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See also the blog it comes from: http://theologygrams.wordpress.com/
And the blog I picked it up from: http://rachelheldevans.com/ (I recently read Rachel’s book on living – rather facetiously – as a biblical woman for a year and it had me in fits).
Micah 6:8, should it not come to mind immediately (!) is:
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
Treat this as your postcard from Albania. Especially if you haven’t had one from us. It’s a sunset view from Mount Dajti looking west over Tirana to the sea.
(Returning to the city involves travelling in a full and rather small swinging cable-car for 15 minutes in near darkness.)
I was reminded on this excellent website (a friend of a friend’s), that there are techniques in cognitive behavioural therapy which help in breaking cycles of bad thinking. I find travel does wonders for breaking cycles of anything to be honest. Who needs laws about car seats and seat belts? Why can’t bacteria multiply more slowly if they can’t speak English? Who knew you could park four deep on a roundabout? And does it really matter when you have two families in a one family car? The roads are mostly finished, right?
In fact, the philosophy in Albania – a trip we’d planned months ago – works perfectly if you are not trained to NVQ level 5 in UK Health and Safety Nonsense and generations of British Proper Ways To Do Things. The local expression is avash avash, which means slowly, slowly. It is perfectly ok to ask another driver on the other side of the road for directions if you are lost, even though you’ll both have to stop. It is fine to cross the road when the green man indicates your right of way, even when the traffic is still coming, as they will probably stop for you. Slowly, slowly. Keep plodding; you’ll get there.
We had made plans to visit two sets of friends. Primarily we went to visit friends I made during my Masters at another time in another capital and who we last saw at our wedding nearly ten years ago when Mikea was three and was our page boy.
…then and now…
(reading one of Stephen Davies’ novels)
Since then Gjystina and Fredi have had daughters, and we were delighted to meet the beautiful Prishila and Reona, and were amazed at the family’s grasp of English, hospitality despite difficult personal circumstances and utter trust in God for provision and purpose. The family took us to some wonderful places which were within my coping range. In temperatures hitting 40 degrees they also adapted and allowed for our children by finding cooler spots with play areas, museums and fun activities. We saw beautiful beaches and mountains, castles and vistas. We were challenged by their church plant, moved to help with their building relocation, shocked at the burdens they are carrying and delighted to find God working in our lives as well as theirs as I stepped out of my comfort zone in clear and direct answers to prayer and was able to begin ministering to others in my own small way.
There were miles of furniture shops, hundreds of red and black Albanian flags and pizza outlets on every corner. The swimming pools were glorious (Lily’s favourite part) and the byrek crisp and tasty. Everywhere people wanted to touch the children’s hair, to clasp their faces and to remark in internationally recognisable tones how beautiful they thought Lily and Joe to be. Not wanting to disagree we made internationally recognisable agreeing noises and smiled a lot.
The second family we were visiting were a university friend Rob and his Albanian wife Mira and their lovely baby daughter Emily. Rob was part of a team I once organised to help do some building work on a Hope Centre in northern Croatia, and his love of the Balkans and the people of Albania has led him to integrate so well into local culture and be respected there for his work.
So we really didn’t want to miss out on meeting up with these two remarkable families, especially as they are people who bless those around them, rather than draining them. We wanted to bless them with tea-bags, encouragement, books and opportunity. Despite challenges we found safety in letting go and learning the slowly, slowly mentality. In making decisions late, in not worrying about waiting and in finding the humour. God truly has been good to us this week.
I am not out of the woods. The cycle got a great jolt from this most unusual week, but I am having to work to fight negative patterns and am not ‘fully operational’ so am integrating gently into the world back home. We have others to see and more to do in these next weeks before Lily goes back to school, but I know how I’m going to tackle it.
“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.
…the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair…
I just read Lily’s Bible notes with her, and read this verse in the Good News version:
He will take care of his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs together
and carry them in his arms;
he will gently lead their mothers.
We were in Herefordshire in 2007 when I was three months pregnant with Lily, staying on a farm with my parents. There was a ewe (number 9 I recall) who was particularly protective of her lambs. I understand that feeling now. And I understand her fear. Her need to be kept safe and to keep her precious family safe.
This evening I met for an assessment with a counsellor from the local Christian counselling service. They recognised my need for counselling and have put me on their list: hopefully a space will come up after the summer. Being listened to by someone who understands my background was very helpful. One of the things that came out of the discussion was the need to not only find positives (like this series of tools I’m working on), but also to carefully look at the painful things and mental habits I’ve got into which need addressing. This gentle shepherding promises to be a healing experience I think.
This one sounded almost too easy when my neighbour suggested it to me a few weeks back. ‘Make a list’ she said. ‘Keep it simple’. I had not been making lists as I didn’t want to disappoint myself at how little I was doing, or make a list that included
In fact, the first day or two (and it wasn’t even every day), I just wrote the absolute basics:
That sort of thing. I could manage all that, even if I didn’t eat all the right things at lunchtime.
So now things must be improving (yay!) because today I’m up to here:
and this is huge progress for me, even though it isn’t as much as I’d like to be achieving. And yes, my handwriting is usually about that bad (especially when it’s only for me to read).
Every time I get most of a list achieved it is a big deal, where in the past it was a failure. I am already aware of quite a number of things which didn’t make the cut for today’s list, but I am plodding through the most important details of the coming weeks a step at a time. There is a lot to look forward to. Also I am very grateful that my energy is returning, having been knocked out by a tiring cold over the weekend – this reminds me that my mind, like my body, will go through a ‘getting better’ process and to try and see it happening and be pleased, even when the steps are tiny.
In time I am hoping to create a Bucket List:
There are some great ideas and a way to make a list digitally here. I think I am not in a place where I can dream dreams just yet. Most of my dreams involve things like running away to the Arctic Circle. But I will get better… and when I do some ideas will be realistic and and some crazy.
The corollary of making future lists is to mentally block past lists. At the moment all past lists until I am strong enough to sort them. So, no regret lists, no angry lists, no pity lists, no what-if lists, nothing. That is for God to deal with and in time I will work on areas I need to.
Record my misery;
list my tears on your scroll –
are they not in your record?
…By this I will know that God is for me.
…in God I trust and am not afraid.
What can man do to me?
… you have delivered me from death
and my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before God
in the light of life.
Are you a natural worrier?
Worry is like an earworm on replay. To break the cycle it matters that some kind of closure or distraction to that part of the mind is employed. 5 years ago I investigated worry and found out several things. I will see how many I can relate here.
Sometimes people say ‘don’t worry’ flippantly; my son regularly admonishes anyone present with his beautiful brand of confidence and problem-solving. Frequently he will come out with phrases like ‘Don’t worry mummy, I will fix it – daddy has some tools in the cellar’ with a cheerful grin. If he were any the wiser I would think him disrespectful or thoughtless, but he says it with trust and sincerity. He is magnetically opposed to worry. Others who say ‘don’t worry’ may mean to fix things, but the cycle needs breaking if I am to really stop worrying.
If someone says ‘Don’t worry’ and they have a position of authority, I’m a bit more at ease. If a doctor says ‘The injection might hurt but don’t worry – it’ll be over quickly’ I am inclined to believe them. If a reliable friend says ‘don’t worry about food – I’ll sort it out’ I trust them.
Trust is the opposite of worry.
If we can truly trust someone, we do not have any need for worry.
In order to trust someone, we need to know them and know that we can trust them.
I’ve discovered it’s often the case that we worry in order to prevent the worst-case scenario from happening. We try to make sure every eventuality goes satisfactorily. We love being control freaks.
As a population we have lost a degree of care-free attitude, because we fear pain which we could have averted. We like foresight. We like predictability. We like to be safe. So we worry, and we convince ourselves that because everyone else worries we must be normal and that it cannot be unhealthy. Our experiences in the past teach us to be ready the next time something happens. A rational and trusting way of doing this is careful preparation and foresight. Worry distorts preparating into predicting worst-case scenarios which are very unlikely to happen and which use up our energy unnecessarily. Worry allows us to fear the future if we hold on too tightly to the past. Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow, according to a Swedish proverb.
Worry is also bad for our health, causing tight muscles, tiredness, difficulty breathing, anger, distraction and keeps us awake. It interferes with happiness and makes excitement something to be wary of. Do you remember when you were younger and being excited was a positive experience? Excitement is about anticipation, which is wonderful when there is something good coming. When you worry, it is anticipating the opposite of something good coming. And so often, the thing you worry about is not coming at all.
Consider these statistics. An average person’s anxiety is focused on:
An executive called J. Arthur Rank decided to do all his worrying on one day each week. He chose Wednesdays. When anything happened that gave him anxiety and annoyed his ulcer, he would write it down and put it in his worry box and forget about it until next Wednesday. The interesting thing was that on the following Wednesday when he opened his worry box, he found that most of the things that had disturbed him the past six days were already settled. It would have been useless to have worried about them.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve occasionally needed to write down all the things that are worrying me at a given time. I keep these pieces of paper, and whenever I go through and sort things out and come across one of them it always amazes me how irrelevant most of the worries were in hindsight.
Now if only 8% concerns real problems, we can already discount 92% of our worries by admitting to ourselves that they really aren’t worth the time they take, and we should find ways to distract ourselves from them.
What about the 8% though?
There are several passages in the Bible dealing with the theme of worry. One of my favourites, and a lovely one to remember is in 1 Peter 5:7 – Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Brilliant. Give all your troubles to God. He is big enough. He wants to take them from you. He cares for you so much he hates to see you hurting. Imagine taking the pain away from a child. What a wonderful image. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. We can offload our worries on to someone who truly cares.
Similar things are said in Psalm 55:22 – Cast all your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall. God wants to take on himself the burdens we try and carry unnecessarily. Not only that, but he sustains us.
If your priority is material wellbeing, you will naturally worry about keeping it, extending it and maintaining that material status. There is no guarantee that you ever get to keep material wealth. You cannot trust materialism. Fashions come and go and new products emerge, so it is a hungry god. Economies rise and fall, so it is a fickle god. Friends judge you on your material status, so it is an attractive god. But it is a god of worry and anxiety. Prioritise personal worldly status and you will always have to attend that altar and live in a state of anxiety.
The opposite of, and antidote to worry is Trust.
There is nothing quite like a nice morning bath. Or a glass of cold icy water on a hot day. Or a dive into an empty swimming pool.
Water is life-giving, refreshing and soul-calming. No wonder so many people have water features in the garden. Today, after much insistence from Lily I faced my fear of going to a crowded park on a hot, sunny Saturday and managed to do enough of my share of parenting. One of the lovely features of Holywells Park is the water spray area, which is open between May and September. Children and teenagers run between the jets and arches as they turn off and on intermittently, giggling and filling bottles to squeeze on to each other. Huge fun and a wonderful part of summer. Lily was reluctant, but eventually paddled in the area, shrieking with excitement at the sudden parabolic jokes and wobbly bursts of fun. Joseph was far less keen and wouldn’t go near.
Sometimes I feel like that too. Reluctant to go near the water, afraid that getting wet might hurt or make me look silly. In fact, the best fun is to be had getting in to life and living it.
I know that the park trip has cost me, but I am not going to stop living and I am adapting so that I can take further steps. I prepared by making sure we had (almost everything) we needed – with help from my husband, and took a camera and a magazine to help me when I was frightened. Now to stay indoors this evening and bury myself with television, ice cream and books until I can face more activity.
As a deer longs for streams of water,
so I long for you, O God!
Psalm 42:1 New English Translation
Just had a rough morning falling apart inside while trying to explain myself and my situation to a lady at the local NHS wellbeing service, in person this time. Their initial phone assessment left all of us confused and had me labelled in every category from post-natal depression to anxiety. Apparently this won’t do and they can’t help you if they can’t categorise you, so I had to go in and meet them. Now I am just a perfectionist with low self-esteem (i.e. I won’t tell you if you spell something wrong). I don’t think they liked the fact that I don’t fit their boxes that neatly. I am not convinced that they officially ruled the other categories out either.
In any case, because I cannot meet in groups they can’t really offer group therapy, and you need to pass that level to access CBT. I would know if I could meet in groups because I miss my friends, but am terrified of meeting up with anyone more than one at a time. To be fair, I’m not even great one at a time at present, including with the children. This may be in part due to the medication still kicking in at the higher level.
And I have a bit of an idea about CBT from skills my youth leader taught me as a teenager; since then can recognise my thoughts heading into negative territory and have a range of practised strategies for diverting them. Yesterday I caught myself wondering if the guinea pigs were sulking, and before taking that thought further changed the subject in my head and parked the idea for humour value. The self-discipline is a habit which takes years, but mindfulness and self-evaluation are already very much part of my life. I am utterly grateful to him for his time and tenacity in helping me when I was at my previous low ebb. We all need heroes at times to open up to and places where we can be honest and let the truth set us free.
The more I read, the more I think that rather than one cause for my current ill health, there was a drip-drip effect from a large number of directions over a substantial period of time. Everything from the past 18 years got bottled and I ran out of bottle.
I am so grateful for two very useful conversations yesterday. Without them I would have bought a whole lot more comfort food on the way home. The first was an honest chat with dad, who remembers what I was like before and for both of us to recognise how far I have come. The second was with a remarkable friend from church who is like a mentor – she is in the pastoral care team and is wonderful at listening and speaking truth. From her I realised that I have various options going forward, and am hoping to ask for counselling with a Christian group, who can understand better the way I can address my insatiable protestant work ethic mentality which cannot be lived up to. Or at least, how to cut myself some slack.
There is another reason I find it more helpful to chat with Christians about tough times. When I am at my lowest, I still have the capacity to experience joy and hope. It’s like being in a desert and finding shade. My mentor reminded me that joy is a fruit of the Spirit which would explain this. I remember visiting Death Valley with my husband nine years ago. It was 50 degrees Celsius in the shade. Even jumping out of the car to take a photo meant running through achingly hot air and trying not to touch metal in order to get back inside to the air conditioning.
There were no trees in sight, and hardly any vegetation. Depression feels like that, but the deeper I go in my journey with God, the more I am able to find oases of joy, hope and calm. Going to the NHS today did not deliver, and I didn’t feel truly listened to or able to connect, but talking and praying with Christians means my honesty counts for something and is part of the healing. God’s presence is very real to me, and I find myself aching for Him as much as I am aching for healing. When I am through this valley there will be such a celebration of renewal and I know that I am on the journey there. I want to be able to talk over the hurts and come out the other side stronger and wiser.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me
“…the truth will set you free…”
Lily came in to see me late this morning while I was still in bed, and cheered me up by dancing in her own unique way to music on the radio. I think it was Radio 1.
Music can certainly help. Having a child interpret the music by circling with floaty arms and closed eyes adds humour which can lift me too.
In the past I learnt to play a number of instruments, but none particularly competently. I got grade 4 piano when I was quite young, but needed to stop learning as it was stressful racing through grades and not something I could enjoy. Later I learned a couple of brass instruments briefly at high school before settling on percussion and drums. I enjoyed the drums and it was helpful for me in the past to be able to release my mood through music when I felt rough. I also took saxophone lessons for a couple of years when the children were tiny which was very satisfying, but didn’t get further than around grade 4.
Recently a church family lent us a digital piano so that I can practise and also see whether the children are going to want to learn. Then another church friend (a near neighbour) gave me lots of basic sheet music. It has helped me to find tunes I can play, even with two hands and chords. I am doing exercises when I feel like it and learning things most days. The children are taking an interest and perhaps in the future will want to learn music when they are ready.
I also like listening to classical music and usually find Radio 3 comforting, although when my mood changes I will try any station. And in the car I put on CDs a lot, especially Christian music for speaking truth and love into whatever situation I’m in. Some friends from university, Nick and Becky Drake, have produced some excellent family-friendly albums, and we also like Steven Curtis Chapman, TobyMac, The Rend Collective and many others. If you get as excited about Lego as I do and know TobyMac’s work you may find the following amusing (see 2:20 onwards especially).
This last few days has been particularly heavy. I did not make it out to the church weekend at all in the end. Just way too anxious. I am resisting the anger and guilt that are knocking on my door. Today I could not go out with the family. I know the medication is affecting me a lot and that this is temporary. I also understand that there will be an end to the anxiety and depression, which is spurring me to keep looking forward.
Saul, first king of Israel, suffered with depression. Interestingly, when David played music it calmed him (usually). There is a passage about this:
“And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him.”
1 Samuel 16:23, English Standard Version
The translation of ruwach-ra’a as ‘harmful spirit’ in this translation sits more neatly in my theology of God as one who loves, but also disciplines and has the power to harm. More interesting thoughts about this passage can be found here.