Category: Adversity

Fire in the jungle

This week, Patti is introducing a new piece in the Inspiring Handmade shop called Fire in the Jungle. It’s a work full of energy, conflict, passion, and respite—a little bit like life. The name of the piece reflects the tension inherent in its bold colors fighting for your attention.

A fire in a jungle evokes imagery of devastation amongst lush green vegetation—death and destruction encroaching on areas teeming with life, but kept at bay, maybe, by a river or a stream, or a drenching afternoon rain. Such a scene would be a confusing mashup of hope and hopelessness.

Our lives are full of these elements, aren’t they? Pain, refreshment, loss, restoration, difficulty, rest. Taken on their own, they might not make much sense. But in the hands of the Master, they can be blended together to create a work of art—a life—that speaks encouragement and beauty into the world around it.

1 Peter 1:7 tells us that “we have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Inner beauty

image of a Geode exterior
image of interior of a geode rock
Use the slider to see inside the geode.

The rock you see above is a geode. Geodes are hollow formations, often roughly spherical, that become filled with mineral deposits through water flow and other natural processes. This geode was given to me by a good friend of mine from California. He and his family used to camp out west where they collected these rocks, which don’t look like much on the outside. But once he was back home, he would cut them open to reveal the amazing crystals or other mineral deposits inside.

Sometimes, we can be a little like a backward geode. In our beauty- and youth-obsessed culture, outward appearances are paramount. Instagram feeds are full of photos carefully staged to show off perfect appearances, while beauty video bloggers, or vloggers, crank out countless hours of YouTube tutorials on how to look your best—i.e. youngest and most beautiful. And did you know Americans spent $16.5 billion on 17.7 million elective cosmetic surgeries in 2018 alone? So says the American Society of Plastic Surgeons®. Today, the U.S. beauty industry is valued at $80 billion and expected to reach $90 billion by 2020. But all that money and effort is spent only on the outside.

In the twenty-third chapter of Matthew’s gospel, we find Jesus calling out the hypocrisy of the backward geode religious leaders of His day, saying, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (verses 27-28, ESV).

God is more concerned about our inward beauty than what’s on the outside. Maybe He even created geodes to give us a simple picture of what we should be. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look our best, but if the outside always demands more time and effort than the inside, it might be time to re-evaluate.

Want to try seeing yourself and those around you like God does? Look for inner beauty. What is special, amazing, fun, inspiring, sweet, or wonderful about someone that has nothing whatsoever to do with the outside? And when you see it in yourself, let it express itself through your creative work and everything you do. “For The Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but The Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7b, ESV)

Who are the geodes in your life? They may also be beautiful on the outside, and that’s great, but what’s special about them on the inside? Drop us a line in the form below and share your thoughts with us.

Stay on the wheel

Have you ever watched a master potter forming a new piece of work on his wheel? He’ll take a lump of clay, plop it on the wheel, add water, and turn the wheel on. That’s when the magic happens. His masterful fingers remove clay from where he doesn’t it want and apply pressure in just the right places to transform the lump of clay into the form that he has planned for it.

The metaphor of the potter and clay has long been applied to the human experience with God. The Bible is full of references to this ancient art form. Consider Isaiah 64:8: “But now, O Lord, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You are our potter; we are all the work of Your hand.”
Jeremiah 18:1-23 and other passages also reference the imagery of the potter and clay.

All people everywhere are, indeed, made in the image of God, as recorded in Genesis 1:27: “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
The second chapter of Genesis offers a little more detail it its seventh verse, which says, “Then the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.”

Of all of the creatures that God made, people are the only ones He made in His image. Think about that for moment. With no other creature does Scripture say that God shared His very breath.
We understand that the “image of God” refers to the immaterial aspect of our humanity—qualities such as our sense of morality and self-awareness. It’s what sets us apart from animals and enables us to have fellowship with our Creator.

Originally, God declared that His completed work was “very good.” That image of God in us, though, was marred when Adam and Eve chose to reject God’s way and follow their own plan. The entire Bible from that point on until the last book of Revelation is the account of God pursuing His creation, calling us back into that close relationship that was lost because of that first sin by Adam and Eve.

Finally, God the Son, Jesus Christ, left the glories of heaven and humbled Himself (Philippians 2:6), entering our space and time as a small baby who grew to be a man. Jesus lived to show us what God was like and He died to pay the price for our sins. Because of that, if we believe in Him, trusting Him to restore our relationship with God, then the Scriptures say we will be saved.

Now let’s get back to the potter. Second Corinthians 3 tells us that those put their trust in Jesus Christ are being transformed by God—that is they are being changed from their sinful, rebellious selves, into people who look more and more like Jesus. The churchy word for this is “sanctification.”

I like to think of it like as a lump of clay in the hands of a master potter. As long as the clay is on the wheel, in the hands of the potter, it will be transformed from a lump into whatever form the potter has in mind—a vase, a dish, a pitcher. Sometimes the potter turns the clay into something beautiful that decorates a room. Sometimes he makes something very useful. But he always has a vision and a plan for the clay on the wheel. And just as it takes time for a potter to transform clay from a lump into a beautiful or useful object, sanctification—transforming people into the image of Christ—takes a while, too. In fact, it takes a lifetime.

But it’s worth it because each day, each year, we are closer to being what God designed us to be from the beginning. The key is to stay on the wheel. It’s only there, under the hands of The Potter, that we can be transformed into what He wants us to be. And when you feel like the pressure of His hands is too much, or He’s stretching you too thin in one area or another, or the wheel is making you more than a little dizzy, remember that He sees what you’re becoming. He has a plan to finish His work with you. He won’t leave you lumpy and deformed on His wheel! Trust Him and lean on these words of Paul to the Philippians (1:6): “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

First piece in a new series celebrates life

Image of Celebrate Life, a sculpture in wire and cut paper on driftwood by Patti Jones.

Take Time to Stop & Smell the Roses: Appreciating the little things

I am a breast cancer survivor. As I work on this Wire People collection, “Childhood Memories,” I am reminded that as terrible as breast cancer is, it can never take away your precious memories. This collection is dedicated to my mom and grandmother. My grandmother was diagnosed before I was born and passed away when I was a young girl. My mom received her diagnosis last summer at the age of 88 and is a strong fighter and woman of great faith.
I want this series to be a tribute to all the women who have struggled through the nightmare of breast cancer— from those who bravely fought, and lost their battle, to those who are still pressing on for themselves and the ones they love.
So, hidden in each sculpture is a tiny breast cancer ribbon symbol. The first piece is called Celebrate Life. Cancer made me appreciate the little things. I make sure I take life a little slower now—to stop and smell the roses, if you will. The air smells a little fresher, the sky seems a deeper blue, and the roses have a sweeter smell. Whether we’re eight or eighty, fighting cancer or cancer free, life is short. And beautiful. Appreciate it for all it’s worth.

Messengers & Messages

Wooden sculpture of Jonah in the whale

I don’t text a whole lot. But when I do, I only type with my right index finger. Teenagers I know use both their thumbs and type blazingly fast. My kids make fun of me for the way I text. That’s life. When I receive a text, it’s usually from my wife, or a close friend or family member. Those messages are important. Of course, my wife’s are the most important! But all this got me thinking about messages of the non-instant variety — messages that come from the most important one of all — the Creator of this world, God Himself.

If you’re old enough to remember the E.F. Hutton commercials of the 1980s, you might remember this line:
“… Well, my broker is E.F. Hutton, and he said…”
Immediately, everyone around the speaker leans in, eager to hear his next words as the commercial voiceover says, “ When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.”

Well, when the Creator of this amazing universe has something to say, I want to hear it. And that’s when I started thinking about Jonah.

You’ll see a few different versions of Jonah and the Whale in the Salvaged Messengers series.

Why am I drawn to the story of Jonah and the whale (or the fish, or whatever)? Because even though Jonah made mistakes (big ones), God still used him as His messenger.

You can read his short story for yourself in the Old Testament book of the Bible that bears his name. When you check it out, you’ll see how God assigned Jonah the unenviable task of traveling to Ninevah (near modern-day Mosul in Iraq), to deliver some bad news to the Assyrians. They were about to be judged and obliterated by God unless they repented and turned from their wicked ways. Not a very popular message. Many historians count Assyria to be among the first superpowers of the ancient world. Jonah likely saw his assignment as a suicide mission. So he ran. But his running from The Lord and his appointed task wound him up in the belly of the “great fish” and then Jonah himself had to repent and realign himself with God.

Wooden sculpture of Jonah in the whale

This sculpture of Jonah in the whale is created from salvaged barn wood (circa 1905) from my cousin’s farm in southwest Virginia’s Giles County. The deep grain creates a challenge for hand stamping the Scripture, but the striking look that results is worth the extra work. Aside from the wood, the piece also uses wire, acrylic paint, and varnish.

By the end of the story (spoiler alert), Jonah had delivered his message, and much to his surprise, the citizens of Ninevah not only listened to him, but believed him and repented, just as God commanded them.

God’s message got through, thanks to, and in spite of, Jonah. And, like all of God’s messages, it was ultimately life-giving, life-affirming, and life-preserving. The entire city was saved and its citizens enjoyed a renewed relationship with God.

That’s the power of messages from the Creator of the universe and that’s the power that messengers carry, no matter how flawed we are! Listening to God and doing what He says brings blessing, renewal and incredible purpose into our lives. Beware! This little book in the Bible is packed with truth no matter which way you’re running in life.

Grandma Ruby

My Grandma Ruby didn’t have a lot of money as she raised my mother and her two sisters and step-children in Pearisburg, a small town nestled in the mountains of Southwest Virginia. If her family was to have most anything, Grandma had to make it. From dolls’ clothes and furniture, to tablecloths to my mother’s feed sack dresses—Grandma crafted from necessity perhaps more than from a need to express herself. The few surviving pieces show a rugged utilitarian aesthetic, concealing a deep love of a mother for her daughter and a desire to provide both essentials and entertainment, even in the midst of want.

Throughout her life Grandma Ruby engaged in the arts and crafts, tatting well into her 90s. Even as dementia stole an increasing percentage of her faculties, she maintained her connection to creating things. One of the last things I was able to do with her, and for her, was to observe her hands move in a patterned rhythm as though she were pulling thread to create one last masterpiece, although her hands held nothing that you’d see. Taking a small loosely woven cloth, I pulled a few inches of yarn through several places in it and knotted the strands at both ends to prevent them from being pulled completely through. I gave that piece to my grandmother so she could actually feel the strings pulling through the material, perhaps giving her some comfort. But she didn’t take to it and in the end, a rough physical approximation was no match for the decades of creative memories she carried in her heart and head. When she passed in 2004, she left some treasured pieces of her work and a legacy of creativity and passion for arts and crafts in her children and her eight grandchildren, of which I am the second youngest.

What has been left for you that you treasure? What are you leaving for those who come after you?

Wires & wood

Wooden sculpture of Jonah in the whale

This Salvaged Messenger sculpture shows Jonah in the belly of a whale. Whether it was a whale or a fish, as some translations say, Jonah was hard at work praying to God. And who wouldn’t be praying in that situation? What’s your whale?

This Salvaged Messenger sculpture shows Jonah in the belly of a whale. Whether it was a whale or a fish, as some translations say, Jonah was hard at work praying to God. And who wouldn’t be praying in that situation? What’s your whale?

What are Salvaged Messengers?

Salvaged Messengers is the name of a series of sculptures created from found and reclaimed wood — wood that was destined for the the trash heap or the fire. That’s the “salvaged” part. Each sculpture is imprinted with a message from Scripture or an encouraging or challenging thought inspired by God’s Word. That’s the “messenger” part. Salvaged Messengers are also the drawings and sketches that become part of the birth of a sculpture. And, at their heart, Salvaged Messengers are you and me, and anyone else who has a heart to receive and share the love that God has for His creatures. The heart of God’s message is always love. John 3:16 is perhaps the most well-known verse of the entire Bible. “For God so loved …” is the way it begins. What did God love? “… the world …” it continues. How much did He love the world? So much that “… He gave His only Son …” And why would God do that? So “…that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have eternal life.” That message of hope and love is the reason why John 3:16 is the most well-known, most frequently quoted verse in all of Scripture. The most well-known hymn has a similar message. “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.” John Newton knew the truth about himself and all people. We are lost and headed for destruction — totally separated from God. But God loves us and desperately wants a relationship with us. Through the sacrificial death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, He finds us and reclaims us for Himself. He salvages us and imprints on our hearts His message of love. No matter what you’re going through today, God loves you and desires to have you move closer to Him. He can and will salvage the parts of our lives we find to be the most hopeless. We are His works of art — in progress — but being sculpted and painted by the Master Himself. Salvaged Messengers — courtesy of a saving, loving God.