More Mercy in Christ

‘…there is more mercy in Christ than sin in us… It is better to go bruised to heaven than sound to hell.’

~ Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed

“Let’s not pretend this is easier than it really is. If you want to live a morally pure life, here’s what you have to do: You have to blind your right eye the moment you catch it in a lustful leer. You have to choose to live one-eyed or else be dumped on a moral trash pile. And you have to chop off your right hand the moment you notice it raised threateningly. Better a bloody stump than your entire being discarded for good in the dump.”

~ Jesus, as recorded in the book of Matthew, verses 29-30, paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in The Message

Shout it from the rooftops! Sing it in the streets! It’s ok to be broken.

It’s not ok to sin. That’s never ‘ok’ because it draws us away from God and causes pain. But it’s ok to admit to being a sin addict and to walk each day one step at a time, by grace. Christ has more mercy than I have sin. Always has. Always will. 

I’m a sinner. I find it really hard to let it go because sin disguises itself so well as not sin. I bring it to the Lord every day, and I struggle with it every day. One day maybe I won’t, but for now this ‘thorn in the flesh'(?) keeps me weak and my weakness keeps me on my metaphorical knees. And that’s the only place I am required to be. So, maimed I am and maimed I will be – one way or t’other – and THAT’S OK.

Let’s make churches what they were always intended to be – a place for sinners. Jesus didn’t come for the healthy but for the sick. If you’re not a sinner, maybe you don’t need church? Churches are supposed to be a place where we can support one another, love one another and build one another up. There is absolutely no place for tearing other people down – and yet that is what we see. Sometimes it is so subtle that it can be missed, but the subtle art of tearing down is often the most deadly. I’m talking when people are shamed. Even a look can shame someone. 

I’ve been shamed, and not so subtly either. So has my husband (including in the form of public ‘prayer’, of all things). My dear friend was shamed, too, under the mask of ‘concern’. It hurt. It really hurt. If we didn’t each already have a deep faith it might even have turned us away from Christ altogether. Not one of these times was this shaming recognised for what it was. And actually neither I, nor my husband or friend, had sinned on these occasions when we were shamed. Shaming of sin should never happen, but the sin on these occasions was certainly not ours.

Why can’t people be their normal, screwed up, sinful selves in church? Why do we have to plaster on the fake ‘Christian smile’? You know the one I mean… Life is hard and the Church makes it harder. Why?

I have worn my shame like a badge – the shame from Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Guilt and shame and shame and guilt and on and on it goes. No longer. Today I will wear Christ’s mercy. Love will be my badge.

 

Free

orange and yellow petaled flowers

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

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). 

 

Walking on Water

‘…it is more worship to God to behold Him in all than in any special thing… the fullness of joy is to behold God in all…’

Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love

…the angel of the Lord appeared to [Moses] in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed… God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then he said, ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ He said further, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people… I have heard their cry… I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them… So come, I will send you…’ But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go…?’ 

…Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your ancestors has sent me to you”, and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.”’ 

Extract from Exodus 3:1-15 (NRSVA)

 

Jesus [said], ‘If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, he of whom you say, “He is our God”, though you do not know him. But I know him… and I keep his word. Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.’ Then the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.’

John 8:54-58

‘I AM’ is the English translation for the name of our God. God IS. And if, as Julian says, it means more to God for us to see Him in all things than in any one particular area, what does that mean for daily life, whatever our circumstances? Doesn’t it mean that this day, this breath itself, is a miracle?

I need to know this on days like today, when it almost looks like the battle is already won. C-PTSD grabs me and shakes me like a wolf tearing into its prey. It feels beyond my control. I am just a tight ball of blood and pain and fear. But I have something precious. Jesus gave me Himself. He knows full well all those tumbling feelings of pain and fear and worthlessness and He breathes into the dark, gaping holes and whispers, “I AM”.

And I know that I don’t have to be afraid any more. The storm doesn’t go away, but I take His hand and we – well, we walk on water. Together. One step at a time.

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.

Lessons

I have friends… I’m still getting to know them. They understand pain and loss. They tell me I won’t always feel like this. They remind me that I have the strength to survive. They promise that one day I will learn to live again. They have introduced me to other people who know what it’s like to not be able to sleep at night. And sometimes, talking with all these other crazies, I feel almost sane again.

~ from Look for Me by Lisa Gardner

Never thought a quote from the very end of a novel by one of my favourite authors would sum up exactly how I feel about the mental health theatre group that I recently joined. It’s good. Progress sometimes feels like going in the wrong direction, but it’s still progress.

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)

 

 

A Reappraisal of Now

IMG_20180927_130741

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.

800px-Vindolanda_bathhouse_-_2007-05-19

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?

 

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?

********

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.

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?