Cutting some slack

My one word for 2015 is ‘slack.‘

S-L-A-CK! (I can just hear Miranda Hart saying, “It’s a lovely word – slack!”)

The other day, I was ruminating about some tough stuff going on for me at the time and the friend listening unexpectedly said,

“What about not being so hard on yourself? I don’t hear much of that!”

Closely followed by,

“You’re doing a great job… … I don’t see any nodding.”

“At what point was anything you said just now, your fault?” she continued,
“Well, I’m the common factor in it all” I sniveled.
“Yes but that’s only because it’s your life!” she replied.

As you can see, I’m not good at being kind to myself but I’m very good at thinking I am responsible for the world, its wife and its feelings. I am quite good at giving other people the benefit of the doubt but terrible at doing it for myself.

I’ve been through some traumatic times and coupled with the resulting physical weakness and lack of energy, in moments of clarity I wonder why the hell I feel guilty and push myself on the infrequent days when it still feels too much of a struggle?

I really need to remember I’m a survivor and survivors need to cut themselves some slack sometimes.

Immediately, choosing this word makes me feel guilty and indulgent. I worry that ‘slack’ is an easy option but then there’s a difference between ‘cutting myself some slack’ and ‘slacking off.’ I want ‘cutting myself some slack’ to look like loving myself; honouring my needs; recovering; letting life happen; surrendering to joy and not thinking that I am answerable for more than I am. An easy option? It may just be the hardest thing I’ll ever do!

I want to focus on being grateful for where I am, who I have in my life and what I have learned through the tough stuff.

I want to listen to (and believe!) the positives that the people who know me well and can see me much more objectively than I can say to me. I want to celebrate and own my successes and strengths without feeling at fault or indulgent for doing it.

I’m not going to beat myself up for having a bad day and needing to hide from the world for a while. It will pass. I’m going to try to listen to what my body’s telling me; if the energy isn’t there, I’ll take a rest or do something different.

So yep, I’m gonna spend a year cutting myself some slack. After years of being tied up in unspoken restrictions and covert control, I reckon it’s time to cut myself a bit of breathing space.

And if it all goes horribly wrong and I’m terrible at it…guess what? That’s not going to matter either. At least I tried.

Matthew 11:28-30The Message (MSG)
28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

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!

Prototype: Chapter 1 Part 2 – Gentleness

music machine

The other day I woke up with a song in my head that I haven’t thought about for years. ‘Gentleness’ was part of the musical, ‘Music Machine’ that I took part in when I was at Primary school. I must have been about nine or ten years old at the time; a similar age to when I was dancing to Madonna songs around Janet’s garden swing.

If I remember correctly (which I may not!) it was some kind of joint project between St Mary’s Church, Old Harlow and the attached C of E School Churchgate St Primary. I remember looking up in awe as an older girl, Annie, sang ‘Gentleness’ as a solo. When you’re nine or ten the older girls are really cool and you want to be them or at least be like them. And I remember how soothing I found the song. I remember how at peace I felt as Annie sang,

“Gentle breeze, gentle breeze blowing through the trees,
And the meadow filled with flowers
Showing me Your gentleness
How I love You

In the still of the night when you draw me near
Just to whisper how you care
Showing me Your gentleness
How I love You

Written by Georgian Banov & Winnie Banov ©Copyright 1977 Sparrow Song

I used to look forward to that song every time we rehearsed or performed it. Now I think I’d call those ‘boy on the bike’ moments for me. Somehow they gave me overwhelming feelings of peace, love and affirmation

The song means even more now. I’ve really known God’s gentleness these last few months. In this time of exhaustion and depression I’ve perhaps been more aware than ever before of him whispering how He cares. I know He always has done; but now I really believe it.

So thank you Churchgate school teachers and St Mary’s people of 1986 or 1987. The little things you give to children matter and they stay with us into adulthood. And God uses them to whisper His love to us again years later.

If you would like to listen to ‘Gentleness’ you can find it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbRp2_MV5jo

Identity: Prototype Chapter 1

I have begun to read ‘Prototype’ by Jonathan Martin. I think I’ll have to blog about a chapter at a time because I can only describe this book as saturated with the unconditional love of God and I want to savour it!

In chapter one Jonathan describes what he calls ‘boy on the bike’ moments; those moments, usually in childhood, when you are “unencumbered by fear, doubt, or self-consciousness…open and free to the world around you…when you knew the sensation of being fully known and fully delighted in.”

I reflected on those moments in my childhood when my friend Janet and I used to make up dances around her garden swing. ‘Cherish’ by Madonna was our favourite song. We’d probably recorded it onto cassette tape from the radio. Remember that? Press ‘play’ and ‘record’ together? The swing became the stage of a dance show with the crowds cheering on. We laid on our tummies on the side cross bars and twirled over onto the floor. I remember the sensation of turning over and over again like that very clearly; the joy of twirling round and round.

My perception of what it is to be “fully known and delighted in” by a man who really loves me has changed recently and my perception of what it is to be fully loved by God has changed too. The two are probably inextricably linked.

I suppose the best way to describe what’s happened over these last few months is that I’ve stopped living like a servant in the palace and started to believe I’m a daughter of the King.

I’d been a servant for so long. I had some kind of relationship with God. I knew that theology alone didn’t satisfy. I couldn’t write because I was too busy running myself into the ground with work of all kinds, trying to be the best and seeking God’s and other people’s affirmation for what I did. I didn’t write about my inner thoughts as much as I do now because I was afraid of people’s reactions. As Jonathan puts it, I had “so much to do and so much to be afraid of.” I knew in my head that nothing I could do would make God love me more but somehow or other I didn’t really believe it; I thought I did, but the way I was living my life told another story.

By January this year I was at the end of my tether with my religious habits: reading the Bible, praying every day, trying to work out the ‘right’ way to do anything and everything in my life, desperate to be ‘used by God’. And then I got so ill I couldn’t do any of it anymore. That’s when the real journey to being daughter began.

Ever since I stopped those things that I thought would bring me nearer to God, I’ve never felt closer to him! It’s like those behaviours were the floodgates that once taken away would allow God’s love to come rushing in. Now, I’m more fully persuaded that God delights in me, his daughter.

This is me and my daughter messing about in our PJs.

daughter

I love her so much I could burst sometimes. She doesn’t have to do anything for me to feel like that. She could mess up every test at school, be as rude to me as I don’t know what and I’d still feel that surge of mother love for her. And when do I most delight in her? When she’s expressing her individuality. She’s gone to school today with pink bobbles nail varnished onto the nails of her left hand and a moustache drawn in black ink on the back of her right hand. She adores Nicki Minaj’s music(??!!) and I love it when she raps along to ‘Superbass’ with ten year old attitude. She’s obsessed with Taylor Swift and I came home the other day to find she’d drawn a heart on one cheek, and T.S. on the other cheek, (in my mascara!) I love her for making four attempts to get the ‘S’ the right way round in the mirror.

I delight in Hannah and God delights in me. I’m God’s Daughter, just as I am. I don’t have to be ‘good’ at everything or anything. I don’t have to be my idea of super mum/church worker/wife. As I heard Jonathan say in his podcast about this chapter, “It starts with identity not modifying behaviour.” God requires nothing more of me than to be myself and enjoy being who I am. I don’t want to be ‘used’ by God now. I just want to enjoy being loved by him.

And this? This too looks like freedom.

If you want to understand this post more fully, go to www.prototypethebook.com and read chapter one of Jonathan’s book for free right now. If you’d like to hear more from Jonathan Martin, check out his podcasts at www.renovatuschurch.com

If you want to read a beautiful article about not needing to be ‘good’ go to http://howtotalkevangelical.addiezierman.com/?p=1899