Encountering God Part 2

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As we came out of chapel, I felt drunk! As we walked, (well, it felt like I staggered) to the car I managed to say/slur, “Rachel, I need to talk to you. I don’t know what happened in there but something happened to me.” I was unable to speak much in the car on the way home; I felt far too loved up on God for words. So we did what this girl is likely to forever do at pivotal moments…we went for hot chocolate! And in that hour, I became more and more convinced something had changed and was continuing to change within me. A new hope, a sense of calling and purpose for the future, a feeling of contentment I’d been dreaming about my whole life seemed suddenly very present. Positivity and peace weren’t confined to the movies or novels anymore – they were there reverberating around my heart. 

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve noticed my energy levels have changed. Sometimes I feel tired but it’s a different kind of tired; a healthy feeling, not as oppressive as it used to be. Night times are very different. When I wake I’m not anxious like I used to be. Over the first couple of nights it felt like a deep sense of peace and pleasurable wellbeing almost rocked me quietly back off to sleep.

Things I suspect I used to numb some of the pain e.g. Facebook, TV, shopping, now feel renewed; not banned as evil, just here to be enjoyed without a need to rely on them. Here’s the real shocker – I’ve changed the way I think about chocolate; I don’t seem to want it so much. Don’t panic! This girl ain’t changing that much – I will always want it; I just don’t feel like I need it so much now!

I am starting to enjoy looking after myself. Eating has begun to seem less of a chore. I wear makeup more often and when I look at what I want to wear it’s with a much stronger sense of myself and enjoyment of the creativity.

My mind is a whole lot quieter than it was!  Of course I still fret sometimes, I’m only human, but I seem to hear the prompt to surrender things to God quicker than I used to. I don’t seem to need to work out solutions for the world and its wife’s problems so much and I feel more able to accept life in the moment as it is.

I am trusting my instincts and am not as much of a slave to what I think I ‘should’ do.  I’ve even started wanting to do the washing up (I know – second shocking statement!!) instead of wondering whether I have the energy to make myself do what I feel I ought.

I’m reading a lot more – to the point of parking up to read under a light in Asda car park on a cold February evening whilst waiting for Hannah to come out of rehearsals! I am really hungry to know more of God’s love for me.

There seems more peace and love in the Bible as I read it.  I’m much quicker to notice God’s desire for personal relationships and the joy and freedom He brings. And I have a renewed desire to worship, playing the piano with new expression that I’d only had a glimpse of before. It’s been an absolute joy to play the church songs of my childhood with fresh eyes on the lyrics and a new understanding of God’s sheltering hand throughout my life.

As Rachel was praying for me a few days later, she asked God to reconnect the synapses in my nervous system. And that’s the best summary I can think of to describe what it feels like. Old negative pathways of thinking, that I used to go down so easily, seem to be travelled less often. I definitely feel lighter in my spirit about lots of things and other people have noticed ‘a new lightness’ in me.

This road to recovery has not been a divine quick fix. The work I have put in towards my mental recovery and the physical rest and medication I needed were and continue to be vital. But this latest assurance that God loves me person to person feels like a spiritual seal on the physical and mental recovery. Like a piece of shabby chic furniture the old ‘me’ had to be sanded down by crisis, primed with medication and rest, repainted in new shades of thinking and then sealed with the varnish of a personal experience of God’s love.

That’s not to say I won’t suffer the occasional knock that cuts through to the bare wood again. Of course there will be times when I feel less than joyful. Like Peter, I’d love to build a tent and stay up the mountain but life isn’t like that. Some days will be easier than others but the lightness in my spirit has remained thus far. Not through my own effort – in fact every time I ‘try’ I take a step further away from the joy. The joy is in the resting and the letting be (something I used to be desperate to know how to do.)

 

“Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.”

Ephesians 3:19b-20 The Message

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Encountering God: Part One

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I nearly didn’t stay to chapel at college last Saturday. I didn’t really want to but something inside me said, “Come on– a bit of personal worship will do you good.” So we went in and sat on the back row: where I didn’t feel looked at and could opt out if I wanted to.

The day before I had written:

“The other day, for a moment, I grasped it. I saw what has always been there…freedom. What did it feel like?  No condemnation and no subtitles; a place where I make goals as an affirmation that I am fully interested in living life to the full; somewhere I’m not scared to fail; a place where I have changed my beliefs about how I deserve to be treated. It’s getting clearer. I’m not quite sure what it feels like to stand firm on it yet but I can see it! I’ve caught a glimpse. And one day I’m going to stand on it and in it and the ground beneath my feet will feel a whole lot firmer. It’s no longer fantasy or wishful thinking. I can see it.”

That day as I was writing, I realised that much of my mental recovery from all I have experienced was coming to a natural conclusion (perhaps a pause?) Faithful companions on the journey (dare I say prophets?) had started to say, “Caroline, look at your present. It’s so full of hope. God has redeemed so much for you. When your future is this bright, why look at the past?”

Oh I wanted to, believe me I did, and I had done everything in my power to get me there. And that’s probably the point. The last leap wasn’t really down to me. It wasn’t something I could study for or go through a twelve step plan for (although those sorts of things had massively helped me get to where I was.) This was different.  It was something I needed to grasp and accept into my heart but I just didn’t seem able to. It was like having a pair of sunglasses on: I knew there was hope ahead but I couldn’t see it quite as clearly as they all did…until that moment in chapel.

And when it happened, it came out of the blue; totally unexpected.  Something happened in that worship time; something mysterious and beyond my capability to manufacture.

A song I had learnt in the depths of my depressive teenage years and had continued to sing at church through the ups and downs of the years since, suddenly took on a new meaning. Oh I knew those words so well; but never had they opened up to such depth of meaning as they did that day. Suddenly I understood what it felt like to know this stuff in the depth of my being not just my head. The dark glasses were lifted off. Something like scales fell from the eyes of my heart, and I could see!

We were there, maybe half an hour, singing, listening to readings and joining in prayers. And I revelled in it! Ephesians 3 was one of the readings that day and it sums up my time in chapel really well:

My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights!”              (Ephesians 3:14-19 The Message)

God was no longer someone I admired, quoted or followed, He was someone I’d encountered!

Why I write

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Last week I found myself writing this reply to a comment about my blog:

“And that’s why I write…so ‘you’ and me know we’re not alone.”

That little bit of feedback sparked some more thoughts about why I write. So guess what? I started writing them down… because I wanted to …and well because it’s easier than getting up and out of the house and going for a run (like that was ever going to happen!)

 

Seriously, first and foremost I write because I want to. I could happily write for hours when the inspiration is there and I have the energy. The fact is I enjoy it. When it’s going well, it makes me feel alive. When it’s not going so well, it brings out my persistent streak!

 

The desire to be creative has always been there: an urge to create order from chaos, to design, to structure, to make sense of something and express what’s inside. An essay from English Lit A level , ‘The importance of belief in Silas Marner’, is about the only piece of schoolwork I still possess twenty years later. I really enjoyed the symbolism of the book and relished looking at how ‘belief’ impacted the different characters’ lives.

 

To me, writing is like completing a jigsaw puzzle. I look at different paragraphs and ideas and think about where each part would fit best. Sometimes it feels like it’s all in pieces and most times I have no idea what the completed picture will look like. I start with just a few sentences and thoughts that seem to fit together and before I know it, there are more words than the bloggers ideal 500 and I have to start taking some out! But even that process brings me joy. I came back to this draft at least six times over; tweaking, reordering and rephrasing. Sometimes the hardest part is deciding it is finished!

 

There’s another important reason to write: it helps me make sense of my life. It’s my way of organising my thoughts and seeing the connections in my experiences. I am relational. I like to hear and share stories. But I didn’t have the courage to start calling myself a writer until recently. As I’ve read a range of different blogs, I realise I have joined an online community and I’m not the only one out there thinking this stuff. I’ve realised I have a story to tell. It’s a bit of a crazy story sometimes (my life has been likened to a soap opera by my friends more than once!) but now I’m more convinced than ever that my story matters.

 

I want to take something real and relevant that’s happening right here, right now and discover the divine treasure hidden in it. I want to see goodness and love in a world where I am sometimes too busy or sad to notice it. I want to hear God’s voice whispering “I love you” in a song on the radio. I want to notice the value of isolated beauty when I see a lone snowdrop on a derelict building site. I want to help you and me see the pattern of love and grace that tracks through the seemingly ordinary moments of our days.

 

And as I look back, I realise that my writing is there to convince and remind me that redemption is more than possible and I am reassured that whatever unholy incidents occurred and whatever the ‘contamination’ or the pain that came from them, in the beginning and into the future I am held by hands bigger than my own.

 

(Last minute edit: And then there’s that annoying part of the process where the website and your lack of IT skills combine to form a post that either has huge spaces between paragraphs or no spaces at all! I went for the huge spaces!!)

Embracing the New

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(A meditation on Isaiah 65 17-24)

Stand up. Look. Watch carefully. God is creating a new reality for me: a new sense of loveliness in my every day.

The pain, the neglect, the unpredictability: it’s being walled off brick by brick, piece by piece to be left in the past. The effects are becoming weaker, touching me a little less every day until one day I will barely notice the insecurity anymore.

So I’m going to stand even though I may wobble.  I will look ahead, embrace hope and join God in co-creating the future.

The tears fell and may fall again for the little girl: tears of abandonment; tears of ‘not good enough’; tears for ‘too good’ and being brought down.

But I will look to the promise: no more weeping; no more anguished cries; no more little girl frightened and alone; no more ‘What will they say?’ or ‘What will they do?’

Self expression, freedom, exuberance , worth: these will become the new normal.

So I stand and begin the journey towards that day with tiny steps. Slowly building my house on new, solid foundations. So I build and I will make this place my home, I will immerse myself in the new: running and laughing and eating three shortbread.

I will put down new roots and find fruit in the old. I will enjoy satisfaction and discover what love looks like.

No more will ridicule touch my soul; no random chaotic measuring stick stood at my side. No more stolen glory. No more triumphs snatched from my hand. No longer will my legs be knocked out from under me in my moments of satisfaction.

I bring God joy. I bring God joy. I bring God wholehearted joy and delight! Not what I do: just ‘me’.

For I am a daughter, long lost but loved. Before I even knew I needed help, I was held.

 “The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.”

Isaiah 25:8 NIV

“Pay close attention now:  I’m creating new heavens and a new earth.
All the earlier troubles, chaos, and pain are things of the past, to be forgotten.
Look ahead with joy.

Anticipate what I’m creating: I’ll create Jerusalem as sheer joy, create my people as pure delight.
I’ll take joy in Jerusalem, take delight in my people: No more sounds of weeping in the city, no cries of anguish;
No more babies dying in the cradle or old people who don’t enjoy a full lifetime;
One-hundredth birthdays will be considered normal—  anything less will seem like a cheat.

They’ll build houses and move in. They’ll plant fields and eat what they grow.
No more building a house that some outsider takes over,
No more planting fields that some enemy confiscates.

For my people will be as long-lived as trees, my chosen ones will have satisfaction in their work.
They won’t work and have nothing come of it, they won’t have children snatched out from under them.

For they themselves are plantings blessed by God, with their children and grandchildren likewise God-blessed.
Before they call out, I’ll answer. Before they’ve finished speaking, I’ll have heard.”

Isaiah 65:17-24 (The Message)

New Years Resolutions?

I wonder whether you plan to make any New Year’s resolutions for 2014. Here’s some that I’ve made in the past: play more games with Hannah; use my legs more often than my car; finish writing my book; speak to distant friends more regularly; get up earlier to pray and read my Bible. Having a strong tendency towards perfectionism, it suited me well to set goals. I thought I’d be a better person for achieving them. But guess what? I don’t think I’ve ever kept a single resolution longer than a week!

Oh I had a good go at some of them: we played Uno a few times; we walked to school (the first three days of term); I wrote another chapter (into the early hours of one morning); I telephoned one of my friends in January (and again in about September); I got up early (once) and read (through my heavy eyelids) and prayed (when my mind wasn’t wandering elsewhere or dozing off!) So for 2014 I have set just one resolution: No more unachievable New Year’s Resolutions! Thanks to an article by Claire De Boer I realised that,

“all of these goals are rooted in feeling like I’m not enough—not writing enough, not spiritual enough, not fit enough, not a good enough friend or mum…My underlying message seemed to be, “you have to do better, because who you are right now isn’t making the cut.” But a new year doesn’t change those thought patterns—at least not long-term.”

(http://shelovesmagazine.com/2013/ring-new-year-one-word/)

OneWord365.com encourages us to choose one word to focus on for the year that sums up who we want to be or how we want to live. So this year I’ve ditched the to-do list and I’m going for just one word.

The word I’ve chosen is EMBRACE. Seeing it in front of me every day helps me to remember to embrace the present moment; to embrace those around me; to embrace interruptions; to embrace possibilities; and to allow myself to be embraced by the love of God and the people he sends to show me that love. What a relief! No more pressure to be more and much less emphasis on duty than ever before.

So why not join me and pick a word for 2014. Your word doesn’t have to be meaningful to anyone else. It could be something as simple as “no,” or “yes.” It could be an action, a thought or an emotion. Think of some of the challenges you faced last year, or that may be facing you this year. Is there a word that could be relevant for you? If you’re stuck there are plenty of ideas at OneWord365.com:

So go ahead and think about it, pray, or ask for help. Then, if you’re comfortable sharing, let us know your word in the comments box so we can encourage each other through the year.

 

A way to see in the dark

Porth Ysgo, N.Wales, April 2013

Porth Ysgo, N.Wales, April 2013

Some people think I’m brave. “That was a brave thing to do” they say. I’ve heard it lots of times. But what I need you to know is that for all my life I’ve been really scared. Scared that if you knew everything there is to know about me, you might reject me. Scared I’ll be left on my own; scared of the sadness that can suck me down without warning, any time of the day or night; afraid of the fear itself.

There is abuse in my past and sometimes my present. They tell me that’s why I feel like I do.

When the darkness comes I’m all alone and you can’t reach me, even if you try. My world is pointless, formless and empty, the darkness sweeps over. You can say what you like but I can’t hear you above the noise. The subtitles become raging HEADLINES that blot out the hopeful truth. I run and I hide. Hide under the duvet, desiring to board a runaway train. It is bleak here and you are better off without me. My eyes don’t become accustomed to the darkness. I see nothing.

Life has never felt secure. But now I find myself wondering what this feeling is that washes over me in unexpected and ordinary places. I’ve started to notice it, just every now and then. I think it might be contentment. It might be a sense of what it means to be ‘at home.’ Maybe it’s knowing I really belong. Maybe it’s a tiny shard of self-belief breaking into the darkness; a growing experience of resting in my belovedness.

There was a time when in the middle of the darkness, somebody asked,

“What does God say here?”

“You’re lovely even with your scars and nothing is wasted,”

was my immediate reply.

And that’s when we noticed Him; the Spirit of God hovering over the surface of the deep. The moment I talked about The Lover; that was the moment when hope danced in. For even the darkness is not dark to The Lover.  He knows what lies in darkness. Here in the darkness, The Lover takes hold of my hand and reveals deep and hidden things. Some of them are beautiful. Some of them are hideous. Though all around is blackness, in the darkness I see how artificial the light was before; I never knew I’d been so blinded.

Maybe these tiny glimmers of hope I feel, will in time grow into something I strongly believe; something that will consume the voices of self doubt.

So this genuine smile you sometimes see escaping my face? It’s a droplet of joy preceded by risk:

The risk to tell a joke that might make you wonder who I really am;

The risk to spin upside down on the climbing frame and giggle with a ten year old;

The risk to laugh and drink lemon juice with a teenager seeing who can take the most without being sick;

The joy of a surprise splash landing in the sunshine;

The risk of adding detergent to speed up the fun.

Yes I will attempt silly and give permission for us to jump free, eat rubbish and enjoy life. I’ll allow us to self regulate. I will attempt to loosen the grip of anxiety fuelled control.

I have wrestled to win this unconditional smile and I will continue to fight for it because too many people have told me I deserve it. They can’t all be wrong can they?

But here comes the darkness chasing me down again and I’m feeling the need to run. But now I cannot hide alone. Now there are people who’ve promised they will run after me faster than I can run away and I have allowed them to make chase. While I cannot see in the dark, they will hold the Christ light for me and bid the darkness away. So I will resist the urge to push them away; I will let them run.

In the darkness, they remind me that The Lover has revealed deep and hidden things. He has opened my eyes; gently lifted the lids that have hung heavy. He says he will take hold of my hand in this darkness.

So my precious torchbearers please will you hold my little girl’s hand too? The child inside of me that’s frightened, sad and lonely. Will you help me run the risk of fearlessly loving without running away? Hold this Christ light for me. Please.

And may your light help me feel confident of this: that The Lover who began this new hope in me will carry it on to completion.


 

Nothing is Wasted – Jason Gray

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bvnBhtbATag

“The hurt that broke your heart and left you trembling in the dark feeling lost and alone
Will tell you hope’s a lie but what if every tear you cry will seed the ground where joy will grow
And nothing is wasted
Nothing is wasted
In the hands of our Redeemer
Nothing is wasted

…When hope is more than you can bear and it’s too hard to believe it could be true

When your strength fails you half way there, You can lean on me and I’ll believe for you

Give it time, you may believe it too”

Don’t Try So Hard (“You’re lovely even with your scars”) – Amy Grant http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfGvXfe9LK8

Brother Sister – Let me serve you

“We are pilgrims on a journey, We’re companions on the road;
we are here to help each otherwalk the mile and bear the load.

I will hold the Christ-light for you in the night-time of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear.

I will weep when you are weeping; when you laugh I’ll laugh with you.”

Phillipians 1:6

…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Psalm 139:11-12

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”
 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

 

Genesis 1:2

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

Isaiah 42:6-7

I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles,  to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

Daniel 2:22

He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.

Prototype 2: The Holy Ghost iPod Shuffle

In chapter 2 of Prototype, Jonathan Martin writes about ‘The Holy Ghost iPod shuffle phenomenon.’ I love that phrase! Finally I have a title for that thing that happens when I get in the car and a certain song comes on the radio and God speaks to me through it.

Sometimes it has helped me rant, singing outrageously loud in the car,

“So, so what
I’m still a rock star,
I got my rock moves,
And I don’t need you!”

Sometimes it has helped me decide a way forward,

“Oh it tears me up, I tried to hold on but it hurts too much,
I tried to forgive but it’s not enough to make it all okay.
You can’t play on broken strings.
You can’t feel anything that your heart don’t want to feel,

Sometimes it’s helped me express my joy,

“I’m stupidly happy,
Now you’re my defense.
I’m stupidly happy,
This world’s making sense.
Stupidly happy
All of the time.
I’m stupidly happy,
Now you’re mine.”

Earlier this week, I left my friend’s house with her words ringing in my ears,

“Go and tell that man of yours how special he is!”

And as I turned on the ignition of the car, onto the radio came,

“Close your eyes
Let me tell you all the reasons why
Think you’re one of a kind.
Here’s to you
The one that always pulls us through
Always do what you got to do
You’re one of a kind
Thank God you’re mine.”

When I got home, I went into my daughter’s bedroom to kiss her goodnight and just at that moment her CD played,

“Thank you Jesus, Thank you Lord
For loving me so much…
Help me feel your love right now,
To know deep in my heart,
That I’m your special friend.”

I guess God didn’t want me to forget that I was special too.

I’ve sat on a different garden swing this week, twenty five years later than those childhood experiences I talked about before. This week I was sat in the garden, wrapped in a blanket for comfort as much as warmth, dealing with the truth of my past, feeling so much emotional and physical pain when these words from Prototype chapter two stood out to me.

“…even in the midst of it, we still have moments when we feel called back to a time when we were not yet afraid – a time before we knew the fear of rejection, fear of people, fear of the world, or fear of ourselves…There is a place in you where you have never been wounded, where there’s still a sureness in you, where there’s a seamlessness in you, and where there is a confidence and tranquillity in you. Before you learned to be afraid, there was a part of you that knew you were loved (or at least had a suspicion).”

I’ve not listened to Cherish by Madonna on this garden swing but I hope I’m beginning to feel what it is like to be cherished by God. It feels like a long road to travel right now.

 

 

Lyrics from:

‘So What’ – Pink

‘You Can’t Play on Broken Strings’ – James Morrison.

‘Stupidly Happy’ – XTC

‘Close Your Eyes’ – Michael Buble

‘I’m special’ – Graham Kendrick

To find out more about Jonathan Martin’s book ‘Prototype’ and to read the first chapter for free go to www.prototypethebook.com