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.”

********

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.

Reblog: The Road

Too often we ignore the cost of following Christ. But we ignore it at our peril.
‘…Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to follow in my footsteps he must give up all right to himself, take up his cross and follow me. For the man who wants to save his life will lose it; but the man who loses his life for my sake will find it. For what good is it for a man to gain the whole world at the price of his own soul? What could a man offer to buy back his soul once he had lost it?’

Matt 16:24-26 (Phillips)

A Pastor's Thoughts

If a man wishes to be sure of the road he treads on, he must close his eyes and walk in the dark.

St. John of the Cross, Doctor of the Church.

——John of the Cross

John of the cross is the medieval mystic who gave us “Dark Night of the Soul.” In his work he challenges us to the work of being a Christian, and the strength that comes for the journey. He tells us that the strength comes from complete union with God. This union has a price, and it is separation from the world. In that dark night of separation John finds the peace of God.

Prayer Thought

Lord help us to seek union with you and to understand its cost.

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Far Away and Close at Hand

CHIBOK GIRLS MISSING FOR OVER A YEAR

The girls abducted from a school in Chibok have now been missing for one year and three days. For their parents who continue to hope and pray for their return, it feels like an eternity. Of the 252 girls that were taken, 16 jumped off the trucks, four escaped after arriving in the Sambisa forest, but 232 are still missing.

It seems likely that they have been moved to another country, possibly Niger. Muhammadu Buhari, the recently elected President of Nigeria, has said that his government will ‘do everything in its power to bring them home’ but that he ‘cannot promise that we can find them’.

PLEASE PRAY:

  • Continue to pray for the protection and safe return of the Chibok girls
  • For comfort for their parents. Twenty of them have died since the girls were taken, many because of stress-related illnesses.
  • For wisdom for those who are working to secure the safe release of the girls.

From an email from Open Doors, a charity serving persecuted Christians worldwide. I can only imagine what those parents are going through. My heart goes out to them. I can’t doing anything other than pray and show my support through agencies like Open Doors. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

What about closer to home? What can we do to love those who are distraught and in our midst? Too often the response is to avoid the person, because their grief or distress is so deep that it seems overwhelming and although we might like to help, we just don’t know how. Plus, it’s scary. We fear becoming entangled in their pain and distress. We know that, as followers of Jesus, we must be kind, we must show compassion, but what can we do? I’d like to share this, which happened when I was a teenager:

My grandparents were visiting us for Christmas. On the evening they arrived, my grandmother was taken ill. She was rushed to hospital and the next few weeks were a blur as she was admitted to hospital, sent home, admitted to hospital again, had surgery… and then she died. My grandfather, my father and his brother were overwhelmed. Their grief was palpable; it seemed to hang in the air.

My grandfather stayed with us for four months after her death. One morning, I heard him sobbing. The door was open so I went in the room. I put my arm on his shoulder and stayed with him until the sobs lessened. Later that day he said to me, “How did you know?”

“How did I know what?” I replied.

“How did you know to not say anything?”

I looked him in the eye and shook my head, “I just did.”

“Thank you.” He said.

Sometimes words are not enough. Sometimes words are too much. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Broken

Sometimes I wonder what the point is. Sometimes I look at the world and all I see is brokenness. Sometimes I look at my life and all I see is brokenness. Sure, I see that where many families would have fallen apart, we stayed together and grew in love, flawed as it is. We’ve had our rocky moments but I think, thank God, that my children are going to be ok. They have been through such a lot, but each of them is, I hope, secure in the knowledge that he or she is loved and worthy of love. Each child has hopes and dreams for the future and understands that they have to work to reach those dreams (to a greater or lesser degree). Each child also has a knowledge of God, again to a greater or lesser degree… Prince’s understanding of Christianity is – of necessity – very simple. It boils down to ‘God is love. He teaches us to love. Be kind. Where you have done wrong, say sorry.’

I have a wonderful husband, who gives me more than words can say. I hope I give him what he needs, too. He has been enormously supportive throughout our marriage (we celebrate five years this year!) and even more so these past few months during EMDR. My husband always sees things in me that I never see in myself. He always has. Ours was definitely a match made in heaven.

But then I look at me. I’m nearly 40. I’m still going through therapy. When will my life begin? When will I experience normality? When will I be able to serve God more fully?

So I said to God, “Dear God, how can I be of use to You when I am like this – broken and jagged and anxious and broken and…”

I had hardly begun this (admittedly rather truculent) prayer when into my mind came an image of Christ on the cross. He was weak. He was scorned. Naked. Shamed. Humiliated. Tortured. Nails through his flesh to enhance the suffering. Broken.

“This is my body, broken for you.” The words flashed into my mind as the image changed: Jesus with the disciples, sharing the final meal, speaking the words that would become a gift for His followers.

The image changed again: bread and wine raised aloft as the priest repeats Jesus’ words; words that have echoed through the centuries. “Take, eat. This is my body… Do this in remembrance of me…”

*****

Jesus was broken. I am broken. We are all broken, in different ways. Brokenness is the most remarkable thing about the Gospel. Brokenness was taken down from the cross all crumpled and empty. In grief and sorrow brokenness was carried and laid in a tomb, carefully wrapped in cloth. The shell-shocked stragglers walked away.

But that wasn’t the end of the story.

Reblog: What the Book of Job Really Means

Excellent post from Tim Fall about the book of Job.

I remember a well-meaning friend saying to me, when I was talking about the horribleness that I was experiencing at that time, if I had read about Job. I looked at him, frowned, and asked if Job had read about me.

Laura is absolutely right. No matter how much one might end up with, it can never take away the deep and lasting sorrows. But having gone through those sorrows and surviving and still loving God brings about a faith of a different kind – a spiritual maturity maybe? It means you’re not dependent on life being good to thank God for His blessings. You know that God is always good. God is always. God is.

I’m struggling right now. Had my EMDR session this morning and it was a bit like being hit by a tidal wave. It’s inexpressible, frankly. But I do know that God is good, and that God has always been good, even through every sad or bad or mad or terrible experience. God was never remote and distant – He was with me. I know that. And my sorrow, my sorrows, *all* of our sorrows, He shares. He gives us beauty for ashes. This is why we mourn on Good Friday and celebrate come Easter Sunday. Hallelujah!

Tim's Blog - Just One Train Wreck After Another

I can’t say I know all about the Book of Job, but I think I know a bit about it and here’s one thing I know:

The Book of Job reveals God’s grace.

Some will dispute this, saying the book instead reveals a cruel God who uses Job as a pawn in a game played between God and Satan. Here’s how they might characterize the opening scenes: God asks Satan where he’s been lately, Satan says he’s been out cruising through the world here and there, and God asks if Satan has happened upon Job.

Satan Before the Lord, Corrado Giaquinto (1703–1765) (Wikimedia) Satan Before the Lord,
Corrado Giaquinto (1703–1765)
(Wikimedia)

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 1:8.)

Job is described as a man who cared for his…

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Reblog – Context swap: helping others to see how their attitude offends

Something Laura wrote in the post below niggled me and has stayed with me the past few days. It coincided with certain news articles, particularly surrounding the Rotherham abuse ‘scandal’ and the mention of former ‘national treasure’ convicted paedophile Rolf Harris. I finally put my finger on what it was:

When someone is convicted of a sexual offence, and then you casually or otherwise remark that you ‘don’t believe it’, you imply that victims are at fault. Even if this is not what you mean, if you insist that you can’t believe that a person could do such heinous acts, you disrespect – no, you dehumanise and degrade – victims and former victims like me. These crimes leave a legacy that lasts a lifetime. Anyone who would rather look the other way than look at the awful truth head on is, in essence, spitting in my face, and the faces of those like me. Spitting in the faces of those vulnerable young girls in Rotherham. They were children, for God’s sake. And that is the politest way of saying it.

We have an appallingly low conviction rate for sexual crime in the UK. An estimated 85% of sexual violence goes unreported. Of those that are reported to the police, only 7% result in conviction. That means that 1% of sexual crime results in conviction. I’d say it’s a pervert’s paradise, especially when police and social services look the other way (which is what happened to me, too).

Also, whenever anyone says that a rape or sexual assault victim ‘must be lying’, this is incredibly offensive. The reality is that very few people invent stories of sexual violence. On the contrary, ‘in March 2013, the Crown Prosecution Service published a survey confirming that false rape reports are ‘very rare’ and suggesting they could make up less than 1% of all reports.’ 

source Rape Crisis

Abusers abuse and rapists rape and molesters molest and all of them blame the victim. That’s how they get away with it! So many times I was made to feel as if everything I experienced, including sexual, emotional and physical abuse, were my fault, both overtly by the abuser, and less overtly by the fact that no one did anything (except my parents, who did all they could under the circumstances). The abuse tore our family to shreds. No bomb could have blown us apart any better. We are still picking up the pieces, all these years later. I thank God that we can. I thank God that it is indeed true what Paul writes in his letter to the church at Corinth (paraphrased rather movingly by Eugene Peterson):

…no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything [except abuse]
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies.

1 Corinthians 13:3-8

My thanks go to Laura, for prompting this. It’s been cathartic. Any thoughts from any of my readers?

Laura Droege's blog

Recently, controversial Christian preacher Douglas Wilson took issue with women who disagreed with him. (You can read a fuller version of the story on Tim Fall’s blog and several others.) He called them pushy broads, twinkies in tight tops, or waifs with manga eyes.

I’m not interested in discussing Wilson’s views; others do a much better job of pointing out what is wrong with his theology and attitudes. Nor do I feel the need to talk about what’s offensive about these particular terms; I’m assuming that my regular blog readers already agree that the terms are sexist and racist.

Here’s what interests me: If another person has a sexist attitude or uses a sexist term and doesn’t understand why it’s offensive, how do we help him (or her) understand?

(This isn’t limited to gender matters, of course. This applies to race and sexual orientation, too.)

For someone like…

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Lest We Forget

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, peace was finally agreed. Too late for so many men and boys who had lost their lives, lost their health, lost their sanity. Too late for so many wives and mothers who had lost their precious husbands and sons.

We say ‘lest we forget’, but we do forget. When we close our eyes and our lips for two minutes’ silence this morning, perhaps we, the body of Christ, can pray for all the places in the world where the brutality of conflict is not something distant and remote but the reality of every day. God help us all.

I can’t add any more useful words, but I would like to share this breath-taking poem, slightly less well-known than Owen’s ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, and these verses from the book of Revelation:

I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold… God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new… I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End…”

extract from Rev. 21:3-6 (NKJV)

Beauty for Ashes

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your
laughter rises was oftentime filled with your tears…
When you are joyous, look deep into
your heart and you shall find it is only
that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in
your heart, and you shall see that in truth
you are weeping for that which has been
your delight.

from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

CAM00227

English lavender, July 2014

The Secret to Dealing with Hard Times

Very good post over at incourage today:

“Keep in touch with [your pain] because it is at those moments of pain where you are most open to the pain of other people – most open to your own deep places. Keep in touch with those sad times because it is then that you are most aware of your own powerlessness, crushed in a way by what is happening to you, but also most aware of God’s power to pull you through it, to be with you in it.”

We can be stewards of our money, of our time and talents, of our gifts. But could we… also be stewards of our pain? Could we see anew how God suffers with us, just as He suffered for us?

Click here to read more. It will open in a new tab.

Sparrows

“By night, we hasten, in darkness, to search for living water, only our thirst leads us onward, only our thirst leads us onward.” ~ Teresa of Avila

It has been a surreal year or two. First my great auntie died. Then my dad’s best friend. Next was my dad’s cousin. Then my father-in-law, followed a few months later by my dear granny**. Now this morning my dad rings me, sounding rather desperate, and with a catch in his throat gives me the news that his sister-in-law, my auntie, died unexpectedly in the night. My poor uncle. It seems worse when it’s unexpected. My dad’s on his way to see his brother.

“…when we compare the present life of man on earth with that time of which we have no knowledge, it seems to me like the swift flight of a single sparrow through the banqueting-hall where [the king sits] at dinner on a winter’s day… In the midst there is a comforting fire to warm the hall; outside the storms of winter rain or snow are raging. This sparrow flies swiftly in through one door of the hall, and out through another. While he is inside, he is safe from the winter storms; but after a moment of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the wintry world from which he came…”

Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of England

8th Century AD

Life seems so solid, so certain when we’re young. In adulthood it can overnight seem as fragile and as fleeting as a butterfly. What can we do – those of us who are left? What can we do to offer comfort to those in grief? In the famous sermon on the mount, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Matthew 5:4, NRSVA

Or, as The Message puts it: “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.”

But what does this mean, in reality? Doesn’t it sound rather harsh to tell someone who is grieving that it’s all ok because now you can get closer to God? For those of us who have a strong faith, we do reach out to God and we do find comfort in our sorrow. But for those outside the flock a bible verse on its own is not much practical use and may well sound like platitudes, or an excuse to not do something ourselves.

I believe that the verses above are made true in us. I believe that God’s promises are made true in us. We are the body of Christ, you and me. Don’t worry – none of us are any better at it than anyone else. We’re all a bunch of muppets, as my old pastor used to say o_O But that is where grace comes in; when we allow God to work in us and through us, we can truly be God’s hands and feet. Through our thoughts and words and actions our friends and family, indeed everyone around us, can know the Living God.

Jesus said “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Matthew 10:29-31 (NRSVA)

Dear Lord, thank you for your words of hope and comfort.

Thank you for your gift of peace.

May we bring your presence to those who mourn.

Give us the courage to say what needs to be said,

to do what you need us to do.

We are nothing without you.

In Jesus’ name we pray.

Amen 

**Addendum (23/10/14) I forgot to mention that in the past few months, my mother’s cousin also died and my husband’s aunt and uncle. The latter two were well into their 90s and very frail, so that was not unexpected. With my mother’s cousin, however, I was the only one on our side of the family who knew he was very ill, apparently. It came as a shock to my parents. I just assumed they knew. What a year.