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Packing Light – Melissa Anne Smith

We recently packed up the troops and headed to the Rocky Mountains for vacation. When life got a little too full and stressful here in the lowlands of humid Texas, we headed for the hills. I anticipated cool mountain air to bathe my sore soul. What I did not count on were grueling hikes in thin air where my lungs screamed their protest. However, our youngest son rocked the mountain. The altitude did not affect him in quite the same way as it affected my body.

Yet, I didn’t mind the work involved in hiking to the majestic views at 12,000 feet elevation. Instead, I was distracted from it by herding my young charge along the way, doling out snacks from my pack, or stopping for a great photo opportunity. A backpack is an amazing thing: water, snacks, camera, hand sanitizer, and a book to read. It sounds great, right?

Sort of. We ended up doing a lot of hiking in separate groups: the A group and the B group. The A group consisted of the adventurous, determined husbands and the bold, brave sons they produced. Their energy was boundless, their lungs amazingly resilient, the heights they achieved were mind-boggling. I believe they literally hiked circles around us one day. I was happy for them, truly, but hiking to the top of a mountain is not my goal. I like to bask and savor.

Those moments of basking were sweet. The warm sun on my face and a minute or two of quiet to read. Ahhhh. However, I discovered that some of my Texas-sized stress and weariness followed me on vacation. Maybe I had packed it. Here in this breathtakingly beautiful place, surrounded by people I love, how was I still so tired? So full of care?

It wasn’t until one of the last days that I discovered what plagued me. The destination was a quiet reservoir nestled in the mountains. We packed and drove up the mountain. My body was worn out from hiking. This time I simply expected lovely views and rest – except that isn’t what happened.

The mountains called. The distant sound of water called. My children dropped their fishing poles and scampered over rocks and boulders faster than a herd of mountain goats. Not wanting to be left behind again, I reluctantly followed. That’s when I hit a wall. Right there surrounded by beauty and love, I plunked myself down on a rock and cried. Everything that had followed me to the mountains flowed out. Weariness, the relentless striving, the expectations, the loneliness, the sadness, the cry of my heart to be held in the loving arms of my Savior.

As I shed my backpack and left it on the rocks to follow my family, it hit me. All week I had hauled this ridiculously heavy pack around on my back to make sure my children and I had everything that might be wanted or needed for the trip. Some of it I never used. It set me off balance sometimes as I jumped over rocks. At night, my shoulders ached. I hardly thought about it at all, I just accepted my burden as necessary.

My first step on the path unemcumbered freed me. I was light on my feet, balanced, hands-free. I reached my destination with little hindrance and in must less time. While I didn’t have any snacks to share when I got there or a camera to capture the moment, my soul felt lighter. I was left asking myself, what am I hauling around that no one asked me to carry? Ultimately, what is God asking me to carry on my journey?

These are questions I am still wrestling with God. This kind of unpacking of our lives requires prayer and discernment. The things I’ve been carrying in my daily life took a while to accumulate, and I’ve become accustomed to them. I have not been packing light.

I carry fear about the future. However, my fear must be unpacked because knowing the future is a burden He does not ask me to carry.

Like my overstuffed backpack, I carry all the needs of my family on my shoulders and in my heart. However, this can become burdensome when I do not carry this weight in Christ’s strength. Through prayer and faith in the One who knows the needs of my family, I can unpack my weariness.

What I need for the journey is far simpler than I make it. And so, slowly, I am unpacking my burdens and submitting to His loving hand as He instructs me in the way to go. Whether in Houston or in the mountains, I can walk with Him unencumbered.

Whatever I must leave behind on the rocks of the path will not be missed for He gives me Christ’s strength and comfort for the journey.

As I sat on the rocks that day and cried out to the Lord, He heard me. Are you burdened and heavy laden? Cry out to Him to put a new song in your mouth, to help you lose the burdens you carry, and to help you fix your eyes on Christ.

I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.

He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.

He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.”

Psalm 40:1-3 ESV

Melissa Smith is living out her everyday adventures in the suburbs of Texas. She loves three things: God, beauty, and words. When she won her first camera in fourth grade, she began collecting beauty. Since then, she has captured snapshots of life: a quiet moment, a startled smile, simple joy. When she is not shuttling her teens to school or homeschooling her youngest, Melissa gathers beauty and writes on her blog framing suffering in the context of joy with Christ. She hopes to bring a slice of loveliness to her readers and point them to her wonderful, loving Savior.
framedinjoy.com

This is one of the articles from the rest issue. Read more about and buy the issue here.

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Creativity and Rest go Hand in Hand – Katherine Newsom

There’s something about the salty air by the sea that has always caught my attention. It’s always been that one thing of mine – that happy place, where I feel at peace, most attuned to God. 

A few years ago, we lived just blocks away from the Pacific Ocean, and I got so much joy in walking our dog the eight blocks there and back, walking past the morning smell of Kona Coffee, crossing over the Pacific Coast Highway, smelling the salt and sand as the blue horizon comes into view. If you listened close enough in the evenings, you could even hear the waves crash at our house, those eight blocks away. 

It was a remarkable gift to live there in a tiny two bedroom house, in a place where we were surrounded by gifts that inspired me: the 365 day summer sun, the palm trees lining the streets, the coffee shop and quick grocery in walking distance from the house, the sound of the ocean waves. 

It was a place where my creative juices were running free as I opened the windows to let the breeze in, played worship music loud on the tv, and let myself be free to paint… painting for friends, painting for our womens ministry, painting just because… And in feeling so comfortable there, I was also avidly writing… blogging about our trips, writing about my crafts, recording the details of our latest adventures.

I felt free to rest in these good gifts, comfortable in my place and work and school, and in return, those creative juices were running high. 

Isn’t it remarkable how much more of ourselves we can be, when we are comfortable in our surroundings, when we are given the freedom to learn and be? 

We are all created in the image of God, and as image bearers, we create because He creates. It’s wired in our DNA, to create. We would do well to learn from His example at the beginning of time – during the process of Creation. 

On the seventh day, God rested. He saw that it was good – these gifts he spent six days creating… and He rested. 

Create in the day, and rest. Do it again and again, then when you are done – rest, and take it in. Create, then rest. 

And rest in the presence of God.

Creativity and rest go hand in hand. By taking God’s example for us, we honor Him and His design for us. We were never meant to hustle, or to do this life alone. We can create for the masses and hustle for our own image, or we can create for God and be obedient to His calling on our lives. We can follow the world and never stop until we are burned out, or we can follow God and rest in His presence, for He gives rest to the weary.

When we rest in God, we become a truer version of ourselves. For it is in the mirror of God’s word that we learn who we truly are. And when we are confident and empowered in this freedom He gives, we free ourselves to be creative as He designed us. We are no longer bound by the world and the hustle and the glitz. We look to God, we look to Christ. The created mirror the Creator.

He created us. We in turn create to glorify Him and share what He has gifted us with. He also calls us to rest in Him, and as we rest, he molds us into truer versions of ourselves, which fuels our creativity even more.

Isn’t it remarkable how intertwined this becomes? In all this, we learn an important truth: we are the best version of ourselves when we are given the freedom to rest in God’s truth, and create for His glory.

Katherine Newsom is a writer, podcast host, birth and postpartum doula, and childbirth educator, who lives in the gulf coast of Texas with her family. She writes on her website, Simple Natural Mama, for Christian moms who are simple and natural minded. You can find her website at simplenaturalmama.com or
IG: @katherinelnewsom.

This article is just one from the rest issue, which also has creative prompts to inspire you to be creative yourself.
Read more about it here.

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Peace in Safe Places – Allison Craig

There is a little restaurant out in the country not far from where my husband and I live. The location is interesting, almost bridging the transition of development by the freeway with an open expanse of fields dotted with picturesque old farmhouses. Some of them appear to have been abandoned, just sitting in the middle of a field. I immediately found the area so intriguing, and in a way romantic. So of course, I wanted to try eating at the quaint eatery along this picturesque road.

We would often pass it on our way to go on a hike in the nearby foothills. Every time I would request we stop to dine there, but my dear husband was very hesitant (as he is with any new restaurant). But after driving by many times, one day he finally succumbed to my begging, and we stopped in to eat. This little roadside joint instantly became one of our favorites. The environment is welcoming and cozy, and the food is delicious. As the summer heat became too much for us, we stopped going on hikes. Then we went on a vacation. One thing lead to another and before we knew it, quite a bit of time had passed by before we had been back to our new favorite charming restaurant.

Finally, when the weather cooled down, we went on another hike and stopped in for lunch. The waiter, who had gotten to know us (to the point where we didn’t even have to tell him what we wanted to order) asked us how we’d been. Feeling embarrassed that we hadn’t been recent customers, I muttered some apologetic excuses as to why we hadn’t been in to dine lately, but that it was so good to be back. He smiled at me and commented that it was good to have a safe place to return to.

His sentiment really struck a cord with me. A safe place to return to. This was something I had felt for a long time but hadn’t realized it, if that makes sense. I will explain. For my husband and I, many of our safe places have been the tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurants we frequented over the years. While we were living in Southern California, there were a few restaurants we ate at multiple times a month. A couple of them we frequented almost every week.

In one respect, the staff didn’t know us at all. But in another, they knew us better than many other people in our everyday lives at the time. They saw us during times when we were tired and worn out. At times when we were happy it was the weekend. Times of serious discussion, and times of light-hearted laughter.

When we were about to move away, some of the saddest goodbyes were to the people who worked in these restaurants. And in a way, the establishments themselves. Over the course of seven years, these eateries went from ordinary restaurants to places of refuge for us. I have so many fond memories of spending time in each of them.

A couple years later, we went back to our old stomping grounds. When we walked into one of the restaurants, the owner immediately recognized us and came over to greet us. It was good to be back in one of our safe places. We settled into our usual booth and carried on just as if we’d never left.

Reflective questions

Printable questions here.

This is an excerpt from Allison’s book: Finding Peace in the Everyday.

Allison Craig is a photographer, designer, and writer inspired by nature and the plants she grows in her garden. Her hope is to inspire others to see beauty in their everyday lives. Allison and her husband, Anthony, publish the Artful Reflections™ Podcast on a bi-weekly basis. Her first book, Finding Peace in the Everyday, was released in March 2020.
www.autumnsoul.net
IG:  @autumn.soul.

This article is one from the rest issue.
Read more about it here.

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Creativity: conduit of the deep – Libby John

Humanity bears a distinct signature mark upon us that no other living thing in all of creation has. It’s the imagination. This inner sanctuary is given to us as a sacred place of communion with our Creator. No one else can see into this sanctum except Him and you.

Along with this imagination, we were given an incredible tool to communicate these things of the inner soul. Creativity. It is the conduit to bring the deep things from the inside to the outside and gives us language for conversations with God. Creativity can help us discover and reveal things about the human condition that are hard to express like lament, sorrow, loss or even the question of our identity. It is the language God gave us to communicate these things of the deep. Through his own of acts of creativity in the creation of the world, he communicates the deep things of himself and invites us into the relationship. There’s a reason the ocean waves seem to call us or a mountain view calms us. It’s the song of creation singing back to it’s Creator and we’re invited to join in. One of my favorite quotes is by pastor Tim Keller. He says, “The observer of beauty always receives a passion to share that beauty with others.”

Creativity allows us to participate and share that beauty and also reminds us why beauty matters. We are giving worth to whose image we bear when we reflect and appreciate the beauty around us and in us. To be creative is to be human by divine design. No other living thing on earth bears this mark. It is the highway where heaven and earth meet and these two realms intertwine to open a portal for us to experience God in vivid, tangible ways. Through creative acts we can communicate the heavenly things we carry in our imaginations, this inner sanctuary that communes in the deep places with God. Creative expression recalls and reminds us of our divine identity as image bearers, fearfully and wonderfully made, and that life is precious and worth celebrating.

Each creative act embodies our purpose and echoes the good news of the gospel to the world that there is hope

In the Old Testament, King Solomon lamented that there was nothing new under the sun. However, when Jesus came, he said he is making all things new. As we sow seeds of beauty into the soil of this earth, we participate in this restoration process. With our time here on earth we are to be celebrating this one sacred life we’ve been given by responding to the deep calling out to us and the eternity set in our inner sanctuary. Our very lives are a restorative, creative act designed to be in deep communion with our Creator as he moves us toward being made new each day.

Libby John is a creative artist. As a singer/songwriter, she debuted her first EP in 2016 and first album in Oct. 2017. Libby is also a choreographer who works for universities and high school musicals and she teaches hip hop & modern dance classes. She has a passion to spur others on to be an influence on the culture through their faith & artistry which led her to create the podcast “Art & Faith Conversations”. Libby is a lover of small beginnings and finding beauty in the ordinary. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota with her husband & 3 daughters. Libby can be found sharing her creative journey and songs at www.libbyjohnartandsong.org

This is one of the articles in iola even in the deep issue. Read more about it here.

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Awestruck, Wonderstruck, Lovestruck – Laura Thomas

I was utterly overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by my smallness and God’s greatness. Deluge of water above and below, deafening roar in my ears, pummeled by pellets of moisture, and blinded by the glory of it all. Awestruck. Wonderstruck. Lovestruck.

As a couple hundred poncho-clad spectators huddled under hoods to experience Niagara Falls up close and personal, I was curious as to their reactions. In the moment, floating precariously beneath the avalanche of water, all were amazed. All screams and laughs and merriment. But was anyone else awestruck, wonderstruck, lovestruck? On dry land, on reflection, did anyone else consider the Creator and how He loves each tiny person in that tiny boat under His extravagant show of majesty?

I’m sure some did consider. How could they not? And yet…

What does it take for God to catch our attention? 2,600 feet of cascading water falling before our eyes? He caught my attention. It caused me to humble myself under His mighty hand, relishing the truth that He is God and I am not. He is Father, I am child. And oh, the comfort that brings. The warm blanket of peace that truth pulls over us, His children. The relationship between Creator and created, Potter and clay, King of Kings and his princesses—this is ours to treasure. How can we not be awestruck?

Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power
and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,
for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
   Yours, Lord, is the kingdom;
you are exalted as head over all.” 1 Chronicles 29:11 (NIV)

This surreal experience beneath the falls reminded me that His mercies are never-ending—just as the overabundance of water at Niagara showers over the edge in torrents, so He showers us with His grace daily, never running dry. Looking up and knowing that powerful stream of water is endless, ceaseless, is a given. Such is the grace of God. He was, is, and ever will be. He is extravagant with His gifts and how can we not be wonderstruck?

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
  great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV)

 Sometimes, God calls to us in the roar of the waterfalls. Sometimes He whispers in a still, small voice. Regardless, HE SPEAKS. But are we too busy to incline an ear? Too self-absorbed to even notice? Too fearful to hear the answer to our prayers? Think ourselves unworthy, unlovable, untrusting…? Friend, HE SPEAKS. Because He loves us. Not because of anything we have or have not done, but because He IS love. He loves us at our darkest when the waves are washing over us, and He loves us in our finest hour when all is rosy and right. His love is limitless. Our lifeline. How can we not be lovestruck?

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers have swept over me.
By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me—
a prayer to the God of my life.” Psalm 42:7-8 (NIV)

What does it take for God to catch our attention? May our ears be inclined to hear His voice amidst the deluge of whatever is falling around and about us in our lives today. We can rest in the promise of His peace, and lift our eyes to see that everlasting waterfall of grace. It will leave us utterly awestruck, wonderstruck, lovestruck.

Laura Thomas is a published Christian author with a heart for inspiring and encouraging readers of all ages. She is a multi-genre writer with a published Christian teen fiction trilogy, marriage book, middle grade novel, children’s stories, devotionals for Union Gospel Press, articles in magazines and online, musings on her blog, and currently has a three-book deal for her Christian romantic suspense novels. Living in Kelowna, B.C. as an empty-nester, Laura is a mom of three, married to her high school sweetheart, and is passionate about faith and family—and chocolate.laurathomasauthor.com

This is one article from iola even in the deep issue. Read more about it here.

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Finding myself beloved – Elli Johnson

An everyday story

When I arrive at the station the train is already in despite there being twenty minutes before we leave. I buy a cup of tea and check my ticket: Coach D, seat 32.

When I find my seat it is at a table already occupied by two people. The woman is dressed smartly in a navy blue dress which fits her form perfectly. She is the personification of a business professional. Across from her sits a man in a suit and tie, his jacket hung on the hook by the window. The woman has to move to allow me to take my seat, next to her by the window. I can sense her frustration. She had placed her bag on my seat hoping beyond hope that no one would claim it and she wouldn’t have to sit arm touching arm with another human.

It is hot on the train and it takes me a few moments to settle. I try and take up as little physical space as possible. I remove my phone and headphones from my bag alongside my notebook, pen and the book I am reading.

And a banana. I place a banana on the table. I can almost hear the disapproval of my fellow passengers.

Before long the train fills up. An Indian woman and her son take the seats across the aisle. He is three or four years old and full of energy. His mother takes an iPad out of her bag and puts a programme on it for him. He has no headphones. We are all now also listening to his superhero cartoons. We momentarily unite in our disdain. A glamorous older lady takes her place behind them making a loud phone call about where she will meet her friend later.

Behind us, passengers I cannot see talk in a language I don’t understand, an animated conversation about I do not know what.

Finally the fourth occupant of our table arrives. A boy-man aware of his own attractiveness. He pulls large wireless headphones from his bag and places on the table a large coffee he has brought from one of the stations’ coffee shops. He holds in his other hand a bag containing a sausage sandwich. He takes two ketchup sachets from his pocket and squeezes them liberally over it. How he eats it without spilling sauce down his black Adidas jacket is a miracle. We look away.

Fellow travellers in this small enclosed space avoid eye contact and interaction by all means possible. We long for solitude and silence, to travel without the inconvenience of others touching us, talking in outdoor voices, eating and drinking in our personal space.

I think, if only this train wasn’t so loud, so crowded.

I think, I wish I could afford to get the quieter, earlier, more expensive, train.

And then.

(A hang over from my more anxious days.) A slight shooting pain up my left hand side momentarily gives rise to the idea I could have a stroke.

I dismiss it immediately, no longer held hostage by this kind of intrusive thought.

But the thought makes me curious.

I take a moment to consider what would happen if I did.

If, here and now, I suffered a stroke. (Go with me).

I imagine the woman next to me jumping up, calling for help. From somewhere a traveller with medical expertise would appear making sure I was in the recovery position in the aisle. Someone would find my phone and call a loved on my behalf. Someone else would alert the train manager. The nearest hospital would be rung. The glamorous lady would put her cardigan under my head and my train neighbour would hold my hand. Someone would distract the young Indian boy with sweets, or conversation.

I would not be alone. I would be cared for.

Don’t ask me how I know.

I just do.

For all our masks and indifference and desire to remain separate and private something deeper would call out. Our humanity. Our humanness. My fellow passengers would make eye contact with each other. They would work together.

And I would be helped.

I would be cared for. I would know kindness.

As I look up at the people who sat with me, travelling through the rainy English countryside, my heart warms. What amazing people I get to travel with. What a privilege to be among fellow humans today.

Late Fragment 

by Raymond Carver.

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

Elli Johnson has been blogging at thehippochronicles.com for over 4 years. She writes about mental health, creativity, beauty and the chaos of family life. She is a professional child wrangler, (over)thinker, and tea drinker.

Elli lives in Liverpool with the river Mersey at the bottom of the road. 

ellijohnson.com

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This article is from the Bloom issue. Read more about it here.

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For the sake of beauty – Kimberly Coyle

how to invite beauty into your everyday life

Kimberley Coyle

When I was a little girl, I spent most of my childhood hidden away in the pages of a book or wandering in the woods listening to the birds and trees whisper stories. I was drawn to beauty and mystery in equal parts. I liked to think I was unique, set apart somehow by the things I loved, my senses alone tuned to beauty. 

I know now that I was never alone in my loves, and certainly not the only one attuned to beauty. We are all hardwired to seek it, know it, and name it. Like many children, I was drawn to stories and art and the natural world. Others are drawn to bodies in motion, bounty at the table, or the beauty of friendship and intimacy. 

By nature, we desire what is beautiful, having an innate awareness of it. We’re drawn to the lovely, the sublime, the evocative. Beauty fulfills our longings, however imperfectly, providing a feast for our soul and our senses. 

Our love for imperfect beauty arises out of our desire for perfect Beauty itself, which is the beauty of Christ, the Kingdom of God in its fullness.

As an adult, it’s easy to overlook the beautiful in life for pressing daily tasks and imagined urgency. I find I have to work at beauty, both in seeking and creating it. I must offer it an open invitation. I return to these simple steps when my vision clouds and I imagine I need to overhaul my life. Instead, I open my eyes to the beauty in front of me. 

Perhaps you need to issue an invitation to beauty as well? Here’s how:

Expect Beauty: 

Live expectant, open handed, wholehearted in all things. Allow Philippians 4:8 to guide you as you extend your invitation. “…Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” 

Perhaps you’ll discover beauty in nature, in a circle of sister-friends, in the work of your hands, in cooking, in children, in stories, in order, in design, in peace-making, in justice, in art. 


Not all beautiful things carry an obvious form of beauty at first glance. Truth may be painful. Light may expose what’s hidden in darkness. Justice may reveal wrongdoing. But, beauty is what happens when the Kingdom of God enters in, when we see with the eyes of possibility, when redemption is at the end of the story.

Capture Beauty: 

Practice new ways of capturing surprise or smallness or symmetry. Look for the odd, the original, the otherworldly. Photography, journaling, letter writing, old-fashioned crafts, collections, or capturing snippets of life using social media can help us focus and capture the beauty we might ordinarily walk past without thinking. 

Return to your first love. What did you gather and collect as a child? What shimmered in the rough of everyday life and caught your eye like a magpie? Did you squirrel away small collections of shells or pressed flowers or scribble long lists of favorite lyrics? Did you 

write terrible teenaged poetry? How did you capture beauty when you were half-formed? When the earth and sea and sky and friends and fireworks and uninhibited play left their fingerprints on the wet clay of your soul? 

How could you invite those loves back into your life today?

Practice Beauty: 

The more we embrace and capture beauty, the more inspired we become to create. We are made in the image of God: the original Life Artist, the Creator of all things. Embrace your role as co-creator—participate in the naming of the unnamed. Call the world around you beautiful with defiant acts of creation.

Allow your creation to complement the beauty you discover elsewhere. Reject comparison. There is nothing new under the sun, but your unique perspective offers fresh inspiration to the rest of us. 

Give us yourself and your best work, for the sake of beauty.

Kimberly Coyle is a freelance writer and an adjunct professor of writing with an MFA in creative non-fiction. She has written for publications such as In Touch Magazine, Fathom Magazine, (in)courage, and Grace Table. When not writing or teaching, she dabbles in photography and can be found on Instagram as @kacoyle. 

She writes regularly online at www.kimberlyanncoyle.com

Iola Magazine bloom

This article is one from the bloom issue. Read more about it here.

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Easy creative projects in lockdown

Rainbow craft

Looking for a creative project whilst in lockdown? Whilst not always feeling productive, I have found some time for gentle creative projects. Being creative, working with our hands and being present to the moment are ways to ease our mind at this time. I’ve some easy creative projects in lockdown to share with you if you are stuck for inspiration. First easy creative project is this rainbow.

Easy rainbow decoration

Rainbows have become a symbol of support for our health carers as well as hope in this time of lockdown. Children have been drawing and colouring them to put in their home windows and this is one that is simple enough for them to make and beautiful enough for you too.

All you need to make this lovely is some rope, embroidery thread, floral wire, glue and scissors.

Cut lengths of rope the length you want your rainbow to be.

This rope is a little thinner than the rope I used in the final picture.

Cut wire a little shorter than your length of rope. I used paper-covered floral wire that I already had – previously bought at Waitrose. You can use garden wire or floral wire that you can get at supermarkets, it just needs to be bendable to mould and hold the arch shape.

embroidery thread rainbow

Start wrapping the wire and rope length with a colour of embroidery thread. You could use any colour, you don’t have to stick to traditional rainbow colours.

Wrap each rope length with a different colour of thread.

Place each colour in a rainbow shape, making sure each colour wrap finishes roughly in the same place. Unravel the ends of the rope to create the ‘cloud’ effect at each end of the rainbow.

Stick the rainbow lengths together either messily like I’ve done with a glue gun or you could stitch them for a neater finish! It depends whether the back of your rainbow will be visible or not.

Rainbow craft

This would make a lovely decoration for a child’s room, depending on your thickness of rope you can make a variety of sizes. You could even make a collection for a mobile.

You can find more creative projects with accompanying devotionals in ‘Re: create restore your creative soul.’

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When pain runs deep: 10 self care practices – Kristin Vanderlip

In the shadows of the confined closet, with my face wet from tears and my heart broken open, I awkwardly braced my body against the palms of my hands as I collapsed onto the ground. My crumpled body found a home amongst the crumpled clothes pile that hadn’t yet made its way to the laundry. A sweatshirt that my head had found its rest upon soaked up my tears. The chaos of pain and sorrow running deep and rampant through me had reached a point of paralysis. I felt stuck, glued to the carpet, lost in the darkness.

Unfortunately, unexpected suffering and grief and betrayal and other events caused this scene to become a familiar one in my life over the years. Each time old pain was triggered or new trauma occurred, the pain ran so deep through my being that it felt like a toxin coursing through my veins. And each time, as my soul felt trapped and darkness abounded in the depths, I sought out spaces with the same characteristics, dark and confining, like my bedroom closet.

As I struggled with deep emotional pain, I wrestled, lamented, and prayed to God for rescue. I proclaimed the Scripture promises I knew to be true. But there was never a swift and miraculous rescue like I wanted. What I discovered was an invitation into the Lord’s loving presence and to join Him in the work of transformation and healing. 

The ugly truth is that suffering is part of the human condition, and at times, the pain runs deep through all of us. The beautiful truth is that this invitation of the Lord’s that I mentioned is for all of us as well. And, as Corrie Ten Boom famously wrote, “There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.”

Wherever we are, whatever our struggle, when we encounter a pain that runs deep, God’s love is deeper still. And it’s here, in the depths of pain, when the rescue hasn’t come yet, when silence fills our ears and the darkness blinds our eyes, where we especially need to hold tight to the Lord and live in expectation of His Promises. 

And we need not wait idly by. We fight back and find our way through the depths and the darkness. We can use practical tools to do this and take care of our souls. 

The following is a list of 10 self-care practices that can nourish our spirits and help bring us out of the depths: 

1. Visualize a Screen Door

Whenever I begin to feel “stuck” or “caught” by pain that runs deep, it helps me to imagine myself as a screen door instead of a sticky fly trap. I visualize emotions and thoughts passing through me. I also tend to do this with the next activity.

2. Breathe Deep

When we’re in deep with our pain, we often forget to breathe. Inhaling and exhaling deeply is one the simplest yet most profoundly helpful practices I have discovered. Breathing intentionally (i.e.: a certain number of breaths over a specific length of time or a specific meditative practice) has all sorts of emotional, mental, and physical benefits and is truly one of the best ways I have found to calm my soul and take back control of what seems to be out of control in me. 

3. Preach to Yourself

Read and speak affirmations and truth. Remind yourself of what you know to be true because emotions can disorient us and lies like to attack us in the dark and lonely places of pain. Bring light to the darkness. Turn to God’s Word to remember the truths that God says about you. Make a list of your positive qualities or write a letter to yourself. Have “I am” statements at the ready when the battle in the depths comes to remind yourself the truth of who you are.

4. Breath Prayers

This practice combines ideas #2 and #3. This essentially involves choosing a truth from #3 (a short scripture or phrase), using deep breathing from #2, and joining them in a prayer. As you inhale, begin your short prayer, as you exhale complete it, repeat. Maybe start by trying this for a minute, work your way to five, maybe even use this form of prayer for 20 minutes. You can use Google to search for samples of breath prayers if you’re looking for a place to start. 

5. Get Outside

Inside, in physically confining and dark spaces, we’re stuck in an environment much like where we’re stuck in our pain. But when we step outside, literally, we also begin to step outside of our pain. Get outside. Breathe in cool fresh air and fill your lungs. Notice the vast blue sky and the world around you. Be mindful of the smells, the sights, the sounds, etc. you observe. For me, when the weather cooperates, I like to walk barefoot on the cement sidewalk in front of my house and then step onto the cool earth feeling the damp, scratchy grass against the soles of my feet. Feeling the hard ground under me makes me feel grounded and strong when I had felt lost and weak. 

6. Move Your Body

Find a way to move. Maybe while you’re outside using tip #5, you can take a walk or ride a bike. Physical activity and moving our bodies is another great way to help us move through our emotions and thoughts and get unstuck. Yoga is one of my favorite ways to move that I incorporate regularly into my life for this reason. The data behind the mental and emotional and psychological healing benefits of yoga (especially in trauma survivors) is fascinating. Find what works for you and get your body moving. 

7. Have a Cup of Tea

I have always been a tea lover, but as I drank a cup of hot tea in the throes of deep emotions once, I unexpectedly discovered relief for my soul. The aroma stimulates a calming effect within me. The warmth of the liquid fills my body and spirit in all the aching places. I continue to be amazed by the soothing affects a simple cup of hot tea with a touch of honey has on me, but it works. If you’re not a fan of tea, maybe try a cup of warm milk, but steer clear of anything caffeinated or alcoholic which can exasperate your emotions more. 

8. Write

Writing is a wonderful and proven therapeutic practice. Take your deep emotions and write them onto paper—get them outside of yourself. Write it all out. Everything. Imperfect and uncensored. As the words flow out of you, some of the pain will follow.

9. Create

Whether it’s grabbing your Crayola markers and coloring in an adult coloring book, chopping fresh veggies for soup or kneading dough in the kitchen, or something else like knitting, – engage in a creative practice. The act of creating can be extremely calming and beneficial as it provides another opportunity for processing, releasing, distracting, and cultivating positive thoughts and feelings of peace, productiveness, joy, and more. 

10. Phone a Friend

Have someone in your life who is a safe place and who can hold space for you. And then, when you’re struggling with hurt that runs deep, reach out to this friend. Simply speaking our struggles out loud to someone who knows how to listen and walk alongside of us can disarm the power of the pain. There will be times when they will simply listen and other times when they will speak those truths and affirmations in love mentioned in tip #3—we need both. Find that friend who will get down on the floor with you and give you time there, but who will lift you up when it’s been long enough. Make a list of 1-3 people you can go to when needed.

Disclaimer: I am not a licensed mental health care professional. If you’re struggling with emotional or mental health issues, first seek advice from your medical doctor and/or a licensed therapist. I have done both and many of my self-care tips have come from what the professionals have taught me. If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Line (U.S.) 1-800-273-8255. UK Samaritans: 116 123

Kristin Vanderlip is an Army wife, a bereaved mom to her little girl in heaven, and a stay-at-home mom to her two rainbow boys (ages 3 and 6). A decade ago you could find Kristin teaching English in a middle school classroom, now she is a writer and freelance editor. Kristin follows Jesus with an expectant heart as she navigates both the ordinary moments and the unexpected trials of life. She is passionate about seeking God and holding onto hope, especially when it’s hard, and encouraging other women to do the same & cultivate their own expectant hearts. You can find Kristin at:www.anexpectantheart.com.

This article is from even in the deep issue
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Going deep in times of transition – Betsy Stretar

‘Transition’ -An often painful, yet beautiful word.

Painful in process. Beautiful in outcome.

Concerning various life-changes we face as women, wives, and mothers, we sometimes fail to understand the bigger plan of God for our lives. And therefore, we fail to embrace the various life-transitions that come our way. 

Major life-transitions often entail some level of loss such as losing a spouse, divorce, kids leaving home, role changes, career changes, physical changes, etc. 

The journey that follows seasons of such transitions can cause enormous stress on even the strongest of she-hero’s. The impact of these changes when infused with worry, fear and anxiety will most certainly prevent us from going deeper and exploring the beauty that seasons of transitional change offers.  

Embracing Transition is Difficult, But Not Impossible

For those who find themselves facing some type of life-altering transition, be encouraged. There is good reason to be hopeful! And there is much goodness to be discovered within your journey though transition. 

I know for certain that I would not be who I am today apart from my various life-transitions. Three major life changes (that happened simultaneously) entailed a major career change, physiological (midlife) change, and the finality of my parenting role as the mom of eight, and entering The Land of Empty Nesters. There were other changes that coincided with these changes, but these were the big three. 

So, I get it. Transition isn’t fun. 

I cried for months and experienced a level of depression I had not previously known. My roles, relationships, career, and body were all changing in drastic and profound ways. And there I was. Like a sailor lost at sea, all alone in my lost-ness. Struggling to know how to navigate my way through my new normal. 

I wrestled with issues of identity, worth, and purpose. I asked the questions that perhaps you find yourself asking, “Now what? God, what are you up to? What are you doing? Where are you leading me? What’s next?  

I wanted God to hurry up and give me answers. 

What I got instead was:

– a deeper love for Jesus

– a deeper awareness of God’s sovereign care over my life

– and a deeper appreciation for the many ways my transitions have lead me closer to the heart, plan, and purposes of God. 

Although it was often difficult to embrace the new realities taking place, I look back on this season of my life as a precious gift.

Commit Your Plans to the Lord 

Committing your plans to the Lord is as easy as pie,” said no one ever.

Learning to embrace my season of transition was a process journey that took months, and even years. 

A process that taught me much about resisting and embracing. About letting go and letting God. About taking risks and learning to rest. 

I needed to go deeper. 

I needed to learn to be still. 

I needed to embrace the changes taking place. 

I needed to grow in my understanding of God’s providential hand over my life. 

I needed to surrender to the process of change taking place within me.  

I needed to work through areas of brokenness and forgiveness. 

But most of all, I needed to yield to God’s transforming work in my life to make me more like Jesus and more of who he created me to be. 

Transition Ushers in 
The New

The journey through transition is meant to be a journey toward transformation. Another way to think about transition is the idea that I’m no longer ‘this’ but I’m not yet ‘that’.

Although it may be overused, a better example is hard to find. Consider with me, the secret life of a caterpillar.  Though seemingly insignificant, she is one of God’s uniquely created works of art that holds within her, his mysterious and glorious power and potential. 

She crawls along day by day, inch by inch, munching and crunching away on delicacies to sustain her vulnerable, but simple existence. Finding her way through her mundane existence, something within her calls her into the deep, the unknown. At the proper time, she begins to yield herself to the process of becoming.

A becoming that is much more than she could ever imagine. 

After a season of much activity and preparation, she is summoned into the deep, dark, unknown. She must go in. There is no other way to fulfil her purpose, her life-calling, her destiny. 

There in the dark, she settles into her new reality. No more, same-old-same-old.

Here, in the deep, there is nowhere to go. 

Here, there is no need to fear. 

Here, she hides in the waiting room of waiting rooms.

Removed from the former; from all familiarity. 

Here, she is protected. 

Here, she ceases from her striving.

Here, she is safe to just be.

The covering woven around her allows the miraculous to take place. 

Silently she lies in wait. Patiently she yields. Quietly she undergoes a complete transformation.

And then. It happens. Ever so slowly, she emerges. Shedding the old and embracing the new. Eager to break into the light, she comes forth and her new identity is revealed. Her beauty though hidden for a season, is now on display for all. She discovers she has been made new and with wings spread wide and face held high, she takes flight. 

Unearthed. Uninhibited. Unbound. 

She celebrates her new life and allows herself to explore God’s creation from an entirely new perspective. Everything has changed. Her view is different. Her life is different. Her former life made way for the new. 

As she pauses to take it all in, she sips on the sweet nectar of the flowers that now hold her and gives thanks for the darkness that once held her. She is grateful for them both. 

For it was there in the deep that she discovered who God made her to be in all her fullness. 

For old things are passed away, behold the new has come.”

Friend, are you in a place of transition? 

What part of your season of change do you need to commit to the Lord’s leading and care?

May I encourage you to not be afraid of going into the deep? 

There is life beneath the ground. And it is good.

Don’t be afraid. Go into the secret, sacred hiding place of God and allow him to prove himself faithful to you. 

Allow him to make all things new in your life. 

God is with you. 

May these winter months allow you to consider the beauty that awaits the season of newness that will follow. And may the Lord himself lead you through your transition to a new life of great freedom and endless hope.

Feel free to join me on the journey through midlife change. I’d love to connect with you and learn more about your transition story.

Elizabeth Duncan Stretar, (Cleveland, Ohio) is the mother of 8 married adults, grandmother to 16, and enjoys spending her empty-nest time with husband, Frank. She is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary (MACL), Young Life’s first national director and currently working as an airline Flight Attendant. Stretar’s passion is to help others live an above and beyond kind of life, by encouraging them realize their untapped potential, discover their life-purpose that strives to make a difference in the lives of others. She’s a published author of ‘Acorn Gert & Brother Bert’ & blogs at Elizabeth Duncan Stretar: Above and Beyond Mid-life (betsystretar.com)

This article is from the even in the deep issue