Fellowship

Our relationships with other believers can be tragically shallow. Even small groups… can be more like superficial social clubs… Our fast-paced modern world makes it hard to slow down and invest in each other… Socialization and fellowship are [often] confused. They are not the same thing.

from Positively Powerless: How a Forgotten Movement Undermined Christianity by L.L. Martin (who blogs here)

This paragraph, from the final chapter of Laura’s excellent book, struck me as an incredibly powerful statement, and one that I know to be true. The vast majority of Christian encounters fall very much into the shallower end of fellowship, at best. The truest fellowship that I have ever experienced was that shared within Celebrate Recovery, where for a short space of time each week we could take off the ‘mask’ of everyday life and become our true, measly, weak selves. We could remove the Christian smile and the ‘hallelujah!’ attitude that pervades many churches here in the UK. Those things are not wrong, but they are wrong when they are constant and never tempered with the reality of sin and struggle.

Something miraculous happened at Celebrate Recovery. Every week, Jesus sat in that room alongside us as we confessed, and shared, and prayed, and wept. We grew to know one another at a deep level, we grew taller in our spiritual and emotional stature, we experienced profound and deep healing, and we experienced a true, spiritual fellowship. I pray God will bring Celebrate Recovery to our town, in His time. I know our town could use it! I pray that I will meet the right people, God-willing, to take on this none-too-small adventure.

Jesus… looked up to heaven and said… “I ask… on behalf of those who will believe in me through [my disciples’] word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

John 17:1,20-23 (NRSVA)

Courage isn’t courage unless you’re afraid

Courage is not courage unless you’re afraid. Courage is being afraid, but trying anyway. Have you ever been afraid? I have. A lot. It left me scarred.

Ann Voskamp has a post today entitled ‘When loving your enemies, the stranger & your neighbor feels way too risky‘ (it is an excellent post; please click to read it). What could be riskier, when you’ve been betrayed in the worst possible ways by those you loved? Never mind loving your enemies, what could be riskier than loving your friends? Especially when it was those who were supposed to love you, to protect you, who hurt you most. They took advantage of your vulnerability so that in every small thing your loss was their gain. If you can call it gain. In the end it’s torture for them, too. That I can see, now. Healing brings clarity. It doesn’t make it any better, though, and it doesn’t stop the past from jumping up and shouting ‘”BOO!” even though, praise God, EMDR lessens the intensity.

And yet, by grace, five years ago, pre-EMDR, I stood at the front of the church and said “I do” to this other man – this man who would be my rescuer, my lover, my surest friend. Friendships are risky, whatever form they take, especially if you’ve been hurt too often to count.

Count. I like counting. That’s why I love maths – because it has no emotions. It’s a relief. We played Countdown last night. I bought the DVD version from the charity shop and four of us, Frank, Fluff, Chip and I, we sat and we made words from letters and sums from numbers. It was good. We made sense out of nonsense, a workable whole from the fractured parts. Isn’t that what following Christ is all about?

 

‘Everything we do in life either brings us closer to God or takes us further away; there are no neutral activities.’

Longing for God, Richard Foster & Gayle Beebe

 

Relationships, friendships: what I most desire… in some ways. And what scares me, in many ways. How do you let someone in without letting too much of yourself out? How do you love without hurting?

I don’t suppose you do – seeing as they’re human. Seeing as I’m human. By grace, we do it anyway.

*’As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.’

John 15:9 (NRSVA)

*The above verse is also, incidentally, my baptismal verse. I get goosebumps thinking about it. There is not one other verse in the whole of God’s wonderful Word that is more ‘for me’ and my life. I remember looking at the pastor as he gave it to me. He seemed surprised. I wasn’t. It seemed perfectly right. The whole moment seemed ‘right’, as if we were fulfilling a beautiful, divinely conceived idea. Providence indeed. Thank you, Lord.

A Pure Love of God

‘…all of these experiences and insights lead us to a pure love of God… We are not to retreat from society… Our experience of love propels us into the world in order to accomplish God’s work. Every social engagement, therefore, is an expression of our Christian beliefs.’

~ Richard Foster and Gayle Beebe, ‘Longing for God’

 My daughter came home from school last week singing:

“When I needed a neighbour, were you there? Were you there?

When I needed a neighbour were you there?

And the creed and the colour and the name won’t matter

Were you there? Were you there?”

It’s been decades since I last heard that song. It made me think. For a long time, when I have asked God what He wants me to do, often the only response has been, “Be a good friend.” This I have found continually baffling. Is that it? That can’t be all of it, surely?

When I heard my daughter sing, I wondered what would happen if I swapped ‘neighbour’ for ‘friend’.

When I needed a friend, were you there?

And suddenly the penny dropped. It makes a whole lot of sense. ‘Neighbour’, in my mind, despite my knowledge of the biblical description, is a somewhat vague term. My neighbour is the person who lives next door, someone I smile at and say ‘good morning’ to. My neighbour is someone who puts out our dustbin when we’re away and with whom I share the occasional friendly chat on the driveway or over the garden fence (the neighbours on the other side pretend we don’t exist and never even acknowledge our presence, even though we have lived next door for over a year now!).

So ‘neighbour’ has certain cultural connotations, despite my intellectual understanding of its use in the bible. ‘Friend’, on the other hand, I can understand: I can be a friend and I’m doing the work of God. This doesn’t mean I can use this as an excuse to only spend time with people I really like and consider it a job done, but it makes the idea of ‘love thy neighbour’ a little more accessible.

So this is what happened over this past week: Jesus tapped me on the head. I wondered how I could have missed it for so long, given that Jesus’ entire ministry was spent with His friends. D’oh!

Love your neighbour. And this is how you do it: be a good friend.

“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.

“You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you.

“But remember the root command: Love one another.”

John 15:11-17 (The Message)

An anonymous letter to a friend who is about to become a mother

My dear friend. We met yesterday. You were full of baby! Your husband was already proud as a daddy can be. Oh, my lovely friend, I can’t believe that you’re going to be a mother in just a few weeks. It is wonderful. I love your fresh attitude to buying things for baby (as in you haven’t)… I love the fact that you’re trusting God to provide. I love the fact that you’re praying for a short labour. A ‘3 hour labour’ I think you said, ‘like the hale and hearty Hebrew women of old’ you said… or something like that… which bible were you reading?

I didn’t reply when you said that. Well, you know I’m an honest person. That’s why we’re such good friends. We can be absolutely honest with each other. You’re like a sister to me! I was actually dumbstruck, lost for words. I didn’t want to knock your confidence, or scare you, or denounce your faith. But… please listen to some advice from someone who’s been through pregnancy and labour, with and without complications. Please listen to someone who spent several years swapping horror birth stories with fellow mums (you’ll do it too, soon enough!). Please, please listen to someone who knows that there are many mothers, the world over, who pray for an easy labour… and who don’t have one. Some say it’s part of the Fall. Who am I to say? I hope, with all my heart, that you are blessed with an easy labour and a perfectly safe delivery. But, please, consider what I have to say:

1. You’re past your 30th week. You need to get some baby things ready. Things like clothes and nappies, at least. Some babies arrive on time, but quite a few are early. I know you’re planning to move house soon, but please – the last thing you want to be worrying about when you’ve just given birth (I’ll get to that in a minute) is simple things like clothes, bedding, nappies, cotton wool, a Moses basket. Just a few simple things needn’t take up much room.

2. Please, please get your hospital bag ready. I hope you don’t have to use it until you’re 40 weeks gone, but you might, and you’ll be kicking yourself if you have to go to the hospital in a rush without your own personal things. When you’re in the pain of labour you won’t be nipping to Tesco to get maternity pads, or breast pads, or deodorant! You don’t want your husband, who will likely be somewhat shell-shocked himself (and possibly exhausted… we’ll get to that soon), leaving you right after the birth to fetch your nightie and toothbrush, do you? Believe me, with babies, and with children in general, a little bit of planning goes a looooong way.

3. You said you had made no birth plan <cough, splutter> no birth plan! You’re just going to keep praying for that miraculous 3 hour labour, right? Honey, sweetheart, my dear, lovely friend – I don’t want to burst your bubble, but giving birth is the opposite of bursting a bubble. Bursting bubbles is instant. And painless. You’re having your first baby in your forties. This means labour is likely to be harder for you. I hope it won’t be. I was in my early 20s when I had my first child, and despite the first labour being a ‘good’ labour, it was still 21 hours. 21 hours for a ‘good’ labour, a ‘textbook’ labour… With my next child I had to have an emergency caesarean and nearly bled to death (no exaggeration). I thank God for the doctors who saved my life and that of my darling Fluff. Nonetheless, these things happen. I’ve known of some women who are in labour for days and, my lovely, I don’t want to stick my razor into your happy, pregnancy-hormone-infused ideas of what your labour and delivery are going to be, but please do consider all your options beforehand, so that at least if things don’t turn out to be the miraculous 3 hours you hope for, you have some idea of what choices you’d like to make. The worst thing would be to be in a position where you’re in so much pain and you don’t know what you do and don’t want because you haven’t thought about it.

4. This is so important I’ll say it again: please, make a birth plan! And even if you don’t need it, you’ll have the security of knowing that no matter what happens, you are prepared. Do you want drugs? If so, which? Epidural? Pethidine? Gas and air? Whale music? Would you prefer an episiotomy or would you prefer to tear, if necessary? Would you be prepared to have stitches if you do have an episiotomy, or if you tear? Yes, my dear, I am talking about your lady parts tearing apart. It hurts and the stitches hurt too but it’ll be a heck of a lot worse if it all comes as a surprise. There are so many things to consider! Please read the information available. Don’t be scared by it – every birth is different – but don’t walk into something you could have prepared for. Please?

5. …

6. I don’t say any of this to frighten you. I don’t want to distress you! I say these things out of love and concern. I am trying to give you and your blissfully happy, so-ready-to-be-a-daddy husband a way of not being overwhelmed and possibly, ultimately, traumatised. Watch some birth videos together on youtube (I haven’t looked for any but I’d hazard a guess that someone, somewhere has filmed themselves through the gruelling hours of labour and the torn in two pain of delivery.

7. I love you. I can’t wait to meet your little one. Baby will turn your world upside down, He or she will profoundly affect the space-time continuum such that there will be suddenly half as many hours in a day as there used to be… and half as many hours of sleep, too, for the next few years months. But you will look into your baby’s eyes and – as if by magic – the world will melt away. You will be lost in the little nose, the perfect eyes, the beautiful baby smell, the tiny fingers, utterly, utterly lost… Just wait till baby learns to smile; your heart will melt over and over! You will learn more of God, and more of yourself, when you’re a mother. You will have strength you never knew you had. Courage to fight lions, if need be. And at the end of every day, a flushed, pink little face, chest rising and falling, suckling a tiny thumb.

8. Ok, enough of the schmaltzy stuff… raising a child is a wonderful thing, but it ain’t easy. I’ll simplify it, boy scout fashion, to two words:

BE PREPARED.

And be blessed, friend xxx

“Will You Be My Friend?”

It’s a week since we moved into a new area and a lovely new house, and today Prince and I visited the local special school. With its muted colour scheme, low-stimulant environment, multi-sensory room with aromatherapy, twinkly lights and music, plus hydrotherapy pool for the use of all pupils, it’s not the first time I’ve thought that I could benefit from such a place!

When we entered what will be Prince’s class, a boy immediately walked up to him, stood far too close,  gave him an intense eye-to-eye gaze and said, “Hello. I’m Lenny. Will you be my friend?”

Prince was quite pleased by this response to his mere presence. His face broke into a bashful smile and he gave a quiet but emphatic nod. Then Lenny came up to me, stood far too close, gazed at me intensely and said, “When he comes, do you think he will be my very good friend?”

I replied in the affirmative.

Autism. Sometimes it’s beautiful.

“…whoever welcomes in my name

one such child as this,

welcomes me.”

Matthew 18:5