Lent Day Two: Captivating

He calls and He calls and despite the hustle and bustle and busyness, despite the tug and sway and grasping of the world, despite the instinct to tunnel deep under the ground, to hide in the cool, moist dark, despite even myself, I come. No, I not only come, I run as if my life depended on it. Because it’s Him. When I sometimes have thoughts – you know – doubts, wondering if I can follow God through the storms, I always end up back in the same place, with the same result:

The question is not ‘how can I?‘,

but ‘how can I not?’

My husband said to me the other day, when I told him how broken and screwed up I was, and how I felt useless and as if life had passed me by, he said to me that what made me special was that I had been deep into the abyss… and although battered and damaged, I came out again. I survived; I didn’t become part of the abyss myself. My core remained intact. He’s right. But, of course, this was not done in my own strength. When I say, or when I write the words ‘only by grace’ I mean

only

by

grace.

And when I say ‘only by grace’, what I mean is

only

with

Christ.

That’s why I’m not dead, or sunk in evil or panic or anger or despair. I’m damaged, yes! And bruised and battered and thrown about by the storm. But I’m still here.

Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

…for I will yet praise him,
    my Saviour and my God.

Psalm 42:7,11 (NIVUK)

Here is the Church

Grief: it’s a strange process. Last week I travelled to my dear friend’s funeral. Grace was only in her thirties. Her husband, Victor, while outwardly ‘holding it together’ was in the grip of a tidal wave of sorrow. It broke my heart to see him; he’d lost weight and looked like there was nothing more than the stiff black of his suit holding him up. I did my best to give Victor what few words of comfort I sensed he needed to hear. Less is always more, when it comes to sorrow. The worst thing to do is to offer banal sentiments, like my mother-in-law’s well-meaning but tactless friend who blithely said, “You’ll always have him in your heart, Mary,” as if that somehow made losing her husband all right. I think the friend desperately wanted to not have to talk about it because she didn’t really know what to say and, well, another person’s grief is so very intimate. You see a person’s soft underbelly when they’ve lost their spouse. Unless you know how to handle it, you find yourself feeling uncomfortable, as if you shouldn’t be looking or something.

Anyway, for my part, over the past couple of years the biggest sense of grief has been for those left behind, not those who have gone. Indeed, knowing that a person of faith has, as the Salvation Army so delightfully say, been ‘promoted to glory’ renders the funeral strangely bittersweet. We’re so sad to say goodbye, and so sad to think of all the things the deceased may have done had they lived, but we also know that they’re safe in their heavenly home.

This past couple of years we have said our last goodbyes to my father’s best friend, my father’s cousin, my mother’s cousin, my husband’s uncle and aunt, my husband’s father, my aunt, two great aunts, my dear old grandmother (who was of such an age that we were starting to wonder if she’d outlive us all), and then, just over a month ago, dear Grace. Funerals… you wait around for one for years and then they all come along at once o_O

It’s so bizarre seeing people you’ve not seen for years and only meeting from shared sorrow. My cousins all came to our grandmother’s funeral. The last time I’d seen any of them was when I married first time around. They’d all grown up since, and had children of their own. There we were, standing like penguins around the tea table, stiffly exchanging pleasantries and chit chat, along with a few memories. I learned more about my grandmother’s life at her funeral than I’d ever really known when she was compos mentis enough to tell me. I think I even managed to offend my mother’s cousin by an off the cuff remark about my grandmother’s late sister (oops). The funeral of someone who had been around for so long was was such a surreal affair. But I knew she was home. Safe. Where she belongs. And I have the exquisite joy of knowing we will meet again, when my time has come.

One of the things that stood out for me about Grace’s funeral, other than the real and genuine joy and celebration of her life instead of a sad and solemn affair, was the inclusion of the Lord’s prayer. By sheer coincidence I had been visiting a Salvation Army service a couple of days before and we had said the Lord’s prayer. I then briefly sojourned at an Anglican convent where we shared the Lord’s prayer, and the following day I found myself repeating it again at a Pentecostal funeral. These were three very different places, yet we had this beautiful gift in common – a gift straight from Christ Himself:
“The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply.”

Matthew 6:7,8 (The Message)

It got me wondering about the nature of faith – how it can be so different, and yet flow from the same source. I don’t mean to imply that all roads lead to heaven, or all journeys end up in the same place. Jesus was quite clear that He is the only way to God (John 14:6). But God expresses Himself in myriad beautiful ways in each and every life and in each and every death of those who love Him. Sometimes I think the true nature of a person is revealed in their death, certainly in their dying.

Grace was (I was told) upbeat and positive right to the end, such was the nature of her faith. Of course she didn’t want to die so young, and I doubt she was anything other than sad when she left behind a loving mother, brother and wonderful husband, but she knew that her eternal home was with Jesus. How do I know? Because Grace’s life may have burned for a short time, but it burned so brightly that it was clear to everyone she met that somehow – she was different. She had a light that glowed from within. You can’t make that. You can’t pretend. It’s there or it isn’t. This is faith; this is what makes the Church – not the building, not the denomination, not the theology or doctrine or ‘good works’… it’s that very special glow that only comes from Jesus. The other stuff? Secondary. I’m glad to have known Grace. She taught me a lot.

Dance

When I was a little girl, I loved dancing. I was never more myself, and never more happy, than when I was dancing. So happy, in fact, that I convinced myself (by some weird childhood logic) that if I gave up the thing I loved the most then all the bad things would stop. So I stopped dancing. But the bad things didn’t stop. By the time I figured out that the bad things wouldn’t stop it was too late. I’d already slipped into a very dark place. 20+ years later and only now am I seeing these things for what they were. Too late. Too late.

Not that I think I would ever have made it as a professional dancer. But I could maybe have been a choreographer. As a child I used to boss my friends around be the ‘director’ of multiple plays and performances in our back garden. I loved it. Nowadays, dancing, performing and drama have no place in my life at all, other than what my little Chip does. Que sera sera. No good worrying over spilt milk, as they say – and it really is true. The past is the past is the past. Gone. No amount of mourning will bring it back, nor will it change the future. Live for today, that’s all that matters. It may all be gone tomorrow. I wonder if we will dance, like I sometimes imagine, when we get to heaven? Can you imagine dancing before God?

 And David danced before the Lord with all his might… 2 Samuel 6:14

Anyway, taking my own advice: today, I love to watch dance. I imagine the sheer joy of the dancer in the synaesthesia of music and movement. Like this:

Weird lyrics… but I like the choreography, especially the leaps and jumps. They are phenomenal! How I would love to watch this dancer in real life. Beautiful.

Comfort Box

My very lovely doctor psychologist lady gave me some ‘tools’ to use before I began EMDR. One of these is a ‘comfort box’. The idea is that you have a box full of things that help you to feel ‘safe’, so that when you’re in the middle of a panic attack or feeling like you’re a slug, basically when you’re overwhelmed you can just go to your box and find something ‘comforting’. This might sound like common sense, but when you’re overwhelmed you can’t think straight so you need to be able to go to a single place to find ‘safety’. I have a playlist on Amazon also called ‘Comfort Box’. It features music from artists both secular and Christian. I just listened to the wonderful Laura Story singing I Think of You:

‘…it was You who paid the highest price
For broken jars of clay
And You still choose to use my life
For Your glory displayed.
And I think of You who shines with endless light
Through broken jars of clay
And I think of You redeeming every part of each day
That You’ve made…’

In honour of ‘Time to Talk Day’ (see reblog below), here’s a song from my comfort box which always makes me smile:

Sparks

Holocaust Memorial Day was commemorated on 27th January and a documentary, Touched by Auschwitz, aired by the BBC. I watch little television, but I was particularly interested in this documentary because although it focused on what happened at Auschwitz, it gave equal weight to the lasting impact that Auschwitz had on the survivors’ lives and on subsequent generations. It was clear to me that some of those filmed still suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This interests me because I can, in part, relate. Readers of this blog will know I am currently receiving treatment for PTSD. I don’t claim to know what victims of the holocaust went through, but I do know how PTSD, especially that gained through years of repeated trauma, haunts you in the here and now. I am also trying to come to terms with the impact my PTSD has had on my children and on family life. I’m just so grateful to finally be receiving therapy, thank God.

The tragedy of Holocaust Memorial Day is that atrocities have continued around the world ever since, under various regimes, and that oppression and persecution continue even as I write. Because such things continue, and continue to be perpetrated by (under normal circumstances) ordinary people, we must revisit the tragedy of the holocaust again and again and again and again, lest we forget.

“So I started walking with him [a German soldier]. He says to me, ‘Listen, I don’t give a damn what you do. I don’t like seeing small boys being beaten.’…

“It was very dark… The smallest act of kindness appeared like a large spark. I choose to remember the sparks. That’s my motto and that’s what I live by.”

~ Max Epstein, holocaust survivor,

speaking to the BBC for ‘Touched by Auschwitz

********

Yesterday I listened to a sermon on Matthew 5:14-16, where Jesus is speaking to His followers right after the Beatitudes.

“You are the world’s light—it is impossible to hide a town built on the top of a hill. Men do not light a lamp and put it under a bucket. They put it on a lamp-stand and it gives light for everybody in the house.

“Let your light shine like that in the sight of men. Let them see the good things you do and praise your Father in Heaven.”

Matt 5:14-16 (Phillips)

I thought of Max’s words and was deeply touched. I thought of how God has shown Himself all the way through my life. He has shown Himself all the way through my EMDR. God has shown Himself within me and He has shown Himself in the kindness of people whose lives have touched mine. I hope He has shown Himself through my actions, too.

I think Max is right. I will go through the EMDR until I have ploughed the field of memories. That soil needs to be turned over before it can be sown. And then I will remember the sparks.

EMDR 6: God Reveals Himself Piece by Piece

This Beloved of ours

is merciful and good…

This voice of his

is so sweet

that the poor soul falls apart

in the face of her own inability

to instantly do whatever he asks of her…

hearing him hurts

much more than not being able to hear him…

his voice reaches us

through words

spoken by good people,

through listening

to spiritual talks

and reading

sacred literature.

God calls to us

in countless little ways

all the time.

Through illnesses

and suffering

and through sorrow

he calls to us.

Through a truth

glimpsed fleetingly

in a state of prayer

he calls to us.

No matter how half-hearted

such insights may be,

God rejoices

whenever we learn

what he is trying to teach us.”

~ St. Teresa of Àvila, Interior Castle

Sweet Jesus,

May I never seek to be more.

May I never believe I am less.

May it all be for your glory.

Amen

Thoughts on the Nature of Being His

Following the reblog of the previous post, here are a few thoughts of my own:

‘Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but [always] Yours be done.’

Luke 22:42 (Amplified)

Sometimes the wind of God blows us where we would not choose to go, but still we are willing to let Him blow us where we can serve Him best. Such is love, given and received.

Sometimes we hear (or read) talk about blessings in our lives as if God is some sort of omnipotent Father Christmas. I’m annoyed when my children treat me as if I’m nothing more than a means to an end, so I can only imagine how God feels when we say we love Him, but we treat Him like some sort of heavenly slot machine where if we just add another tuppence the whole lot will fall into our laps!

In those times we forget that everything that comes from God is good. We make a mockery of the gospel when we only thank God for our blessings in the ‘good’ times, as if God’s blessings come only in one form. What a hollow faith it is that only resounds with God’s glory when it has been given enough, or more than enough. What kind of faith is it that pats itself on the back and says, like the nursery rhyme, ‘he stuck in his thumb and pulled out a plum and said ‘what a good boy am I!’ We’re supposed to be child-like, not childish. There is a difference.

Faith is for today and tomorrow, just like the ‘daily bread’ we ask for when we pray as Jesus taught us. Faith is for all that has gone before, and all that is to come. Life following Jesus is following His example in all things. Sometimes, this means miraculous blessings

And sometimes it means following Him through the dark times:

[Jesus] said… “Simon, son of John, do you love Me [with a deep, instinctive, personal affection for Me, as for a close friend]?” Peter… said to Him, “Lord, You know everything; You know that I love You [that I have a deep, instinctive, personal affection for You, as for a close friend].” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.

“I assure you, most solemnly I tell you… when you grow old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will… carry you where you do not wish to go.”

He said this to indicate by what kind of death Peter would glorify God. And after this, He said to him, “Follow Me!”

From John 21:17-1

With Him Through the Storms

We celebrate our blessings with Jesus, but sometimes we forget to celebrate His presence, His light, shining when all else is dark. Then it’s not “There but for the grace of God go I” but “Here, with the grace of God, I go.”

A Pastor's Thoughts

The Biblical revelation is about awakening, not accomplishing. You cannot get there, you can only be there, but the foundational Being-in-God, for some reason, is too hard to believe, and too good to be true for most people. Only the humble will usually believe it and receive it, because it affirms more about God than it does about us. Proud people are not attracted to such explanations.

Here is what St. Bonaventure tells us about God: “By God’s power, presence, and essence, God is the One whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. God exists uncircumscribed in everything.” In other words, it’s all sacred. You can find God everywhere. You don’t have to go to monasteries. As Francis of Assisi said, “The whole world is our cloister.”

Bonaventure goes on to say, “God is, therefore, all inclusive. God is the essence of everything. God is most perfect and…

View original post 134 more words

Exhale and Lean

I read a very interesting post from Laura Droege this morning. She says ‘I’ve… found that the more open I am about the illness, the less it defines me.’ Laura writes about her battle with mental illness with a tender honesty. There is a real strength in her writing – one that only comes through endurance. It’s a fascinating post, please do click the link.

As for me, I refused for years to admit that there was anything wrong, because as far as I was concerned it was my life that was the problem, not me. Over time, God brought me to a place where I had to face up to the fact that I was not well. I have been on medication for over a year and for the first time in my adult life I am not depressed. As I told my psychologist with whom I’ve just begun therapy, the stupid thing is that I never knew I was depressed until I began taking anti-depressants! I just thought that that was normal because I couldn’t remember life not being horrible. Praise God for medication (and even more for my patient, loving husband) o_O

As I thought more about Laura’s post, I recalled a time, years ago, when I was a teenager. I was receiving treatment at a private hospital that specialised in rehabilitation after serious head injury. One day in the summer, my nurse and I were standing by a window looking at the garden, green and vibrant with colour as only an English garden can be. A butterfly fluttered into view and settled onto the purple flowers. I remember the purple and the green, but I don’t recall what plants they were. Just behind the butterfly was a young man in a motorised wheelchair. We realised he must be paralysed from the neck down because he was controlling the chair with his head. My nurse sighed and tutted as she saw this young man, “Oh,” she exclaimed, “don’t you feel sorry for him!” This was a statement, not a question.

I looked at the man and frowned. “I don’t.” I replied.

My nurse turned towards me, aghast, “You don’t feel sorry for him?!”

“No.” I said, but I couldn’t explain why.

20-something years later and I think that what I instinctively grasped was that people must be endlessly pitying this young man – and to pity him continually deprived him of dignity; instead it somehow defined him by his injuries, rather than as a human being. Christ never saw people as defined by their brokenness, in whatever way that was manifest. On the contrary:

‘Some men came carrying a paralysed man on a bed, and they tried to carry him into the house and put him in front of Jesus. Because of the crowd, however, they could find no way to take him in. So they carried him up on the roof, made an opening in the tiles, and let him down on his bed into the middle of the group in front of Jesus. When Jesus saw how much faith they had, he said to the man, “Your sins are forgiven, my friend.”

The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who speaks such blasphemy! God is the only one who can forgive sins!”

Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Why do you think such things? Is it easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? I will prove to you, then, that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, pick up your bed, and go home!”

At once the man got up in front of them all, took the bed he had been lying on, and went home, praising God.

Luke 5:18-25 (GNT)

This is also why the debate around the abortion of disabled foetuses is frightening, whatever your views on abortion in general. My son has autism. There is no pre-birth diagnosis for autism. If there were, would women choose (and in some cases, be encouraged by medical professionals) to abort their child, like they do with Down’s Syndrome? Is a disabled child ‘worth’ less than another child? Is their individuality defined by their disability, or by their humanity? What if we could diagnose susceptibility to mental ill health, short-sightedness, asthma or dyslexia? I’m loathe to say it (because often references to these things are made when a person has run out of other arguments) but didn’t the Nazis promote the same thing when they tried to ‘exterminate’ the disabled and the mentally ill? Eugenics: alive and well in the 21st century, disguised as ‘informed choice’.

My son is not autism. He is a fearfully and wonderfully made human being. He is a soul. And in reality we are all broken, in one way or another. Many people spend their whole lives trying to ‘make up’ for their brokenness: think of the cult of celebrity, for example. Many, many people think being ‘famous’ will make them happy, or being famous will make them ‘better’. Wealth is another way people try to fix their brokenness, sometimes they choose to pursue power. None of these things actually work. They may appear to, but all they can ever do is paper over the cracks. They don’t fix the structure. They’re just houses built on sand.

I don’t know if any of us are ever truly ‘fixed’, but we each have a God-given dignity that, when we put our trust in Him, when we recognise the grace given in this blessing of dignity, we are set free from all the lies the world (or our own heads) would have us believe. We don’t have to struggle to fix ourselves. We just have to exhale, and to lean on Him.

‘So Jesus said… If you abide in My word [hold fast to My teachings and live in accordance with them], you are truly My disciples.

And you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.

They answered Him, We… have never been in bondage to anybody. What do You mean by saying, You will be set free?

Jesus answered them, I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, Whoever commits and practices sin is the slave of sin.

Now a slave does not remain in a household permanently (forever); the son [of the house] does remain forever.

So if the Son liberates you [makes you free men], then you are really and unquestionably free.’

John 8:31-36 (Amplified)

I wrote about a similar theme in my post ‘Why I am Not a Survivor’. The link is to the right of this page. Thank you for reading. Do you have any thoughts on the subject?

All Shall Be Well

All shall be well

And all shall be well

And all manner of thing shall be well.

~ Julian of Norwich

I have my first appointment for EMDR therapy today. I have a feeling that the next few months (years?) will be tough. Instead of suppressing and distracting myself from the dark places in my memory I have to confront them again. This had me in tears last night until gone midnight (which is not like me). But in the confronting I think I will find something like a death, and something like a resurrection. There is pain. There is hope. There is life. I just want God; nothing but. That is my prayer.

You will guard him and keep him in perfect and constant peace whose mind [both its inclination and its character] is stayed on You, because he commits himself to You, leans on You, and hopes confidently in You.

Isaiah 26:3 (Amplified)