Kindness & Compassion

Hello. My name is Venetia Horton, and I have been coming to Aylesbury Vineyard for four or five years. I live in Thame with my husband and three cats, and I have one daughter and one granddaughter. Having retired from paid employment, I now spend most of my time researching and writing my book on the history of Christianity in Great Britain and Ireland.

One of the reasons I gave up my job was because I was finding it harder and harder to cope with a full day’s work. Then I found out the reason. I was diagnosed with a rare non-familial medullary cancer, and in June last year I underwent an operation to take out my thyroid. The following month I also had an op for skin cancer on my nose – you may have seen me wandering around with a bandage on my face!

So naturally I was a bit jumpy when a new lump appeared on my jaw in December and I was given an emergency appointment at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford. I asked people on the prayer chain for support, but I was quite surprised when one of them offered to take me to the appointment. I mean – she must have so many other things to do – I could get there by myself, couldn’t I? But she insisted that she would like to come, so one dark morning she picked me up and we drove into Oxford.

Thankfully, the doctor gave me good news and said there were no signs of cancer and that I would only need to go back for regular check-ups. But what has stayed with me, and what I am still giving thanks for, is my friend’s amazing kindness for the gift of her time.

I sometimes find it very hard to accept help. I even find it hard to ask the Lord for help, thinking he must have ‘more important’ stuff to deal with. But I have come to realise that this is not the right way to honour God.

I know – in theory – that one should surrender everything to the Lord, but this is hard. A friend once told me he used to mentally list all his precious CDs and records in prayer, saying ‘That’s yours, Lord, everything I have is yours – take it if you need it – or if it’s not doing me any good.’

When I was told I had cancer I was horrified, and it took me a few months to come to terms with the diagnosis. But when my friend insisted that she would like to come with me to the hospital appointment, I realised that I didn’t have to face this alone. I am so very grateful for her kindness and compassion.

Galatians 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Venetia_Profile

Venetia Horton

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Be Thou My Vision

Be Thou My Vision

Not many people ever see me wearing glasses as I usually wear contact lenses. This probably stems from childhood bullying about my thick national health glasses (ironically really cool now!), plus the fact that I find them annoying. With contact lenses I have perfect vision, can see my eye make-up and, according to my singing teacher as a teenager, they “let people see my big expressive eyes” (whatever that means!).

However, this week my youngest child has got glasses and I have also got a new pair, as I am supposed to sometimes let my eyes “rest” from the contact lenses. So, today I am wearing glasses, to encourage the little one and just because they are new! And it’s got me thinking about our spiritual ‘sight’.

Glasses

One irritating thing about glasses is that they get dirty and the lenses need regular cleaning. Similarly, we need to be regularly cleansed to “see” Jesus. We need to keep a ‘short account’ with God – routinely bringing ourselves to Him in humble repentance to be cleansed. As David says in one of my favourite Bible verses: Psalm 51:10 “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” We need regular renewing. Just like our cells renew in our body, so we need to have our minds and hearts renewed. And Jesus is in the renewal business, as Paul says: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) With a renewed mind, we can see things more clearly, as we should.

Sometimes through life events we get our vision totally steamed up. Has anyone ever tried crying whilst wearing glasses? Well, you really can’t see at all! When life throws things at us, it can result in us being blind as to what is going on. When this happens, we need others to help. This why God puts us in His Church, why He “sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6) When life throws a curve ball, we need others to pray for us, bring us words from God and help lead us while we are blinded.  Sometimes, others can see things more clearly than we can and they can lead, encourage and help us until the mist begins to clear.

My vision is very bad, so my glasses lenses are pretty thick, meaning that the edges of my vision where my glasses don’t cover are severely blurred. I hadn’t realised how much I use my peripheral vision (a trick learnt as a teacher) and I do find it annoying. But it got me thinking that this is how we can be with our ministries, the areas that we are passionate about. We have a certain focus that God has put on our hearts, which makes other things around us a bit blurred. Actually this can be a good thing! God sets us on fire for certain ministries or things to pray for, sometimes for a season, sometimes for life. We are created for a reason and to have “vision” for what God wants us to do is a very important part of a purposeful life. I struggled with this a bit when I was younger and somebody once asked me what my “ministry” was – at the time I had no idea what that meant! But I have also helpfully heard it said, that if you have no “vision” for something yourself, you should support someone who does! That is just as valuable! We are all one body and all have a part to play, even in supporting something with a more obvious purpose e.g. the eye cannot work properly without the muscles around it, the blood vessels, nerves, tear ducts, eyelashes etc. We all have an important part to play!

Finally, if we do not have any idea what our focus should be, we are told something very simple – to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2). This is true tunnel vision at it’s best! We can’t go wrong with this and it makes it ok when we can’t “see” our way through anything else that’s going on. Just keep looking to Jesus! Even this is not straightforward, as Paul says “now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) Even at the best of times, our vision of Jesus can be unclear, as we come to it through the “lens” of our own experiences. We need the encouragement of each other and the Church to keep our focus on Him and, seeing Him through the Bible and others’ eyes, to keep on seeing wonderful new things about Him.

Therefore, we can sing this wonderful old hymn:

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best thought by day or by night
Waking or sleeping Thy presence my light

Please free to comment with any more “vision” songs, verses or thoughts! Everyone’s perspective is different and valuable!

Becky Stevens

Boasting gladly about my weaknesses

About a month ago I was at a conference. Normally I enjoy conferences, the worship, the teaching, hanging out with friends. But this time I wasn’t really feeling it.

If I was feeling anything it was exhaustion, frustration and I was kicking myself for missing out – why was I feeling this way? There was no logical conclusion, significant life event or major problem that I was facing.

During the worship I sat down and closed my eyes. It probably looked like I was praying but really I was trying to shut off everything around me.

Then, as I sat in this room full of people and noise I could suddenly feel a quietness. I could see myself from up above, except there was nobody else in the room, no people, no sound, nothing.

Then I saw a man who looked kind of like how I had imagined Jesus to look walk over to me. He looked kind, had a beard and long hair and was smiling. Okay, spoiler alert: IT WAS JESUS!

He sat down next to me and asked me about my day. I feel like writing this down all sounds way too casual: Jesus appeared to me (in my head), sat down next to me and asked me about my freaking day!

I’m pretty sure for the next half hour I wept uncontrollably. The truth that Jesus knew me, that he took time out of (what I can only imagine is) his busy schedule – and that he cared enough to sit beside me. And more than that – this wasn’t some strange coincidence and he had appeared by accident – he was actually interested in my day?!

Now I know this all sounds totally nuts because either:

a) You don’t get it (believe me, I used to read stories like this one and think exactly the same thing)

b) Or you get it and you’re thinking duh! That’s the whole point of following Jesus – the whole relationship thing isn’t just an optional extra – it’s kind of a package deal! *

But I’ve been a Christian for almost 20 years now and I honestly had never encountered Jesus this way before now. I’ve studied him, read the Bible, done Church, done home groups etc etc… now none of these things are bad at all – in fact I’m incredibly grateful to have some wonderful friends, a solid Church and Christian parents who have helped me in my faith. However, this personal experience has captured my heart more than anything else ever could.

This might be offensive but there is nothing else that compares anymore. Encountering Jesus has totally challenged the way I do everything. I don’t even know where to start – most days I now feel totally broken now, inadequate and smaller than I ever realised I was – but at the same time I feel whole, complete and that there’s something better worth living for – a true relationship with Jesus.

The scary part is – before I thought I was fixed, but underneath I was bitter, weak and struggling to have hope, feeling like a total fraud. But God met me there when I was prepared to be vulnerable, when I was okay with being broken and not trying to be perfect.

My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.
– 2 Corinthians 12.9 (NLT) 

Maybe my striving to be perfect all the time actually limited my experience of Christianity to being surface level. Jesus teaches us to surrender all to him, no matter where we’re at. If we don’t surrender and we’re constantly working out of our own strength, how will be ever know the greatness of Jesus and his power in our lives? 

Jesus doesn’t shy away from our brokenness. I’m learning that the cost of a relationship with Jesus isn’t about getting yourself sorted, becoming perfect and then taking up your cross – and that’s how we become salt and light. It’s about taking up your cross and being vulnerable.

*if this is you, you clearly have it sorted I would genuinely love you to write blog posts instead of me as you’ve clearly got it together.

Jess Gunaselvam

BROKEN YET BEAUTIFUL

Nicola's-Mug
I have a mug… it’s my favourite coffee mug! If you know me, you know how much I enjoy my first coffee of the day and if I get to drink it out of my favourite mug then it makes me extra happy! …Then a few weeks ago my mug cracked and my heart was sad.

Now it is fairly unusual for me to get upset over material possessions. My life on the missions field was pretty basic, we didn’t have lots of fancy stuff and we didn’t live in a culture where there was much and so my love for the finer things in life pretty much disappeared and I learnt to be content with little…

My life is very simple and I like it that way.
But then my mug broke :o(

It now has a huge crack down one side and a little chip on the corner and it doesn’t look so pretty anymore. My son asks me on a regular basis when I am going to throw it away and buy myself a new one, but I don’t want a new one! I like this one!  It may be chipped, it may be cracked, but I still love it just as much and as long as it is able to hold my coffee without leaking, it will still be my favourite.

As I look back over my life I realise I am no different to my little mug. I too am cracked, I have been broken, there are little chips all over me. I am very far from perfect. I am covered in blemishes both inside and out and my heart and my body carry countless scars and wounds, some you can see and some you can’t – but they are there and they are what makes me who I am.

Do I want to be cracked? Of course not…  Would I rather be perfect?… Who wouldn’t?! But that is not my reality.

We live in world obsessed with beauty, that finds anything less than perfection unacceptable and so people spend millions on the pursuit of it, on the eradication of all flaws and of any signs of weakness.

But I AM weak and I cant hide that, to be honest I spent years trying and it didn’t work out well for me.

I am flawed… I am broken… I am very far from perfection..

AND I HAVE COME TO ACCEPT THAT THAT’S OK!

There is a scripture in Song of Songs (Chapter 1, Verse 5) that has had a special place in my heart for many years now…

Dark am I, yet LOVELY

The TRUTH is that there is a greater reality than my brokenness, a greater truth that is written over me than my flaws and fears and it is simply, yet powerfully this:

I AM LOVED… not as I should be… not for what I could be… but JUST AS I AM.

Even in my weakness He calls me lovely.

I am not defined by my scars, by battles lost and battles won.

I am defined by LOVE Himself.

And He says that even in my weakness I am lovely, that it is right there that His strength is made perfect, that whilst I was still a sinner He chose to die for me and He bought me right up to His banqueting table and placed a huge banner over me that simply reads: LOVE

I am loved… that is who I am… that is my reality… that is my name… beloved… chosen… accepted… redeemed and made free…

Broken yet beautiful.

Nicola Neal

Our Vision, God’s Hospitality

‘Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.’

In Luke 14 Jesus has a long conversation with his disciples and followers about how to hold a party. He turns upside down the familiar traditions about who should be invited, who should be honoured and who should share food at the table.

As women we are very often the ones serving, and this in itself is a privilege in God’s kingdom. However it often means that we become ‘invisible’, and have no confidence in the fact that we ourselves are invited to share in the meal at that heavenly banquet.

One of the things I have become struck by, whilst serving our community with food in various ways through our different ministries is that no matter how much we do, there are always more people that really need to be reached. How do we find all those people in our community who through no fault of their own are stuck in an economic cycle of poverty and despair? Apparently we are all six months away from being homeless. It only takes a cruel twist of circumstances; perhaps a break down in a relationship, a sudden uninvited illness, or other unexpected and unwanted life event that turns our world upside down.

Child poverty in our country is predicted to rise from 2.3 to 3.6 million by 2020, and it is not only families who have employment that fit in this category. In fact 64% of families who are considered within the poverty line have at least one partner who is employed.[1]

Then there is the fact that 22,000 children around the world die each day because of poverty – simply that there is not enough basic provision of food, water, health care and safe shelter to ensure their survival.[2]

And then there are the refugees. Our world has become more and more a place of displaced people, people who live in fear without a home or a hope.

How can we as women be a part of this world, placed as we are in the towns and villages where we live, knowing the things we know, without either succumbing to a feeling of hopelessness that leads us to despair, or a denial of reality and compassion fatigue, caused by an overload of information about things we can do nothing about?

I have been thinking about the idea of God’s hospitality, as we are attending a conference at the end of this month.

Some words from Desmond Tutu have been ringing in my mind and giving me hope – a way forward on how I can live in this ‘now but not yet’ both beautiful and broken world in a way that finds me both as the one that sits at the table, and the one that serves my carefully prepared food.

‘We do not need to be too clever. We must just be receptive, open, appreciative, to smell the fragrance of the flowers, to feel the cold splash of the rain, to catch the familiar odor of damp soil, to see the ragged mother dandling her malnourished baby in rags. And maybe to be moved to cry, to pray, to be silent, and to let the Spirit inside us pray with groanings that cannot be put into words. To marvel at the fact that poor, hungry people can laugh, can love, can be caring, can share, can nurture, can embrace, can cry, can whimper, can crawl over and die – that these tattered rags of humanity are Jesus Christ: “In as much as you did it to the least of these my sisters and brothers.” They are God’s stand-ins, created in His image. They are precious, they have their names engraved on God’s palms, the hairs of their head are numbered, and God knows them, these nonentities, these anonymous ones who are killed and nobody seems to care.[3]

Here he is unpacking his idea of Ubuntu, where the human person is defined as one who only exists because of ‘the other’.

Together

The dream for this blog is that it can become a place where all women who are connected through relationship with us can share lives. We can offer stories, articles, discuss topics; and enjoy hearing from each other, getting to know each other in a way that physical space and time will not allow.

Please come and share a seat at our table. Enjoy the articles, stories, songs, sharing of lives and respond with a contribution. We want to be a forum for those who just need to be served, fed and nurtured, and those who would like to share their contributions with us all.

[1] http://www.cpag.org.uk/child-poverty-facts-and-figures

[2] http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats

[3] Desmond Tutu, foreword in World Winds: Meditations from the Blessed of the Earth, ed. Earl and Pat Hostetter Martin (Scottdale, Pa.:Herald Press, 1990) p.9

Lyn Burnhope