Layers. 

Sometimes winter lasts for a very long time. Winter with its iced mornings and bone-chilling winds. Winter that brings numbing of the extremities and dribbling noses and foggy breath. It is winter that requires us to wear layers upon layers.

The coldness of winter means we need layers for survival. Layers to keep us warm and as healthy as possible. I see layers as a form of self- preservation. Sometimes layers are the best and only option.

However long and arduous a winter may be, it doesn’t last forever. 

No matter how hard and fierce and piercing a winter may be, unless you live in Antarctica, winter is followed by spring, as surely as day follows night.

Sometimes we can be in a winter season in our life, and it may feel like it is lasting forever. It may be arduous, it may be bitter, it may be challenging on many fronts. But for every person, I truly believe that Spring can and does come. Not necessarily when we wish it, or hope for it, or sometimes even pray for it, but spring does come.

Here’s what I know about life in wintertime: sometimes you just need those layers.

Sometimes you need layers of self-protection in your life, sometimes you need to just distance your heart just that little bit further away, to take time and to create some space.  But everyone knows that you shouldn’t wear too many layers in spring and summertime. It’s not a wise thing to allow yourself to overheat. Sooner or later, when circumstances are different, when they are better, warmer, brighter, you need to peel some of those layers away. And sooner or later you need to peel some of the layers around your heart away.  Because here’s the thing…..if you don’t allow those layers to fully peel away, it is hard to truly feel joy, to feel love and acceptance, because those are the things you need to swirl into your heart. 

Sometimes in winter your fingers get so frozen by winter’s touch that it makes undoing buttons or fiddling with a zip quite tricky. That makes getting your big, bulky layers off, just that little bit trickier. What helps is warming up a little first, then beginning the process of getting rid of a few layers. Sometimes you need to be in that happier, brighter, safer place for a bit first, before you start to break away the layers around your heart. And you know what is necessary sometimes?  A friend. A buddy. A pal. Sometimes your own jacket zipper keeps you stuck stuck stuck. But with the help of a friend…..you can get unstuck pretty fast. Friends, good friends can be really good at helping you cut through your unnecessary layers.

Chronic sickness can be like winter. Grief can be like winter. Anxiety, depression and self- harm. All these things can bring about extended times of life just being that much harder, and that much more trying, and that much more inward focussed. Which can in turn make someone either intentionally or unintentionally form layer upon layer over their heart.

The good news is that layers can come off. They aren’t stuck on forever. And like I said, sometimes they need a friend’s assistance.  Sometimes they need professional help. But always, they can come off as new seasons, brighter seasons, warmer seasons are entered into. 

Layers surrounding our hearts can be chiseled off in the act of worship. When we realign our hearts with God.  When we focus on his goodness and loving kindness. Sometimes the best heart surgery does happen when we’re around good friends, kindred spirits, like-minded people. Sometimes the layers peel off when we pray, or have others pray for us. Someone I know, told me that she had a protective layer of her heart just melt away by the simple act of a friend standing next to her, when she was having a ‘moment’, and her friend simply put an arm around her. A simple hug.

There really is a danger than comes from wearing too many layers in the wrong season.

Let’s be people who look out for over dressed people. And let’s be people who offer grace and love, understanding and permission, to those who are still in the depths of a fierce winter, who really do need a few extra layers on at the moment.

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Permission.

I wanna be like Penny when I grow up.

With her beautiful twinkling eyes, ever present smile accompanied by love crinkles, feisty spirit, and good natured jesting with her husband, Penny is just the kinda lady I want to be.

Penny was a guest speaker at a conference I just attended. She shared from her wealth of knowledge and experience. She encouraged and she blessed. She told wonderful stories from the early days of the Vineyard Church movement, but the biggest and bestest take home nugget of gold I got from her, out of all the other truths she shared, was permission to just be a work in progress. And isn’t that what we’re all crying out for these days?

There’s this thing out there in the big wide world, that says we need to do it all.  And be it all.  We need to have ‘it’ all sorted, and have it sorted yesterday. 

And sometimes we can do it all.

Whatever ‘it’ is.

But none of us can do all the things we may wish to do, all of the time, no matter how hard we try, no matter how constant the pressure is, whether is it really there or simply implied…..

If you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time, you’ll know I am a Christ follower. I love God and I love walking my Journey with other Christians. But even in some church circles, there’s sometimes this belief that you should have your life mostly ‘together’. And often this belief is accompanied by the thought that you should only share your struggles from a place of victory, a place of overcoming. 

But the fact is we’re all on a journey. Whether you’re a christian or not, I believe that we are all at different stages. We all have things we can do, we can’t do, things we shouldn’t do, things we should do, to be the healthiest and happiest versions of ourselves we can be. 

And I think we can all do with hearing what Penny had to say at a session yesterday. A panel of women were asked how they deal with anxiety and worry, and I felt like Penny gave us a very real and raw answer. She sat on the stage and very graciously admitted that she didn’t cope with anxiety and worry very well at all. That this is something she struggles with, and she relies on others to help her get through times when worry consumes her. 

This was in a nutshell giving us permission. 

Permission to not have it all together. Permission to have areas in our lives where we need to lean on others. Permission to be works in progress, no matter how far along our christian walk we are. Permission to be real and raw and honest. Permission to be ok with our flaws and troubles. 

Time and time again I’m reminded of community. Of friendship. Of reciprocity. Of people standing in the gap for others. And yesterday Penny reminded me of   the importance of vulnerability, of not ever having to appear as if life is always easy and good. Permission for that is a gift, and a gracious gift at that. 

I wanna be like Penny when I grow up. Just like Penny.