Monday, August 30, 2010

I love grace

I love grace.

Earlier this year I read Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, and I'm currently in the middle of reading Home.
Grace permeates these stories, steeped in faith, family and the personal history that shapes us. In many ways they are so gentle and yet they ache with the pain of living. The prodigal story at the centre of both books is poignant because the father(s) are so ill equipped for the gracious celebratory return (despite being deeply faithful men). And then the home-coming son is too awkward and lost to accept being loved and forgiven. I could go on about these books for a while, but that is not my point today.

Today I am thinking of how hard grace really is. The father of the prodigal son makes it seem so effortless,  but there are times when to be graceful costs us deeply. Bonhoeffer made a distinction between cheap grace and costly grace - intimating that we can take grace too lightly and forget the pain and loss that makes grace possible.

We can only live out grace when God's spirit empowers us. Grace to people who have hurt us, or to people we cannot understand, is hard. Grace to those who do not want it or know how to accept it is costly.

God said an interesting thing to Ezekiel, so many years ago...

"As for you, son of man, your countrymen are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, 'Come and hear the message that has come from the LORD.'

My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain.

Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice."
Ezekiel 33:30-32.

The Jews of Ezekiel's time still wanted to come and hear the word of God, despite no longer following God's law. They saw themselves as his people, but God is clear that they were fooling themselves. They just wanted to admire the beauty of God's word, like a piece of art. They wanted a clear separation between their lives and the call to repentance. Flattery and admiration allowed them to disconnect and refuse entry to God in their lives.

I am challenged that admiration for the beauty of grace is easy. I can stand back and listen, look, and even applaud it. But it is harder to live it out, to get mucky and sweaty and stained being gracious.

And yet it is by living grace, rather than just admiring it, that transformation comes.

There is always a tension between conviction of sin and the realisation of abundant grace. It is a balancing of servanthood and freedom, the choice to follow and the irresistible drawing of the spirit. When we feel the cost of grace in our own bones, then can we really see how freely and lavishly it is given to us.


 I am thankful for the beauty God gives us in many different places and things.
Thankful for senses that enable beauty delight us.
Thankful for being able to live it as well as admire it.

holy experience

Friday, August 27, 2010

What do I aim to do with my life? Who do I want to be? What image of myself do I want to project? These questions whirl in my mind today. Who is listening to me and what am I saying to be heard?

There is a desire in my heart to be noticed. To say something significant.

As I wrestle with insignificance, the words I rehearse in my head, I know should remain unsaid. I am twisting and turning phrases to accuse my husband of not listening, of not being interested. The words are more about inducing raw feeling in him than about bridging gaps between us. There is no satisfaction here, and I realise I want to be right, to be justified in my anger.

I want him to notice my effort, to see my sacrifice. I want to be thanked. And this is just one glimpse of my craving to be noticed and significant.

Even among Christians we have hierarchies of significance. People are revered for all sorts of holiness, or churchiness, or fruitfulness acheivements. And yet, who among them would take the credit for themselves?

So often, expectation builds in us that we will be the best at something, or at least noticeably good at some aspect of life. But what if we are not? If I live my whole life and I never win a prize or get noticed as someone significant. What then? If each one of us is precious to God, is recognition beyond his love important?

I don't want to belittle the great things people have done, that have brought them fame, or recognition, or worldly significance. There are people whose lives and achievements are breathtaking.

What I am wrestling with is that I am likely not one of them. I live a life of great blessing and privelege (I am in the richest 1% of people in the world, my house has never been destroyed in a natural disaster, I have a tertiary education and a good job, my children are healthy and happy), but I am not remarkable.

There is a deep well of pride in me that wishes I would be noticed, especially for some great, holy, inspirational gift or calling, or for the great fruitfulness of my ministry. Perhaps my life lesson will be to learn the humility that will drain that pride away. Or perhaps, like 99.9% of the world's people, my life will never be significant beyond the hearts of those close to me. But this in itself is a calling from God.

Make it your goal to live a quiet life,
minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.
1 Thessalonians 4:11-12.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The prayers I need to pray to parent

They are so simple, yet I just keep losing track. This is my reminder for today...

Pray for wisdom
Pray for patience
Pray for love
Give thanks for each and all of them
Pray for them to grow, in all ways
Pray for forgiveness for all the times I am not enough
Pray that they will learn grace from my not being enough
Pray that they will find God enough

What else do you pray? (Yes, I really do want to know...)

holy experience



to laugh until the cleansing ache
to let sensations sink from skin to bone
to sit with the unanswerable question
and still hope


for unuttered despair to be comforted
for wrong-turnings to be redeemed
for the hidden worst to be known
and not be ashamed

unexpectedly, I am not alone

A Random Act of Poetry, about 'solace' linked to High Calling Blogs

Monday, August 23, 2010

Australia votes...

I want to record my disappointment.

To all you politicians out there...

Congratulations on your tireless hand-shaking, smiling, waving, criticism of each other and status quo-ing. Thanks for listening to all the polls - yes all those ones that change from moment to moment depending on Julia's oufit or Tony's budgie-smugglers.

Well. Australia has voted, and we are all decidedly uninspired. Informal votes are up. Sticking to our convictions is down. Compassion, generosity, being known for deeply held principle - apparently that is just so last century. Weather-vane politics is in.

I'm afraid we are going to get the government we deserve, having created this poll-driven, fickle monster with our own self-absorption.

PS (ignore this parochial, bitter rant if you don't live in south western sydney...). I wish I had written 'Chris Hayes' and numbered his box 1 on my green ballot paper. Who said you could shift him to Fowler, ALP? We liked him here in Werriwa! (Yes channel 7 you didn't have typo on screen you just had no idea about what was going on in individual electorates!)

Paper thin

There is a space between having-it-together and my dignity leaking out all over the pavement. Some days the distance narrows to a millimetre. Tears leak out of ducts, beckoned by a word. Angry words escape too easily, before my teeth spring shut the trap.

I am the one who creates inconvenience, work and pain for others. My face burns red when I realise that my apology will not salve the hurt I have caused. I owe, and hate to be in debt.

My tongue hesitates to speak my inadequacy and tiredness. Speaking it is such a relief. Cleansing confession.

My fractured, translucent shell protects me. I am stretched to feel its fragility. At any unexpected moment it slips, cracks. I expect to disintegrate.

Insignificant. Superfluous. I do not hold myself together. I cannot lend myself integrity or integration.

Remember who holds me together. I hide in his presence - source of integrity and integration...

How great is the goodness
you have stored up for those who fear you...
You hide them in the shelter of your presence,
safe from those who conspire against them...
far from accusing tongues.
Psalm 31:19-20.

Some days we feel crushed. By the incidental side-swipe, by the massive blow. Remember who is close, remember who gently scoops us into his encompassing embrace.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;
he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.
Psalm 34:18

Thanks for...
ever-present shelter
rescue for crushed spirits
the source of integrity and integration
paper-thin dignity held together by divine grace
the ultimate hope of weakness buried and resurrection in glory

Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. 1 Corinthians 15:43.

the discipline of thankfulness...

holy experience

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Delight and longing

My posts about parenting are often prompted by realisations of failure. The times when I am not the parent that I wish I could be. Parenting is a vast and marvellous task that stretches us in every direction. My heart is not big enough, my brain is not flexible enough, my frame cannot bear enough, my pride cannot be broken enough to make me a great parent.

I am learning the disappointment of not being a better parent than my own. I had such naive hopes of transcendence.

I'll take a turn here because I want to reflect differently today.

On Monday, a workmate proudly showed me a photo of his newborn son. This baby, born to two loving couples, has been carefully planned, and looked forward to by four eager hearts. He will be raised in two houses - two mothers in one, two fathers in the other. I don't mention this to comment on homosexual couples parenting. This issue can be divisive and I'm not here to express rightness or wrongness, blessing or cursing. I have seen the questioning eyebrows as the news passes, and that is enough comment on such things, for me.

We share a bond, this workmate and I. On his face was the naked pride of child-bearing, the passion of loving a newborn, the excitement of a tiny helpless hand hidden in his own. He knows what I know.

Parenting is a baptism. A washing in amniotic fluid and blood, which signals a turn from self-focus to care of another. It is not alone in this call. Many other things can cause this repentence. But parenthood is an obvious, often-idolised transition from self. For some it costs everything. For some I know, they would pay all they have, but that is not enough. The inability to bear a child becomes itself the painful baptism.

For some, parenting comes in such an unplanned fashion, that it cripples the ability to wonder at it and to relish it. What a blessing that parenting is not done in an instant, but gives us time to learn and discover as we do it. To become the parents that can love well.

My friend showed me the absolute delight of loving a child. He showed me what an integral human longing we share - to love a child, to build into a person as they emerge in the journey from birth. This is where parenting becomes transcendent - not in me being 'better' than my mum, but in me knowing a portion of God's parent-heart.

This is his delight - to love us.
This is his longing - to build into us as we emerge.
My prayer is to know more of it in my family.

holy experience

Monday, August 16, 2010


Some mornings I get out of bed, and unpacking the dishwasher is an empowering, focussing task. I notice the day blossom into being. I participate in the emerging freshness and looking out the window strikes fascination with the way the light is shafting through the trees, unique to today.

Other days, the effort to drag myself out from between the sheets, is surpassed only by the work of prying open my eyes. At that point I wonder if there is any energy left in my body to continue with today. Over the next hour I gather whatever pulse I can find within and drag myself tardily on. (Emphasis on tardy - I am punctuality impaired).

What makes the difference?

How can our moods be so capricious, unpredictable and erratic? Mine depend on tricky combination of sleep, hormones, hunger, caffeine, the moods and behaviour of those around me, my current self-estmation, the state of the house and the direction of the prevailing wind. And I'm a reasonably even-tempered person.

I've had mood disorders on my mind this week. I am trying to understand a little of what someone experiences when their moods are wildly mercurial. When a low mood drains the colour out of everything and thinking drowns slowly in hopelessness, death and failure. When great moods bring creativity, productivity, optimism and possibility unbounded. When this tips into grandiosity, invincibility, irritability and thought disorder.

My moods are prosaic and pedestrian in comparison. Yet they seek to rule my behaviour and responses, creeping into consciousness after I have over-reacted or failed to listen. Moods are so much a part of us that it is impossible to live without reference to them.

Moods are a gift, as well as sometimes burdening us. Have you felt the buzz of possibility and inspiration that pulls you into action and opens your eyes to brightness, colour and enchantment? This is God-given excitement and creativity, a taste of the morning and evening of the first seven days.

I stop at naming depression as a gift, but perhaps it reflects the sin-destroyed desolation of Calvary.
Jesus said in Gethsemane, "My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death." (Matt 26:38). Can it teach us of Jesus' broken-hearted torture? Can we better know deep joy having tasted of despair? Perhaps we need the consolation of this balace to accept the existence of wretchedness.

Sometimes I see the perplexed, helpless, listless faces of the melacholically depressed, and cannot understand a reason for such agony.

And yet I thank God for moods, for minds that experience them, for the light and contrast they bring to our lives. For those who have experienced mood disorder, high or low, what is your response?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Time in the garden

I am planted on the thick sleeper-edge, arms outstretched. My fingers gather slender stems, digging down to pull-up by the roots. I am clearing space around pea stems as they reach to grasp on and stretch up. My flowered gloves are on the garage shelf, rather than my hands. Nails and fingertip whorls embedded with dirt, again.

Behind me there are slender celery stalks, standing at attention. Leggy, waving rocket flower-laden and infant silverbeet. Red veined beetroot leaves lend colour as I look across towards the paling fence. The fence just up last year, not yet silvered by the sun.

Thursday afternoon, I am here. Early week responsibilities over, and I slow down. I pull up weeds, feed young plants, sit, watch. Slightly grey today, but sheets spin on the line, behind the gate.

The chookhouse runs along the garden edge, and it's occupied by spiders. The hens have traded up into a movable pen. I suspect it just spreads the destruction of their scratching further.

My scratching and garden-scrabbling has become a weekly comfort. My mind wanders, in the way of a pleasant sunlit stroll, and I draw breath as the sun pours last minute brightness along receptive clouds. To find my solace here is unexpected.

I have linked to L.L. Barkat's In, On and Around Mondays (Thursday is in the same week as Monday), and  to the photo prompt 'Solace" at 3 from here and there.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Family as Safe Harbour

We all build internal sea walls to keep at bay the sadnesses of life and the often overwhelming forces within our minds. In whatever way we do this - through love, work, family, faith, friends, denial, alcohol, drugs or medication - we build these walls stone by stone, over a lifetime. One of the most difficult problems is to construct these barriers of such a height and strength that one has a true harbour, a sanctuary away from crippling turmoil and pain, but yet low enough and permeable enough, to let in fresh seawater that will fend off the inevitable inclination towards brackishness.
(p214-5. An Unquiet Mind, Kay Redfield Jamison.)

Sea walls, slowly constructed to guide and protect. The image is starting thought-streams, since I read An Unquiet Mind, this week. It's a memoir of having bipolar disorder (manic-depressive disorder) written by a professor of psychiatry. (worth reading, too).

Guiding and protecting structures are part of shaping a family or community. As parents we face the same tension, that Jamison describes internally.

Building walls that provide a 'safe harbour' for our children, without stagnation or suffocation.

I want the walls to be high, the protection absolute. I fight my anxiety to allow the sea to flow with some freedom through our family. But I need to bite back my fear, because this flow brings growth and developing independence. It's ironic that an experiential learner like me, struggles to see our children learn through grazed knees, bruised hearts and mistaken ideas. I forget the triumph of succeeding in a new endeavour - pure gold to developing souls.

linked to reflections on parenting at holy experience

holy experience

Monday, August 9, 2010


What does it mean to have character? Perhaps it's doing the right thing even when no-one is looking. Perhaps it's choosing the option that not many people would choose. Maybe it's picking yourself up from the ground, sweaty and dirt-smeared, and stumbling on to complete what you set out to do.

I've been prompted to think about this while listening to a series by Andy Stanley (Character Under Construction), which was recommended to me.

One of the pitfalls of preaching (as reported to me by those who practice the art) is reaching the culmination of your message and your listeners being left with the words "Just try harder." It's a message that's been employed by pharisees and all sorts of religious types over the centuries. It feeds guilt and creates enslavement to the law.

But isn't that what we need to pursue to have character? Be a better person. Try to be good. Do the right thing. Often that's how we pray - 'God help me to be a better me...'. I have prayed, 'God help me be more patient', through gritted teeth (which somehow ruins my 'patient' face).

I struggle with the idea that faith is about 'just try harder'. I don't think it works. Being a better me is puny and half-baked when compared with the inspiring call to be renewed in the image of Jesus.

A pastor I know, keeps reminding me that we will only really follow God and be Christ-like when we truly understand God's love for us. Guilt can't transform our hearts. But deep infiltration with sacrificial, inviting, cleansing love changes us forever.

Character grows when we are soaked in God's love.

How does it work? John talks about the branches abiding in the vine and fruit resulting (John 15). Romans talks about our minds being renewed and this leading to transformation (Romans 12).

When I know I am graciously and abundantly loved, I can see the world how God sees it. Sometimes its only momentary glances, but in those instants I have the eyes that really see. The basis of true wisdom. When I have God's vision of the world, of people around me, it becomes possible to act with grace. To see beyond myself and my needs. To see sacrifice as possible. To see purpose in serving and submitting. Then I can allow Jesus to love through me.

'Better-me' love is pale and wan compared with Jesus-shaped love.

Stanley teaches a simple prayer as part of his series of sermons. I admit I have made it a little more to my liking :).

renew me with your love, 
so I can have the wisdom to know what's right,
and the courage to do what's right.

And I have started praying it.

Rocket bees

Insect-like I buzz
always moving
dizzying myself
halting for a moment to collect
thoughts, impressions, dirty clothes.
Intent, faltering to slow
momentum trapped.

A wider lens reveals how little is disturbed by the buzzing, ceaseless motion.
Sunshine stillness barely broken.
Why all the flurry?

Friday, August 6, 2010


Home is an emotional place. Not moody or flighty or riding the roller coaster. Just sights,sounds and smells tied to memories that catch me.
The place where I am welcomed just because I am me.

This final image, I have linked to a prompt for an image of home.
Because home is a place where I am comfortable and safe enough to rest.
To lie eyes-closed and dream.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What voices do you listen to?

We all have voices in our heads. Some people have truly disturbing ones. The kind that confuse, terrify and lead them into strange stories, mind-constructed. Stories where people implant microchips in heads to surreptitiously communicate. Where bodies are taken over, right down to special control of a particular organ's function. Some illnesses mean we cannot even trust our own thoughts completely.

But even the non-psychotic among us experience conversations in our minds. (I'm reassuring myself that its not just me...) We talk to ourselves about all sorts of things, but often the comments that stand out are self-criticism. 'I'm not good enough.' 'I wish I hadn't done that.' 'I'm so embarrassing.' 'I'm such a *(insert favourite insult)*.' 'I am bad/hopeless/worthless.' Or absolute statements beginning in feelings of loneliness or confusion - 'No one cares.' 'No one understands.'

On paper (or screen) most will read as exaggerations or even as ridiculous statements. Until you reach the one that has power in your mind-paradigm. Most people will have one. That you've practiced for many years. It will give rise to a sense of being overwhelmed or anxious, even depressed. These internal voices can be extremely powerful, and we may not even notice.

When we're stressed, the commentary gets louder, sometimes driving people to despair. Psychologists and therapists can help us to monitor and change the inner dialogue. We can learn to think more positively, to challenge irrational thoughts or self-statements. The rise of CBT, and more recently, positive psychology has seen more challenges to these early, slowly and carefully nurtured messages. That is a good thing.

But they are still based in the concept that our inner voices are ultimately trustworthy. If we just change them to positive messages, we'll be OK. For lots of people, changing their thinking like this is enough to help lift depression or manage anxiety. It can be empowering to realise that our thoughts and feelings are receptive to efforts to change them.

But what happens if we do all we can to change our internal messages, but life is still a struggle. What if we just can't seem to budge our instinctive negative thoughts? Do those inner voices win, and we concede that since they've been so sticky, they must be right? I've seen people do just that.

In that situation (and I would say in most situations), we are crying out for someone who's trustworthy words can trump the critical inner voices. But where do we find it? So often the people around us try to give us a more realistic appraisal and we don't listen, or we don't believe what they are saying.

I find it hard to give up my deep trust in my self-criticism, partly because it is a comfortable bit of my brain furniture, but mainly because it's hard to admit that my own brain has 'gone rogue'.

I don't have an easy answer. But this is what I'm thinking... I'd like to be so soaked in God's words that the instinctive dialogue in my mind involves him. When I'm stressed, or feeling inadequate, or struggling with anxiety, overwhelmed by depression, I'd like to listen to my inner voices saying things like...

"I will never fail you. I will never abandon you." (Heb 13:5b)

"The Lord is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love."
(Psalm 145:8-9)

"The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease." (Lamentations 3:22)

What would you like to hear?

holy experience

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Psalm 50

We are a family. We get together each Sunday morning and at some other times during the week. We pray, we sing, we listen and we speak. We remember and we hope.

There are not many of us, and some of us have few things in common.
But as we listen to Jen, the common looms huge. As we pass bread amongst us, as we eat it, minds and hearts move to the love that invites us. 'Remember me.' A body given as proof of his love.

We stop, we wait. A sip taken together. Heads tipped back in unison, allowing the trickle of life-giving liquid. Allowing the promise, the invitation to the celebration. 'Remember my promise.'

Again and again. Echoing, joining multiplied generations. Age upon age of people remembering. I am part of a powerful story - here in this building, in places all over the world, in centuries, families past and to come.

The Lord, the Mighty One, is God,
and he has spoken;
he has summoned all humanity
from where the sun rises to where it sets.
From Mount Zion, the perfection of beauty,
God shines in glorious radiance.
Our God approaches,
and he is not silent.
Psalm 50:1-3

Later we talk. One conversation of people worn out, too busy. Faithfully bringing this story to churches. Desperately trying to be what people need. Never being enough and never knowing how to be enough.

Needs among God's people are endless. Wounds are deep, and, dare I say, people are selfish and don't know what they ask. He shared of pastors and church workers neglecting their families(their wives, their children) in the effort to give to their flocks. Deep is the fear of not doing enough, not being enough. Rich is the desire to serve and to give, to share and to lead. Tempting to neglect the mundane, the ordinary, that which can be difficult.

So easy to fall for the lie that I am indispensible to God's work. To forget that if I were not here, God would go on speaking among these people. God would go on loving and growing them, drawing them to him. I need to hold these two things together - God wants my good and faithful work, here where I am, and God does not need me to do it.
Remember this - it is I who need him.

He does not want a sacrifice of my devising, my independence, he wants a sacrifice of my thankfulness.

"Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God,
and keep the vows you made to the Most High.
Then call on me when you are in trouble,
and I will rescue you,
and you will give me glory.”
Psalm 50:14-15.

I reached 1000 blessings last week. I will continue to count, but I will no longer post my list each week.

"But giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honours me.
If you keep to my path,
I will reveal to you the salvation of God.”
Psalm 50:23.

holy experience