Endings, Beginnings

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 

James 2:14-16 (NRSVA)

This was part of my bible reading for yesterday, 31st December 2018. It was particularly striking for me because it seems to be the summation of what God has been speaking into the lives of my family and I.

I’m beginning 2019 with Veganuary, for a combination of reasons. Going vegan is the single best action I can make for the environment. Countless studies have shown this. Here’s a recent one. I also wrote a blog post about climate change a few years back.

Climate change affects the poorest most, so addressing my contribution to this is something I can do that is concrete. I also don’t want to be party to the treatment of animals that takes place on farms and in abbatoirs. It’s violent whichever way you look at it and I can’t reconcile the compassion that I have learned through following Jesus with violence in whatever form. I also have health problems and veganism has been demonstrated time and again as the antidote to so many health problems that for someone like me, I can’t not do it.

We’re also developing a proper financial system for our family so that we can be more responsible and more accountable with our money. Not that we’re exactly irresponsible, but we’re not as mindful of all our assets as we could be. Our income has dropped rapidly in the past few years so it was necessary and long overdue. It’ll mean focusing on the important things.

So I prayed about what should be my phrase or word for 2019 and came up with this:

KEEP IT SIMPLE.

Seems obvious, but Complex PTSD can make things feel overwhelmingly complicated, so this is a real blessing just on its own. Be blessed, friends, in 2019. Lay down your life for Him so that He can pick it up. Shalom.

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.

A Reappraisal of Now

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One of our guinea pigs, wearing a crocheted Father Christmas hat. Because.

I caught a cold or somesuch. Even though it’s gone, I’m left exhausted and physically back where I was months ago. It’s frustrating. I had been making such progress! Who knows how long it will take to get back to where I was just a few weeks ago.

So I’m lying on the bed typing, cuddling a very cheeky little guinea pig and listening to audiobooks from Audible. Audiobooks are wonderful for people like me, people who tire on reading, people whose lives are (or can be) somewhat limited. Audible allows me to continue learning. I’m listening to a series of lectures on the development of language and another series of lectures on the Ignatian practice of discernment. In my years of Audible membership I have learnt about History, Economics, Linguistics, Theology, Physics, Neurology, Psychology… You name it. I’ve been able to begin to decipher Italian, French and Mandarin and I have revisited some of my childhood favourites, such as Enid Blyton and Joan Aiken. Of course, my forays into the world of adult fiction are also fairly constant. I am a fiction junkie. Through Audible I have fallen in love with the words of Lisa Gardner (supreme queen of crime thrillers), Liane Moriarty (and the narration of Caroline Lee), and have recently discovered the work of Amanda Prowse (who reads her own work). Audible also produce their own content, and the series of new audio plays (or ‘movies-in-the-mind’ as I call them) based on the Alien novels and films are brilliant – science fiction being my literary alma mater ❤ Thank you, Audible!

In another essential way Audible is a lifeline, too. I am listening to a dramatised version of the Old Testament, the New Testament read by David Suchet, Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love, Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God and Ann Voskamp reading her One Thousand Gifts Devotional. I listen to a chapter of each every day and it allows me to keep up with my spiritual learning, too (which is the most important). When I reach the end of the OT or the NT, I just begin again. Same for The Practice of the Presence of God. It is so very simple, yet so easy to forget, that I reckon I need to keep revisiting all the ideas until I can actually do them.

In listening to educational and spiritual material, Audible allows me to be disciplined even in the middle of what feels like chaos or exhaustion. My life seems to swing between chaos and exhaustion and doesn’t stop for very long in ‘order’ and ‘wellness’ – at least, that’s how it feels. Que sera sera. God is eternal. The eternal is now. Right now. ‘Now’ is all we ever have. Yet –

All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well’ ~ Julian of Norwich

‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life… or about your body… Is not life more…?Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value [to God] than they?And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? …Therefore do not worry… indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Extract from Matthew 6:25-33 (NRSVA)

In summary: you gotta do what you gotta do – and that’s all you gotta do.

Abiding

It has been well over a year since I last blogged. Is anyone still following my blog? I think of you all often! The sudden and unexpected death of a very dear friend left me reeling just over a year ago, and we also experienced great upheaval, more trauma… I didn’t want to write about any of it on my blog because some of it wasn’t my story to tell. The trauma involved family members rather than me directly and although it was bloody awful for me, it’s still not my story to tell. Perhaps one day those involved will desire to tell their stories. Perhaps not.

As for me, my illness has significantly improved. I was in a wheelchair every time I went out for about nine months. Now I can walk a mile or even two on a good day and I continue to get better. I am so grateful. I meditate (nearly) every day. Mindfulness meditation has become a wonderful tool to enable me to cope with everything that we have been through and to support family members who have needed it.

I’m now a home educator <gulp>. Fluff decided she had had enough of school so we’re doing Year 11 from home, which has been interesting to say the least. I am enjoying it, but it is also exhausting and sometimes overwhelming. Yesterday I felt quite unwell and stayed in bed for most of the day after dropping Prince off at school. He’s still at school, bless him. We have another year before we have to send him off to special needs college.

Our daughters have made some drastic changes – Fluff is now vegan and extremely vocal about it. As part of our homeschooling she is studying Music (clarinet and piano) and GCSEs in Maths, English Language, Double Science and Geography, along with ABRSM Music Theory. She is determined to study plant-based nutrition and environmental science at university. Chip has become vegetarian and sees herself as a social activist. She is excelling at school and loving her weekly theatre school. They are both involved in Girl Guides and Fluff has become a Young Leader with Rainbows. She’s also just completed her Silver Duke of Edinburgh Award. My children make me smile.

My darling husband is still working hard for his family and enjoying his role-playing games. He’s also assisting with homeschooling, especially Maths as that’s his speciality.

Our guinea pig brood grew (and shrank, sadly). We now have three, two girls and a boy. Cookie is snuggled up under my chin as I type, making little snuffling noises to tell me she is happy. She’s a black and white squeaky fluff-ball and very cute with it. The piggies even came camping with us in August when we went up to see Hadrian’s wall. I fell head over heels in love with the Northumbrian National Park.

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Vindolanda © Simon Robinson, 2007 / CC-BY-SA-3.0 & GFDL-1.2.

“All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” – Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love

“This moment is as perfect as it can be.” – Richard Rohr, Letting Go

“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” – John 15:9

How are you? How’s life been treating you? What is God doing with you in your life?

 

Transitory

Two versions of the same thing:

So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (The Message)

Therefore we do not become discouraged [spiritless, disappointed, or afraid]. Though our outer self is [progressively] wasting away, yet our inner self is being [progressively] renewed day by day. For our momentary, light distress [this passing trouble] is producing for us an eternal weight of glory [a fullness] beyond all measure [surpassing all comparisons, a transcendent splendor and an endless blessedness]! So we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are unseen; for the things which are visible are temporal [just brief and fleeting], but the things which are invisible are everlasting and imperishable.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (AMP)

With Christ it’s no longer a ‘this, too, shall pass’ – along the lines of Ecclesiastes – but a ‘this changes; I change’ by the grace of our dear Saviour. I’ve always loved the word ‘ephemeral’. It’s a cool word. It means that something is fleeting, changing, short-lived. But it always brings to mind the image of a butterfly, and then the word ‘ethereal’ seems to be intimately connected.

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How can I say no to this ephemeral, ethereal thing called Life?

Putting on Imperishability

“What do you hope to get out of this?” She asked gently. I was sitting in the office of the new specialist. She had been explaining how the treatment worked, explaining how it’s a combination of a neurological approach and a psychological approach. “What did you come here today expecting would happen?”

“I – uh – I’m not sure.”

“What would you like to be able to do, once you have completed the treatment?”

I paused. “I don’t know because I kind of stopped hoping for things a long time ago. I have been let down too many times.”

This was the most truthful answer I could give, but I don’t think the lady understood. She still looked at me expectantly and gave an encouraging smile. “I’m sure you can think of something.”

“I guess… I’d like to be able to exercise.” I said, somewhat lamely.

“Good, good. Ok. And what about your daily life? Do you want to return to studying or to get a job?”

“Yes. Yes. I would like to study again and get a job. That would be wonderful.”

What I didn’t say was ‘that would be wonderful and so would a myriad other possibilities but I daren’t put any stock in them because it hurts too much to keep hoping and then to be let down. Again.’

It’s common sense to not have ‘goals’ as such, beyond today and tomorrow, isn’t it? How can I make plans when none of us know the future? How can I do anything except survive today, be thankful and prepare for tomorrow? Is this biblical? Or is this an un-dreaming, un-hoping, un-inspiring and un-inspired way to live? I don’t have dreams. But is that because it’s sensible or because if you get knocked down enough you learn to crawl and stay out of the way of the punches?

These were my thoughts this morning. I have been earnestly taking a good, hard, prayerful look at myself. And then I read this, from Richard Rohr’s daily meditations:

The Risen Christ is a great big yes to everything… even early, incomplete stages. The Risen Christ is still and forever the wounded Jesus—and yet now so much more. Your ordinary life and temperament are not destroyed or rejected, but instead, “This perishable nature will put on imperishability, and this mortal body will put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15: 52-54)—one including the other, not one in place of the other.

For the Son of God, Jesus Christ… was not ‘Yes and No’; but in him it is always ‘Yes.’ For in him every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes.’ ~ from 2 Corinthians 1:19,20 (NRSVA)

I think I have a tendency to say ‘no’ to things. I pray for the grace and strength to say ‘yes’. What about you?

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I am writing this to the chorus of guinea pigs. It happens every morning. Our piggies are now six months old and two months old. The mother and daughter are being very quarrelsome today, but even in their squabbling they are so very cute. And so funny! I think on the day God made guinea pigs He thought, “Now what can I make that is just the perfect little bundle of cuteness, always friendly, a bit shy but loves snuggles and is very talkative?” And thus was created the cavy. Proof that God has a sense of humour, imo. I might not know which way is up some days, but these little ones always make me smile:

COOKIE MONSTER

This is Cookie, aka Cookie Monster – though there never was such a misnomer (he is such a little scaredy cat) or Flufflebum. He likes to hide and to snuggle and to eat. When he is cuddled he chatters away in his own cute little guinea-pigese. Guinea Pig Therapy really should be a Thing.

King of Kings

It was a relaxed Sunday evening and after we shared a chapter from A Young Person’s Guide to Knowing God by Patricia St. John (which I think is an excellent resource for young people – honest, earnest and never patronising) the girls and I wanted to have a bit of a sing song.

“To be honest,” said Fluff, “the singing is my favourite part of going to church and I miss it when we don’t go.”

Aside – I was actually well enough to go this morning but wanted to finish off inventorying the kitchen with Chip so we didn’t go because it takes an hour to drive there and back and then the service is about two hours, plus chatting to people afterwards – it basically means a whole morning and mornings are when I have the most energy. Our family is currently doing the 31 Days of Living Well and Spending Zero challenge and the first big task is to inventory the contents of your kitchen or pantry. I needed a lot of help because my energy levels were never going to last me through that one and Chip was a little trouper.

Into my mind popped this old favourite. I learned it about 30 years ago at Warrior Camp and lo and behold my girls loved it as much as we did back then. They are old enough now to appreciate the harmonies so we had great fun.

My small, but heartfelt, prayer lately has been along the lines of “God, I’m so broken and small, I manage so little. How can I possibly do anything for Your glory?”

Seems like God has answered in the smallness of a smile, in the glimpse of the sun in a bright spring sky, in the soft touch of a guinea pig snuggling into my shoulder, even in the voices of two adolescent girls roaring out, “Jesus, Prince of Peace, glory hal-le-lujah!” In contrast to all that the world has to say, God says that small and insignificant is ok. Indispensable, even. Because He is strong when I am weak. I really don’t get it. But that’s ok. As long as it is all for His glory.

What you do for the least of these you do for Me…

But Lord, I am ‘the least of these’.

So be ‘the least of these’ for Me. 

 

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?

 

Wisdom to Know the Difference

I went along to a wellness coach this morning for the first time. She has given me some very simple stretching and strengthening exercises to do and after about an hour of very gentle exercise I felt not tired but refreshed. Hurrah! So I will see her again. It helps to have someone who is both encouraging and to whom I am accountable on a regular basis. I hope my health will benefit and that I will be able to do more than my condition currently allows. ME (aka CFS) sucks.

Alongside the talk about gentle exercise and the importance of eating well, there was some unfortunate pseudo-science/waffy stuff. I am too polite to tell a stranger to her face that she’s spouting bollocks nonsense, but it got me thinking. By apparently going along with it, am I dishonouring my faith? Am I opening myself to bad influences?

Not necessarily. I am willing to learn physical techniques that will be of benefit, even if they are couched in – er – terms I don’t agree with. I won’t be worrying about aligning my chakras, and I won’t concern myself with a pantheistic, New Agey, earth-worshipping approach that draws ‘energy from nature’ or whatever (you catch my drift).

I will use the breathing techniques and methods of exercise. I will praise God and thank Him for the wonders of creation, rather than seeing my redemption (?) within nature itself. If nature is sacred it is because it was made so by God. And I am not sure as to the argument that creation itself is sacred, but I am sure that we are supposed to exercise good stewardship over God’s creation. Anyway…

My faith is secure enough to be able to take hold of that which is right –

…I have [not] already obtained this, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own…

(Philippians 3:12 NRSVA)

 – and to let go of the rest. God has given me His Word with which to ‘align’ myself (or rather, for Him to align me with!), a brain to discern what is right, and a permanent Helper to guide me and to convict my conscience when I do wrong or am tempted to do wrong –

‘Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God… We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and whoever is not from God does not listen to us. From this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.’

(1 John 4:1,6)

He has told me what I need to focus on and how I should be, by grace –

‘…if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.’

(1 John 4:12)

And if I study His Word regularly and stay ‘connected’ in prayer I empower myself with the weapons I need to not worry about these sorts of questions.

‘If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.’

(James 1:5)

Incidentally, if I felt something was going too far I would have no compunction about saying so. Politely, of course.

This Changes Everything

If a person really grasps the truths of the gospel and believes it, this changes everything. How can they ever be the same again? We are recipients of amazing grace! 

From Positively Powerless by L.L. Martin

This past week began with a very poorly little Chip who threw up all over her school bag and its contents and was then wiped out on the settee for a couple of days.

Yesterday, despite my best efforts to avoid catching it, I managed to throw up all over the mirror, the wall, the carpet, myself, the bathroom floor and my husband’s dressing gown. I had been lying in bed hoping it would go away and had not factored in the time it would take to jump out of bed, grab the nearest dressing gown, run along the hall, down three stairs, turn the corner, up two stairs and along the corridor to the bathroom. Hence the awful mess. I adore our big Victorian semi, but it has a few disadvantages. Not that I would change a thing. I love our higgledy piggledy house.

My dear, kind husband cleaned it all up while I climbed straight into the shower. Prince, in his adorably honest fashion, opened his bedroom door and imperiously demanded, “What on earth is going on?! It’s four o’clock in the morning!” You just can’t get the staff these days.

I felt awful so went back to bed with a bucket. Frank was supposed to be going to his cousin’s funeral yesterday, but instead he became my nurse and took over my usual role with great gusto. He even got Prince to walk to school, which is something of a miracle. Seriously. You’ve not met Prince. Think Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, only with learning disabilities. Even the mannerisms are similar. Prince does not like having his routine disrupted o_O

I spent yesterday in bed and in pain all over my body. I think it’s related to the M.E., which is itself a neurological disorder – it’s like the pain nerves get switched on, despite there not being anything actually wrong. I’m just glad I don’t generally have pain. Lots of M.E./CFS sufferers do.

So today I am resting and reading Positively Powerless by Laura Martin. The words above struck me. How great is our God! Amazing grace. Hallelujah! When I am better I will write a review. Positively Powerless brings to light some very pertinent issues for the 21st century Church, which have never been addressed elsewhere, despite their importance. I highly recommend it. More on that later.

This is a bit of a higgledy piggledy post. Never mind. Be blessed, friends.