A Bible study flag!

I’ve been looking at flags recently and the stories behind their creation.

At school we’re taught about our Union Jack flag and the joining of four countries in the symbolism (apparently the Welsh dragon, Yorkshire rose and Lancashire rose is just hidden from view!

The Salvation Army flag has significance in the trinity with the Yellow star being the fire of the Holy Spirit, the Red – the blood of Jesus and the blue – the purity of God.

One of my favourite flags is the Indian flag with the wheel in the centre. It’s was originally going to be a spinning wheel and hints at a time when we British were being idiots with someone else’s country and the wheel represented India breaking free and the fight over woven cloth, the story of Ghandhi spinning cloth as a protest is well worth a search and read.

Flags and banners are important pieces of fabric with meaning and pride behind them. 

I’ve been looking too at Tibetan prayer flags and think there is something in making a personal prayer flag or a series of flags. Each one with symbolic meaning, remembering a time of importance or pushing us towards a greater glory.

I sketch and doodle a lot, especially during sermons and lectures. It’s how I keep my mind focused. Recently I began showing some of the sketches to people and decided to take them a step further.

What if I turned these sketches, doodles and notes into textile flags, similar in size to a prayer flag?

Last week our church began a new Bible study titles Jesus at the centre. I went along and took my sketch book. This time, instead of simply doodling I would think about what I hear and try to put the message into a flag.

This is the result.


Part of me feels I shouldn’t explain it, people should ‘get it’ or not get it.

So I will simply explain how I made it.

It’s a piece of canvas, the type you use for tote bags.

I used Inktense sticks and water to paint the background, I saw something on YouTube about how the sticks can be used as a fabric paint if you iron it once dry.

In the centre I hand embroidered in gold thread the Hebrew word Yeshua, which is the Hebrew name for Jesus, this took quite a while and the gold thread was a wee bit difficult.

Since everyone says I have neat handwriting I hand painted descriptive words for emotions around the edge.

I painted a small piece of ribbon with the words Lord of All, a reference to something said during the study and sewed this in place.

Then I frayed the edges, stiffened the top and punched two eyelets so the flag can be hung on a wall or joined to another with ribbon.

As for the meaning, I suppose it means whatever you believe it means. Perhaps you recognise an emotion around the edge and recognise a need to hand it over. Or perhaps you recognise that Jesus came as a man and experienced all these emotions so He truly understands us. Perhaps you see something totally different and it’d be interesting if you wanted to share that in the comments.

Either way, I’m looking forward to the next Bible study.

Meaning in the cloth – rethinking the prayer shawl

I used to read the story of Cain and Abel and wonder what was Gods problem.

In case you don’t know the story here’s a little summary…

Cain was a farmer while Abel, his brother, was a shepherd. Both brothers came to God with a sacrifice. Cain brought some of his grown produce while Abel brought his best first-born lambs. Now God liked Abels offering of lambs, but, well… not too fussed with the veggies. The rest of the story can be read in Genesis chapter 4.


As a kid I didn’t get it, two guys brought a gift to God and God was a wee bit picky. 

Being British we’re raised with the ability to smile and look pleased whatever the gift, but God obviously isn’t British (where were his manners?).

Shouldn’t he be grateful that he’s getting something?

It’s not for me to argue with God about his reactions though, He wants the best, the first fruits and first borns. God wants to be the first thought on our minds and have the first portion of our gifts. In everything we do God wants first place.

I don’t think it was about making sure they gave 10% and perhaps it wasn’t even that the carrots weren’t the biggest. The meaning behind the gift is what riled God. You can imagine Abel looking over his flock, inspecting every animal for flaws and size, then picking the best of the best, as though this gift was for his beloved. Cain, watching Abels fussiness, laughed to himself while throwing a handful of the nearest veg into a basket, “that’ll do” he thinks.

You might know that feeling at Christmas when you give a gift that you’ve chosen especially and being aware that the real excitement is in the giving. Was Abel thinking of Gods face lighting up at the sight of God looking at his gift and seeing that most beautiful of lambs?

Similarly we might also know the feeling of giving a gift in politeness, those folk at the bottom of the Christmas card list who get whichever card is next in the box of 100. Who cares what the card looks like, its giving for the tradition and politeness rather than the Joy. That, I suspect is what riled God that day. He didn’t want a gift out of politeness but out of love.
When thinking about a prayer shawl what is our first thoughts?

Learning a new technique? Wondering how quickly you can get it finished? 

Do you have any thoughts on the reasons why you make the shawl? 

I know what its like to make something with royalty in mind (yep, I’ve kept quiet about that!). I chose yarn from a Yorkshire mill that could promise British only fleeces. I spent a couple of days hand dying the yarn myself. Every little bit of the item was made as thought the Queen herself would see it, no detail was missed, the stuffing wasn’t your average polyester, it was British wool, even the pipe cleaner arms that would never be seen were chosen by hand from a local pipe cleaner factory. The item was to be my very best work.

If clothing the naked and feeding the hungry is the same as clothing and feeding God then each prayer shawl should be made as though God himself was the recipient. Similarly, if each recipient is to see the shawl as a gift from God, then each shawl should be made with our best effort as though God himself had commissioned the gift.

Therefore, making a prayer shawl no longer becomes a second rate ministry but a valuable resource in the church.

Say what you like about the value of a church band, but someone in need has to come to church to hear the band play, they need to know the words to the tune and understand the poetry in the song. A prayer shawl is one of the few gifts that go beyond the church walls, beyond the boundaries of language and country. Giving a gift that has been made with so much thought and love, then given to be used when encouragement is needed is one of life’s most beautiful pleasures.

After the band have played the last note, the choir have sat down, the sermon done, the Amen said… the prayer shawl continues on and travels with the person in need.

The prayer shawl though, isn’t a magic cure. It isn’t a vessel to carry healing, and touching the shawl won’t turn around test results, if healing comes it comes through Gods choosing. It’d be romantic to imagine a physical prayer soaking into cloth, but the shawl, at it’s basic level remains simply a shawl. 

However, it still has something magical about it. In those moments when pain comes, when bereavement is unbearable, when loneliness surrounds, being able to wrap ourselves in a piece of cloth made by someone who thought of nothing but us in the making allows us to temporarily dwell in the presence of comfort, hope and fellowship.

I have two small toy bean bag cats in my home, financially worthless and commercially made, but given to me some years ago by a couple at church. Brian and Cathy were there in my darkest times, if I told you what they did for me, well, this blog post would never end.

Cathy died a few years ago from cancer and Brian has retired and moved away. There is nothing magical about the toy cats, but everytime I see them I’m taken back to a world where they are with me. I’m reminded that there is someone out there who loves me unconditionally, someone who values me as I am. I’m reminded of the many times Brian helped me quit drinking, of the times he let me sleep it off in his office. The years Cathy spent counselling me as a messed up young person, of the Joy in their faces at my baptism, the comfort when I lost my job, the worry when I moved to Leeds and the celebration when I went to University.

As I write this the tears flow and my heart hurts, but its a joyful cry and a blessed pain. Few people know unconditional love like that couple gave me and that is a real shame. As an alcoholic I accept the lifelong fight of sobriety, but I have two weapons, two soft toy cats that I look at and remember those who stand with me and I remind myself that this fight is worth it.

Nothing magical in the toys and yet something very magical.


A prayer shawl at its root is simply a strand of yarn looped together to form a piece of cloth. It is something that someone has taken hours to make and think about, but it is more than something to do with your time, more than a way of using up your yarn stash and more than a way to make something when you simply don’t know what to do.

To be called to the prayer shawl ministry is a powerful calling, it is listening to Gods commissioning, his choice of recipient perhaps without knowing why we are making the item. Being able to put our best work into a piece then hand it over without finanancial reward, personal acknowledgement perhaps even without knowing the outcome. Trusting wholly in the gift of giving for loves sake.

As I continue to look at this unique ministry I hope more and more people will begin to take up the call of this powerful ministry. I hope more and more churches begin to see the true value of a creative ministry in their church.

Banned from the Band

I’ve been asked to contribute a piece for an exhibition called ‘beatitudes’. It’s based on the sermon on the mount and one of those well known parts of the bible.

The version below is from the message translation.

Matthew 5 1-2 When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

3 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

6 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

8 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

9 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

11-12 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.
I listen to Dr Bill Creasys Bible talks on audible and he has a very interesting way of explaining them which makes so much sense. 

At first I was going to create something on his viewpoint (it really is worth listening to). After a while though I started thinking about my own working style as an artist and what I want to say through my work.

I write a lot about poverty and a lot about the church and a lot about poverty and the church.

A lot of what I say is about the lack of understanding in some aspects of church life, the little things that churches do without really thinking about how their actions are perceived.

Recently there was an article in the Salvationist magazine (29/04/2017 edition) that told the story of a woman who felt she wasn’t allowed to wear a Salvation Army uniform because of a disability that meant wearing the skirt was unsuitable. The story loosely skips over the part where she was told she couldn’t wear the uniform with trousers (really, In 2017?), but thankfully she was able to push ahead and get trousers and feel like a valued member rather than a cheaper version, or as someone said to me a few Sundays ago, “not wearing the uniform properly”.

I have a similar problem, years of leg ulcers have left my legs… well, let’s just say I’d rather not have them on display thank you very much! 

Whilst you might have read the article you may have missed the editors comments at the front of the mag, but he spoke about the uniform, how it put him off joining for quite a while. He suggested that whilst the uniform has some uses, it mustn’t be  barrier for people joining.

Note: I know, I’m talking about the uniform again, I feel like I’m flogging a dead horse, but bear with me.

While the article and the editors comments spoke about barriers to the uniform from a disability perspective I have another barrier… cost.

A couple of Sundays ago (infact the same Sunday of the ‘proper’ uniform comment) I was talking to a friend about the cost of the uniform and a plan I was developing for the beatitudes exhibition.

I made my usual gripe of how a church started with the poor is in a position where only the rich can afford to join. I asked how they can justify charging £250 for a Sunday outfit just so you could take part. (My friend reads my blog I think, so let me just say I’m not repeating the conversation as a gripe to or about my friend!). 

My friend agreed and added that she wouldn’t pay so much for an outfit and had bought the uniform originally to play in the band, as a hard working mother and career woman the band was her weekly escape. We agreed, the cost was awful and went on our way.

Several days later I was still thinking about the conversation. 

Y’see, I don’t necessarily disagree with the uniform, sure it has its uses. But as it is, it’s impractical, expensive, badly designed and often badly made.

Imagine going to John Lewis, paying £70 for a skirt, getting to the till and being told they hadn’t finished it and you would need to take the skirt to a tailor to get the hem sewn up! At £70 I expect it finished and hand delivered in a box with a red bow.

Something bothered me about the conversation and it took a few days to recognise what it was.

My friends comment that she wouldn’t pay that much for an outfit… what bothered me?

It wasn’t that I wouldn’t pay that much, but I couldn’t.

In all innocence there is a level of misunderstanding in the church that is difficult to get across. I’ve been to a few songster practices, but realised there was just no point in going since I don’t have the luxury of being able to grumble at the cost, buy the uniform and join the choir anyway. I’d join the band, since I can actually play, but I’m barred from joining in church activities because of poverty. It’s important to get this message across so let me put it clearly…

I am barred from taking an active part in my church not because I won’t wear a uniform, but because I can’t afford to.

I am banned from being a useful member of my church because I am poor.

For those who still don’t grasp the reality of it, here it is in picture form…

 

Somehow, blessed are the poor in spirit seems the perfect starting place for my exhibition piece. Perhaps whilst the spiritually poor are blessed (Dr Creasy suggests that the blessing is in knowing you are spiritually poor and in the perfect starting place to find God), unblessed are the spiritually rich but financially poor.

How do I get this message across in one piece of work?

I thought of getting hold of an old uniform and embroidering over it things I could buy instead of the uniform, like five weeks rent, central heating for the winter. I’m not sure though it’d be enough to get the message across, people need to feel it personally. I thought of making the Salvation Army crest in goldwork embroidery and putting a price of £2,500 on it to try and get across how much the cost feels like to someone working. 

How do I get a middle class Christian to grasp what this feels like. Wanting to be a useful church member, but being asked to hand over almost two months wage for membership. Would you join the church on those conditions?

What it feels like to not be able to attend church events because you think your need for electricity is more vital. Trying to explain that the lunch club is failing because the poor community can’t afford the three course meals. Having a young girl pass the collection plate around and the sense of shame when you can’t put in. Telling my minister that my neighbour is a drug dealer and being told my neighbour is my mission field, yet not quite grasping what it’s really like for an ex-user to have a dealer on their doorstep. Offering to help at a coffee morning and being asked to bake cakes when I can just about manage a weekly shop for myself.

Just how do I get this message out there? 

I spent two years at Bible college, I’ve worked and volunteered for Christian charities for over almost two decades, and yet… I am not allowed to participate in my church, not because I am spiritually poor, but because I am financially poor. WWJS? (What Would Jesus Say?)

This Sunday is Candidates Sunday, a day when we consider Gods calling on our lives… I might stay home. Well, I have an important day on Monday and could use the time to prepare. The thought of listening to a sermon asking us to consider God asking us to act, yet the inner hurt of not being able to stinks a bit too much for me.

Under the bushel

I found this video on Youtube recently and wanted to share it with you all…

 

The video talks about Gordon, a former cabinet maker who found his career ending because of our changing tastes. Our need for a fast, cheap, disposable lifestyle left Gordon without employment and forced onto the streets.

The Salvation Army recently changed the name of their hostels to lifehouses, and I grumbled at the cost of coming up with such a name (I’m a Yorkshire lass who calls a spade a spade). I still don’t think much to the name, but I’m glad we have some places left where homeless people can find their feet.

Although my dissertation and much of my research is on spirituality and textiles, as a lover of the ‘old’ ways and crafts I found this video truly wonderful.

A perfect example of how craft skills can be used for good and for the church. Gordon now volunteers (it’s a shame his unique skills couldn’t end in paid work) at a Salvation Army charity shop in Glasgow.

Then again, is his amazing painting skills, and the willingness for the charity shop to hold a mini gallery.

The real beauty though, is in people putting Gordon’s skills and opportunities together. That’s where the real magic happens.

There seems to be a lack of connection between people and skills, especially in the church. I expect many people are nodding their heads at this, and perhaps some nodding in annoyance feeling unused. (Grrrr, no one ever asks me to take the collection!)

The bitterness of attending a church and feeling as though you have no part to play is soul destroying and maybe even a large part in people feeling church isn’t for them anymore.

The old saying, ‘use me or lose me’ comes to mind.

I want to ask who’s fault is it? but I suspect the ‘blame’ is more a lack of confidence for most of us. We might sit there seeing a void and knowing we could fill it, yet we don’t have the confidence to put ourselves forward.

Some time ago church had a trend of getting folks to complete forms to find out where our gifts lay. Like a cosmopolitan quiz finding your ideal partner, the church quiz decided whether we were a hostess, preacher, listener or one of the dozen other skills the Bible lists. The church then could use the results to funnel it’s congregation into the relevant vacant position. The end hope was that everyone had a place in church and a role that suited their abilities.

It all sounded great, until you look at your individual church and realise what works in one, won’t work in another, besides, they didn’t need a social media guru back then. I always thought a better idea would be for everyone in the church to hand in their CV’s, probably the only document where we are confident enough to be honest (and perhaps boastful).

I think about people like my nephew who studied sound recording at university, yet was never asked to work the sound desk at church. What better option than someone with a degree in the subject?

I wonder whether giving him a job he was good at and enjoyed might have encouraged him to keep turning up on Sundays.

And yet, did the church know? Did they realise they had a professional in their midst?

The Bible says we shouldn’t hide our light under a bushel (Matthew 5:15) but that’s exactly what we do. Our confidence has been knocked by the world (and sometimes the church) and it’s not easy to raise ourselves up and point out our abilities.

We are in need of those miracle people who have the vision to stand in the gap between our ability and the churches need.

That person in Glasgow who figured out Gordon’s skills were just what was needed in the charity shop, that shop worker who spotted his talent as an artist and realised he needed an exhibition.

These are the miracles that bring a man back on his feet, the opportunities that can only be seen by visionaries.

 

So what next for Gordon?

Perhaps he could design and build a mercy seat that helped disabled people to approach without the option of sitting on it and facing the congregation?

Maybe he could be used to design the facilities at some of the new lifehouses, with his personal experience and craftsmanship.

I’m looking forward to finding out.

 

 

 

Creative Bible study – John 4

I’ve been dipping into the book ‘Craftivism’ recently, it’s by Betsy Greer, but has contributions from many other crafters and artists.

One contributor, Inga Hamilton, begins by explaining her love of craft, but continues to tell a story of working with her husband on an exhibition called Elementals Birds. She describes it more as a social experiment, coming from a negative feeling experienced whilst at another exhibition. It wasn’t revulsion at the exhibits, but rather a mix of dark lighting, art in dark charcoal and graphite, and discordant music, that were purposely brought together to create a disharmonious feeling within the soul.

Inga questioned, if an artist focusing on the negative can bring such an experience to the viewer, could it work in the opposite way?

A meditative discipline was developed for creative people to practice before beginning work. then invited 100 creators to follow it. They were asked to create a variety of birds from a choice of templates given to them and asked to focus on positive and loving thoughts. These thoughts, brought from the heart, down the arms, and into the piece they were creating were focused on the viewer, wishing them unconditional peace and goodwill.

Of the 100 asked to participate Inga saw four different responses.

  1. a small group unable to participate due to other commitments
  2. Single, male artists, who couldn’t take part, not because they didn’t want to, but because they couldn’t wish peace and harmony to complete strangers; they didn’t know how.
  3. Mainly graphic artists and painters, who were happy to take on the challenge and asked for the bird templates.
  4. Almost all replies past the deadline, came from craftspeople. Their responses were late because they had been consumed by the project itself.

Few of the craftspeople wanted the templates, creating off-piste, sculpting, carving, building birds that sang, birds that raised money for the homeless. birds that focused on mental health.

The result was the most successful exhibit to date staged at the venue.

This made me wonder.

What if I followed a similar technique as a tool for bible study.

What if I read a portion of the Bible, then sat down and created something. Could God use my art and whole being to create something that otherwise would not have been created?

Here are the rules (or rather suggestions)

  1. Make your space – get out some drawing or craft tools, paper, pens, things you feel like working with and set them up as though you were about to make something.
  2. Decide whether to have music playing, I prefer music.
  3. Read the story or chapter you’ve chosen.
  4. Sit still for a moment. You might have come to the craft space with something in your mind to make, take the moment to clear that idea away.
  5. Write the bible verse and date on a corner of the page
  6. create – just create. Maybe you make nothing at all, maybe you make a mess. The ‘God-Art’ might not come for a moment or two, that’s ok, just continue making.
  7. Focus on God, What might he be saying? What did you read? Keep an eye on your natural tendency to pre-guess what is being made. Imagine God working through you, through your hands and into the paper or item.

At some point in the process you might start to see the message. Don’t worry about your skill level, this is between you and God, and he thinks your talent is just perfect for what he needs.

So, I had a go, and just to show you how it went I videoed the process.

I chose the story of the woman at the well because it was used on Sunday at a church I went to.

It is a long video (15mins) but there is no time limit to this.

It you give it a go, share the creation with me, I’d love to see it.

Embarrassing things Churches do (to people in poverty)

I’ve been doing a lot of work with Leeds poverty truth and Churches action on poverty over the past two years. As someone who has had to claim poverty, who’s experienced going hungry and had to choose between food and electricity (and not that long ago either!) I’ve got some idea of the embarrassment when having to go without.

It’s made me very aware of how churches can miss out or unknowingly discriminate towards poverty and I was going to write a list of my own personal thoughts some time ago, but didn’t.

Today I had to go to a womens meeting at a church with my mum, I won’t name the church… okay, I will… it was a Salvation Army church.

The talk was on acceptence especially with the current refugee crisis in the world and how important it was for Christians to accept everyone.

At one point in the meeting the woman joked that we had all been locked in the building, later telling us that there was a man on the doorstep and she had locked the door because she didn’t want to give out food parcels today.

After she had told us the importance of accepting everyone she began telling us about food parcels and how great the church was in helping the homeless. Then she told us how difficult it was judging who was in need and who wasn’t in need. She told a story of her husband meeting a man in the church who said he hadn’t eaten a meal in ages, her husband offered to make him beans on toast, but the man didn’t like beans, so he offered to make him spaghetti on toast (sort of tastes like beans to me) again the man said he didn’t like it, so her husband told him to get out. This, she said, was proof that many people are not really in need. Telling us of a more recent event where a man came telling her he had worn the same clothes since Christmas, she said she approached him and he smelt fine, so refused him help.

I was thinking, when Jesus fed the five thousand, how would his message of love been received if he had asked for proof of hunger before being fed.

Anyway, here is my list:

Embarrassing things churches do to people in poverty 

1. Groups you can join, only if you have money. I can sing, yep, I even have a photo on my wall of me singing at the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, and not in the audience! Yet, without finding the money for an Army uniform or asking for charity or second hand, my church will not benefit from my singing because unless I have the uniform I cannot join the choir.

2. You can go with the walking group, if you have a car. Or attend the Bible study if you can drive yourself to some large house in the posh part of town, but you have to get the bus home late at night – ‘cos we ain’t gonna offer you a lift. Don’t assume people have transport, or are not afraid to ask for a lift, or at least arrange walking group meet up points at a railway station car park instead of the middle of no public transport land.

3. “Our Church is like a family, we’re all going on holiday together.” Except I can’t afford the couple hundred you’re asking me to pay for a weekend retreat.

4. I’m gonna stand here until you cough up. There’s got to be a better way of asking for a church collection other than standing in front of me with plate in hand, with everyone watching, until I cough up the dough. Seriously, I’ve had several Sundays when I’ve not gone to church because I don’t even have 10p for the plate.


5. This isn’t weightwatchers, I shouldn’t pay for missed days. The above mentioned womens group have a system where you pay every week, even if you’re not there. It’s 60p, not much I know, but I live on benefits and have had times when I don’t have that much. I didn’t turn up one week because I didn’t have the money, but it meant the next week I have to pay £1.20. It’s like weightwatchers. If I miss a week I stop going until they’ve forgotten me, then I can come back as a new member, but is that how church should be?

6. But why can’t I have food without religion? There’s a church (not Salvation Army!) near me who gives out food parcels, but only if you’ve sat through the service. It’s sort of assuming that to be hungry I couldn’t possibily be a Christian and have my own church, who might not have food parcels. I’m in need, so I must be a heathen! Please, don’t humilliate the person any more.


7. My name’s in THE BOOK, so don’t put it in the book. My mum has a friend who’s been hit badly by the bedroom tax, my mum (on her pension) was paying for this womans groceries despite the woman going to my mums church where they have food parcels and this woman being active in the church. It turns out, everyone who gets a food parcel has to have their details written in a book kept in the cupboard with the food. The woman didn’t want people knowing she was having to get hand-outs so was going without. Just the thought of a book available to all in church labelling you as a food parcel recipient was enough to stop this woman going to her own church for help.

8. The benefit system can fail you time and time and time again. Some people don’t handle money too well. Some are addicts and spend their money on other things. Some people get sanctioned (no money AT ALL until the benefit office think you’ve learnt your lesson) because they are 10 mins late. There’s no limit on the times a person can be without. This idea many churches have that you can only have a food parcel three times is crazy. If Jesus fed five thousand with a few tuna sandwiches why do we believe our food supply  won’t cope with someones need for a fourth (or fifth, sixth…) parcel?


9. And what do YOU do for a living? One of the most difficult things when I lost my job was meeting new people who often asked your name then asked, “What do you do?” Nothing, absolutely nothing. Is not a confidence building answer.

10. If you belong to us, You don’t need us. Some of the most desperate people I have met already attend a church. Regularly attending a church doesn’t mean I have all my eggs in a row. It’s not an easy thing to ask for help, especially from church people who think they know you. I sometimes wonder what people at church really know about me. Do they know how little I often have to live on? Why would they? As long as I’m seen to put something in the plate then how do they know that I’m returning to a cold flat because I can’t afford heating? How do they know I really would like to go on the walking trip or the retreat, but I can’t get there and haven’t been able to afford a holiday in years? A few weeks ago I was asked to help with our messy church. Something I can do (finally). I was told that I could come beforehand and eat with everyone at the lunch club. “It’s normally £3, but since you’re helping you can pay half price”.

It was one of those days when I had nothing, I was even missing out of my knitting group because I couldn’t afford a coke at the pub. With no food in the house and not even £1.50 for my half price meal I plucked up my best courage and biggest smile.

“No thanks, I’ve got somewhere to be beforehand, I’ll just come to the meeting.”

If you want to read more, these blog posts might interest you.

Be the Angel (and other tips)

Communicating Poverty

Never underestimate a Yorkshire lass.

I try to keep my on line image as a crafting person very organised and positive (apart from the odd moan). Recently though, something happened that I can only say is a bit of a wonder.

So, I’ve decided to start some personal blogs about the ‘Me’ behind Betty Virago. Take these posts or leave them, if what I say isn’t for you, then tip your hat, wish me well, and continue searching craft posts.

I wrote a post last year, a bit of a moan, about being let down by Bradford college and a textile craft diploma I applied for. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and at the time I felt angry and “Why is it always me?” about the whole thing.

There is a saying…

God has three answers.. “Yes, Not Yet and I have something better in mind”

I forgot that the third answer isn’t No.

A few months after that rejection I was with my knitting buddies at the Knit & Stitch show in Harrogate, a massive and jam-packed event. Well worth a trip to Yorkshire and at the same time you can visit the Yorkshire mecca, Betty’s tea shop.

Downstairs at the exhibition there is a line of colleges advertising their courses and one caught my eye. Huddersfield University had a degree in Art & Craft textiles. I took a brochure and looked and looked.

School was a place to went to, to get out of the house, not a place for learning, so GCSE’s are lacking. All my qualifications were gained during later employment and personal study and none were related to art or craft in any way. Eventually I worked out how to apply for the course (I know nothing about Uni and I didn’t even know the first thing about how to apply for the course).

In February I was working with Leeds Poverty Truth, settled on teaching little craft classes and selling patterns and crafts. But I had managed to get an interview at Huddersfield, mainly thanks to a superb reference from Boris at Inkwell (Leeds MIND).

The Uni asked me to bring my portfolio to the interview!!! Portfolio? Everyone I asked said not to worry, just take some of my work and I’ll be fine.

Anyway, the interview day arrived. I entered a room with several young people, all carrying huge black leather bound portfolios crammed with stuff. Each young person was accompanied by one or two parents and all looked organised and smart. I own jeans and t-shirts, that’s my whole wardrobe.

We were asked to put our portfolios on a table and go on a tour of the University campus while our work was assessed. Everyone placed their open folders on a table. I pulled out a Tupperware box of bits and a pack of photos. What a idiot I felt! Totally out of my depth.

We went on a tour, very nice. The course works around four techniques, Knitting, weaving, dyeing and embroidery. Every machine is available to use from traditional floor looms to enormous computerised machines. It was fantastic, but the whole time I just wanted to go home. Sadly I had to stick it out, after all, they had my box of things and some of them were on Etsy, I couldn’t just leave them.

After the tour we were led into a room where we had to wait to be interviewed in pairs. There I sat, surrounded by youngsters and parents, uncomfortable, awkward, wanting the ground to swallow me whole. So I did what any other crafter would do in my position, I took out my crochet.

Me and a young girl were the last to be interviewed. Yep, it seemed like I was in that room waiting for hours.

The teacher was very nice, didn’t laugh at my ‘portfolio’, suggested I start writing out my ideas before making things – I have an idea and work it out in my head instead of putting it on paper.

The young girl had stuff, lots of it. Pages of experiments, she was nice though and I gave her my details, so when she comes to Uni she can contact me and I can teach her crochet.

Then I went home.

Like I said, God has three answers and none of them are No. A year ago I applied for a course at Bradford college and it fell through. God had something better in mind.

A few weeks after the interview I had an email, I was offered a place at Huddersfield starting, well, it’s starting in five weeks. The loans and grants have been applied for, disabled student support organised, travel journey planned, new pencil case bought (well, that’s a right of passage). In a few weeks I’m going to be getting up and travelling the train to Huddersfield and It’s not really hit me yet, even after all these months of organising it.

Underneath the Betty Virago image is someone who thinks they won’t achieve much… on the other hand…

Another thing that happened last year was my computer broke. I lost a lot of stuff, all my music and all the photos of me. I have 2 photos of me now and I’ll share them because there is something important that these two photos say. A message for everyone who thinks good things won’t happen, life won’t improve, God doesn’t say Yes.

1997 This photo was taken almost 20 years ago. It’s me, yep, that’s right. I’m sitting in a doorway, wrapped in a blanket (my bed for the night) eating handed out food and drinking cider.

It’s a newspaper cutting that I keep in my bible to remind me how far I’ve come. taken at one of my lowest points in life.

If you want to read more then visit the Leeds Poverty Truth blog

http://leedspovertytruth.wordpress.com/

Or watch the video on Youtube

I’m there at 45 mins in.

The only other photo I have was taken by a photographer working for Leeds Poverty Truth. It’s my “after” photo.

2014So here’s my message.

No person is a loser. No life is a waste. You, yes YOU, can make it.

Some of you will think, God, bah humbug. Okay, then the human spirit can do remarkable things. take from this what you need and continue looking at my craft posts.

But there are those of you, maybe just one person, who needs to hear this.

God does not say No

God does not make mistakes

God does not make worthless people

 

You are worth it.