For the Sake of Flicking Strawberries

I used a wheelchair today in the supermarket. Although I used a mobility scooter when we were in the Peaks, this was the first time I have used an actual wheelchair during this phase of illness. The last time was 20 years ago, more or less.

I guess it’s good that they provide them for customers. And it was good to have such a helpful child pushing me round and doing all the physical stuff. What a blessing a helpful child can be! But I didn’t like it – the stares, the comments. Not rude comments, mind you, it’s just that people who might usually ignore you feel obliged to say something, at least I think that’s what is happening. I think they’re wondering why someone who doesn’t look particularly ill or infirm requires a wheelchair. It’s not everyone, of course, just a few perhaps ill-mannered folk who never learned that it’s rude to stare. But even if the vast majority ignore you, it’s the handful who don’t who make it awkward. I felt ashamed of my illness. Ashamed that my 11-year-old daughter is taking on the role, albeit temporarily, of caregiver. That’s my job. And if I don’t have the role of caregiver, what do I have? I really don’t like to be the centre of attention, least of all when I’m feeling low. Which I was, by virtue of needing the bloody wheelchair in the first place. There’s no doubt about it: people look at you differently if you’re in a wheelchair :-/

I felt petty and childish when I asked God, later, when I will get to live my life. Illness has to be one of the loneliest ways to go through life. In my teens I spent a lot of time alone because of this illness and because I missed so much school. I was also depressed and very wary of pretty much everyone, so it was hard to maintain friendships. Then in my twenties, although physically I was healthy, I was deliberately isolated by my controlling, much older and abusive (so-called) husband. It’s one of the things that abusers do. They isolate their victims so that they can maintain the high level of control (and get away with it).

Eventually I divorced him and later met my dear Frank. Last year I went through EMDR and although it unlocked many barriers that trauma had created, I’m still unwell and probably worse, physically, than a year ago. I turn 40 next year and I am still waiting to be well enough to have a proper job, for the sake of flicking strawberries (tried to come up with something less rude than the usual…)

file

A flickable strawberry. From idpinthat.com

Dear God, I know they say life begins at 40 but I never thought anyone meant it literally. I felt like crying earlier, which is progress, because usually I’m so detached I don’t feel much at all, but I still didn’t actually cry. How pathetic – to feel like crying but not even being able to do that.

If I were a twitterer I’d probably create a new hashtag: #effinguseless

Still, the great thing about reading your bible every day is that you can bring to mind appropriate verses. So here are a few words from the Psalms that remind us that struggle is universal, to some degree, and that we’re never alone, however much it feels like it (thank you, God, for Your Word):

These things I remember as I pour out my soul…

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.

 From Psalm 42:4,5 (NRSVA)

 

Waiting in the Empty

file

Image from idpinthat.com

Marcus Buckingham notes that your strengths are not simply what you’re good at and your weaknesses are not simply what you’re bad at. You will have some activities in your life that you might even be pretty effective at doing, but they drain you… A weakness is any activity that leaves you feeling weaker after you do it. It doesn’t matter how good you are at it, or how much money you make doing it – if doing it drains you of energy, you’d be crazy to build your career around it. 

~ John Ortberg, ‘All the Places to Go’

Right. So I should give up this whole ‘being a mother’ thing? Actually, maybe I should give up the being ill thing. I know I’d love to give up the PTSD thing. That’d be great.

In plain English, what a load of bollocks. The rest of the book has been quite good, though, so maybe Ortberg is going somewhere with it. I’m just rather discouraged today, because I feel like whatever I do as a mother is never enough and this stupid illness prevents me from doing so much. I have one child who has anxiety about the fact that things change (bless his dear, serious, innocent face) and there’s no way I can negotiate that one, other than to repeatedly offer the same reassurance. Such is autism. Another child treats everywhere she goes as a litter bin, and seems to think it’s amusing. She’s a happy-go-lucky little soul, but there are limits to how much go-luckying a mother can take.

Then there’s the other daughter who, in teenage angst, actually walked out of the house yesterday and disappeared for several hours, to the point that I was driving around looking for her and trying not to imagine all the awful scenarios that play out in a mother’s mind. I can’t even tell myself that those sorts of horrible things ‘happen to other people’ because they have already happened to us. There is no magic cloak of protection. When I eventually saw her, she just seemed so small.

So today will be a day of praying, because sometimes sadness is a blessing in disguise. It makes us lean right into Him. And maybe that’s where we’re supposed to be, because God is always good – and that is the message of the gospel. Thank God.

Brought Low

b59926196f3047739608af65b34a2797

In the parable of the prodigal son, the black sheep of the family, having squandered every last penny and lived the reckless high life (crime? exploitation? addiction?) until he had nothing left and no roof over his head, comes home to his father to say sorry and beg for forgiveness. He thinks maybe he can do some kind of low-status, menial labour for his father. Besides, he has nowhere else to go.

Brennan Manning, in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel, writes: ‘The emphasis of Christ’s story is not on the sinfulness of the son but on the generosity of the father. We ought to re-read this parable periodically if only to catch the delicate nuance of the first meeting between the two. The son had his speech carefully rehearsed… but the old man didn’t let him finish… [the son] doesn’t even have a chance to say to his father “I’m sorry”.

How  many times have we judged those, both inside and outside the Church, as ‘less-than’ or not worthy enough? How many times have we ourselves been brought to the place where we recognise that we are utterly broken, sinful beyond repair? Because it’s only when you’re in the broken state, fully aware of your lowliness, that you can begin to appreciate how great is the love of God. He can’t begin to occupy your soul unless you give it up to Him. It’s not something we can achieve on our own. This I learned at Celebrate Recovery and in some ways I think I will always be learning this truth, but that’s ok.

I like to think of it as a vase, oh so very pretty on the outside – a rare and delicate Ming vase, say, but inside dark and empty. One day the vase is smashed to smithereens*. The Maker carefully glues it back together, paying little attention to the outward appearance, and then sets a lamp inside. Suddenly the jumbled-up pieces and the cracks reveal the bright, glorious light of the Creator. This is grace.

 

*It is of no consequence whether we are brought low because of our own sin and destructive nature, or from the sin and destructive nature of others (for example with abuse), or even from illness. God redeems all and treats all the same – and who are we to say that it should be done differently? As soon as I think I know better, I make myself equal to God. And that’s just daft. No, instead we rejoice because we were lost and now we are found.

What is Truth?

The noonday devil of the Christian life is the temptation to lose the inner self while preserving the shell of edifying behaviour. Suddenly I discover that I am ministering to AIDs victims to enhance my resumé. I find I renounced ice cream for Lent to lose five excess pounds. I drop hints about the absolute priority of meditation and contemplation to create the impression that I am a man of prayer. At some unremembered moment I have lost the connection between internal purity of heart and external works of piety. 

~ from The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning

Ouch. Yes, I have to constantly be on my guard against the deceit of pride and/or shame. In truth, I lose my temper – though thankfully not as frequently nowadays, I think bad thoughts, I say things I shouldn’t say, I do things or don’t do things that I know I should or shouldn’t do. I am very, very flawed. I am not going to list all my sins here for public consumption. They are all, I hope, acknowledged and brought before Jesus. Forgiveness is the most wonderful gift. It means we can start every day as fresh as a new born and for that I am eternally, wholly and completely thankful.

 

Trust

 

Trust clings to the belief that whatever happens in our lives is designed to teach us holiness. The love of Christ inspires trust to thank God for the nagging headache, the arthritis that is so painful, the spiritual darkness that envelops us, to say with Job ‘if we take happiness from God’s hands, must we not take sorrow too?’ 

 ~ from The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning

The Opposite of Love

220px-Elie_Wiesel_2012_Shankbone

Elie Wiesel, 2012

I am saddened to hear of the death of Elie Wiesel aged 87. He has inspired many, many people. He showed what it means to live the life you have been given and to make something new and worthwhile from the broken mess of evil.

The opposite of love is not hate but indifference, the opposite of life is not death but the indifference to life or death.

~ Elie Wiesel, September 1928 – July 2016

Buchenwald_Slave_Laborers_Liberation

Elie Wiesel is on the second row, seventh from the left, pictured in 1945, days after liberation at Buchenwald concentration camp (image from Wikipedia)

We Say ‘Lest we Forget’, But…

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the battle of the Somme. The soldiers found out the day before that ‘zero hour’ was at 7:30am. At 7:30am they climbed ‘over the top’ and ran – as far as they could. On that first day 60,000 British troops were killed. By November one million – 1,000,000 – men of both sides were wounded or killed.

9645dc48356f429da3ef4a8c0a1b2360

There is a memorial in France to remember the 70,000 who went missing. In other words, they were so blown to bits that there was nothing identifiable left. How do we even begin to process these kinds of numbers?

The day before the battle began a group of men prayed for themselves and their comrades, they prayed for their loved ones back home, and then they did something rather extraordinary: they prayed for the men they were about to fight, and their loved ones, too. They asked God to help them do nothing out of revenge.

Many of these young men were perhaps a year or two older than my son. Those who made it home again had been through so much they must have come home old, old men. I cannot imagine my own dear boy in the same circumstances. All that innocent, youthful hope and optimism blasted away with the roar of untold circles of hell. It’s just so awful. I look at the world today, what with the racism, refugees, poverty, exploitation and war, and I wonder if we, humanity, have learned anything at all.

This is why Christ told us to pray for our enemies. It is not merely a pleasant or noble sentiment. Praying for our enemies is so radically unlike the schisms of war it can only reflect the God of grace. So much needed Grace. I wonder how many tears He wept over all those young men?

Love: it’s not optional.

Without Ceasing

90b2f42fbe844845821a3e2e8e8816b9

It’s a cliché to want world peace, is it not? It’s the kind of thing you say if you are ever asked what you would wish for if you had three wishes, like in the fairy tales. But on learning of yet another terrorist attack, this time in Turkey, one has to wonder if there will ever be a time when people stop killing one another and spreading the anti-gospel of fear and hatred.

In my comfortable existence here in the UK, I know how far I am from being able to do anything. Our family are taking part in a sponsored 24 hours without power to raise money for ShelterBox, which supplies refugees with emergency shelter, cooking equipment, etc. It’s not much but it’s something. You can read more here: Off the Grid 

Meantime, let’s pray without ceasing, as Paul wrote in his letter to the Thessalonians. Let’s give thanks for what is being done to help refugees. Let’s pray for the aid workers and the families who have been forced to flee their homes. Let’s pray for those who are caught up in the twisted rhetoric of the Islamic State, that they will come to desire a different way to be, that they will recognise that what they do – the way they kill and steal and destroy, ruling by fear and fear alone – is a terminal spiral into more violence, more death, more evil.

Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies. How many times have you done that? We often forget. I forget. I have prayed for the people who abused me, but it’s not easy! It makes me very uncomfortable. I have to ask God to help me to do it. But it’s part of what makes me different than if I had no faith. It’s part of living in and as His image. It’s a reflection of His perfect grace, however imperfectly reflected!

So today, as well as praying for the victims and their families, let’s pray that the hearts and minds of the terrorist groups will be opened, and that they will come to know the love and peace that passes all understanding. Sometimes prayer and love are the only weapons we have. But they’re also the best.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven…”

 Matthew 5:43-45 (NRSVA)

Come with Nothing

 

0b52c3b971b64649951a83114738e735

Come to the table. Come, sit at His feet.

Come if you’re able, come if you’re meek.

Come if you’re broken, come if you’re lost.

Come, come touch the heavenly cloth

Of His robe,

And feel Him breathe into your soul –

All your discarded shards

Made whole.

 

It’s not glue that binds shards together,

It’s grace;

Grace for the humble,

Grace for the race

You thought you had lost,

Grace for the weary and scrap-heap tossed.

 

His yoke is easy and His burden is light,

His words are joy and His love a delight,

You won’t find Him in comfort

Or in success,

You’ll find Him when you’re sure you’re the last to be blessed.

 

He was there in your past, He’s here in the mess,

Come join the raggedy-taggledy fest!

Come to the table. Come, sit at His feet,

And learn from the Master the Way of the Least.

~ Sandyfaithking, 2016

 

I think it’s a bit too close to doggerel for my liking, but sometimes you have to write and be done with it, I reckon. This poem was inspired by these words from Laura Martin’s book ‘Positively Powerless’:

Isaiah 57:15 states:

For this is what the high and exalted one says – He who lives forever, whose name is holy, “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”

It almost seems a contradiction: God dwells in a high and holy place, but He also dwells with the contrite and lowly. It is a startling contrast: we get close to God by realising how far we are from Him… Jesus taught similar principles… The ‘blessed’ are those who are poor in spirit, mournful and meek – those  who realise they come to the spiritual table with nothing to offer.

Highlighting is my own, not Laura’s. You can read more intelligent, interesting insights over at Laura’s blog: lightenough.WordPress.com

 

Never Again

I rose almost without realising it as she fell back, trying to pull her hands away from mine. I held on, even as she started to scream, until finally she jerked once more, and tugged free, staggering back onto the mats and landing on her backside as I stared down at her and she looked up at me. Her face was haggard, blue eyes fearful for the first time since I’d known her.

“So,” she said, recovering her frosty expression, “it’s you. You’re the more powerful.”

“You’re damned right I am.” I looked down at her, my expression now of cold fury, not unlike hers. “Look at you. My whole life you tried to keep me under your control. You had to beat me down. Cage me. To keep me from rising.” I looked at her with the ultimate disdain. “No more. I’m not a little girl any more, and you will never have power over me again.”

~ from Family: The Girl in the Box, Book 4, by Robert J. Crane

Yes, there’s a reason I’m loving this series of contemporary Science Fiction. I love the main character, Sienna. She may be a decade (or two) younger than me, but, well, I took a little longer to get to the same point. You will never have power over me again, whether your name is shame, or sorrow, or sin. I have been set free. Free indeed.

Let nothing trouble you, let nothing frighten you… whoever has God lacks nothing. God alone is enough.

~ Teresa  of Ávila