Struggling Grace

StFrancis_part

No one can acquire any virtue unless he begins by dying to himself  ~ St. Francis of Assisi

…regarding your previous way of life, you put off your old self… and be continually renewed in the spirit of your mind [having a fresh, untarnished mental and spiritual attitude], and put on the new self [the regenerated and renewed nature], created in God’s image, [godlike] in the righteousness and holiness of the truth [living in a way that expresses to God your gratitude for your salvation].

~ Ephesians 4:22-24 (AMP)

I have been crucified with Christ [that is, in Him I have shared His crucifixion]; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body I live by faith [by adhering to, relying on, and completely trusting] in the Son of God…

~ Galatians 2:20

PTSD? Depression? Grief? PMT? Who knows? All I know for sure is that I have been struggling lately. I know the death of my mother-in-law shook me up (actually, not her death – because she was a woman of faith – so much as the suffering that preceded it) and I know that the flashbacks have returned (PTSD: such fun!) but in a different form, and I know that hormones are a right bugger at certain times of the month (‘scuse me, gentlemen), but I don’t think I’m depressed. Just floundering a bit. Feeling a bit overwhelmed. Even though it’s mostly my own brain that’s doing the whelming. Mind you, Prince is poorly again and that breaks my heart because he is in pain and there’s nothing I can do and I can’t explain it to him – it’s difficult enough to explain to a neuro-typical child, let alone a young man with autism :-/ Then there’s my dear husband who is struggling with grief at the loss of his mother. I am quite inadequate at offering comfort. He hurts so I hurt. That’s what having a strong sense of empathy does. You feel other people’s feelings, especially the bad feelings. It’s good because it begets a deep compassion, but it can have a down side. I feel too much, sometimes. Other times I feel nothing at all.

So I go back to the bible, back to the words of people who followed Jesus with their whole being. The death of self that St. Francis is talking about in that first quote, above, is not just dying to the old selfish, sinful ways, it’s also about dying to the old negative thinking patterns – that I am useless, unworthy, a waste of space. These are all the feelings that have been floating around my head and the worst bit is that they stop me from being able to think straight. I have the desire to be caring for my family and looking after the house, but my head gets stuck and I can’t figure out what to do and then all I want to do (all I feel able to do) is to curl up in bed and do nothing. But then I feel bad because really I do want to be caring for my family and curating a loving, organised, fruitful family home.

Oh, sweet Jesus! The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Bring me once again to my knees as I wholly and completely put my trust in You to accomplish even the smallest of small things for Your dear name’s sake. I am quite useless without You, yet quite marvellous with You. Use me. Give me the awareness of grace – five minutes at a time if need be – and help me to share Your grace with everyone I meet. Help my poor boy to feel better. Show me what I can do for him and to encourage him. Help me to be whatever my husband needs as he comes to terms with his loss.

In Your name I pray. Thank you for this gift of prayer.

Amen.

I write all this here not as a way of seeking attention. I don’t want attention, although kindly thoughts and prayer would be an encouragement. I hope that this might help someone else going through the same sort of thing to not feel so alone, but the main reason I write this is because true testimony begins with honesty – and that includes the bad… all the while knowing that God is always good.

A Non-scare

“Fluff, what does ‘gullible’ mean?” Chip asks her big sister.

“It’s a swear word!” Fluff sounds shocked. “You mustn’t say it!”

Chip looks at her sister. “It isn’t.”

“It is!” Fluff is insistent, although she is smiling. Chip is unconvinced.

“Muuuum?”

“Hmm?” I look up.

“What does ‘gullible’ mean? Fluff says it’s a swear word.”

“It’s not swearing.” I pause. “There’s no such word, Chip.”

“Really? Fluff said it was a swear word!”

“No, it’s not a swear word.”

********

Two weeks later we are waiting in the hospital for me to see the breast specialist about a lump in my *breast. It is the same hospital in which we visited my dear mother-in-law before she died three weeks prior. Emotions hang raw in the air.

I am sitting with my new crochet project and Chip is quietly reading. She is, like her mother, addicted to stories.Suddenly she jumps up and runs over to me, her index finger against a word on the page.

“See, Mummy!” She cries, “It is a word!”

I look at the page to see what she is pointing at. I smile up at her and all of a sudden she gets it and looks at me with dismay, then disapproval and then amusement. There is a gleam in her eyes that I know means she is thinking of a way to get me back (the girls and I love jokes, but Daddy and Prince not so much, so we don’t play jokes on them). Prince wants to know what was funny and so I explain to him, several times, until he understands and grins. A difficult day becomes a little lighter.

*******

*It was just a large cyst, which was drained with an enormous needle. I am prone to them, apparently.

My word I was grateful that it was only a cyst! Not because we wouldn’t have somehow dealt with/struggled through any eventuality (because who has a choice in these things?), but because the last few months have been really hard. This non-cancer-scare actually felt like a bit of a turning point for me. It’s not just the grief of losing someone you love that can cause distress after the event, but the weeks leading up to death during which a loved one is suffering. I had become consumed by my mother-in-law’s suffering. I couldn’t bear to see her like that. I researched strokes and vascular dementia and end of life care, etc., etc., just to try to find some answers that would limit her intense distress. I came up with very little, to be honest. I just wanted to make her feel better. She was clearly distraught and in pain. I eventually realised that ‘the Lord gives and the Lord takes away’ and there was not one thing I could do about it either way, except be there for my husband, and pray. I don’t think I did a very good job of either.

Sometimes a non-scare can give you a bit of perspective.

Auf Wiedersehen

The funeral for my mother-in-law went well. It is always a sad time, the farewell of a loved one, but for followers of Christ it’s a celebration, too, of the life the person lived, of the end of their final journey. When a woman devotes her life to serving God, to loving the unloved, the sendoff is always bittersweet.

God was there in the bright February skies, in the new-formed heads of tiny snowdrops lining the lanes. God was there in the musty old church, He was there in the coffin, in the pallbearers, in the tears and smiles of friends and family. It was a fitting tribute to a remarkable woman. I am so thankful to have known my MIL, to have been accepted as part of the family, and most of all for her very lovely son, my husband, who would not be the wonderful, kind, intelligent man he is today without his mother.

I imagine Jesus stretching out his hands in welcome and my MIL stretching out her hands with that big, warm smile on her face.

Jesus says, “You made it!” and MIL responds, in her wonderful regional accent, “I can’t believe it, I’m ‘ere! At last!” Behind Jesus she spots her husband, no longer old or infirm, but remade and whole and happy, and then she sees her parents, her sister, her friends… Hurrah! They all say. Welcome home!

So for us it’s not so much ‘goodbye’ as ‘auf wiedersehen’ – till we meet again.

Thank you, Jesus 🙂

Hope

640px-oedipus_at_colonus

Oedipus at Colonus by Harriet Fulchran-Jean (Wikipedia)

A man desperate for many years of life, not content to live a moderate span, is… obviously a fool, for many feelings stored by lengthy years evoke more pain than joy, but when we live beyond those years that are appropriate, then our delights are nowhere to be found. The same deliverer visits all of us, and when our fate from Hades comes at last, there is no music, dance or wedding song. No, only the finality of death. The finest of all possibilities is never to be born. 

~ from Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles, 401BC,

translated by Ian Johnston

Love never ends… we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end… For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

1 Corinthians 13:8-12 (NRSVA)

The last enemy to be destroyed is death… 

What is sown is perishable. What is raised is imperishable…

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?

…thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:26, 42, 55, 57

What comfort comes from the sureness of God’s merciful compassion! What hope from the knowledge of His love! What thanks we can raise when all suffering is ended, when, as the Salvationists say, our loved one is ‘promoted to glory’. We are sad because we will never take Grandma out for lunch again. We won’t share a cheeky grin. We won’t share the fresh joy of new-burst daffodils, or the pleasant cure-all of a ‘nice cup of tea’. But we know that –

…the home of God is among mortals.

He will dwell with them;

they will be his peoples,

and God himself will be with them;

he will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Death will be no more;

mourning and crying and pain will be no more…

Revelation 21:3 – 4

Blessed

Comfort, O comfort my people,

says your God.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

and cry to her

that she has served her term,

that her penalty is paid,

that she has received from the LORD’s hand

double for all her sins.

A voice cries out:

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD,

make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be lifted up,

and every mountain and hill be made low;

the uneven ground shall become level,

and the rough places a plain.

Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,

and all people shall see it together,

for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

 

A voice says, “Cry out!”

And I said, “What shall I cry?”

All people are grass,

their constancy is like the flower of the field.

The grass withers, the flower fades;

when the breath of the LORD blows upon it;

surely the people are grass.

The grass withers, the flower fades;

but the word of our God will stand forever…

 

He will feed his flock like a shepherd;

he will gather the lambs in his arms,

and carry them in his bosom,

and gently lead the mother sheep. 

 

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand

and marked off the heavens with a span,

enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure,

and weighed the mountains in scales

and the hills in a balance?

 

…Have you not known? Have you not heard?

Has it not been told you from the beginning?

Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

 

…Have you not known? Have you not heard?

The LORD is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary;

his understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the faint,

and strengthens the powerless.

Even youths will faint and grow weary,

and the young will fall exhausted;

but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,

they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary,

they shall walk and not faint.

Extracts from Isaiah 40 (NRSVA)

My dear mother-in-law died yesterday. We weren’t quick enough to the hospital to be with her, but Frank and I were able to see her, laid out in a private room with a sheet neatly placed over her body, just exposing her face. She was warm when I stroked her hair and said a burbled goodbye. I thanked her for being my mother-in-law and told her I was glad to know she was with Jesus. Later, when we were home, my sister-in-law visited and cuddled one of our newly acquired guinea pigs as we briefly discussed the next steps. Jesus said ‘Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted’. I doubt he meant that guinea pigs would be part of the process, but I am quite sure God uses even the lowliest of creatures!

Please keep Frank and his sister in your prayers as they go about the funeral arrangements. Thank you.

Saying Goodbye to Joy

When he had finished speaking, [Jesus] said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 

Luke 5:4-6 (NRSVA)

There are two lessons here. The first is that the abundance of God happens unexpectedly. The second is that doing what God desires sometimes seems to make no sense, but after the act of trust, i.e. doing what we think God wants us to do, we will see what the reason was. I suspect that some acts of obedience are only fully understood once we’re with God.

My friend, Joy, lived around 200 miles away with her husband, Caleb. About 18 months ago I sensed a strong ‘God prompt’ to call her. I was tired. I didn’t want to do it. Also, I really don’t like phone calls very much, unless it’s close family. I prefer to talk face to face. But the God prompt was strong. I knew I couldn’t not do it. So I called.

Joy and Caleb were in the middle of watching telly and it was apparent that I was interrupting (not that they said anything other than that it was nice to hear from me). I  think I told them that God had prompted me to phone. They, being believers themselves, were happy enough with this, although they couldn’t figure out why, either, and so after a few minutes of chit-chat we hung up. During the call, Joy mentioned some abnormalities in her latest blood test. She had undergone a kidney transplant several months before. She said the doctors wondered if they needed to adjust her medications.

A couple of weeks later Joy was diagnosed with a rare and very aggressive form of cancer. Caleb was distraught as the days and weeks ticked by and Joy did not respond to any treatment. Two months after the phone call Caleb texted me with the news of Joy’s death.

A week later I travelled the 200 miles to the funeral and was so glad I did. It was clear that Joy had touched the lives of so many people. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to canonise her. She had her faults, same as everyone. But as my husband and I often agreed, Caleb and Joy were two of the loveliest people we’d ever known. Their quiet humility was the loudest shout for the presence of Christ. Joy didn’t suddenly become a saint because she wasn’t there any more. She was already genuinely lovely. It was a heart-wrenching joy to be at her funeral, because she had been the same lovely person to every single person she ever met.

I don’t know why God took her so early. I don’t know why dear Caleb had to say goodbye so soon. I can understand why God would want to keep her and I know Joy is truly home. That brings such comfort. I also know now that God graciously allowed me to say goodbye to my friend, even though, at the time of the phone call, it made no sense.