Tuesday, December 27, 2011


When we theorise about emotion it is simple. Clean. Definable.

In the midst of life, it's more complicated.

I sat in church on Christmas morning and we prayed for the newest widow in our family. He died at 9pm (ish) the night before. While I stood in the kitchen rolling last minute Christmas rum balls, his breath stilled and he went home.

We sang Angels from the Realms of Glory and the 'Come and Worship' beckoned me. I love Christmas songs that unfold the story. I had never seen before that the chorus starts with a call to worship the newborn king, but ends with worshipping the risen king.

I can be joyful and sad together. And that's not even mentioning tired, excited, and slightly guilty.

Christmas has so much expectation. It's not surprising that it's an emotional day, when there's so much preparation. When having things a certain way and having so many traditions can seem so important.

Sometimes I'm just glad we survived.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Sneaking up on Christmas



There's a whisper of advent, but somehow the shop decorations and the christmas music just drift past me this December. We are living out of suitcases for these two months and we'll drive home a couple of days before Christmas. The kids bring some hand made decorations home but the tree is packed in a box, in the garage, five hundred kilometres away. I don't tell them I'm relieved, but I am. I suspect that putting it up the day before Jesus' birthday will be joyous.

We drive along the broad river's edge and they beg me to listen to 'Mazing' and 'Holy Moly', so the car and my ears are full of praise songs. I even sneak a carol in but that's not on their list of favourites. I don't have any Christmas cards and I don't have any guilt about that, because "this year's different". I've permission to sneak up on Christmas and I wonder about making a habit of it.

In being away and in travelling home, in not having all the paraphenalia, there's a glimpse of Mary and Joseph's journey. In this year's novelty there is a freshness to Christmas. I'm not dragging myself to the finish-line, I'm stealing quietly in at the back of the celebration, and finding welcome there.



Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Needing mercy

Irritation makes her bark and bristle, so I lean closer. I speak softer and I skirt raw spots as we trace her story. She lived a childhood unprotected, and has lived it over and over again. She's not the only one who teeters on the edge of shouting or shaking. They are here, drowning in a welter of loss. Everyone seems to have lost. A husband, a childhood, peace of mind, safety. Gone where?

His polished smile and prepped answers draw me in. It's a performance he's perfected. He's saying its all OK now, but is it? Does gut-tearing shame heal like changing the TV channel, or from reading inspiration in the Women's Weekly? He almost convices me that it does. But when he speaks real, honest words, I can see he's on the edge, too. Of tears. Of giving up. Of seeking real change.

This place of pain and of struggle and the wrestle between life and death. The mingling of despair and hope, where all I can add is my pittance that 'it will be OK'. And this says nothing substantial, or solid, to cling to.

I can listen, too. Especially to the feelings and thoughts that we're not supposed to have. Like being angry at your husband who just died, leaving you to mop up his life. Or that you wish you were dead because the hole you are in feels endless, and dark, and crushing.

So many rules about how we should feel, how we should act, how we should live. I think about religious men questioning why Jesus didn't follow certain customs or rituals, and his answer I'm reading over and over. Puzzling how to absorb it and live it.

I desire mercy not sacrifice.
It's not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick.

What does it mean to live a merciful life, and then also know that I'm one of the sick, too? A merciful life, but not a proud one.

Remembering that I'm welcomed in the same way - embraced with my messy heart and unruly feelings - needing mercy too. Us and them just doesn't work. It needs to be me among all of us. All of us sinners who need mercy. All of us lost, needing to be found. Everyone sick and needing a doctor.

linking with emily...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Wondering...

(Yes. I drove past this bilboard. And took a photo.)

I'm wondering how they do it?

How can someone keep all the things up to date that need to be up to date?

When I consider the following list that one woman might need to get done
  • going to the dentist regularly
  • getting regular pap tests
  • staying healthy in other ways - doctor/chiropracter/counsellor/whatever
  • keep leg hair waxed
  • getting haircuts
  • getting hair colours
  • taking children to the doctor/dentist/hairdresser
  • I'm sure I've missed some - what is on your list?
How do people do it? How do they get their children looked after for one thing?

Just thinking this, as I realise that I haven't been to the doctor other than for pre-natal visits for the last ten years (possibly indelicate to tell you how long since my last paptest?). That I ignored a reminder from the dentist twelve months ago, that I wear long pants for 80% of the year due to unsightly leg hair and that I stopped colouring my hair (myself admittedly) when I was 25.

Is it just me?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Feasting on truth

It still surprises me when time speeds up. I swear it accelerates. I've got one thing I need to do tonight, and I'm sitting here perusing what the webosphere has to offer. Was that just an hour? It felt like ten minutes.

We had spaghetti for dinner tonight, and I just can't leave any in the pot. Seconds is not very elegant, but don't tell them that I had thirds over the sink. Don't even mention the white shirt I've spattered with bolognaise.
I lose myself in things I enjoy. You too?

Interests and ideas flicker and evolve. Today's thoughts give way to tomorrow's inspirations, and I drop truth amongst thousands of other pretty, glittering concepts under my feet. Perhaps I disguise it when it doesn't suit and ignore it when it accuses me. It's hard to cling to truth when it's not politically correct or when it's dowdy.

But can you furnish a heart without truth? Can your heart function if the truth is buried under all the unnecessary clutter?

Truth allows a heart to have purity and clarity.

A vexed concept, truth, when we look with human eyes that want to prove our points of view and justify our own behaviour. Who can we trust to vouch for truth?

The popular answer is to say that each one of us needs to discover our own truth.

But the bible points to one truth. Jesus, who proclaimed himself God. Jesus, who is our window to see the truth of God. Jesus, who said truth was the road to freedom.

Paul wrote to tell his friends, "And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise" in Philippians 4:8.

What is more lovely, true, pure and right, than the story of God in our lives? Jesus and his words, on paper between us, sharing bread between us, sparking our memories of him, seeing the grace of Jesus echoed as people live his truth.

I picture feasting on truth. I see myself engaging so deeply in the truth, in reading it and listening to it, seeing it, that the hours seem just like minutes. It drips from the tip of my chin because I am savouring it so deliciously. It spatters on my shirt as I suck it between my lips like spaghetti. Messy but so satisfyingly good.

It makes me regret the snacks I make of truth. Like accepting a couple of crackers and a piece of cheese rather than a steaming platter of my favourite spaghetti.

Purifying my heart, getting rid of the clutter, means feasting on the good stuff and leaving the non-delicious fillers.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Better Story

I read this book the other day. That is the first attractive point of many about 'A Million Miles In A Thousand Years". It is eminently readable. Hence I read it in less than 24 hours (and I did other stuff, too).

This is not a book review. I just want to tell you what this book inspired me about. I have been encouraged to live a better story.

We are all living stories. We face conflicts, decisions and choices and then we go on the resolutions. Not always Hollywood neatly tied bow resolutions, but outcomes, all the same.

I actually think that most of the time we feel that we stuck in certain stories or we lack awareness of or perspective on our stories. Many of us feel the choices or the pressures are outside us, in someone else's hands.

Miller talked about a friend who chose to live a better story by deciding to start building an orphanage overseas. His decision, and talking to his family about it lead to changes in his marriage and in his daughter's life. He chose 'a better story' for the family. And he was deliberate in his choice.

Part of choosing a better story is knowing where we fit in the metanarrative (if I can use a buzz-word correctly?) The big story of the world is in relation to God - creation, fall, redemption and hope. And if I keep that in mind, I can be more deliberate in choosing a better story. I want to live a story that embodies redemption and hope.

Sometimes I wonder if my life is too safe and middle class. That I work and spend time with my family and my church. But where is the sacrifice in my life? Where is the taking up my cross? I know we all have these fears. Most Christians wonder 'Am I doing enough?' in some form or other. Because we want to make sure God will love us or that other Christians will acknowledge our salvation.

When I think like that I'm in a tough story.

A redemptive, hopeful story is different to that. Sometimes I glimpse it, but most of the time I'm still trying to puzzle it out.

Miller made the point that we can do all sorts of things, live all sorts of stories in our imaginations, but what really matters is what we say and do. So much of my thinking remains unsaid, and undone. And as a consequence it is unreal. It does not really exist. The first step to living a better story is to talk about hope and redemption, to start doing hopeful and redemptive things.

To be practical - I need to pray instead of thinking about praying.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Failure

I did an exam a few weeks ago and last week I was anxious about the results. It's part of getting my professional specialty qualifications. And it's work that I have found myself pretty suited to.

Before I went interstate to do the exam a kind, faithful man said, that because God was calling me into this particular work, the exams would go smoothly for me. He wanted to reassure me and help me not to worry.

I wish he was right. If only faithfulness or obedience, or even just a desire to be good, were enougn to make life smooth. If only God's call or blessing would guarantee a straight and comfortable path. But that's not what I look around and see.

What if God wants me to get through this exam, but he wants me to learn from the steps I take to get there? What if I haven't studied hard enough? Or if I have a difficult day? Is there a way for me to even know what God wants in regard to an exam or a choice of profession?

I wished my friend was right.

When the results came and I had passed one exam and failed the other, I really, really wished my friend had been right. I can reply to him that even if I don't pass I'll trust that God will look after me. But can I live it?

Can I put aside the embarrassment or disappointment of failing and get up and try again? Can I persevere and study, again, all those papers I was looking forward to shredding? Can I walk into the exam and be confident of passing when the possibility of failure is now more real?

Part of me would just like to go and do something else. And I know this will take energy and effort to stick at what I have set out to do. I need help to stay faithful to this.

I have the relief of knowing that this is not a right or wrong decision. I could walk away and it would not be wrong. But I think about people facing all sorts of roadbumps in their plans and having to persevere, because they know it is the right thing to do. It is human to want to give up in the face of struggle or failure. In the face of loss or betrayal or deep fear of the future. Especially when our hope of success or change falters. When we lose hope, the journey becomes so much steeper and rockier.

I see, in my current roadbump, that I will not be able to persevere without knowing grace and finding strength in God. I struggle to pull myself up by my own bootstraps and I need help. The moment hope has flamed for me, I was realising I don't need to find all strength within me.

I wish I didn't need failure to be reminded of my inner depletion. That I am insufficient in myself. But the deepest surge of joy and life within me came with remembering that God is longing to be my sufficiency. He delights in me remembering that.

Sharing with Emily,

Thursday, November 3, 2011

My mind, recently.



Anxiety is all-consuming. I worried over my exams so much that I woke up at 4:30 every morning, and I'd love to blame jet-lag, but Adelaide is only half an hour behind. It took three days of work and sleep to recognise myself again. I'm expecting an original thought to cross my mind by some time in March. If I can collect myself.

Tomorrow night at five I've got to check the results and frankly I'd rather not. I'm anxious and I want to stop not knowing. Then I could think about something else besides distracting myself, from thinking about not knowing. Yet.

It makes no sense to me that I can be thinking all this (and more), and I can still enjoy the walk over a low-tide river. I can drive for thirty minutes between fields of cows and horses and explain again the difference between a pony and a foal and love the conversation. While I'm knawed at by the worry I'm ignoring, or denying.

Truly, minds are extraordinary things.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Declutter (part 3)


I started to write a series about decluttering my heart. I wish the ideas would roll out comfortably, into a clear, neatly spaced list (perhaps in a cool font).

But my heart is much more complicated than I planned. The phrase "pure in heart" weaves in my thoughts, conscious at times. Sometimes it is the inconvenient heaviness at the back of my head as life crams out contemplation. Is purity possible?

So much of my life is all about maintaining. Making sure the need-tos happen each day - food, clean clothes, and, let's face it, TVs don't watch themselves. Conversations get caught in details and I run out of time to share dreams.

I read bits in wide-ranging places and respond to the beauty of phrases that make pictures. I see glimpses of others drinking in the intimacy of living the grunge of life side-by-side. It is liquid down a dry throat. It clicks that I had ignored my thirst, perhaps so I would not be overwhelmed by it.

My heart is buried deep beneath skin, muscles, ribs and lungs. Absorbed in its task of relentless beating. Much of the clutter is actually around it rather than in it. Briars grew over many years around a sleeping princess's castle and this is what we do to our hearts. It's protection - so that we hurt and bleed less. An unbriared heart can be cut and bruised by debris.

I cannot have a pure heart, until I begin to dismantle the fences I've built around it. My heart cannot do it's task properly until it can connect more directly with pain and joy. Because when my heart is engaged, then I listen, then I pray, then I puzzle out how best to love.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Light glancing off a blossom


Because some things exist purely to delight the eye.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Grace is an ocean


Walking over the headland to the beach, we string out. Beads scattered along a draped necklace. I linger with the shortest-legged, absorbing his natter and his delight. Looking down, the sand stretches flat and wide from rocks to frothing white, like a six-lane highway.

We take off our shoes and the sand exfoliates our winter feet. He sits, patiently peeling oranges, and they are hastily divided between hungry hands. Apples follow and a packet of rice crackers. Water bottles empty. Paddling at the edge turns into wading. Getting wet is the funniest thing ever.

I stand ankle deep as the waves push on up the sand. Lines of gold light are drawn across the ripples in the water, and the sand holds them gently. Things I long to say lump at the base of my throat. Are they stuck because I should not say them or because they need to be said? I can never tell.

I think about grace, unceasing and repeating, rolling in again and again like waves. God's grace, a mighty ocean. An immensity that can stretch to fill any emptiness. Cover any indignity.

I am smothered. I long to escape because I don't want to have to reach inside myself to find more grace. I want it known that I am right, that I am misunderstood, that I sacrifice and don't get heard. I hesitate to let my resentment trickle away. Dwarfed by the ocean, I'm scared of being swallowed.

It takes at least two more days to immerse beyond my ankles. Another walk across the sand, my ears filled with pounding. I need reminding that grace makes all fresh and new. That the ocean will carry away the mess that clings to me, the meanness I cannot shed.

Monday, September 19, 2011

We've sold our birthright


There is so much choice in life. You can be what ever you want to be. Dream and you can do anything.

It's so close to the truth that we can get distracted by it. In fact our hearts get cluttered with all the possibilities and the responsibility of making sure we don't waste an opportunity. The message to absorb is that `I am the master of my own future' and that `I decide what will happen'.

But what do we abandon to follow this pursuit of success and opportunity?

What are we born with? What do we overlook when we have stars in our eyes, when we are absorbed by the image of our own possibility?

There's a story of twin brothers who fought for their parents' favour. The elder was in the line of a promise - given to his grandfather - that they would be a chosen nation. That they would bring blessing. He underestimated the power of the promise and sold his right to receive it. He sold the right of first birth - the right to live the promise - to eat a lentil stew, one day, when he was famished.

How could someone give up being chosen to live in God's blessing, just to have a feed?

What is my birthright*?

What do I sell to pursue my own possiblity? What do I give up to feed my appetite?

I am made for relationship, to be a cherished child of the creator of the universe. I am made to be traced in God's nature and his action in the world. To bask in the illumination of his truth. To feast at his laden table. To call the God-man Jesus, my brother. To be an articulation, a sinew, a participant in God's living, active body. I was born for this.

I undervalue this purpose. I am blind to how fitting and right it is, and the wild possibility of it eludes me. I sell it without a moment's regret, for some immediate, transient pleasure.

Foolish and short-sighted, I seek my own fulfilment. I miss the gift inherent in my own existence. I sold my right to live in communion with the one who knows me best and loves me best.

The grace of God is him restoring me to that birthright, without asking me to buy it back. He gives it to me. Again ( and again...)


* Philip Jensen preached about selling our birthright, and that started these thoughts.

linking with Emily at Imperfect Prose.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Unblogging

Here's my plan. I'm carving out a new artform in blogdom...

Unblogging

Here are the features that make an unblog:

  • Pitiful stats - I still look at them, just not very often (my ego cannot bear much)
  • Undersharing - a beast rarely seen in social media and blogging
  • Reluctance to give advice
  • Allergy to lists
  • No posts about blogging - except the odd ironic one
  • Inability to stick to a blog genre
  • Erratic comments - my policy is, comment if you have something to say
  • Refusal to post about topical issues or important dates
  • Failure to find an audience
  • Images only barely related to the text
  • No bloggy friends, a complete reliance on real life ones
  • Random, unplanned posts at irregular intervals
  • Half-baked series ideas that rarely get completed

Now all I need is a thingy (you know, a button) that says "I'm an unblogger" and you could all join the revolution.


OK it's not really a button, it's just a picture. But go on, steal it anyway, just make sure you point the way back here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

It goes without saying...


The important stuff is hardest to form into sentences. For introverts. Probably for all of us.

My regard and warmth can be so comfortable, so integral, that I forget you are unaware of its presence. I neglect to say it aloud.

I'm pretty sure I didn't tell you that the possibility of talking to you is enough. That your very existence, and the repeated intersections of our lives are with me every day. That the times we laughed, or sorrowed or shared have worn grooves in me. The good kind of grooves, like smile lines etched around my eyes, or the hollow made by my elbow tucked around a child.

I'm doubly sure you've no idea that you are in my thoughts regularly. That for every time I speak to you, there's been a dozen when I pictured you and blessed you. My cards don't get written, or if they do, they don't always get sent. And I'm not excusing my disorganisation. Just letting you know I haven't forgotten.

I examine myself and know that the here and now absorbs me. I struggle to think in more than one dimension. And I'm sad that I don't respect and serve long-standing friendship faithfully enough. Because I don't want to leave important things unsaid.

I have wanted to trust in the economy of friendship. Being a faithful friend earns me good friends in return. I realise that this is another way to measure myself and strive for good enough.

It's that feeling at a party. When the celebration is for you and you worry that you're not enough reason for all the fuss. It creeps up at my fortieth when precious friends bring good wishes, presents and smiles. They while time with me. I fear you're wasting it but actually you've wrapped it and proudly given it to me. Because you love me.

There is no economy in friendship. I cannot buy it, or earn it, or store it up for later. Friendship is an extravagant, generous gift. You bring grace to the table, my friend. Thank you. A big loud thank you.

Sharing with Emily,

A shadow of the truth



"One of the things that the local journalists had to do was cover the coroner's courts and it seemed to me that we never ever got to the truth. So there was this kid and he'd beaten up some bloke and stolen his money and there was the kid standing there wearing the first new suit he's ever had and there's his mum and you think where did this story start? It made me restless about journalism because whatever you got was only a shadow of the truth. Perhaps the greatest crime may have taken place long before the boy had been born but you could never track [it] down the universe." (Terry Pratchett on All In The Mind)


Where does the story begin? And will we ever really know?

I see a facet but there are so many other angles to look from. It's so easy to judge what I see, forgetting there's more to it. I only see a "shadow of the truth". I'm interested that it turned Terry Pratchett from journalism to writing fantasy books. He explained that he used the fictional world to illuminate our experience of human nature and truth.


I suspect he realised that stories are much more complicated than good guy vs. bad guy and that people who are in the wrong can be deeply wounded, too. Despair is not knowing if anyone really knows the truth. That it is all, deep in the centre, relative. Or worse still, that there is no centre.

Courts may not find the central truth of a story, but that doesn't mean it isn't there. Truth is not bound by the perspectives of those who look at it. There is an objective truth in existence. Sometimes it is hard to see clearly, but it is still there.


It's a real challenge to see beyond the first impression and look for the kernel of truth, the more complicated story.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Stories and Illness

I have borrowed a book from my mother-in-law, and I need to give it back. I'm finishing it as fast as I can. It has got me thinking about the experience of illness and how it grows fascinating stories. Stories that give us a glimpse into unique struggles and amazing perseverence.

Jill Bolte Taylor wrote (and spoke) about her experience of having a brain haemorrhage, and what she learnt about life as a result. She trained at Harvard in Neuroscience and worked to promote the American Brain Bank. Her brother had developed schizophrenia and this fact inspired her to learn more about the brain.

She explores the idea that her left (dominant hemisphere) brain was the centre of her language and the source of order and sequencing in her experience. She had a big bleed into her left hemisphere and describes what happened when her right brain became the primary source of her cognition. At one point, she equates her perception and sense of deep peace and timelessness with nirvana.

Interestingly, there was a recent BMJ editorial which commented on Taylor's book and highlights its basis in personal experience rather than scientific truth. Although there is evidence for complementarity and difference in the cerebral hemispheres, Taylor describes a deeply personal, subjective experience.

That said, her story is powerful. She relates the experience of being unable to think logically or retrieve memory intricately. The description was vivid and drew me in.

I couldn't help wondering how she was able to recall it so clearly and neatly. Was she able to form this memory in that period of acute stress, or is she creatively imagining it? Was the trauma of the experience enough to indelibly carve it in her neuronal circuits, despite their distress? Taylor's conclusion is that inner peace is contained in the circuitry of the right brain. That peace is located within ourselves, if we know ourselves (or our brains) better.

Other stories have come via All In The Mind, a Radio National podcastable show which explore all sorts of ideas in psychology and neuroscience.

I recently hear (Sir) Terry Pratchett talk about his experience of a type of dementia, called Posterior Cortical Atrophy, which has resulted in the degeneration of his visual memory. He cannot type his books any more, but uses voice recognition hardware to write. He made an interesting comment about truth and perspective - which will make this post too long, but will turn up another day.

The dementia theme continues in this novel, recently written by another neuroscientist, turned writer, Lisa Genova. She has also been interviewed on All In The Mind. Her grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Diseaase, and as she researched the disorder, she wanted to know more of the experience of a person with Alzheimer's. When she couldn't find first person accounts, she wrote this book - creating her central character, a fifty year old Harvard Psychology professor who gets early onset Alzheimer's. I haven't read the book, but heard the extract below, in the podcast, and the loss and bewilderment became tangible.


"She sat in a big white chair and the man who owned the house sat in the other one. The man who owned the house was reading a book and drinking a drink, the book was thick and the drink was yellowish brown with ice in it. She picked up an even thicker book than the one the man was reading from the coffee table and thumbed through it. Her eyes paused on diagrams of words and letters connected to other words and letters by arrows, dashes and little lollipops. She landed on individual words: disinhibition, phosphorylation, genes, acetylcholine, demons, morphines, phonological.

'I think I've read this before,' said Alice. The man looked over at the book she held and then at her.
'You've done more than that. You wrote it. You and I wrote that book together.'

Hesitant to take him at his word she closed the book and read the shiny blue cover From Molecules to Mind by John Howland PhD and Alice Howland PhD. She looked up at the man in the chair. He's John, the words she read seemed to push past the choking weeds and sludge in her mind to a place that was still pristine and still intact, hanging on.

'John,' she said, 'Yes, I wrote this book with you,' she said. 'Yes, I remember, I remember you, I remember I used to be very smart.'
'Yes, you were, you were the smartest person I've ever known.'
This thick book with the shiny blue cover represented so much of what she used to be. She wanted to tell him everything she remembered and thought but she couldn't send all those memories and thoughts composed of so many words, phrases and sentences past the choking weeds and sludge into audible sound. She boiled it down and put all of her effort into what was most essential, the rest would have to remain in the pristine place, hanging on.

'I miss myself.'
'I miss you too, Ally, so much.'
'I never planned to get like this.'
'I know.' "
From Still Alice, by Lisa Genova.

The fodder of textbooks and newspapers becomes immediate and personal through life stories. When I hear your story, I can enter it alongside you. I can start to understand your experience a little more, and understanding someone else's struggle, even just a little, is a doorway to compassion and empathy.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Stories and Death

Image from here
I have a generous friend. She loves to give gifts and cherish those around her. She makes soap and needlepoint, collects old books and loves to watch movies. She has colourful flowers tattooed on her ankles, and wears eye-catching shoes.

Seven weeks ago her husband died and she is busying herself with sorting collected treasures. She is sharing stories of the objects she discovers, the boxes she delivers to the op shop, the friends who come and remember with her. She lays the story of his failing life out before me, too. As she talks, I see the strength in her. Telling is a balm. A millimetre of smoothed protection from the burn of loss.

We meet on Mondays and each one marks another week since he crept away from his worn, overwhelmed body. Today, she smiled just a bit easier, and the shoulder weight of his long illness is lifting. She asked about my baby, and we marvelled the passing time as I said, "He's two and a half."

It is easy to spectate in the story of death. To visit someone who is dying, and expectation makes the room into a mausoleum. To forget to participate in the mingled sad joy of still being alive. I imagine cancer-ridden friends seeing the speechless sorrow in my eyes as I meet their gaze. Am I sad because I do not know what to say? Am I that self-absorbed? The pain of others refracted in my lenses, filtered to become my own pain.

I listen as she shares the story they had hidden. He feared those sympathetic spectators so he made sure they never knew. He dreaded having to bear their distress as well as his failing health. Her story is unadorned, love-worn and hopeful. She carves out life without him - carefully but purpose-gripped. She tells, as he did not, because she must. He lives in her story.

Her story changes me. I vow not to spectate. Not to let my uncomfortable sadness darken the process of dying. In real life, death is not purely dour or hallowed. The howling sadness of death is born out of the shared enjoyment of love and friendship. The laughter and being understood are the absence we miss. It is because we live, that we seek these in the aftermath of loss.

Sharing with Emily at Imperfect Prose,

Friday, August 19, 2011

Declutter (part 2)

It's a late night question. We ask it in the moonlight, when the talk is meandering. Regrets, longings, and the barely spoken plans. 'Can people really change?'
Doubt and hope line my answer. I waver, through the years of asking that question. I love the mornings when the answer rings out 'yes'. Someone said, last Sunday, that he used to think he knew it all but now he hungers to learn the truth. Is that change?

The first step to clearing out my crowded, fickle heart is to see the breadth of what I do not know.
  • I discard the pride of having to be right or knowledgeable in everything.
  • I open vessels ready to be filled with wisdom from another.
  • I let go of anxiety. The anxiety of relying only on myself.
  • I open the door to someone bigger than myself.
I don't have tips for decorating or simplifying your house. But I'm searching for ways to spiritually declutter.

Step #1 - stop needing to be right.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Errant lettuce


Take a packet of seeds and empty them in the garden. That's right, just there on the path, under the clothesline.

Three or four trips to the line before I realise that we have lettuce in our lawn. And it's not long till we'll be enjoying the tender leaves.

Unplanned, impromptu, unexpected. My teeth grit when I'm not in control. I shout and criticise as my grip slips on the situation. The blossoming lettuce laughs at my rigidity.

Anger about spilt seeds - it would not be a surprise. I know it, grateful that I missed that opportunity. I don't want to uproot lettuce because it isn't in a garden bed. I want to stop and see fresh things. To control my anxious reaction and enjoy.

How many fresh joys do I destroy, do I miss, because I frame the world in certain patterns? My small mindedness is a box that needs splintering.

And then I realise that I didn't shout at the seed spillers. That I did give thanks for the buttery round leaves. Perhaps I am learning. Maybe there's a crack in this container, and I can stop catastrophising today.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Riots

Macquarie Fields riots from heraldsun.com.au


Riots in Britain. About a day later, the radio news became more than just background noise. There are riots in Britain. Remember our riots?

It made me think about people living trapped by hopelessness. I read a book that tried to understand the poor, and it still felt like just another judgement. But at least the writer had met the people he described. It is easy to have an opinion about poverty and the poor, but some of the loudest opinions are made without meeting anyone who is poor.

Laurie Penny wrote an insightful piece about the riots and the media attention they have garnered. Peaceful protests have been ignored, but the media can't get enough of riots and looters. And we love simple explanations like - 'a small group of criminals are making everyone else look bad', or 'Twitter is the reason for the spread of violence'.

This extract from Penny's blog is telling,

'In one NBC report, a young man in Tottenham was asked if rioting really achieved anything:

"Yes," said the young man. "You wouldn't be talking to me now if we didn't riot, would you?"

"Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard, more than 2,000 of us, all blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what? Not a word in the press. Last night a bit of rioting and looting and look around you."

Eavesdropping from among the onlookers, I looked around. A dozen TV crews and newspaper reporters interviewing the young men everywhere ‘’’


What sort of behaviour does media attention reinforce? Perhaps those who feel powerless and ignored will try anything to be heard.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What is poverty?

I recently finished reading Life at the Bottom: the Worldview That Makes the Underclass by Theodore Dalrymple. He's an English author and psychiatrist who has worked in Africa and in Birmingham. After returning from Africa, to work in England, he wrote these essays reflecting on the culture he encountered in the slums of Birmingham.

One reviewer wrote that "he found what he considered to be true barbarism—the cheerless, self-pitying hedonism and brutality of the dependency culture". I found this article which describes the life of a patient he treated in the slums. It has some similar reflections to 'Life at the Bottom', which is also peppered with vignettes of patients.

I had a few gut reactions to this book...

I was really confronted that I meet patients like this frequently. Crime, poverty, domestic violence, drug and alcohol use, dysfuntional relationships, abuse, mental illness, welfare dependence, homelessness and the failure of government services are all right here in south-west Sydney. We have an underclass like the one Dalrymple describes in Britain. And we have created the same cultural traps that bind people in poverty and powerlessness.

Dalrymple is extremely critical of the middle class and the way we have used welfare, social structures and liberal thinking to rob the poor of a way out of their dilemma. He believes that when someone can use their addiction or their history of deprivation and trauma (for example) to explain their criminal or abusive behaviour, they can then avoid examining their own role in creating their current predicament. Rather than empowering broken people to hope, and strive, for a better life, we are telling them there is actually no escape.

Not only that, we reward extreme dysfunction. The more chaotic a person is, the higher they climb the list for priority housing. So people who work hard but start with little, wait longer for any assistance because there is always someone who is having a more impressive emergency, perhaps even as a result of their own carelessness or refusal to participate in the system.

I can see the points that Dalrymple is making, but part of me longs for him to be wrong. I don't want us to be harsh, or punishing of brokenness. I don't want us to abandon grace and compassion. I want humans to be better than this - but we are so not. I felt sad as I read.

There's a saying - 'If you're not a leftie in your twenties, then you haven't got a heart. If you're not a conservative in your forties then you haven't got a brain.' I don't want to abandon my heart, even though my brain whispers quietly to do so. And we walk this tenuous balance of compassion and pragmatism. We need to struggle here, because there cannot be a solution without grace and transformation.

A tight fear grips my heart - I hear lives told, and they leave me incarcerated with no key. If I feel trapped by the tale, how must the one who tells feel. How can they see possibility or hope if I can't?

The step of faith I need to take is this - Insist there is hope. Talk about change and rescue and redemption even when I doubt the possibility.

This is Dalrymple's sobering reflection on true poverty, comparing Africa and Britain,

"Yet nothing I saw—neither the poverty nor the overt oppression—ever had the same devastating effect on the human personality as the undiscriminating welfare state. I never saw the loss of dignity, the self-centeredness, the spiritual and emotional vacuity, or the sheer ignorance of how to live, that I see daily in England. In a kind of pincer movement, therefore, I and the doctors from India and the Philippines have come to the same terrible conclusion: that the worst poverty is in England—and it is not material poverty but poverty of soul." from What is poverty? Dalrymple, 1999.

Monday, August 1, 2011

#wpp


Lunchtime conversation at work can be interesting. Depending who's at the table. Today I ate with the psychologists. Always thoughtful, slightly kooky and very welcoming. They have a fantastic food co-op in the staff room fridge.

Today I jumped in with a comment about #whitepeoplesproblems, ie. comfortable people talking about life's little unfairnesses. It delivered a bit of a laugh and agreement. I acknowledge that most of the whinges in my life come right down to this ... #wpp. And it fit right in with the mood of the moment.

Later I had a rerun in my head. Yes, I replay conversations later and regret being outspoken. Doesn't everyone do that?

What if they thought I would say that to one of my patients? I wanted to go back and explain - 'you know I'm only harsh with my friends, not with patients of this service.' Wait, that has problems, too. So I let it go. Well, until I sat down here anyway...

Where is that balance between being compassionate and being clear-sighted? Not mutually exclusive, I know. How can I listen attentively and give consolation for minor irritations while having the perspective to see that they are minor? How can I hear heartbreaking loss and not become blase about skinned knees?

I want to be wise as a snake and innocent as a dove. But I don't want to be naive. Sometimes complaining does need to be gently corrected. Sometimes it just needs a patient ear. And suffering is a broken-ness of heart that happens all over the place - comfortable middle-class people meet tragedy, too. Listening is harder when it is tempered with discernment and wisdom. There is not a response that works everywhere, instead I need to carve each one fresh. Shaped by the unique story that draws it out of me.

I struggle to find my balance.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Ship Song

There are a couple of reasons to share this video. It's been made as a tribute to the Sydney Opera House, the most iconic building I've ever been in. It features some of the best musicians/performers in Australia (imho), and it's a song written by Nick Cave, that I love.

I admit that there are tears in my eyes when I watch it. I walked down the aisle to this song almost 13 years ago.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Tracks and Habits

image from here

The picture is the story. Sheep running along worn paths. Wending through grass, flattened under their feet. My shoes tread the grass down, too. Following daily planted footsteps, crossing the road at just that odd angle. The angle I walked yesterday. Do you step in the worn patches of dirt? Or let the smoothed, worn stone cradle your feet?


Habits form us. Form me. We construct our lives in repetitive, well-worn blocks. Follow grooved, gouged tracks.

It's tempting to concentrate on the bad habits. The paths we trip thoughtlessly along, forgetting their destination. Trapped on exit-less freeways, addictions, weaknesses, sins overwhelm us. "I can't stop." "I didn't want to end up here..."

But every maze has a way out. Don't forget we are the ones who've made the paths, and they can be changed. The first time you deviate is exhausting, time-consuming and messy. The old path calls you insistently back. It resists an overgrown, unused future. The whispered, lingering reminders in your ears are final pleas for existence. But deviating for the first time is exhilarating. Making a new, better, wise path brings possibility and hope.

Habits can also breathe life. Good ones open our existence so that grace can get in. I wish I could find the list of helpful habits I read last week, because it illustrates the sensible simplicity of good habits. The ones that have stuck are - getting 8 hours sleep a night, sitting down to eat breakfast. Alas, google cannot find the rest tonight :)

A wise life is one with well-crafted habits. A network of paths that lead to healthy destinations. Paths painstakingly carved and carefully re-routed when necessary. I long for a life like that.

What about you?

Here is a trustworthy saying...
Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways.
Proverbs 4:26

Friday, July 1, 2011

Declutter (part 1)


Contrary wishes clutter my heart. It beats and pumps and I waver in the wind.

My mind is a cupboard filled with hoarded bits and pieces. I long to unpack the piles that have collected on the shelves, but I can't do more than move them from one to another.

A preoccupation with what I want and need, crowds inside me. I witness dramas and imagine myself in the starring role. I long for significance and to be noticed. I want to be the one who gets it done. In the nightclub that is my soul, the crowd on the dancefloor are all me just trying to catch someone's eye.

I look around the house, discouraged by the similarites of outward and inward life. Stacks of books. Collected toys and games. Mount Washington just in, off the line. No space to spare.

No one is surprised, that decluttering and simplifying are national pastimes. We talk about them, anyway. We pay to hear the secret of making them reality. Maybe if I buy the book, order, rationality, simplicity, will be possible.

But I need to ask the real question.

How do I declutter my heart? Simplify my mind? How do we purify our lives?

Any suggestions?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Caring


She's living at the house he bought. After the divorce. After winning a hundred thousand on a carelessly bought scratchie. He's had the house since half the money was in the till at the pub.

She's glad to have a place to stay. And doing her the favour eases the jagged edged fact that she is his carer. Not his carer on a welfare form. His carer on the watch for when he starts to be distracted with his own thoughts. Looking for his words to lose their distinct flavour. They can become like mist in the headlights.

He says there's nothing wrong. He lives it, too. If ignoring it were therapeutic, he'd be well. But he's not. He sifts everything he hears to capture words that make him better. But they don't. He careens, rather than slips into madness.

She came home to find the windows nailed shut and the back door couldn't open. He'd left the hunting knife on the table. The police had pulled him roughly out the door, with his arms clasped behind him. He hunted for explanation but it slipped away. She was saddened that he didn't notice his own incoherence. He thought it made sense.

She slept. It felt like days. Repaying the debt of pacing, interrupted nights. She tells me of retreating to her room. That she saw his eyes peering out from the darkness. That he waited for her to sleep and then he walked back and forth, all night. Wry, she laughs. His mad thoughts are funny. They are funny and timid and sad and broken.

Somehow she can shiver at his paranoid preparations and giggle at his oddness. Her steadiness is epic.

Family without burden is enticing. But it spoils us for the true beauty of care for a broken brother. Perfection has been smashed so that love can be glued patiently together. Built piece after piece, sturdily, secured one by one. It's a heroic, humble construction.

Joining Emily,

Monday, June 27, 2011

Five books that changed who I am

There's been a few people blogging about books that have changed who they are. Soph at Storms Dressed as Stars, shared and gave an open invite to join in. I can't resist an open invite, when memes can be kinda exclusive.

I have puzzled and thought. There must be five transformative books in my collection. I can think of books that I've loved, books that I've cried over, books that I've waded through. I have a pile of books that I would like to read, but haven't yet. But books that have changed me?

A Bridge to Teribithia. This is the first book that really moved me emotionally. I lay on my bed and cried as I read (not the whole book, but the sad part). It awakened in me a sense of the power of stories. I read it when I was about ten or eleven. The other book that stands out as deeply moving, like this, was Of A Boy by Sonya Hartnett.





When I was studying medicine, I read The Audacity to Believe by Sheila Cassidy. She tells the story of going to Chile and working as a doctor. She was a Catholic follower of Jesus and she tried to live out her faith. I found this really challenging and it influenced how I wanted to work in the future.

The Bible itself has changed me, but I want to highlight the effect of the Psalms on me. I did a course about the Psalms once and read it through a few times. I always found that reading a book and talking about it (eg. in high-school English) gave me a deeper love of it. This happened with the Psalms. Suddenly the words were passionate and spoke to me face-to-face. I began to understand why the word of God had been described as being sweeter than honey and purer than gold, through reading the Psalms.

The Art of Pastoring. I found this book in the (Morling College) library once and read it because I liked the blurb. Reading it made me see ministry differently. It emphasises loving people and serving them with your life. It was one of the first books that challenged me to listen to people and their stories. That ministry is about building real and genuine relationships and living a life of faith together as family. Challenging.


The final book I've included represents choosing to work in psychiatry/mental health. It wasn't just because of this book, but this book was the starting point for me to see the possibility of healing for disease or trauma through therapeutic/transformative relationships. This book helped me learn but also helped me keep thinking and reading about the mind, how it works and the resilience that helps people recover from all sorts of pain or abuse.

Word Update

It's the middle of 2011. My word for the year was 'Commit' and Alece has asked for news on my progress. As I said back in Jamuary, this is a year for getting serious about completing things. I am wanting to stick at it, even when I wish I could do something else.

I realise I cling to being non-committal, and leaving my options open.

In the first two months of the year I sat down and wrote two 10,000 word case reports. The work of looking after the patients had been done in 2007 and between 2005 and 2009. I had been carrying around two folders of notes and photocopies since then. I had barely written one introduction. But deciding to commit helped me sit down and type. My husband helped me by taking the kids to a movie (or two). Thankfully he was willing to be commited, too.

Then I mailed them off to Melbourne and waited. And hoped. At Easter, I found out that they both passed. It was exciting and we went out for dinner to celebrate.

So I am half-way committed. In October, I am committed to sitting for my final exams. I don't know if I will pass. But I will have a chance.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The {real} secret


 
Something keeps me going in this clamour of doing and being and tentatively pushing up my hand to be heard. I suspect you know that noisiness. And perhaps you know the something, too.

Without it, I am drowning because I know the edges of myself. I meet them abruptly and long before I hope to. I cannot stretch my skirts to cover my anger or impatience or selfishness. I cannot stride out victorious. I stumble when I mimic dignity and I swallow disappointment full of bitter blemishes. But that's without my secret.

It's the daily demand to prove myself and I am Ulysses to its Siren-song. I need to block my ears, or fill them with a purer music. A transforming creator-song, a comfort lullaby that calms and strengthens me.

I whisper it, self-talk as originally designed, "this is the secret: Christ lives in you"*.
Mysterious truth that turns my inadequacy into space for transformation. Into a place for God, for Jesus, to dwell within me and weave me into a beloved companion.

Instead of drowning, I am breathing grace. I am joining in a life that shows the clamour for significance to be unnecessary. My significance and place is already secure.

*Colossians 1:27


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Now


“The present is the point at which time touches eternity.” C S Lewis.

Read this.

This is a great article by Ross Gittins about how poverty is not just about the amount of money you have.

Failure teaches


I long to tell stories of my triumphs. To be able to rest satisfied that I have done it, and done it well.

But the replays in my mind are not triumphs. They are wired into memory by the wrench of disappointment in my stomach. I have spoken with clumsy words, or chosen the wrong reaction, or just run out of time to do what is needed.

I listened as he told me of his shame. The shame he felt when he had to cover for me. To explain my mistake and he knew he could not. He didn't call it shame, but he told me how he couldn't stop the laughter escaping from his chest and he couldn't explain. He had to leave. Abruptly.

The laughter mystified him and he searched for neurological explanations. He framed it as an opportunity to learn. And he didn't want to hear my apology. He was so gracious that he wouldn't allow himself to blame me, so he couldn't face 'sorry'. It was then we talked of shame and I realised how deeply it had shaken him.

My sorry  must become an action. Speaking it is irrelevant if I continue to leave him exposed and without an answer. So I work harder at my list and try to do it better. I know this will not cover all my weaknesses, but this small, particular exertion is important. Because I have seen his vulnerability. Just as I have seen his faithful perserverence.

I must listen to this exposition of my failure and learn from it. Know that I am poor in spirit, but that that itself brings its own blessings. And I realise that the memories based in failure and disappointment, in myself, are the ones that really teach me. Painful though they are.

Sharing with Emily,

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The cost of good

I wake each weekday to Adam Spencer. That drifty time from sleep to wake is filled with today's new debate. A few weeks ago, I listened to callers complaining that their promised rebate for solar power going back into the electricity grid was being cut from sixty cents to forty cents a unit.

So it may be that my dream-laden state has influenced my reaction to this issue. People rang to complain about the government not honouring contracts and recounted stories of spending large amounts on solar panels with the plan that the rebate for extra power would pay the cost of the equipment. GetUp emailed me to join an email protest campaign. I just felt annoyed. The phrase "Suck it up" came to mind. Harsh, I know.

Today it filtered into my half-awake state again. Barry O'Farrell chatted with Adam about his 'backflip' on the solar rebate cuts. So the complaints were pretty vocal, and ultimately effective.

And I'm considering why I feel disappointed.

It's not because I'm against solar power, or because I'm against exerting political power.

I am annoyed about human nature. That we decide to make positive changes for the environment or the community, because they are cost effective, rather than because they are right. That we complain about our expected income decreasing because there are other needs in the community for government money to be spent on. That we expect that someone else should pay for our solar panels.

Ultimately, we are selfish beings and we don't like to consider that higher taxes, or lower rebates, or paying the true cost of goods, is actually going to benefit the community. There will be more money to spend on other people's needs - on Overseas Aid, on mental health programs, on employing people etc. etc. That I am not actually the most important person in the world. That some people are never going to see $55,000 let alone withdraw it from their super to buy solar panels for their house (and then expect the government to cover the cost and whinge when they'll only get two-thirds of it rather than all of it).

I am disappointed that we complain as if we are poor, when we live in one of the most affluent countries in the world. That we have such poor perspective on what really matters. And I'm talking to myself in this, too. I wish we could be people who do right because it is good to do right, not because it is economically viable or cost effective.

Here ends the rant :)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Just wondering...

I've got a question for you


We had a church meeting today and our pastor suggested that we think about becoming members (of our church). I've thought about it a few times over the past nine years, but never made the step of doing it. Our church has ten members but  about three times more associates (regular attenders who aren't big M members). Our church is part of the Baptist Union so membership requires baptism by full immersion.

Perhaps I should mention that the pastor making the suggestion is my husband. But anyway...

I have been baptised, in a childhood, Presbyterian fashion. When I was a teenager, I went to youth group, and then church, with some friends from school. At that church, I began to understand God's grace, and started following Jesus. I decided to take part in Confirmation and told my family and friends that I was following Jesus. That was more than twenty years ago. Since then I've graduated from University, worked at a different church, studied some theology, got married, had children, and done twenty years worth of stuff. For the vast majority of that time, I've tried to make decisions in the light of God drawing me into relationship with him.

So what would it mean to get baptised now?

If baptism is a sign of repentance and of new birth, shouldn't I have done it a long time ago? If I get baptised now, is it just for pragmatic reasons? Is that enough?

I ask myself all sorts of hypothetical questions about how other people will interpret the pastor's wife getting baptised. Maybe I just need to explain myself clearly. But I'm not exactly clear why I would be doing it.

Which explains why I'm still thinking about it nine years later.

I'm just wondering what you think. Do you have an opinion about the when, where and whyfore of baptism?

And do you have an opinion about how? Some would say my sprinkle on the forehead, and believing confirmation was entirely adequate.

*complicating factor* I haven't heard him say it directly, but I suspect my husband doesn't think it is. He's hedging in this discussion.

I'd love to hear your comments.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Healing



"I'm waiting on God for healing. Don't you do that?"

I wasn't sure how to respond. There was hesitation in her eyes after I answered.

So I'm sitting here thinking about healing and waiting and what we mean when we say such things. I realise I have never thought I needed healing. I don't have a serious illness, and I assume that's what healing is for. I pray for people with pain or with cancer, for friends after accidents and babies with congenital problems. And I prayed for this questioner, today.

Are the medications and therapies we give her the answers to my prayer (and hers)? Is it what she is waiting for? Would it be more obviously the work of God if it seemed more impossible or miraculous? Is waiting on God an active or a passive process?

We each speak a language of faith, and the words can be vague. There are a range of dialects. Because I understand her words in my own way, I cannot meet her with clarity. I cannot answer in a way that engenders trust. I became just another doctor whose faith is suspicious and doubting about the glorious, miraculous healing of God. I really want to taste her uncompromising hope, and I fear that I have bound God into my own rational, scientific paradigm. Have I forgotten that His possibility and scope far transcend my conception of Him?

But I want her to take her medication, because she has been crippled, imprisoned and gagged without it. I am responsible to engage her in this treatment and not give her a reason to doubt it. Then I find myself with deeper ties to her than I had supposed. She is my sister, and that counts. It matters if she thinks I'm her sister, too.

There is another quiet question in the room... Is she the one who sees God clearly? Is her psychosis actually ecstatic communion with God?

I know that Jesus healed a psychotic man and his mind became clear. This tells me clarity is better than psychosis. But are religious delusions really delusions or are they just a breaking through of an intense, consuming meeting with God into someone's life? If Peter described the transfiguration to me in a moment of excitement, would I think he had been hallucinating and that he was unwell?

I need to wrestle with these questions. I need to know that God is working in the rational and explainable and that he also labours in the mysterious and transcendent. Paradoxically, I can trust in medication that is the work of human hands and therapy guided by human minds, while also putting my faith in the inexplicable divine touch to bring healing.

In the midst of madness or surrounded by sanity, Jesus is present and is not overwhelmed. He knows and understands, even if I am still puzzled.

What do you think?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Mysterious Gold


We didn't boil the kettle. We agreed on mandarins instead. The shell of skin fell away into my palm and the fruit was incense between us. I tasted a lifetime of Autumn sun-soaked lunches, and the cool juice was soothing.

And we talked of the motivation that has fled and the deep fear that this time will not end. We nodded about the loss of space, and order and self - she has been invaded, overtaken. And I can say little. She has always 'done the needful', but now they seem to need her to be everything and nothing all at once.

I watched her weariness and that she had started to tell herself that she is nothing. And I offered her a sweet golden nugget, a brief taste of nectar sweetness. She accepted the fruit but found it hard to hear the words. A tentative smile that disbelieved me.

And yet this conversation was not all heaviness or darkness. It was veined and traversed by gold and other light. Woven together they are able to withstand the being overwhelmed or the helplessness. As she laughed or told of joy flashes she affirmed her not-nothing-ness.

This variegated gold and grey, this Spirit-shot life in her heartened me. This is why she can go on. This is her refined-gold heart - that cares for a dying husband and bears with a needy daughter. That reaches love in many directions despite her worn heart. It is a mystery.


sharing with a prompt from three - Gold


Friday, May 20, 2011

I like this song



This is a very beautiful song.

(HT - Genevieve at Turquoise Gates)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Learning to pray


There are times when the muscles in my throat grip. I am conscious of my scalp stretching tight across my skull and skipping thoughts get stuck to the knees in molasses.
But it happens when I read inspiring books. Or when I hear about church growth strategies. Or consider living out an authentic faith. That's right - it scares me. Deeply.

I get deep-in-my-core anxious. I hear an honest challenge to give more of myself and risk more in an attempt to love and serve people I don't yet know. And as I hear it, I briefly contemplate shutting my ears, ignoring the challenge.

Because I'm sure I can't do it. I don't know how, and I'm puzzled about where to begin. I prefigure failure as I play possibilities in my mind.

And often I don't want to go to all that trouble. What if I put myself into this sacrificial life and it doesn't work? Or its ignored?

Do you get that fluttering-bird fear, trapped in your ribcage, that you just can't do the stuff required to be a proper God-follower? That the mission that defines us is too hard? I am enthralled by a vision of the cross-bearing, Jesus-following life but I struggle to see myself in that vision - I feel too prosaic, too clumsy, too selfish to inhabit such a view. Truth is, I am. I cannot live out a life of righteousness, of sacrifice, of Jesus-shaped cross-carrying proportions on my own.

Being helpless, anxious, restless, I pray. Slowly I am learning that this is where I need to be. That God has been patiently waiting for me to ask him for help here and not just try to manage things myself.

Relieved, I pray. My humanity wishes for a more capable response but the Spirit in me sighs and groans. Let the Spirit speak.

'This is too hard, but you are the God who can do what the law cannot. I am overwhelmed but you are not. I feel helpless, but you do not. I fear failure, but you do not. You are the God who makes possibilities and opportunities and rescues my weakness. Show me what I can do today to follow Jesus.'

You can pray this prayer for anxieties, too.

Imagine a world, where we are not ruled by fear or by hopelessness, or even by the need to not fail. Where we can give grace, out of the riches of grace and comfort we receive. Where daily we pray and daily we follow.

Today's thoughts, which challenged me (that is, made me anxious), that called me to pray,


"In the incarnation, God enters fully into close relational and physical proximity to humanity in the pursuit of reconciliation. Likewise, if exiles today are to model their lives and ministries on that of the exile Jesus, they must take a stance that promotes proximity between themselves and those among whom they live……
……Christians must be prepared to go where Christ would go: to the poor, to the marginalized, to the places of suffering. They must be prepared to die to self in order to follow Jesus’ radical lifestyle of self-giving and sacrifice……
……To embrace an incarnational ministry, then, involves a willingness to relinquish our own desires and interests in the service of others. Of course, our suffering doesn’t atone for the sins of others, as Christ’s did, but our self-emptying or sacrificial love will direct people to the higher and more efficacious sacrifice of Christ…
…Pity, condescension, or paternalism misses the mark; only a compassion that acts is acceptable in incarnational ministry……
……So, if we take the incarnation seriously, we must take seriously the call to live incarnationally – right up close, near to those whom God desires to redeem. We cannot demonstrate Christ-likeness at a distance from those whom we feel called to serve. We need to get close enough to people that our lives rub up against their lives, and that they see the incarnated Christ in our values, beliefs, and practices as expressed in cultural forms that make sense and convey impact."
Michael Frost
(from Exiles: Living Missionally in Post-Christian Culture)

linking with Ann and Emily today.