Exhale and Lean

I read a very interesting post from Laura Droege this morning. She says ‘I’ve… found that the more open I am about the illness, the less it defines me.’ Laura writes about her battle with mental illness with a tender honesty. There is a real strength in her writing – one that only comes through endurance. It’s a fascinating post, please do click the link.

As for me, I refused for years to admit that there was anything wrong, because as far as I was concerned it was my life that was the problem, not me. Over time, God brought me to a place where I had to face up to the fact that I was not well. I have been on medication for over a year and for the first time in my adult life I am not depressed. As I told my psychologist with whom I’ve just begun therapy, the stupid thing is that I never knew I was depressed until I began taking anti-depressants! I just thought that that was normal because I couldn’t remember life not being horrible. Praise God for medication (and even more for my patient, loving husband) o_O

As I thought more about Laura’s post, I recalled a time, years ago, when I was a teenager. I was receiving treatment at a private hospital that specialised in rehabilitation after serious head injury. One day in the summer, my nurse and I were standing by a window looking at the garden, green and vibrant with colour as only an English garden can be. A butterfly fluttered into view and settled onto the purple flowers. I remember the purple and the green, but I don’t recall what plants they were. Just behind the butterfly was a young man in a motorised wheelchair. We realised he must be paralysed from the neck down because he was controlling the chair with his head. My nurse sighed and tutted as she saw this young man, “Oh,” she exclaimed, “don’t you feel sorry for him!” This was a statement, not a question.

I looked at the man and frowned. “I don’t.” I replied.

My nurse turned towards me, aghast, “You don’t feel sorry for him?!”

“No.” I said, but I couldn’t explain why.

20-something years later and I think that what I instinctively grasped was that people must be endlessly pitying this young man – and to pity him continually deprived him of dignity; instead it somehow defined him by his injuries, rather than as a human being. Christ never saw people as defined by their brokenness, in whatever way that was manifest. On the contrary:

‘Some men came carrying a paralysed man on a bed, and they tried to carry him into the house and put him in front of Jesus. Because of the crowd, however, they could find no way to take him in. So they carried him up on the roof, made an opening in the tiles, and let him down on his bed into the middle of the group in front of Jesus. When Jesus saw how much faith they had, he said to the man, “Your sins are forgiven, my friend.”

The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who speaks such blasphemy! God is the only one who can forgive sins!”

Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Why do you think such things? Is it easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? I will prove to you, then, that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, pick up your bed, and go home!”

At once the man got up in front of them all, took the bed he had been lying on, and went home, praising God.

Luke 5:18-25 (GNT)

This is also why the debate around the abortion of disabled foetuses is frightening, whatever your views on abortion in general. My son has autism. There is no pre-birth diagnosis for autism. If there were, would women choose (and in some cases, be encouraged by medical professionals) to abort their child, like they do with Down’s Syndrome? Is a disabled child ‘worth’ less than another child? Is their individuality defined by their disability, or by their humanity? What if we could diagnose susceptibility to mental ill health, short-sightedness, asthma or dyslexia? I’m loathe to say it (because often references to these things are made when a person has run out of other arguments) but didn’t the Nazis promote the same thing when they tried to ‘exterminate’ the disabled and the mentally ill? Eugenics: alive and well in the 21st century, disguised as ‘informed choice’.

My son is not autism. He is a fearfully and wonderfully made human being. He is a soul. And in reality we are all broken, in one way or another. Many people spend their whole lives trying to ‘make up’ for their brokenness: think of the cult of celebrity, for example. Many, many people think being ‘famous’ will make them happy, or being famous will make them ‘better’. Wealth is another way people try to fix their brokenness, sometimes they choose to pursue power. None of these things actually work. They may appear to, but all they can ever do is paper over the cracks. They don’t fix the structure. They’re just houses built on sand.

I don’t know if any of us are ever truly ‘fixed’, but we each have a God-given dignity that, when we put our trust in Him, when we recognise the grace given in this blessing of dignity, we are set free from all the lies the world (or our own heads) would have us believe. We don’t have to struggle to fix ourselves. We just have to exhale, and to lean on Him.

‘So Jesus said… If you abide in My word [hold fast to My teachings and live in accordance with them], you are truly My disciples.

And you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.

They answered Him, We… have never been in bondage to anybody. What do You mean by saying, You will be set free?

Jesus answered them, I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, Whoever commits and practices sin is the slave of sin.

Now a slave does not remain in a household permanently (forever); the son [of the house] does remain forever.

So if the Son liberates you [makes you free men], then you are really and unquestionably free.’

John 8:31-36 (Amplified)

I wrote about a similar theme in my post ‘Why I am Not a Survivor’. The link is to the right of this page. Thank you for reading. Do you have any thoughts on the subject?

The End of Advent

Advent when you are a child is a time of great expectancy. It is a time of tinsel and lights and parties and nativity plays and fun. On the final day, Father Christmas brings you a sack full of goodies and you eat your own weight in chocolate and mince pies before the end of the year.

Sometimes, Christmas is like that for adults, too. Many of us focus on the glittering, the twinkling, the excuse for a drink or two – and there’s nothing wrong with that. But Christmas isn’t an excuse for a party. Advent isn’t the preparation for gluttony and falling asleep after the Queen’s Speech. Advent is the time we expect the unexpected, yet long-awaited, child who was to rescue the world. In a desperately dark time, when there was famine and dissent and war, Jesus’ contemporaries awaited a saviour who would perhaps sweep across the Middle East, who would destroy their enemies and become a powerful, warrior king – King David with knobs on. But God didn’t choose to be the great destroyer; God instead redeemed His people by sending Himself as a baby.

A baby…?

Then, when He was still small, Jesus became a refugee – the lowest of the low, the least of the least.

There are many Christian refugees fleeing persecution as I write

read more here and find out how you can help these desperate people.

since you have plenty at this time… you should help those… in need.

2 Corinthians 8:14 (GNT)

 

The God of heaven became the God of earth by taking not the form of the most mighty, but the form of the most vulnerable. Like His death on the most gruesome, humiliating piece of torture equipment that the ancient world could imagine (crucifixion was the Roman idea of absolute subjugation of the occupied nation – more on that during Lent, perhaps)… yes, like Jesus’ death, His birth was, and still is, totally, utterly, beyond counter-intuitive – it’s counter-counter-counter intuitive; it’s virtually insane. God becoming man is crazy enough. But before He became a man, He entered the world as we all do, ‘between the p*** and the s***’ to quote St. Augustine. What God is this who would make of Himself a tiny, squalling, red-in-the-face, blood smeared ball of humanity, utterly dependent and utterly vulnerable? What crazy God is this? And what woman was Mary that God entrusted her with His precious son? Does this give an insight into the Roman Catholic reverence for the ‘mother of God’, perhaps?

Our world is still crazy and screwed up and filled with sorrow. It is also thriving, beautiful and filled with joy. How can it be all of these things, all at once? To paraphrase Ann Voskamp, it’s not the screwed-up-ness of the world that is noteworthy, it’s the good bits – they’re the most crazy… and the good bits were made flesh incarnate in the form of our tiny, newborn king.

Come, O come, Emmanuel…

God

with

us.

Blessings

A spider busily weaves his web over the glass as the sun shines through the pane, lighting up the windowsill. The crackled, peeling paint doesn’t look shabby in the sunlight. It looks somehow blessed – as if the light shining on it gives it new character; makes it beautiful. In the distance I can see dark clouds. Rain is probably moving our way, but right now the sun is shining.

Sometimes folk say, “aren’t I lucky?” and their Christian brother or sister nods sagely and says, “ah, but are you lucky? Or are you blessed?”. I know what they mean, and I know they mean well by pointing out that God is the giver of all things, but aren’t we blessed in the good times and in the bad times? Do we really believe that the bad times are because God withholds His blessing? Should we go around during the good times praising God for His blessings, but not in the bad times? Doesn’t that make it seem as if God favours some (i.e. those He has ‘blessed’) more than others? Isn’t that the same lie that underpins the prosperity gospel? Isn’t that the same lie that says I can earn my way into God’s favour?

The world is good. The world is bad. Life is good. Life is bad. I don’t understand why some suffer so much more than others. I do know that in suffering we can learn more about God, and more about our dear Jesus and His Passion, than we ever could without suffering. We’ll never know the whys and wherefores in this life. Ecclesiastes tells us:

For everything there is a season,

and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted…

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance…

Ecclesiastes 3:1,2,4 (NRSVA)

I am thankful for all the seasons of my life. I am thankful that when I desperately needed help, the hands and hearts of my brothers and sisters in Christ were there for me, especially those in Celebrate Recovery. Without Celebrate Recovery I wouldn’t be here now.

Carry each other’s burdens and so live out the law of Christ. ….

Galatians 6:2 (NRSVA)

Thank you.

I don’t know why I continue to be so surprised at all the good things that we have been granted in the past few years. Why am I surprised to not be suffering for the first time in decades (I don’t consider this illness as suffering – far from it)? God is good. God is always good. But when life is good we must never become complacent. We must love our suffering neighbour all the more, all the more. As Ann Voskamp says, all is grace.

This song is not written about God, but it’s the one that makes the most sense to me today. It also serves a dual purpose of saying thank you to God, and thank you to my beloved husband, who has shown me God’s love with such generosity and patience through the good times and the bad. I hope you like it, too.

 

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.

Summer Sundays – Glad to Just Be

At the beginning of the year, I came across a blog post asking what readers thought God was saying to them, in as few words as possible. ‘Just be‘ is what came to mind when I prayed. I have tried to let go of worry and stress and anxiety and live up to these words ever since. Paradoxically, rather than leading to carefree abandon, ‘just be’ has actually involved becoming more and more disciplined.

 

Discipline

Origin: From Middle English… via Old French from Latin disciplina ‘instruction, knowledge’, from discipulus (see disciple).’

 

Disciple, noun

‘A personal follower of Christ during his life, especially one of the twelve Apostles.

A follower or pupil of a teacher, leader, or philosopher.

Origin: Old English, from Latin discipulus ‘learner’, from discere ‘learn’…

Source: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com

 

Discipline. Hmm. It’s not what you think.

 

This Christ discipline, I am learning, is a quiet discipline. It is not made of ‘should’ or ‘ought’, or layer upon layer of soul-crushing guilt. Surrender is emotional and physical as well as spiritual (this came as a surprise to me!). It is not until we surrender our life, soul and body that we realise how far we are from surrender. Another paradox.

 

Last night the girls and I took it in turns to read from ‘Heaven for Kids’ and then from ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’. Those of us not reading were absorbed in crafting. I was finishing off a crocheted dance bag for Chip (she has recently taken up ballet) and the girls were making birthday cards for a relative. In the loving quiet, which so resembled the place that surrender has created, we all had a space. We shared. It was peaceful, restful – and I was so, so thankful.

An End to Violence: Where is the Olive Branch?

I began praying for Israel and the Middle East several years ago. I pray for strength and courage for those who face terrible situations, I pray for the work of Mama Maggie in Egypt, and I pray for peace.

 

The olive branch                                           ~ a universal symbol of peace

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”*

 

The situation in Israel and Palestine is sad beyond words. It is tempting to want to portray one side as ‘good’ and the other as ‘bad’. After all, this makes any response much easier… but this is the real world. There are no such things as ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ unless you’re nine years old. Humanity is too complex, and ultimately too frail, to be viewed in this simplistic manner. There have been acts of good and bad on both sides. Evil has warped (some of ) the minds of both Israelis and Palestinians. My brothers and sisters in Christ who happen to be Palestinian have been on the receiving end of Israeli violence just as much as their Muslim neighbours.

he asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbour?” **

 

I wonder what would have happened if, during the decades of terrorism of the IRA at the end of the 20th century, Britain had bombed Dublin? Would there not have been international outcry? When I was a little girl my father’s London office was blown up by the IRA. If the bomb had gone off at the right time it would have killed hundreds of men and women who had nothing whatsoever to do with the political situation, my daddy included. I was at a railway station the day another bomb was due to go off. If the bomb had killed my dad, would I have wanted revenge? If the other bomb had killed me, would my family have wanted revenge? It is a natural response, but in Israel and Palestine, just as in Britain and Ireland, violence never solved anything. It never will. Violence leads to violence, which leads to more and more innocent victims  – be they Jewish, Muslim, Christian or none of the above. As I said the other day in my post about the turmoil elsewhere in the Middle East, evil begets evil. It has to stop.

 

When Love was flogged, when Love was spat upon, when Love was ridiculed and stripped naked and forced to walk to His place of execution, when Love was bound and nailed to a cross, He did not declare war or vengeance. Love could have called down all the angels of heaven with fire and trumpets and wrath. But He didn’t. Instead, the voice of Love said, “Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do.”

 

Please join me in praying for peace and a lasting end to violence.

 

‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.’****

 

* John 14:27

**Luke 10:29

***Luke 23:34

**** Galatians 3:28

THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD

The ‘Arab Spring’ seemed so hopeful when it first began, but it has descended with sickening inevitability into turmoil and war. Violence begets violence; evil begets evil. Now Christians in ISIS-held Iraq have been told to convert to Islam, pay a form of ‘protection’ tax, or face death.

 

 

‘Iraq is home to one of the world’s most ancient Christian communities but its population has dwindled amid growing sectarian violence since the US-led invasion in 2003.

Prior to 2003, the number of Christians in the city had been as high as 60,000, but that had dropped to about 35,000 by June this year… [and] another 10,000 fled Mosul after Isis took control at the beginning of June…’ 

BBC News ‘Iraqi Christians flee after Isis issue Mosul ultimatum

 

Open Doors is a charity supporting persecuted Christians worldwide, most recently those in Iraq who have literally had to run for their lives. Can you help them in their work?

 

‘Open Doors partners in Iraq have responded rapidly as Christians flee intense persecution in Mosul from militant Islamic group, ISIS. They need your support and prayers to continue to provide emergency relief for 2,000 of the families most in need…

“When people are arriving without any food or water, on foot, having walked for half a day or longer, with only a plastic bag containing their belongings, you just want to provide help. What else can you do?”

A gift of £70 can provide an emergency family relief pack for a family of four for one month.

Each pack contains essential items like food, water, medicine, pillows, blankets, air coolers, cooking and eating utensils, and hygiene kits.

And please pray for safety, guidance and strength for local Open Doors partners as they bring God’s hope to these broken Christian families and many others who have fled their homes.’

 

To find out how you can donate, please click here and the Open Doors page will open in a new tab.

 

“Whoever has two shirts must give one to the man who has none, and whoever has food must share it.” 

Luke 3:11 (GNT)

 

Jesus said:The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon Me, because He has anointed Me [the Anointed One, the Messiah] to preach the good news (the Gospel) to the poor; He has sent Me to announce release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to send forth as delivered those who are oppressed [who are downtrodden, bruised, crushed, and broken down by calamity]…”

Luke 4:18 (Amplified)

For those who have no choice but to stay, we must pray. Many of them will be too poor to flee, or too old, or too infirm. Some will be too scared to know which way to turn or what to do. We must pray without ceasing: pray for courage, pray for wisdom, pray for strength and most of all we must pray for peace – the peace that passes understanding and that only flows from the wide and gentle arms of Jesus. God help us all.

God Here, Among Us

 

Nightmares

 

I hate them. Sometimes they last all night, with fitful wakefulness in between. When I wake I am glad to realise it was only a dream, that the past hasn’t come back in all its horribleness, but still, such nights are emotionally draining. Daytime flashbacks are draining too. They still grab hold of me, but not usually with the same intensity that they did in the past. This is good. This is progress.

 

I recalled the poem I posted yesterday as I breathed in the fresh green of an English summer morning and sipped my also-green smoothie (recipe here). My mind drifted to thoughts both of thankfulness for what I have now, and of sorrow for our brothers and sisters, especially those in the Middle East, whose suffering is intense and ongoing. Come by here, Lord.

 

I was reminded of this song by Shaun Groves. Shaun writes songs with lyrics you won’t hear anywhere else, and a rare, tender honesty.

 

Be blessed, this June morning. Peace be with you.

Calling for a Ceasefire in Syria

I have been praying for Syria for months, as have many others around the world. We have donated money. We have seen the pictures, read the headlines. Watching a country tearing itself apart is horrific. Was there ever such a wretched race as we humans? But there is something we can do:

 

In 24 hours, for the first time ever, major powers behind this war are going to meet. They say they want to hear the Syrian people’s demands, and they want to show their own public they are doing something. So here is how we get ‘a seat at the table’ — we commission a Syrian opinion poll, set up a live feed from Syrians to get clear demands presented to negotiators at the talks, and a million of us from across the world back the call for a ceasefire.

It has taken a three year bloodbath to get this conference, now we only have hours to be heard.If we come together and build a ceasefire call and then show up boldly on screen and in global numbers at the meeting, we could help bring an end to the carnage. The more of us that join the cry, the more attention we will get, and the more pressure on the parties to respond — sign for a ceasefire in Syria, now.” ~ Avaaz

Please click here to sign a petition calling for all the leaders of the conflict to agree a ceasefire. It will open in a new tab. At the time of writing, there are 145,000 signatories.

Thank you.