The main thing I have learnt this January

How to stave off the annual blues of deepest darkest January?

I've been posting regularly throughout January about  alleviating the bleak midwinter blues - learning about the Revd Sydney Smith, hugs and hugging, living as well as you dare, twinkly lights, sleep.....  check the January post archives if you missed anything.

And now January is coming to an end - its's February on Friday!  So, in this last post on the winter blues, what has January really taught me?

What I think I overlooked or forgot is the encouraging fact that January is a new beginning!

A fresh start.

A field of pristine untrodden sparkling snow awaiting the first footprint. 

photos taken whilst I was on the Captivating Conference in Colorado in February 2012


A fresh start is almost always exciting – as a child, that thrill at the start of the school year with new pencils to sharpen, new books to get ready, new uniform clothes, the eager anticipation of seeing friends again, that sense of adventure, heartpounding thrill and newness.

And inhaling the faint air of exciting possibility.

Even now, starting a new journal – opening to a blank page, wondering what the words will be describing as the year progresses, what adventures and emotions will be committed to the paper.

Maybe it’s to do with the fact that we have a God who also enjoys new things.

“This is what God says: ‘Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history.  Be alert, be present.  I’m about to do something brand new.  There it is!  I’m making a road through the desert…’”  (The Message).

“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.  I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  I will make a way in the wilderness …”  (NRSV)  Isaiah 43:19

God is always doing new things and moving us on and changing us to be the people He wants us to be.

He wants to make a road through (THROUGH!) the desert – not take us out of the desert but enable to cross it and He does a new thing to enable this to happen.

But sometimes the new is scary.

That newness at the beginning of a school term could be scary too. Would we like the new teacher? Would we be in the same class as our best friends?  Would we fit in? Would we cope?

The anticipation is tinged with anxiety and apprehension.

What will happen this year?  Will we cope?  Will we like the changes? And even – where is God in all of this?

But there’s help for this, too, in Hebrews 13:8

For Jesus doesn’t change – yesterday, today, tomorrow, he’s always totally himself.” (The Message)

Or, as many know it,

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (NRSV)

Jesus is the same: all may change but Jesus never.  And THAT’s where our security lies, that’s where we can find our stability and confidence.  The Lord Jesus never changes; He is always there for us, always loving us, always there to talk to.  We trust in Him, look to Him, and know that we will never be shaken when we keep Him at the centre of our lives.

So there’s the best, proven part of my survival kit.

Putting Him at the centre of my life.

Not just for January but for the whole year.

And not just for 2013, but for the rest of my life.


What are you taking from January into the rest of this year  - to help and inspire and encourage you?

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For that hardest of hard days

  They said that Monday was the worst day of the year. But they didn’t know of her darkest, deepest, hardest days. Those black days, each in their own way so terrible she thought she might not survive, might go mad.

January days are short and dark and cold. Days of pain are long and pain comes back – or maybe never goes. What to do, what to do? Where and how to alleviate the pain, to know that spring will come again?

Into the pain come words of hope and there is gratitude for friends who pray, not even asking for what they pray but who support and comfort and are simply THERE.  Often people want to know what they are praying for – and it’s a ruse for prurient curiousity and Christian gossip. Good friends simply pray not necessarily knowing the what and where and how and why.

So she writes of ways to alleviate those January blues. Walks the beach and tries to pray.

Sings harder and louder (where no-one can hear) of grace and mercy and love and peace.

“Lord I come before your throne of grace… Lord of mercy, You have heard my cry; Through the storm You're the beacon, My song in the night...." (R + C Critchley, (c) Kingsway music)

Knows the truth of the Messiah who comes into impossible messes and makes miracles happen.

Gives her broken heart to the One who does real heart transplants and gives her His.  (Ezekial 11:19)

Proves that joy happens when she opens herself to be enveloped by God’s Presence. (Zechariah 8:8)

Needs a month of festival – from sorrow into gladness and mourning into a holiday: Purim, looking forward to a February of fruit and fasting in order to fall back into festival for Easter.

Reads blogs and posts and books and articles that are positive and encouraging.

Learns to skip and jump EVEN when it’s a bad day, when a friend takes her by the hand and skips her down the beach, arms swinging. Says, Smile – even through the tears.

Hears a friend say: God can make something beautiful out of our mess if we hand it over to Him to transform.

Remembers that ALL IS GIFT – even in the brokenness of broken hopes and broken dreams, broken hearts and broken days, the God of all comforts goes on giving and giving. Mending and healing. Transplanting and transforming.

ALL IS GRACE, amazing grace – through Christ alone who translates sorrow into joy, transfigures pain into healing.





(David Adams)

What has helped you most, on those difficultest of days?

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Your daily survival kit for this year:

We are in the middle of a mini-series on alleviating, surviving, truimphing over, the bleak midwinter blues of January. Sign up to get the rest delivered straight into your email box! I've just had an email from a dear friend  - with the most amazing survival kit that we all need.  Where she got it from, I have no idea - no-one is attributed with authorship, so if you know where it comes from, PLEASE let me know!  But I pass it on as a slightly tongue-in-cheek daily survival kit:  fill your bag with these few things and keep taking them out to remind yourself.




to help you each day of this new year:

A Toothpick ... to remind you to  pick the good qualities in everyone, including  yourself.

A Rubber Band ... to remind you to be flexible. Things might not always  go the way you want, but it can be worked out.

A Band-Aid ... to remind you to  heal hurt feelings, either yours or someone else's.

An Eraser ... to remind you  everyone makes mistakes. That's okay, we learn from our  errors.

A Candy  Kiss ... to remind you everyone needs a hug or a compliment  everyday.

A Mint  ... to remind you that you are worth a mint to your family  & me.

 Bubble  Gum ... to remind you to stick with it and you can accomplish  anything.

A Pencil ... to remind you to  list your blessings every day.

A Tea Bag ... to remind you to take time to relax daily and go over  that list of blessings.

This is what makes life worth living every minute, every day 

May you have love, gratitude, friends to cherish, caring, sharing,laughter, music, and  warm feelings in your heart in 2013.

AND, I have to add, the gratitude in counting each day's gifts gives so much blessing and a  change of mental attitude. How can doing one such small simple thing make this enormous difference?

All is gift.

Counting - are you?

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17, NIV)

What would you add to this list?
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Your suggestions for beating those bleak midwinter blues ....

.... were just great! This mini-series on how to alleviate the dreadful January blues has been extremely helpful - to me and, it seems to you lots of you too.  And here we are, almost half way through January already.  How has it been for you?

Many of us can sometimes have those SAD feelings at this time of year: so we've looked at making Resolutions that energise us, living as well as we dare, getting enough sleep (or hibernating!) and realising that lots of hugs and cuddles can have a very salutary effect upon us - as well as being rather fun sometimes. At least three hugs a day!

Then there is the summer to look forward to - planning a trip, and especially, planning a Pilgrimage, to walk the Via Francigena in Tuscany! A vacation with a difference  - led by my husband and me; and already one week is nearly fully booked! Come too?

And the ideas keep coming. Today a friend sent me this great link to the gift of sleep, by Julie Ackerman Link in Daily Bread. Julie writes:

I’m sometimes tempted to believe that the work I do when I’m awake is more important than the work God does while I sleep. But refusing God’s gift of sleep is like telling Him that my work is more important than His. If we do not come apart and rest awhile, we may just plain come apart.

Oh yes.  That's me.

I loved the idea of special things to do at this time of year, from Sarah:

I read on a blog somewhere ideas for establishing routines/traditions that you do ONLY during the dark winter months — enjoying the season for what it is. The two ideas that I can recall at the moment are stringing white twinkle lights on your mantel and turning them on as soon as you get home (or when it turns dark) and routinely dining by candlelight. Very cozy, which sounds like a good theme for January!

We love cozy!  And lovely scents - 

Another beat-the-January-blues idea — buying special hand cream/lotion/soap, scented candles, bath salts, etc., in scents that are pleasing and cozy — and use them only in the winter months (and it so happens that post-Christmas is a good time to get them on sale!). I think this goes along nicely with the “live as well as you dare” theme! 

And Joy (from Words of Joy) wrote about hugging:  I am one of life’s huggers. My friends and family willingly submit to my embraces –others I allow time to get to know me and relax about it first!  Cuddling, hugging and embracing are all symbols of our love and care for others. They enhance life emotionally if not by years. Consider yourself ‘virtually hugged’, Penelope!

And what not to do?

On the list of things NOT to do can you please add: lounging in front of the TV watching indiscrimately any daft old program at the same time as munching on junk food and drinking too much alcohol.. very bad habit to get into but easy to fall into this trap in the Winter evenings..  So one vote for enjoying countryside and writing poetry and a NO vote for tv !

So there's a choice - yours and mine, as Mandy wrote:

It is a conscious choice and when I allow myself time for a hot bubble bath, pjs and bed at a sensible hour with a hot water bottle, it is so much better than when I listen to the lure of social media or reading just a little more. Thanks for the reminder that we only need to be who God calls us to be.

And perhaps the best comment?

I, and two little girls, are available for hugs whenever needed. 

Those two little girls are my granddaughters. They hug the best!

What are you doing to help alleviate the bleak midwinter? I have to admit I'm now cheating - I'm in Florida! 




A fourth way to alleviate the bleakmidwinter blues!

I'm blogging my way out of any potential midwinter blues! I'm only making resolutions that bring energy and enthusiasm; I'm following advice from the Revd Sidney Smith to live as well as I dare right now; I'm getting as much sleep as I can; and I'm enjoying hugs and cuddles like never before. And here's another way that helps. Booking a summer vacation - it's something to look forward to and even though I don't want to wish my life away, there is something rather encouraging and enervating about planning something special for a future event. And something which will energise me and be a real treat, which will get me fitter spiritually as well as physically, and in a most beautiful part of the world.

So I thought you might like to come along!

It's a very special Pilgrimage - and there are just a few places left for the September dates.

Come join us for a Pilgrimage on the Via Francigena? We walk about 10 miles a day; our luggage is moved for us; and we have special times of prayer, devotional talks, spiritual exercises - and plenty of time to relax, laugh, walk, talk or be in silence. It's incredibly beautiful, for our souls and our spirits as well!

Here are a few introductory details, to whet your appetite.  Contact me for more information. We'd love you to come too!

NEW FOR 2013 - Italian Pilgrimages
San g path
San Gimignano
Canterbury to Rome
via f pilgrim
Via Francegina
Mays Farm MAYS FARMRead more
LogoVisit our website
If you are interested in coming on one of the walks, please email us for full details and a booking form. To reserve your place there is a deposit of £200 with the balance due 8 weeks prior to the Pilgrimage.  Places are limited to just 10 people maximum (plus us) so don't delay!
Please pray for us as we put this together; and pray about whether you might be able to come. Do feel free to contact us with any questions regarding the walk. We are so excited about this opportunity and really hope you might be able to join us; and do pass the details on to others you know who might like to come too.


Grace and peace,
Kim and Penelope


Kim & Penelope Swithinbank
Ministries By Design
Mays Farm, Hullavington
Walking the Via Francigena
San G framed

We are excited to be sending you the details for the first of our new pilgrimage retreats - in Tuscany, next June and September.
As you know, Penelope has been leading
Pilgrimages on the Cotswold Way for many years and many women have appreciated that opportunity.
But now Kim will be joining her in leading retreats and walks for both sexes, for singles and for marrieds  - and we
want you to have the opportunity to come too!
QUESTIONS? call us, we'd love to chat with you!
UK: 07870 497365
USA: (til  Jan 21) : 843 325 5220
The Via Francegina
This old pilgrim route goes from Canterbury, England, all the way to Rome. Archbishop Sigericus of Canterbury walked it in 994, and wrote down the names of the places he'd passed through. The route has been recreated so that you can follow in the footsteps of thousands of pilgrims over the centuries who have walked these ancient footpaths. You will be walking through the gorgeous countryside of Tuscany; as you walk there will be time to reflect, to seek the Lord, to have time away from the busyness of everyday life. But with Kim there too it won't be silent all the way!! And each evening there will be devotional times led by Kim and/or Penelope.
You will walk each day, but your bags will be magically taken on to the next hotel where we will all have dinner together in the evenings, and you will have many opportunities for tasting local wines and foods.
The route is stunningly beautiful - we have already walked it and just loved it. From the ancient hill top villages to the refreshingly cool Roman-built swimming pool to achingly beautiful old churches and fabulous gelato .... this is a glorious opportunity for you to experience a vacation with a difference.
The vacation will be organised by Alternative Travel Group and you can look on their website for further information about the walks. ATG journey
However, all your bookings and payments will be done through Ministries By Design, so that it is very easy for you - we will do all the admin!

There is a choice of dates:
June 23 - 30
Sept 7 - 14
This is an 8 day holiday. We arrive on day 1, walk from San Gimignano to Montalcino over the next 6 days and leave on day 8.
COST - £1395 (HB)
All costs are per person, sharing a twin bedded room with private bathroom facilities.
You will need to arrange your own flights to Italy (Pisa airport is recommended but Rome works too), local travel to San Gimignano and from Montalcino and also your own travel insurance.  Other extras are any drinks you require with dinner, and provisions/snacks for lunch each day. Everything else is included, which makes it incredibly good value.
Once you have booked,  we will send you the full details including what to bring with you, and how to prepare for this walk - physically and spiritually!


Hilltop town

Alleviating the January Blues - part two

How to stave off the annual blues of deepest darkest January? I decided to take positive action this year. First there was a decision to make  - not Resolutions, but decisions that energise me and enthuse me.

Then, I started a survival kit following the advice of the Rev Sydney Smith (you can read about it here if you missed part one) in order to prevent the anticlimax and antacids of bleak midwinter blues.  But in spite of following a few of his suggestions, I found I needed something more.


Deep, deep sleep.

Maybe it’s the urge to hibernate. To sleep through the cold and damp and dark.

Maybe it’s a desire to escape.

Or maybe it’s just a reflection of how much sleep I am missing, of the hours I need to catch up after the busyness and stressfulness of the weeks before Christmas.

I certainly know that I don’t function well if I have had too little sleep. Who does? Most of us are not like Winston Churchill or Margaret Thatcher, both of whom are reputed to have needed only three or four hours sleep each night. I need at least seven and preferably eight hours under the covers.

And I have discovered that there are ways to help me achieve those hours.

-       get ready for bed early. If I leave it until it’s almost past my bed time I am too tired to be bothered to go upstairs. So then I procrastinate and then it gets later and later. And there’s something rather comforting about being in my pyjamas early, ready for bed, but still pottering about downstairs.

-       dim the lights. Too much bright light too late at night is far too energizing. So a small occasional lamp, and not the main lights, helps relaxation. (Sitting gazing at the embers of the fire, by candlelight, in my pyjamas, is remarkably soporific. If only!!)

-       dim the electronics. It’s all too tempting to check emails or social media sites last thing at night, but it actually stimulates my brain. As does any moving image, whether it’s a film, the 10 o’clock news or YouTube.  I’m learning to resist the temptation.

-       prayers in bed.

Being in bed in time to spend a few moments with the Lord.  A short Compline; or some Celtic prayers from David Adams; or the Examen from Ignatius. Handing the day back to the Lord calms and restores me and settles me in a way that is hard to explain but which leads to a better quality sleep.

-       a hot water bottle. Nice to be cosy!

But even more, I know that the quality of my sleep has to do with the quality of my day.

"It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep." Psalm 127:2 (ESV)  My days are too often a hurlyburly of rush and catchup and then I forget to breathe. Just breathe.

I read this the other day:

Oh yes, that's me. Certainly the me I used to be. But it doesn't make me restful and peaceful and someone I think others would like to be with. And now I am older, fast approaching a rather large birthday, I know that my body and my mind and my heart crave that rest and peace.

Tranquillity. Space. Rest.  And if I don't live like that now, I never will.  It's a conscious choice - no one else can choose it for me! Why rush around in that vainness mentioned in Psalm 127:2 when I actually don't enjoy it anyway? Instead of thinking 'I have to be everything' I can choose to think, 'I have to be me, the me God made me to be.'

And that me needs tranquillity and space and rest.

And good sleep.

Now I’m feeling really sleepy …  time for a nap, I think.

What have you found that helps you sleep better? And what helps you with the January blues?






Alleviating the January Blues - part one

January is such a LONG month. Christmas is over. The days are  short and dark and cold. The news is gloomy and I’ve eaten too much recently. Summer warmth and balmy days seem a distant promise.

How to stave off the annual bleak midwinter blues of January?

The trick is to prevent them before they have time to begin. To have a survival kit ready to pull out at a moment’s notice.

So, over the next few days, I’m putting together my suggestions. I've already blogged about how to make sure you can keep those New Year Resolutions; now comes the survival kit!

First, I’m following another rather more famous cleric – the Rev Sydney Smith, who also suffered from low spirits in the winter and who wrote to a friend in 1820 offering ideas for winter solace.

“1st,” he wrote, “live as well as you dare.”  I like that.

He then advocated cool showers, the avoidance of poetry, music and serious words, and not to expect too much from human life. Those I am not so keen on.

But what about some of his other suggestions:

-       amusing books

-       being as busy as you can

-       attending to the effects coffee and tea produce upon you

-       being as much as you can in the open air

-       making the room ‘where you commonly sit gay and pleasant’

-       don’t be too severe upon yourself

-       keep good blazing fires

-       ‘be firm and constant in the exercise of rational religion’

-       ‘short views of human life – not further than dinner or tea’

-       see as much as you can of friends who like you – and of acquaintances who amuse you



My survival kit now has a few good things in it. What might  you add to the list?

But yet, it's not enough....  so come back  later this week for  parts two and three - why not sign up to have them delivered straight into your inbox?



How to keep those New Year Resolutions


Over the next week or two, we will be looking at January - because for some of us, it's a long depressing dark month. Christmas joy has evaporated, even though in one sense it is always Christmas — because Christ, Immanuel,  is always with us.

Keeping the rejoicing going can be hard work in January. We forget it's still Christmas - the wise men haven't even arrived until Epiphany, on January 6th. The decorations go up so early in late November or early December that they no longer stay up until Epiphany as a reminder that it is still Christmas. When Love came down - and stayed.

But there can be good things in January so we'll look at Resolutions and alleviating the blues and hibernating and New Things. Join us? Sign up to get them all delivered straight into your inbox!

NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS: Love them or hate them, they are in the air right now.

New Year’s Day is nearly here. A day to begin afresh. A day bursting with new year zeal, an unmarked fresh-snow-fall start. A day for making  Resolutions, writing down lists and intending, really and truly intending, to keep to the list THIS year.

At least for the whole of January.

Smugly, the list grows; lose those extra pounds, go to bed earlier, join – and go to – the gym, tidy the house, find a new job, declutter, read the Bible every day, pray, keep in touch with friends  ….

Good intentions.

But how to keep them?

Maybe I’m starting from the wrong place.

Maybe my lists are impossible to keep.

Maybe I am setting myself up for failure from the start.

One thing I have discovered about myself over the many years I’ve known me is that I am hopeless at long term implementation. I can set out with good intentions but soon they change and become impossible tasks, things I am failing to do, hopelessly unattainable aspirations. And the failure leads into that horrible downward spiral -

self criticism

low self esteem


failure – again.

I  tried the Happiness Project.


It worked – for a while. I even made myself a star chart and awarded myself lots of stars for tasks accomplished everyday. But basically the things which I continued to do even without a star were those which energised me, brought enjoyment, caused enthusiasm. No chart was needed for them.

Re-reading children’s literature. Walking in beautiful countryside. Seeing my family.

And reading the Bible in a year – which I have accomplished this year because a friend recommended a great way to do it. Guthrie’s Chronological Reading of God’s Story -  I have enjoyed and appreciated the overview and the thoughts and the questions and also that it’s 6 days a week so there was always a catch-up day if I needed it.

And it’s on my Kindle, so it was easy to take with me to read wherever I am. It too brought enjoyment and enthusiasm.

So why not make my Resolutions things I know I will enjoy, things which energise and enthuse me?

I will walk every day. Easier too now I have a puppy dog!

I will have a date night with my husband once a week.

I will re-read a favourite book on alternate months.

I will have a long warm bubble-bath occasionally and read in the bath!

I will nourish my soul – for me, that means short meaningful Scripture passages to read, times of silence and reflection, prayer walks. Each of those regularly; but not necessarily every day. What will be constant is connecting to God, building my relationship with Him.

Why punish myself or set myself up for failure with a long list of things I don’t really want to do? Why not plan to do what energises, encourages, enthuses - for then I feel better and only then will I be able to tackle some of the areas that formerly would have comprised the Resolution lists.

I shall keep my new year’s resolutions: because they are the very things I want to do. In fact, I am looking forward to them. So I shall start now. I’m off to nourish my soul.


What helps you to keep your Resolutions?

What will energise and enthuse and encourage you, so that you are able to tackle the less liked areas?

Share this blog with your friends and find out their Resolutions too?

And check back in a couple of days to read the next January instalment - why not sign up right now, so you don't miss it, and have it delivered to your email inbox.