and that is all they really want to hear.


Some good friends recently discovered that we had been struggling, but it took us until last week to find a time when we all had a simultaneous free evening. Now that it's Christmas and a truce has been called there was less interest in the battle, but we had a lovely evening and were encouraged to let them know whenever we're struggling again. 


How?! When I'm struggling it's because every evening is filled up. We might label one night date night but we spend it crashed in front of a DVD eating takeaway because it's date night so we're allowed to not cook. All the other nights we barter over who will cook, and eating is the only waking activity we do in the house before crashing into bed. We both frequently comment that we have 'finished' at some point during the day, and all the energy was gone. Whilst watching the Tour de France this year we witnessed the same thing happen to some of the cyclists, but they had been riding 100+ miles a day at 30+ mph for a good few days by that time. That's when I thought that maybe we shouldn't be pushing our bodies to the same point of exhaustion quite so frequently. The moments that aren't spent doing are spent crashing. So when am I supposed to go for that coffee to talk it all through? Not until next Christmas, and the battle's paused again by then. 


I have been deliberately vague about what 'the battle' is. I'm trying hard to be authentic, but also honouring. I am not battling against people or groups; rather there are many circumstances that have combined to make life hard work. Pressures, responsibilities, disappointments.

Maybe I'll tell you over a coffee this holiday if you really want to know. 


I'm linking up with sheloves magazine this month, read more from other writers here.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Power in the name

Today I'm joining in with another #SheReadsTruth link-up, about where we take our name from. I've got lots of blog-gy ideas in my head at the moment but never getting time to commit them to paper (or screen!) I have been enjoying reading through Ruth though, and this study has given me plenty of food for thought. Have a look at other people's take on the story here.



I've written before about my own name here. It led me on a path of discovery about who I was and the words that have been spoken over me my whole life, just when people called me by my name.
 
Today I'm going to write instead about the names we dole out to places and communities. I'm a real believer in the power of our spoken word, that what we say can become prophetic into the spiritual realm as well as on an earthly level around us.
 
There is a prophecy in Isaiah:
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch. The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. (Isaiah 62:1-4 ESV)

We used to pray that over my home city of Liverpool. For anyone who doesn't know, Liverpool has somewhat of a dodgy reputation in the UK. Sure we had the Beatles and some good footballers, but we've also had riots, the streets are a bit messy and unemployment has historically been rife. I remember once going to a festival with some workmates from Leeds and camping next to some scousers. They were friendly and immediately I felt more secure in the surroundings. My friends, however, were on edge. 'Make sure you take everything with you, there are scousers in the next tent!' I was shocked and appalled.
 
So we prayed for a new name over our city. We prayed that 'Hope' would be spoken over it, and 
restoration. We asked to be called, 'my delight is in her'.
Do you know, it matters? It matters to people the reputation of where they live. It matters to children the reputation of their high school. What's the point in trying if no-one from your school ever gets anywhere when they leave? A teacher was recently fatally stabbed in a school in Leeds. It is a good school and this was an isolated incident, but as well as the fear the young people (and staff) now face going into school, they are marked by their uniform as 'from the school where that teacher got stabbed.' There's some negative power in hearing that on a regular basis. We have to stand against it.
 
I think we have a responsibility here. We have a responsibility to pray and lift up our neighbourhoods, our communities, our friends and family. But secondly, we have a responsibility to speak new names over those same groups. We can seek the positives and draw them out into the open, we can restore people and places with our words.
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then... your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in." (Isaiah 58:6, 7, 12 ESV)
The whole chapter is full of hope and new life. Read it. But we are called to be the restorer of streets. We do that with our actions, but also with our words.

What are the positive words that you can speak over the groups and peoples you encounter, that otherwise might only have negative labels?

Friday, 2 May 2014

Commissioned Moments

Today I'm joining up with a community at #SheReadsTruth. We've been challenged to write from the following reflection: 

Why do we live in the tension of worship and doubt that disables us to share the truth of God’s love? 
You and I are commissioned – authorized by God – to “therefore go and make disciples” who will know Him and live for Him. This is a commandment from Jesus.

Lots of other people have also written, have a look at their thoughts here. Here are mine:

Growing up, I learned to worship God in dance. I learned all the theory; what different parts of the body symbolised and how we could move prophetically. I grew up expressing my praise with my whole being.

I grew a bit older and discovered some people found that a bit weird. I learned that my friends and I had been labelled 'the flag girls' and watched more than one less-than-complementary impression of our 'actions'.

Now I'm older still. I've learned that I can praise and worship my God without having to move at all. I can reflect, I can be so full of awe that even to put on that worshipping face is distracting from what is happening on the inside. But sometimes, I just want to dance. I want to use all my limbs, my body, my balance to express my heart. Then I remember about the flag girls and wonder what that person sitting at the back might think.

Last Friday I encountered Jesus in a way I haven't done since I was a child. On Sunday, I burned on the inside with a conviction that I had a God-given dance. Movements rose inside of me that I knew would inspire and lead others. 'Flag girls' shouted from the back of my mind, urging me to cling to dignity. The song rolled on. How could I ask Jesus for a commission if I wouldn't follow such a simple command? How could I take a step of faith at work if I couldn't take a step in front of my family?

Every step to the front felt like lead. Every movement felt shaky. The chorus rose and fell. The verses came around, and that chorus again. My whole life was laid out in that moment, surrendered. All my pride, every promise, everything I knew and didn't know. That was my commissioning moment, a tiny obedience that broke through the lies of the past and fears of the future.

Since then? Life is busy, and normal. There was no bolt from the sky, but a foundation in my heart that I can follow my commission, one step at a time.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Time on the Train Track


Married life has brought lots of changes with it; one of the more pre-meditated changes is that we've become a one-car household. My little Cora was on her last legs for a good few months before the fateful day just before Christmas when she went for her last ever drive to the breaker's yard. She might have had a larger price on her head if there hadn't been a number of football-sized holes corroded through the floor.

My bicycle has never seen so much action! Well, not since it took me from Leeds to London in two days, but that's another story. I'm not quite that fit though, and rather than the full 16-mile ride each way, I head into Leeds, hop on a train and cycle up the hill at the other end to work. It's been enough to wake up these lazy legs but is getting easier by the week, thankfully!

My train journey is approximately 22 minutes. It's lovely to have that protected time at each end of the day where there's nothing I can do but wait to arrive at my destination. One of my highlights in the morning is taking a flask of tea and pretending I'm camping. My iPad comes too and therein lies the challenge. How do I spend those precious moments, when I have a choice? My options are many and varied:

  • Reading blogs, News bulletins, other great things inspirational people have posted.
  • Listening to an album I haven't heard in a while
  • I have a couple of ebooks on there too
  • Occasionally I even try and write something interesting!
All the while I'm desperate for time to re-connect with my Maker, the One who inspires me to do all the other stuff that keeps me so busy the rest of the week. But still it's a challenge to not 'do' and just 'be'. The blogs are inspiring; the music is beautiful; and my own writing intends to reflect all that I have learnt and all that I do. I toyed with trying to get this blog much more frequently updated; to be an example of a busy Christian woman and try to connect with others, to find a way through this maze. But then I realised that if I spent all my time writing, I would never have the time for that presence. 

It's a constant tension between doing and being. One is no good without the other; but I'll leave it at that for now. There's another post brewing.

I think my solution is to mix and match. I'd like to write on here more often, just for the love of writing. I'll probably join in a couple of monthly link-ups, and try to scatter some more personal bits in than I have done previously (like, did I mention I got married?!). I'm getting into reading more blogs and discovering that it's okay to just write a little bit about everything. It's okay to just write once a week, or even less. Everything doesn't have to be polished and perfect, but it helps if it's real.

So that's my new goal.

Mixed up and real. 

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Jane {Hope}

Jane* is a young lady that I met 3 years ago. That label is perhaps a little grand for her just yet; she is still a child, not yet in high school. My first impressions of Jane were that she was the original Wild Child. She could not stay still, she was always shouting, she had no internal checkpoints to tell her what was appropriate. 

Jane comes from a huge family: 13 siblings and counting. Many of her older brothers and sisters have been through the care system, and I have been involved in supporting one of them as she made the transition back home. Last time I visited the family, I heard that two of her older brothers are currently in prison. 
Jane has caused me some trouble over the past few years. She has disobeyed adults who care about her; she has bullied children who wanted to be her friend. She's been rude to a police officer when he challenged her behaviour in the street. Periodically, her behaviour improves dramatically and she tells me proudly that she has received 'star of the week' in school. Mum comes out and tells me how proud she is of Jane's hard work. But there's always something to upset the balance and send things off course again. Once it was when her little sister was born. Once when the kitchen ceiling fell through, inches away from mum's head. It was months before the council found another house for them to move into. 

On the surface, it's a hopeless situation. I can't fix Jane. I've tried, but I'm not enough. All of the signs and role models around her don't offer much hope either. The circumstances seem hopeless, but I've been learning something new. Hope in circumstances is not the same as hope in God**. Our hope doesn't come from what we can see. Our hope comes from above. 
For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:24-25, ESV)

Just two streets down from Jane, there is a gentleman who moved to this part of the city as his family grew. He was so shocked by the lack of any provision for young people in the area that he started taking his piano out onto the street for singalongs with all the neighbours. The whole street comes out to join in and make requests. There are many pockets of tangible, real-life hope that can be seen and reported in these places, and I would like to believe that the hours I have poured into those streets will be counted among the examples in years to come.

It would be easy to hold onto these stories as examples of hope for my city, for our world. But if our hope is founded on what we see, then how do we respond to the stories of sickness, unemployment and abuse that also abound? Where will my strength come from as I walk through the dark valleys?
Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident. I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! (Psalm 27:3, 13 ESV)

Let's hope in something that won't disappoint.

*   Not her real name
**  This is a brilliant, grounded article that you should read.