Put Out The Stars

This past week two women who are very precious to me have been plunged into a river of unforgiving grief.  I feel their pain deeply and wonder at the unfairness of a world that continues to revolve. I feel angry that people selfishly go about their daily business oblivious to the fact that death has left their world somewhat darker and colder as its shadow passes over. As a Christian, I believe that for those of us who believe, death is just a shadow in the light of the living hope that we are called into.  But for those who grieve know only too well, it never passes over without leaving its mark.

This blog is dedicated to these two incredible women.

Funeral Blues
by W. H. AudenBroken-clock-by-Feldore-M-006

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

With much love

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Living in God’s Story

If God were to paint your story, what part of His image would it reflect to the rest of the world?

I’ve always believed that God allows trials into my life to make me more like Him. To smooth down the rough edges so I can  more effectively live out love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  It was all about me!  I never considered that maybe God being the Author of my life, means just that.  In a very literal sense. That He might have written a story which unfolds through each situation, one in which I feature as the central character, never occurred to me. My life is a story written with a theme that uniquely reveals a part of God’s image, that no other story can reflect, except mine. 

I’m no longer something that God has to chip away at until He likes what He sees.  I’m not a worthless nobody who has to be transformed into something in order to be valuable.  I am God’s story!

As I’ve absorbed the enormity of God as Author of my life story, I’ve caught a glimpse of how carefully and lovingly each pen stroke has touched the page. How tenderly he turns to each new chapter.

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If God were painting my story,  I see how each trauma, heartbreak, and wilderness experience has added deep shades of black, white and grey which form the contours that give the painting depth.  Every moment of celebration, happiness and joy is expressed through bright yellows, greens, blues and reds.  The painting isn’t complete, but when it is, and it’s hanging in God’s museum of art, I want it to clearly tell a story of how passionately God loves you!

The tag line for my blog reads “My Story….HIS glory!”

At the time it just seemed to be a random line of words that popped into my head.  It is no longer just a phrase.  I want my tag line to be the theme song of my life that people hear when they meet me and a godly fragrance that lingers when we part.  I want to reflect the part of God’s image that has been uniquely written into my story into each situation I face with those around me.  Platitudes and cliches will never reflect the love of God. I want those edited out of my story because they are merely a feeble attempt to numb me against my own discomfort in the midst of your pain.  So if you’re sitting in a swamp, I want to wade into the waters with you.  If you’re walking through the wilderness, I’ll follow as far as I’m able to. And when there’s only enough space in your wilderness for one, I’ll keep calling your name until you can hear me.

That’s what God would do.

Love to you all.

XX0XX

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The Pilgrimage of Grief

 By Andrew Bauman: June 18, 2015

grief

The wailing of broken hearts is the doorway to God” —Rumi, 13th Century Poet/Mystic

Do you ever feel like you are walking through life with no skin on? When everything hurts. Your entire body tenderized. People’s words feel like arrows as you hobble along not knowing if you can endure one more blow. Death feels like the best option and yet hopeless because you are already living death. Loneliness and exhaustion become your food, your stomach tying knots around those knots.

I have only felt the futility of death so poignantly a few times in my life. I have tried different modes of coping, whether a cacophony of addictions or contempt and violence toward myself. If making myself the villain didn’t work (it never does) I would just project it onto others as an attempt to make my heartache less painful. I have tried zoning out in front of the TV, endless games of Scrabble and chess (okay, Candy Crush too) on my iPhone. They all numb me for moments, but none actually mend what is broken inside.

Yet over the past couple years I have tried a new approach, which is to feel. To touch, smell, see, taste, and hear the fullness of loss. At times the weight is so heavy on my chest that my bones bend and my heart rips in ache. This is the impression of death and its tumultuous outpouring, the stage of acute grief. When you lose big, when you courageously risk, put your love on the line, and end up empty-handed and confused.

The problem then lies in the unconscious vow we make in light of the pain. We vow to play safe, to remain isolated, love half-heartedly, never going all in again. The drawback with this vow is that joy and grief are on a continuum. If you never allow yourself to feel the pain of loss, the betrayal of hope, you will certainly not feel the depth of true joy. Grief serves as a shovel for the soul. It digs, mines, and excavates painfully, at times violently. Grief digs to make space for deep delight to enter those vacant spaces. This is the posture of vulnerability; it is both terrifying and stirring, and a prerequisite for a broken heart and full life.

We see an example of this in the scripture. In Acts 7:54, Steven is about to be stoned to death by the Sanhedrin, when “He looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God.” In the midst of Steven’s most gruesome death, the glory/joy of God was on him. Steven had the courage to enter death and thus experience a soulful resurrection. Suffering and joy are never far apart and always parallel in the journey of a Christ follower. The Apostle Paul reminds us of the same in Romans 8:17: “We share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

To heal from heartache we must follow our Savior’s example, asking us to invite the brutality of the crucifixion, which is an invitation to enter into our own death stories. This is Good Friday, the weeping, anguish, and devastation of a love lost. When we give ourselves permission know the texture of our own agony, rather than trying to escape it.

Then comes Holy Saturday, when we must taste the obesity of death, allowing ourselves to sit with the unknown darkness, with futility and powerlessness. To continue mourning and feeling the pain that comes with losing someone or something that you were most loyal to.

Finally—yes, finally—comes Resurrection Sunday. We savor the wonders of our rebirth. We are humbled, exhausted, and relieved, as we learn to rest in the wonder of a holy miracle. When we are in Friday we can’t see Saturday. When we are in Saturday we don’t know if Sunday will ever be true. When Sunday comes, we are fully aware of the goodness and joy, yet never losing sight of the fallen world in which we live.

We are called to live into the tension of all three days, moving in and out of each, and living honestly into both grief and joy. Truly our wailing hearts are the doorway to God.

I See You

Real treasure is a rare asset that we all long to have, but few actually possess.  The treasure that I am blessed to call my own comes in the glorious form of my friends.  They are less than five fingers, but more than I truly deserve. They bring God’s presence into my life and reflect His image to the rest of the world in the way they passionately and unselfishly love the people around them.  They make up the part of my world I call home.

I met up with one of my friends last night, who unceasingly blesses me with her godly insight and sensitivity. Many, many months ago she promised to be with me through the messiness of my life for as long as it took to walk out the other side. She’s seen the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

Over dinner, wine and tears, she amazed me with this:

She likened me to a snowdrop. A beautiful, yet delicate flower which seems to blend into the background of the other more vibrant flowers, preferring not to make their presence too obvious. She now sees a poppy, vibrantly standing tall in a field that is magnificently displayed, no longer afraid to be seen and heard. No longer driven by the need to hide, but full of the joy of knowing that I am beginning to capture some of the essence of all that I am meant to be.

My reason for sharing this?  To honour my treasured friends who have championed me through my wilderness, and who continue to cheer me on. Their love for me may whisper something about who I am, but thunders so much more about how truly astoundingly awesome they are.

Serenity (By Dena Martin)

As I look
Beyond the ripples of my reflections
To examine my inner self;
The ripples begin to fade . . .
As the reflection lays beside me
Grasping my hand,
The inner warmth shields me
And the vision of my reflection appears
I see you. My Friend.

The Shame of Being

I heard someone say many years ago that the reason we don’t like to be known by others is because if they were to see us as we really are, they might not like us.  All we have is ourselves and nothing is more painful or debilitating as believing that at the very core of your being, you are not enough. And no matter what you do, you believe nothing will change that.

The shame of being me has been a dark, looming shadow that has followed me since my early childhood. It didn’t matter in which direction the sun shone, the shadow was always there. In fact, the brighter the sun, the darker my shadow would get as if to remind me that I didn’t deserve this moment. It reminded me often not to get too comfortable. It stalked me, hid behind corners, and mocked me at every chance it got. Not knowing its name made it all the more formidable.

It hid in my cupboard and under my bed like a bogey man.  Its presence shrouded me with a heavy, but yet vague sense that something was seriously wrong with me.  As a child, I used to be afraid of getting in bed at night in case there really was something hiding under there, so when it was time to sleep, I would run and jump onto my bed before whatever was under there, could grab my foot and pull me under.  That’s exactly what I did with this intimidating force called shame. I ran from shame in the same way I did from the fictitious bogey man. And I kept running.

The thing with shame is that while it is hidden, it can’t truly be outrun, outmaneuvered, consoled or satisfied and as much as I tried, I discovered I couldn’t even reason with it, unless I wanted it to shout even louder. It was so excruciatingly painful, so out of sheer self-preservation, when I was 9 years old, I gave shame a personality, swapped out my most terrifying emotions and hated characteristics for ones I thought would give me value and worth, and gave her the trash that was me. I had successfully created another little person, albeit an evil, haunted one, and even gave her a name.  I ensured she was banished into a forest that was as deep as it was dark to ensure she couldn’t find her way out.  And she’s lived there for nearly 40 years.

After I had banished shame to the forest, what was left of me was an obsession for everything to be perfect, I was driven to do well, trying so hard to never make mistakes and flagellating myself when I did. I did far more than I was ever asked to, as if to make up for not being enough. When I was asked to lead a ministry at church, I thought I had finally arrived.  On the one hand I finally felt like someone, felt important and believed at last that I was worthy enough to belong. As if being a ministry leader could ever add anything to my life.  On the other hand, I felt completely inadequate and spent the first year trying to convince God that I was worthy enough to be called a leader and that He had actually made the right decision in calling me into that role.  I did everything in my power to stay away from the edge of that forest and keep that little girl there, well out of sight.

For many reasons, when I stepped down from ministry, my sense of unworthiness completely engulfed me. The forest sucked me in and I came face to face with the girl I’d imprisoned there. It felt like I was haemorrhaging shame.

In spite of my faith crisis, I still believed that God should just remove my shame with a few prayers and and a couple of scriptures later, I’d feel whole again. You know, that quick fix we as Christians seem to fall for. Go for the first aid kit and stick a plaster on the wound.  Instead God wheeled me into the operating theater where He kept me for 9 months of surgery. He slowly stripped away each layer of what I now understand to be shame, until it felt like every layer of skin had been removed from my body and each nerve was exposed.  I felt so completely raw.

I was terrified to look at myself because I didn’t know if things would be any different once it was over.  It took so long to strip everything back and I wondered if at the end of this particular chapter, I’d find I still wasn’t enough. What if I went through all this only to have my inadequacies substantiated? It was frightening to feel so vulnerable.  I’ve honestly never felt so broken. But in my brokenness I started to feel liberated.  One thing I’ve learned about shame: it has to be exposed. Through exposure, it loses its power to control and you find your voice again which can shout just as loudly as the shame ever did.

I started to taste freedom.  At first it was just freedom to be broken, free to be a Christian and a mess at the same time and freedom to not have it all figured out.  I no longer cared if people knew what mess I was in. I had faced my worst enemy and realised in the process that God hadn’t turned away from me. He had walked, sat and cried every step with me.

I’m learning how to dig trenches in a different field now, called ‘I AM ENOUGH’. It’s an uphill struggle and I haven’t arrived yet, but when I look back down the road, I can see how far I’ve already come. I am broken, but I am free!

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.” Isaiah 55:8

X0X0

Abundant Life?

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“Abundant life” refers to life in its abounding fullness of joy and strength for mind, body and soul. “Abundant life” signifies a contrast of feelings of lack, emptiness and dissatisfaction.  That’s according to Wikipedia and pretty much what I have believed it to mean.

Until now! Now I’m not so sure.

John 10:10b refers to this abundant life that we as Christians have been saved into, but I really want to know how we are supposed to interpret it and how that looks in our lives? Does it mean different things to different people? Do our experiences of life dictate how we answer these questions?   Is the meaning of the “abundant life” open to interpretation? If this abundant life is inconsistent with ‘feelings of lack, emptiness and dissatisfaction’, then I seem to have missed the mark, and I’m left with another set of unanswered questions. If I’m not experiencing the abundant life I was promised, am I doing this Christian walk wrong?  What is wrong with me? What should I be doing better? Should I be serving more? Giving more? Praying more?

I don’t claim to know the answer to any of these questions, but for me, I do know what the abundant life is not!  It isn’t free of struggles, sickness or overwhelming sadness and loss. It isn’t the absence of lack, emptiness and dissatisfaction.

What does it mean for the Christian who is diagnosed with incurable cancer, who hasn’t been healed in spite of hundreds of prayers? Who now has to cope daily with excruciating pain?

What does it mean for the woman who has suffered countless miscarriages and in spite of many prophesies of hope, still can’t have a child?

And what about the parents whose child is confined to a wheelchair, whose entire lives are dedicated to his/her care and who will never see their child walk or talk? Does this mean the abundant life is out of their reach too?

I think if we really listened to their stories, we would hear God whispering the truth of what He meant when He said he had come to give us abundant life, instead of the ‘washed down’ version that is sold from the pulpit to win souls for the kingdom.

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If we are to live the abundant life, let’s live it honestly. Whatever that means!

Blossoms of Grace

Blossoms of Grace

As one chapter begins to draw to a close, I am so overwhelming grateful for the one that has yet to begin. This chapter felt the end of my journey and I’ve wondered so often what would come next?

What if after this monumental journey, I find I’m still not enough? What if the purpose of going through this wilderness was only ever to have my worst fears about myself confirmed? Would God just shelve me? Am I now just waiting for heaven?

Well, for today at least, I think I have my answer.

What I see as valuable has slowly changed.  I have boundaries that I will protect. I have opinions that I will share, even if they are different from yours. The most important thing in my life which is my faith, has been shaken to the core and what I believe about how God reveals Himself and what His love looks like, is very different to anything I’ve ever believed.  It feels a lot like refreshment!

I have precious friends who without even realising it, have coloured my life by being in it (I didn’t even have to pay them). I’ve met an incredible woman who has sat with me week in and week out for many months,who helped me put words to my life story. And for all of them, I am forever grateful.

I’m sitting in a garden where God’s blossoms of grace are falling.

Road into the Wilderness

Have you ever noticed that the road leading into the wilderness is so much easier than the one leading out of it! One moment you’re walking in glorious sunshine and the next you’re plunged into complete darkness. The lights go out and you wonder if you’ll ever see the light of day again. It’s like being on a rollercoaster ride. One minute you’re riding high and the next you’re plummeting down and it feels like it’s never going to go up again.

In July 2014 the lights went out and everything I thought I was certain of, everything I had ever held dear to me turned into a mosh pit of confusion and chaos. My Christian beliefs which I’d held for 30 years joined the crowd in mocking me and the God who I believed to be so faithful, well He just walked out. Or so it felt at the time.

In November 2013 my very dear and closest friend was diagnosed with incurable cancer, in February 2014 I had to have surgery after suffering with pain for months, and in April I stepped down from a ministry leadership role at church that I’d been passionately involved in for three years.  The circumstances surrounding me stepping down and the few months before I actually left were incredibly painful and isolating and I found life just became too overwhelming.  I took a month and half break from church and went on holiday to try get my act together.  With trepidation and my stomach sitting in my throat, I went back to church and listened to an evangelist trying to sell Jesus to the lost and threw in the added bonus that if you committed yourself to Jesus, you’d be buying into an abundant life of joy. It was the least spiritual experience in church I’d ever sat through.  I felt like standing up and screaming at him.  ABUNDANT LIFE!  I’ve been a Christian for 36 years and most of that time I’ve spent fighting and doing battle with God. WHAT ABUNDANT LIFE! What message can the church sell to the likes of me? Well actually quite a few.

Don’t talk about your pain – it might unsettle the team or church

Be a whitewashed Christian – put your best foot forward, smile and say that you’re doing great if anyone asks.

Build God’s kingdom at any cost.  If you happen to be driven over in the process, just suck it up.  Collateral damage.

Church was no longer the place for a messed up Christian in crisis. It felt like I’d lost God in church. I was alone, I was a wreck and God didn’t care. I realise in hindsight that this was the beginning of my breakdown. For someone as driven and perfectionistic as I am, vulnerability/sickness = weakness.  Anxiety, agoraphobia, manic episodes, depression, suicidal thoughts, anti-depressants, sleeping pills, diazepam and therapy sessions.  It’s all a bit of a haze, but that pretty much describes the months that followed.   If church needs good sales reps, I don’t think I’d get the job.  

I’ve been wandering around this wilderness for almost a year now.  There are many lessons I’ve learned and my hope is I’ll get to share them.  The wilderness has become a familiar place.  I’ve stopped trying to fight my way out and learned to just sit and allow all that makes up the wilderness to slowly reveal and ultimately strip away distorted beliefs and thinking. It’s where the ‘ought to’s’ and ‘have to’s’ get to hear the truth. There are no whitewashed walls here. It’s where I get to say what I really feel. It’s a place of truth. It’s a place where it’s safe to be a mess.  I’m safe to be me.

It’s a place of authenticity.

And unlike my last church experience, God hasn’t tried to cure me or rescue me from my messy life. Instead, He’s just sat with me while I’ve figured out what it really means to be a child of God. God reveals Himself to me in so many different ways.  He is with me during my sessions with an incredible godly psychologist who has never judged me for struggling so much with God. He was with me while my friends patiently waited until I was ready to see them again. He was with me when my doctor prescribed medication to help me function.  He was with me when I couldn’t sleep because of my anxiety and my husband walked with me in the middle of the night to help calm me down.

New foundations are being laid and the God who is building looks very different to the one I thought I was serving in church. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing that I lost, who I thought, was God.

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