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“Most people think that it is servile to serve but it is not. It is noble.”

Last month I stayed with a couple, who had interesting life stories. He told us that he loved to make people feel important and the above quote is his. It is a phrase that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
IMG 5250 2 web smallThis wonderful philosophy towards life has stemmed from an experience as a young child travelling with his father in a first class dining carriage. Mistaking the button near to him, for one that opened a window, to his horror the young boy summoned the waiter. His father jested that the last time someone had done this, they had thrown the boy off the train! However when the waiter arrived he addressed the boy rather than the father. “ Sir, can I help? Did you need something?” Red faced the boy explained “ I just wanted to open a window...!” “Of course, sir” replied the waiter and proceeded to open the window “ ...and would you like a glass of orange squash as well, sir?” This seemingly small act of attentive service and respect has affected this person’s entire outlook on life. I wonder what our own attitude of service is...? Service today is often seen as servile. Yet we know that throughout the Bible, God’s people are called to serve others. Jesus came to serve and taught that as his followers, we too are called to serve.

Potential in the Present
It is all too easy to live a life of “ if only’s “. “If only this or that hadn’t happened..” if only I had..., if only I could...., if only it was different so that....". Yet we can miss so many opportunities by spending our lives looking backwards remorsefully rather than grasping the opportunities that are present now.- both for ourselves, and in service to others. We can lose sight of potential in the present if our hearts are full of resentment and unforgiveness . 

In the Old Testament, Joseph could so easily have spent much of his life ruing all that had been dealt to him in life. Resented, despised and hated by his brothers for being the favourite child, he was thrown into a pit and sold into slavery. Just as things seemed to be looking up for him, his masters wife accuses him of adultery and he is thrown into prison. Yet, Joseph does not despair nor get bogged down in negativity. He trusts God and knuckles down to offer what he has in whatever circumstance he finds himself.

Embracing Circumstances
Wherever Joseph finds himself - in whatever circumstance or position in life- whether in slavery or in prison, as cup bearer or governor ; in good or bad times , he appears to continue to trust in God, using whatever gifts he has been given to bless those around him... So how does he achieve this? He lives a life of service.
“The Lord was with Joseph so he succeeded in everything he did as he served...” (Genesis 39: 2)

The key to Joseph’s success is his attitude of service to others, using the gifts he has been given by God to serve well.

"Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ." (Colossians 3:23)

Blessed to be a Blessing
God blesses Joseph because he is willing to serve ... and in doing so, this blesses others, and they too prosper. Joseph is willing to seize the opportunities presented to him by simply using what he has been given wherever he is.

Using Gifts Given
Joesph does not despise his gifts but exercises wisdom to use his different gifts at appropriate times, acknowledging to others that these gifts come from God. 

Patience leads to Possibility
It is all too easy to spend our darker days despairing of our situation yet Joseph embraces his difficult waiting seasons. For a long time he languished in prison but does not lose heart that God will provide. His positive attitude to his circumstances profoundly affect his ability to cope.
“The Lord was with Joseph and showed him his faithful love.” (Genesis 39:21)
Rather than bemoaning his fate or complaining about the unfairness of the situation, yet again Joseph seizes opportunities to serve in the situation he has been placed.

Trusting in God’s Strength
As Joseph climbs the ranks of responsibility, he never loses sight of His God who enables him. Joseph exercises wisdom and trust in God’s ability to provide him with all the skills that he needed in the situations he was entrusted with. His strength is not in his own ability but in the trust he places in God.

Restoration rather than Revenge
It would have been easy for Joseph to have sought revenge for the brothers who had ill treated him but instead he recognises that God has strategically placed him in this situation so that his people may be rescued. Despite his past hurt, Joseph seeks restoration rather than revenge, recognising that he is to play a small part in the story of the redemption of God’s people.

From Deepest Pit to Praise
Difficulties in life can prepare us for future roles. So it is that the darkest times in our lives can, if we allow God to work in us and through us, prepare each of us for so much more than we could ever dream of.

Can we each offer up all that we have ever been through - along with the difficulties that we are currently going through, in service firstly to God and also to whoever we find ourselves sharing life with. Like Joseph, can we trust God to deliver us from the deepest pit and restore us to praise? It’s not an easy task, but God does not expect us to cope alone. It is in the darkness, when so often we cannot cope, that we may know his strength in us. So I pray that as the Lord was with Joseph, that He may also be with you, so that you may succeed in everything you do, as you serve.

Textile Explanations
IMG 7977 cropped 480 x480 for web

The centre of the design focuses on the coat of many colours, spread out to form a cross, refering to the fact that Jesus is a direct descendant of Joseph. Over this is a circle depicting the pit Jospeh was thrown into, and by extension, the dark places in which we may find ourselves. The prison bars are behind the coloured cross/ coat.The crystal at the very centre represents God, who is with us all even in the midst of suffering. The background is desert like, reminiscent of Middle Eastern and Egyptian terrain with four palm trees at each corner, with the fruit showing how God can bring fruitfulness from our lives of suffering and service. The twelve strands that run from the centre of the picture outwards, reference both Joseph's life of service that extends to all he meets as well as the twelve tribes of Israel that stretch beyond the story of Joseph. Each has a golden thread beside, that tells of God with us. The golden sheaf of corn at the top of the picture is Joseph with 11 sheaves of corn bowing to him in a circle, as in the dream of his youth. The sun moon and stars are also an indication of a similar dream that so incesed his brothers and caused the chain of events that led him to Egypt.

Stitched Prayer with Bible

I like stitching! As a textile artist, that’s probably a good job! I earn a living through stitch, but much of my stitched artwork is a form of prayer. Stitch enables me to focus on God’s Word, as I try to work out what God may be teaching me as I stitch. If I create a commission, then my stitches are sewn with prayers for the recipient. On creative quiet days and retreats, I aim to enable others to draw closer to God through stitched prayers. For me, stitches are more than just useful. They are a tool that draws me closer to God.

So, this month, as I stitched the story of Hannah who prayed in anguish for a child, and whom God answered by giving her the desires of her heart, I have contemplated the analogy of stitches and prayers… 

Prayer: Piecing us Together
Stitches are so versatile; such clever little things! Individually they seem so innocuous yet together they can be incredibly strong. They may be small and hidden, preventing fraying at the seams or bold and overt, adorning our clothing. Stitches can hold complicated pieces of fabric together to create a garment or used as sutures to assist healing and save lives.
Like stitches, prayers are amazing; a God-given tool. To a non- believer they may seem innocuous or irrelevant, yet prayers are incredibly powerful. Prayers may be small and hidden, but for many the ongoing use of prayer enables us to be held together in the love of God, as we seek to mend our often-frayed lives and develop relationship with the King of Kings.
Prayers that are bold and overt, may be prayers of grateful thanksgiving, or like Hannah in the temple, prayers of supplication, emboldened by a fierce passion or concern for a situation in our lives, our community or our world. Like stitches, our prayers can help hold complicated pieces of our lives together and create in us patience and understanding. Amazingly, God hears our prayers, answers and through them can also bring healing of our mind, heart and body.

Prayer: Variety for All
Stitches have such diversity. They can be very simple...like the humble, straightforward running stitch...or incredibly complex. They can be used by anyone whether it be a sewing novice or an experienced embroiderer. Their names (like the Holbein stitch) can even give insight into history!
Prayers, too, can be so varied…. simple or complex, silent or said, painted or danced, liturgical or free. Our prayers may also be rooted in a historical tradition- Celtic, Benedictine, Jewish, for instance. Prayers can be very simple...two-word arrow prayers, such as “Lord, Help!”, “Praise God!” …or incredibly complex - and they can also be used by anyone at all, anywhere- novice or veteran! 

Prayer: A Powerful Tool
stitched hem and buttonsOne strong stitch alone, with the correct thread, could be practical and useful enough to hold on a button, draw together a wound or be a colourful decorative addition to a beautiful design.
One prayer may be strong enough to change a lifestyle or habit or make someone whole, yet may be vivid enough to encompass liturgy, poetry, music, dance or visual art.


Prayer: Strength Together

Stitches can be small and seemingly insignificant- yet when used together, create endless opportunities to fashion garments, shoes, bags, books, sails, furniture and soft furnishing...
Likewise, our individual prayers may seem small and insignificant yet when combined with others, can be powerful tools to achieve things beyond our understanding. “For when two or three are gathered together…”

Look around you and consider how many things might be held together with tiny unseen stitches that we barely ever consider... and then consider how much stronger our own lives might be if they are bound and stitched together with a rhythm of prayer.

Textile Reflections
IMG 7572 cropped and square etc resized for webThis is the narrative of Hannah, who prays in anguish to the Lord for a child. The silhouetted hands are those of Hannah and God, with the foetus in the centre representing the boy Samuel. There is deliberate ambiguity as to whether God is giving Hannah the child or receiving the child with open arms. This is because in the book of Samuel, both acts of giving are key to the narrative. The centre of the design depicts Samuel, the gift who is at the centre of the story. Around Samuel are 18 little coats of varying sizes, portraying the yearly ritual of Hannah stitching her son a coat to take to the temple when she visited each year. I cannot comprehend how hard it must have been for Hannah to gift her longed for child back to God, when she had waited so long for her firstborn. Yet God acknowledges her sacrifice of dedicating Samuel to God, by blessing her with future sons and daughters and blessing Samuel as priest and prophet of his time. I wonder how brave we might be in dedicating back to God, all that he has gifted us?

Creative Mess web sizeOrdinary Living 
For a long time now, it has felt as if there is little pattern in my life. The job that I do as a freelance artist dictates that every day is different, and there seem to have been so many family crises of varying degrees of importance for so long that I have all but forgotten what "ordinary" looks like. Yet after twelve years, what I crave right now is a lot more ordinary. I never thought I would ever say this, but what my life needs now is much more routine.

So, "I'd just like a bit more ordinary..."

Living ordinary lives is terribly underestimated, and in a world that promotes excitement and endless activity, ordinary is often side-lined as undesirable. From where I'm looking, right now, I would disagree...

The Joy of Ordinary Living
For a variety of reasons, many of us have lost the joy of living ordinary. 

Living ordinary...in patterns of self-care, creating a home, caring for other people, honest work, simple leisure activities together with a rhythm of prayer and focus on God and an emphasis on community and hospitality seem to me at this stage of my life, to be all that is needed right now.

butterfly close up cocoons 63643 for webFor when we accept with grace, the often mundane aspects of our ordinary every day, workaday lives, and commit to them in an attitude of reflection and worship there is the potential to be transformed by them. Though it often doesn't feel like it, amidst the humdrum of the ordinary, God provides each of us with the daily potential for personal growth and transformation.

Benefits of Ordinary Living
Living ordinary, enables us to deal with the extraordinary when it comes along. Living ordinary gives us a groundedness, energy and gratefulness to enter into the difficult days when we are challenged with barriers to living joyfully- the human struggles of illness, family crises, unemployment, financial difficulties, anxiety, bereavement...the list goes on

Living topsy-turvy, precariously balanced for long periods of time, on the pinnacle of extraordinary, makes me ill...wired, weary, anxious. I'm feeling that it would be so much better to be more grounded in the solid basis of prayer, and the simplicity of ordinary days. 

"This is what the sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel says: only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength. But you would have none of it...so the Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the Lord is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for his help..." (Isaiah 30:15-22)Isaiah 30:15-22)

So, this year I'm trying to immerse myself in the ordinary ...trying to allow myself time for the pattern of ordinary to be imprinted onto my life, so I can draw upon strength gleaned from the rhythm of my ordinary days to manage and cope with the extraordinary and difficult times ...

Testament of the Ordinary
In extraordinary Old Testament times, Daniel chose to live an ordinary life; one grounded in the patterns of learning, self-care and Godly living. Living this way, gave him strength in a foreign land to live and work faithfully and prayerfully; acknowledged and respected for his knowledge, wisdom, discretion and trustworthy attitude.

Daniel lived a godly life, which was countercultural to the attitudes of the people of Babylon where he found himself, yet he was respected when he stood up for his faith.

Whilst accepting of some things in this unfamiliar place, Daniel draws a line in the sand when it comes to eating. He is not afraid to put God's way to the test and over ten days proves that the pattern of a simple diet and lifestyle ordained by God, has great health benefits.

What strikes me in this incredible Old Testament book is firstly, Daniel's determination and choice to follow ordinary patterns of Godly living, amidst the alternative possibilities of an incredibly lavish lifestyle. Secondly, it is the maintenance of this lifestyle that both gets him into and out of extraordinary situations. 

Daniel accepts his situation as a captive yet chooses to allow his ordinary pattern of living to transform his life and those of others. He is brought into the royal court, to translate dreams, decipher strange handwriting, affect the course of history ...all the time acknowledging God as the source of his abilities and strength. The simplicity of a life grounded in ordinary faith enabled Daniel and his friends Shaddrach, Meschach and Abednego to survive extraordinary things through the grace of God... survival in a fiery furnace, extraordinary protection from being thrown into a lion pit.

Most of us won't experience such extreme trails, but we will have things that from a human perspective, seem impossible to overcome. Daniel trusted his extraordinary situations to God because he lived a life of ordinary; grounded in self-care, fellowship with others, caring for one another, commitment to work, alongside a rhythm of prayer; focus on God and emphasis on community and hospitality.

bridegroom business businessman 8115 web smallTransformation through the Ordinary
It takes a long time to learn the steps of a dance so that we can dance to the beat of the music without having to think about what our feet are doing…so, too with any new pattern of living that we try to instil into our daily lives. They say that it takes an average of 66 days to develop a new habit, so I’m hedging my bets and allocating the entire year to focus on, savour, settle and rest in the ordinary aspects of faithful Christian living. Like Daniel, I pray that God will transform our ordinaries into the extraordinary miracle of living life with Him. 

 

Daniel IMG 7397 square web large

 

Textile Reflections
In the centre of the picture is a crystal, representing God at the centre of Daniel’s life. The circle depicts the line that Daniel drew regarding adherence to his faith. Within the circle are images showing fruit and vegetables and scrolls of learning. They are the basis of Daniel’s ordinary life of faith- observing God’s word and ways set out for His people. It is Daniel’s faithful obedience to God that enables him to survive extraordinary times. The flames at the bottom give reference to the fiery furnace that his friends were thrown into and protected from. The background of night stars and full moon give reference to Daniel’s God-given ability to interpret dreams. The lion is symbolic of Daniel’s connection to the tribe of Judah, the lion’s den that Daniel was thrown into and survived, as well as a reference to Jesus as the Lion of Judah, and Daniel’s vision in the book of Revelation. The foreground shows the silhouette of Daniel, adhering to his daily practice of prayer to Yahweh, kneeling before the open window in defiance of the edict to only worship the Babylonian king of the time. The piece is a reminder that having the rhythm of ordinary faith as the basis of our lives enables personal transformation and witness in our communities, empowering us all to encounter and survive extraordinary things, through God.

 


8 Questions & Actions to draw closer to God, based on the story of Zacchaeus IMG 7125 cropped for web

New Beginnings...
New Year is often perceived as the herald and inspiration for new beginnings of our own; an incentive to throw off old habits and pledge new ways of living as we turn our backs on the old year to fully embrace the new. 
January 1st is not an unexpected occurrence. It arrives inexorably, after the last day of December, yet after the cosy fug of Christmas indulgences, it often catches us unprepared for new beginnings. So, before we have had time to think about the opportunity to pledge ourselves to something new and meaningful, we find ourselves knee deep in February, continuing in exactly the same way as we began the previous year with all hopes of new starts abandoned along with the memory of Christmas.

As Christians, what we often forget, is that each and every day is a marvellous opportunity to begin again; every sunrise proclaiming a fresh start, and a chance to be reorientated by Christ the compass of our lives.

“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:18-19 ESV)

post it notes-slow down, calm, rest, sanctuarySeven Lessons from Two Sisters

Deep within my soul, there is an urgent call to slow down; to do less and embrace the calm which calls deeply to my life. There is a profound longing to move away from all that exhausts, to seek sanctuary and hide- far from the frantic, the too much. I long to be a Mary…and yet, at heart I am a Martha, distracted by the tyranny of the perceived urgent; the self- imposed deadlines; the self-sabotage of endless work, rather than worship and self- care.

1. Open or Closed?
When Jesus came to their village, Martha opened her home, yet Mary opened her heart. Jesus is always with us, but never enters our lives uninvited. I am left wondering if, in hankering after hospitality and the work that inevitably goes with that, I am missing Jesus’ invitation to open my heart as well as my home…

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