#YouARELOVED! – Valentine reflections

Today has been a day to pause, reflect, give thanks to God and celebrate all he has done – through our #YouARELOVED! window, cards and gifts this weekend, and through all of the Sanctuary’s work over the last five years… Here are some brief testimonies, and just a taste of our joy, at all God is doing in, among and through us:

loved 16 rose and sanctuary cropped to landscape

As we look back over the last few days we are celebrating:

  • everything going so smoothly practically, being so led by and soaked in prayer, and there being such a sense of love and joy in all the preparations and in our team – especially, ironically in the seven of us who set our alarms for 5:30AM to go love bombing with the roses yesterday morning!
  • being able to source Fairtrade roses from Marks and Spencer so that no one in our supply chain was exploited in order for people here to receive the love we so wanted to freely give.
  • realising how special it is to find you can easily think of 100 organisations and businesses who go the extra mile to care… all in one small town. And being very thankful to live somewhere where love and trust are truly growing.
  • reaching thousands of people who live and/or work immediately around us with such an important message on a day that touches a real point of need through the combined activities of footfall and drivers passing our windows, 100 teams at caring organisations or especially kind businesses around town receiving cards, 100 individuals receiving a white rose and thousands more seeing, and passing on, communications on social media.
  • inspiring quite a number of individuals and churches elsewhere in the country to start thinking about similar activities they could do to reach out in a similar way.
  • going out and about around town and being beautifully surprised to see quite a number of our cards again because they have been proudly and publically displayed in the shops and public services who received them!
  • receiving quite a lot of thank you tweets from card recipients too… including some where people were clearly very touched. One person even said it had made their day and they had shown it to all their customers…
  • …and being amazed at the level of interaction from people on social media (including our highest ever retweet number) around the rose giveaway, with people from all sorts of different backgrounds being touched by the idea.
  • reaching and encouraging lots of people all over the country who also desperately needed to hear the #YouAreLOVED! message by sharing our activities and pictures online and on social media.
  • gaining some really helpful insights and ideas for similar, future activities.
  • hearing the beginnings of answered prayers in stories that connect it all together, all around town in an extraordinarily beautiful way, like this one:

Today we met a lady for the first time who we had heard about previously because one of our other pray-ers had met her at the church next door during our Christmas holidays…

she had gone in there for the first time because she had seen our Narnia window and it was very significant to her because her husband (who only very recently passed away) had loved it and recommended it to her, and she had been so struck by the character of Aslan.

Dial forward to this Valentine’s this year, when she was obviously feeling the loneliness of bereavement, went back to the church and was prayed for to receive a confirmation of God’s love for her…

…she also got permission to take some of the petals that had been used in a symbolic act of prayer away with her and so flowers were on her mind…

she left there and went to a local supermarket (who had an assistant who’d received a rose) and the lady selling her the shopping said she felt led to give her a rose and handed one over.

(When she told us this, one of us even remembered placing that exact rose on the doorstep of this supermarket!)

When she read the message attached she received that confirmation that had been prayed for the previous day, and when she read about who it was from, she made the connection with the Aslan window and was amazed it had come from the same place…

..so she shared this experience with the volunteer in one of the local charity shops who she knows this morning…

Well that lady said she had goose bumps and told the first lady she’d never believe this but she had something to show her…

…and handed her one of our cards, because we’d written individual thank you notes to all the teams of volunteers in all the charity shops in town. This lady then said she’d have to visit the Sanctuary some time!

In the next shop our first lady went into, she told the growing story again and the shopkeeper there – who we’d meant to send a card to but had somehow got missed – was really moved to hear about it.

At this point, she decided she could wait no longer, so she came and knocked on our door. But not before she’d read that message from God a third time in our window in massive letters – YOU ARE LOVED!

When we got chatting and heard her amazing story, we were able to provide some rather special icing on the cake… the petals she’d been given at church had been lent to the church by us – and we’d first bought them for our story window: The Blossom-Maker, another allegory with a type of Christ in it… just like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe!

So we gave her a copy of that story to take away along with a new, fresher rose; the goose poem she’d also seen and enjoyed in our last window because she was aware of the Celtic church using the wild goose as their symbol for the Holy Spirit; a card with our prayer rhythm times on it to share with the lady at the charity shop and a card we wrote there and then for her to take back to the shopkeeper who we’d meant to write to all along.

She was overjoyed at – and with – it all! And so were we…

But then, just as she was about to leave, the very person who’d given her the petals and prayed for her to receive a confirmation of God’s love for her at church yesterday walked through our front door returning the whole bag of petals to the Sanctuary.


All of us – Sanctuary volunteers, the heroine of our story, and the blossom-returning pray-er were a bit dumbstruck by this point!

Here at the Sanctuary, we did everything we did for Valentine’s because of listening prayer and then we had prayed and prayed again and again… for the window, for the cards, for the roses, for the people receiving them, for the people they would share with and on and on and on.

And we had especially prayed for the connections between all the related initiatives, we’d prayed for the right people to receive the roses, we’d prayed for the recipients of roses and cards to share the love, and we’d even prayed for this very lady we’d never met because we’d heard about her at Christmas.

This is just one story; one trail; one example of how God led us to do something and we sowed a seed and then he just took it and grew and multiplied weaved this incredible, blossoming story of unmissable loving pursuit all over town and all over one precious lady’s heart and interactions…

We’re thanking and praising him with so much joy.

And we’re trusting him for all the others – the ones where just he and the people involved know all the links – because we’re beautifully well out of the way of most of the special moments of connection between him and people that we just know are happening all over our town!

(Note from editor – added 18 Feb – the #YouAreLOVED! initiative has subsequently been picked up by The Ilkley Gazette on page 4 of their printed newspaper and on their website here.)

And as we look back over the last five years (as it was our birthday too yesterday!) – and especially over the last twelve months – we’re full of thanksgiving to have:

  • been led so clearly at every stage of the journey.
  • learned so much about who God is and grown so much in our relationships with him – and our understanding of his heart.
  • seen our community of pray-ers grow so much in confidence and expectancy to pray, creativity to share what God has shown us through new resources, art and creative gifts, and gentle boldness to go in his name.
  • seen our community grow in their depth of fellowship with God and each other… as well as in numbers.
  • been staggered at God’s confide-nce in us and the incredible answered prayers we have had as a result.
  • crossed the three quarters of a million mark on unique visits to our website this month.
  • witnessed month after month of web stats reporting high downloads of many resources from our 400+ strong free online resource library for outward focused worship.
  • heard from lots of different organisations, churches and individuals all over the world that our resources are making a difference to the way they pray, the way they think about justice and mission, and the way they step out for God in action.
  • developed some wonderful partnerships with like-minded organisations focusing on prayer, justice and mission.
  • reached such an exciting point with the songs project.
  • launched sparrow song.
  • seen one of our newest pray-ers come to Christ!
  • added such wonderfully fortifying new members to our five strong Management Group.
  • overcome so much fear with stepping out bravely with our art of love made known activities to reach out.
  • witnessed a discernible change in the spiritual atmosphere in our area, including a growing interest in who we are, what we’re doing and who we stand for.
  • enjoyed such wonderful ongoing support from everyone connected with the Sanctuary’s community – near and far – and from All Saints’ Ilkley who continue to make our space at 6 Church Street available to us rent free.

Well done for reaching the bottom of this avalanche of thanksgiving! To us it feels like just a taste of the joy we feel today as we look back and scratch the surface of all our brilliant God has done.

It’s with a great sense of expectancy that we wonder just exactly what might be coming in our sixth year…

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