Struggles… and Balm

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.

Psalm 42:5,6a NRSVA

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder sucks. Its most insidious symptoms are toxic guilt and feelings of worthlessness. They are, in every sense of the word, crippling. Frankly it’s a miracle that I even get out of bed, if I’m really honest. Mindfulness meditation allows me to settle into the present, knowing my full humanity, my full made-in-the-likeness-of-God self.

I can b r e a t h e.

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

1 John 4:10 NRSVA

Self-compassion has allowed me to begin to love myself as a parent loves a child. I am able to see myself from a godly perspective – through the prism of Love. God has no desire to beat me up continually over my flaws – on the contrary, so why do I do it to myself? God loves me. I am redeemed. I am no more than anyone else, but I am certainly no less than anyone else. I don’t need to know any more than that. So I wrote the following, to remind myself – and maybe you – of what it really means to be a child of the Most High God:

You are a child of God, beloved and precious. Christ paid the price for you to not be shackled by sin. He loved YOU so much that He paid with His LIFE. This doesn’t mean that life is (ever) easy but it DOES mean you are no worse than anyone else – and if Jesus says you’re forgiven, what in heaven’s name are you beating yourself up for?

You’re ok. One step at a time. One day at a time. One foot in front of the other. Jesus is right there with you as you go. So stop beating yourself up and get on with living.

Life is a gift. Every breath is a miracle.  What had to happen for the confluence of atoms to become molecules, for the molecules to become living cells, for the cells to form a hugely complex organism – for the universe to create YOU? You’re a miracle. You are God-breathed. This is cause for celebration.

 

There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole

There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.

Sometimes I get discouraged, or think my work’s in vain,

But then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again...

~ traditional spiritual

 

So let’s stop chasing self-esteem and start being compassionate to everyone, including ourselves, as Kristin Neff so eloquently explains in this video.

The only negative thing about this video is that for the speaker one of the most difficult things in her life is the fact that her son has autism. For me, the fact that my son has autism is really the least of the horrible things that have happened in my life. In fact, I don’t consider it as ‘happening’ to me at all – he’s the one with autism, not me. I’m his mum. It’s my job to be there for him. Why on earth do we presume we have the right to a ‘perfect’ child? Our Westernised, consumerist mindset is beyond crazy, especially when it comes to our own children. Ugh. I am so glad it is not possible to diagnose autism antenatally, as is frequently done with Down’s Syndrome. Anyway, I digress… The video is in many other ways excellent (and I’m not criticising Kristin – just pointing out something about our culture) and Kristin Neff’s audiobook Self-Compassion Step-by-Step has been hugely beneficial for me and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is struggling, whatever your reason. And perhaps I should recall the words of Edith Eger, Holocaust survivor and author of The Choice – there is no hierarchy of suffering.

See also Positively Powerless by LL Martin (blogger at Enough Light) for what the problems are with the self-esteem movement and an unhealthy emphasis on positivity and the consumerist mindset, particularly within Christianity. God is not a slot machine. The very notion is appalling… but that is a post for another day.

The featured image is from By Deror_avi – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36512852

 

 

Why Did I Choose my LGBTQ Children over the Church?

I recently learned that not one but two of my children experience same sex attraction and do not identify as heterosexual. The last time I was at church a man, one of the deacons, stood up and spoke against the ‘spread of the homosexual, anti-church agenda’. My kids don’t have an agenda; they’re just kids. A fortnight ago I asked the pastor to meet with me to discuss whether our family would be welcome to worship at the church. Trying to be gracious, I also said it was probably better if I resigned my membership and found a church closer to home. The pastor ignored the request to meet and agreed that it would be better to find a church closer to home. He didn’t respond to other issues. I was left deeply disappointed. What I got was… just fluff. Like a politician, it was carefully worded, but it didn’t actually say anything of substance. I had had respect for this man. Now, well, not so much. Will we find a church more locally? I don’t know. I pray, as I have always prayed, that Jesus is the centre of our home.

So why did I choose my children over the church? Because I’m their mum.

‘A Guest,’ I Answered, ‘Worthy to be Here’

 

‘Miserere mei, Deus’ is based on Psalm 51. It was composed by Gregorio Allegri, transcribed by a young Mozart and sung here by the incomparable Tenebrae Choir.

 

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin.

 For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me.
 Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
    and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
    and blameless when you pass judgement.
 Indeed, I was born guilty,
    a sinner when my mother conceived me.

 You desire truth in the inward being;
    therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
 Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
 Hide your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.

 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and put a new and right spirit within me.
 Do not cast me away from your presence,
    and do not take your holy spirit from me.
 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and sustain in me a willing spirit.

 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    and sinners will return to you.
 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,
    O God of my salvation,
    and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.

 O Lord, open my lips,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
 For you have no delight in sacrifice;
    if I were to give a burnt-offering, you would not be pleased.
 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
    rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,
 then you will delight in right sacrifices,
    in burnt-offerings and whole burnt-offerings;
    then bulls will be offered on your altar.

                                                                ~ Psalm 51 NRSVA
   

 

The first step in becoming a follower of Christ is recognising my own depthless misery – my sin. I can’t turn back time. I can’t undo any of what I have done. I made the chasm between myself and God. Me. Why? Because I do stupid, hurtful things, selfish things. Christ alone was perfect, and He alone took the stain of sin upon Himself, so that I might not have to be separated from God. I deserve none of what He gave, yet because my Creator knows me, and loves me, He brings Himself to me. What love is this?

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,

Guilty of dust and sin.

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack

From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning

If I lacked anything.

“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here”:

Love said, “You shall be he.”

“I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear, I cannot look on thee.”

Love took my hand, and smiling did reply, “Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame

Go where it doth deserve.”

“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”

“My dear, then I will serve.”

“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”

So I did sit and eat.

~ Love by George Herbert, circa 1633

 

Sacrifice

 

Dear Jemma

I miss you. I miss you more than I would have thought, pragmatic as I try to be. It’s not as if we saw each other more than a few times a year – although with the best of friends it’s the quality of the friendship, not the quantity. You were the opposite of me – so vibrant, so full of energy, never stopped talking, never stopped loving, serving, everyone around you – yet in the unspoken, in-between spaces we shared a true friendship. It was a friendship that said things like “you be you and I’ll be me”,”I’ll always be there for you”, “you can tell me anything” and “I’ll never judge you”.

I remember you saying that last one to me, maybe a year before you died. You said one of the things you really valued about me was that you knew I would never judge you. “Same,” said I. That sort of honest to goodness friendship is so hard to come by.

I have so many memories: camping, sharing meals, visiting places with the kids, walking the dog, singing in church (you always were one for the avant garde ‘raise both hands in abandon’ worship in contrast to my equally heartfelt but more staid response), sharing our struggles in Celebrate Recovery. You were funny – when you felt awkward you had a tendency to stretch the truth a little, to invent things. I never knew why, but I understood that it was just part of you.

When we were together we made the most of it. You were always in the middle of everything, looking after everyone else. I didn’t want you to feel you had to look after me, or feel obliged to me in any way. I wanted you to know that I valued you for you, so I didn’t insist on us meeting as much as I’d have liked. Now I wish I had. Almost. But then I’d not have been the same friend to you that you could rely on in your own way. At least, that’s what I tried to be. I don’t know. I think if you could read this you’d understand what I meant.

You were the rare sort of person for whom all the niceties that are said after death were absolutely 100% true. I can’t remember you without remembering your laugh, and that always leaves me smiling. You were one of the nicest, most genuine, Christ-loving people I have ever known. I would have said that in life. I probably did, though I don’t remember.

You had your flaws. You were notoriously late for everything, often by several hours, but the people who loved you accepted that that was you. You would forget to reply to people, or forget that you had made arrangements, but that was surely because you were always doing everything for everyone at hundreds of miles an hour! I was always in awe of your energy.

When I heard the news of your death last year I genuinely couldn’t believe it. For days I kept thinking I must have heard wrong – that they must mean some other Jemma. You were so healthy, literally so full of life. You were happily married after all that you’d been through, to a man who treasured you for who you really are were. How could you die suddenly from something that affects elderly people? You were only in your thirties. It made no sense. It still makes no sense. The only thing that makes any sense is that you, having lived your whole life at 300 miles an hour, had packed everything in that was required of you, and then God called you home. And you, being you, couldn’t resist joyously climbing into His eternal arms.

So today I will pause and remember you, dear Jemma. I think of you every day, even now, 15 months after you died. I recognise the sacrifices that you made daily in your life, loving and serving whoever came in your path. I am truly humbled by your generosity of self. You are an inspiration to me and to everyone who knew you. In your death you solidified that inspiration – although we would all rather have you here, with us. I miss you, but I know that I – and everyone else who loved you – will see you again one day.

from Sandy x

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love…

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. 

from John 15:9-14 (NRSVA)

Jesus teaches us that the greatest sacrifice we can make is to lay down our lives for our friends, and it is this that we remember every 11th November, and especially today, exactly 100 years after the end of the First World War. What I want to share today is this: some of us will be called to give up our lives for Jesus. I can only imagine what they go through and what their loved ones go through. Even if that is not required of us, Jesus asks us to offer our daily lives. And every time I think of Jemma, I see that she did just that.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:1,2

The picture of the poppy is from The Royal British Legion website.

 

 

 

Exclusion

I had to fill in a form for my new doctor. I have finally been given an appointment to see a CFS/ME specialist. It included questions that asked me to compare my current state with my ‘normal’ state. I am flummoxed by questions like these. I was diagnosed with this condition when I was 14. I have never lived a ‘normal’ adult life. Then there was the question of employment. I never chose to be a housewife, although I’m trying to do the job well. Coerced away from education and into my first marriage and immediate motherhood at the age of 21 I never had an occupation, as such, so it’s no good asking me about this. I never chose to be a mother (yes, you did read that right and yes it probably does mean what you think it means…) and I never chose to be a housewife, just as I never chose to have this condition or to be abused or to end up with PTSD.

In that moment I understood what it is to be excluded from general society, to be treated as less than human. There was no box for me to tick. The assumptions were already made. Perhaps that is why my response to those whom society has excluded is so strong. I get it. It sucks. It’s wrong. They and I are no better than anyone else, but equally no worse. They and I, like every human being, are made in the image of God. We are all God-breathed.

This morning God spoke to me through His Word and it directly relates. You may find it useful, too, so I share it here:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.

1 Corinthians 12:12-26 (NRSVA)

So the people that seem small and insignificant are deemed ‘indispensable’? That’s good. I’m ok then. How about you? And how does this change the way we view our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world? How does this change the way we view our potential brothers and sisters in Christ around the world? Why do Christians follow worldly ideals and create ‘celebrity’ Christians?

 

Too Short for Star Wars?

the appointed time has grown short;

from now on,

let even those who have wives be as though they had none,

and those who mourn as though they were not mourning,

and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing,

and those who buy as though they had no possessions,

and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it.

For the present form of this world is passing away.

~ 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 (NRSVA)

You have made my days a few handbreadths,
    and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight.
Surely everyone stands as a mere breath.
     Surely everyone goes about like a shadow…

 ‘And now, O Lord, what do I wait for?
    My hope is in you.

~ extract from Psalm 39:5-7

I go through a passage from the Old Testament and a passage from the New Testament most days. I don’t currently use a devotional because I’m already reading at least one Christian book. Today the similarities in the two passages jumped out at me. The NT does, consciously and unconsciously, echo the OT. It’s quite beautiful when you recognise it.

But then, I confess, I stumbled. My brain read those words from the psalm and came up with this:

AzZwur3CMAASrbA

You know you’re somewhat too much of a Star Wars fan when this is the image that comes to mind when you are trying to read the Word of God. My life, I thank God, has not been too short for Star Wars. In fact, a Star Wars fest might be just what the doctor ordered (i.e. in relation to the post I made yesterday). I love Sci Fi ❤ Happy Saturday!

 

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’.