Trouble

Mama has the tea ready when I get there for prayer group and Bible study first thing in the morning. I have on the socks that the woman with five kids and stage four cancer knit for me. This is always the first thing – to go right into the throne room of God wearing nothing less than your aching prayers…

Mama, she hands me a mug of steaming tea – apple cinnamon – and tells me it’s Psalms 107 this morning and could I read the chapter right out loud? Read it because it’s manna, and you’ve got nothing to give if you haven’t gathered, and you have to gather word manna at daybreak if you’re going to gain from it the day long. Read it because it’s your very life, and why live emaciated? 

…hadn’t Spurgeon said it? ‘There is no greater mercy that I know of on earth than good health, except to be sickness, and that has often been a greater mercy to me than health. It is a good thing to be without a trouble, but it is a better thing to have a trouble and know how to get grace enough to bear it.’

~ Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts Devotional

O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;

for his steadfast love endures forever.

Psalm 107:1 (NRSVA)

Ann Voskamp at her beautiful best this morning as I listened to her read from the book of devotions drawn from her first book, One Thousand Gifts. Ann is the first person who taught me that you have to be broken to be mended. Before that I was just broken. And lost. And thinking that there must be something wrong with me, something deep in my soul – a stench that attracted trouble like a bluebottle to decay. Ann showed me that, contrary to my beliefs, the true beauty of God, the love of Christ, was found in the very midst of decay. It turned everything on its head and I began to see the world, the Church and Jesus with fresh eyes. How then can I not give praise? How can I be anything less than thankful?

No more let sorrows grow

Hold the child and hear Him crying,

No more let sorrows grow

He knows my troubles…

~ from the song My Troubles by Andrew Greer

Hope

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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

Weak, Strong; Broken, Whole

“What is my strength that I should wait?

And what is my end, that I should be patient?

Is my strength the strength of stones,

or is my flesh bronze?

In truth I have no help in me,

and any resource is driven from me.”

Job cries out to God, Job 6:11-13 (NRSVA)

Three times I appealed to the Lord about [my suffering], that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me… for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth, 2 Corinthians 12:8-10

My dear mother-in-law is very poorly. She had a stroke at the weekend. It’s touch and go, as they say. When my sister-in-law visited yesterday my MIL was extremely distressed and crying out to God. Praise God she is a woman of faith! But dementia can be very cruel. It steals everything you have. When I read the words from Job this morning as part of my daily Bible time, I was immediately struck by how apt they were. Despite the extreme distress of my MIL (which is heart-wrenching because there is no way to offer consolation when a person has no memory, no way to comfort, no way to reassure) it is an honour to know a woman who, when all else is gone, has a faith that cries out to her Redeemer. God help us all.

In my distress I called upon the LORD,

to my God I cried for help.

From his temple he heard my voice,

and my cry to him reached his ears.

Psalm 18:6

 

God is good. God is always good.

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.

Learning to Breathe

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Deep communion and dear compassion is formed much more by shared pain than by shared pleasure… We are not saved by any formulas or theologies or any priesthood extraneous to the human journey itself. “Peter, you must be ground like wheat, and once you have recovered, then you can help the brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32)

from Breathing Under Water by Richard Rohr

I went through a ‘Peter’ experience a few years ago. I promised to love God, to be His child, to follow Jesus with all of my heart – and then I went and did something I was immediately ashamed of. I didn’t just do it once, either. It was a very messed-up time. I think I wanted to show God how unworthy I was of His love. I had been on the receiving end of so much hurt that I truly believed, deep, deep down, that no one, not even God, could love me, and that my behaviour would prove it. What did God do in response to this display of weakness and pain? He brought me, within months, to baptism by immersion (an amazing experience) and a few weeks later to the man who seemed to see the ‘me’ underneath all the hurt and loved me in a way that I never knew was possible (of course, I came to love him too, but Frank loved me first, in so many ways that I could never even have imagined). It was truly a match made in heaven.

When I read the words above by Richard Rohr this morning, I recognised their import and impact on my life. Suffering – for reasons I don’t claim to understand – and shared suffering, are essential for growth in Christ. Maybe we human beings can only truly appreciate (and participate in) the Light when we have experienced darkness.

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.

Matthew 5:14 (NRSVA)

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.

Isaiah 9:2

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.

Trust

 

Trust clings to the belief that whatever happens in our lives is designed to teach us holiness. The love of Christ inspires trust to thank God for the nagging headache, the arthritis that is so painful, the spiritual darkness that envelops us, to say with Job ‘if we take happiness from God’s hands, must we not take sorrow too?’ 

 ~ from The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning