WALKING THE VIA FRANCIGENA

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- the mediaeval pilgrimage route from Canterbury to Rome, through the heart of Europe.

We walk part of it in Tuscany, from San Gimignano to Montalcino.

It's very special, beautiful in its simplicity and peace, as we retrace the ancient ways.

DATE ALTERATION!

So maybe it will work for you to come after all 

NEW DATES  are September 1 - 8 (Saturday to Saturday)

There are  just a few places still available - full details here: 

http://www.ministriesbydesign.org/italy-pilgrimage/

 

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How much does the perfect Christmas gift cost?

In about half a second, Google will refer you to

388,000,000 ‘free gifts’

But do we trust freebies?

After all, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Is there?

 

How much does the perfect Christmas gift cost?

£24.4bn

is what we will spend between us all

in the UK this Christmas

according to The Retail Gazette

 

But there is one gift this Christmas

That is both

Priceless and free

 

It can’t be:

bought,

googled,

bartered for,

earned,

found on an app

or delivered by Amazon

 

It’s already been

paid for in full.

 

JESUS

is

GOD’S CHRISTMAS PRESENT TO YOU

 

This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.”

John 3:16 (The Message)

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How Spice-y are you?

How to have a Spice-y life

Crawling back into bed in the small hours of the morning felt like coming home. The comfort and warmth and darkness enveloped me; my whole selfmindbodyspirit relaxed.   Utterly drained and exhausted, even the effort of pulling the duvet around me felt too much. Within seconds I was asleep – for a little while at least. It felt like heaven.

Let me ask you something: are you feeling tired right now?

Maybe not – maybe you leaped out of bed this morning absolutely raring to go, bouncingly full of the joys of spring, so pumped that a second cup of coffee would be over-the-top unnecessary.

Or maybe, maybe, you and I woke this morning feeling weary and tired, and it’s a tiredness that comes from life.  Life has thrown a curveball - actually, make that several curveballs -  at us and we’re all living in a world that constantly feels weary. It’s the sort of weariness that’s not solved by a good night’s sleep. It is a weariness of spirit, because we fill our lives with frenetic activity and then add escapist activity on top - compulsive social media, mindless television, recreational drinking – because we are too tired to choose stuff which would be truly life giving.  And our emotions become dulled and numb; our bodies groan and ache; and the guilt and the exhaustion become second nature and we come to accept them as normal.

What we need, you and me in our weariness, is the spice of life. Because we are so busy taking care of life and taking care of others that we forget to take care of ourselves and give ourselves some SPICE -  the acronym for the 5 areas we need to be fully human and fully alive.

Spiritual

Maybe we’ve ignored the manufacturer’s handbook for ourselves, trying to operate without following the instructions. Stress is always a warning light that we’ve taken our focus off God and are looking at our problems from a limited viewpoint.  Rick Warren said he believes the single greatest cause of stress is that we take ourselves too seriously and we don’t take God seriously enough.

What helps you reconnect with God each day?

Reverence for (or worship of) God adds hours to each day. Proverbs 10:27

Physical

Finding what works for our own particular bodies to feel great, keep in good health, be the best we can be.  Nourishing ourselves physically with the right food and the correct exercise. For me, it’s low sugar and low carbs, 7.5 nightly hours of sleep, lots of fruit and veg, long long walks, and regular exercising.

It’s taking care of what we’ve been given.

What makes your body feel in great shape?

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvellous--.  Psalm 139:14 (NLT)

Intellectual

Stimulating the brain is as important as exercising the body – use it or lose it; and without that stimulation and new knowledge, we get very stale. Some of us love crosswords and jigsaws and Su Doku; others of us play the piano or learn a new language or map-read our way across new territory as we walk….  

New experiences that use all the senses are good for our minds.

What stretches your mind?

A wise person is hungry for knowledge, while the fool feeds on trash.  Proverbs 15:14 (NLT)

Creative

We humans are amazing at the way we can be so creative. We can invent theorems, knit a sweater, write a magnum opus, paint the Mona Lisa, compose limericks, cook up a storm. We are made in the image of a creating, creative God; to be creative is in our genes and gives us life.

How can you create something today? (other than creating a mess….!)

God created human beings; he created them godlike, reflecting God’s nature.  Gen 1:17 (The Message)

Emotional

“It is a slow death to be gloomy all the time.” (Proverbs 17:22 GNT) When did we learn as a generation, as a culture, to be so serious about everything?  When was the last time you said : hang it all, I’ve earned a break; and just left it all and went out for a walk, or took time to sit and chat with a friend, and just hung out?  Simplify: time, possessions, yes; but also attitude.  Laugh more, and work and worry less. When was the last time you relaxed and laughed with others? Or by yourself – watching or reading that one thing that makes you (and no-one else!) roar with laughter?

What makes you laugh? Or relax? What feeds your soul?

A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom leave you bone-tired. Proverbs 17:22 (The Message)

 

So how spice-y is your life? 

Leave a comment below to share how you’re doing!

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work and walking-around-life – and place it before God as an offering.  Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for Him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed form the inside out. Readily recognize what He wants from you and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of maturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”  Romans 12:1-5The Message

What gives you life on Candlemas/Groundhog Day?

What is giving you life right now? 

Thoughts for the midwinter Cross-Quarter Day of Candlemas (February 2nd)    Oh – and it’s Groundhog Day too!
 

Maybe you’ve had the flu – or at least the sniffles.
Or that lingering lurgy and you just can’t shake it off.
The days may be lengthening, but spring is not yet here, and January has been such a long long month. Especially if like mine it has been more-or-less dry.
Budgets are tight, the weight won’t shift and winter has reached the woefully dreary stage. Plus my FaceBook feed is thoroughly depressing right now – Brexit to one side, POTUS on the other, Bishops in the middle.

Winter is hard for me. You too? It’s all too easy to look at what is draining and crushing and difficult right now. But there is another way and it’s actually simple. I like simple and I like doing something simple that helps.
 
I once read an article about searching out what gives you life. What energises you, what helps you to keep you smiling – in spite of what is going on everywhere else.  And with the middle of winter due on February 2nd, this idea is one I’m finding life giving.
 
And that’s what we need, right? Little things that are life giving. To notice them, make a note of them, remind ourselves to do them, have them, use them. Doing more of what makes you happy, what gives you life.  Little things that make a difference.
 
So I decided to make a list – it’s personal and yours may be very different.  But perhaps it might be helpful to share our lists and suggestions, to give us ideas of what actually feeds us, strengthens us, gives us life.


Daffodils or hyacinths on the kitchen table. Bright, cheerful and scented, they lift my mood whenever I see them.

Lighting a scented candle while I’m sitting working at the computer; and having supper by candlelight. Love it! Candles both relax and lift my mood

Bubble baths. Even 10 minutes to wallow in warmest water, with a good book. Not the Kindle – don’t trust myself not to drop it in! (no photo here…..)

Wearing my favourite clothes. Instead of keeping them for ‘best,’ just wearing them and enjoying them. And throwing out what I feel I ought to keep but actually never wear. Taking discarded things to the charity shop. 

Eating well. And nutritiously. Takes an effort but SO worth it! Here’s a hot chicory, mackerel and radiccio salad I made last week. Yum. (Thanks to chef Tom Kerridge's new book!)

Reading the Psalms. I read 5 each day and so it takes a month to read them all the way through. Start with the Psalm that corresponds to the day’s date, read it and add 30 to find the next one to read, and so on up to 5 Psalms. SO: on the 15th, read Psalms 15, 45, 75, 105, 135. Today is the 30th and I read Psalm 30, 60, 90, 120 & 150. (tomorrow is Jan 31 so just Psalm 119 on the 31st)  I’m using “The Psalms on Fire,” which is the new Passion Translation and I find it extremely helpful.

Exercise. Yes, I know, we all hate it while we are doing it. But then it depends on what type of exercise. Because I have discovered I prefer some and loathe others! Walking in the fresh air or taking a Pilates class each make me feel so much better. Preferably both, regularly. 

Painswick - the Rococo Gardens

Painswick - the Rococo Gardens

Doing nothing for a few minutes. I either close my eyes or indulge my latest passion - colouring letters from mediaeval manuscripts. Breathe deeply and just enjoy the moment. 

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Pause and assess - choose to do more of what makes you happy.

S'mores with the family

S'mores with the family

Can’t wait to read your list – what gives you life in the deepest middle of winter?

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Resolutions Resolved

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

depression

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 – using a great aid to do it. Guthrie’s Chronological Reading of God’s Story -  I  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. 

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?

Leave a comment and share your helpful thoughts with us ....

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

And check back soon to read the next January instalment - why not sign up right now, so you don't miss it, and have it slip quietly to your email inbox.

Is this an ending or a beginning for you?

Summer's lease hath all too short a date - 

And so it comes – the end of the idyll that was our summer.

A summer’s worth of weeks.

But now it’s time.

Time for a new thing.

We felt it, American daughter and I.  Just a few days ago. The air is different, we said. It’s hotly glorious, sky clearly blue. But a change is coming. We know it. We can feel it. We can sense it.

It feels good and right and timely.  Welcome, even.

So we put away our shorts and strappy tops.  There was the ceremonial binning of much-worn well-loved worn-out summer sandals. The joy of rediscovering a cosy sweater one evening -  and proper shoes.  Exultation in that feeling of being well-dressed after a summer of short shorts, skimpy skirts and simple sandals.

It’s time. Time to grow up again. Time for routines and schedules and restoring order.

And yet. And yet there lingers a love of lazy summer days, sand between the toes, doing whatever whenever. However. It will return, we promise ourselves: next year, it will come again, but for now we are content, with our summer memories and still-golden tans, content to let the summer go, thankful for all we have done and all we have been and all we knew, for those long, long weeks.

I pull on trousers, slip a sweater over my shoulders – and drive with the roof down still, enjoying natural air conditioning after the hot, heavy, closeness of the humid summer air.

Anticipation. I almost long to sharpen my pencils ready for the new school term, to begin a fresh exercise book with its invitation and expectancy and openness and possibilities. To write my name on a new fly leaf and know I can begin afresh, in a new place with a new desk and new seat.

Time to return. Yet -

Time for a new thing.

The promise is there.  I’m doing a new thing for you, says God.  Don’t you see it?

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:18,19)

God says

CHANGE YOUR FOCUS:

STOP LOOKING BEHIND!

START LOOKING AHEAD!

Walter Brueggmann writes of this action of God:

“It is remarkable that Israel is told to forget the old exodus narrative in order to notice the new departure. The ‘new thing’ is not only more contemporary, but also more spectacular and exhibits the power of God in more effective ways. In these verses all the accent is upon the new experience which pushes the old memory aside. It may be worth noting that in the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, in so far as Christians are concerned, the same accent is upon the new at the expense of the old. Our God is doing a new thing.”

Our God is doing a new thing.

Because the past won’t sustain us.

God says, Forget the former things, I am doing a new thing.

The children of Israel had seen God have many victories in their past.  It had been a good past.

Leaving Egypt

Conquering the Land of Canaan

Fighting off prospective conquerors

Surviving a split in their country

But all their previous victories were doing nothing for them in the present. They needed a new work, a new miracle, a new victory.

So the question isn’t: what has God done?

There’s no doubt about that!

The question must be:

What new thing is God doing right now?

The children of Israel had a choice to make. They were in exile, looking back at former glories.  And looking back wasn’t helping. Yet all they could see in the present was problems, and their own powerlessness. They didn’t like where they were at the moment, and yet they didn’t seem to trust God to change things for them nor to want to be open to the possibilities He had in mind for them.

And so there is a choice:

They can continue as they are, nostalgic for what has been, yet not happy in the present, not trusting the Lord.

Or they can focus on what God wants to do in their lives. And God wants to do a new thing.

Can I see possibilities if God is in charge of this new thing?

We are returning to a house unsold and an unknown future. Do I believe that God is in control?Can I see possibilities if God is in charge of this new thing, this new life, this new beginning which is now beginning.  A chance to start over, sharpen the pencil, open the new page, take a new seat.

Claim the new thing HE is doing for me.  In me.  Through me.

Returning – to a new thing.  It’s in the air around us. Routines. Schedules.  School. It’s time.  Time to return to God and to the new thing He is doing. The beginning, not an ending.

O gracious God

Give us wisdom to perceive you

Diligence to seek you

Patience to wait for you

Eyes to behold you

A Heart to meditate upon you

And a life to proclaim you

Through the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ our Lord

Amen,

WHERE IS HOME?

I've just had the privilege of writing a guest blog for Amy Boucher Pye's series on THERE's NO PLACE LIKE HOME, which follows on from her book "Finding myself in Britain."

“Shrimp for supper,” I announced to my hungry husband. “Same recipe as that one I tried in the States last week.” I think he started salivating. We had visited our American grandsons in America, and I’d found a new recipe which we’d loved: skewered shrimp. Now I wanted to recreate it in Wiltshire, and had eagerly pounced on a packet of shrimp I’d spotted when shopping.

Time to cook; I’d soaked the bamboo skewers in preparation and slit open the defrosted packet. Out tumbled tiny, tiny pathetic pink things. Not the large succulence I was expecting; these were miniscule. Lots of them to be sure, but far too small to be threaded on to skewers.

And then I remembered – we are two nations divided by a common language. What England calls prawns are what America calls shrimp, and they are huge in the States and tiny in the UK. I should have looked for ‘jumbo prawns’ or ‘tiger prawns’ in England. At least I had remembered that zucchini are courgettes and summer squash merely the yellow ones.

We ate shrimp and courgette risotto for supper. It was edible (just) but not what was expected, and a poor substitute.Same word but different meanings. And I had forgotten my translation skills. The years we spent living in the States should have reminded me of the need for interpretation. I used to dread using some word in a sermon that might be perfectly normal and acceptable in English, but have an entirely different and unsuitable meaning for my American congregation.

“Let’s make a list of differences,” Patti exclaimed enthusiastically, as we told each other about trunks and boots, pavements and sidewalks, bonnets and hoods. A gloriously correct Southern Lady, Patti found paper and pen and drew a line down the centre (center!) of the page. She wrote at the top of the left hand column: “English” and listed trunk and sidewalk and hood. Her pen hesitated at the top of the righthand column and she turned back to me. “So what do YOU speak?” she asked, bewildered.

Two nations divided by a common language, said George Bernard Shaw.

And then there’s “home.” Where is it? What is it?

When we lived in Virginia, despite the fact that we were ‘having a blast,’ and following the Lord’s calling to minister there, I often had moments of overwhelming grief. I would wander into my elder daughter’s bedroom and stand there sobbing, knowing that she was thousands of miles away in the UK at university and that my son, also in England, was now married and would never join us to live in the States.

It wasn’t place I was missing, but people, family....

To read the rest of this article, click here to go to Amy Boucher Pye's blog

   American granny

 

American granny