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!

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)

Freedom!

FREEDOM

“…but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Romans 12:2

Ok, so those of you that know me know that it is rare to see a picture of me engaged in something close to exercise! I was the secondary school kid who managed to evade inter-form cross country for four out of five years and scheduled her trumpet lessons to coincide with double PE (accidentally on purpose!) And now, if I say the word ‘exercise’ I rapidly feel the need to wash my mouth out with chocolate!

This photo was taken when Paul and I were on honeymoon. So marriage must have changed me…maybe. The river Daron divides Aberdaron bay and to get from one side of the beach to the other you have to cross it…somehow. Paul jumped first, quickly cleared it, and left me behind slightly startled. I felt self-conscious jumping it alone, quietly irritated that he would leave me to fend for myself and just stand back and laugh and take photos. But I quickly realised he was laughing with me, encouraging me to stand on my own two feet, not to be reliant on other people quite so much. I doubt any of this went on consciously in his head, I’m sure it’s just in his nature to be life giving and provocatively encouraging and that’s probably one of the reasons God gave us each other.

But now a month has passed and I’m beginning to wonder if this photo was prophetic -not pathetic like my enthusiasm for exercise!!  It’s rare to catch a photo so well timed and Paul was amazed that he’d managed to take it while I was mid-air.

You see a couple of weeks ago I said to one of my soul friends,

If I could just turn off the subtitles in my head, I know it would feel like running down the beach with my hands in the air shouting “Freedom!!”

I’ve lived with subtitles in my head for a very long time. In fact I can’t really remember life without them.

“Whatever you do it’s not going to be enough.”
“Whatever you say it’s not going to be quite right.”

“You must get everything right.”

“It’s not ok to feel…”

“Your opinion must be validated by objective evidence.”

“If you enjoy something it must be competing with God therefore you should stop doing it”

“The bit that’s most significant is the bit you did wrong.”

I know, scary insight into my psyche!  Feels vulnerable to share it but I have a sneaky suspicion I’m not the only one with these kinds of tapes running on continuous play in my head.

Since I’ve been off sick with reactive depression, I’ve had some counselling.  I really need to reframe what has happened to me and how I see the world because the way I’ve been running my life and the subtitles I’ve been living with have quietly been destroying the real me.

Last Monday I had my second counselling session and I realised there’s a great big gap between my subtitles and reality. My counsellor said to me “Where is God standing? Where your friends stand or at the opposite end where the subtitles are?” I replied, “Oh He’s miles away from the subtitles!” And then I started asking some more questions of myself. What if the biggest thing God is asking me to do is to start behaving like I really believe in who I am not who I think I should be? What if God is in the realising of my inherent preciousness? What if I stopped ‘trying to please’ God and started living my life and being who I was created to be? Well, I thought, that would be like running down the beach with my arms in the air shouting “Freedom!”

And the joy that flowed into me at that point was almost tangible. I wanted to sing, dance, write, laugh, grin…

Later that day Twitter led me to a post by Micah Murray in which he says:

“There is no fear in love, but…whenever I paused to hear the voice of the Father, only condemnation echoed in my heart…I couldn’t tell you the day I made that decision, when I gave up on being a “good Christian”. The best way I can tell it to you is that I was drowning, desperately thrashing against the water and slowly falling limp. I drifted lifeless. Then He saved me all over again, as if for the first time. I don’t want to be a “good Christian” anymore. The constant wondering if I’m good enough, the nagging fear that I’m not. The guilt. Those were miserable years.

But this, this is life!

I’ve given up on earning His love, but it fills my heart anyway.

This is freedom.”

And I know that this is not the end of my freedom fighting; it’s probably just the beginning. I know it won’t be as easy as turning the subtitles off on the TV. My subtitles are in large print and bold sometimes. They’re a strong voice and I have a 36 year old habit of listening to them. And crossing the river was a bit similar. I really didn’t manage it first leap. I had a wet foot and trouser leg for some time that morning because my stretch was not quite long enough for the Daron that day. I had to write this blog in small shifts because right now my body is simply too tired to write in long chunks. I’ve never felt so tired but so alive in all my life.

As I woke up the day after my counselling, George Michael’s “Freedom 90” was running through my head. So I put it on in the kitchen and had a secret boogie while I emptied the dishwasher, occasionally throwing my hands in the air (between the stacking of crockery!). And I sang a bit too loudly, “Well it looks like the road to heaven but it feels like the road to hell…There’s something deep inside of me; there’s someone I forgot to be… today the way I play the game has got to change. Oh yeah…Now I’m gonna get myself happy.”

Hold on! Is this two episodes of exercise in one blog?! Marriage must have changed me!

If you’d like to read more of Micah Murray’s encouragement towards Freedom, I thoroughly recommend these posts:

http://redemptionpictures.com/2013/04/29/good-christian/

http://redemptionpictures.com/2013/03/07/my-voic/