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When [the mind] is so full of thoughts and ideas about the way things are and the way things should be, the mind lacks the flexibility and openness to see the world in a new way. Perhaps it lacks the capacity to see the world at all, since its view is filtered through a rigid mass of beliefs and concepts.

~ from Insight: Clearing the Mind by Mark W. Muesse

(from The Great Courses lectures, this one included free for Audible members)

 

Life is filled with ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ – and you know what? I don’t think they come from God at all. Jesus never said ‘you ought to…’ Jesus said ‘do’. He warned against doing things for the wrong reasons and He didn’t trip people up with guilt. Ever.

C-PTSD thrives on guilt and shame and I’m not playing that game any longer. It’s never-ending, it’s pointless and it sucks the life out of you. Jesus said:

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavily burdened [by religious rituals that provide no peace], and I will give you rest [refreshing your souls with salvation]. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me [following Me as My disciple], for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest(renewal, blessed quiet) for your souls. For My yoke is easy [to bear] and My burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30 Amplified

or, as Eugene Peterson put it:

“Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”

Matthew 11:29 The Message

Speaking of which…

Does the wheel keep her going, or does she keep the wheel going? It’s like a dance between the moon and the tide. The perfect metaphor for the unforced rhythms of grace (because that’s the way my mind works. You’re welcome). 

 

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.

Reblog: The Spirit of Christ

‘Being Christ like is not a contest of holiness but a challenge to be the good news to those we encounter.’ Amen!

A Pastor's Thoughts

It is not for us to say who, in the deepest sense, is or is not close to the spirit of Christ. We do not see into men’s hearts. We cannot judge, and are indeed forbidden to judge.

—- C S Lewis

How many times have you been confronted with the question, are you a Christian? Our first response is obvious, yes! For some, that response requires a great many qualifiers. Have you had a dramatic “born again” experience or , like John Wesley, has your heart been strangely warmed ? C S Lewis in his writing warns us of such qualifiers. He asserts that the spirit of Christ is far more powerful than our words and expressions. Our place as Christians is to share the love and freedom that comes from knowing that spirit to all who come our way. Anything other than that would be judging, and we…

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This Little Light of Mine

…historically the Christian life began with the public acknowledgement of two uncomfortable realities: evil and death. And in baptism the Christian makes the audacious claim that neither one gets the final word. 

When I get to [certain] stories in the New Testament I’m inclined to take the sophisticated approach and assume the people who had demons cast out of them were healed of mental illness or epilepsy or something like that which, when you think about it, simply requires exchanging one highly implausible story for another. But lately I’ve been wondering if this leaves something important out, something true about the shape and nature of evil, which, as Alexander Schmemann puts it, is not merely an absence of good, but the presence of a dark and irrational power.

~ Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans

 

 

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Only in silence the word,
Only in dark the light,
Only in dying life:
Bright the hawk’s flight
On the empty sky.* 

As I said to my daughter, who asked me about suffering a few days ago – the darker the room, the brighter a flame burns. This is not an easy answer. Neither is it an acceptable answer, but it’s the only answer I have and the only answer I can have, in this life. Held Evans continues:

…God is in the business of bringing dead things back to life, so if you want in on God’s business, you better prepare to follow God to all the rock bottom, scorched earth, dead-on-arrival corners of this world, including those in your own heart, because that’s where God works…

Evil and suffering are realities in this world, however much we want them to be no part of it. But God has a plan in all this – and it may not be one that we understand. When we call Him Messiah, Jesus gives each one of us the God Light – the Holy Spirit – that burns and forever burns, even in the dark.

The Light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness did not understand it or overpower it or appropriate it or absorb it [and is unreceptive to it].

John 1:5 (Amplified)

*from A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

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.

 

 

 

Made in God’s Image?

Even without overt sexual abuse, all young women are known to experience a descent into low self-esteem at puberty, probably as they realize their role as sexual objects.

Aron, Elaine N.. The Highly Sensitive Person (Kindle Locations 1732-1733). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Are you the parent of an adolescent – past, present or future? If not, I imagine you were one yourself, once! Do Dr. Aron’s words shock you? I hope so. I hope that they shake the core of any decent human being. If you are a mother or a father, how can we best instil into our adolescent sons the non-objectification of women and girls, given that it is e.v.e.r.y.where? Do you recognise where you yourself have objectified women, however unintentionally? This is just as much a question to women – women’s magazines, etc., attest to the fact that women buy into this objectification of one another. How can we best teach our daughters that they are worth so much more than just their physicality?

If you are a follower of Christ: Jesus is recorded on many, many occasions taking care to give particular respect and esteem to the women that He encountered, who were at the time generally treated as ‘less-than’ the men. It is clear from the New Testament that the early Christian church – the living expression of the New Covenant – was a place where women were included and valued. Jesus in fact told men, in no uncertain terms, not to objectify women. So why is this rarely addressed in churches? Why is a structure in which men’s voices are always the loudest (reflecting the world – not Christ) still the status quo? I ask this of Christian men and women, not just men. Men have to recognise their privilege and women have to recognise where they are reinforcing stereotypes against one another (which is also a reflection of the world, not Christ). We need to stop these generational inflictions on our young people. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God – and all, by grace, are lifted up and made beautiful. A healthy self-esteem is a recognition that we are bound, in this earthly body, to fall and to fail, but that we have a dignity bestowed by a loving Creator, who made us in His image.

There are words of hope for those for whom this is a daily struggle, for whatever reason, and they come from the same chapter; Jesus was on a roll that day 😉 Can you imagine what it would have been like to actually hear Him speak, to be there in His presence? Amazing!

Jesus said:

Blessed [spiritually prosperous, happy, to be admired] are the poor in spirit [those devoid of spiritual arrogance, those who regard themselves as insignificant], for theirs is the kingdom of heaven [both now and forever].

Matthew 5:3, Amplified

Sometimes blessings come from the places we least expect, eh?

What are your thoughts on the prevalence of the objectification of women in Western culture and on the subsequent effects on young people? Is it something you have given any thought to? How do you think men and women within the church can respond?

 

Old Wounds

Fluff just got in from her first ever 5km run. When she came through the door she staggered through into the office and said to Frank, “Dad, I feel a bit light headed.”
Frank, never one to miss an opportunity to tease his vehemently vegan daughter, said, “You should have had a cheeseburger beforehand, loaded up on some meat.”
Fluff replied, “Mmm, yes, shoulda got me some class 1 carcinogens.”
“Touche.” Said I.
“Indeed,” she said, smiling, “I should be a stand up comedian.”
She flopped onto the settee, “Actually, I think I’m more of a sit down comedian.”

********

That little anecdote aside, this post is more about my experience of going along to the local mental health theatre group, because I have been four times now. Each time has been very enjoyable, even though I’ve only been watching. I have learned so much. The professionalism of the actors and director is seriously impressive. Not your usual amateur dramatics. Yesterday, though… The PTSD came raging back. I tried to hide it. Complex PTSD is no bloody joke. My head was a warzone.

From every direction the missiles came, pounding one after another after another in a full-force PTSD blitzkrieg:

“You’re useless!”
“Pathetic!”
“Worthless b*tch.”
“Worm!”
“You can’t do anything without screwing it up, can you?”
“I’ll kill you.”
“They’re all looking at you… They all think you’re stupid and they can’t wait until you leave.”
“You should just run out that door and never come back.”
“What made you think you could possibly belong here? You don’t belong anywhere. Crawl back under the rock that you came from.”
“If they knew your story they’d hate you. It’s all your fault.”
“What you gonna do about it, c***?”

And of course there was the sense of imminent danger, which I imagine is akin to the feeling that bombs are dropping all around you. I knowingly use a military metaphor because I know that many people associate PTSD with combat veterans and I need to make the link with the experience and sensations of PTSD, especially when it’s related to abuse and violence.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t hallucinate. I don’t hear voices. I don’t have an illness in that sense (not that I am casting aspersions on those who do; I’m just being clear). These are all thoughts in my head, but they’re accompanied by emotions that are as full-on as if I am experiencing the traumas all over again. And there were so many traumas that in the unwonted re-enactment they all run into one another. I was rational enough to recognise that these thoughts are – extremely loud – echoes of the past, but no amount of rationalising could make them stop. Discreet deep breaths helped me calm myself. After all, I reasoned, it will only make it worse if I do run out.
After a fantastic session for the cast, as we all headed out the door, I complimented a cast member on her genuinely lovely singing voice, and confessed (rather bravely, actually, because an admission that all is not well is making oneself vulnerable, but I had just witnessed a dozen people all making themselves vulnerable in the performance, so…) that although I hadn’t done anything, I felt extremely nervous. Understatement.
“Hug!” She said, “We do hugs here, at the end.” And she moved towards me with her arms open. I don’t generally do hugs, but she wasn’t threatening. I was able to briefly hug, accepting the kindness with which it was offered, and then walk with deep breaths to my car.
Couldn’t sleep, though, and when I did it was constant nightmares, punctuated by wakefulness. Sigh. “Stop the world, I want to get off.” I prayed. And then, eventually, in the wee hours, “Ok, God, this is Yours.” Because I know that the arms that spread wide in agony on the cross were the same arms that reached out and gave me a hug – one broken, beautiful human being to another.
Now it’s morning; time to get on with the day. I’m not giving up. I’m going back next week. I can rationalise where those ‘voices’ were coming from: they were all things the abusers used to say. I would stay reaction-less, because reaction could provoke. Sometimes my reaction-less state would mean the situation did not escalate. Usually it didn’t matter what I did, the sadistic humiliation and violence would follow.
They say the only way to face phobias is to be exposed to the cause of the phobia in a desensitisation process. Maybe the way to get over this THING is to experience it all again, but in a safe place. To become acclimatised.

I’ll keep trying. Thank God.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
Psalm 51:12 NRSVA

…[We] have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.
2 Corinthians 4:7-11 NRSVA

I do not pray that you may be delivered from your pains, but I pray GOD earnestly that He would give you strength and patience to bear them as long as He pleases. Comfort yourself with Him who holds you fastened to the cross… The men of the world do not comprehend these truths… They consider sickness as a pain to nature, and not as a favour from GOD; and seeing it only in that light, they find nothing in it but grief and distress…
I wish you could convince yourself that GOD is often (in some sense) nearer to us, and more effectually present with us, in sickness than in health… Put, then, all your trust in Him, and you will soon find the effects of it in your recovery…
Eleventh Letter, The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence

He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our wickedness [our sin, our injustice, our wrongdoing];
The punishment [required] for our well-being fell on Him,
And by His stripes (wounds) we are healed.

Isaiah 53:5 (Amplified)

 

 

Maybe

Many years ago a little girl planted a seed. Buried in the damp dark the little girl forgot about it. When she did occasionally remember a fleeting sense of a – something – she assumed she must have been mistaken. That cold nubbin must simply have been a tiny, impermeable pebble. So what? That’s life. Hardly even life because it never lived in the first place; it just existed. And it was just a stone.

I’ve always had the odd habit of attaching a song to whatever I’m doing at a particular time. I know it’s odd because when I asked my husband whether it ever happened to him, he just looked at me with that patient look, the one that says okaaaaayyy… Yeah, he plays role playing games and gets all Big Bang Theory geeky over the difference between a troll and an elf. He can look at me all he likes. We’re a good match 😉

I wonder if the song thing’s related to synaesthesia? Anyway, sometimes it’s a hymn, sometimes a rock or pop song, occasionally an aria. Sometimes it’s just a phrase of music, minus words, especially jazz or big band. The overall effect is a bit like the dreaded earworm, only this thing comes and goes, and does not linger beyond its wantedness. It is a useful reflection of my unfiltered subconscious reaction to whatever is going on: my very own mental musical score. Woohoo.

As I lay down to sleep yesterday it was this:

Last night I went along for the first time to a local mental health theatre group. I told them I didn’t want to act – at least, not at first – and they were fine with that. I was astonished by what I found. Not ‘astonished’. That’s too forceful. No, it was a beautiful surprise, like realising that what you thought was just a plain old lump is actually an egg, and that the cracking, the apparent breaking, is what’s supposed to happen. That keen-edged shard is just the first, hesitant glimpse of a little chicky beak.
I am equally astonished – and there I use the word advisedly – by my own response to this blossoming. I could have been triggered by some of the subject matter. A few things were rather close to home and I have an overactive sense of empathy. Ouch. But the simplicity of the delivery, the raw honesty, the writing, the direction, even the screw-ups (the group is, after all, still in rehearsal) were a call to something that I had almost forgotten existed.

Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
All your waves and breakers
have swept over me.
Psalm 42:7 (NIV)

And the ‘trigger’ didn’t happen. The expected ‘ALERT! ALERT! DEFCON 1! IMMINENT ATTACK!’ PTSD response just didn’t occur. I wasn’t overwhelmed. I didn’t want to hide under the table, or run away vowing never to return. I didn’t look at any of the group and ‘see’ someone else, someone threatening and crazy and powerful. Instead, I was touched by the enthusiasm and talent of the actors and felt genuinely inspired, something I barely recognised.

Maybe last night that little girl’s seed began its first, tentative creep towards the surface of the soil. The tiny, tender sprout is still in the dark, but the seed’s no longer dead. Maybe.