Sacrifice

 

Dear Jemma

I miss you. I miss you more than I would have thought, pragmatic as I try to be. It’s not as if we saw each other more than a few times a year – although with the best of friends it’s the quality of the friendship, not the quantity. You were the opposite of me – so vibrant, so full of energy, never stopped talking, never stopped loving, serving, everyone around you – yet in the unspoken, in-between spaces we shared a true friendship. It was a friendship that said things like “you be you and I’ll be me”,”I’ll always be there for you”, “you can tell me anything” and “I’ll never judge you”.

I remember you saying that last one to me, maybe a year before you died. You said one of the things you really valued about me was that you knew I would never judge you. “Same,” said I. That sort of honest to goodness friendship is so hard to come by.

I have so many memories: camping, sharing meals, visiting places with the kids, walking the dog, singing in church (you always were one for the avant garde ‘raise both hands in abandon’ worship in contrast to my equally heartfelt but more staid response), sharing our struggles in Celebrate Recovery. You were funny – when you felt awkward you had a tendency to stretch the truth a little, to invent things. I never knew why, but I understood that it was just part of you.

When we were together we made the most of it. You were always in the middle of everything, looking after everyone else. I didn’t want you to feel you had to look after me, or feel obliged to me in any way. I wanted you to know that I valued you for you, so I didn’t insist on us meeting as much as I’d have liked. Now I wish I had. Almost. But then I’d not have been the same friend to you that you could rely on in your own way. At least, that’s what I tried to be. I don’t know. I think if you could read this you’d understand what I meant.

You were the rare sort of person for whom all the niceties that are said after death were absolutely 100% true. I can’t remember you without remembering your laugh, and that always leaves me smiling. You were one of the nicest, most genuine, Christ-loving people I have ever known. I would have said that in life. I probably did, though I don’t remember.

You had your flaws. You were notoriously late for everything, often by several hours, but the people who loved you accepted that that was you. You would forget to reply to people, or forget that you had made arrangements, but that was surely because you were always doing everything for everyone at hundreds of miles an hour! I was always in awe of your energy.

When I heard the news of your death last year I genuinely couldn’t believe it. For days I kept thinking I must have heard wrong – that they must mean some other Jemma. You were so healthy, literally so full of life. You were happily married after all that you’d been through, to a man who treasured you for who you really are were. How could you die suddenly from something that affects elderly people? You were only in your thirties. It made no sense. It still makes no sense. The only thing that makes any sense is that you, having lived your whole life at 300 miles an hour, had packed everything in that was required of you, and then God called you home. And you, being you, couldn’t resist joyously climbing into His eternal arms.

So today I will pause and remember you, dear Jemma. I think of you every day, even now, 15 months after you died. I recognise the sacrifices that you made daily in your life, loving and serving whoever came in your path. I am truly humbled by your generosity of self. You are an inspiration to me and to everyone who knew you. In your death you solidified that inspiration – although we would all rather have you here, with us. I miss you, but I know that I – and everyone else who loved you – will see you again one day.

from Sandy x

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love…

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. 

from John 15:9-14 (NRSVA)

Jesus teaches us that the greatest sacrifice we can make is to lay down our lives for our friends, and it is this that we remember every 11th November, and especially today, exactly 100 years after the end of the First World War. What I want to share today is this: some of us will be called to give up our lives for Jesus. I can only imagine what they go through and what their loved ones go through. Even if that is not required of us, Jesus asks us to offer our daily lives. And every time I think of Jemma, I see that she did just that.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:1,2

The picture of the poppy is from The Royal British Legion website.

 

 

 

Priorities

No matter where we start, our life with God must pass through the cross. In a day filled with all sorts of spiritual options, it is hard to recognise the enduring testimony of this uniquely Christian approach. The idea of the cross and the sense of sacrifice it entails call us to a path different from every other.

~ Longing for God by Richard Foster and Gayle Beebe

Being a Good Mother

One of my biggest ‘issues’ which I have been addressing through EMDR is the sometimes crippling anxiety over being ‘a good mother’. There are many things that have led to this fear of being a bad mother, which I won’t go into now. I imagine that for those who have been abused, or have come from a dysfunctional family, the guilt and worry about not passing on the dysfunction can grow to huge proportions, and may end up having the opposite effect of the one we so desperately desire.

300px-Johannes_(Jan)_Vermeer_-_Christ_in_the_House_of_Martha_and_Mary_-_Google_Art_Project

Christ in the House of Mary and Martha by Johannes Vermeer

‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things…

Luke 10:41, 42 (WEB)

Listening this morning to Luke chapter 10, I heard Jesus’ words to Martha in a new light. Martha was not married, and wasn’t looking after children, nevertheless it is often the female way to want to get the nurturing right, and this is what Martha was trying to do. She knew how important Jesus was, but she was trying too hard. Her words to her guest speak of frustration, of worry that she’s not good enough, or that what she has to give isn’t good enough. She even blames her sister for her own worries (in what might nowadays be called passive-aggressive behaviour).

Jesus sees past the blame of my sister’s not good enough and past the worry of I’ll never be good enough and instead gives Martha words that have been repeated through the centuries:

‘…Martha received [Jesus] into her house. She had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she came up to him, and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister left me to serve alone? Ask her therefore to help me.”

Jesus answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42 (WEB)

Do you have Martha moments? I do. Thanks to EMDR God has allowed me some perspective on where any blame really lies. He has also given me forgiveness and love instead of the harsh criticism of my own head. Jesus’ words to Martha tell us that blame has no place in His Kingdom. All that is required is to focus on Him. As He said elsewhere:

“…seek first God’s Kingdom, and his righteousness…” Matthew 6:33

This is grace.

To Save and To Serve

Listening to Librivox’s World English Bible translation of the book of Matthew, I came to the part where Jesus is describing His mission and what the mission of His followers will be. In this free (in the public domain) audiobook, different sections of the New Testament are read by different readers, which gives a wonderful sense of the scope and reach of God among the nations and cultures of the world. Some chapters towards the end of Matthew are read by a man with a wonderful, deep voice and an ear-pleasing African accent (I don’t know whereabouts in Africa). When the narrator came to Jesus’ words: “I came to serve, and not to be served”, I misheard, and thought he said: “I came to save, and not to be saved”. Both seem very accurate to describe both Jesus’ mission, and our own. We are called to be last, we are called to place the serving and the salvation of others above our own comfort. I’m not sure I do a very good job of this, but it has struck a chord, that’s for sure.

‘…Jesus called [the disciples] to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the [unbelievers] lord it over them and that their great ones have absolute power? But it must not be so among you. No, whoever among you wants to be great must become the servant of you all, and if he wants to be first among you he must be your slave—just as the Son of Man has not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life to set many others free.”

Matthew 20:25-28 (PHILLIPS)

This is a big task. Just as well He gives us strength in our weakness.

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: In Illness, on the Cross with Our Lord

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I suppose what’s below also applies when experiencing (or reliving, as in EMDR) rejection, humiliation, feelings of worthlessness, being blamed when you’re not at fault… All these things our precious Lord went through in His Passion. That really is a comfort to know.

‘The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling,
a scrubby plant in a parched field.
There was nothing attractive about him,
nothing to cause us to take a second look.
He was looked down on and passed over,
a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at him and people turned away.
We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him,
that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through his bruises we get healed.’

Isaiah 53:2-5 (The Message)

Contemplative in the Mud

At the Basilica in Lourdes

Do not be distressed about having to stay in bed ill and not being able to meditate, for to endure the scourging of our Lord is no less a good than to meditate. No, it is undoubtedly better to be on the cross with the Lord than to be only looking at Him.
Saint Francis de Sales

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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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Needed Time

I’m off to my EMDR session tomorrow, with the full intention of trying to ‘let go’. My friend is in labour with her first baby. My parents are flying back to Europe this week from America. The children are at school tomorrow. A friend mourns his wife.

In the Middle East, Christians are fleeing their homes, their livelihoods, running from everything they have ever known. Worse still, some of them stay, knowing the consequences but choosing to live as people of light in the land of darkness, God help them. God bless them. See how bright they blaze in the darkness?

Children the world over are abandoned, abused, neglected. Families starve in the basement while in the penthouse they party with champagne. One is born into poverty. One is born into privilege. The world groans under the weight of her own iniquities.

Now is the needed time. Lord. As much as ever, we need You. We need a Saviour. Help us to be thankful for ‘enough’ and when we have more than enough, help us to share. Help us to always be alert to the suffering of our brothers and sisters, and to help them in whatever small way we can. We know that with You, Lord, small becomes big, last becomes first, poor becomes rich. Thank you, Lord, for your Upside Down Kingdom. Help us in our weakness. We need You.

Amen

EMDR, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Mental Illness

My doctor psychologist lady tells me I’m holding back. She tells me I’m ‘blocking’: I am not letting the EMDR process move forward at anything other than a snail’s pace. Which is ok, she says, but I only have 18 sessions and then I have to go back on the waiting list if I need it again. So if I want to be seeing real improvements I have to allow her in, as it were… No, I don’t have to allow her in. I have to allow me out – the me that stays hidden, locked inside the vault. This tomb was created so that I could survive. If I hadn’t, I would have lost my sanity or, worse, lost my children.

It is the existence of the vault that causes the PTSD, because occasionally the vault is shaken, and occasionally, outside of my control, one of the terrible things hidden inside escapes and wreaks havoc, even if only temporarily. It happens often enough that they give it a name and call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is quite a polite-sounding name for what happens when your own head screams danger! danger! danger! because the man walking by looks vaguely like your ex-husband, or emergency! emergency! emergency! when you hear a certain type of sound that sounds a bit like something far worse. Mind you, I’m very good at hiding it. Abuse teaches you to hide your thoughts and feelings because they make you more vulnerable, so you become a master of disguise.

I think PTSD occurs because human beings are wired for survival. It took me time to figure that out. I thought I was weak and that that’s why it affected only some people. I don’t now. PTSD occurs when you have to push your emotions down in a hostile, sometimes life-threatening situation, in order to think rationally and clearly – in order to survive. It’s a great survival technique. The trouble is that you then have to be able to process the memories of those terrible events, because that’s what the brain does every night as you sleep, but if you’ve had to push it down far enough, and if you’ve had to push it down over and over and over in order to survive and continue to survive… well, then you end up with PTSD, because we’re not made for intense and unrelenting distress.

The past two days I have been giving what the psychologist said a lot of thought. She’s right and I know she’s right. I have talked it through with my dear Frank. I have talked, in less detail of course, with each of my children. It occurred to me that if I was diagnosed with a different kind of serious illness, I would allow myself the time and space for the treatment to work, and I would explain to the children what was happening (because they’re all old enough to understand) so that we could muddle through together because that’s what families do. So why had it not really occurred to me to do this for EMDR? Why did I think that my treatment and its effects were not ‘worthy’ enough to be given consideration?

I don’t think the fault lies solely within me. I don’t think it’s just me wanting to push through and just get on with it, because, as St. Teresa of Avila says in The Interior Castle, ‘getting on with it’ is just common sense. No, I think that our culture looks upon mental illness and its treatment with cynicism. Sufferers are often perceived as weak-minded or morally deficient, as malingerers or somehow less human. Our culture subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) degrades those with mental illness. They become objects of fear, scorn or pity, as if they’re no longer worthy of the same respect and dignity as someone with a ‘physical’ illness. Yet even Jesus experienced mental anguish:

‘In his life on earth Jesus made his prayers and requests with loud cries and tears to God, who could save him from death. Because he was humble and devoted, God heard him. But even though he was God’s Son, he learned through his sufferings to be obedient. When he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him…’

Hebrews 5:7-9 (GNT)

Mental illness is a physical illness. If my brain doesn’t work properly because the neurons got screwed up by too much adrenaline, or if the brain’s hormones are too high or too low, how is that not physical? Who in this world can look into my malfunctioning brain and know what I am thinking or feeling? No one. Yet still the fear within ourselves makes us view the mentally ill at arms’ length. In the 21st century that is nothing short of a disgrace.

I read an excellent post from Ann Voskamp today. She could have written it just for me at this exact time. Praise God for His provision! How can I be anything but thankful for today? Here’s an excerpt. I pray it blesses you as it did me:

Dear Thriver

I once held a bird in my hand.

No one else could see it, but I felt it. I felt it’s heart thumping hard and afraid.

It happens– there are ways to look fine on the outside…. and no one knows what you’ve really survived.

But honestly? You didn’t just survive, so let’s toss that myth right at the outset.

The way you keep walking? You may be wounded. You may be hurting. You may be limping. You may feel alone and overwhelmed and an unspoken broken — but you’re no victim. And you’re not just a survivor. You’re a Thriver.

You may bleed but you rise.

Yeah, it may not feel like it — but you are seen… how you just keep keeping your chin up and living brave through the hurt and how you keep taking one step out of bed and another step through the door — and how you keep scaling mountains by relentlessly taking steps forward.

But I wanted you to know — your wounds are seen and it’s okay… 

To read more click here, it will open in a new tab.

Lent: As the Father has Loved

‘1968. Jerusalem. Brother Andrew had spent a decade visiting the church in Communist lands. He had built a team to help him. But the success of God’s Smuggler meant he was now too well known and could not return to those countries. A visit to Israel brought him face to face with the conflict between Muslim, Jew and Christian in the Middle East. He read again Christ’s messages to the church in Revelation. ‘To him who overcomes…’ [Revelation 3:7-13]

“But most of the churches in that letter had not ‘overcome’. They no longer existed. Individual churches could die… I knew then that my mission was to seek out the living church in the Middle East, learn about her condition and needs, and do whatever I could do to strengthen her.”

The core of Brother Andrew’s message is love. “Here’s what we need to remember: I Sincerely Love All Muslims.” Or ISLAM for short.’

from Open Doors email

as part of the Step of Yes series

Amen. ‘I Sincerely Love All Muslims’ – ‘Islam’ for short.

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This morning I had a cup of tea brought to me by my wonderful husband. The mug containing the tea was printed with the words ‘Love was His meaning’ over and over. How amazing  – no, how beautiful – that I should be sipping my tea from that mug and reading the above from Open Doors. A gentle reminder that God is good when times are good and God is good when times are bad.

‘Would you know your Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who showed it to you? Love. What did he show you? Love. Why did he show it? For love. Keep yourself therein and you shall know and understand more in the same. But you shall never know nor understand any other thing, forever.’

from Revelations of Divine Love

by Julian of Norwich

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.

John 15:9 (NRSVA)