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!

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.