Putting on Imperishability

“What do you hope to get out of this?” She asked gently. I was sitting in the office of the new specialist. She had been explaining how the treatment worked, explaining how it’s a combination of a neurological approach and a psychological approach. “What did you come here today expecting would happen?”

“I – uh – I’m not sure.”

“What would you like to be able to do, once you have completed the treatment?”

I paused. “I don’t know because I kind of stopped hoping for things a long time ago. I have been let down too many times.”

This was the most truthful answer I could give, but I don’t think the lady understood. She still looked at me expectantly and gave an encouraging smile. “I’m sure you can think of something.”

“I guess… I’d like to be able to exercise.” I said, somewhat lamely.

“Good, good. Ok. And what about your daily life? Do you want to return to studying or to get a job?”

“Yes. Yes. I would like to study again and get a job. That would be wonderful.”

What I didn’t say was ‘that would be wonderful and so would a myriad other possibilities but I daren’t put any stock in them because it hurts too much to keep hoping and then to be let down. Again.’

It’s common sense to not have ‘goals’ as such, beyond today and tomorrow, isn’t it? How can I make plans when none of us know the future? How can I do anything except survive today, be thankful and prepare for tomorrow? Is this biblical? Or is this an un-dreaming, un-hoping, un-inspiring and un-inspired way to live? I don’t have dreams. But is that because it’s sensible or because if you get knocked down enough you learn to crawl and stay out of the way of the punches?

These were my thoughts this morning. I have been earnestly taking a good, hard, prayerful look at myself. And then I read this, from Richard Rohr’s daily meditations:

The Risen Christ is a great big yes to everything… even early, incomplete stages. The Risen Christ is still and forever the wounded Jesus—and yet now so much more. Your ordinary life and temperament are not destroyed or rejected, but instead, “This perishable nature will put on imperishability, and this mortal body will put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15: 52-54)—one including the other, not one in place of the other.

For the Son of God, Jesus Christ… was not ‘Yes and No’; but in him it is always ‘Yes.’ For in him every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes.’ ~ from 2 Corinthians 1:19,20 (NRSVA)

I think I have a tendency to say ‘no’ to things. I pray for the grace and strength to say ‘yes’. What about you?

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I am writing this to the chorus of guinea pigs. It happens every morning. Our piggies are now six months old and two months old. The mother and daughter are being very quarrelsome today, but even in their squabbling they are so very cute. And so funny! I think on the day God made guinea pigs He thought, “Now what can I make that is just the perfect little bundle of cuteness, always friendly, a bit shy but loves snuggles and is very talkative?” And thus was created the cavy. Proof that God has a sense of humour, imo. I might not know which way is up some days, but these little ones always make me smile:

COOKIE MONSTER

This is Cookie, aka Cookie Monster – though there never was such a misnomer (he is such a little scaredy cat) or Flufflebum. He likes to hide and to snuggle and to eat. When he is cuddled he chatters away in his own cute little guinea-pigese. Guinea Pig Therapy really should be a Thing.

Struggling Grace

StFrancis_part

No one can acquire any virtue unless he begins by dying to himself  ~ St. Francis of Assisi

…regarding your previous way of life, you put off your old self… and be continually renewed in the spirit of your mind [having a fresh, untarnished mental and spiritual attitude], and put on the new self [the regenerated and renewed nature], created in God’s image, [godlike] in the righteousness and holiness of the truth [living in a way that expresses to God your gratitude for your salvation].

~ Ephesians 4:22-24 (AMP)

I have been crucified with Christ [that is, in Him I have shared His crucifixion]; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body I live by faith [by adhering to, relying on, and completely trusting] in the Son of God…

~ Galatians 2:20

PTSD? Depression? Grief? PMT? Who knows? All I know for sure is that I have been struggling lately. I know the death of my mother-in-law shook me up (actually, not her death – because she was a woman of faith – so much as the suffering that preceded it) and I know that the flashbacks have returned (PTSD: such fun!) but in a different form, and I know that hormones are a right bugger at certain times of the month (‘scuse me, gentlemen), but I don’t think I’m depressed. Just floundering a bit. Feeling a bit overwhelmed. Even though it’s mostly my own brain that’s doing the whelming. Mind you, Prince is poorly again and that breaks my heart because he is in pain and there’s nothing I can do and I can’t explain it to him – it’s difficult enough to explain to a neuro-typical child, let alone a young man with autism :-/ Then there’s my dear husband who is struggling with grief at the loss of his mother. I am quite inadequate at offering comfort. He hurts so I hurt. That’s what having a strong sense of empathy does. You feel other people’s feelings, especially the bad feelings. It’s good because it begets a deep compassion, but it can have a down side. I feel too much, sometimes. Other times I feel nothing at all.

So I go back to the bible, back to the words of people who followed Jesus with their whole being. The death of self that St. Francis is talking about in that first quote, above, is not just dying to the old selfish, sinful ways, it’s also about dying to the old negative thinking patterns – that I am useless, unworthy, a waste of space. These are all the feelings that have been floating around my head and the worst bit is that they stop me from being able to think straight. I have the desire to be caring for my family and looking after the house, but my head gets stuck and I can’t figure out what to do and then all I want to do (all I feel able to do) is to curl up in bed and do nothing. But then I feel bad because really I do want to be caring for my family and curating a loving, organised, fruitful family home.

Oh, sweet Jesus! The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Bring me once again to my knees as I wholly and completely put my trust in You to accomplish even the smallest of small things for Your dear name’s sake. I am quite useless without You, yet quite marvellous with You. Use me. Give me the awareness of grace – five minutes at a time if need be – and help me to share Your grace with everyone I meet. Help my poor boy to feel better. Show me what I can do for him and to encourage him. Help me to be whatever my husband needs as he comes to terms with his loss.

In Your name I pray. Thank you for this gift of prayer.

Amen.

I write all this here not as a way of seeking attention. I don’t want attention, although kindly thoughts and prayer would be an encouragement. I hope that this might help someone else going through the same sort of thing to not feel so alone, but the main reason I write this is because true testimony begins with honesty – and that includes the bad… all the while knowing that God is always good.

Reblog: If you preach that wealth and health are a sign of God’s favor, what do you do when you begin to lose both?

Laura Martin’s book ‘Positively Powerless’ is an excellent book. It addresses the completely overlooked issue of the ‘positivity gospel’ – the subtle, yet pernicious, sibling of the prosperity gospel. Both reduce God and Jesus to little more than a vending machine. If you have not yet read this book, please do. It will change your thinking and may even change your life.

 

Enough Light

The theme of my book is about the perils of the “positive thinking” movement – how it overtly and subtly influenced Christianity – ultimately weakening our everyday lives of faith. My emphasis was primarily on the subtle. The overt, such as the development of the prosperity gospel, I only briefly touched upon. But my point is that I have 2 interesting links to share:

      • In February, CNN had this article about Pastor Eddie Long who died of cancer and his ministry fell apart: The Bishop Eddie Long I knew, 3 revelations from a megachurch pastor’s messy legacy. The article addresses, in part, how the prosperity gospel fails when it comes to dealing with adversity. “But there was something undeniably sad about Long not being able to level with those at New Birth who’d stuck by him when everyone else had fled. I suspect some of that inability comes from the…

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When to Judge

…what business is it of mine to judge outsiders (non-believers)?… God alone sits in judgement on those who are outside [the faith]. REMOVE THE WICKED ONE FROM AMONG YOU [expel him from your church].

1 Corinthians 5:12-13 (AMP)

How often have those within the Church sought to impose their beliefs on those outside the Church? How often have those within the Church sought to cover up acts of pure wickedness in an attempt to keep up appearances, to save face or to maintain the impression of an impeccable leadership? I wish it were possible to say ‘never’.

Weaning

 I fed you with milk, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Even now you are still not ready. You are still worldly [controlled by ordinary impulses, the sinful capacity]. For as long as there is jealousy and strife and discord among you, are you not unspiritual, and are you not walking like ordinary men [unchanged by faith]? For when one of you says, “I am [a disciple] of Paul,” and another, “I am [a disciple] of Apollos,” are you not [proving yourselves unchanged, just] ordinary people? 

What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Just servants through whom you believed [in Christ], even as the Lord appointed to each his task.

1 Corinthians 3:2-5 (AMP)

Every time – every single time – we followers of Christ disagree with one another, dismissing another person, being angry with them or disrespectful, we too prove ourselves unchanged by faith, untouched by the spirit and ‘walking like ordinary men’. It is good and right to discuss, to thrash out the core of our faith, to disagree and to agree to disagree, but when we do this without humility, without love, we may as well dismiss Christ.

What would this scripture read if instead of being either disciples of Paul or Apollos, it was paraphrased as ‘For when one of you says, “I follow John Piper,” and another, “I follow Ann Voskamp,” another, “I follow Bill Hybels”, yet another, “I follow Rachel Held Evans”, are you not proving yourselves unchanged, just ordinary people?’

Granted this analogy doesn’t quite compare because saying I like the teachings of a particular person is not the same as saying ‘I follow the teachings of this person to the exclusion of other persons’. What it does show is that we should be careful to not place ourselves, or another human being, on a pedestal. We – or they – can only fall. No one person or group or denomination has it ALL right when it comes to interpreting the bible or living out the Christian faith. We ALL get things wrong. We should expect to not have the answers to everything, all the while striving forward towards the goal of a life fully committed to Christ in heart, action and understanding.

If you have to disagree – don’t forget to be kind. I love how The Message paraphrases this same passage:

…I’m completely frustrated by your unspiritual dealings with each other and with God. You’re acting like infants in relation to Christ, capable of nothing much more than nursing at the breast. Well, then, I’ll nurse you since you don’t seem capable of anything more. As long as you grab for what makes you feel good or makes you look important, are you really much different than a babe at the breast, content only when everything’s going your way? When one of you says, “I’m on Paul’s side,” and another says, “I’m for Apollos,” aren’t you being totally infantile?

Who do you think Paul is, anyway? Or Apollos, for that matter? Servants, both of us—servants who waited on you as you gradually learned to entrust your lives to our mutual Master.

 

A Non-scare

“Fluff, what does ‘gullible’ mean?” Chip asks her big sister.

“It’s a swear word!” Fluff sounds shocked. “You mustn’t say it!”

Chip looks at her sister. “It isn’t.”

“It is!” Fluff is insistent, although she is smiling. Chip is unconvinced.

“Muuuum?”

“Hmm?” I look up.

“What does ‘gullible’ mean? Fluff says it’s a swear word.”

“It’s not swearing.” I pause. “There’s no such word, Chip.”

“Really? Fluff said it was a swear word!”

“No, it’s not a swear word.”

********

Two weeks later we are waiting in the hospital for me to see the breast specialist about a lump in my *breast. It is the same hospital in which we visited my dear mother-in-law before she died three weeks prior. Emotions hang raw in the air.

I am sitting with my new crochet project and Chip is quietly reading. She is, like her mother, addicted to stories.Suddenly she jumps up and runs over to me, her index finger against a word on the page.

“See, Mummy!” She cries, “It is a word!”

I look at the page to see what she is pointing at. I smile up at her and all of a sudden she gets it and looks at me with dismay, then disapproval and then amusement. There is a gleam in her eyes that I know means she is thinking of a way to get me back (the girls and I love jokes, but Daddy and Prince not so much, so we don’t play jokes on them). Prince wants to know what was funny and so I explain to him, several times, until he understands and grins. A difficult day becomes a little lighter.

*******

*It was just a large cyst, which was drained with an enormous needle. I am prone to them, apparently.

My word I was grateful that it was only a cyst! Not because we wouldn’t have somehow dealt with/struggled through any eventuality (because who has a choice in these things?), but because the last few months have been really hard. This non-cancer-scare actually felt like a bit of a turning point for me. It’s not just the grief of losing someone you love that can cause distress after the event, but the weeks leading up to death during which a loved one is suffering. I had become consumed by my mother-in-law’s suffering. I couldn’t bear to see her like that. I researched strokes and vascular dementia and end of life care, etc., etc., just to try to find some answers that would limit her intense distress. I came up with very little, to be honest. I just wanted to make her feel better. She was clearly distraught and in pain. I eventually realised that ‘the Lord gives and the Lord takes away’ and there was not one thing I could do about it either way, except be there for my husband, and pray. I don’t think I did a very good job of either.

Sometimes a non-scare can give you a bit of perspective.

On Autism, Family, Grief and Kindness

During the funeral for my mother-in-law last week, I made sure Prince stayed with me. I carefully explained exactly what would happen beforehand and although the girls went with my parents, Prince stayed by my side the whole time.

Prince is 17 years old and has autism. He goes to special school. He struggles with anxiety so was, of course, very worried about what the funeral would be like. I think he thought we’d all be wailing and moaning and falling over one another or something, because beforehand he was constantly asking me if it was ok that he was sad, but not very, very sad, and he was glad Grandma was not suffering any more (he didn’t word it like that but I think that’s what he meant). He also said, quite bluntly, that although he liked Grandma, he didn’t know her very well, so he wasn’t as sad as he would be if it was his other grandmother, whom he knows very well. Which is fair enough. I told him not to say that to anyone else, though!

To be honest, when we would take Grandma out (she lived in a lovely care home for the three years prior to her death) I was mostly thinking about how to manage her with her frailty and dementia (make sure she is not distressed or too tired, keep her upbeat and happy by talking to her and constantly reassuring her, even if I’ve already done exactly the same thing a dozen times or more), Prince and his autism (minimise anxiety, keep him passive), boisterous or bickering girls (make sure they’re not forgotten in the need to put Grandma and Prince’s needs first) and a husband who gets easily distracted and might not notice if his mum is about to topple over or something (keep an eye on him). This family time was lovely – my MIL was lovely – but could also be quite stressful, so encouraging anything other than quiet, non-anxious, absorbed-in-his-radios behaviour from Prince was never really the priority. I don’t mean to sound mean towards my husband. He had all the same things to deal with, along with my PTSD and CFS, so we have always had to look out for one another. My point is that I didn’t seek to encourage interaction between Prince and his grandma.

On the day of the funeral I made sure Prince was with me, to make sure he was ok. I didn’t want to risk my parents saying the wrong thing to him, however well-intentioned they may be. I sat in the pew first, followed by my son and then my husband. During his sister’s beautiful eulogy, Frank began to tear up and I saw him wiping his eyes and nose. I felt bad that I hadn’t sat in between them both, but I couldn’t move as that would distract from the eulogy. Then came my turn. I stood and walked to the front of the church and read a poem I had originally written after the death of Frank’s dad. As I came to sit back down, I deliberately sat in between Frank and Prince. I took Frank’s hand. He squeezed mine. The tears began to flow. I reached for the tissues and thanked God that I had kept it together until after my poem. Then, to my surprise, Prince took my hand in his. He didn’t say anything, but this little gesture from a young man for whom touch is anathema made me realise what a wonderful boy I have. That simple act of taking my hand meant so much to me that I can’t really describe it. You won’t know what that’s like unless you’re a parent of a child with autism yourself. Prince saw that mummy was sad and he wanted to make me feel better.

I love my boy. I love his innocence. You can take your neurotypical sons. I’m glad they have parents who love them. I’m glad they will have the chance to ‘succeed’ in life, to go to work and have a family of their own. But I wouldn’t change a hair on my boy’s head.

This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. 

Matthew 10:42, The Message

I think my boy is a true apprentice, even if he doesn’t know it.

Auf Wiedersehen

The funeral for my mother-in-law went well. It is always a sad time, the farewell of a loved one, but for followers of Christ it’s a celebration, too, of the life the person lived, of the end of their final journey. When a woman devotes her life to serving God, to loving the unloved, the sendoff is always bittersweet.

God was there in the bright February skies, in the new-formed heads of tiny snowdrops lining the lanes. God was there in the musty old church, He was there in the coffin, in the pallbearers, in the tears and smiles of friends and family. It was a fitting tribute to a remarkable woman. I am so thankful to have known my MIL, to have been accepted as part of the family, and most of all for her very lovely son, my husband, who would not be the wonderful, kind, intelligent man he is today without his mother.

I imagine Jesus stretching out his hands in welcome and my MIL stretching out her hands with that big, warm smile on her face.

Jesus says, “You made it!” and MIL responds, in her wonderful regional accent, “I can’t believe it, I’m ‘ere! At last!” Behind Jesus she spots her husband, no longer old or infirm, but remade and whole and happy, and then she sees her parents, her sister, her friends… Hurrah! They all say. Welcome home!

So for us it’s not so much ‘goodbye’ as ‘auf wiedersehen’ – till we meet again.

Thank you, Jesus 🙂