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Love Letters – A Simple Ministry of Encouragement

Love Letters ~ A simple ministry of encouragement through cards and letters ~ Cathe SwansonI enjoy making and sending out cards, and whenever I do, the happy response humbles and convicts me. If I can brighten someone’s day with a few minutes of my time and a 49 cent stamp, why am I not doing that more often? The world is full of people who need a happy spot in their day – not only those who are lonely, ill or elderly, but also young moms, college students, military members and families, distant family members and others who don’t outwardly appear to “need” encouragement. Getting a real letter in the mailbox is always a treat!

I’ve decided to be more intentional about blessing others in this easy way, and I hope you will join me. If you sign up, you’ll get a reminder each Saturday, but there are no rules. Send notes when you can, whether it’s once a week, biweekly or monthly. Write long letters, short notes, or postcards. If you have children, this would be a good activity for you to do together!

If you’d like to be a part of this valuable ministry, sign up HERE to receive the weekly email – just a gentle reminder with a few ideas and letter writing prompts to inspire you.  As always, I will not share your email address with anyone else or use it for any purpose other than the Love Letters weekly reminders.

Love Letters

Sending out mail is easier if you are prepared with paper, pens and postage stamps. To get you started, I have a special offer. Go buy a brand new book of postage stamps just for the Love Letters project. Take a selfie with the stamps and email it to me at cathe@catheswanson,com or send it to me  HERE.  I’ll send a handmade card  to the first 25 people who send me pictures. You can use the card to send a note to someone! But you don’t need fancy stationery or a card; I promise you that a simple letter on notepaper will be just as welcome.  (Remember… set those stamps aside and use them just for the Love Letters!)

I look forward to sharing this ministry with you, showing the love of God through the simple act of sending a Love Letter in the mail!

 

Kindness - Love Letters ~ Cathe Swanson

 Again, I hope you will sign up to receive the Love Letters emails. It’s so easy to brighten someone’s day with a real note or letter in the mail. I plan to send cards weekly, praying for a person before I write and send their note.  Share the love of God and be an encourager!

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Re-light the Candles of Good Cheer

Re-Light the Candles of Cheer - Cathe SwansonI have a little book of George W. Truett’s Christmas sermons from 1928-1944… I don’t remember where it came from, but I keep it because I like seasonal books. His style was simple and conversational, light on Scripture but full of truth and kindness.  The imagery of “re-lighting the candles of good cheer” has a poignant appeal. This passage from his 1932 Christmas sermon is as applicable today as it was then:

At this Season for accentuated emphasis upon home reunions, and upon friendships both old and new, let us worthily re-light the candles of good cheer and cooperative helpfulness, for those who are experiencing privations and restrictions which lay a heavy toll upon their homes and hearts. May we so voice our understanding sympathy and good will, as to give them new heart and hope, for all the days and duties ahead. Let us especially voice our best cheer for the little children and the aged; for the orphan and the underprivileged; for the poor and the needy; for the afflicted and the unfortunate; for the lonely and the discouraged; for the derelict and the unfriended. May we be experts in doing good to all, and in giving hurt to none.                           George W. Truett, D.D.

Voice Our Best Cheer

In my new book, Snow Angels, the main character is confronted with all of these people and – in spite of her initial reluctance – Lisa reaches out with both the kindness and helpfulness Dr. Truett encourages in all of us. I like his emphasis on more than just the good deeds – he also wanted us to “relight the candles of good cheer,” to “voice our understanding sympathy and good will,” and especially to “voice our best cheer.” Our object is to “give them new heart and hope.”

God Loves a Cheerful Giver

People are encouraged when we reach out to them with more than just a helping hand. We need to extend our best cheer, understanding sympathy and good will. That was harder for Lisa. She wanted to write a check instead of showing up to help, and then she wanted to “fix” people. Dr. Truett’s sermon reminds us that we are called to more than write checks, hand out food and shovel driveways.

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.          Leo Buscaglia

Don’t wait for Christmas! We all have that power.  Smiles and kind words cost us nothing at all and are so easy to give!  Can you relight a candle of good cheer for someone today?

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Castle

Life in the Castle

Castle

My family and I have always lived in rural – some remote – places,  but we made the difficult decision to move to town ten years ago, when the two youngest boys were finishing high school, in college, working and active in our church and community. My husband was working in the city, too. When we did the math, we realized that the four of us were driving a combined total of 1000 miles per week. We moved to town.

castlebackThey dragged me, kicking and screaming and sulking, away from the farm with my chickens and goats to a lovely Victorian farmhouse in a very nice part of Burlington. There was no space outside; it was on a corner lot, and there was a parking lot on the other two sides of it, but it was a beautiful place, big enough for our ever-changing family and frequent houseguests. I hosted a ladies’ Bible study, and there was room for all of their little ones to run around and play while we studied.  I had a large sewing studio and office, four bedrooms, a living room and dining room, a sitting room off the master bedroom, a large attic and basement, two bathrooms and a big kitchen. We lived there for ten years, and even though it was a rental, it felt like my own. We took care of it and decorated (and redecorated) it with the seasons and our changing lives. I thanked God every day for that house, and I always asked him to help me hold it loosely, because I did not want it to become an idol to me.

castle5-20And then, after ten years, we had to leave it. And guess what… I realized that it had become an idol to me, at least a little bit! Because it was unexpected, and we had become complacent there, we weren’t sure what to do. In the end, without any other options, we moved to staff housing on the 1000-acre campus of my husband’s workplace, in the country,  very private. We have the downstairs apartment in a (pseudo) Tudor castle. It has a large kitchen and living room, and a laundry room, but it only has one bedroom and one bathroom (accessible only through that bedroom). Right now we have a lot of our life’s “stuff” in storage and I still feel crowded. There are two apartments upstairs, and a guest apartment across the foyer from us, which can be used for those frequent houseguests. No sewing room!

castle with vinesThe castle was built around 1926, at least twenty years younger than our house in town, but the architects went to great trouble to make it as authentic as possible. It’s a maze of doors and rooms and open spaces, a basement and the third floor which is currently uninhabited. It’s even more confusing now, after it was cut up into apartments. There are servants’ quarters, a dumbwaiter that goes from the attics to the basement, plenty of fireplaces, chutes for laundry and coal and garbage and fireplace ash. There’s a bell-pull/intercom system.  There was originally a tower and also a 3-story conservatory wing that fell into disrepair and were torn down. Our attached garage has lead-paned bay windows that match the rest of the house.

A writer friend came over to help me clean before we moved in, and the two of us explored the unoccupied parts of the castle. It was fascinating and a little spooky. The upstairs rooms are tiny, probably for the serfs, but they have a much nicer bathroom than I do! Becky and I agreed that this was the perfect place for me to write. How could I fail to find inspiration here? Besides, I have no sewing room.

cathegardenartThe problem is, I am really only inspired to go outside. The setting is incredibly beautiful. Ninety years ago, someone created formal and informal gardens and paths, fish ponds, and special places. It has an iron fence around it and pillars at the start of the driveway. The first owner kept a pet bear in a den just outside the grounds. There is the shell of an in-ground swimming pool. The rock well is completely filled in, safe for the grandchildren! There is an archery target, a fire pit, a deck where the conservatory used to be. Flagstone paths meander in odd places, sometimes ending abruptly for no apparent reason.  There are a wide variety of deliberately-planted trees and shrubs.

castlerockhouse5-20Some residents, over time, have made efforts to restore the landscape, but some of it has gone wild. I enjoy watching birds, so I’ve had my binoculars and field guide out every day, watching the overgrown yew shrub community outside my living room window. It was once a garden spot, but I don’t plan to disrupt that habitat. Instead, I put a little rock house in it. In fact, I plan to add whimsy with fairy gardens and other accents all over the grounds. No gnomes, though.

deskI have a fine writing place here in the sunroom end of the livingroom, but I might need to move my computer to the kitchen table instead, because I can’t concentrate on writing with a view like this. I overlook the fish-pond-turned-garden and well, with their rock path and peonies. The symphony of birdsong calls to me. There is a gingko tree on the left and this giant horse chestnut tree in front of me. I had never seen one of those before. I had my husband stand next to it, for perspective.

chestnut

It’s hard to be further from our church and family members, but I no longer miss my house in town at all. I may feel confined in the winter, but right now I just want to be outdoors, planting and weeding and digging. Today, I planned to write for two hours and then reward myself with some time in the garden. Instead, I went outside and pulled all the deadwood from what was once a formal garden spot. I want to do something interesting there.

old garden before

 

 

 

 

Before and after:

 

old garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

God is more than just good to us. To say that his provision is abundant and lavish is an understatement. Like David, I can say that my boundaries have always fallen in pleasant places. I certainly don’t deserve a home like this, in the kind of setting I love most. It’s all grace and love, poured out on me.  That knowledge keeps me humble. My current book is a Christmas novella set mostly in a Chicago homeless shelter.  I’m writing about people trapped in poverty, in the winter in a big scary city.  And God has set me here, in this jewel of a place.

castlefence5-20I hear it’s going to rain next week, but we are having houseguests. Don’t worry… I will make writing a priority soon. I just want to revel in this gift for a while.

 

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Do what you love – as long as you love doing it

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I recently published an article – Quitting Quilting – on my GloryQuilts blog, explaining why I was restructuring my business. It explained the quitting part, but it didn’t really address the “art as career” aspect of the change. Through this experience, I am persuaded that if I am ever forced to support myself financially, I must not do it by making a career from the things I love doing. It sounds good, but it can end up sucking the joy from the creative heart and leaving only resentment.

For more than 20 years, I have been teaching quiltmaking as well as sewing and quilting professionally as GloryQuilts.  At first, I sold class samples and pattern prototypes as well as some things I made just for fun. I did some juried art shows, and then some that were less selective. I had to make quantities of items for the shows, on a strict deadline, and be ready to set up displays and manage sales. I started selling things on eBay and then Etsy.  Instead of selling unique and creative quilts, I began creating quilts specifically to sell, in trendy fabrics and styles. As my reputation grew, I was offered and accepted a number of commissions and special order projects.

But I had never intended to become a quilt factory.  What had once been a delight to me became stressful drudgery. I loathed the sight of my sewing machine and drove around the block to avoid seeing the fabric store. I didn’t even want to make baby quilts for my grandchildren!

Turning a passion into a paying career is something to be approached with caution. If it’s going to remain a creative pleasure, it must remain creative. If it’s going to be profitable, it must be practical. It will probably involve deadlines. It will involve  sales and marketing, business law, accounting, taxes, various expenses that eat into the fruit of your labors… Labors. Are you still feeling the joy of creativity?

It’s a wonderful thing to have work that makes you happy. We all need money, and it’s nice if we can get that money in a pleasant environment. Do what you love and love what you do, right?  The problem is the second part – to keep loving what you are doing once it’s a job. What happens when you give up the life-sucking day job to make a living from your art and then the art becomes the life-sucking day job?

Be realistic in the shift from hobby to career.  Before you start, assess the possibilities and requirements.  In most cases, this kind of self-employment is sales and independent contracting. Can you set aside the creative part of your skill set to practice on the weekends or does the business consume your enthusiasm and energy? Are you a painter willing to work as a commercial artist? An art photographer willing to do senior portraits?  A poet who will write product descriptions for catalogs? A creative chef will be happier in his own restaurant, with creative freedom, than he would be at McDonald’s, at any wage.

It’s easy to be creative on our own terms, without other people telling us what our art should look like and when it should be completed and how much money it’s worth. There is a niche market for art and original work. A few people and companies will appreciate its value, but it’s still a different scenario than just creating for our own pleasure and being willing to sell our art for a good price. Renaissance artists had patrons, and even that could be difficult.

After yet another stressful autumn and early winter, for those reasons and others, I made the firm decision to stop taking commissions and doing special orders. No more craft sales or any other sales event unless I happen to have stacks of finished items available at the time. (unlikely!)

I don’t like to say “God spoke to me and said…”, but I know that this is the will of God. I learned it through prayer, Scripture, wise counsel, observation and examination of the real situation, the preferences of my husband, the changing desires of my own heart. It all led to the unwavering conviction that I needed to stop that cycle and move into a new stage of my life.

In truth, I knew it a long time ago, as God opened portals in my life. I side-stepped them, closed them, looked through them and decided I wasn’t meant to go through them. I wasn’t good enough, they weren’t familiar to me, I needed money (and there didn’t appear to be any on the other sides of those doors.) I can call it fear, feelings of inadequacy, and the disbelief that my desires could really coincide with God’s will for me, but it all boiled down to disobedience and unbelief.

I was slow to make the changes, but I am committed now. I am writing. I am a writer. I believe it is my vocation, at least for now. I will still quilt. I enjoy teaching – especially the workshops that combine Christian ministry and quilting together. I like designing new patterns and making special items. I will still sell things:  class samples, pattern prototypes, and things I make just for fun, but I am not sewing to sell, like a quilt factory. God has called me to do a new thing. I am free to write without feeling guilty – as if I am wasting time in unprofitable activity.

Since I made that firm decision and announced it, I have made several good sales from the current stock in my Etsy shop and increased my internet following by a significant number. I am receiving this as affirmation of my changes. My husband is happy to see me writing and very supportive. Another affirmation.

It shouldn’t surprise us when God gives us the desires of our hearts and frees us from bondage of various kinds, when He makes everything work together for good, but it does surprise us and makes us wary. Sometimes we wonder if we are just seeing our own wishes and calling it God’s will. But we need to remember that He loves us here-and-now as well as for all eternity. He is indeed gracious and blesses us daily, beyond our comprehension.

Those blessings bring a responsibility, though. It’s the tagline for GloryQuilts:

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31

My (as yet unpublished!) books are not specifically evangelical. They are for the pleasure and encouragement of my fellow believers and a testimony of grace to whoever might read them. I am very grateful to God for this opportunity, and my goal is to glorify Him in all I do. He is good.

And I will love quiltmaking again, and I will make quilts for my grandchildren.

 

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My Happy Valentine Quilt

valentine quilt1

The observant reader will realize this isn’t actually a quilt; it’s a quilt top. I will not have time for quilting before Valentines Day, but I want to enjoy it, so I pinned it to the front of another quilt and hung it up over my fireplace.  My goal is to get it quilted by next year. In the meantime, it makes me happy to look at it.

The picture makes me feel a little sentimental for another reason. Most of the items shown are special because of their personal associations – my husband made the fireplace for me, the framed Scripture is a gift from a friend, my granddaughter created a few of the items, my mother decoupaged and painted the birdhouse, and I was shopping with her when I found all those little sisal birds and the hedgehog, too! On top of the piano I have pictures of family members, a cross-stitched sampler from a niece, and a beautiful box I purchased while shopping with an old friend – our one visit in over ten years, and we spent much of it at JoAnn Fabrics! I don’t collect a lot of things that don’t have that kind of significance for me, so if there is clutter, it’s happy clutter and I’m keeping it.  (So there!)

My new serial novel features quilts. These are special quilts, chronicling a family’s history over two hundred years.  It isn’t a saga; the episodes will not move in a chronological order but rather bounce through time to portray a complete portrait of a multigenerational family.

The research is fascinating. My parents are avid genealogists, so I am taking advantage of their knowledge of Swedish customs and history, too! I have created a Pinterest board to share some of my ideas while I write.

The Glory Quilts

I haven’t found the title yet. The name of my quilting business – GloryQuilts – would be a fun choice, but it may not fit. I must decide soon –  the first episode will appear on March 1!

kindness

One Word

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(Martin Luther said that!)

I quickly found a word to focus on for 2015:  Glorify.  Then I realized that I had done that one a few years ago. I even have a beautiful piece of art for my bedroom, made by my daughter-in-law, with that word on it, surrounded by the Bible verse I use for my GloryQuilts business:

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

(God said that!)

While I am always committed to glorifying God, I have a new word for this year.

Kindness

When I was a military wife in my twenties, my husband was stationed at Whiteman AFB, in a rural community in Missouri. There, I was oh-my-goodness-so-incredibly-blessed to be a member of an Extension Homemakers Club. I can never be grateful enough for the fellowship and mentoring of those older women in my life. They were mostly farm wives, borderline southern, and gracious to their fingertips. At the beginning of each meeting, there was a reading of the minutes, a  couple songs to sing, maybe a poem or simple devotional, and then we recited the club collect.

Keep us, oh God, from pettiness; Let us be large in thought, in word, in deed. Let us be done with faultfinding and leave off self-seeking, May we put away all pretense and meet each other face to face Without self-pity and prejudice. May we never be hasty in judgment and always generous. Let us take time for all things; Make us grow calm, serene and gentle. Teach us to put into action our better impulses, Straightforward and unafraid. Grant that we may realize it is the little things that create differences, That in the big things of life we are at one. And may we strive to touch and to know the great, common human heart of us all, And, oh Lord God, let us forget not to be kind.*

It’s a beautiful prayer, but that ending struck me as especially important the first and every time I heard it. Those ladies were kind. In my years with them, I never heard gossip or critical words or husband bashing. They exemplified the Proverbs 31 woman.

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I pray that I will model kindness for for my children and grandchildren and anyone else God places in my life.  I often tell my granddaughters: “Be good and kind and loving and gentle.” It’s nice to be pretty or smart or talented, but it’s more important to be good and kind and loving and gentle. I’m not sure that they entirely understand the concept, however, in a world that tells them otherwise.

kindness

( Abraham Joshua Heschel said that one. I like it.)

Kindness can be giving and serving as done by great philanthropists and Mother Theresa. I hope I can do those things, but it’s not what I want to focus on this year.  And I’m not talking about Random Acts of Kindness, either. This year, by the grace of God, the word “kindness” will inspire me to a real and personal kindness. An intimate kindness. Loving kindness.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness. (God said that, too!)

Sometimes it’s easy to be kind, and sometimes it has to be deliberate. It’s worth being deliberate.

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Kindness is listening without interruption and responding in an affirming manner, not hurrying into your own story. Kindness is not insisting on being right. It’s anticipating the needs of others and responding to them so they are not made to feel uncomfortable. (This is also known as “having good manners.”) It’s stopping when you would rather move on. It’s sharing in the joy or pain of others without comparing it to our own circumstances.

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(From Richard Carlson)

It’s part of love, and it is loving. It is caring for others more than yourself. Really caring for others more than yourself.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant.

(God)

Kindness has power and real results. Kind words heal.

kindness7

(Another good one from God)

I pray that throughout 2015, I will think on the work “kindness,” ponder it in my heart and put it into action, blessing others and glorifying God. I pray, Oh Lord God, that I will “forget not to be kind.”

*The Collect was written by Mary Stewart of Longmont, Colorado, in 1904 as a personal prayer and without any organization in mind. The prayer was published under the title, A Collect for Club Women, because Mary felt that “women working together with wide interests for large ends was a new thing under the sun and that perhaps they had a need for a special petition and meditation of their own.” The Collect has found its way around the world wherever English speaking women work together.