Roots

[Jesus said] “…a farmer went out to sow. As he sowed, some seeds… fell on rocky ground, where they didn’t have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of earth. When the sun had risen, they were scorched. Because they had no root, they withered away.”

Matthew 13:3,5,6 (WEB)

As a parent, the most important thing I can give my child is roots. This is my God-given role. These roots consist of several things:

  • a loving, stable home
  • treating each child as an individual with unique, God-given talents**
  • encouragement and opportunity to make the most of their talents**
  • an experience of what it means to love both within and without our family
  • an experience of what it means to forgive and be forgiven
  • compassion for those who suffer, whether close at hand or far away
  • knowledge of the Word of God – a peg board on which to hang the ‘keys’ of all the above, providing each key with context, so that as the child grows they have ready-made tools, learned gently and softly through the years.

**As you’ll know if you’ve been reading for any length of time, we have a young man with special needs in our family. He may not ever live independently. He may never get a job. Even if he doesn’t, he is a Hand-crafted human being and has his own gifts and qualities that are worth celebrating. Jesus made sure He always esteemed the vulnerable. We should too.

Can you add any more to the list of ‘roots’? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I ONCE WAS LOST BUT NOW AM FOUND; WAS BLIND BUT NOW I SEE

I LOVE the story from the gospel of John of the healing of the man who was blind from birth. The unnamed man has such a simplicity and purity of spirit, even when faced with the ‘important’ men and their clever questioning. I’m quite certain Jesus loved this about him too! But what struck me in listening to this story are the words at the very beginning:

As [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Jesus answered, “Neither did this man sin, nor his parents; but, that the works of God might be revealed in him…”

John 9:1-3 (WEB)

Jesus’ words, often overlooked because of the rest of the amazing story, are vitally important. We can add nothing to our salvation, nor can we take it away. Even if we follow all the ‘rules’ and worship God, it doesn’t mean our lives will be ok (often rendered as ‘blessed’ but I would question this definition of ‘blessed’ – post on this subject to follow). If we don’t follow the rules, it doesn’t mean our lives will be miserable. This is false teaching, although one that is easy to fall into. I fell into this trap myself a few years ago, thinking that if I did everything ‘right’ then life would be ok. Hurrah! No more bad stuff! God quickly and sharply brought me out of that one.

We latch onto ‘if only I can do it right’ because we’re scared and we want to be in control. Some people spend their whole lives trying to discover what ‘the rules’ are because they think if they follow the rules, everything will be ok, which really means ‘if I follow the rules, I’ll stay in control’. Life is scary. It is not under our control and we can’t do anything to make it under our control. Only yesterday my dear son told me of the death of a boy at school who was only a year older than him. The young man had been fit and healthy until September last year. Now he’s gone. I pray for his family.

Conversely, the most difficult lesson to learn for me (as for many people who have been abused) was that I didn’t do anything to cause any of it. I am not a freak. I am not ‘different’ in some indefinable way. I was not destined for abuse. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with me. God has been gently, carefully and lovingly bringing me out of that one.

God did not and does not cause the bad stuff, although He did allow it to happen. That God allows abuse and evil is a difficult doctrine to swallow, but when we love God, when we become part of His family, God can and does use our suffering for His glory – and it is a truly awesome thing to be a vessel for the glory of God. If I have known what it is to be unloved, to believe myself horrible and worthless and unlovable, how much more is the effect when I realise that not only am I lovable, but that I am loved by the Creator of the universe? And when I do see how much He loves me, what can I do but offer my life, my whole self in return?

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been brought to your knees in despair by your own sin, or whether it has been the sins of others, or a combination of the two: when you’re at your lowest is when God can bless you the most.

Less me = more God:

“You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill can’t be hidden.”

Matthew 5:14

Hallelujah: Hebrew for YIPPEE!**

**It’s not really, literally ‘yippee’, of course. Literally, ‘hallelujah’ means ‘praise God!

Reblog: The Joy of Forgiveness, Oh Happy Day

Sometimes when people are worshipping with their whole hearts I get the sense the angels in heaven, surrounding the throne of God, are rejoicing too (people tend to think I’m a bit crazy when I actually say these things out loud, but… so what? 😉 )

In the West, in our often comfortable, sanitised lives we become complacent and forget the real sky-falling-down, truly reborn nature of forgiveness. Hallelujah! I’m loved by the King of Kings. Oh happy, happy day 😀

NB. I’m writing this a day after a particularly gruelling EMDR session which left me exhausted (who am I kidding? Every session is gruelling!). It is easy to feel weary, burned out and discouraged. After reading Tim’s post (below), and listening to the wonderful music, I still feel exhausted, but I am encouraged by the reminder of the glorious freedom found in Christ. May it all be for His glory.

Tim's Blog - Just One Train Wreck After Another

When the Bible says your sins are forgiven, it means forgiven:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14.)

Look at all the past tense in that passage. God has made you alive. He forgave all your sins. He took what had stood against you and condemned you and canceled it by nailing it to the cross.

All your sin is forgiven and hanging on the cross.

The sins you’ve committed in the past?

All forgiven.

The sin you might be committing right now?

All forgiven.

The sins you’ll commit in the future?

ALL FORGIVEN.

Hard to fathom, isn’t it? Edwin Hawkins wrote a song…

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First a Spider, then a Pigeon

A small brown spider crawled across the damp lino in the bathroom. I picked it up. It wouldn’t have made it otherwise. It would have been crushed underfoot by an unwitting toed foe. I put it out the window. It may go on to spin a hundred webs. It may get eaten by sparrows.

Then there was the wood pigeon. It’s lovely living in a rambling old house with half a dozen open fireplaces, but there are drawbacks. We use chimney pillows to prevent draughts (helpful hint: they have probably already paid for themselves several times over in terms of energy savings). This pigeon had somehow fallen down the chimney onto the chimney pillow so that when we were attempting to play a game, Chip and I were startled by a loud scrabbling and movement of the chimney pillow. We’d heard birds in the chimney before, but not like this. I called Frank and we attempted to remove the balloon and capture the bird with a blanket. It didn’t work. The bird panicked, flapped and flew back up, settling on a ledge just behind the fireplace.

We were flummoxed. After some discussion we opened the window, left the room and shut the door. We made sure we were quiet in the vicinity of the room, hoping the pigeon would find its own way down into the room and out of the window. Four hours later, as night was drawing in, we tentatively opened the door and peered under the fireplace. The bird was gone. It didn’t need to be rescued. It just needed to be left alone. The only evidence that it had even been there was a solitary grey feather.

********

Last Friday was the most intense session of EMDR that I have had so far. It affected me for the best part of a week and left me functioning well below par. Even FlyLady-ing was a serious challenge and I didn’t manage much most days. I have had nightmares and panic attacks and… well, it was not good. But did I allow myself the time to ‘go with the flow’ and let myself feel whatever I needed to feel? No, in good old Sandy King style I ploughed through and tried to be everything I thought I ought to be. In some ways I had to: Fluff had a Guides camp and I had to drop her off on the Friday and pick her up on the Monday, plus poor Frank had terrible toothache which wasn’t fixed until Wednesday, so I couldn’t step back and ‘rest’, I had to continue; I have a family.

The trouble was, instead of beginning to feel better after a couple of days, I still felt horrible. I started worrying that this was how it was going to be for me from now on – horrible, like it always used to be :-/ I prayed and said, “God, you are always good, even when life is not. I am so sorry for when I have let you down. Please forgive me. Thank you that your love remains. May it all be for your glory.” I continued praying this prayer as my mind brought all its horribleness up over and over. It was the most difficult phase of EMDR because it related to a period of my life where I felt guilty. I felt as if I should have been a better parent, despite being under enough pressure to make a normal person implode… I believed I was a bad mother and this belief was worse than any abuse I experienced at the hands of others. So I prayed and prayed for forgiveness and praised God for His grace.

But God said (once I was listening), “Hang on a minute! What was your immediate reaction on seeing that tiny wee spider on the floor the other day? Did you tread on it? Did you flush it down the toilet?”

Me: “Well, no, but…”

“No buts! Now, you know that pigeon, right?”

Me: “Yes.”

“What did you instinctively do when you realised it had fallen down the chimney? Did you swear and shout? Did you plan how to trap it and break its neck?”

Me: “No! The poor thing was frightened. I knew it needed to be left alone to make its own way out. I was worried that it might have broken a wing and we’d have to rescue it.”

God: “So if your reaction – without thinking – to something as tiny as a spider is to protect it, do you think you’re likely to not protect your own children? Do you think you’re probably a bad mother?”

“Well… I suppose not.”

God: “Do you think that, whatever happened, you probably did your best under enormous pressure?”

Me, hesitant: “Er… Well… I suppose. If You say so…”

God: “Hmm. What did the pigeon need to feel safe and be able to fly again?”

Me: “It needed to be left alone.”

God, softly: “Do you think that might apply to you, too?”

Me: “Ohh…”

………………..

Thank you, Lord.

Reblog: All God Wants

********

God just shook me by the shoulders, reading this! I needed to be reminded that uselessness and weakness can be – are – made beautiful in Him and I needed to be reminded to stop beating myself up. It never occurred to me before that one can do ‘penance’ without actual physical violence. One’s own head can be just as ‘violent’. But guilt and shame are not mine to carry. Hallelujah!

‘For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it…

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death… if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.’

Romans 7:18,8:1,2,13,14 (NRSVA)

Contemplative in the Mud

All God wants is our heart. And He is more pleased when we value our uselessness and weakness out of love and reverence for His holy will, than when we do violence to ourselves and perform great works of penance.
Saint Jane Frances de Chantal

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Reblog: The Weight of Judgment

Wonderful post.
Jesus said (Matt 7:1-3, John 8:7) if I want to judge others I must point the same accusing finger at myself. I know for sure I don’t want to do that; I have far too much to ask forgiveness for. I live only by the grace He has gifted.
Not judging doesn’t mean I ignore, or am deliberately unperceptive to, the sins of others (a head-in-the-sand attitude is what has led to so many travesties, esp. in abuse cases). Not judging others means being aware of the nature of love and of the nature of evil, and of rooting out, by grace, the seeds of evil in myself, so that the seeds of love blossom and bear good fruit (and so that evil is less able to disguise itself as ‘good’).
God didn’t ask me to be accountable for the sins of others, but I am accountable for myself – and judging is God’s business, not mine. Don’t get me wrong, I still catch myself thinking judgemental thoughts from time to time, but I’m learning to recognise them for what they are and to give them what they deserve – inattention. This applies backwards, too, for those of us who would over-accuse ourselves. To feel guilty over things beyond our control is wrong, and hence a ‘sin’. If God doesn’t point the finger at me for something, who am I to point it at myself?

Some beautiful words from Paul’s letter to the Galatians (who were presumably experiencing problems in this area and wanted his advice on how to address it):

‘My friends,if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbour’s work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads… Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.’

Galatians 6:1-7 (NRSVA)

A Pastor's Thoughts

The old men used to say, “there is nothing worse than passing judgment.”

They said of Abba Macarius that he became as it is written a god upon earth, because just as God protects the world, so   Abba Macarius would cover the faults that he saw as though he did not see them, and those which he heard as though he did not hear them.

——sayings of the desert

judgment1Some may think that the monk’s way of handling the faults of others is pure denial. I find that idea very realistic, but allow me to add a few layers to this saying on judgment. How much time do you spend agonizing over the faults of others? Do you use the faults of others as an excuse for your own bad behavior? Would admonishing others bring you any closer to God?

A wise person once said, “Become the change you want…

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An End to Violence: Where is the Olive Branch?

I began praying for Israel and the Middle East several years ago. I pray for strength and courage for those who face terrible situations, I pray for the work of Mama Maggie in Egypt, and I pray for peace.

 

The olive branch                                           ~ a universal symbol of peace

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”*

 

The situation in Israel and Palestine is sad beyond words. It is tempting to want to portray one side as ‘good’ and the other as ‘bad’. After all, this makes any response much easier… but this is the real world. There are no such things as ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ unless you’re nine years old. Humanity is too complex, and ultimately too frail, to be viewed in this simplistic manner. There have been acts of good and bad on both sides. Evil has warped (some of ) the minds of both Israelis and Palestinians. My brothers and sisters in Christ who happen to be Palestinian have been on the receiving end of Israeli violence just as much as their Muslim neighbours.

he asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbour?” **

 

I wonder what would have happened if, during the decades of terrorism of the IRA at the end of the 20th century, Britain had bombed Dublin? Would there not have been international outcry? When I was a little girl my father’s London office was blown up by the IRA. If the bomb had gone off at the right time it would have killed hundreds of men and women who had nothing whatsoever to do with the political situation, my daddy included. I was at a railway station the day another bomb was due to go off. If the bomb had killed my dad, would I have wanted revenge? If the other bomb had killed me, would my family have wanted revenge? It is a natural response, but in Israel and Palestine, just as in Britain and Ireland, violence never solved anything. It never will. Violence leads to violence, which leads to more and more innocent victims  – be they Jewish, Muslim, Christian or none of the above. As I said the other day in my post about the turmoil elsewhere in the Middle East, evil begets evil. It has to stop.

 

When Love was flogged, when Love was spat upon, when Love was ridiculed and stripped naked and forced to walk to His place of execution, when Love was bound and nailed to a cross, He did not declare war or vengeance. Love could have called down all the angels of heaven with fire and trumpets and wrath. But He didn’t. Instead, the voice of Love said, “Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do.”

 

Please join me in praying for peace and a lasting end to violence.

 

‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.’****

 

* John 14:27

**Luke 10:29

***Luke 23:34

**** Galatians 3:28

Vengeance is Mine, Says the Lord

Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”

Romans 12:17-19 (The Message)

For we know Him Who said, Vengeance is Mine [retribution and the meting out of full justice rest with Me]; I will repay [I will exact the compensation], says the Lord. And again, The Lord will judge and determine and solve and settle the cause and cases of His people.

Hebrews 10:30 (Amplified)

 

Jesus wants those who follow him to be clear about why he came… In our celebration of the [Easter] mystery, we not only recall [the reasons Jesus came] but also witness the vengeance [such as that which] Jeremiah longed to see. God does not pick up rocks to stone the wicked: he picks up flesh and blood… and casts his only begotten Son on the earth, not to injure or destroy it, but to bring it life.

Jesus is the vengeance God takes on the wicked.

From The Little Way of Lent

by Fr. Gary Caster

Why do we miss this, as followers of Christ? Isn’t this the most important thing that one could ever learn? God’s justice is not the same as ours. The wages of sin is death, i.e. when I choose sin I choose death not because God condemns me but because sin and death are the separation from God. And if all sin separates me from God what hope have I of ever becoming perfect (perfect meaning without sin)? The answer is: none. Yet if I only take hold of this offering of love to me (surely any offering should be the other way round?) I will live the life God made me to live. Hallelujah! Such a simple thing – if only we realised how much God loves each one of us, instead of listening to the lies and confusion of the enemy, what a life we could lead, what a blessing we would be in the world.

Wow. I never expected any of this when I began my Lenten journey. This is beyond spectacular. I am in awe. That single line encapsulates the entire nature and function of grace: Jesus is the vengeance God takes on the wicked.

Abundance and Forgiveness

We have moved house a lot over the past few years, for one reason or another. This has meant a change of schools, too. When we moved in 2012 the local education authority took nearly two months to put Prince into school. Apparently they had to decide that he needed a special school (despite his previously having been in a special school since Year 1). Initially they even suggested I go and look round the local secondary school(!). Four months after Prince started school, Frank’s job fell through and we realised we had to move. It was good timing and God timing because we moved closer to Frank’s parents and within a month or two Frank’s dad began the cycle of hospital admissions and discharges, and we had to arrange care for Frank’s mum, whose dementia was severe enough to warrant 24-hour supervision. So we moved here, which meant another school change for poor Prince. This was a very difficult thing for him to do. People with autism find change difficult to cope with and he spent the next 11 months detesting his new special school and trying to think of ways to leave. This included, he confessed, trying to be so naughty that he would be permanently excluded. Being autistic, his idea of ‘very naughty’ was actually very mild, bless him, and as I was going through yesterday’s reading from The Little Way of Lent I recalled what Prince had said.

I wonder if sometimes we too do the same as young Prince, especially when we’re hurting or damaged by life? Do we push the boundaries to get God’s attention?

Why is my life so awful if you really love me, God?

Do you love me now, even after I’ve done that?

I’ve been there. I even did my own version of Prince’s ‘trying to do something very bad’ because I had such little sense of self-worth and didn’t believe I was worthy of love. In hindsight, it wasn’t ‘very bad’, it was probably something which happens fairly regularly, fallen as we all are, but I thought at the time that it was dreadful. I saw myself as the same as Peter, denying knowledge of Christ when he’d sworn his love just hours before.

I think this is probably a similar thought process to self-harming, in whichever medium that manifests itself. I know from Celebrate Recovery that self-harm occurs in as many different ways as there are different people. There’s the obvious physical act of cutting or hurting oneself, and then there are addictions and alcoholism, but hurting oneself can also present as bad relationships (or a string of them), eating too much, eating too little, self-sabotage (wanting to achieve something but doing things that prevent you from achieving it), even poor hygiene. We can become so distressed that the reasons we do things are not clear even to ourselves and we continue the destructive cycles that make us miserable. Sometimes we hurt those around us too, either deliberately or as a non-intentional effect. Sometimes, when we have been badly hurt, we even push people away, never letting anyone close. We push them away before they get the chance to hurt us, or we deliberately hurt them because we are confirming how horrible we are and how unworthy of love. Sometimes it’s all so complex that we don’t know where the pain begins and we end, or the other way round. It’s like that quote, attributed to Einstein, ‘insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results’. The cycle of pain and hurting is insanity.

But there can be different results. Healing can and does take place. Don’t get me wrong, I’m rather wary of those who claim to have been ‘healed from addiction’ instantaneously, as addiction is much more complicated than just the physicality of it (although I have never met anyone who claims to have been healed in this way). For the vast majority of us, healing takes time. Years. Decades. Maybe we never fully reach the place of healing until we reach heaven? I don’t know. But I do know that if we’re prepared to be open to God, He can and will use the years of destruction and change our ashes into beauty, give us resurrection joy in place of suffering and death. It takes courage – more courage than anyone who has not been through it can imagine. The courage to get out of bed in the morning and put one foot in front of the other is enormous.

Then there’s forgiveness. What if you, like me, know that you could never and will never do anything anywhere near as awful as that which has been done to you? I mean, we know that all sin separates us from God, don’t we? But what if what you have experienced has been so, so awful that you don’t know how you can ever get over it, or how to even begin to forgive?

It has taken me years to get my head around this, because I thought that God ought to keep a tally card or something… Doesn’t justice mean that ‘bad people’ get punished? I grew up being taught that the criminal justice system was there to protect the ‘goodies’ from the ‘baddies’ and that if someone was guilty of a crime they would be sent to prison. But it doesn’t mean that. ‘Not guilty’ is not the same as ‘innocent’. There are so many, many victims of crime, like me, who will never see earthly justice. But is our earthly justice the same as God’s justice?

Is this grace?

The answer, if I’m not afraid of looking at the truth, is no. Horrible things happen every day to people who never deserved them and there are no straightforward answers. No easy answers. No answers at all, really, just choices; choices we make every day, step by step. My choice – only by grace – has been to seek healing, to live in a manner which searches for God in all things, and to share His abundant grace. This is the narrow road. It ain’t easy.  I make mistakes. I fall. God picks me up. Forgiveness is something I have to do repeatedly. Each time I ask God to take care of it because the hurt is too big. I cling to Him like I’d cling to a lifebelt in a stormy sea. Crumbs those waves are big! Without Him I might drown. So I cling all the harder. And, with Jesus, I’m ok. I hope you can say the same. As I write I pray for those who are finding it hard to find the value in anything any more. Maybe you feel like you want to give up. Maybe you’re so, so angry at all the injustice – all the pain, all the hurt, all the fighting, all the tears. I won’t tell you ‘if you just trust Jesus everything will be fine’. I won’t because that’s a lie. But, one step at a time, you can learn to walk again. He will be your guide for each step. He will be a light in the darkness. He will be your hope.

 

‘Of everything Jesus taught, the admonition to “forgive your brother from your heart” is perhaps the most complex. The pain of injustice and the feelings evoked by being wronged touch the depths of our humanity… Feeding resentment makes forgiveness difficult…

‘When God’s mercy reigns in us we can acknowledge wrongdoing for what it is without becoming a slave to its effects. Forgiveness from the heart does not overlook accountability and it does not require that I let someone who has wronged me back into my life. Jesus doesn’t expect me to open myself to repeated injury or ongoing injustices, but He does ask that I forgive, that I pray for those who hurt me… Forgiveness from the heart is freeing because the pain of the wrong no longer controls my life and no longer suffocates my relationship with God and neighbour.’

‘Humility and hunger for God are synonymous.’

From The Little Way of Lent

by Fr. Gary Caster

‘Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
    teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
    for you are the God of my salvation;
    for you I wait all day long.’

Psalm 25:4-5 (NRSVA)