Exclusion

I had to fill in a form for my new doctor. I have finally been given an appointment to see a CFS/ME specialist. It included questions that asked me to compare my current state with my ‘normal’ state. I am flummoxed by questions like these. I was diagnosed with this condition when I was 14. I have never lived a ‘normal’ adult life. Then there was the question of employment. I never chose to be a housewife, although I’m trying to do the job well. Coerced away from education and into my first marriage and immediate motherhood at the age of 21 I never had an occupation, as such, so it’s no good asking me about this. I never chose to be a mother (yes, you did read that right and yes it probably does mean what you think it means…) and I never chose to be a housewife, just as I never chose to have this condition or to be abused or to end up with PTSD.

In that moment I understood what it is to be excluded from general society, to be treated as less than human. There was no box for me to tick. The assumptions were already made. Perhaps that is why my response to those whom society has excluded is so strong. I get it. It sucks. It’s wrong. They and I are no better than anyone else, but equally no worse. They and I, like every human being, are made in the image of God. We are all God-breathed.

This morning God spoke to me through His Word and it directly relates. You may find it useful, too, so I share it here:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.

1 Corinthians 12:12-26 (NRSVA)

So the people that seem small and insignificant are deemed ‘indispensable’? That’s good. I’m ok then. How about you? And how does this change the way we view our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world? How does this change the way we view our potential brothers and sisters in Christ around the world? Why do Christians follow worldly ideals and create ‘celebrity’ Christians?

 

Seven: Thoughts on Married Life

It’s been a little over seven years since I first met my husband. I was 32 then. How young that seems now! My dear Frank was a youthful 41. When I look back, when I consider the woman I was then it is almost like I’m remembering the life of someone else, so far have I come from that ill-used, halfling creature. It amazes me to think that Frank saw beyond all that jagged brokenness and, more than that, he loved me just for me. He rescued me. I was about breaking into a million sharp shards and this wonderful man didn’t run in the opposite direction when he found out my past, he didn’t even scarper when my then 10-year-old autistic and ADHD son attacked him when he babysat the kids for an evening, for the first time. Frank phoned me when I was in the middle of dance class and asked if I would come home. I confess I didn’t think it was all that bad and wanted to stay (single parenthood not giving me much opportunity for anything). Ten minutes later he called again and I realised that I needed to go home. His voice sounded polite, but strained. Here we go, I thought. I braced myself.

As I walked in the front door and saw Frank’s face, and then took in the fact that he was covered from head to toe in Vaseline and eczema cream, I knew for sure it was over. Who would willingly stay to become the step-father of a child who didn’t sleep, destroyed things and attacked you? Who would willingly desire to be the husband of someone as broken as me? Who could possibly think that we, the kids and I, were worth it? Also, at that point I had had not only the awful, abusive first marriage and the ramifications of that individual’s crimes, but a few months before had fallen for someone – a lovely Christian man – whom I thought felt the same only to find out he didn’t. Ouch. So I had wrapped my heart tightly inside me, to protect it. I had not let myself feel anything other than a moderate attraction to this new man, Frank, who stood before me as I stepped into the hall.

But the rejection never came. Instead, the very first thing he said was “you know that I love you, don’t you?” And I – well, how do I say this? – I began to unwrap the tight bindings of my heart. I can’t say he swept me off my feet or romanced me. Everyday life with two very little girls and a son with ASD meant that we stepped into (grim?) reality straight away. No time for all that lovey-dovey stuff. He stayed. And he loved. I grew to love him, and I also grew to love the ‘me’ that he saw – because I can tell you for sure that I did not even like myself, let alone love myself, and I didn’t see how anyone else could.

So I would like to thank God for answering prayers I never even uttered, and I would like to thank Frank. For being Frank. For being a man of God and a man of compassion and a man of so many other things that will remain unnumbered. Not a day goes by that I don’t tell him how much I love him. I am truly blessed! This post is for my husband. Thank you.

Flashbacks

In 2015 I went through EMDR. It was excruciating, but I saw tremendous improvement in the months that followed. I was told right from the beginning that it was not a cure, as such, that everyone responds differently and that ‘wellness’ occurs at varying degrees.

Lately I have been experiencing flashbacks. They are quite intense, but in a different way to those I endured before EMDR. Often these flashbacks are not related to overt violence or threatening situations. They’re usually about all the ways in which I was manipulated and coerced.

People often don’t realise that coercion is actively abusive, but in many ways it is equally as damaging as the more obvious kinds of abuse, and may in fact be more destructive *because* it is less easily identified. Coercion and manipulation work in such a way as to make the victim feel he or she has no choice. Coercion attempts to make the victim a willing participant. In certain situations this coercion is also known as ‘grooming’.

Sometimes it is as if I experience the situation all over again. It makes me sick. Nausea and a goose-pimply feeling of horror and disgust wash over me. At that point all I can think is: ‘I hate him. I hate him. I hate him.’

But my faith is my rock. As the flashback lessens and common sense drips back in, I tell myself that it is a sin to hate. Hatred eats away at you, making you permanently miserable; no room for love. My God says to lay all my burdens on Him. My Jesus stretched His arms wider than the earth on that cross.

I pray, “Lord, I can’t help feeling that I hate him, but I know you don’t hate him. I give my hatred and I give him over to You. Seventy times seven. To the power seven. And then some. Please keep him away from my family and from anyone else who is vulnerable. Don’t let him hurt anyone else. If you can reach his heart, I pray that you do. You tell me to pray for my enemies so that is what I’m trying to do. I don’t know what else to do but to reach out to you. Seventy times seven. And then some.”

I write because this is my testimony of what faith actually looks like – not pretend faith that avoids the nasty stuff. Life is hard. But God is always good. God is ALWAYS good.

What’s Love Got to Do with It?

“Do you think you are a people pleaser?” He asks. I hesitate.

“I think abuse… makes you behave in a certain way. You always put your feelings last. It’s taken me a long time to not be like that, but I used to be, definitely.” I say.

Later, the words echo around my head. Do you think you are a people pleaser? Do you think you are a people pleaser?

I am puzzled. Why has this question stuck and no other? I know my motives are not based on approval from others. Not any more. In fact I’m quite indifferent, although I always do try to consider how someone is feeling. I’m hyper-aware of other people’s feelings. I hear a tiny voice in the back of my head, asking the same question over and over. Behind it is another question, but I don’t want to acknowledge it.

All day the question pops into my head. Finally, I talk to God about it, aware that I can’t hide from whatever is lurking behind it. It is as if God now asks me, “Do you think you are a people pleaser, Sandy?”

“Well, no.” I reply in my head, “Doing things because I want the approval of people is not right, not for a follower of Christ.”

Again the same question, “Do you think you are a people pleaser?”

I finally allow myself to look at what’s been hiding behind this repeated phrase, and give answer, “No, but I am a ‘God pleaser’.”

 Drat!

Is being a God pleaser a bad thing? No. Yes. It seems to be the best of motives. It can so easily be mistaken for the best of motives. The trouble is I know full well that nothing I do, and nothing you or I or anyone could ever do, can earn God’s love or even His attention. Not even Jesus earned His Father’s love. God doesn’t want a desperate-to-please puppy dog. That’s not relationship. That’s not love.

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Image from idpinthat.com

 

 

So what does love look like?

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve [got] nowhere. So no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

1 Corinthians 13:3 (The Message)

Brought Low

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In the parable of the prodigal son, the black sheep of the family, having squandered every last penny and lived the reckless high life (crime? exploitation? addiction?) until he had nothing left and no roof over his head, comes home to his father to say sorry and beg for forgiveness. He thinks maybe he can do some kind of low-status, menial labour for his father. Besides, he has nowhere else to go.

Brennan Manning, in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel, writes: ‘The emphasis of Christ’s story is not on the sinfulness of the son but on the generosity of the father. We ought to re-read this parable periodically if only to catch the delicate nuance of the first meeting between the two. The son had his speech carefully rehearsed… but the old man didn’t let him finish… [the son] doesn’t even have a chance to say to his father “I’m sorry”.

How  many times have we judged those, both inside and outside the Church, as ‘less-than’ or not worthy enough? How many times have we ourselves been brought to the place where we recognise that we are utterly broken, sinful beyond repair? Because it’s only when you’re in the broken state, fully aware of your lowliness, that you can begin to appreciate how great is the love of God. He can’t begin to occupy your soul unless you give it up to Him. It’s not something we can achieve on our own. This I learned at Celebrate Recovery and in some ways I think I will always be learning this truth, but that’s ok.

I like to think of it as a vase, oh so very pretty on the outside – a rare and delicate Ming vase, say, but inside dark and empty. One day the vase is smashed to smithereens*. The Maker carefully glues it back together, paying little attention to the outward appearance, and then sets a lamp inside. Suddenly the jumbled-up pieces and the cracks reveal the bright, glorious light of the Creator. This is grace.

 

*It is of no consequence whether we are brought low because of our own sin and destructive nature, or from the sin and destructive nature of others (for example with abuse), or even from illness. God redeems all and treats all the same – and who are we to say that it should be done differently? As soon as I think I know better, I make myself equal to God. And that’s just daft. No, instead we rejoice because we were lost and now we are found.

Without Ceasing

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It’s a cliché to want world peace, is it not? It’s the kind of thing you say if you are ever asked what you would wish for if you had three wishes, like in the fairy tales. But on learning of yet another terrorist attack, this time in Turkey, one has to wonder if there will ever be a time when people stop killing one another and spreading the anti-gospel of fear and hatred.

In my comfortable existence here in the UK, I know how far I am from being able to do anything. Our family are taking part in a sponsored 24 hours without power to raise money for ShelterBox, which supplies refugees with emergency shelter, cooking equipment, etc. It’s not much but it’s something. You can read more here: Off the Grid 

Meantime, let’s pray without ceasing, as Paul wrote in his letter to the Thessalonians. Let’s give thanks for what is being done to help refugees. Let’s pray for the aid workers and the families who have been forced to flee their homes. Let’s pray for those who are caught up in the twisted rhetoric of the Islamic State, that they will come to desire a different way to be, that they will recognise that what they do – the way they kill and steal and destroy, ruling by fear and fear alone – is a terminal spiral into more violence, more death, more evil.

Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies. How many times have you done that? We often forget. I forget. I have prayed for the people who abused me, but it’s not easy! It makes me very uncomfortable. I have to ask God to help me to do it. But it’s part of what makes me different than if I had no faith. It’s part of living in and as His image. It’s a reflection of His perfect grace, however imperfectly reflected!

So today, as well as praying for the victims and their families, let’s pray that the hearts and minds of the terrorist groups will be opened, and that they will come to know the love and peace that passes all understanding. Sometimes prayer and love are the only weapons we have. But they’re also the best.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven…”

 Matthew 5:43-45 (NRSVA)

Come with Nothing

 

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Come to the table. Come, sit at His feet.

Come if you’re able, come if you’re meek.

Come if you’re broken, come if you’re lost.

Come, come touch the heavenly cloth

Of His robe,

And feel Him breathe into your soul –

All your discarded shards

Made whole.

 

It’s not glue that binds shards together,

It’s grace;

Grace for the humble,

Grace for the race

You thought you had lost,

Grace for the weary and scrap-heap tossed.

 

His yoke is easy and His burden is light,

His words are joy and His love a delight,

You won’t find Him in comfort

Or in success,

You’ll find Him when you’re sure you’re the last to be blessed.

 

He was there in your past, He’s here in the mess,

Come join the raggedy-taggledy fest!

Come to the table. Come, sit at His feet,

And learn from the Master the Way of the Least.

~ Sandyfaithking, 2016

 

I think it’s a bit too close to doggerel for my liking, but sometimes you have to write and be done with it, I reckon. This poem was inspired by these words from Laura Martin’s book ‘Positively Powerless’:

Isaiah 57:15 states:

For this is what the high and exalted one says – He who lives forever, whose name is holy, “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”

It almost seems a contradiction: God dwells in a high and holy place, but He also dwells with the contrite and lowly. It is a startling contrast: we get close to God by realising how far we are from Him… Jesus taught similar principles… The ‘blessed’ are those who are poor in spirit, mournful and meek – those  who realise they come to the spiritual table with nothing to offer.

Highlighting is my own, not Laura’s. You can read more intelligent, interesting insights over at Laura’s blog: lightenough.WordPress.com