Thursday, 22 December 2011

Christmas De-Trimmed

I’ve been somewhat of an observer of Christmas this year. The me that usually partakes fully in everything Christmassy I can possibly fit in has been overcome by the weakness of my body and so I’ve been sitting on the sidelines; firstly at home, watching as my family took part in carol singing, parties, services and school events; and now in hospital, hoping very much for a get-out-of-hospital-free card for Christmas Day.

So where does this fit into the Great Adventure? What can be possibly said to be of any good about this situation?  I’ve cried myself out, ranted and rallied, and then given in to the good of finally getting IV treatment (and that’s another story I won’t bore you with right now.)

It’s made me think about a few things though. What is Christmas when it is all stripped down? What is it when observed from a sofa or sickbed? What is it when someone cannot join in the festivities and the events, save in their mind and spirit?

Perhaps when Christmas is stripped down to its bare bones the truth is revealed. Perhaps behind the tinsel and the mulled wine there is a glimpse of something much more profound, much more thunderingly awesome. To avoid the use of the <too> much-used phrase ‘put the Christ back in Christmas’ we can find that Christ was always in Christmas, and Christ was always in everything. The incarnation of the Son of God is there at the heart of it all.

Not that carols and parties are mindless frivolities and that I am somehow rising above them in a martyr like fashion – I’d far prefer to be an active partaker. More that sometimes sitting back and being hit again by the ultimate truth behind the season can be important. It would be good if everyone could find time in the midst of this fraught last week before Christmas to think on these things – it’s easy for me, it’s writing blog posts under the influence of IV meds or watching endless Jeremy Kyle. Hmmm. <sulks at not having internet>

What is it about the incarnation that makes it so incredible, that somehow makes everything work, brings peace to those in the most desperate of circumstances? Possibly the simplicity of God loving the world so much; possibly the mind blowing way that Jesus lived among people, walked with them in their sorrow and sickness and pain. And still does today. It’s not only that, though. It’s something in the way Jesus was born not as a king in finery and riches. He was born in poverty and weakness. God identified with all that was not strong and successful. In the weakness of beginnings God showed that God is with us in more than just a cold and theoretical way. God really is with us in the mess, and however weak we are, whether in sickness or in other ways, knowing that can change everything.

I can’t say I am happy to be here and content in suffering and all that malarkey. But when I look at this beautiful celebration I’m amazed, and I’m living in hope, and I’m finding peace in the brokenness. I hope you all, in all your life situations, can find something of the immense love of God for you this Christmas.

And so the lonely, the sick, the downtrodden can know that Christmas is good. Please remember them in your own busy lives. I wonder who I can bring this hope to this Christmas.

Now, bring on the tinsel and mince pies, because the food here is rubbish and the decor somewhat lacking...;)

Saturday, 10 December 2011


I’ve put up decorations today and helped the children put up and decorate the Christmas tree. I’m so thankful I’ve got enough spoons today to do this. Last week would have been a different story. Last Saturday I was miserably pondering the possibility of never being able to do anything Christmassy again with my children due to being so low on reserves and breath that it was all I could do to crawl on to the sofa and grumpily read everyone else’s Facebook comments about days out with the family, Christmas baking and craft and great parties. Everyone else was having all the fun, it seemed, and I wanted to shout at them, how dare you be enjoying yourself and doing nice things with your families when I am stuck in feeling like this and my children don’t ever seem to get the best of me?

Of course, I didn’t mean that, not really, and I didn’t write an attention seeking status update telling everyone that I felt that way and to shut up. Because really I was loving hearing about people’s days and fun and family time, and I will always want to hear that. But there is something inside that mourns the loss of such times, and as the disease progresses the times become less. I have to grab what I can with both hands and be delighted at the days I can partake in such. Today is one, which is a good thing as we are having a party later. Despite waking up feeling like today wouldn’t work it has so far. And a small thing like putting the tree up with carols in the background and children dancing around with tinsel in their hair has made me smile, has made me appreciate what I have.

I know I need to be able to deal with the possibility of having less days like this one, and finding delight in things anyway. I cannot only be happy when I feel better. My challenge is to smile on the bad days, to smile last Saturday. To be happy last Thursday when Adventure Bloke went to see the Adventurous Pair sing at the Young Voices concert in Birmingham – to smile that even though I couldn’t go, they were experiencing it anyway, and forming lovely memories.

But I’m not very good at that really. I think it’s OK to grump as well. Nobody’s perfect, after all, though of course Adventure Bloke comes close ;)

I guess I need to live for each day. Even if I can find a moment in a bad day where I see the good, it can lift me beyond myself. It’s not all about me!  One thing all this does is help me think of those who are much more poorly than me, those housebound, those on 24/7 oxygen, those not able to get out at all, and how they feel. It gives me a small glimpse into how it can be so isolating and lonely to be in this place. It inspires me to wonder what I can do to help.

Today I’ll make the most of today. And tomorrow may not be so good. But at least I got to put up the Christmas Tree with my children. At least I got to make mince pies and tut at all the glitter on the floor from their wonderful artistic creations. At least I’ll get to enjoy some mulled wine and chat to friends. At least for today. And that’s good.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

The children have it right...

Watching Children in Need last night with the Adventurous Pair caused me to think upon how children have a natural sense of justice and fairness and a horror at what is blatantly wrong. All through the show I was heading off cries of 'pleeeeease mummy, please donate again, come on, how can you not' and various other emotional blackmail-ish types of statements ;)

Some might say that this is because children are easily influenced, but I think it's due to their God-given sense of fair play. Us adults have often become somewhat jaded and cynical and downright apathetic about these things, but there is nothing like a child in tears at a film of another child with a disability to help one regain some perspective on the world. Maybe we need to listen to the children more.

This was reinforced to me the other day when watching one of Adventurous Girl's literacy lessons. The children were challenged in groups to research somebody involved in civil rights. All the groups approached the task with great interest and you could sense the outrage rising as they found out facts about people such as Martin Luther King and Ghandi. Adventurous Girl's scathing and unbelieving remarks about apartheid would match any passionate politician and doubtless come from a purer agenda. I wonder if this is closer to what God's heart is like; the innocence of a child facing harsh realities and responding with tears and stark unbelief. Maybe we should listen to the children more and allow ourselves to feel it again the way we once did. Maybe then we might get up and do something more. Who knows.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

A Life in a Day

I've been avoiding blogging lately, mostly because I've felt I have had little to say beyond the 'oh, I feel rubbish again' type of thing. I wanted this blog to be all inspiring and extraordinary, but actually, in general life isn't like that. Maybe I should post on more of those days when I have nothing much to say. Maybe not. Either way, it's been one of those relegated-to-bottom-of-to-do-list items.

However, I did watch something extraordinary last night and it broke through the lethargy of my non-blogging state of mind. It was the film of Life in a Day which asked people all over the world to send in videos of themselves going about their ordinary lives on one particular day, 24th July 2010. When Adventure Bloke mentioned it I thought it might be a bit meh, but having watched it was immensely moved, and reminded of the power of the human spirit to triumph over adversity and make the best of things. The image of a child snuggling down to sleep in the fishing boat they lived and work in, with a big smile on her face, is one which will stay with me. And it just captured so many different people in different situations, cheerful and despairing, the whole breadth of human experience.

I believe there is that spirit because it comes from the Spirit who breathed life into us, a God of endless creativity, energy and hope. Seeing people singing as they worked in the most difficult of circumstances reminded me of the hope Jesus brings now for all, the hope of a better day, of a time when all will be well.

You'll have to watch it for yourself :)

Meanwhile, maybe I'll apply some of that positivity to my own situation and live fully for each day, whether ill or well. I really want to, but it's hard to know how to sometimes when you are stuck in a day with no spoons. As most of my days seem this way at present I'm a bit weary of it all.

But I'll endeavour to take a leaf from Adventure Girl's book. She is plagued with psoriasis at the moment, really covered in it and things aren't easy but her cheerful spirit always shines through everything she goes through. Now to catch some of that...

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Being (sometimes) beats doing.

I'm having a poorly week. Lungs infected again and this time it's hit me pretty hard. For nearly 4 days I've hardly been able to crawl out of bed, though I made it downstairs last night in a somewhat jelly like state. What it did mean is that I couldn't do anything on the To Do list I'd been stressing over at the end of last week, and had to leave things be.

Now, at first, this frustrates me greatly. I am far too much an activist to be ill, and yet I'm ill so much you'd have thought I'd have learned by now to sit back and be graceful and lovely or something. But instead I mutter and annoy Tim about the mess downstairs and the to do pile. That is unless it's a really bad day, in which case I'll say nothing at all and give him some peace ;)

This time however, I've found something different. I found I could connect with God again. How does this work? In the last few weeks I've been busy but praying, but finding God's presence just...well, wasn't there. Or was, but not anywhere I could find it. Even in the asking. But it's when I get really poorly I finally find what I have been searching for. Just gently, just whispers, senses, something changing in the atmosphere, and suddenly I know it. God's with me.

Now, I know, of course, that this is always the case, but let's face it, it's not something that's always tangible. So here's the question: Why is it that it's in the time of the most suffering that God reveals Godself more tangibly? God could just heal me, or something, but instead there's this amazing grace, this gentle love, this awesome presence weaving through my pain. I almost think these times are a gift in some way.

Now, this doesn't happen every time I'm ill, don't get me wrong. There will be those times I just feel devoid of it all and wonder where God is anyway and grumble and feel generally sorry for myself. But just occasionally there is this grace, if I allow it. And it's pretty good.

So where does that leave me? Is being poorly better than being well? Is being better than doing? Well....hmmmm. No, being ill is not better. I'd have happy lungs if I could. But I think we could all do well to stop sometimes. To slow down and be, and let God find us in that vulnerability and lack of activism.

When I get better and get up will I remember this? Maybe. Or maybe I'll start stressing about my to do list. There must be a balance somewhere, I feel...

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

What do you do?

Whenever I go someplace new or meet new people, I always get The Question, and I have come to dread it somewhat. The question 'what do you do?' It's like we as a society buy into all the 'what we do defines us' stuff, and it comes out in the first question we ask a new person.

Now, I'm not completely innocent of this myself. Let's face it, it's often a conversation starter, and can help get a picture of a person. But for the person who doesn't feel able to respond with anything much it can be at best cringeworthy and at worst depressing or even terrifying. You're stood there thinking 'she'd going to ask what I do in a minute, and I'm going to have to say nothing, and she's going to be thinking this or that' etc. When in all reality we know they won't really be thinking very much at all apart from the mechanics of being friendly, because that is generally all it is.

I think there's something deeper behind the whole question that makes those who feel they don't 'do' less than useful. It's like you have to do to be worthy, to be productive, to contribute to society. But do you? Is your worth in your productivity? I think not.

Creativity and productivity are of course important and beneficial to our humanity. But there is the question of who we are which goes deeper than anything we do. For me, how God sees me is 100% more important than any label I can give myself, and I know that God's more concerned with stuff like compassion and justice than whether I have a job. And so that's what I'll strive towards, even in my worst times.

I keep pondering on good answers to The Question. For a while I really rebelled and told people I 'slobbed round watching Jeremy Kyle and eating cake all day', and for a while decided to be honest and tell people I used to teach but now I can't because I have lung disease. But I don't really like that one because it has undertones of not being any use any more. It's also possibly a bit in your face to start listing health woes as soon as you meet someone, poor individual! So I generally mutter a bit about working in a team with Tim, doing bits and bobs of admin and voluntary work and web stuff etc, but that's muffing it all up really, and again coming up with something that is endeavouring to label what I do, endeavouring to sound like I am of use.

One day I'll have the bravery to answer something such as 'what do I do? You mean who am I? A child of God.' And that is where it's at, because I don't need to be more than that.

However, I know in reality I'll keep dreading it and keep avoiding it and keep giving half answers. Because I'm English, and polite, and all that, and not very brave really. Never mind.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Days Like These

So, what do I do with days like these?

Today is officially our Day Off, so I am officially allowed to relax. I also seem to have picked up a chest infection and feel that slight run-over-by-a-bus sensation, so that kind of puts a dampener on stuff like going out for lunch or mucking around the garden.

So why do I feel slightly guilty about....ahem....doing Nothing? I am poorly, but not poorly enough to be utterly laid out. If that was so, I would be nowhere near this puter. I am in an in-betweeny stage of poorliness, which is very annoying. There's a part of me telling me that I should be Being Productive, and not in the physio sense (Brussians will get this) But the other part saying chill, it's OK to Mumsnet all day, it's OK to watch rubbish daytime TV and it's OK to download more books onto my Kindle.

So on days like these, I need to find a way of being that doesn't make me feel bad about not doing stuff like starting to be Pioneer-ish. On days like these, perhaps it's OK to say that I have few spoons, so I will watch This Morning, drink tea and Be Happy.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Pioneers R Us!

Since the Adventurous Pair are back at school, and I no longer have the excuse of the mania of school hols and moving, I thought I had better re-start this neglected blog.

I wanted to as well because I am so excited about our new life here in Priorslee. It's mixed with so many emotions, sadness at leaving Stoke amongst them, but it's great to see how so many of the little things have worked out so well so far <almost like there's a God, or something ;D)

Last night Adventure Bloke officially became a pioneer minister, although he thinks that he too should have been presented with a large bag of maltesers to 'make him strong for the task ahead', as Adventurous Pair were, to their delight (especially after being told they were being given rice pudding.) The Licensing Service was awesome, I think, although I may be a leetle biased. All those who took part did a sterling job and made it into such a powerful and inspiring evening. Pioneer Ministry is a very different animal to being a vicar in an established church, and it was great that the service reflected that. I loved that we were commissioned as a family, God's call is on all of us.

But now we are Pioneers, what do we do next?

Please phone or text with any answers.....:D

We can't wait to get stuck in, actually, and see what God's up to here in Priorslee, who's in it with us, where we go from here. Bring it on.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Pondering on endings

So, we're in the very last week of school. Adventure Girl was sent off from Guides in style on Friday and Adventure Boy from Beavers yesterday. They both had mixed feelings; happiness from the love and care shown to them and the fun they've had, sadness from moving on. Adventure Boy says to me 'what if the new Beavers don't like me? Or don't do football?' Much as I can assure him they will, my feelings are with his, and I find myself thinking 'what if they don't like me? What if the school gate mums ignore me?' <Funnily enough, not 'what if they don't do football?>

It's such a time of bittersweet wonderings. Stoke has been amazing. I love the people here. I can only stand back in wonder and see what God has done. How can I go on from this place into the unknown? Especially to such a role - a church plant? Sometimes I'm overcome with excitement. More often, I'm left thinking 'what on earth are we doing?'

But today I am sad. The school week is crammed with last things. I can't get to many due to spoons being in short supply this week, but I'll do what I can. Tears are near!

It's not really an ending though, I suppose. It's all just part of God's great plan, and woven in with where we were before and where we will be next. A step on the journey. A stage in the Great Adventure. And so we can do it, we can embrace it, we can go for it.

But a little piece of me will always be in Stoke.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Tapestry ponderings

At our Thursday coffee group today we were thinking about waiting for answers to prayers, and waiting for God to act, and what about when God doesn't, and all that. We looked at the stories of Sarah and Hagar in the bible, thinking about how Sarah must have felt, having been promised for years that she would have a baby who would be the first of many descendants, and yet the promise seemed unfulfilled, and impossible now, having gone through the menopause.

If I were Sarah, I think I'd have shouted at God a little. 'You promised...but nothing. Are you there? I've had to live through years of hurt and humiliation. How can I trust in you?' Can't blame her really for taking matters into her own hands and trying to make it happen by getting her servant to sleep with her husband. The wait was far from over then: Often I've read this as Sarah having Isaac pretty well straight after Hagar had Ishmael, but it struck me this morning that it was another thirteen years before the angels visited to remind them of the promise, and who knows how long after that before Sarah was actually pregnant. She must have given up any hope, really.

One of the girls at my group reminded me of a poem I'd heard yonks ago about tapestries. The premise being that we see the back of the tapestry, the mess, the chaos, and have no idea of the big picture. So what we go through often seems to make no sense, and we cannot understand why God doesn't answer our prayer as we hope, and why God lets us go through such times. We see glimpses of shapes and colours, and catch edges of hope and beauty. But with this image we will one day see the beautiful picture. It's in the chaos now that we need to trust in the promises, and let those tiny glimpses of hope carry us and enliven us and thrill us.

I found a version of this poem often used by Corrie Ten Boom, a Jewish Christian lady who survived one of the Nazi death camps, Ravensbruck. For her to utter such words takes them above the cliched, the monotone, the obvious. She saw more suffering there than most of us ever see, yet believed and trusted in God's great plan.

My life is but a weaving between my God and me,
I do not choose the colours; He works so steadily.
Oft times He weaves in sorrow, and I in foolish pride,

Forget He sees the upper, and me the underside.
Not till the loom is silent, and the shuttles cease to fly,

Will God unroll the canvas, and explain the reason why.

The dark threads are as needful in the weavers skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver in the pattern He has planned.

There is something profound in this, something that speaks of living through dark times, of not knowing why, of more than we understand. It's not a 'God always knows best, just accept his plan' thing. More of a 'there is so much more than this. So much we could never know, and we will trust, we will hope, we will know that one day we will see clearly.'

For now, I am content to see edges of sharp colours, shadows of exciting shapes. I'll probably keep shouting 'why?' at God, and questioning, and rightly so.  But I'll live in the hope seeing 'the threads of gold and silver in the pattern He has planned'.

Thanks to Pauline for the tapestry analogy today :)

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Benefit Scroungers R Us

I am seriously worried about the future. Not so much for me, because I am blessed to have the support I have, but for those people suffering from chronic illnesses and disability who are running out of options.

You may think I am being somewhat over dramatic here, but in reality, there is a problem, and it is being hidden, and there is a systematic assault on the very people who need protecting most. But the news doesn't report this. The voices are dim, the fights are weak. The most vociferous are often the most suffering. And this is wrong.

A couple of weeks back there was a march against the DLA/ESA reform in London, called the Hardest Hit. It barely featured in the 1 O Clock news, let alone the 6/10pm slots. Was almost one of those afterthoughts - those 'aah, isn't this nice, people in wheelchairs out for the day' type things. And then came the Daily Mail type comments; 'if they can get down to London to protest, they can jolly well work and stop scrounging off the taxpayers money'. There is a lack of empathy pervading society that shocks me and leaves me cold, and yet this could be just round the corner for any one of us.

I had a look at the new proposed criteria for the 'Personal Independence Plan' and only became more worried about the narrowing of criteria and the loss of dignity this will inevitably bring. I fear that many will now be caught in a trap; that of not being 'disabled enough' to gain disability benefits, and yet being too ill to be employed, not being able to get JSA because of not being able to get to the Jobcentre due to illness or lack of mobility, having lost mobility allowance....and so on, and so on. A vicious circle of ever decreasing proportions which may leave some at best housebound and despairing and at worst - well, let's not go there. As a society which prides itself on looking after its most vulnerable citizens, we are in danger of falling into a pit of unseen depths. If you still think I am being dramatic, please take some time to read this to see how this is already affecting thousands.

For me as a Christian, this is affecting me so much because of how we see people. Are people valuable, or are they commodities? Do people matter because they are people, because they are who they are, or because of what they can bring to society? As someone who believes all are made in God's image and all are inexplicably precious and amazing, it feels like these reforms may be devaluing and cutting off those who cannot fight for themselves, and this is utterly contrary to God's ways.

For me as someone with chronic illness, this is affecting me so much because I am reliant; on my family and on society as a whole to live. Perhaps for those who have no support system their thinking will soon verge on whether they have any value at all, whether it is worth fighting, whether it is better to give up, and stop burdening others.

I am worried about the future. The future looks cold. What are we going to do about it?

Monday, 9 May 2011

Why I love Brussians

I went to a meet up this weekend with a few people from the website 'Bronchiectasis R Us' which was set up a few years ago by the lovely Charlotte as a way for people suffering from this rare disease to connect and share information and support. We've been having an annual meet up for a few years now. These guys never cease to amaze me with their zest for life amidst such suffering.

You may be thinking these meet ups must be depressing, talking about illness, sharing symptoms etc. So far from it. It's a chance for us all to let go. I think that we know we can simply be ourselves with each other, because we share such a deep bond. We understand each other - we don't even need to say anything, we just need to look at each other and we know. We get it. It's like a breath of fresh air (no pun intended) Lovely family and friends are wonderful in their empathy and compassion but there is something about spending time with those going through the same as you, something liberating.

And you know, we don't sit moaning and grumbling (not too much anyway) ;) We have a giggle, mainly. There are people there who have more to contend with than 'only' bronchiectasis, they have other chronic illnesses, and yet there they are, smiling, encouraging, being there for others. I wanted to write this post as a tribute to the bravery of Brussians, and to their general attitude on life, which is positive, affirming, fun. Brussians don't go under, even with the most hideous of circumstances. Of course we all have times we scream and rant and moan and cry, but the support that comes from other members during that time is amazing, even when these others are yet again in hospital or struggling to breathe. Knowing these people has changed me, changed my outlook on this disease and you know what? I thank God for them.

So Charlotte - thankyou, thankyou and thankyou again, because you setting up this little site those years ago made many lives that little bit happier. And I am so glad I know you and the other Brussians. Sometimes I'm even grateful I am ill because of meeting you all, lovely, brave people. God bless. xxx

Friday, 22 April 2011

Why Friday is Good

I remember reading a book as a teen entitled 'It's Friday, but Sunday's Comin' (in true eighties cool teen speak.) I recall something about the truism that some Christians concentrate overly on the Friday bit and not enough on the Sunday, but without the Sunday the Friday would be pretty pointless. Without the empty tomb, this faith would have no power, no promise, no hope. But I believe in the empty tomb. I believe in the Sunday and I believe in hope.

On a day like today, Good Friday 2011, for example. Today I am finding breathing a drag, and am not being the most patient of mums or giving of wives, because breathing hurts, and I want it to stop really. I've had a few fearful moments today, but have in the midst of that been drawn to the mystery and greatness of what this day is all about. We Messy Churched this morning, and Adventure Bloke spoke about eggs and stones. Stones being by nature somewhat dead, cold objects, and then eggs looking like stones from the outside but symbolising new life and hope. Linking to the empty tomb and All That. Something struck me in that moment. About what I believe. It seems like the most way out, mad belief really, if you stop to think. Someone back from the dead? Hmmm. How could any rational person believe that? Not going into a hugely lengthy treatise on why I believe what I do, suffice to say I do, and all I experience in day to day life, despite that tricky little breathing problem, is bound up within that belief, is liberating, is compelling, is awesome. Something about this day takes me above the aggravations of how I feel and into the mystery of what God has done and how much God loves. Friday is good. And Sunday even better. I can't wait.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Love Wins, and all that

So, I've read the new Rob Bell book, 'Love Wins'. Whispers round the tinterweb about it verge from refreshing and thought provoking to cries of heresy and outrage. Hmmm. What did I think?

Well. The thing that always strikes me about Rob Bell, and no less than usual in this latest book, is his passion for Jesus. He totally bigs Him up. Again and again. Whatever else you say, you can't pretend that Rob doesn't love Jesus. I love how he talks about Jesus: 'Jesus is both near and intimate and personal, and big and wide and transcendent.' 'He holds the entire universe in his embrace. He is within and without time. He is the flesh-and-blood exposure of an eternal reality. He is the sacred power present in every dimension of creation.'

That Rocks.

This book is beautiful. It's poetic, thought provoking, sharp, cutting and warming. I don't agree with it all, but I have a sneaky suspicion that Rob would be most unhappy for everyone to say 'oh yes, you're right about everything, I'll change my mind and follow your thoughts from now on.' :) I reckon he wrote this for people to engage with the issues he writes about, to get deep into thought about it, to use our God given reason. So it is fine to not agree. But that doesn't make him wrong, or me right. Who knows?

The main issues he writes about in this book are 'heaven, hell, God, Jesus, salvation and repentance.' No small feat this one. And it's not a long wordy theological tome in any sense of the word. Read it in your coffee break/in the loo/in bed. It's engaging and pulls you in.

One of his main points is about Hell. The traditional view has (sometimes) been something like this: 'Unless you do not respond the right way, God will torture you forever, in Hell.' What do we do with something like that? How do we understand hell? Rob talks about it like this: If God is so great, surely God gets what God wants, and what God wants is to be in relationship with every single person, ever. Surely we can't say that God is not strong enough to do this? We narrow God by saying only a 'few are saved', he contends. Now, this is where the controversy comes in. Some may read his book and decide he is a Universalist, that all are saved, whatever they do and say, so what's the point of believing anything or sharing it with your friends? I don't know that he is saying that. He asks a lot of pointed questions, but doesn't necessarily come up with nice neat little answers. I like that he leaves a lot unsaid, because it makes me think. I don't know quite what I think really, but I'm with him on one thing. God is a God of power and justice, and 'not willing that any should perish', so we don't need to narrow God down. Who knows how it all works? Sometimes, all we need to know is that God is just and is Love. Hell - burning for eternity? Somehow, I think not. <ducks eggs and cries of 'burn the heretic!'> What I do know is that God created each and every one of us, we all bear God's image, and God longs to know us and be known.

Rob Bell makes a big thing of how God sent Christ so that could happen. Atonement theories aside <resists temptation to go all theological on you> Jesus coming means that Love Wins. Has won. What could be a more positive message?

There's more, much more. You'll have to read it for yourself. Read it with an open mind, be prepared to have your mind blown, be prepared to say 'Nah, I don't think so' and 'I'd never thought about it like that before.' Since when did we as followers of Christ have to fit into a nice little box of believing and doing things in a certain way? Some of it has left me with questions such as 'what does he think Christ died for' and wondering about where he stands with forgiveness, the whole leaving your old life behind and other such. Wondering is good though...

I'm going to end with his last paragraph, 'cos it's Cool.

'May you experience this vast, expansive, infinite, indestructible love that has been yours all along. May you discover that this love is as wide as the sky and as small as the cracks in your heart no one else knows about. And may you know, deep in your bones, that love wins.'

And who could argue with that. :)

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Strength and Self Pity

Yesterday I indulged in a nice little Pity Party, all by myself.

Adventure Bloke had come home from an hours run and had rather nice calf definition, if I may say so. But there was me, deciding that it was Not Fair that I could not go out on an hour's run and have calf definition. Because I have messed up lungs, and because yesterday was a Bad Day. I did get the Adventurous pair to the park after school, but paid the price. Breathing? Bonus!

This led to me wallowing in a bit of good old fashioned self pity. Many of you lovely people say to me that I am so strong and brave. But I'm not, really. I cry and I scream and I rant at this disease, and I don't feel very strong at all. I indulge in some envy fairly often. Last night it was envying the midwives on One Born Every Minute. You see, I would love to do that job, what an exciting place to be (I know, sad, exhausting and draining too) But I can't. So I envy their strength. Then I start envying the Adventurous Pair's teachers at school, because they are doing the job I used to do, and used to do rather well, really. Then I start envying people on the street, people at the gym, checkout people in Morrisons. Because they are strong (or seem so to my narrow view) Because they don't have screwed up lungs. Because they can work. Because they can run and have Calf Definition.

Adventure Bloke demurred my kind invitation to my Pity Party, but let me attend nevertheless. Afterwards, he hugged me, and said it was OK. I think that's kind of like God. I don't think God expects me to be calm and stoic at all times and to smile at my disease and say 'it's fine, these things come to try us.' I rather think instead that God hurts with me. That when the pain is so bad I cry that God cries too.

I have learnt that life is not fair. My parents used to tell me this a lot. And to my disgust I now use the same phraseology to my children, which annoys them just as much as it did me. But it is really not. Is life fair for those in Japan affected by the tragic events lately? Life fair for those caught in conflict in Libya? Life fair for the Mumsnetter who lost her darling 2 year old son to cancer last week?

Some say when we talk about suffering that it is God's will. But substitute that phrase for the 'is life fair' phrase in the paragraph above. Can that really be said of God? I don't think so. I don't believe God wills this stuff. But I do believe God is in it with us. My understanding is flawed and shallow and tinged with self pity. But my experience is of a God who hurts, who knows what it is like to lose a child and knows what it is like to not be able to breathe through pain. And who has done something about it.

So I'll still engage in the occasional pity party, I reckon, if only to justify chocolate eating. But then I'll remember the verse from Psalm 73: "My health fails, my spirits droop, yet God remains! He is the strength of my heart, he is mine forever."

Sunday, 13 March 2011

What value on life?

I watched the BBC documentary 23 Week Babies the other night and it's been preying on my mind ever since. In the first case, pondering on the harrowing and unthinkable suffering parents of these incredibly premature babies go through, and endeavouring to imagine what it would be like (impossible to do so, really.) And then there are the dedicated health professionals involved in the process, and the decisions they have to make, decisions that could mean life or death, impossible decisions.

But the documentary threw up some deeply disturbing questions, questions about life, value, disability and euthanasia. The narrator recounted how the statistics of babies born at this gestation were terribly negative, that in fact it was rare that a baby would live. And this led to questions about whether it was even worth trying, or a waste of NHS resources, which could go to 'better use' elsewhere.

Alongside this questions were raised about quality of life, and whether it was worth saving babies who would go on to be disabled, and have 'poorer' quality of life, whatever that may mean (some of the 'disabilities' tiny preemies go on to have are poor eyesight or hearing, for example). While I appreciate the statistics are poor (although not as poor as this documentary contended, according to the ever-right ;)) I do wonder about the consequences of statements such as the spoken and unspoken ones in this programme. If we say that one set of people are not worth ploughing resources into, what does it say about other sets that society may deem less than valuable? If it is not worth endeavouring to save a 23 week baby, is it worth saving somebody profoundly disabled? If phrases such as 'quality of life' are bandied round about these matters then there could so easily be a danger of the beginning of making medical decisions based on how low the quality of life of the patient is deemed to be, not necessarily about the patient. It is evident to me as well that some do take this further, and add lack of use into the equation. While most of society, I hope, are concerned with quality of life in terms of enjoyment and comfort, some seem to look at what someone puts into society, and if they are unable to, value is somehow thought of as lesser.

Now as you know, I have a wee bee in my bonnet about usefulness, particularly when it comes to living with disability or chronic illness.But even only with the scenario of judging based on quality of life,  I worry that society may one day turn on the most vulnerable, and decide that their quality of life is so poor that it's not really worth putting resources into them, and the even scarier scenario of deciding at or before birth whether these people are worth 'keeping'. Now I realise this is slightly on the hysterical side, but I guess living on the edge with illness can cause dramatic mind wanderings at times :)

Mostly, my view on this is all taken up in how I see God seeing us, each one of us, 23 week baby or 91 year old cancer patient. We are valuable, we are loved and we are lovingly created to be in relationship with the God of the universe. I know it cannot be cut and dried, we cannot simply say 'everyone should be treated the same' but if there can be a view of value not based on quality of life and/or usefulness behind the decisions things may be different. Some may argue that we should leave things to take their natural cause, and that 23 week babies would never have survived before technology, but you could use this argument for any medical intervention. I wouldn't be alive if I'd been born 100 years ago, so that argument sits on somewhat shaky ground for me. The thing is, we have the technology, we have the expertise. Should we not use it?

But it's still not simple. The suffering the baby may go through undergoing such treatment is cited; but on the other side, we hear of the miracles, those 23 weekers getting through it and living delightful and loved lives (thanks to Mumsnet for many such testimonies). We cannot say that just because they may have disabilities they will not have good lives, we just cannot. Do ill people not deserve to live? Where can this line of thinking stop?

I realise I have asked a load of questions here, and not given answers. How can I? I feel wretched for the parents and wretched for the doctors. All I know for sure is that my father in heaven loves these tiny babies, and that they are people of value. In saying that, I can totally understand those parents who say it's time to let go, time to stop. I haven't walked in their shoes, and therefore I cannot make blanket statements about What Is Good or What God Wants.

I guess it all goes back to my mini mission: To speak for those whose voices have been dimmed, those who feel society has condemned them to a life of uselessness, those who feel they have no value because they cannot Do. May we never place a price on life, in whatever 'quality' that may be. May we simply be representatives of God's all encompassing love and grace, for all, in all times.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Grand Designs

I went along with some lovely friends to the New Wine Women's Day in Harrogate yesterday. I always love these days, they are a bit of an oasis, chance to get together with hundreds of others worshipping God and mudge over some great teaching that is practical for every day life. Yesterday's theme was 'Grand Designs', but no Kevin McCloud in sight I'm afraid (well, not.) It was about our lives all having a grand design, whoever we are, wherever we are, whatever our circumstances of. The lovely Nadine Parkinson led the first session and I loved that she described our lives as a Great Adventure. Hmmm, familiar that one :D Great though to hear my feelings about life in that way reflected by others.

I had not heard Ruth Perrin speak before but she blew me away, plus being a great speaker she made us laugh, which is always good value. Loved her take on some of the women in the bible, especially some of the more little known ones, like Joanna, Phoebe, Priscilla and Tabitha (like that name ;)) These were all ordinary women, in different life circumstances, who became extraordinary by following the call of God on their lives. They all had Great Adventures. I love that. Read their stories sometime!

I loved hearing Ness Wilson again. I had heard her speak 2 years back at New Wine summer camp and she had given me a vision, I'll have to tell you about it sometime ;) She talked about what often holds women back from being all they can be, stuff like self-doubt, self-esteem. She challenged us all to be brave and courageous. Girl power rules!

One of the most poignant parts of the day for me was hearing more about Mercy Ministries who run a residential programme for young women who have experienced difficulties with such things as self-harm, eating disorders, abuse and similar, focussing on helping mend the broken parts, delve into what is behind it all, and turn around their pictures of themselves, from broken to whole, from nothing to a beautiful woman of value. They are Christian based and do bring this into their programme, because they have found that this is what does it, that seeing themselves as God sees them can change everything. I love this video of some of the girls who have come through the programme and how their lives have been utterly changed.

Warning - get the Kleenex out!

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Is God a User?

There is a certain phrase prevalent among Christians (particularly a certain 'flavour' of Christians) which comes under what I call Christian Jargon-ese. Now this phrase is something I never really thought about or worried about until Adventure Bloke wrote his most excellent Master's Thesis. As I began to read his notes and engage with the subject I realised that the phrase was sitting more and more uncomfortably with me.

I therefore would like to issue a challenge to my Christian friends who find themselves using this language. Do the words 'God can use you' or 'God uses anyone' or 'God used me' (and so on) ever creep into conversation? Read a good many Christian books and you will find these words oft repeated. The thing is, the words are used <no pun intended> with all good intentions. The premise behind the language is of God loving us so much God works through each of us, whatever our gifts are. But I would like to look beyond the intention and examine the language a little.

Now, imagine you see the words 'he used her' in a newspaper article. What would be the emotion coming to mind? Would it be positive? No, because the phrase in common usage means something entirely different. When somebody is 'used' it usually means they are 'abused', 'discarded', 'worthless'. Hardly feelings we would like to be associated with how God sees us. The verb 'to use someone' is in fact incredibly rarely describing a positive event. It is much more often telling a story of brokenness, of rejection.

So where do we get it, and why do we say it? You may be surprised to find out that the bible never once tells of God 'using' somebody. Nothing. Nada. God working with, yes. God loving, even more. But using? Never.

What do our friends who don't share our beliefs think if they hear this language? Society pretty much only uses this verb with negative connotations attached. So banding round phrases such as 'God has used you so much!' may be having the opposite effect to what is intended. Who, after all, wants to be 'used?' (and my dear friends who are not Christians, I would love to hear your opinions on this :))

Now, one problem lies in the language, what we really mean, and how we can say it. I was talking with a dear friend the other day about this issue and we were sharing how easily it is said and how we need to find alternatives. We decided that a positive and meaningful alternative was possibly 'God partners with us.' This is a powerful representation of God working with us, God seeing us as valuable and giving us the choice to surrender to him so he can partner with us. Almost breathtakingly simple? Some of you, however, may be thinking about how 'God using me' language reflects us being totally open to God, saying for example 'I am totally giving my life to God, so I invite God to 'use' me however he wants.' Again, the intention works, and it can be difficult to find language that does the same job, but I still think it remains problematic. How can we say that God loves us and uses us in the same sentence? Can a God who loves be a God who uses? Well yes, if you say that 'uses' merely means God graciously working within what we have invited God to do. But no, if we want to engage with those around us and respect what such language may feel like to them.

I think there is another aspect to this too, something on a deeper scale. I wonder if the wording 'God can use us' implies that 'we need to be useful.' And I wonder if there is an unacknowledged presumption at the heart of it; a presumption that says 'we can only be used if we are useful', ie God can only work with us and through us if we are doing, if we are being of use in some way. Society reflects this to a certain extent - how many of us find that the first thing we are asked is 'what do you do?' From the point of view of someone who doesn't 'do' an awful lot due to illness, this can be destroying. And to wonder if I cannot be used by God because I cannot be useful, because I am Invalid, is a dark and scary kind of pattern of thought. Yet I think there is a subconscious level at which this does happen.

So I challenge you (and me): Chuck out the 'use' and chuck out the 'useful'. Let's liberate ourselves from the expression which may only be viewed negatively by some, and which may be at the root of insecurity for many followers of Christ. Let's be partners with God. How amazing would that be?

These are my very unformed thoughts, and I could witter for a while yet, but will stop here for now. I am fascinated by this issue and would be interested to hear thoughts on this, even those that tell me not to be so daft and over-thinking ;)

So, I wonder what other Christian Jargon-ese should go into Room 101? Answers on a postcard....

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Who am I?

I have a new toy, and am spending far too much time playing on it. It's CyberLink PowerDirector 9  and it is So Much Fun. I love making audio visual thingys for use in church, bringing the words to life. I know that some people are much more visual than others, some prefer to listen, but I like to look at stuff so enjoy producing it. I'm looking forward to getting stuck in. So far though I have had fun creating a video to one of my favourite Casting Crowns songs, Who am I?
Here it is. I am always bowled over by the words in this song, especially the chorus: 'I am a flower quickly fading, here today and gone tomorrow, a wave tossed in the ocean, a vapour in the wind. Still you hear me when I'm calling, Lord you catch me when I'm falling, and you've told me who I am - I am yours.' I love that in the midst of a world full of uncertainty and chaos, in the knowledge that our time here is so fleeting, we can experience belonging to God, knowing God catching us when we fall.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Messy Church?

So, we've recently started Messy Church which is around once a month at the moment. But what is it? The Messy Church website gives a description of the concept behind it, but I imagine it varies from place to place. For us we want to bring families together for fun and food with some learning about God stuff flowing through it. Mainly though to build community in our area. One of the feelings that is expressed in our area is concern at lack of community, so how can the church contribute to building it up once again? Initiatives like Messy Church may only be a drop in the ocean - but small steps go a long way if there are enough. Last time we had the mayhem of tent making, with children and parents getting increasingly involved (and competitive about their tents!)

Monday, 7 February 2011

The Spoon Theory

It is hard to explain what it is like living with illness, especially when you often look so normal (well many friends may disagree on this one ;) ) This lady who has lupus has produced what is called 'The Spoon Theory' which conveys as well as anything can a little of what it can be like. For me, some days I start with very few 'spoons' and others have quite a lot, but there is always a limit, and once they're gone that's me done that day (you'll really have to read the link for any of this to make any sense!)

Days where my spoons are few (!) taking Adventure Girl and Boy to school may use them up entirely, and sometimes there are not even enough for that, and Adventure Bloke steps in and takes over, as he always does so gracefully. Has done today, in fact, as I assessed this morning that my spoon number may be somewhat low today.

I hope that goes some way towards explaining what it can be like?

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Good Enough

One of the difficulties that I sometimes struggle with having chronic illness is perceiving myself as less than a good mum. Society is full of messages and images that tell you what a good mum should look like: Organised, time-management-sorted, creative, beautiful, healthy. Baking with the delightful children, doing things with glitter, playing educational games, taking them to educational and fun places, talking deeply with them every night after bedtime stories and taking them to all manner of after school activities. And then there's overseeing the spiritual, emotional and physical development and wellbeing. And this is only by Monday.
Now, I am sure there are mums out there who manage this on a regular basis. But the rest of us are only human, and do such things when we can, but often as not the mere thought of glitter has us shoving the TV remote at the darling children. Adventure Girl loves crafty stuff and has a near daily cry of 'mum, can we get the clay/glue/paint/glitter/sequins/moonsand/insert random messy craft material stuff out?' And me, being of only small energy, generally says in a weary tone 'another time' or 'ask daddy'. Adventure Boy, thankfully, is of much more a technological mindset and a day spent on Club Penguin would be his ideal. No mess to clear up there (well apart from the 'Puffle food' which seems to be large sheets of paper ripped up into - well, small ones, which are then liberally distributed round the house for the puffles to eat - but that's another story.)
And of course, this computer use only brings into play the 'screen time' guilt. Has Adventure Boy spent too much time on the computer today? Probably. So I try and restrict it and have screen time rules. Sometimes.
All in all, I'm not always the most consistent and organised of mothers, and don't sit and play with the adventurous pair after school every day.
So imagine my relief when coming across Good Enough Mother. With the first lines of the description of this book going like this:
For every woman who's passed off store-bought cakes as her own at the school bake sale comes an honest look at motherhood.
In an ideal world, mothers would have time to hand-sew their kids' costumes for the school play, prepare all-organic meals, and volunteer in the classroom at the drop of a hat. In reality, most moms have to settle for plopping their little ones in front of SpongeBob so that they can prepare yet another chicken nugget-based dinner, guiltily convinced they're falling down on the job.
Yes! Finally, an admission that life is like this. And actually, that that can be Good Enough. Parenting is not only about the amount of stuff we can do with our children. It's so much more than that. Being a loving mum is about doing just that; loving. Children won't necessarily remember all the visits to worthy museums so much as the ethos of love and fun in their family. If I can give my adventurous ones something of this in their lives then I am good enough. Yay!!

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Beginning of the Adventure

So, for a while now I've been thinking that I should blog. Not sure yet where this is going to go but we will see where it takes us. I've entitled this blog 'GreatAdventure' because I've been reflecting lately how life is an adventure, and Helen Keller's statement above captures this. For me, life is an adventure because I am journeying with God and everywhere that takes me. It's certainly not a nice tidy adventure with endings that tie up concisely where the villains always get sorted out and the heroes always prevail, but it's an exciting adventure that more than anything is full of hope.

I've only added one blog to my list so far because it's something on my mind a lot at the moment. Take a look at the 'One Month Before Heartbreak' blog and have a browse. For many, living with disability and chronic illness can be an incredibly lonely life, and proposed government cuts rightly or wrongly are causing many to fear for their future. I long to see a fair and just society where the vulnerable are upheld, cared for and included, and wonder how we can all play our part in causing this to happen, or at least to get on the right road towards it.