Weak, Strong; Broken, Whole

“What is my strength that I should wait?

And what is my end, that I should be patient?

Is my strength the strength of stones,

or is my flesh bronze?

In truth I have no help in me,

and any resource is driven from me.”

Job cries out to God, Job 6:11-13 (NRSVA)

Three times I appealed to the Lord about [my suffering], that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me… for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth, 2 Corinthians 12:8-10

My dear mother-in-law is very poorly. She had a stroke at the weekend. It’s touch and go, as they say. When my sister-in-law visited yesterday my MIL was extremely distressed and crying out to God. Praise God she is a woman of faith! But dementia can be very cruel. It steals everything you have. When I read the words from Job this morning as part of my daily Bible time, I was immediately struck by how apt they were. Despite the extreme distress of my MIL (which is heart-wrenching because there is no way to offer consolation when a person has no memory, no way to comfort, no way to reassure) it is an honour to know a woman who, when all else is gone, has a faith that cries out to her Redeemer. God help us all.

In my distress I called upon the LORD,

to my God I cried for help.

From his temple he heard my voice,

and my cry to him reached his ears.

Psalm 18:6

 

God is good. God is always good.

Reblog: A Well Ordered Exterior

Beautiful post. May we all desire less ‘me’ and more ‘You’, and may we all become more fully ourselves in the process. When I was a child these were the people I called ‘the shiny people’. I want to be one of the shiny people.

You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do you light a lamp, and put it under a measuring basket, but on a stand; and it shines to all who are in the house. Even so, let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16 (WEB)

Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God.

Romans 12:2 (WEB)

Amen. Do read the post below from Ben over at Contemplative in the Mud. His quiet wisdom regularly floors me and lifts me up at the same time.

Contemplative in the Mud

Many of the effects of contemplation, like all Christian prayer, involve setting up storage in Heaven (Mt 6:20). They concern the Church and the world at large.

On the other hand, another of the effects of contemplation is to reorganize and reintegrate our whole person. The human being who prays becomes rooted more totally and absolutely in Christ, the Father, and the Holy Spirit, and these Three impart a new order and organization to everything about him or her.

That includes the body.

Contemplation is something that happens to persons who are, as we say today, embodied. Perhaps it would be more accurate to note that the body is in the soul (as Saint Hildegard says), but regardless of the way we phrase things, it is true that any reorganization, reintegrating, and reordering of our whole person will involve a reorganization, reintegrating, and reordering of our body

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I ONCE WAS LOST BUT NOW AM FOUND; WAS BLIND BUT NOW I SEE

I LOVE the story from the gospel of John of the healing of the man who was blind from birth. The unnamed man has such a simplicity and purity of spirit, even when faced with the ‘important’ men and their clever questioning. I’m quite certain Jesus loved this about him too! But what struck me in listening to this story are the words at the very beginning:

As [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Jesus answered, “Neither did this man sin, nor his parents; but, that the works of God might be revealed in him…”

John 9:1-3 (WEB)

Jesus’ words, often overlooked because of the rest of the amazing story, are vitally important. We can add nothing to our salvation, nor can we take it away. Even if we follow all the ‘rules’ and worship God, it doesn’t mean our lives will be ok (often rendered as ‘blessed’ but I would question this definition of ‘blessed’ – post on this subject to follow). If we don’t follow the rules, it doesn’t mean our lives will be miserable. This is false teaching, although one that is easy to fall into. I fell into this trap myself a few years ago, thinking that if I did everything ‘right’ then life would be ok. Hurrah! No more bad stuff! God quickly and sharply brought me out of that one.

We latch onto ‘if only I can do it right’ because we’re scared and we want to be in control. Some people spend their whole lives trying to discover what ‘the rules’ are because they think if they follow the rules, everything will be ok, which really means ‘if I follow the rules, I’ll stay in control’. Life is scary. It is not under our control and we can’t do anything to make it under our control. Only yesterday my dear son told me of the death of a boy at school who was only a year older than him. The young man had been fit and healthy until September last year. Now he’s gone. I pray for his family.

Conversely, the most difficult lesson to learn for me (as for many people who have been abused) was that I didn’t do anything to cause any of it. I am not a freak. I am not ‘different’ in some indefinable way. I was not destined for abuse. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with me. God has been gently, carefully and lovingly bringing me out of that one.

God did not and does not cause the bad stuff, although He did allow it to happen. That God allows abuse and evil is a difficult doctrine to swallow, but when we love God, when we become part of His family, God can and does use our suffering for His glory – and it is a truly awesome thing to be a vessel for the glory of God. If I have known what it is to be unloved, to believe myself horrible and worthless and unlovable, how much more is the effect when I realise that not only am I lovable, but that I am loved by the Creator of the universe? And when I do see how much He loves me, what can I do but offer my life, my whole self in return?

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been brought to your knees in despair by your own sin, or whether it has been the sins of others, or a combination of the two: when you’re at your lowest is when God can bless you the most.

Less me = more God:

“You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill can’t be hidden.”

Matthew 5:14

Hallelujah: Hebrew for YIPPEE!**

**It’s not really, literally ‘yippee’, of course. Literally, ‘hallelujah’ means ‘praise God!

Wholly Holy

There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul.

Sometimes I feel discouraged
And think my work’s in vain,
But then the holy spirit
Revives my soul again.

There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul.

Don’t ever feel discouraged
For Jesus is your friend,
And if you lack for knowledge
He’ll ne’er refuse to lend

There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul.

A song from the days of slavery.

EMDR stirs up memories and I often find random memories appearing in my mind. It also stirs up dreams. By act of will I can attempt to ignore the memories during the day, but when they attack at night I often wake up anxious and uneasy. Praise God for His healing balm. Praise God for His holiness in all the ugliness. He gives me strength in my weakness. May the glory and honour always be His, forever and ever.

‘Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,

My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.’

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (The Message)

Reblog: Confidence through Weakness

‘I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me’ gets bandied around a lot by well-meaning-but-naive types. Trouble is that it often gets interpreted as ‘I can do all things because I am strong’ rather than ‘my weakness is huge, but grace gives me strength’ (which is what Paul is actually saying in the rest of the chapter – he’s talking about suffering). In the face of ‘I can do all things because I am strong’ I just want to run away and hide, appalled at my weakness, but given the other interpretation… as long as I say ‘yes’, I am strengthened beyond what I ever imagined. God has been showing me this, lately, as I go through EMDR – this strength that He bestows. It is a somewhat fearful thing, but it is nonetheless beautiful.

Philippians is one of my favourite books of the bible. In particular this end section of the letter to the church at Philippi:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.

Philippians 4:8-14 (NRSVA)

Contemplative in the Mud

So now, since you want to belong entirely to God, why should you be afraid of your weakness – on which, in any case, you shouldn’t be relying.
Saint Francis de Sales

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EMDR: Enough

‘It is enough to know that it is He, the all powerful God, who has performed the work… It comes from God alone…’

Teresa of Ávila, The Interior Castle

EMDR again tomorrow. Feel a bit like a WWI soldier sitting in a trench waiting for the call to go ‘over the top’, Dulce et decorum est and all that. And yet I still have to be Mummy. What a peculiar juxtaposition. No wonder my therapist said I’d be glad when the 18 EMDR sessions are over. It’s like intentionally climbing into a car you know is going to crash at 100mph. It’s crazy. But it does work. That I do know. So I won’t give up.

‘Three times I begged the Lord for [the suffering] to leave me, but his reply has been, “My grace is enough for you: for where there is weakness, my power is shown the more completely.” Therefore, I have cheerfully made up my mind to be proud of my weaknesses, because they mean a deeper experience of the power of Christ. I can even enjoy weaknesses, suffering, privations, persecutions and difficulties for Christ’s sake. For my very weakness makes me strong in him.’

2 Corinthians 12:9,10 (Phillips)

Amen, I say. Amen! I pray that God will use all of it for His glory and I thank Him for His provision, everlasting gentleness and the gift of hope. I thank Him for the gift of my patient husband and for my boisterous children, who always make me smile. God is good.

Reasons to be Cheerful


Yesterday Fluff played volleyball after school and hurt her thumb. She managed to cycle home and then drooped listlessly into the kitchen where I was baking. The nearest Accident & Emergency is about 20 miles away, so there was no question of Frank taking her. Driving is something I find really tiring, but I managed to get her there. We waited for two hours before she had an x-ray, then waited another half hour to be told there was no fracture, it was just a soft tissue injury. The kindly doctor advised me to keep her dosed up on paracetamol and ibuprofen. We didn’t get home until gone 9. I was shattered and went straight to bed.

As we were driving home I was trying to distract Fluff from the throbbing thumb. I asked her to list 10 things for which she is thankful. This is what she came up with:

1. A nice mummy to take me all the way to the hospital even though I didn’t break anything this time – not like poor Cassie at school who has been taken into foster care 😦

2. A nice bed to sleep in.

3. Always enough food, and always good food.

4. Moving house soon!

5. A daddy who works very hard so that we can have a new house (this might have been prompted by mummy…)

6. Going to a good school.

7. Friends at school.

8. The beautiful sunset (one advantage of children hurting themselves in the summer is that the drive home was still in daylight).

9. Having a lucky sister! We shared a smile over this one. Chip won a ‘design an Easter egg’ competition. She drew a lovely sunset and three empty crosses in silhouette, with underneath an angel shouting ‘He’s alive!’. Then last week she won a prize draw I didn’t even know about. Apparently if you re-enrol at the sports centre you are automatically entered into a raffle and Little Miss Charms-her-way-through-life won a huge sack full of garden games, just in time for the summer!

10. Living in England where it’s nice because you’re able to go to the hospital whenever you need it and it’s free.

 

I was proud of her for this little list – and more so of the fact that, once we were home, the pain seemed to have lessened… or maybe she just realised how thankful she is.

The latter parallels my own experiences. For me, if the negative thoughts begin spiralling in my head and I can’t stop them, thinking of all I have to be thankful for is a great way to extinguish those ‘fiery darts’. Being thankful and expressing thanks to God is a way of holding firmly to my faith, just as Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians. He knew the Christian life is not easy, and he knew that faith gives hope and hope enables us to carry on, even when we have nothing left but faith.

<aside: Incidentally, I wonder if  this is what is known by contemplatives as the ‘dark night of the soul’? The moment when, after a long struggle, all I have left is faith?>

Frank said only yesterday how far I have come, despite still waiting for treatment for PTSD. I have grown so much stronger over these past few years – and this is not a strength of my own, but my ultimate weakness surrendered to God. It’s not my strength. This is grace.

 

‘…be strong — not in yourselves but in the Lord… Put on God’s complete armour so that you can successfully resist… For our fight is not against any physical enemy… We are up against the unseen power that controls this dark world… Therefore you must wear the whole armour of God [so] that you may be able to resist evil in its day of power, and that even when you have fought to a standstill you may still stand your ground. Take your stand then with truth as your belt, righteousness your breastplate, the Gospel of peace firmly on your feet, salvation as your helmet and in your hand the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. Above all be sure you take faith as your shield, for it can quench every burning missile the enemy hurls at you.’

Ephesians 6:10-17 (JB PHILLIPS)

Even when we have to fight to a standstill – till our last breath, our last drop of strength before exhaustion hits – we still have God. The love of God never fades. The love of God defeats all evil. Thank you, Lord. You turn every last thing on its head. Hallelujah!

This Lent Thing…

I have not really considered the nature of temptation before. Only the second day of Lent and already temptation is like an insect bite. You can scratch it almost without realising, which is rather mortifying. I’m not fasting, as it makes my illness worse, but I’ve ‘given up’ something which I am beginning to recognise stings more by its absence than I’d anticipated (or at least, I thought it would sting but that I would nobly put up with it, you know, all holy and what-not). I could put my nose in the air and polish my halo as I loftily inform all of Blogland of the nature of my ‘fast’, but firstly, the bible tells us quite clearly not to do that (Matthew 6:16) and secondly, well, to be honest it’s slightly embarrassing. I am realising quite how much of a temptation it has been, and for some time (not that it’s a sin in and of itself, but self-indulgence is). How easily sin hides in the clothing of ‘good’. We humans play games and lie to ourselves and it’s so easy.

“The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful,
    a puzzle that no one can figure out.
But I, God, search the heart
    and examine the mind.
I get to the heart of the human.
    I get to the root of things.
I treat them as they really are,
    not as they pretend to be.”

Jeremiah 17:9-10 (The Message)

 

Very timely. God is showing me what I need to be shown about myself, which is because it’s the right place and the right time to learn. I have prayed that God show me my weaknesses (after all, that’s got to be a large part of Lent, surely?). If we as Christ-followers are to be ‘the light of the world’ we have to be able to shine that light onto the things we’d rather hide.

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner…

But how do I know that my prayer will be heard? How do I really know? I mean, I’m practically useless at this small thing – very nearly yielding to temptation when it’s only Day Two and without even realising it until the last second! How can this silly, headstrong, stubborn, passionate, unwieldy, slightly barmy mix called Sandy know that the King of Heaven listens to what she has to say? It’s absurd! If I was Him I’d be far too busy getting on with more important stuff.

Julian of Norwich puts it like this:

Julian with her cat. She was allowed a cat to catch rodents.

Julian with her cat. As an anchoress she would have lived alone in her tiny cell attached to St. Julian’s Church in Norwich, but she would have been allowed a cat to catch rodents. I like the way she’s stroking the cat.

‘Often, our trust is not full trust. We are not sure that God hears us, because we think we are unworthy and because we feel so insignificant (this is also because we often feel as bleak after praying as we did beforehand). We see how silly and foolish we are and this causes our weakness. I have felt this way myself.

As I was thinking this, God said to me, “I am the source of all your requests [your heartfelt prayers]: first it is my will that you have it; then I make it your will also, then I make you ask for it and you ask for it. How then can you not have what you cry out for?”‘

From ‘Revelations of Divine Love’ chapter 41

(paraphrased into modern English by me)

I love this way of praying! Now I know when to pray, what to pray for and I never cease to marvel at the ways God answers. Hallelujah! How can my prayers ever be unanswered if they are God-breathed in the first place?

Hmm. This Lent thing is getting interesting 😉