Thursday, December 31, 2015
Thursday, December 17, 2015
She felt the wave of pain spread up over her abdomen, increasing in intensity. She tried to breathe the way her mother has shown her, deep slow breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth. She had to stop walking for a moment, leaning on Joseph’s arm as the wave peaked and passed. He looked at her with concern. She was needing to pause more frequently for the last couple of miles. She knew what he was worried about: this was slowing them down, and they needed to reach Bethlehem before dark.
She rubbed at the small of her back, took a deep, determined breath, and began walking again. Earlier one of the others travelling with them had offered her a ride on their donkey, but the jolting was too uncomfortable, it made her back ache worse .
She could feel the pressure of the baby pushing down into her pelvis. She was tired and sore – her back was sore, her belly was sore, even her thighs were sore. There had been several times this day where she wasn’t sure if she could do this after all.
“I am the Lord’s servant,” she whispered, to remind herself. That day seemed so long ago now, yet she was sure of the vision she’d seen. She’d clung to the memory through the mocking and shunning of the other women and girls once the news of her condition spread through Nazareth. She continued to cling to the vision and the promise now, when it was just so hard.
As she walked, she hardly noticed any more the road and the fields they were passing. She held onto Joseph, trusting him to guide her. Walk, pause, breathe through the contraction, start walking again. If only she could rest. She was barely aware as Joseph knocked on the door of his cousin’s house, the brief conversation, then the turning away to walk once more through the streets. She only vaguely noticed Joseph say something about another relative the could try, a more distant cousin who might still have some room.
As yet another contraction swept over her, she wondered briefly if this day would ever end.
The contractions were consuming all her concentration. She heard voices as if from a great distance. Gentle hands guided her onto a small straw pallet. A woman’s voice, “It’s okay, Mary, I’m a midwife. It won’t be long now.”
A midwife. Mary felt a great tension she didn’t realise she’d had lift suddenly from her shoulders. Tears welled up from nowhere, spilling down her cheeks. The midwives in Nazareth had been among the women who shunned her. She'd only had her cousin Elizabeth, then in the last few months her mother, to tell her about what to expect. But the rumours and whispers had not reached Bethlehem, and Joseph was with her, and now here was an experienced midwife, with gentle hands and a reassuring voice.
“I don’t know if I can do this,” she confessed to the midwife.
“You’re doing great,” the woman replied, “the baby will be here soon.”
Another wave of contraction spread over her. Before it fully passed another started. Mary felt her muscles tighten involuntarily, again and again. “Just keep breathing,” the gentle voice reassured her.
“Good girl, the head’s out now. Just one more push with your next contraction.”
Then it was over, and the sound of a new-born baby’s cry filled the air. “It’s a boy,” the voice said, placing the warm, wet, slippery baby up onto Mary’s belly. She reached down to hold the baby, still partially attached to her body. As she looked at him, his eyes opened, gazing into her face. “He’s so beautiful,” and all the tiredness and pain disappeared from from her mind. She barely noticed the last few contractions and the midwife busying herself with the afterbirth. Everything was about this child, this new life, and the promise and hope that he brought to her.
“I am the Lord’s servant,” she whispered to the child, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Sunday, November 22, 2015
A small child, happily playing by herself, inhabiting magical worlds only she can see, is mocked and jeered at for not having any “real” friends.
So she learns to leave those worlds for night time dreams and supresses them during the day, learning to smile and be friendly and sociable. Although for some reason she is always left on the fringes, despite her best efforts to “fit in.”
Only when she’s completely alone does she re-enter her other worlds: worlds of forests and mountains, of music and magic, of rivers that sing and trees that whisper secrets if only you can learn to listen.
Over several decades more and more layers of “reality” smother and drown the magic and the music. Walls of protection against ridicule and rejection bury her true self deeper and deeper. As she grows into a woman, she learns to become “practical” and “real” and almost forgets such worlds ever existed, except in the fleeting way one remembers a dream after waking.
It’s a painful process, stripping away the pretence. Aslan’s claws must dig deep to rip away the thick layers of lies. Long forgotten wounds bleed afresh when exposed to the air in order to be cleansed. Yet the truth must be unburied: the Truth that declares “I am unique.”
So the woman, accepting and embracing her uniqueness, learns to hear again the songs sung by wind and river and trees, the warm hum of soft earth, the deep bass of rock, the anthems of the mountains and the soaring soprano of the stars. She learns to find her own voice in the symphony of creation, and her own Heart Song wells up within her of love and worship.
Then she sees her own child playing, inhabiting magical worlds where playmates are unable to follow.
O, My daughter, Do not let the world rob you of the wonder of your own imagination. Do not smother your unique true self, nurture and embrace your creativity so when the time comes your inner light can shine forth unhindered.
Tuesday, November 3, 2015
Those who know me in person, or even the more observant readers, may have noticed a small, metaphorical, black dog hanging around my heels for several months. The good news is that I feel I’ve now turned a corner in my recovery and I’ve been feeling “normal” for about a month.
Now I’m in a place I can look back over the journey through this particular valley of shadow, I’ve noticed we all need to have more conversations about faith and mental health. This is a good article for a starting point.
Miriam’s post was the beginning of the turning point for me. Miriam wrote:
…do not be dismayed that you are downcast – because even those with the surest of promises wobble in the present from time to time.
Re-align your Hope and do not berate yourself. Being downcast by circumstance is not a sign you are a loser. You are in the company of King David and you dear one are loved just the same.
The thing is, if you’d asked me point blank about whether Christians can be depressed, I’d have said, of course, just like Christians can live with diabetes or any other illness. The Psalmist, Jeremiah, Elijah – all experienced depressive episodes in their ministry. But underneath that understanding there was a part of my subconscious that believed the lie, especially in the darkest moments, that what I was going through was a symptom of a lack of faith.
When the shadow did lift, there was nothing I was doing or believing or praying any differently than when I was in the middle of it. I’ve learned all I can do is Trust and Hope, knowing that the Father is carrying me through this season, and will bring me through it to the other side, even if that takes longer than I think it should.
Mine was only a small “black dog,” a number of dear friends are grappling with a larger, more persistent “black dogs.” I wish was as easy as “do this and you’ll get better,” but this does not appear to be reality. But you are still loved, still liked, still someone I care about and enjoy hanging out with.
As I continue to process what I’ve learned, I’ll come back and share a little more where I hope it will be an encouragement to anyone else out there going through this kind of stuff. In the meantime: have courage my friend, and remember you don’t walk alone.
Thursday, October 1, 2015
In his book The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis describes a parade in heaven, with a crowd of spirits and people and musicians. It was in honour of a beautiful lady clothed in light.
“Is it? … is it?” I whispered to my guide.
”Not at all,” said he, “It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of. Her name on Earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.”
”She seems to be … well, a person of particular importance?”
”Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things.”
The characters continue describing all the people (and animals) that in her life she’d loved who were now part of this procession.
I’ve been grappling of late with the idea of “Calling.” Or more specifically my lack of one. I’ve been coming across a number of messages exhorting Christians to recognise and act upon their “unique calling and gifting.” The writers and speakers of those messages are, I think, unaware of how stifling such a message can be to some people. For those who do feel a Calling into ministry that’s great, and we celebrate with you and support you in that. (And Gary Neal Hansen has written an excellent series of posts about how to identify that Ministry Calling.)
It was drummed into me earlier in my Christian growth the concept “Not everyone is called.” Not everyone is called to lead or preach or go overseas with Missions. I believed the lie that I didn't have a "Calling", "Ministry" or "Gifting". So when I heard messages about stepping out into your unique gifting and calling from God, my heart would respond "what gifting? What calling?" And I’d become anxious trying to figure it out. When I wanted to try something new, the thoughts would attack me with “You’re not called for that.”
I was just me being me, doing what I do, the mundane, ordinary, everyday, getting-on-with-it things.
I’m in the process of coming to the conclusion that the idea of a unique “calling” and “gifting” for each believer is being over-emphasised. It’s becoming a distraction trying to work out what those callings and giftings are.
Yes, we are each created uniquely. Yes, it is intended for us to make a difference in the lives of those around us.
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)
For those of us with “ordinariness”, let’s think less about trying to figure out what our “calling” or “gifting” is and just get on with getting on with it.
I’m going to go back to concentrating on just being me, and doing what I do. Focus my attention back to loving God and loving my neighbours. I’m finding that’s bringing much more freedom. When I want to try something new, I don’t have to figure out if it’s in my “calling” or not, I can just give it a go anyway and see how it turns out.
We may never see in this world the outcome of what we do. We may never know what difference we have made to those around us. We can only see the outside, but God sees the inside of the heart, and the eternal consequences that we cannot see.
Just like Sarah Smith from Golders Green, let’s make our focus loving God and loving others.
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Jesus was sitting in the temple near the offering box and watching people put in their gifts. He noticed that many rich people were giving a lot of money. Finally, a poor widow came up and put in two coins that were worth only a few pennies.
(Mark 12:41-42 CEV)
The sun was hot and bright. She tucked damp stray strands of hair back under her headscarf and crossed the street to find the shade. The dust was getting into her eyes and the smell of the sweaty sticky throngs of people and animals got into her nostrils. The pushing and shoving of the crowd carried her through the temple gates into the Women’s Court.
She stayed at the edge of the crowd, trying to pray despite the noise. The richly dressed Teachers glared sharply at her, sneering as they strode past. She shrank back into the shadows the best she could, to stay out of the way. She tightened her hand around the coins, their edges digging into her palm reassuring her that she hadn’t dropped them.
She carefully made her way to the offering box. Several times she was shoved roughly by one of the Teachers, their flowing linen robes showing the status of their office. It was one of those very Teachers that had evicted her from her hovel the previous day, after demanding more rent than she could afford, and more than the room was worth. She watched as he made a great show of dropping a fat purse of gold into the offering box.
A trickle of sweat escaped from under her headscarf and ran down her temple.
She remembered previous offerings she’d made. The time when she saw the box after the priests had emptied it and carried the contents to the treasury at the end of the day, and realised her small pennies were still stuck in the grime at the bottom – overlooked and forgotten.
Or the other time when the guards watching the offering box jeered at her as she dropped her small coins in, and cuffed at her to get out of the way of the wealthier worshippers.
Tears pricked in her eyes at the memories. She inhaled deeply, and reminded herself it didn’t matter, she was here to make her offering to God, and not to people. The taunts and jeers and blows were not going to stop her. This was her act of worship.
She’d learned to be as invisible as she could, to creep in when there were fewer people around, or they were looking elsewhere, quick and quiet and not noticed. There was that new teacher on the other side, he was talking to the crowds and everyone was listening to him. Even the guards were straining to hear him. Now. Quickly.
As she was scuttling back from the box, she glanced around to make sure she was unobserved, and to her shock found the new Teacher’s eyes were looking directly at her. But there was no scorn, no displeasure. Those eyes somehow looked right into her heart and soul, and they were filled with only Love.
Jesus told his disciples to gather around him. Then he said: “I tell you that this poor widow has put in more than all the others. Everyone else gave what they didn’t need. But she is very poor and gave everything she had. Now she doesn’t have a cent to live on.”
(Mark 12:43-44, CEV)
Who am I
To come into Your Holy Presence
What have I
To bring as my offering
All those around
Offer gifts of shining gold
All I have
Are these two copper coins
Here am I
I bring myself to Your altar
All of my heart
All of my life
I pray You’ll find my gift worthy
Here at Your altar
With my two copper coins
Here am I
I’m kneeling in Your Holy Presence
Here I come
Bringing You this offering
All those around
Offer gifts of shining gold
Here I bring
You these two copper coins
Here am I
I bring myself to Your altar
All of my heart
All of my life
Your Love has found my gift worthy
Here at Your altar
With my two copper coins
(Two Copper Coins, © Claudia McFie 2014)
Monday, August 3, 2015
Maybe I’d started to believe it when I was a new Christian, and was told by a very spiritual I-wish-I-was-like-that lady at church told me how she was so close to the Lord she never needed help from anyone else.
Or maybe it was the time many years ago when I was depressed, and when reaching out asking for help and support I was let down and disappointed. I remember someone telling me “Maybe you just need to ask God to show you why this is upsetting you so much.”
It may even be rooted within our culture that values self-sufficiency and independence, and looks down on those who show weakness.
However it got there, I have been carrying a belief that God should be enough without needing other people, and to ask for help is a lack of faith.
It sounds like a very spiritual thought.
It’s a lie.
A few months ago, when I was feeling discouraged, I asked, “Father, is it wrong that I’d just like to hear some encouragement from another person, and not just from you?”
We are designed and created to live in community – even in the beginning when it was said “It is not good for man to be alone.” Throughout scripture we called to support and encourage and pray for one another. If we are to be encouraging one another, then it must be because we need to be encouraged by one another too.
The Truth is that it takes courage to admit when things aren’t okay, and to ask for help and prayer.
The Truth is that it is okay to want to hear a reassuring word, or to need a hug.
When was the last time you offered encouragement?
Just as important – when was the last time you received encouragement?
Thank you to all my encouragers (I hope you know who you are). I appreciate you.
Saturday, July 25, 2015
Poor Gideon. He seems to be considered a bit of a coward, hiding from his oppressors in a winepress, demanding signs from God before taking any action, and then waiting for the cover of darkness to do so. "Look at Gideon," I’ve heard some people say, "he should have trusted the word of God and been bold enough to just go and knock down that Asherah pole then and there."
When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” … “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” (Judges 6:12 & 15, NIV)
I can relate a little bit to Poor Gideon. His threshing wheat in the winepress idea looks a lot like my hiding a lamp in a bushel idea. I often find myself asking God "Are you sure?", doubting that I've heard him right when I'm surrounded by people with far greater skills, talents and experience than what I have. I’m conscious of my own inadequacies, I feel I have the least to offer.
There's nothing in the text that tells us Gideon was wrong to ask God for His reassurance. The author of Judges accuse Gideon of cowardice. Instead we are shown how God can use the least of us for His greater glory.
God knows that when He calls the least qualified that extra encouragement and reassurance is needed, and in His grace provides it in the right way and at the right time. An offering supernaturally combusts, fleece is dry instead of wet then wet instead of dry. At the greatest challenge - a numerous enemy faced with only 300 men - an overheard conversation provides the necessary boldness and inspiration. An enemy is dispersed without a sword being lifted.
The less I have to offer, the more room there is for God's Spirit to move instead.
It is not for me to fight the battle, I am just asked to stand and blow a trumpet and shout and hold my torch high so it can be seen.
Courage is not the lack of fear and doubt, it is stepping out in spite of those doubts. And courage grows out of encouragement. It's okay to ask God for reassurance and encouragement when faced with challenges, in His mercy and grace they will be given to me.
Tuesday, July 21, 2015
They say courage isn’t the absence of fear, but feeling the fear and stepping forward anyway.
When I prayed “Lord, let me come deeper into you,” I expected it would be warm and wonderful. I thought there would be an intensity to my worship, that there would be a deep joy and an awareness of His love.
What’s happened instead is there’s been a digging deeper inside of me, bringing to the surface my past anxieties, hurts and brokenness.
It was so much easier when the past stayed buried, the memories didn’t bother me and I didn’t bother them.
I know in my mind that it’s different now, but my physical emotions are not yet convinced.
The past lies still mock me. You’re not good enough for this. You don’t really belong here.
My stomach knots, my chest tightens. Emotion wells up in my throat.
You are here because I have led you here. Don’t be afraid, I am with you.
I couldn’t cry back then. I dared not, it wasn’t safe. I’m not afraid to cry now. A caring hand on my shoulder, and the wave breaks over me.
“You must be getting tired of praying for me week after week,” I say, “I don’t like being needy.”
If I am to worship with all of my heart and mind and soul and strength, then that includes these messy, hurting and broken parts of me.
Instead of being afraid of these emotions, I will make them my offering at the altar, the gift of my worship. I welcome and accept them, then give them to Him, just as they are. This is my entire heart, the all of me.
“Lord, let me have courage.”
I feel the fear, but I’m not afraid of it. I will step into and through it: one step, then another and another.
Send out your light and your truth;
let them guide me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
to the place where you dwell.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the harp,
O God, my God.
Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my saviour and my God.
(Psalm 43:3-5, NIV 1985)
Sunday, June 21, 2015
In one of the quieter corners of the Old Testament, rarely visited by Sunday preachers, lived a king of Judah called Jehoshaphat. Faced with a vast enemy, thoroughly outnumbered, Jehoshaphat responded by calling the nation to fasting and prayer, “For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.”
God’s answer through the prophet was this: “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.”
The next morning, they went out towards the battle. Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendour of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying “Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.” It was less a march to battle as it was a procession of worship.
By they time they came to the place that overlooked the battle field, all they saw was a dead army awaiting plunder – the enemy had fought among themselves and so destroyed each other. (Retold from 2 Chronicles 20)
My enemy is within me. My anxieties well up in me, wave upon wave, threatening to overwhelm me. I try using the breathing and relaxation techniques I’ve learned from my counsellor, but find myself me praying, shaking and trembling, tears streaming down my face. I have no power to face this. I don’t know what to do. I’m scared, but my eyes are upon you, God.
This is not your battle to fight.
My default setting is to think “Here is a problem, I must do something to solve this.” I now have two problems to solve: the original stress that has triggered this, and then the anxiety and fear, which often seems bigger than the original issue.
This is not my battle to fight. It’s not about fighting back against the anxiety, but shifting my focus to worship, “Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.” I’m to change my approach from a march into battle to a procession of praise. It’s a letting go of the need to DO, and Trusting instead.
Easier said than done.
Don’t be afraid or discouraged. This is not your battle to fight.
Monday, June 1, 2015
Six months working towards this.
I have now achieved my first half marathon.
Monday, May 11, 2015
© Claudia McFie, May 2015
I pull down the walls,
throw my mask away,
Open and broken
but no longer afraid,
To soak in your love,
to know your embrace
I will see you.
Higher and deeper
I will seek your face
Into the Holy of Holies
you opened the way
Your word stands true
when this world falls away
I will see you.
Father and King,
we meet face to face,
Lover and Friend,
in this cool of the day
Here in this garden
you call out my name,
I will see you.
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
When I went to work on my new book, I thought the counter-cultural bit was asking 21st century Christians to learn from a 12th century monk. I had no idea that the biggest stretch would be the invitation in the first part of the title: Love Your Bible! Alas, many do not.
There are lots of reasons loving the Bible seems like a stretch today.
Many of us are under such constant pressure between work and family that opening the Bible just doesn’t come to mind.
Many have spent years following Christ, whom we know in our hearts; we just haven’t picked up the habit of Bible reading.
Still others are put off by a book written thousands of years ago in distant cultures and foreign languages.
And those who want to ask hard questions and wrestle with answers dislike the superficial way many Christians do read the Bible.
Is it surprising that the people who find it hard to love their Bible are real Christians, people who follow Jesus with passion? Surprising or not, it is a loss--a crippling loss that keeps us from flourishing as disciples.
It is not that we need to know the Scriptures so we can have snappy answers to the world’s pressing questions. Knowing the Bible does help you understand your faith and the good news that needs to be shared. But I’m talking about something deeper.
The Bible is not given to us as an answer book or a user’s manual. The Bible is intended to lead us into the presence of the living God.
So here’s the risk: if we don’t find a way into the Bible, we may not find our way into God’s life-giving presence. We may end up following a figment of our imaginations, or a projection of our own neuroses.
We need the real God who so loves the world, the same God who called Abraham and Sarah, and who came in person in Jesus. His words and acts have been preserved for us in Scripture. His Spirit is whispering there still.
What we need is a faithful guide who knows the way.
In Love Your Bible I suggest a 12th century monk as that guide: a fellow named Guigo, who wrote the go-to book on the ancient Christian practice of lectio divina or “divine reading.”
You may have heard of lectio divina. Lots of Christians are exploring classic approaches to spiritual disciplines these days (I recommend ten of them in my earlier book Kneeling with Giants: Learning to Pray with History’s best Teachers).
Commonly lectio divina is presented as a group process in which a text is read aloud three or four times and people listen for words and phrases that jump out evocatively. That can be helpful, but it is a far cry from the classic form of the practice.
Guigo teaches a much more serious practice. Joyful, prayerful, gentle--but fully engaged. It starts with careful study of a biblical text, and moves with the text through meditation and prayer to the very presence of God.
Guigo didn’t invent lectio divina. By the time he wrote, Christians had been honing the practice for centuries. Monks were instructed to spend a couple of hours a day at it.
Every day they encountered the Bible in ways that were intellectually rigorous and spiritually engaged.
Every day they went from the text of Scripture into the presence of the living God.
It shaped their minds to the Gospel--often when you read the writings of medieval monks they are virtually a patchwork of biblical quotations.
And it shaped their hearts and their lives. Dwelling with God through Scripture turned monks into the missionaries and leaders that spread the faith across Europe.
Lord knows, we need to drink deeply from those living waters today.
Lord knows the world needs a new generation of disciples formed by the Word and empowered by his presence.
I hope you’ll give classic lectio divina a try. Isn’t it time to find a way to Love Your Bible?
Gary Neal Hansen is the award-winning author of Kneeling with Giants: Learning to Pray with History's Best Teachers (InterVarsity Press, 2012). On his blog, GaryNealHansen.com, he mines the Christian past for wisdom in the complex changing present and future. He serves as Associate Professor of Church History at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary.
Gary has kindly offered a free paperback of Love Your Bible to one of my readers. To enter: comment on this post with your experiences of Bible Reading in the past and how it affected your life and faith. Winner will be selected randomly from the comments on 10 May 2015.
Tuesday, April 7, 2015
The lies are telling me I’m unimportant and insignificant.
At least I’m pretty sure they’re lies.
I think they might be lies.
I hope they’re lies.
It’s getting harder to resist the discouragement. The lies are getting more subtle – where they used to be things that were blatantly untrue, now they are twisting and distorting the might-be-trues and even some actually-did-happens. A thought will trigger a knife twisting kind of emotion. It takes all my effort to not let the emotion drag me down and to refute the trigger-thought.
I know how to fight this: it takes prayer, thanksgiving, praise and worship.
I had overlooked one thing: the support, prayer and encouragement of other believers. When I could no longer stand on my own, I sent out a prayer request email. What took me so long? The best weapon in the battle against discouragement in encouragement.
I’m not yet 100% better, but the intensity has reduced. I no longer stand alone, for I know now there are others standing with me. And that makes all the difference.
Friday, April 3, 2015
Monday, March 16, 2015
I've been trying to figure out what I could DO for God.
Every time I find something I can do to serve Him I start thinking "maybe this is it, maybe this is how God will use me," then when things don't work out the way I hoped I'd decide that isn't how God wants to use me after all and start looking around for something else I can do.
Over the last while, I've been having constant battles with the "I'm not good enough" feelings whenever I'm reminded of these kinds of disappointments. While I know in my head that "I'm not good enough" isn't true, I'm still feeling the emotions triggered by that thought no matter how hard I try to convince myself.
So what I'm in the process of realising, is that with all the energy and effort I'm putting into trying to find something I can be "good enough" at to serve God with, my energy and focus is on myself and what I can or can't do.
My attention has turned away from Him.
God said to me last week:
Look at me and know you are loved.
This is love: it is not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as the sacrifice for our sins.
The night he was betrayed, Jesus said, "No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends"
This is how much you are loved: God through Jesus died for you.
He says: Look at me and know you are loved.
His love is eternal and unchanging.
My finite mind can grasp only a small portion of the infinity of His love.
But as I contemplate His love for me, my heart responds with growing Love for Him.
As I sit still and let his love flow over me, it can begin to flow through me into my love for others.
This is what Jesus commanded: Love God and love one another.
He says: Look at me and know you are loved.
There's an old song from last century: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.”
A more modern song: “When the music fades, and all is stripped away, and I simply come”... and goes on to: “I'm coming back to the heart of worship, and it's all about you Lord.”
I've been a Christian 25 years so far and I'm still in the process of learning this. It may be that I'll spend the rest of my life still in the process of learning this.
What he says to me, perhaps he's saying to you: Look at me, and know you are loved.
Let that love flow over you, surround you and embrace you.
Receive that love, and respond with your love to him.
Sunday, February 22, 2015
Four years ago, on this day and at this hour, I was running for my life dodging a three storey masonry facade toppling towards me.
These last two weeks have "gone to custard" however.
We've been having the repairs done to our house. They were only very minor repairs so we didn't need to move out like so many others have had to do. There's still been
a bit a lot of extra stress with having to pack up some loose books and toys, and move furniture out from the walls. I've also found it harder than I expected to having tradespeople in my personal space.
I've also got out of routine with several of those wellbeing things. I couldn't go for my run when I usually do because I couldn't shower afterwards because there were painters working on the bathroom ceiling. I couldn't practice my music when I normally would because there was a worker sanding down the doorframe of my bedroom with a radio playing.
On top of this, I've been feeling rather vulnerable from triggered emotions from this stuff last week.
So when the voice of discouragement reminded me off a particular disappointment a couple of days ago, I couldn't fight it off the way I usually try to do. I just had to let myself curl up and have a good cry over it, even though I knew the emotion was out of proportion to the cause.
It's Lent, but I don't have the strength to observe a fast this year.
(Has there ever been any actual scientific double-blind type studies done on the anti-depressant effects of dark chocolate? If not, could the placebo effect still be enough to justify postponing my fast for medicinal reasons?)
About this time last year, I started writing a prayer-poem, that grew into this song:
Yes, this time and place too, this is also Holy Ground.
Sunday, February 15, 2015
I’m writing this at midnight. For the second night in a row I’m having trouble getting to sleep.
Earlier in the week, I was reading on my Facebook newsfeed several reviews and comments about a certain book recently made into a movie. I haven’t read the books or seen the movie. I really don’t want to, based on what I’ve read here, here, here, here and here. The recurring theme of these reviews was concern at the depiction of a manipulative, controlling and abusive relationship as romantic love. I find myself feeling sick in the stomach, and memories are churning in my head from a part of my past that not even many of my close friends know much about.
I was a 20 year old undergraduate student. He was several years older, doing a post graduate degree in the same department. He was tall, dark, handsome, strong, charming and attractive. about three months after we met, he asked me to marry him. My gut reaction was “No! No! No!”. He was not, however, willing to accept No for an answer. It took him nine more months of persuasive manipulation and charm before I finally agreed to go out with him.
I realised very quickly I had made a big mistake. He didn’t physically abuse me, but from what I have learned since about the early warning signs of an abusive relationship, it would have only been a matter of time. He very persuasively told me he loved me, but this was not love. This was control on his part and fear on mine.
“There is no fear in love.” 1 John 4:18 (NIV)
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV)
He was impatient and unkind. He was jealous, arrogant, boastful. He belittled me, was selfish, and frequently angry. He blamed me for anything that didn’t go his way, and brought it back out to hold against me at other times. He threatened me with violence and rape, at the same time told me I was unattractive and mocked me.
This was NOT love.
Even after I ended the relationship, he would still not take No for an answer. For another year he alternated between being persuasive and charming, and begging me to take him back, to being intimidating and threatening. It took intervention from the university authorities to convince him to stop talking to me.
But it was not yet over. I still saw him frequently around campus, and although he didn’t speak to me he looked at me threateningly. I swallowed fear whenever I attended class. On finding him on the same bus I would get off three stops past my street, and walk home via a very circuitous route so he wouldn’t find out where I lived.
It took another six months before I could see him without feeling the fear. I looked him in the eye, said hello, commented on the weather, then very firmly ended the conversation. His power over me was finally broken, and the next time I saw him he turned away to avoid me. I had won my freedom, but at an emotional cost over previous the two and a half years. I experienced depression for several months, and I did not complete my degree.
“Perfect love drives out fear” 1 John 4:18 (NIV).
I later learned what it was to be loved. This weekend was our wedding anniversary. 18 years ago I married a man who was patient and kind, who wasn’t jealous or arrogant or proud. He wasn’t rude or selfish or angry. He was forgiving, caring, protecting and trusting. This was Real Love.
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NIV)
P.S. If you find that the relationship you are in shows the signs of power, control and possessiveness that are warning signs, or if you are in an abusive relationship, then please be very careful and stay safe. I’ve read that the most dangerous time for a women in an abusive relationship is when she has decided to leave. Sophie Elliot’s story is a tragic example of this. Talk to someone you can trust. Get help from an organisation like Women’s Refuge. If you are in physical danger, contact the police (even if you have to pretend to be ordering pizza to do so).
Sunday, February 8, 2015
I was seventeen, and new to Faith. We were on a youth group weekend, staying in a bach on the edge of a lake.
It was Saturday morning, early. The sun had just burned the mist off the lake, but was not yet hot. I was sitting on the sill of an open window, one leg swinging over the veranda, Bible in my hand. I wasn’t reading much, just enjoying the stillness. Another girl was sitting on the veranda a few metres away and the rest of the group was inside. All was quiet.
A white dove flew from across the lake and landed on the veranda railing, within arms reach. The dove perched for several minutes, looking us each in the eye. Neither of us moved, until the dove flew over to a nearby tree, then out of sight along the shoreline.
The above image is sketched from memory about two and a half decades after the event. Any variances to actual avian anatomy are due to a deficiency of my drawing ability, not from mistaken identification of the species concerned.
It was a perfectly ordinary flesh and blood and feathers and beak kind of dove. There were no visions, voices from heaven, sudden rushing wind or mysterious flames of fire. Yet it was a profound moment that has stayed clearly in my memory for the two and a half decades since.
The memory of this moment came to mind when I was considering the “Deepening” I wrote about last month. I wrote then: “I know this much: it is NOT found by trying harder or doing more or being better.” My encounter with the dove reminds me of the following:
- God’s presence is not something I conjure up through praying or meditating in the “right” way. His presence is a gift of grace that can’t be earned. He comes to me in the same way the dove flew to me from across the lake without being summoned, not me coming to Him.
- Having said that, sometimes you can only become aware of His presence already with you by stopping what you’re doing, not rushing being busy and noisy with work and family and socialising. Those of the group inside talking or eating missed the experience (and were even somewhat sceptical when we described what had happened, even with the dove still visible on the nearby tree).
- In my subsequent experience, sometimes the best response to finding oneself in God’s presence is to simply sit very still and very quietly. Listen and observe without trying to influence or extend the moment.
- Sometimes the significant moments of God can turn up when you least expect it and aren’t necessarily looking for it. Treasure each moment as it comes, and don’t try to replicate it. To quote the Professor at the end of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis: “You won’t get into Narnia again by that route. ... don’t go trying to use the same route twice. Indeed, don’t try to get there at all. It’ll happen when you’re not looking for it.”
What are some of the ways you’ve experienced God, and what did you learn from them?
Saturday, January 31, 2015
January is Summer Holiday time around here. It’s apt, having the time to have a break away from routine with family, and also being able to take some time to reflect and ponder the year ahead.
I’ve realised my relationship with God is a bit like a family at a picnic. The parents are watching the children play on the nearby playground while they sit and chat. Every so often, a child will call out, and the parent will smile and wave back. Or a child will run over to show some treasure they’ve found, or to ask for help with a toy, or for a reassuring cuddle after bumping their knee. Once reassured, the child will run back to play again.
I’m like the child, and God the parent. An occasional glance reassures me the He is still there in the vicinity, but most of the time He’s happy for me to carry on with what I’m doing without the need for direct contact.
At the same picnic, the preteen is getting bored with the younger children’s games, and comes to sit near the grown-ups, listening to their conversation. That’s somehow where I want to grow more towards.
To switch metaphors, it’s like I’ve been splashing in the shallows of my faith. I’ve had occasional glimpses of what it would be like to swim into the deeper water (cool and clear and refreshing), and would like more of that.
I don’t know what this kind of deepening would look like, or how it would come about. I know this much: it is NOT found by trying harder or doing more or being better. In fact, I suspect there is nothing I can do with my own effort or by my own merit.
Any insights from anyone who’s been there would be appreciated!