Autumn Update

Hello! Hope you’re enjoying the lovely Autumn colours.
As ever, thanks for your prayers for us 🙂 We’re both quite well – and lots is going on as usual. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my new 30-hour (4-day) working week and the ability to spend more time painting, and Ben’s been enjoying teasing me for being a part-timer as he’s now gone up to full-time hours in his role as deputy manager at the cafe. He’s been taking on more responsibilities, and in reality more or less every weekday he now works 9 or 11 hours including the commute (depending on whether he’s opening or closing the cafe – even longer hours on the odd occasions when he does both), so is quite tired when he gets home! He may cut back down to a 4-day working week in the New Year, depending on how he finds this new schedule. (I think it would be a good idea to do so.) One possibility that Ben has been considering is potentially cutting down his hours to make time to teach piano privately. He is qualified to do so but hopes to take an online tutoring course (having done some research and found some good options) before beginning – and there are various other practical / logistical things to consider such as space for storing a piano etc. I have no doubt that he would make an excellent piano tutor and that he would not struggle to find students – it’s just getting around to it that holds us back at this stage, and considering whether it’s really something he wants to pursue and invest in. Some time in 2018, hopefully – watch this space.
Similarly, I’ve started advertising my new Art Tuition courses, having written the curriculum for 24 SOAP sessions (school of acrylic painting) and bought all the necessary resources for the first five sessions of both the teens’ and the adults’ classes. A few other short courses (including Christmas courses) have also been devised and prepared, and are being advertised. SOAP will begin more or less as soon as four people have signed up (hopefully next month, or potentially December or even the New Year depending on what people want), and the Christmas courses and the one-off Canvas Stretching class will go ahead on the dates specified so long as four people have signed up to each of them in good time. (Www.KatGibsonArt.com/Courses) There has been a fair bit of interest so far, and I’m pretty excited! So by Christmas 2018 it may be that Ben is a piano tutor and I’m an art tutor (both part-time, working ‘real jobs’ part-time as well)! What a strange thought.
We’re still a little overwhelmed with options for the long-term future, and still seeking God’s guidance. It would be lovely if we could know at this stage whether or not we’ll still be in England in ten years’ time, so as to consider whether to begin looking into things like buying a house (which we may even consider regardless, as an investment towards the pension, though being able to pay for a deposit still feels like worlds away at the moment) – but we’re trying to just trust God to lead us in our day-to-day situations and see where we end up. Lots of opportunities and open doors and exciting options, and we’re trusting God to show us the right way at the right time. In the meantime we’re throwing ourselves into life here.
Our church is currently without a minister (so we’re in the “Interregnum”) but we’re looking forward to the interviews in November. I’ve been asked to be involved on the day and am excited to see what will happen. This past few months has been a hectic time for the church, but it’s been very good. People have been thinking hard about potential changes, and indeed considering making some real (small) changes even now – such as restarting the house group and considering its purpose and direction. On the back of reading the rather exciting ‘aims’ stated in the Parish Profile, Ben and I have sent lots of ideas as to things we can do NOW (during the interregnum) to work towards some of those – and I hope one or two of them are being or will be considered. There is some reluctance to think about such things at this stage, in recognition that anything that changes now may be changed again (or changed back) as soon as the new vicar arrives and says what he/she wants or thinks. So, we’ll see what happens. The deadline for applications was early this week, so do pray for the shortlisting process, the applicants, and the people who will have the final say at the end of the day. 
Book sales are going well, and from the comments and messages I’ve received it seems to be blessing people. The thought that people I don’t know have read what I have to say is still quite strange to me, but I’m glad it’s useful to people. I’ve been asked to write an article about it for the parish magazine for next month, so perhaps people in our church will take a bit of an interest…! There’s a possibility that I may do a book celebration next year once it’s got a few reviews etc, as several people have asked after a book launch etc which I never did (and it may be too late now). We’ll see. On Sunday I preached on Surrender (at a different church), and was reminded yet again of how different ‘preaching’ feels to ‘doing talks’. I haven’t preached in over a year but have done many talks, as well as led workshops and sessions etc, through work and had subconsciously presumed that it would sort of feel the same. It did not. And, to be honest, even though with preaching I am usually more passionate about what I’m trying to communicate, I now find it infinitely more difficult, intimidating and stressful than ‘speaking’ in a secular context. I suppose this was heightened (or another dynamic or layer of complexity was added) by the fact that I already knew most of the people who attended the Sunday service but through work. There were people there that I’d met at the local scrabble group, and the quilting group, and the bowls group, and a teacher from the local school, etc – who knew me as a Community Builder, not as a preacher, writer or even Christian. I found it quite odd. Anyway, it’s over now – and perhaps I’ll stick to writing in future rather than preaching 😉 
I think that’s it for our news… Thanks again for keeping us in your prayers! Do keep in touch – we really love hearing from friends from different stages of our lives. God bless!

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Summer Ponderings

Hello!!

Some little thoughts before we go away to Tom’s wedding (Ben’s best mate) in the US tomorrow!

Something on our minds lately has been the expansion of the little art business. We figured out that if I can sell an average of nine paintings a month (or eight paintings and four pieces of jewellery…) then we could easily afford to both cut down to working 3-day weeks, which would be the ideal lifestyle with some time and energy to get back into voluntary work and some of the other things that we feel very passionate about. However, until this month I’d sold on average just one painting every five or six months. Then, over the past two months or so I’ve put a considerable amount of time and effort into the marketing side (web development, social media promotions, special discounts, business cards etc) and suddenly this month we sold SEVEN paintings in a month. Fluke, yes – but still exciting.

Since this little business began to grow and I began putting time into marketing the paintings, I have been seeing all sorts of adverts for business coaching and mentoring. So I have over the past month read about fifty blog posts with business advice, and participated in seven or eight ‘webinars’ (online seminars) claiming to give me the keys to a successful business. All of those webinars went the same way, and none of them were anywhere near as useful as the blog posts which took a fraction of the time to get through.

The webinars would take this format, almost without fail (though the specifics and details would vary):

– I PROMISE YOU that this Webinar will answer your business questions and give you the keys, the tools, the specific steps and everything else you will need to make your business thrive like mine has done. All other business advice, webinars and blogs have told you the wrong things – I will tell you the RIGHT THINGS and you will succeed and be very wealthy very quickly, with very little effort.

– WITH THESE TOOLS think of what you will be able to do! You could buy a huge house! You could pay all your kids and then grandkids through university! You could get a sports car!

– LOOK AT MY LIFE. Five years ago I was in a small flat and in a 9-5 job, not enjoying myself. Now, I’m in a mansion! Look at the size of my house! Here are some holiday pictures from my fifth extravagant holiday this year! Look at how wealthy and happy and free I am!

– YOU CAN BE LIKE ME. It’s possible for you. You just need to learn from me and follow the advice I’m about to give you. You need this lifestyle!! You were not born to work a 9-5 job! You were born to be rich without having to exert any effort! You’re worth it!

– [Some vague piece of advice, after a lot of waffle – such as ‘Value your customers’, or ‘Believe in your product’, or ‘Live the wealthy lifestyle, and then the business will grow and you will become wealthy’, or ‘Get better advertising’, or ‘Cut out the people and influences that bring you down or don’t benefit your business.’ Some of this advice was common sense, and some of it a load of rubbish. Either way it wasn’t worth the hour and a half that I’d lost by this point, having naively believed that their ‘one huge tip’ would change everything, as promised….]

– WHAT YOU REALLY NEED is to invest in your business. To value, and love, and believe in your business. You need to invest in my business coaching – for the tiny (and heavily reduced!) sum of £2000 I can talk you through the exact process, the exact steps I undertook to make my fortune, so that you don’t make the mistakes I made. You need this.

– IF YOU DON’T TAKE MY OFFER then it shows you don’t believe in your business. You don’t actually care whether it takes off. You secretly quite like being stuck in your 9-5 job every day. You aren’t brave enough to invest and watch that business grow. This needs to change. Growth only comes after a risk; a step of faith; an investment. Without my coaching you will go nowhere – but with it I can make you a millionaire within six months. Think what you will do with that money! Think how your life will be different! And think what you would have missed out on if you pass up this amazing opportunity.

Seriously. Every webinar I saw. Without fail. The first thing that comes to my mind (maybe yours too!) on hearing that punchline is that the speaker has already broken the first extravagant promise they made – that the webinar will be not only helpful but will change my life and give me the tools to dramatically and quickly expand the business (it did neither) – so after investing an hour and a half of my life to be let down by this person, why would I invest my little hard-earned savings, my finances, to be let down even more?

It made me think that business coaches are a bit like drug dealers – especially those who coach people in ‘coaching businesses’ (which at least half of the webinars I watched were for). The process is this – they get people to believe that what they’re doing and the way they’re living is amazing and wonderful and worth pursuing. So, eventually, people believe it and get involved. They pay money in order to be like the coach, to live like the mentor and participate in the same things in the same way. But there’s one problem – they can’t afford it; they can’t make it pay. So, eventually, they start their own coaching business to earn money in order to pay their coach or mentor. They then become the coach, talking overly-positively about their lifestyle in order to get people signing up and paying for their advice. And so it goes on. Not really something I’d particularly like to be involved in, to be honest.

I have received some helpful advice through online blogs though – mostly just common sense, still, but it has helped even so. One example is that a successful business must have a USP (unique selling point), to make the brand recognizable and to put on the advertising in order to get ahead of the generic competition. I began wondering about my art USP. I definitely have a distinctive style – or so several people tell me – but what to name that? How to advertise that? How to make that consistent enough to make the USP generate sales? I don’t yet know.

Another tip that I see everywhere is that a businessperson’s duty is to give people what they want – then they’ll buy into it. People WANT artwork – sometimes – but often don’t have the wall space for it or already have lots of nice artwork so need no more. Hmm…

 

Along similar lines, I’ve been thinking about advertising. At the moment I just advertise with the product itself – I’ll post pictures of the painting on social media, perhaps with a nice story to make it more personal, and a catchy title – but no advertising slogan. This technique works fine for existing customers, and those who know me already as a friend or family member – but not so well with the general public. What slogan would I say? “Art is what you need in life! Buy some of mine!” … “Plain walls at home? Let’s change that!” … “Colourful paintings here! I think you’ll like them!” …It doesn’t quite work in the same way as advertising something that people are looking for, such as a hairdresser or a builder or whatever it may be. It is HARD to get ahead or successful in the world of art.

That whole process got me thinking about my approach. It’s only recently that I’ve considered it a business at all. I still (until next week, anyway!) work full-time as well, so I don’t consider myself a businesswoman by any stretch of the imagination. And I certainly don’t have the motivation or resources to pay for advertising; I’ve done it all for free so far and don’t plan to change that. But at one point last week I wondered if that was where I was going wrong – if I should start paying for advertising and become a ‘real business’. I came to the conclusion that, at least for now, I’d rather remain a person, a friend, a human being, than a businesswoman. Think about it – how many adverts do you pass on the street or scroll past on the phone or computer – and how many do you end up engaging with and supporting or using their services? BUT if a friend or family member were to start up a small business, you might be more interested in hearing about it or even buying something, one day. That’s the way I’ve worked so far – most of my paintings have been sold to people who know me, and just recently I’ve sold some to friends of friends; people who have seen me recommended by people who know me. So, for me, this is the way forward at this stage. No hardcore paid advertising with catchy slogans to get people involved. Just the slow process of painting and advertising and seeing who out of my contacts might like to buy a painting next, or recommend me to someone. So we’re unlikely to be cutting down to three-day working weeks any time soon, though that would be the dream – but we’ll see where it goes.

Thanks for walking with us! Watch this space! (Or buy a painting – haha!)
P.S. No – we haven’t given up on the missionary idea!! We’ll see when that will happen 🙂

August Update

Hello! Hope you’re having a lovely Summer. Here’s a quick update from us…

A few things have happened since we last sent an update a month ago. I got a book published – The Art of Surrender (available on Amazon – Kindle download for £7 or Paperback for £9), a project which started about eight years ago and has grown and changed and developed ever since. The project began in blog and sermon form while I was still in secondary school, and then expanded into a longer project that I thought would be a small booklet – but then got longer and became a book. I wrote a lot of it while we lived in Bolivia, and have since been thoroughly editing and rewriting chapters, and then finishing off the last three sections over the past year or so. Ben has been proofreading and notifying me of typos; and a select group of trusted friends and family members have been receiving it a chapter a week by email over the past year or so, which has helped with the editing process as people have responded with their comments and constructive criticisms. My grandma was very influential in making me be a little more proactive with it and get it published – almost every time we spoke she would ask if it was published yet. So, of course, the very day my first copies arrived I posted one to her  🙂

Anyway, do have a read if you like. It’s a Christian devotional around the topic of surrender of our whole selves to God. It is in ten sections, themed around the metaphor of human body parts – for example, the hands represent our work, our possessions etc; our feet represent our paths and journeys… There are fifty chapters, so some people like to read a chapter a week and ‘digest’ it throughout the week – and that way it would last a year (allowing for a week off for Christmas and a week off for Easter, based on the assumption that people are reflecting on other important things during those weeks!). If you search “The Art of Surrender” on Amazon, it should be the first option that comes up. (Or click this link – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Art-Surrender-K-Gibson-ebook/dp/B073SKJY2L/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1502127793&sr=8-1&keywords=the+art+of+surrender.) There is a promotional video too, on YouTube, which can be used to advertise in churches and small groups – feel free to show it to whomever you like! Simply YouTube search “The Art of Surrender Gibson” and it should again be the first option (or click this link – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_y6YwMLdfCI&t=4s).

In other news, we’re both still enjoying our jobs – Ben’s schedule is a little different throughout Summer though because most of the customers are young mums, as the cafe is located between two schools. This means that there are fewer customers at the usual ‘peak times’ immediately after both school-runs, and more customers at around midday – so he is able to open the café later and close it earlier. This has meant working fewer hours and being able to sleep in a little more, which has been nice, but it has also meant working on his own for two and a half hours each day rather than having at least two members of staff at almost all times. This change has made Ben’s working life a little more stressful and he comes home more tired than usual because it can be quite unpredictable and sometimes he is on his feet and constantly busy non-stop, all day, which is not normal for term-time. Next month his manager hopes to move on to other things, which may change things even more – watch this space…

My job is the same as ever… Ha – if you are one of the many people who think that all I ever do at work is sit and have coffee, read this recent blog post that I wrote at work about doing just that… I was challenged to write this by my manager shortly after someone stopped me in the street and said, “I want to understand what you do – everywhere you go, things happen; but you never seem to do any work – you just seem to sit and have coffee with people!” The link to the blog is here – http://www.yourewelcome.to/gloucestershire/you-just-seem-to-sit-and-have-coffee-with-people.

From September I’m cutting down to four days a week so that I can invest more time painting and developing the art business, which is hugely exciting. Both Ben and I have little promotions coming up next month, which has meant that even if I cut down to 30 hours a week we’ll still be earning more than we are currently! And if I manage to sell some paintings and/or jewellery, that will be a bonus too. Do check out the new website on www.KatGibsonArt.com – I’ve put a lot of work into it…

A few weeks ago we were fortunate enough to go on a wonderful 4-day holiday in Falmouth, Cornwall, where we stayed in a friend’s flat on the seafront. We had an absolutely fantastic time, and it was very relaxing. We walked on several beaches, went for walks, climbed a tree, explored some woodland, visited many art galleries and craft shops, played board games, slept a lot, did some open air painting while looking at amazing views from footpaths and pub beer gardens, and had a really wonderful time. We’re very thankful to the friends who lent us their flat there for the long-weekend!

We’re very much looking forward to going to New Mexico (USA) in a few weeks’ time for Ben’s best mate’s wedding!!!! We’re going for a week, the week leading up to the wedding, in the hope of spending some time with the happy couple. Ben hasn’t yet started writing his Best Man’s Speech but I have no doubt that it will be hilarious. Ben and Tom have been best friends since they were eight years old. Tom and Rosa (the fiancée, who is from New Mexico – hence the wedding location) live in Japan as YWAM missionaries. Two years ago we dragged Tom back to England for our wedding, so now he’s repaying the favour! We’re preparing for some unbearably hot weather….

That’s it from us! Have an amazing summer, and KEEP IN TOUCH!  🙂

Summer Ponderings

Hello! Sorry it’s been so long since we last sent out an update. There hasn’t been very much to write about in recent months. However, a few little things have changed in our lives since Easter… The most important of these is a shift in our mindsets. I think going away to Israel for a week helped us see our ‘normal, working life’ from a new perspective. Just getting away from the bustle and routine of life for a week gave us the space to think, and begin to approach life in a new way when we returned. I’ll try to explain.

For our whole lives up until this point we have always been looking forward to the next thing – finishing school; getting to Bolivia; going to Bible College; graduating; becoming ‘full-time-missionaries’ – and so since we didn’t immediately have a concrete plan to move abroad and work for a mission organisation, we found jobs to pay the bills in this ‘interim’ time. That is the way we saw it. And so over time we became increasingly uncomfortable with this lack of future plan – we wanted to be able to prepare, fundraise, learn the language of wherever it is that we will end up – and the not knowing was making us irritable, making us almost resent being here, despite having fantastic jobs, wonderful accommodation, in a beautiful setting – living in comfort. And the more settled we noticed ourselves becoming the more irritating this was for us: we felt like perhaps we shouldn’t be here; we should be looking for placements abroad, and pursuing different options, and pushing on doors. It’s not for lack of options – indeed, we felt somewhat overwhelmed with the vast array of opportunities out there. But we had no inclination of which option to choose; where even to begin. We considered doing a several-month-long trip to various different places, to get a feel for some of the different potential placements and have something solid to choose from – but it just didn’t seem right, somehow. So we kept praying, kept wondering, and kept on working and living fairly normal British lives, and this irritation remained. What are we doing here?! Why haven’t we gone somewhere yet?! What are we waiting for?!

By the time Easter came, we had been praying for some months that God would either show us where to go, and what to prepare for, or take away this strong discontentment that we had been feeling. We knew that we should be using this ‘interim’ time to grow where God has put us, to be missionaries here, and to learn vital skills that will be transferrable wherever we may end up. So that is what we were trying to do – and were praying desperately that God would remove this sense of irritation and discomfort, or else show us what to do. He didn’t seem to answer for quite some time. Then we had a week away in Israel visiting our friend out there, and had a lovely time with her, meeting people, seeing the sights, and thinking and praying about life and about everything in general.

We returned from Israel feeling refreshed and happy, but didn’t really notice until later the change that had come about inside both of us. Perhaps it just hit home that our friend’s life in Israel is more or less a ‘normal working life’ but in a different culture and with all the stress and complexity that accompanies that sort of work – or perhaps it was simply the time away and the return to our Gloucester life that caused it; I don’t know. But we were no longer feeling that pressure to leave the UK immediately. We felt like we could give ourselves permission to live the semi-settled life that we had found ourselves in. We no longer felt like we are in an ‘interim’ at all, but another equally important stage of our journey, a stage that will be as long or as short as it needs to be. We felt content – and so very thankful to God for it!

So in answer to the many questions that we hear from well-meaning friends all the time, yes we are still hoping to go into long-term cross-cultural mission work at some point in some place doing something or other – that is still the plan. We still don’t know where / what / when / how / with whom. But it is still very much on the radar. BUT we acknowledge that there is no need to rush. God will lead the way, not necessarily with thunder and lightning and clear signs but He will make a way, in the right time. For now, we give ourselves permission to throw ourselves into life here and now, not wishing the time away by staring off into the future trying to make out its foggy shapes but really being present here.

That was quite a long explanation for something that probably seems very small to anyone else, but to us it was quite a huge change.

In other news, jobs are going well – we are both enjoying them, and also both have small promotions coming up, which is nice! Ben may or may not be going up to full-time in September, depending on staff levels at the time and on his own choice. We’ll see! I, on the other hand, am cutting down to a 4 day week, which I never thought would happen – I’ll be making more time to paint, to eventually learn to paint well, and to try to sell some of my artwork. Due to the promotions, I’ll be on almost the same wage as I am now but working a day less – and we’ll still be able to put away more savings than we currently do (and even more if I sell a few paintings) regardless of Ben’s hours! We spent a lot of time thinking and praying about this, and came to the conclusion that it is the right thing to do at this stage. We figured that if we were saving for something specific rather than the ambiguous ‘future’ – if we had a placement lined up or if we wanted to save for a house or whatever – then we would not do this; but since we aren’t, we don’t see a reason to work every hour God sends simply for the sake of having more money.

I am very excited to cut down to 30 hours a week and to have a full day each week to spend painting. I feel very privileged – how many young people nowadays have this opportunity, to live comfortably and have enough income to become a part-time Artist! I never thought it possible. Ben has been incredibly encouraging the whole way through this thinking-and-praying process, even saying he thinks I’m talented enough that we might actually make some money from the artwork, too – ha! Time will tell. I’ve set up Art pages on Facebook, Etsy and Instagram (!) at KatGibsonArt, and set up websites at www.katgibsonart.com and www.KatGibsonArt.wordpress.com – though hope to merge them into one website or finish and choose one some time soon. Watch this space!

Another exciting thing coming up is Tom and Rosa’s wedding! Ben and Tom have been best mates since they were 8 years old. Two years ago we dragged Tom back from Japan to come to our wedding, so now this August we’re returning the favour and heading to New Mexico (where Rosa is from) for theirs!! Very exciting. Their UK wedding the following month will be held in Sheffield Cathedral, and the reception in the Bishop’s Palace Garden – because Tom’s Dad Pete is now Bishop of Sheffield! Friends in high places, with high hats….

Hope you’re enjoying the Summer! Do drop me a message – would be lovely to hear from you!!

Ben and Kat

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter!We’ve just returned from a week in Jerusalem visiting a friend who lives out there, and had a fantastic time. The weather was perfect; the atmosphere was amazing; the public transport was suitably unpredictable because of the religious festivals and holy days on both sides… The streets were bustling with pilgrims and locals all assembling to worship – Jews, Muslims, Christians – and many tourists simply there to see the sights. This made it difficult to get through the Old City at times which added to the atmosphere a lot. The old city is absolutely beautiful – I definitely recommend it!

The day we arrived was Palm Sunday (9th April), and after going with our friend to a service at her church we were then able to join the Palm Sunday procession with thousands and thousands of people from many different countries, all walking up the Mount of Olives waving palm branches and olive branches, singing and dancing and shouting with joy. It was a real highlight of the trip – an amazing experience, being surrounded by pilgrims doing a ‘walk of witness’ through the city in vast numbers and with immense volume. What an atmosphere! Various groups would sing over the top of one another, Christian worship songs in their own languages. And there were so many languages and colours and such variety in clothing…! Many clergy were there in their dog-collars (and some robed), and many monks and nuns too. There were African groups too, dressed in traditional outfits and singing in their languages. And so many more – all walking together and all there for the same purpose. Amazing!

The following day was Ben’s birthday! We first visited the shop where our friend volunteers, and then went on a Sandemans Tour of the Old City which was fantastic. We were talked through some of the history in each of the ‘quarters’ (Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Armenian), and were told about the significance of many of the sights. After that we visited the church of the holy sepulchre, then tried out one of the famous local sweet shops and had a delicacy called Knafe (k-naf-eh) which was melted cheese with pastry drenched in syrup. A wonderful birthday treat, and one we’d certainly recommend!

The next day we packed a lot in – we visited the ‘room of the last supper’ (supposedly); Absalom’s tomb as Jehoshaphat’s tomb; the Garden of Gethsemane (again supposedly); Dominus Flevit (another nearby garden which could well have been the site of Gethsemane); the Jewish Quarter again; Temple Mount (which was certainly a highlight!); Christchurch coffee shop and their beautiful walled garden; Yemin Mosche garden; Sucott Hallel (a Christian 24-7 prayer house with views over Jerusalem); Montefiore Windmill. Lots of walking that day!

Then the next day we left Jerusalem for the day and visited Bethlehem. We saw Manger Square; the Church of the Nativity; a wonderful olive wood factory and shop with great panoramic rooftop views; Connect cafe; and Manhane Yehuda Jewish market. The following day we visited St George’s Cathedral (in which we found kneelers that had been embroidered by many different churches across the UK including churches we knew!); the Garden Tomb which was absolutely stunning and a very peaceful place; St Anne’s church (where supposedly Mary the mother of Jesus was born, and her mum ‘Anne’ lived…!); and the pools of Bethesda (amazing!). After this we could rest, having seen all the sights that we had planned to see and that our friend had recommended. 

Our final two days were wonderfully restful (except for being five minutes away from where the 23 year old British woman was stabbed, and hearing all the sirens for an hour! That was quite a shock. Prayers for her family and friends…). We sat in cafes and gardens, went for walks, and went to a Good Friday church service. We went for a walk through a forest in a valley near where our friend lives, where we came across gazelles, many hyrax, a tortoise (!), many butterflies and a Finnish lady! (During the week we had also met Korean Kazakh ladies, reminding us of people we stayed with a year ago, and also an American girl from the same village as our friends whose wedding we attended in Chicago just before Christmas! Small world.)
On Easter Sunday (yesterday) we attended a beautiful service in the Garden Tomb (about 1000 people there, of many different nationalities again), and then a bring-and-share lunch at our friend’s church. We wandered around the Old City for our final few hours (and discovered a beautiful little art gallery called Levantine Gallery – do look them up on FB and visit the gallery if ever you’re in the area!), and then flew home overnight. We’re just returning to Gloucester now by train, hoping our car will be fixed and ready to drive again tomorrow….

It was a really lovely week away, and we met some inspiring people. The highlight was of course seeing our friend there, but it was fab seeing the sights too and simply being in such an amazing, historic place, so full of character and life. It was great to get away for a week too – a little distance helps give new perspective for life and work and home situations, and we returned to England inspired and very refreshed. There are many more things I want to say about Jerusalem but cannot – some things came as a shock to us, but it would not be appropriate to write about them here. 

Now, back to home and work and ‘normal life’! 

This Friday is the launch night for my art exhibition in Cinderford, FOD, and so I’m very much looking forward to that. We’re also looking forward to an upcoming church weekend away next month, which should be very pleasant. Not much else to report… Happy Easter all!

Spring has Sprung!

Hello! Sorry it’s been so long…!

Hope you’re well. Do write to us / email – we love to hear from people!!

Easter is soon upon us – how this year has flown by so far! We are looking forward to visiting a friend of ours in Israel next week, from Palm Sunday to Easter Monday. We picked a terrible time to go in terms of crowds and queues etc, and have been warned to keep away from the frantic pilgrims, especially the Christians who are the worst of the lot! We will be staying with her in Jerusalem, and of course taking the opportunity to see some of the sights, though the thing we’re most looking forward to is a good catchup with our friend there. We’ll be doing a lot of walking since the Arab public transport won’t be going that week. Two weeks ago we visited my grandparents in Darlington and we had chance to read through a diary that they wrote when they visited Israel – it was wonderful to see some of the things they got up to, look through the photos and giggle at their little comments. We hope to visit some of the same places that they went to on their coach tour ten years ago.

It was really lovely to visit the grandparents. I spent quite a lot of time with them when I was younger, and have many memories of being with them and staying in their beautiful house – it was great to go and stay there as an adult and to have chance to properly spend time with them rather than a flying visit. Hope to do so again some time in the near future. We also managed to drop in and briefly visit my parents on the way back, which was lovely!!

We went to visit my sister Marnie at Preston Uni three weeks ago, and it was fun meeting her tall Liverpudlian boyfriend Nathan (who, oddly enough, knows Ben’s best mate’s family from working in Liverpool Cathedral where Ben’s best mate’s dad is the Dean!), and her housemates (who made us feel old with all their noisy partying well into the night), and wandering around the city. Marnie and Nathan have taken up Bingo and go to a vast Bingo hall on Saturday nights, so of course we joined them! Very entertaining, and unlike anything we’ve done before.

Over the past month it seems we have done a lot of family visiting! Last weekend we visited Ben’s sister and her family in Oxford, and it was absolutely wonderful to see them. The highlight for me was being told (and seeing for myself!) that our 4-year-old niece really loved her birthday presents from us: the teddy we gave her has become the favourite teddy and is taken everywhere with her, even to bed – and the paints that we gave her have been put to good use. I really love birthdays and thinking through good presents for people, and had thought especially hard about her presents – so this really made my day. Her one-year-old brother is now very big and strong and walking almost completely unaided, which was lovely to see. The following day (Mothers’ Day) we were able to visit Ben’s parents and brothers in Wraysbury, which was lovely too – always really great to see them.

At the end of this month I have an art exhibition in Cinderford (on the edge of the Forest of Dean), which will be up for a month, so I’m quite excited about that! The launch night is on Friday 21st April in the evening, and then from the following Monday it will be open to the public during daytime hours (and some evenings) every weekday for a month. I’ve invited a few people to the launch night and hoping it will be a lovely evening and a fruitful month…! My first exhibition in a real art gallery – makes me feel almost like a ‘proper’ artist. Hoping it goes well and we can shift a few paintings!

Not much else to report, really! Both still enjoying work. Really enjoying the increasing hours of sunshine and the presence of lovely Spring flowers. Still being creative – making music, painting, jewellery making etc. Hope to book flights this weekend to go to the wedding of Ben’s best mate Tom who is getting married in New Mexico this Summer. Exciting!

Have a lovely April! Keep in touch!

Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!!

Hello lovely people! Hope you’ve had a wonderful Christmas 🙂

Ours has been busy as ever – visiting my parents and relatives the Christmas weekend, and then Ben’s relatives the New Year weekend. It’s been a lot of fun, and nice to have a little rest from work, though quite tiring in its own way! I return to work tomorrow til Friday – I don’t get time off between Christmas and New Year except for the Bank Holidays. Ben gets the week off, and plans to spend time visiting friends in Walsall and Stafford.

A couple of weeks ago we had the great joy of visiting some friends in Chicago and attending their wedding. We spent a week there and were able to catch up with old friends, get to know new friends, see some of the sights, and help the wedding party prepare for the big day. It was wonderful!

Some of you may know I’ve been working on a writing project – the Art of Surrender – for a few years now. I’m happy to announce that I’ve finally completed a first draft (50 short chapters) and am now on the proofreading/editing stage. Who knows what will come of this 🙂

We still don’t have solid plans for the long-term future, though we have many small ideas… We’ve been meeting with a ‘mentor’ who has been praying with us through the process, and having various conversations with people from a few different organisations. We’ll keep you posted. 

Work is going well for both of us – it’s strange to think I’m a quarter of the way through my two year contract! We are both finding work quite tiring but rewarding. (Ben is deputy manager of a community cafe run by a church; I’m a Community Builder in two villages around where we live.) 

Health has its ups and downs but we’ll be alright…! I’m currently battling with a flu-like virus, which I really hope passes soon because I don’t have time to be ill this week! Ugh.

Anyway – merry Christmas, and a happy New Year! May your 2017 be filled with the light and peace of Christ 🙂

November update

Hello lovely people! Another quick update from us – I realise it’s been six weeks or so since the last one…

Work is going well for both of us – Ben’s still enjoying working in the café in Charlton Kings, though there are days when he goes between being bored (no customers) to being stressed (many customers at once) – but otherwise he enjoys it. He gets on well with his colleagues, which is the main thing J My work as a Community Builder is going well – it’s a slow process, and there are major challenges, but those satisfying moments when you know someone’s life has been positively changed make it all worthwhile.

Some time ago we had to decide whether to stay at St Lawrence’s church where we’ve been going for almost three and a half years, and which is a ten-minute walk away from where we now live, or to start going to the Baptist church where Ben works, and he could take on a part-time youth work position there as well as the café job. In the end we felt that it was right to stay at St Lawrence’s and really try to commit to getting involved there where we can. We love the people at St Lawrence’s, and are very excited to join them on the church weekend away early next year. We are also soon to be robed up and turned into ‘acolytes’ and ‘crucifers’ – which sounds scarier than it is…!

Recently both sets of parents came to visit us for a weekend each, which was lovely! It was great to see them, to show them a little of the wonderful county where we live, and to catch up a bit.

We’re very excited because in a few weeks’ time we’re going to the USA to visit some friends for a week and go to their wedding! We will be lodging with friends of the bride, and will spend the first couple of days in Chicago city (and will see some of the sights!), then the next couple of days in her hometown not too far from the city, then will have an American early-Christmas with the bride’s family, and then for the last few days will help them with last-minute wedding preparations and setting up one of the venues. We’re very much looking forward to it and are excited to see them again – and are also taking the opportunity to see a friend from Michigan who we lived and worked with for a year in Bolivia, who is currently living in Illinois.

Regarding the long-term future, we are still uncertain. For the next two years at least we will commit to Barnwood, the village in Gloucester where we live. We’ve been assigned a ‘mentor’ to help us think about long-term plans, and it is encouraging to meet with him and pray about different options. We haven’t given up on the plans to go abroad and do some form of ‘cross-cultural mission work’ – though, as before, we are unclear as to what that will look like or where we will go. There are so many options, so many incredible opportunities in amazing places where we are assured we would be very useful – but we are yet to decide on one. For now we’re in Barnwood 🙂 We’ll keep you posted.

Hope you all enjoy the preparations for Christmas – it will soon be upon us! We had our first mulled wine of the season yesterday at a local Candlelit Christmas Market with an indoor brass band and ‘real Santa’! It made us feel very festive.

God bless!

October update

Oops – it’s been two months since the last blog! The year goes by so quickly. Oh well – here’s our update for this month.
We’re both happily settling into jobs that we love, yay! Ben is working in a Christian coffee shop owned by a baptist church in Cheltenham – he’s a barista, but also the vicar of that church has asked him to pray about how God might want him to develop the role and make it more missional. So he’s doing that. He loves working there, especially because his colleagues are friendly. His main worry while jobhunting was ending up in a job where he doesn’t get on with his colleagues, so this job is great!
My job is still going well, and there are some wonderful moments when I can see that the work is making a positive difference to people’s lives, and those moments are what make me really love my job. My colleagues are friendly, and I love the two villages where I work. It’s very convenient living near where I work, because Ben needs the car to get to his work and I can just walk to anywhere I need to be.
It’s wonderful, too, living in the quiet village of Barnwood. There is a beautiful park and arboretum just a ten minute walk away from the house, and our neighbours (the ones we’ve managed to meet!) seem nice. The village smells of lavender, which makes a pleasant change from living in the city centre – and it’s very quiet here, which makes it easier to rest and relax when we’re at home, than when we lived in the city centre. We’re pretty settled now in the lovely maisonette that we’re renting, and thoroughly appreciating having a larger living room as well as a spare room and much more storage space than in our previous flat. We use the spare room as an art studio, a music room, a film room (we don’t have a TV but now have a projector so it feels almost like the cinema when we watch films in the spare oom!), a prayer room and an everything-room – it’s great to have that freedom. It also has a nice sofa bed which we can extend when people come and stay. 
We are still prayerfully pondering various options for the long-term future. For now we will be staying in Barnwood, at least for the next two years – and I hope that we will be able to use some of this time preparing for wherever we might end up afterwards. Please pray that God will let us know where we should go and what we should do longer-term. We have been offered various absolutely amazing options, and are aware of opportunities all over the world that we could pursue – but no one place or job in particular has yet stood out above the others. We would appreciate prayer for this process!
Hope you’re well, and please do keep in touch!!

More summer…

Hello!
It seems it’s time for another update from us… Hope you’re having as fun a summer as we are!
This summer there have been many changes in our lives; many occasions to celebrate. We graduated with degrees; I had a birthday; Ben passed his driving test; we got a car; we moved house; I started a new job… Then, after all of these things, we went away on holiday! 
Ben, being half-Finnish, visits Finland every second year with his parents and siblings to see all the relatives and enjoy the wonder of the forests and lakes. For the second time I was given the privilege of going with them this year, and we had an absolutely fantastic time. We found it very relaxing being able to go for walks in the forest, swim in lakes, pick abundant bilberries, sit on beaches, enjoy many barbecues, sit in saunas, and of course to spend time with relatives/in-laws. It was an amazing two weeks, and as ever I feel so blessed to be a part of this family.
Shortly after returning to the UK, Ben and I left Gloucester again to volunteer at New Wine, a Christian camping conference. Ben has been working on the Site Services team, which seems to have very long shifts at horrible hours; and I have been on the youth team, as I usually do at this conference. We’ve met some amazing people, as well as having opportunity to catch up with old friends, and we’ve been able to go to a few seminars too. Unfortunately Ben and I seem to have almost opposite shifts, so we haven’t been able to spend much time together – but the time we have had together has been even more valuable to us as a result. Camping has been uncomfortable and cold, but it’s all worth it to be here. The atmosphere in this place is amazing. One thing that has stood out to me in a seminar I attended this week is that it just makes God so extravagantly happy whenever we acknowledge Him in any way. He does not bring long lists of accusations against us when we come to Him, as I think many of us subconsciously assume, but rejoices when we look to Him. Awesome! As is often the way, this truth was not a new thing to me, but it was good to hear it again. God is good.
We return to Gloucester this Sunday, and then on Monday we are taking my sister away for a week for her 18th birthday! Very exciting. As soon as we return from that week I return to work, and Ben returns to job-hunting. It is strange thinking about settling back into a routine of working life – but we are looking forward to it, especially having moved house into a really lovely area of Gloucester (as opposed to the city centre), and into a rather nice ‘maisonette’. Do come visit us if you get chance!
Have a great August!!