More Mercy in Christ

‘…there is more mercy in Christ than sin in us… It is better to go bruised to heaven than sound to hell.’

~ Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed

“Let’s not pretend this is easier than it really is. If you want to live a morally pure life, here’s what you have to do: You have to blind your right eye the moment you catch it in a lustful leer. You have to choose to live one-eyed or else be dumped on a moral trash pile. And you have to chop off your right hand the moment you notice it raised threateningly. Better a bloody stump than your entire being discarded for good in the dump.”

~ Jesus, as recorded in the book of Matthew, verses 29-30, paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in The Message

Shout it from the rooftops! Sing it in the streets! It’s ok to be broken.

It’s not ok to sin. That’s never ‘ok’ because it draws us away from God and causes pain. But it’s ok to admit to being a sin addict and to walk each day one step at a time, by grace. Christ has more mercy than I have sin. Always has. Always will. 

I’m a sinner. I find it really hard to let it go because sin disguises itself so well as not sin. I bring it to the Lord every day, and I struggle with it every day. One day maybe I won’t, but for now this ‘thorn in the flesh'(?) keeps me weak and my weakness keeps me on my metaphorical knees. And that’s the only place I am required to be. So, maimed I am and maimed I will be – one way or t’other – and THAT’S OK.

Let’s make churches what they were always intended to be – a place for sinners. Jesus didn’t come for the healthy but for the sick. If you’re not a sinner, maybe you don’t need church? Churches are supposed to be a place where we can support one another, love one another and build one another up. There is absolutely no place for tearing other people down – and yet that is what we see. Sometimes it is so subtle that it can be missed, but the subtle art of tearing down is often the most deadly. I’m talking when people are shamed. Even a look can shame someone. 

I’ve been shamed, and not so subtly either. So has my husband (including in the form of public ‘prayer’, of all things). My dear friend was shamed, too, under the mask of ‘concern’. It hurt. It really hurt. If we didn’t each already have a deep faith it might even have turned us away from Christ altogether. Not one of these times was this shaming recognised for what it was. And actually neither I, nor my husband or friend, had sinned on these occasions when we were shamed. Shaming of sin should never happen, but the sin on these occasions was certainly not ours.

Why can’t people be their normal, screwed up, sinful selves in church? Why do we have to plaster on the fake ‘Christian smile’? You know the one I mean… Life is hard and the Church makes it harder. Why?

I have worn my shame like a badge – the shame from Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Guilt and shame and shame and guilt and on and on it goes. No longer. Today I will wear Christ’s mercy. Love will be my badge.

 

Free

orange and yellow petaled flowers

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

When [the mind] is so full of thoughts and ideas about the way things are and the way things should be, the mind lacks the flexibility and openness to see the world in a new way. Perhaps it lacks the capacity to see the world at all, since its view is filtered through a rigid mass of beliefs and concepts.

~ from Insight: Clearing the Mind by Mark W. Muesse

(from The Great Courses lectures, this one included free for Audible members)

 

Life is filled with ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ – and you know what? I don’t think they come from God at all. Jesus never said ‘you ought to…’ Jesus said ‘do’. He warned against doing things for the wrong reasons and He didn’t trip people up with guilt. Ever.

C-PTSD thrives on guilt and shame and I’m not playing that game any longer. It’s never-ending, it’s pointless and it sucks the life out of you. Jesus said:

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavily burdened [by religious rituals that provide no peace], and I will give you rest [refreshing your souls with salvation]. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me [following Me as My disciple], for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest(renewal, blessed quiet) for your souls. For My yoke is easy [to bear] and My burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30 Amplified

or, as Eugene Peterson put it:

“Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”

Matthew 11:29 The Message

Speaking of which…

Does the wheel keep her going, or does she keep the wheel going? It’s like a dance between the moon and the tide. The perfect metaphor for the unforced rhythms of grace (because that’s the way my mind works. You’re welcome). 

 

On Learning of the Death of Rachel Held Evans

I just found out about the death, on 4th May, of one of my favourite Christian writers, Rachel Held Evans. I am currently listening to her read Searching for Sunday and it brings me so much sadness to listen and know that she is no longer in this world. I pray for her husband and children, that they will be comforted, just as Jesus promised in His Sermon on the Mount. So, so sad. Sincere and heartfelt condolences to Rachel’s family and friends. It feels like losing a friend, even though I only knew her through her blog and her books. Much love to all Rachel’s supporters.

 

Walking on Water

‘…it is more worship to God to behold Him in all than in any special thing… the fullness of joy is to behold God in all…’

Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love

…the angel of the Lord appeared to [Moses] in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed… God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then he said, ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ He said further, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people… I have heard their cry… I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them… So come, I will send you…’ But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go…?’ 

…Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your ancestors has sent me to you”, and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.”’ 

Extract from Exodus 3:1-15 (NRSVA)

 

Jesus [said], ‘If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, he of whom you say, “He is our God”, though you do not know him. But I know him… and I keep his word. Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.’ Then the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.’

John 8:54-58

‘I AM’ is the English translation for the name of our God. God IS. And if, as Julian says, it means more to God for us to see Him in all things than in any one particular area, what does that mean for daily life, whatever our circumstances? Doesn’t it mean that this day, this breath itself, is a miracle?

I need to know this on days like today, when it almost looks like the battle is already won. C-PTSD grabs me and shakes me like a wolf tearing into its prey. It feels beyond my control. I am just a tight ball of blood and pain and fear. But I have something precious. Jesus gave me Himself. He knows full well all those tumbling feelings of pain and fear and worthlessness and He breathes into the dark, gaping holes and whispers, “I AM”.

And I know that I don’t have to be afraid any more. The storm doesn’t go away, but I take His hand and we – well, we walk on water. Together. One step at a time.

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.

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.

This Little Light of Mine

…historically the Christian life began with the public acknowledgement of two uncomfortable realities: evil and death. And in baptism the Christian makes the audacious claim that neither one gets the final word. 

When I get to [certain] stories in the New Testament I’m inclined to take the sophisticated approach and assume the people who had demons cast out of them were healed of mental illness or epilepsy or something like that which, when you think about it, simply requires exchanging one highly implausible story for another. But lately I’ve been wondering if this leaves something important out, something true about the shape and nature of evil, which, as Alexander Schmemann puts it, is not merely an absence of good, but the presence of a dark and irrational power.

~ Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans

 

 

img_20161002_183750

Only in silence the word,
Only in dark the light,
Only in dying life:
Bright the hawk’s flight
On the empty sky.* 

As I said to my daughter, who asked me about suffering a few days ago – the darker the room, the brighter a flame burns. This is not an easy answer. Neither is it an acceptable answer, but it’s the only answer I have and the only answer I can have, in this life. Held Evans continues:

…God is in the business of bringing dead things back to life, so if you want in on God’s business, you better prepare to follow God to all the rock bottom, scorched earth, dead-on-arrival corners of this world, including those in your own heart, because that’s where God works…

Evil and suffering are realities in this world, however much we want them to be no part of it. But God has a plan in all this – and it may not be one that we understand. When we call Him Messiah, Jesus gives each one of us the God Light – the Holy Spirit – that burns and forever burns, even in the dark.

The Light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness did not understand it or overpower it or appropriate it or absorb it [and is unreceptive to it].

John 1:5 (Amplified)

*from A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

Where is your power to hurt?

For what is mortal must be changed into what is immortal; what will die must be changed into what cannot die. So when this takes place, and the mortal has been changed into the immortal, then the scripture will come true: “Death is destroyed; victory is complete!”

“Where, Death, is your victory?
Where, Death, is your power to hurt?”

Death gets its power to hurt from sin, and sin gets its power from the Law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

So then, my dear friends, stand firm and steady. Keep busy always in your work for the Lord, since you know that nothing you do in the Lord’s service is ever useless.

1 Corinthians 15:53-58 (GNT)

In the past five years, I have lost various friends and family members, ranging in age from 36 to 96. It has made me realise that our culture acts as if death is something that can be overcome by sheer willpower, or else something to be ignored, until it happens. Which is ridiculous. Old age and infirmity are treated in the same way. Also ridiculous.

To prevent some of the painful, distressing events that occurred when my in-laws became infirm and subsequently died, I have come up with a plan: a questionnaire about funeral, burial, infirmity, illness and the dying process. If I can get everyone to fill it in this Christmas (which is the next time we’re getting together as a family), from the youngest to the oldest, maybe we can be a little better prepared for when the inevitable takes place.

What happened with my in-laws, as much as it was distressing it was equally infuriating because with a little bit of planning and forethought, so much could have gone so much more smoothly. Their suffering, let alone that of their nearest and dearest, could have been reduced. I’m not in any way blaming my in-laws – they were just behaving in the culturally-accepted norm. Everyone was trying their best as they saw it at the time. But it is a norm that is unnecessary and can often be actively harmful to both the ill or infirm person and to their loved ones. I don’t want my kids having to make those kinds of decisions when the time comes, or for them to be placed in those circumstances. I want them to already know, to have it right there in black and white what my wishes are about end-of-life care and what happens after.

I came across this video on youtube that may be helpful (in fact there is a great deal of helpful content across the channel as a whole):

I can also recommend the following books that changed the way I approach old age, infirmity, illness, dying and death:

Contented Dementia by Oliver James

In the Midst of Life by Jennifer Worth

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty

The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence

Are there any books, videos or websites that you can recommend on any of these subjects? Let me know in the comments. Thank you. God bless you.

Sacrifice

 

Dear Jemma

I miss you. I miss you more than I would have thought, pragmatic as I try to be. It’s not as if we saw each other more than a few times a year – although with the best of friends it’s the quality of the friendship, not the quantity. You were the opposite of me – so vibrant, so full of energy, never stopped talking, never stopped loving, serving, everyone around you – yet in the unspoken, in-between spaces we shared a true friendship. It was a friendship that said things like “you be you and I’ll be me”,”I’ll always be there for you”, “you can tell me anything” and “I’ll never judge you”.

I remember you saying that last one to me, maybe a year before you died. You said one of the things you really valued about me was that you knew I would never judge you. “Same,” said I. That sort of honest to goodness friendship is so hard to come by.

I have so many memories: camping, sharing meals, visiting places with the kids, walking the dog, singing in church (you always were one for the avant garde ‘raise both hands in abandon’ worship in contrast to my equally heartfelt but more staid response), sharing our struggles in Celebrate Recovery. You were funny – when you felt awkward you had a tendency to stretch the truth a little, to invent things. I never knew why, but I understood that it was just part of you.

When we were together we made the most of it. You were always in the middle of everything, looking after everyone else. I didn’t want you to feel you had to look after me, or feel obliged to me in any way. I wanted you to know that I valued you for you, so I didn’t insist on us meeting as much as I’d have liked. Now I wish I had. Almost. But then I’d not have been the same friend to you that you could rely on in your own way. At least, that’s what I tried to be. I don’t know. I think if you could read this you’d understand what I meant.

You were the rare sort of person for whom all the niceties that are said after death were absolutely 100% true. I can’t remember you without remembering your laugh, and that always leaves me smiling. You were one of the nicest, most genuine, Christ-loving people I have ever known. I would have said that in life. I probably did, though I don’t remember.

You had your flaws. You were notoriously late for everything, often by several hours, but the people who loved you accepted that that was you. You would forget to reply to people, or forget that you had made arrangements, but that was surely because you were always doing everything for everyone at hundreds of miles an hour! I was always in awe of your energy.

When I heard the news of your death last year I genuinely couldn’t believe it. For days I kept thinking I must have heard wrong – that they must mean some other Jemma. You were so healthy, literally so full of life. You were happily married after all that you’d been through, to a man who treasured you for who you really are were. How could you die suddenly from something that affects elderly people? You were only in your thirties. It made no sense. It still makes no sense. The only thing that makes any sense is that you, having lived your whole life at 300 miles an hour, had packed everything in that was required of you, and then God called you home. And you, being you, couldn’t resist joyously climbing into His eternal arms.

So today I will pause and remember you, dear Jemma. I think of you every day, even now, 15 months after you died. I recognise the sacrifices that you made daily in your life, loving and serving whoever came in your path. I am truly humbled by your generosity of self. You are an inspiration to me and to everyone who knew you. In your death you solidified that inspiration – although we would all rather have you here, with us. I miss you, but I know that I – and everyone else who loved you – will see you again one day.

from Sandy x

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love…

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. 

from John 15:9-14 (NRSVA)

Jesus teaches us that the greatest sacrifice we can make is to lay down our lives for our friends, and it is this that we remember every 11th November, and especially today, exactly 100 years after the end of the First World War. What I want to share today is this: some of us will be called to give up our lives for Jesus. I can only imagine what they go through and what their loved ones go through. Even if that is not required of us, Jesus asks us to offer our daily lives. And every time I think of Jemma, I see that she did just that.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:1,2

The picture of the poppy is from The Royal British Legion website.