Carving New Shapes from Old
By Terry Jarvis
After eight months of getting up at 4am to go on the round and often working well into the evening on the figure work, it was a terrific shock to find myself out of work. I felt suddenly that my life had come to a total standstill. The pressure of the recent years weighed on me, and I felt crushed by the burden of my own inadequacy.
For two whole days I lay face down on a sun bed outside in the yard in a state of semi-consciousness. I couldn’t think. I had no mind. No will. Nothing. Nothing but fear and a gnawing emptiness.
I was living a nightmare. I was falling to bits. I couldn’t even talk to Sue. No one could help me. Only God. I made up my mind to pray and pray until I got through to him again. I prayed. Fell asleep. Awoke and prayed again. Slept some more. Prayed again. I felt as if all hell were let loose on me.
Near the end of the second day I was feeling desperate to fill the emptiness in my heart with something from God. I reached for the Bible lying on the ground by the bed. I opened it and read: ‘It is God who is all the while effectually at work in you – energising and creating in you the power and desire – both to will and to work for his good pleasure and satisfaction and delight' (Philippians 2:13, Amplified Bible).
That was it! That was really it! God was clearly speaking to me through this verse, telling me that he was working in me, making me willing… making me willing even when I didn’t feel willing… giving me the power and desire to do his will.
The thought began to put me together. For the first time I felt free to think about what I really wanted to do and confident that my will and God’s will could be one and the same. And the instant I turned my mind to consider what desire there was in my heart about what I should do with my life, I was surprised to find that there were things tucked away there unrecognised.
I pieced together the thoughts. My desire was this – to live entirely by faith and trust in God, to preach his message and to rely on him to meet the needs of myself and my family.
But, even as this revelation came, I knew that I wasn’t yet ready for that life. So did I have a practical desire for the present? Yes. I was startled to discover that deep down I did have a very real desire. I wanted to be a craftsman!
Why? Where had that strong desire come from? I saw a picture in my mind of a small resentful boy standing all alone facing a wall. It was me, in that children’s home so long ago, hurting, being punished. And for what? For whittling away at a lump of chalk with a toy drill. As long as I could remember, I’d always loved whittling sticks or lumps of clay or chalk. It came naturally. I enjoyed it. I might even be good at it. Could I be a woodcarver? I remembered what Sue had said to me years before when she’d watched me working away at a set of chess pieces in Manchester. Then I had been experimenting with mounds of clay baked in the oven, scraping away for hours to achieve some level of satisfaction.
‘You’ve got a talent for it. Use it for God,’ Sue had said.
This was enough to put me back on my feet. I wasn’t sure where to begin, but I was convinced God was showing me that I should work with my hands. I’d already done a lot of experimenting in my spare time, using different rubber solutions to make moulds to reproduce chess pieces in resin. I got to work again, getting books on carving and practising endlessly on odd pieces of wood. Recognisable shapes began to emerge. Animals mostly, or birds.
I prayed for a shed to work in – and almost immediately a friend told me about her mother’s next-door neighbour who wanted a shed taken away. I prayed for tools – and was given the opportunity to buy practically everything I needed to equip the shed for a fraction of the real price.
Being creative in this way, actually producing something of value with my own hands, was the start of a new confidence and a healing closeness with God. I spent hours in my little shed in the garden – and worked for God and with God. As I shaped and caressed my rough sawn block and began to see emerging the antlers of a stag or the wing of a bird, I could almost feel God at work in my life, shaping and loving me. It wasn’t all plain sailing, but then, didn’t I sometimes have to take the roughest of files to my wood in my search for the best result?
Working when you have to is boring, but when it’s a heart’s desire because it’s God’s will, then it’s perfect! Working in the will of the Lord is a delight! And he gives us the power to accomplish it.
I knew it wasn’t going to be easy at first to make any money from my work, slow as it was. I decided to look for a job until my work improved enough to guarantee regular work. At the local employment exchange, I saw an advertisement for a driver with a joinery business. Bad memories of my time with the men at the radiator repair yard came flooding back, and I turned away. But when I returned three weeks later, I had the nagging feeling that God wanted me to take that job; sure enough, it was still on the board, and I applied.
As it turned out, my fears were unfounded. It was a pleasant small family company of high-class joiners. And, as well as feeding us for the next year or so, the job had one other very valuable benefit: the carpenters, who got to know of my woodcarving, often passed me generous offcuts of really good quality wood which kept me well supplied in my shed for a long time.
Carving new shapes from old… that was at long last happening in my life, too. And at long last, I felt I could cope with helping others. During this time I began to make contacts with prisons and remand homes and started to visit there, hesitantly at first but with growing confidence when I saw that the men and boys I talked to were interested in finding out what had happened to someone who really knew by experience what they were going through.
Since my time in Manchester, I’d longed to visit prisoners...I met a chaplain who invited me to speak at Feltham Borstal, and that’s how I was finally able to start visiting the prisons. Also, our church fellowship had a singing group which used to visit prisons, and I began to use this as an opportunity to speak about my experience of coming to God. Following that, I was given invitations to speak at many prisons, including Wormwood Scrubs, Wandsworth, and Winchester. On one occasion, eight prisoners at Pentonville were converted after I shared my story with them.
One afternoon, I was in Twickenham Library, in the reference section. I often went there to study books to get ideas for designs for my woodworking. I looked up as a creaking of the floor announced the arrival of someone else. An elderly, gentle-looking man with an umbrella hanging from his wrist and a big smile on his face searched the room with his eyes, obviously looking for someone. When he saw me, he marched right over and thrust a piece of folded paper into my hand.
‘God wants me to give you this,’ he said, still smiling broadly. Then he turned briskly and disappeared round the shelves of books.
I was astounded. I’d never seen the man before and never had anything like this happen to me. I unfolded the bit of paper and read a Bible reference. I could hardly wait to get home and look it up. The verse was from Matthew 7:7: ‘Keep on asking, and it will be given you; keep on seeking, and you will find; keep on knocking (reverently), and the door will be opened to you’ (Amplified Bible).
It was an exciting way for God to confirm to me that I was going in the right direction. I would keep on seeking, keep on with God, keep on wanting to do his will. Having found his will, I wasn’t going to let it go easily, no matter how tough the going got.
Terry Jarvis is a wood carver and author based in Cumbria, England.
Terry's other work on Foreshadow:
I Found a New Life (Non-fiction, 2021)
'Carving New Shapes from Old' is excerpted from Terry's book The Long Search (print version; ebook version). It has been republished here with the author's permission.
Below is Terry's description of The Long Search:
I'm a wood carver with a special love for working with driftwood. Right now I’m planning to create an original floor lamp from a large and beautiful piece of wood that is deeply grooved and lined from the effects of the ocean. I call it ‘the castle in the sky’ because that’s what I see in its shape. I want to mount it on a curved white pebble base and light the ‘walls’ and ‘windows’ and ‘turrets’ from below.
My piece of driftwood has been shaped so creatively by the action of the waves – just as my life has been shaped by events, circumstances, difficulties and trials. The rough and smooth parts of my character have been moulded by the days that have gone before. I have been tested and tried as a person. By the age of 22, I had travelled much of the world, largely in pursuit of making money through drug smuggling. Although at one time I had a great deal of money, I discovered I was empty inside.
Since I was a young kid, I believed there was a God. But after my mum died of a brain tumour and I found myself in the care system, I gave up praying. Despite the instability of my teenage years, deep down I always felt there was a God. However, my interest in spirituality took me on my travels into many religions and the occult. It was only when I literally got to the end of myself that I cried out to God in desperation. He heard me, and I began a whole new life.
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17/10/2022 09:25:32 am
An inspiring story. Thank you for sharing it.
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