When Starbucks Meets Jesus

“We’re not in the coffee business serving people, we’re in the people business serving coffee.”

~ Howard Behar, former president of Starbucks,

as quoted in The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

It struck me, on hearing these words, that that’s exactly the kind of thing Jesus would say. Not the coffee bit. They didn’t have hot beverages in 1st century Palestine, to my knowledge. Mind you, the Romans were big on street food, weren’t they? Anyway… You may recall the words in the gospel of Mark, chapter two:

“…Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you will know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he said to the paralytic – “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.”

Mark 2:9-11 (NRSVA)

and later:

“The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath…”

Mark 2:27

Jesus must have really got up the noses of the (self) righteous o_O This utterly delights me, perhaps more than it should. I like to imagine that an altered version of Mr. Starbucks’ phrase, coming from the mouth of Jesus, would be something like this:

“We’re not in the business of serving God, we’re in the God business, serving people.”

There is nothing that you or I can do to ‘serve’ God. There is no way we can build the bridge between us and God. It’s impossible. Instead we love because He loves us, and when we share this unconditional love – also known as grace – then we are in the God business.

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Hurrah! Be blessed, friends. Receive what is freely given.

Image from idpinthat.com

Cathy, Come Home

One of my favourite scenes of any novel that I have ever read comes from Wuthering Heights, that dark, brooding tale of obsession and death (why anyone would think it’s romantic is beyond me but that’s not the focus of this post). It is one of very few novels where the main characters, Heathcliff and Cathy, are utterly unlikeable yet remain genuinely compelling. Emily Brontë was a genius. This is the scene of which I speak:

This time, I remembered I was lying in the oak closet, and I heard distinctly the gusty wind, and the driving of the snow; I heard, also, the fir bough repeat its teasing sound, and ascribed it to the right cause: but it annoyed me so much, that I resolved to silence it, if possible; and, I thought, I rose and endeavoured to unhasp the casement. The hook was soldered into the staple: a circumstance observed by me when awake, but forgotten. ‘I must stop it, nevertheless!’ I muttered, knocking my knuckles through the glass, and stretching an arm out to seize the importunate branch; instead of which, my fingers closed on the fingers of a little, ice-cold hand! The intense horror of nightmare came over me: I tried to draw back my arm, but the hand clung to it, and a most melancholy voice sobbed, ‘Let me in—let me in!’ ‘Who are you?’ I asked, struggling, meanwhile, to disengage myself. ‘Catherine Linton,’ it replied, shiveringly (why did I think of Linton? I had read Earnshaw twenty times for Linton) ‘I’m come home: I’d lost my way on the moor!’ As it spoke, I discerned, obscurely, a child’s face looking through the window. Terror made me cruel; and, finding it useless to attempt shaking the creature off, I pulled its wrist on to the broken pane, and rubbed it to and fro till the blood ran down and soaked the bedclothes: still it wailed, ‘Let me in!’ and maintained its tenacious gripe, almost maddening me with fear. ‘How can I!’ I said at length. ‘Let me go, if you want me to let you in!’ The fingers relaxed, I snatched mine through the hole, hurriedly piled the books up in a pyramid against it, and stopped my ears to exclude the lamentable prayer. I seemed to keep them closed above a quarter of an hour; yet, the instant I listened again, there was the doleful cry moaning on! ‘Begone!’ I shouted. ‘I’ll never let you in, not if you beg for twenty years.’ ‘It is twenty years,’ mourned the voice: ‘twenty years. I’ve been a waif for twenty years!’ 

I have felt like that voice in the desperate darkness. Sometimes I have felt like I’ve been wandering, desolate and lost on the moors for so many years that I’ve forgotten what home is like. That cry of “twenty years!” strikes at my soul.

Twenty years ago my friends all went off to university. I didn’t. I was ill. Three years later I went away to college with a view to moving onto university after a year. Two weeks after that I had the utter misfortune to meet my first boyfriend, 12 years my senior. 18 months after we met he had coerced me not only out of my long-held dreams of studying but into a controlling marriage and even motherhood. I found myself mother to an autistic child (not that I knew that then, of course, but there were signs), living in a council flat with a jobless, manipulative psycho. What the **** happened? I spent so many years feeling like… like a cockroach. Waiting to be squashed. Disgusting and despised.

Nowadays… I sometimes just wish – I wish I could feel like I had achieved something. I wish I didn’t feel so different to everyone else. Last week I received a certificate of participation for a course I studied via Future Learn. For me, this was a big deal. Straight away I wanted to go out and get a frame so I could put it on the wall. I don’t have any certificates other than my rather pathetic 6 GCSEs. It doesn’t matter that I taught myself in order to pass them (I was too poorly to go to school most of the time). I didn’t do A-levels. I didn’t get the degree. I didn’t have a career. I didn’t do all the other stuff my contemporaries did. I never ‘fulfilled my potential’. So for me, this certificate from Future Learn meant – well, quite a lot, actually. But even my own husband made a joke about it. He didn’t mean to cause upset and I wouldn’t take to the blogwaves to complain about my spouse, that’s really not my point. It’s just that, well, sometimes I’m fed up of being different. I’m fed up of people who have led really good lives and they don’t even know it, who live like kings and don’t see it.

Don’t worry. This is not going to be a great long wallow in self-pity. There’s just one thing that I would like to say to the blogosphere in general: if you had the chance at education, at making choices, at being a ‘normal’ Western teenager, a ‘normal’ young adult – just recognise how lucky you were. Please. And if in your life you have been granted more than enough, whether it be materially or spiritually, in friendship or in love – please take it as your God-imbued duty to be thankful, to be accountable for what you do with what you have been given, and to share.

Actually, make that two things. There are two things I’d like to say. The second is to please try your very best to make the disaffected welcome. Especially in churches. Churches aren’t supposed to be full of well-fed, content middle-class people. More often than not they are. They’re supposed to be home to the movers and the shakers and the sinners and the broken – one big messy family, made holy in Christ. Last week I was brave enough to share with someone at church that I’d been receiving treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She just frowned at me.

Churches must wake up to the broken within their walls, as well as the broken without. It’s not ok to exclude people because you don’t understand them or because they scare you. It’s not ok to not make an effort to include someone, however unappealing they may be. Ask yourself: who is my neighbour? What does that really mean?

Jesus never excluded anyone. In fact, He always did the opposite… and that knowledge always cheers me up no end. I know that if Jesus were to sit here with me, He’d say that I have been given gifts beyond measure. He’d point out that I’m just about to begin my next module with the Open University. He’d point out all the wonderful things I’ve been able to do with my family. He’d even remind me that, no matter how tough EMDR was, I’ve reaped the benefits in the past few months. Jesus would show me again my wonderful husband, and my super children. He’d say that I’ve found the most important thing in my love for Him. With Jesus there is no lost wandering on the moor. There is no desolation or despair. Jesus says, “Cathy, come home.”

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This post was prompted in part by a post over at Sacred Wrightings, which is a very good blog if you ever have the chance to take a look. The author, Terry, is much more learned than I and I have learned a lot from reading what he has to say. He’s also quite funny.

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!

There’s a Spirit in the Air

There’s a spirit in the air

Telling Christians everywhere

Praise the love that Christ revealed

Living, working in our world…

When believers break the bread

When a hungry child is fed:

Praise the love that Christ revealed

Living, working in our world.

~ from ‘There’s a Spirit in the Air’ by Brian Wren, a lovely hymn I grew up singing. I am deliberately recalling good memories as EMDR leaves one bombarded with memories for days (weeks, even) after a session, and they’re often the ugliest kind :-/

Anyway, there are only a handful of videos of this joyful song on youtube. Despite its being embedded in my subconscious it’s obviously not as well-known as I’d thought, so I share it now for you to enjoy 😀

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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EMDR, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Mental Illness

My doctor psychologist lady tells me I’m holding back. She tells me I’m ‘blocking’: I am not letting the EMDR process move forward at anything other than a snail’s pace. Which is ok, she says, but I only have 18 sessions and then I have to go back on the waiting list if I need it again. So if I want to be seeing real improvements I have to allow her in, as it were… No, I don’t have to allow her in. I have to allow me out – the me that stays hidden, locked inside the vault. This tomb was created so that I could survive. If I hadn’t, I would have lost my sanity or, worse, lost my children.

It is the existence of the vault that causes the PTSD, because occasionally the vault is shaken, and occasionally, outside of my control, one of the terrible things hidden inside escapes and wreaks havoc, even if only temporarily. It happens often enough that they give it a name and call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is quite a polite-sounding name for what happens when your own head screams danger! danger! danger! because the man walking by looks vaguely like your ex-husband, or emergency! emergency! emergency! when you hear a certain type of sound that sounds a bit like something far worse. Mind you, I’m very good at hiding it. Abuse teaches you to hide your thoughts and feelings because they make you more vulnerable, so you become a master of disguise.

I think PTSD occurs because human beings are wired for survival. It took me time to figure that out. I thought I was weak and that that’s why it affected only some people. I don’t now. PTSD occurs when you have to push your emotions down in a hostile, sometimes life-threatening situation, in order to think rationally and clearly – in order to survive. It’s a great survival technique. The trouble is that you then have to be able to process the memories of those terrible events, because that’s what the brain does every night as you sleep, but if you’ve had to push it down far enough, and if you’ve had to push it down over and over and over in order to survive and continue to survive… well, then you end up with PTSD, because we’re not made for intense and unrelenting distress.

The past two days I have been giving what the psychologist said a lot of thought. She’s right and I know she’s right. I have talked it through with my dear Frank. I have talked, in less detail of course, with each of my children. It occurred to me that if I was diagnosed with a different kind of serious illness, I would allow myself the time and space for the treatment to work, and I would explain to the children what was happening (because they’re all old enough to understand) so that we could muddle through together because that’s what families do. So why had it not really occurred to me to do this for EMDR? Why did I think that my treatment and its effects were not ‘worthy’ enough to be given consideration?

I don’t think the fault lies solely within me. I don’t think it’s just me wanting to push through and just get on with it, because, as St. Teresa of Avila says in The Interior Castle, ‘getting on with it’ is just common sense. No, I think that our culture looks upon mental illness and its treatment with cynicism. Sufferers are often perceived as weak-minded or morally deficient, as malingerers or somehow less human. Our culture subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) degrades those with mental illness. They become objects of fear, scorn or pity, as if they’re no longer worthy of the same respect and dignity as someone with a ‘physical’ illness. Yet even Jesus experienced mental anguish:

‘In his life on earth Jesus made his prayers and requests with loud cries and tears to God, who could save him from death. Because he was humble and devoted, God heard him. But even though he was God’s Son, he learned through his sufferings to be obedient. When he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him…’

Hebrews 5:7-9 (GNT)

Mental illness is a physical illness. If my brain doesn’t work properly because the neurons got screwed up by too much adrenaline, or if the brain’s hormones are too high or too low, how is that not physical? Who in this world can look into my malfunctioning brain and know what I am thinking or feeling? No one. Yet still the fear within ourselves makes us view the mentally ill at arms’ length. In the 21st century that is nothing short of a disgrace.

I read an excellent post from Ann Voskamp today. She could have written it just for me at this exact time. Praise God for His provision! How can I be anything but thankful for today? Here’s an excerpt. I pray it blesses you as it did me:

Dear Thriver

I once held a bird in my hand.

No one else could see it, but I felt it. I felt it’s heart thumping hard and afraid.

It happens– there are ways to look fine on the outside…. and no one knows what you’ve really survived.

But honestly? You didn’t just survive, so let’s toss that myth right at the outset.

The way you keep walking? You may be wounded. You may be hurting. You may be limping. You may feel alone and overwhelmed and an unspoken broken — but you’re no victim. And you’re not just a survivor. You’re a Thriver.

You may bleed but you rise.

Yeah, it may not feel like it — but you are seen… how you just keep keeping your chin up and living brave through the hurt and how you keep taking one step out of bed and another step through the door — and how you keep scaling mountains by relentlessly taking steps forward.

But I wanted you to know — your wounds are seen and it’s okay… 

To read more click here, it will open in a new tab.

Reblog: Encouragement

Hmm. I try to always be an encourager because I do truly believe that a little goes a long way when it comes to kind words. My psychologist the other day told me to stop being so hard on myself, to show myself some compassion. Why can I be an encourager so readily for other people but not for myself? I think I have had my heart broken too many times so I tell myself I don’t need dreams. In part that’s true, because faith in God means trusting in Him, not myself, but maybe it’s also an excuse – not an excuse, it’s reasonable to want to protect yourself when you’ve been hurt so much… but it’s a carefully constructed way of not getting hurt again, or being let down again. I don’t get hurt but I don’t find anything fulfilling either. Interesting.

Morning Story and Dilbert

Morning Story and Dilbert Vintage Dilbert
February 26, 1995

With so many people in the world telling us we can’t succeed, we need to hear people telling us we can. I remember my high school English teacher telling me not to apply to Cornell University because they wouldn’t accept me and even if they did I wouldn’t be able to do the work. (It’s funny that I’m a writer now). I almost didn’t apply but a few days later I saw Ivan Goldfarb, a former teacher, in the hallway and asked him about Cornell. He said, “If you get in, then you go. You can do it.” His words made all the difference. I applied, was accepted and majored in Lacrosse :).

Too often we think it’s our role to inject a dose of “reality” into someone’s life. We think it’s our job to protect people from the pain of failure and defeat. We…

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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.

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

Daddy!

Happy New Year!

I’d like to begin 2015 with several ‘best of’s from 2014.

Best blog post of 2014: The Visit

This post has stayed with me ever since I read it nearly a year ago. Every time I think of it I smile and think of the joy of Jesus. It’s from the blog A Pastor’s Thoughts (which I highly recommend).

Best blog of 2014: Contemplative in the Mud

This blog is written by a devout Roman Catholic. We may have different opinions on many things doctrinal, but the core things, the things that matter, we share – and we share a common deep, deep desire to love God, to serve God, to live out God’s love in our broken world, set apart and yet always taking active part, more a part of the world than ever. Do take a look – there’s always something thought-provoking on Contemplative in the Mud.

Best album of 2014: Film of Life by Tony Allen

Wow. Just wow. I love this music! Original, clever and utterly captivating. Wonderful fusion of timeless African rhythms with a contemporary setting.

Best audiobook of 2014: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I know there is a film version but I haven’t seen it. I bought this after reading the advert and I was so glad I did! It tackles difficult concepts, but it does so honestly, earnestly and with hope.

Runner up best audiobook of 2014: The Siege by Helen Dunmore

This book made me feel like I was experiencing the Siege of Leningrad through winter 1941 myself, it was that good.

Best film that I watched in 2014: I am David

Best family book and DVD of 2014: The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones & the animated Jesus Storybook Bible narrated by David Suchet

Simple. Beautiful ❤

Personal Bests of 2014:

I completed my third Open University course and began my fourth in October, for which my first assignment scored a totally unexpected 93%! Thank you, Open University. You make me feel like I’ve achieved something for the first time in my adult life. My husband got promoted and we moved into a lovely, God-given house and have already, in the few months that we have lived in it, been able to share it. We have friends arriving for dinner in an hour. May it all be for God’s glory.

Most proud of in 2014: 

My daughter, Fluff, who has made the transition to secondary school look easy. I am so proud of her.

My son, Prince, who has been learning about how other people feel. This is no small thing for a teenage boy with special needs.

My daughter, Chip, who amazed everyone with her sudden-onset talent for swimming!

Best husband of 2014:

Frank! But I may be biased…

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Most of all in 2014 I have been learning, day by day, how to know more of God and how to lean on Him. I pray that throughout 2015 you and I will lean on Him, rest in Him, abide in Him. Run into His arms as if you have been apart for years, just like the clip below. I dare you. He’s waiting. Be blessed in 2015, dear readers 🙂