Struggles… and Balm

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my help and my God.

Psalm 42:5,6a NRSVA

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder sucks. Its most insidious symptoms are toxic guilt and feelings of worthlessness. They are, in every sense of the word, crippling. Frankly it’s a miracle that I even get out of bed, if I’m really honest. Mindfulness meditation allows me to settle into the present, knowing my full humanity, my full made-in-the-likeness-of-God self.

I can b r e a t h e.

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

1 John 4:10 NRSVA

Self-compassion has allowed me to begin to love myself as a parent loves a child. I am able to see myself from a godly perspective – through the prism of Love. God has no desire to beat me up continually over my flaws – on the contrary, so why do I do it to myself? God loves me. I am redeemed. I am no more than anyone else, but I am certainly no less than anyone else. I don’t need to know any more than that. So I wrote the following, to remind myself – and maybe you – of what it really means to be a child of the Most High God:

You are a child of God, beloved and precious. Christ paid the price for you to not be shackled by sin. He loved YOU so much that He paid with His LIFE. This doesn’t mean that life is (ever) easy but it DOES mean you are no worse than anyone else – and if Jesus says you’re forgiven, what in heaven’s name are you beating yourself up for?

You’re ok. One step at a time. One day at a time. One foot in front of the other. Jesus is right there with you as you go. So stop beating yourself up and get on with living.

Life is a gift. Every breath is a miracle.  What had to happen for the confluence of atoms to become molecules, for the molecules to become living cells, for the cells to form a hugely complex organism – for the universe to create YOU? You’re a miracle. You are God-breathed. This is cause for celebration.

 

There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole

There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.

Sometimes I get discouraged, or think my work’s in vain,

But then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again...

~ traditional spiritual

 

So let’s stop chasing self-esteem and start being compassionate to everyone, including ourselves, as Kristin Neff so eloquently explains in this video.

The only negative thing about this video is that for the speaker one of the most difficult things in her life is the fact that her son has autism. For me, the fact that my son has autism is really the least of the horrible things that have happened in my life. In fact, I don’t consider it as ‘happening’ to me at all – he’s the one with autism, not me. I’m his mum. It’s my job to be there for him. Why on earth do we presume we have the right to a ‘perfect’ child? Our Westernised, consumerist mindset is beyond crazy, especially when it comes to our own children. Ugh. I am so glad it is not possible to diagnose autism antenatally, as is frequently done with Down’s Syndrome. Anyway, I digress… The video is in many other ways excellent (and I’m not criticising Kristin – just pointing out something about our culture) and Kristin Neff’s audiobook Self-Compassion Step-by-Step has been hugely beneficial for me and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is struggling, whatever your reason. And perhaps I should recall the words of Edith Eger, Holocaust survivor and author of The Choice – there is no hierarchy of suffering.

See also Positively Powerless by LL Martin (blogger at Enough Light) for what the problems are with the self-esteem movement and an unhealthy emphasis on positivity and the consumerist mindset, particularly within Christianity. God is not a slot machine. The very notion is appalling… but that is a post for another day.

The featured image is from By Deror_avi – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36512852

 

 

Why Did I Choose my LGBTQ Children over the Church?

I recently learned that not one but two of my children experience same sex attraction and do not identify as heterosexual. The last time I was at church a man, one of the deacons, stood up and spoke against the ‘spread of the homosexual, anti-church agenda’. My kids don’t have an agenda; they’re just kids. A fortnight ago I asked the pastor to meet with me to discuss whether our family would be welcome to worship at the church. Trying to be gracious, I also said it was probably better if I resigned my membership and found a church closer to home. The pastor ignored the request to meet and agreed that it would be better to find a church closer to home. He didn’t respond to other issues. I was left deeply disappointed. What I got was… just fluff. Like a politician, it was carefully worded, but it didn’t actually say anything of substance. I had had respect for this man. Now, well, not so much. Will we find a church more locally? I don’t know. I pray, as I have always prayed, that Jesus is the centre of our home.

So why did I choose my children over the church? Because I’m their mum.

‘A Guest,’ I Answered, ‘Worthy to be Here’

 

‘Miserere mei, Deus’ is based on Psalm 51. It was composed by Gregorio Allegri, transcribed by a young Mozart and sung here by the incomparable Tenebrae Choir.

 

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin.

 For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me.
 Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
    and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
    and blameless when you pass judgement.
 Indeed, I was born guilty,
    a sinner when my mother conceived me.

 You desire truth in the inward being;
    therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
 Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
 Hide your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.

 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and put a new and right spirit within me.
 Do not cast me away from your presence,
    and do not take your holy spirit from me.
 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and sustain in me a willing spirit.

 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    and sinners will return to you.
 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,
    O God of my salvation,
    and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.

 O Lord, open my lips,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
 For you have no delight in sacrifice;
    if I were to give a burnt-offering, you would not be pleased.
 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
    rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,
 then you will delight in right sacrifices,
    in burnt-offerings and whole burnt-offerings;
    then bulls will be offered on your altar.

                                                                ~ Psalm 51 NRSVA
   

 

The first step in becoming a follower of Christ is recognising my own depthless misery – my sin. I can’t turn back time. I can’t undo any of what I have done. I made the chasm between myself and God. Me. Why? Because I do stupid, hurtful things, selfish things. Christ alone was perfect, and He alone took the stain of sin upon Himself, so that I might not have to be separated from God. I deserve none of what He gave, yet because my Creator knows me, and loves me, He brings Himself to me. What love is this?

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,

Guilty of dust and sin.

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack

From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning

If I lacked anything.

“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here”:

Love said, “You shall be he.”

“I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear, I cannot look on thee.”

Love took my hand, and smiling did reply, “Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame

Go where it doth deserve.”

“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”

“My dear, then I will serve.”

“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”

So I did sit and eat.

~ Love by George Herbert, circa 1633

 

Reblog: The Spirit of Christ

‘Being Christ like is not a contest of holiness but a challenge to be the good news to those we encounter.’ Amen!

A Pastor's Thoughts

It is not for us to say who, in the deepest sense, is or is not close to the spirit of Christ. We do not see into men’s hearts. We cannot judge, and are indeed forbidden to judge.

—- C S Lewis

How many times have you been confronted with the question, are you a Christian? Our first response is obvious, yes! For some, that response requires a great many qualifiers. Have you had a dramatic “born again” experience or , like John Wesley, has your heart been strangely warmed ? C S Lewis in his writing warns us of such qualifiers. He asserts that the spirit of Christ is far more powerful than our words and expressions. Our place as Christians is to share the love and freedom that comes from knowing that spirit to all who come our way. Anything other than that would be judging, and we…

View original post 280 more words

2018: My Year in Books

red chamber

My favourite book of 2018: The Red Chamber by Pauline Chen

I read 148 books in 2018. Phew! Lots of children’s books. I think my daughter is right when she says I am going through a second childhood. Hurrah! It’s part of the healing process. Especially in the absence of any actual therapy (cheers, NHS). Jesus made a point of the importance of being childlike so I figure I can’t be too far wrong.

It’s worth adding that as well as these, I read the bible: a chapter of the Old Testament every day and a chapter of the New Testament every day. When I get to the end of either, I begin again. Also, when I get to the end of The Practice of the Presence of God, I start again. I’m clearly a poor apprentice in this area as I need to immediately begin again as soon as I have finished, which means I have read the book more times than I can count, but I’m not stopping any time soon. The Practice of the Presence of God, written 400 years ago, is about living life with God always on your mind and in your heart – basically a practical guide to living out the Gospel, from an ordinary person’s perspective.

I’m currently enjoying reading Charles Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby, Rachel Held Evans’ Searching for Sunday, Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Confusion, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little Town on the Prairie, Lucia Capacchione’s Recovery of Your Inner Child and Margaret Walker’s Jubilee. I’m also listening to a series of lectures entitled The Story of Human Language by Professor John McWhorter, which are absolutely fascinating. I’ve long had a penchant for linguistics and McWhorter is an excellent teacher for the layperson.

The Great Courses lectures are a wonderful resource for anyone wanting to broaden their horizons with talks from academics. I have previously listened to The Science of Mindfulness by Prof. Ronald D. Siegel, An Economic History of the World Since 1400 by Prof. Donald J. Harreld, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy by Prof. Jason M. Satterfield and about half of America and the New Global Economy by Prof. Timothy Taylor.

Drumroll, please. Here are all the books I read in 2018, courtesy of Goodreads:

CF – Books aimed at children under 14

NF – Non-fiction

F – Fiction aimed at 14+

Titles with links are my favourites of 2018 (new-to-me) books.

Joan Aiken – A Necklace of Raindrops and Other Stories, CF

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, CF

Black Hearts in Battersea, CF

Night Birds on Nantucket, CF

Louisa May Alcott – Rose in Bloom, F

Eight Cousins, CF

Good Wives, F

Little Women, F

Elaine Aron – The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You, NF

Jane Austen – Persuasion, F

Pride and Prejudice, F

Northanger Abbey, F

Lauren Bates – Distraction Addiction, NF

Mary Beard – Pompeii, NF

Katie Berry – 30 Days to a Clean and Organized House, NF

Enid Blyton – Five on a Treasure Island, CF

Five Run Away Together, CF

The Amelia Jane Collection, CF

Hollow Tree House, CF

Five Go Off in a Caravan, CF

The Folk of the Faraway Tree, CF

The Valley of Adventure, CF

Mary Elizabeth Braddon – The Christmas Hirelings, CF

Jo Brand – The More You Ignore Me, F

Charlotte Bronte – Jane Eyre, F

Emily Bronte – Wuthering Heights, F

Frances Hodgson Burnett – The Secret Garden, CF

A Little Princess, CF

Little Lord Fauntleroy, CF

Jessie Burton – The Miniaturist, F

Nora Carroll – The Color of Water in July, F

Father Gary Caster – The Little Way of Lent, NF

Jung Chang – Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, NF

Pauline A. Chen – The Red Chamber, F

Agatha Christie – Murder in Mesopotamia, F

Toby Clements – Kingdom Come, F

Clara Cannucciari – Clara’s Kitchen, NF

Susan Coolidge – What Katy Did, CF

What Katy Did at School, CF

Jill Cooper – How to Get Organized, NF

Penny-Pinching Mama, NF

Patricia Cornwell – Post Mortem, F

Richmal Crompton – William the Pirate, F

William’s Happy Days, F

Just William, F

William Again, F

Carolyn L. Dean – Bed, Breakfast and Bones, F

E.M. Delafield – Diary of a Provincial Lady, F

The Provincial Lady Goes Further, F

The Provincial Lady in Wartime, F

The Provincial Lady in America, F

The Provincial Lady in Russia, F

Monica Dickens – One Pair of Hands, NF

Berlie Doherty – Abela, CF

Arthur Conan Doyle – A Study in Scarlet, F

The Sign of Four, F

Andrew Eade – Coldwater Fishkeeping, NF

Edith Eger – The Choice, NF

Grace Foakes – Four Meals for Fourpence, NF

Neil Gaiman – The Sleeper and the Spindle, F

Coraline, CF

Norse Mythology, F

Lisa Gardner – Catch Me, F

Fear Nothing, F

Right Behind You, F

Look For Me, F

Elizabeth Gaskell – Ruth, F

Wives and Daughters, F

Cranford, F

Lewis Haas – The Basics of a Healthy Vegan Lifestyle, NF

James Herriot – All Creatures Great and Small, F

Let Sleeping Vets Lie, F

Elizabeth Jane Howard – The Light Years, F

Marking Time, F

Laila Ibrahim – Mustard Seed, F

Eowyn Ivey – The Snow Child, F

David Jackson – Don’t Make a Sound, F

Kevin Jackson – Mayflower: The Voyage from Hell, NF

Julian of Norwich – Revelations of Divine Love, NF

Judith Kerr – When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, CF

The Other Way Round, CF

A Small Person Far Away, F

Jeff Kinney – Cabin Fever, CF

Choderlos de Laclos – Les Liaisons Dangereuses, F

Brother Lawrence – The Practice of the Presence of God, NF

Ursula K. Le Guin – A Wizard of Earthsea, F

Bonnie Leon – To Love Anew, F

C.S. Lewis – The Horse and His Boy, CF

The Silver Chair, CF

Patricia MacLachlan – The Sarah Plain and Tall Collection, CF

More Perfect than the Moon, CF

Katie Davis Majors – Daring to Hope, NF

Imogen Matthews – The Hidden Village, F

Anne McCaffrey – Dragonsong, F

Thomas Meehan – Annie, CF

A.A. Milne – The House at Pooh Corner, CF

L.M. Montgomery – Anne of Green Gables, CF

D.L. Moody – A Life for Christ, NF

Jill Murphy – The Worst Witch, CF

Rebecca Musser – The Witness Wore Red, NF

Nujeen Mustafa – The Girl from Aleppo, NF

Kristin Neff – Self-Compassion Step by Step, NF

E. Nesbit – The Phoenix and the Carpet, CF

The Magic City, CF

Five Children and It, CF

The Railway Children, CF

Trevor Noah – Born a Crime, NF

Amanda Prowse – My Husband’s Wife, F

The Art of Hiding, F

Weina Dai Randel – The Moon in the Palace, F

Ruth Rendell – Simisola, F

Richard Rohr – Preparing for Christmas, NF

Letting Go, NF

Jennifer Roy – Yellow Star, F

Simon Schama – A History of Britain: At the Edge of the World? 3500BC-AD1603, NF

William L. Shirer – The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, NF

Jim Smith – My Dad is a Loser, CF

Ruth Soukup – 31 Days of Living Well and Spending Zero, NF

John Steinbeck – Of Mice and Men, F

Noel Streatfeild – Ballet Shoes, CF

David Suchet – Questions of Faith, NF

Sun Tzu – The Art of War, NF

Amy Tan – The Joy Luck Club, F

The Bonesetter’s Daughter, F

The Kitchen God’s Wife, F

Ann Tatlock – A Room of My Own, F

Cynthia Voigt – Homecoming, F

Ann Voskamp – One Thousand Gifts Devotional, NF

One Thousand Gifts, NF

Susanna de Vries – Great Pioneer Women of the Outback, NF

Sabra Waldfogel – Sister of Mine, F

Paul Washer – Ten Indictments Against the Modern Church, NF

Lauren Weisberger – The Devil Wears Prada, F

Tara Westover – Educated, NF

Oscar Wilde – Lady Windermere’s Fan, F

Laura Ingalls Wilder – Little House in the Big Woods, CF

Little House on the Prairie, CF

On the Banks of Plum Creek, CF

By the Shores of Silver Lake, CF

The Long Winter, CF

Little Town on the Prairie, CF

These Happy Golden Years, CF

The First Four Years, CF

Jacqueline Wilson – Hetty Feather, CF

Wave Me Goodbye, CF

John Wyndham – The Chrysalids, F

The Day of the Triffids, F

Pam Young – Sidetracked Home Executives, NF

 

 

Endings, Beginnings

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 

James 2:14-16 (NRSVA)

This was part of my bible reading for yesterday, 31st December 2018. It was particularly striking for me because it seems to be the summation of what God has been speaking into the lives of my family and I.

I’m beginning 2019 with Veganuary, for a combination of reasons. Going vegan is the single best action I can make for the environment. Countless studies have shown this. Here’s a recent one. I also wrote a blog post about climate change a few years back.

Climate change affects the poorest most, so addressing my contribution to this is something I can do that is concrete. I also don’t want to be party to the treatment of animals that takes place on farms and in abbatoirs. It’s violent whichever way you look at it and I can’t reconcile the compassion that I have learned through following Jesus with violence in whatever form. I also have health problems and veganism has been demonstrated time and again as the antidote to so many health problems that for someone like me, I can’t not do it.

We’re also developing a proper financial system for our family so that we can be more responsible and more accountable with our money. Not that we’re exactly irresponsible, but we’re not as mindful of all our assets as we could be. Our income has dropped rapidly in the past few years so it was necessary and long overdue. It’ll mean focusing on the important things.

So I prayed about what should be my phrase or word for 2019 and came up with this:

KEEP IT SIMPLE.

Seems obvious, but Complex PTSD can make things feel overwhelmingly complicated, so this is a real blessing just on its own. Be blessed, friends, in 2019. Lay down your life for Him so that He can pick it up. Shalom.

Lessons

I have friends… I’m still getting to know them. They understand pain and loss. They tell me I won’t always feel like this. They remind me that I have the strength to survive. They promise that one day I will learn to live again. They have introduced me to other people who know what it’s like to not be able to sleep at night. And sometimes, talking with all these other crazies, I feel almost sane again.

~ from Look for Me by Lisa Gardner

Never thought a quote from the very end of a novel by one of my favourite authors would sum up exactly how I feel about the mental health theatre group that I recently joined. It’s good. Progress sometimes feels like going in the wrong direction, but it’s still progress.