December 22, 2014

The Gift of Love

Devotion for the Week...

This is the fourth week of Advent. To read my previous Advent devotions, click on The Gift of Hope, The Gift of Peace and The Gift of Joy.

This week we light the Love candle.

We give a lot of gifts at Christmas and, usually, the ones that we put the most effort into are the ones that go to the people we love most. Whether it's time spent searching for just the right thing, the amount of money spent to buy that perfect thing, or the physical work of making something truly special, we're willing to give a little more when we're giving it to someone important to us.

So think about this: God gave us Jesus.

How much love is expressed through the birth of Jesus, God's own Son, come to earth to restore the relationship between God and humankind? Jesus, a member of the Trinity and therefore fully God, became a helpless baby, completely dependent on others for His every need. It is unimaginable how much He gave up to enter our world and be one of us. Amazingly, God thinks we are worth the price.

Why? Because He loves us. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). Not only does God love 'the world,' but He loves each of us individually, personally. And He loves us so much that He not only picked out a great gift for us, He gave us the only gift we actually need. No matter who we are, where we live, the size of our bank account or of our family, we all need a Savior and Jesus came specifically to be that Savior. All we have to do is accept this amazing gift.

Christmas, the arrival of Jesus in our world and the beginning of God's plan to offer us salvation, is the proof of how much He loves us.

December 15, 2014

The Gift of Joy

Devotion for the Week...

This is the third week of Advent. Click the links to read my devotions for the first two weeks of Advent, The Gift of Hope and The Gift of Peace.
This week we light the Joy candle. A few years ago, I read a book by Dan Schaeffer called In Search of the Real Spirit of Christmas, which I would highly recommend. In it, he asks, "Have you ever asked yourself what good news could affect all people equally, regardless of race, sex, income level, or location?" He goes on to say, "Initially, I thought of a cure for cancer. Surely that would be good news for all people. But then I realized that not everyone has cancer...So while a cure for cancer would be good news for those affected by cancer or for their loved ones, the benefits don't affect everyone equally."  He also considers the end of war and of poverty, but again concludes that while it would be wonderful news for those affected, it would not be good news for everyone.

So what is good news for everyone? Well, the answer is recorded in the Christmas story that we so often read. "And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8-12).
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you. 

That, right there, is the only good news that is equally good for 'all the people.' Not only the shepherds the angel spoke to, or the people of Bible times, or the early church, but all the people  anywhere, ever!

We all needed a Savior. We all needed someone who could bridge the gap between God and us, because we could not do it for ourselves. None of us would ever claim to be perfect, to have never done a single thing wrong. We know full well that we are not perfect, and our wrongdoing opens up a chasm that keeps us separated from a perfect, holy God. Jesus came to bridge that gap. With His death on the cross, Jesus took our place, paying the penalty of death for our sin and offering us His perfect righteousness.

There is nothing we need do to qualify for this gift, nothing we could possibly do to be worthy of it, and yet Jesus offers it to us freely. All we need to do is accept it, believing that His death paid the penalty for our sins.

All the people who have ever lived have done wrong and need a Savior. Jesus came to be that Savior, and that is good news of great joy for all people.

December 10, 2014

More Trees

I've been working on more of the free motion quilted tree ornaments I shared before.
This time I'm making them a little differently. Before, I made the ornament and then stitched the tree through both layers. Since I wasn't using batting I wanted to have the two layers of fabric to help stabilize all those stitches, but there was still a little distortion as you can see in the ornament on the right. The one on the left is made with the new method. I'm using a tear away stabilizer and only stitching the tree onto the front piece. Then, after removing the stabilizer, I put the ornament together. It makes for a much neater finished product, don't you think?
I also tried a new fmq design. I quite like the swirl-filled tree! Hopefully this evening I'll have a chance to finish the ones I have half done.

How is your Christmas sewing coming along?

December 08, 2014

The Gift of Peace

Devotion for the Week...

This is the second week of Advent. My devotion for the first week of Advent was The Gift of Hope.
This week we light the Peace candle. All week as I've been thinking about what to write for today, the verse that kept coming to mind was Jesus saying, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives" (John 14:27). For some reason, I kept thinking especially of the part when He says, "I do not give to you as the world gives." At first I had a hard time figuring out where to go with that since it didn't seem to really apply to Christmas, but then I realized it actually does fit perfectly with Christmas. 

The world offers us the expectation of peace as we approach Christmas. Christmas cards show peaceful, perfect scenes, carols tell of silent nights and winter wonderlands, and commercials show us how simple it will be to find the perfect gift for everyone. We unconsciously take in the message that Christmas is supposed to be perfect, peaceful and calm. 

Really, though, the world's offer of peace at Christmas is only an illusion. The world's Christmas emphasis is always on more...more...more.

Spend more, eat more, attend more parties, put up more lights and more inflatable decorations, buy more decorations for inside the house and bake more treats. December can feel like a giant to-do list, with no space for quiet, no time for rest.

Coupled with the expectation of rest and peace, this "most wonderful time of the year" can feel like the most stressful time of the year if we're not careful.

Jesus, on the other hand, offers us His peace. Romans 5:1,2 says, "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand." Peace with God is possible only through Jesus, through faith in Him as our Savior. 

Before Jesus died on the cross for us, the Jews followed a set of laws that governed the animal sacrifices that were required for the forgiveness of sins. The sacrifices had to be repeated according to a set schedule because no animal could be a permanent solution to the problem of sin. But Jesus is the Lamb of God, the only One who could take away sin permanently and open the way for us to have a relationship with our Heavenly Father. Because our sin is forgiven, we have peace with God. 

Jesus' physical birth, which we celebrate at Christmas, was the first step in God's plan to give us that peace. So because of Christmas, we have peace. And the peace Jesus gives is no illusion.

December 04, 2014

A Finished Tractor Quilt!

My commissioned tractor quilt is finished!
For the record, I need to find a way to take pictures of big quilts or stick to making small ones! I took this one to a friend's house to use her clothesline, and the quilt was still dragging in the snow. At least the snow was clean!

The mom who asked me to make this for her son wanted minimal quilting. She suggested only outlining the black frames around the tractors, but those frames are 15" wide. The quilting lines would have been too far apart, so I suggested outlining the tractors themselves. I love how clearly they show up on the back of the quilt.
 I used a simple, solid black for the binding, which echoes the black frames around the tractors.
I figured this would be my first finish on my Finish-a-Long list for this quarter, but it's actually my third. The others were my 'Twas the Night project and my #igminiswap quilt. That means I'm already doing better than I did last quarter when I only finished two projects, and there's still a few weeks left to this quarter. Yay for being productive!

December 02, 2014

Finished #igminiswap Quilt

I have finally finished my quilt for the #igminiswap! A couple of days past the mailing date, though. I hope my partner will forgive the delay.
I so love how this quilt turned out!
As always, I had fun picking designs for each section of the quilting. I left the dark blue pinwheels unquilted because I wanted them to pop a little.
The different colour threads really show up on the back. The pink, especially, is much brighter in person than it appears in this picture.

The yellow and the light blue were both Connecting Threads 100% polyester threads. I had a couple of thread breaks with the blue, but then I changed my needle and everything was good again. So maybe that thread is a little pickier than my usual Gutermann 100% polyester, but other than that I've been pleased with the thread so far.
I added the triangles for hanging again, and a bright pink label (made as I share in my How to Make a Quilt Label tutorial). The label is shown here sporting a digital bandage over the recipient's name lest anyone think they could figure out where this is headed.

Over the weekend I read a 3-part series of posts about better project photography and the number one tip she shared was shoot across your project. So I decided to try it this afternoon when I was photographing this quilt. The picture at the top of this post was my favourite from the whole session! What a difference it makes shooting across a quilt rather than straight at it. It changes the whole feel of the picture. I strongly recommend the series, especially if you're like me and feel your photography is less than stellar.
This little quilt is destined for the mail tomorrow, to begin its journey Down Under. I sure hope my partner loves it. And now I can begin stalking my own mailbox for a little happy mail for me!

I am considering writing the pattern for this quilt. If you would be interested in testing it for me, please let me know in the comments. Thanks!

December 01, 2014

The Gift of Hope

Devotion for the Week...

Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent. For about nine Christmases now, we've been using an advent wreath, lighting the candles each Sunday evening at supper and reflecting on what Christmas really means. This year I'm going to carry that tradition over to my devotions here. Over the next few weeks we'll look at peace, joy and love, but today we begin with hope.

As we've been getting closer to the Christmas season, I've been thinking a lot about people who are mourning this year, especially those for whom this will be the first Christmas without a loved one. I was thinking in particular of the family of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, the soldier who was killed while standing guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa last month. Then my thoughts were brought closer to home when a friend's mom passed away a couple of days ago.

I remember, when I was a kid, my Dad once said that for some people Christmas is the hardest time of the year. At the time it made no sense to me because Christmas was all about the joy, the presents and the lights. Now that I'm older, though, I understand that being lonely or sad can be magnified when you are constantly being bombarded with the message that you're supposed to be happy. Christmas, with its joyous carols and the emphasis on family togetherness, can be incredibly hard for some.

But the little baby that we celebrate at Christmas came to give us hope even in the hard times. We celebrate His arrival as a baby in a manger because it was the beginning, the start of God's plan to restore humanity to a right relationship with Him. But Jesus didn't stay a baby. He grew up, He healed the sick, He taught His disciples and then He died. If that were the end of the story, it wouldn't have been all that different from the lives of many others, but thankfully that's not the end of the story.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote, "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3,4). Jesus died for us, but he didn't stay dead! There is the root of our hope.

In another letter, Paul wrote, "Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words." (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). 

As believers we have the hope that one day we will see our loved ones again. That all of those who have ever loved Jesus will one day be together again, and that we "will be with the Lord forever."

That doesn't mean we don't grieve, of course. We still miss those we have lost. We are still sad that they are gone, but even in our darkest hours, we can hold to the hope that one day things will be different. One day we will be in a place where God "will wipe every tear from [our] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Revelation 21:4). That is one of the gifts Jesus brought to us when He came as a baby in a manger.

Because of Christmas we have hope.