Thursday, 24 December 2015

Christmas: It's for the sorted, right?



Here I am; another Christmas, another infection. Actually, the last two Christmasses have been good, infection free, and I've been free to join in with all that seems to make Christmas - carol singing, present buying and wrapping, Christmas meals out, Christmas food. I've been in on that this year too, well, up to two days ago, when my lungs decided they weren't going to play ball. Since then, I've lain in bed or on the sofa, again observing Christmas but not being a part.

But I should know by now how stupid that is. Of course I am a part. Being sick does not make you a spare part, or not a part at all, of the celebration of the greatest gift that was ever given. The adverts would have us believe that Christmas is all about being so very sorted, so very unbroken. The beautiful family sits with more beautiful family and friends around the tastefully decorated table, real tree in the corner dripping with expensive and tasteful decorations (all colour co-ordinated, of course.) The baby giggles, the children play nicely together, everyone pulls crackers and oohs and aaahs at the exciting contents. The food is perfect; everything timed to be ready together, everything presented nicely. Everyone glows with good health and beauty, everyone loves each other, everyone is jolly and fulfilled and the epitome of what Christmas is all about.

Facebook can be even worse, for the sick and the sad. So many photos of happy families, joyous in their lives together, the appearance of all that is good. Christmassy family trips out, meals together, baking together. The sick mum looks on and despairs, her children sat again in front of screens instead of frolicking in the fields or making mince pies good enough for Mary Berry. Pictures of cosy, warm homes, perfectly decorated by someone strong enough, in body and spirit. (I am just as guilty as posting this version of our lives, at times.) Then there are round robins. You know, where all the achievements are listed and nothing bad happens. Hermione gained 14 A*s and learned to play the harp to grade 8 standard on top of mastering ballet and photography. You know the sort. (Thankfully, most of the ones we receive are real, and I love reading them.)

Is this what Christmas is?

It's not, is it? Because Christmas is for the broken. It's for those who haven't got it together, those who haven't got a perfect table to sit round with a perfect family, those who have no family at all, those who are confined to a sick bed, those who have lost someone they love, those who have divorced, those who are struggling with anxiety, those in crippling debt. Christmas is so much for the broken people, and God came down among us in a broken scenario. A stable, not a restful, peaceful place of Christmas card fantasy but a cold, unwelcoming, dirty, smelly setting for the son of God. God chose to come in brokenness, born to an unwed young mum, born in scandal and disgust. No perfect table and hot food for the bewildered, tired couple, no crackers to pull or family sat around in peace and harmony. A few mucky shepherds turned up, trailing their bleating sheep. How was that a perfect Christmas?

Yet that's exactly what it was. The most perfect Christmas. The one which meant everything. That Christmas meant freedom for many, hope for the world. It meant that God was among us. Immanuel.

You tore the night apart
And ripped the silent skies in half
Your glory breaking through the dark

And here our worlds collide
Divinity in man confined
This great design drawn out for me


(from 'King of Heaven' by Hillsong United)

I want to remember that Christmas isn't for the sorted, for those who have arrived. As I sit, frustrated by my body's treacherous unreliability at a time I want to feel strong, I think of that vulnerable baby and remember how God chose to come in vulnerability, in pain and darknesss, and think about how God is here in our darkness. If Christmas seems far from something you enjoy because of life being difficult, for whatever reason, remember what Christmas really is. A celebration of the Christ child, a celebration of God's passionate love for us. In the midst of my pain, this light breaks through and infuses me with hope, with joy that God did this, for me. For you.

May you be at peace this Christmas, wherever you are in life, whether you feel like that perfect family on TV, or whether you are so broken you cannot begin to imagine celebration. May you be infused with the peace beyond all understanding that comes from knowing God's saving plan for you. May you know the hope of the Christ child, held out over the wreckage of wrapping paper and squabbles, filling the emptiness and creeping through the shadows, pervading the gloom and exploding in glorious light.

(And may I get over having to cancel seeing Star Wars yesterday, obviously.)

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Advent Shadows


It's Advent Sunday, and I started the day grumpy. I've been poorly for the past month and the antibiotics are taking their toll while not winning over the infection. Yet. They will. So we decide to get some of the advent stuff out and do home church, which is so lovely as it's been a while since I got to church, but I then take my grumpiness out on the Adventurous pair and feel rubbish. When every movement hurts, takes the breath out of you and is just this huge great struggle it can be so difficult to just be nice, be calm, be the loving mum they need. I'm sorry, dear ones, you were so gracious at my grumpiness and did what you were asked with concern and love. I am blessed with you.

But then Adventure Bloke sorted this little home church for Advent Sunday and it just took me to a different place, a place beyond me and my gripes and my pain and fed up-ness. We talked as a family about what Advent means (no, not just for chocolate, important though that is, obviously.) About how it means anticipating the coming of Emmanuel - God with us, about waiting for light to break through into the darkness. There seems so much darkness at the moment, in all the far places of the world, so much of people's inhumanity to others, so much pain. It's hard to look around and see where the light is, where is that breaking through? It feels as if we live in a time of perpetual advent, perpetual anticipation, and of course, we do. We live in desperate waiting for the fulfilling of God's promise, of Jesus coming back and of all being made new, made right, with no more suffering, no more crying, no more pain. But while we are waiting - while we are in the now and the not yet, we can glimpse things from the not yet and soar with hope as we remember the promises, remember that God is trustworthy. God spoke through the prophets, as we remember this Advent Sunday, and God's promises were fulfilled in Jesus. We can live in the hope, rather than the fear, the chinks of light rather than the cloaking darkness. I long for the day when that light is all consuming, like sun on our skin, almost too much to bear, but for now, I'll live through the shadows and the pain they bring, and when the light penetrates, soak it in and live in it.

My pain won't go away. I breathe in, breathe out, and it's there, snaking its way up my body, consuming me, at times prompting tears. I don't know why. I don't know why it won't go, but I remain convinced that God is in here, in the midst, which is exactly what Advent is all about. It's about Jesus getting in the mess with us - no staying away for the Son of God, no looking down from afar, but instead experiencing our humanity in full, suffering included, so very much included.

I'd encourage you today to live with the shadows while glimpsing those rays of light, breaking through like sunshine after a storm. Hold on to them, in the knowledge that one day they will dispel the darkness - that one day, 'the dawn from on high will break upon us,' that we will one day be free of the pain that binds so tightly. And that the freedom we can experience in the here and now can be so very deep. Keep on walking, dear ones.

And do forgive my grumps when I see you. :-)

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Unproductive

I've been frequenting various author/writing blogs lately in my novel-writing mission, but have found that I feel fairly depressed after browsing too many of them. Now this could merely be due to the fact that they actually procrastinate the very thing they advocate, ie actual, real Writing. Or, it could be something more, something whch seems to strike at the heart of me.

These blogs are exhausting. All written by successful people with twenty zillion followers and thousands of perfect widgets proclaiming their great accomplishments; top ten bloggers ever, fifty books published, their perfect life of writing. Then, across their headers, there's more evidence of their triumphs in this brutal market - their international speaking schedule, their competition wins, their Goodreads page along with endorsements from Famous Folk. They've arrived.

And they tell us that we must do similar, if we want to succeed in any way with our writing. We must spend every waking minute gathering and coddling our millions of Twitter fans, and if we have under five thousand then we might as well give up, because our book just won't sell. Not only that, but we must build platforms on Google Plus, Instagram, Goodreads, Youtube, Facebook and everywhere else it is possible to build a social media presence. And then there's our blog. It must be good. It must be professional, and it must show evidence of our faithful followers.


My heart shrinks a little inside when I read these, because I know this is just beyond me, beyond my capabilities, physically. When it comes to social media self-promotion, I am Unproductive. It seems to me that society requires so much productivity of a person in order to be successful - or in order to be in any way deserving of anything at all, possibly. Those in society who are seen as Unproductive are banded together and shoved to one side; the Undeserving. When it comes to matters such as welfare, sections of the media like to play up the unproductivity of the undeserving - they have not tried, thus it is their fault, thus they are undeserving. Why should we help such people?

Sadly, this tends to enclose many people who are sick and disabled, and to society's eyes may be unproductive. Somehow, society have twisted things here so we see the most needy, the most sick as deserving and somehow heroic, but the long term sick, especially those with fluctuating conditions, are often seen as the opposite to this. They just don't try hard enough. Remember all the stuff going around about the Paralympians - they're disabled but they have tried. They are Deserving. But you haven't. Why not?

The truth is, being long term sick is completely exhausting in a way that is hard to explain. It's not like tiredness, more like a constant flu like feeling, taking over your life. That's why when I look at the requirements it seems it is needed to be an author, I want to close my laptop and wipe the lot. I can't do this, because my body isn't strong enough. Sitting at a computer all day blogging and tweeting may not seem a huge burden, but to someone with long term sickness I can promise that it is a burden much too far. On a bad day, I cannot open my computer. On a less bad day, I can read a bit of Facebook. On a slightly better day I can manage the odd blog post or some work on my books. On my best days I can do a lot more of this, and sometimes catch glimpses into what life might look like if it could always be like this. But because my condition is annoyingly fluctuating, I cannot be consistent. I cannot give this kind of commitment to something. Does that mean it's impossible for me to do this? I'm also grateful for the fluctuating nature of it, because it means I get time off, or at least down time where I feel well. Ish. It's good.

People who are long term ill are not undeserving. In general, they are just beyond shattered. They are trying to live day to day, trying their best to get through, to accomplish the smallest of tasks, and to cope. To then be faced with the media casting these kind of aspersions on them could be the straw that breaks the camel's back for them. I plead with our government, with our media to remember everyone has a story, everyone has humanity. Everyone is valued, not for what they do, but who they are. I'd include those who are seen as undeserving but aren't necessarily physically ill in this. They have a story. They are people. I believe they are made in God's image, and I believe in grace, not only rewarding the deserving. I'd love to see a world where grace shone through. Another subject for another time, perhaps.

Meanwhile, I may as well keep chasing the book thing. It's a bit Rejection City round here though, so I may just sit and mope instead.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Belief and Suffering

Today I'm guest posting over at Mummy From The Heart, my lovely friend Mich's blog, on why I'm still a Christian despite the suffering I see all around me and experience in my life. Thanks Mich for the opportunity. :)


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Thursday, 3 September 2015

Dear Aylan


Dear Aylan,
We're sorry you died.
We don't like the picture.
But you know, it's not our problem.

Not our problem, those hordes of the nameless,
escaping from places unknown
and oppression undreamed of.

Not our problem, the baby at the border,
screaming in a language
alien to us.

Not our problem, your mother and brother,
drowned as you fled,
hope exstinguished.

Not our problem, those immigrants,
we can't let them in,
they'll take our jobs,
and our money.

Not our problem,
the unfaced on Keleti station,
they can deal with them.

Not our problem, because
taking more people is not the answer,
but neither is it for anywhere else.

Dear Aylan, I'm sorry but
you were not our problem.

Monday, 31 August 2015

If they won't I will

There's a lot going about on Twitter at the moment about the death figures for those claiming ESA in the past five years. It makes for some fairly scary reading. It's prompted a  UN inquiry into grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s rights



I'm just completing an edit on my first novel. I've been a bit reticent about sharing it with people, because it feels all vulnerable to get out there and say 'I've written a book.' But the book speaks of my fears of what a society might look like if this kind of thing was taken to the extremes - if violations of rights were taken much, much further than even this report warns. It's a YA story set in a dystopian version of England. There. I said it. I'm not saying a lot more, as I'm in the process of sending queries to agents and waiting for the inevitable knock backs. I'll tell you more when I self-publish it on Kindle :)

I know my story, and others like it, are glimpses into something that couldn't possibly happen. Well, I hope they are. Remember the Nazis? Stalin? Mao? It doesn't take much to look around and see that humanity really can be capable of the worst of atrocities. We can look around at our fairly moderate country, and say 'don't be daft. Nothing like that could happen here,' but I wonder if it could, actually, and I wonder if some of these stories about folks dying after being found fit for work could point to the fact that we are going downhill. I'm not one to go in for hysteria or accuse IDS of longing for the Workhouse society, (some days), but we do need to respond as a society to these figures and what they mean - it's unclear, as yet. My book reflects my experience of how the weak and the vulnerable are sometimes treated, but I'd hope that as a society we would be making better choices about how we care for those who most need it.

Psalm 82:3
Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
I say, #iftheywontIwill 

I hope that this investigation will be a trigger to something new, something good, where people in Government really listen to those struggling with sickness and disability, where voices are heard at last and where the weak are upheld and defended in our land. That's what I dream of. I need to ask myself how I can help make that happen. Retweeting stuff on Twitter isn't enough, is it? What can we do to really mean this? Praying is incredibly important, I believe, but prayer without action is not enough.

What am I doing? What are you doing?

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Catching Up.

I seem to have neglected this blog of late. Oops.

I have been busy writing, though. Just doing a final edit of my first book (fiction) before I try sending it to scary people like agents and publishers. I know new authors have little chance, but thought I'd give it a go anyway. There's always Kindle publishing...

So that's been taking my time. But it's been making me think, a little. Working so hard on something like that has given me a lovely sense of fulfilment and purpose. What I have to be careful of is that it doesn't justify my existence. It would be nice, in a way, to slip into this way of thinking: I am doing something Worthwhile (and a tad ironic, given the book subject, but I'll leave you to discover that at some point) :) - That I am perhaps useful, after all? Come on, me! I'd worked so hard to always speak narrative of value rather than use, and now here I am, buying once again into the narrative of use rather than value. What a shame. I won't let it suck me in...

I've seen a lot of that type of rhetoric, lately. On the news, on blogs, message boards, all over the place. The type of thinking that goes 'I work hard, therefore I am justified, I am real, I am useful. You do not therefore you are not.' Of course, these words are rarely used in such a stark way, but the meaning is there. It doesn't take much digging to recognise this. Sadly, it seems to me that there has been a build up of this kind of thinking. It's actively encouraged to set yourself above the 'scroungers' if you are 'hard working.' Divide and conquer, and all that. I can see that it is so easy to fall into this - if you feel you work hard, and it seems your neighbour doesn't, then you begin to feel slightly superior, slightly better. Sadly, people don't always see the reality of other people's lives, the pain they are in, the past they have come from. I wish we could all show grace in all our actions, and remember we are all valued, all equal, all utterly loved by God. No one is better than anyone else, no one more justified in their existence.

So my 'working hard' doesn't justify me, however much the temptation is to make this so, the temptation to say 'hey, now I am a Writer. I'm not just a sick person.' No. I'm not going down that road. I can identify writing among my stuff that I 'do' but not make it the Thing that is me, just as I don't make the sickness the thing that is me. I never want to make the substance of me into a thing that I do, that's what I am trying to avoid. I want to make the substance of me about my value to God, the fact that I am loved so completely. That's all it needs to be, and how incredible that is.

 I'm a member of a group called Compassionate Britain which is seeking to redress some of this balance, particularly regarding sick and disabled people and some of the prejudice they face - and the cuts which are making some lives incredibly difficult. I hope we can be a small part of a movement which changes things and changes preset ideas and views formed by a certain section of the media.

If this post doesn't make sense, I'm sorry, I am shattered from arriving home at 3am this morning after seeing Hillsong at the 02 last night. What an amazing time. 20,000 people worshipping together, one in purpose and spirit, it was a beautiful thing, a glimpse of heaven. I could have stayed all night - roll on New Wine on saturday.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

What does it feel like to be disappointed by God?

I hear that phrase a lot. 'Disappointment with God.' There's even a book with the same title (a very good book, actually.) People often ask me if I am disappointed with God, and if I say I am not, say that I should be. And if I say that yes, today actually I am, I may get the 'oh don't worry, he has plans to prosper and not to harm' etc. I know. I've used it myself.



But thinking about it, I am just not sure disappointment with God is a construct that is helpful. Why am I disappointed with God? First and foremost, it's because I'm not healed. That's the big one - the one everyone expects me to be disappointed about and validates me feeling this way (it's OK - only natural - keep feeling that way.) But I am not sure I want to keep feeling that way, because I am not sure that I am, actually, disappointed with God.

I get disappointed I am not healed, but then when I spend any amount of time in God's presence that disappointment seems to fade and become less all consuming, and my thoughts turn away from me, and turn to contentment instead of dissatisfaction. I could spend the rest of my life deciding to live in disappointment and developing an increasingly bitter exterior. I could also spend the rest of my life trying to be healed at every possible opportunity, but you know what? That's so exhausting, dispiriting and can actually get in the way of a good relationship with God and with others - I become drained by the fact it's not happening, my disappointment begins to eat away at my love for God and I become disappointed by others too when they may try to make it about my problem or my faith or lack thereof.

Being disappointed with someone implies that we think that they have not done something in the way in which we think they should have done it, or that they have let us down in some way. To be disappointed with God, then, means that we are deciding that God should have done something another way. We are putting that box around God again, that narrowing of God whereby we forget that whole thing about God's thoughts being above ours, and all that. Are we narrowing God by being constantly disappointed?

Many writers in scripture show disappointment with God, especially in the Psalms. This fact is often cited as an excuse to be Disappointed. But we need to remember that the disappointment shown by the psalmist is usually accompanied by expectation and finally with praise. ('Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.) The Psalmist has recognised that the great weight of disappointment can be balanced by the great expectation of God's work in his life.

I'm deciding to balance my own disappointment with great expectation. This doesn't mean that I am banned from the odd rant session at God Psalmist Stylee, but that I decide that my days will not be dictated by a sickening sense of being let down. Again. Instead I choose to look at God, to spend my time gazing upon God, and find that any sense of being let down is so very overwhelmed by feeling utterly loved instead. It's a much happier feeling.

This also doesn't mean that I am saying that I Give Up. I do not give up, but I do reserve the right to not Go Down To The Front every time I go to something where people are asked to Go Down To The Front. Sometimes I quite like sitting in my seat, soaking in worship, and find my healing far deeper in that than in going and endeavouring to explain, sometimes over loud music, what I would like prayer for, and then coming away again feeling a little lessened by the experience, often depending on the focus of the pray-er. I had a lovely experience last year at New Wine, where I did feel I needed to obey that nudge and get down there. After explaining, the lady didn't pray for miraculous healing or tell my pain to leave or anything like that. She prayed simply that God would come to me in my pain and do what God wanted to do. How freeing for me that was - I didn't feel obligated to feel better, like so often in these situations - I felt free to be whatever God was doing with me there and then, which was pretty fabulous actually.

I think God is so much bigger than we make out and can do so much more than we can comprehend. And that our perceptions of what God should do are not always what God chooses to do. But we can have great expectations of what God will do, whether that involves physical healing or not. I know one day I will be whole, and for now I am choosing not to be disappointed but to embrace all God has for me in the body I have today. I'll keep asking for prayer, I'll sometimes sit and be. I pray for you too today:

16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Amen!

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Yet Another SF and Suffering Blogpost.

I know, I know, there are thousands floating round the internet. But seeing as I am sitting propped up in bed and have just taken painkillers, I have a window where I may be able to pen something that makes some kind of sense. Possibly.

First of all I should link to Adventure Bloke's musings on the subject - he preached it on Sunday, and it is Very Good. http://carterclan.me.uk/sermons/so-what-about-bone-cancer-in-children/

I think that words like Mr Fry's can be seriously shocking for some folk who have perhaps not thought too deeply about suffering, or who can bat them away with not so nice words about the man himself. For me, the words resonate, because it is the experience of humanity throughout the ages. I'm reading the sequel to 'Call the Midwife' at the moment, 'Shadows of the Workhouse' by Jennifer Worth and it is incredibly, deeply harrowing, an account of children's lives in a turn of the century workhouse. I.m sitting there reading it thinking God, where were you when this 6 year old girl was beaten almost to death for nothing. Where were you when these childrens' parents both died and they were sent to the workhouse and treated so abysmally. It's sickening that one human being could do such things to another. Where was God in that?



I'm pretty ill right now. I've got pleuirsy pain, breathing's hard work, I'm sick. I feel helpless and frustrated. Missed Adventure Boy's parents evening and will miss the Girl's tomorrow. It's Not Fair. Looking at other situations such as those described above it's far less Not Fair than some. Yet in my situation, as in other suffering across the world, I can look to God and find...not answers, really. But something. I can find hope. The sensation of a God who looks at all this stuff and weeps. Weeps with us. That may not feel enough to that child abused so young - after all, if God was weeping with her, why couldn't he do something? I don't know. All I know is that this world is well skewed off centre. Not what it was created to be, and people are not who they were created to be. Something went stinkingly wrong and that resonated through history. And God weeps.

He doesn't just do that. He sent Jesus. Jesus born in squalor, died in agony. Jesus the one who can identify in our suffering, Jesus the one who went into our suffering. An immense statement of that Father's love for us. He didn't sit back and do nothing. He knows.

I'm aware it's still not enough, in terms of answers. There simply are not sufficient answers. But we can look at the Bible, we can look at the Psalmist ranting and railing at God, we can look at God's huge emotions spilling over his world in the writings of the Prophets, we can look at Jesus' time on earth and death and glorious resurrection and we can find a voice that speaks through the suffering and says 'I am here'. We can find hope and we can find a depth in the suffering we never guessed we would.

I'd like to be better. I'd like this chronic illness to stop overshadowing my life and cancelling my appointments. I'd like to find out who I could be if I had strength. But I have found so much of God in the depths, that it's difficult to imagine that other life. I live this life, and am called where I am, in the body I am in. I need to decide daily to 'press on' whether in pain or not. Not so much to come to the conclusion that the illness is sent from God to teach me a lesson. Nope. That's not how it goes. People everywhere get ill. They just do. Nothing they did wrong, nothing they did right. It happens. It happens because of the creation groaning, waiting to be righted. I'm waiting for that too, in pain and in hope.

I like Mr Fry, I'm fairly fond of QI when there's nothing else on. ;-) I hope he finds what he so desperately needs, and wish him happiness. If nothing else, his words have sparked so much thought and debate which can only be good. Christians need to be honest, to say that their lives are not easier than other lives because of our faith, to say that we struggle too, and we don't get it either. But to testify to the more that we see, to the peace beyond understanding that we sometimes fleetingly catch hold of, to the beauty underneath the pain, to the world groaning in its' wait for healing.