Sunday, February 22, 2015

It's still okay to cry, isn't it?

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.

This last year has had a few ups and downs, but generally I've been "coping" by using the Five Ways of Wellbeing: Connect, Give, Take Notice, Keep Learning and Be Active.

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

How to tell when it’s Real Love, and when it’s NOT. (Trigger alert)

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

Sitting Still

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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?