Category Archives: Current Affairs

New Cycles of Grace

There is that familiar verse Let the little children come to me, and stop keeping them away, because the kingdom from heaven belongs to people like these – Jesus said it to well-meaning but misguided religious types who were preventing children from getting close to him to receive good things (Matthew 19:14, NET). What would you have done? Would you keep children away from Santa? Would you act like the cardinals in Rome this week? Can you identify with that child?

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From our earliest memories we build up a picture of our personal identity which it is often hard to shake off, even when we can see errors. We believe lies we tell ourselves about our image, worth, capabilities or dreams.

For many of us, despite good intentions from those who raised us, growing up in an achievement-oriented culture has meant a fixation on significance through merit alone. This simplistic model does not work – what about those who can never pass the merit tests? What about those too young?

My counsellor showed me a great diagram this week. It is taken from the clinical psychologist and learned theologian Dr Frank Lake’s work. She showed it to me because, like many people, I have been going around the circle in a destructive direction. The way I have been living has been anti-clockwise: a cycle of works.

cycle of works

1. I strive to achieve things, in order that:

2. I will feel significance in the world, which provides some:

3. Strength to keep going (in my own identity), so that:

4. I can feel accepted, until that feeling goes, and I return to 1 again, a little more dejected and a little more defeated.

It is not sustainable, not healthy for me or others around me and not a fair understanding of how my life matters. Instead, she showed me how to look at the diagram clockwise.

1. I am accepted – by God. Just as I am. No questions asked.

2. This acceptance strengthens me to find ways to sustain myself – time alone, journalling, creatively, with others or whatever suits me best.

3. Through being accepted and sustained, I discover I do have significance in whatever I find myself doing.

4. This leads to achieving things (big or small) out of response, rather than out of duty. Achievement fuelled by God’s limitless love and shocking grace. Achievement not to show off or brag, but to be truly alive. Achievement which blesses others first out of love (not duty) and which feeds the cycle so that there is continued awareness of God’s acceptance, his sustaining, my significance. Exciting, promising, daunting. Part of the big trust adventure we are finding ourselves on as a family.

Cycle of Grace

I walked home starting to think this all through, realising that it matters that I show my children that they are first and foremost accepted. As it happened I was passing a bookshop and called in, where I came across a brilliant book: Grace for the Good Girl, by Emily P. Freeman.

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How encouraging to read the thoughts of a person so like me, who recognises the patterns of hiding behind works and good behaviour – and then discovers the audacity of living in God’s grace and what that really looks like worked out. Just the thing I’d been working on. So freeing. Such a relief. I don’t have to prove anything, achieve for anybody, produce anything for all the wrong reasons, failing at so many steps along the way and hoping that not many people notice. I can be truly me, trusting God for the significance he places in me and taking his beautiful guiding rather than stipulating the directions myself. I can enjoy the good things he has for me. I can learn to let go of striving, instead living for others for all the right reasons and becoming energised to do it well if I’m doing what he’s called me to.

For all sorts of reasons I have a battered self-image and felt for many years I needed to find my worth in making others’ lives better. It doesn’t work. I can never achieve enough to satisfy myself, and so the grind of guilt and anxiety eventually pushed me into burnout.

From here on, I want to lean on God’s understanding rather than my own. To be transformed by the renewing of my mind. To step out of the boat – and keep walking. He’s never let me down, and like a child drawn to something remarkable, I don’t want anything to get in my way.

As God keeps reminding me,

Great things are going to happen.

I can’t wait.

Pipwatch

 

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The piplings went on holiday to my parents’ house while we spent much of the summer away from home. Dad was good enough to keep the little trees alive and even separate out the conjoined triplets. There are still five. I am feeling the responsibility of growing these tinies as well as I can, and trying to keep the white mould which has been threatening them at bay. (There is also a sunflower in the picture, which apparently has something to do with my son.)

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For his birthday my husband went without a flame-thrower and instead received this mini-greenhouse from us. An utterly unselfish gift, honest. Anyway, the pips are trying it out. Great views, free drinks and penthouse suite. They probably think they’re still on holiday.

 

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Depression Toolkit #25: Broken praise

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“Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear,

and Grace my fears relieved…”

Singing these words at a wedding on Sunday opened up something new in my heart. Yes, Grace relieves my fears – yes, with all the healing power of abundance and purpose. But Grace also places that fear – the realisation of inadequacy. The limits. The faults. The need.

My need has been raw and exposed in recent weeks and my heart has feared too many things. But all I really need to fear is the gap between my smallness and God’s greatness. Grace fills that gap. And the response – the human part of the divine conversation – is Praise.

Praise when low costs more – and I am certain it is all the more precious to God for that, who continues to deserve all our praise in any circumstance. If we are not in the habit of praising we find no desire to do so, and yet in the good times – new life for example – we crave the opportunity to express joy and celebrate and be thankful. Thankful? To be thankful requires an object for thanking. Praise is something we just know how to do as humans. We all have objects of praise.

I praise God, and am learning to praise him in the low times. Broken praise, yes. Out of tune with the world, almost certainly. But: beating to his heartbeat, the best I can. And the frog in the rain? Perhaps I want to look away from God’s greatness and focus on me. To cower in the storm beneath something of my own design. This solution can only be temporary. I am more waterproof than I may realise, so maybe I need to chuck out the umbrella, dance in the storm and face that Grace again. To revel in it, get wet and croak out my praise-offering the best I know how.

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God.

Psalm 40:1-3

…the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair…

Isaiah 61:3

Depression Toolkit #15: Hope

Having a rough mental day today. No particular reason. Then I stumbled across this and it humbled me.

There is Hope.

And a Future.

I also felt very inspired recently by reading a book called ‘Heaven is for Real‘. It is the story of a 4 year old boy’s amazing experience, and reminded me to stop feeling hopeless.

todd

Because there is Hope.

And there is a Future.

‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’

Jeremiah 29:11

Smelly Week

It all started when the jar of nard parted

Jarred, barred, open-hearted, broken-hearted,

What a strange smell, filling the house from roof to foot,

Smell of treasure, smell of death (tarted up).

Then branches waving in the king, palms up, palms down

Crunching under simple hooves, hay, swaying fresh and fuzzy.

Smelly feet, incomplete, bread and the vineyard and olives and torches –

Feast or final meal, more blood, more fire and the plaintive crow crow crowing.

Unknowing. Smell of fear, of sweat, of thorns and wood,

Smell of your trade, made rough, tough nails rusty, musty dust.

Smell of pain, again, again, again, sweat, blood, vinegar and hyssop.

Hyssop? Cleanse me too – blood rolling like tears, metallic, organic to the ground.

Bound, in myrrh, in aloe, from head to toe, so so dead. No!

No.

And then you said ‘why are you crying?’

And my world of tears and mud and blood split open and I breathed a different air. It smelt of life.

And it smelt good.

Unlocking

Once upon a time there was Ben and he didn’t always have the full attention he craved. Which was a shame, but perhaps not without precedent.

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Unusually, I find myself having something in common with Ben. Because I know that feeling well. Feeling like I need affirming from a particular direction. I need to hear God’s voice. And each day, just like Ben, asking ‘what do you ask of me?’

 

Ben penguin

Perhaps some days I assume there is no simple answer to that. I would dearly love a task so big that I can only fail in striving my hardest, knowing I gave it my all, rather than a simple task which I may be too lazy to complete well day after day.

And then an answer appears. It tells me everything I have ever done.

Penguin4

 

And it speaks a language I understand.

penguin3

And I recognise that if I am truly listening words will come my way, and they will affirm in so, so many ways. Sometimes they will direct me to action. Sometimes to confession, prayer or contemplation. Sometimes, dangerously even, to the end of a chapter.

Am I brave enough to ask that question today? Lord, what do you ask of me?

Am I brave enough to hear the reply? What will I do with it?

This month I think I finally connected with Ben because I want to step in whatever direction I am asked to go. And what the world classes as foolish, God can use to shame the wise. What the world views as weak, God turns into strength. What a wonderful example to be able to say:

‘Look, I am needed in a new task. My obedience may be shocking, but its challenge will revitalise you.’

So I am extremely grateful that God talks to Ben. And I am extremely grateful that God talks to me too. And I would also like to apologise to Polly Dunbar for gratuitous use of her rather wonderful book Penguin. Because God talks to me in so many ways and often through stories intended for children.

Changes of seed

My mini-orchard is growing! I am so excited I have upgraded them to Premium seating and am even remembering to offer them a drink several times a week.

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The middle pot is still winning. However, I am loathe to prick them out in case I kill them all in the process; their roots may prove to be too close so we’ll have to wait and see whether they survive in the long run. If you know anything about this, do leave me a message. I am already aware we are unlikely to get edible apples, but as a green experiment it is fascinating for me and occasionally the rest of the family too.

Joseph enjoys helping me find new things for the guinea pigs (hay in this weather, particularly) and I’m sure it was my dad’s influence on him that led to this happening today:

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Apologies for the poor photo quality (especially to my cousin Pete, whose blog here explains how to do it much better). I will need to keep it clean and well seeded, but after some very fat pigeons took all the seed I left out on the ground this morning while numerous smaller wild birds skittered around fruitlessly I decided enough was enough. I’m not even sure what the pink thing is, but Joe found it and hopefully our local passarines will like it. Berry and bug flavour. Yum.

Just in time too, for the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch on 26-27th January. By then I intend to have learnt a few more names of birds. Perhaps I should use twitter to update you as I go. I do have a twitter account which now feeds here, but don’t tweet that often yet. Here is the sheet to use if you are interested (it links to the actual one):

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Birds not shown actual size

Trust. Forgive. Be

Do you remember new year’s day 2012? It was a Sunday. Yes – I had to check that, as Lily (my automatic calendar) has gone to sleep. Although I was exhausted that morning I went to church, praying that God would give me something to focus on for the year ahead other than myself.

Three words came to my mind during the sermon, loud and clear. They were not actually part of the service as far as I remember, but I felt strongly that they applied, so I stuck them on the front of my diary to remind me every night. And every night, there they are, waiting to challenge me.

 

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Trust.

I do not have all the answers, but I know the one who does. I had a year of waiting, of learning to let go and be patient, of trusting God to hold me, to hold my husband, my family, my friends. Those who were ill. Those who needed new jobs. Those who were new in their faith. Those situations we had no control over. My own health, career and projects. The many needs of my family. Of letting go and letting God. I have no idea how much I gave God of what I’ve been carrying, but every time I have, he has been faithful and now is taking me to new levels of trust in him. This is as exciting as it is daunting. I doubt that this challenge is over at all. Like wanderlust, the bug is there to travel further in the adventure of deep trust with God.

Forgive.

There have been some surreal situations this year, not least Lily’s Giraffe Bread adventures. Some (very limited) reactions were most upsetting at the time, and the only healthy response has been complete forgiveness. We will need to prepare Lily for the reality of trolling, but for now we can just keep giggling about all the good and the positive nature of the story. Even today the BBC are listing it as one of the memes of the year. (Ah yes. I forgive them for putting up the wrong surname. Again.) And I am working at forgiving over and over and over in my life, as the closer I engage with it, the more pain I uncover. Past. Present. Ongoing. I believe God gave me this challenge specifically for 2012, but am actually feeling stronger in myself for toughening up in the process. Forgiveness that engages and still works is painful, but powerfully releasing. Perhaps God wanted to prepare me for something bigger in the future.

Be.

What a strange challenge. At first I wasn’t sure I heard right. The other challenges found their natural places early in the year, but this one puzzled me for months. What does it mean to Be?

To be active?

To be passive, waiting for a command?

To be myself? Getting on with life, listening to God and walking with Him?

It seems that the third one is the answer that has made the most sense: activity or passivity need have no particular value, but God has given me a challenge about my worth, which is nothing whatsoever to do with what I do. All humans inately have worth. Incredible, indescribable worth. And when we connect with God, we get switched on to what that feels like. It is so easy to focus on oneself, on our own dreams, value sets and conditions. It is easy to forget who we really are in it all.

What has it meant to learn to be myself?

As a married person, this was always going to be complicated by the fact that all I do is in dialogue with another, and you cannot run ahead in a three-legged race. We are waiting to see how my husband’s work situation will develop in 2013 and whether we need to move, travel, change career directions or proceed cautiously with the status quo. Unlike him, I am a divergent thinker, almost always ready to explore and branch out. I am coming to some good conclusions about how I can raise the children, serve the community and start working again, doing things I should be able to do well. My plan for doing a certain amount of tutoring should work whatever my husband needs to do for his career. And I am taking myself seriously. It may also be appropriate to get back into some serious study, but while Joseph is still a pre-schooler perhaps that has to wait too. I am happy to wait now. There are seasons in life, and I realise that more because of 2012. I have strengths and I have weaknesses, and I am not afraid of either any more.

I am not defined by being a mother either, as satisfying as that can be. Or in any role I take. Just that I am confident in my place in God’s family and in sharing everything with Him.

So this is quite a spiritual post, and I know that doesn’t suit everybody. Thank you if you have read this far and are not sure what I’m talking about or whether you agree with much I’ve written. You may or may not be the kind of person who needs to hear three short challenges from God for 2013. I will ask God if he wants me to have any different challenges and take it from there. It is up to you if you want to do the same.

To be going on with, here is a lovely picture I was sent today, which may or may not give you something you want to try.

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I really do wish you a positive, fulfilling and encouraging year in 2013, and if you take on any challenge, big or small, I hope you continue it through the year for the massive blessing it will be to you.

 

My Orchard

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Well, orchard in the same sense that Kate Cambridge is carrying a monarch. Embryonic, but promising.

Following this post, I have moved the pips from the jam jar where most had grown a little, to pots with compost and am giving them a little drink every few days. The potted pips are growing slowly but surely, and very few have given up so far, which amazes me. I am not at all green-fingered.

 

Another letter from Lily

It appears Lily is not at the stage I am in life regarding Christmas presents.

Admittedly she needed help thinking of ideas after the first one. And I did have to tell her all the spellings (again).

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Joseph’s letter (written in my own maths-teacher-handwriting and not fit for blogging) includes train DVDs, a baby doll and a pink clock and other things which I suggested to him.