I met Cathy at Spring Harvest in 2013, and have enjoyed chatting with her on Facebook, and occasional face-to-face meetings every since, so looked forward to reading what she had to say!
Often known as ‘Bargain Bex’, I soon highlighted the sentence:
Good quality doesn’t usually come cheap, ethically sourced is not often a bargain and bespoke is never ever budget.
Those things that are worth cherishing (wisdom, intimacy and trust) take time to dig and uncover. The title of the book comes from a paperweight that winked upon Cathy’s desk – highlighting different facets of thinking – reminding us that we may be frail but “Christ is alive in us, no matter what challenges we face or how fragile we feel at times.”
How often have we probably had ‘gems’ scattered around us and probably not noticed them – in a busy season in our life? How then will we take the time to dig beneath our lives to discover what is hidden beneath – for identity, strength, character and purpose?
Stories of diamonds, and the properties of diamonds are woven into the book – how the pressure creates something so beautiful. We are reminded of our value (Deut 7:6) – if we looked in a mirror – what value would we place upon ourselves? Some over-value themselves, some under-value themselves, but we needed to be reminded that we are valuable – surrounded by the unconditional love of God:
When living in a culture that thrives on the image of unattainable success and beauty doesn’t exactly help our self-perception, much of our own sense of value is shaped, for better and for worse, by the significant relationships and experiences in our lives.
Cathy talks of being introduced to the unconditional love of God by a Brethren chapel in Plymouth … a church with no bells and whistles, but full of genuine love and welcome! They soon suggested that she join a large Baptist church with a strong student ministry, where she learnt that “I didn’t need to be constantly trying harder to be good enough for God.” To truly reach something valuable, we have to dig deep, often to a foundational level:
Despite our feeble attempts to build our esteem upon the shallow base of achievement or approval, God knows that his foundational truths are the only rocks that can permanently underpin our sense of value and give us strength.
Often the things we value most highly are more important than their actual cost … tied to the memories and the relationships that they symbolis(ed) – reminds me of Lucy’s book earlier this week!
As we build memories and share experiences, our lives become inextricably linked with others’, creating priceless relationships and adding value to those around us.
Why do we wait until funerals do tell people how wonderful they are, how valuable those people are to us? Let us give more kindness/words of encouragement every day – impact can be long lasting. It is easier to offer such words of value to others when they come from a place of valuing ourselves (but not from a narcissistic quest of self-gratification) … we can notice, value and unlock the potential in others too!
Ah, another great quote used:
We can remember that each of us is writing a one-off story. “As each of us accept that God has not made a mistake in his design of us … we can stop striving to be what we are not and embrace who we really are.” (Check out Gal 6:4-5). Drawing upon coaching thinking – we are encouraged to think about where we feel most alive and in our element – where we can “become fruitful and fulfilled. We are often more efficient and hardworking because we love it and it comes naturally to us.” (Romans 12:6-8). And another great to draw upon:
C.S. Lewis once said that the church is a community of people, each of whom is gifted to be able to see a different aspect of God’s beauty in a unique way.
We are challenged that God has given each of us particular resources to steward – are we prepared to change “to grow beyond the expectations of others” to be all that God would dream of us to be.
We are to be a vibrant, risk-taking and radical collection of people who have embraced our own unique calling as disciples of Jesus wherever we are.
We need a climate in which we are both encouraged and challenged – carefully balanced! Particularly if someone (yourself or other) has ever said that you are a mistake or a disappointment – we are reminded that you were lovingly made by God – he doesn’t make mistakes – and thinks you’re pretty special! Made in the image of God – you also have creative DNA – stuff those who say that creativity is a ‘profession’ – it’s something that’s built into all of us – we may not all be Van Gogh’s, but don’t let that stop us (I definitely paraphrased that last bit somewhat)! Remembering Eph 3:20 – maybe some of us need to ask for more imagination as we present our creativity before God.
Our world presents a picture of ‘perfection’, but if we look at diamonds – each has unique idiosyncrasies known as ‘inclusions’ – they are an accepted part of its identity … flawlessness is an unattainable ideal… and in fact our identities are formed by the ‘knocks and bumps of life’. Why do we magnify our own inadequacies, turn away compliments, or chastise ourselves for not being ‘just a little better’? We can be surprised at how often our biggest strengths are tied to our biggest struggles … as we form. If we accept those ‘mistakes’ and ‘failures’ then we can spend more time building our strengths rather than trying to circumnavigate our weaknesses (oh yes, check out Marcus Buckingham).
Turning to relationships – we all long for deep and genuine relationships – Cathy asks whether we are guilty of demanding transparency from others whilst remaining opaque ourselves… consider the need for mutual vulnerability, whilst recognising that hurting people hurt people so this is not risk free. And amen to this “Transparency, however, is not the same as unfiltered unspokenness” (especially online, I must add!)! There is a need to identify safe spaces – we look to the example of David who poured out his raw and unedited emotion before God, but also a close group of friends where we can share compassion – as we learn to do this, we create safe spaces for others to do this with us. Cathy does then go onto consider what she thinks Jesus would have done with social media – thanking God for the benefits, but aware of the drawbacks… although I would question the implication that ‘real life’ can only be lived without an internet filter… it’s real, but in a different way – and if it’s all we have, then we probably need to look again! Our desire for meaningful relationships is often limited by a lack of time .. time and effort are definitely required to maintain them!
What happens when life gets tough? “A diamond is basically a piece of coal that has handled stress remarkably well.” We only learn resilience through experiencing life – not cutting ourselves off – how do we encourage more in ourselves and others?
The people who inspire me most are those who have had to build up their resilience muscles through grief, health challenges, or redundancy, for example, and who have grown stronger through it, gaining wisdom, perspective on other smaller crises, and a compassion for others who are still struggling on the journey. They might still have their own battles to fight, but they know how to try and fight them.
We need to remember that God loves us and meets us in the middle of the dark times – and there’s no need for the emotional guilt that is laden upon the disabled, depressed and discouraged that the church sometimes loads on. Love this saying on a poster Cathy spotted “Faith isn’t faith until it’s all you’re hanging on to”.
We get lots of insights into Cathy’s life, what she’s learnt from it, and the theology that she has drawn upon:
In a hundred little choices that you and I will make today, we have the opportunity to show the kind of integrity and authenticity that declares that we want our life to line up with what we believe and who we are, wherever we are.
We are encouraged to think about what we hold upon materially – we may not have to de-clutter to a level of poverty, but how do we remove our addiction to ‘more’ stuff – particularly for ourselves – how do we share more? Richard Foster says “We crave things we neither need nor enjoy”. Cathy:
When we are able to both look after what we have been given carefully and share it generously, it gives God as much pleasure as it gives us.
In understanding that our entire life is an act of worship to God – which should adjust our focus upon the world – we learn to earn ethically, spend wisely, save carefully, and give regularly and sacrificially. And it’s not just about money, but time, wisdom, attention and prayer. How do we look back to our past, be thankful for the positives, but seek not to repeat the negatives… reproducing God’s values – especially amongst children (whether parent, youth worker or teacher or other influential adults – spot echoes of Raising Children in a Digital Age there) – and being counter-cultural disciples in the world.
We need to consider whether we will shine more brightly if we had less ‘facets’ to our lives – are we trying to ‘add more sparkle’, and in doing so deadening that which is already there? This is not another list of ‘musts’ with a spoonful of guilt:
Guilt is never a good master and the pressure of others should never define us or be our motivation, no matter how compelling the case we are presented with.
If we know what our unique values, skills, etc are, then we are more aware of what God made us for – we can therefore pass on those things that do not add to our mission in the world to others who would do it better, without feeling threatened! We are reminded that our setting matters, and that at times we may be encouraged to step out differently – allowing God to shine more light through us. This may take time and effort, but the end result will be worth it. One person, one action may be all it takes to make a big change…
Dr Bex Lewis is passionate about helping people engage with the digital world in a positive way, where she has more than 20 years’ experience. She is Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University and Visiting Research Fellow at St John’s College, Durham University, with a particular interest in digital culture, persuasion and attitudinal change, especially how this affects the third sector, including faith organisations, and, after her breast cancer diagnosis in 2017, has started to research social media and cancer. Trained as a mass communications historian, she has written the original history of the poster Keep Calm and Carry On: The Truth Behind the Poster (Imperial War Museum, 2017), drawing upon her PhD research. She is Director of social media consultancy Digital Fingerprint, and author of Raising Children in a Digital Age: Enjoying the Best, Avoiding the Worst (Lion Hudson, 2014) as well as a number of book chapters, and regularly judges digital awards. She has a strong media presence, with her expertise featured in a wide range of publications and programmes, including national, international and specialist TV, radio and press, and can be found all over social media, typically as @drbexl.