Sequins explained

The other week I shared a poem I had written whilst on a retreat/conference in France. I have lots of other takeaways I want to write about following on from that conference, but for now I want to unpack the imagery that helped to create that poem.

The conference was called Blesstival, and was a gathering of friends of a wonderful charity called The Bless Network, or Bless. Many years ago when I was an undergrad studying French at university, I interned through Bless at a French church. Since then I had not been greatly involved with the charity, I would read the newsletters and think to myself: It’s been a while, I really should sign up to one of their events. This time I stopped thinking about it and booked myself on. I am so glad I did.

The theme for the weekend was “un chant s’élève” – a song is rising – and the teaching was all around the ideas of worship and prophecy, how God sings over us and gives each of us a message to share with the world. At the end of Saturday morning’s session, one of the organisers, Chrissie, came over to me and said she had been given a picture for me of God sewing together the tapestry of my life, and sewing bright sequins into the work. After this session I spent some time in the prayer room reflecting on this picture, and others that had been given to me over recent years. A yearning was rising up inside of me to write again, something I have loved over the years but keep putting on the back burner, making excuses about not having the time or the head space. I was listening to an IHOP worship album on my phone while doodling, and I jotted down some lines from one of the songs that jumped out at me:

Just put me anywhere

And put Your glory in me

I’ll serve anywhere

Just let me see Your beauty

(IHOPKC & Corey Asbury – All Is For Your Glory)

and then it the words just spilled out of me, inspired by the song and the picture I had been given.

But there are references within the poem to other pictures, words and images given to me over the years, that seemed to align with the new one.

I’ll start with perhaps the most obvious, to those who have been with this blog from the start…

When I was thinking about how sequins reflect light, it was easy to link in with the poem I wrote several years ago which inspired the name of this blog: May I Be the Moon. In that poem I thought about how it is better to reflect the glory of God, as the moon reflects the sun, than to believe the world revolves around me.

Similarly, I wanted to include the image of the mirrorball, which again reflects the light around it. Back in the days of my Bless Internship, one of their conferences had the theme of ‘Mission as a mirrorball’. The idea here was that by serving others in the name of God, we are drawing His light in and reflecting it back out onto those He made and loves, just like a mirrorball. The moon, the mirrorball and the sequins all unite around this idea of reflecting the glory of God in our lives.

Next, the arrow. While in this poem it represents a kind of road sign pointing the way, it also for me has connotations of the arrows used in archery. These have to be pulled back before they can be released into flight. The work of weaving our lives together includes pain and setbacks, bad times as well as good. But in all things He works together for our good. The setbacks we face will ultimately lead to greater freedoms. (A no now means there is a better yes to come). Likewise in the work of the weaving, we will not see the full picture until it is completed and all the colours are sewn in.

Finally, the phrase ‘see what I am building in your life’. A few years ago I was on the way home from an evening service at church. We had visiting speakers who I knew had a gift for the prophetic, and I was hoping for some insight into a situation I was facing. I was disappointed not to have received any words during the service, but my route home took my past a building site with a massive crane standing tall over it. The building was still in its early stages but you could already begin to see the shape it would take, and the size of the crane bore witness to the eventual height of the construction. In that moment I heard God’s whisper ‘see, what I am building in your life’. 

The construction of my calling, my learning, my relationships, was (and is) still in its early stages, but the process of constructing the building, the process of weaving the tapestry, points to the genius and majesty of the creator as much as the finished product ever will.

Sequins

You are making me

A tapestry

Colours showing You at work in me

Blues, greens, reds,

The moments and emotions of my life

Woven together in beautiful harmony

And gently sewn in

The sequins start to glimmer

Flashes of light in the darkness

Reflecting Your beauty

The work You have done in my life

Becomes an arrow pointing to You

And I hear Your whisper

“See what I am building in your life”

The work of Your hands

The moon, a mirrorball,

That draws Your light in

And reflects it out

To show the world the Way to You

Life and Perspective

Hi… *waves*

So… it’s been a while…

And the worst part is I don’t really have a reason. So many times I’ve said to myself, I’ll sit down and write something this evening, or this weekend, or whenever and it just never seems to happen. The intention is there but nothing materialises.

I could blame so many things, time, energy, the fact that my desk has a pile of paperwork I need to sort through and my study is currently a junk room… and all these things have had an effect, it’s true. But mostly I have lacked motivation. I’ve found myself with nothing to say, at least, not that I felt able to express in writing. I have found other ways of expressing myself, but journaling and writing blog posts have required a concentration I have not had for a couple of months.

In all honesty, I let myself get lost in the rush for a few months there. After finishing my MA, I was a bit at a loss with what to do with myself, so I started to fill my time with all sorts of things that packed my hours and left me drained. While some things were stimulating and fulfilling on some levels, deep down my soul was striving and I did not find rest in these things. I kept pushing on and piling on the activity, and I completely overlooked the still, small voice, whispering to me to slow down, take time.

I just looked back to see what word I picked for myself this year, because I had forgotten. And it was such a simple word:

Breathe.

How could I forget? To live my life by this simple rhythm of in, out, in, out. How different could my year have been if I had just slowed down. Not that it has been a bad year – there have been lots of great things – but my enjoyment could have been deeper if I’d allowed myself pauses for breath.

But God is faithful. Even in the rushing around, I knew he was leading me and calling me. Even through all the stress and worry and anxiety, I knew he was holding me and loving me.

He led me to Ukraine, where for two weeks I served and loved a group of orphans, who reminded me of the beauty of simple things. The days were long and hot, but I found a peace there that had been missing from my life for so long. And I heard the whisper again.

I came back with quite a severe case of flu, which forced me to actually rest for a week. (I need to learn to do that for myself, without illness or injury being necessary. Maybe I will learn this lesson one day.) But in that week I reflected on my time in Ukraine and gained a better perspective. One I am trying dearly to hold onto as life’s waves begin to crash around me again.

And though I have faced a few disappointments in the month since I have been back, I am reminded that God is sovereign. While I don’t think that means the things that have happened were his plan, I believe that He will bring good things out of them. I pray for this, and hold onto hope. I have also been learning to hold lightly onto the things I have been given. I have been so blessed in so many ways, that I cannot allow myself to be bitter over the things I have been denied.

This is not what I thought I was going to write tonight, but the words have flowed so I believe this is what has been waiting in my heart to be written. I have more things to say over the coming weeks, so I expect you will be hearing from me again soon.

One final thought I want to leave you with. I sponsor a couple of children through a charity called Compassion, and tonight I realised that I have not written to them for a while. I was looking back over the last letter I received from my little boy in Colombia (I say little, he’s become a teenager without me noticing) and he shared with me a Bible verse which hit me right in the feels. Here it is for you now.

Disney Readalong Wrap Up

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about taking part in the Disney Readalong from 6th-12thMay. There were five challenges:

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I allowed myself to extend the challenge into Sunday 13thMay, as most of the Saturday evening was taken up with the Eurovision Song Contest. Work was really busy that week as well, meaning I didn’t get as much time for reading as I would have liked due to being super tired when I got home each evening. But I did complete three of the prompts!

 

1) Frozen – a book set in winter: I read Brother in Ice by Alicia Kopf. This book was brilliant if a little hard to follow when reading in a tired state of mind. It felt like it was semi-autobiographical, I’m not sure if it was or not. The book follows Alicia as she navigates adulthood with divorced parents and an autistic sibling – the eponymous brother, whom she feels is trapped as if in an ice block – and tries to make her way both in work and relationships. This narrative is interspersed with research into polar exploration, anecdotes about successful and unsuccessful attempts to reach the North and South poles and related scientific discoveries. These are woven into the storyline so Alicia’s story as she applies her research to her own life. I really enjoyed this book, I’ve never read anything else like it. I will definitely be rereading it when I am more awake so I can take more in and appreciate the writing more.

 

3) Aurora’s Dress – a book with pink and blue on the cover: I read The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet by Kate Rorick and Rachel Kiley. I am a big fan of the webseries The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and read The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, the accompanying novel, last year. I loved this spin-off/sequel which follows Lydia as she tries to recover from the fallout of the scandal that occurred during Lizzie’s vlog series (it is a bit different from the Pride and Prejudice storyline as it is modernised so I won’t give away any spoilers). One of my favourite things about the series is the exploration of the relationship between the sisters. As much as I love Pride and Prejudice, Lydia in the book feels like a plot device used to bring Lizzy and Darcy together, and is quite caricatured. In the webseries and accompanying novels, Lydia is very much her own character, with agency and real, deep emotions. It was great to catch up with these characters again and get a glimpse of what comes next in their stories.

 

5) Cinderella – read the Grimm fairytale and watch the Disney movie. I used to watch this film in French all the time so it felt weird that I opted to watch it in English this time. I had forgotten how sappy and instalove-y the film is, but it has good music and I love the little animal creatures (especially Lucifer the cat who is one of the better Disney villains). I was surprised how different the fairytale is, there are three balls for one thing. I’m looking forward to reading more of the Grimm fairytales as I only recognise a few of the titles.

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So that was my first prompted readathon! I enjoyed the experience but will maybe check out my work schedule before taking part in another one.

Readathons and other bookish things

Sorry it’s been a while again. April turned into a surprisingly busy month, which came and went in a flurry of activity and weather. And then May snuck in out of nowhere and took me by surprise – but I think things should settle down into more of a routine now.

So I thought I’d bring you an update on my reading/book buying/writing New Years Resolutions and how they are going. Short answer: things never go to plan, do they?!

Writing is the quickest one to cover – I’ve not been doing much (can you tell?) but I still intend to do more. I’m trying to figure a few things out about the future at the moment, including how writing will fit into it, but I do miss writing fiction and I want to make more time for that in my life. I will get there!

In terms of buying books, I have fallen off the wagon a few times… Of the fifteen books I have bought so far this year, five were for Ninjabookclub and one was in a Ninjabookbox. Two my Vicar recommended to help with the whole figuring out the future thing (he would have lent them to me but someone else was borrowing them). That leaves seven which I have no excuse for, other than that they were cheap or signed copies and I wanted them. Still I certainly have had worse starts to the year in terms of book buying. I’m aiming to read all the books I buy this year this year in an attempt to justify their purchase (one of them is no. 4 in a series, of which I have only read one so far, so that will be fun…)

I have had some success in unhauling this year, though. In January my parents and I sorted through a number of boxes they are keeping in their attic for me, which included many books I had kept from my childhood. I gave two boxes to friends for their kids and one box to a charity shop. Since then I have also weeded out a few more from my shelves which I was not excited about reading any more. I am also stricter with myself about not keeping books I have read unless I gave them 4 or more stars.

Each year I set my Goodreads target as one higher than the number of books I read the previous year, meaning my target for this year is 78 books. Currently I have read 29, which is three books ahead of schedule. You would think that this would mean my TBR is decreasing, but, surprisingly, it is not. The main problem is how easily I can request books from the library. Southampton City Libraries allow you to request any books from any of their libraries for free, and they have a great range. I have borrowed fifteen books from the library this year so far, eight of which I have read and seven I am currently borrowing.

So my TBR shelf on Goodreads has only gone down by four since the start of the year. And I’m not even sure I’ve added all the books I bought to it…

So in an attempt to address this I have started coming up with a monthly TBR, which includes a mixture of books I have bought and borrowed. I am usually a bit ambitious to allow for mood reading. I am going to try not to borrow any more library books until I have read everything I have borrowed from family and friends as well. And I’m going to try EVEN HARDER not to buy books other than for NinjaBookClub… (let’s see how that goes!)

——

Last weekend was Dewey’s 24 hour Readathon, which I took part in for the first time. I joined over 1900 other readers and together we read half a million pages in 24 hours. I wasn’t able to join in the whole 24 hours, but I did enjoy focusing on reading time instead of watching tv, etc. I will take part in the next one in October for sure. I am also on the lookout for other readathons/readalongs I can take part in, to help tackle my TBR with focused reading. This one was easy because there were no stipulations as to genres or categories. I have come across several intriguing sounding readathons on BookTube (the bookish area of YouTube) that I have thought about taking part in but I would have had to resort to buying books for some of the prompts and we already know I am trying to avoid that!

But the other day I came across a readathon with fewer categories and I already had books to meet all of them! So today I have started the Disney Readalong, hosted on BookTube by Cherrie Walker, Tiny Book Dragon and Cristina’s Journey. The readathon is from 6-12thMay and there are five prompts as follows:

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Here is my TBR for the week:

  1. Frozen: Brother in Ice by Alicia Kopf– I’m not sure if this is actually set in Winter but it is about Polar Exploration so I think it counts.
  2. Dory: Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne– this was the hardest category as I am generally pretty aware of what books I own (despite there being so many) but I was surprised to see this on my bookshelf so it got picked
  3. Aurora’s Dress: The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet by Kate Rorick and Rachel Kiley– actually this was pretty hard too as I had loads of books with one or the other colour but I like that I found one where the colours are actually clothing. I am a big fan of the YouTube series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and I read The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet last year so I am happy to be finally reading this one.
  4. Huey, Dewey & Louie: The Counterfeit Guest by Rose Melikan– this is the second book in the Mary Finch trilogy. I read the first, The Blackstone Key, last autumn and loved it so I have been keen to get around to this one.
  5. Cinderella:Although I slightly disagree that Grimm was the original version (I think Charles Perrault’s version predates theirs, and I’m not even sure his was the original) it does give me a good excuse to finally read my gorgeous edition of Grimm’s fairytales. Although I only have to read Cinderella for the prompt, I will also be reading the rest as my next short story collection to read. And it’s never a problem to have to watch a Disney movie. This one has probably my least favourite prince, but it’s worth watching just for Lucifer the cat.

 

They are all fairly short – The Counterfeit Guest is the longest but based on the first in the series it won’t be too challenging a read and I am saving it for last anyway! I started Brother in Ice this morning and it is really good so far. I’m not sure I’ve ever read anything like it before.

I will be tweeting my reading for the week, probably from my personal twitter rather than the blog twitter (@cerilouisew rather than @mayibethemoon) but please feel free to follow both accounts…!!

 

 

Gentleness

 

A week ago, I had the opportunity to preach in Church for the first time. Below is the neatened-up version of what I said. If you would rather listen to the talk, it can be found on the church Facebook page here.

Continuing with our study of the fruits of the Spirit, today we are looking at gentleness. We are going to read 1 Peter 3v8-18.

The dictionary definition of gentle reads as follows: kindly, amiable; not severe, rough or violent; mild; moderate; arch. noble, chivalrous. I like that last one, it makes me think of knights of yore.

Today is Palm Sunday and we have been thinking about Jesus entering Jerusalem, gentle and riding on a donkey. This is maybe not how we would picture a knight, but that’s the point: the Jews were expecting a Valiant Messiah who would overthrow the Romans and restore Israel, but Jesus’ mission was one of gentle revolution – a quiet ushering in of the kingdom of God, turning lives around.

In this passage from Peter, gentleness is linked to living and preaching the good news. We must be ready to give an answer for our faith in Jesus, which we hope would have been evidenced in our lives. If we are ‘eager to do good’, despite insult or mistreatment, people will want to know why.

My NIV study Bible note explains that ‘our apologetic (“answer”) is always to be given with love, never in degrading terms’. This reminded me of another verse about gentleness: ‘a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger’ (Proverbs 15:1)

All this got me thinking, what are we known for? As Christians, are we known for being ‘eager to do good’ and answering questions ‘with gentleness and respect’? or is the way we are seen in the world less positive?

Recently I have been reading Philip Yancey’s Vanishing Grace – a follow up to What’s So Amazing About Grace? In the opening chapter he says:

We are called to proclaim good news of forgiveness and hope, yet I keep coming across evidence that many people do not hear our message as good news

I feel like in the media Christians are presented as/assumed to be angry about things? When I was a teenager it was Harry Potter, some of my friends tore up their copies. At uni I remember hearing about Christians due to the Jerry Springer opera. We often are presented as being angry about things we disagree with. To the wider culture we are thought to be on the wrong side of many debates – gay rights, abortion, etc

In some ways we are meant to speak out, be a prophetic voice for the voiceless and stand against injustice when we see it. We see this in the Bible, in the books of the prophets. This is sometimes described as righteous anger. And sometimes this is okay – Jesus got angry, we see that in the gospels. But we need to think about what Jesus got angry about. He got angry with the temple traders who disrupted the worship of the Gentiles by setting up a market in the only area they were allowed to worship God in the temple. He got angry at the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, (Matthew 23) who ‘tie[d] up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders’ – who were so focused on the law that they missed God’s grace. These were people who were meant to be showing the way to God, but instead were so caught up in legalistic obsession with rules to live by, without changing their hearts, that they became a stumbling block.

I believe the Church today maybe in danger of this – it is too easy to get on our moral high horse and miss out on showing people the grace of God. I’m thinking about – for example – the abortion debate. I’m ‘pro-life’ but not just the life of the unborn. Some others who label themselves as pro-life aren’t necessarily so in all areas – I’m going to paint a picture of a stereotypical American politician, a Republican, who would say they base their politics on Christian/family values. They are anti-abortion, yes, but they are also anti-immigration (refugees), anti-gun control, anti-universal healthcare – meaning sick people struggle to get the medical help they need, – they are anti-welfare, and they support the death penalty. Is that really pro-life? – This type of person is often seen as hypocrite by wider society. If you are ‘pro-life’ you need to be pro-all life.

Another debate where we perhaps don’t cover ourselves in glory is the area of gay rights. When I was an undergraduate at uni in Cardiff the gay marriage debate was working it’s way through parliament. One of my housemates asked what I thought. I explained that I believe that God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman for life, but that while I try to live by what I believe the Bible teaches, I don’t think I should be inflicting my values on those who don’t hold to the same beliefs as me. I choose to try to live by a certain moral code, because my of faith and the values associated, but I can barely stick to it myself, so why should I enforce it on others who don’t hold to the same values?

The passage from Peter talks about suffering for doing good – but is that taking the moral high ground, or showing people love even when it’s hard and we disagree with their lifestyle?

Taking for example, Christian bakers. There have been several famous cases both in Northern Ireland and USA, where Christian bakers have been taken to court and lost their businesses over refusing to bake cakes for gay weddings/gay rights etc. I understand why and support them and applaud their courage, but at the same time – it’s just a cake! And what sends a better message to the world – refusing to serve someone because you disagree with them, or choosing to serve them despite disagreeing with them?

I heard another story on twitter which made my soul hurt. A gay guy was on his way to adopt a cat, when he got a message from the lady who owned the cat saying she had found out he was gay and didn’t feel right giving the cat to him because she was a Christian. She then proceeded to lecture him about his lifestyle. That is not a good demonstration of love or gentleness.

Billy Graham quoted as saying ‘It is the Holy Spirit’s Job to convict, God’s job to judge, my job to love’. Gentleness in action means living a life that shows love and respect to everyone, serving those in need, regardless of how you feel about their life choices. This means: seek peace, do good. Show God in the way you live

Verse 15 of our passage says ‘always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect’. The key words for me are: ‘who asks you’. Meaning, wait until you are asked. Show grace, don’t force your opinion on those who aren’t ready to hear it. Wait to be invited. Earn the right to speak into someone’s life by showing them love. And think about what you say – is this going to draw this person closer to God or push them further away?

At school I had a friend called Richard. When we met in year 7, he was an atheist. We stayed friends all through secondary school. When he came out as gay in year 10 or 11, I was the first person he told and I was honoured that he chose to tell me. When we were leaving to go to different sixth forms, he told me that couldn’t be an atheist any more, he had to believe God existed because he saw Him in my life. I was not a perfect teenager, I messed up quite a lot of things, but I tried to live my faith, show kindness to those around me. That opened the door for opportunities to share God with people.

Before you think I’m awesome, I’m not great at this. I often fall into workplace gossip and get frustrated with co-workers who don’t have same work ethic as me. I am resolved to do better! So let’s look a good example of this, when Jesus met a Samaritan woman of dubious morality in John 4.

[I read Ruth Tucker’s re-telling of this story from Dynamic Women of the Bible]

What Ruth Tucker highlights so beautifully is the isolation of the woman before she met Jesus. She was an outcast. The moral people of the town wanted nothing to do with her. She was hungry for conversation, and Jesus was there to meet her.

Jesus may have initiated the conversation, but he let her direct it. He was crossing boundaries even to talk to her (man to woman, Jew to Samaritan) but he didn’t let societal norms stop him from reaching out to someone in need.

He didn’t push her on her life choices. He brought up her marital situation, yes, but didn’t linger on it when she changed the subject. Regardless of her problematic lifestyle, he talked theology with her. Instead of a lecture, she was treated with grace, kindness and respect – with gentleness.

And it worked – where a sermon on sexual morality would have sent her running, an open discussion when Jesus clearly knew about her life but accepted her anyway was what changed her. And the result of this change impacted the whole town.

In this way, gentleness is linked with the other fruits: living a life showing love and kindness to others, bearing with their faults patiently and with gentleness. These create opportunities to show God’s grace to them.

We should be trying to live out our faith, to base our lives and actions on biblical values. But we should not be trying to force our moral code onto others and then expect them to listen when we tell them God loves them. Instead, if we show them God loves them by the way we interact with them, they will be more open to hearing what we have to say. We need to earn the right to tell people about our faith – and maybe that means we never challenge them on parts of their life we disagree with, or maybe that means one day they’ll ask for our advice. Either way, treat them with gentleness and respect, seeking peace. Keep the door open for them to see God.

art = rest for the soul

I recently joined a Christian art group. I am by no means an artist, I dabble with a bit of painting and quite like colouring, but I would not consider myself at all skilled in visual arts.

At the first meeting I confessed to being an interloper. I explained I am more of a wordsmith than a visual artist, but that I enjoy dabbling. I also read them one of my poems – ‘Hibernation‘ – that I written quite recently. One lady commented that she could really picture the tree as I had described it. I remembered then that a long time ago I had had an idea of publishing my poems in a book with a corresponding picture to go with each, as a kind of meditation/reflection aid.

For this month’s meeting we were given a Bible passage to reflect on and try to create a piece of art inspired by it. I actually suggested the passage, but couldn’t come up with anything so gave up on that idea and read through some of my old poems instead. I realised that quite a lot of them use visual imagery to create parallels and give meaning. I chose one of my favourites – ‘My Life in Your Service‘ – and tried to find pictures that I could use as inspiration for a piece of artwork to go with it.

Now, remember, I am not very good at art, and I am hoping to get better. However, I am quite pleased with my first effort…

 

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What was more pleasing, though, was how peaceful I felt. Even when I messed up and had to rub bits out and try again, I didn’t get frustrated, I just enjoyed the process.

The first thing we learn about God in the Bible is that He is creative. The first thing we learn about humans is that we are made in His image. When we create, we are reflecting the image of God and to me it feels like I am bringing my soul in tune with his.